The Fire Inside, Part VII



Scene Title The Fire Inside, Part VII
Synopsis Shedda Dinu seeks access to one of the most dangerous biological weapons ever engineered.
Date May 11, 2019

From the outside the post-war CDC headquarters is innocuous. A box of a structure that dominates the city block it was planted on, it rises three stories and stretches from one intersection nearly to the next. The adjacent lot was razed at one point, possibly during the cleanup and restructuring efforts immediately following the war, and has been transformed into a sprawling parking center with aisles marked out with young trees native to the area.

The day to day is very uneventful. Men and women dressed in business attire come and go with briefcases or satchels and an air of importance about them. Tracking the potential of viruses and disease is serious and, with the infantile infrastructure of the country, one of the most important.

Watching the comings and goings, as Isis has done for the past two days, has been borderline dull. But with perseverance to keep at the task, it’s given her a decent understanding of the shift changes, even if she can’t tell which departments are cycling its personnel in and out. Her research a day earlier provided her with a generalized floorplan, the sort found in every large building in the case of a fire. the rear entrances seem to be what the majority of employees use, leaving the main entrance on the front of the building for visitors during business hours.

Centers for Disease Control Headquarters

Kansas City, MO

May 11, 2019, 7:43 PM

Gaining access into the building, on a Saturday, isn’t as difficult as it might have seemed. Considering Isis’ surveillance was done over the course of a couple of business days, Saturday has a decrease in staffing. Viruses and disease aren’t picky about what day they attack and science never sleeps.

It’s easy enough for Isis to swipe a badge and gain entry from a woman close enough to her own features that a casual look won’t notice the differences right away. Not so easy for anyone who’s found without one. “Sorry, June. I can’t let you in without your ID.” The security clerk’s voice does sound truly apologetic, he understands. “You have to scan in like everyone else.”

“I swear I just had it,” June murmurs as she steps out of line. Her hands pat pockets and she begins to backtrack, unaware that just a few faces down is the woman in possession of her badge.

Copper-crimson tresses form a little privacy curtain. Below, propped open in the crook of a pale elbow, sits a familiar, black leather portfolio. As June passes, a subtle tilt of a head reveals hazel eyes flecked with gold. Isis bites the left side of her lower lip thoughtfully, still considering the the exchange that had taken place ahead.

On the outside, the woman blends in rather well - a ‘business casual’ attire and rather bland expression read perfect for the tiresome atmosphere that is inherent in a Saturday work shit. Behind the portfolio her fingers dance over the stolen ID badge, revealing a nervousness as they test a couple of innocuous ways to hold and a casually swipe the little plastic card. Further still, behind the facade, a racing mind is what sets her hazel gaze towards a nervous, golden glint. Stealing a body is a hell of a lot different than stealing just an identity.

No one nearby even gives Isis half a glance. The security guard raises his attention to her just enough to see that there's a card. If he notices the shakiness, the hints at nervous energy inhibiting the woman's smooth progress into the facility, he says nothing of it. Perhaps he assumes there's a meeting she's anxious for.

The electronic lock slides when the stolen card passes over the reader and Isis is allowed to proceed into the secured operations. Simple!

There’s a resounding click. It’s the security door, but it also serves as a signal: the subtle but unrelenting signs of nervousness are suddenly gone with so many of the prying eyes. She doesn’t look up, she doesn’t pause. Isis snaps closed the portfolio. Stylized garnet tresses still obscure half her porcelain face as her little black flats tap out a decidedly determined pace under the wide billow of her long slacks. Left-two-skip-a few-right-one -right. The slender woman turns down the last corridor, her shadow drifting past a little plaque: Bioterrorism Agents & Diseases.

Her eyes scan each side of the hall for something in particular, and yet even this targeted attention seems more natural and at ease than any depiction of the tiny redhead in the few months since she’s returned to New York.

Most of the doors passed are secured in similar fashion to the one Isis used to gain access into the building. Card readers, nondescript panels of black plastic resting just to the right of the door frame, allow for quick passage. Just tap the card and open the door.

Deeper within, the security adjusts based on importance. Some doors are easily opened, either by means of a crash bar or simply turning a handle. A fair number require codes often punched into a touchscreen before a satisfying click of a bolt sliding open sounds. Other locks still are more advanced, requiring code and separate clearance for entry.

Cameras abound as well, positioned in corners and watching doors as much as corridor crossroads.

The war may have ravaged the infrastructure, but measures must be taken to make sure that certain things remain out of reach of certain people.

The door which bears the plaque listing its room’s purpose as Bioterrorism Agents and Diseases is one of those doors with stronger locking practices. The card reader is there, differing in the magnetic readers that simply acknowledge the presence of appropriate frequency by requiring insertion instead. Perhaps it requires a card with encryption. Below the card reader is a small screen, much like the passcode locks Isis had passed in other halls.

The soft, gossamer, blood-hued curtain of her hair obscures most of her face for the same reason she had not paused to look up - the cameras. The copper-garnet locks hide the death glare she’s giving the keypad as her cool, pale fingers take up June’s card once more and dip it into the card reader.

Isis watches the little screen for some form of indicative prompt as she wracks her brain about what she has learned in shadowing and getting close enough to June to permit the theft of the badge in the first place…

What was June saying on the phone? Her son’s third birthday was coming up in three days. So…
tick, tap, tap 0-5-1-4-1-6

Please Wait…Processing…

Seconds tick by, feeling like hours. Each one agonizing, increasing the chance of Isis being recognized as an unfamiliar face. It’s a certainty that the people who work this deep in the CDC are close enough that they know each other easily by sight if not by name.

The panel chirps.

It’s a pleasant sound, not an alarm. New words flicker onto the screen

Access Granted

and the lock clicks open.

The previous death glare makes a sharp transition to a wide-eyed hazel gaze that reflects that sweetly worded, illuminated keypad. The subsequent click ushers the first sound from Isis’s lips to this point - a quiet gasp. She startles easy. With that she pushes inside. Letting the door swing on its tensioned aperture, the redhead taps a little button on a cheap, digital watch tucked under her left sleeve. The 90’s era, digital, lime green watch starts at 7:00 and instantly drops to 6:59 before ticking ever downward.

Isis turns her attention on her new surroundings and adjusts her grip on leather portfolio.

The door opens up into a space clearly intended for the examination and containment of microscopic organisms. White walls on white floors and countertops where equipment stands out in stark contrast. Lights overhead differ from those economic sources in the corridors by casting less light that’s also softened with a faintly blue hue. Everything is sterile. The space practically resonates with the tang of impeccable cleanliness. It’s also very quiet. The halls before had been quiet but for the murmurs of talking, distant heels tap-clacking against the floor somewhere, the ever-present buzz of fluorescent lights overhead — but the laboratory and workspace that Isis finds herself in is silent in comparison.

The redhead pauses at a metal cabinet set up near the entrance. A glass pane reflects her image over a few simple biohazard suits and matching helmet-masks in the same white-azure motif as the rest of this space. Isis reaches out, but the blatant 6:30 on her wrist causes her to cringe and pull away, turning back to the room at large. One long side is filled with fume hoods. The center row alternates form lab tables to gloveboxes. Finally, the opposite length of the room is filled with storage - metal cabinets with glass faces; stainless steel fridges and temperature-controlled cases; and filing drawers.

Isis licks her lips and snatches up a pair of white, latex gloves. With the portfolio under one arm and her slender fingers wriggling into the rubbery white material, she’s already stalking down the long line of storage. Hazel eyes take on a more molten-gold quality with each step, searching endlessly for one little word on one little container.

A ticking sound echoes in her head despite the silence of her digital watch and the room at large.

She’s nearly reached the end of the row when her newly gloved hands start turning over the portfolio. A quick pinch pops open the three-ring clasps at the spine inside and another quick gesture peels back a cutout. There’s a soft black foam lining in the small, discrete hidey-hole. Isis leaves the flap open and turns her gaze up to the last temperature-controlled storage unit.

The glass-fronted cabinets face Isis, ambient lighting within the casings only slightly brighter than the light which fills the room. Like the room, however, there's a lack of harshness to the illumination, it seems to exist only to make finding things easier.

Vials rest in form-fitted sections of molded plastic. Small labels mark the fronts of each shelf, named given to the specimens in both scientific jargon as well as chemical composition.

As Isis shifts her attention from the contents housed within the refrigerated units to the cabinetry itself, she notices there's no obvious way to open the glass panels that separate her from her goal. Perhaps more frustratingly is the presence of keypads sitting flush against the bottom edge of the casings.

If looks could kill, or at least melt things, she’d be golden. Another glare is given to this latest bit of secure redundancy and Isis even hisses. Yes, like a damn cat. Her pale lips pull back, her tongue set to the edges of her molas, and she hisses at the keypad. phfft-phftt. The redhead follows up this unladylike, and perhaps unstable, display with a quick glance over her shoulder and clears her throat.

Now then, because that was so helpful….

Molten gold eyes consider the contents through the glass one more time, making sure she’s got the right case before she brings her face level with the keypad and jams her fingers on the display buttons. 0-5-1-4-1-6 What’re the chances that is going to work again, though?

The buttons beep faintly with each depression. Unlike the door, Isis doesn't have to wait seconds to know if she's successful or not.

She isn't.

The keypad chirps unpleasantly, a two-tone sound that clearly states an error had been made. In the near silent room, it might as well be a klaxon sounding.

Isis’s forehead comes down on the keypad with a thus and one more doo-doop, tone of denial. “I’ve never felt so rejected by an inanimate thing,” she mutters with her eyes closed. She her dark lashes reveal gold anew, her eyes take in the face of her watch: 3:33. The woman’s throat visibly constricts with the effort to stop from wretching. The confidence with which she has cut the halls and the ease with which she seems in the laboratory setting start to unravel at the seams as superstition and paranoia start to dig their barbed, creeping tendrils into the edges of her consciousness.

Three. Three. Three. Too little time. Three. Three. Three. It’s an omen. It’s failure. Any moment now someone is going to walk through that door and-…

Isis reaches down and pinches her thigh. Hard. She grits her teeth against the broken vessels that promise a deep ebon-violet bruise later, but follows up with a deep breath and a renewed look at the keypad. If it double-boops when she’s wrong then…

Pale digits flit across the screen, tapping each number in turn until one doesn’t howl noisily at her. A simple process of elimination against a ticking clock. Isis doesn’t dare risk a glance towards the door, her intense gaze becoming more glossy and unraveled with each failed press: Dee-doop. Dee-doop. Deedoop. Deedoodee…

With literally hundreds of possible combinations, it's likely to be an impossible task in the short amount of time that Isis has left.


Each second ticks by, and each attempted code resounds with the same disappointed sound of failure.


It's said that it's pointless to beat a dead horse, and the longer the codes are tried, the more true that statement feels.



A different sound this time, almost happy, definitely pleasant compared to the morale draining blats of disappointment. Somewhere within the cabinet is a hushed click of a locking mechanism releasing.

Panting breaths lend to a blooming, glowing cloud of condensation on the glass. That secondary chirp of victory is barely resounded when the cabinet door is whipped open. Out of a variety vials in various sizes labeled in various colors lean this way and that in their plastic perches. Gloved fingers spider across red, plastic screw lids before choosing one unassuming vial and holding it up to her face. “Goddess, meet Gorgon…”

Isis’s whisper is a quiet hiss, her own amusement coiling up the right corner of her pale lips despite the way her hand shakes as she places the vial inside the hidey hole and flips closed the discrete, seamless flap. The redhead delays a second heartbeat, a longing gaze given unto the filing cabinets nearby and the secrets they hold, but a pulsing and relentless 00:00 tugs at the other end of the rope. Caught between sweet, tempting curiosity and … well, whatever happens if she get caught, she grits her teeth and turns on heel.

Heading for the door she straightens her back, tucks the portfolio under arm, and begins to peel of her gloves as she goes.

The room remains empty of anyone except for Isis. The only noise that breaks over the heavy silence is the slip-squelching of gloves coming off her hands. Success is just within grasp, as simple as turning the knob on the door and letting herself back into the hall.

As Isis’ fingertips touch the door handle, it springs to life and not from the weight of her hand but manipulated from the outside.

“ — backed up again. It’s becoming ridiculous nearly two years and — ”
“I know. I know. Maintenance says — ”
“Maintenance always says… Oh.”

The two voices follow each other into the doorway, barring Isis from a fast escape. Each belongs to a young person, neither of which looks like they could be long out of college. They’re dressed in similar lab coats, slacks, clearly appearing like they belong in the room. The one in the lead, complaining about maintenance, blinks owlishly at Isis through black plastic framed glasses.

The other seems marginally less surprised and narrowly avoids crashing into the first. “Whoops, sorry, sorry.” Weaving around the two, with every intention of escaping complaints and returning to another Saturday at the job, it appears as though Isis’ presence doesn’t seem as far out of place.

Until there’s a doubletake. “ — June?”

The hand outstretched for the door shoots back. When the two youths enter the room, the June-Wannabe has backpedaled a step, her head turned down and aside to be obscured by the falls of garnet hair in the course of her scratching at the nap of her neck.

“Hmm?” The little hum of inquiry is as much as stall as it is an acknowledgement.

When Isis brings her face up, flipping her hair back only slightly, it is with her free hand draped across her brow- thumb to temple and index reaching long for the same at the opposite side. “Oh!” she chirps a surprise, but the exclamation is peculiarly hushed. She quickly reveals why. “So sorry. Migraine. Ugh.” Yup, she’s using the good ol’ female-go-to excuse. If it gets you out of sex then it should get you out of the CDC… right? In the shadow cast by her hand she gives the young girls a quick once over - trying to spy a badge on either figure.

Still, Isis carries on politely, letting the coursing tension of frayed nerves strain her voice in a way that plays to the enfeebled headache she’s feigning on behalf of June. “I knew I should have called out, but - you know - Saturdays.” Ambiguous enough, she let’s the statement hover and massages her brows and tries to politely scoot closer to the door. Her knuckles at the spine of the portfolio are white… well, white-er.

Matching puzzled looks follow Isis’ progression. Neither bars her way from escaping the laboratory and returning to the less restrictive hallways. “Right,” follows her, the tone and word both uncertain, seeking an answer that it's believed doesn't exist. Or it's fearful of what than answer might be.

A look is shared between the two young colleagues, one shrugs and they both slip inside the lab. “That's a little strange.”
“Probably some restructuring, you know how it is.”
“Right, but here? Isn't that — ” the click of the door shutting summarily cuts off the rest of the speculation, leaving the hallway — and Isis — in relative silence.

The redhead ducks her chin down and pulls her hair around to the opposite shoulder, more furtive than ever. Her steps are hurried - an impulse for flight barely contained into something of a rapid, snapping click of each flat heel ready to crack at any moment. One hand rests over the portfolio, giving an absent excuse for her downturned visage. She snaps to a stop at the end of the hall, the little plaque looming behind her like an accusation of danger. Isis turns a quick look back to her left, the way she’d enter.

With a steadying breath she turns away and crosses the intersecting passage, turning down a hall. There she finds a door and shoves past - not an exit, a restroom.

Sparkling white tile and porcelain, the smell of commercial cleaner and just a hint of what that cleaner is for underscoring the otherwise sterility is what greets Isis. It's bright, for a few seconds quiet. As her eyes adjust to the surroundings, eyes filter stark lighting and see a line of urinals along one wall, and a bank of stalls on the opposite.

But it's silent, she seems to be alone.

Seems to be.



Isis brushes her hair back and turns her gaze over one wall, then the other and- there’s a quick, wide-eyed blink and her head snap back around to consider the line of urinals.


The flush has the tiny woman nearly jumping out of her fine, freckled skin. She snaps the portfolio against her chest and folds her arms protectively around it. Her feminine litte flats make a clickety-clack as she tries to scurry past the stall and find an empty one before she’s spotted…

The powerful and excited whoosh of water easily masks the tiny sounds generated by Isis’ shoes for all of the three seconds that it lasts. She's able to duck into a neighboring stall, with a door that squeals as it’s opened and groans when it's closed.

It isn't a voice that answers to her presence, but a very pregnant pause. A hanging silence, the awkward feeling when you know you've been joined in a public restroom.

Seconds feel like hours until finally there's movement. The rustle of clothing and a rough throat-clearing. Then the occupied stall opens with less fanfare than the one Isis has hidden within. She can hear the shuffle of Hush Puppies on the tile floor and see part of a shadow slip away. Water runs from somewhere else, a direction which Isis hadn't looked in her haste to become scarce, the less powerful hiss of a faucet running.

In less time than it took for the occupant to leave his stall, the water cuts off. Sound warps as the door to the restroom swings open on silent hinges, and slowly eases closed.

Isis is alone again.


Isis’s sigh of relief echoes a bit too loudly for her liking. She wrinkles her nose and takes an awkward seat on the edge of the toilet. Leaning to one side, she’s able to pry a crumbled pack of old cigarettes from her back pocket. She hasn’t smoked in years, but sure… now seems like a damn good time to start anew. There’s a little hiss and crackle from the burning end of the cigarette as she takes a pull, red illuminating her freckled face in a subtle, tinted glow.

The redhead tips her head back, her eyes visibly closed as smoke slips in a lazy, thick spiral out her lips. After another drag is taken and released in much the same way, she opens her eyes to look up - not at the cloud, but through it. Through the veil of gray, tainted smoke she smirks.

With the next drag she’s balanced precariously on the rim of the toilet and with soft purse to her pale lips, pushes a plume of smoke at a detector just hanging overhead just beyond the stall wall.

The first plume of acrid smoke does absolutely nothing. The detector continues to sit like a cockroach on the ceiling, it's tiny red LED blinking with an infuriating passivity.

A second cloud of gray carbon and chemical triggers a more satisfying response.

An ear splitting buzzer, not unlike a cicada that's been juiced, mic’d, and played through an amplifier, rings from everywhere all at once in sequences of three. The sound echoes off the walls, the ceiling, the floor. It rings in Isis’ head, her skin, her teeth. She can feel it just behind her eyes and in the very depths of her body.

By the time the third series of three blasts has sounded a bell adds to the cacophony. Just as loud, grating where the other is simply piercing. Hidden beneath the alarms is a third sound, a clicking of mechanical response. A fire suppression system which sprays water everywhere.

Within seconds everything is soaked. Including Isis.

The cigarette in her off hand goes as limp as her hair and her expression.

There’s a resigned set to her shoulders and to the way Isis rolls her eyes up into the back of her head - this is Irish luck at it’s best. This is what she expec- “WOAH!”

Isis disappears behind the stall divider, clearly having slipped on the freshly wet and slick toilet seat.

Thud. Clank.

The soggy redhead comes bumbling through the stall door and sliiiiides out on the slippery tile. Legs spread, arms wide, she finally regains her balance, but clearly not her grace. With a huff, she flips back her hair in an oh-so-sexy spray of bathroom, sprinkler water. She sets her sights on the bathroom door, readjusts her grip on the portfolio, and sets off. When the bathroom door opens, though, it’s not this soggy and determined Isis that steps out. Instead it’s a head-bowed June doppelganger that seeks to moosh into the steady throng of chattering Saturday zombies that head for the exits - shambling corpses brought back to life by something a little more interesting than your average weekend work.

It requires little effort on Isis’ part to blend in with the crowd pushing to escape the building. Like her, everyone is soaked. Miraculously, no one looks twice at the impostor, wet hair and clothes do their part to mask Isis from scrutiny, but the real blessing is the alarm she’d triggered. It's the real distraction that allows her out of the building and into the parking lot.

Outside it's gloriously less noisy, the alarms and bells can still be heard but without walls to contain them the noise is less invasive, less all encompassing. The spread of people milling, chatting, decompressing after the excitement is far and wide. No one notices when Isis slips among them or questions where she might have gone. She escapes the scene, drenched and aching, but with her prize safely tucked into a portfolio and clutched to her chest.

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