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102 Empty Office

    --Sam POV--

    "Hey, you two!" a commanding voice shouts.

    "Nearly three steps. Better than I expected," Aponi remarks quietly while rolling her eyes.

    A man in green goggles approaches us with a scowl. He points at us aggressively. "You two! What are you two doing coming back alone? What the ** about, 'stay together' did you not understand?"

    Falling into old habits, I straighten my back. "Sir! We are together, sir!"

    "You trying to be a smartass? Why the hell are you calling me sir!?" he yells, poking out his chest, "This isn't the Army, and I'm not your boss!"

    Aponi and I both look at one another. Aponi coughs and laughs at the man awkwardly. "Exactly! That's why you shouldn't be stopping us! What are you, the facilities snitch!" she shouts.

    "S-snitch! I'm just following the rules! I'll report both of you unless you give me an excuse!"

    Aponi smirks, walking by the man with the laugh.

    "Hey, where are you going?!" the man shouts.

    I bump his shoulder, causing him to stumble. With a grunt, I give him a sharp glare. "You aren't our boss, why the ** do we care what you have to say? Mind your own business."

    "Y-you assholes! What are your names? I'll report both of you!" His shout quickly fade into the distance.

    Aponi and I walk fast, winding through the white hallways. The place is surprisingly large, and we don't stop until we reach a dead-end near what I think is a break room.

    "...That was close," I say, "Good thing it was just a nosy snitch, not an actual higher up."

    "Yeah, but we need to act more casual. We're acting like military soldiers, and not corporate mercenaries or whatever these guys qualify as," she replies with a long sigh, "Anyway, let's do some exploration. So far, everything seems strangely quiet and relaxed."

    "Probably means we are in the wrong place. I could only guess where they would keep a vampire."

    "They'd probably keep them somewhere pretty secretive and secure. After all, finding a vampire wouldn't be far off from finding an alien, although, when we talked to one of the scientists, they were strangely willing to give you up," she laughs, mockingly.

    With a chuckle and a roll of my eyes, we continue. I drop my shoulders, arch my back, and attempt to remember how I walked before joining the Navy.

    '...Walking like this makes my back hurt. Man, I might have spent too much time slumped over the computer back then.'

    My lower back aches as we explore the vacant halls. Occasionally, we'll see a room with someone in it, but the people quickly break eye contact.

    **Knock. Knock.**

    "Hello, we have a few questions," I say, thumping on one of the doors, "Should only take a second."

    A Hispanic woman answers the door, shaking her head.

    "N-no English," she states with a hint of fear in her eyes.

    Aponi steps forward, and in perfect Spanish, begins to speak to the woman. I stand awkwardly smiling at an older woman who walked out shortly after the Hispanic woman.

    "Sam, come on," Aponi says.

    "Huh? O-oh, yeah, let's go."

    She scoffs. "I didn't realize you were into grandmothers now?"

    "...I am not into grandmas. I just didn't have any way to contribute to the conversation, but I didn't wanna interrupt."

    "So you smiled like a dufus at a grandma?" she laughs and continues, "But anyway, those people are just staff that ran down here when things went down. They don't really like the security here, but she was friendly enough."

    "Well, do you know where to go now?"

    "Apparently, there's a second set of doors to another part of the facility. They aren't allowed back there, and it's always guarded. She didn't know anything about the area past the doors and didn't seem too interested in knowing more than she needed to."

    Impressed, I nod. "How did you get all that from her so quickly?"

    "Eh, I just told her we are from the Security Office. They don't know much about anything that's going on in the facility, so it wasn't hard to convince them we just don't know our way around."

    'Makes sense, I guess. These well-armed mercenaries don't seem intent on not leaving, or maybe they just don't know about the tunnel out? Eh, who knows, either way, a normal person ain't leaving, and these mercenaries probably don't care to keep civilians updated on the situation.'

    We continue, making sure to make as little eye contact with anyone as possible. Not that it mattered all that much there weren't many mercenaries, just more people who look to be civilians. Finally, we find a door with a single guard, mercenary, or whatever standing next to it.

    'Welp, let's see how things go from here.'

    ___________________________________

    --Eira POV--

    "How's it going, Eira? Have they made it?"

    "Hmm?" I glance over to see Eden staring over my shoulder, curiously at the only three working security screens. "Yeah, they're about to go through this guarded door. There's only one guard, though."

    Flipping a switch, the audio turns on for one of the screens.

    The guard groans. "Where the hell is Leslie? What's taking him so long?" he murmurs.

    'Huh. The audio and video are pretty great. Must be rather nice cameras, it's just annoying how few of them are left.' Turning, I look into one camera where people frequently walk past. 'Although, surprisingly, they left one camera in wherever this busy area is, which is nice.'

    "Yeah, those people look oddly ordinary and are going about business as usual, which is weird," Eden says before pointing at one of the screens, "Also, what's up with this camera in this empty office?"

    "I don't know. I assume it's nothing, but I kept it on in case someone showed up."

    "But... isn't that blood?"

    "Blood?"

    Moving in closer, I stare at the screen, noticing some blood splattered against a whiteboard.

    "Yeah? It certainly looks like it. Good catch."

    "Can't you move the camera?"

    "Yeah, like two inches to the left or right, but for some reason, it won't go any further than that."

    "Let me see." She moves in close, causing my computer chair to roll a bit. "Sorry," she says absentmindedly.

    The smell of citrus fills my nostrils. 'How does this girl always smell like oranges? Like we haven't showered in a few days, so what's up with that?... What do I smell like?'

    Before I can investigate my own smell further, a beeping sound comes from nearby. I look over to see a black phone with a flashing button next to it. On the camera, I can see Aponi and Sam standing awkwardly at the door while a man stands with an identical black phone.

    "Eden, answer the phone and talk to them."

    She looks at me a bit nervously, but picks the phone up regardless.

    'I could probably do it; I just think I should work on delegating tasks rather than doing it all myself. Better long term approach, in my opinion.'

    "Security, we have two officers here who said they left their badges in the office. Do you have it with you?"

    Nearby sits the tied up guards. Noticing some badges sitting in a small blood pool close by, I pick it up and hand it to Eden. Using the scythe, I communicate with Aponi and Sam, informing them of their new names.

    "Y-yes, this is the security office... we have their badges."

    "Huh? What happened to Fred? Shouldn't he be working right now?" the guard asks.

    "...Fred hurt himself. Tripped on a chair and hurt his ankle."

    "Damn, sorry to hear. Anyway, you got their names? I'll confirm it with them."

    "Yeah, it's Sayaka Ishimaru and Mamadou Chizimu."

    Watching the camera, I notice the guard stare at the two for a long time. "...Are you sure, Security Office?" he asks.

    "Yes!" Eden shouts, dramatically hitting her fist against the control panel. "Now stop bugging us, and let them through!"

    'Alright, Eden, tone it down a few notches.'

    "Damn, 10-4," he hesitates before asking, "Uh, do you know how long it'll be until Fred takes back over?"

    Eden doesn't answer; she simply huffs and slams the phone down. She turns to me as if looking for approval with a flat expression.

    Chuckling, I give her a thumbs up. "Good job."

    Watching the screen, I see the two enter the door. They stand shocked for a moment at the number of people walking to and fro.

    "Huh? Hey, Eira," Eden says, pointing at the screen of the empty office.

    "Did you find something else?"

    Moving in close and staring at the screen, I immediately notice what she is referring to-a gray ooze leaks from the wall at the room's back. The ooze grows larger and larger, forming a huge mass. The mass falls to the floor with a wet thud. It bubbles and builds into a human shape until an older woman stands motionlessly. However, she has a familiar lack of a certain body part.

    Eden glances at me and then back at the screen. "No eyes. It's another one of those things."

    "Well, it's no surprise there are more of them, but are they really just letting them move around as they wish? That's the weird part. Do they not know?"

    "Looking at this other camera, none of those people seem to know what's going on." Again she points at a screen. "Like these people are carrying a birthday cake into someone's office right now."

    "Yeah, I'm pretty sure they don't know much of anything."

    I turn my attention back to the Palm, who frowns, spotting something beneath a desk. It reaches down and lifts what appears to be a pair of legs. It drags the body revealing a corpse that seems to be closer to a mummy than a fresh corpse. The Palm shoves the legs of the corpse into the gray goo. With the legs in the goo, the corpse begins to be sucked into the wall as the Palm shoves and pushes it forcibly into the wall.

    "What are they doing with that corpse? It looks completely mummified," Eden murmurs.

    The Palm nods its head proudly at a job well done and takes a seat at the desk with a crooked smile. Once seated, it gradually turns its eyeless face toward the camera and waves.

    Eden sits breathless as I just let out a long sigh.

    "I hate those things so much," looking at Goliath and Dolt outside the room, I continue, "but nothing a big Brute fist can't handle, I'm sure."

    Still, watching the screen, the palm suddenly looks offended, but it's smile quickly returns. It holds up a finger gun playfully, "Bang," it says. The camera immediately loses its feed.

    "...I don't know if that was supposed to change my mind, but I stand by my statement." Retaking my seat, the chair spins as I throw my feet up on the table. "Now, while Aponi and Sam track down Jimmy and Kardama, you and I are going to spy on these people. All this trouble, wasted time, and annoyances, these people owe me something."

    "What are you thinking? Some of the technology?"

    I shrug. "Maybe, but I have bigger aspirations. This place is kinda nice, don't you think?"

    "This place? It's crawling with monsters, and Mind Magic?"

    "Yeah, the second one is a problem, but the first just sounds like good Essence to me! I'm a bit frustrated with nothing, but small potatoes," I sigh, watching the screen, "Anyway, I'll contact Aponi and Sam, but for now, let's see how things pan out."
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