Tommy slammed the light blue metal locker door shut with a loud echoing clang, and tried to fight his frustration.
He could not help it. After the distance he’d travelled, after the whole new world that had been opened up before his very eyes… to have his first time out come up empty was just a let-down.
He let out a long breath, eyes closed for a moment. Man, am I beat, he thought. A long trip indeed. He opened his eyes again, and took a glance at the steam smeared mirror above the white porcelain sinks. There were definite bags under his eyes. He turned on the cold tap, filling his cupped hands with water, and splashed it over his face. It gave him a blast, shaking off the fatigue momentarily, though he knew it would return. What he needed was a good night’s sleep.
There were no other people in the locker room, not at this time of night. Well, he amended with a swift glance at his wrist watch, this time of the morning. It was a locker room not unlike hundreds, probably even thousands, which Tommy had been in before. It certainly smelled like one; a familiar mix of old sweat, deodorant, and as many different tones of shampoo and shower gel as existed. One wall was filled with a long row of slender metal lockers that reached right up to the ceiling. The keys that Young had given Tommy, what seemed like days ago to him now, fitted locker number 187, which had been empty when he opened it but now contained the rucksack he had carried on the plane. A long wooden bench, roughly shin high, ran along the middle of the room, and made of slats wide enough to fit two people sat back to back, and so deeply varnished as to appear almost black. The other walls and ceiling were white tiled, each one plain and unadorned, with grey grout between them, while the floor tiles were patterned in whites and reds. The sinks and mirror were on the wall opposite the lockers. At the far end of the room, running a T section to the rest of the locker room, were several doorways that led to numerous showers, each one separated from the others by a head high wall on either side, and from the main lock room by a thin blue sheet of shower curtain. There was enough space in the locker room to host two dozen people, by Tommy’s estimation. And this was just the men’s.
Idly, he wondered how many people were employed by M.I.16. Were they all agents, like Wells, Chase and Zeke? Were they all human?
With another sigh, he headed out of the locker room. There was no sign of Wells. Not that he’d expected to see her; the woman had given him the nickel tour, which amounted to his desk at their work section, and the locker rooms, and then disappeared, leaving him to fend for himself. Naturally, that meant he now had no clue where the heck he was. It’s not as if this place was as long as several buildings, he thought bitterly. Of course he’d be lost.
He was pretty sure he’d followed Wells from the left, so going to the right out the door seemed as good as any place to start. The whitewashed corridors, with their thin blue carpeted floors and wide fluorescent lighting along the ceiling, passed by in a blur, only interrupted by other crossing corridors or by doorways set into the walls. Each door he passed was the same; white painted, with a frosted glass sheet taking up almost the entire top half, and each one had a plaque beneath the window with writing in an elegant script, but in no language he understood. He paused before one door at random, reading the inscription. There was a hint of familiarity to the words, on this door and all the others, but one that felt just ever so slightly out of reach. What sort of place was this, he grumbled, that doesn’t even put anything on their doors in English? It didn’t make a bit of sense. And why were there suddenly no people about to ask for directions?
He turned left at one random corridor, then left at another, identical to the first. Then, just for the hell of it, went right at the next junction, into a corridor the mirror of the two before it. He had a brief recollection of his first days at University, when the mammoth campus was an intimidating warren of corridors and many-storied buildings. But at least then there had been some kind of method to the madness; now, he wished vehemently that he had a loaf of bread with him, so he could leave a trail of crumbs. If I had a ball of yarn, he thought, this could be the Labyrinth, and around any corner could be a Minotaur. Not that one of those would be out of place here.
“Okay, now you know you’re dreaming Tommy”, he muttered aloud, pausing where he stood. That had to be the only reasonable explanation for all this. It really did explain everything; the floors that were too big for the building they were in; the giant cat thing called Zeke; the thought of werewolves really existing; casual expectations of man/bull hybrids. And the big one. Why he’d said yes to joining this operation without a second thought? What sort of sane, conscious, person did that?
That must be it. He’d fallen back asleep on the plane after his other nightmare, and now this one was all falling apart, the way dreams do when you examine them too closely. That was why he was now stuck in an infinite loop of wandering around in circles in the same identical corridor. And now that he knew it was a dream, he was sure he was going to wake up. Any second now. Now. Now.
“Are you okay?” The voice made Tommy jump.
He twirled, backing up against the plain white wall instinctively. It was only when he saw the corridor’s other occupant that he relaxed, only slightly. Before him was a young woman – late teens or early twenties by his best guess – with blonde hair that fell loosely all the way to the small of her back. She was wrapped in long robes of a white so pure they made the white of the walls around her look smudged and dirty, robes with deep and voluminous sleeves.
“Oh, hey,” he said to her, a touch uncertainly. “Scared me half to death. I didn’t know anyone was there.”
“There w-wasn’t,” she stammered. The girl was clearly nervous, looking down at the floor. But nervous of what? That, he thought, is a big ass question. In a place like this, she could be nervous of anything. “I was in the Call Centre,” she continued. “That, that’s not a g-good place to stand.”
Stand? He looked about him. He was in the middle of a random corridor, next to one of the many random doors that lined it. Tentatively, he took a half step forwards, looking at the girl for confirmation. She nodded once.
“The Call Centre?” he said, as the words brushed his consciousness. Wells had mentioned that too, but as with most things, had not been forthcoming with the fun facts to know and tell.
“You don’t…?” she began, narrowing her eyes at him in confusion. They were, without a doubt, the brightest green he had ever seen. Then the light of understanding dawned on her soft features, and Tommy realised her eyes had been dull and insignificant before. She lowered them, staring once more at the floor. “You m-must be – you’re Brogan, right? The new recruit?”
“Only if I can convince you to call me Tommy,” he replied, flashing her his most winning smile.
She returned it, her face lighting up. “Tommy,” she said as if savouring the word, flicking her eyes up to him again, then almost instantly staring at her feet again. “Leila. Is, is me. That is, I’m Leila.”
“Nice to meet you Leila,” he said. “So, the Call Centre?”
She looked up again, only for an instant, her lips making a small ‘O’. “R-right,” she said, lowered her gaze again. “The Call Centre is a magical domain, a folding in the space/time that stretches through both until infinity. It’s a central nexus of power and energy; a convergence point, if you like, of all reality. Because of these properties, we use our magic to enter that space, and use it to monitor all human forms of communication in real time, as well as several of the more advanced other races, for information that could lead to a masquerade violation, or for incidents involving matters and creatures of supernatural origin. It is also the first point of call for field teams, providing support for any and all situations they may find themselves in.”
Tommy wasn’t sure how well he succeeded in keeping the blank expression from his face. He was fairly certain most of those words had been in English; they just didn’t necessarily fit together in a way he could fully understand. One thing was certain though; the blonde woman had not stuttered once during her entire speech.
“That’s great,” was all he could think to say. Then an idea hit him. “Hey, you couldn’t help a guy out, could you? I seem to have got a little lost. You know the way out?”
“Oh, s-sure,” said Leila with a start, then looked up and down both sides of the nondescript corridor. “It’s uhm…”
But she had no chance to finish, as Wells suddenly appeared around a corner. She stopped when she saw the pair, throwing up an exasperated gesture. “There you are,” she snapped. “I’ve looked everywhere for you.”
“Well, I was here,” he retorted. “Waiting for someone to show me the way out. Guess this part of the tour was to be scheduled?”
If she sensed the hostility in his words, Wells ignored it, stomping ever closer. “It’ll have to wait, Brogan.” Then she had reached the two, and continued on past them, towards the other end of the corridor. “We have a confirmed sighting.”
He watched her rapidly dwindling back, before the full weight of her words hit him like a punch to the gut, almost hard enough to double him over.
This was it. His stomach roiled, protesting, and his limbs felt weak. He licked suddenly dry lips, before turning to say his goodbyes to Leila, only to find the corridor deserted again.
Realising that her sudden disappearance was just one thing too many for him to worry about, he scurried after Wells, hoping not to lose her and get lost once more.