The sleek, egg-shaped building which housed Zenith Dynamics spoke to the company's pioneering spirit. Zenith was almost single-handedly responsible for Century City's most groundbreaking advancements: the Mag-Rail, a monorail system which revolutionized the city's mass transit; a fleet of autonomous, electric delivery vehicles which reduced emissions and made the streets safer; and a citywide "Li-Fi" network, which provided universal internet access at speeds greater than traditional Wi-Fi. Yet April was less concerned with Zenith's public deeds than with its secrets -- particularly as they related to the demise of her father, Dr. Henry Newton.
April was only ten years old when her father passed. If she closed her eyes, she could still remember the night of the storm. The thunder and the rain against her bedroom window woke her in the middle of the night. As she tried to go back to sleep, she heard voices downstairs. Angry voices. Creeping out of her bedroom, April snuck over to the banister at the second floor landing. There, she could more clearly hear her father arguing with his partner, Dr. Miller. To this day, she couldn't remember the basis of the argument, only that it involved Zenith. Neither man had been thrilled with their new benefactor, but there had apparently been some disagreement regarding how to handle it. Two weeks later, the accident occurred. April never shook the idea that the argument was somehow related to both men's deaths.
Now, April felt all of ten years old again as she stood before Zenith Dynamics' headquarters. Admittedly, some of that came from the guilt for her disobedience. To explain her absence at work, she had made up an apartment-related emergency and asked one of the other assistants to shadow Mickey for the day. She still didn't have a plan to smooth things over when he found out what she'd done, but she was sure she'd think of something... she hoped. Either way, she couldn't allow herself to worry about that now; she had a far more important mission in front of her first. Straightening her glasses and summoning her courage, April strode towards the building and tried to calm her beating heart.
Stepping into Zenith's lobby was like stepping onto the starship Enterprise. The shiny, white space was punctuated here and there by splashes of green from interior landscaping. A series of wide walkways were arranged around the main plaza like spokes in a wheel, with an artificial stream gurgling in a semicircle beneath them. Everywhere April looked, she saw large holographic displays showing directory information, time and weather, and promotional videos. They certainly know how to market themselves, she noted. She even found herself doubting that a place like this could have a sinister underbelly. Don't forget that looks can be deceiving.
Adjusting her glasses once more, she crossed over the stream and made a beeline for the large, marble desk beneath the Zenith Dynamics logo. There, a grid of neatly-arranged press passes awaited their owners. April smiled briefly at the assistant behind the desk, hoping she didn't look as nervous as she felt. Quickly locating the pass marked for the Chronicle, she snatched it off the desk and blurted out, "Have a great day!" Her hands were shaking as she slipped the pass over her neck, turning it around so that no one could see the name "Ronald Oberlin" clearly printed on its face.
Sheepishly, April made her way over to one of the holographic displays. After prodding at it like a Neanderthal for a moment, she finally figured out how to make it do what she wanted to do. Bringing up the directory, she scanned through the departments until finding the one she wanted. Another gesture brought up a floorplan with the relevant office highlighted in red. Bingo! Swiping the map away, April shrank a little and began heading in the appropriate direction. Fortunately, foot traffic was heavy enough that her presence drew little attention. Avoiding eye contact with the Zenith employees she passed, she caught the door just before it closed and wormed her way inside.
The inner hallways were less grandiose than the lobby, though no less futuristic. April could practically see her own reflection in the polished, white floors. As she walked, she peered through the safety glass at the laboratories beyond, each filled with foreign and expensive-looking equipment. Seeing all the scientists in their protective gear flitting around reminded her of a beehive. Turning down another hallway, she found herself passing executive offices. Unlike the laboratories, these rooms hid their goings-on behind frosted glass. Eventually, she came to the end of the hall, where the door marked "Records" awaited her.
The Records room was essentially a big server farm. For a moment, April thought of the advanced technology in the lobby and worried that she wouldn't be able to interface with any of this. However, the server stacks eventually opened to a clearing; in the center stood a triumvirate of computers. April hurried to one of them, aware that she couldn't afford to dilly-dally. Waking the monitor, she puzzled at the operating system until she brought up a search function. Slowly typing in her father's name, she accessed his personnel file. Dad, she thought wistfully upon seeing his ID picture staring back at her.
Much of the information contained therein was of little consequence. April began to wonder if this whole endeavor had been in vain when she noticed a restricted file. "Project: Gateway?" she spoke aloud in spite of herself. Though she tried to access the information, the computer spit back an error message regarding insufficient permissions. Frowning, April reached into her pocket and produced a flash drive. She wouldn't be able to get answers here, but maybe she could convince one of the Chronicle's IT guys to help her crack the encryption. Assuming I'm allowed back into the building.
Once the download was complete, April unplugged the flash drive and returned it to her pocket. Not wanting to press her luck any further than she already had, she began making her way back to the public areas of the facility. It wouldn't do to get caught snooping now, and besides: Mickey would expect a story on the demonstration, after all. Lost in her wonderings as to the nature of Project: Gateway, April nearly blundered into a collision with a Zenith executive leaving her office. Skittering backwards, April made herself small as she waited for the woman to pass.
Suddenly, April froze. The austere blonde executive was familiar to her, though it took her another moment to realize why. That woman had once been to the Newton home. The memory came flooding back. She had been there along with an older gentleman when April's father had been recruited to work for Zenith Dynamics. Though many years had passed -- the woman couldn't have been older then than April was now -- she carried herself with the same cold, haughty demeanor that April remembered. Once she had gone, April stole a glance at the name etched on the window to her office: SINCLAIR DAVIS.
"Can I help you, miss?"
April's spirit briefly left her body. Spinning to face the direction of the new voice, she found herself staring down an unamused security guard. Heart pounding, April faked a laugh and replied, "Oh, sorry! I was trying to look for the bathroom, and I must've gotten turned around." Inwardly, she cringed at the unoriginality of her "bathroom" excuse.
Judging by the guard's unchanged expression, he wasn't impressed, either. Closing the distance between them, he demanded, "Who are you?"
April fumbled with the press pass around her neck. "I'm, uh, I'm with the Chronicle," she offered, flashing the pass as briefly as she dared, praying he wouldn't request to see it closer. "I'm here for the, uh, demonstration... thing." With each word that left her lips, April hated herself a little more. If there was one thing she wasn't, it was a natural liar. I suppose there are worse things to be bad at.
Evidently, the guard didn't care to press the issue further. "That's in the eastern wing," he explained. "Come with me."
In any other situation, April might've made light small talk. It was the polite thing to do, after all, and she liked talking to people. However, the sleepy-eyed guard didn't seem the loquacious sort, and she worried that the nervousness in her voice would give her away. Meanwhile, the flash drive in April's pocket might as well been made from lead with how heavy it felt in her pocket. She didn't know exactly how much trouble she could get into if she were caught stealing data from Zenith's servers, but she couldn't imagine it'd be a mere slap on the wrist.
Finally, it seemed they had arrived. Approaching two large double doors, April dutifully followed the security guard as he led her into the largest laboratory yet. The enormous octagonal room was abuzz with activity; scientists and technicians circled the peculiar machine at the center of it all, spouting off information about "containment levels" and "ionization readings." Beyond them, April spotted the members of the media, cordoned off at the far side of the room. Wordlessly, the security guard escorted her to the front of the pack. April could feel the other reporters' eyes on her, trying to place her. She held her tongue and took out her phone.
A few minutes later, a handsome young man came swaggering over to the gaggle of reporters. April didn't recognize him at first, if only because she had never seen him outside of pictures. "Ladies and gentleman, my name is Isaac Vance. Thank you for joining us here at Zenith Dynamics for this historic demonstration," the blue-eyed, black-haired CEO began. The younger Vance had only recently taken his place at his father's company following Malcolm Vance's passing. Before that, he had quite the reputation, if what the Chronicle printed in its gossip column could be believed. The reformed playboy had worked wonders on Zenith's public relations.
"Behind me," Vance continued with a dramatic wave of his arm, "is the world's first fully-operational cold fusion reactor." As if anticipating the tense reaction from the crowd, he held up his hands and said, "Have no fear. Unlike the common fission reactors, this machine poses no threat to those in its proximity. The radiation produced is no more harmful than a common x-ray." By then, April was only half paying attention, as she spotted the woman from earlier, Ms. Davis, inspecting the machine behind him. "Now, I'm sure you have many questions, but I ask that you wait until after the demonstration. I'm assured it'll be quite the show." Vance gave a crooked smile and stepped to the side.
April barely managed to pry her eyes off Ms. Davis in time to see the demonstration beginning. At the press of a few buttons, the Zenith technicians lowered the protective shielding around the reactor, exposing a glowing core which bathed the room in an eerie green light. There were mild "ooh"s and "ahh"s behind April, though clearly most were apprehensive about what they were witnessing. The scientists began barking orders, and the room filled with a reverberating hum. The green light inside the machine intensified until April had to cover her eyes with a hand. She heard someone yell, "Initiating electrolysis!" Suddenly, the core sparked as voltage passed through it.
Somewhere across the lab, an alarm began to sound. April hadn't been the only one to hear it; more than one reporter turned in the direction of the sound and began to murmur. Beside them, Vance tried to explain it away as merely precautionary, though he had to raise his voice to be heard over the machine. April could tell by the frantic scuffling of technicians that it was anything but precautionary. "Temperature's spiking," one technician called out, "Coolant's having no effect." April didn't need to understand the science to know that meant trouble.
A scientist in thick, welder goggles came over to Vance. "We're gonna have to shut it down, Mr. Vance. If we let it go, we're risking structural comp--" The scientist was interrupted by a crack. A fissure had appeared at the top of the reactor's core, and strands of green light shot up towards the ceiling. That incited panic.
April was knocked to the floor as the reporters behind her clamored for the exit. The flash drive containing all the Project: Gateway files skittered out of her pocket and across the floor. In the chaos that had ensued, no one paid any attention to the girl crawling along the floor in pursuit of it. Gotcha! April thought triumphantly as she got it back in hand, though the celebration was short-lived; looking up, she saw that she had crawled all the way to the base of the reactor, which now seemed ready to burst. Through the expanding crack in its core, she could see straight into the heart of the machine. The light was searing. Scrambling to her feet, April barely had time to turn her back before a "THOOM!" behind her swept her into the air.
Hazily, April came to a moment later, having been thrown against the nearest wall. Bits of concrete and plaster rolled off her back as she forced herself upright. The laboratory was a disaster; the reactor explosion had leveled everything that wasn't tied down... and many of the things that were. Meanwhile, the reactor itself looked like a shattered Christmas ornament, with green smoke drifting up towards the ceiling. As April surveyed the scene, she saw scientists and technicians scattered like tacks. Nearby, someone was pinned beneath a fallen piece of equipment.
Without hesitation, April rushed to the poor soul's side. He was a technician, and a young one at that. Wincing through the pain, he stammered, "I... I can't move it..." April wasn't surprised. The twisted hunk of metal under which he lay looked to weigh hundreds of pounds. Still, she couldn't just leave him like this. "G-get help..."
She should've, but there was little time and everyone else around was nursing their own wounds. Though it felt hopeless to the point of foolishness, April knelt down and slid her hands beneath the obstruction. Grunting, she lifted with all her might, trying to remember to lift with her legs and not her back. Her hands were slick with sweat, but she swore she felt something moving. Doubling her efforts, she kept on lifting until the debris was over her head. Once the technician was free, she tossed it aside almost effortlessly.
Still wincing as he held his ribs, the technician asked, "How... did you... ?"
Of course, April didn't have an answer. For the moment, she was content to chalk it up to adrenaline. "Stay here," she said, much calmer than she felt, "I'm going to find someone to help the rest of these people." She hadn't taken more than two steps before a crumbling sound stopped her to look up. The damaged ceiling was giving way, and a heavy chunk of concrete plummeted towards her. Covering her head, April braced for the impact that never came. When she finally found the courage to open her eyes, she saw that she was sheathed in an aura of green energy.
The technician, unfortunately, had seen it, too.
"Wait!" he called out, though it was already too late. April had taken off in search of security... paramedics... anyone more qualified to deal with this emergency than she was. She didn't know what any of that was about, and she didn't much care. All that mattered was getting those people help, and then getting herself home... before the day got any stranger.