13 January 2012

"Meet Brute"

By Curtis C. Chen

"That another alien puzzle?"

Linda looked up from her diagnostic table, where the artifact sat inside a vacuum chamber. She didn't recognize the man who had just walked in holding an uncovered mug of coffee.

"It's an artifact," she said, "and you can't have that drink in here, Mister...?"

He switched the mug from his right hand to his left hand, making Linda cringe as the liquid inside sloshed around, then extended his right hand.

"Bell. Marty Bell."

Linda shook his hand, then placed her palms back in the waldo control wells. "You're not allowed to have uncovered liquids in any lab or computer areas."

"Sorry, I didn't know. First day here..." He looked around the empty lab.

"Kitchenette around the corner. Leave it there."


He returned a minute later, beverage-free, just as Linda was turning over the artifact. There were no symbols on the exterior, but sometimes the surface grooves lined up to make characters in the Az-Orpic language.

Marty said, "You're Linda Tanaka? I'm supposed to report to you." He pulled a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket.

Linda locked the waldos and took the paper. It was a transfer order from the company's weapons division to the advanced research group. That meant Mary already had the proper security clearances, but—

"I'm sorry," Marty said.

Linda looked up and into the barrel of a small revolver.

"Seriously?" she asked.

"Open the chamber," he said, "and step away from the table."

"Okay, you understand why we keep these artifacts in vacuum chambers, right?" Linda said. "Some of these materials react poorly to atmosphere."

Marty hesitated. "Well, how do you transport them, then?"

"It'll take me about fifteen minutes to prep a transfer crate."

"Oh no," Marty said. "You tell me how, I'll do it myself."

"You don't have the training. And it'll take both hands—"

Marty reached into his back pocket and slapped a handful of plastic zip ties down on the table. "Tie yourself up. Ankles first, then wrists."

Linda's company-mandated security training flashed through her mind. She bent down, tied her ankles, then stood up to grab another zip tie. She lost her balance, wobbled, and fell to the floor, landing hard on her shoulder.

"Ow!" she said.

Marty pushed the rest of the zip ties onto the floor next to her. "Hurry up."

Linda picked up a zip tie. "The crates are in that cabinet by the back wall."

As she hoped, Marty turned to look. Linda placed both palms on the floor to brace herself, then swung her legs hard into Marty's shins, knocking him down.

The revolver skittered across the floor. Linda kicked her legs free—she hadn't tied them very tightly—and scrambled over to pick up the weapon. She sat up, turned around, and aimed it at Marty.

He was smiling at her. "Right. Like you know how to use that."

"Smith & Wesson Model 36. Double action, five rounds, .38 caliber."

Linda cocked the hammer. Marty's smile faded.

"Now," Linda said, "who are you working for?"


Image: Sphere/cube vacuum chamber by Jeff Sherman, September, 2005