John had been looking for a sign. He wasn’t sure freeze lightning was it.
“How is he?” he asked.
One of the other guests, Dr. Keller, was kneeling beside the man who’d been hit with the freezing bolt of energy.
“He’s not good. It’s like his whole left side has been flash frozen. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Malcolm Tunney, the big brain who’d sealed them all up in the Kramer Innovations facility to show off his latest invention, looked like he was about to cry. John didn’t know anything about matter bridges, but he was smart enough to know they were all fucked unless someone stepped in and fixed things.
“Dr. McKay. Can you get the device back online?” John asked.
The irony was inescapable. John had been paid to assassinate the much lauded but reclusive McKay, and now he was probably the only one who could save John’s life. Maybe that was the sign.
McKay looked at John, obviously flustered. “What?”
“You knew something was going to go wrong. You should be able to figure out how to fix it.”
“Terrance, we have to make the call,” Tunney said.
Kramer shook his head. “We’re close to coming up with a solution for global warming. We could save the planet! It’s bigger than both of us, Malcolm. If you can get the device under control without calling in the military, we can continue our research.”
McKay sputtered angrily. “Are you mentally unbalanced, or just morally corrupt? You obviously can’t control it! And the risk factor is too high to continue your ill-gotten research!”
They were running out of time. The temperature was steadily dropping, and the next bolt of freeze lightning could kill someone. Time for someone with more sense to take control of the situation.
In a flash, John had Kramer on his stomach, hands zip-tied behind his back and a length of duct tape across his mouth.
“Can you call out?” he asked McKay.
“Who are you?”
Tunney shook his head. “The containment field will have cut off all cell service.”
John nodded. “Dr. Keller, stay here. Keep an eye on this guy, make sure he doesn’t squirm away. Keep in touch over the walkie if there’s any trouble. McKay. Tunney. With me.”
He knew where to go and how to get there. Memorizing the floor plans was SOP.
“You’re him, aren’t you?” Tunney asked, nearly stuttering over his words in his nervousness. “Can I cancel? Under the circumstances, it probably wouldn’t be in my best interests to have you finish the job.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” McKay snapped. “Isn’t this guy a journalist?”
“He’s a hitman,” Tunney said. “I think. Maybe.”
“Why would a hitman…Oh, my god. You tried to take me out? You insufferable, thieving worm! If anyone should be getting assassinated, it’s you!”
John opened the door to Tunney’s office. “No-one’s getting assassinated.”
“I don’t suppose a refund would be –”
John turned a look on Tunney that had him closing his mouth so quickly he almost bit his own tongue off.
“You were going to kill me?” McKay’s already crooked mouth twisted even further. “But you were so nice.”
“It was nothing personal,” John assured him. “Just a job.”
But it wasn’t just a job anymore, hadn’t been for a while, and that was part of the problem. When John had started chatting McKay up at the pre-disaster reception, it had been to assess his target. He hadn’t expected the guy to be so bitingly funny, or good looking. His social skills were refreshingly awful, and watching Dr. Keller try to rein him in had been a little comedy show all its own.
“Oh, well, that’s comforting. Thank you so much for that.”
The landline phones were down too, no doubt thanks to Kramer.
“What’s our next option?” John asked McKay.
“Why are you asking him?” Tunney complained. “It’s my project!”
“Which you stole from me, you duplicitous bastard.”
“Gentlemen!” John raised his voice just enough to get their attention. “Problem solving now, bickering later.”
McKay kept glaring at Tunney as he said, “We need to collapse the matter bridge. If we turn off the containment field, we’re looking at a mega-storm that could cost countless lives and property damage. If we try to destroy the device, it could create a tear in space-time, which I think we can all agree would be a very bad idea.”
“What about the room full of scientists back there?” John asked. “Can’t we combine all that brain power?”
“I have a theory,” McKay said confidently.
“Me too!” Tunney hastened to add. “But…Maybe we should hear yours first.”
They decamped to the control room, where the temperature was so low John could see his breath. They were all wearing tuxedos, which wouldn’t offer much protection if the temp went down much more. Of all the ways John thought he’d die, freezing to death inside a science lab hadn’t even made the list.
“Oh, no,” McKay said. “The cold is affecting the containment field emitters. They’re on the verge of failing.”
“And that’s bad because big storms. What else?”
“We’re all going to freeze to death,” Tunney said mournfully. “I’m going to be remembered as the man who killed Bill Nye the Science Guy.”
McKay snorted. “Yeah, that’s the big takeaway. Get over here, Malcolm. You’re not much, but I need help with these calculations.”
John leaned over his shoulder. “You transposed those numbers,” he said, pointing. “That should work out to 357.8.”
McKay looked back at him, incredulous. “How do you know that?”
“I got a math degree in case I needed something to fall back on,” John replied, half-jokingly.
McKay and Tunney ran scenarios, and John checked the math. The initial idea of overloading the matter bridge was quickly scrapped as unworkable. And then they had even less time because the containment field failed and almost immediately tornadoes started to form around the facility.
McKay blew on his stiff fingers. “The only other option I can see is to drain off the power from the device.”
“How?” Tunney asked.
“We use it to open a second matter bridge.”
“Won’t that make everything worse?” John asked.
“That much power will overwhelm the system.”
“It’ll work,” Tunney said grudgingly. “But that’s not an easy fix. Do you have any idea how difficult it’s going to be to configure the system to open two concurrent space-time bridges?”
“I didn’t say it would be easy.”
“Did I say easy? It’s impossible!”
McKay looked right at John when he replied. “I’m Dr. Rodney McKay. Difficult take a few seconds. Impossible takes a few minutes.”
The walkie in John’s pocket crackled to life.
Rodney! There was more freeze lightning! Whatever you’re doing, do it faster!
“Keep your heads down,” John replied. “He’s working on it.”
“I’m close,” McKay muttered. “Come on. Malcolm, can’t you type any faster?”
“This is a lot of pressure! If I wasn’t so cold I’d be sweating buckets!”
There was a crackle and a flash of blue light, and John moved fast to push McKay and Tunney out of the way. He caught the edge of the beam himself, though, and went sprawling, narrowly missing cracking his head open on the edge of the console.
Damn! He thought there’d be numbness, but his shoulder burned all the way down to his finger tips like his skin was on fire.
“Finish it!” McKay shouted at Tunney. He got down on the floor next to John, hauling him into a sitting position. “Are you okay? Where did it hit you?”
“Here,” John said through gritted teeth, gesturing with his other hand.
Oh, hey. There was the numbness. And somehow that was just as painful, like the worst case of pins and needles ever.
“When we survive this,” McKay said, “and we will, you and I are going to have a long talk.”
“I find you to be unfairly attractive, and surprisingly intelligent, and for some bizarre reason the fact that you were paid to kill me is some kind of weird turn on that I’m sure my therapist will have a field day with.”
Maybe that was the sign John had been waiting for.
“I’m retiring,” he said, enjoying the solid feel of Rodney at his back. If they weren’t both half-hypothermic, it would’ve been nicer.
“Here goes nothing!” Tunney said. Sparks started to fly from the console as the system overloaded. “It’s working! The second space-time bridge blew the power supply! They’re both collapsing!”
The lights went off, and battery powered blue safety lights came on. It was either the end of the world, or they’d saved the day. It was certainly a better feeling than killing a guy in his sleep.
“You do this kind of thing a lot?” John asked.
“Only on Tuesdays.”
John grinned, hoping McKay couldn’t see. Retirement was looking a whole lot more interesting than he’d anticipated.