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There is graphic content that might trigger certain readers such as drug use, addiction, sexual assault, and the consequences of these matters.

Cold Hell - 20. Chapter 19

The warehouse looked like an industrial fortress, guarded by a barbed wire fence. There were several guards dressed in black armor, armed with rifles or machine guns; there were two stationed behind the main gate. More stood on catwalks, out of the rain. I counted seven but those were only of what I could see. For all I knew there could have been more.

Up until now I'd had my reservations about where Juan and his little posse were taking me, but now my doubts had waned considerably. Why would a building such as this, outside a small town like Tootulu, need this much protection? Not even the Aamodt Corp branch in Roc City had this much security. Scanning the perimeter as best I could I had other doubts. How did Juan and his little motley crew expect to get in and out a place so fortified? Worse yet, what if we got caught? What would happen if my father found out I was running around with a band of terrorists who planned to tear down our family legacy?

"Don't look so skeptical," Juan said. He grinned at me, his face glistening in the rain. "This isn't our first rodeo."

Whatever you say, I thought.

Juan unzipped the duffel bag he carried with him and pulled out a crude looking weapon. It took me a second to realize what it was: a grenade launcher. I felt my heart skip a beat.

"Don't worry," Juan said. "I loaded this thing with nonlethal rounds. We try not to kill people unless we absolutely have to. Take this and stick it onto the side of your head." He handed me a small square device no bigger than a dime. I took it and did as he asked, amazed. The device was known as an identity scrambler. Sold on the black market, these devices sent out a charge that affected any recording devices within range of it, making it more difficult for the authorities to identify criminals.

"Put this over your head. Just in case." Juan handed me a black face mask.

I slid it over my face. Juan made a signal for us to move out. We slipped through the darkness and rain. My clothes clung to me, soaked with rain. I was freezing but did not dare complain or let it slow me down. The grass was slippery beneath my feet. Twice my feet almost went out from under me.

The others moved quickly, gracefully, as if this sort of thing was all too natural for them. I had to run at full speed just to keep up. How many times had they done this, I wondered, breaking into well guarded buildings and bringing down one powerful corporation at a time?

At last we came to the fence. We hunkered out of sight, hidden by overgrown weeds. We had run around to the back of the building where it was darker and there weren't as many guards. The fence vibrated with electricity.

Tinker quickly reached into one of the duffle bags and pulled out a metal device with clamps on the back. He carefully pressed the device against the fence without touching the wire with his gloved hands. With a clicking sound the clamps fastened to the wire. Tinker pressed a series of buttons on the glowing screen. There was a short beeping sound followed by a louder fizzling pop from the fence. The vibrations had died, which meant the fence was no longer charged. "It never fails," he said in an excited whisper. "I love using this thing."

My heart gave an involuntary jerk. My mouth was full with the metallic taste of fear. I could only watch raptly as Tinker produced a rusty set of sheers. He began snipping the wires, his jaw clenched, until he'd created a hole just big enough for us to fit through.

We ran under the cover of darkness, sticking to the shadows. Two guards were approaching, deep in conversation. Juan grabbed hold of me by the front of my shirt and dragged me behind the cover of a large truck.

Juan and Cookie leaned close to one another, going over something I could not hear. I used the opportunity to catch my breath. Adrenaline spiked through my veins. Once again I was struck by the surreality of what was happening, how quickly my life had changed once again. But there was something as well, something I never expected to feel: excitement. It left me with a sense of euphoria not unlike when I shot up.

Cookie shot out from behind the truck, moving with the grace and speed of a feline. "What is she doing?" I whispered to Tinker alarmed. Of the three within the group I felt the most comfortable with Tinker. He seemed to have a sense of humor at the very least.

"Taking out the guards so we can get in the power plant. I have a digital blueprint of the map right here," he added when he saw the questioning look on my face. He tapped the face of a watch on his wrist; I recognized it as one of the products constructed by Aamodt Corporation. With the tap of a button a small digital hologram was projected by the interface of the watch. Walled off sections represented hallways and floors; the yellow dots moving through the corridors represented the people inside.

I opened my mouth to comment how hypocritical it was to use the product produced by the corporation they were trying to take down, but ended up biting my tongue. Now was not the time to point such things out.

"Don't worry," Tinker was saying. "She'll be back before you know it." The confidence in his voice should have been reassuring, but it wasn't. Each passing second seemed to stretch on indefinitely.

A minute later Cookie came bounding back towards us. "We're clear," she huffed. "Let's make this quick."

Once the way was clear we ran towards a set of metal stairs that led up to a catwalk. I was so focused on trying to keep up I didn't see the body of the guard laying at the foot of the stairs. I felt my foot catch against something hard. I managed to grab a hold of the ramp and looked down. It was impossible to tell if the guard was unconscious or dead; honestly I didn't want to know. Juan had assured me they didn't kill people unless they absolutely had to, but then I hadn't seen Cookie incapacitate the guard.

Halfway up the stairs was another guard. There was something sticking out of his neck: a small dart barely noticeable if not seen in the right lighting or at the right angle. Juan was already at the top of the stairs and had come to a stop in front of the doors. He threw a glance over his shoulders to make sure no one was coming. He pulled a pistol from a side holster; the pistol had a silencer screwed onto the muzzle.

By the door was a keypad. Apparently you had to have a four digit code in order to get inside. Juan pressed the mouth of the pistol to the keypad and fired twice. There was a single click and Juan was marching inside with Cookie behind him.

We stood on an upraised platform. My nose instantly wrinkled up at the miasma of smells - none of them were good. The air was heavy with the smell of urine, feces, and hay. Below were hundreds of stalls cordoned off by glass walls. Inside were creatures - creatures was the word that came to mind, not animals - of the most grotesque nature. The glass stalls were small considering there were three and four of the aberrations inside them.

They were round and fat with large bodies and small heads. Some of them had four legs, some of them had more, and some of them only had one; some of them had two eyes or more and some of them were completely blind. They didn't resemble pigs nor did they resemble cows, but a mixture of the two.

Worse than the sight of the creatures was the feeling in the room. I'd never felt anything like it: the raw mix of fear and pain, the images of their pain that passed through me, burned my mind like acid. The pain these creatures were in was constant, both external and internal. They were a mixture of two things that had been spliced together when their genetics were not compatible. For example, one such creature looked as if its insides had been turned inside out. I could see what looked like guts, a set of lungs, and kidneys. How the creature was still alive was beyond me.

Worse yet was their level of intelligence and awareness: they knew what was happening to them and they knew what they were being created for. Seeing this all made me feel sick to my stomach. I felt as if my own body was trying to come apart, barely held together by paper-thin layers of tissue.

What had started out as a genetic experiment to try and create a new animal had gone horribly wrong. Instead they were now being used as an alternative food source, slaughtered and distributed to Mexico. Juan explained all this to me in a calm voice, and that there were more slaughterhouses such as this in the world. I listened, watching as a man appeared dressed in a white uniform. In his arms he held a cattle gun. I watched in horror as the man put a spike through the head of one of the creatures.

I felt its pain as if it was my own. I could literally feel the spike drive through my skull into the soft mush of my brain. Something within me gave a jolt. I had to cover my mouth with a hand to keep from vomiting.

"I've seen enough," I managed to say. "I don't need to see any more."

"Do you believe us, then?" Juan asked. "Do you see why we do what we do?"

"I believe you," I said. I just wanted to get out of there, get as far away from the place as I possibly could.

Suddenly there were flashing red lights and alarms began to go off, releasing a deafening warbling sound. Cookie shouted something but I couldn't hear what she was saying. I followed the group out of the warehouse, back into the rain.

A guard was running towards us up the flight of stairs. Cookie, the closest within reach, lashed out with a kick that sent the guard tumbling down the stairs with the other two who were still unconscious. More were running around from the side of the building, shouting.

Juan fired the grenade launcher twice while we ran for the fence and two more guards went down. Tear gas leaked from the two capsules. The four of us crawled through the hole in the fence and ran across the soggy marsh. My legs ached but I didn't dare stop or slow down, for behind me I could hear the shouting of voices and knew someone would be coming for us.

Relief flooded me when we reached the car. I scrambled in the back with Juan. Tinker had already started the car. We backed away from the deserted house, speeding down the highway as fast as the car could go. I closed my eyes, leaned my head back against the leather seat. I could still see those creatures in my mind, still locked away in those stalls; I could still feel their pain though it was beginning to fade the further we got from the plant. I would never be able to forget what I'd seen.

For a while no one spoke. I could feel the tension within everyone else, the adrenaline and excitement pumping through their brains. I could see the passion behind what they did; they truly believed they were doing good.

"So," I said to Juan, breaking the silence, "you did all of this just to convince me?"

Juan grinned. "Well, not just to convince you. We got footage of what was going on inside of the warehouse. Tomorrow Tinker bell here is going to upload the footage to every newsfeed channel - everyone is going to see and we will expose the people that do this for who they really are. But showing you was of great importance to me."

"To turn me against my father?"

"To educate you."

I was torn. A part of me was reluctant to accept what Juan had told me, what he had shown me. That part wanted to discredit him. But he'd told me Aamodt Corporation was involved, that my father funded the corporation who owned the warehouse, therefore he was involved in some way. The proof was on the data disk Juan had given me back at the hotel in New York. I'd seen everything with my own eyes.

There's no going back - not after this.

For the second time my life had been disrupted, altered in a major way: For the first time by the death of my mother, and now this.

Danni Aamodt IV expected me to take over the company, as was my destiny. If I ever had a son or daughter - which I had no plans to - I was supposed to groom them to do the same by default. It was tradition. Four generations had run the company and the legacy was supposed to go on.

But I didn't want it. I never had. I'd always wanted to do my own thing, follow my own path when I found out what that was - I'd just never had the chance because Father was always hounding me. I'd never wanted his seat on the throne, so to speak, and I wanted it even less now. The corporation's mission statement from the moment Danni Aamodt the I had written it was to make the world a better place. This polluted the statement, mocked it. I couldn't in good conscience just let this go. Even if it meant betraying the family name.

The car had come up on the bridge where Tinkerbell had picked me up; though it had only been an hour ago, it felt like it had been days since I first got in the car. I got out and turned to Juan. "I'll help you in whatever way I can," I said before closing the door.

By the time I made it home to my own bed, every muscle in my body screamed for rest. My eyes smouldered with exhaustion. I peeled off my wet jacket, stripped naked, and tumbled face first into my bed. Outside I could still hear the rain tapping against the window. For a moment I remembered fondly, before she became sick, how my mother and I would sit out on the deck during rainy days. We would bring mugs of hot chocolate and she would read to me. Usually it would be the classics: Beowulf, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Alice in Wonderland, etc. Even though I had already mastered reading at a young age, flipping through large tomes, absorbing everything I possibly could, I let Mother read to me because I enjoyed it.

My thoughts turned to all I had witnessed last night. I felt as if I was on the edge of a precipice, about to fall off, and plunge through open air. My father was somewhere in the house, perhaps in his study, or asleep in his bedroom. Or maybe he wasn't. Maybe he was off somewhere completing a business deal or at the office going over paperwork. Thinking about him made my teeth grind together and my hands curl into fists with rage.

I hated him now more than ever.

 

                              …

 

Juan and his group made good on their promise to record the footage they'd filmed from the warehouse. At a quarter until noon, when Father, Uncle Charlie, and I and the rest of the board were in the middle of a meeting, the secretary knocked on the glass doors and tottered inside, her high heels clicking on the tiled floor. Her eyes were wide behind her glasses.

"Turn on the TV!" she said breathlessly. "It's being broadcast on every news screen!"

A TV screen folded itself down from a hole that appeared in the ceiling. The TV screen flickered on, showing the abhorrent creatures I'd seen at the warehouse last night.

"...these creatures are the result of genetic mutation," a deep, distorted voice said on the screen. "This is the works of the eugenics company Revision, whose headquarters are located in Mexico. We have reason to believe they do human experimentation as well."

The tension throughout the rest of the room was palpable; everyone sat around the table, watching the screen raptly, unmoving.

"This project was partially funded by Aamodt Corporation. At ELF we believe it is the right of every person in the United States of America and the world to know what the companies they support do and the lies they tell."

As the speech continued, the footage showed a white clad worker pointing the muzzle of a cattle gun at a creature's head, and pulling the trigger. One of the board members, Margaret Stone, gasped and looked away. "Shut it off!" she breathed. "Good God, I don't want to watch anymore! For God sakes shut it off!"

Just as ELF's emblem, a spinning blue earth, appeared on the screen, it began to fold itself back up into the ceiling.

I had to bite my lip to keep from smiling.

          

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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