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The Tour Guide
Middle of the day. As it was just after lunch, Kaelan dropped a used food wrapper into the trash can on the way out of his office. He noted the time as he retrieved his personal Wallet from the oversized pocket of his lab coat then hung it neatly on a hook before locking up the office. It was one of several in his office, but many more were nearby. A series of technical clean-coats and another series of soiled-coats were stored in the laboratory, waiting in lockers near the front door and kept within the confines of their respective spaces to prevent cross-contamination.

An exchange of one coat meant he shrugged on another. A suit jacket, it was black, simple and still clean given he’d barely worn it the last two days. He’d not been home in 72 hours, and despite on-site employee bunks and showers, he was ready to venture to his actual apartment. The most recent experiment was at a natural lull. The data was being analyzed by AI on a massive cloud-database to run against other known codes. Which meant he had several hours to escape home, use his own facilities, trade clothes, and be back by nightfall.

He frowned to himself as the elevator doors opened on the lobby level. The space seemed to be brimming with bodies. Normally he wouldn’t mind. Scanners were taking biometrics even on their visitors but for the fact it wasn’t a straight shot to the exit. Normally he wouldn't mind except today they were blocking a speedy exit.

He was half-way spun through the revolving door when the epiphany hit him.

“Shit,” was all he said. A child on the other side of the glass who had been spinning the revolving door on endless loops gasped at the swearing. She then shook her head as though he was going to get in trouble once she told their teacher. First, that was when he realized that many of the bodies that blocked the lobby were short, loud and bouncy. Children.. great. And as he walked in a circle and emerged back into the lobby he’d just escaped, his gaze swept across those little heads to identify a series of adults with placards and signs. Teachers.. worse. Second, he realized he was going to have to traipse through the crowd all the way back to his office. Having just battled his way through them to leave, he was none too pleased at the prospect of doing so two more times. Less so now that he realized they were children and not merely short obstacles.

So he wasn’t going to.

He’d forgotten his computer bag in the office. It was small and fit across his body, but the device inside was necessary. As soon as the data was done computing he wanted to see the results. He had similar devices at home and he could possibly log into the accounts from there, but the program was powerful and the computer upstairs was the newest model. It would be slow as hell to attempt it on the older system, and he wanted to see the data the moment it was ready. Even if it meant walking out of the shower in nothing but a towel and soap dripping down his face. He had to see.

So he threaded around the edge of the milling bodies for a short-cut. Management frowned on their scientists using the staffer routes. It had something to do with.. well, he didn’t know exactly.. nor did he care. He had to cut through the museum, but there was a service corridor that the museum gift shop used to stock inventory - drinks, snacks, magnets that read |BUILD A BETTER YOU| for your refrigerator. He was swiping his badge on the key card when he heard his name.

“And this, boys and girls, is one of our most important scientists! Dr. Müller would you have a moment to say hello?”

He slowly looked over one shoulder, badge in hand, to behold the beaming smile of one of the museum tour guides. About thirty pairs of eyes were looking back at him.

[Image: Kaelan-Signature-1.png]
Ishtar Korat Muael                                                                           
Liam spent more time in the main Paragon building than he did at home. He'd commandeered a bunk in one of the employee rooms and kept his laptop and everything else close at hand. Since he worked whenever he was needed he didn't go home much. It's not like he needed the money but school was boring, and if he could skip that he would. And he often found himself on a free period back in Paragon doing whatever. Home was just a place he had a bed. Even his dad didn't spend much time there. Mom was never home off doing her own thing in her own little world. Fashion was its own thing and he had little interest in it. And he'd out grown the nanny thing when he was ten.

Among the things Liam did other than help keep Paragon from the hackers of the world was monitor the cameras looking for anyone who might be doing something stupid. He hated being a rat. But that was part of his job. He had to or he might end up on the other side of the law and his dad might not bail him out -- again. So when the children entered the lobby all hell broke lose. Children rotated the revolving door, kids ran up and down the escalators and pushed all the buttons in the elevators. This was the perfect distraction for someone to do so pretty dirty shit.

But instead of just watching Liam grabbed his heads up display glasses and walked carefully through the halls, stopping the decor from breaking, and removing any planted electronic devices. Not that the kids were doing that, but it was chaos down here. The adults were nearly oblivious to the children. Liam hated kids. So friggin annoying! The younger they got the worse it was. Thank the gods he didn't have any siblings!

Everyone who worked her knew Liam. Being the bosses kid had it's perks. And it's draw backs. Everyone knowing you was both bane and boon. He could never get away with anything in the building. But that also allowed him to smile and nod and wave and act like he was busy on some errand. A sixteen year old boy walking through the halls of secure sectors should look strange -- but not for Liam.

But the gift shop held a man trapped by children. It was like watching a deer caught in headlights. Liam sympathized with the man. And no one needed to bother the doc -- any of them. They were busy and the tour guide should know better. He swept into the room, through the kids. "Hey Doc." Liam rushed past the kids and interrupted the tour. "My dad's looking for you. We should hurry." He swiped his own key card in the door the man was going through and rushed him through pulling the door shut behind him. The silence of the hall was deafening. "Sorry, that was a lie. You didn't want to talk to them did you?" Liam said doubting his actions just a little after bull rushing through the whole thing. Maybe he'd gotten it wrong.
Badge in hand, Kaelan straightened himself out as though preparing to march before the execution squad with his head held high. Then from among the many eyes staring at him patiently emerged another child. He was taller than the others, but his face was smooth and his frame lean from a youth whose height was pulled faster than he could fill in the frame with muscle. Kaelan remembered those days well.

He was careful not to not present himself rudely. Management was adamant that their composure be guarded at all time when facing the public. Paragon Group had a stellar reputation that the employees extended to themselves. It was with a swell of relief that the young man who confronted him stated that he was needed imminently. The request struck him strange. He’d not spoken with Mr. Haart in some time. He simply did not cross paths often with the CEO. His reports, however, frequently filtered the long climb up the ladder to the pinnacle of the building. If Ephriam Haart read them, Kaelan wasn’t aware. Nor did he really care so long as the balance sheet of his funding remained in the positive and the samples continued to populate his freezers.

This was Liam Haart, he quickly identified. He’d seen the boy from afar plenty of times. He thought he’d spied Liam climb in and out of the employee bunks from time to time. Kaelan had to school himself from frowning at the informal ‘doc’ title. If any liberties were to be taken, he’d prefer to simply be called Kaelan over the insult of demeaning the intense years of work that earned the right to use the pedigree. But Liam was children, and children were disrespectful loud-mouths. Every generation said the same for the following. Kaelan supposed he was evolving into one of the former.

“I’m sorry. It seems I’m urgently needed elsewhere. Enjoy your…” he scanned the wide eyes looking back at him as if they were floating marbles he might pluck from midair… “tour of Paragon Museum,” he nodded and slipped behind the door in Liam’s company.

As soon as they were sealed safely beyond, he looked down at the young man. A voice in his head reminded him to not be rude and that this was the CEO’s son. But was Liam testing him? He thoughtfully examined the boy’s expression for signs.

“I am always ready to represent Paragon to the best of my ability,” he practically quoted an HR training module for that statement. Oh the horror of HR training videos.

The corridor was lit with the bright service lighting that was distinctly unpleasant compared to the flashy museum and artistic lobby behind. He’d not been in this passageway before, but he assumed it must lead him to the back elevators eventually.

Since that voice told him to not be rude, the same said that it was the proper moment to introduce himself. That was how people behaved with one another. All concerned with their names and rituals to establish the same sort of heirarchy that dominated other pack mammals. Except in this moment, Kaelan knew he was not on top, not in the company of the son of their alpha.

He offered to shake the young man’s hand: “Kaelan Müller. Genome Division,” he said.
[Image: Kaelan-Signature-1.png]
Ishtar Korat Muael                                                                           
Liam dusted off his hand like it might be dirty. It wasn't but it might be sweaty or something. "I know who you are. Liam Marquis, Cyber protection? Cyber Security? I dunno, don't know if I have a real title. But that sounds better than just Liam Haart." He chuckled awkwardly. He'd been giving his mother's last name mostly so that he wouldn't be readily known as his dad's son to those who didn't know the family when he was younger. Except Liam was a genius and made too much trouble for everyone since he started showing up in every school. It was all so very boring.

He was in public school because of it all and Liam was afraid there was no where left to go. At least there people treated him mostly like normal. They didn't really know who Ephriam Haart was or even his mother. But then again he didn't go around flaunting it either. When he was there. Like now...

"You study genetics and budling a better you with our very own building blocks -- DNA." Liam mimicked one of the long boring perky videos that played throughout the building. "Someone should make a song like the 1978 YMCA" Liam muttered to himself but made a mental note to see if anyone on the internet had already done that. It would be so cool. Liam looked up to the scientist with a frown. "Sorry. You don't care about that." Liam thrust an arm in front of him and suggested they walk. "You weren't in a rush or anything. I can walk with you. Show you the best way back to your lab, or office. Or wherever you want to go that will avoid all the people. Just not all the cameras." Liam pointed up at the nearly invisible cameras lining the walls of every hall in the building. He waved. He loved freaking the security guys out.

If he were just a little bit taller he could put bubble gum on the camera. But he couldn't do that. No his dad might throw him out after he'd already done that to get kicked out of one school. So what he wanted to sneak out and go to the computer lab. It wasn't like he was doing what the rest of the boys were and going out to get drunk and laid. No Liam was a dork! And to be fair that Liam was a dork. Long gangly arms, too short torso. At least now he had abs and was starting to fill out. Still had a long way to go before he was the kinda guy you saw on a magazine cover.

Liam muttered again under his breath when he realized he'd gotten distracted -- again. "Sorry. Are you doing anything fun?"
Liam was very young to be cyber security, but the first thing Kaelan thought following their introduction was that he didn’t know Liam’s last name was Marquis. It didn’t really matter. The only title Kaelan cared about was “offspring” of Ephriam.

He scratched the back of his neck and followed his adopted escort. He didn’t understand the reference to YMCA, but that also didn’t matter. Was it a music reference? Kaelan enjoyed music. Classical instrumental stuff that he liked to stream while alone in the laboratory.

He followed Liam’s line of sight up to places along the wall that suggested hidden cameras. He hadn’t considered the implications of cameras watching the staff’s every move. There was nothing valuable in this passageway except that it was a direct path to somewhere behind the scenes. If Paragon required that tight of security, Kaelan also didn’t care. Not so long as it didn’t interfere with his work, but it was a good reminder someone was watching.

“Thanks for the escort, then. I would probably get in trouble otherwise. I was just on my way home when I forgot my device upstairs.”

They came to an intersection of hallways about then, and Kaelan paused to look both ways. Honestly, he had no idea which way to go to find an elevator.

“Do you know where we are?”
[Image: Kaelan-Signature-1.png]
Ishtar Korat Muael                                                                           
Liam chuckled. "Not really." He tapped the glasses on his face and flicked through the maps to find the best way to get the doctor to his area of the building. "But there isn't anything in this building I can't find." It was his second home after all. Sometimes it was his first.

Liam pointed to the left "That way to the elevators." He smiled and started down the way.

"I don't think you'd get in trouble. You are head of your division, and I doubt your boss would yell at you for being in the back nooks. It's not like you are a some shlump who works in the museum or even one of your lab technicians. Not that they aren't as important, but they got someone to yell at them. Who's gonna yell at you? My dad?" Liam laughed. "He'll yell at you for wasting his money or time, but for walking in a perfectly secure location? Seems petty and unproductive -- to be fair for anyone to yell at someone for wanting to be alone in a quiet place and not be harassed by gawkers and well anyone."

Liam stopped in front of a painted elevator door. "It's a service elevator, not like one of the ones you are used to. It's a little noisy but it's perfectly safe. The inspections on it last week came back with an A+ They don't know why it grids so badly. Maybe there's a body mucking up the gears they didn't find." Liam joked.
Every division had their proprietary work, and for Kaelan’s part, if someone from bioengineering wandered into his laboratory uninvited, he’d lose his shit. Those assholes were bulls, touching and disturbing everything they remotely approached. He had to assume the other divisions were as protective of their ground as Kaelan was of Genome. Doubtful the service corridors would lead them into sensitive areas, but the building was full of back-end passageways. Transfers between divisions occurred. Animals were carted from one location to another. Even samples could be disrupted if the wrong people came too close. He wasn’t going to correct the CEO’s son though, so Kaelan let it go.

Liam seemed to know where he was going, and Kaelan followed dutifully in the general direction that was indicated. The elevator was a welcome sight, although a concerned look filtered his expression wary after Liam warned him of the grinding mechanism.

Despite the disturbing question of the elevator’s safety, Kaelan climbed in once the doors opened. It seemed suitable enough from inside, so he swiped his badge and pushed the number for his floor.

“You going up?” he asked, holding the button for Liam to decide if he was coming or returning to the lobby.
[Image: Kaelan-Signature-1.png]
Ishtar Korat Muael                                                                           
Liam shrugged. "I have no where else I'm supposed to be. The latest cyber intruder didn't seem to want anything. He hasn't shown back up." Which was really annoying, he really wanted to play again with The Wicked Truth. "He can't get anything sensitive." He reassured the scientist. "All the facilities are behind an air gap. Even I can't get there if I'm not on a main frame." Not that he ever did that.

Liam stepped through the doors and pressed the floor where he usually bunked at. No point in wandering more. He had his eyes on a few security cameras mostly where those kids were playing. So far they'd been wrangled into the cafeteria where all hell was breaking lose. Kids these days, he giggled to himself. "Those kids are now dancing on the tables in the cafeteria. I bet Dad's really glad the PR team decided to host school kids." He should be in class, except it was boring and he flipped to the camera he'd placed in the class room so he could still attend even if he wasn't there. The teachers didn't know. His dad didn't know. The principal caught him placing one, thought he was being a pervert. But he didn't call his dad. Thank god.

"Sorry. I'm sure you didn't care about any of that." Liam offered the apology hoping he hadn't said any of his other thoughts outloud.
Admittedly, Kaelan didn’t understand the significance of air gap protection from hackers. Maybe it worked like a moat around a castle? “So long as they can’t steal my codes,” he muttered to himself. With a glance, he included Liam in the statement out of verification that his sequences were indeed safe. No doubt there were competitors out there who would love to get their hands on his designs.

The elevator ripped into life. The display indicated floors passing as they progressed skyward. He recognized the number that Liam chose, given he often stayed in the same quarters.

About the kids, he shrugged his shoulders with genuine apathy. “I don’t care. They’re not my problem. Least not now. Thanks to you,” he studied Liam side-long as an idea came over him.

“Have you had your code sequenced? I’ll do it for you if you’re interested. Maybe we can find some interesting mutations you didn’t even know you had,” he said. For the first time in their entire conversation, Kaelan was genuinely interested in Liam, almost as if he could see through the young man’s skin and behold the scaffolding beneath.
[Image: Kaelan-Signature-1.png]
Ishtar Korat Muael                                                                           
Liam reassured Kaelan that his codes were safe. Rambled on about how it was kept safe but he let it drop off into the aether when he felt he'd talked too much. He could go on forever. His dad got on to him often about it. His mother let hem talk -- she ignored half of what he said anyway for not understanding. She left the tech to the boys in her life.

But the question asked intrigued Liam. "I'd love to." He was almost giddy with joy. What cool numbers could he run on that? What could he find? There was a whole world of numbers and data in the genome sequences that could be fun to fall down. "Could I get the data too?" He didn't know how to read it. But that was also part of the fun. He could write a program, to figure it all out, read a few more books. His dad might let him out of science class for it.

And that would be grand, to not have to worry about silly biology? He'd learned that stuff in the 6th grade, it was so friggin boring. And the teacher whined and drawled on in some foreign accent. It was so hard to understand.

Liam realized he'd drifted off again. "Sorry." he muttered under his breath. He doubted the man noticed much, Liam was just a kid after all, well beyond the smart and powerful. He liked it that way. But he didn't want his father finding out he was being rude.

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