Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Chapter 34

Claire, the Yin Jiāng tour guide, brought Caleb, Leana, and Marcos to the tower’s fifth floor. She led them to a small room where lines of chairs faced a wallscreen. “Sit wherever you like. We have a short video for you to watch before the start of our tour.”

Caleb felt antsy. They were still far from where they needed to go—Experimental Lab 122 on the 61st floor, where Lucidity and Obscurity’s servers were located. But they didn’t have any choice right now but to play along. He sat beside Leana.

The lights dimmed. The screen lit up to show a well-dressed man on a bench with the Yin Jiāng tower standing behind him against a clear blue sky. “Welcome to Yin Jiāng, where the dreams of tomorrow are the work of today.” The man smiled with perfectly straight teeth. He explained that Yin Jiāng’s “mission statement” was to “make the world a better place through the development and effective use of innovative technologies.” He rambled on with more strings of buzzwords that didn’t make much sense.

The man got up and strolled past a series of large sculptures fashioned from twisted metal as he brought his spiel to a close. “Although Yin Jiāng is a for-profit company, making money is far from our main goal. We work to promote studies in technology and business for young people such as yourselves. Whether you end up working with us one day or not, we are here to help you on your journey. Thank you for coming.”

The camera lifted away into the sky as an up-beat piano melody started, accompanied by airy female vocals. “Clouds can’t contain you if you don’t allow them to. Be your best you and your dreams will come true.”

A chill ran up Caleb’s spine as the song continued. It eventually faded out along with the video, and Claire turned on the lights. Caleb rubbed his arms. The video had left his skin feeling slimy. If he didn’t already know Yin Jiāng for what it was, he might have actually been inspired by what he’d seen. And to make a video like this, they must host students here often.

“All right,” Claire said. “Ready for the tour?” She brought them out of the viewing room, down a few hallways, and through a door labeled Room C14. Dozens and dozens of occupied desks filled the wide room, arranged together in groups of five or six. “This is one of our many project rooms. The software developers here are working on an adaptive regulation system for the city’s atmospheric filters. When they’re finished, over a thousand filters will be able to run with almost no human monitoring at all.”

“Fascinating,” Leana said, as if she actually meant it. Caleb never knew she was such a good actor. He felt thankful to have some pressure taken off of him and Marcos, but he couldn’t help but be a little creeped out by it.

Claire continued explaining details of the filter project, which Caleb tuned out. He was busy looking for an escape route. The sooner they could lose their babysitter, the sooner they could make their way up to the experimental lab and find Lucidity.

Caleb leaned over to Marcos. “Look for a place to sneak off.”

Marcos nodded and began humming a tune as he glanced around. After a second Caleb realized the melody was from the inspirational song in the video.

“Gross,” Caleb said. “Stop that.”

“It’s a catchy song.”

Claire led them away from the busy center of the project room, down a long wall lined with doors.

“Look.” Caleb motioned to the doors. He moved to one and tried the doorknob. “It’s locked.”
Marcos tried the next. It didn’t budge either.

Caleb pulled on the third door and it actually opened. A man inside, sitting behind a wide glass desk, jumped, and nearly choked on the coffee he was drinking. “Sorry,” Caleb said. He gave a little wave, and quickly closed the door.

Marcos chuckled.

Caleb shook his head. “Personal offices, not exits. Let’s keep going.” They hurried to catch up to Claire and Leana.

Claire brought them out of the project room and toward what she called the “wellness area.” There were five wallscreens, each with its own leather couch. Further down was an actual gym, and past that, a cafeteria. Everything appeared perfectly clean and polished. The air smelled like fresh mint.

“Straight down this hallway here are the restrooms,” Claire said. “Would anyone like to take a break?

There are also vending machines with complementary snacks. Choose whatever you like, but please only take one each.”

Leana began to shake her head, but Caleb made eye contact with her and nodded slowly until her head moved to mimic his. “Sure,” she said.

Of course, since there were free snacks involved, Marcos didn’t need convincing.

“All right,” Claire said. “I’ll be here when you’re ready to continue.” She adopted a detached stare as her attention turned to her augmented reality glasses.

Caleb breathed a sigh of relief when the hallway brought them around a corner and out of Claire’s sight.

“How are we going to get away from this lady?” Marcos asked.

Leana pointed straight ahead. The hallway continued past the bathrooms and vending machines.

“There’s your answer,” she said.

They speed-walked quietly down the hall, but Marcos stopped at the vending machines.

“Come on,” Caleb said.

“They have SunChips.” Marcos refused to continue until he got his bag of chips. 

Past the vending machines, the hall brought them to an intersection.

“Which way?” Leana asked.

“Left,” Caleb answered. “I think the elevators were in that direction.”

At the next intersection they went straight. There were a few more branches afterward, but no elevators, and Caleb started to doubt his sense of direction. They cut a winding path through the halls, Marcos chomping on his chips as the panic inside Caleb grew. At one especially wide intersection they turned right and ran straight into Claire.

“There you are! I’ve been looking all over.”

Leana chuckled. “Sorry! We got so lost.”

Claire smiled. “Oh, don’t worry. This place is like a seventy-story labyrinth. Without these—” she pointed to her AR glasses, “I’d get lost just as easily.”

Claire and Leana shared a friendly chuckle as Caleb massaged his temples. Claire then clapped her hands together cheerfully. “Let’s continue the tour. We have only a few stops left.”

“Where are we going next?” Marcos mumbled, mouth full of SunChips.

“To the seventh floor, one of our hardware development labs.”

Marcos swallowed. “Could you bring us to the experimental labs instead?”

Claire’s face turned a little pale. “Oh no. That’s not on our scheduled—”

“It would mean a lot,” Leana added. “Marco— Marcus here dreams of leading an experimental research lab himself one day. He’s obsessed with bleeding edge tech. Everything we’ve seen is fantastic, of course, but I promised him we’d be able to see your Research and Development section.”

Claire shook her head and opened her mouth to speak.

Caleb cut in. “We’ve heard Yin Jiāng is the leader in rapid prototype development,” he said. “Nobody else even comes close.”

“Well, that’s true, of course,” Claire said. She chewed her lip, then spoke again. “Give me a moment.” Her eyes defocused and her fingers twitched. She returned to the real world after a moment, blinking. “All right. We can go, but we need to be quick, and you all have to stay close. No getting lost up there.”

“Of course,” Leana said with a polite smile.

“Follow me to the elevators,” Claire told them.

They did, and shared a series of silent air-high-fives behind her back.

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