By Mallika Kanneganti
It was the first time I’d seen rain in a while. California was having a mini-drought for the past few months, and I’d hated it.
A lot of people don’t like getting wet, but I love the rain. I love the smell and the sound and I love going on walks in the rain. It soothes me.
I put on my boots and coat and walked out.
After a few minutes of walking, I stopped. There was something different about this rain. It seemed to be falling in a pattern.
I took a class on Morse code about a year ago. Sign language too; I’m a nerd for stuff like that. But I digress. I recognized the pattern of the rain.
R-U-N R-U-N R-U-N, the rain said.
It was probably just a weird coincidence. I’m no meteorologist, but I’m sure things like that can happen sometimes.
Nevertheless, I was too nervous to continue walking so I went back to my apartment. I made a cup of tea to calm myself.
That night, it continued to rain in the same weird pattern. I couldn’t sleep.
I’m a superstitious person. I think everything has to mean something. I have a book on deciphering the meanings of shapes of clouds. I couldn’t believe that this rain was just a coincidence.
After tossing and turning for what seemed like hours, I decided that a vacation couldn’t hurt. I work remotely, anyway. I tossed a few clothes and my laptop into a bag, got into my car and drove.
I drove for about two hours, a pit in my stomach the whole time, before I finally pulled into the parking lot of a tiny motel. I checked in and lay down on the bed for a while, but I was still too anxious to sleep or watch TV or do anything other than wonder what the actual fuck was going on. It seemed way too crazy. And I kept wondering, am I in danger? Did I run far enough?
After a sleepless night, I still felt the same elevated heart rate and pit in my stomach. I was lying on my bed still, when I heard a knock on my door.
My first thought was that whoever it was had to be the danger I was running from. My second thought was that it could just be the maid service. I got up and looked through the peephole.
Shit, I thought. I almost said it out loud but I was careful because I didn’t want them to know I was there. It was two large men with shaved heads, in sunglasses and suits. One of them took out a keycard. I was too scared to wonder how he got it. He unlocked the door and opened it.
“Miss Park,” he barked. “You’re coming with us.”
I was too terrified to move, but I was immediately grabbed and lifted. I felt a pinch as I was injected with something that I hoped wasn’t poison, but as they were carrying me away, I drifted away from consciousness.
I awoke with my arms in restraints in a strange room. It seemed like a jail cell, but scarier. I began to shake. I was too terrified to even cry. I tried taking deep breaths and felt a bit calmer when a woman walked into the room.
She was short, and kind-looking. She smiled at me and it made me think that everything might not turn out to be so bad.
“Do you know why you’re here, Miss Park?” she asked.
“N-no,” I stammered. I began to cry. I took some deep breaths to collect myself.
The lady started tapping her finger on the wall. It took me a second to realize it was a pattern.
I stopped crying and my eyes widened.
“You were running for a reason,” she said. “Don’t be scared. If you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.”
I said nothing.
“Maybe you need to come with me.”
She loosened my arms and put me in a different pair of handcuffs, and a blindfold. She walked me down the hall and whispered into my ear.
“I’ll explain everything. I’ll get you out of here. Don’t worry.”
I was shuddering the entire walk, but eventually I heard a door open. I was taken inside this new room, and had my handcuffs and blindfold taken off, although this room was pitch dark, so not having the blindfold didn’t make a difference.
The lady spoke.
“I know you’re scared but listen--”
“What is going on,” I sobbed. I could barely speak because I was dryheaving so hard.
“Listen to me. I was the one who sent you that message in the rain. I’m not one of them. I’m trying to protect you.”
I took a few deep breaths. I was still shaking but I had at least calmed down enough to stop sobbing. She opened her mouth to continue speaking and I looked up to listen.
“You’re in the cells of the Torlans. That’s the name of this ‘association.’” She said the word with contempt. “Torla, the guy who started it, is a crazy guy who has a plan to make an elite group of superhumans with computers implanted in their brains.”
I opened my mouth, but was cut off.
“I know how crazy it sounds. Let me finish.” She took a deep breath. “They chose some people to experiment on and all those people died extremely painful deaths. I don’t think what they’re trying to do is even possible. And on top of that, the Torlans want to use their computerized superpowers to kill people who they think they’re better than. That’s why they need to be stopped.
“I know you’re probably wondering why they kidnapped you. Torla’s partner, Jarvis, left behind a heavily encrypted computer file before he died. No one knows what’s in it, but Torla thinks it’s some information crucial to developing the technology he wants. And since you’re one of the smartest software engineers in the country, you’re one of the only people who can unlock the file.”
She paused for a moment.
“It’s a lot to take in, I know. I sent the signal to you in the rain to warn you. I didn’t want Torla to win.”
“How did you control the rain?” I asked, nonplussed.
“I used to work for the government. There’s ways to control the weather,” she answered. She was surprisingly calm, but I suppose someone who used to work for the government had seen it all. I took a deep breath.
“So what do we do now?” I asked.
“I can get you out of here. I’m a double agent. Torla trusts me. I’ve got another partner who is working on getting me a flash drive with the file on it. Once we get out of here, you can unlock it to see if it’s dangerous. If it is, we’ll delete it and shut down the Torlans.”
She took out a bottle of red liquid.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Fake blood. This is the torture room, the only room where there are no cameras or microphones. I need to make it look like I was torturing you.”
She applied the fake blood to various spots on my face and body. She put the handcuffs and blindfold back on, then escorted me out of the room. She walked me down the hall, until the door opened and I felt a warm breeze. I was outside again.
I screamed as I felt myself again lifted by multiple large people. I was set down on a hard bed and strapped down. My first thought was, she lied to me. She’s not on my side. But then I heard tapping again.
I forced myself to calm down a bit as I felt a sudden acceleration. I was in a van. After a few minutes that seemed like hours, I had my blindfold taken off again.
Darla--the lady told me that that was her name--explained to me that she had to strap me down to get the Torlans to trust her. Her partner had gotten the flash drive from Torla and we were on our way to somewhere safe where I could unlock the file.
The drive was psychological agony, but after a few hours, we parked in front of a tiny house, surrounded by a forest. It was practically the middle of nowhere.
Once I got in the house, it was pretty nice. I was given a filling meal and some hot chocolate. Darla told me I was safe. My heart was still racing, but I wasn’t so terrified anymore.
Darla sat me down at a computer to unlock the file. Once the flash drive was plugged in, I was surprised at how easy it was to unlock it. Torla must not have been very bright if he thought I was the only one who could do it.
A video message popped up on the screen. An old man sitting in the most nicely furnished room I’d ever seen began speaking.
“I know that there is a spy in my circle. I don’t know who it is, but I’m not letting them have this file. I am closely monitoring all my staff and I promise, I will find you.”
Darla’s jaw dropped open.
“We have to go now. You’re not safe.” She spoke so fast I could barely register it. She took a deep breath.
“I have friends in the NSA. They can protect us. I’ll make a quick call and we’ll get taken somewhere safe.”
I waited at the house for about half an hour before I heard the deafening sound of a helicopter landing outside. Darla rushed me out and a man dressed in black pulled me into the helicopter.
“Where are we going?” I yelled above the noise of the helicopter.
“No time for questions,” he yelled back. “Just sit tight and I’ll keep you safe.
Between the running, the prison cell, and these rides, the past couple days felt like the longest of my life. Eventually, I was escorted into a bunker. Despite the chaos, I was exhausted, so as soon as they escorted me into my room, I passed out onto my bed.
I woke up to a bright light and loud footsteps. Darla was standing above me.
“I’m glad you got some sleep,” she said. “I’ll get right to the point. The Torlans won’t be able to find you here. This place is untraceable. No one has found it since it’s been built, and that was almost a hundred years ago. You’re safe.
“Second, I still need your help with Torla’s file. I’ve gotten together an elite team to invade his building and capture him. Just sit tight while we get you the file. Once Torla is captured, you’ll be safe for good.” She got up and walked towards the door. “We’ll bring you breakfast in a bit.
For the next several days, I was terrified, miserable, and bored simultaneously. I was terrified of seeing Torla again. But this place I was in felt like a prison. Granted, I’d never been in prison before but I couldn’t imagine prison being worse than this. Tiny meals, no human interaction, no mental stimulation whatsoever. All I could think about was when Torla would come to kill me. I lost track of how long I was in there. I couldn’t get through even one day without crying.
After having been in the cell for several days, I was absentmindedly tapping on the vent in Morse Code, just out of boredom.
What really shocked me, though, was that I heard taps back.
My jaw dropped.
I looked into the vent, and spoke, being careful not to be too loud.
“Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” someone replied. Whoever it was had a really nice voice. Deep, almost musical. It was soothing.
“Are you real, or am I just going crazy from not talking to anyone for so long?”
I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt like crying again.
“Do you know when I’ll be out of here?” I hoped they would say that it would be soon.
“Probably never. I think I’ve been here for at least a year, but it’s hard to keep track of time.”
I again felt so frustrated, I wanted to throw something. I threw my pillow.
“This is frustrating,” I said. “Why are you here?”
“They told me it was because I’m a software engineer and they need my help unlocking an encrypted file.”
My jaw automatically dropped again. It does that so much, I’m amazed I never swallow any bugs.
“That’s what they told me.”
“It’s some bullshit,” the voice replied. “Did they tell you about the Torlans?”
“Yeah. I was captured by the Torlans,” I said, still perplexed. “This lady named Darla rescued me.”
“I don’t know who Darla is,” the voice responded, “but these people are no better than the Torlans. The Torlans are evil, don’t get me wrong, but these people aren’t good either. They put people in prisons and torture them.”
“Aren’t they just protecting us?”
The voice laughed.
“That’s what they tell you, but it’s bullshit, like I said” they said. “They want you to work for them for the rest of your life. They want to imprison you.” The voice sighed.
I didn’t know what to say. I was saved from having to think of something, however, when our conversation was interrupted by a bloodcurdling scream. My heart stopped for a quick second.
“The fuck was that?” I said into the vent.
“I think they captured Torla and are torturing him for information. They tell me some stuff, but not everything.”
I sat still for a moment, registering the shock. Darla seemed so sweet. I couldn’t believe she worked for an organization that did that.
I heard a few more screams within the next several minutes. They disturbed me to the bone, but I couldn’t do anything about them. I tried to rest on my bed, but it wasn’t easy.
Later that evening, Darla walked in. She held up something small; I couldn’t tell what it was at first.
“We got the flash drive,” she announced. This was the first time I’d seen her smile, and it made me uneasy.
“You captured Torla?” I asked.
She nodded. “He’s dead now.” The face I made must have looked horrified, because she tried to reassure me.
“It’s not a bad thing. We saved a lot of lives by killing him and we had to send a message to his followers.”
I again wanted to cry, but was too scared.
“We’ll be setting you up on a computer tomorrow morning so you can unlock the file.” Darla smiled again and left the room.
Thoughts were racing through my head. I didn’t want to work for Darla. If she could do that to Torla, what was she capable of doing to me? I didn’t want to think about it. I spoke into the vent again.
“We need to get out of here. I’m scared. Scared of Darla,” I said, talking rapidly.
“Don’t worry,” the voice from before said calmly, “I made friends with one of the guards and I convinced him to help us escape. We’ll be getting the signal any minute now.”
Just then, the lights went out, and chaos ensued. I heard screams of delight from other cells, and a tall man ran into my room and grabbed me by my arm.
“Hurry,” he said, and I recognized the voice as the one I was talking to through the vent.
We sprinted to the nearest door. A car pulled up.
“Get in!” a gruff voice barked.
I hesitated, but the man I was with opened the door.
“Trust me; he’s my friend. Get in if you want to live.”
I jumped into the car. The driver floored it for several miles, and we drove for hours. He finally dropped me and the voice, who introduced himself as Ethan, off at a hotel. He gave us a ton of cash, enough to live off of for a while, and now I’m at a library computer typing up the whole story. It’s starting to rain though, and the rain is falling in a pattern.
By Mallika Kanneganti