(previously, part 1)
Magnus felt faint. He gripped the doorframe for support, stumbling against his own booted feet.
“Close the door and sit,” said the woman. Magnus absently reached for the door, unable to take his eyes off the foreman’s body in front of him, his hands fumbling against air. “Jesus, just sit down,” she barked, stomping over to close the door herself.
Magnus found his way to the chair across from the foreman’s desk and fell into it. The air smelled of iron and made his eyes water.
The woman eyed him carefully as she closed the door and began to circle around the room. She was careful to keep her feet clear of the expanding pool of blood which threatened to cover every square inch of the office floor, and even more careful to keep a healthy distance between Magnus and herself.
Magnus swallowed hard and found his voice. “What…what is this? What have you done?”
The woman had returned to her place in the shadows behind the foreman.
“Where is it?” she asked, as if he’d not spoken at all.
“You’ve killed the foreman. My god, you’ve killed…”
She didn’t let him finish. “We don’t have much time. Where is it?”
We? His eyes growing thick with tears, Magnus struggled to meet her gaze. Her pointed nose drew his focus upward and there he found them again – eyes as dark as night, betraying no emotion. The eyes of a killer.
“Where is WHAT?” he asked, his voice cracking as the words escaped louder than he’d intended. The shock was beginning to wear off and in its place Magnus was left consumed with frustration, confusion, and debilitating fear.
How would she not know?
Magnus rubbed his eyes to clarity and examined the woman’s overalls again. Her shoulders were covered in insignia that identified her as a second-class apprentice engineer from level eight, but her patches didn’t appear to be sewn-on. He considered that they were simply painted in place to mimic true patches. They were close enough to fool anyone from a distance of a few feet, but clearly were not standard issue.
“Who are you?” Magnus asked. He doubted that the blood-spattered ID badge dangling at her waist was legitimate.
The woman had begun to visibly perspire, her forehead glistening as she moved beneath the dangling lightbulb overhead. “I’m going to ask you one last time. Where is it?”
Magnus looked down to his feet. He lifted his boots against the approaching red tide and rested them on the feet of his chair, his legs shaking. This was not a day he’d seen coming, but one that he’d always feared.
“You’re a Lifter,” he concluded.
“And you are Magnus, keeper of the machine. Take me to it. Now.”
“You cannot? Or will not?”
“And why is that?”
“Because,” he began, his voice growing more confident, “you will be dead before you leave this office.”
The woman laughed at this, and seemed to consider his words for a time before her smile evaporated and her face grew dark again. A bead of sweat had formed at her temple and had found its way down to the edge of her chin.
“Get up,” she said. “We’re going.”
“You will not,” said Magnus.
His words were free of malice and he spoke them carefully. Deliberately.
The dark eyed woman opened her mouth as if to speak, but abruptly lurched forward, losing her balance and throwing a hand on the desk for support. The desk was slick with the foreman’s blood and her hand slipped, carrying her body down to the floor below in a heap.
She struggled to form words but couldn’t manage more than a single moan as her body writhed and struggled against itself.
After a moment her movements grew slower and she’d stopped trying to speak. Magnus sat frozen and watched with morbid curiosity until, finally, she exhaled one last time with a breath as deep as any he’d ever heard.
Taking a handkerchief from inside his vest pocket, he dabbed at a thin film of sweat that had begun to form across his own brow.
He looked from the woman to the foreman and back again, trying to make sense of it all. This would change everything. He’d only hoped that the factory was ready for what was to come.