Tricia didn’t slow down. If she slackened her pace, she was worried that she might give her brain a chance to overthink and convince her to stop.
“Tricia, what are you doing?”
Tricia bit back the scream and whirled around to face Nerissa. The android stared at her blankly.
“Your presence here is unauthorized,” she observed.
“I know,” Tricia responded. “I’m just going for a walk.”
“This hallway is restricted.”
“I have access,” lied Tricia. In truth, she had nothing of the sort; she had no idea what security features to expect, and no way of circumnavigating anything she might encounter. All she knew was that a large portion of the workforce was in mortal danger, and, like her father said, she was the one person important enough to be able to do anything about it.
“No one but President Xavier Parisian himself is granted access to this hallway.” Servos whirred in Nerissa’s head, and Tricia knew she was tracking her pulse rate. Just how much was this worth, anyway? How much trouble was she actually getting herself into? What kind of security measures did this hallway have? Was it worth it, to save the lives and reputation of people she barely knew? What if she went through all this and nothing came of it--or worse, she found that the harsh treatment had been justly deserved?
“I just want to talk to him.” They were in front of The Door now.
It was pretty nondescript, as far as “doors” went. Just a plain, transparisteel door with a plain handle, no warning signs or biometric scanners of any sort.
“Warning: there are no automated security provisions beyond this door,” Nerissa said. “No automated personnel permitted beyond this point. No personnel of any kind permitted beyond this point, except security, and in the case of extreme emergency. No surveillance of any kind. Proceed at your own risk.”
Tricia trembled so badly, she almost couldn’t keep her balance in her towering stilettos. Nerissa was basically telling her that, if she decided to go through that door, she was completely alone with Xavier, and completely at his mercy. He could do what he wanted with her, and nobody would ever know. She caught her reflection in the mirror. She saw what he did: the high cheekbones, the perfectly-sculpted face, the wide, sparkling eyes.
“I’m more than just a pretty face,” she whispered to herself. That was what Xavier had said to her, wasn’t it? Surely he wouldn’t turn her away or punish her for breaching the one place no one--living or automated--had ever gone. This was his Inner Sanctum. And she was nothing more than a presumptive trespasser.
Tricia took a deep breath, grabbed the handle, and pushed open the door. Nerissa had no further protests as she let the door sweep shut behind her, sealing her doom.
The hallway was dark and empty, after the ambient light and color of virtually every other hallway in Peres Corp headquarters. The sound of her shoes on the marble floor echoed like gunshots. Tricia stopped and removed them. It had been a while since she had felt the floor with her bare, scrubbed feet. She padded the rest of the way down the hall until she reached a set of double doors, ornate wooden doors covered in shiny black lacquer. The air was so still, she could hear her own blood rushing through her head. The handles of the doors were large rings of gold-plated iron. Tricia lifted one and pushed with all her might. The huge, heavy door eased open silently, and she made it inside.
The floor was covered in thick, red carpet. The walls were hung with red and black silk and red lanterns hung from the ceiling, giving the room a heavy, imposing atmosphere. Tricia became aware of soft, beautiful music swirling in the air. Now she saw its source: Xavier, in a red, embroidered dressing gown, sat at a large grand piano, his fingers dancing lightly over the keys. Tricia didn’t know the song he was playing, but it sounded old, like a couple millennia old, and it was beautiful. She stood in the shadows and listened to the swelling tones of the song, feeling it calm her nerves and forget her peril--
Right until the moment the song ceased, and Xavier whirled around his eyes scanning the dim room.
“Who’s there?” He demanded angrily. “Someone’s here, I know it!” He wasn’t at peace anymore; he was a lion confronted in his own den. Tricia wanted to shrink back at the tone of his voice, but the importance of her mission urged her forward--so in the face of conflicting impulses, she froze and did nothing.
He stood, and Tricia saw him press a button. Instantly, a thunk echoed behind her, and a laser matrix raked over her skin.
“Security breach!” a mechanical voice cried, and Tricia suddenly realized that there were two statues flanking the door--only they weren’t statues, but security bots. Frantic sirens blared, and harsh lights shone from the ceiling, shattering the peace of the room. The two bots activated, and two cuffs reached out and clamped on Tricia’s arms. A black hood dropped over her head. Her moment of indecision involuntarily ended as they dragged her toward the middle of the room, where Xavier had taken refuge when he realized the invasion.
She heard his voice through the dark fabric.
“Intruder has been apprehended,” the security bot grunted. “Awaiting further instructions.”
“So,” Xavier mused, “you thought you could just sneak in here without getting caught, did you? Why would you want to? Did you intend to kill me?”
Tricia panicked when she realized he was talking to her. Say something! Her brain screamed, but her voice wouldn’t work.
“Take it away,” Xavier barked. “Throw it in the desert, for all I care.”
Tricia felt the arms drag her backward across the carpet.
“WAIT!” she finally shrieked, but the bots kept going.
“Stop!” Xavier’s voice sounded very close, as if he had run after them at the sound of her voice.
The bots halted on his command.
The hood came away with a painful jerk.
“Tricia?” Xavier gasped.