Thursday, June 29, 2017

Chapter 33

Caleb had to admit, as a giant obelisk of gold and silver shining in the daylight, Yin Jiāng Tower didn’t look like the headquarters of an evil corporation. It actually stood out among the other buildings in the city because of its sleek design and the absence of any glowing imagery on it. Most corporate buildings at least had the logo or the name of the company on them, whether in the form of a screen or a holographic projection. The only thing on the tower that could be construed as anything similar to a logo was the gold winding up it that gave the vague impression of a long dragon. Actually, Caleb thought, it could be a serpent, which would be much more appropriate.

The tower loomed so high above him as he followed Leana and Marcos forward that he could no longer look up at it. His attention moved to the base of the building, where people in business suits flowed in and out. Caleb could feel the sweat on his palms. As the only non-suited, non-adults around, they couldn’t help but stick out. More than a few people glanced at them as they passed. Caleb wiped his hands on his jeans.

Marcos walked stiffly, but Leana looked calm and natural. When they reached the revolving doors, Caleb tried to follow the other two in, but stopped when he realized there wasn’t enough room for all of them. He chided himself silently as he took the next opening by himself. Any stupid mistakes would only draw more attention to them.

The wide lobby was several stories tall. White veins traced through the polished black marble on the floors and walls. Leana headed for the security desk, which was also made of marble.

The receptionist regarded them with a curious gaze. “Can I help you?”

“Yes. I’m here for a tour. My name is Leana Li.”

Past the desk stood a wide cylindrical fish tank that reached up to the ceiling high above their heads. Colorful tropical fish circled lazily around an artificial choral reef.

“One moment.” The receptionist checked his computer, then made a quick, hushed phone call. After hanging up, he returned his attention to Leana. “Your guide will be here shortly. You can sit over there while you wait.” He motioned to a row of chairs behind them.

Leana and Marcos sat, but Caleb couldn’t. He rubbed his hands together and restrained an urge to pace back and forth.

Leana sighed. “I’m glad that worked.”

Caleb looked around to make sure no one was within earshot, then whisper-shouted at her. “You didn’t know it would?”

“Well, not completely. I thought we had a good shot, though. Don’t worry. We’re in.”

Caleb forced himself to sit but had a death grip on the two armrests. Leana reached over to scratch his back. “We’re okay,” she whispered, and Caleb’s shoulders loosened a little.

A short woman with immaculately styled wavy hair and designer glasses approached them. “Leana?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Welcome to Yin Jiāng. My name is Claire. I’m with HR, and I’ll be showing you around today. Are these two gentlemen with you?”

“Yes. They’re friends also interested in business studies.”

“Oh.” Claire’s eyes lost focus and her fingers began to twitch slightly. Caleb first feared she might be having a siezure, but quickly realized that her glasses must have augmented reality lenses in them. Were her rings gesture sensors? They looked like regular gold and silver. He couldn’t imagine how expensive tech like that must be.

Claire’s eyes snapped back to Leana. “I wasn’t aware you were bringing guests with you. That’s fine, though. I’ll need each of you to sign a non-disclosure agreement before we begin. It just means you won’t share anything you may see or hear over the course of your visit. It’s standard procedure.”

Claire brought them back to the security desk where they were given tablets with the NDA to sign. Caleb tried reading it, but couldn’t understand the legalese, and gave up after the first paragraph. He didn’t have much choice but to sign it anyway. The document couldn’t be legally binding if he didn’t use his real name, though. So he started with an T and scribbled the rest. He could only hope Marcos was clever enough to do the same. If only they’d known about this, they could have come up with aliases beforehand. Leana had to sign her real name, of course, since she’d had to give it to them to request a tour. Caleb didn’t like that at all. He’d tried to convince her not to come, but she insisted. Now he was actually grateful she was here, despite feeling guilty about it.

“All right,” Claire said. “Now we’ll need to pass through security.” She led them from the desk to a security checkpoint. Visitors had to take everything out of their pockets to be passed under an x-ray machine. After, Caleb moved through a metal detector. He wondered if the scanners did more than just detect metal. With a place like this, he wouldn’t be surprised if they also checked everyone for bugs. Caleb, Marcos, and Leana passed through security easily enough, though. Shi Fen had warned them, so they knew not to try and sneak anything in.

“For security purposes, we’re going to have to hold onto your cell phones,” Claire said. “We’ll label each one with your name so you can pick it up when you leave.” Crap. Panic bloomed in Caleb’s chest. The plan was already falling apart. Shi Fen had told him nothing about this.

Leana handed her phone over, then Claire came to Caleb with her hand out. He gave it to her, trying not to look upset about it.

“Can I have your name?” Claire asked.

Caleb’s mind raced to find a name that started with T. It felt like it took an eternity, with Claire standing there staring at him before his mind grasped onto something. “Timothy. Timothy Tillerson.”

“Thank you, Timothy.” Claire moved over to Marcos. He was staring at Caleb with a look of utter bewilderment before his face lit up with understanding.

Marcos handed over his phone and spoke quickly. “My name is M-Marc- Marcus Tillerson.”

Caleb squeezed his own thigh hard with one hand to keep himself from shouting.

“Oh,” Claire said, obviously a bit confused, but staying polite. She looked at Caleb. He gave her a strained smile. “Are you brothers?” she asked.

“Yes,” Marcos said.

Caleb bit his tongue so hard he thought it might bleed.

“Really? You look about the same age. Are you… twins?”

Marcos opened his mouth, but Caleb jumped in before he made things even worse. “No. We were adopted.”

Claire nodded slowly. “All right. Well, we’re happy to have you here.” She gave their phones and names to the security guard. “Please follow me.” They moved past the security station toward the elevators.

Caleb moved up beside Marcos. “What the hell was that?” he whispered. “You couldn’t come up with a different last name?”

Marcos gave a weak shrug.

“You weren’t going to say we were twins were you?”

“We could be twins…”

“We look nothing alike,” Caleb said, raising his voice.

Leana nudged Caleb and shushed the both of them. Claire had brought them to one of the elevator doors. They waited in awkward silence until the door opened. Then they entered. They waited again, in an even longer awkward silence as a simple muzak melody played and they were lifted up into the belly of the beast.

No comments:

Post a Comment