Fists pounded on the door in an ugly staccato as Fae’s heart pulsed in her ear. Kita barked sharp and vicious, then growled, showing her teeth. Vera calmed her as best she could. They all looked at the door, the incessant thumping growing louder and more violent.
The door to Suite 423 was reinforced with heavy metal bands haphazardly bolted to it. A uniform peephole sat at eye height. Fae approached the peephole, trying to look in, but as she leaned toward it, it shot a bright green beam of light into her eye. She recoiled and tried to blink away the momentary blindness. The door angrily chirped at her. Nothing happened.
She tried the handle, but it only spun around disconnected or nonfunctional. A wave of uncertainty and embarrassment flooded Fae’s mind as the realization of what she was doing finally sank in. She felt naked and foolish. Defenseless even. Without tools or the brawn to knock the door down, Fae did what any visitor would do: she knocked.
The heavy door blocked out all sound from inside, but the peephole camera began to move, its iris trying to focus on her. Feeling a little foolish, Fae stepped back away from the door and held up her arms, turning around in a circle. A sliver of the door opened, then it arced open wider so some three-pronged contraption could stick out.
A woman’s rough voice crackled through the opening. “You’re alone. That’s smart. You know who I am. Not like the others rummaging around downstairs. Put your hands behind your back and walk backwards towards the door.”
“Listen sweetheart. Those pinkies are still down there tearing the place all to hell. You can either come in here with me or try your luck down there. I don’t give a shit. But if you’re coming in, turn around and back up because I’m closing this door in five seconds.”
Fae turned around, holding her hands together behind her back, and walked backwards hoping she wouldn’t regret it. She heard a clatter, then the woman slapped some sort of binds on Fae’s arms. As she started to struggle, a black hood was thrown over Fae’s head and a smooth object cracked against her head.
Fae awoke face-down on cold concrete, her body bunched up like an inch-worm. The hood was gone, but when she flexed her arms, her hands were still bound together. Her eyes adjusted to the room’s dim yellow lighting quickly and she started to get her bearings. Without rolling over, she saw the metallic legs of a couple stools and a small table. A few heavier pieces of clothing, sweaters, blankets, and linens were draped over the chairs while others were strewn across the concrete. A clear glass divider between the room she was in and kitchen was clean except for what looked like paw prints.
Fae shifted her weight and rolled over onto her other side looking at the rest of the room she was in. Vera Lark sat in a large black armchair, the three-pronged contraption—shaped like a gun—draped across her lap. She was younger than Fae had expected. Harder looking. Her tanned face had a sharpened edge to it, like it had been molded by violence. Her chest rose and fell calmly. She pensively looked at something out of sight.
The same thick, metal banding on the door lined the bottom two thirds of the wall to wall windows. Eerie yellow outdoor light bled in through the small, uncovered window panes while blue ambient light leaked from a hallway at the other end of the room. Evenly, Vera Lark lowered her gaze to Fae on the ground. Her bottomless brown eyes gazed into Fae’s.
“Good to see I didn’t whack you too hard. Most of the time, I’m not trying to stun.”
Fae rolled around and brought her legs around, sitting upright.
“Well, I’m Vera Lark, the better half of the magnificent two that is…was Robin-Lark. What can this washed up corporate sell-out do for you?”
“Fairweather Nils. I work for Sigma, though this is a personal visit. I’d shake your hand, but well-“ Fae shrugged her shoulders.
Vera rose and crossed the room, pulling a knife from her pocket.
“Precautionary. Like I said, I don’t deal with too many people looking to shake hands anymore. But in case you got more on your mind than chat, I’ve skinned my fair share of pinkies and Kita has too. Haven’t you, Kita?” A meaty bark came from down the hallway. “So watch your ass and keep your movements slow.”
Vera cut the restraints loose, but kept the knife in her hand as she backed up to her chair and put the contraption back on her lap.
Fae rubbed her wrist to get the blood flowing again. Her fingers tingled back to life. “You got it. I’ll skip all the ‘what the hell are you doing bonking me on the head’ and cut to the chase then. I need your help identifying something you designed for Sigma.” Vera perked up from her lounging position, the corner of her mouth twisting into a smile.
“You waded through a helluva lot just to pick my brain about some design. But, I ‘spose I could take a look. We made a bunch of stuff for Sigma in those last few months, but I remember almost all of my designs.”
Fae dusted off her Slate docked in her pants and pulled it off, bringing up the schematics she had found in her search earlier that night. She held it up so Vera could see. “What did you make this for?”
“Looks like a sphere mold. Sadly for you, we used that thing for a whole lot. It was spec’ed for plastic, glass, and some lightweight alloys.”
“But what was it for?”
“A buncha stuff. Hydro floaters. Micro-scale crucibles. Observation bubbles. Where you going with this?”
Fae swiped over to a video still taken moments before the train derailment. “Because the mold you made was used to house something that caused a massive freight train derailment killing 35 people. I want to know what the fuck it was.”
Vera recoiled, her hand tightening on the grip of the knife. “Woah. Settle down. I don’t know anything about a train at all, so don’t you go putting that on me.” She paused and regained her composure, then leaned forward to look at the image again. “There’s no way to tell for sure that that’s our mold anyways. Go talk to those Bostok cavemen. Assholes.”
“Look again. Does any of this look familiar to you? The cut outs for all the cables? What about those diamonds? Did you manufacture anything like this? Does the paint look familiar? Anything?” Fae played the last few frames like a video, showing the sphere vibrate and rotate.
Cautiously, Vera said, “What was that about diamonds?”
She looked closer at the Slate as the images played out repeatedly. Pinching the screen, she zoomed in on the last image, focusing on the four small diamonds arranged in a larger diamond logo. Her eyes opened wide with recognition, her lips separating slightly. Vera stood with a start and pressed the Slate back towards Fae. Then she grabbed Fae’s forearm and pulled her upright.
“Nope, nope. It’s time for you to go. Pack it up, sweetheart, you’re out of here.” She spun Fae around and pushed her towards the front door. Kita, Vera’s full grown husky bounded from one of the rooms, barking with excitement. “I’m not touching this one.”
Fae tried to slow down as Vera pushed her, “Wait- just- stop for a second.”
“Girl, you’re meddling with something you shouldn’t and I’m not looking to get mixed up in it. It’s shit here, but at least I’m alive.”
There was a knock on the door.
The lift shaft smelled like death. Fae stood on top of the lift car, breathing through her sweatshirt, trying to stop herself from retching. The side of the lift car opposite Fae was a pale, bloated body slowly decomposing in the darkness. She heard the others talking amongst themselves outside the open lift doors, some rifling through the garbage, others angrily yelling. It was only a matter of time until they looked into the open lift shaft—Fae had to move.
The Deco was a glitzy hotel turned rundown tenement a few dingy, garbage strewn, yellow-lit streets from the closest thing Lip had to safety. Even in the early evening, the streets were empty of the bustling dinner crowd of Apex. There seemed to be more trash in the streets than people—not counting the eyes she felt watching her from alleys and hallways. Shards of glass from the broken lights above crunched beneath Fae’s shoes.
With millions of people living in a single, gigantic WELL, it was almost impossible to find a place to have to yourself. It was even more difficult to find anywhere that wasn’t being surveilled by every type of sensor or camera. The Sigma greenway in Apex had some of the few.