Chapter 25 - The Key
Demetrius was glad that Arthur Labou had left the lab hours earlier. It was bad enough listening to the man rage over the ban on malravian research during a normal shift, but to be stuck listening to the professor’s rantings during a movement ban would have driven him mad. The rant’s had been worse recently since the destruction of Shallows Point.
Demetrius agreed the abandoned garrison would have made for an unparalleled research opportunity. Instead, the retreating defenders had blown the place up, and with it, any avenue of negotiation to get the research ban lifted.
Demetrius closed his eyes and reclined in his chair. Before coming to work for the professor he had never once reached the point of mental fatigue. Now though, mental fatigue seemed like a constant state of being. He had learned in weeks what had taken other, brilliant men and women, years to learn. To say many of his colleagues were embittered would be an understatement. Now however all of his momentum had slammed him into an invisible wall as he reached for seemingly impossible answers. With a cringe, he re-lived the moment his research came to a crawl.
Some of his peers claimed to be close to cracking the secret of rapid cloning. Close was not a term Demetrius would use for half-baked data in a hypothesis file. Things always changed when you started dealing with the real thing. Just because it looks good on the view screen did not guarantee real-world results.
Demetrius looked back to his terminal. His latest attempt to grow a functioning brain had failed, again. Like a screen with hundreds of open tabs, he played out all of the variables in his head over and over. As quick and infallible as his mind was, sometimes the information just wasn’t there.
A page from the intercom system drew him back to reality, “Demetrius Cross, please come to the surface level at once. Enforcer summons.”
Demetrius felt his entire body go rigid for a split second at the chilling words. Immediately his mind went to work piecing together hundreds of different scenarios. Who and why? Samuel, his parents, or Arthur were the three most logical options so the other hypothesis were quickly discarded.
“I will be right there,” Demetrius said as he powered off the terminal and started for the surface.
From the lobby view screen’s, the storm looked to be in full swing with crashes of thunder and bolts of lightning repeating in quick succession. An enforcer waited for him by the door, Stephan Moramoth, one of the evening guards. Demetrius had only met him once in passing, but everything he knew about the enforcer was present in his mind the moment he saw him.
“Mr. Cross this way please,” The enforcer said indicating to the door.
As soon as the door opened, howling winds and copious amounts of water rushed inside. Outside an enforcer skimmer waited, it’s landing struts keeping it just above the water. The heavy wind beat at them as they sloshed the few steps to the skimmer. Around them, the water raged and lapped up against the side of the bio-engineering lab. The skimmers side hatch slid open as they neared, and Demetrius and Stephan quickly climbed aboard. A moment later the hatch clicked shut behind them cutting off the freezing wind.
Demetrius looked around the compartment. It was plane these enforcers resented being ordered to pick up a scientist in a storm this bad. Their discontent was very much justified. Any number of things could go wrong with a skimmer in this weather. At least it was a military skimmer. If you had to be outside in a storm like this, it’s ergo infused armor would defuse most of the energy from a lightning strike, and its undercarriage was better protected against water. So, if they did happen to be struck, at least they were thirty percent less likely to get cooked alive.
Demetrius watched from the one-way rear window as flash after flash lit up the sky. Such a waste of energy. Before being offered the assignment with Lab Corps he had created plans for a lightning catching station. If only there was a way to get the Imperium to let him build it. At present, the project would be a welcome diversion from the mind-numbing cloning research.
Despite the slow pace, the trip was short, something the crew couldn’t have been happier about.
“This is it,” The driver said. Both Stephen and the driver looked anxious to be rid of him.
“Who am I meeting with?” Demetrius asked.
Stephen shrugged, “All I know is we were ordered to drop you off here. So here we are. Now if you don’t mind, I would rather not sit here till one of those bolts finds us.”
The hatch opened, and Demetrius could barely make out the sign of Lee Chi’s through the heavy rain. So, it was Samuel then. Taking sloshing steps in the freezing water that rose to his knees Demetrius hurried to the door.
As he expected, he was the center of attention upon entering. An odd sight indeed, to come waltzing in out of the rain when a movement ban was under effect. Most people around the restaurant looked bored as they nibbled on appetizers or sipped a beverage all while watching the battery life of their phones dwindle. Ju looked up from serving a round of drinks, and her eyes went wide when she saw him. Quickly she set down her burden and rushed over leaving her patrons to figure out which drink belonged to who on their own.
“Demetrius, what are you doing here? How did you even get here?” She asked looking him over as if he were a lost child.
“An enforcer summons. Samuel must have something pretty important to discuss if he is willing to drag me here despite the storm. Ju’s eyes lit up giving confirmation to his hunch.
“He is in the private room down the hall. I’ll go get you a towel,” Ju said before running ahead of him and ducking down to the sub level stairs.
Down the hall, Demetrius popped the latch and entered the private room. Samuel sat barefoot at a long oval table his shoes and jacket lay before a portable heater to dry.
Demetrius couldn’t help the swell of pride at seeing Samuel in his enforcer’s uniform. No doubt Samuel could feel the pride and the strong nostalgia as a flood of memories threatened to draw Demetrius into a powerful memory chain.
“I heard things got pretty crazy at Shallows Point. Glad you made it and got promoted to senior novice to boot I see.”
Samuel smiled, “It’s good to see you too.”
Soft but quick steps in worn down shoes alerted Demetrius to Ju’s return. “Thanks, Ju,” He said even before she entered the room. Demetrius took a moment to relish the surprise on her face. It had become a game he played with himself, guessing the identity of a person as they approached without seeing them. As for Ju, he had not seen her since before the trial, but his old memories were just as vivid now as the new ones. Even though it had not been that long ago the contrast in her appearance was apparent. Gone was the nearly boyish frame, replaced by eye-catching curves.
For a moment Ju just stood there smiling at them. Then she came to herself, and a bit of color appeared on her cheeks as she hurried to explain, but Demetrius waved her off.
“It’s all right Ju. No need to get embarrassed,” Demetrius said. He didn’t need Samuel’s ability to know what she was feeling. To her, seeing them together was like old times again. Even if it was only a shadow of what had been before the trial. Demetrius immediately killed that train of thought. Tess and Brian were too dangerous. Down those paths lay memories too painful to overcome without afflicting himself with physical pain. Instead, he turned his attention to Samuel.
“When you summoned me, in the middle of a major storm, I didn’t figure it was for a nice reunion.”
“That’s right. Friendship is all good and well, and I hope you will have time to catch up, but first, there is an important matter that requires your particular expertise,” Someone said from the doorway.
Elroy Grimwald. A confident student with dark glasses who had constantly fought Tess over rank at the academy.
At once, Samuel grew serious, and he looked from Demetrius to Ju then nodded.
“If you need anything else just page me,” Ju said as she skirted around Demetrius and pecked Samuel on the cheek with a kiss before leaving.
Demetrius watched her go, now that was new. He turned back to Samuel who wore a small smile. Demetrius had always figured Samuel liked Tess and perhaps he had before she abandoned them both. Hands trembling Demetrius took a ragged breath as the memory of Tess was not easily subdued.
“So, you and Ju then? Tell me more,” Demetrius said in an attempt to divert his mind.
“Why don’t you sit down? Samuel said indicating to the chair beside him. There will be time to talk about that later. Right now, Elroy and I have a favor to ask.”
“I think we should get Demetrius up to speed on the situation before we go any further,” Elroy said taking a seat across the table. Even now he wore similar dark glasses, though this time there was the tell-tale flicker of light from behind the lenses. Elroy gestured to Samuel who began his tale. Starting with an overview of the events at Shallows Point and ending with the mystery man who had saved him in the end.
“…So, I asked Elroy to dig up what information he could,” Samuel said.
“And now you want to get me mixed up in this?” Demetrius asked. While they had surely piqued his interest, he had no desire to be involved with whatever these two were plotting especially if the high inquisitor was part of it.
“I did not want to involve you, but we found something that only you have a chance of deciphering,” Samuel said as he nodded to Elroy who took over the narrative.
Elroy removed a datapad from his jacket and placed it on the table. At once, Demetrius knew why they had requested him.
“As you can see these files are encrypted using genetic coding. Even so, I would not have involved you except it does not match anything that the Imperium Lab Corps has on file.”
Elroy was right. In a flash, thousands of genome structures filtered through his mind. It was genetic data there was no doubt of that, and yet it did not match anything he had encountered before.
“We think it may be-”
“Malravian,” Demetrius said.
Both Elroy and Samuel nodded. Demetrius smiled. He didn’t believe in fate but damn if this didn’t seem like it. The perfect opportunity to study the malravians destroyed in a fireball of ignorance but now this.
Demetrius scrolled through page after page of genetically encrypted files committing everything to memory. Whatever type of entity Corwin was, it seemed they had access to a lot of restricted data and likely everything he had ever worked on. There was a moment of awkward silence as his mind cataloged all the new information.
“Is there anything you can tell us about this?” Samuel asked.
Demetrius narrowed his eyes at him. What a stupid question. He had only just looked at the data, and Samuel knew or should know Malravian research was a closed subject. Well, perhaps he didn’t know. In a moment the anger subsided and Demetrius instead took Samuel’s impatience as a compliment.
“Unfortunately, no. The overseer has passed an ordinance that forbids research of any kind about malravians,” Samuel looked shocked, “Tragic I know.”
“But you will still be able to crack the code eventually,” Elroy asked his tone radiating confidence that his face did not show.
“Yes, but I will need to run this data through the simulator at the lab. Can I trust that you will be able to permanently wipe anything I generate?” Demetrius asked, turning to Elroy.
“I could. However, I believe that is far too risky. Anything you do could be sent to Corwin or the high inquisitor even as you perform your analysis. Even if I made everything unrecoverable it could still be too late.”
“Then what’s your plan?” Samuel asked.
“I had hoped Demetrius would be able to do it all on his own. However, I have created this just in case that was not an option,” Elroy said brandishing a small data chip.
“This will allow you to create a hidden drive. It will clone the necessary programs and procedures allowing you to run your tests while remaining invisible to any of the snoop ware. All you have to do is insert the chip into the main console in the lab, and you’re in business.”
“And I assume you can take care of the surveillance cameras, so I won’t be spotted inserting the chip and of course the view screen as I produce my results.”
“I will keep an eye on the lab,” Elroy said, then smiled. “Just say the code phrase “a grim task” and a program I already have in place will take care of security for as long as you need. No one will hear or see you but me. Just remember the longer I mask the feed, the more likely it is that we will be detected so you will need to be quick about it.”
“As quick as I can be. All I need is one good look at the information then it can be deleted.”
A loud explosion rocked the building and all the lights went out, leaving them with only the dim glow from the datapad.
“Looks like we are going to be stuck here a while,” Demetrius said fingering the data chip. How about you both tell me everything you can about the malravian encounter at Shallows Point. We don’t know what information may be relevant. Like children gathered in the dark to tell scary stories, Samuel and Elroy recounted the grim affair.