"Jones, Josephine, proceed to the primary entrance, complete the ID protocol. You will be assigned a destination once you are entered in the system. Do not deviate. All telecommunications." he told her with the flattened affect of intensive repetition, holding out a mesh bag. Another car rolled cautiously into the lot and they left her to attend it.
In the foyer that customarily channeled staff in two directions she was confronted by a stream of representatives from every grade and designation within the facility; data drones and minor administrators were pushed, clutching bags and boxes, toward the biometrics at the exit station by the same clade of unfamiliar uniform. The departing mass kept her penned against the entrance until another of the guards grasped her arm, walked her through the stream and left her in the mouth of a broad passage with a milling school of technicians pulled from their laboratories. She remembered some of them from the contentious symposium; more recognized her than did not, a few of them pushing closer, though visibly reluctant to engage the attention of their armed wardens.
"This can't be what it looks like." she murmured, keeping her head down. The men beside her assumed the same covert posture, turning to her as Bateman's looming figure, protesting with characteristic acidity, was marched toward them through the ranks of the departing.
"New brooms." one of them replied.
"Shit." another whispered. "Anyone got a phone?"
"They stripped us coming in." muttered Josephine. The young man set back the red collar of his coverall, shaking his head, his features paling and taking on shine. She glanced around herself and turned to find the emergency recess in the wall devoid of its handset. Their guards looked down as directives were relayed into their helmets and they herded the group together tightly, setting them off along the silver-paneled corridor in apprehensive unison.
Shaw squeezed past the men forced into uncomfortable proximity on either side of him, thankful for being able to see over the heads of those massed inside the overcrowded briefing room. The spartan, argent chamber was packed so tightly with technicians and operatives that no one escaped physical contact with their peers, creating an atmosphere already loaded by the coded summons that had recalled them. The door slid back to reveal another group of nameless guards, who filed in and commandeered positions by the narrow, head-high window. Josephine was compelled along the wall toward Shaw. Their attention was pulled back to the head of the room by the darkly-suited prefix of another inbound conclave, the homogeneity of its dress and attitude planing its assorted age and gender; they formed a line against the clear wall of the adjacent cell.
Over their heads a projected banner appeared upon the whiteboard, couched in dark Helvetica, a figure declaring himself inside the space cleared for his compact, polished person, his corporate colours flown in his neat three piece and the colour of his gaze.
"Aaron Mander, Interlaken Services. We accepted the contract to administer this unit on behalf of the DOD, and as of nine a.m this morning, that's exactly what we've been doing." The room fell into a silence no more capable of transmitting sound than interstellar space. "Interlaken delivers innovative biotechnological solutions to an international portfolio of client entities via efficient acquisition, intensive research and aggressive commercial development. Every process within this facility going forward will be a precursor to those outcomes. If you are in this room today, congratulations. You will be as central to that flow as every donor organism we source in the field."
Through the adjacent window, the corner of Josephine's eye caught the slate-grey silhouettes cast by the afternoon sun inside the barrack cages. Once again their native personnel stood against the chain link with their hands locked behind their heads while a trio of medical officers in crisp blue scrubs looked them over, at the behest of Interlaken supervison; each man was subjected to some swift distinction that consigned half to high-walled vans idling at each narrow gate. She tipped back her head in order to follow the trajectory of one such vehicle as it set off, heavily laden, along the stretch of narrow black seal that serviced the rear of the complex. She turned slowly into a stare from one of the incoming executives, who commanded the guard beside her to close the silver blind over the glass with a short wave of his hand.
“Do not leave the facility without receiving your new credentials. Anyone who does will be considered to have absconded and will be red-flagged after twenty-two hundred tonight, along with those who chose not to respond in person to this recall. We'll move quickly on winding down all sunset projects... some of you will be repurposed immediately, everyone else will be returned to ongoing duty, pending review. And that's all for today.”
Mander returned his attention to those solicitous functionaries once more clustering about him. His euphemisms, scarcely less candid than the sinister verbs they replaced, left the crowd in a winded paralysis; the room emptied slowly, its contents drifting toward their various stations as though suffering from head wounds, Josephine's lateral removal from the exodus into a service corridor going largely unnoticed. She watched Shaw amid the tail of the crowd and allowed five minutes for him to clear her position before setting off alone along an eastern passage that hived into intestinal divarication that proved newly and crisply reboant. Choosing a dog-leg into a row of broadly-spaced doors, she saw they had been cleansed of any titular designation, but the acrid scent of the black grind O’Connor favoured presaged his presence at his desk, where she found him, blowing the heat from his white cup.
At the sight of her he stood up, offered a wordless smirk, and pushed the door closed in her face.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce