The Records Room
The weather was beautiful yet again. The sun was high above Madrona by mid-morning when the kids mounted their bikes. They crested the top of the hill riding past an enormous dilapidated white mansion. The abandoned building was surrounded by years of untended vegetation. Only the bright teal roof tiles were visible for short stretches above the overgrown shrubbery.
The old structure and the lot on which it was situated stretched behind a small number of retail businesses that made up Madrona’s cozy commercial district. The kids biked past all of them without stopping pedaling hard towards their target.
Caleb had been right. While Madrona was mostly residential, the Central District – the neighborhood adjacent to Madrona on its western border – had several patches of what qualified as commercial property including the shiny corporate campus of Luce Laboratories. A dozen modern buildings housed several hundred employees, located just a couple of miles away from the spot where Caleb and the kids had formulated their plan.
Zach and Penny had big smiles on their faces enjoying the ride. But Binny’s jaw was set in a more determined state – like she was about to do something distasteful but necessary. The wind whipped her long and haphazard ponytail.
As they’d gotten their bikes Zach had posed the question that Binny now considered – what would they do once they got there? And to be quite honest, Binny had no real idea. But she knew that it was better than doing nothing.
The paralyzing confusion of the previous night’s news had been transformed into a series of concrete actions. Caleb’s acceptance of their story had only strengthened Binny’s resolve to find out what was really going on. The idea that going to Luce Laboratories could somehow answer all of her questions: What drug did he give their mother to help her get pregnant? What did it have to do with her little sister’s power? Who was Huitre talking to on that phone call? erased all – well most – of Binny’s fear.
The kids rode to the top of a small hill and picked up speed on the descent. For a brief moment Binny felt like she was flying. Flying, not quite like a bird, but like a superhero. Like a superhero on a mission.
Binny had to laugh. Her father had spent so much time talking about superheroes and their various activities that it had now infected her imagination. She wasn’t just a superhero, she was on a superhero team with her brother and her new friend Penny. But what good were superheroes with no powers? That honor had been reserved seemingly for the person who least deserved it — her baby sister Cassie. Cassie, who was oblivious to the amazing ability she had and the danger it posed.
It sure would be nice to have Cassie’s power right now, actually. Invisibility would come in handy if they were going to try to find out any information about what Luce Laboratories was up to. But Cassie’s power still showed up only when it felt like it. Even if Cassie could control it, Binny was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to control Cassie. They were going to have to investigate with just their basic, normal kid skills. Not much of a superhero team after all.
The three of them arrived at the well-manicured edge of Luce Laboratories’ headquarters. It looked more like a park than some sort of business. But the sign with the Luce Laboratories logo made it clear they’d reached their destination.
As if he’d been listening in on her inner monologue, Zach posed a question to Binny just as their bikes came to a stop. “What now?”
What now indeed.
Lots of diagonals, slopes, and curves, made it look like the buildings where Luce Laboratories employees spent their time inventing new pharmaceuticals, were growing at odd angles out of the ground, reaching for air. Certain edges of buildings merged into paths, which then connected seamlessly with the low slung edges of other buildings. Some of the buildings connected above ground with suspended walkways that curved or followed inclines of their own. There were almost no right angles.
Binny was no expert on architecture, but intentionally or not, the person who’d designed this tangle of buildings and paths had created the most incredible skate park she had ever seen. She made a mental note to return here with her skateboard someday. Someday, that is, when she actually had a working skateboard, she reminded herself.
“Caleb said they would have archives. Let’s find them.” With her instruction given, Binny started pedaling.
“The buildings have names.” Penny offered as they got closer to the nearest one. But once they saw the names, that feature seemed less helpful than she’d originally hoped. “Orpheus.”
“What’s an Orpheus?” Binny asked.
“Orpheus is a demigod.” Zach and Penny answered in unison – cracking each other up in the process.
“I knew that.” Binny said unconvincingly as the other two giggled. “But why does it say Orpheus on the building?”
The kids continued pedaling towards another building with another name on the side – “Heracles”.
“Another demigod. They’ve named all their buildings that way.”
Swallowing her pride a little Binny asked, “What’s the difference between a demigod and a god?”
Zach answered without hesitation, “A demigod is what you get when a god and a human have a baby – a mortal being with god-like powers.”
“That’s so cool.” Penny chimed in.
“Not always. The demigods get their powers from the gods. But a lot of times the gods get angry at them for misusing their powers and end up killing them. Sometimes parents even kill their own children.”
Three buildings and three demigods later the kids were no closer to finding the archive. “Doesn’t this place have some sort of a map? At the mall there’s a map of all the stores.” Binny complained.
“If they did, it would probably be a map of the Greek islands.” Zach snorted.
“What’s a home plate doing over there?” Penny pointed.
Just over the small rise of greenery, the kids found a circle of dirt. In the center of the circle was home plate. Batter’s boxes had been painted in the dirt on either side of the plate. A small bronze plaque was raised off to the side. Binny dropped her bike in the grass, wandered over to the plaque, and began to read aloud.
“On this spot batters swung at pitches in Sick’s Seattle Stadium. Opened on June 15, 1938, Sick’s Stadium was home to the Seattle Rainiers, the Seattle Pilots, and for a few weeks in the summer of 1946 the Seattle Steelheads of the West Coast Negro League. On September 6, 1976, the Rainiers beat the Portland Mavericks 2 to 0. It was the last time professional baseball was ever played at Sick’s Stadium.”
“We had a baseball stadium right in our backyard. And they tore it down for this? An office park?” Penny was incredulous.
“What are you children doing here?”
A thin woman in a white lab coat had marched up over the rise and was standing a few feet from the kids, surveying them and their bikes. In the upper left quadrant of her lab coat the name S. TRACE was embroidered. Her hair was pulled back in a severe bun. This made her face look pinched and sharp. Her eyes appeared to bug out a little bit from behind her small studious glasses. She sounded not quite angry, but certainly annoyed and impatient for an answer to her question.
Zach and Penny started moving towards their bikes, getting the sense that it was time to leave this place. But as they still hadn’t found the archives, Binny had other ideas. “Oh, we’re here to visit my mom.”
A look passed between Zach and Penny, but Binny and the thin woman in the lab coat were oblivious.
“Your mother?” The woman asked.
“Yes.” Binny replied.
“She works here?”
“Yes. In the archives.”
“The archives? We don’t have archives.”
Zach and Penny were now looking exceptionally itchy to make a quick exit. What was Binny doing? But then the woman continued. “Oh, do you mean the Records Room?”
“Yes, that’s it.” Binny sounded so convincing. Now it was Zach’s turn to wonder how she’d gotten so good at lying. Binny continued, “I’m so sorry. I just forgot the name of the building it’s in.”
“Minos. The Records Room is in Minos.” The woman raised her eyebrows signifying her exasperation that the kids weren’t already heading in the direction she was pointing. “Don’t dawdle please. This is a place of business, not a playground.”
“Yes ma’am.” Binny might as well have saluted she sounded so formal.
The kids mounted their bikes and pedaled in the direction the woman had pointed. They were careful to avoid the grass, but they couldn’t avoid the woman’s annoyed gaze. It followed them until they rounded a corner out of sight.
When they were sure they were far enough away that they couldn’t be heard, they burst out laughing. They giggled as they rode, amazed that Binny’s lying had not only gotten them out of trouble but had pointed them in the right direction.
Binny laughed with the others, but underneath, her heart was racing. She wasn’t sure what had come over her. She knew lying was wrong, and she didn’t feel good about doing it. But despite her parents’ confidence in the doctor, Binny knew that something wasn’t quite right. Binny believed with all her heart that she needed to uncover the details to save her baby sister. That was more important than having to tell a small lie to some uptight lady she would never see again.
The Minos building was at the opposite end of the campus, right next to a moderately sized greenhouse. The building that housed the records room was a perfect circle with no windows on the sides. But plenty of light was let in by a glass dome that sat atop the structure. It gleamed in the summer sun.
Binny led them carefully away from the front of the building and off to one side, out of view of the employees periodically passing in and out.
Zach observed, “There’s no way we can get in. Did you see? The employees all have badges to identify themselves to the guards at the entrance.”
“I know.” Binny answered curtly.
“So are we done here?” Zach asked.
“Did we find out anything?” Binny replied.
“The only thing I know is that we should be eating hot dogs and watching a baseball game right now on this spot instead of wandering around all this boringness.” Penny piped up, interrupting the standoff between the siblings.
Binny continued arguing with her brother, ignoring Penny’s attempt to change the subject. “We don’t need to get in to look around.”
“Have you developed x-ray vision to go with Cassie’s invisibility?” Zach asked sarcastically gesturing to the solid windowless wall between them and the inside of the records room.
“Don’t be a jerk. We can see what’s inside through the roof.”
“Didn’t you notice that enormous glass dome on top of the building? I bet we can see everything inside through it.” Binny sounded excited.
“I’m so sorry. I’m such an idiot for suggesting you had x-ray vision, when clearly you’ve developed the ability to fly.” Zach was looking positively triumphant. “It’s only 15 feet high or so. It will be a short flight.”
Binny just looked back at Zach angrily, nostrils flaring.
“Will this help?” Penny interjected.
Zach and Binny turned from their faceoff to find Penny standing there half-carrying half-dragging a long ladder that looked like it just might get them up on the roof.
“Where’d you get that?” Zach seemed more annoyed that Penny had interrupted his comedy routine than relieved that she’d solved their problem.
“It was in the greenhouse.” Penny offered casually, pointing to the structure behind her with a thumb over her shoulder.
“Thank you Penny.” Binny spoke the words with extra emphasis. “What a thoughtful and creative idea.” Binny added, looking at Zach, clearly indicating that she thought Zach had been anything but thoughtful and creative.
The Minos building turned out to be a single enormous room filled with filing cabinets, the tops of which could be clearly seen through the panes of glass that made up the domed roof. Most of the cabinets, and sometimes individual drawers were labeled with big pixilated squares. These symbols appeared to denote what was inside each cabinet.
For a while the kids just watched. They watched Luce Laboratories employees walking up and down different sections of the Records Room. Employees would use their phones to scan the big square symbols on the cabinets to confirm they had found the right spot. They would then remove or replace folders in the cabinets. Often they would make copies of the contents of those folders at the large bank of photocopy machines along one wall. The kids watched employees come in with their security badges past the guard and receptionist at the entry desk. They watched employees leave past the same guard and receptionist, reclaiming their bags on the way out.
After some time, Zach interrupted their reverie. “Do you know who Minos was?” He continued, not waiting for the girls to supply an answer. “He was a Greek king – son of Zeus and Europa. Every seven years he ordered seven young girls and seven young boys into this big maze called a labyrinth.”
“They sure did like sevens.” Penny joked.
“Why?” Binny asked.
“A minotaur lived in the center of the labyrinth. The children were a sacrifice.”
“I don’t see any half-bull half-man living down there.” Penny quipped.
“It sure does look like a big maze though.” Binny sounded far away.
“There, what’s that?” Penny was pointing to a small area in the Records Room.
Off to the side, away from all the other criss-crossing pathways through tall filing cabinets, there was one area that seemed to be walled off with its own separate door.
While they’d probably seen a dozen people come into the Records Room, only one had gone into this special area. Access appeared to be governed by entering a code on a keypad at the door. Zach, Binny, and Penny watched closely as the light on the keypad turned from red to green after the employee had entered the correct code. When the light was green, he turned the handle and went inside.
“Whatever’s in there must be pretty important for it to have extra security.” Penny thought aloud. “They even gave it its own additional glass roof.”
“That’s so nobody can just climb up over the wall and into the room.” Zach suggested.
“But they made it see-through so it would get the light from above.” Binny noted.
“It has bars underneath the glass.” Penny observed. “That’s a lot of work to keep something locked away.”
“That must be where they keep the records of whatever Dr. Huitre injected into Mom. I’m sure of it.” Binny said.
“Look!” Zach whispered. It was almost a hiss.
Binny and Penny followed his gaze to the other side of the room just in time to see the thin woman who had lectured them on the grass, talking to the receptionist and security guard at the entrance to the Records Room. The thin woman looked displeased. She was flanked by two burly men wearing dark uniforms, hats, and sunglasses. The Luce Laboratories logo was embroidered in gold on their sleeves. The receptionist kept shaking her head.
“It’s time to go. Now!” Binny felt more panicked than she sounded, but she didn’t exactly sound calm.
The kids scrambled down the ladder one at a time.
“Let’s run.” Penny insisted.
“It’s too late, she’ll come out of there any second and we’ll run right into her and those two goons.” Zach sounded nervous too.
“Guys. Help me put the ladder back.” Binny started moving to take the ladder off the wall.
Zach was almost pleading now. “What are you doing? Who cares about the ladder?”
“If we get caught, I don’t want her to know what we were looking at. And maybe we can hide in there until she moves on.” Binny’s head was nodding toward the adjacent greenhouse.
Zach was all set to argue, but Binny’s plan didn’t actually sound half bad given their predicament.
The kids felt as if they’d been transported into a jungle. The greenhouse was filled with plants as far as the eye could see. The humidity hit them as they entered and if they weren’t sweating already from fear of getting caught, the environment in the greenhouse did the trick. Penny waved to Zach and Binny to join her under a long table. The kids all caught their breath and tried to stay quiet, unobtrusive, and invisible.
From their vantage point Binny could see through the glass door and had the best view of what was going on outside the greenhouse and around the corner from the entrance to the Minos building. She was busy trying to make herself smaller when she caught sight of the thin woman marching in the opposite direction, away from the Records Room with the two security guards in tow.
“She’s leaving. She’s leaving. I think we’re okay.” Binny excitedly whispered to Penny and Zach.
Whistling. Binny, Zach, and Penny, heard whistling. Not the whistling of the wind or the whistling of a tea kettle. This was someone whistling a tune. A jazzy tune. Or was it blues? Binny wasn’t sure. There were footsteps as well. Slow, meandering, not-in-a-hurry footsteps.
Binny’s arm reached out reflexively keeping Penny and Zach as far under the table as she could. Cassie’s super power definitely would come in useful right about now. But it was supremely unhelpful to think thoughts like that. They didn’t have any super powers. And even if Cassie was there, she’d be the only one disappearing. That would help the three of them exactly not at all. But the whistling and the footsteps weren’t disappearing. No. They just kept getting closer.
Ever so slowly.