Chapter 97: Infiltration

Pain.

It had been cold at first like an ice bath that had started at his fingertips and slowly crawled up his arms and flowed around his body until it covered him completely. And then it grew colder, until it burned, until his mind was pushed further and further back and the only thing left was the desire to escape it. He would have done anything to escape it.

But what came next was worse. It started at his fingers again, the nothingness. He couldn’t look down, but he knew, with absolute certainty that the tips of his fingers were gone, and then his toes. The nothing crawled up his body to his neck. When it finally reached his head, he thought it would be over. The feeling didn’t stop, even with the knowledge that his brain no longer existed, his mind refused to stop.

Burnout would have screamed if he still had lungs.

The return happened all at once. The nothing, the pain, the cold, it all disappeared, and he was somewhere new. Burnout gasped, filling his lungs with air in a single burst.

“What the hell?” Allspades said. It was impressive that he was able to talk at all. Burnout couldn’t get enough air in his lungs.

“It fades quickly,” Will said. He was the only one who hadn’t grown a little paler in the instant it took them to arrive on the blimp. “In a few seconds, you’ll barely even remember it.”

Burnout was about to argue, but the words dies on his lips. His entire focus was on the trip through the teleporter, but even so, it was slipping away from him. Slowly, the room came into focus.

The room in Beck Industries had been stark white with an unadorned silver platform in the middle. They appeared in a dark conference room surrounding a circular table. The projector had been left on, but the computer it was connected to had long since fallen asleep, leaving the room bathed in the blue light bounding off the far wall.

“Beck’s scientists have been working on their teleporter for years. It can get you to the other side of the planet in a second, but they’ve never been able to get rid of the discomfort. Human minds can’t handle the experience. We forget it almost as soon as it happens.”

“That doesn’t make me want to try again,” Hawthorne said. She was shivering, but her voice was strong.

Unimportant seeped into Burnout’s consciousness. “i don’t know what lab we’re looking for…trump will be difficult to find.”

“We’ll have to split up,” Hawthorne said. “Allspades, come with me. Unimportant, Burnout, head to the left. Will…”

“I’m heading to the control room. I might be able to figure out where the Ambrosia is being kept from there. The labs were placed wherever they had room, so you’ll have to move quickly to find them all. I should be able to let you know over the PA’s in your area if I find anything.”

Allspades had already started moving, and Hawthorne had to hurry to keep up. Will was out the door right after them.

Burnout ran down the corridor, his footsteps echoing on the tiled floor; he couldn’t see Unimportant, but he could feel waves of emotions coming off of him anyway. It was a reversal he’d never felt form him before.

As fast as they needed to move, they had to glance into each room they passed to be sure they didn’t miss their target. So far, there had only been conference rooms and offices. The zeppelin had been mostly empty, but there were a few people collapsed at their computers.

They couldn’t find any labs.

Burnout’s steps started coming faster. He opened each door a little harder than the last, barely glancing in the rooms before moving on.

“stop.”

Burnout slid on the tiled floor, nearly falling backwards before catching himself.

“guards ahead…go for the room three doors back.”

There wasn’t time to question him. Burnout moved as quickly as he could without making noise. There had been a small meeting in the room; its members had all slumped over on their chairs.

“far side…head on the table…cover your eyes…can’t fight.”

Unimportant’s voice was fading into nonexistence, but Burnout got the message. Surprise was the only advantage they had. He hurried around the table and stole an empty chair. If the mercenaries only saw the top of his head, then they’d never notice he was in costume.

He ticked the seconds off in his head while he tried to force his breaths to come slower. Despite his best efforts, he could feel his heart jump up to his throat with every beat. He could hear them now, their soft footsteps punctuated by slamming doors as they checked the rooms one by one.

Their footsteps slowly drew closer, echoing louder and louder through the empty hallway into the conference room. They marched in such perfect rhythm that he couldn’t count how many there were. Even with his eyes wide open, he could only see the red cloth of his outfit.

He had to fight to not hold his breath when they reached the next room over; it was growing harder to keep his breathing steady.

The sound of boot meeting wood slammed into him when the door was kicked open. With his eyes covered, he could only imagine the two or three mercenaries scanning the room with their guns swerving back and forth. He swore he felt the moment one of them passed over him.

They didn’t say a word. As one, they backed out of the room and the left the door squeaking on its remaining hinges.

Burnout waited until their footsteps faded down the hallway, and then waited even longer.

“you’re good.”

Burnout raised his head off the table. Unimportant was still hidden from him, but he nodded in thanks anyway.

The broken door hung wide open, as did every door he could see up and down the hallway. Burnout made a mental count of them and held back a sigh.

“This is taking too long. We can’t keep looking like this. Keep close.”

With the doors open, Burnout didn’t even have to slow down. He barely glanced in the offices before moving on. A wave of confusions that followed him told him that Unimportant wasn’t far behind. The first five offices were useless to him, the next five as well.

“There has to be one…” he muttered.

“what are you looking for?”

Another door open, and he found it. One of the sleepers had passed out on his keyboard.

“This,” Burnout said. He pulled the man back off his computer and rolled his chair out of the way. “I probably can’t get into anything important, but I might be able to find something to help us out.”

The interface was a little strange, of course Beck wouldn’t let his employees use a public OS, but it was similar enough to what he was used to. Burnout got rid of the windows he had open and started at the desktop.

“He still has his new hire documents here. And…there’s a map.”

“no printer though.” There was a rustling sound and then Burnout found a phone in front of him. “take a picture.”

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