She shoves me out of the way and digs her shoulder back into the door.
I hear voices and approaching footsteps.
Amanda is struggling, so I throw my weight into the door alongside her.
It must weigh a ton.
At last, it begins to move, swinging back.
Fingers appear across the door frame, but we’ve got inertia working in our favor.
The door thunders home, and a massive bolt fires into its housing.
And pitch-black—the darkness so instantly pure and unbroken it creates the sensation of spinning.
I stagger toward the nearest wall and put my hands on the metal, just needing to tether myself to something solid as I try to wrap my mind around the idea that I’m actually inside this thing.
“Can they get through the door?” I ask.
“I’m not sure. It’s supposed to stay locked for ten minutes. Kind of like a built-in safeguard.”
“Safeguard against what?”
“I don’t know. People chasing you? Getting out of dangerous situations? You designed it. Seems to be working.”
I hear a rustling in the dark.
A battery-powered Coleman lantern glows to life, illuminating the interior of the box with a bluish light.
It’s strange, frightening, but also undeniably exhilarating to finally be in here, enclosed by these thick, nearly indestructible walls.
The first thing I notice in the new light are four fingers at the foot of the door, severed at the second knuckle.
Amanda is kneeling over an open backpack, her arm thrust in to her shoulder, and considering how everything just exploded in her face, she seems remarkably composed, calmly triaging the situation.
She pulls out a small leather bag.
It’s filled with syringes, needles, and tiny ampoules of a clear liquid that I’m guessing contains Ryan’s compound.
I say, “So you’re doing this with me?”
“As opposed to what? Walking back out there and explaining to Leighton how I betrayed him and everything we’ve been working toward?”
“I have no idea how the box works.”
“Well, that makes two of us, so I guess we can look forward to some fun times ahead.” She checks her watch. “I set a timer when the door locked. They come through in eight minutes, fifty-six seconds. If there were no time pressure, we could just drink one of these ampoules or do an intramuscular injection, but now we have to find a vein. Ever inject yourself?”
“Pull up your sleeve.”
She ties a rubber band above my elbow, grabs my arm, and holds it in the light of the lantern.
“See this vein that’s anterior to your elbow? That’s your antecubital. That’s the one you want to hit.”
“Shouldn’t you be doing this?”
“You’ll be fine.”
She hands me a packet containing an alcohol wipe.
I rip it open, wipe down a large swath of skin.
Next, she gives me a 3ml syringe, two needles, and a single ampoule.
“This is a filtered needle,” she says, touching one of them. “Use that one to draw up the liquid so you don’t catch a glass shard. Then switch to the other needle to inject yourself. Got it?”
“I think so.” I insert the filtered needle into the syringe, pull off the cap, and then snap the neck of the glass vial. “All of it?” I ask.
She’s tying a rubber band around her arm now and cleaning her injection site.
I carefully draw the contents of the ampoule up into the syringe and swap needles.
Amanda says, “Make sure you always tap the syringe and push out a tiny bit of liquid through the needle. You don’t want to be injecting air bubbles into your vascular system.”
She shows me her watch again: 7:39…
I thump the syringe and squeeze a drop of Ryan’s chemical compound through the needle.
I say, “So I just…”
“Stick it in the vein at a forty-five-degree angle, with the hole in the end of the needle facing up. I know this is a lot to think about. You’re doing great.”
There’s so much adrenaline raging through my system I barely even feel the penetration.
“Make sure you’re in the vein.”
“How do I—?”
“Pull back a little on the plunger.”
I pull it back.
“Good job. You hit it. Now untie the tourniquet and slowly inject.”
As I depress the plunger, I ask, “So how long until it takes effect?”
“Pretty close to instantaneous, if I had to…”
I don’t even register the end of her sentence.
The drug crashes into me.
I slump back against the wall and lose time until Amanda is in my face again, saying words that I’m trying and failing to comprehend.
Looking down, I watch her pull the needle out of my arm and press an alcohol pad against the tiny puncture wound.
I finally realize what she’s saying: “Keep pressure on it.”
Now I watch Amanda extend her arm under the glow of the lantern, and as she sticks a needle into her vein and loosens the tourniquet, my focus lands on her watch face and the numbers counting down toward zero.
Soon Amanda is lying stretched out on the floor like a junkie who just shot up, and the time is still running out, but that doesn’t matter anymore.
I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
I sit up.
Clearheaded and alert.
Amanda isn’t lying on the floor anymore. She’s standing several feet away with her back to me.
I call out to her, ask if she’s okay, but she doesn’t answer.
I struggle onto my feet.
Amanda is holding the lantern, and as I move toward her, I see that the light isn’t striking the wall of the box, which should be straight ahead of us.
I walk past her.
She follows with the lantern.
The light reveals another door, identical to the one we just came through from the hangar.
I continue walking.
Another twelve feet brings us to another door.
And then another.
The lantern only exudes the brilliance of a single, sixty-watt bulb, and beyond seventy or eighty feet, the light dwindles off into haunting shreds of illumination, glinting off the cold surface of the metal walls on one side, the perfectly spaced doors on the other.