Trish Dunne entered the SMSC lobby and looked up with surprise. The guest waiting here looked nothing like the usual bookish, flannel-clad doctors who entered this buildingthose of anthropology, oceanography, geology, and other scientific fields. Quite to the contrary, Dr. Abaddon looked almost aristocratic in his impeccably tailored suit. He was tall, with a broad torso, well-tanned face, and perfectly combed blond hair that gave Trish the impression he was more accustomed to luxuries than to laboratories.
Dr. Abaddon, I presume? Trish said, extending her hand.
The man looked uncertain, but he took Trishs plump hand in his broad palm. Im sorry. And you are?
Trish Dunne, she replied. Im Katherines assistant. She asked me to escort you back to her lab.
Oh, I see. The man smiled now. Very nice to meet you, Trish. My apologies if I seemed confused. I was under the impression Katherine was here alone this evening. He motioned down the hall. But Im all yours. Lead the way.
Despite the mans quick recovery, Trish had seen the flash of disappointment in his eyes. She now suspected the motive for Katherines secrecy earlier about Dr. Abaddon. A budding romance, maybe? Katherine never discussed her social life, but her visitor was attractive and well-groomed, and although younger than Katherine, he clearly came from her world of wealth and privilege. Nonetheless, whatever Dr. Abaddon had imagined tonights visit might entail, Trishs presence did not seem to be part of his plan.
At the lobbys security checkpoint, a lone guard quickly pulled off his headphones, and Trish could hear the Redskins game blaring. The guard put Dr. Abaddon through the usual visitor routine of metal detectors and temporary security badges.
Whos winning? Dr. Abaddon said affably as he emptied his pockets of a cell phone, some keys, and a cigarette lighter.
Skins by three, the guard said, sounding eager to get back. Helluva game.
Mr. Solomon will be arriving shortly, Trish told the guard. Would you please send him back to the lab once he arrives?
Will do. The guard gave an appreciative wink as they passed through. Thanks for the heads-up. Ill look busy.
Trishs comment had been not only for the benefit of the guard but also to remind Dr. Abaddon that Trish was not the only one intruding on his private evening here with Katherine.
So how do you know Katherine? Trish asked, glancing up at the mysterious guest.
Dr. Abaddon chuckled. Oh, its a long story. Weve been working on something together.
Understood, Trish thought. None of my business.
This is an amazing facility, Abaddon said, glancing around as they moved down the massive corridor. Ive never actually been here.
His airy tone was becoming more genial with every step, and Trish noticed he was actively taking it all in. In the bright lights of the hallway, she also noticed that his face looked like he had a fake tan. Odd. Nonetheless, as they navigated the deserted corridors, Trish gave him a general synopsis of the SMSCs purpose and function, including the various pods and their contents.
The visitor looked impressed. Sounds like this place has a treasure trove of priceless artifacts. I would have expected guards posted everywhere.
No need, Trish said, motioning to the row of fish-eye lenses lining the ceiling high above. Security here is automated. Every inch of this corridor is recorded twenty-four/seven, and this corridor is the spine of the facility. Its impossible to access any of the rooms off this corridor without a key card and PIN number.
Efficient use of cameras.
Knock on wood, weve never had a theft. Then again, this is not the kind of museum anyone would robtheres not much call on the black market for extinct flowers, Inuit kayaks, or giant squid carcasses.
Dr. Abaddon chuckled. I suppose youre right.
Our biggest security threat is rodents and insects. Trish explained how the building prevented insect infestations by freezing all SMSC refuse and also by an architectural feature called a dead zonean inhospitable compartment between double walls, which surrounded the entire building like a sheath.
Incredible, Abaddon said. So, where is Katherine and Peters lab?
Pod Five, Trish said. Its all the way at the end of this hallway.
Abaddon halted suddenly, spinning to his right, toward a small window. My word! Will you look at that!
Trish laughed. Yeah, thats Pod Three. They call it Wet Pod.
Wet? Abaddon said, face pressed to the glass.
There are over three thousand gallons of liquid ethanol in there. Remember the giant squid carcass I mentioned earlier?
Thats the squid?! Dr. Abaddon turned from the window momentarily, his eyes wide. Its huge!
A female Architeuthis, Trish said. Shes over forty feet.
Dr. Abaddon, apparently enraptured by the sight of the squid, seemed unable to pull his eyes away from the glass. For a moment, the grown man reminded Trish of a little boy at a pet-store window, wishing he could go in and see a puppy. Five seconds later, he was still staring longingly through the window.
Okay, okay, Trish finally said, laughing as she inserted her key card and typed her PIN number. Come on. Ill show you the squid.
As Malakh stepped into the dimly lit world of Pod 3, he scanned the walls for security cameras. Katherines pudgy little assistant began rattling on about the specimens in this room. Malakh tuned her out. He had no interest whatsoever in giant squids. His only interest was in using this dark, private space to solve an unexpected problem.