Virtual (Chapter Seventeen)

The van was parked across the street where its passengers had a good view of the building. Emily sat hunched over with her eyes glued to one of many monitor screens at the back while the driver, Mack, chewed on his thumb nail while sitting in the driver's seat. He kept the keys in the ignition slot, ready to start the van for a quick getaway.

"Is everyone in position?" the Asian girl whispered into the microphone of her headset.

"The cleaners are in," spoke Tim's voice.

Earlier, he had come up with the plan to have Emily hack into the company's system that was connected to the outside world and put him and the Smith siblings into it as workers from a cleaning company scheduled to come in and, of course, clean. It took her less than half and hour to put together some made up profiles from a company that didn't exist. It wasn't particularly her best work. She only had thirty minutes, after all. But it seemed to satisfy the spies in the group. And using old aliases that they had used in the past made the job much more faster to complete.

"Do you really think it'll work?" asked Willow. She sat hunched over behind Emily wringing her hands. Daiki and Roger were also there sitting just as impatiently. The trio were made to stay behind as the supernatural backup crew in case things went south inside and they needed help.

"Don't worry," Roger said. "They'll be fine. They're pros in this kind of thing."

"You're right about that," Mack said. "I've worked with Tim before and have seen him come out of many dodgy situations with barely a scratch. And trust me when I say that those were some pretty bad situations to be in."

"We've been in some bad situations, ourselves," said Emily as she typed into the computer.

"I heard about the Dynastes case," said Mack. "That was the one where some bloody loon tried to start Z-Day, wasn't it?"

"Z-Day?" went Emily.

"That's what the day zombies start attacking is called," Willow replied. "Are you okay? You're looking a little pale. A bit more than usual, I mean."

"It's nothing," Emily said quickly, turning back to her monitors. "I'm just a little uncomfortable from being reminded of Dynastes is all."

"Well, we don't have to worry about him anymore," Roger said. "Didn't Yang finish him off?"

"At the cost of his own life, yes," Emily said in a soft voice. Roger immediately clammed up. "Can we focus on today?"

Daiki sat quietly with earphones on. Although it seemed like he was listening to music, he was actually using his new phone's translator app to listen to their conversation, the English converted into fluid Japanese. He had heard the word Dynastes come up quite a bit back home from his sister, Ryuu, and Hanako. So these people were involved as well. He wanted to know more about what they went through, but restrained himself when he noticed how Emily's hands slightly trembled, something that was seemingly not lost to the spy who was babysitting them all.

"I'm with Emily," Tim said into the hidden microphone as he, Jane, and John made their way to the receptionists across the huge, posh lobby. The blue overalls provided by MI-Zero that all three were wearing were a stark contrast to the men and women coming and going in freshly pressed suits. "Can we please focus?"

Hearing her voice shake as she spoke, Tim couldn't help but feel sympathy for Emily. He knew that what she experienced during the whole incident was not something anyone would like to think about.

When they reached the reception table, the well-groomed young man they approached looked up and smiled, straightening to a professional posture.

"Can I help you with something?" he asked.

"Er, yes," Tim said, putting on a very convincing British accent. "We're with the Samson's Cleaning Service Company. My boss got a call from this office building 'bout an hour ago. Said they needed more cleaning personnel around."

"Hold on for a moment while I check with our records," the receptionist said. "May I have your I.D.?"

"Sure, sure," said Tim. He handed over everyone's cards. Although he knew that Hunters were often involved in spy work like him, it still surprised Tim that Jane and John would have fake I.D. that put them as British citizens. Not that he was one to talk, having in his safe at home at least three different sets of driver licenses and passports, each with their own unique name, for each of around five countries. "Take your time. We're a couple of minutes early, so no need to rush."

Even after all this time, Tim's heartbeat still rose with worry as the receptionist typed into the computer. Doubts swirled within his mind and made his stomach squeeze. He regretted giving Emily only half and hour to set things up. There's no way that was enough time for her. What if she made a mistake?

"Ah, yes," said the receptionist, finally done. "We've been waiting for you. Just let me call the department to let them know you're on your way."

Tim's heart jumped to his throat. He did not think about that. Stupid, stupid, stupid! He should have known that they would call to give the people above the heads-up. And he did not find solace in realizing that the others must have made the same mistake when he heard Mack swearing through his earpiece.

Suddenly, there was a chime. At first, Tim thought that someone's cell phone was ringing nearby. But then he realized that it was coming from his earpiece.

"Hello?" went Emily's voice.

"Hi, I'm just calling to inform you that the cleaners are here," the receptionist said.

"Excellent," Emily replied. "Please send them up right away. And make sure that they have everything they need."

"Yes, ma'am," said the receptionist. He hung up and got out of his seat. "Blair, I'm going to take these folks back to the office. You know what to do."

"Yes, Eric," said the woman in the other station.

"Right this way, then," the receptionist said, gesturing toward the door marked "Employees Only".

Tim didn't realize that he had been holding his breath the whole time and let it out, relieved that Emily had worked things out. Well, of course she would. She's Benjamin Tao's cousin, after all. He really should remember never to underestimate Benjamin's family.

Emily put the phone down on the table while watching the receptionist lead Tim and the Smith siblings back. She leaned back in her chair and let out a deep breath. She could feel a bead of sweat roll down the side of her face.

Mack let out a low whistle. "Clever girl. How'd you do it?"

"I just hacked into their phone servers and replaced the actual number to the department on the seventh floor with the number to this cell phone," said Emily. "Which reminds me, I'm going to have to change the numbers back before anyone notices."

Everyone watched as Emily worked her magic. They knew what she was doing, but the string of words that flashed on the computer screen may as well be gibberish to them. When she was done, she turned to the others with a grim expression on her face.

"It's up to them now," she said.

While watching the monitors, they could hear the receptionist point out places around the building like a tour guide to Tim, Jane, and John. Something was wrong, Emily thought, frowning. Static started to crackle from the speakers, growing louder and louder by the second. And then that's all there was.

"Oh no," Emily said. Dread rose from the pit of her stomach. She sprang from her seat and fiddled with all of the equipment.

"What is it?" asked Willow, startled by how panicked her friend was acting. "What's wrong?"

"There's interference," Emily said.

"So?" said Roger. "They're going into the back room. Isn't that kind of normal?"

"Not with this kind of equipment," Emily said. "I've worked with stuff like this before. Believe me. Not even an iron box fifty feet underground would be able to block the signal from their microphones. Something like static is impossible."

"Unless there's something wrong with the speakers," said Mack. "Or maybe someone accidentally messed up the equipment back at HQ. It's rare, but not impossible."

Emily shook her head. "No. I double-checked everything before Tim, Jane, and John left. Nothing was wrong. Only a really powerful jammer would be able to do something like this."

"Hold on," said Mack. Color drained from his face. "If what you're saying is true, then that means . . ."

"They knew who they were from the beginning," Daiki finished, although only Emily and Mack would understand him. "They knew we were coming. It's a trap!"

Everyone's phones wailed buzzer sounds. Daiki nearly dropped his phone. On it was a string of English words. Only one was familiar to him, which was "EMERGENCY."

They could all hear the commotion outside as men, women, and children fled from the streets, abandoning almost everything where they were.

"We should get out of here," said Roger.

"Don't have to tell me that," said Mack. He turned the key in the ignition. The van's engine sputtered, but did not roar. After trying to start the van a few more times, Mack swore and slammed his palm against the wheel in frustration. "The bloody thing won't start!"

He looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with an arrogant smirk on his face. Slowly, he lifted a finger and pointed it at Mack. A bead of water grew at his fingertip into a small ball, about the same size as a bullet.

"Get down!" Mack screamed, before diving to the side.

The water became a flash of light and pierced through the window, and Mack's shoulder. It continued on into the back. Everyone had heard Mack and dropped to the floor. Emily, however, stood up from being startled. She felt something hot brush past her upper arm. This was followed by searing pain.

She lost her balance and fell while gripping her arm. Her hand felt wet, which was probably due to the blood. Looking up, she could see Mack slumped on both chairs, a red spot growing on his back.

"We have to get out of here!" Roger cried out.

"Dame da!" Daiki cried out as he tried twisting the doorknobs and pushing out. The doors were stuck. They were all trapped inside.

Outside, the man who had turned that ball of water into a laser beam started raising his arms up like a conductor signalling his orchestra members to rise. While he did that, marble-size balls of water appeared in the air all around the van.


Tim, Jane, and John followed the receptionist through the halls in a maze-like path, unaware of the plight their friends faced outside. It was a miracle that their guide could find his way around this complicated labyrinth so easily. If he weren't here, they would surely be lost.

"Here we are," the receptionist said when they reached one of the hall's many identical doors. Seriously, how could he know the difference? There weren't even any labels to mark where each one would lead into. "Come inside here, and let's get you all ready."

He opened the door and let them all inside first, and then pushed them all to the floor.

"Hey!" Jane cried out. "What's the big idea?"

They were all caught by large men who clapped bracelets on their wrists before letting them go and retreating back against the walls of the room.

"My apologies for my men's rude behavior," said a woman's voice. It was coming from the large leather chair at the center of the back of the room. When it turned around, revealed to be sitting in it was Melissa Warndale. "I hope they didn't hurt you too badly."

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