Matt sat and fiddled, and in his mind counted the number of ways this plan could go wrong. Seventy-eight, he’d thought of so far, and he was just getting started.
That was the problem with plans. They depended on every variable turning out exactly as you wanted it to. The amount of faith that they were putting in the plan was ridiculous. And yet, the plan was all they had. Their one chance of making it out alive.
And it really was one chance, Matt knew. He knew the others must know it to. If the plan failed, there were no second chances. They were certainly going to die.
He continued with his work. Three tiny machines sat beside him, ones that he’d already made. They were funny things, things he’d cobbled together out of a bag full of spare parts that he’d grabbed out of the living room. After they’d agreed on the plan, he’d gone back there and swept as many bits into a plastic bag as he could, then got out of there fast. Lois hadn’t found any of them yet, but staying out in the open like that was risky, even if it was necessary.
Out of the scraps, scraps he’d originally brought to the house with them in case any of their equipment had needed fixing, he’d made emitters. They were all a little different from one another, but fulfilled the same purpose - to make people subconsciously stay away from them. They emitted a high-pitched scream that people couldn’t help but avoid if they didn’t know it was there. It was a trick they’d taught robotics students in the second week of first year. An emitter had stopped people disturbing Matt when he was doing homework. Emitters stopped people approaching him when he was in public.
An emitter had saved his life earlier, when Lois was searching every single room. He’d placed an emitter in the doorway of the one he was hiding in, and she’d stayed away. It would work again. Their plan depended upon it.
He finished tightening the fourth emitter, and texted the others to say he was done. Or maybe he didn’t. He was sort of panicking and frankly his English was suffering because of it, but Dan texted back and Matt knew he’d understood. It was only a minute later when he was texted and told to put the emitters in place.
He collected them up and shoved them in his pockets - they were small things, after all, barely bigger than a two pound coin - and made his careful way out into the hall. His careful way, stopping at the doorway and listening for any noise, for any breath or footstep out of place. Nothing. He bent down and placed an emitter gently on threshold, then tapped the top.
It was like a switch had been flipped in his brain, telling him that this doorway was the last place on earth he wanted to be, to get out of there now and to stay away. It was a switch that he only noticed because he knew what he was looking for. The effect was much subtler to the untrained mind.
He did the same with the other three emitters, in different doorways, all the other ones along that corridor, except one. That doorway was left free of an emitter. That doorway was the trap.
He headed through that door. It was the other entrance to the living room. When they’d first arrived, Matt hadn’t even realised that it was there, a tiny door in the back corner of the room, quite different to the large grand door that they’d come in through.
Dan and Ellie were waiting, shivering in their boots. A quick look at the setting told Matt that they’d already done their job.
The main door was completely sealed off, almost barricaded. Every piece of furniture that could be moved was shoved up against it, sealing them off from every side except that tiny hallway Matt had come from.
And in Dan’s hand was a conical flask, filled with a clear fluid.
That was the thing that told Matt that they were ready.
“You’ve done it?” Dan asked, jerking his head, indicating the hall.
“Yes. I have done it.” Matt echoed back. “I hope I have done what is needed.” He rethought, tried to think of better way to say it, but his mind was muddled up, he could barely think through the fear of the plan going wrong. “I hope I have done enough.” He said. That felt right.
Dan nodded silently, and tapped the flask with his fingers. “We’re done here.” He said, superfluously.
Ellie shifted where she stood, looking quite terrified. No, she didn’t look terrified. She was terrified, but she didn’t look it. Ellie had always been the master of the brave face, ever since he’d met her two years ago.
“I don’t know if this is going to work.” She said, looking at the floor. She sounded ashamed, worried, fearful. “I don’t know if this is going to work, and we could all die because of it.”
That had been Way This Plan Could Go Wrong number six: Ellie might not know as much as everyone thought she did.
But really, really, Matt trusted Ellie more than anyone else in this house. Matt probably trusted Ellie more than anyone else in this country, at this point. That’s why Way number six had been scrapped almost as soon as he’d thought of it. He didn’t have complete faith in Ellie, but his faith in her did go a very long way.
“You’re not wrong.” He said, and she looked at him in surprise. “I don’t believe you are wrong.”
She smiled, and seemed about to open her mouth when Dan perked up, reaching around to his back pocket for it phone and taking it out, squinting at the bright screen in the half-light.
“Sonam’s ready.” He said. “It’s time to get started.”