Excerpt: Lightning In A Bottle
Winter Hearts 1.0
Whittier Falls, Pennsylvania
March came in like a lion. Violent storms battered the Eastern Pennsylvanian countryside for days. Rain fell practically without surcease. It flooded cellars, and drowned fields, and swelled even the laziest of rivers into muddy, white-frothed cascades. A wild wind raged and screamed, rattling doors and windows, tearing tiles off of rooves, and whipping the branches of venerable old trees as violently as though they were mere saplings.
Sheltered within a stand of such trees, stood a small, sturdy building. Unremarkable from the outside, it housed the workshop and laboratory of one of the greatest minds of the nineteenth century, the late inventor Dr. Charles Winter. Inside, illuminated by whatever meagre daylight made it through the rain-spattered skylights, forgotten machinery hummed quietly as it continued to carry out its appointed tasks; circulating the fluid in the large glass tank, regulating its temperature, filtering and replenishing as needed to maintain the proper balance of nutrients and medicaments.
Powered by hydroelectricity, and supplied with water from one of those selfsame, swollen rivers, the system was intended to run indefinitely with only the most minimal maintenance required. But the storm had other ideas.
Lightning arced across the sky. It splintered an overhanging branch, causing it to crash through the building’s roof. At the same time, electricity surged through the pipes. Wires melted on contact. Equipment shorted out and died in a blaze of sparks, and the excess power caused over a dozen Leyden jars to explode simultaneously. The tank itself was briefly electrified, shocking its sole occupant into awareness and waking him from his chemically induced slumber.
Test Subject #M1.253.62 struggled to remain calm as he found himself catapulted into an agonizing world of jumbled sensations and incomprehensible blackness. Pain wracked his body as he gasped and retched in an effort to force air into his fluid-filled lungs. He was terrifyingly conscious of his heart beating within him; its odd, faltering syncopation was nothing at all like the strong, steady rhythm for which it had been designed.
Something had gone wrong. This was not the gentle birth he’d been programmed to expect. As the afterimages faded away and his vision returned to something approaching normal, he was able to identify the source of the intolerable pressure crushing his chest. Quercus Alba. White Oak.
His brain ticked over automatically, cataloging impressions in a desperate attempt to piece together an explanation for what had occurred. Rain. Lightning. Thunder. Wind. Broken glass. Twisted metal. Fragments of slate—a metamorphic rock commonly used in roofing. And the charred and newly severed branch from a tree native to the eastern part of North America. Ah, yes. Of course.
Obviously, a storm had collapsed the roof of the laboratory. He was pinned in the shattered ruins of his incubation tank while the life-sustaining fluid in which he’d been immersed drained away through cracks in the glass. His injuries, while severe, were not immediately life-threatening. His best course of action, therefore, was to stay where he was, remain calm and avoid causing any further damage. No doubt a rescue attempt would shortly be launched. It was possible one was even now underway. There was no need to panic.
A quick survey of his internal chronometer, however, caused him to reevaluate this initial conclusion. It seemed he'd been submerged and unconscious for longer than expected. Far longer. Something had gone very, very wrong. He was not yet sure how or why, but one fact appeared irrefutable: he had been abandoned by his creator.
He could no longer assume that he’d be discovered in a timely manner. He could not even assume he’d be found at all. If he wished to be free—and he did, rather urgently—he had no choice but to extricate himself.