This picks up from chapter 1's eventful night and leads into a morning packed with possibilities.
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Beep! Beep! Beep! The sound resonated in Harry’s ears as he slowly opened his eyes and saw Grace lying next to him still wearing his shirt from last night. It all seemed like a dream to Harry until the nasty hangover reminded him of otherwise. Grace was just getting up and even without the makeup she was a natural beauty.
“Did you have fun last night babe, I certainly did.” Grace said with an evil grin that said all that needed to be said.
“Yeah… I did, you were breathtaking.” Harry stumbled out.
Without warning, Grace leaned in for another kiss. When they locked lips, the feelings and memories came back to him in a surge of emotions that was comparable to a tsunami. Right after they broke off from a kiss that felt like it’s own lifetime, Grace placed her soft delicate hand on the side of Harry’s face.
“Okay, so one favor I ask of you, and that is that you don’t speak of this to anyone because the last thing I need is someone like Zinnia taking and stirring the pot against me.”
This whole experience was so out of the realms of reality, that Harry didn’t even notice that he nodded.
“Good and by the way I meant it when I said that last night was one of the best I have had, I would like to continue doing this, just on the down low if you get my drift.” She said, flashing him her memorable smile. “So do you have work today?”
“Yeah I do.” Said Harry with a sigh as he got up from the bed.
“Oh yeah and you might need this.” Grace blushed as she took off Harry’s shirt and handed it to him.
“Well don’t let me make you late.” Grace said from the bed as she annexed all the blankets for herself.
“So… would you be up to doing this again?” Harry said with a slight grin.
“Yeah sure, but not now because I want to get thirty more minutes before I have to go to my living desk hell.”
“Alright, I’ll make sure to submit some help desk complaints then.” Harry teased.
“Oh you better not! Now get down there before they think you fell into the trash compactor.”
“Alright, alright. I’m gone.” Harry said while trying to suppress a smile. Harry finally got his last shoe on, before he stood up before finally exiting the room, making sure to close the door quietly behind him.
Harry had made it halfway to his room, when he heard someone call him from behind.
“Hey Harry, didn’t see you at the party last night. Everything okay?” Amber asked concerningly.
“Umm... yeah. I was just so tired after the game, that I decided to just hit the sack.” Harry said while letting out a yawn as if to prove his point.
Amber just nodded her head in acknowledgement, even though she knew it was a lie, she would have to check into that separately. She changed the subject.
“Hey so I know you have work so I won’t keep you long, but could you meet me after because I have something I need your help with.”
“Ok thanks i’ll see you then.” Amber said before turning to walk away.
Harry got to his room and washed up before leaving for work. As he did so, he kind of felt that Amber had something say, that she wasn’t revealing for some reason. He did kind of feel bad for lying to her back there, but he did make a promise and he was going to keep to it. After he got done washing up, he scrambled as he was probably already late to his job. Harry’s job was basically taking the trash to these massive recyclers in the lower levels of the ARK that would break down the trash into base components that could be used in everything from manufacturing to power in the ARK. Though it does kind of creep Harry out to know that the light above his head could be made possible by the recycling of the dead as they were considered waste too. Harry rounded the corner to see the rest of his coworkers bagging trash.
“Hey Harry! Man, you missed one heck of time last night.” Dainia said .
“I’m sure I did.” Said Harry with a halfhearted smile.
Tom stopped what he was doing, and looked Harry up and down skeptically. Harry figured that he knew about the little surprise his teammates threw for him and was trying to figure out how the hell he reported to work without a scratch on him. He cleared his throat.
“Did you get lost on the way?” Said Tom with a slight grin.
“Ahh what… No, I was just tired after making that last touchdown.” Harry said nonchalantly. Harry could already see that Tom was trying to hide the annoyance at this remark.
“Com’on! We got work to do!” Said Tom obviously trying to change the subject.
Harry carried on, while trying to hide the smile forming on his face as he walked down the hallway toward the cafeteria.
The cafeteria was sparsely populated as many people were at work. The cafeteria was the second largest room in the ARK as it had to accommodate around 1500 people and therefore there were fifty trash cans in it. The only room bigger than the cafeteria was the gym as it was built to be able to have a full size football field and had to be able to hold all the ARK residents who wanted to watch a football game. And football was very big around the ARK so much so that nearly everyone got off of work to come watch and pretty much everyone did come to watch this weekly tradition. Harry was hauling the last bag over to the trash when he heard the TV in the cafeteria come on broadcasting Director Fallon yearly speech about the progress of the ARK. Harry stopped in his tracks and remembered Amber’s plan. He quickly checked his watch. 1:56 it read.
“Shit, I better get over there before Amber thinks I ditched her.” Harry thought as he quickly departed the cafeteria.
While going down the hallway he was passed by multiple people who were late for the speech. Harry was just round the corner to the residential block when he was stopped by Officer Mclanky.
“Where are you heading to, the speech is that way.” Said Officer Mclanky.
Harry blood ran cold as he tried to fabricate an excuse. “Ummm.. I just need to get the headache meds doc gave me to take for the trauma.” Harry stammered.
“Ah yeah I heard about that. Well anyways hope that gets better.” Officer Mclanky said before he turned away and proceeded down the hallway.
Harry made it to Amber’s room and knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” Said a skeptical Amber from behind the door.
“It’s me Harry, I’m here for that project you need help with.” Harry said unsure of what he was getting himself into.
The door quickly opened with Amber who was now dressed in a maintenance uniform greeting him. “Don’t linger, we don’t have much time.” She said ushering him into the room.
Harry didn’t even time to question the attire as he entered the room and Amber closed the door behind him.
“What’s going on? Why are you…” Harry was cut off.
“Look I’ll explain in a minute, just let me tinker with this thing.” Amber said before leaving him to be eaten up by the thousand questions he had.
Amber’s room was clean and tidy with its main distinctive characteristic being drawings of landscapes and various nature depictions that covered the walls. As Amber was digging through a duffle bag, Harry stood absent minding admiring the drawing of snowy mountains and lush forests plastered on the wall. Amber was never satisfied with a drawing for long, so her walls were ever changing with new creative nature depictions that never seem to repeat themselves. The rooms in the ARK were a bit confining but each person above the age of 15 got his or her own quarter’s which was quite a luxury that they probably took for granted. Even if it was a 8x5 feet room each looked more different than the last as the caretakers had no more say in how they set up their living spaces.
“I see you have been busy.” Harry said, pointing out of the drawing depicting a trail of footprints in deep snow leading into the mystery of a densely packed forest. Amber lifted her head up for a moment only to let out a laugh at Harry’s observation.
“That one has been up for three months.” She said mockingly.
He regretted his statement, as it just exposed his excellent observation skills, not.
“Well it’s not my fault that these things change like weekly, how am I supposed to keep track?” He said defensively.
She laughed again. “Details were never your strong suit.” She giggled while still fumbling in the bag.
“Okay finally, man I hate these things.” Amber said as she pulled out another maintenance uniform and handed it to Harry.
“Here, this should fit, you're still about 5 ‘ 10 right?”
“Yeah, but may I ask what these are for?” Harry asked skeptically as he inspected the uniform.
“A little bit of information gathering, that’s all. Now put that on, I adjusted it so it can just be worn over your clothes, so we don’t have to see your overindulgence on hamburger day in the cafeteria.” She said while giving a small jab at his stomach.
Harry may not have had abs, but he definitely didn’t have a beer gut and this was just Amber being Amber and giving him shit for no reason. Plus,those hamburgers were so worth it, especially since they have been seeming to get rarer to see in the cafeteria. By the time Harry got the uniform on, Amber was already tampering with one of the vents. Then the metal vent came loose and Amber set it gently to the side. She had still not given him any idea what she was planning, so he was caught off guard when she climbed into the 3x2 feet vent and signaled for him to follow.
“Are you sure that will…”
“Just get in, we don’t have time to play what if.” She said impatiently.
Once Harry and Amber were both crawling along into the vent, this is when Amber finally came forth with more information on what the hell they were doing.
“This vent is a one way trip down to the administrative level. Once there we should be able to get to the Director’s computer and take a peak on what they are really planning.” Said Amber as she casually crawled along.
“Are you freaking kidding me? This is not what I signed up for.” Harry hiss quietly, in fear someone would hear them.
“Calm down. This will be a piece of cake.” Amber said nonchalantly.
“How did you even get the uniforms and tools?”
“I’m borrowing them, and besides no one will notice their temporary absence.” At this point Harry just rolled his eyes, trying not to think of the trouble he was about to bring upon himself.
The ventilation shaft was dusty and grimy, and it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. The dust made it hard to breath and the shaft felt confining with it’s darkness only broken by the small weak light on Amber’s pocket sized smart tablet.
“Ok so if this diagram is correct and it is we have a 10 foot drop ahead of us which will take us down to the Administration level.” Amber said.
“Ok how are we going to drop 10 ft without making a lot of ruckus?” Harry asked in bewilderment.
“I’m going to slowly help lower you down and then you're going to do the same with me.”
“Ok trust fall it is.” The two made it to the drop off where Amber slowly lowered Harry down in a way that wouldn't make too much noise.
“You need to lose some weight.” Amber grunted as she lowered him. Harry just rolled his eyes.
Once Harry reached the bottom Harry helped lower Amber safely to the bottom where they were met with three branching off ventilation shafts. They paused for a moment as Amber checked the layout of vents on her smart tablet.
“This one.” She said nodding to the one farthest to right.
“Are you sure?” Harry said skeptically.
“Yeah, I’m sure. Now com’on.” Amber said before leading the way.
This ventilation shaft seemed to get more narrow as the two continued forward, and Harry soon found himself crawling on his belly further and further into this seemingly endless abyss. Every time they passed a vent, Harry felt exposed as he prayed that no one would decide to look at the vents. It felt like an eternity had passed before Amber finally stopped at one of the vents and listened for any signs of people nearby. Once she felt fairly confident that no one was there, she pulled out a small tool from her pocket and began to fiddle with the vent. After about a minute the vent hinged opened and Amber without delay dropped out of the shaft and into the room below. Harry followed suit, and dropped down to find that they were in the lobby right before the Director’s office. Harry didn’t have time to take in his new environment before Amber opened the door to the Director's office and rushed in. The office was a large room with a desk in the middle of the room with several filing cabinets lining the wall and a large set of outdated and analog looking security monitors sitting dormit behind the director’s desk. The room had several pre war paintings decorating the fine wooden walls which help compliment the well kept red carpet.
“Damn they sure didn’t spare any expense when designing the Director’s office besides the dinosaur of security system they got back there.” Harry said.
Amber didn’t pay any attention to the room design and went straight to the hologram display computer sitting on the desk. She sat down in the chair and only lightly brushed the touchscreen keyboard as a hologram projector came to life, displaying the default login screen. Harry walked over to Amber and looked over her shoulder at the screen in silence.
“Well shit…” Is all Amber said as she spun out of the office chair and began pacing the office.
Harry just stared at her quizzically, as she paced.
“You really thought that he wouldn’t be following the same protocol he asked everyone else to follow, when it comes to securing digital devices? I thought you had something to get around that.”
“Shut up, it just… slipped my mind. That’s all.”
“We need to get out of here now, before they return.”
“We can’t because the cameras caught us and we need to erase the footage.”
Harry sighed as he looked around the room before remembering something about the ARK’s digital device security systems. Most of all the devices they used had built in AI assistance that could identify someone's voice and use that to open their device. Problem is, they can’t just simply impersonate his voice, but if they could get a recording somehow. Harry gazed up to the security camera in the corner and then back to the large bulky security monitors in the back of the room.
“Maybe…” He muttered under his breath.
Amber stopped her pacing when she saw Harry tampering with the security monitor. She was almost startled when the monitors all of a sudden came to life. They now had a view on some of the cameras, mind you it was fuzzy due to the monitors.
“What are you doing?” Amber asked curiously.
“You’ll see, if it works that is.”
One of the small screens in the top right corner of the set changed, to display a view of the room they are currently in. Amber looked back to the camera in the corner and then back to the display of herself, who had the bewildered look of someone who just woke up on another planet.
“Got it.” Harry said happily as Amber heard an echo of that through a speaker on the side of the monitor.
“Wait, this thing has sound?” Amber said as she quickly tried to recall all of the less than stellar things she had said near a camera.
“Yep, now let’s just rewind a bit.” Harry said as the footage began to rewind.
“What are you…” She stopped when she saw the screen stop at a still picture of Director Fallon in his office.
“Could you pull up the AI assistance on that computer?” Harry said.
Amber just gave a sly smile as she figured out what he was planning to do. She woke the AI assistant who gave them a default greeting just before asking for voice identification. Amber held her breath as Harry played the security footage. For a second, Harry and Amber waited in silence for Director Fallon to say something. It finally came when the man on the screen who always preached of hope and success, had a face said the exact opposite. Director Fallon was sitting at his desk staring at something hologram display computer with a look of distant resignation and disdain.
“These numbers can’t be right.” He said in a shallow and dead voice.
A sudden chirp rang from the hologram display computer, as the words ‘Access Granted’ flashed on the screen before opening to the home page.
“We’re in.” Said Harry in triumph as he cut the power to the monitors and stepped toward the unlocked computer.
Amber just stood there thinking about the footage, pondering the look on the Director’s face and what he said. She had never seen the Director with that hopeless of expression before, and what he said. What number was he referring to?
“Hey Amber, come take a look at this.”
Amber was ripped from her trance of thought by comment and she was slowly coming to reality as she peered over Harry’s shoulder and at the display. Amber saw that he was looking through the Director’s email, but his cursor was planted on an email titled ‘Coil gun Development’.
“What are you waiting for, open it.” Amber said eagerly as Harry rushed to click it.
The email read as follows:
‘ Director, I’m happy to report that we are two weeks ahead of our deadline on the R&D of the coil rifles requested for Operation Columbus. The design that the majority of the team and security officers decided on, is what we believe is the best compromise between kinetic energy and power consumption. I have attached a video of the test firing of the prototype, below. I hope you are just as pleased with it, as the team and I are. Upon your approval, we can start production of the rifle immediately.’
“What the hell is a coil gun and why do they need them?” Amber said looking to Harry for a response.
“Don’t look at me, I don’t have a clue about guns, I think that Dustin would be the one to talk about that. Remember that time when security raided his room, after he constructed a firing replica of a civil war gun?”
“Yeah, I think he’s a bit crazy, just focusing on people who have been dead for like hundreds of years. I mean why bother, most of those people would have labeled us as witches for our technological advancement.”
“Yeah, but when we get back, i’m going to have to ask him because I don’t have a fuckin clue.”
“Alright, but can you focus on scrubbing that camera footage. I don’t want to get a visit from security tomorrow.”
“Yeah, yeah, i’ll do it, even though I doubt they check the camera half the time.”
After a few moments of searching Harry found the camera footage and promptly deleted the small section that caught them on camera and made sure to replace it with a repeat of the previous fifteen minutes. Once that was done, Harry backed up to the email and began to search for interesting titles.
“Do you have any ideas as to what we should be looking for here?” Harry asked as he scrolled through the emails.
“Umm.... Yeah, just me try something.” Amber said as Harry relinquished his seat to her.
Amber scrolled up to the search bar and typed in ‘Operation Columbus’. The screen suddenly changed and they were met with a flood of emails that seemed to be primarily between the Director and the Head of the food production. The emails varied in subject, from everything to rationing to cloning processes to replacement parts. Harry and Amber looked over the emails trying to find a pattern of how this all was connected, but they just couldn’t. One thing that stood out enough for Harry to click on it was an email just titled ‘List’. When Harry clicked on it, the screen flashed up with a simple list of just forty names. Reading through it, they recognized names, like Sammy, Bruce, David, and Grace and many more. Harry didn’t have a clue what the list was for, but Harry felt that whatever it was, needed to warn Grace about it.
“Dang, I wonder what this is for? Everyone on the list is about our age.” Amber said as Harry suddenly got a bad gut feeling about this.
“I don’t know, but this is not what we are for and I think we are out of time. Let’s go.”
“No, just a few more, I think we’re on edge of uncovering something big.”
“Amber! We…” Harry’s words froze in his throat as he heard muffled voices outside.
Harry darted to the hologram display computer and pushed Amber aside as he pulled up the cameras. His heart dropped when he saw the camera feed from just outside the office. The Director was standing in the lobby talking to a small group of security officers huddled around the air vent left hanging open in the lobby. Even now, Harry could hear their muffled conversation in the lobby as they investigated the vent. Harry nearly jumped when he heard Amber softly speak up from his side.
“We can’t get out of here without alerting them, but we have some time until they figure out we are in here. If we’re going to get caught committing espionage, we may as well try to get the answers we are after.”
Harry didn’t know how to reply to that, this all seemed like a bad dream that he would wake from any second now, but he didn’t. Espionage? He didn’t think he was capable of doing something like that, but here he was now. He silently cursed Amber in the head, for getting him into this mess in the first place. He nodded his head in acknowledgement and immediately began digging through the emails with Amber looking over his shoulder and whispering search suggestions. It must’ve taken them only a few minutes to get the idea to check the Director’s office because Harry and Amber had only made it through less than a quarter of the emails before the door opened. Once it did, everything happened so fast. The Director began yelling and before they knew they were swarmed and put in cuffs by half a dozen security officers and hauled away.
“Where are you taking us?” asked Amber, trying to remain calm here.
“No talking, you will see when we get there.” Said one of the officers.
Harry noticed that they passed the hallway that led to lock up and started to feel the hairs on the back of his neck prick up. The word espionage echoed in his brain along with its possible consequences. They continue to walk until they reach a heavy reinforced steel door that read “Security personnel only”. One of the officers entered a code into the keypad and then opened the door. Harry got a good look at the door and realized that the thing looked like it was designed as a nuclear blast door. They walked through and were greeted with an entire section of the ARK that was totally foreign to them. They passed several other security officers as they were escorted to what looked like a briefing room where they were shocked to see many of their fellow classmates there with them. When they entered everyone turned to see who it was. The two security officers then uncuffed Harry and Amber and instructed them to take a seat with the rest of their peers. Harry and Amber listened to the officers and took a seat with the rest of the group. Harry looked around to see Bruce, Sammy, David and... He then made the realization, but counted just to be sure. It was a total of thirty-nine, but he was that everyone who was in this room was the list they saw on the Director’s computer. Harry was interrupted when the person in the front of the room finally spoke up.
“Well, well, well, look who decided to join us, Harry and Amber. Funny I didn’t see you on the list, but glad to have you anyways. Let’s do a head count.” Said Officer Mclanky as he called off names from a smart tablet.
After he finished, he frowned and looked up.
“It appears we are missing one person, but I believe we can get started. Everyone please remain seated, I will be back and we will then we can start the briefing.” Said Officer Mclanky before he exited the room with the door clicking behind him. As soon as he left the room, hushed voices began whispering around the room. It appears that everyone was just as or probably more confused than they were.
“I wonder who was missing?” Said Amber looking around the room.
As Harry also looked around, he started to feel a combination of a headache and lightheadedness washed over him. He looked over to Amber who tried to mutter something before she passed out and slumped on the table in front of her. And then soon came blackness.