TIME SPIKE – snippet 5:



Chapter 6



            Andy paced the length of the hall separating the holding area and examination room. He knew exactly what the nurse would say once the door opened and she ushered him in. Greg Lowry was dead. He was dead before Hulbert arrived with his gurney. He died before the nurses, who were now working their third shift in a row, ever saw him.

            He stopped pacing and looked down the dimly lit hall that led to the medical records room. He had never been in there. All records were kept under lock and key, and the only ones with access were the nurses, doctors and psych department employees.

            None of this made any sense, he thought, rubbing his pounding head. He wasn’t worried about the prisoner who tried to escape. It happened, especially when you were dealing with men who would be in their sixties when they got out of their cage. He wasn’t even all that worried about Brown. It happened. Guards got jumped. What he was worried about was the other stuff. That was the part that made no sense.

            Andy looked at Rod Hulbert, who was standing next to the outside door. The lieutenant had given him a terse report and then spent his time looking out the window watching the cell houses lining the road inside the prison walls.

            Hulbert was tense. Ready for action. A lifetime of weekends and vacations traipsing through the limestone bluffs of Southern Illinois with fellow survivalists had prepared him well. He had already skipped over the why, willing to let that wait till later, and was concentrating on the now. Andy watched him, envying the way he had adjusted to the situation.

            Be aware of your environment. Know what is going on around you.

            These were the words all employees who worked inside the walls lived by. People had a habit of dying when the words were forgotten.

            But this wasn’t a prisoner uprising. This was something different. Andy couldn’t concentrate. He was having trouble even recognizing his surroundings.

            Rod Hulbert’s voice cut through the silence. “There’s movement in the yard, and it isn’t ours. All staff is accounted for.”

            The last count showed everyone locked inside their cell. There had to be a wall breach. Which house had it? Andy gave a silent laugh and glanced at the mirror just inside the door. It didn’t matter which house. Inside this facility, unauthorized prisoners wandering the grounds were dangerous no matter where they came from.

            The mirror showed a dark yard, but not so dark Andy couldn’t see shadows working their way across the open area toward the machine shop.

            “Infirmary-11, M control, 10-2000, moving southwest toward machine shop.” Rod moved from the door to a window, tracking the prisoners. “Possible C, Charles-house, not sure.”

            “How many?” Andy hissed, rushing to the window.

            Rod hesitated then shook his head. “Looks to be at least four, maybe more,” he said, keying the radio so the control room would know.

            Andy stared out the window, trying to count the moving shadows. How many were loose? Who was loose? Were they armed? Could he get help from the outside if things escalated? He shook his head again then waved toward the armory.

            Rod nodded, broke regulations by switching his radio to the off position, and then slipped out the door.

            Andy rushed to the examining room and pushed open the door. “Glasser, we got ‘em AWOL, let’s move.”

            “I heard.” Melissa Glasser was removing a blood soaked paper gown. She had been assisting the nurses. Elaine Brown was on the table, an I.V. of saline solution flowing into her right arm. “Give me a sec.” She tossed the soiled gown into a red receptacle marked as biohazard waste then followed the captain to the door.

            “I’m going to the armory. I want you to position yourself so you can see if the prisoners leave the machine shop. If they do, you are not to intercept. Call only, even if it’s a single prisoner.”

            She nodded, checked the battery reading on her radio, and then took off across the street. She slipped into the dark alley between the buildings.


            Once outside the infirmary, it didn’t take Andy long to catch up with Hulbert. With their radios silent, and their twelve-inch steel and aluminum flashlights held like clubs, they made their way to the armory, quickly and quietly.

            “Who’s the E-team leader for tonight?” Andy asked, as they pushed the heavy metal door open. “And who’s running K-9?” Report had been interrupted and Andy didn’t know who was on the afternoon shift’s extraction team, or its dog unit. He wasn’t even sure who had made it inside the wall for the midnight shift. “Who’s available out of our first responders?”

            Hulbert shrugged and said, “Us, I guess.” He started pulling vests and face shields from the cabinets.

            Andy grabbed the keys from the lockbox and opened the weapons cabinet. This was the part of the job he hated. Unlocking the cabinet, passing out the guns and the ammunition. Watching everyone’s eyes. Worried someone would panic and shoot when they shouldn’t, or not shoot when they should. He’d seen both happen.

            “We just finished the debriefing from the last breakout.” Kathleen said, breathing heavily. She had half-jogged, half-walked from south tower to the armory in under three minutes. “Who’s making a run for it now?”

            “Don’t know. It was too dark to make out anything but a few shadows. We think they’re from Charlie-house.”

            “That would make sense. It’s the only building we haven’t sent inspectors through. Everywhere they’ve gone they’ve seen damage, just not enough to be a major problem.” Kathleen looked toward what was left of the parking lot.

            “We haven’t heard from,” her eyes dropped to the clipboard she held in her hand, “Mark Suplinskas, in over a half hour.” She was answering his unasked question. She then flipped the paper and checked the list on the second page. “All the others have reported in within the last fifteen minutes. Mark’s new. He worked three to eleven, graduated from that last class.”

            Lieutenant Terrance Collins walked into the room. “We found three breaks in the exterior wall facing the river, but only one of them is large enough for a small man to wiggle through. The towers have been notified and I have two armed C.O.s watching it. I’ve also posted C.O.s at the other two areas. They’re not carrying anything more than flashlights and radios.”

            Facing the river? Andy looked toward Hulbert who gave his head a slight shake. The missing Mississippi River was not common knowledge, at least not yet. Okay, the outer perimeter was as secure as they could make it. Now for the inside of the prison. “Kathleen, see if you can raise Suplinskas, and find out …”

            Damn. Have we heard from Joe Schuler?”

            “He’s been broadcasting almost continuously. But most of what he’s saying doesn’t make sense. He’s on his way back. Should be here within the next ten to twenty minutes.” Kathleen picked up the notebook she had been using to record all communications from the three two-ways she had been using more or less continuously for the last hour. “He’s the only one outside the walls we’ve heard from. And we’re the only ones he’s seen. He says the roads to town are gone. Same for the houses and businesses.” She gave a strained laugh. “He says everything, the entire town is gone. There’s nothing but trees between us and a volcano about twenty miles out.”

            Andy wanted to scream. There were no volcanoes in the southern part of Illinois. There were rivers and lakes and hills. No mountains. No volcanoes.

            “Okay,” he said between clenched teeth, “this is too fucked up for us to deal with in the dark. I want everyone hunkered down for the night. The prisoners on the prowl can’t get out, so let’s just button everything down. Pair everyone up. One sleeper, one awake. There’s no telling how long we’re going to be on our own. I want radio contact every five minutes from now till sunrise. Station a couple of shooters outside the machine shop. We’ll just isolate the bastards till morning.”

            “That’s only about thirty minutes from now,” Terry Collins said. “And when the sun comes up it’s going to be in the north-west.” He shrugged. “That’s not a guess. Before I came in Jeff Edelman had me check it out inside the east tower. The sun is already starting to rise. And another thing, he has one of those watches with a built in compass. He says the magnetic pole has shifted. It’s now somewhere southeast of us.”

            “Who is Jeff Edelman?” Andy asked. “And how does he know all this?”

            “New guard. He is—was—a geology graduate student at the university,” Collins answered. “He had to break off his studies because his mother got sick and the family needed the money. And according to him, everything is wrong. Even the position of the moon and the stars.”

            “That’s impossible,” Kathleen whispered.

            “Yeah, but impossible or not,” Collins said, “the guy’s right. If you don’t believe him, just look at the sky. You don’t have to know squat about what’s supposed to be up there to know it’s off.”

            Andy, putting on his gear, remembered the look of the night sky and felt something inside him shift abruptly.

            The headache was gone. So was the indecision. Now all he felt was nervous energy.

            He cinched his vest snug and slipped on his leather gloves. “Okay. Kathleen, tell Joe when he gets back from town, stay put. We’ll join him after we get things inside the walls under control. Collins, get someone over to Charlie-house. Find out what is going on there. I’m going back to the machine shop. Hulbert, get the E-team, first responders, and K-nine put together, I want them all out on this.” He picked up one of the assault rifles and a clip, then pulled his faceplate into position. “I guess we can’t wait. Let’s gather up our strays before aliens start popping out of the walls.”

            “What?” Kathleen’s face paled to a chalk white.

            “That was a joke, Kathleen. Just a joke. Now, get busy. I want everyone in full gear: helmets, goggles and vests. Then get this prison locked down so tight even the cockroaches can’t crawl around without getting an okay from one of us. Radio Glasser, let her know I’m on my way. And Collins, get this Edelman guy off the tower and into the administration building’s main room. I’m going to want to talk to him.”