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“Whatever you say, Colonel,” Wally replied as he furiously tapped away at the keyboard. He stood up and re-crossed the platform to join the eleven other men who had gathered in front of the capsule hanging just over the precipice beyond the railing. “The sequence has started—”
“Good.” Halstead settled down on one knee and pulled the camera to his eyes as he reached over with his gloved other hand for the M-16 he had set on the surface of the platform. “Now everyone smile wide and say—”
The rest of Halstead’s sentence was drowned out by the report of the automatic rifle he had snapped into position at his shoulder while tossing the camera aside with practiced speed. The fire of the M-16 was sprayed back and forth across the gathering with steady, practiced motions.
Wally had taken a position at the back of the gathering, next to the hatch he had unlocked, and now took advantage of Halstead’s murdering to jerk the hatch open, pull himself inside, and jerk the hatch shut against the bullets that landed on its exterior surface once the human targets between Halstead and the capsule collapsed to the platform. The capsule began to shift to the “launch” position above the cube’s central shaft thirty seconds after Wally had hit “enter” on the keyboard and thirty seconds before the time Halstead had indicated.
The screams and the bursts of gunfire grew fewer and fainter as the capsule moved away from the platform, and Wally could hear only his own shallow panting as the vessel jerked to a stop above the shaft. Wally looked up through a tiny window on which had landed a small glob of gore that now slid down the glass, and the survivor threw himself against the interior opposite the window in disgust.
Then Wally heard a faint pop above his head, and watched the bright lights of the laboratory slip away to be replaced by a searing glow as the capsule went into a freefall. He reached for the two halves of the harness attached to the seat he had landed in, snapped the two halves together with a click, and closed his eyes against the glow and his fear.