Matthew pulls Adam’s silver car onto the long drive that leads to the call center. I’m in the back with Adam, checking my hair again and turning the ID chip he gave me over and over in my hand.
“If Ivory’s got control of their implants, why do we have to do this? Can’t we just keep them from seeing us?” I ask.
“We can, and we will, but if that fails I’d rather they just think we’re one of theirs somewhere we’re not supposed to be—not outright intruders.”
He changed clothes for this before we left his house. It looks like he started to put a suit on and refused to touch the jacket. When I asked him about it on the way out he just shrugged and said it had been a long day; it should be more than believable without it. Then he paused, ran back to another room, and emerged with the gray jacket only to toss it to Matthew.
“Put that on,” Adam had said. “With any luck they’ll never even see you, but, you know. Sorry, I don’t have another suit or I’d let you borrow a whole one. ”
Now Matthew’s glancing back at us as he drives. “And you don’t want me to sit here? Even with the windows on full tint? I don’t mind. I could just—”
“No,” Adam says quickly, shaking his head. “The fewer people in imminent danger the better, right?”
“Rora?” Matthew asks.
I shake my head and then start nodding instead, not quite sure which one is the answer I’m trying to give to the question he’s asking. “Just...do what he’s saying. I have no problem with you staying close, believe me, but I’d feel better if you weren’t right out here in the open.” I swallow and look down in my hands, clicking on the ID chip. “What’s my name again?”
A small hologram the size of a card projects from the chip. Hayley Norah, my identification reads. I whisper it to myself a few more times. The face is mine, but I’ve never seen that shirt. I’m pretty sure those aren’t my shoulders, either. But as a whole I don’t think anyone could tell it’s a composite.
“I think you’ve got it,” Adam assures me.
“Uh huh. Let me see yours again.” Indulgently he hands it over and I repeat Jackson Langley a few more times, too, before I give his chip back. For some reason I think I’ve heard that name before, but it can’t be. I assume he invented these identities himself.
“Tell me this is worth it,” I say quietly, after a few seconds of silence. I don’t look at Adam, and I’m half surprised when he actually hears me.
“It very well could be…”
I give him a look, and he must be getting used to it because he winces immediately.
“If you’re actually going to answer that I’m gonna need you to sound more sure before I get out of this car,” I tell him.
He tries smiling, and that does the trick for me. “It’ll be fine,” he says.
I take a deep breath or two as Matthew pulls the car to a halt halfway or so up the drive, where the police tape stops us. Two men from the outer perimeter are already approaching the car, and Adam reaches for his door handle.
“Get out on your own side,” he says. “Looks more professional.”
“Says the man without a suit jacket.”
Matthew’s wearing Adam’s jacket over his collared shirt and jeans in case anyone tries to talk to our driver through the window. We’re hoping it’s dark enough now no one will notice he’s only half dressed for the part.
I take one more breath and climb out of the car. By the time I come around one of the black uniforms is squinting at Adam’s faked ID.
“So you’re the investigators from corporate?”
“Of a fashion,” Adam agrees. “The investigation will continue in more detail, but first we’re more concerned about pulling anything sensitive left from the offices—files and such.”
“You’re a little early, Mr. Langley. We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
Adam shrugs. “We’re ahead on our route; just made it into town and thought we’d get one more thing done before hitting the hay for the night. We don’t need anything dangerous sitting around any longer than necessary. Can’t do anything about the bigger equipment ourselves, of course, but that’s what you’re here for! Good man. And it’s Detective, by the way.” He glances at me as I step up beside him. “My partner, Ms Norah.”
It takes me that long to realize Adam’s been speaking in an American accent since he got out of the car, and because I stare at him for a moment I almost forget to hand over my own ID chip as a result.
“Sorry, long day,” I say as I present it. “You have no idea.”
The uniform takes the ID, looks over both of them side by side, and hands them back. “All right,” he says.
Adam nods in thanks and thuds once on the hood of the car, waving toward the general direction of the driver’s seat. “We’ll call when we need out of here! Go find yourself something to eat or something,” he calls inside.
I breathe a small sigh of relief when Matthew takes the cue and drives off.
The uniform looks at us funny, and Adam smiles. “Driver’s been with us; long day for him, too. Planes and whatnot.”
“Of course, Detective.”
Two of the uniforms walk us up the drive and take us in through the same side door we found open after the explosions yesterday. They’ve got some sort of emergency power to the rest of the building, because the lock is working now and there are lights inside. We go through and farther back, and at the entrance to the main offices Adam stops everyone.
“Thank you, gentleman. We can take it from here.”
The uniform shakes his head. “Sir, I’m afraid I have to insist—”
“On nothing, because I believe this title means I have the authority here,” Adam says, cutting him off and holding up his ID chip again. He’s activated it, and he lets them all take a good look at it again before he puts it away. “Need to know, gentlemen. I appreciate the cooperation. Give us a yell if the building looks like it’s about to go or something.”
He opens one of the metal double doors and motions me through. I give the uniformed men a tight smile and comply.
When the door closes behind us I slap his arm.
“You didn’t tell me I was impersonating a real actual person! I thought you made these people up!”
“Of course they’re real! CI was actually sending investigators out here—to all the sites—and that made it easier! They were expecting us, and we didn’t have to answer too many questions.”
I pace into the common room of the executive suite, shaking my head. “But tomorrow when the real people show up they’ll know we were frauds!”
“Tomorrow it won’t matter.”
“They’ve seen our faces!”
He follows me in, speaking more slowly and calmly now, as if he knows I needs that. “Yes, but they won’t have any proof. Ivory’s making sure nothing recorded of us through implants or otherwise is saved. There will be no record of us.”
Finally Ivory speaks up through our comms, having been instructed not to talk to us until we were out of sight and earshot of any guards—unless it was an emergency. Thankfully there hasn’t been one yet.
“I’ve got your back,” she tells me. “You’ll be fine. Let’s do this thing.”
I make a move to push my fingers through my hair and then remember it’s up.
“Oh good—ok. What are we looking for?”
Adam heads for the manager’s office and the computer there while I look around for anything “unusual” in the other offices, but that doesn’t turn up much. I find myself leaning in the doorframe of the office Adam is in, thinking.
“I don’t think what we’re looking for will be in here,” I say eventually.
“What do you mean?” he asks, not looking up from the computer. He’s pulling files onto his tablet as he talks. “I’ve found plenty here already. Evidence they were getting strange readings…”
“Yeah. You know. Readings.”
“Please make sense,” I sigh.
Now he looks up. “They have to closely monitor the area in and around any call center for signs of distortion outside certain parameters. Part of the safety reforms instituted after St. Louis to make people feel better. Surely if you’ve read everything there is to know about Temporal Communications, you know that.”
I shake my head to clear it. “Right. Monitoring for time-space distortions. You’re talking about those readings…” My eyes had closed for a second, but now they snap open again. “What kind of strange readings?” I ask, pushing quickly off the doorframe. I go around behind him to get a better look at the holo screen, but though I saw similar charts in the books I read I don’t really know what they mean.
I can tell, however, that there are several lines going sharply up.
“What’s increasing? Is that bad?” I ask.
“Very.” Adam scans farther down the page, past more charts, and the farther he goes the more scared he looks. His eyebrows hit his hairline. After another moment he jumps up. “I think you’re right. What we really need to see isn’t in here.”
He nearly sprints from the room. I go to follow him but something glaring red from the pile of tablets on the corner of the desk catches my eye. I pull it out. It’s just a tablet itself, but it’s still on. The auto shut-off has been disabled and it’s shining its urgent message at full brightness.
“Adam!” I call, following him out into the common room. “The manager was going to request this center be shut down. Says it’s unsafe.”
He takes the tablet and scans the memo, then looks up at the main doors.
“They’ll be out there waiting for us,” I remind him.
He hands the extra tablet back to me and pulls up a map he must have acquired from the manager's computer on his own. A quick motion or two and he’s shared it with Ivory too.
“There,” he says, pointing out a way from here to the equipment bays.
“That’s…” I look around for the other exit from the offices the map shows. “This way.”
We twist and make for the secondary exit, and I get on the comm. “Ivory, equipment bays. Anybody between us and them?”
“Not right now, but if anybody ends up there they won’t see you. You’re covered.”
We slip quietly toward the heart of the building, because controlling the security force’s implants won’t cover any out of place sounds—just what they see—and we don’t want to make them suspicious enough to take out their contacts or deactivate their implants and take that control away from us, too.
I realize as we go we’re making a rough diagonal back and toward the site where the second detonation occurred.
“Were they trying to blow up the machinery?” I wonder aloud. “Whoever it was…”
We’re halfway down a corridor when abruptly there are no lights.
I stop. “Adam?” I whisper. There’s no answer. “Adam! Where are you?”
He was right beside me, just a little ahead. Now I can’t even see his shape moving in the darkness. I listen, and I can’t hear him, either. I can’t hear anything. Well...crickets. I can hear crickets. How can I hear the crickets? We’re still too deep in the building for that.
I take a tentative step, and as I inch forward I think I feel a breeze. I’d think it’s just the central system, but there are no mechanical sounds at all anymore.
“Adam?” I whisper again.
My eyes start to adjust, and the end of the corridor begins to seems lighter, tinted blue...almost like moonlight.
I sprint to the corner, but just before I round it I bounce off a body.
Adam. He catches me, and when I look up it’s him, and I can see him. There are lights now, and the sounds of the building running, and no bugs and no breeze.
“Where did you go?” he asks as he lets go of me, steadies me.
“Where were you?” I question.
“Right here. I turned around and you were gone.”
“The lights went out.”
He squints at me like I might be crazy. “No, they didn’t.”
I swallow hard. “D-did you notice anything else? Sounds changing? Or...air? Or—”
I stop talking when he stops squinting at me and his eyes have gone wide instead. “You weren’t just gone. I couldn’t hear your footsteps anymore,” he says, like he’s just realizing it.
“What does that mean?”
“No no no….!”
That isn’t an answer. Adam spins around and races around the corner and back in the direction we were supposed to be going, seemingly forgetting anything about being quiet, and I get the distinct feeling he isn’t listening to me anymore.
I follow him up a flight of stairs and out onto a balcony in what I’m guessing is the equipment bay we were looking for. Below us spread computers and machines and rubble. Here we’re close enough to the second detonation site we can see cracks in the walls and floor, and dust has settled everywhere. But that isn’t the bad part.
The reason we lean into the balcony rail gaping is because an area in the middle of the bay floor is empty, and cracks spread from a single point as if everything that might have been there is gone. Above the point in the floor the air ripples and pulses like water. The effect spreads as far up as we are, on a balcony two levels up from the ground floor, and almost as wide.
It doesn’t make any sound. There’s no light from the distortion. But it’s so wrong there’s no way anyone could miss it.
“Oh no,” Adam says faintly.
“B-but that’s impossible,” I stammer. “That’s...that’s what the Anomaly looks like, isn’t it?”
His jaw is tight as he nods. “Which means this is exactly as bad as it could be.”
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