Episode Twenty Eight
It's vital to remember who you really are. It's very important. It isn't a good idea to rely on other people or things to do it for you, you see. They always get it wrong.
The elevator pinged and the door slid open. Lucas hesitated.
“Don’t tell me you’re scared,” Marie said, stepping in with a smirk.
“Scared? Pfft.” Lucas’ wary glance at the closing elevator doors bellied the easy nonchalance.
"Surface buildings are too easily detectable. Along with what they house."
The elevator glided downward, the numbers above their heads quickly lighting up as they passed levels four, seven, ten, fifteen. The light reacted with a symbol, second to last in line of the numbers, and the elevator gave a small lurch as it stopped.
"Just because the logic is sound doesn't mean I have to like all the Raccoon City BS. Hmm?"
Marie unconcernedly stepped out of the elevator and headed down the hall. Lucas followed.
The hallways in the lower level gave no nod to corporate décor. The walls were sterile, an off white too reminiscent of a hospital. No picture frames, or fake views.
“So, how's Bert my ol' buddy ol' pal?" Lucas said into her ear, hoping to make her jump.
Marie merely shook her hair back, dislodging his voice. She stopped at a window set into the right wall. She leaned down to speak to the older women on the other side. “Marie Ventras. I was called—”
The woman paused in typing into a computer. “Yes ma’am. I have your briefing.” She handed a folder held on a clipboard through a slit in the glass. “If you could sign the paper at your right. They are in BR 107.”
“Thank you.” Marie set the pen down and continued down the hall.
"New assignment?" Lucas snatched at the folder.
Marie deftly deflected him with a sharp right turn down a wide corridor. “It’s further information on the vanishing kids in Iota.”
Lucas' grin vanished. "How many?"
Marie stopped in front of two double doors at their left. She glanced up at Lucas, a hand on her hip. "None."
Lucas snatched at the clipboard again. Marie dropped it to her side, out of reach. Lucas groaned.
"May I please see the report, Miss Marie?"
She nodded with curt satisfaction, handing him the clipboard.
"Thank you." He whipped it from her fingers, turning his back on her. "No kidnappings..." he muttered. "No kidnappings, my...What the hell?"
"Told ya." Marie pressed her palm into the LCD embedded in the wall. A map of her skin, in heat signature colors lit up the screen. Heavy locks clicked and slid as a mechanical voice intoned over head:
Acknowledged. Marie Ventras. Welcome.
"Wait a sec." Lucas slid through the quickly closing level security door. "Marie. This...this..."
"It doesn't make since. I know."
Lucas flipped report pages. “The recent census reported fifteen children living in Iota."
"But." His eyes scanned the page, flipped it and scanned. "When the field reporters went back to check with the families, only ten children of the original were counted? Or could be accounted for?"
Lucas stared down at the floor. "Even if the census takers were wrong or if people didn't answer honestly that's too large of an error margin."
Marie glanced over her shoulder as she reached for metal etched door handle. "I know."
She opened the door to a conference room, one wall a projection screen and a long table in the center. Four people sat at the end closest to the screen. The smile on the man's face closest to him made Lucas feel instantly flat footed.
"Welcome to the War Room, Alt."
"Aloysius?" Lucas looked to Marie, already taking a seat. "What is this?"
"The inner circle."
"Is there need for your Alt here, Ventras?" A fair haired women Lucas didn't recognize asked. She glanced at Lucas over the top of pearlized reading glasses.
Marie set the clipboard on the table with an audible click. "Robert's condition is not improving as quickly as hoped. I'm afraid we must assume current and near future missions will include an Alt."
"Or just intact Keys."
Marie gave Aloysius a cool stare.
A broad shouldered African man stood quickly from the left side of the room. "Please join us," he said with a light British accent. "And I believe introductions are in order. I am Paul Hasford, Key of Juliet Meadows. This," he indicated the older man next to him with a graying ponytail, "is Jonah Welks, Key of Gabriel Onedas. The lovely lady in front of him is Joseil Canyers, Key of Andrea Holt. And—"
"He knows me," Aloysius interrupted with a wink.
Lucas winced. "Uh, yeah." He stepped up cautiously to the table and the four most powerful intake Keys the Factory had to offer.
"Alt," Joseil added with a dark grin.
“Alt, yes.” Lucas sat next to Marie.
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