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Chapter One

In the Shadows

A burst of bright light briefly illuminated the gloom of the musty storage area. A dark-haired young woman wearing a plain black uniform stepped out of the shimmering light before it faded into nothingness. She stood between the crowded bookshelves and quickly scanned her surroundings. The room had no windows and the only door was firmly closed. She ran her gloved fingers along the nearest shelf, disturbing a layer of dust. As she suspected, the room was rarely used. It would be an ideal hiding place.

She shuddered when she recalled the day that she’d learned of the Ministry’s plans. Despite the risk to her friends and family, the woman felt that she had no choice but to safeguard as many copies of the cure as she could. She’d considered hiding them in her own house, but several weeks earlier she’d arrived home and immediately noticed that a handful of items were slightly out of place. Nothing had been taken and there was no damage, but she was experienced enough to know that her home had been expertly searched.

The air shimmered slightly at the far end of the room. The woman reached into her jacket pocket displaying the triple-w symbol and took out her phone. Her time was almost up. She stepped back from the shelves and smiled. The vials would be safe here. The air shimmered again and the woman disappeared in another burst of bright light.

She emerged into the control chamber and the intragate closed behind her. The pulsing blue light in the large circular structure’s outer ring was replaced by cold steel. The chamber was shrouded in semi-darkness, the terminals, consoles, and control stations silent. She often worked late but tonight had stayed well after everyone else had left for the evening. She couldn’t run the risk of discovery.

She coughed slightly as she quickly went over to the main panel to deactivate the intragate. Even inside the building the air was tainted these days. She glanced at her reflection in the glass on the terminal’s screen, quickly sweeping a loose strand of hair into place. Her dark hair was pulled back from her face and twisted into a tight bun when she was working at the Ministry. She quickly keyed in the code to switch off the intragate followed by another code to delete her recent activity. She’d learnt how to cover her tracks after her unauthorized trips through the intragate but thankfully this had been the last one.

She opened the door into the dimly lit hallway, where the lights were operating on low power to save energy. She hurried along the deserted hallways, swiping her ID card and placing her forearm’s small tattoo under the scanner’s pale blue light in order to pass through the three security checkpoints. She was then startled by a familiar voice as she reached the top of the ornate stone staircase that led down to building’s main entrance.

“Working late, Charlotte?”

She turned to see her colleague, Major Sebastian Grayson, emerge from a darkened doorway. He was tall and slim, with closely cropped blond hair. Like Charlotte, his rank was indicated on the collars and upper sleeves of his black uniform, which also bore the triple-w symbol.

“Yes,” she replied. “Just a few small issues with the intragate’s alignment earlier today.”

“Nothing too problematic, I hope?” he said, with a thin smile, his pale blue eyes studying her face.

“No,” said Charlotte, retaining her composure. “It just took a while for me to resolve after everyone had gone home, that’s all. Everything’s fine.”

“Good,” said Sebastian. “Anyway, I should let you go.”

Charlotte gave him a brief smile as he turned to leave then went down the staircase to the entrance. At the main doors, she put on her facemask before she left the building. Her eyes stinging, Charlotte hurried down the steps to the sidewalk then quickly walked through the empty, smog-filled parking lot to her car. Sebastian watched from the upper window until Charlotte’s car was out of sight, before turning away.