All our saviors
The world is burning in your hands
--To All Our Saviors, Don't Look Down--
The hum of a motor announced the arrival of a sleek black car on the premises. The vehicle paused only briefly in its journey, just before passing through the guarded gate in the high walls separating the outer world from the inner. A dark-clad, sunglassed security officer waved the vehicle through after a cursory glance into the vehicle; the driver was easily recognizable as one who belonged inside the walls. Once within the walls the car rolled along a winding, climbing road flanked by rocky, snow-frosted fields, before coming to a stop in an area containing a number of similar vehicles. Despite the motor's cessation, neither of the car's two occupants moved to open their door; instead they remained seated, neither speaking for a long few moments.
Calm and collected, the woman in the driver's seat of the car looked exactly as though she belonged there, in charge of the vehicle and its other occupant, and certainly she belonged in the high security area into which she had driven. A dark suit and long, black coat covered her tall frame, and brown hair was pulled back from her face in a professional-looking ponytail. Her brown eyes watched the much smaller, younger woman beside her; the older woman's face showed no sign of emotion, only a blank facade with which she faced the world. Beside her, in the passenger's seat, the younger woman shifted slightly; her gaze was not returning the other woman's stare, but taking in the details of the scene before her.
The winding road that they had been following widened into the lot in which they were now parked, and at the far end of the lot was what had obviously once been a blank cliff face; now the cliff face was fronted by a secure-looking building which looked as though it might extend into the very rock behind it. Perhaps what most drew the young woman's attention was the lack of windows of any sort--something that spoke that the building was not your average office building. In fact, the only apparent entrance or exit was the small door at the forefront of the structure--a door that was flanked by heavily armed guards. Her gaze rose to the roof of the building and slowly took in the smoothly hewn stairway that extended from there to the very top of the high cliff. Evidently there was another exit way up there, the stairs rising to meet the tree-lined ground above. The young woman kept her gaze directed upwards--the building itself looked far too foreboding for comfort, and she was reluctant to leave the warm comfort of the car for the cold sterility of the structure.
In the driver's seat, the older woman had had quite enough of the delay.
"Nila," the woman said, addressing the younger woman, "we're running low on time."
The girl shifted again, this time turning her gaze to the woman in the driver's seat. She knew that her worries and fears were obvious on her face, and wondered how the other woman could keep her features so neutral. Nila sighed, wrapping her arms around herself as if for protection and turning her gaze quickly to her lap; she didn't want to be at this facility, and the older woman knew it.
"Just tell him what you told me," the older woman said, paying no mind to the girl's obvious reluctance.
Without further words she swung open the car door, admitting a gust of chill air into the warm interior. Nila shivered slightly in the cold before pushing open her own door to follow the woman. Whether by force or by choice she would have to enter the building, and she had made her decision--it was better to go willingly than to face some of the other possibilities.
The older woman watched the younger slowly move to join her in front of the vehicle before she turned to lead the way to the massive building at the end of the lot. She knew that now that they were within the facility perimeters the girl would have little to no chance of getting out on her own, but it was best to be cautious; she had no desire to inform her superiors that the girl had suddenly decided not to cooperate and had instead chosen to flee.
Nila made no attempt to match the older woman's confident stride, something that she was sure must annoy the other woman--who frequently had to pause to allow her to catch up--but this was only a guess as nothing could be determined from the woman's strict, emotionless demeanor. With head lowered and hands shoved deep into the pockets of her bulky coat, Nila followed through the guarded door without breaking stride, only half paying attention to the guards who greeted the other woman and pulled open the door for their admittance. This was not the first time she had heard the woman addressed by name, but each time the name had been different; Nila didn't know anymore what to call her. Though she had introduced herself as Ms. Thourne, somehow that seemed far too appropriate to be true.
Quite suddenly, at the end of a nondescript hallway lined with plain, windowless doors and blank video screens, the older woman paused, surprising Nila; she had been certain that now that they were so near, there would be no more delaying the inevitable, but now evidently 'Ms. Thourne' had found a reason for pause.
"Our destination is through here," the older woman said, "but perhaps we should find you something more...appropriate to wear before we go any further." She eyed Nila critically, and the young woman didn't bother to glance up from staring at the tile floor. The girl's outfit--oversized, patched backpack that looked huge on her small frame, baggy jeans and oversized coat, accompanied by bulky boots, a tattered scarf that lay across her shoulders uselessly, and to top it all off, an abused looking baseball cap that was pulled low over her face and into which was tucked nearly every strand of her hair--was not something that one would usually wear to such a meeting.
Nila made a quiet sound that seemed suspiciously like an undignified snort. "If your boss wants to see me so badly, he can put up with my clothes as they are."
The older woman opened her mouth as if to argue, but evidently decided against it; the girl would see soon enough why she had made the suggestion--she thought it had been a rather generous offer herself. Without further comment Ms. Thourne opened the door before them, revealing a barren stairwell. Still silent she led the way down what turned out to be multiple flights of stairs into what was considered the basement of the building. The door from the stairwell opened to a single, huge room that was filled with people, all of them wearing very professional looking suits or uniforms. Nila was certainly the odd person out, but she didn't seem to care in the least if she even noticed at all, her gaze still directed at the floor. Ms. Thourne sighed silently, looking around....They were late. Luckily though, the meeting seemed not to have begun yet.
Hardly had she led Nila into the crowded room than a large screen at the far end flashed to life, showing the image of a young man in a distant city. While the rooms occupants suddenly grew quiet, Ms. Thourne cursed silently. He was supposed to be at the meeting! That was why she had come, and why she had dragged the girl so far, and now instead he was conducting the meeting by video?! Damn him....Why the sudden change of plans? He knew she was bringing Nila to him at the meeting....
Angrily the woman turned, striding quickly back through the stairwell door before a nearby guard could close it for the commencement of the meeting. Surprised, Nila followed, glancing only once over her shoulder at the man on the screen before the door was closed behind her and the room blocked from sight. Despite her earlier lagging, Nila had no desire to be left behind and hurried to keep up with the older woman's furious pace. Up multiple flights of stairs they went, Nila quickly losing track of which floor they might be on. Then suddenly there was a loud, disconcerting sound, and the building shuddered slightly. Ms. Thourne stopped immediately, and almost as quickly an announcement blared over the loudspeaker, blurred by static.
"...under attack...immediate evacuation...repeat...attack...." was all that was managed before the speaker suddenly cut out, leaving an unnerving silence in its place.
The older woman cursed aloud, the first sign of emotion that Nila had heard from her. "So quickly...." she added, wondering. Then, as though she suddenly realized what was going on, and the fact that she was not alone, she looked down at the smaller Nila. "Upstairs," she commanded, her tone leaving no room for argument. "Now. And hurry!"
Nila wasted no time acting on the woman's words, turning and darting up the stairs with Ms. Thourne quick behind her. The older woman urged her on, but there were so many stairs, and Nila wasn't used to running for her life--she couldn't help but stop to catch her breath; however, she paused only once--the sound of a scream from behind a nearby door did more to hurry her along than the older woman's urgings could ever do.
Not soon enough for Nila's liking they reached the final door, the one exiting onto the roof, from which freedom was a staircase away. Boots pounded heavily up the stairs behind them as Ms. Thourne punched out a long code into a security panel. Finally, not a moment too soon, the door swung open and the two women stepped into the cold outdoors, the door slamming solidly shut behind them. This, however, was only a temporary safety. Nila, doubled over and gasping for breath, heard the sounds of the solid door being abused from the inside; it was only a matter of time before it was opened....But who was on the inside? A formidable force, by the sounds of things, but....
"Come on," Ms. Thourne said suddenly, grabbing Nila by the elbow and hauling her upright.
Reluctantly Nila turned to follow, but not before catching a glimpse of just what the enemy had on their side. Nila's jaw dropped to see the massive machine, borrowing human form, that stood not so far away. That...wasn't good. A tug on her arm, however, quickly drew her attention from the scene and back to the route before them--more stairs, and then the forest that covered the top of the cliff. Hopefully, they would be suitably hidden there.
Ms. Thourne pulled Nila along at a relentless pace, jogging her up the stairs and then breaking out into a run as they hit level ground. They crashed through the forest and splashed recklessly across a stream, running for nearly longer than Nila could imagine before the older woman finally slowed their relentless pace. Nila took the brief reprise to gasp for breath, taking in oxygen as though someone were about to slap a high price tag on breathing. On the two women walked, the older keeping a sharp eye out for danger and listening for any suspicious sound. Finally, it was the sound of nearby traffic that broke through the normal forest sounds.
Nila paused when she heard the sound of tires humming against pavement, but Ms. Thourne, by now having relinquished her hold on Nila's arm, continued towards the sounds. Not knowing what else to do, Nila followed, eventually pausing by the older woman's side at the highway's heavily forested embankment.
For the first time since leaving the building roof Ms. Thourne turned to face Nila, and for the first time worry was evident on her face. "Do you know where The Nest is? I believe you've been to the city before....You know how to get there?" she asked suddenly, not continuing until Nila nodded. "Go there," she said. "Follow the highway, hitchhike if you must, but for goodness sake be careful. Someone will be waiting for you at The Nest--I'll take care of that. Don't wander off," she warned. "I have a feeling that this attack, today of all days, was no coincidence," she added meaningfully.
Nila frowned. "But what would they want...." She trailed off, changing her question abruptly. "You're not coming?"
Ms. Thourne shook her head. "I need to stay behind....I'm trusting you to go to The Nest," she said. "And keep yourself discreet. Do you have a pair of sunglasses?" Not needing an answer the older woman pulled an expensive pair from her coat pocket and handed them to the girl. "Wear them," she told her. "And fix your scarf so it's covering you proper. Don't tell anyone who you are, and don't do anything stupid--stay away from bars and...." She trailed off with a sigh. "Just be careful."
Nodding uncertainly Nila turned and started up the embankment; by the time she turned around at the top of the hill the older woman was gone. Nila paused thoughtfully; she was free--something that she had missed over the past week or so--and had the ability to go anywhere she wanted...including The Nest...if she wanted....Sighing, the young woman began her long trek down the highway with a simple motion--a mitten covered hand extended, fingers fisted and thumb reaching skywards.