Chapter 2

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There was a simple henchmen motto that’s been around for decades. So simple in fact, even school children knew of it. "There’s no hero without a villain and there’s no villain without good henchmen.” What children didn’t understand was that the expression wasn’t being literal. Villains weren’t required by law or anything to have henchmen and henchmen are rarely ever good. 

If you were to plan on joining the supervillain industry, everyone would be out to get you: everyone. Your opposition would include local authorities, the military, secret agents, and of course superheroes. Then there are mercenaries, assassins, and rival supervillains out to take out the competition; which is you. Even your own bosses couldn't care less if you died from a backstabbing co-worker or if you accidentally fell into a killer shark tank. Not to mention civilians don’t find henchmen, who are ruining their day, pleasant either; especially grannies who watched late night news. 

Being a henchman has always been a perilous and thankless job. Which raises the question of why Sam and Maxwell wanted it so badly in the first place. Orienting themselves back on solid footing, the more pressing questions on their minds were actually the where and how. After being greeted anew by a newly outfitted J, the two of them took a better look at their surroundings. They were indeed underground, or somewhere quite earthy. The upper interior of the area was high and was decorated with wires, metal tubing, and natural stalactites. The walls of the rooms were mostly metal and concrete, built under rocks that stretched to the ceiling.

“So this is your secret base huh?”  Sam said.

“Just a small part of it, but yes.” J drank the rest of her water and placed the empty glass on a counter near the elevators.

Sam cheered with an enormous smile on her face. She ran around, giggling to herself like a child. She first examined parts of the wall that appeared to be made of gray rock. She could feel the cold earthy texture rub on her fingertips. As she knocked on it, she could feel no hollowness from within. All of it was real and Sam couldn’t be any happier. Her sneakers squeaked as she made fast turns on the surprisingly clean floor, creating small echoes caused by the high ceiling and entranceways. From the Reigning Storm banners upon the walls to the plaque that read “Dropzone 1” on the exit, Sam examined and touched every little detail she could find twice over.

Maxwell was awestruck himself, but before he joined in Sam’s merriment, he patted his body; his pockets mostly. Wallet, check. Car keys, check. So far so good, he thought. He went to feel for his cellphone but remembered that he and Sam had left their phones back at the office. But to be more specific, J left them behind in a ‘phone receptacle’ as she called it. Maxwell reached into his other pocket to pull out its contents. To his relief, his MP3 player looked fine and still turned on.

However, his red earphones didn’t survive the trip unscathed. Maxwell groaned as he took a better look at them. Parts of the cable were ripped open to reveal the delicate inner wiring. The earbuds themselves took the most damage. The plastic housing appeared scratched and even cracked in a few places. So cracked in fact, that both diaphragm casings popped off. One of which was missing, leaving only the other side dangling on more wires. Maxwell gently pushed the housing back in and listened into it.

Still holding on to the MP3 player, Maxwell plugged his earphones in and tried to play a song. It came out very muffled at first, quickly turning into a cacophony of screeching static before falling silent. He tried to raise the volume and even change the song, but the earphones went out in a whimper. Twenty dollars down the drain. Maxwell took one more deep sigh and put everything back into his pockets. He worried about ruining Sam’s mood with his own problems, so Maxwell decided to walk over to J first.

“Hi again, are you giving us the tour as well?” Maxwell asked.

“We’ve been light on staff. So I have to,” J said as she put on a headset with addition to a clipboard with papers attached from over the counter. “Alright you two, let’s get this tour going.”

While Maxwell and J strolled side by side, Sam ran past the two of them and out the front entranceway. She quickly grabbed onto the balcony railing that was straight ahead of her and allowed the momentum of the run to push her upper body over the edge. Looking downward, a large abyss with machinery and red lights at the bottom. She noticed that there were multiple levels below her, interconnected by walkways. Above her was more rock and metal, just like in the room before. The only other place Sam could think of that compares was a shopping mall; except with fewer people, a darker interior, and only marginally more sinister.

“Holy shit! This place is huge,” Sam said in a booming voice. Her voice would have traveled further if it were not for all of the other loud noises subduing it. “So where exactly are we now? Under the city?” she asked J.    

“No actually. We’re in the heart of Angeles National Forest right now," J said as she and Maxwell caught up with Sam. “Also, don’t yell down there. It might not look like it, but there are people hard at work right now,”

“But we were just in downtown LA. How did we get here so fast?” Maxwell said as he poked his head into the conversation.

J shrugged. “Weren’t you just being hurled down a spiraling vacuum tube system at dangerously high speeds?”

Maxwell opened his mouth ever so slightly, only to have his teeth crunch together on thin air.

“Well if that's the case,” said Sam “how come you were able to change your clothes so fast?”

J turned her back on the two of them and began walking to her right. “Now then, if you two would follow me, I’ll take you to our first major destination.”

The pair made confused faces at each other and continued following. The three of them began walking away from the high ceiling area into a more compact hallway. The entrance had two henchmen guards standing tall next to the door.

Armed with rifles and standing at attention, the two henchmen performed a quick salute as J and the new recruits walked through the double doors. The henchmen’s uniforms were a mix between military gear and the average person’s preconceptions of a spy movie henchman. To be expected, their colors matched with what J was wearing. Maroon, magenta, and violet were the main colors in their ensemble. Their faces were covered by a pair of goggles, a military beret, and metal contraptions around their mouths that resembled gas masks. And of course, the Reigning Storm insignia was present on them.

When Maxwell and Sam passed the guards and turned their heads to look back, the doors closed shut right in their faces. They were initially shocked by the slam, but the quick burst of air from it brought a light fragrance of lemon from down the hallway. The scent was pleasantly received by the duo. It's cleanly nature was well deserved after having to bear with industrial smells upon landing.

“That was the main junction that connects all the sections of the base together,” said J. “There’s more that goes on down there, but I won’t bore you on how our sewage system runs.”  

“Thanks, I guess?” Maxwell said as he looked back at the doors.  

“You’re welcome. I know this place is big, but you’ll memorize the layout soon. It’s kind of a must here.”

J slowed her pace to give them each a brochure. Paper creases and small tears plotted the folded paper like a decrepit road map. The colors were slightly faded and the black ink could hardly stick on the paper for much longer. The very top cover of the pamphlet read, “The Dastardly Fiendish Villain’s Guide on Henchmen.” Accompanying it was a cartoon skeleton in the style of a mid-century cartoon mascot. Upon further inspection, they saw more text at the bottom. “Copyright 1956 - Megalopolis Enterprises,” it read.

“You guys didn’t make these, did you?” Maxwell asked.

“Not really? It’s complicated and not really important. But you’re correct, those are not our handiwork,” J confirmed. “I grabbed them because you two are pretty new to everything crime and villain related. This will give you both a basic head start.”

“I’m just surprised that people got away with making these back in the day,” Sam added.

“Yeah, the 50s were weird. They didn’t take all this hero and villain stuff seriously until way later,” said J.

“But don’t you guys think that these might be a tad bit outdated?” Maxwell asked again.

“Apparently, not much has changed since then in terms of the general knowledge. Plus, the boss didn’t want to spend extra money on printing new ones,” J replied.

“Speaking of which, when are we gonna meet the big bossman anyways?” Sam asked as she snapped her fingers in realization.

J stopped in her tracks and turned around to the duo. She was in a much more personable mood when the tour began. But for an instant, J returned to her serious tone. “Here’s a bit of a warning. Do not try to get all ‘buddy buddy’ with him or call him any nicknames. He hates it when new grunts do that. If you wanna keep your heads attached to your necks, only address him by Kaiser Gravitus or sir. That’s it.” J turned back around and continued walking. "But to answer your question, probably during tomorrow’s orientation."

Maxwell and Sam understood the severity of the warning and took it to heart. Maxwell even rubbed his neck at the very mention of decapitation. As a way to ease the tension by a smidge, the pair began to decipher the faded pamphlet as much as they could while walking with J. Upon flipping to the first page, readers were greeted with a warning written in bold letters that said, “DISCLAIMER: WE DO NOT CONDONE ANY MISINFORMATION OR PROPAGANDA WITHIN THIS PAMPHLET. THE DEPICTIONS OF CORRUPTION, CRIMINAL ACTIVITY, AND IMMORAL ACTS ARE PURELY FICTITIOUS. ANY SIMILARITY TO ANY PERSON LIVING OR DEAD IS MERELY COINCIDENTAL.”

The little skeleton appeared all throughout the pamphlet. It talked directly to the readers about the basics of being an evil henchman in brief detail. The first part talked about the basics that Sam and Maxwell knew, such as preparedness and willingness to steal, kill, and do whatever your bosses tell you on a whim. The pamphlet soon trailed off to more “normal” things that regular jobs would have in their own training manuals. Quick tips on etiquette, efficiency, and even hygiene were given brief references in the form of bullet lists.

Maxwell slowly read from the start, but Sam unsurprisingly skipped through all the things she knew from prior experience until she flipped over to the middle part. The middle talked about, “The growing infrastructure of the supervillain industry.” The page detailed how much effort and business sense is actually needed to run an efficient evil empire. Sam was pleasantly surprised by the insight the little pamphlet actually had to offer.

It went down a list of various trade skills and industries that make up or should make up most evil organizations. Mechanical engineering, medical science, weapons development, logistics, transportation, culinary arts, plumbing, and even the fashion industry were all listed among a slew of others. This was most likely to convince anyone and everyone on becoming a supervillain henchman.

The pamphlet took a sharp turn in tone, however, as it talked about serious matters in a lighthearted manner towards the end. The almost tongue in cheek diatribe explained cruel and unusual ways a henchman could please their masters and rank up. It started off with treating your bosses to lunch or giving them a gift for Christmas; normal activities for the most part. Then it went into things that one would expect a henchman would do. The examples given were: Willingly become a human test subject for experimentation, recruiting your friends and family with cruel violent force, or shedding away your former identity and pledge your undying loyalty to your evil organization. The latter example is a more sinister sounding way of saying to stop having them pay your wages in return for room and board. Which in itself is the evilest thing written on the entire pamphlet.

“This is the command center. It’s basically the brain of our operations,” said J as she interrupted the duo’s reading. Maxwell and Sam looked up to see that their light stroll had led them into a circular intersecting hallway.

“Communications, intelligence gathering and human resourcing are all done here. My office is here as well,” said J as she pointed at different walled off sections and doors. The interior of the area was objectively more homey than the last locales. In fact, the tiled floors and the checkered wallpaper reminded the duo of the interior of the office they were present in not long ago.

Sam put her brochure away in her jacket and looked directly into some of the rooms with glass walls. She took a long look in a room with a sign that said “Think Tank 1” over the doorway. It appeared to be a meeting room a regular office building would have, except filled with raving supervillains and a literal throne at one end of the table. Maxwell joined her as they watched the people inside point and yell at each other as well as writings and doodles on a dry erase board. Thunderous banging could be heard from within, but their voices were too muffled for Maxwell or Sam to comprehend.

“That’s soundproof glass. It gets really heated in there most of the time,” said J. She explained to the duo that the room is used for meetings with most of the higher ups. The conversations range from boring bureaucracy to brainstorming on plans for world domination. She then checked the time on her wristwatch and started to lead the pair towards the next destination in her mental map.  “We better get going again. Keep any big questions for the end of the tour please.”

The tour continued with little to no bumps from then on. Maxwell was fairly surprised to see Sam not making a fuss over things once they arrived at the base. Her pleasant attitude managed to rub off on him, in fact. He too became less cautious of their surroundings and started to truly enjoy the tour. It brought back memories of when he and Sam went on school field trips together. They’d always pair up with one another so that they could sneak away from the rest of the group. Though their attempts usually ended in failure, they still craved for the chance. Being able to grasp such freedom has always been a fantasy for both of them.

Unbeknownst to Maxwell, Sam was also reminiscing over those very same days, but it strayed off towards thoughts on how adorable she believed they were as children.

The duo was fairly shocked to see henchmen acting ordinary as they passed by. A few wore uniforms like the guards they’ve seen before, some looked like they were office types similar to J, and others looked like technicians in speed suits. All were considered to be under the basic ‘henchmen’ rank; so said the pamphlet. Groups of henchmen paid no heed to the duo as they strolled pass them. It was strange for Maxwell and Sam to see supposed hardened criminals and killers going about their day so genuinely. They’re all expandable to some extent but acted as if nothing significant, such as their own lives, was at stake. Hearing all sorts of cruel things about henchmen before being hired, as well as reading the old pamphlet, their nonchalant attitudes felt eerie to them. Maxwell especially felt it.

Nonetheless, the touring trio proceeded to more key areas of the complex such as the locker rooms, recreations, and the medical wing. They went through more hallways, stairways, and even rafters that plotted the underground base like a maze. And like most treacherous mazes, there were traps hidden in every nook and cranny. J was luckily there to point out these traps to the duo before any work-related accidents could unfold. Tripwires, trapdoors, and sentry guns made up the usual cliche of traps they had installed. Most of them are disabled while the base is going about normally, but if there’s a security alert, you’d best hope not to get caught in the crossfire.

The duo let J do most of the talking as she touched base on details she felt were needed to know for the job. Without skipping a beat, J brought Sam and Maxwell to yet another section of the base in a timely fashion. It was a very wide wall with multiple doors leading into the same location, much like a theatre or airport terminal. Though it looked quite unique compared to the other areas from just the doorway, the duo stopped right at the entrance doors to catch their breath.

“Are you two alright?” J asked in a surprisingly genuine tone.

“We’ve been walking for like, an hour. Can we take a break?” requested Sam. One wouldn’t assume to see Sam in such poor condition just from walking. But the truth is that Sam mostly worked on her glamour muscles. Rarely did she perform any sort of cardiovascular training.

“P-please?” Maxwell pleaded, who has done even less exercise let alone cardio.

“No, we cannot. We’re on a tight schedule today and I need to get this done quick. I got more to do after this,” said J. “Besides, it’s only been half an hour,” she added as she checked her wristwatch again.

“Well, I think that’s the issue. We’ve been to every corner of this place, up and down, in just 30 minutes,” Sam said as she tried to wriggle feeling back into her legs.

Ignoring the plight of the new recruits, J held opened one of the doors for them to pass through. “I’m just gonna warn you two one more time. It only gets more tedious from here. So you better get used to it,” she said. The duo relented and dragged themselves into the next area.

Simply describing the hangar bay with the word ‘big’ would be an understatement. The entire hangar was built on the side of a mountain. It was as wide and almost as tall as a football stadium. It rivaled a sci-fi movie set in its sheer complexity but beat its size outright. Sections of the hangar were portioned off for various reasons. Some areas were for loading and unloading crates and materials while others had jets, gunships, and helicopters parked. A larger section was cordoned off specifically for construction with an overwhelming amount of henchmen working there. When she thought about it, Sam realized that there were actually more henchmen in here than in all of the other rooms and corridors they’ve visited put together.

“I take back what I said before. THIS place is huge,” Sam said with a mystified inflection.

“There’s more, try looking up,” J said as she pointed.

Sam and Maxwell raised their heads up in unison to see another floor above them. The ceiling had a crisscrossed system of catwalks. Countless more jets hung from the ceiling like bees swarming in a hive.

“This is our main hanger. Big, I know. But it’s to be expected from a supervillain organization based around aerodynamics and weather,” J said.

The three of them went down a freight elevator close to where they entered from. A few other henchmen lugging crates joined them as they descended. The henchmen greeted J by name and she herself returned the salutations.

The duo felt mildly perturbed to hear a masked henchman speak. They seemed to have a voice-altering mechanism inside of their masks which made their voices a mix of gurgling and static. Combined with their already unnerving appearance, the pair of recruits fully realized how frightful these minions could be when grouped together in a dark alley.

“Fresh meat huh, only two so far?” one of the henchmen asked.

“Unfortunately. Hopefully, we have better luck with the next batch tomorrow,” J replied with a quick exhale shortly after.

“I frickin hope so. This overtime is killing my back,” said another henchman.

As the freight elevator made it to the bottom floor, the two groups parted ways. As she was about to lead Sam and Maxwell one way, J’s headset began to beep as she received a call.

“Hold on, one second please,” said J. She pulled the headset microphone closer to her mouth and spoke. “What? Wait I thought these were the last ones?” J paused to listen. She glanced at Sam for a second and then at Maxwell until she walked out of earshot of them. She mumbled into the mic until her headset made another beep as she finished the call. The woman walked back to the duo with her stern expression returning.

“There’s gonna be a slight change of plans,” said J. “I have to get back topside to take care of something.”

“So, tour over?” Sam asked.

“No no, I’ve got someone reliable who can finish it. Then when you’re done, look for me back at dropzone 1.” J motioned for the pair to follow her for one last time. The three of them squeezed their way through a network of construction workers and equipment to get to their impromptu destination.

Venturing deeper only made the sounds of construction even louder. J visibly grew more irritated. Her bouffant hairstyle began to tousle and unwind slightly, upsetting J much more than the sudden change in plans or the racket around her. She began lashing out at anyone who bumped into her as she desperately tried to keep her hair in check. Seeing this, Sam and Maxwell made an effort to not bump into anything either.

The group made their way through the construction to an airstrip being used to unload goods from a cargo plane. The plane, in particular, appeared normal. It was big, gray, and looked nothing like the other planes the Reigning Storm would use.

“Mel, get down here!” yelled J. Several of the henchmen working in and around the plane turned to look over at J and the two young people behind her.

“What?” a man with a nasal voice shouted back from inside the plane.

“Come over here! I got a favor!” J yelled again as she beckoned to him.

The rest of the henchmen turned their attention back to their duties. A  man started walking out from the cargo hold of the plane.

He was a tall man, possibly in his late 40s, in a pilot suit adorned with the Reigning Storm colors The standard goggles and beret hid most of his face, but he wasn’t wearing the mouthpiece. Instead, the mask hung from his neck by the straps. From what the duo could tell, the parts of his skin they could see were a rich dark brown with a bit of black stubble around his lips.

“What is it?” the pilot shouted again.

“I need you to take the fresh meat around the base!” J yelled with her hands coned around her mouth.

“But . . . we never ordered any meat!”

“Oh for God’s sake,” J said under her breathe. Too impatient to wait for the pilot to walk to them, J dashed over to the cargo plane herself. “Drop whatever you’re doing right now. I need you to take those two recruits around the armory.”

“Uh . . . yes ma'am,” the pilot said.

J checked her watch one last time and began to run back towards the exit. While doing so, she pointed at the duo to follow their new replacement now.

“I got a question before we keep going. Is  she always this bitchy?” Sam asked as she and Maxwell walked up.

“Naw, J’s pretty decent for a supervillain henchman. A lot of the other folks here are either crazy or secretly crazy,” the man said. He gestured the duo to follow him as they continued walking towards another passageway out of the hangar.

“I’m guessing you know her then? I mean like, more personally?” Maxwell asked.

“A bit. I’ve known her since we first started up the RS. She’s just stressed from all the shit that’s been going on lately,” the pilot replied.

“You basically helped create all of this from the beginning? Like during the 90s?”

“Bingo! Founding member and still under-ranked. Crazy, right?”

“So uh, what rank are you exactly Mel?” Sam asked.

“Veteran pilot I gu- . . . Aw jeez, she has you saying that too?”

“Saying what?”

“Mel. Mel ain’t my name. My henchman number is M-31, but J’s taken a liking to just calling me Mel for some reason.”

“Oh, huh . . . okay then . . .”

“You can still call me Mel. You guys seem chill.”

Hearing a henchman call someone ‘chill’ would be the last thing either Sam or Maxwell would have expected. Regardless, the two of them were glad to be acquainted with another person who appeared to have a friendly face.

“So right, the armory,” said Mel. He began to increase his walking speed into a jog. Sam began to jog and catch up with Mel, with Maxwell tailing the two of them. Both recruits were still exhausted, but they had no choice but to push themselves further. Neither of them wanted to get lost without a guide.

“Why are we running?” Sam asked as she got closer to Mel.

“The elevator to the armory takes forever to come back down,” Mel said.

Even with the extra attempt to get to the elevator with jogging, the three of them still managed to fail to make it in time. Maxwell and Sam were actually thankful that they didn’t make it in time. Rest was needed and the duo didn’t mind to sitting on the floor. Mel leaned against a wall next to them while he fiddled with his goggles. For a good five minutes, they waited by themselves in silence. Not even seeing another henchmen walk past them.

“Yeah, this is why no one comes through here. This elevator sucks,” Mel said as he repeatedly pressed on the call button in frustration.

“So before, you said J was stressed out because there's been shit that’s going on. What exactly is it?” Maxwell asked.

“Long story short. A lot of us were on this big weapons exchange with another supervillain group. Things didn’t turn out well, Captain Proton showed up, and he basically wiped the floor with most of us,” Mel said as he took a long sigh. “And now we’re all just panicking to fix up all the stuff that was ruined and replace most of the henchmen that got caught or died.”

Sam’s eyes widened with interest after hearing about Captain Proton. “That’s the thing that was all over the news last week at Bridgeport, right?” Sam asked as she joined in on the chatter.

“Yep,” Mel reaffirmed. As he continued to recount about the mission, Mel’s overall tone of voice grew exhilarated. “Lemme tell you, they don’t call that fucker ‘unstoppable’ for nothing. I saw him take four rockets to the face and he got back up like it was nothing!” Mel said as he raised four fingers in front of Maxwell’s face. “Used the poor guy who shot at him like a goddamn human bat.”

As he was just about to go into greater detail, the elevator inconveniently dinged and opened. Inside of it were more henchmen, and the three of them had to squeeze in. Sam was waiting for Mel to continue as the elevator ascended, but he stayed quiet for the duration of the ride like the rest of other henchmen.

The next stop led them straight into the armory. Much like all of the other areas, the armory was not shy of being unnecessarily large. Mel took out a keycard from his pocket and unlocked the door. He guided the pair into a fenced off section within the armory itself. From the other side of the fence, Sam and Maxwell could see rows upon rows of weapons organized as if it were a library.

“You haven’t taken any firearms training yet, so there’d be no point for either of you to handle the big guns,”

The duo was rightfully disappointed by not being able to enter the main armory, but they made do with this mini-armory. The mini-armory was the size of an average bedroom with a few guns, gadgets, training dummies, and plenty of crates scattered about in a mess. Next to the entrance door hung a rack of extra henchmen uniforms covered under a plastic sheet.

Maxwell took an interest in the uniform and grabbed a sleeve to feel. The fabric that the uniform was made out of was tough nylon. But under it, Maxwell could feel another layer of something far denser. He guessed that it was kevlar and he was correct when he asked Mel. He wanted to try it on and get a feel of it, but Maxwell shyness got the best of him.

While Maxwell was fixated on the uniform, Sam took a look at the gas mask mouthpieces that were piled in one of the crates.

“We call that ‘The Muzzle’. All you gotta do is strap it on your face and press this button here,” explained Mel. It was obvious to Sam why they called it that because of how it jutted out like a dog’s snout how it fitted on one’s face. “Then you can do all sorts of stuff  like activate the air filter, turn on the voice modulator, and use the built-in radio.”

Sam put on the mask and snuck up to Maxwell. With the voice changer active, she began to breathe heavily into Maxwell’s ear and said, “Don’t make me destroy you!” Her voice was deep and gurgly just like the henchmen they met on the freight elevator.

Maxwell was startled by Sam, but it wasn’t exactly her distorted voice that alarmed him. “Haha, very funny reference,” he said expressing his annoyance by trying to pull her mask off.

The duo played around with a few more things around the room like other pieces of the uniform and unloaded guns. Opposed to J’s method of touring through places and explaining things in thorough succession, Mel’s style of tour guiding was comparable to a neglectful babysitter letting the kids go wild. But rather than wrecking the place, the duo grew bored and used the extra time inside to sit down and rest their legs more.

“Hey Mel, we kinda left our phones back at the uh . . . office place. When are we gonna get them back you think?” Sam asked as she pulled up a chair to sit down on.

“Well, we can go to check-in and ask. You two ready to leave?” Mel said.

“Sure. We’re bored anyways,” replied Sam.

Maxwell was frustrated that when he finally found a chair to sit on, Mel and Sam were leaving. He threw the chair back into the pile of junk he found it from and followed suit. Using the same elevator they used to get to the armory, the three of them traveled another two more floors towards their next stop.

When the doors opened, the duo recognized where they were now. They walked from out the other entranceway and were now back in dropzone 1. The closed off counter next to the elevators was finally open. The interior was like a small mailing office with a few henchmen organizing papers and packages within. At the front was a woman wearing a similar outfit to J’s. She appeared to be slightly older than J, but still had a voluptuous charm similar to hers.

“Hey E, you got the comms ready for these new recruits here?” Mel said as he leaned on the counter.

“I’ll have one of the boys check. They might not be done with them yet, but we’ll see,” E said in an oddly shrill and honeyed voice. As E continued to type away on her computer, a henchman behind her saluted and dashed off into another door.

“These guys are the only new recruits today. The techies couldn’t have it not finished by now . . .” Mel said.

“Trust me, those idiots always find a way to top each others stupidity,” said E still fixated on her work.

About a five minutes passed. The henchman who had left returned with another henchman who was carrying two small boxes. He set the boxes down in front of Maxwell and Sam and revealed their contents to them.

“Alright, so we made duplicates of your phones. The new one is for on the job only. Everything else should be in order for both,” the henchmen said directly. The duo had yet to still get used to the masked voice. But regardless, they understood what he said and took a look at their phones.

Sam flipped her red phone open and checked through all of her settings, making sure that all her contacts and messages were unviolated. Everything seemed to be in order from her contacts to her messages. She grabbed her other phone and flipped it open just the same. The home menu was identical to her original phone, but with an extra menu and new contacts that were in numbers only.

Maxwell checked his phone and saw the same results. They managed to find an exact copy of his basic silver cellphone, and similar to Sam’s copied everything in it perfectly. If it weren’t for the extra menu options, these new phones could pass off as the real deal.

“These are incredible. I can’t even tell the two apart,” said Maxwell as he complimented the henchmen’s craftsmanship. “To clarify, these are communication devices for villain stuff only?”

“Bingo,” Mel answered. “These have high-end radios built into them, encoded with a frequency only we can tap into. This is also so that you don’t have to bring your regular phone to work,”

“For privacy and security reasons?”

“For privacy and security reasons.”

Sam also wondered if she couldn't differentiate the two just by looking at them based on their outsides. To her disappointment, she actually could and cursed under her breath. There was some fairly recent paint chipping on one of the edges of her original phone.

“Hey, you’re not gonna believe where J told us to find those,” whispered one of the henchmen from over the counter as he tapped Mel’s shoulder.

“Where?” Mel asked with a curious yet playful smile on his face.

“I’m being dead serious here, she told us that she got so fed up that she chucked them in the frickin trash! And those two idiots were okay with it!”

“Classic J! I love that girl,”

Their voices grew from a light chuckle into uproarious laughter as they continued their conversation. Sam was so focused on her phones that she didn’t hear what the henchmen were talking about from the start, but Maxwell did.

“What are they laughing about?” Sam asked Maxwell.

“Nothing, it’s fine,” Maxwell replied as he tried to break eye contact with her.

As the laughing subsided, the sounds of winding machinery became more apparent. Another elevator was slowly making its way back down. Maxwell walked up closer to get a better view with Sam tagging behind him. The elevator went slow enough so that they could see J was inside it. A well-kempt man in a buttoned-up shirt was along with her, and it appeared that the man was looking down at the people below. He scanned his eyes across the room before meeting eyes with Maxwell who was staring back.

But in an instant, a loud pop grabbed the attention of everyone in dropzone 1. The pop vanished as quick as it came which led into one more pop that was as quick as the last. A flush of red splattered across the elevator’s glass doors in an instant.

A bell signaled the elevator’s return once more. The body slid off of the opening doors and onto the ground; creating a noise akin to a wet mop. Blood continued to seep out of the two bullet wounds and drench the once clean floor with pure crimson. In the back of the elevator stood J with a smoking gun in hand.

Sam and Maxwell couldn’t believe what they were seeing. They were left stunned.

J carefully walked over the body, as well as with the ever growing blood pool. She holstered the pistol into newly obtained shoulder holster she was now wearing. She also removed two small earplugs that she was wearing in addition. They were worn so that her ears wouldn’t hurt from the ringing that comes from shooting within such a small airtight space.

“Oh hi, looks like you guys finished the tour,” said J nonchalantly to the duo.

As if all of this were rehearsed, two henchmen came running from the small office. One henchman carried a toolbox and knelt down to examine the body. The other carried a bucket and other cleaning supplies and began to clean the blood on the elevator.

A familiar lemon smell wafted through the air to deter the strong smell of blood that had now become pungent. Instead of the lemon smell canceling out the blood, both mixed together to make a stench that assaulted the new recruit’s noses who had never smelled anything like it before. The other henchmen at the check-in counter were unphased by everything that had transpired. They continued to chat as if nothing ever happened.

The eerie sense that the duo felt during the beginning of the tour had returned. It was as if the fresh corpse was a wakeup call for both of them. The severity of their entire situation had now finally hit them. Was all of this “normal” and “average” a lie from the start, or was it that Sam and Maxwell were lying to themselves this entire time? No matter what everything around them pretended to be or told them, this wasn’t fun and games anymore; and there was no turning back now.

Neither of them could stop their hearts from beating faster and faster. He wanted to cry. She wanted to vomit. But like a primal instinct taking over them, hellbent on survival, they stood still in complete silence.

The other henchman carefully lifted up limbs and clothing as he took notes. After doing a thorough search of the body, the henchmen brought a wallet to J. She opened it and started throwing everything out of it. Money, credit cards, and even the man’s ID all fell to the floor until there was only one card left. The letters G-P-O were boldly written on the last card. Flipping it over revealed information on the dead man as well as several barcodes under it all. Maxwell’s gaze was still affixed on the blood and corpse, but Sam managed to shift her attention to J.

She was holding the card closely as she read its details. Gradually, her expression began to change. Her eyes widened, her brow furrowed, and her teeth were made bare. The woman’s smiles and expressions of contempt beforehand were mere raindrops compared to the sea of euphoria she was in now. From Sam’s point of view, J had made the most villainous grin she had ever seen.

“Take the body to the morgue once you’re done here,” J commanded; her stern voice and expression returning once again. The henchmen gave quick salutes and continued with their duties.

“Got your phones back? You’re free to go home now,” said J. “Well, see you at orientation tomorrow.”

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