. . . . .
Seraphina glanced furtively down the dank hallway in both directions, eyeing an older man that walked by her, before she quickly slunk around the corner and into a dimly lit room. Inside of it, a group of about sixteen people all looked up and stared at her, their expressions menacing. Seraphina shifted awkwardly, cleared her throat, and said as bravely as she could, “Seraphina Conners. Sorry I’m late.”
A middle-aged woman nodded brusquely at her, gestured with a finger for her to sit down, and leaned forward. “Conners. I’ve heard about you. I’m Myra Horowitz.” Myra turned to the others and said, “Conners is fine. Now, what were you telling us about, Wyatt?” she asked. Seraphina quietly drew out a chair and lowered herself into it. Her skin tone was almost as dark as the dark wood of the chair.
An Asian man looked up from where he was scrawling on a large stack of paper. He straightened his posture and opened his mouth. “Look, all I’m saying is that we need to do something big to bring down the organization.Something that will get their attention. It’s not fair that we have to crawl around in the dirt and mud while they get to--!”
“--Get to sit high up in their thrones and watch,” the man sitting on Seraphina’s right interrupted. “We know, Wyatt. But we can’t just blow something up, like your suggesting.”
Wyatt opened his mouth to argue, but was cut off yet again when Myra spoke up. “Luke’s right, Wyatt. That would only injure workers, and they don’t get enough support as it is. We need to do something that will hurt the IICC. Something that will attract their attention to our needs…”
The group sat in a heavy silence for several minutes, contemplating what Myra had said. Seraphina began to chew on a braid that was dangling in front of her face, thinking hard. Just as a plan started to float to the forefront of her mind, an older woman spoke up from where she was standing in a corner. “We could kill one of ‘em.” The woman had a southern accent. When everyone looked at her, she elaborated, “One of the head scientists. To draw attention and, you know, let ‘em know we mean business.”
Seraphina blanched in shock. A quick scan of the room told Seraphina that next to nobody seemed fully opposed to the idea. They all seemed to want to do this. Seraphina thought a little more, trying to decide if killing someone was worth the chance of getting better working conditions and rights, but before she could the room had exploded into chatter.
Some were talking about the genius of the idea; some were planning for everything that needed to be done; and some were arguing against the amorality of it. The volume in the room rose to a crescendo, and that was the moment Myra stood up. Silence flooded the room.
“We are all capable adults. We shouldn’t be arguing.” Myra rested her fists on the tabletop and scanned the room with chastising eyes. Seraphina watched as everyone’s expression changed to guilt.
“Now, that is a very interesting idea, Priscilla.” Myra turned to look at the woman who had suggested the idea. “I think that if you develop it further, with the help of Wyatt and Luke, you should be able to present a plan for us by the next meeting.” Seraphina watched as Wyatt quietly began to gather up his papers into a neat stack, still listening to Myra. “This meeting is now over. I hope I will see all of you soon. Talk to Lucia to get the date and time.” She gestured to a short woman with a friendly smile that was sitting to her right. “Goodnight.” With that, Myra stood and walked through the door.
Almost immediately, people moved toward the door, stopping to accept a slip of paper from Lucia before continuing on their way. Soon, when there were only a few people left in the room, Seraphina walked to Lucia, who gave her a slip of folded paper. “Burn it when you’ve memorized it,” she instructed.
Seraphina strolled into the hallway, and took a long, narrow flight of stairs up to ground level. Before exiting the stairway, she unfolded the paper and read in scratchy writing: 9:02 PM, Saturday, September 13, 2436.
. . . . .
Seraphina lay in her bed in her apartment, listening to the muted voices of her older brother and his fiancé as they watched a movie. It was around 11:00 PM, and Seraphina couldn’t help but think about the meeting she’d gone to. After reading the paper, she had come home, asked Aaron--her brother--if she could borrow his lighter, and had burned it.
Seraphina let herself consider the idea of murder. It did kind of make sense; a life for a life. Or in this case, one life for thousands. Seraphina shook her head. Killing was never the answer. But then again, didn’t the IICC deserve to feel the pain that all workers felt, the pain that she herself had felt not so long ago?
It had been a dreary day, the clouds heavy with unshed rain and the sky a bland gray. Seraphina had been sent out with the rest of her team--Kali, Rosena, Valarie, Oliverio, and Winston--to collect some samples from what was now know as the Smog. Long ago, it had been known as the east coast of the United States, but now it was so covered in pollution that no one could live there.
The trip from IICC headquarters to the specific place in the Smog they were going had taken sixteen long hours of driving, with everyone switching off on who went.
When the old, beaten-down truck had arrived at their destination they had all grabbed their gear and piled out. The Smog looked ominous, a looming mass of air that was tinged a slight gray in color.
Seraphina had stepped out and began collecting samples with the help of Valarie. A piece of withered moss here, a snap off a dying log there, a few handfuls of cracking soil for good measure. It wasn’t until Seraphina had been called over by Winston to help haul a heavy rock into the back of the truck that she realized.
Winston wasn’t wearing a rag over his face. The pollution was going straight into his lungs. Seraphina had asked him about it, and he had responded that he was fine, that his lungs could take anything, that he was invincible. Seraphina asked again, and Winston had countered with, “I’m fine. Stop worrying so much.”
Less than a year later, he was dead from lung poisoning.
Seraphina reached up to her face and wiped away a few stray tears. Winston and countless others had died because of the IICC. She realized with a jolt that refraining from acting against the horrible injustice of the organization was simply another way of saying that the lives of workers didn’t matter when they did. They mattered so much. Seraphina steeled herself with the decision that she would help the Rebel Alliance Against the IICC with whatever they needed. The one thing that mattered was that workers got justice.
. . . . .
Four days later Seraphina again found herself in the cramped room underneath the basement of the IICC. She settled in a far corner on the floor next to an older woman, mostly because all of the seats at and immediately surrounding the table were filled.
Precisely two minutes later Myra Horowitz strode in and moved to the empty seat at the head of the table reserved for her. Myra cleared her throat, then said, “Priscilla, Wyatt, Luke, I trust that you’ve come up with a plan?”
Wyatt stood up quickly, and Luke and Priscilla rose from where they were sitting on either side of him.Wyatt neatly unfolded a small stack of papers and smoothed them out, then he placed them down on the tabletop and gestured for Priscilla to start speaking.
“We have decided, as a collective whole, that the scientist we should assassinate should be Edgar Winslow. His death will grab the attention of everyone in the city.” She began, her accent particularly obvious. “We should post about three-quarters of the group on guard duty, to make sure that we don’t get caught before we want to be. Now, I was thinking that we post guards--Wyatt, show ‘em your diagrams.” Wyatt arranged the papers he’d been holding so that they were facing Myra, and Seraphina noticed, from an upside-down view, that the separate pieces came together to form one giant map of the IICC, including all 24 floors.
“I was thinking we post guards ev’ry four floors, four to a hallway. One would be on each stairway, and the other two would be spread out along the hallway,” Priscilla pointed to large pink dots that were spread out along the halls drawn on the paper. “The guards’ll protect a small team of six people, and their job will be to get into the head scientist’s offices and kill ‘im. I mapped out a route for the team to take that I can tell y’all later.”
“I thought that Wyatt could be stationed on floor one with Cordelia, Dahlia, and Michael.” Priscilla kept naming names, and people began to shuffle over to their group leaders in trios. Seraphina sat quietly, waiting for her name, and then Seraphina heard, “--And I would be stationed on floor 24 with Gray, Seraphina, and Ben.”
Myra cleared her throat, pushed her chair back, and stood up. She rested her hands on the table, flashed Priscilla a charming and easy-going smile, and asked, “What about me? What can I do?”
Priscilla turned to Myra and said softly, “You have one of the most important jobs of all. You, Jeremy, Michelle, Adam, Fiona, and Adrienne will be the team that assassinates Winslow.”
. . . . .
Seraphina stood in the muted light of the 24th floor hallway, an unused flashlight in one hand. It was precisely 6:41 at night, and Seraphina paced the hall. If she peered hard enough to her right, she could see Gray standing guard at the staircase, and she knew that Priscilla was patrolling the other half of the hallway, even if she couldn’t see her. The Rebel Alliance had put the plan into action at exactly 6:13 PM, and the team that would assassinate Winslow had just passed Seraphina’s floor.
All was quiet and still, and Seraphina glanced out the window. She was high enough that she could just see the large lettering that spelled out “the Investigation of the Imbalance of Climate Change” through the gloom. Deciding that it was officially dark enough for her to use her flashlight, Seraphina clicked the light on and shone it around the hallway, which remained calm. She strolled up and down her stretch of hallway a few times before she heard shuffling, banging, and a muffled shout coming from Gray’s direction.
Seraphina swung the beam of the flashlight toward the right-hand staircase, but she was too far away, and could see nothing. Turning to find Priscilla’s face in the darkness, Seraphina sprung into action as soon as the older woman gave a nod of approval. Seraphina dashed to the staircase, and froze in panic when she saw that Gray wasn’t there. The only trace of him was a rusty flashlight laying on the ground, its light still turned on.
Seraphina slowly bent down, her heart beating wildly in her chest, and clicked off Gray’s flashlight. She stayed crouching for a moment, listening to the building. The only thing she could hear were Priscilla’s echoing footsteps as she patrolled up and down the hallway. Seraphina stood up again and started to subconsciously chew on a braid that was hanging in front of her face. Slowly, quietly, she began to ascend the stairs. The staircase was dark even with the flashlight, and she stepped cautiously so that she didn’t trip or fall.
When she reached the top, Seraphina paused at the corner of the stairwell and peered down the hallway. The first thing she noticed was the sheer sophisticated elegance of it. The floor was covered in dark carpeting, and the walls were adorned with elaborate paintings. Seraphina edged a tiny bit farther down the hall, and saw that most of the rooms were split by glass walls that allowed Dr. Edgar Winslow to gaze down at the city.
Seraphina crept down the hall, the carpeting muffling her footsteps. She reached a door and slipped through it, entering a room entirely encased in glass. The room was sparsely decorated, with a stiff leather couch resting against one wall and a large wooden desk dominating the rest of the room. Seraphina worked her way around the massive desk, and it was only when she reached the other side that she realized that there was a staircase partially hidden behind it. Because of the glass walls, the stairs were hard to see, but now that she’d noticed it, Seraphina could hear faint noises coming from the top of the stairs.
She moved toward the entrance of the stairwell, but when she heard a loud sound like a gunshot, Seraphina ducked down flung herself behind the desk. All was quiet and still for a few moments, with Seraphina huddling on the far side of the desk. Finally, Seraphina stood up, her heart hammering in her chest and her eyes wide. Just when Seraphina stepped out from behind the desk, she heard a dull thumping coming from above. It was barely louder than the pounding of her heart.
The thumping got louder and faster the longer Seraphina listened, and suddenly a bloody, mangled humanoid shape shot out of the stairwell. Seraphina screamed and jolted backwards, her hands held up to shield her face. Several seconds later--during which Seraphina had hardly dared to breathe--the thing still hadn’t moved. Seraphina slowly lowered her arms and snuck a peek at the figure lying on the floor. It was covered in blood, but she could distinguish light skin and curly black hair through the darkness.
With a sickening lurch, Seraphina realized who the figure was. She swallowed. “Gray?” she asked hesitantly, one of her hands fumbling with her flashlight. Gray didn’t stir. “Gray,” Seraphina said more insistently, reaching her other hand forward to shake the man. He still didn’t react. Seraphina shakily kneeled over Gray and laid two fingers on his pulse point, and then scrambled away, her mind muddled with horror. Gray was dead.
Suddenly, a series of gunshots sounded from above. Seraphina looked up at the ceiling, subconsciously began chewing on a braid, and then charged up the stairs.
. . . . .