"So there I was, in a power plant what was about to explode, surrounded by the enemy."
An idle thought; it's how Max would have started the story, if he'd survived. He'd have come up with some clever, improbable solution, or revealed that he'd had an escape plan the entire time. Or his team would have come in and saved him at the last minute, so he could fix the plant.
But he hadn't survived. Most of his team had been elsewhere. I'd been the only one with him, and when the time came, I wasn't fast enough. No one could have made it to help and gotten back in time, but that didn't make it any easier.
No one blames me for it. That makes it almost worse. I could get defensive, then.
A backfiring car jolts me out of my thoughts. I'm jumpier these days.
The neighborhood I'm in has seen better days. Industry built it, and then industry left like a deadbeat father without even the promise of child support. But it was on the uprise. That was why I'm here, in fact.
I'm watching the men and women going to work. Work at the factory, which had been closed for years, and shouldn't be open. There were plenty of possible explanations, some of them perfectly ordinary. It could be a front for some crime syndicate or other, or more sinister, it could be a front for the CI. It could be any number of things. But our suspicion is that it's not just a factory, but the Factory, capital letter and all.
I'll be going in soon. There isn't much more information I could get from the outside. I won't go in far. The Factory can be dangerous, but we've seen it enough times to know how far to go. If I'm right, then I'll call for back-up. If I'm wrong… Well, it'll be embarrassing, but I'll be on my way soon enough.
No use stalling. It's time to take a look.
I get out of the car, adjust my clothes, and, after a block, I'm there. There's no security I can see, which makes me more suspicious. No guards, no ID checks. There aren't even any locks on the door.
I walk through the door as though I belong. The workers making their way in ignore me. Not even a spare glance. Perhaps they're just busy. Perhaps.
There's a receptionist seated behind a desk. "Hello, sir," she says. Her voice is chipper, almost excited to see me. It puts me on edge. "How can I help you?"
"Which way to the bathroom?" I ask.
"Down the hall, second door to the right," she chirps.
I thank her, and walk past the desk, glancing as I do. Bingo. The receptionist has no legs. She just grows out of the chair. I'm in the right place.
I go into the bathroom for the form of things. It looks fairly normal, except that it's clean. Too clean. People are never that good at cleaning up after themselves.
I start making my way to the entrance when I hear a number of people entering the building. I see them before they get a good look at me. They're wearing robes. One of them is carrying a sceptor made out of a broken clock. He's asking the receptionist something.
I keep a smile on my face and head left into the first intersection I see, and then run. Things just got a lot more complicated.