© 2004 Stratadrake/Draconus of TWZ
(Original Draft: 2-12-2004)
Red lights flashed and klaxons blared the moment after Cloud opened the door leading to the 59th floor of the Rin Sha headquarters.
"What the hell did ya do!?" Berett complained loudly as they quickly rushed inside, and Cloud shut the door.
"For crying out loud, it's a fire escape!" Cloud said. "Of course it sets off an alarm! We've got to hide somewhere, and fast!!"
The three of them looked around. A pair of glass-walled elevators lay across the room, the reflections of it on the floor and ceiling creating the illusion of two vast, glass pillars. Large potted plants lay one in each corner of this room. Two standard elevators lay on the left wall, the numbers on them indicating they travelled downwards only. Three doors stood on the right side of the room, and four rows of benches, with plants inbetween, graced the center area.
Lockheart and Berett scattered to various corners of the room and tried to carefully hide behind the corner plants. Cloud followed suit, taking refuge in the nearest corner, lying low in the plant's leaves and hoping no one would see them.
In a short moment later, a Rin Sha guard pony, wearing thick red armor and packing a standard-issue laser rifle, descended in one of the glass elevators. Hearing the alarm, he galloped over to the fire escape door. He peered out the door and down the endless staircases, seeing nothing. Then he returned inside and shut the door. He opened a panel next to the door, revealing a small control panel, then produced a keycard and slid it into a slot on the panel. The lights and sirens both shut off.
Next, the guard gave a cursory glance around the room, spotting nothing, not even the ponies hiding in the corner plants. Relieved, he hit a button on the fire escape control panel. "Just a false alarm," he reported. "Some idiot probably leaned on the door again and didn't want to be written up."
The guard removed his keycard, then folded the cover over the panel. He turned around --
-- just in time to witness Cloud delivering a swift blow to the guard's head, knocking him unconscious and to the side.
Cloud quickly searched over the guard and found the keycard he was carrying, as Lockheart and Berett both came out from behind the foliage. Cloud grabbed the keycard. "We'll probably be needing this...."
Berett searched the guard and grabbed a few energy cells that he could use to recharge his laser weapon. "Okay, what next?"
Cloud pointed over to the glass elevators across the room. "Over there." Cloud led the way, and the three of them crammed into the glass elevator. Cloud slid the keycard into a slot on the elevator's control panel and a set of floor numbers, as well as some arrow icons, appeared on the control panel. Cloud pressed the arrow pointing up, and then the glass door slid shut, and the elevator ascended.
It stopped at the next floor, where Cloud, Lockheart, and Berett disembarked. Over to the far left was a security camera monitoring the hall. Cloud identified it and recommended they keep moving. They moved down the hall to an empty foyer. They could hear footsteps of several guards, probably three or four, patrolling this level.
Cloud peered around the corner, spotting a row of Rin Sha model products on display between them and the Rin Sha security guards on the other side. If they lay low, they could use these to easily get by the guards.
"I'll go first," Cloud said, as he hunched down and scurried over to and behind the nearest display. He inched forwards quietly until he was at the edge of the display. It was a few paces to the next product display, and the patrolling security guards would be sure to see him dart across. If only he had some cover....
Cloud waited, spying on the two guards across the room. He noticed a definite timing to their walks, and then saw an opening when both were walking away. Quickly, Cloud darted from one display to the next. Then he motioned for Berett to follow behind him, and Berett took a spot behind the first product display.
The two guards across the room both patrolled into view again and stopped for a moment to chat. It was unclear exactly what they were talking about, until one of them looked in Cloud's direction and asked, "Hey, did you see that?"
Cloud ducked behind the display again as the two guards walked in their direction. One of them veered to the left, the other to the right. Cloud and Berett both knew they would be found, as Cloud glanced back to Berett, and Berett carefully opened his laser weapon for use.
"Identify yourselves!" One of the guards said, coming around the side of one product display and soptting Cloud. The other guard, having come around the other side, spotted Berett in hiding.
"Stand up!" The guards ordered.
Berett was the first to stand up. Immediately he shot one of the guards with his laser. Cloud followed by charging the guard and knocking him into the wall, while Lockheart rushed out and attacked the other guard from behind. Cloud's opponent, only dazed by Berett's shot, hit Cloud with the but end of his rifle, knocking Cloud aside.
Cloud instinctively reached for his blade. Wait a minute -- his blade! Cloud realized that he had forgotten to retrieve it after their fight against the monster in Wall Mart's sewers. No, that wasn't right, Cloud would never forget to take it with him. Ah! That's right. Because of the impending Rin Sha attack on the Seventh District Pillar, there hadn't been any time for him to find where he had dropped it. So Cloud resorted to one of the magic stones still in his posession. Wielding it, he unleashed a bolt of lightning into his opponent, stunning the guard for now -- long enough for them to evacuate the area.
Cloud turned around to see that Lockheart and Berett had made short work of the other guard, who lay on the floor unconscious.
"Let's move it! Before they call for reinforcements!" Cloud shouted to Berett and Lockheart. Quickly they ran to the other side of the room and found a stairway leading upwards.
At the top of this stairway -- nowhere near as long as the fire-escape stairs they had been climbing -- was an open door. Quickly but silently Cloud, Berett, and Lockheart went through the door.
They had arrived in a large cafeteria, with signature black-and-white tiles checkerboarded across the floor, a long row of tables proceeding around the room in a circular pattern, and a large tree artificially potted in the center. Most of the Rin Sha employees were either eating lunch, conversing, or working on business affairs.
One pony neraby spotted them as they entered. "Hey! You look familiar. What was it...."
Cloud didn't recognize the gray-suited pony who was talking to him, and remained silent.
"...Yeah, that's right," the pony said. "...the maintenance crew, correct? You're just in time!"
"Really?" Cloud asked.
"Yes. You see, this door's broken," the pony said, pointing at the door they had just walked through. "It's not supposed to open unless you have an authorized Keycard for it. But look at it -- wide open, 24/7. Anyone could pass thru, authorized or otherwise. So it's gotta be fixed."
"I'll... get right on it," Cloud said back.
"Good. And you should check the upper levels while you're at it. I wouldn't be surprised if some of their doors are stuck too. --Oh, look at the time. I've got to get back to work.... If you have any questions, stop by my office." The pony left through the door, trotting upwards to the next floor.
"That was close...," Lockheart said.
"Yeah. But at least we should be safe here," Cloud said.
"Fer how long?" Berett complained. "This is jus' some damn cafeteria. It ain't got nothin' to interest us...."
Cloud nodded. "Yeah. Aeris has got to be around here somewhere.... Let's keep moving."
They left through the same door and climbed the next flight of stairs upwards. They arrived at a door that wouldn't open on its own. Cloud inserted the keycard they had into the slot. A chime sounded and the door opened, then they walked out onto well carpeted floors. This floor was quiet. They walked down a hall by two doors, large plaques nearby identifying them as libraries. Who could guess what kind of documents the Rin Sha kept on this floor?
Around the next corner they spotted a pony in a white suit standing guard next to a door. That pony paid them no comment as they walked by. Lockheart stopped for a moment. "What's on this floor?"
"This is the research library," the pony in the white suit responded. "Authorized visitors are welcome here. Behind me is the Midnight City Mayor's office. If you have any business with him, you are free to enter. Now go on about your business...."
Cloud nodded, thinking about an idea. "We have some questions we need to ask the Mayor. Can we pass?"
The white-suited pony nodded and opened the door for them and they went inside. Inside was an office with two seats, a computer terminal, and a pony in a gray suit. No coincidence, it was the same pony that mistook them for maintenance personnel only minutes ago.
"So, you must be the members of that, what did he call it, Snowslide group?"
"You knew?" Cloud asked.
The pony tapped several buttons on his computer terminal, and an image of them trapped at the catwalk to the Fifth District Refractor appeared on-screen. "You can bet we kept that on film. Especially since the President was there. So I must ask you, what are you doing here, and why?"
Berett and Lockheart didn't ansewr. "Just who are you?" Cloud asked.
"Weren't you told? I'm the Mayor of Midnight City."
The mayor frowned. "At least that's what the Rin Sha call me. Sure, there once was a time when I was on the City's council board and made important decisions, but not ever since the Rin Sha took over management of everything. All I do now is sit around here and take care of their files, and process their paperwork. Look at me! A mayor in name only. To them I'm just a librarian. So, I will ask again. What are you doing here?"
Cloud shrugged. "We're here to rescue a friend."
"And to strike back at them, because of what they tried to do? To you guys? To the Seventh District?"
"You knew that too?"
The mayor nodded. "As I said, I process a lot of their paperwork. Anything worthy of being archived goes straight to the appropriate library. So I hear a lot of the things that occur on the executive level. ...Like the fact that they are having an executive board meeting today. They'll be starting it in about half an hour."
"Where??" Berett demanded to know.
"On the 65th floor," the mayor responded. "But you won't get up there without a proper card. I have a spare, of course, but...."
"...But what?" Cloud asked.
"I can't just give it to you. Tell you what. I'm in charge of managing and organizing these libraries, but the job is a little boring. So, over the months, I've thought up a little game. I'm thinking of a short word. Try to guess what it is!"
"What??" Beret yelled. "We've got not time for GAMES!"
"Patience," the mayor stated. "We have four libraries on this floor, arranged into four categories of interest to the Rin Sha execs, and each containing many files. But I have intentionally mixed up four of those files, putting them in the wrong places. The execs have never noticed. If you can figure out which files they are, and use that information to guess which word it is... then this is yours." The mayor showed one of his keycards to them. "But if you want to know what's going on in that board meeting they're having, you've got only... thirty minutes to figure it out."
"Isn't there any other way?" Cloud said. "And, why are you helping us?"
The mayor smiled. "Go to it. I'll be waiting until you get back."
"We'd better get busy," Lockheart said, opening the door and heading out towards the libraries.
"Hey, Lockheart, where ya going?" Berett objected, following Lockheart out.
"Hey, guys...," Cloud tried saying. But seeing as they had already left, he soon followed behind quickly.
Almost half an hour later, after a lot of searching through all the files in each of the four libraries, Lockheart set four file foldes down on the mayor's desk and took a guess at his code word.
"Don't you like the sound of it? I sure do," the mayor resounded. "Just think of it. 'King' of Midnight City. A whole lot better than mayor, especially since I'm stuck here all day tending their libraries." The mayor handed Cloud his spare card. "Good work. Don't worry, I'll put the files back where they belong. You should get moving before security finds out you were here...."
"Security?" Cloud inquired.
"I received a call just a minute ago, they were asking me if I saw anyone suspicious. They know someone's broken in, but they don't know where. So watch out."
"Tell us again why you're so willing to help," Berett insisted.
"Mostly because of what they did to the City," the mayor answered. "Now go."
After thanking the mayor, Cloud led the way back through two hallways, across the floor to the staircase between floors, then proceeded up three flights of stairs to the 65th floor of the building. The keycard given to them by the mayor worked fine, and the door on the floor opened. They looked around and spotted a pony in an expensive blue suit making haste down the hall. Cloud and Berett followed at some distance, while Lockheart went the other way.
The blue-suited pony rounded a corner, then unlocked and opened a door to some room. Another pony, a mare with dark yellow hair in a deep red dress, followed the other one in to the room and shut the door behind them.
"That's some fancy suits those were wearin'...."
"Probably execs," Cloud said. "They must be having their meeting in there...."
"Let's go and bust them up!"
"No!" Cloud objected. "We're here to save Aeris, remember?"
"Yeah, right...," Berett nodded. "Then go save Aeris. I wanna know what those suits are talking about in there."
"Wait, I've got an idea!" Lockheart said, trotting over from a nearby hall.
"Just follow me!" Lockheart trotted the other way, Cloud and Berett following. Lockheart led them to a restroom on the other side of the floor.
"Lockheart, there's no time for that...." Berett derided.
"No, not that," Lockheart said. "I overheard some ponies talking. They say that there's something wrong with the restrooms on this floor. Sometimes they hear voices echoing from above. So very few ponies actually use this one."
Lockheart opened the restroom door and listened. "Listen, hear that...?"
"I don't hear anything," Cloud answered.
"Again..." Lockheart said.
Berett scratched his head. "I don' hear nothin' myself..."
"Someone's coming!" Cloud said. He shoved Berett and Lockheart into the restroom, then hid inside and shut the door, just as a Rin Sha security guard came around the corner.
"Why the hell did'ya do that!?" Berett fumed.
"Security was coming," Cloud said. "You'd rather get caught?"
"Listen!" Lockheart said. "Can't you hear it now?"
The three of them stopped. Quiet voices drifted in from above, echoing off the walls of the restroom so that they could be heard.
"Whoa," Berett said. "Yer right. I DO hear somethin'!"
"Wait a minute, I think they just said something about the Seventh District...," Cloud said, as he looked around the restroom, through all the empty and clean stalls, trying to trace the source of the voices. He spotted a supply cabinet in one corner, immediately underneath an angled ceiling. A large vent -- big enough to climb through, was bolted in place on it, and the voices were coming from there. "Over here!"
Cloud jumped upwards and tried to hit the vent, but failed. It remained secured to its bolts.
"Let me have a go at that!" Berett said, opening up his laser and firing a few shots into the vent's frame.
"Let me try again," Cloud said. He jumped and kicked the grate again. The combined effect of Berett's lasers and Cloud's impact knocked it loose, and it swung down, landing on the supply cabinet below it. "Now, how do we get up there?"
Cloud jumped onto the supply cabinet and then jumped up into the vent. Inside was a metal ventilation duct leading two directions. Cloud carefully crawled to the left, towards the echoing voices.
Lockheart and Berett followed after Cloud. The duct split into four directions around a large grate. Cloud, Lockheart, and Berett took up positions around it, looking downwards through its slats into a board room packed with executive personnel.
"We're leaving the Seventh District as is," said the Rin Sha President. "And we'll raise the rates by 10% across the remaining districts."
"Yes! Rate hike!" Shouted a plump pony in a tan suit next to the president.
"Mr. President, I object," a blue-suited pony interrupted. "The citizens of Midnight City will not put up with this. Not after the fake story of what Snowslide has been doing to them."
"Yes," said a black-suited pony with straight black hair, whom Cloud recognized as Tsing. "Von Borneo leaked that story too soon, and Snowslide found out about it. A rate hike would cause many citizens to doubt the good will of Rin Sha."
"Many more will believe what we tell them," the president responded to Tsing. "And they'll give even more trust to Rin Sha, Co."
"That's not enough!" The blue-suited pony objected. "Three of our refractors are out of commission. The remaining five are now operating at 40 percent above capacity. If we do nothing, the refractors will wear out by the year's end. We need--"
"Fine," the president answered. "We'll raise the rates 15 percent. Part of it will go for repairs to the Seventh District Refractor. Satisfied?"
The blue-suited pony nodded, reluctantly, in response.
"What about our Space Program?" Exclaimed the tan-suited pony in a fruity voice. "Tell me that it's going to receive a share of the hike too!"
"I haven't decided," the president respond. "Crimsen, your department will receive a share of the hike. Reeve, your department will also receive a share of it. The rest will go to research and the Twilight program."
"Speaking of which...," Tsing said as the door to the room opened and a light-green pony, dressed in a spattered white suit and with wiry black hair, entered.
"Look what the cat dragged in...," the mare in the red dress, Crimsen, insulted.
"Late again," the president said. "Professor Kojo, what's your progress?"
"Sslow," the white-suited pony responded in a raspy voice. "The specimen isz... inferior to her motherr. There's at least a twentie percent differents between them. Impossible to give an estimant. At thisz rate, we vill never complete it in our life time. Or, for that matter, herrs..."
"You know that will impede our progress," the president said back. "We can't complete the Twilight program with you lagging behind."
"Yesz.... That isz why I am considering to breed her...."
"Yo...," Berett whispered to Cloud across the grate. "That Aeris he's talkin' bout?"
"Probably...," Cloud whispered back.
"Her mother vas strong," Kojo continued. "She isz strong too. A young offspring will most certeinly stand up to a lot of sstudy. Now, I hate to be leaving so shortly, but I left one of the experiments running. You will pardon me...." Kojo then exited the meeting.
"Something stinks...," the mare said, eyeing him as he left the room.
"Yes, I've heard," the president said. "We'll have a technician look into the ventilation ducts and see what they can do. Are there any other matters?"
"Someone set off the fire alarm on 59, and we found three guards injured and knocked out," Tsing voiced. "We should issue an intruder alert."
"Unnecessary. Just find whoever it is and deal with him. Anything else?"
Silence filled the board room for a short time.
"Dismissed," the president said. All the ponies in the room below stood up and then filed out, one by one.
"Well, what now?" Berett asked.
"That scientist was talking about Aeris. Let's follow him," Cloud answered.