”What do we got?” The young male reached for the small tablet.
“We aren’t sure. It showed up yesterday at the lab. We’ve done an initial scan and tested the metal. Other than that, it’s untouched.”
Looking at the screen, the man was confused by the images. Pressing his glasses up, he walked over to a stainless steel counter. Placing the tablet down, he pinched the image and spread his fingers, zooming out the image.
“Is this a necklace?”
“That is my guess. The chain alone is worth more than my yearly salary. Which isn’t saying much.” She chuckled at her joke.
The man looked to her and smiled. “Internship has its costs, Jennifer.”
“I know. I just thought this line of work would be more exciting.”
He pointed to the screen, “And what is this? Boring thesis papers?”
“Ted, this is the first exciting thing that has come through here in two years.”
The man’s attention was captured by the screen. He zoomed the image in on the chain and its intricate design. Each link was interwoven into the next, making it appear as a flexible metal rope. The pendant was circular as two serpents intertwined with one another suspending a blue stone between them. With open maws, one breathed fire and the other smoke.
Ted faced Jennifer. “Have you seen it yet? What is the density?”
“It’s in the lab. They wanted to do some more scanning, but I told them to wait for you. I knew you would want to see it.”
Grabbing the tablet, Ted said, “Let’s go.”
His hurried steps allowed his white lab coat to flutter behind him, straining to keep pace. Jennifer giggled at his enthusiasm. “Are you excited?”
Ted was jogging down the polished hallway. “Maybe. What makes you say that?” She couldn’t see his face, but he smiled regardless.
“Just a hunch!” Her hard soled shoes quickened as they raced passed people coming out of the elevator.
The lab doors burst open, “Don’t touch anything!” The two men in the room looked to Ted as his eyes glued to the specimen in the center of the room.
“Pay up.” The shorter man handed a dollar to the other. “He says that every time. But you didn’t believe me.”
Ted turned to the two men, “You two, out.”
“Yes, sir.” The men left the room allowing Ted and Jennifer sole occupancy of the room.
After setting the tablet down, he walked over to the wheeled table and stared at the object.
“Amazing. It’s a masterpiece. What was the metal composition?”
Jennifer came and stood by him. “The tests haven’t came back yet.”
“Does anything happen with any speed around here? When I worked labs, I had multiple tests in and out in one day. Here, it takes at least three days to get rudimentary results.”
“Don’t compare them to you. It isn’t fair.”
He looked over his glasses at her. “I’m serious. What are they teaching them now? How to waste people’s time and money? Did they take away the incentive programs?”
Jennifer walked over and removed two pair of cotton gloves from a drawer and handed one to Ted. “Yes, the incentive programs are gone. They were making too many mistakes in procedures trying to make extra on their paychecks. This place could use more minds like yours.”
Ted scoffed under his breath as he took off his glasses and placed them near the tablet. He pulled the gloves on and picked up the object, handling it as if it were a newborn child.
“It’s dense.” With the chain dangling, he examined it over.
The two serpents wound around each other and encased a blue stone between them. The detail of the serpents was beyond the ability of mankind. The scales were distinct and individual, allowing the pendant to flex and twist without losing its hold on the stone. The serpent breathing fire was aggressive while the other was pacifying and gentle.
Moving to the chain, he brought it close to his face. Pulling on it, the chain stretched like chewed bubblegum. Jennifer’s mouth dropped as she watched the metal stretch and contract in Ted’s hands.
Allowing it to return to its resting point, he looked to Jennifer. “Are you seeing this?”
Taking the chain between his fingers, he bent it against itself forming an one hundred eighty degree bend. Then, further extending the bend until it made a small loop, Ted tried kinking the metal by pulling on it. Unfazed, the metal retained its original shape.
Ted whispered, “Unbelievable.”
“Do you think we should…” She was cut off as the lights flickered. “What was that?”
“I don’t know.”
As Jennifer walked to the door, darkness flooded the room. “What’s going on?”
A soft red light lit the room as the emergency generator energized the safety devices of the building. Darkness clouded their vision as their white lab coats glowed as lighthouses along the coastline. The fire alarm sounded with its piercing cry of danger while tiny strobes of light flicked through the room.
Ted grabbed his glasses and pocketed the necklace in his lab coat. “We have to go.”
Jennifer paused mid-stride.“You can’t take that out of here.”
“I’ll worry about the consequences later. Let’s go.”
He went to the door and peered out both ways into the hallway.
Standing her ground, she said, “If you get me fired, I’m going to hate you forever.”
“Risks have rewards, Jennifer.”
“I’m still waiting on mine.”
Ted didn’t hear her comment as he was already out the door. Pursuing him into the red lit hallway, her eyes strained to see which direction he went.
“Jennifer, turn left.” Ted’s suppressed voice called.
Her shoes clacked on the floor as she spotted the glowing white orb hunched in the hall.
“You know that we’re glowing, right? If you’re wanting to hide we need to ditch our coats.”
“Good point. Something doesn’t feel right. There should be other people on this floor besides us.”
Pulling her lab coat and gloves off, Jennifer pocketed her security badge and threw the coat into the corner. Reaching up, she pulled on Ted’s coat as he maneuvered out of it. Ted stripped off the white gloves and added them to the pile. He was about to speak when they heard raised voices near the lab.
“Search the room! I want that artifact now!”
Ted and Jennifer saw beams of light searching the room and heard various tools and things being tossed around, clanging to the floor. Ted jumped to the pile of discarded clothes, scrambling with the pockets as he pulled out the necklace. As they passed through the door, Ted pushed the door closed and punched in a series of numbers into the keypad.
“Let’s see them get through now.”
“What did you do?”
He grabbed her hand as they raced down the hall. “I activated the terrorist function. Even if they have a master key card, that door won’t open. It should buy us some time to get out of here.”
“For once, I hope you’re right.”
As they continued making their way through the maze of corridors and rooms, they eluded two more groups of men searching the building. The building was dark and familiar rooms became shrouded in mystery, slowing their progress.
Jennifer whispered, “We need to get to my car. If we can get to it before they do, maybe we could escape.”
“They would be watching for that. We have to sneak out another way.”
Jennifer let out her pent up breath, “Whatever. I just want out here. Preferably alive.”
Ted looked to her, “We’ll be okay. I promise.”
She broke eye contact and stormed away, calling over her shoulder, “I’ve heard that one before.”
Crouching behind a car in the parking garage, they peered around the bumper at the armed guard patrolling the parking lot.
“This is getting real, Ted. That guy is wearing bullet proof armor and he has a gun. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t say to myself, ‘Let’s make this day interesting and death defying.’ No. I said, ‘It’s probably going to be another dull day at the lab.’”
“What can I say, I live life on the wild side.”
“Sure, Mr. I-don’t-do-things-that-involve-risk-of-death-or-pain.”
“I’ll have you know that I went bowling last Saturday night. By myself.”
“I bet that was exciting.”
“It was actually. I bowled three games using three different throwing techniques. I’m surprisingly accurate using both arms. Plus, everyone there got a good laugh at my ‘Granny’ method.”
Jennifer looked at him, “You…did something by yourself…and let people laugh at you? Are you sure you didn’t dream that or something? I’ve tried to get you to go bowling with me for years and all you could ever come up with were excuses. ‘I might get a foot fungus from the shoes.’ ‘I might get a nail infection from the ball.’ ‘What if I slip and fall?’ You’re unreal sometimes.”
On all fours, she slipped around the end of the cars and went the opposite direction of the guard with Ted trailing behind. When they reached the end of the lot, they were confronted with an iron fence around the edge and a twenty foot drop to the ground below.
“What do we do now, Smarty-pants?”
Ted pulled the necklace out of his back pocket. “Climb over and I’ll lower you down.”
“Are you crazy? That won’t support my weight! It’ll snap and I’ll break a leg or something.”
“It will hold. Trust me. Look, we don’t have a choice. We have to get away from here and this is the last hurdle to the finish line. Please, trust me.”
He helped Jennifer climb the fence and held onto her as she got her footing on the few inches of the perimeter wall.
“If you let me go again, I’ll never forgive you.”
“I never let go. Here.” Ted braced himself against the fence as Jennifer took the necklace chain in her hands. “Ready?”
She shook her head.
With that she dropped as the chain stretched and lowered her safely down. Feet on the ground, she released the chain and it retracted to Ted at a steady pace. Placing the necklace around his neck, he climbed the fence and tried to extend a foot down to anything that would support him. With nothing available, he stood back up face to face with the armored guard.
“One move, and you’re dead.”
The rifle pointed at Ted’s chest was death incarnate. The two stared at each other as the seconds ticked away.
“I resented patrol duty, but now, I’m glad I drew it. This will get me a promotion for sure. Climb back over the fence.”
A burst of fire erupted from the necklace into the face of the guard sending him wheeling back. Just as surprised, Ted instinctively flinched, loosing his footing and began the descent to the ground. He heard Jennifer’s scream as he accelerated to the ground. Closing his eyes, he braced for the emanate crash. Something tightened around his body and under his arms, slowing his descent. Only when his feet touched the ground did he open his eyes.
Jennifer raced over to him and embraced him. “You scared the crap out of me.”
“You and me both. We need to leave.”
Holding hands, they raced across the lot leaving behind the armored guards and their former lives as scientists.
Hours later, they stood in Jennifer’s apartment as she scrounged to find essential clothing. Ted aimlessly paced the room, looking at the photos of Jennifer with friends and family. Her bright and cheerful smile dominated his attention with each photo he viewed.
Making his way over to the bookcase, he began to recognize small trinkets on the shelves in front of the books. A small tortoise wearing headphones and sunglasses, a cracked egg with legs hanging over the edge of the shelf, and a photo of him and Jennifer on the beach framed in a wooden seashell. She was wearing her little blue two-piece swimsuit and he wore a large brimmed hat, long sleeve shirt, and shorts with sandals.
Jennifer rounded the corner, asking, “Are you ready?” Her voice trailed off as she saw what Ted was looking at. “I…um, haven’t made it over to that corner of the room yet. Some things are harder to process than others. You know?”
Ted nodded in agreement. “I’m not going home. That will be the first place they look for me. I can get what I need as we go. Grab your things and anything you want to keep.”
“Okay. I just have a backpack of clothes.” She turned the corner, going to her bedroom.
Ted quickly pocketed the beach picture and headed to the door. As Jennifer joined him, she shouldered the backpack and buckled the straps.
“You’re still wearing the necklace? Is that thing safe?”
“Oh, uh, I don’t know.”
“Could you take it off? I’m still a little freaked out by it. It’s like it has a mind of its own.”
As Ted brought the necklace up, the chain tightened itself, clamping the blue stone to his left eye. He let out a panicked yelp and tried to pry it off but relented when it tightened further, smashing his glasses.
“What are you doing?” Ted voiced his question as he tried to shake his head. With half his vision seen through the blue stone, he looked around the room. With his right eye closed, he was able to see through the walls and floors of the building. Various people were floating or walking on air. As he turned back to the door, a line of dark clothed men armed with guns flew up the invisible stairs in formation.
“We have to go now! Their coming for us.” As he said this, the necklace relaxed and thudded against his chest.
Jennifer flew to the window. The two made their way down the fire escape as fast as possible. When they were on the street, they turned into the alley away from the crowds of people and sprinted away. Before they reached the end, two men in armored clothing stepped around the corner and drew their rifles up. Ted and Jennifer stopped where they were. Looking back at where they came, the way was clear, but too crowded to get away.
The guards approached with wary steps. “Get your hands up.” The dark skinned man spoke as they each targeted the torsos of Ted and Jennifer. “Where is the artifact?”
Ted slowly reached for the chain and brought out the the palm sized necklace.
“That’s it? Man, I got better looking rocks sitting at home. I got to see this for myself. Keep your gun on them.” The second man nervously switched his attention between the two.
The dark skinned man took a few steps forward. “Put your hands up. Nothing funny or I’ll kill ya.”
Ted put his hands on his head, interlocking his fingers. Reaching out, the man took the necklace in hand and pulled it towards him stretching the chain.
“Ain’t that some freaky shit? What the hell is this?”
The man twisted the pendant over, inspecting the back. Turning it right side up, one of the serpents stretched its open mouth towards the man.
Before the man could finish his sentence, his eyes rolled back in his head as he collapsed in a heap. Jennifer gasped and jumped back from the man on the ground. The other man shifted his rifle between the three people in alley.
Ted spoke up, “I’m not a medical doctor, but you might want to see to your friend.”
“What happened to him?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
The man knelt down beside the fallen man. The second his attention left Ted, Ted kicked the man’s rifle and tackled the man. Jennifer joined the assault, gaining control of the rifle. Pointing it at the man, he lay on his back with Ted on top of him. The same serpent stretched its head forward. Opening its mouth, a small hiss of gas rolled the man’s eyes back in his head.
Catching his breath, he brought the stone up to his eye and peered through it up at Jennifer’s apartment. The men were destroying everything they laid their hands on. Ted traced the outline of the picture in his pocket.
“Grab their pistols and extra clips.”
Jennifer looked to the men on the ground, “What about them? Will they be okay?”
“We need to be concerned with our own safety. We need a place where we can lie low for a while. Somewhere safe.”
“Then let’s go. We’ll figure it out later.”
Night covered the sky as the streetlamps illuminated small circles of asphalt and concrete. People walked home from work and restaurants with a casual demeanor, oblivious to the danger stalking Ted and Jennifer. It was a normal evening for normal people.
Jennifer paced around the room deep in thought as Ted lay on the couch looking through the blue stone.
Jennifer stopped where Ted’s feet lay. “How can you be so calm when people are trying to kill us for that necklace. What is it anyway? What is it for?”
“I’m piecing things together.”
“Oh? Like what?”
“Nothing about its purpose, if that’s what your after. Just what it is capable of doing.”
Jennifer rubbed her forehead and resumed pacing. Ted ignored her temper and resumed tinkering with the necklace.
As he turned it over, the blue stone fell out onto his chest. “Oh no.” He sat up, putting the stone in his palm. “Why are you doing this? Why now?”
“What happened?” Jennifer came around and stood in front of the couch.
“The stone fell out.”
Holding up the necklace and stone, Jennifer reached for the blue stone but a small puff of flame retreated her hand. Rubbing her hand, she looked at Ted with asking eyes. The serpents turned their unblinking attention on Ted.
“No. Not now.”
Separating, the two wound their way up Ted’s arms and each wrapped around a bicep. The fire breathing one took up residency around his right arm while the other took the left. The chain tightened to appear as a normal chain worn as jewelry.
With the stone in his palm, Ted looked up at Jennifer. “How does your friend feel about fire breathing snakes?”
Jennifer suppressed the tears and laughed as she neared her breaking point. “I’m sure she’ll come around to the idea. Given some time.” The serpents flicked their metallic tongues through the air at her. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Please tell me. What is going on?”
Ted dropped eye contact, “I could spend the evening explaining everything, but, I doubt you would believe me. Or,…” He held up the blue stone.
Jennifer took the stone and turned it over in her fingertips. “What will I see?”
“The truth. With that stone you can see through anything you choose.”
Ted stood and faced her. Pulling the picture from his pocket, he placed it in her hand and clasped his hands around hers. “I’m not of this world. I don’t belong here.”
The tears erupted from Jennifer’s eyes. “You may not belong in this world, but you belong in mine.”
She grabbed his head and crushed her lips to his, ignoring the protests of the hissing serpents. Breaking the kiss, she placed the stone in Ted’s hand.
“When can we leave?”