It’s a beautiful morning.
The sun has risen above the scattering of plump clouds, leaving a pink and red trail behind it, merging like mist with the pale blue sky. Amber street-lamps dim as the day begins, and the pavement fills with yawning early-risers rushing off to work, running for the bus-stop and storming down steps to the underground. A subtle hum of chatter fills the air as people stop to speak and address those around them, taking the time to pause from their routine. There’s a slight smell of bacon and fresh coffee tingling my senses, as those around me scoff their breakfasts whilst still on the move. It’s quiet, yet busy. Rushed, yet calm.
I walk shielded by a much taller Max who stands to my left as we keep our heads down, scurrying in the right direction towards the facility, dressed in smart clothes we’d borrowed from somebody’s washing-line after we snuck out this morning whilst Annabeth and Daniel still slept. I’d left him a note on the pillow to his right where my head would usually be, containing an explanation as to my whereabouts, and a quick (but heartfelt) apology. Then I’d ran out before I could change my mind. I know he’ll be worried, disappointed, and angry, and I know that if I make it back to him he’ll probably yell at me for days, but I have to do this. I have to be like the sun, rising whatever each day may bring with an open and optimistic mind. I won’t be a cloudless sky anymore...and I just pray that a part of him will understand that.
The facility is a subtle old office building, disguised among deselect pieces of architecture that the city is filled with. Security wise, it’s pretty tight. Key-cards open all the doors, and there’s five guard per floor, not to mention the intense CCTV, to simply get through a doorway you must stand in front of a camera. Hopefully me and Max will have retrieved the files and moved far away with Annabeth and Daniel before anybody watches the footage back and realises we were there. Me and Max are going undercover as part of a group of interns, that way we’ll get in without key cards, from there we decided to make it up as we went along, a decision me and the swarm of butterflies in my stomach are beginning to regret…
“This is it.” Max mutters, pointing up at the tall building. It’s a traditional red-brick structure, complete with dirty grease-stained windows with grey panes, as well as the occasional splodge of bird droppings. The roof is short of a few tiles, and those that still cling on are scratched and chipped. It’s not exactly the most appealing place to be around, but I suppose that’s sort of the point. As we get closer I notice chalk markings on the bricks, and dents spelling out words and names...and messages, unpleasant messages. I keep my eyes focused ahead of me as me and Max walk forwards, leaning against the wall next to the entrance, just half a meter away from where the gaggle of interns nervously chatter away. As if on cue, just seconds later a woman in a suit walks outside to round them all up.
“Hello to you all, in a few seconds I’ll take you inside the facility, but before I do, just a few ground rules. There’s no eating, drinking, or smoking on the premises, and we do ask that you pick up any litter you leave lying around, but most importantly of all, you are not to leave my side. This facility is equipped to tackle any security threat coming its way, and we don’t want any of you setting off the alarms or getting mistaken for imposters. That said, we shall now continue, this way please-”
The interns follow her inside as she checks their proof of identification, before the door can close after them, me and Max add ourselves onto the back of the huddle, keeping our heads down as we walk behind them. Now inside, I take a quick moment to look around. The interior is a lot cleaner than the exterior, that’s for sure, white walls and shiny elevators create a modern and smart appearance. There’s even a slight smell of chlorine in the air.
“Now, first we’ll go to the main office, then the meeting room, then we’ll stop for lunch, and conclude in our state of the art technological laboratory.” The guide informs us, “This way, please.” We walk on out of the reception area, and down a narrow corridor.
“The room where the files are kept is below the main office, my guess is there’s only one door to get there, so we’ll have to keep going like this for now. When we get inside, create a distraction, that way we can both sneak down to get them.” Max comes up with a plan, whispering his idea in my ear as we continue to move along. I give him a subtle nod as we round the corner to where the doorway is, following the group as we step inside.
“This is where all employees come to send emails, fill out paperwork, and make phone calls. Over here we have-” As the guide speaks on Max takes a small step backwards, edging closer to the fuse box for the lighting. I pull out a torch from under my sleeve, getting ready…
The rooms descends into darkness as the lights flash off, all the computer screens fading black. Voices rise up as people try to figure out what on earth is going on, each one trying to be louder than the last. I feel a tug on my arm as Max takes the torch from me, but as I try to take his hand and follow him, I feel someone pull at my top.
“Come on, we’re moving to the meeting room early whilst they sort this out.” One of the interns tells me, dragging me alone. I begin to panic, what am I supposed to do? I can arouse suspicion, but I can’t leave Max either… I search for his torchlight and find it illuminating an opening door, clearly Max is continuing without me. With very little choice in the matter, I go with the girl as she takes me back to the main group.
With the moment of madness beginning to feel more like a memory, my mind gets to work on finding a way out of this problem. I slow my pace so that I’m at the back of the group again, and glance up to notice a possible turning point a few meters ahead. It’s a risk, but I have to take it. As the tour moves on, I make the turn, heading down a different corridor, completely alone. I try to act as though I am confident, as if I belong, marching along firmly. I hear voices coming from ahead of me, and I make a spur of the moment decision to make a swift turn into an old unmarked closet of some kind.
“I mean can you believe it? Interns, at a time like this? What are they thinking? This world might be completely different in a year's time!”
“I know, I know...it’s crazy, but what can we do about it?”
I don’t recognise the first voice, but the second rings a bell…it’s the voice of Mr Timms.
“None of this would even be happening if Xander hadn’t had that kid all those years ago...idiot.” The first voice sighs.
“I suppose he’s paying the price for it now though,” Mr Timms reminds his colleague, “Besides, he wasn’t the only one who made that mistake.”
“Yeah, I wonder what happened to the other kid?” I freeze when I realise they’re probably talking about me, I’m the other kid, the daughter of the other government official who slept with my mother nearly two and a half decades ago.
“My guess is they’re still in the South, unaware of their parentage.”
“Probably- but, didn’t Steve ever go lookin’ for his child? He was always soft, I can’t believe he would have managed to stay away.”
“Steve knows better than that, anyway, he prefers to live alone and in peace. That’s why he quit, to move away from all the drama.”
“Well that’s Steve Ryans for you...always running away.” The voices fade and I cautiously (and quietly) get out from the cupboard. I take a second to take in all that I’ve just learnt.
My father’s name is Steve Ryans, he’s no longer a government official, and he doesn’t live around the main cities.
No- it doesn’t sound right, not yet anyway. It’s odd, I haven’t really spared my real father a thought since I discovered Xander wasn’t my dad, but now curiosity infects me, and all I thoughts I never had suddenly fill up my mind. What does he look like? How does he act? What’s his dream? What does he do to fill his spare time?
...Does he ever think of me and my mother? Does he ever wish that we were beside him? Does he regret not seeing me grow up?
I am awoken from my thoughts by a most horrific sound, screaming as it echoes sharply in my ears.
The sound of gunshots being fired.
I shake myself awake, getting myself ready to get back into action, and run off in the direction of the noise, ready to be rejoined with Max at last.