Trapped by Dorothy Davies

EXTRACT FOR
Trapped

(Dorothy Davies)


Trapped

Code for Life

 

Michael B Fletcher

 

I was on my stomach, the floor hard stone. The air was soft and warm, no strong odours, no discernible scents. A vague breeze rustled quietly.

I lifted my head with difficulty to look in the direction I was pointing. A corridor led into the distance: light and dark; light and dark merging so far ahead I had difficulty focussing.

I attempted to roll over but something held me down. I struggled fruitlessly until I realised that a neck collar fixed me securely to the surface, one arm free, the other held by an armlet shackled into the stone floor in front of me. My yells echoed, giving me the feeling of emptiness in a vast space, until I had the ominous thought that I might attract the attention of something undesirable. I stopped yelling.

What was happening?

Last thing I recalled was walking in the town late at night, thinking I was ready for my hotel bed. I had been to the mathematics conference and then to the supper. I had endured the small talk of a number of people, most talking through their heads about formulae and numbers they had no real concept of. For the most part I had kept quiet, nodded at the appropriate time and not locked horns with any of the idiots there.

There were few I regarded as my intellectual equal and fortunately I was astute enough not to let them know what I thought. That is until Finlayson began to pontificate.

I’d known him in the department for a number of years and fortunately our paths seldom crossed. He was one of those individuals you instinctively disliked. Nose slightly in the air, always ready with a comment and making sure he knew the right people. Yes, someone to avoid.

But, blame it on the particularly strong local drink, the Milk of Lions. Seemed innocuous enough but packed a punch and there was plenty on hand. I had one or two more than I should have, which lowered my natural caution. It made me counter Finlayson’s latest formula, something about the secure use of numbers in a way that was almost impossible to decode. I ridiculed his idea and didn’t notice when he showed his anger at my over-riding of his comments. Even when he slipped away I rattled on, confident in my argument and emboldened by the drink.

Outside, the air made me regret I had drunk so much and I looked forward to sleep.

 

I listened for a sound, any sound to give me a clue of where I was. The corridor looked well-used, old but the light and dark sections made me think it was daylight, sun and shade. I struggled again, but to no avail, so I slumped back to the floor.

The scrape of a shoe behind me broke the silence, but I couldn’t see who it was. A searing pain hit my side and I screamed, the echoes blasting the empty space. Again! The pain was white-hot.

‘Stop!’

‘Mr High And Mighty!’ a recognisable voice hissed. ‘Not so cock-sure now, eh?’

‘Finlayson?

‘Doctor Finlayson to you.’

‘Why are you doing this? Let me loose.’

‘No, because you deserve to be.’

‘Why?’

‘No-one, but no-one, ridicules me. Superior intellect, hah.’

‘Let me go. Please!’

‘Please, now? Last night you were so sure of yourself, your superior knowledge of mathematics. Too smart for the rest of us.’

‘What do you want?’

‘What I want is for you to pit your wits against me. Use your so-called abilities to solve a small puzzle. Set by me, your intellectual inferior. If you solve it you will be freed. If you fail, well, no-one will find you. Few people come here but someone will, in a month or so. Too late for you, though.’

‘You can’t do this. I’ll be missed. They’ll come looking.’ I wriggled against my bonds, trying to get a glimpse of my tormenter, but all I could see was a black boot ready to deliver another blow.

‘Ahh!’

‘Listen, oh fabulous mathematician. You can free yourself. After all, you have the means and the clues lie ahead of you.’

‘What?’

‘I’m going. Another lecture on. One that I, in my meagre capacity, am to deliver.’

I heard the scuff of his boots as he turned away.

‘Wait. What clues? What do I have to do?’

‘Very simple. Enter the correct numbers into the armlet and your bonds will release. Fail and the band will tighten.’

‘Tighten? What numbers? What do you mean?’

‘Ah, it lies ahead of you. Goodbye.’

‘Wait!’ I yelled as the sound of his footsteps faded away.

I banged my head on the stone in frustration.

My head throbbed and my throat dried up. Was he serious? Did he mean me to lie here until I either solved the puzzle or died? What puzzle?

‘Finlayson!’ I screamed to the silence. I craned a look down the long corridor. The light and dark was mesmerising. Maybe he meant a combination of numbers such as my room number and hotel address. Yes.

I tapped in room 327 and the street address of 304 Arcadian Way.  The armlet screen glowed red: invalid password. A tingle throbbed in the collar banded around my neck. I tried again, reversing the numbers. Invalid password.  And again the band tingled. I thought of entering the number of conference delegates. Again, invalid password.  This time I thought I noticed a slight tightening of the band.

Why was Finlayson so smug? What mathematical problem could he think of to fool me? I went through numerous formulas and any potential mathematical combination I could think of. Invalid password. All I achieved was more of a sore neck, the band tight around my throat.

I had a raging thirst, too. I noticed the light dying away. Night had come.

At some point I must have fallen asleep, exhausted. I awoke to silence, throat sore as hell and still shackled to the floor. The corridor ahead was its usual patterning of light and dark, no-one around and no clue how to break my bonds. I thought I’d kill Finlayson when I saw him as I lay there in a wallow of self-pity.

The patterning of light and dark struck a chord. It was the same as the day before. Same hues. Could there be numbers there? After all, it lay ahead of me, if Finlayson’s clue was to be believed.

I tried several random series of numbers. Again, invalid password flashing in red. But this time additional words filled me with horror; system will lock after three more attempts.

‘Bloody Finlayson!’ I swore as the tight band around my throat only allowed me to yell. ‘Helpppp!’

While I lay there trying not to think of my raging thirst and choking throat a startling revelation came. What could he do that could outsmart me? Something about the place and the patterning, “ahead of me”? If he could think of it, then I could solve it. I racked my brain trying to remember Finlayson’s formula from the lecture.

The solution became obvious, even showing a modicum of craftiness. I peered down the long corridor.

‘Yes!’ The light and dark portions were regular, having a pattern, one that came to me in a blinding flash. A bloody barcode; numbers in variations between the light and dark. I thought back to the mathematics, recalling that each number from zero to nine was represented by different light and dark segments in blocks of seven. But what were they?

Fuck,’ I breathed through my constricted airway, my body cramping as I lay there. Dying was a great incentive to solving the puzzle.

The light down the corridor gave the clues. I allowed my mathematical brain to work through the options.

‘Ah!’ I rasped. ‘Five, three, seven.’ I edged my free hand to the armlet and punched in the numbers.

Invalid password. Two entries remain.

‘Christ!’ The band around my neck tightened so I drew air in with difficulty.

Surely the patterns represent the numbers I’d punched in? Wait, I mustn’t have seen the final number due to the unevenness of the stone floor.

I tried the new numbers, ‘five, three, eight.’

The armlet screen flashed red. Invalid password. One entry remaining.

The band tightened further, pulling my head to the floor. What mistake had I made? Why didn’t it work? After all I was smarter than Finlayson. The idiot couldn’t beat me.

I peered down the corridor with difficulty. ‘Shit!’ I thought, realising the light entering the corridor was changing, afternoon coming on making the barcodes harder to see, harder to decipher. I had little option but to go for it. What had I done wrong?

Then I saw it, another shadow making a number seem to be a three rather than a six, obvious when you looked at it. Yes, that was it. They were the numbers to save my life and give me my freedom.

I took a difficult breath and entered the numbers. Five, three, six.

I pressed the last number. A figure moved silently from the shadows at the end of the corridor. The patterns shifted with his movement. The last number changed.

The band tightened, cutting off my airway. Finlayson’s laughter echoed down the corridor. I didn’t need to see the words to know my fate.