Saturday, May 20, 2017

Flurry: 13 Going on 30 (Part VI)

Ace cracked the door open to get a tiny look around. People were walking back and forth. They weren’t paying attention to anything but themselves, but would still notice two guys coming out of a literal closet with no apparent authority to be there. “We didn’t really think this through.”
“We didn’t have all the facts,” Serkan said.
“We should have brought a ladder.”
“You mean like this one?” Serkan stepped back so he could see a step ladder hanging on the wall.”
“I mean one so that we could have climbed to the top of. That way, we would magically appear on the second floor, even deeper beyond security.”
“Again, we couldn’t have known that we would need that.”
“Well...we knew that we were going to an office building. We should have dressed as contractors, or in business suits.”
“You mean like these ones?” Serkan removed two business suits hanging on the wall behind the supply shelves. One was labelled with a big letter S, and the other, an H.”
“Why the hell are those even here? This is for cleaning supplies.”
“It’s like they were left here for us.”
“This doesn’t feel right,” Ace said, worried.
The doorknob started jiggling as someone was trying to open it.  They could hear someone talking from the other side. “Yeah, have a good night, Chip!” it said before starting to mutter under its breath, “you stupid corporate hack.” The door opened, and the voice asked them “why aren’t you two dressed yet?”
“Vearden?” He was much older, say about eleven years.
“Put your suits on. You look ridiculous.”
“How did you find us? How did you know when we would be here?”
He sighed impatiently and tried to close the door behind him. Some random guy asked him what he was doing. “Just having a secret meeting with a couple of time travelers!” he yelled back with a laugh. He then went back to Serkan and Ace. “It didn’t take me that long to figure out where you would end up, based on its distance from the road. Google Maps is a wonderful thing. I also knew you were destined for the summer of 2024, so I positioned myself to be stationed at this building for as long as I needed. Then I just keep an eye on this room.” He pointed to the back corner where they were being watched by a security camera. “Don’t worry, it’s a closed system. It can only be accessed from my account.”
“You work for High Castle?”
“Snowglobe, actually,” Vearden answered. “I figured we could use an inside man with some range. High Castle is not our only threat from this conglomerate.”
“That’s what you’ve been doing this whole time?” Ace asked.
Vearden smiled nostalgically, but also with sadness. “It’s been a long journey in this...City of Fountains. You got your math wrong, though. Lincoln Rutherford was far too young to be a lawyer in 2013. I did find Kyle K. Stanley, though. He didn’t own his own practice at the time, but he did give me my first job opportunity.”
“Oh,” Serkan said. “You’re right, I didn’t realize. I’m so sorry, we should have been more careful with you.”
“It’s okay,” Vearden said truthfully. “But you really do need to change your clothes. This place has a strict dress code. Business casual gets you fired, even for the mail guys.”
Serkan and Ace started getting dressed.
“I had to guess on your sizes.”
“Can you get us to the top floor?”
Vearden smiled knowingly. “You don’t want to go to the top floor. You want to go beyond that. And yes, I can get you there. Just be glad this isn’t 2023. It’s taken me forever to learn how to navigate the vator maze.”
“The vator maze. That...sounds...ominous,” Ace said, as he was tying his new shoes.
“It is. This place is confusing as hell. If you’re looking for a particular floor, you better make sure you’re in the right tower, or you won’t make it to the right room.”
Serkan adjusted his tie in a little mirror. “I assume there are secret passageways, like all the best castles had.”
“Boy, are there ever. Come on. This building is most vulnerable during the one o’clock shift change.”
Once he had determined that the coast was clear, Vearden led them across the lobby and into one of the elevators. It had to specifically be the freight elevator, though, or they wouldn’t be able to go where they needed to. As they were moving upwards, he hovered over the buttons and watched the numbers on the screen change, careful to press another one at the precise time required. For instance, when they were passing the second floor, he pressed 8, and when they were passing the third, he pressed 6. Not only was there a code, but you had to enter them at the exact right time. Finally, they stopped midway between twelve and fourteen, the buttons indicating that there was technically no thirteenth floor, presumably due to superstition. But apparently there was, just not one accessible to the general population. Vearden placed his index finger against his lips, then pointed towards the doors, which were not opening. He then reached over and took hold of the safety railing with both hands, using what appeared to be a not insignificant amount of strength to wrench it from its place, taking a section of the wall with it.
Removing that part of the wall showed there to be a second set of elevator doors. Vearden took a quarter out of Ace’s coat pocket and slipped it between the doors. They could hear it drop down. “Dammit,” he whispered. He now took the quarter he had left in Serkan’s pocket and dropped it into the crack more carefully. It fell it its slot, and opened the doors for them. Once they were through to the other side, Vearden pulled the false wall back in place, and pushed a button to close the secret doors. “Every Snowglobe subsidiary’s headquarters has a secret thirteenth floor,” he said, still in a low voice. “Many people know this, and even work there. Not even they know that there’s a secret section of the secret floor only accessible to an even more elite few.”
“You’re one of those few?” Ace asked.
“No. Infiltration is a complex process. We are still not anywhere close to knowing everything there is to know.”
“Who’s we?”
“We need to get going,” Vearden said, ignoring the question.
“Is this where the leader guy works?” Serkan asked.
“Not quite. It just gets us there. We still have a ways to go.”
Vearden continued to lead them through a series of doors, elevators, and passageways in a secret section of the building. At one point, they had to duck into this weird hobbit hole closet. They did not encounter a single other person on their way, or really any evidence that anyone else had ever been there. Except that it was always so clean. When they asked him about it, Vearden just said that The Custodian has been doing his job right. They traveled up, down, and around. One elevator even moved in several different directions, according to the right combination of buttons. Like, it’s one thing to make it hard for people to get into your secret building, but this would make it hard for you too. Even with muscle memory letting you enter all these codes, and navigate this maze, it would still take at least fifteen minutes to get through the whole thing. Was it worth not just, ya know, investing in better locks, or something? Or just build your evil lair in a volcano so that people won’t try to get there anyway.
He kept walking with a purpose, never having to stop and make sure that he was going the right way. If he hadn’t been here before, then he was certainly confident in whatever was telling him where to go. But then something happened that gave him pause. They turned a corner to find a set of double doors, which didn’t seem all that weird to Serkan and Ace based on everything else that was happening, but Vearden was concerned. “This...this is not supposed to be here.”
“Are you sure?”
He removed a paper tablet that had been stuffed into the back of his pants and started examining it, pinching and swiping through a set of blueprints and instructions. “No, it’s definitely not on the map.”
“Well, maybe it’s not on the map because it isn’t important,” Serkan suggested. “We go down the hallway regardless, right?”
“Right, but...” Vearden agreed, still confused.
Just then, the doors that didn’t belong swung open, revealing two women standing at the entrance to a lush botanical garden. “Vearden,” one of them exclaimed in excitement. “You’re alive.”
“Gretchen,” the other said. “This is 2024. It’s an alternative version of him; the one from this timeline. He doesn’t know you.”
Should I know you?” Vearden asked.
“We’re married,” Gretchen said.
“Gretchen, stop!” the other ordered.
“Shut up, Danuta!” Gretchen yelled back.
“It’s not him!”
“It is him!” Gretchen argued. “We can contact The Warrior, or even Nerakali. One of them can bring my Vearden back. I can’t believe I never thought of this before.”
“He’s clearly busy,” Danuta argued back. “Plus, look how confused he is. He has no idea what brain blending is. It goes against our code to involve him in our affairs.”
“Screw the code!”
“Uh, hi,” Vearden finally jumped in. “You know an alternate version of me? And he died?” He took a few beats. “And you and I are married?”
“Not just that.” Gretchen took a half step forward, but was trying to be careful. “But we’re also in love. I can restore your memories. Well...I personally can’t, but I know someone who can. He or she will blend your mind with that of the alternate version, and you’ll remember all the lives you’ve lived.”
“Gretchen,” Danuta pleaded. “We can’t do this.”
“I’m standing at the cusp of a shadow dimension,” Vearden told her. “I’m informed enough to make that decision on my own.”
“See?” Gretchen asked Danuta rhetorically. “Still my beautiful Vearden Haywood. I told you we would see each other again, doorwalker.”
He looked back at Serkan and Ace, weighing his options. He then presented the paper tab with the map on it. “This is important,” he said of it. Then he looked back to the garden, and the mysterious Gretchen. But this is important to me.” He handed the map to Ace. “You’ll figure it out. I have to do this.”
“We understand,” Ace said.
Serkan wasn’t feeling so generous, but kept his mouth shut.
Vearden ceremoniously stepped across the threshold and into the impossible garden. He turned back and smiled at them. “Oh, and one more thing. The next time you see Slipstream, remind her that she owes me a favor, and let her know that I’ve transferred that favor to you.”
How does he know Slipstream?
Danuta reluctantly closed the doors, which promptly disappeared.

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