Trish Dunne felt the familiar surge of adrenaline as she exited the bright lights of the Cube and moved into the raw darkness of the void. The SMSCs front gate had just called to say that Katherines guest, Dr. Abaddon, had arrived and required an escort back to Pod 5. Trish had offered to bring him back, mostly out of curiosity. Katherine had said very little about the man who would be visiting them, and Trish was intrigued. The man was apparently someone Peter Solomon trusted deeply; the Solomons never invited anyone back to the Cube. This was a first.
I hope he handles the crossing okay, Trish thought as she moved through the frigid darkness. The last thing she needed was Katherines VIP panicking when he realized what he had to do to get to the lab. The first time is always the worst.
Trishs first time had been about a year ago. She had accepted Katherines job offer, signed a nondisclosure, and then come to the SMSC with Katherine to see the lab. The two women had walked the length of The Street, arriving at a metal door marked POD 5. Even though Katherine had tried to prepare her by describing the labs remote location, Trish was not ready for what she saw when the pod door hissed open.
Katherine stepped over the threshold, walked a few feet into the perfect blackness, and then motioned for Trish to follow. Trust me. You wont get lost.
Trish pictured herself wandering in a pitch-black, stadium-size room and broke a sweat at the mere thought.
We have a guidance system to keep you on track. Katherine pointed to the floor. Very low-tech.
Trish squinted through the darkness at the rough cement floor. It took a moment to see it in the
darkness, but there was a narrow carpet runner that had been laid down in a straight line. The carpet ran like a roadway, disappearing into the darkness.
See with your feet, Katherine said, turning and walking off. Just follow right behind me.
As Katherine disappeared into the blackness, Trish swallowed her fear and followed. This is insane! She had taken only a few steps down the carpet when the Pod 5 door swung shut behind her, snuffing out the last faint hint of light. Pulse racing, Trish turned all of her attention to the feeling of the carpet beneath her feet. She had ventured only a handful of steps down the soft runner when she felt the side of her right foot hit hard cement. Startled, she instinctively corrected to the left, getting both feet back on soft carpet.
Katherines voice materialized up ahead in the blackness, her words almost entirely swallowed by the lifeless acoustics of this abyss. The human body is amazing, she said. If you deprive it of one sensory input, the other senses take over, almost instantly. Right now, the nerves in your feet are literally tuning themselves to become more sensitive.
Good thing, Trish thought, correcting course again.
They walked in silence for what seemed entirely too long. How much farther? Trish finally asked.
Were about halfway. Katherines voice sounded more distant now.
Trish sped up, doing her best to stay composed, but the breadth of the darkness felt like it would engulf her. I cant see one millimeter in front of my face! Katherine? How do you know when to stop walking?
Youll know in a moment, Katherine said.
That was a year ago, and now, tonight, Trish was once again in the void, heading in the opposite direction, out to the lobby to retrieve her bosss guest. A sudden change in carpet texture beneath her feet alerted her that she was three yards from the exit. The warning track, as it was called by Peter Solomon, an avid baseball fan. Trish stopped short, pulled out her key card, and groped in the darkness along the wall until she found the raised slot and inserted her card.
The door hissed open.
Trish squinted into the welcoming light of the SMSC hallway.
Made it . . . again.
Moving through the deserted corridors, Trish found herself thinking about the bizarre redacted file they had found on a secure network. Ancient portal? Secret location underground? She wondered if Mark Zoubianis was having any luck figuring out where the mysterious document was located.
Inside the control room, Katherine stood in the soft glow of the plasma wall and gazed up at the enigmatic document they had uncovered. She had isolated her key phrases now and felt increasingly certain that the document was talking about the same far-flung legend that her brother had apparently shared with Dr. Abaddon.
. . . secret location UNDERGROUND where the . . .
. . . somewhere in WASHINGTON, D.C., the coordinates . . .
. . . uncovered an ANCIENT PORTAL that led . . .
. . . warning the PYRAMID holds dangerous . . .
. . . decipher this ENGRAVED SYMBOLON to unveil . . .
I need to see the rest of the file, Katherine thought.
She stared a moment longer and then flipped the plasma walls power switch. Katherine always turned off this energy-intensive display so as not to waste the fuel cells liquid hydrogen reserves.
She watched as her keywords slowly faded, collapsing down into a tiny white dot, which hovered in the middle of the wall and then finally twinkled out.
She turned and walked back toward her office. Dr. Abaddon would be arriving momentarily, and she wanted to make him feel welcome.