Davis trotted up the back steps of the EIU, towards the clearance area. Big Jim, the usual security guy, stood manning the scanners.
“Hey Monica!” he called out in his usual bear-like way.
“Hey Big Jim,” Davis smiled. He really was the nicest. “How’re those dogs?” In the back of her mind she knew that if she got through now, it would probably cost Big Jim his job.
“They good, you know how it is,” Big Jim chuckled. “They gettin too big for the house, so you know what I’m thinkin… time to downgrade them dogs!” He laughed. “How’s yours been?” Davis unstrapped her usual stunner and set it in the tray where they'd hold it until she left. Big Jim pulled the tray close to him and passed it through the scanner. Like clockwork, he grabbed the tray and turned to slide it into the storage cube behind him. With his back turned, Davis quickly scanned her ID to see if there were any warnings out on her. Nothing. The light blinked green.
“Oh, Cici?” Davis went on, casual as pie. “Cici’s great.”
Big Jim turned back, a wide smile on his face. “How you feed that dog anyhow?” he asked, “Cici’s one damn big dog!” He guffawed, as Davis smiled politely and scanned her ID again, as if for the first time. The light blinked green.
Davis took a deep breath. Now the test was to see if Paltron’s stunner, still holstered at her side, would make it through.
Big Jim gestured for Davis to pass through, shaking his head with laughter. “I never heard of such a big dog named Cici. I still don’t know how you thought a that, my word…”
Davis stepped calmly through the scanner.
“So that where you been Ms. Davis? Feedin Ms. Cici? Never one to see you heading out like that in the middle of the day.”
“Hmm?” Davis was suddenly on full alert. Big Jim had a deceptive way of playing dumb; after all, he was a VU grad with a specialty in robopsychiatry. The fact was, it was extremely competitive to work anywhere in the EIU, even as a guard.
“Oh no, Cici’s fine,” Davis replied matter-of-factly, “It’s my great grandmother, actually, she was worried about me working the collapse. You know, seeing Inside. It brings back a lot of memories for her. She just wanted to see me face to face.”
Davis waited as Big Jim absorbed her story. She knew he was a sucker for face to face stuff. And great grandmothers. The two were highly correlated, since the “great” generations were the only ones who had been there pre-Boom, some even pre-Divide. Of course, Davis’s great grandmother had actually died decades ago, from refusing anti-agers, but Big Jim wouldn’t know that. There were high centennial great grandmothers all over the place.
Big Jim smiled. “Alright Miss Davis, you have a good one then.”
Davis smiled back. She, and the illegal stunner, had made it through. She was back in the EIU.
Adams reclined with his feet up on the console. It was quiet in the Atrium now that the cleanup was over. People were off on their breaks, catching up on the news, or down in the mess hall playing Squee… He ripped open a NutriYeast. He’d been stockpiling them for hours, waiting for the right moment when he could eat one in peace. Now he had the whole room to himself. He paused mid-bite – in his seven years in the EIU, he had never had the whole room to himself.
Suddenly, a Tower alert rang out, bright on every Monitor screen, including his own.
<< TACTICAL ALERT : ARMED INTRUDER >>
<< ALL STAFF : DETAIN ON SIGHT >>
Adams sat up in his chair, rolling as close as possible to the screen. “What the…”
Lisa bounded in, “Hey, you wanna –
“Shh shh!” he said, holding out a hand to quiet her, as he retinaed in.
“What’s goin on…” Lisa whispered, noticing the alerts herself. She ran to her chair and rolled up to her own screen, getting on retinal as fast as she could.
As soon as the badge number appeared on the screen, Adams recognized it: 20207, MB Davis. It was an increasingly rare (and useless) trait, but his near-perfect photographic memory sometimes came in handy. He jumped up, peeled the badge off his wrist, threw it onto his desk, and ran out.
Every screen in the cavernous Atrium began displaying spheric of MB Davis entering the facility, a superimposed photo from her most recent badge hanging over it. Lisa, alone in the room, looked around, stunned.
Adams ran down the hall to the locker room. Once inside, he quickly palmed open his locker, grabbed his personal comm, wired it into his ear, disconnected the log, and made the one call he knew he’d have time to make.
“Saggy, dude, you gotta tell me what the grease monkey’s going on.”
Davis two-stepped it down the stairwell. Her badge was compromised and she had less than five minutes to get what she needed and get out of the building before everything went into lockdown. Big Jim had given her up after all. The question she needed help answering was how? How had he known? Her badge had been cleared, her stunner had gone undetected… how could he have known she was armed? It was a mystery she’d have to solve later. For the time being, her main priority was to get what she’d risked going there for in the first place. Lucky for her, she knew the EIU like the back of her hand, better even.
She grabbed the chain hanging loosely around her neck and felt for the transmitter card she’d strung on it earlier. As soon as she reached the right floor, she silently drew open the door and walked swiftly towards one of the decryption rooms. Nobody was around, good. Everyone must have gone on break after working the collapse. She hit the light switches on the walls as she walked, casting shadows every which way. When she reached the decryption room, she did a quick check to make sure that no one was watching, punched in the security code and slipped into the room, letting the door close quietly behind her.
She pulled Paltron’s backup out of her side pocket and wired it into one of the decryption machines in the back corner of the room. She deftly removed the transmitter card from her chain and inserted it into the machine. As soon she saw the indicator light turn green, she slid the cog backup carefully into the shadows, as hidden from view as possible. Without wasting a second, she walked quickly back towards the door through which she'd just come. She sidled up next to it, flattening herself against the wall, and flipped the light switch, submerging the room in darkness.
This next part of her plan, getting out, might not be so easy. She reached down and gripped the neural stunner in her side pocket. All she could do was hope that whoever she saw next was a stranger.
Without hesitation, she cracked open the door and slid out. She had to find somebody, somebody alone, who had a cleared badge. She stepped quickly towards the bathroom. Right as she was about to enter, a door across the hall swung open.
Adams stood looking at her.
Adams held his hands up. Davis had her stunner drawn. She looked a bit like a deer caught in the headlights – or at least the photos he’d seen of it – and yet she also looked like a hunter staring down the barrel of her gun – or at least the photos he’d seen of it. He was suddenly so glad guns had been abolished… He wasn’t sure who should speak first.
Davis quietly lifted her finger and brought it to her lips, motioning for him not to speak. She gestured with her head to follow him into the bathroom. He obliged. As soon as they entered, she turned off the lights. Immediately he felt her hands on him, starting on his chest and working their way down.
“I’m not wired,” he whispered.
“Shh!” she whispered harshly.
“And I’m not armed.”
“Adams, quiet!” She kept patting him down. “Of course you’re not armed. They wouldn’t release the armory unless all hell had broken loose.”
“They released it a few minutes ago.”
Davis looked up abruptly at him. He was serious.
“Why the hell would they release the armory…” she wondered aloud.
“I was wondering the same thing,” Adams answered. He felt her hands make their way along his wrists, pausing for a split second, and then tracing back up his arms and down his torso before diving militantly into his pants pocket. He writhed out of her reach. “I left my badge at my desk!” he burst out. Despite the urgency of the situation, it was still uncomfortable for a senior officer to be reaching into his pocket, let alone Davis, who was… really attractive.
Davis bored holes into his eyes.
“Why would you do that?”
He stared back at her.
“Because I knew if I found you that you’d try to take mine.”
Davis stared at him with steely eyes. She could slap him right now. “What do you mean, 'if I found you?'” Time was running low. She wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but if he didn’t have a badge, she would have to let him go. She shook her head, upset because she liked Adams and she wasn’t looking forward to what she would have to do next. She raised the stunner.
“Wait!” he yelled, lifting his arm.
At that moment, the door burst open, and without looking, Davis leveled a shot at the intruder. The stunner gave off a blast of hot white light, clung to the intruder, then faded into darkness. The intruder fell to the ground.
“What the terrible… was that…” Adams whispered, bending down over the body.
Davis knelt down. The intruder was a woman. She quickly felt for a pulse, peeled off the woman’s badge, and took Adams by the crook of his arm. “I’m not sure,” she replied. “But we’re not gonna wait around to find out.”
She dragged Adams out of the bathroom, down the hallway, and into a stairwell. She began scaling the stairs, three at a time, going up, not down.
“Dude, where are we going?” Adams screeched, not enjoying being womanhandled. “You need to get the junknuggies out of here! You need to go down!” He was frantic.
“Adams, can it!” Davis ordered, turning and shaking him like a rag doll. “I need you to can it. We need to stay quiet.” He stared at her, his lips sealed tight. She’d never seen him like this before, a petrified child.
“OK, good.” She released her hold on him. “I’m sorry. I know none of this makes sense, but I need you to swear yourself to secrecy.”
“What?” She could hear the scared whine in his voice.
“Calm down, Adams,” Davis repeated. “I just need to know if I can trust you. Can I trust you?”
“Trust me with what?”
In one swift motion, Davis gripped him under the armpits and threw him against the wall, thrusting her forearm under his chin to pin him there. “You’re a good kid Adams. I’ve been your MB for 5 years, so I’m just gonna cut to the chase – I know I can trust you. You’re one of the good ones. But there's something big going on. Something bad, and it's bigger than you or me, or the EIU. I don’t know who’s behind it or why, but someone is trying to smoke me out. They’re blackmailing me to get me out of the EIU. I don’t know any names yet, but when I do, I’m going to figure out how all of this is connected. But what I need to do right now, at this very minute, is get out of here. And I need your help. OK? So what do you think, can I trust you?”
Adams wasn’t sure what his eyes or his face or his mouth might have done in response, but Davis went on. “OK good. People deserve to know what’s going on. They deserve the truth. And you’re going to help me. You ready?”
Adams found himself nodding like a wet noodle.
“OK good.” She handed him Paltron’s stunner. “Here’s what I need you to do.”