“Welp,” Ahsha transitioned, still trying to chisel through her partner’s obvious discomfort with the exponentially developing current situation, “It seems our new roommates head start has grown legs.” Ahsha smiled for an instant, before she sifted more thoroughly through the group’s circumstance, “Mr. Sam will take another ten minutes to get to our current twenty, so that thirty-count cushion has ballooned quite a bit.” Ahsha, bemused, continued walking Adrien through their next move, “We’ve got some time to spare, so, why don’t we go ahead and check out the house we were so eager to see?”
The question was clearly rhetorical, and as Ahsha began to stroll back toward the grand, three-story box Adrien followed suit. Ahsha imagined Adrien was not particularly excited to see the house, but merely willing to escape the current atmosphere at virtually any toll. All things considered, Ahsha believed most of the students likely weren’t exceptionally well-seasoned in such tension driven situations. The two of them had begun the ‘test’ just moments before, and already an acutely escalating amount of chaos had started to break through the vaguely alluded to structure. If there was one saving grace for any of the students aside from their previously acquired skills, it was the data the GUI would present on their RDs. Ahsha understood why her father felt it necessary to repeat the importance of their devices– without the technology they truly would be running blind through the streets of Fort Worth, ill-prepared for whatever impromptu test prompts might pop up.
Adrien drew closer in proximity, next to Ahsha’s side. As the two stepped over the street’s curb and across the sidewalk, Ahsha was allowed to truly evaluate the landscape and architectural design of her new place of residence. The yard was well maintained; a sea of vivid, green grass engulfed its background, the fore was equally enticing if not more so. Two towering trees, both appearing to be Mountain Cedars, soared up into the big Texas sky at least seventy feet, a height so far out of their known growth range Ahsha’s identification of the genus wavered. On either side of the lot ran seven trees, fourteen in total, sulking under the shadows of these overgrown behemoths. They appeared to be mature Chihuahua Oaks, but they were nowhere near the ten meters they should have reached, they stood only ten feet, even though they were deciduous Texas foliage. Ahsha began to grasp the thoughts of an old Central Texas rancher she had worked for in her preteens briefly when her ‘uncles’ were ‘out on business’. She always considered his opinions on the small budding saplings cruel and overly negative when he’d call them “those damned weeds” that were “no good for nobody” and did nothing but starve his cattle. The massive Mountain Cedars leaching root systems must have been siphoning an olympic-sized pool’s worth of water from the subterranean drink, limiting the bordering oaks from reaching their full potential beauty. Ahsha’s thoughts lead her to a near moment of dejection, but she rebounded, stepping back out of the melancholy moment and taking in the whole picture- such a bitter-sweet picture- such is the way of life. At that instant, all the detailed treasures were discovered: The Victorian appeal, the bold trim, the lighting; even some of Ahsha’s favorite shrubs and flowers made a clandestine appearance, masquerading as happenstance. Variegated Privets sat anchored against the woodwork and Texas Sage offset their wispy neutrality with purple buds aflame. The greys of Dusty Miller tied the two shrubs together atop the cleanly drawn line of mulch, but meekly played backdrop to the other smaller plants; this was something that could only be achieved through meticulous maintenance and oversight. It was clearly into blooming season, and the yellows and reds of Dusty Miller blossoms would ruin the aesthetic. The annuals that were blossoming lively were simply marvelous. Alyssum serves as a micro-botanical fireworks display; purples, pinks, and whites dance across the flower bed. Salvia swimming here and there- Ponds of Victoria Blue. Ripples of Evolution.
Porches protruded and ran the perimeter, presented with strong pillars and post work; four stood out boldly, with much more body, bearing the brunt of the load for the rest which likely only formed a faux facade presented to the street in front of the Victorian.
“Are you coming inside?” Adrien’s voice broke through Ahsha’s distant mind. Ahsha peered ahead; Adrien was already standing inches away from the front door, dark clothing contrasting heavily with the stark white door and the faint shimmer of a ghosted Victorian stained-glass window pattern glittering upon it. Ahsha was surprised she’d managed to overlook such an ornate architectural attribute. An eight foot soldier that stood, on watch, in a gilded silver-leaf armor proudly flaunted over his clean, bleached linens. Ahsha took one last slow deep breath in that moment and regained her business persona.
“Of course, dear,” Ahsha said warmly, before continuing the rest of the pristine walkway up toward Adrien, who now untroubled, nonchalantly accessed their new home with the RD.
* * * * *
Joe hastily jammed his gauntlet into the door handle, entering in the commands to break the lock. Metal, smooth as glass, poured into the keyhole as Joe turned to check his surroundings. An officer worker, likely a low level data entry clerk with his small workspace, haphazard dress, and headphones plugged in, stared out up at Joe making brief eye contact before hastily looking away. He hoped that his being noticed wouldn’t count against him in this assessment, but he doubted they paid that much attention.
The lock popped and Joe’s hand grasped the handle, darting in quickly as he powered up the cloaking system built into the gauntlet. He moved forward down the cheaply carpeted hallway, looking for a doorway away from view of security cameras trying to appear as nonchalant as possible. Joe saw the sign for the bathrooms at the end of the hallway, he forced himself to keep to a brisk yet leisurely pace, his desire to disappear from recording devices almost overwhelming his logic. He took the left, and went directly into the restroom, which was luckily unoccupied. Joe felt the his discomfort begin to subside as the familiar tingle of an electric field engulfed his body.
Joe scanned the bathroom pulling out his RD in the process. The tiles sparkled with the signs of a recent cleaning, but cheap plumbing fixtures were out in the open, and the sink was spiderwebbed with cracks. Joe felt safe in assuming this was the portion of the office where the lower paid employees were kept, for which he thanked his lucky stars. This would enable him to move throughout this floor with relative ease. The map flashed to life on his RD’s projection showing the target one locator right outside the wall near the eastern portion of this building.
Joe began to orient himself, trying to remember how typical floor-plans in buildings like this one tended to be designed. He had few memories of the towering behemoths of mankinds previous age of glory, they had mostly been destroyed when he was a child. His thoughts were racing, analyzing and breaking down all the information he had that pertained to his current circumstances, when someone opened the unlocked bathroom door. Joe quickly closed his GUI, mentally kicking himself for forgetting to lock. To Joe’s almost perceptible dismay, a man in the black uniform of a security guard stepped into the restroom, frowning directly at Eric.
“Young man, this is private property, and your unauthorized entrance gives me the rights to arrest you and hold you here until police arrive,” the security officer, hand drifting towards handle of his stun wand, who’s nametag read S. Cassanova which Joe found somewhat amusing despite the circumstances, delivered this statement with practiced ease, yet seemed to have a nearly imperceptible quiver, “but I’m willing to let you go, if you can explain why you aren’t appearing on this camera right over here!” The guard punctuated this last word with a noticeable increase in confidence and volume, as his finger pointed towards a small black circle buried in the corner of the mirror above the sink.
“Officer, I don’t know what you mean, its probably broken, and I have an interview upstairs…” as Joe emulated the panic of a young college student caught in a minor misdemeanor, he saw the security guard begin to pull out his stun wand, activating it as he extended it out towards Joe. As blue lighting began to arc inches away from Joe’s face, all he could think of was his mother’s body, broken in agony. All Joe could see was the price of his failure.