Oh fuck, it felt good to be back home.
The doors opened metres before I reached them, sliding away as the building opened itself up to me. From the outside, the A.I.R headquarters looked identical to any of the other of the monotonous grey building on the skyline, but once you passed the tinted dark glass and concrete walls, it came to life.
The second I stepped inside, I felt the almost constant sense of urgency this place bought. People on their phones, walking across the wide lobby in criss-crossing be line. Heading to and from elevators, sidestepping each other masterfully mere moments before collision.
I remember the first I’d been here, as a trainee, the business had frightened me. so many people, all doing so many things, and I only ever felt like I was standing on someone's toes. Literally, in some cases. But after the first few weeks, I’d settled in, and had fallen into the same hard and fast rhythm here.
And I loved it.
I was on Alan’s right. Patricia was on his left, and he was leading our small group deeper into the lobby. Past the administration desk, past the staircase that no-one ever used, and into one of the five constantly moving elevators. We pressed into the back, other people following us in until there wasn’t enough room to scratch an itch. Still, regardless of the proximity, as I saw the familiar image of the steel doors cutting off my view of the lobby, I couldn’t help but feel better.
The last time I’d been in this building, in this elevator, I had been here with purpose. The last time I was here, I had Anneka with me. Maybe I could get one of those things back.
The elevator continued up, stopping periodically and unloading until only the three of us were left inside. I didn’t know exactly where we were going, but with each floor the passed by I got more and more sure that it was somewhere important.
Vincent and Patricia didn’t say anything as it came to a final stop. I glanced at the overhead display above the elevator doors. The penthouse level.
We filed out of the doors in a single line, Vincent at the head and me at the back. I’d only been up here two times before. First, when I was got a ninety eight on the aptitude test, and the Head of the the entire East American division of A.I.R, one Dean Lane, wanted to congratulate me himself. The second time, the last time, was after- after, the incident. He wanted to see me again, then, to give his respects. And, to make plans for Alliance funeral.
Both times, I’d been alone. It felt different with the two of them at my side. Better, safer.
We reached a set of large wood doors. Alan knocked twice, and they slid open after a moment. Strange, I thought,they looked manual.
We stepped through and into a room made of red. Red on the walls, painted (or papered?) from ceiling to floor on all four sides. A deep red, draining instead of energizing, but still powerful. A huge red rug, smack in the centre of the room, leaving maybe a metre of exposed wood before it reached the wall. And in the middle of that, the centerpiece of the room, a huge desk. Excessive as anything, but beautiful. Dark wood, solid. Must’ve cost thousands. Good old Alliance.
Behind it, a man. I couldn’t see his face since he was looking down, but I knew it was Dean Lane. No other man ever sat behind that desk. We approached, and he finally looked up. “Oh, hello.” He said, voice drained of all energy. He looked how you’d think he’d look: rich, old, white, tall. A man who probably wasn’t the most deserving of all his power. But as I looked longer, I noticed the bags under his eyes, the paleness to his skin. He looked considerably older, even since I’d last him only a matter of weeks ago. I reminded myself that his power came with a price. One that, given recent events, was getting more and more of a burden with every passing day.
“Good morning, Sir.” Alan said, the first to step up to the desk. “This is Kalahan Waymire. The one I told you about.” He extended his arm in my direction and gestured for me to come closer.
“We’ve already met.” I said, after a brief moment of uncomfortable eye contact with Mr Lane.
Alan seemed please. “As you’d know, Kalahan, Mr Lane is a very busy man. However, he has become quite personally involved with the task force. He was half the brains behind setting it up in the first place, in fact.” He smiled, pleasantly, at Mr Lane.
“Oh, less than half, I should think. “ Mr Lane. “But Mr Vincent is right. While I won’t have the time to become heavily involved in the day to day running of it, I do believe this task force is one of the best things that A.I.R could throw its money at right now.” It wasn’t funny, but Mr Lane ended with a weak, but expectant smile, so all three of us participated in a sympathetic laugh.
“Regardless,” Mr Land said. “ I’d very much like to be kept in the loop.”
“And you will, Sir. All report, all data recovering, all planning for missions, will be brought through you. ” Alan said. “Infact..”
He turned to me. “We were just about to talk about the first assignment.”