When Danny first saw the Teleios skyscraper, he realized the company enjoyed architecture as intimidating as its products. Despite not being quite in the middle of the downtown area of Manhattan, the headquarters rose to an impressive height and breadth that commanded attention. Nothing on the building seemed to indicate in any obvious way who owned the place or what might be going on inside. Dark and glossy, one side was a wall of windows from the bottom floor to the rooftop’s edge, each pane opaque and reflective. The towering structure seemed to deny access while simultaneously surveying its surroundings, illustrating Teleios well: always looking out, never looked in on. Not without invitation, anyway, something Danny and Arras had been unconditionally granted.
The main entrance opened to a spacious lobby. Damon led them past a front desk and security to an aisle of elevators, marked above with what segments of the building they accessed. As they waited for their own lift to arrive, Danny took a peek at the nearby directory: the lower half of the building seemed to be dedicated to marketing and public relations, accounting and finance, mostly office space; the upper half had vaguer descriptions, labeled mostly as research and development, as well as management.
“My office is near the top floor,” Damon explained as they made their long trip in the elevator. “Below that is our R-and-D department, mostly dedicated to design data. We typically test our equipment elsewhere—officially, at least.”
Damon pulled a key from his coat and used it to unlock the panel beneath the selection of buttons. Behind the thin metal was a simple keypad, into which Damon punched a long, complicated code before pressing his thumb against what looked like normal metal next to the digits. A green light lit up above the keypad before Damon closed the panel.
“You’re pretty shady, aren’t you, Damon?” asked Danny, not sure himself how much of that question was a joke.
“I am what I am,” Damon replied, turning to Danny. “By the way, I’m going to need your cell phone.”
“Fine,” Danny assented, handing the device over to Damon. “What for, though?”
“I’m going to have one of my people poke around in it. I want to see if we can’t pinpoint where those text messages that led you to Arras were coming from.” He pocketed the phone, turning back to the doors just as they opened.
Exploring the more secure parts of Teleios headquarters was initially not as interesting as Danny had expected. The first floor they visited seemed positively innocuous: a plain corridor with a view over the city outside, with a few doors to simple rooms Damon said were for himself and visitors who needed a place to stay during an especially long project.
Danny found his four boxes already set out and opened up in one of the rooms; he guessed another one belonged to Arras, and perhaps Damon would also be in another for the time being. Not that he was disappointed, but, taking in the room, Danny was a little surprised to see something so modest in size and furnishing. There was a bed, a desk, a small closet for clothing—nothing more.
“Bathrooms are at the end of the hall,” Damon said from the doorway. “Don’t get too comfortable, though; you’ll only be here for the week.”
“That’s right,” Danny muttered to himself, crouching down to one of his open boxes.
“Come on, then,” Damon said, leaving Danny’s sight. “There’s more I need to show you.”
The next floor up resembled something like a small office, filled with a few cubicles and vacant computers. The next floor up was Damon’s office, though they didn’t stop there. Damon was more interested in what was a few more stories up—the top five levels of the tower.
The rest of what Damon showed them was completely different from what was below, and Danny wondered just how many people in the world even knew this part of the Teleios headquarters existed. The structure seemed simple enough; loops of corridors led to an armory, a storage room stocked with non-perishable foods, and a shooting range, all wrapped around one larger room.
“You’ll want to see this,” Damon said, leading them up a set of stairs, up to places the elevators would not go.
They walked into what looked at first like a security station, yet, despite the size of the room, the number of monitors and consoles against the wall seemed to indicate the place was only meant for a few people. Above the computers at the front of the room was a tall, wide pane of glass, revealing what all the other corridors in these top five stories were wrapped around.
Arras and Danny both looked through the window, realizing they were in an observation deck. Down below was a massive space, walled and floored in white, filled in here and there with freight containers, totaled cars, concrete walls—things that looked like they could provide decent cover, if not a place to hide for a short while.
“This is where we test our more private projects,” Damon explained from behind the two of them. “We primarily supply the military, usually with equipment the world has already seen before—and, on occasion, with other things.”
Danny couldn’t imagine what sorts of things Damon may have seen tested in the room below. Glancing over at Arras, she too seemed magnetized.
“This should do,” Arras declared, still looking over the terrain below. “When can we begin?”
“If it’s all the same with Danny,” Damon answered, turning to the young man he would have a week to turn into a soldier, “I think we could begin as early as this evening. Would that be all right with you, Danny?”
A little taken aback that Damon would even ask, Danny straightened up. “That’s fine with me.”
“Evening it is, then.” Turning on his heel and cane, Damon made his way to exit the observation room, waving a hand. “Until then, I have some things I need to tend to. As for you both, do as you please—only, don’t leave this section of the tower. It’s best that we keep your presence here as low-key as possible.”
With that, he was gone. Not saying a thing, Arras followed after him.
“Hey, Arras,” Danny said, hesitating a little, trailing behind her.
“What is it?”
“Before we get into this…” He fell silent, not sure how to put it.
She turned, looking at him over her shoulder, not scowling but certainly not smiling either. “Go on.”
Danny looked back at her, hearing her words from the car—they hadn’t left him since. In truth, her words expressed well the sinking feeling that had been following Danny since he first learned of her mission. It wasn’t until she had put words to it that Danny realized, despite his sudden bravado in volunteering for this training…
“I’m sorry,” Danny managed to say. He felt the words leave him like a last breath, like letting go of his old life and sinking into the unknown. “I really am sorry.”
“For tripping you up like this,” Danny explained, a little caught off guard by the question. “I understand that I’ve complicated things for you. I want you to know that I’ll do my best not to slow you down anymore.”
“I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.”
Turning from Danny, she made her exit. Stopped at the doorway, she took a fleeting look back at him before leaving.
Feeling uneasy once again—she seemed to have that effect on him—Danny sat down in one of the chairs overlooking the testing room below. Staring down at the various pieces of metal and concrete, he imagined what kinds of battles that room had seen. The gravity of it all managed to press down on him even more firmly than before as he tried to imagine the kind of combat he would see, the kinds of things he would only be able to fight with the suit.
Danny pushed all second-guesses from his mind, however. There would be no more room for such a luxury, not any more. Thinking of the exercise they had done in the woods the other day, he remembered that fear, that fight-or-flight instinct he was left to wrestle with. Things would be no different now than they were then; stakes were even higher than just the other day, but the choices were still the same.
Do, or die—learn to be the soldier Arras needed, or let countless others die.
Damon had stayed true to his word, finding Danny as the sun was setting over the city, skewering on the skyscrapers before hiding behind them. When Arras did not show up with Damon, Danny guessed it would be just the two of them.
“I thought it might be best to start you off slowly,” Damon said, walking Danny first to the armory. “I understand that Arras has plans, and I intend to follow them, but we’ll be starting you off on some more… remedial lessons. We’ll let you cut your teeth on those before we get to the real meat.”
In the armory, he showed Danny three separate handguns, walking him through the parts of each firearm—correcting Danny’s terminological errors especially. Damon taught him about single-action, double-action, and single-action-double-action weapons, showing him how to properly load one of the handguns and chamber a bullet.
At first wondering how this would really benefit him in a fight, Danny started to notice something in Damon’s voice. He seemed different from his normal self, less sarcastic, less dignified. There was almost a tenderness in his tone, a patience that didn’t used to be there. Danny briefly wondered what might have changed, but he decided to focus on what Damon was trying to tell him instead.
Almost without warning, Damon tossed Danny ballistic glasses and earmuffs before leading him to the firing range, taking with them the three handguns, plus two rifles, a sub-machine gun, and a few boxes of ammunition. Already feeling in over his head, Danny shuddered to think what Damon might consider an advanced course if these were remedial lessons only. He had Danny try the single-action handgun first, watching him load the mag, feed it into the grip, load a bullet into the chamber—observing his accuracy with every shot fired. Dissatisfied with Danny’s grouping, fingering the perforated edges of an otherwise intact silhouette target, Damon launched into a lecture about how to properly hold that particular sort of firearm and utilize the sights.
This same routine repeated itself, as if scripted, even as they moved on to the other handguns, to the rifles, and the SMG. Danny wasn’t sure if Damon planned to burn through all the ammunition they had taken from the armory before ending his first lesson, though he knew Damon wasn’t exactly hurting for supplies—this could go on all night if he wanted it to.
And so it did.
Danny wandered back to the elevator and down to his room minutes after sunrise. He walked past Arras’ door, wondering if she was in there—or if she had even been in there since he last saw her. Unable to really process much more than that, he crept into his own room and fell onto the bed, not bothering to change out of his clothes or take off his shoes. He fell asleep immediately, lying next to his packed boxes.
Out like a light, he never noticed that he had left his door wide open, or that Arras had passed by, taking a brief look at him before leaving.