“Why are we staring at this random apartment building?” Emily subvocalized.
“When Savage was tracking Masquerade, he ran into a trap designed to cover the scent trail. Given the description, we doubt it was set up by Masquerade himself, though it was designed to look like something he would do.”
“Right, so the Upright guy was here?”
“Not much of a lead.”
“No. Come on, there’s no-one inside.”
I stepped out from the alley we had been concealed in and ducked in through the door of the didapilated apartment building, hanging loose on its hinges. The place was falling apart where it stood. For some reason or another, the building had been abandoned, and now housed only insects and a few squatters.
“Wow, this place is empty,” commented Emily as we walked through the crumbling halls, lit by flickering fluorescent tubes.
“Yeah. There are a few squatters on the lower floors, but they won’t bother us.”
She looked at me.
“How do you know this?”
“I can hear them breathing.”
“Well. That’s not creepy at all.”
I didn’t respond, focusing on mapping the building. Something was wrong with the airflow in a room on one of the upper floors; it felt like the vents had been covered up, and nothing was moving inside the room. I suspected this was the room we were supposed to investigate.
“This way,” I said, turning towards where I could feel cold air drifting down a stairwell.
“So. This will help us find that Upright bastard?” Emily asked as we made our way to the stairwell.
“Hopefully. We haven’t had any leads on him at all until now, actually.”
“Right, so we’re checking out this random building on the off chance we can find some clue that might lead us to him.” I couldn’t tell, with her voice being synthesized by the subvocalizer, but I was reasonably sure she was being sarcastic.
“And also because it pays.”
“What?” She said this out loud.
“Quiet! But yeah, we get paid by the hour when we’re on patrol, double for nonlethal combat, triple for potentially lethal combat. It goes into an account which we can access when we get through the program. You actually got a pretty hefty compensation already for being a hostage.”
“Oh, huh. Doesn’t that, I dunno, encourage fighting?”
“Heh, you’d think that. Really, not many people actually enjoy combat enough for it to be worth it.”
“I can understand that.”
We reached the stairs and entered the stairwell carefully.
“Almost there,” came Jamisson’s voice. “Fourth floor, third door on the right.”
I wasn’t overly confident about the structural integrity of the stairs, given the condition of the rest of the building. They were sturdier than they looked, however, and Emily and I were easily able to ascend to the fourth floor.
“What’s with the footprint thing?” Asked Emily on the way up.
“You’re leaving footprints. Should I not step in them, or what?”
I looked behind me and sure enough, I was trailing black pools where my feet touched the floor, which faded gently after a few seconds.
“What? How long have I been doing that?”
“Uh, the whole time I’ve known you.”
“Um.” I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I racked my brain, trying to remember when she’d first met me, but then I remembered that she was talking about meeting me as Shadow, not as Will. It would have started about the time I went into the nullifier, then.
And then I remembered. When I woke up from being knocked out by Maeve’s fumes, I’d noticed it pooling around me. So it would have started even earlier…
We reached the top of the stairs and entered as quietly as we could despite the creaking hinges and floor. We approached the room cautiously, and I took a moment before entering to try to get a better feel for the interior of the room. I couldn’t tell much; with the stagnant air it was nearly impossible to tell anything. I couldn’t stir up the air in the room like I usually did because it didn’t pass through me first. After a moment of frustration, I gestured to Emily to stay back and opened the door a crack. I stuck a hand into the room and started cycling air through it, creating some circulation in the room. The room was about 15 feet long and wide, with what felt like a table in the center and a cold, round-cornered object I thought might be a refrigerator. Around the doorway was a curtain which created a small mudroom area, with a pair of boots and some clothes on a hook. Nothing moved, there was nothing I could identify as alive.
“It’s clear,” I subvocalized. “No signs of life.”
“Affirmative. Proceed with caution,” responded Jamisson from the console.
We entered the room and my suspicions were confirmed, but not how I had expected. It was a cleanroom. Around the door was a small area for changing into a cleanroom suit like the one hanging on the wall. An obviously tinker-made device stood at the opening of the curtain with a field of glowing purple energy stretched across it, probably intended to sterilize the clean-suits as people entered. Through the transparent curtain, I could see that the room was some kind of laboratory, one which had been set up very quickly. The walls were plastered with some kind of plastic sheet which covered the vents and the boarded-up window, separating the contents if the room from contamination. On the table in the center of the room were a number of scientific instruments I didn’t recognize, intended for some mysterious purpose. And then I saw what I’d thought to be a fridge.
I wasn’t far off. It looked similar to a normal refrigerator, but it had only one door, and in the door was a small window. The inside of the window was covered in frost, but I could still tell what was inside.