His feet swung back and forth as he tried to wiggle a better sense of leverage, pull just a bit more of his upper body inside the vent.

His right shoulder and upper chest propped inside the vent, Scott’s feet kept swinging wildly as he managed to gain another inch. Then another, and another.

His mind projected images of high school gym class and the fact that he could never pull himself more than a few feet up the rope from the ever-popular sitting position. Despite the urging of the gym teacher and the fact that the entire class was watching, Scott had never been able to go up more than those first couple of feet.

Other kids in the class crawled up the rope as easily as they might ascend a set of stairs, almost like they had been bitten by radioactive spiders. But each year, when it was his turn in that gym class, Scott went up a few feet and then his body, shaking uncontrollably from the strain on his muscles, simply let go and fell back down onto the gym mat, completely defeated and winded and not caring one bit that everyone in the class was laughing at his expense.

Despite believing he had been giving it his all, that he had been putting every possible bit of effort into those gym rope climb attempts, Scott now knew better.

With the result being capture and death rather than mere teenage humiliation, additional resources of strength, power and motivation could be tapped into.

Sliding his entire body into the vent, Scott could hear the sound of yet another key sliding into the lock.

Holy shit, Scott said. Doesn’t the guard remember which key is which?

No matter, he thought. It’s a good thing for me that he’s having trouble with it.

Shoving the backpack ahead of him, Scott wormed his way further into the vent.  It was dark, dusty and extremely hot.  He could see that the vent moved off to the left, to the right, and straight ahead.

No time to think this through, Scott thought, and immediately started crawling down the vent to the left, which would, according to his calculations, take him over top of the 2nd floor kitchen.

Behind him, he heard Herb and the security guard utter the monotonic phrase again, the jiggling of more keys. He kept crawling, seeing if he could put as much distance between himself and the vent opening before they made it into the first aid room.  Herb did, after all, have a gun.

Scrambling through the dark, Scott realized it wasn’t completely pitch dark inside the vent because of the light that shot up through various openings every few feet.  Through them, he could hear the two men continuing to slam against the door, jangle the keys, and occasionally bleating out their threatening lines.

Doing his best to make as little noise as possible while scrambling through the vent, Scott finally made it to the corner at the back of the office.  He turned right, knowing he was heading overtop of the same hallway he had first come running down.

As he turned, the sounds of Herb and the guard were harder to make out. He could detect the jangling of the keys, the repeated same four words of “you cannot evade us” sometimes peppered with “you won’t get away” and other times with “we will stop you.”

Sliding past the short branch that led to the area over Gary’s work area, Scott was again reminded of the manner by which Gary had managed to block the airflow in his area.

He was curious as to whether or not the vent had something to do with the behavior of Herb, the guard and Gary; particularly since Gary hadn’t seemed to shift and morph until he was directly under the vent in the closed first aid room.

Could that be it? Scott wondered, continuing to crawl forward. It was, at least, one theory on why Gary, when he’d been sitting at his workstation, was entirely himself, entirely normal – and that it wasn’t until he had been away from the unique environment he had hacked that he slipped into that glassy-eyed state.

No, he told himself. It might first make sense, but that couldn’t be it. “I’ve been breathing the very same air,” he whispered. “And I haven’t been affected.”

He kept crawling forward, heard a loud thump echo from somewhere behind him, figuring that the security guard had finally located the right key, had twisted the lock open and they’d slammed against the door, only to have it hit against the couch and metal cabinet.

Scott figured he had less than a minute before they were able, using their combined force, to get the door open enough to see the entire room, realize he wasn’t hiding behind the door, and spot the open vent grate and realize where he had gone.

Moving a bit faster, as quickly as he was able, Scott continued scrambling forward in the vent.

Damn, he thought, considering the fact that, running down the corridor below took a few thirty to forty seconds at best; but crawling along that same length of space seemed to take infinitely longer.

He wasn’t sure where, exactly he was heading, wondering if he’d come to another main intersection, and perhaps one that led to another floor.  He wondered if he might be able to crawl up or perhaps slide down, or whether he’d get to a branch too thin for an adult male to navigate.

When he got to what he figured was the halfway point of the long corridor, he heard the distinct sounds of footsteps coming from below. 

Damn. They must have figured it out.

Less than a foot in front of him, the vent shaft shot off to the left and the right in a two-way intersection.

A gunshot, muffled like before, the sound less of the small explosive of gunfire, and more like that metallic thwacking of a ruler on a desktop rang out.  A small bead of light from the gunshot hole appeared in the metal.

He stared at it for a second, realizing what was happening.

“Shit!” he muttered, and scrambled forward quickly, passing over the gunshot area when a second shot rang out. Something burned on the side of his left leg and he realized he must have been shot, that Herb was likely walking under the vent and taking shots at it, hoping to score a direct hit.

Scott shuffled to the intersection and headed right toward the center of the building, the burning sensation on his left leg less concerning than the thought of taking a bullet in the belly.

Another shot fired.

Scott scrambled forward, terrified that Herb would start firing further in the direction Scott was moving, and didn’t even notice the floor of the vent disappearing from below him.

Before he realized what was happening, he was tumbling head first in the dark straight down the vertical section of the ventilation shaft.

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