Holy shit. That’s some nazi-level plans right there. Meanwhile, Mathias had taken over the presentation, calmly presenting a timeline of more and more horrific sounding milestones. They planned to kill off 20% of the world's population in two years’ time. Or as Mathias put it: “guide the hand of evolution by removing this harmful protein variant from the population.”
The meeting seemed to be coming to a conclusion, so I carefully reapplied my light bending and breathed in deeply. Mr. Jones seemed all too enthusiastic about the project, as he got up to shake the others’ hands and congratulate them on their ‘groundbreaking research’.
The lights were put back on, and as the three men walked back towards the door, Jones’ eyes once again lingered on me. “Just give me a moment”, he told the others as he took a step towards me.
Despite my best efforts I couldn’t stop my pulse from accelerating. I forced myself to breathe deeply and still it took me all of my focus to stably maintain my light bending fields around me. And yet, he slowly approached me, eyebrows slightly raised, clearly driven by curiosity. I did my best to adapt my one angle of invisibleness to his movements, sweat by now having drenched my clothes.
I knew I had to act. My little trick wouldn’t hold up if he got up close. I would inevitably be too slow at changing the angle at some point, or he would simply touch me. And then it would be over. Neither Jones nor Mathias seemed like the scrupulous type, and given the scale of what I had just witnessed, I definitely wasn’t leaving this place if they found me.
If I made it past Jones, then the way to the door was still relatively free. Mathias and the Prof were busy talking to each other, a good meter to its’ side.
I slowly extended a tendril of my soul towards Jones face, the effort instantly inducing a piercing headache. I noticed my light bending fields becoming unstable. And the resulting flickering was definitely visible to Jones. Just two steps away from me, his expression turned serious and he sped up towards me.
Giving up the pretense of invisibility, I dissolved my fields and focused on the tendril I had formed. I hastily created another field at its end, placed in between myself and Jones who was now charging me, his large fist raised and ready to take a swing at me.
I refracted the light coming through the new field, changing the angle of the light reaching Jones’ eyes. Moments before his bruteish strike knocked me out, he changed his fists course, missing my face by a hair’s breadth.
Lacking the expected resistance of a face breaking under his fist, Jones stumbled forward. I dashed out from beneath him and pushed myself off his back as I passed by him, swiftly accelerating myself and making him fall into the corner behind me.
I ran for the door. Both Mathias and the Prof had only just noticed that something was off. The Prof instinctively took a step back, while Mathias placed himself between myself and the door with an angry scowl on his face. I immediately placed my tendril with the still active field in between myself and Mathias eyes.
Readying myself to sharply change the angle of my run to get around Mathias, a loud bang resounded from within his suit and a sharp pain suddenly stung my left arm. The sudden impact and pain had me stumble and I frontally slammed into him, dropping the both of us onto the floor. Somehow, in a scrambled mess of grabbing and punching, I managed to get a foot in between us and push myself away from Mathias.
I ended up being closer to the door than him. I quickly sprung up, spotting Jones charging me on the edge of my vision. I dashed out of the door and swung it close behind me with all the force that I could muster. A satisfying thump resounded behind me as I ran down the corridor.
I ran around the corner and could hear loud swearing and footsteps behind me. The elevators were tempting but I couldn’t afford to wait for even a moment. The staircase it was. The stinging pain had me steal a glance down at my arm, where the warmness of my blood had already soaked the black pullover. I pressed the wound against my body to hopefully avoid leaving behind a trail of red.
Taking another turn I was finally at the staircase. They would expect me to go down. Towards the exit. Where security guards would probably be waiting for me. For the lack of a better option I ran up the stairs, taking them two by two.
I need to find a place to hide. To think. To plan. Maybe call Felix. To take care of my arm. What the fuck have I gotten myself into. Seriously. What the fuck.
Two floors up, my lungs were heaving and I decided to try my luck on the floor. I couldn’t hear any footsteps behind me so hopefully I had lost them. For the moment at least. I got out the door of the staircase and hesitated for a moment when I saw the fire alarm. Some chaos would definitely help. I easily broke through the plastic pane covering the button and pressed it.
Immediately, a loud ringing alarm went off and the dimly lit corridor brightened up. I didn’t dally and ran down the corridor. It was evening so it would hopefully be empty. Taking a left turn, I ran into someone. Literally. The woman was in her fifties, graying hair and with pale yellow overalls designating her as part of the cleaning crew.
She took a moment to recover from the collision, looking down at the bright red stains I had left on her overalls. Then taking a moment to realize that the wetness on my clothes was of the same deep red colour.
“Oh dear, what happened to you? You need help. Are you ok?”
I tried to answer but only stammered sounds made it out. I wasn’t even sure what I was trying to say. I needed to think. Process. Calm down.
“Calm down, child. Everything will be fine. Let me see that arm of yours.”
“I don’t have time. Please. I need help. They will kill me if they find me.” I managed to get out, still catching my breath.
Her frown intensified. I noticed the alarm turning off, the lights returning to their previous dim level.
“Just what have you done? Tell me, who is looking for you?” She said in a concerned voice.
“I-I just hid in the room. It was supposed to be exciting. A challenge. Not this. Not this at all. They found me. They-they tried to kill me.” I realized just how much in shock I still was.
“Who? Who did you listen in on?”
“Mathias. And others.”
The woman stilled.
Until we heard the door from the stairwell open. And a male voice calling out. “I’ll check this floor, you take the next one.” It wasn’t a voice I recognized. Probably a guard.
“Quick, come.” She hushed. Taking me by my uninjured arm and dragging me through a nearby door. She carefully closed it behind us.
We were in the maintenance area of the building. The contrast to the sleek office space we had come from was striking. The architects had clearly dropped any pretense of luxury here, bleak concrete walls, pipes, open drains, and purely utilitarian metal shelves greeting us.
The woman grabbed a towel from a nearby shelf and tightly bound it around my arm. It almost made me wince in pain. She led me along through similar rooms until we came to halt in front of a cargo elevator.
“You’re holding up well. Just hang in there for a bit more, we’re almost out.” She said. I nodded. Between the pain in my arm and the stinging in my head I had a hard time staying focused. Reaching out with my soul like that really had done a number on me. And getting shot didn’t help.
The elevator finally arrived and its wide doors slowly opened. I noticed her trembling hands when she pressed the button to take us to the parking garage. The doors closed behind us and down we went.
Will there be guards downstairs? I have no more tricks to play. I can only wait for these doors to open again and see what’s awaiting us. There might be a full squad of guards, ready to shoot us down. These might be the last moments of my life. These scratched elevator doors the last things I see. The rattling of the elevator the last sound I hear.
It felt strangely comforting.
When we arrived, the doors opened and nothing awaited us. The same calm parking garage as always. She ushered me to her car, carefully looking around for any sign of movement.
“Get in the trunk.” She whispered, opening it at the same time. She quickly took off her bloodied overalls and threw them in.
Not finding a reason to protest, I climbed into the trunk and she closed it behind me. I heard her get into the driver's seat and start the car. And then we started moving. After a couple of turns I felt us stop and heard the electric hum of a window opening.
Steps, and a male voice.
“Hey Martha, finished early tonight? Look, I’m sorry but we’ve had a break-in so I’m gonna have to check your car. It’s protocol.”
“Dave, good to see you. Had to wrap up early today, I have family business to take care of at home. You sure you can’t let me pass? I really don’t have time for this. And you know me Dave, I wouldn’t dream of stealing anything from this place.”
“I’ve got very clear instructions. Sorry. It’s not up to me. Let’s just get this over with and I’ll raise the parking arm for you before you know it.”
For a moment there was silence. Dave was clearly waiting for Martha to answer.
Then the car accelerated. Followed by a very loud thump of what must have been the parking arm. And an exasperated Dave yelling “For fucks sake! Martha!”.
I tried to steady myself in the trunk with my healthy arm, but couldn’t help but get pushed against my wound during the very proactive driving that followed. After a difficult to estimate 15 minutes of driving, we stopped and Martha got out and around the car to open the trunk.
“Quick, get out.” She gave me a hand to climb out of the cramped space.
“I’m really sorry, but I can’t take you home. I have a family. I can’t involve any more people in this mess. I’m really sorry. But you’re on your own. I hope you have somewhere to go.”
She visibility tried to steel her expression, but finally gave in and embraced me in a tight hug. "Good luck out there."
"Thank you. Thank you so so much." I quietly said, at a loss for any other words.
She let go of me and walked back to the driver seat. As she opened the door, she turned back to me one last time. "I never got your name."
"Veronica. It's Veronica."