<!--#include Michael Duda" name="author">

Last of Lasts

by Michael Duda

David Grayson stood outside the Focus Chamber, one of three test subjects—himself, Jan, and Little Jack. He waited for Doctor Stern who would soon arrive in the Threading Experimental Control Center, or TECC.

Jan had already entered the Chamber. Her thin arms were in front of her as she gripped the bio-electric transfer rail. She maintained focus on the polycarbonate walls.

David watched her. The drum of Jan’s heartbeat was already climbing. He could hear it pulsing on a nearby monitoring station. Condensation of her breath was building against the thick plastic interior of the chamber’s wall.

Thanks to the booster injection, Jan would soon reach a state of hyper-anxiety. David always disliked this part of the experiment.

“Ready, David?”

David turned to see Doctor Stern approach. His white lab coat that covered his tall, lean body gave him the appearance of a walking stork. Little Jack limped alongside the doctor.

“Let’s do this,” David said.

Little Jack said nothing. He rolled up his sleeve to indicate that he was ready for the mind-altering booster. The bruised tissue marks from repeated jet injections were evident on his upper arm.

Doctor Stern’s long, slender fingers gripped the jet injector. There was a hiss of air and Little Jack grimaced. After the Doctor nodded, Little Jack rolled down his sleeve and hobbled over to the Chamber.

David, Jan, and Little Jack had volunteered to endure this type of ongoing testing, or Threading. David did it because he needed the money. He was out of work and his college loans were behind on payment. Jan was in a similar situation. Little Jack had been homeless, so any paycheck was a good paycheck.

But the payments came at a cost. He soon discovered that all three of them were now no better than lab rats. Every morning they were given a booster to enhance the experiment. And what was unusual about the injection was that it induced a type of temporary mental condition. It lasted through the Threading.

Sometimes the effects suddenly returned in the evening, long after the booster had worn off. The effects only lasted for a few seconds. And they were occurring more and more. David was growing concerned that if even if he now quit the program, his mind might eventually erode into a broken state. Even without the boosters.

“David, have you talked with Jan? I want to know before I give you the booster,” Doctor Stern said.

David shook his head.

“I know you care for her David. I do.”

David studied Doctor Stern. It was always difficult to read anything in the man’s grey eyes.

“Maybe you could try new projected images,” David said.

Doctor Stern had explained that the thick plastic walls of the polycarbonate chamber acted as an impact resistance lens. The light beams contained visual information. When directed at the chamber’s walls, the light would come to focus on Jan’s eyes and formed multiple images that only she would see during the Threading.

As she entered hyper-anxiety, her thoughts splintered. Her thoughts fractured into a series of present projected images and future imagined possibilities. Jan formed a story of the projected images that played out in her mind like a thread. It was like rolling it out of a spool of string until it finally reached some conclusion. Simultaneously, her thoughts made tangential jumps. They formed new stories, new threads.

The more jumps Jan made, the faster an energy counter would climb. Theoretically, she should eventually exhaust all tangential possibilities and the joule counter would hit full capacity. She would reach the final thread.

“She won’t make her mind go there,” David said.

After each failed Threading, Jan shared her private thoughts with him. She was afraid if she jumped to the final thread, she wouldn’t be able to piece her mind back together.

It was a dark place where she was afraid to go. No threads seemed to fully form there. It was the final tangential possibility.

She called this final thread the Last of Lasts.

Several members of the science team were busily working at their stations. They studied Jan’s brainwave telemetry. David peered over the back of a lab assistant’s white coat. A joule counter slowly ticked up, a device that converted her mental activity into an electrical signal.

The lateral images of Jan’s mind displayed orange highlights. This was where her brain was responsible for dealing with her boosted anxiety. When Threading fully began, the lateral images highlights would turn bright red and spread across the screen as if her mind was on fire.

“I had high hopes, David. I expect you to be more cooperative in the future.”

David got ready for his booster. He was nervous. He rubbed at a metal token he kept in his pocket. He could feel the outline of a palm tree stamped on one side.

He had found the token under his dorm room bed while cleaning to move out. It was silly trinket, but for some reason he had held onto it. Maybe it offered him hope. One day soon, he would find a job and pay off his college debts. That he would have enough money to visit a tropical island, far away from the Massachusetts cold.

“David, I wouldn’t ask you to push yourself beyond your capacitive limits. That’s why we’ve done something different with the projections today.”

“Look, I don’t want anyone getting hurt.”

Doctor Stern made a quiet laugh. “Have you ever heard of an infinity mirror?”

“Yeah. A kind of mirror that that when you look into it, it looks like it continues on forever in the background.”

“Yes. A 19th century novelty, perhaps. It’s an illusion that has even been reproduced through computer simulation. But this is the year 2000. We will recreate one today through projection of light.”

“I don’t see how this is going to help.”

The doctor tapped at David’s head. David didn’t like the patronizing gesture, but he said nothing.

“There are aspects of our personality that we don’t even know exist. Imagine being able to explore yourself. To discover who you really are. And who you will finally be in a single moment of time,” Doctor Stern said.

“So you will project an infinite image of Jan to herself. Then when she Threads, her mind will be tricked into exploring everything. Even that final place she’s afraid to go. What she calls the Last of Lasts.”

“Tricks are for magicians. This is science.”

Trick or science, David still worried. Jan had said that if she unspooled the final thread, something bad could happen to her.

“The mental energy conversion. What happens when the joule counter hits full capacity?”

Doctor Stern smiled as if he was speaking to a child.

“Then with the boosters, you could become a conduit of great power. Your mind could move mountains. Perhaps literally. Imagine the possibilities.”

“And what if something else happens? What if it’s not what you expect?”

Doctor Stern patted David on the shoulder. “This is science after all. We learn something new every day.”

He gave David the jet injection of booster.

The chemical booster immediately made its way up David’s arm like worms that crawled under his skin.

The boosted effects were different for David. He didn’t suffer anxiety, like Jan, or hallucinate, like Little Jack. Instead, David felt like he was more open to the sensations of his surroundings. Eventually his muscles would stiffen and he lost control of decision making. He also lost all sense of time.

When boosted, all David could do was feel. He could actually sense the mental energies of both Jan and Little Jack within his mind’s eyes. It was through this concentrated brain activity that Doctor Stern hoped to convert David’s mental activity to some form of physical energy.

David slowly made his way over to the Focus Chamber to join Jan and Little Jack. The booster continued to work on him.

The chamber door made a soft click behind David as an electromagnet locked him in. Vents above him whispered circulated air so that the three of them could breath.

He prepared. David wrapped a wireless telemetry band around his forehead and wrists. Then he gripped the bio-electric transfer rail with both hands. The rail spanned the length of the chamber. It was made of highly conductive copper, a good material for the transfer of energy between the three Threaders. It was already warmed by Jan and Little Jack’s mental activity.

“Are you ready, David?” Doctor Stern mouthed the words from outside the chamber.

David couldn’t hear the words, but he understood the meaning. He nodded.

He faced out to watch Doctor Stern talk with someone working one of the control stations. The procedure would begin soon.

To his right, Little Jack had already slipped into a hallucinogenic and catatonic state. His hairy knuckles were almost white and locked around the bio-electric rail. Drool hung from his open mouth. He stared at the floor. David could smell the man’s sweat.

But the mental energy coming from Little Jack was immediately felt on the bio-electric rail.

For experimental purposes, Little Jack was like a bobbin that a spool rested on. He served as a grounding point during the Threading.

Little Jack’s mind had latched onto some bit of selective memory while in his catatonic state. It felt focused and small, like a dot no bigger than the size of a pin’s head. As long as David remembered this sensation, he could eventually retreat back to it to complete the experiment.

David would communicate this sensation back to Jan. It’s how he always managed to bring her back from her Threading. She would slowly wind back the threads. Then she piece her mind back together from a splintered state. Thanks to Little Jack, David always felt a relief to know Jan would be okay.

The booster was really kicking in now.

His mind was becoming an open conductor. Jan’s breathing rapidly increased. He sensed her energy feeding into him. It entered his hands, crawled up his arm, and along his neck. He fed off of Jan’s mind, absorbing her mental energy. In a way, his experimental relationship with her was parasitic. This was probably why he most disliked Threading.

The theory was that when Jan’s joule counter hit full capacity, the peak energy she produced would supercharge a portion of David’s brain. His brain would then be permanently altered. All thanks to Jan.

Doctor Stern couldn’t actually say what the full result would be. There was speculation that David could become a walking energy detector without the need for boosters. Or he would develop the ability of rapid computation and extreme intelligence. Who knew? Doctor Stern believed that David was a vessel, ready to receive the gift of becoming something more than human. But was David ready for such a change? Was the world? And at what cost to Jan?

Beams of light were directed at the polycarbonate walls. They were focused on Jan. David could only watch them through the see-through walls.

Jan’s breathing accelerated. The condensation of her breath spread across the plastic interior wall. It partially obscured the view of the joule counter on the nearby workstation.

David could just make out the joule counter climbing.

His muscles stiffened. His hands shook. The ability to make decisions dulled. Time was losing meaning. All he could do now was feel. David felt the bio-electric rail grow warmer, almost hot to the touch.

Mental energy was flowing in. Little Jack’s sanctuary took shape, the dot no bigger than the size of the head of a pin. It felt like a growing sphere. At the same time, Jan’s energy came at him in steady pulses. The two energies commingled as Little Jack’s sanctuary moved around inside it like the nucleus of an atom.

As long as Little Jack’s mental energy didn’t overwhelm David, Jan would be okay.

The projected light beams changed. They split into an array of colors that formed a square shape in the air. Then a smaller array appeared within the first. It repeated the same color pattern while a third shape began. It was a square within a square within a square.

The spectacle dazzled David’s eyes. This patterned shape continued forming new squares within more new squares. David lost himself, hypnotized by the barrage of shapes that seemed to go on forever.

He could feel his mind changing. It was as if the beams of lights formed a door that waited to be opened. And when it did, a multi-colored aura of energy would embrace him. It would become one with him. It wanted him to forget everything else. To forget Little Jack. To forget Jan. Just feel the door open. Feel the door. Open it, David. Open—

Jan whimpered. The sound broke the light’s hypnotic spell over David.

He suddenly realized that Little Jack’s sanctuary was disappearing from his mind. David was losing the small dot of energy. Its sense of existence vanished and reappeared before vanishing again. If he didn’t do something fast, he would lose it altogether and Jan’s mind would be lost.

Doctor Stern pointed at the joule counter and grinned at the lab assistant.

David’s thoughts raced but he couldn’t act. Was this what the Doctor had wanted all along? That to get through the final boundary, Jan’s Last of Lasts, he must sacrifice her mind?

In David’s hypnotic state, he had forgotten about Little Jack’s sanctuary altogether. He would have allowed Jan to have continued threading to infinity. And with no sanctuary to return to, Jan’s mind would never return from her splintered state.

Jan’s whimper turned into intermittent gasping.

Little Jack’s sanctuary faded again.

With no sense of time, David couldn’t tell for how long this was all going on for.

His boosted state held David back. His hands shook. His stiffened muscles would not release the transfer rail. He struggled to concentrate, to make his feet move, to try and grab Jan and snap her out of her state of mind. But he couldn’t get himself to act.

And even if he could shake Jan back to consciousness, would the sudden interruption permanently shatter her mind?

All David could do was feel. And what he felt was anger. The emotion grew within that area of his mind where Little Jack’s sanctuary and Jan’s splintered energy commingled.

He thought of Jan, how scared she must be right now. How Doctor Stern considered her nothing more than disposable. David’s anger grew more and it overwhelmed all his thoughts.

The anger burst out. David could feel the emotional disruption leave his hands and flow outward along the transfer rail.

Outside the chamber, Doctor Stern pointed at David. His brow was furrowed and his mouth turned down in anger. The joule counter was dropping.

David somehow must have forced Jan to spool back her mind.

The projected lights shut down. A lab assistant rushed over and unlocked the Focus Chamber door. As he entered, Jan fell to the tiled floor. She was shaking.

David’s booster effect began to wear off. His hands relaxed even though they felt somewhat heavy and stiff. This was unusual, because it usually took hours for the booster to fully work its way out of his body. He was able to release the rail and turn around.

Doctor Stern stood in the doorframe of the focus chamber. His face was taut. A vein stood raised on his forehead. His mouth was twisted in a look of both frustration and disgust.

“You are on the brink of greatness, David,” Doctor Stern said.

David glared back. “You would have destroyed her mind.”

“You short-sighted—“

David found the strength to ball his shaking hands into painful fists. He stepped forward. The doctor stood only several inches from him in the small chamber.

Then he punched Doctor Stern in the nose. Blood sprayed as the doctor stumbled back. Both hands covered his wounded face. Drops of blood fell on the floor.

The lab assistant grabbed David. He held him back from punching the doctor a second time.

David felt too weak to resist.

“We’ll do the experiment again tomorrow. No weeklong breaks this time before the session,” Doctor Stern said. He looked over at Jan who shivered as if she were freezing cold. “I don’t care if she’s ready or not.”

David could do nothing but watch Doctor Stern leave the experiment’s control center.

The lab assistant would not release him so that he could help Jan. He was forced outside the chamber as more assistants came in. They carried her out like a limp rag doll.

Little Jack still gripped the transfer rail, locked in a catatonic state. David felt just as helpless.


That night, David knocked at Jan’s dormitory door. She didn’t answer so he let himself in.

The room was dark except for one light near her bed. Clothes she had worn earlier were tossed on the floor in a crumpled pile. A discarded book lay open on the floor. David made his way over to her.

“You weren’t at dinner. I brought you a piece of cake,” David said.

David could tell that the booster had worn off her. Jan said nothing. She lay on her side in bed wearing a t-shirt and pair of shorts. Her dyed black hair was disheveled. Her back was to him and it rose and fell in slow breaths.

He put the small plate of cake next to the lamp that rested on a nightstand.

“Jan, are you okay?”

There was silence for a moment. “You shouldn’t have stopped me today.”

“What do you mean?”

David leaned over. He saw that dried tears had streaked her face.

“The booster symptoms. I had more tonight. I can’t take this anymore,” Jan said.

“Maybe you should drop out of the program. Doctor Stern can find someone else no problem.”

Jan turned over to look at him. In the pale yellow light, he could see her mascara more clearly. She shook her head.

“I don’t think the side effects can be reversed. I can’t live like this anymore.”

David sat on the bed. “You don’t mean that.”

“You don’t understand. I want to splinter my mind. Forever.”

“But you were so scared in the chamber.”

“I…I don’t remember. Maybe I was. But I’ve thought about it. I want to go to the Last of Lasts and never come back.”

David reached into his pocket. He pulled out the metal token with the palm tree. He placed it in her hand.

“When I start to give up hope, I rub this between my thumb and forefinger. It reminds me that there are still places in the world I haven’t explored yet. There’s more for me to do.”

Jan’s lips trembled. “I want to forget all this. Forget everything.”

“There’s more for you Jan. There’s more outside of this place.”

Jan made a weak smile. She briefly held the metal token up to the light. The stamped palm tree glinted. She gave it back to David.

“That’s sweet. But I don’t think there’s hope for me.”

“Jan, the Last of Lasts. There’s some places we probably shouldn’t explore. Don’t let yourself go there tomorrow.”

“David.” Her brown eyes were wide.


“Will you hold me?”

David lay beside Jan and wrapped her in his arms. She felt small and frail. She shook slightly as she cried into his chest.

“I wish I had your hope. I do,” Jan said.

“Maybe together we can do something. Maybe we can cross the Last of Lasts together.”


That was the million dollar question.

Tomorrow, Doctor Stern would devise some way to ensure that David would not interrupt the experiment again. And if that happened, Jan would never stop threading. Her mind lost forever in a splintered state.

The only solution David could think of was that he should try to focus again on his anger. Somehow it had helped him to overcome his boosted state during today’s experiment. He had channeled into the emotion to transmit enough energy to interrupt Jan. Could he do it again?

Jan’s breathing had quieted as she drifted off to sleep.

As David lay there, he concentrated on the image of Doctor Stern’s bloodied face. He imagined himself squeezing the image into such a tight space within his mind that it pressed together like a pill capsule under compression.

The image would burst out and escape. David tried again. Over and over he worked on this until he became exhausted.

He wasn’t sure if the effort was useful. Hopefully, he had conditioned himself so that he would still remember where the anger resided. What else could he do? Doctor Stern had scientific training, a support staff, and advanced technology. All David had was his feelings.

David felt like an ant among giants.


The next morning, someone banged on David’s dormitory door. When he opened it, three stone-face security guards in black uniforms walked in.

The men were abrupt. They told him to quickly change because the experiment would begin soon. They answered no questions and refused him the option of breakfast.

When he was dressed, they cuffed his hands behind his back. This was obviously a precaution to ensure that David didn’t cause any more problems for Doctor Stern.

When David arrived at the TECC, Doctor Stern was already there talking with a lab assistant. His nose had stopped bleeding but a large bruise and some swelling served as a reminder of yesterday’s altercation.

David smiled to himself. It was a small bit of satisfaction which made up for the uncomfortable steel handcuffs that restrained him now.

The guards ushered him over to where Little Jack stood waiting. The short man raised his hands as if to say, “Why?” David motioned with his eyes over at Doctor Stern. Little Jack made a vulgar gesture with his middle finger at the doctor’s back and then grinned. David returned the grin.

The guards must have also come for Jan. She was already in the focus chamber prepping. She had changed out of her shorts and t-shirt from the night before. But her hair was still disheveled. She hadn’t cleaned off the streaked mascara from her face. And her eyes looked tired and confused.

Her breathing was accelerating as condensation built on the polycarbonate interior.

David had no way to speak to Jan. He could only hope that their time together last night had changed her mind about the Last of Lasts.

“It’s good to see you cooperating, David,” Doctor Stern said.

“I’m handcuffed. Do I have a choice?”

David thought again of the anger that he tried to encapsulate in his mind last night. Seeing Doctor Stern in the lab now only made the emotion more intense and more difficult to compress.

The Doctor pointed at a needle syringe and pointed at David. They syringe was something new.

The lab assistant nodded. Together, Doctor Stern and the assistant walked over. Doctor Stern made a smile that was probably intended to be mocking.

David thought the act to be comical. A bulbous swell had spread across both the Doctor’s upper lip and nose that resembled something like a purple onion.

“I don’t blame you for yesterday. You were boosted. And your little act of—“ The Doctor’s face grew dark and red for a moment. “Your act of enthusiasm was most likely due to the temporary symptoms of dementia.”

“Take these cuffs off. Let’s prove your scientific theory.”

Little Jack grunted a laugh and slapped at his knee.

The lab assistant used a jet injector on Little Jack’s exposed arm and a guard assisted the man as he hobbled over to the focus chamber.

“You’ve had your fun, David. Now I have mine.”

Doctor Stern leaned close. His breath came at David’s face in hot puffs. It smelled faintly of breath mints, something the Doctor probably used to cover up the stale odor of morning coffee. He held up the same syringe he had shown the lab assistant a few minutes ago. Inside it was an opaque yellow solution.

“It also contains Scopolamine. Some call it truth serum. My intent is different. We’ll be doing a narcosynthesis on you as a controlled intravenous hypnosis. It will enhance your booster.”

The long needle burned as it entered David’s arm. A few seconds later, the Doctor finished and patted him on the shoulder.

“Wouldn’t want you to harm yourself during the procedure, David.”

“You don’t care about us. Any of us. Just your results.”

Doctor Stern said nothing.

A guard forced David over to the chamber. The uniformed man opened the door and unlocked his cuffs. David’s body felt relaxed. He didn’t resist. The syringe had already started working. When the guard told him to place his hands on the bio-electric rail, he complied without a second thought. Then the guard left the chamber and locked the door.

David felt weightless.

He looked over at Jan. Her breaths came in quick, short bursts. In-out-in-out-in-out. It was like a ticking clock.

Then the sound turned into a humming bird’s beating wings. David’s mind jumped to the image of a butterfly as it hovered on soft breeze.

How wonderful this chamber felt. It was warm in here, embracing him like a blanket. Its protective walls kept away bad doctors and mean guards.

He wanted to say something to Jan. But he couldn’t quite remember what.

“Butterfly. Okay. Little pill.” That was all he could manage to say.

The little pill. Was that from last night? Was it curved and smooth and shiny? David wanted to taste it, a fragile thing upon his tongue. He envisioned bright colors swirling inside its tiny capsule. He wanted the colors to break free and fill his mouth with rainbow warmth. A pill full of rainbow colors seemed funny and this thought made David laugh.

But he grew quiet when the projected lights began. Multiple colors. Squares within squares. David watched them and thought they were beautiful.

From somewhere nearby, David could hear the sound of waves. They seemed to ebb and flow onto some distant shore. Back and forth. Back and forth.

Was that someone breathing? No. He was floating on water. Somewhere nearby there must be an island. He imagined palm trees rooted in white sand.

He remembered how much he liked palm trees. And the ocean. And islands. But he couldn’t see them now because a fog spread before his eyes. He tried to reach out and wipe away the fog. His hands wouldn’t cooperate.

What if he swallowed the pill? That pill full of colorful swirling lights. Would that light shine out and show him where the island was?

“I wouldn’t want you to harm yourself, David.” Doctor Stern’s voice seemed to loom nearby. But that was impossible. David was floating in the ocean.

David imagined picking up the pill and putting it into his mouth. His arms grew warmer. Then, almost hot. Then his tongue grew hot. The heat crawled up his neck.

“You’ve had your fun, David.”

But David wanted to bite into the pill. To taste the swirling colors as they broke free. He wanted to see the island.

The pill lay hot on his tongue. It made his brain hot. Fire hot. For a moment, he became afraid.

“David, you are just an ant. Ants cannot go to islands,” Doctor Stern’s voice said to him.

But ants could live on islands. It made no sense. David grew angry. Then furious.

“Wrong. Wrong, Doctor Stern.”

David would prove what ants could do. He bit into the pill.

David’s hypnotic spell was immediately broken.

It was like an explosion. Energy erupted from his brain. It traveled down his neck and out his hands. He couldn’t stop it.

Again, another explosion. This time, the energy rushed out from all over his body. It was a convulsion of so much force that it caused the air to crackle and arc. The smell of plasma filled the chamber.

“Stop!” Jan screamed.

Jan was gripping the bio-electric rail as if she would fall from some great height.

David could see white, ethereal threads flow out and spread from her eyes. They wavered in front of him. Then they wrapped themselves around his arms and upper body, touching him with their bristled feelers. They pulled tighter, and he knew that they could crush the life out of him.

David couldn’t control his mind. The energy convulsion happened again. His mind was on fire, a volcano that continued to erupt.

The threads responded by pulling tighter, feeding off his energy and hungry for more. They were parasites that would suck him dry.

“Release me,” David said. He meant it as a command. It came out as a plea for mercy.

The writhing threads hesitated, still hungry.

“If you don’t release me, I will shut my mind off. You will starve.” He wasn’t actually sure he could do this but he had to try the bluff.

The threads obeyed. They pulled back and away. David began to collect his thoughts again as the threads retreated.

“David, I can’t see. I’m blind,” Jan said.

Jan’s eyes were milky white. They were the same color as the ethereal threads that had erupted from them.

Little Jack had come out of his catatonic state. He gawked open-mouthed at something outside the chamber walls.

Doctor Stern, the lab assistants, and the uniformed guards stood in place. Doctor Stern was caught in a pose of excitedly grabbing a guards arm and pointing at the focus chamber. He appeared to be alive and frozen in time.

David’s mind convulsed again. Little Jack radiated a blue field that rippled out from his body. The field spread out and covered everyone outside the focus chamber. The field must have acted as a time distortion field.

David realized that he must be like a battery for both Jan and Little Jack. He had stored and now sourced mental energy for their new abilities. Jan could emit the ethereal threads similar to what she had done during the experimental procedures. Little Jack seemed to be able to stop time or force people into a catatonic state of sorts.

But he also realized he might be able to control them to some extent.

David focused his thoughts on the chamber walls. The ethereal threads responded. They spread out in a complex pattern over its hard surface. But David sensed that they weren’t willing to expend any more of the precious, mental energy he supplied them. It would take someone else to force them to act into their full capacity.

“Jan, listen to me. I want you to imagine that the chamber walls are broken into a million pieces. Can you do that?”

Jan still gripped the rail. She was blind and afraid. She did nothing. David touched one of her hands and slowly she let go.

Jan put her hands in his and nodded in agreement. David felt convulsions of energy flow from him and into Jan. The threads glowed.

It should have been impossible. Doctor Stern had told David that the focus chamber walls were impact resistant enough to take a bullet. The thick polycarbonate cracked. Lines spider-webbed under the ethereal threads grip. Seconds later, the walls splintered into small pieces of plastic.

They were free.

David’s mind was rapidly cooling off. He most likely spent all of his energy on the effort to destroy the chamber wall.

The threads snaked their way back into Jan. David sensed that they waited to someday emerge and to be fed again.

He squeezed Jan’s hands. She returned the squeeze. She had survived the Last of Lasts mentally intact.

“We’re leaving this place,” David said.

“What about Doctor Stern?” Jan said.

David looked around at the frozen men in the lab. They had never budged. Little Jack still pulsed a blue field, but it was growing dimmer. “Little Jack’s already taken care of him. But we have to get going.”

“What do you mean? I can’t see them.”

“I’ll explain later. Let’s just hope that whatever Little Jack did will last until we’re far away from this building.”

All three of them made their way out. David guided Jan as they worked their way around the time-frozen Doctor Stern and his scowling guards. They stepped over pieces of broken plastic. The doors that lead out from TECC were only a few feet away.

The Doctor, the lab assistants and the guards never moved. David imagined Doctor Stern’s frustration when he later discovered that his ‘lab rats’ had escaped. He grinned.

When the three of them made it out to the hallway, David could see the exit out of the building. No one tried to stop them.

“David, where are we going?” Jan said.

David reached into his pocket and fingered the metal token. He flipped it in the air and it landed back in his hand. The palm tree glinted.

“Let’s go explore.”

Little Jack just slapped his knee and snorted a laugh. Another blue field rippled outward from him, much fainter than the previous ones. It was something like a hiccup and it gave him the appearance of a blinking Christmas light.

Minutes later, they were outside. The sun was shining on them like a warm day on a tropical island.


2019 Michael Duda

Bio: Michael is the author of several self-published collections of short stories. His works can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and more. Under pen name M. Duda, his titles include We Dream at Twilight and Whispers from the Grave. His latest short story will be included in an anthology along with many other amazing fantasy and sci-fi writers. He lives in Ohio with his wife, three dogs and two cats. He writes because his cats hate him. You can find him at www.authormichaelduda.com.

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