A man in an ankle length white coat over a blue suit spoke to the group of ten. “You all have been gathered here as a way to become approved to be released back into the normal world. I own you until you are given your freedom. You will be assisting some of my chosen team to help with their research. It has become too dangerous for my teams to go in without an escort and someone to help them with their explorations.”
The professor was a solemn man who never joked, but this could not have been real. He had to be joking. We were the best of his team, the ones who knew more about the Ruins than anyone else did. Yet, here he was, talking to a group of convicts about how they would be helping us.
I looked to my five colleagues, all dressed in varying lengths of white coats over their business best. I looked down at my hip length white coat, knowing it was shortest the others, due to my being the newest member of the team. I wore black slacks and a black shirt to offset the clean white coat. We all carried metal clipboards that flipped open up to a one-inch thick paper and supply holder. None of my colleagues looked happy about the combination of the convicts with our team.
The other woman, the twenty-five year old Cassandra, had her blonde hair tied up into a tight bun, accenting her high cheekbones. She was my height and slender, her clothes giving the hint of what feminine qualities the world have come to see as beauty. She wore very little make-up and I knew that if it came time to get down and dirty, she would be taking notes, instead of messing up her manicure and red heels. Her coat was almost as long as the professor’s was.
One man with shaved brown hair, the thirty-year-old Michael, was a military man, his stature telling us he was an officer in the army. He wore his military best, his light green shirt and dark green pants still held their military creases, and his shoes were always polished. He was one who was used to giving the orders for someone to handle the hard labor, putting him up with Cassandra on my list of people to avoid. His coat was ended at his mid-calf, making him the third person to join the team.
Another man, the twenty-seven year old Ryan, had shoulder length red hair roaming wild on his head. I liked Ryan; he was an Irishman with a fiery attitude. He wore a white dress shirt, under a green plaid sash, a green kilt, knee high white socks, held up with elastic and black ankle boots. He was one I could count on if I fell down a hole to actually get dirty to help. He was a jolly man with laughter in his eyes. His white coat was in the middle of Cassandra’s and mine, ending at his upper calf, just below the knees.
The last person in our team was the twenty-three year old, Native American Mahia. He had long black hair that went to the middle of his back. He wore a light brown shirt and black pants, but the softness of the material told me it was all leather. He had muscles that competed with Michael’s, but his looked more natural. His coat had the arms ripped off, showing off his muscular arms. He was the closest to my age and he and I were best of friends when we were working, always being put on a team along with Ryan.
I looked to the other group of five among us. They all wore street clothes the prison gave them, when the professor purchased them for the Ruins project. All five of them were men that gave off the aura of danger and intrigue. They were all chosen for their different abilities that should complement our own. Should is the key word, especially since I think the only thing that they would complement is a pair of handcuffs.
There was one prisoner with long black hair and beard which were both spiked in all sorts of different directions and even dyed random colors He wore the clothes of a punk, black with safety pins sticking out everywhere. I noticed the metal studs that pierced eyebrows, lips, and ears; all parts were pierced in multiple places.
One of the men would not stop looking at us with contempt, his dark eyes hidden behind a pair of thick black eyebrows. His dark brown skin was a mix of dirt and dark tan skin; his face contorted into a look of hate. He wore ragged prison garb, the black and white stripes so dirty, they could barely be distinguished from the ground. I recognized him as one of the men who was looting the Ruins, caught by Cassandra and I.
One tall, buff black man continued to stare forward, and through his light brown eyes, he knew what he was gaining by doing this. His chocolate colored skin was taunt across his arms, chest, shoulders, and legs, all bulging with muscles under a tight black shirt. I knew there were some places in the Ruins he would be unable to go, due to his sheer size.
There was a small skinny little white kid, maybe just turned eighteen in the middle of the group. He had light brown hair that clung to his head with sweat that seemed to show him terrified of something. Then again, the kid was smaller than I was, so he might even be afraid of me, even if no one else was. He wore a blue button up shirt and black slacks, and I figured he probably committed a white-collar crime to get here.
The last one held my eyes for the longest time. He had a slight tan to him, but his black shoulder length black hair glinted in the sunlight. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. His black baggy shirt had no sleeves, accenting his light muscles, putting him about where Mahia’s were. He wore blue jeans that were ripped in many places; they were old and well loved jeans.
I looked back at the professor, as he started handing out the assignments. I opened my clipboard to the pieces of electronic equipment I had built when I was younger. There a pair of gloves that would read my inputs as a keyboard type motion and if I touched something, it would use vibrations to measure the size, density and could accurately reconstruct the building on my home computer. I looked at the pair of sunglasses that would act as my computer screen, giving me the map I had constructed with our already gathered data. In the bridge of the sunglasses was a camera that would act as my note keeper.
I took off my glasses and placed them inside the clipboard. I set my clipboard down and put on the sunglasses and gloves, getting used to the feel of them on me. The professor waited until I had everything ready, before giving me my assignment. I picked my clipboard up and read the paper. I looked at the professor, and then back at the note, “There must have been a mistake, sir.”
The professor looked at me over his glasses, his white hair slicked back. “There was no mistake, Sori. You are to stay topside as a spotter, as your partner goes under ground.”
I looked at the others and I saw Cassandra and Michael smile. They did not think that I was valuable enough to be on a team with them. Only through the good graces of Mahia and Ryan, was I allowed to be on a team. The professor turned away from me and looked to the group of convicts, “You have your teams. Do not dally in the Ruins, do not steal from the Ruins, if I find out anyone does, we have been given permission to kill on sight. Above all, be out of the Ruins before nightfall, we cannot be sure of your safety if you are left in there.”
The convicts moved to their partners and I saw the look of anger on all sides when the black guy was chosen to be with Cassandra, the ruin robber with Michael, Ryan and the skinny kid and Mahia with the punk. That left one prisoner left and I had wished it would not be him. Out of all of them, I could feel that he was the most dangerous and would be the hardest to handle.
He took one look at me and moaned, “Why do I get stuck with the snot-nosed brat?”
I walked over to him and realized he must have been at least six and a half feet compared to my five foot eight. “I am not a snot-nosed brat. I’m twenty years old and damn it, I know these Ruins better than anyone else!”
Cassandra scoffed, “Yes, we know about your little pet project and why you are wearing gloves and the sunglasses. How far have you gotten on that, anyways? Maybe thirty feet, before you tripped and fell, breaking your last pair?” Michael and her laughed at my expense.
I looked at the ground, knowing that Mahia and Ryan could not come to my aid, or else they could be kicked from the team. I turned on my heel and stalked away from the others, keeping the earpiece communicator off. Michael shouted, “Do more research, while you are at it! You seem to hit the books almost as easily as you can hit the ground.”
I ran away from them and turned a corner to get away. I rounded another corner and saw the giant library looming before me. “At least here I don’t have to listen to the snide remarks…” I heard a motorcycle screech to a halt behind me. I turned and saw the convict I was assigned sitting on it. I growled, “Go away!” He just sat there staring at me. “Go into the Ruins and do your job!” He folded his hands under his chin. “Fine then…” I turned and ran up the steps of the library, but I heard the motorcycle rev and speed up. He used the side ramps to beat me to the large oak doors of my sanctuary.
He sat back and looked at me, annoyance in his eyes. I walked up to him and slammed the metal clipboard into his shoulder, before grabbing his shirt and pushing him off the motorcycle. He fell to the ground, the motorcycle, luckily, was still standing, leaning on the kickstand. I tried to sweep passed him to get to where I would not be found, but he grabbed my white coat. “Stop.”
I looked down at him, my sadness heating up to anger. “No. You already said how you didn’t want a snot-nosed brat as a partner; you will never look at me as a viable part of the team. Especially seeing how you pretty much agreed with Cassandra and Michael’s assessment of me, you are not worth my time. Go join another team.” I ripped my coat from his hands, “Go join another team, maybe you can join Cassandra’s, since she can’t help but bat her eyelashes at you.”
He stood up but still looked to the ground, “I don’t know where the entrance we have been assigned to is.” He pulled a paper from his pocket and handed it to me. “The others were told to go the Necropolis, Wraith, Leth and Auburn entrances to the Ruins. The professor told me there was another, but that you were the only one who knew about it. He hinted that in all of the research you have done for your little project, that you came across another entrance and told him about it. He could never find it, no matter that kind of directions you gave him.” His eyes met mine, “Since you are the only one who seems to know, he wasn’t going to get rid of you, despite how useless you really are.”
I smiled grimly, “Glad to know that I’m useless in his eyes.” I sneered at him, not knowing what else to do, “There is no other entrances. Those of us who are useless don’t carry information. He told you that to finally prove that there is no such entrance that I know about. You were just the bait to seal my fate and give him the reassurance that he can get rid of me without a second thought.”
“Then why not just have you take him there?” He asked, holding me in his gaze.
“Because let’s say it does exist, why haven’t I given him the location? Because let’s say it is true, then that will become another trophy on the shelf, another award on the wall. He would take the credit and leave me with nothing… Then he would get rid of me.” I turned away from him, “Now, leave me in peace. I have research to do and I have to be the spotter again…” I sighed and went into the library, leaving him and his smooth words out in the light.
I pulled off my sunglasses and put on my normal ones, placing the sunglasses in my pocket. I looked around the giant library and finally felt at home. Books were my family, the history my friends. They housed those who would not lie, cheat or steal my work. They were safe, timeless and the only ones worthy of my attentions outside of work. Mahia and Ryan may enjoy my company at work; they really did not outside of it. My work was my life, so there was no reason to get an outside interest. The books did not mind if I compared my notes to theirs, nor did they mind if I reread something many times to be sure I had it memorized.
I stepped up to the librarian’s desk, catching a glimpse of the date and time, December twentith, two thousand twelve… Almost four o’clock. I spoke to the librarian softly, “Back for more, milady.” I smiled as she looked up from her lists. “Anything new?”
She smiled back up to me, her English accent thickening her lovely words, “No, my dear. More research?”
“Yup, I was kicked to spotting again.” I felt more sad about not visiting the Ruins than I was angry about the jeers the other made at me.
She grabbed my hand lightly and squeezed, “At least you know more about these Ruins than your counterparts. I heard you are making a three-dimensional model of them using your computer. I expect that you will be adding your model to the library when you are done. I also expect that since you know another entrance, that you will be adding it to the model, proof that you found it.”
I nodded and smiled at the woman who had been like my second mother since I started playing in the library and Ruins. “Since they added five more people to the team, they won’t need me to spot for them.” I smiled sadly, “I guess I get to spend the rest of the day surrounded by those who might one day appreciate all of the research I have done.”
She clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth in disapproval, “I heard about these five who have been added. Along with your normal materials, I added their records to your room.” She smiled again, “You know the drill; you stay here later than I do, you lock it up when you leave.” She let go of my hand, “Do not worry, child. All will become better for you if you continue your path as you are. Do not lose hope because a pair of idiots used nothing that had to do with intelligence to become members. You know more about the Ruins than anyone else, even if they do not know it yet.”
“Thank you, milady.” I smiled to her, before turning towards the stairs that led upstairs to the study rooms. The librarian had given me my own room there, since I spent more time at the library in that room than anyone else. I walked up the stairs, with only one place in mind where I wanted to be, not paying attention to anything else.
My room was the farthest from the stairs and the front doors downstairs. I stepped in front of the one-way glass and looked at my reflection. I had straight, little longer than shoulder length, dark blonde, light brown hair. My eyes drifted from my hair to my forehead, then to my bushy dark brown eyebrows. I looked into my reflection’s Irish hazel eyes that changed colors depending on my moods, but I knew no one would notice them behind my silver square framed glasses. My nose was proportional to my big lips, giving my face some balance. I had to admit that I was not pretty, but I was not ugly at the same time. I had sometimes been told that when I smiled, it brightened the room.
My eyes moved down to my too-board shoulders and skinny arms. I growled as I remembered the measurements the seamstress had shouted out when I was being fitted for my coat: forty-four and a half inch bust, thirty-six inch waist, forty-one inch stomach and forty-two and a half inch hips. I rushed passed the parts of me that I hated to below my twenty-seven inch around thighs.
My legs, below the knees were lovely. Since I was little, I have always had four times the strength in my legs than I did in my arms. Then I looked at my combat boots and grinned. The professor tried so many times to have me wear heels, until he saw that my feet were size eleven in women’s.
I looked back up to the one-way glass and smiled to myself, “I am freaking cute and smart! And damn it, I know more about the Ruins than anyone!” I told my reflection as I did everyday to counteract the jeers from my colleagues. I nodded to myself, reaffirming and hoping the words would stick this time.
I opened the door to my study room and found it was almost precisely as it was when I left the last night. One the left was a huge stack of books of the myths and cultures of the Dena tribe that roamed this area, whom the professor expected to have left our set of Ruins. On the right was a substantially smaller stack of books of another culture that I thought made the Ruins, the Aspharrium. In the center of the desk sat a laminated map with five folders carefully placed on top of it.
I sat down in the comfortable chair and leaned forward to the folders. “The librarian had said she gave me their records, but I didn’t think she really woulda.” I flipped open each of the folders, spreading it our across the desk. The black male is named was James, the punk was Alex, the kid was Marcus, and the Ruins thief was McCall. I closed them all, not wanting to know my ex-partner’s name. “This is stupid, I need to know it…” I could not bring myself to open his folder again.
I picked up McCall’s folder, already knowing what I was going to read. I had to testify to the court that he was there and when I found him, he had stolen items in his hands. There were things from the surface, like a bunch of keys that matched stolen cars; he also had things he stole from the Ruins we had yet to get to, like a gold necklace with a large ruby for a pendant. It was actually because of this necklace that I knew the Ruins were not Dena. He was taken into custody by the professor on July thirty-first two thousand twelve, almost five months ago.
I grabbed James’s folder and started to read. He was sent to jail for assault for smashing a group of males’ heads into a concrete wall during a fight. I set it down, knowing the basics of his case. It was an opened and closed case, since he did not have an alibi and his witnesses were Alex, Marcus and someone named Christopher. The group had twenty men in it, but the numbers did not add up. “Wait…” His was placed under arrest on the same day as McCall. “Must have been a busy day for police.”
I grabbed Alex’s folder and read it next. He was caught on the same day and in the same area as James. He was taken in for theft of over three thousand dollars in electrical equipment. His case was once again, open and shut because his witnesses were James, Marcus and Christopher. I was starting to see a pattern that I did not like.
I opened Marcus’s folder and I was right. He was taken in for identity theft after police found him in the same area with people’s credit and social security cards in his hands. Again, because police caught him with them in his hands, the case was open and shut. Again, his witnesses were Christopher, James and Alex.
I closed the folders and turned on my sunglasses. I started to type up all of the facts I had. They were all arrested the same night in the same area by the same police officers. The group of men had testified against James, Marcus and Alex, as well as the Christopher who defended the three men.
Each man in the group of twenty had the same story; they were walking by the alley, when they saw Marcus and Alex break into a house. They tried to stop Marcus and Alex, when they heard a woman scream from the upstairs. The group split up, some holding Marcus and Alex captive, while the rest went to find out about the scream. The Christopher guy came out of the main bedroom with blood on his hands. They grabbed him and held his captive as well, when the leader of the group went into the room and found a woman bound, gagged and murdered. When the group went outside, James then started his attack on the men. The men claimed they were overpowered by the giant black man, and that is how the night ended, as they each fell unconscious.
I stopped and looked at the last folder. “Please no…” I opened it and the name at the top was the Christopher who defended the others. “They were in on it together…” I sat back in my chair, leaning against the soft leather comfort. I pushed all of the facts together and came to a realization. Unless I asked them, I would not get both sides of the story, leaving me to my own thoughts.
James, Marcus, Christopher and Alex had all had the same story. They had all just met at a bar, and when they were walking towards another bar, they saw a gang of men. The gang of men broke into a house and when the accused heard a scream, they decided to take action. Alex and Marcus found some of the men downstairs stealing things, but they were two against eight and were easily taken down. James and Christopher went upstairs and found the master bedroom down open with the leader raping the woman. She tried to fight them, but in the end, when James and Christopher tried to help, the men retaliated. That sent James into a battle lust and he slammed some of the men into a wall. Christopher went to help the woman, but the leader slashed her throat to keep her from testifying. The men overpowered James and Christopher and were framed for their crimes.
I pushed those thoughts out form my head. “I am a scientist who was chosen to an elite group to study the Ruins… I can’t let my mind wander to this!” I wanted to help them, if they were innocent, but that was twenty men’s testimonies against theirs. They were caught red handed by the police, when the group of men was knocked out, one by one. “Unless somehow the gang called police on their own crimes, they…” I slammed my head against the desk. “Neighbors! The neighbors must have called police when the woman screamed! It all fits within favor of the accused! But… How to prove it…”
I looked at the stack of books on the table. I closed the folders and pushed them aside, “No… I can’t. I have this to take care of and if they all do fine in the Ruins, they will get their freedom back eventually… And I’m sure that if I did find a connection, this wouldn’t help them now…”
I laid my head down on my desk, using my arms as pillows. “I’m stuck… Nothing I say will help them nor the Ruins… I’m so lost… Why should I try…?” I felt a tear fall down the side of my cheek but I wiped it away, before it hit the map.
“Because you would not be able to work with a rapist and murderer, if you believed it.” I heard Christopher’s voice tell me. I looked up and saw him perched on the side of my desk. He was not wearing the sunglasses and I felt my heart pound as I looked into his hazel eyes. He looked around the room, allowing me to grasp my composure. “Lovely office you have, even if it is in a library.”
I growled, “I prefer this to anything everyone else has!”
He just smiled at me, “That’s the brat that threw me off the bike.” He hopped off the desk and came around to where I sat. I did not move when he knelt in front of me, “Listen, I know you know there’s another entrance. You want to help us, well, for that to happen, I need you to help me now. I need you to lead me into the Ruins using your way.”
I looked at him and knew he was right. “You’re right, Christopher. If I thought any of you had committed the crimes, I would have come to that conclusion after reading.” I sighed, “If I show you were the entrance is, please don’t tell the professor. I found it when I was little and piece by piece, I’ve been building a three-dimensional model of the Ruins. And I need you to promise not to tell him anything I tell you but if I do tell you to do something, you have to trust me.”
He stood up and thought about it for a second. He extended his hand out in front of him, “I agree, but you need to agree to my terms. You must not lie to me about things while we are done there and when I tell you to do something, you have to do it.”
I grabbed his hand and shook it, as he pulled me out of my chair. I could smell the exotic spices that gave him the dangerous aura. “You’re hiding something from me.” I mumbled as I backed away from him.
“Michael, Cassandra, James and McCall are missing. Didn’t you hear it on your communicator?” His face hardened.
I shook my head, “I never have it on after the snide remarks, because Michael, Cassandra and the professor will continue to make them throughout the whole search.”
“What are you all looking for?” He asked, as he moved towards the door.
“Ryan, Mahia and I are looking for knowledge. Cassandra and Michael are looking for fame and I know the professor is looking for something he hasn’t found in the areas we have searched.” I admitted, as he opened the door. “Hang on. I need to pack for this search.”
He sighed, “Women… I don’t think there’s an outlet you can plug your hair equipment into down there.”
I grinned, “Good thing I’m not packing a hairdryer.” I grabbed a backpack from one of the shelves in my room. It was heavy with supplies I always took with me when I went into the Ruins. I grabbed the clipboard and put it into the bag as well. “All done.”
“Well, that was fast for a girl.” He smiled as I put the backpack on and walked past him.
“And you’re patient for a male.” I grinned as he shut the door and followed me down the stairs. We walked passed the librarian and I waved her to, “Night!”
“Have a lovely night, love!” She shouted back as she turned to her intercom to announce the library closing.
Christopher looked to me, “Why did we start this so late today?”
I looked at them, then to my watch, “The professor said there was a break-in at the Necropolis entrance and they had to send teams into the Ruins. No one was found, so it was blamed on a false alarm. Apparently, it wasn’t… But they searched all of the Ruins we have mapped out, since the Professor doesn’t think the Ruins run any deeper than what we have found.”
“Why?” He was attentive to everything, as we walked towards his bike.
“There was a wall built around the Ruins that is a part of the Ruins, but since there is no way of getting passed it, he thinks there is nothing beyond it.” I smiled to myself.
He caught the smile, “What’s passed the wall?”
“More Ruins. That’s why I couldn’t show him my entrance. It drops us on the other side of the wall, and since he lies about what he is looking for, I lie about the entrance.”
“Then how is he so sure that you knew about this entrance?”
I grinned up at him, “He caught me when I was supposed to be spotting for the others. I had just climbed into the known Ruins, chasing a lead, when he found me. He went through the security and none of them had seen me go in. He figured either I was invisible or I had another entrance. He refused to believe I became invisible, but whenever he pressured me into telling him where the entrance was, I lied.”
He stopped walking, “You lied to him? That could have cost you your job. And from what I’ve seen and heard, you don’t have a life outside of it.”
“I don’t need this job to survive. I just do it because it was fun exploring the Ruins and learning the culture and it would have been awesome to be paid for it. But when he first sent me down there, I took my equipment with me. He didn’t believe me when I said I was going to create a model of it for the library and when Michael tripped me, the professor refused to let me down there. He claimed because I was a better researcher than an explorer.”
He started walking again and he helped me with the helmet, before asking, “What are the main cross streets?”
I scuffed my shoe at the ground, “We need to leave town to the forest with the crazy peep looking birds.”
He sighed, “Those are not ‘crazy peep looking birds’, they are Cavias. And that’s where it is? That’s a three hour ride.”
I nodded and I heard him sigh. He helped me figure out how to balance on his motorcycle. “Hold on!” He shouted as we darted off to the Cavias’s Forest.