Still In

Posted: February 24, 2012 in Fiction, Test Subject

“Hold still,” she says, and a gout of flame streaks into my chest. The stream bursts and spreads over me like I’m a rock in a stream. There’s a scream. It’s probably mine. I frantically slap at my chest while my childhood memories let the age-old mantra of stop-drop-and-roll surface. I have no idea how much time has passed, but it can’t have been much; I’m not feeling any pain yet. I grit my teeth and drop to the ground. I start rolling around back and forth, trying to put out the fire. “Asher, get up,” a voice says. After a moment, it penetrates my consciousness. I roll over onto my back and look up. The doctor is still standing there holding the flame thrower. “Mister Brinks, stand up,” she says again. I look down. My pants are blackened at the waist. My shirt is gone. My skin – my skin is fine. I’m not hurt at all. I roll over and pull my feet under me. I see the silvery pill that is the thermometer on the ground. I pick it up and put it back in my mouth as I stand.

I turn to face Doctor Allison. “Did you swallow the thermometer?” she asks me. I shake my head. “Did you drop it?” I sigh through my nose. I nod. The canned voice at her hip sighs. “We are going to have to work on this.” I’m listening, but only halfway. I run my hands over my suddenly bare chest, feeling for wounds. My hands come away black and grey because of the remnants of my shirt, but I’m seemingly unharmed.

“How long does this last?” I ask.

“About five minutes,” she says.

“And I’m fireproof?”

“At least in a conventional sense. I don’t know what your maximum heat tolerance is. Greater than this can deliver, at any rate.” She nods to the flame thrower for emphasis.

“You know you scared the shit out of me, right?” I’ve stopped checking myself over. I cross my arms.

“Yes, I know.” She pokes at the palm screen for a moment. “I thought it fair to show you what you were hired for. It’s not too late to back out.” We stand there in silence for what feels like hours. It’s probably barely a minute. I weigh my options. I try to come up with some other plan. Then I think about how I just survived a direct spray from a flame thrower. That’s cool as hell. There’s no choice to be made.

“I’m still in,” I tell her. “What’s next?” She doesn’t answer right away. She disassembles the flame thrower. Then she picks up the tray with the spent needle and the handheld screen. I spit the thermometer into my palm and drop it on the tray. She mashes the black mushroom button and the airlock slides open. I follow her into the entryway. She sets the tray down and starts to pull the big silver suit off. I take the initiative and go to the far doorway and hit the black button. The double door behind us slams shut and there’s a loud hiss. My ears pop again as the pressure changes.

“Asher,” Doctor Allison says to my back. “There will be occasions where we have to be decontaminated.” The double door opens in front of me as I look back. “Not everything I’m working on is as… Safe… as the heat resistance.”

“You’ll let me know when we’re working on those things, right?” I ask her.

“Of course.” She’s stepping out of the hazard suit.

“Then there’s nothing to worry about.” I grin. I’m euphoric now. I was fireproof! I think about what it would mean for a firefighter to be able to just walk into a burning building and pull people out. Movies about heroically dead firefighters would be a thing of the past. I can’t wait to see what else she’s got in those syringes.

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