It wasn’t until I was in that ventilation shaft that I realized I’d missed an obvious comparison. I was not a mutant or a superhero—I was Alice.
Yeah, that one made me wince a little after I was out of there. I think I might go with the tormented version of Alice in the video game and not one of the movie adaptations, though. Not that I’d ever be able to slice and dice with a deck of cards—that would be awesome, but we’ve already discussed my lack of coordination.
Larabee would probably be willing to make me some of her other weapons, though. He could make that cold wand somehow or maybe the jacks. Or the exploding jack-in-the-box. No, not that one. I always managed to blow myself up with that one in the game…
“Clayton, are you still there? What are they talking about?” Larabee’s voice was getting worried, and Clay knew that he had to answer. He should already have answered. He was still having a hard time focusing, though, between the cramped space and the way his head ached. “Clayton?”
“Ooh, never let me shift in a small space like this again. Ever. This hurts, and not just because I can’t move because I’m too freaking big—and I do mean freaking in this case because, let’s face it, that’s what I am, a freak,” Clayton grumbled miserably. His head was killing him, and he had already missed most of the conversation that he’d crawled up here to hear. “I need to get out of this place, Larabee.”
“Agreed, but you need to wait twenty minutes to shift,” his friend reminded him, and Clay tried not to grown. “Keep listening. Get as much as you can from their conversation.”
Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. “Why can’t we just plant a bug?”
“Here? In this building? Of all places?” Larabee demanded. It was kind of a dumb question, but Clayton wasn’t exactly at his best at the moment—if he ever was. “Do you want to get arrested for espionage and locked away in Guantanamo Bay or worse for the rest of your life?”
It was probably going to happen anyway. He was stuck at the moment, and he wasn’t sure he had any way of getting out of here—definitely no explanation if he got caught. “And this kind of spying is any better?”
“Well… Who’s going to believe that you fit in there?”
“Good point,” Clay agreed. He shifted again, but there was no relief in it—he was still too big. He was having a wonderful Alice moment here. He was too big. He could use that getting smaller elixir any time now. “Why didn’t we have me bring a recorder at least?”
“Hmm. Good question.”
Clay groaned and shut his eyes. “Wake me when it’s been twenty minutes. I’m not going to get anything out of this conversation. I can’t focus. I can’t believe I hit my head that hard.”
“You’d think it would be thicker and more damage resistant.”
“Shut up, Larabee.”
“Has it been twenty minutes?”
“Try an hour. I haven’t been able to wake you up. You must really have done a number on that head of yours,” Larabee said, a bit of relief in his voice. “Come on. You have to get out of there now.”
“I’m getting,” Clay agreed quickly. He didn’t want to be in here any longer than he had to be. He just wanted to get out and go home. He didn’t care if he still had hours left of work. He was taking the rest of the day off. He needed it for health reasons. Shifting into a small child, he felt some relief from the pressure in here, but not much. He needed to remember the way to go back, and hopefully he wouldn’t hit anything since it wasn’t like he could conveniently turn around in the ventilation shaft. It wasn’t big enough for that even when he was small. “They should make these things bigger.”
“They’re small for a reason, Clay. No one wants someone up there crawling around, not in a place like this. Still, you’re the only one who could really do it.”
“I don’t care. That was unpleasant. I still can’t control those random shifts, and I could have gotten stuck. I don’t ever want to do this whole vent shaft thing again,” Clayton muttered, shaking his head.
“That was such a waste of time.”
“It was not. You learned a few things, didn’t you?”
“Like never go in the ventilation shaft again? Yeah, did learn that. Definitely. Learned I can give myself a concussion with surprising ease, and that I apparently stress out in small spaces for some reason.”
“And you sound funny as hell when you’re that size, talking like a regular person, with an echo in a metal shaft,” Larabee added, cracking up. Clayton shook his head, annoyed. He didn’t need this right now. He was going to get out of here and go home and then he could tell April about his failure of a day, let her mock him a little and maybe get some sympathy care for his head. That was good enough for him.
“Aren’t you out of there yet?”
“No, I don’t see the open panel, just give me a—”
“A what? Clayton? What just happened?”
“Oh, someone was kind enough to shut the panel I’d opened but not screw it shut, so I didn’t see it. On the one hand, it’s good that I wasn’t trapped up there, but I just fell through the ceiling,” Clayton muttered, curling up against himself and moaning in pain.
“Did you at least shift on the way down?”
“No time for that.”
“Maybe you should practice that.”
“Yeah, right after I peel myself off the floor. I need to go home,” he said. He saw a nice welcoming black. “Or I could just go to sleep here…”