*wipes sweat off brow* Chapter 1.. is done. I feel woozy. *slumps over*
Chapter 1: The Interview
Beep. Beep. Beep. My hand crept out from under the blankets and brushed over the buttons of my alarm clock before finding the off switch. I pulled the blankets away from my face to glance at the clock. “Why did I set this thing so early?” I muttered as I throw off the blankets and grabbed the sweatpants I’d thrown over my chair the night before.
“So you can have breakfast,” a gravelly voice said from the main room or my apartment. Half-way into my sweatpants, I glanced into the room to see Jack at my kitchen table with a bowl of cereal in front of him. He jerked a thumb at the coffee brewing in the pot behind him and the box of cereal beside an empty bowl. As usual, he was wearing his Air Force mechanic uniform. Jack was my roommate in college, and we had kept in close contact even after we graduated and I started working in on my graduate degree.
“Jack, how did you get into my apartment? And how long have you been here?” I asked as I entered the kitchen area. It was a stupid question; he was there practically every morning, eating my food. I had given hima key to the place in case he ever needed some place to crash. He often complained about how noisy his neighbors at the base were, and my apartment complex was in a faily quiet neighborhood. He shrugged at my question, and the coffee maker dinged behind him. The thing was a gift from my sister, and it continued beeping until I either unplugged it or jammed my finger into the button on the side. As the button was pretty much glued in the on position, I usually opted for pulling the plug. I shuffled past Jack, reached behind the coffee maker, and yanked the plug from the wall. As I poured myself a cup, he held out one of his massive hands and flexed his fingers in a clear sign that he wanted my cup.
“Get your own damn coffee, Jack,” I muttered at him as I prepared a bowl of cereal for myself. As childish as it sounds, I loved looking at the bright marshmallows that dotted the cereal. Jack grumbled at me and stepped around me to get some coffee. One of the major differences between Jack and me was his immense size. While I was no pushover at just under six feet, Jack towered over me by almost a foot. I sat at the table and notice the manual Jack had been reading. “What monostrosity do they have you working on now, Jack?” I asked. I heard the clink of a spoon against the side of his cup as he drowned his coffee in sugar. He returned to the table and slapped the cover of the manual.
“One of the older models. I’m still in training, remember? It’s a beast of a machine, though. Some of the old engine parts are just massive.” He took a sip of the coffee and sighed. “I hope they let me start working on the newer fighter jets soon.” Jack had finished basic training about the time I had started graduate school. Since then, he had been griping about his superiors never letting him near the new jet models. He was a mechanical engineer, and while he would rather be designing the engine parts, his superiors wanted him to know how all of the parts worked first.“Where’s that place you work at again?”
“I don’t work there, yet,” I answered. “LACE Co. is the name of the place. It’s that pharmeceutical lab on the other side of town.” I glanced at the clock on the wall above the coffee maker. “And I’m going to be late if I don’t get ready soon.” I finished the bowl of cereal and downed the rest of my coffee. Jack finished his coffee as well and stood to put his plates in the sink. “Don’t you need to get to work soon?” I asked him as he walked into the main area and plopped himself down on the sofa.
“I’m not being called in until noon. Most of the morning is being devoted to the flyboys, so I was told to study the manual and be ready to work on that old clunker when I arrived,” he said as he picked up the remote control. I rolled my eyes and put my dishes in the sink before shuffling back to my bedroom. As I pulled out the clothes I wanted to wear to my onsite interview, I heard Jack muttering as he flipped through the channels. If memory served me, he would end up picking some morning talk show and end up ignoring it to study. I grabbed a towel off my dresser and entered the adjoining bathroom. I was just about to put the razer to my cheek when I heard Jack shout “Holy shit! No way!” from the living room. With my face covered in shaving lather, I poked my head out the bathroom door.
“Celebrity scandal?” I asked mockingly. He shook his head and turned up the volume of the television.
“That’s right, Meryl, the old Marcon warehouse in the eastern district went up in smoke this morning,”th news anchor was saying. “And as you can see by the footage, the Black Lotus has come out of the shadows to claim the incident. An assault team was killed, except for their commander, Carl Brady, who suffered from mild trauma and memory loss.” Jack turned the volume down and looked at me.
“That’s not possible. Didn’t the government say they killed the Black Lotus four years ago? It was some vigilante with a god-complex, wasn’t it?” I asked. “Even the other demon-hunters said ths guy was mental.”
“Those reports were never confrimed. I’ve talked with some of the guys at the base. They say he simply vanished into thin air; some think he was taken by the demons. I don’t think he would be able to return. It might be a copy-cat, since today is the anniversary of the Black Lotus’s shoot-out, but that symbol was way too intricate to just be copied,” Jack replied. He shook his head and turned off the television. “I think I’ll head into training early, see if they know anything.” He grabbed the operations manual, and the coat he’d slung over the arm of the sofa. “I’ll let you know if I hear anything. If Lotus is back, even if it’s just a copy-cat, the nation is going to go on high alert.” I nodded and returned the wave he gave me as he bolted out the door. There wasn’t much that scared Jack, but demons, and demon-hunters, made his skin crawl. I heard the front door of my apartment click shut and returned to shaving. While the Black Lotus had never harmed a human, they had caused massive property damage and had almost instigated a second uprising amongst the demons. As I continued my morning routine, I thought back to the history lectures I’d taken on the Great Demon City, a floating island off the cost of Antarctica.
The GDC had appeared over a hundred years ago, and as satelite footage had shown, it was a lush, green place about the size of France. At night, the island glowed in the satelite images. When inhabitants of the GDC began appearing all over the world, they were thought of as oddities. Animals that could mimic human speech, but never coherently, plants that never seemed to need sunlight or water, and humanoid creatures with animal-like features. In the last few decades, however, the GDC and its inhabitants had become an enemy. Known as the Demon Uprising, on a day when my father was still a child, the GDC’s inhabitants went berserk and killed countless humans before disappearing. Since then, organizatons funded by different governments flushed out demon “nests”, hideouts usually full of the demonic creatures. Black Lotus may have started out as one of those government funded groups, but they went rogue when they started using high explosives to destroy “nests.”
I glanced at myself in the mirror as I adjusted the tie around my neck. I looked silly in my suit and tie. It wasn’t that the clothes didn’t fit; it was tailored to fit me thanks to my mother’s insistence. I just simply looked out-of-place wearing a suit. I ran a comb through my unruly hair one last time before picking up my wallet, keys, and phone from the bedside table. The weather had long since turned cold, so I grabbed my coat from the closet in the main room. Almost as soon as I dropped the phone and wallet into the large pockets of the coat, the phone started ringing, filling my ears with the bizarre sound that was my sister’s specific ringtone. I fished the phone out of my pocket as I locked the front door behind me.
“Hi, Marie,” I said as I walked to my car. “How’s the family?” Marie was the baby of the family and a Freshman a the college two cities away. She was also a certifiable genius, and only fourteen years old. She tended to be overly cautious and let her imagination run wild when she heard bad news, so I had expected her to call if she saw the morning news.
“You weren’t hurt in that Lotus incident were you?” Marie asked quickly.
“Marie, I live on th other side of town; I didn’t even hear the explosion,” I answered. I started the car to let it warm up and grabbed the ice-scraper from the passenger seat. “Besides, the explosion only damanged the old warehouse, right?”
“Yeah, that’s true,”she sighed. “I just can’t believe the Lotus is back.”
“I don’t think it’s the orignal Lotus, Marie,” I said. I placed the phone on my shoulder and held it there with my ear as I scraped the windshield of my car. “I think it might be a copy-cat with that studied the Lotus’s methods. The Lotus never left human casualties, only burned-out nests and demon corpses.” I heard Marie mutter something that sounded like gross. “Yeah, sorry, I know you hate this kind of stuff.”
“You’ve aways been fascinated by demons,” she said evenly. “I think it’s the only reason you went into bio-chemical research. You just want to know what made them tick. What was your senior project again? The chemical composition of a certain demon-plant’s venom?”
“Yes. It was mostly nitro-” I heard her groan in irritation. “You know, not all of us can be brainiac mathematical geniuses.”
“You don’t hear me boring you with Laplace Transforms and advanced algorithms, do you?” she said sharply. “Honestly, you’re so weird.”
“I love you, too,”I snorted as I finished the rear window and climbed into my car. “I need to hang up, Marie.”
“Alright, alright.”I could hear her tapping her fingers against our parents’ kitchen table. “Hey, stop by the house sometime. You only live twenty minutes away, and Mom keeps making your favorite meals. I am sick of spaghetti.” The pouting in her voice couldn’t be any louder.
“Fine. Tell Mom I’ll be stopping by tonight to either celebrate getting the job or to recieve comfort for not getting the job,” I answered. “And no surprises, Marie.”
“Spoilsport,” Marie said grumpily. “I’ll talk to you later then. Goodbye.” Before I had a chance to answer her, the phone went silent. I tossed it onto the passenger seat and put the car in reverse.
My apartment was on the edge of an industrial zone, and I passed by a hundred different warehouses and factories before pulling into the parking lot of LACE Co. On the outside, it didn’t look much different from the other buildings. Square and white-washed it had large, bold letters proclaiming LACE Co. I straightened my jacket and pressed the buzzer on the front door. There was a soft click, and the door slowly swung open. Inside, it looked like the set of a super-villain’s lair.
The marble floor shone with a fresh polish, and the walls gleamed with a metallic finish. There was a single strip of carpet leading from the front door to the reception desk at the other end of the rather large room. A waiting area stood to one side, with wide, plush looking chairs and a small table devoid of anything but a vase of lilies. As I neared the desk, one of the doors on the side of the room swung open, and two women walked to sit behind the reception desk. The feeling of unease grew as I looked at them. They sat like divas on a stage, their perfect hair and outfits befitting the scenery around them. “Do you have an appointment?” one asked as I reached the desk.
“I’m here for an interview. My name is -” One of them raised a perfectly manicured finger.
“We know. Go take a seat. She will be with you shortly,” she said in a tone of voice that made me feel even shorter than I already was. She pointed to one of the chairs, and gave me a sharp look with her too-blue eyes. I nodded and went to sit in the pretentious looking chair. Immediately, I was swathed in fabric as the chair allowed me to sink into its plush cushioning. This was how it would end, being smothered by a chair on my way to an interview. No sooner had I begun wondering how my parents would feel if I was killed by furniture, the door from which the supermodels emerged opened again.
Stacy R. was a very strange woman. Her dark hair was pilled on top of her head in a messy bun with strands sticking out in every direction. She wore a pair of glasses that looked ready to topple off the edge of her nose, and a lab-coat that had seen better days. Beneath the coat, she wore jeans and a lumpy, black sweater that hid whatever womanly features she might possess. While I had felt under-dressed next to the model-secretaries, Stacy made me feel overdressed with her nonchalant attitude. She walked past me and stopped at the desk, putting her hands on her hips and peering at the secretaries through her glasses. “Next time there’s a kid at the door, make sure I’m not about to add two explosive chemicals together before buzzing my lab. You’re lucky we’re not all dead, you two,” she scolded.
“Sorry, Stacy,” one of them said without looking up from her nails. “But Mr. Lace wants you to handle all of the interviews for potential candidates, and we can’t have people crowding the waiting area all day long.” Stacy scowled at them and slowly turned to me.
“Are you the kid from Beaumont’s?” she asked. I nodded. “Good, you’re hired. Let’s get moving. I am in need of an assitant at the moment and you fit the bill.”
“Um... what about my clothes?” I didn’t want my suit ending up like her labcoat. She raised an eyebrow and stepped closer until I could see the green flecks in her brown eyes.
“We have scrubs you can borrow,” she said evenly. “I suspect you were ready for a full interview, with pointless questions and double-meanings and all that crap. Well, I have work to do, and you were the top of the list of the second round of interviews. Congradulations, you’re hired. Now let’s get moving.” I didn’t know what to think of her as she grabbed my arm and dragged me through the door. Inside the door was an elevator, and she jammed her thumb into one of the buttons and as the door swung shut, her entire demeanor changed. She pushed the glasses up her nose and gave me a small smile. “I’m glad we’re finally getting some help around here. You’re senior project on demon-plants was rather impressive. Even Mr. Lace thinks so.” She fished a pair of goggles out of her labcoat. Compared to the rest of her appearance, they looked like they’d never left the packaging. “You’ll need these to get through the lab, then I’ll hand you a change of clothes and show you the locker room. I’ll be your mentor for the first few weeks, then you’ll be given an assignment by Mr. Lace. I’m sure they went over this in your initial interview.” The personality change still had me shocked, so I took the goggles without comment.
The elevator opened and Stacy strode forward with enough attitude to make you think she owned the place. I noticed several other scientists around the large lab, and various testing equipment my college would have killed to own. Stacy caught me ogling one device and simply nudged me to continue following her. “Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to play with those later. When you aren’t dressed like a lawyer.” At the other end of the lab were two doors. Stacy opened the first, took a glance at me, and pulled out several small packages. “These should fit you,” she said as she handed them to me. She opened the second door and pointed to the right. “That one is the men’s changing room. Use any of the open lockers.”
The packages turned out to be a set of scrubs and a lab coat. The scrubs even included wraps to cover my shoes. My mother would probably shake her head at the creases in my suit, but having no other choice, I folded it and placed it and my coat in one of the empty lockers. I adjusted the goggles and went back to join Stacy. “I’ll take you on a tour later, but first, I need your help on a project.” She pulled me past the instruments and through a narrow passage I had missed before. “This is where that essay of yours comes into play. It’s not often we get a new recruit who can handle working with demons.” At the end of the walkway was a plain-looking door with a keypad. Stacy took off her ID badge and swiped it through the slot before pressing a series of numbers. “This is one of the demon labs we have located throughout the facility. We work with several demon-hunters to create effective weaponry to subdue nests.” She straightened for a moment and dug around in her pockets again. She pulled out a folded sheet of paper and a pen. “Sign this so I don’t have to lock you in one of the room, ok?” It was a non-disclosure agreement.
“What is my role in all of this?” I asked as I read through some of the legal jargon.
“Well, as my assistant, you will be helping me examine and evaluate demons.”
“Evaluate?” I glanced at her. “There isn’t much to evaluate, is there? It’s either a demon plant, animal, or humanoid.”
“There are two types of demons, we’ve found. The demons that caused the Uprising, and the demons who can actually live in harmony with humans. Not many are able to tell the difference, but by the time I’m done training you, you’ll be able to spot them a mile away,” she opened the door. “And this is your first test!” There, in the center of the room, was an egg floating inches above the ground. “Meet Alice.” She stepped into the lab and pressed a button on the table. From the floor beneath the egg emerged a column. The egg continued floating just inches from the surface. “Alice is one of this lab’s creations. She is a hybrid composed of demon blood and human tissue. By studying her, and others like her, we have created a broad spectrum of demon-kind. That is the knowledge I will instill in your these next few weeks.”
“I thought I would be ‘creating bio-chemical mechanisms for the use against demons’,” I quoted the job description.
“In due time. First, you must learn about demons before you can start deconstructing them as chemicals. You studied one plant in a protected lab for your thesis. Here, you will study humanoid specimens we recieve from the government,” Stacy took off her glasses and sat down at one of the desks. “One of the first lessons is Alice. As you can see, the egg looks very similar to something you might find in a grocery store.” She pointed a pen at the egg. “By the time you are done studying demon kind, that egg will have quadrupled in size.”
“How do you know?”
“Alice is not the first egg I have hatched.”