TG walked me through and around another half dozen hallways and I decided she was definitely trying to make sure I stayed confused. There was some kind of dot-code like braille on most of the doors, but I didn’t recognize it and couldn’t tell if we were walking in circles. I kept a tight leash on my hand to make sure it didn’t get a mind of its own and grab TG’s in a waffle-grip, though I was sure I wanted to do that at some point.

We passed through a lab I recognized and the same people were in the room doing who-knew-what, but there was a kind of tension I hadn’t noticed before. TG must have sensed it because she stopped and went to a computer station to study a screen over someone’s shoulder. I stood awkwardly in the middle of the room before deciding to poke around for myself.

“What do we got?” I asked the tech.

She looked at me with a squint, but when I didn’t break character, she pointed at the screen and said, “We’ve got a spiked anomaly in the fifth region.”

“I’m new; how far is that from here?”

“About ten miles, but I’m waiting for the tracking software to finish calculations.”

“Do we have anyone in that area to check it out; boots on the ground?”

“No, but—” she stopped and studied the new data that appeared. “Looks like it’s heading this way.”

“At what rate?”

“I need another data point to be sure, but fast?”

“Do we have any idea what kind of anomaly we’re looking at?”

“Lizette, what are you doing?” Tower Goddess had noticed I was missing and found me. I stood up and pointed at the computer. “I was getting brought up to speed on a fast-moving anomaly in sector five, moving this way. My new friend…?”

“June.”

“My new friend June was about to explain the kind of anomalies we track and maybe what we can expect to see.”

“We don’t have access to that kind of information,” June explained tentatively. TG hadn’t said anything but was glaring at me. “I can put drones in the air, though.”

“Do it.” TG waved for me to follow as June turned back to her keyboard.

“Don’t do that,” she warned me sternly. “You don’t have the authority or authorization for all that.”

“Maybe you should get those VR screens,” I suggested. “They send the data straight into your goggles instead of a standard monitor anyone can view. I mean, if we’re so worried about losing the budget.”

TG rolled her eyes. “I’m dropping you in a conference room and I’ll bring your friends to you. Explain everything, I’ll bring in pizza, and then we can all sign our paperwork.”

“New job for me, NDA for whoever, bonus for you.” We stopped in front of a glass-walled conference space with everything you’d expect to see in any standard conference space.

“Seriously,” I said before she left me inside. “What did June mean by ‘anomaly’?”

TG hesitated. “I’ll explain when I get back.”

I slouched into a chair petulantly but sat up when she disappeared from view. The phone didn’t have a dial tone, but beeped when I pressed 9. Must have a different code to dial out. The conference room door wasn’t locked, but I saw that it was capable of locking. I poked through the drawers of the small cabinet and was rewarded with a tape dispenser which I took to the door.

I applied a liberal number of pieces to the bolt, vertical so they wouldn’t be easily noticed on the door, and hoped that it did the trick, should it be necessary. I was kind of proud of myself for thinking of it, like I was some kind of spy. I put the tape away and settled back into the chair to spin idly.

Time, fickle as she was, passed slowly, but I knew it hadn’t been long since TG disappeared. Andromeda entered first with a grim expression and tension through her frame that I hadn’t yet seen. Mathis was behind her, groggy and disoriented, and Jin brought up the rear with his hands in his pockets. He saw me and his lips tightened.

TG didn’t step inside, but left quickly and I tracked her heading back toward the lab, probably for more information on that anomaly, whatever it was.

“What’d they promise you for selling us out?” Jin asked.

“Selling out what?” I asked. He didn’t answer, but crossed his arms and twisted his chair toward the wall.

Andromeda was next, “Do you want to tell us what’s going on?”

“I would love to,” I answered, “but my information is limited. We’ve been offered jobs with good salaries to learn about the possibilities of magic and what its limits are, or we can sign NDAs and leave.”

Andromeda and Jin snorted derisively at almost the same moment.

“Sure, but that’s what I was told. I have no evidence for backup.” I looked at Mathis. “You okay?”

He nodded blearily. “Sleeping is weird,” he grunted. “Shouldn’t I feel… better?”

“Theoretically, but in practice, you’ll find it’s more complicated than that.”

“Where’s our prison guard?” Andromeda asked. “Weird she trusts us alone now.”

I rolled my eyes at the implication. “Your faith in me is heartwarming. When we passed through some kind of computer lab there was an alarm. I figure she’s checking it out.”

“What kind of alarm?” Jin asked, twisted back part way.

“An ‘anomaly in sector five heading this way’,” I said with a shrug. “I didn’t have a chance to find out what they mean by ‘anomaly’.”

“I just want to get out of here,” Andromeda said. She looked tired.

“Did you guys eat or anything?” I asked.

“I got a school lunch a couple hours ago,” Jin said. The others nodded.

“My legs are low on charge,” Mathis said.

“Do you have a way to charge them?”

“The cables are in my bag, which they confiscated.”

“I’ll see if we can have them.” I stood and took two steps toward the door before the sound of a bolt engaging went off. We all stared at the door and I pulled on it experimentally, a grin cracking my features to find my tape trick had worked.

“That was lucky,” Jin said, rising quickly.

“Not luck,” Andromeda said as she saw the tape. “Impressive.”

I bowed and led the way to the computer lab. TG looked up to see us all approach and snarled, “What are you doing?”

I pointed a thumb at Mathis. “He needs the charging cables from his bag before his legs give out and the rest of us want to know why you just tried to lock us into the conference room.”

“How—” she gathered herself. “Just be quiet for a minute.” 

May 02, 2021

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