"That makes copy number one-thousand." Eric Dolarand said above a clipboard from beside Raven Ko. Beyond the five-inches of plexi-glass that stood a few yards in front of the nine board members of the Ajax Corporation stood a great pile of dark blue materials.
"And you can assure me, Mister Dolarand that every last copy of that book is in that pile?" Raven Ko asked monotonously from the middle of their little group with her arms behind her back; her eyes never leaving the sight of the great pile.
Eric nodded hesitantly, "Indeed, President Ko. Every last one of those books is there in that pile."
"Good," Raven said, "Then have them bring me one and only one copy from that pile; preferably one in mint condition."
"Why would this corporation search for a time-machine for all these years if only we are to destroy it all in this one act of either brilliance or stupidity? I think, Mister Dolarand that we ought to have either one machine or all machines. But whatever the cause, one is better than none, wouldn't you agree, Mister Dolarand?"
Eric was silent. He walked over to the control panel and recited into an intercom the instructions he had just been told. After he had finished, one of twelve men in the room carrying a large flame-thrower walked to the pile and drew a book and gently placed it on a table along the wall of the room before walking back to resume his position.
The twelve men stepped forward with their long, hosed flame-throwers and they pulled back the triggers and the room erupted with a booming sound as almost one-thousand copies of Wishes of a White Bear rose up in a brilliant blaze of fire.
"Now then," Raven said to no one in particular, "let us go to the Research Facility. The inspectors will be here in an hour, and we still have some messes to clean up."
It had been a long year since the bombing of Dornia – especially for Raven Ko – and it was all her son's fault. Her son and those havoc-provoking friends of his.
And, oh, the lawsuits! She shook her head as they walked down the long passageways of the headquarters at the very thought of the lawsuits. Once a week, every week, for the last year since the bombing she has been called away from her busy schedule to deal with the lawsuits. And also, once a year a group of inspectors were supposed to come to the corporation – with only a four-hour notice for the corporation to clean up a bit – and they were to view the entire building for anything suspicious.
Supposedly, a fraction of the public believed that the Ajax Corporation offices were responsible for the complete destruction of Dornia; a rather large, first-world continent. Impossible, Raven had argued, why would they do something as radical as that?
She knew why. The boy. The Time-keeper.
The doors to the Research Facility hissed open automatically at the sight of human presence and the nine board members walked in single-file before spreading out around Raven, who had her hands on her hips as she stared at the test specimen sitting naked in a large glass tube of yellow liquid with a breathing tube down its throat.
"Dr. Reiko," Raven shouted, her focus never leaving the boy in the chamber, "How fast can you get him out of there and relocated to a guest room without causing any performance deficiencies?"
A tall, twenty-six year old scientist from Singapore stormed toward her from the other side of the chamber, his voice echoing through the laboratory around them. "It shall take weeks to perform such a stunt as this, President Ko, without risking tampering of the specimen's containment chamber."
"I don't care." Raven snapped to the angry man stomping toward her. He stopped where he was at this. She twisted her head and glared horrifically at the scientist, Dr. Lykon Reiko, and growled, "Get him out of there. Now."
"Mister Dolarand, we have ten minutes until the inspectors are expected to be here. I want you and the other board members to split-up and recheck the entire corporation just in case. Make absolutely certain that the holograms around the nuclear plant's gateways have enough main power and auxiliary power to get them through this entire inspection completely flaw free, understand?" Raven spoke as she and the board members marched down the halls toward the main entrance to the Ajax Corporation.
Eric was walking in-step with her as she had spoken and he nodded and motioned for the other seven board members behind them to follow him. Raven Ko split away from the rest of her group and began to walk toward the staff and guest rooms at the east wing of the corporation. This was where they were keeping the test specimen from Dr. Reiko's laboratory.
This was where they were keeping him.
She slid her key card into an auto-lock panel and a steel door hissed open and she entered a completely white hallway of white doors with numbers on each one. She rushed herself down the hall, passing each door until she found the one labeled Guest 02-15B. Here, she slid in her key card another time and twisted the doorknob and walked into the room.
In the room stood the detached containment chamber; disconnected from the main base, put on a custodian's equipment trailer, and hauled above ground and across the wings of the building to this particular guest room.
There was no way the inspectors would suspect a thing.
Around the chamber holding the naked specimen was five or six of Ajax's science employees, each working carefully to prepare the chamber to be unattended for an hour or two. Raven nodded to the chamber, "How is he?"
"Ma'am," one of the employees addressed as he stood from his work, "the specimen seems to still be alive and in good health. The transport was a success."
"Good," Raven said, "Now how soon until I can have him to myself?"
"Ma'am," the employee recited once more, "Two more flow pipes and it'll be as if he'd never left the lab. Perhaps two or three minutes until we're done here."
When the technicians left the room silently after the last flow pipe was installed, Raven walked slowly up to the glass of the chamber of yellow fluids. Gently, she placed her open palm against it, up to eye level with the specimen, and she opened her lips and drew back a breath.
"Hello Time-keeper," she said gently, gliding her long fingernails along the smooth glass, "It's nice to finally have enough time to see you. It's too bad that you can't see me." She almost touched her soft lips against the glass as she slowly exhaled, fogging the glass. In the fog she wrote DO YOU PART before she smeared her breath off the glass and left the room, closing the door hard behind her.
Raven turned on high-heels – her long blonde hair shifting behind her shoulder from the quick change in directions – and she rushed down the halls toward the main entrance with less of a hurry as she'd previously had before.
"Mister Dolarand," she called, pushing a finger against the headset in her ear, pressing the microphone close to her lips.
"Dolarand here, what do you need?"
"I hear choppers. I guess they're coming through the helipad entrance. Meet me with the board in the Presidential Lobby."
A man and a woman, both in slick, black, professional uniforms, climbed off the deck of a modified military Black Hawk helicopter. They straightened their ties, pushed back their sunglasses, and tucked as much hair as possible beneath their black baseball caps as they walked toward the woman coming to meet them.
The woman shook both of their hands briefly and smiled before guiding them toward the entrance to her office. It was in there that she smiled a second time and said, "It's very nice to meet you. My name is Raven Ko and I'm the President and co-founder of the Ajax Corporation. My fellow board members awaiting you in a nearby lobby and I will guide you through the entire building."
As they climbed into an elevator that would lead them down from Raven's office to the Presidential Lobby, Raven continued. "The estimated time of this tour is one hour, for we here at the Ajax Corporation find it very necessary to get in and get out and get back on track. A major corporation such as the Ajax Corporation has no real time for dilly-dallying, so I apologize ahead of time if either I or any of my board members rush this tour along."
"We understand, President Ko." The man said, holding out his hand. "My name is Agent Mikhail Cobart and this is my assistant…"
"Agent Ariel Preston." The woman said, shaking Raven's hand when she had finished shaking Mikhail's. "Sorry to inform you on such short notice, but it's what the Australian government requires in our services for such suspicions as what your corporation is held against."
"It is all alright, Agent Preston," Raven said, now staring ahead of them at the steel door of the elevator. "I just want this done and over with. Such absurd accusations are really beginning to affect my company's profits. Why, soon we may have to lay off employees if we don't get this resolved soon."
The elevator halted its descent and chimed as the doors hissed open and the three in the car were opened to a new world of luxurious furniture, towering palm trees, a flowing water fountain, and the eight officials of the Ajax Corporation.
"Welcome to the Ajax Corporation, agents."
"Shutting down the phone lines… now." A man a mile from the Ajax Corporation headquarters whispered into a headset from where he stood against a telephone pole. He gritted his teeth and pulled the legs of a pair of wire-cutters together and heard a snap. The humming generator high above him, near to the top of the pole, ceased its humming and the man backed away from the pole. He reached up and tore off his protective goggles and smirked, pressing the talk button of his headset.
"You're home free, guys. Just get in there and get out before they suspect anything."
But behind him, beyond the horizon, he began to hear the sound of whipping propellers coming nearer to him and he turned around. "What now?" He growled before climbing into his jeep and heading in the direction of the coming machine.
"And this is the meat processing plant." Raven Ko said as she and the eleven behind her walked through glass double-doors. "This is where we bring in all of the longhorns, cows, pigs, anything and we package them and ship them out to all of the delis around the Sydney area. It…"
"Where is your bioweapons plant?" Mikhail asked, causing Raven to choke on her very words.
"E-Excuse me?" She asked, turning to face her group.
"Your bioweapons research." Mikhail repeated, gesturing with his hands. "The reports say we're supposed to check-out your potentially dangerous sections of the corporate building. No offense or anything, President Ko, but my partner and I don't find cows to be very dangerous."
"You'd be surprised," a female board member muttered behind Mikhail.
Raven shot a cold glare at the member, instantly silencing her, and then she looked back to Mikhail and swallowed hard. "Um, well… ok then. Right this way, agents."
As they walked away from the meat processing plant – the doors shutting out the smell of blood – Mikhail and Ariel's headsets began to buzz in their ears as someone spoke to them. After a moment of the buzzing, Mikhail and Ariel looked alarmingly at each other.
Simultaneously, they asked, "President Ko, where are your restrooms?"
All of Ajax's board members looked at them awkwardly, finding it odd that they would have synchronized restroom urges. And though she knew something was up at this point, Raven smiled and said, "Follow me."
She led them down a nearby hall toward an employee's only area, where the agents saw what they needed and separated into the sex-specific bathrooms.
As soon as both doors closed behind them, Raven turned to her board members and her face transformed from a cheery smile to a cold glare and she whispered, "One of you get to the security wing and hack into the audio of these restrooms. I want to know what is going on, and I want to know now."
A man in the back nodded and turned and ran past the restrooms and into an office just down the hall. Raven folded her arms and shook her head at Eric Dolarand.
Although in two different rooms, Mikhail and Ariel could hear each other through their linked headsets as they whispered softly to the man on the other side of their station:
"You guys have to get out of there, and I mean now."
"Say it again, Jared," Mikhail whispered, "What is going on out there?"
"I didn't hear it either," Ariel's voice said through another link. Mikhail was sitting up on a closed toilet, sticking close to the wall to try to shield his voice. He knew that there were sensors in this bathroom, and it rather disturbed him knowing this, but he knew that this was also the most private place away from the Ajax employees.
"It says Halifax Industries on the bottom of that chopper, but there is a fake logo of the Australian FBI on the sides. They're coming to do the same thing you guys are! You two have got to get out of there before they get there!"
"But we haven't rescued Coran yet!" Mikhail said rather loudly.
"Michael, forget about Coran for just this once! We've got to get out of here." Ariel said from her own stall on the other side of the wall from Michael's own head.
"Leslie, I'm not going to forget about him now. We've come this far, and we may never get a chance like this again." Mikhail said, never minding the audio sensors now. It was only about two seconds after that that he realized his mistake…
"Got it," the male board member said as he ran back to his group.
"Good," Raven said, rushing them further down the hall so that the two impostors would not suspect they'd been heard.
"The girl is that Leslie Card girl…" the man, Richard Sparks, said as they hurried away from the bathroom doors.
"And the man is my son." Raven finished confidently. "I knew I'd seen those eyes before. They're his father's."
Mikhail flushed the toilet and exited the bathroom and saw with great relief that the board members had all been grouped at the end of the hall. "Sorry that took so long. I think my partner and I got a slight case of food poisoning from the meal we had today. I'm sure she'll be out in a little while."
"It's alright Michael." Raven called to him. He didn't notice. "As soon as your partner is out of the bathroom I'll lead us all to the bioweapons testing center as you requested."
"Thank you that would be nice. I'm sure after we've cleared the bioweapons we will have collected enough information needed to clear Ajax off the suspects list."
"That's good." Raven said, walking toward him slowly, taking each gently step to its full potential as if to accidentally slip to him that she knew. "Tell me… how long have you been with the agency? You look rather young for it to have been too long ago."
"U-Um, about two years now." Mikhail said, taking a nervous step back. Beneath his black hat he was beginning to sweat. "Yeah, two years now. Wow, I guess time really does fly by fast, huh?"
"Do you know a lot about time, Michael?" Again, he didn't notice.
"U-Um, not really. I'm not really into that kind of stuff."
"Really? Wow, that's actually one of our top interests here at the Ajax Corporation." Raven said with a soft chuckle. She reached out her hand and gently glided her fingernails across Mikhail's cheek and though he was now terrified, he did not flinch. "Oh Michael," she said (this time he noticed), "it's so good to have you home again."
She drew back her hand and slapped it across his tanned cheek, her fingernails cutting four deep gashes into his thin skin. Michael screamed "Leslie! Run!" as he fell to the floor, clutching his face. He reached a blood-spattered hand into his jacket and felt around for his gun, but felt something solid bash him in the back of his head; an ambush. Black filled his vision as he passed out on the floor.
"Leslie! Run!" Leslie heard in the bathroom from behind the locked door her ear was pressed against. Just then, she heard a thump and then the bathroom door began to rattle and she jumped back. She whirled around, looking for an escape, but there was nothing.
She was trapped.
But no! Her head instinctively jolted up and she focused a quick flashback to her first adventure with her team of time-travelers.
The door to the women's restroom fell to the floor and two of the Ajax board members ran in with their handguns drawn and at the ready. But the room was empty! The only thing that separated this bathroom from all the other bathrooms in the facility was the air vent lying on the floor and the hole in the ceiling.
"Raven!" Eric shouted, "She's in the shafts! Get to that chopper now!"
Without hesitation, Raven Ko turned on her heels and sprinted down the hall toward her office, her entirely white outfit of slick leather swishing rapidly with every stride. Above her, the emergency lights began to spin and the sirens went off and Eric Dolarand's voice spoke into the intercom. "We have a Code Nine. The outsider is headed through the ventilation shafts on her way toward the Presidential Lobby helipad. I repeat…"
"Damn it!" Leslie shouted as she sprinted down the rather large ventilation shafts. They were large enough that three full-grown adults could run side-by-side without problems, so space was no issue for her.
It was when she came to a fork in the shafts that she found a new problem.
"Jared," she shouted into her headset as she chose to keep running forward. "Oh man, you'd better lock on me and get me out of here quick."
She heard typing in the background and then Jared frantically exclaimed, "Where's Michael?! Where's Michael?!"
"They have Michael now, Jared, just focus on getting me out first."
"Ok," Jared Frost said, typing quick coding on his laptop to pinpoint Leslie in the schematics of the Ajax building. "Take the shaft to your right… now!"
Leslie broke right and sprinted, throwing off her black hat. As she ran she began to strip much of her professional suit; not hard for it was a tear-off suit. Beneath her black tuxedo was a pair of worn jeans and a white T-shirt. She let her blonde hair free from its many bobby-pins and tore her sunglasses off her face and threw them behind her.
"Jared, keep an eye on my chopper and steer her toward me." Said another voice on the headset, one that hadn't spoken since the mission began.
"Got it Morgan; you're on my screen." Jared said. He stared at the map as now two pin-pointed dots began to move. "Ok, Les, she's going to meet you on the south end instead of the east end, which will help you a lot. Take a left turn… now. Morgan, steer that chopper to points AA-5 and elevation B-7 on your map and get as close as you can to that building with the starboard facing the windows."
"Got it," Morgan Jane said, twisting the throttle on the Black Hawk to speed it up as she now had a better idea of where she was going. She knew before that had she stayed at the helipad, the corporation employees – more or less the corporation soldiers – would have shot down her helicopter.
"Leslie keep going forward until I give you further notice." Jared said, staring at his laptop from inside his jeep. He kept an eye on the Ajax building a distance away. A shadow in the sky was moving toward the building and it soon blocked out the sun momentarily as it progressed.
"The Halifax chopper is arriving at the corporation. Just who the hell do these guys think they are?" Jared announced into his headset. To the left of the building, he could see the small shadow that made up the Black Hawk helicopter. "Stay where you are in that chopper, Morgan; you're doing fine." He then looked back at the screen and said, "Ok, move in, guys. Try to find out some new information for us, but be careful."
Amongst all the sirens throughout the building, a computerized female voice said, "Visitor at the main gates. Please assist immediately…"
Eric Dolarand released the send button on the intercom microphone and looked up at three security guards standing near him. After a moment of the disfigured face, he straightened up and cleared his throat, "Who… the hell… would show up at a time like this?"