Principles

Having breached the outer defenses of the Sila Corp., Azure now had to look around inside the building in order to find what he had been sent to find.

Here's as good a place to start as any, thought Azure as he looked around the room he had just entered. An office—not that of a highly-ranked person, he gathered by the unpolished, cheap-looking desk and the conspicuous lack of comfortable furniture. The room was maybe eight feet by eight feet, if that. Pretty big for entry-level, sure—if nothing else it wasn't a cubicle, but rather its own room... still, though, it couldn't've been all that much.

Azure approached the front of the desk and read the nameplate. "John Smith." Typical.

This room was worthless... he needed to move on.

He moved for the door, moving quickly to the side so he could peek out without exposing his entire body as a target. Leaning into the doorway, he stuck his head through slowly, looking very carefully around for any sign of activity. Seeing none, he pulled the rest of his body through.

He remembered that he was, roughly speaking, just above the entrance to the building's lobby... maybe a few feet to the left. And as the lobby was two stories high, that placed him on the third. He figured that he could discount the first two stories from having anything suspicious, since if they did the inquiry team would have definitely seen it. So now it was just a matter of working upward, circling the building on each floor...

Azure sighed wearily. Getting in had been hard, but it didn't take nearly as long as this was going to take...

Here's hoping I don't have to abort early, thought Azure as he turned left and started walking. He had arbitrarily decided to walk clockwise, because if nothing else it meant his rapier hand would be around the corner first.

Speaking of which... He decided to draw his rapier, as a precaution. He decided not to activate any enchantments on it for now, but even in its physical form it could prove useful.

The first few floors had provided no fruit for Azure's efforts. He had been diligent at first, searching in every door... but it hadn't been too long before he had realized that the entire third, fourth, and fifth floors were just offices for corporate lackeys. There was no way they could store weapons, or entire training centers, or entire labs for hacking electoral mainframes, in those little offices.

Finally, he reached the sixth floor. He had used the stairs the entire time as he progressed up each floor; Azure wouldn't be caught dead in a confined space that was not only excruciatingly small, but also kind enough to alert the enemy of his presence, while on a covert operation. It was here, on the sixth floor, that he realized something so elementary, so incredibly simple—but so important. That was: Why am I wasting my time here when there aren't any guards to show me where the important things are?

He cursed himself. What the hell was he expecting, guards in every room?

At any rate, this definitely made things simpler. Not only would he not have to check unguarded rooms, but he could even enchant his rapier to check for signs of life on a given floor. Without taking any more time to think about it, Azure activated that enchantment and sped through the next ten stories, without having to leave the stairwell the entire time.

On the sixteenth floor, Azure stopped. He checked his rapier—yes; at last, there was life on this floor.

Checking the corridor very carefully, Azure stepped out of the stairwell. Nobody was here at the moment. He looked at the inside wall—it seemed to be made of reinforced steel, and there were no doors. Yes, that was interesting. Quick check to the left, to the right—he could see a faint beam of light, slowly but steadily growing brighter, on the right side.Had to be a security guard.

Azure needed a plan. Should he incapacitate the guard, or hide? Protocol dictated that he did not attack unless he absolutely needed to do so. Okay, then, where to hide?

The guard rounded the corner. Azure gritted his teeth, hoping the guard had not spotted him as he flew back into the stairwell. It was close... but—Azure sighed with relief—he was safe for now.

It had been damned close.

Okay, the guard had passed through the stairwell. Now what?

Azure decided to shadow the guard. It would keep him ahead of any other patrols on this floor... and maybe Azure would be able to identify the key locations here.

Entering the corridor again, Azure very carefully fell in with the guard's pace, giving himself about two-thirds the length of the corridor in breathing room. He quickly glanced behind him to make sure that nobody was about to bear down on him. Nope, safe.

Azure suppressed a yawn. He wasn't tired by any means... he was just bored. Reconnaissance had never suited him. He was a man of action, and he generally preferred to be in the fray rather than carefully avoiding starting anything. And everything just moved a lot faster when people knew their lives were on the line...

Ah, HERE we are, thought Azure, grinning to himself. He was just about to round the corner to the corridor parallel to the back wall, when he noticed that there was a pair of guards standing watch over a door on the right side, about halfway through. It was the first door he had seen on the right side.

He was grinning, mentally, because he knew that at last, it was time for a little action. He happily noted that he would have no way to get through that door without taking those guards out. At last, things were looking up.

He waited for the patrolling guard to disappear around the corner on the other end of the corridor... and then he made his move.

Azure focused into his rapier, and then started to run. Again, the enchantment on his rapier seemed to push the air in front of him aside; not even two seconds later, he was on top of the first guard, tackling him hard and fast to the ground, crashing into and knocking down the other one in the process. Neither of them made a sound, because Azure had tackled them with such force as to knock the wind completely out of them, and they didn't have breath for any kind of noise. He took the opportunity to knock them out by hitting their heads together.

Way to put your heads together, and all those bad puns, thought Azure.

Two seconds of listening for activity; hearing none, he felt through the bulletproof vests of each guard and found a keycard. Standing up again, he took the keycard and swiped it through the reader, and the door unlocked with a quiet little "click."

He opened the door and found himself entering into the middle of another corridor—but this one could not be more different. It was brightly lit, and had ceramic tiles everywhere. And there were drains along the walls every few feet.

He had entered into a corridor near a locker room.

Now this was interesting. Why the hell would they need a locker room in a corporate office?

Then it occurred to him: maybe the corporation actually used it, and the facilities that had to be nearby, for exercise. Legitimately. Maximize productivity by catering to the employee, and all that.

Azure thought it over for a moment.

Then he remembered that he had left a trail just outside the door. As soon as a patrol came around and saw the guards out cold, they would raise the alarm, and once that happened, he was going to have a hell of a time getting out of there.

Now that he thought about it, this whole thing was done wrong. He had been unprepared. He had been sent here with little to no actual intel, and it was his job to perform reconnaissance, both for his entrance and his objective. And he was going to have to do some hellishly fast recon for his exit soon. Which made him ask himself, for probably the fifth time that day: Why the hell was he with those disorganized idiots in OUTCRY anyway?

Because it's for the principle of the thing, said a small, yet powerful voice in Azure's head. It's the concept that counts... execution be damned.

Azure's conviction was rewarded with the sudden sound of alarm bells. He swore—though silently, much to his credit.

Speaking of executions...

Azure decided he needed to move, and fast. He looked on the wall, saw a sign—locker room, left; showers and exit, right. He headed down the right corridor as quickly, yet as silently as he could. He soon saw the showers in an annex on the left side. On an inspiration, he decided to detour into them. He turned two taps-- one to lukewarm, the other to steaming hot. With any luck it could be a distraction, if not a plausible decoy.

He chuckled briefly at the notion of them actually believing it could be where he was. Ah well, I can dream, he thought as he got back into that corridor and continued onward. Soon, he found himself at the foot of a narrow staircase. He threw himself up it as fast as he could, whipping around the corner at the first landing halfway up.

Having gained the top a few seconds later, Azure was on the cusp of opening the door. He checked himself, listening both for activity ahead and pursuit from behind. Nothing, thank—wait, no, too soon. He heard one or two sets of footsteps that seemed to be coming from about where the showers were.

Swearing aloud, Azure threw open the door and stepped into—

A combat simulation room.

It had to be. Concrete everywhere... walls set up in random places... a few pillars... holoprojectors... this room was the best.

Stretching two stories high—there were even a couple of catwalks higher up—this was definitely the grandest arena he had ever seen. And he had seen many.

It's official. They're training soldiers here.

A door on the far side opened. Two men, enforcer types, with guns.

"FREEZE!"