Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 9

     When people asked Liam about what made a disguise great, which nobody ever did, he only had one answer. Perception is what truly erased you from the memory of those you encountered. Liam waited across the street from Society headquarters until just before noon, when frustrations with broken things would likely reach their peak before lunch could deflate them. It also took a long time before he finally gathered enough courage to walk across the street to the doors. Repairman functioned as perfect disguise, because everyone wants to complain about all the broken equipment in their office, but most people don’t pay much attention to who they’re complaining at. Thus complaining at him was like complaining at some monolithic, unfeeling being and not a very real and emotional person right in front of them. When the dust settled, long after Liam had left the scene, some people might remember a strange repairman who had come through the building. It would be an even rarer individual who could remember any feature of his, because people focus more on emotions than facts and anger is the great memory eraser.

     The other advantage to the repairman outfit is that Liam wanted everything he did to seem like an accident, or the hand of God reaching down and handing out a giant slap to the face. What better way to find out which things could be easily sabotaged than by asking people to tell you what already needs fixing?

    Though Liam possessed serious misgivings about the plan, gaining entry to the building was remarkably easy. Past the front double doors, just inside against the walls on either side where it would be more difficult to see them, were two guards. Their muscles bulged the suit sleeves outwards in ways that would require urgent attention from a tailor if they moved at anything other than glacial speed. Not only did they not stop Liam, they hardly noticed him at all. Apparently, the idea that someone who looked like Liam might have it in for the Society had never occurred to them. How hopelessly naïve the poor dears were.

    While Liam planned this little caper, he had wondered how exactly the Society offices would be labeled. Apparently, nothing says soluble business like plain old gibbering insanity. “Society for the Protection of Humankind” was written on a large wooden plaque above the glass double doors leading into the offices on the first floor. Through the glass, Liam could see the beating heart of the financial beast he had targeted. Patting his bag a few times to calm the Dirt Gremlins down, Liam took one more deep breath and walked through the doors.

     In Liam’s limited experience with offices, the more serious an office is, the faster you get ambushed by the secretary. They act as roadblocks to those pesky clients who might slow productivity, though who would qualify as a client here left Liam pulling a complete blank. In this case, Liam had only taken two steps into the office before he got stopped. Whereas in most offices, a woman with an attractive voice and pleasant smile would be hired to disarm visitors before they were tied down and robbed blind with financial advice, this secretary looked like he would be more at home on a battlefield killing monsters with his bare hands. He was enormous, though perhaps less muscular than the security guards by the front door.

     “Can I help you, sir?

     Listening to him talk was like having a conversation with a guard dog, all growls and guttural barks. His short hair and mannerisms made Liam think he was former military, and he had been alive long enough to know that treading lightly was the path to take here. Taking a quick moment before he responded, Liam scanned the room as quickly as he could. The entire office lacked overhead lights of any sort. It made up for that by being incredibly open, with stone pillars stood at every three or so odd desks. At every single desk, a slender lamp with a globe of light atop it stood to provide additional lighting for the myriad of workers. The whole office buzzed with typing and light conversation. What unnerved Liam was how many of the supposed office workers looked like ex-military of some sort.

     “The bigwigs that own this building sent me here to do some maintenance work around the place. I’m takin’ any complaints you got, and workin’ on them today.”

     As Liam had expected, it was as though a switch went off in the guard’s head, “The man upstairs finally listened to the little guys, huh?”

     Liam nodded the long-suffering nod of the blue collar worker, “Bout time too, from the sounds of things. You got any problems need lookin’ at?

     “Well, I can tell you we’ve been having some trouble with the fairies. Check around the office and I’m sure other people will have various things that need fixing.”

    “And uh…what seems to be the problem with the fairies?”

   “Well, they’re supposed to last for at least a couple of weeks, but the last few months we’ve been getting a day or two’s use out of them before they burn out.”

    As the guard secretary spoke, the light next to his desk slowly flickered and went dark. Reaching up and touching it gingerly to make sure it was safe to touch, the guard removed the glass bulb and dumped out a tiny fairy. It seemed unharmed, but terribly tired. As Liam watched, its breathing slowed and it passed away while he watched.

    “Hey, could you do me a solid and go down to the basement and grab me another one? I can’t get any work done with my light out. I’ll give you my pass card, I can’t afford to leave the desk again. I’ll get canned for sure.”

    “Yeah, no problem. I should take a look at the equipment down on the bottom floor anyways.”

    Nodding in ascent, the guard tossed him his key card and left Liam to his own devices. That left Liam to explore the offices in peace. Thanks to his map, Liam knew the entrance to the lower levels lay in the rear of the office. Liam could take his time and ask questions later, the first step was to make sure he had at least one friend in the office who would vouch for his being there for a reason.

     Before he left, Liam turned back and snapped his fingers, “Hey, my man. What’s your name? I like to remember the good ones.”

    The guard smiled, which came across as more of a grimace, “It’s Matt. What’s yours?”

    “Name’s Jones.” With that, Liam turned with a friendly wave and returned to the task at hand.

     There were only two floors underneath the building, or at least two floors that his totem had been tracked around. There might have been more below those, but Liam was unwilling to go any further below the surface than his mail had traveled. The package he sent had been addressed to some random name. If it never went lower than two floors down, either everyone knew who worked down there, or there were no more floors. Either way, Liam wasn’t messing with them.

    The door which led to the lower floors was a metal utility door. It opened directly into an oppressively small staircase which took Liam directly to an open floor. Support beams were littered throughout the room, but other than that, it was just one giant empty cavern. Rather than being lit by ceiling lights, much like the office above, the whole room was lit by glowing orbs hung from chains which dangled down from the ceiling. Many of the glowing orbs bore steel braces around the middle with heavy padlocks on them. These were much larger, however, and the light which emanated from them danced on the walls as he watched. Liam never much considered himself to be a sentimentalist. It’s hard to pull for the little guy when you’re on the bottom end of the food chain. It’s hard to get lower on the food chain than an entire room of fairies trapped against their will to work as unwilling lightbulbs for maniacal government agents already hell bent on wiping you out.

    As he walked down the rows of fairies, Liam noticed many of them had stunted wings. It occurred to him that, even having worked with Simon for years, Liam had never seen more than a handful of fairies in one place. They were breeding the fairies in captivity for the sole purpose of lighting their workspaces. The spaces further to the back were reserved for those fairies whose lives had been lived in the sun to that point. Putting those fairies further away from the door would make it slightly harder to escape. Their wings functioned well enough that they could fly, but they were packed in too tightly for much movement.

     Realizing that, at this moment, there might be nothing he could do for them, he walked all the way around the room until he found his way to the next floor down. As soon as he opened the door, a blast of hot air came rushing up the steps.

    Walking down the stairs, the air kept getting warmer until Liam could see the humidity on the walls and his hands grew clammy with sweat. It had been a long time since he had been surprised. Liam had just met a Lich this last summer, and that was far from the only strange thing he had seen in his life, but this was the strangest thing he had ever seen. The whole of the bottom floor was only occupied by three things. The first was a giant tank of water, with a pump attached to it and pipes that led up towards the higher floors. The second was a furnace, which clearly functioned to heat the whole building. Aside from those two technical pieces was the engine which heated them. It was a dragon. To be fair, it was a relatively tiny dragon. He barely fit in the room, and his wings were also atrophied from being unable to fly for so long. Liam scratched his head as he looked the dragon over. In a pinch, he could get the fairies out today. The utter havoc they would create would fit in very well with his plan. The dragon, however, he had no means of freeing without pulling the building and the first level of the basement out from over its head.

    “Is the water not to your liking, master? Is the building not heated? I have kept my side of the bargain. Why are you here to see me?” The dragons voice was deep, though not perhaps as deep as he had expected. It sounded sad, and perhaps a little bit frightened as well.

    Liam waved a hand idly, “I’m not with those assholes upstairs. I just came to sock one to them. What’s your story, big guy?”

    The dragon blinked in surprise, its ponderous eyes moving over Liam as though it were eying a tasty morsel, “Big guy…,” the dragon paused as though it were turning those words over in its head, “Then you are not here to complain?”

    “Not unless you’ve got something to do with the bad weather we’ve had recently.”

    “I can not affect the weather down here, stupid human.”

    “God, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve been called stupid human this last year. Alright, I don’t have time for this, if I’m down here too long, they’ll start to ask questions. See you around, asshole dragon.”

    “Farewell, stupid human.”

    As Liam walked up the stairs, he felt a strange kinship with that nameless dragon. Someday, he was going to come back and get him out of that basement, if it was the last thing he ever did. Liam had spent his entire life flying from one place to another. Flying is another word for running from the authorities, right? That just left Liam with his first objective. Free the fairies and make it easy for them to escape. Chances are, not all of them would make it out, but for the first time in his life, Liam understood how death could be a preferable alternative to the current situation one might find themselves in.

    Returning to the first basement floor, Liam unzipped his bag and dumped out three very started looking Dirt Gremlins on the floor. Picking one up, he held it in front of his face, “This room is a completely clean canvas,” the Dirt Gremlins roused themselves at the thought, bright eyes gleaming on dull, murky faces, “I’m requesting some art on any locks and those globes hanging from the ceiling. Use this paint. Hide if you see anyone other than me”    Having said that, he placed his can of highly oily, acidic paint next to them. Step one completed, the Dirt Gremlins gathered as much of their beloved material as they could carry and marched off to begin their mission. He would have to come back down later and free them, and when he did he would set those globes afire so they couldn’t be used anymore. In the meantime, he grabbed one fairy from the nearest giant bulb and held it gingerly as he walked up the stairs. It struggled at first, but as Liam walked up the steps, he explained what he had planned. By the time he reached the first floor, the fairy sat complacently in his hand. When he placed it in the front desk guard’s lamp, it shone brighter than any other lamp in the room.

    “Wow, you must have found the only one willing to work in that whole damn room. No wonder you took so long. Thanks a lot pal. Go ahead and check if anyone else needs help. You know where you’re going from here?”

     Liam resisted the urge to smirk, “Yep. I know exactly where I’m going.”

    There was no going back now. Win or lose, he was going to make sure that the investors thought this government organization was run so poorly that they wouldn’t just lose their money, they might lose everything they owned if they stuck around.