The elevator door flew open to reveal a carpeted hallway with two visible doors; one to the left and another to the right. A keyhole replaced any doorknobs both doors might have had. Exquisite paintings and sculptures decorated the hallway, all of which seemed to be sizing Payton up. As she took in her surroundings, suspicion and intrigue tickled every nerve in her body at the thought of working in an underground building. “Jackson’s office is right over…” Tiffany was interrupted by the hiss of the right door sliding open. A young man stepped out, looking surprised to see the two women. His brown hair peaked out beneath a black top hat that matched his black slacks. The sleeves on his wine red button down shirt were rolled up to the elbows. An unbuttoned black dress vest topped off the shirt and a golden pocket watch chain that hung out of his front pocket and connected to his belt loop.
“Well, speak of the trolls!” Tiffany laughed.
“Oh hey there, Tiff! Is that our new recruit? I thought you said she wasn’t going to be here until this evening.”
“Well, she came early,” Tiffany shrugged.
“All the better then! It’s a pleasure to meet you, Payton! I’m Jackson, the lead here.” Jackson held out his hand to Payton.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Payton shook his hand politely while trying to read the gleam in his emerald eyes.
“Well, we might as well not waste any time in showing you around this place. Tiffany, you may go on with your other assignment, I’ll take it from here.” Tiffany gave Jackson a nod then made her way to the door to the left. Jackson and Payton both watched as Tiffany placed a key into the keyhole which caused the door to slide open. Once the door closed behind her, Jackson looked back at Payton with a warm smile. “Come on, I’ll show you to the infirmary first and the lab you’ll be working in.” He led Payton back to the elevator and pressed a button. They went up one level and the door opened up. Payton’s heart hammered with excitement once they walked into a large room with a few beds, a large sink, and a large cabinet with several drawers of supplies. The workplace of her dreams. Already Payton imagined all the different kinds of creatures she would meet and help out during her career here. Sitting at the desk in the corner was a young woman with golden blonde hair and a white lab coat filling out papers. She turned around and gasped with excitement when she laid eyes on Payton.
“Is this who I think it is?” The young lady inquired with hope sparkling in her blue-green eyes.
“Yes, my love,” Jackson laughed, “This is your new co worker, Payton. Payton, this is my lovely nurse, Francesca. You’ll be working closely with her and helping her out when necessary on top of your other duties.” Francesca ran up to Payton and kissed both of her cheeks out of pure excitement.
“I’ve been having to take over what you’re going to be doing for a week now! You have no idea how much I need your help to take some of this work off my hands!” Francesca beamed with a delirious excitement. Payton laughed nervously and blushed a little bit.
“Well, pleased to meet you too. I’m more than happy to help! I don’t know if you heard, but I’m here to work my way up to where you are.” Francesca took a step back and turned a little pink herself. Jackson chuckled at the whole scene.
“Well, I’m glad to see that you two are getting along splendidly already. Come on now, let me show you were you’ll be working.” He led her to a door in the back of the infirmary that needed a key to get into. Once the copper door slid open, she followed him into into a laboratory filled with shelves of jars and bottles of different chemicals, a stove, several different counters and other equipment. It was a normal chemistry lab on steroids.
“I think this needs no further explanation. The recipes for your projects are in these books along this bookshelf,” he gestured toward the bookshelf behind them lined with books with a rainbow of color bindings. “Your gloves, goggles, and aprons are all located in this drawer,” Jackson tapped the drawer right behind him. “Now, tomorrow morning I’m going to have my apothecary department manger, Jess, come up here to check up on you and show you the ropes. And just so you know, this underground system I have here is a highly organized but complicated network of departments and rooms dedicated to specific things. If I were to show you all of it, we’d be at this all week! So I’ll only be showing you what you need to know about.” Once he was finished showing her the apothecary, it took Jackson an hour or so to show Payton the dining hall where he briefed her on the meal schedule, the dorm room in which she dropped off her bag, their event-holding arena and the supply room in which she would be putting her finished work in. After he showed her the supply room, he led her to his office, which had all the style and sophistication of its owner. “Sit down, get comfortable,” Jackson motioned toward one of his black velvet chairs. Payton took a seat expectantly. “So first off, I’d like to go over a few rules. Our first rule is that instructions are not to be stalled upon. Act immediately when Tiffany, Jess, or I instruct you. The second rule is that everything you have is provided by Tiffany or I, with the exception of what you already brought here yourself. Do not give or take any more than what Tiffany or I have approved. The third rule is that you do not sleep with any co-workers. They are your colleagues, not your lovers. The fourth rule is notify Tiffany or I before leaving the underground area. Do you have any questions?” All of this made Payton’s stomach as tight as two jammed cogs in a dysfunctional machine. Even if she had never worked in Zaphyr before, something didn’t seem right.
“As a matter of fact I do.” Jackson gave her an expectant look.
“Well ask away, my dear.”
“If you’re already going to supply me with everything I need, why didn’t Tiffany just say that from the start, and then why would I need pay?” Jackson frowned.
“You may not necessarily need the pay, but your brother sure does, which is why we will be sending him the money. Isn’t that why you came here to begin with? By the way, how come he didn’t make it here?” The alarms in her head only slightly quieted down.
“He chose not to come. He wanted to stay.” Jackson flashed her a lopsided smile as he adjusted his top hat.
“Younger siblings. Always fiercely independent, right?”
“You would know? You have a younger sibling too?” She giggled half-heartedly,
“None other than the woman who brought you here in the first place,” he announced with pride in his voice. “Now with all that being said, there’s one last thing to do.” Jackson pulled out his desk drawer and got out a strange looking device that Payton had never seen before in her life. “Put your arm on the arm rest palm-face up.” Payton looked at the device in his hand, then back at him.
“W-what is that thing, and what do you plan on doing with it?” Jackson grabbed a chair and sat in front of Payton, flashing her a friendly smile that she didn’t trust.
“I’m just going to put a tracking device in your wrist. I do this with all employees for their safety. Don’t worry, it only hurts for a second.” He didn’t waste a moment placing the device on her wrist and implanting the microchip with the push of a button. Payton flinched at the extremely sharp pinch she felt as the chip burrowed under her skin. He handed her some gauze to place over the small wound. “Just put some pressure on it and the bleeding should stop fairly soon. While you do that, I’m going to go get your communication watch and your keys.” As he rummaged through his other desk drawer, Payton shook out her hand in an attempt to rid herself of the heavy, prickly feeling of intrusion pulsing through her arm.
“Why do we need microchips for our safety? What exactly do you guys do that would require microchips?”
“Well, if you’re in trouble and can’t contact us, we’ll know your location and be able to help you.” Payton frowned. It was probably the most unsatisfactory answer to a question she had ever received in her life. Jackson got out a set of keys and a watch, regarding Payton’s frown as he went to place the watch on her right wrist while briefing her on how to use the communication device on the watch. It was a beautiful golden color with fancy silver numbering on the face of the watch. “What’s the matter? You’re not worried or anything, are you?” Trepidation certainly was surging through her mind like an electrical current, but she couldn’t seem to find the words to answer him honestly, so she just shook her head. “Good.” He then held out a set of three keys. One silver, one gold, the other a dark copper. “Your dorm key,” he said, holding up the silver one, “the supply room key,” he held up the gold one, “and the key to your work area,” he held up the copper one, then handed the set over to her. “Remember the code 103178, you’ll need to punch in that code to get to the supply room floor in the elevator. Oh, I almost forgot. Your watch is one hundred percent waterproof, so don’t worry about taking it off…well…ever. Well, I think that’s it for now, unless you have any questions.” Indeed Payton had many questions, but she had little confidence in him giving her satisfactory answers, so she just shook her head. “Alright then, you are free to go to either your dorm or the dining hall for supper. Remember, breakfast is at seven am.” Payton simply nodded her head and began to head out of his office until he put a hand on her shoulder to stop her. “Hey,” his expression was somewhere between gentleness and delight. “Welcome to the family. We’re glad to have you on board.” She returned the smile and left to go straight to bed with a thousand unanswered questions that she only thought she wanted the answer to.