Phyllis Tanner stands in front of Jason, arms folded, her face completely, utterly blank. Simon Yin sits in front of his laptop set up at the long table running down the middle of the Situation Room. Michelle Lawrence stands, fidgeting nervously by the door. Neither of them look at Jason or Phyllis. Simon pretends to be working, his eyes locked on his laptop screen without actually seeing anything. Michelle plays with the drawstring on her sweatshirt, pulling first one end and then the other down as far as it will go before the other end disappears entirely.
Jason sighs, and forces himself to meet her gaze. She looks uncomfortably like the other board members when they have their game faces on—no trace of emotion, not a single tell to be seen. Her eyes are hard and calculating as she scrutinizes him in return.
“I’m sorry, Phyllis. I don’t know the specifics. But an entire fifth of the company is gone, and Billy was caught up in it.”
The Haruspex Analytics boardroom is emptier than it was the day before. The men and women sitting in it don’t know why—not precisely—but they are painfully aware of the rumors.
Each man and woman waiting patiently for the Chairman to arrive has received an unending stream of worried calls from their own underlings about an unusual level of absenteeism all over the building. No part of the employee population has been untouched: every department was reporting that at least one employee, often more than one, had not arrived that morning. What’s more, attempts to contact those employees had failed.
A company specializing in handling sensitive information can’t afford to overlook such things—as such, this emergency meeting had been called, at which point it was discovered that the absenteeism extended even to members of the board. It didn’t take long to determine that roughly 20% of the Haruspex population is missing.
His bedroom ceiling slowly comes into focus as his brain tries to engage. He’s always suffered from grogginess when waking up—something Phyllis never gets tired of teasing him about—and this time is no different. The problem is compounded by how long and hard he and the rest of his team have been pushing themselves. This was supposed to have been his first full night of sleep in days, and now he’s awake.
The room is small, run down, and mostly empty. The hardwood floors are cracked and rough, faded wallpaper peels away from the walls to reveal chipped plaster beneath, and a single window, heavily curtained, sits above an old radiator that badly needs bleeding. The room is dark: the only light comes from the gap between the heavy window curtains and the window itself, splashing red neon over the top of the hissing, spitting radiator and onto the floor.
The sounds of the city—car horns, people shouting, occasional blasts of music—can be heard beyond the window. The world outside is full of noisy, frenetic life… but the room, and all the others like it in this building, is dark.