The constant beeping of the heart monitor was starting to get on my nerves. My fingers thrummed against the bed frame restlessly.
Was that light flickering or was it my imagination?
Where the hell was Frank? They had taken him in to treat his hypothermia hours ago. No doubt he had been delayed, as per usual, by people wanting to see his mechanical hand.
The graveyard shift worked its way in and began making rounds. The phones were silent. I thought we had been smart coming here, taking the risk of bleeding out so we could get to a backwoods hospital. Unfortunately these idiots thought my “hunting accident” was a suicide job gone wrong and had strapped me to the bed.
The minutes ticked by erratically. How long had we been in here? The night nurse had closed my door and I could no longer see the clock in the hallway.
I stared at my restraints, frantic. There were scissors on a surgical tray across the room that the night nurse was too frightened to come back and get. I rocked the bed back and forth roughly, forcing it towards the tray. The wheel caught something on the floor and my hospital bed tipped over sideways.
My IV was ripped out of my arm as I hit the floor, still roped to the bed. I would have screamed if I could. There were nurses in my room within seconds. I glanced past the fray of people trying to right my bed. The clock read 3:27am as I passed out.
Ice pelted my face as Frank and I trudged through the blizzard towards the house in the distance. It had been built into the side of the hill, with the basement level exposed on one side but closed off by earth on the other.
Our destination was the testing room, smack dab in the middle of the ground level. We felt rather than heard a low mechanical humming coming from the house.
We worked our way around the corner of the house towards the exhaust vent, our access point. Suddenly all I could see was thirty feet of earth looming over us to the left and the ventilation shaft.
They’ll be in a meeting,” Frank said, “on the third floor. Every Wednesday after the staff leaves, that’s where they go.” A slight glow could be seen coming from one of the upstairs windows. It occurred to me that Frank might feel like a traitor instead of a hero. His coworkers were upstairs working on technology that he had helped create. Six years ago his knack for robotics had given him a replacement for the left hand he had been born without, and when the Krause Robotics lab caught wind of his talent and invited Frank to come work for them, he decided to take the job so he could help me.
Our genetics must have been faulty, because while Frank was born without a hand, I was born without a voice box. “I’m going to build you one,” Frank told me, “you just wait.” Krause had all the resources, but eight months ago they learned Frank wanted to build something for me and not their special project, so they kicked him out. My voice was in there and Frank was out here. He’d been trying to get it back ever since.
Using his artificial hand, Frank pulled opened the side panel to the exhaust fan and turned to me. I nodded, grabbed the sides of the narrow shaft, put my foot in Frank’s hand, and hoisted myself into the opening. A strong breeze blew me back, the heavily circulating air smelling of bleach cleaner and metal.
I worked my way forward, going over Frank’s instructions in my head. “Take the first right.” I did. “Count out thirty three panels, and you’ll be there.” One. Two. Three. “Your voice box is in the prototype, right where it would be on a human.” Eleven. Twelve. “He’ll be deactivated for the night, but your movement will set off the alarms anyway. You’ll have sixty seconds to get out, maybe less.” Twenty -six, twenty-seven. “Be ready to run.”
I removed the panel, and lowered myself in. The only light came from the red “Exit” sign glowing by the door. I pulled a chair over so I could get back into the ceiling, then turned to the prototype.
He’d been partially covered in a synthetic skin to appear less metallic, but I caught glimpses of an artificial heart and bionic left ankle as I quickly scanned the robot for signs of life. Seeing none, I pulled the false covering off the throat and felt the grind of metal on metal as I removed my voice box. The room suddenly got brighter. I looked up to see a pair of bright red eyes staring at me.
The shock rolled through my body and I hurled myself back towards the opening, but was caught by an artificial hand that felt so similar to Frank’s I was almost reassured before the machine began pulling me back.
Light flooded into the room as several men burst through the door, and four bullets were fired before one found its mark. It ripped through my upper arm so quickly that I didn’t feel the pain at first. I heard Frank’s voice screaming through the ventilation system. It startled one shooter so much he hit the prototype instead of me, disabling it. I was into the shaft and back to the exit in seconds. I threw myself into the snow and pelted down the hill, Frank right behind me. We were speeding towards the hospital in minutes.
I blinked my eyes, wondering what had woken me up. My head was killing me, but I had been righted and reconnected to my IV while unconscious. I heard yelling in the hallway. I heard Frank.
The beeping of my heart monitor increased drastically. They were here.