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June 13, 2033
Seattle, Washington, USA
5th Ave
98°F
0824 Hours

Someone honked. I looked up, and realized the accident had been partially cleared. The injured cop had been replaced by a different one. He had a look of bored indifference on as he waved me through the cleared lane. I fired the car back up and set it going to work again. It carefully wound through the cleared accident, and moved the two blocks down the street to the underground parking garage.

My car stopped at the gate that was in place. I swiped my badge, and the gate raised. The car burbled through. It took some time, but eventually found a parking spot on the fifth underground floor.

I opened the door and stood, stretching for a moment. I was already late, no need to rush. I leaned back in to the car to grab my laptop bag and a few other small necessities.

The elevators were at each corner of the garage, which meant it was pretty much always a long walk to them. The spots nearest the elevators were always taken before I got to work.

I had arrived over an hour early one time, just to find the spots already taken. That had been the shortest walk, but it was still almost 4 minutes from car to elevator bank. The building took up an entire city block, meaning in was over a thousand yards to a side.

So, parking in the middle was the worst, and often the only places available by the time I arrived at, or after, 8.

The laptop bag slapped my side with each step, and I made mental checklists of what I needed done for the day. I had the HOPS project from Nevada- too much water was needed. Didn't even make sense, they couldn't grow good hops for shit. Most hops still came from Washington state, as it had been for decades.

However, with the ever increasing temperatures, a lot of crops had moved further and further north. Canada now had more farmland than cities.

Then there was the RHINO project out of the Middle East. An experimental new vehicle. Seemed it was extremely capable. I still only had one shot of the vehicle, and it was blurry. Moving insanely fast across broken terrain.

Checklist said I needed more focus there. I had volunteered to take on another project, but Jessie wouldn't let me. Said I was stretched too thin anyway.

I arrived at the elevator bank and knuckled the upward arrow. Rumbling sounded from deep within the elevator shafts. Shortly afterwards, the elevator arrived. 'B5' flashed on the display above.

The doors slid open and I stepped inside. I was the only occupant. It was well appointed, with walnut wood paneling and chromed mirror surfaces. The buttons were standard poly-carbonate of some kind, slightly worn by thousands of hands.

The elevator started at B10 and went all the way through Ground floor to the 4th. I knuckled the 4 button and settled in at the back to wait. The elevator started with a small lurch, and smoothly climbed to the security lobby. I pulled my phone out and made a note about my parking spot so I wouldn't forget it.

The panel dinged, and the doors slid open. It was relatively quiet by this point, since most people were already hard at work. The four elevator banks fed in to a large open format floor space, with two massive elevator banks in the middle.

The fourth floor was a security cordon, since most businesses above had top secret information of some sort. In the middle stood the two banks with an opening all the way through. At each end of the opening was a security cordon.

Each had a line set up, much like security at the airport. My heels clicked on the marble as I walked to the middle, where two bored security guards stood by. Sunlight streamed in through the floor to ceiling windows all around the floor. They were twenty feet high and had a fantastic view of the city around.

Small clusters of couches and chairs sat around near the windows, to allow people to have meetings with a view. The security officer behind the metal detector nodded in recognition, but still asked to see my badge. He inspected it quickly, then asked me to empty my pockets into a bowl for the x-ray machine and step through the metal detector.

I emptied my pockets then stepped through. As usual, the detector remained quiet. He looked at the loose items I'd had in my pockets.

"Sir, what is this?"

"Travis, you ask me that every day. That's my Holo Micro, and you know it."

"Sir, I'm just doing my job. Can you please turn it on for me?"

"Yeah, Travis, I can," I said, only slightly peeved. So I took the small device from the bowl he held out to me and powered it on. A small chime was just audible from the device, and it started flashing colors an inch from the band that went on my forehead.

He nodded and I powered it back off. He allowed me to gather the rest of my stuff from the bowl.

"Thank you sir, have a good day."

"Yeah, you too Travis."

He nodded and I walked to the center of the banks. Someone was coming through the security area on the opposite side. I leaned over, swiped my badge, and used a knuckle to hit the up arrow. The button lit up, though I couldn't hear anything from the elevator shafts.

I turned when I heard a slightly whiny voice come from the other cordon. I was a little surprised when I saw Linda, my friend and coworker, standing at the cordon. I had never known her to be late to work. She caught my gaze and smiled a tired smile, accompanied by a little wave.

Then she turned back and said something to someone on the other side of the metal detector. The voice came again. She said something in a slightly harsher tone, and whoever it was complied. A moment later, the x-ray machine belched out a small bowl and the metal detector disgorged a boy.

Just then, the elevator dinged and the doors slid open. I turned my attention back and stepped in. I heard a slightly muffled "Hold the doors!"

I stuck my hand over the doors to keep them from closing. They surged slightly, then settled back. A faint voice tinkled above. "Please clear the doorway. Please clear the doorway."

I ignored the voice and held the doors open. I was the only one in the elevator, so it didn't matter. A moment later, Linda stepped in to the elevator, holding on to the hand of the boy. She flashed me an apologetic smile, then said "Thanks."

Her perfume was faint and slightly floral, but it filled the elevator. I said "No problem," and let the doors closed. Then I swiped my badge again and used the knuckle on my index finger to hit the '70' button.

The elevators were fast, but we still had a solid 2-3 minute ride ahead of us. I looked at Linda as I settled against the back wall. She smiled back at me, evidently a little tired already.

"This is my son, Eddie," she said. She had him squared up in front of her, fussing over his hair. I smiled and offered my hand to shake. "Hey Eddie, I'm your mom's friend, Dante."

He nodded mutely and shook my hand. Linda looked down at the back of his head and said "Honey, what do you say?"

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Dante." His voice was quiet, but strong. He was shy, but not nervous. An unusual combination.

"How old are you, Eddie? And you can just call me Dante, no need for the Mister." He nodded but said nothing. Linda just shook her head in evident exasperation.

"We've had a bit of a rough morning. Eddie had trouble waking up, and then there was the accident down the street. You must have been caught in that too, huh?"

I nodded. "Yeah, otherwise I would have been just about on time. Hey, Eddie, do you like video games?"

His eyes lit up when he heard the magic words. "Yes sir, I do!"

I winked at him and pulled the gaming device from my pocket. "Check this out, have you seen one before?"

Eddie's eyes grew large, as he took in the high end device. "Wow! You have a Holo Micro!"

"Well, go ahead, give it a try."

He nodded eagerly, and stuck his hand out to grab it. Then he paused, an inch from my own hand. He turned and looked at his mom, the question evident.

She nodded slightly, and he grabbed the game from my hand carefully. He put it over his head and the straps tightened themselves. A moment later lights could be seen playing across his face. Linda continued to play with his hair.

"He's turning 10 next week." Then she slid her hands over his ears, not that he noticed with the game going. She said "you look like the kind of shit even dogs wont eat. What's up with you today?"

I looked down at myself. My clothes were slightly rumpled, but more from the drive and the heat than lack of care. I did feel haggard, but that was the hangover. Then it clicked, and I had a sheepish grin.

"Went out with the guys last night. You kept bugging me to be more social. So, I did. Except we got a bit riled up, I guess. I had a few too many. Thankfully the car got me home safely. This morning has been a bit rough. Thanks though, you look beautiful as always."

She blushed slightly, then reached over and slugged my arm lightly. What was up with the women around me? They always did that.

She went back to straightening Eddie's hair. It didn't really need it, since his hair was just over an inch long. She looked back at me and said "still having the nightmares?"

I nodded, then shook my head. That made her confused.

I said "I had a nightmare, but not one I've had before. It was crazy. I was this giant monster and I was fighting a bunch of snakes or something. It was this huge battle. It seemed really vivid, almost like a memory instead of a dream. Then I got blown up. Then I got up and did the ol' Technicolor yawn. Literally, thanks to the hangover, and whatever godawful shit we were drinking."

She made a face of disgust. "Thanks, Dante. Really needed to hear that. Anyway, you're probably just stressed out."

I nodded in agreement, and felt the elevator slow. With a small lurch, it stopped, and the display above the buttons showed '70'.

The doors slid open, showing the opposite elevator bank. The elevators were closed off on either end with doors. We turned left and headed for the door marked 'Envisionment Intelligence, LLC'. It stood next to the metal fire door that led to the emergency stairs.

I cracked the office door open and heard the standard noises of the office. People talked quietly, fans whirred, and a printer was going somewhere. We had half the floor up here, the other half being abandoned for some time.

The office was in a 'U' shape, with the majority of the office in the open floor at the base of the 'U'. The two arms that shared the space with the elevator banks and stairs were split off. They had both been recently renovated.

One office was now a server room with a solid airlock. The other was Jessie's office, though it looked smaller than it should have.

I had asked about that and Jessie looked sour when she told me it was given to the abandoned office to make up for the extra room the servers had taken up.

At the far end of the open office area were restrooms on either side of a kitchen and break area.

I stepped in to the office with Linda close behind me. People were milling around, and there were a handful of children running around in between the low cubicles. I turned to Linda in confusion.

"Uh, why are there so many kids here? For that matter, why did you bring Eddie?"

She answered me, saying "Do you not remember Jessie telling us to bring our kids to work? She wanted to have our kids see the kind of work we do- which always struck me as strange. Most of what we do is top secret. I have no idea how she got the clearance for this."

"Yeah, that's weird. Then again, most of what we do is look at satellite imagery anyway, so it's probably easiest to say 'look, there's nothing happening here.' Who knows." I shrugged to punctuate the last sentence.

I walked past the first row of cubicles to the second and hooked right. My cube was near the windows, which was nice. It afforded a view south along one of the nearby roads. Linda's cube was right next to mine, with a low divider between.

My space was still pretty sterile, even after two years. She had pictures from and of Eddie all over her cube. She had finally taken down the last picture of her late husband about six months before. I logged in to my computer and let it load everything up. Then I checked my email, and groaned when the first one popped up.

It read: 'OFFICE. NOW.' Signed by Jessie Reven.

"Fuck me running," I grumbled. Linda shot me a glare through the glass at the top of the partition. I mouthed 'sorry' to her, then stood.

I looked over, and sure enough, just visible at her door was Jessie. She looked pissed. She always looked pissed, but she looked even angrier than usual.

"Time to get reamed. I'll be back in a minute, Linda. Want coffee?"

She nodded, and went back to her report. Eddie sat in the corner of her cube, still playing on the Holo Micro. I wound through the cubes to the north office, where Jessie waited. She glared up at me, then opened the door and ordered me in.

I followed her in and shut the door. She walked to the other side of her desk and sat. She was so small, she almost looked like a teenager sitting at her dad's desk. Her fiery red hair splayed across her shoulders.

Of course, I knew she wasn't a teenager, because her sharp look put daggers to shame. She was also my friend from the military. I glanced out the window in her office at the street beyond. The clouds must have continued rolling in, because the sky looked even darker up on the 70th floor.

I sat in her guest chair and prepared for the worst.

"You have no kids, right?"

I was not prepared for that. I froze up, looking at her in confusion.

"Hey, Earth to Dante! Kids?"

"Uh... no, and you know I don't have any family anymore, Jessie. Why?"

She sighed, rubbing her temples with her hands. "Because, Dante, today is bring your child to work day. I've told you just about every day for the last two weeks. Do you seriously not remember that?"

"Well, no. But that's because it wasn't relevant to me. What's going on? I mean, I was expecting you to chew me out for being late."

"Well, you're here. That's the really important part. Listen, I've got a major announcement for this afternoon. I've sent an email out, but nobody seems to read their email around here. Just let people know that there's an office meeting just after lunch."

"Uh... sure. You okay? You look way more stressed than usual."

"Shut it, Dante. Just go do your job for a bit. I'll figure this out and let you know during the meeting."

I nodded, stood, and left her office. Before the door closed, I caught one more look at her. She was staring into the distance, hands rubbing temples like she had a bad headache.

I headed to the other end of the office where the kitchen was at. The coffee pot was empty, and nobody had bothered to make another pot yet.

I pulled the filter tray out and dumped the filter and used grounds in the trash. Then I got a fresh filter and coffee beans. I put the filter in the machine, and used the nearby grinder to make fresh grounds for the machine.

People had heard me making coffee and started filtering in. I ignored them and set the grounds in the new filter. Then I filled the back tank with about sixteen cups of water. It would make enough coffee for the first few people to come in.

Still, I knew I would probably end up making the next pot anyway. I set the machine going and leaned against the counter. Linda saw me waiting, so she grabbed my cup from my desk and her cup and walked over. She rinsed both cups out and set them down.

"Mind bringing my cup to me? I really want to finish this report before lunch."

I nodded and she gave me a small smile. She headed back over to her desk. Brandon and Tracy stood off to the side, just chatting while they waited for the coffee to finish.

"Why again did we have to deal with that construction bullshit for the last month? I swear, all that banging and hammering up until last week, I was going to lose my mind!" Brandon was complaining to Tracy.

She just sipped from her mug- she still had hot coffee. What the hell, they couldn't make another pot? I heard the liquid start to trickle into the pot.

Tracy clucked and told him "Watch your language, Brandon. After that weird server fire two months ago, we had to get an entirely new farm. While we were getting the new servers, Jessie apparently wanted much better climate control. Then she wanted some other thing added on. Anyway, at the end, it cost a fortune, but apparently the server room now doubles as a disaster shelter. I don't know what kind of disaster we could have 70 floors up and still be alive though. So that's why it has that double airlock. But I am also glad the construction is done. The noise made it very difficult to focus. Speaking of, did I spot little Angelica with you?"

Brandon obviously caught both of her digs, but nodded. "Yeah, that 'Bring your Child to Work Day' thing. I thought we worked on classified material, but Jessie just says it's not a problem. Kids must not count." He sighed at that point.

"It's going to be a long day. I've got to juggle both of my projects and somehow keep Angel occupied."

I looked at the pot and determined there was enough for the first few cups. I lifted the pot and quickly poured into my cup, then Linda's. Nearby sat a container of creamers and different sweeteners.

I drank mine black, but I know Linda likes a cream and two splendas, so I grabbed them for her. I turned and walked past Brandon and Tracy as they went to refill. Heathens probably wouldn't even try to refill the pot if it was empty.

I wound back through the cubes to our desks. I carefully handed off her full mug, then her creamer and splenda packets. She thanked me quietly. I walked around the divider and sat at my desk.

Steam wafted upward from the mug, carrying the rich scent of the coffee. I was thankful that we at least could agree as a team on what coffee to get, and everyone chipped in regularly for it. I blew gently across the surface, and tried to take a sip.

The coffee was still too hot, and I mildly scalded my lip. I set my coffee back down with a grimace and started going through emails again.

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A note from LeeAlexander

That's all I can leave up now! Check out the rest of the book on Amazon, including the never before seen Epilogue!

You can also check out the sequel, Death in Darkness, happening right here on Royal Road. Please stop by and give it a read.


About the author

LeeAlexander

Bio: Amateur author. Working on five novels currently. Winds of Darkness is the first in a Trilogy. Death in Darkness is the second, being written right now!

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