So, we were finally led through those double doors, deeper into the building. There were the white painted walls and white vinyl floor that I had seen as others passed through the doors before me. the ceilings were white, industrial ceiling tiles with fluorescent lighting. The hall was long and stark, and there were unmarked doors here and there down its expanse. After about a hundred yards, the hall ended at yet another set of double doors.
“This is where most of the magic happens,” said General Havoc, as he swung open the doors. Behind them was a breathtaking amount of activity, full of color and motion. He pointed to the glass doors on the left that led down a staircase into a large, dark chamber, “That’s The Playground. That’s where we do the dangerous stuff. The classroom is down there too.”
This corridor was lined with metal framing and instruments of mysterious purposes, with dials and gauges that made whirs and ticks. There was what appeared to be a large furnace to the right. It looked almost like an old-fashioned wood burning stove, but the wicked, red glow that seeped from the cracks between the doors and hinges suggested that there was no mere wood fire within. On the left side of the hall there was a narrow counter top with small observation windows that overlooked parts of ‘The Playground’ and there were passages to other rooms to the right, past the furnace thing. All up and down this hall, there were at least a dozen or so… workers. They were almost like people. Most of them were bipedal creatures, but none of them looked quite human. Several of them looked anything but human, truth be told.
Havoc pointed out various creatures and introduced them, but my head swam with the unexpected sensory overload, and I missed most of the introductions, “Are you listening, Reid?” he asked. Introducing us to a woman severely dressed in red and black he announced, “this is Shelby. If you need anything, you’re best off addressing your questions to her. She knows more of what’s going on around here than I do, and she’ll take care of you.” Many of the creatures looked like mythical characters. There was a gorgon, and a minotaur, and a… I didn’t have any clue what that thing was, but he had scales and claws. And, that one had feathers. Some of the more human ones had eyes that were not quite the right shape, or orientation, or color even. Even those that looked the most normal wore strange uniforms that I had never seen before, such as flight suits from another race of creatures. To put it simply, it looked kind of like a costume party.
“So, you’re the new kids?” asked Shelby.
“That’s us,” Naomi smiled at her.
She smiled back, “Don’t worry. We’re all freaked out on the first day.” And then, she said to me, ” I will tell you that you might watch out for her.”
That’s when I felt the hand grab my butt. The woman who walked past wore a little white dress, and bright red lipstick – almost but not quite naughty nurse style. She gave a wink over her shoulder as she walked away. It felt as though she had stuck a bumper sticker across my buttocks. I reached back to feel for the offending sticker, which wasn’t there. The feeling of having something stuck on my seat melted into a gut feeling like I’d just fallen from someplace high up. I wasn’t sure what the woman in white had done, but it was something. It was something that was weird and unwelcome and I had never experienced anything like it before.
“What was that?” I gasped.
Naomi looked at me in confusion. Apparently, she’d missed the whole thing. I have to admit that it happened extremely fast, and the woman might have escaped my view as well, had Shelby not pointed her out to me.
“Don’t worry about that,” Shelby said with a little too much concern on her face for me to feel comfortable with her dismissal, “As I said, you might watch out for that one. She’s a mess.”
As the feeling faded it gave way to mild nausea and wooziness. I steadied myself with my hand on the door frame as I regained my head. “Duly noted,” I said.
She quickly changed the subject, “Let’s get you the keys to your quarters and settle you in so you can go to class. I know General Havoc wants to start you two on training as soon as possible, and there’s orientation and introductions to be made in the meantime.”
She led us down one of the side passages into an industrial carpet labyrinth of passages. The colors were a little softer than the stark white and metal that we had just seen, and the lighting was a little warmer than the sterile, cool fluorescents. Eventually we made it to a wood door that the keys unlocked. Inside was a queen-sized bed, a dresser, a small table and two chairs. There were lamps on both sides of the bed, and there was a night stand with a land line telephone. Everything was clean, but it looked like it had been furnished from a hotel supply. Upon noticing the phone, I had a suspicion and pulled out my cell phone. Sure enough, there was no signal.
“Yeah,” Shelby said, noticing my cell phone, “we’re so far underground that you’ll never get a signal down here.”
“Don’t you ever get lost in this place?” Naomi inquired.
“You’d be surprised,” Shelby said, “your training will… well, you’ll learn to remember the important stuff.” Before we could ask for clarification of her cryptic comments, she continued, “besides that, if you have any trouble, I’ll help you out until you know your way. Most anybody here will be glad to help you if you need it.”
“So what’s next,” Naomi asked.
“Well,” Shelby explained, “I need to take you to the classroom so you can do orientation, and then I think General havoc wants to meet with the two of you. It will be very informal; mostly just getting to know expectations in both directions.”
“What is with that guy, anyway?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” Shelby seemed genuinely confused.
I read her face for a moment before responding, “Nothing. Nevermind.”