The Fortress — Part 5

Director Ernst Palermo

The freight elevator stopped at B1. From there, the small group I was part of got out and went down a corridor. Everything was still concrete all around me: walls, ceiling, flooring. The cool blue lighting was provided by the usual neon lights. We eventually reached some metal doors. The group leader put his left hand above an illuminated platform located on its left. The red light turned green. The doors opened and we moved on into the next section. The doors closed themselves.

10 seconds is what it took.

We arrived at a square-shaped room. Across from where we were was a set of stairs. On each other side of the room was a set of doors identical to the ones we went through. They each had inscriptions above them. One read “work area,” while the other one said “offices”. I did not turn around to look, yet I was willing to bet a fiver the one above that door said “prison”.

When we arrived earlier, we did not come through this area. I believe we might have been at a lower level. In that reception area, no windows looking outside of the building, the only ones present were for a security office to look at us. There was no sunlight beaming in the area, the only light we had come from some noisy, flickering neon lights.

The room was vast and well-lit. The walls were covered with beige, shiny wall tiles, and the floor was covered in dark gray ceramic tiles. The ceiling was plain and painted in a taupe color. The room was equipped with spotlights instead of neon lights for lighting. The room felt warm.

If I were to take a guestimation, I would say this room was above the central shaft.

We walked across the room towards the stairs. On each side of the staircase was an escalator, one going up and one going down. Those were not very wide and could only have one person per step. In-between the escalators were plain, regular stairs with a stainless steel rail running straight in the middle. The stairs seemed to be made out of marble. I would not be surprised if they were made out of the real stuff and not an imitation.

On top of the stairs was the building’s general lobby. This was the ground floor. It was vast and open, with giant windows. There was a u-shaped reception desk in the center of the room and the stairs led us in front of it. Behind the desk, on each side of it were elevators. One side indicated floors M1–15, while the other side covered floors 16–23. On each side of the lobby, located closer to the exits, were stairs going up to the three mezzanine levels. The exits were a mix of regular glass doors and revolving doors. Under the mezzanines, we could also access businesses. One of them was a bank, the other a copying center. Quite convenient when you want to make the building look legitimate.

We walked towards the 16–23 elevators.

People were passing by us, and I might have been invisible, no one even paid attention to my presence nor the armed guards. Either that or they were used to this kind of sight. We got inside one of the elevators.

The elevator was one of those generic stainless steel and mirror-covered units, playing even more generic ambiance music. the group’s leader took out a yellow access card about the size of a smartphone and scanned it on a reader, and then pressed a floor button. Access card restricted areas, great. The access card was unusually thick, about an inch or so. It could have been a card protector, too. The look the card had reminded me of those industrial tablets they were using down there. We were headed towards floor 23.

Once the elevator doors opened, we arrived in a vast atrium, which had windows going up from one side towards the top of the building, serving as a ceiling high above the reception. There was a lot of light and plants, and a lot of people, too. The floor was once again covered in marble, and the area was richly decorated. Looking above, I saw the building continue to rise. There were about another seven floors, which were not listed on the original elevator we took. There were windows on this side of the side building that looked down into the atrium.

We went towards the reception, which was in fact a security desk. Compared to the guards I was escorted by, the security officer did not wear a full face mask. They did have a Glock strapped to their right hip and a baton on their left. They were not wearing gloves nor a helm. They did wear aviator glasses.

We stopped about three feet away from the desk, and our group leader moved forth. He was whispering, and from what I was able to hear, he told the person at the desk, “Please notify Director Palermo we are here with the package he requested.”

I raised an eyebrow. Package? You son of a bitch.

The person turned around, picked up their phone, dialed an extension, and exchanged a few words. They hung up and told us, “He is expecting you. You may proceed.” We silently went on our way, once more.

We walked through the floor, and this time we were given looks. I suppose it was uncommon for prisoners to be in this part of the building. We went up two floors using a regular staircase and we eventually arrived at our destination. We entered a board room.

Image by Vaughn Smith from Pixabay

Across the room was a series of windows looking outside. Near the windows was a massive boardroom table, with about 30 executive-type chairs all around it. The wall to the left of the door had a series of screens mounted to it. Some of them exhibited plans of the complex, others displayed information about some military command. I caught something on one of those screens, Colonel White, and Lt. Colonel Lopez. There was also the name of the security chief, Major Johnson.

To the right of the door was a large oak desk, with several bookshelves behind it. The desk was facing towards the windows. It must have been the Director’s workstation.

The desk had the usual accessories one would expect: landline phone, computer screens, paper, pens. The unusual things I saw were a filled scotch decanter and a set of glasses, resting on a silver plate. What was missing was family pictures. None were to be found, either on the desk or in the bookshelves. The bookshelves were filled with various books and binders, none of which caught my attention.

Director Ernst Palermo stood in front of the windows, looking over the city. It took me a moment to realize which city he was staring at. It was Chicago alright. He did not turn around, yet simply said, “thank you, Captain Smith. That will be all.” The team leader had a name. Noted.

The guards left the room and the doors closed. Only then did Director Palermo turn around, looking at me. I could see his eyes scanning me from head to toe. He was as subtle as a snowmobile in the desert. He walked towards the conference table and picked up one of those tablets. I really need to get myself one of these.

After tapping a few times on it, he said, “Morgan Lex Green, transgender rights activist. Supporter of the BLM movement. Supporter of the pro-choice movement. White knight perpetually denouncing systematic oppression. Always stirring shit. I am surprised to see your kind in my establishment. Surely someone as skilled as you are in digital security would not let themselves get caught by our great Kingdom’s security forces.” I looked at him, puzzled. “What is the matter? Were you expecting I would not know about you or what you did?” He laughed. I continued staring at him.

“Green, also known as MagicSlime, or M4g1c571m3 in leetspeak. Freelance programmer officially based in Brazil. Convenient location to deter any extradition attempts. You are specialized in digital security, working mostly for shady organizations that are determined to upset the holy balance of things.” He continued scrolling on his tablet while speaking. “These corporations’ main goal is to destabilize relations we have with foreign nations and to topple friendly governments. Governments such as the ones from Libya, North Korea, the Philippines… Obviously, these organizations are also known to regularly attempt to topple our Majesty’s government.”

How does it feel to give the CIA treatment to your allies, bitch?

“Some of those organizations have been attacking our government. Cyberattacks, ransomware, data encryption, digital currency theft, and there is some more on that list. You are, by association and by direct action, guilty of treason against our Kingdom and its allies.” He was now about 3 feet in front of me. I remained silent as he showed me the files on his tablet. The Director added, “You are so quiet today. Don’t you want to respond something to all of this? Last I checked, you ran your mouth more than a jukebox.” I stood still and continued staring at him, defiantly.

Do it mother fucker, I dare you. I double dare you.

He sighed and flipped through some other pages on his tablet. He put his index on the device’s digital print reader that popped up and typed in a code. He looked at me as he hit one of the options on the screen.

I dropped to my knees as an electric current went through me. I could no longer move. It felt like when you put a fork in a power outlet. That bad. After a few moments, the pain diminished, then stopped entirely.

“I can control the pain I inflict you whenever I want, wherever you are.” I looked up at him, my head still pounding from an electric shock that seemed to last forever. He was grinning. The type of grin I saw earlier during the day. The ear-to-ear type. He shoved his tablet in front of my face to prove his point. Seeing that I was still not reacting, he gave me another shock. I screamed as my head hit the floor. This time, the shock was more powerful. The bastard laughed. He was enjoying it. After a few moments, he put down his tablet on the table and leaned towards me.

“You will answer every question I will ask you, Green. You have no power here. I will break you. In the end, I will know exactly who are your allies and what you are planning. I will also know why you got caught because I do not believe you are here because of luck.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents in this story are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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Programmer, translator, writer, gamer, game maker, cat mom. I write mostly thrillers, mysteries, post-apoc short fiction.

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Eve F. R. Kirchner

Eve F. R. Kirchner

Programmer, translator, writer, gamer, game maker, cat mom. I write mostly thrillers, mysteries, post-apoc short fiction.

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