Rion flipped over the last two pages, finding them blank, and closed the folder. Now he knew everything about the project–the objective, how it was done, why it was done, where, when, and what.
While he had read, Harrington dismissed everyone. They were now the only people standing on the grounds of Starkweather Tower.
Rion held up the folder. “Is all this true?”
“I have no reason to lie,” Harrington said.
“This still doesn’t tell me who I am,” Rion said, “Just what I do.”
“What you do is who you are. Man is defined by his actions.”
Rion frowned. “What do you mean?”
Harrington sighed and pointed behind him. “You’ll find what you’re looking for at the top floor. Go up to floor sixty-five. Then get off and go to the executive elevator.” He pointed to the folder. “The pass code is the project name.”
“Why are you doing this?”
Harrington shrugged. “I’m just trying to help you out. I owe you that much. But after this, we don’t know each other.” He straightened his jacket and walked towards the exit. As he passed Rion, he said, “Do whatever you want.” Harrington walked out to the street and turned the corner.
Rion looked over his shoulder, expecting him to say something more. When he didn’t, Rion entered Starkweather Tower through the unlocked door.
The first floor was a vast plaza. Rion passed a collection of plush chairs, meant for waiting in until the limousines came around. After that, information desks, kiosks, and computer terminals lined the hall.
Further down, a cross-shaped hallway bisected the ground floor into quadrants. Stores sat at each corner–a coffee shop, a drug store, a gift shop–each gated off and shut down for the night. A sign posted in the center listed a directory, making it more like a mall than an office building.
Rion pushed the call button on the nearest elevator. Inside the wall, a whirring started. The doors opened, and Rion stepped in. He pressed the highest number–65.
What was he supposed to find at the top? Starkweather? The plans for the experiment? What was he supposed to do with it? Destroy it? Was that what Harrington wanted?
The elevator was quick. Rion wasn’t used to such advanced technology–he’d been wandering the streets too long. The doors opened to a two-toned hallway with beige on the bottom and a dark green marble on top. Framed pictures were spaced at regular intervals, all of one man posing with various people. Starkweather, most likely. The photos showed him progressing through age, and stopped when he reached about fifty.
Wide windows looked in on luxurious offices. Each had a cherrywood desk, two computer monitors, and various expensive knick-knacks like samurai armor and Malaysian Tiki idols. Rion didn’t see anything significant, so he continued down until he found a single elevator at the end. There was a white panel to the side.
Rion grimaced. He’d expected a keypad, like Harrington said. He put his hand on the pane, ready to sense.
Before he did anything, the white plate turned red, then blue with teal grid lines. Rion almost took his hand off, until he read the message at the top–VEIN PATTERN RECOGNITION SCAN: IN PROGRESS.
The light showed through his hand, like an egg being candled. A white bar swept up and down, then left to right.
The panel lit a pleasant green and said, SCANNING COMPLETE – VERIFIED.
Verified? Did he work here? Was he an employee? Did he have an office and a steady paycheck? That was unlikely, but it meant he was on someone’s file. Someone knew his name, at least.
The elevator doors opened onto a smaller, more luxurious car. The numbers ranged from 65 to 108. A red LED display above the button panel said ENTER PASS CODE. Below it was an alphanumeric keypad.
Rion checked the folder one more time, to make sure he had the spelling right, even though it was already rooted in his head. He hit each button carefully.
B. L. A. C. K. H. O. L. E. S. O. N.
The doors closed and he started to rise. The numbers blinked past each successive floor, past 108. Pressure built behind his ears from the change in altitude.
The doors opened in the middle of a living room, carpeted in thick tan shag. He felt like he was teleported to a mansion. In a corner, a suit of armor stood at attention. Leather sofas and chairs, accented with dark cherrywood, encircled a roaring fire. A clock, a painting, and other affluent ornaments rested above the mantle.
There were dead bodies everywhere.
Corpses lay scattered the floor, the couch, the hallways. Every one of them was burnt beyond recognition–charred skin and clothes, like black plastic dolls. They grinned devilishly in death, their lips burned away.
Suppressing his queasiness, Rion stepped in. Was this what Harrington wanted him to see? Was this why he had been so vague? Maybe he would have changed his mind if he had known.
He stepped over the first carcass, shivering when his calf brushed its flaking arm, and entered the living room. He followed the bodies in a path through a hallway.
He walked through a drawing room, a kitchen, and a dining room. Each had fire damage, but only random places, like someone had walked through with a flamethrower. He followed the trail of the dead to a plain door in the middle of a hall. It opened onto a set of metal stairs, leading into cerulean blue darkness.
First, he couldn’t believe there was a floor higher than this. Then he realized that the stairs were too industrial to be part of the penthouse. Maybe storage? A kind of attic?
He grabbed hold of the banister and climbed up, bumping his head on the ceiling. After five steps, the stairs ended in pitch black. Feeling around, he found a door handle and opened it.
The room looked like a loft apartment–one panoramic half-moon window, etched with wrought iron bars, stretched from wall to wall, offering a great view of the city. But the floor was covered with haphazardly strewn monitors, cords, boxes, shelving, and wires.
There was a collection of giant computer servers in the center of the room, arranged in a ring. Cords hung from the scaffolding, draping down into a cool azure fog effervescing from the middle. Why weren’t they arranged in normal rows? If this room was for storage, that wasn’t its purpose any more.
Rion walked across a smooth hardwood floor through a gap in the ring. Inside, there was a large chair. On that chair, someone was staring him in the face. Someone who looked exactly like him.
“Hello,” he said. “My name’s Ash. What’s yours?”