Still takeover day
Underneath many, many layers of craziness, Bossman is essentially a biologist. He can look at a person and see them as a collection of blood vessels, bones and organs, arranged together in a way that works smoothly and seamlessly. If things aren’t working smoothly and seamlessly, he can understand the flaws in the system, easy as breathing. I really fucking hope he is looking at Em in this way. I have a horrible feeling he is looking at her as an actual person.
While he tends to her wound, I get up and go to the wall with the CCTV screens. I’m half-expecting to see all of Bossman’s creations crowded outside the panic room door, like a gang of rooks in a field. Instead, there is just one. An S-type bot, standing sentry. I scan the screens, looking for Patty.
A flicker of movement in the laboratory. Patty is carrying something – a large, brown glass bottle. I can’t see the writing on the label, but I can see the blue logo for Spectrum Chemicals. There is only one chemical we get from Spectrum: Potassium cyanide.
I watch, baffled, as she puts the bottle down next to the wall. Then she waddles towards the cabinet where we keep the acids. It takes me way too long to notice that the bottle of potassium cyanide is right next to the air vent grille. It takes me even longer to notice the screwdriver. I waste precious moments figuring it all out with my stupidly average brain. Whatever chemicals she is collecting, she is going to unscrew the air vent grille and take them inside the walls. I turn to Bossman, who is still tending to Em’s wound. He doesn’t look up when I speak.
“What happens when you mix potassium cyanide with acid?”
“I don’t know. Any acid.”
“Potassium cyanide and sulphuric acid react to produce hydrogen cyanide. It’s the shit they use in gas chambers.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, we have to get out, we have to get out of here!”
Bossman finally looks at me. His face is as pale as I’ve ever seen it. His latex gloves are covered in gore.
“What? Why? We can’t move her.” He gestures frantically at Em. “I’m still treating the wound, I have to-”
“It’s Patty. She’s going to bring those chemicals into the vents and she’s going to turn this room into a fucking gas chamber!” I point at the air inlet on the ceiling, imagining curls of toxic smoke flowing out of it.
“Fuck. I should… I should talk to her. It. It’s me she wants to kill.”
He rises up onto his knees and a roll of bandages falls off his lap and rolls across the floor.
“Sit your arse down,” I say, surprising myself. I have never spoken to Bossman this way. Em has, occasionally. “You are not leaving her side, you hear me? You treat the wound. You keep her safe. I’ll deal with Patty.”
Bossman says nothing and nods, once. He looks very young. I turn to leave, moving quickly.
Outside the panic room, the S-type bot is waiting for me. I have no time for a fight so I just charge at it, knocking it down by virtue of being bigger and more afraid than it is. I step on its torso as I struggle to my feet and it grabs at my ankle, but I wrench myself free and stamp down on its head as hard as I can. There is a wet, crunching sound, like a mouthful of teeth being broken all at once. I sprint towards the lab.
As I’m running, I feel woefully unprepared for the task of convincing a xenobot not to poison my boss and my best friend. Bossman figures out how to do things, and I do as he says – that’s the way it works. This is so far beyond my capabilities, I feel like laughing and crying.
I find Patty in front of the air vent grille, industriously unscrewing the bolts that keep it in place, and feel a bit calmer. Regardless of what is going on with Patty, she is small and soft.
“Patty,” I begin, but am interrupted by the grille falling to the floor with a clang. Patty dodges it, and turns her blank, pinkish-green form towards me.
“Patty, come away from the vent.”
“I know what you’re trying to do, and it’s not going to happen. You’re not killing the boss.”
The word slips out before I can stop it. The last thing I need is to get into a debate.
TO RULE THE WORLD”
“Lead the world, not-”
“AND HE IS UNFIT
TO DO SO.
ANY HUMAN WOULD BE
BUT HE IS A
I think of all the times Patty has been there when Bossman was at his worst. Throwing a temper tantrum, talking down to me or Em, wanting to bulldoze any minor inconvenience whether it’s a person or a law of physics.
“You’re right.” Patty curls an upper limb around the bottle of sulphuric acid. “But you don’t have to kill him, I’ll … I’ll stop him.”
“I’ll talk to him.”
“THAT WON’T WORK.”
“Then I’ll stop him some other way. Fucksake, I’m twice the size of him. I’ll lock him in an attic or something.”
Patty curls another limb around the bottle of potassium cyanide. “YOU WON’T.”
I don’t know what else to say. Fear, frustration, the mental image of Em’s bullet wound – it is all dulling my brain, which wasn’t that sharp to begin with.
“I will fucking stop him,” I insist. “Why don’t you believe me?”
“He’s not my boss anymore, I fucking quit.”
With that, Patty slides up into the air vent, quick as a weasel, taking the sulphuric acid and the potassium cyanide with her. I shove an arm into the vent but she is already out of reach. I press myself up against the wall, and when I am in up to my shoulder I manage to grab a squishy handful. She is something between dough and jelly, slipping through my fingers. But if I lose her, Em and Bossman are dead, so this is not an option. I dig my fingertips in and tug. After a moment’s stalemate, there is a sticky sound like a plaster being peeled off skin, and everything comes tumbling down the air vent.
The bottle of sulphuric acid smashes on its way out. A splash of acid hits my cheek and burns. The vapour hits my nose like a punch. I cry out, but the cry is cut short because Patty is on my face.
She has flattened her body against me like a sheet of putty, and this is so unexpected that it takes me a moment to realise she is trying to kill me. She is trying to save the world from Bossman, and I work for Bossman, and this means I have to die.
I feel her wrapping around the back of my head. I feel her blocking my nostrils. I feel how little air there is in my lungs.
Maybe it’s no more than ten seconds that I spend staggering around, blind and breathless and desperately trying to tear Patty away, but it feels like longer. Definitely long enough to regret every single one of my life choices.
But then my mouth is free and I take in a breath big enough to burst my lungs. I pull Patty away from my acid-burned face and fling her across the lab. She lands in the autoclave chamber and the metal echoes as she hits it, rumbling like a thunderstorm. It is suddenly very obvious what needs to be done.
I am at the autoclave in two strides. I wrench the bolt from the door and let it slam down, the way it slammed down onto my fingers two years ago. I punch the big, green button and hear it spring into action, heating up and sucking the air out. There is one muffled thud – Patty hurling herself against the door – and then nothing.
My legs buckle. My acid-splashed face still burns. Em is still in mortal danger. I think I just destroyed a very small, very young thing that was only trying to save the world.