A New Chance
At her flat, she got up and went out, headed for a bar a few streets away. Ronnie’s was a hangout for some of the local small-time criminals—those who hadn’t gotten themselves involved with any of the gangs. It had been a fairly safe gathering place back when she frequented it, as the police forays into the areas near the docks tended to be aimed at the gangs, but things might have changed; she’d only been there once in the last year or so. Hopefully it wasn’t in the quarantine zone. Maybe that’s over with now that they’ve said it isn’t dangerous anymore, but I woudn’t count on that… She began planning, trying to ignore the slightly surreal feeling she was getting from walking and riding a bus at the same time.
Fortunately, Ronnie’s seemed to have been outside the zone, but the little bar wasn’t crowded tonight nonetheless. She pulled out a stool and nodded to the owner and bartender who gave the place its name. “Heya, Ronnie. Double.” She paid for the drink, surreptitiously eyeing the few other patrons to see if she recognized any. “Crazy day, yeah? Did you get stuck with the quarantine earlier?”
“Nope. Bad for business, though.” It was about as much as the big bartender ever said at one time, which she interpreted as a sign that Ronnie wasn’t going to hold her long absence against her. Of course, getting information out of him might be difficult; he never turned in one of his patrons.
“They must’ve had some weird stuff in there. Shouldn’t be legal to keep it in a residential district, you know?” He gave a grunt that was probably agreement. ”’Course, maybe it wasn’t. The place exploded, so how can you tell what it was now?” She shrugs, and leans forward, lowering her voice. “Listen, Ronnie—you hear a lot around here. You heard anything about this yet? Anybody mention they might know something?”
Ronnie lowered his voice a bit and answered, while cleaning a glass “Like I said, bad for business. Not just mine.” He gives a significant gesture with his eyes at the last word. “Then again some people drink to forget their troubles.” His eyes flicker meaningfully to a guy in the corner who looks like he’s about 30% booze right about now.
“Thanks.” She glances over at the man, deciding she probably ought to wait before buying the guy another drink; she doesn’t want him to pass out, after all.
She slides into the booth across the table from him. “Rough day, huh?”
After taking about 20 seconds to get his eyes to focus on you, the boozer replies with a heavy slur “Yeeeah… yeah… Itshs… itshs been…. real badsh turday. Buts… itsh not jrust meh ish it? Badsh tings growin on turday.”
“No kidding,” Judy replies. “Crazy for everyone, I bet. You look like you’ve had it worse than usual, though, huh?” she asks, trying to prompt him subtly to elaborate and hoping he wasn’t so out of it he completely missed the tone. If she were too obvious, he might clam up even with alcohol loosening his tongue. Would’ve been better if she’d caught him mostly sober, so that she could give him just enough to loosen that tongue without making him incoherent. Even if it would have meant paying for the drinks.
The boozer takes another swig, but somehow seems a little more sober because of it. His slurring turns into a bit of an accent as well, he’s made being plastered an art form. “Oh yah. Dat eksplosion vas partilarry my frault. A ceemrical in de varehouse vasn’ ‘upposed to be dere. Hy em gunna go to jail.” He suddenly puts his arms on the table, and his head promptly falls onto them with a thud. He starts sobbing the last sentence over and over muffled into his arms.
Judith conceals her surprise. Jackpot. And right away, too… There’s some satisfaction, too; she’d been right. “Whoah, that sounds bad,” she agrees, slurring her speech a little too. “I mean, like, arrest you? They can’t do that if it was an accident, right?” She puts a hand on his shoulder, patting it comfortingly.
The guy stops sobbing when you touch his shoulder and looks at your with red tear stained eyes “Hy don’ know. Hy really chust don’ know hennymore.” He takes another swig, and then looks at you strangely for a moment before yelling quite loudly “Hold me!” and then pulling you into a hug. He semi-whispers into your ear the following “Hyu’re de only friend Hy hef, Hy kan trust hyu. Hy vant to schow hyu zumddink.” Assuming you pull away enough to look him in the eyes at this point, his eyes are full of meaning… the parts that aren’t full of booze anyways.
Jude tries to draw back a little as he draws her into a hug—the last thing she needed was this guy mistaking her sympathy for a different kind of interest!—but stops as he whispers something. She does pull back a little, to appraise him, and is surprised. Maybe he’s not quite as hosed as he looks. “Okay,” she says slowly in a low voice, studying him. “Sure. What is it?”
“It’s a secret. Hyu hef to promise me dat hyu’ll keep it a secret. My boss vould kill me if he found out Hy schowed hennyone. It’s near de varehouse, so ve hef to be schneaky. Lets go!” He starts tugging on your arm to get you to come with him so he can show you whatever it is.
“Hey, I’m not the kind of person to turn a guy in. I’ll keep quiet,” she promises. Well, she wasn’t going to turn him in to his boss, that was for certain… Boy, he must have screwed up pretty badly. She gets up. “Keep it quiet, then, got it. Right behind ya.”
He gives a drunken “yay” and heads out the door with you in tail. You make relatively slow progress because of all of the boozer’s staggering, but it appears he pretty much knows which way to go. You also notice that he seems to be leading you in the direction of the blast, which isn’t all that surprising. After about 15-20 minutes of drunken stumbling, 3 scared cats, and a poorly placed trashcan, you arrive at your destination.
The building in front of you is basically entirely non-descript, except for 2 defining features. Firstly, it has a really old rusted sign on the wall that reads “Balchem” and secondly, the quarantine line runs right through the middle of the building. The boozer pull out a set of keys and unlocks the door… after about a minute of fumbling with the lock. He holds open the door saying “After hyu.”
For some reason, something feels a bit off.
Jude hesitates before going in, giving one quick glance around before sliding soundlessly through the door, keeping near the wall and away from the light coming in through the open doorway. Something about the place is getting at her, as if she missed something obvious, and it makes her nervous. Inside her flat, she gets up and starts pacing around the room before making herself a cup of coffee simply to busy her hands.
She gives a slight grin when she realizes what she’s doing. Normally, she’d be fidgety, which would make it harder to keep hidden; now, she just fidgets somewhere else. Whatever else this whole business was, it was convenient just at the moment. She glances back towards the guy, waiting for him to come on in before she does anything; she doesn’t know whether it’s safe to turn on the lights. Or, on a less paranoid note, where the switch is. Hope this guy isn’t too boozed to know what’s safe… It’s not a reassuring thought.
The boozer follows you in, closing the door behind him, cloaking the place in darkness. You would normally be freaked out being alone with this creepy guy in this warehouse, but he’s making enough noise that you know where he is. He sounds like he’s fumbling on the wall for something, and you here a click; the boozer found a flashlight, and hands a second one to you. He signals you to follow him. He leads you past rows and rows of old rusty containers, and machines that haven’t been used in a good long while.
You follow this guy for 20 seconds before something catches you eye. Through all the dust and cobwebs, you see a few other pairs of foot prints, not more than a day old. The boozer seems to be sobering up a bit, and doesn’t stagger nearly as much, and he has actually said a single word since he entered this building. Do you still follow him?
Liking this less and less, Judith follows slowly and warily, flicking her flashlight over the crates and machines to see if she can tell what the place was for. She’s still brimming with nervous energy; back in her flat, she gets up from the couch, pacing about the smallish room. They’re definitely not supposed to be here, and the abandoned warehouse is starting to creep her out… as is the guy, who was a lot more manageable when he was too drunk to walk in a straight line. Finally it gets to her enough to speak up. “Hey… where are we going, anyway?” she whispers, the small noise sounding louder in the quiet warehouse and making her glance about yet again.
When you speak up, the boozer immediately stops. He stands straight up, and turns around to look at you, and unless your eyes deceive you, steam starting rising from his body. As his eyes lock onto yours he says “This is far enough. So missy…. are you going to explain why you’re snooping around Balchem? Oh and try not to lie.” You are honestly not entirely sure if this guy is threatening you or not.
Judith returns his look warily; the bad feeling isn’t just her own paranoia anymore. “Why I’m snooping around? You’re the one who brought me here, mister; I went along with it because I was curious.” She notes the accent has vanished completely, along with the symptoms of drunkenness. Well, dmn… was he ever really drunk? And… steam? This could be bad. “So… while we’re asking questions, you mind telling me what’s going on here?”
He continues staring you down for a moment, before cracking a smile. “Good, you’ve got guts. We can continue now. Sorry for all of the sneakiness and dragging you all the way out here. But we can talk freely here.
My name is Dr. David Nerros, and up until last night I was the Director of Internal Affairs at Balchem. However, last night I was caught in the explosion I was trying to prevent. Now, however, Balchem is trying to cover everything up, including my disappearance. I was only recently hired to that position when I was hired outside the company, and I have yet to make a public appearance, so only a handful of people even know what I look like, and they have most likely been replaced as well.
So at this point you may be wondering why I brought you, of all people, here. It is because you, like me, were in that blast night, and I need help. I can’t step out in the sun anymore because of what the blast did to me. The bar you found me in was the first building I could get into once I made that little discovery. I had to keep drinking otherwise it would look suspicious for being in there all day.
So I basically need you to dig up dirt on Balchem for me because I can’t step outside in the sunlight. Will you help me?”
Why am I the go-to girl for all the people who want to look into Balchem? is the thought that echoes through her mind as she processes what the man (Nerros?) has said.
“If by dig up dirt you mean find out more about what was going on, sure,” she says after a few moments. “They probably deserve it, but I’m not about to go digging up anything that doesn’t exist. And in return, you can answer some of my questions.” She gives him a level look, which then disappears into a look of commiseration.
“Can’t go out in sunlight at all? That’s…” She grimaces. “That’s a change, all right, and not something I’d want… So to start with, how did the explosion happen, anyway? Some idiot knock over the wrong vat, or was there something else behind it?” If he was who he said he was—not that she could see any reson why he’d be impersonating a scientist nobody had heard of—he ought to be one of the few people who could tell her that for certain.
Something else occurs to her. “And how the hell did you know whether I was in the blast?”
Nerros looks relieved when you say you’ll help him. “Well, there wasn’t any quite as sinister behind the cause of the blast as you might suspect. Over the past few years, Balchem has been trying to get on the cutting edge of the field, and then surpass that mark. That being said they’ve basically been pouring more and more money into R&D, and have been rounding up all of the new tech other companies come up with. Normally there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that, except that they’ve basically been stealing other people’s creations and smuggling them in with our regular shipments.
I was doing some digging when I discovered a document revealing their practices. Now normally I would have just reported this to the officials, but one of the new “acquisitions” needed to be stored at a temperature that Warehouse 112 couldn’t maintain. Because the practices were illegal, very few people knew about the existence of the chemical, and those that did would not want its existence going public, so I had to rush down there myself… I was, regrettably, too late.
Now as for how I knew you were in the explosion, I could kind of, I don’t know… see it I guess. There’s like some weird energy coming off of you, and off of me, so I put 2 and 2 together.”
“Huh. That’s…” She gives him a curious look. “If you can see who was affected by the blast…” She trails off, storing that information for later. That could be very useful, though.
“So Balchem’s been grabbing ideas off other companies. Figures. Well, that’s something to start with—we know what kind of evidence to look for, anyway. Did you find out where the unstable chemical was taken from? The rest of them, too, actually—it might have been a reaction between two or more of them…” She frowns. “Probably too much to hope that they kept accurate records of illegal activity, though.” And even if they did, a legal investigation would tip them off… they probably wouldn’t shy from destroying the records. So much for just giving our infamously nosy press an anonymous tip and calling it a day.
She returns to her earlier thoughts. “Have you thought about what you’re going to do with that ability?”
“Technically the chemical isn’t unstable unless it’s stored at a “high” temperature; it’s perfectly inert if stored properly, which it wasn’t because that would draw too much attention to have like a single barrel stored differently than all the rest. I guess they didn’t know it would react this violently. As for which company it belonged to, that part was kept purposefully vague, though I would venture to guess that Balchem has probably “acquired” from most other chemical companies on the market by this time. Now as for what I’m going to do with this ability, I’m going to try to recruit others like yourself who were affected, because they have both a personal interest in seeing Balchem brought to justice, and they have abilities Balchem can’t predict or guard against. I think it would greatly speed up the legal process, so we can get this over and done with.”
Judith regards Nerros seriously. “There are other things you could do, too. I’m not saying Balchem doesn’t need taking care of, because it does, but this whole business is going to cause a lot of trouble for everyone, and… hmmm. I suppose the police could use that ability, but even if you don’t want to go to them, you could still put it to use.” Actually… I don’t know how much the police could even do with it, legally.
“We already know there are people in the blast who were crazy… or maybe you didn’t, but some guy attacked the Mayor at his speech. Somebody should at least be watching to make sure people who have these abilities aren’t misusing them…”
NOTE: Up through page 12 no further additions to this plotline.