5. Down the Rabbit Hole
Jay was woken by the clang of the truck's tailgate dropping open. He started upright, realised that was a stupid thing to do, then decided that (a) at least he was behind a crate and (b) lying down again would probably be even worse. He tried to stay as still as possible. He heard someone climb up in the truck and start dragging crates around.
Ah well, it's worth a try, Jay decided. He stood up, and was satisfied to see the look of complete and utter shock on the man's face right before Jay punched him on the chin. The man stumbled back, struggling to regain balance. Jay punched him again, and the man collapsed most inelegantly, folding across the crate before sliding off to slump on the floor in an ignominious heap.
Jay rubbed his fist thoughtfully. He was out of shape, if it took two punches. Ah well. He proceeded to strip the overalls off the unconscious man. Having done this, he bound the man before exchanging his own clothes for the overalls. He rifled through the man's – no, now his – pockets. A keycard, who knew what that was for, an ID badge on the breast pocket, looking different enough to him that it would stand up to about a second's scrutiny, and a piece of paper which appeared to indicate a dentist's appointment later in the day. Disguise in place as well as it would ever be, he jumped down from the truck.
He stopped, decided it wouldn't hurt to look like he had something to do, and grabbed one of the smaller crates from the back of the truck. It was a little hefty, but nothing he couldn't throw at someone if he decided he needed to. He held it up against his chest and walked around the corner.
The big doors stood wide open, as he'd hoped. A few men were gathered over the other side of the platform, preparing to get something from another truck. He nodded politely when a couple of the men looked over; they nodded back and went back to their conversation. Phase one complete, he thought.
He stepped inside, and gasped. The heat was palpable, the humidity thick in the air. It was like walking into a sauna. How the hell did a building with this much surface area, sitting in the middle of a lake, in the mountains, get so hot? The power bill must be fantastic.
Where to now? He looked around. Nothing to the right but a blank wall; that was obviously the top end of the corkscrew. To the left, a passage at least as wide and tall as the doors he'd just come through wound down, curving to the right as it wrapped it's way around the central column. Of the central column itself he could see nothing; the only gap in the blank wall in front of him was a featureless person-sized door, with what looked like a swipe-card lock to one side.
Door, or ramp? Jay asked himself. He took another look at the ramp – there was something a little odd about it. At each side, by the walls, there was a strip of a slightly different colour than the rest of the floor. He sauntered over and prodded it experimentally with one foot. It was grip tape, that sand-coated stuff like he had on the wing-steps of his plane. Well, had had. So, grip tape here, what did that mean…?
He wandered over to the middle of the ramp, still just at the top of the downslope, and prodded the surface there with an outstretched foot. It was incredibly slippery; it offered no resistance to his foot at all, and he would have fallen if he hadn't had the crate for counterbalance. Odd, what was the point of that?
He was standing and musing when there was a large thump from somewhere, and the building rocked. Jay nearly lost his balance, and was swaying perilously when a hot blast of air came up the ramp. It wasn't a strong blast, and it died as quickly as it had appeared. Then, suddenly, the air flow reversed, and Jay found himself standing in a gale flowing down the ramp, as if trying to fill a large, newly-created vacuum. It was all a bit much for his already off-kilter balance, and he fell. He landed across his crate, winding himself and probably bruising a rib. He gasped, then gasped again as he realised he was sliding down the ramp, picking up pace fairly rapidly.
He started trying to point himself at the griptape at the side when he realised, to his horror, that the ramp was nicely cambered and concave, perfectly shaped to hold sliding objects firmly in the center as they gained more and more speed. This was going to be trouble.
He pulled himself up a little more onto the crate, so only the toes of his boots were still dragging. No sense wearing everything out. He wriggled around on the top of the crate, trying to avoid the probably-bruised rib. He risked taking a hand off the crate to rearrange the whisky flask and the message cylinder – which he'd all but forgotten about, again, until he'd landed on them. He pushed them to one side a bit, to get them out from between his ribs and the crate.
How far down did this chute go? Jay wondered. He was gathering rather a lot of speed, and he was beginning to worry about the logistics of stopping at the bottom. He tried using his toes to steer himself off to one side, but only gained a fraction of the necessary distance before he found himself spun around and facing backwards, back up the ramp. He tried again, and succeeded in turning himself back towards the front, but not in making any significant progress towards the side. Not that then.
What if I use the crate? he thought. He slowly, carefully pushed himself backwards off the crate, keeping a hand on it the whole time. Then he pulled it back alongside him, and twisted his body around. He folded his legs up, placed his feet against the crate, and pushed out with his legs as hard as he could. The crate flew back towards the inside of the ramp, caught the grip tape with a corner, and began tumbling madly. He slid on his stomach towards the outside of the ramp, put a hand out. He started slipping back and slammed his hand down on the grip tape, but he was moving far too quickly. He spun himself around almost three hundred and sixty degrees, pushed back towards the centre of the ramp, and his palm was raw and red and stinging horribly from the sand-grazing it had just took.
He looked back just in time to get caught in the ear by the tumbling box as it bounced back towards him. He spun around, senses ringing, and he started to feel a little dizzy. He really wasn't making a good go of it. He reached for the crate, but it had now overtaken him and was sitting a meter or so out in front of him, and slowing gaining distance.
A siren started, a long, slow, painfully loud rising and falling that reverberated up and down the ramp. Now that he looked, Jay could see the speakers every quarter-circuit or so, and the cameras evenly spaced between them.
“Intruder in the corkscrew!” a voice bellowed from the speakers. “Prepare to receive him at the bottom.” So much for his disguise. He guessed the hired help probably knew enough to stay out of the chute. Well, at least now he had some idea of what waited at the bottom.
A few seconds later he had a far better idea. There was the bottom, and there was a nice long flat spill-off area following it, and there, right across the point where the two met, was a nice six-foot high cargo net, pulled tight and anchored to the wall at either side.
The crate hit the net, still only a few meters in front of him, and Jay made a wild effort to push himself up and away from it; he'd kill himself if he went head-first into that. He succeeded in getting to his feet and sliding, ice skate style, flailing wildly for a few brief seconds before flattening himself beautifully across the center of the net. He realised that he had his face perfectly but oh-so-deeply and painfully wedged directly into one of the holes in the net, and also that there was a large, very ugly man grinning at him from the other side of the net. Then he blacked out.