Chapter XXXI: The MuseumThe cab driver let me out at the rear entrance to the museum, brusquely stating that LaCroix had organised for the roof access to the building to be unlocked, but that was it. With that, he drove off, leaving me to stare at the building. Shrugging, I climbed up the series of ladders running from floor to floor, and opened the door at the top.
The building was dimly lit, guide lights being the only illumination. The ceiling lights were out, the maintenance area closed for the night. I walked down the stone stairs, carefully placing my foot on each step, trying to make as little noise as possible. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, I felt a presence to my left...
I gave a strangled gasp, taking a step back. Fumbled for my dagger with shaking ha...I stopped, straightening. The dinosaur had not moved. I stepped forward, and rapped a knuckle against it's head. Plastic, you fool. Vampires may blend in easily, but don't you think people would perhaps notice raptors walking the streets?
walking down the corridor, I came to a door. Opening it revealed the main museum hall, with large banners advertising the newly opened dinosaur exhibit. You fucking idiot, the inner voice chided. I stepped through the door, my acute hearing able to pick out four separate pairs of footsteps. It seemed that the security here was much more organised than on the Dane. Waiting in a convenient shadow until the first patrolling guard passed, and then made my way towards the stairs down to the ground floor.
Coming to the foot of the stairs, I cursed. Walking towards me was another security guard. No way I could get past him. Instead, I darted into a side door, closing it before he could get within earshot.
I found myself in the staff bathroom. Another guard used one of the toilets, whistling to himself absently, masking the sound of my boots on the tiles as I crept past, opening the door to the store-room. Inside, behind the shelves of toilet paper and soap refills was a covered air vent. Carefully removing the grate, I crawled inside, making my way up the ventilation shaft, praying that my intuition was working in my favour this time.
As luck would have it, the shaft led to the security office. Lowering myself to the floor, I moved towards the door labelled 'monitor room'. Placing my ear against the cheap wood, I could hear a guard flicking between cameras, the computer system giving a small beep as it changed image.
Opening the door just enough for me to be able to slide through, I watched the guard suspiciously, judging how aware of his surroundings he was. After twenty seconds, I could see that he was solely devoted to the monitors, watching the patrolling guards, and the stairs down to a lower level which housed several laboratories. If the sarcophagus is anywhere, it'll be down there.
On the table near the guard was a keycard. I moved forward, step by timid step, edging closer to the table. My eyes fixed on the guard's, watching for a twitch, an indication that he was about to look away. Picking up the card, careful not to scrape it against the metal frame of the desk, I retreated back to the other room, climbing back into the ventilation shaft.
Following the shaft to the opposite opening, I dropped into the museum central office. Hacking my way into the system's email database, I was able to determine that the sarcophagus had been brought in earlier that night, and as I had suspected, had been taken down to the laboratory for testing before being placed in storage. At the end of the cubicle was a door labelled 'basement'. Truly a fortunate night then, that the keycard I had acquired carried the same label.
At the bottom of the stairs a tiled hallway stretched into two areas covered by security cameras. Seeing no easy way to get into the security room, I decided to act quickly.
As the camera turned towards the left, I ran as quickly as it was possible to do while remaining quiet, and spread myself against the wall out of the camera's line of sight. Looking up, I waited for the camera to turn back, edging along the wall until I came to an opening. Looking quickly for a camera and finding none, I stepped into the branching corridor, running to it's edge. At the end I found a room labelled 'Laboratory 1'. Opening the door, I positioned myself out of the line of sight of another camera, and broke into the computer using the password 'ihatemyjob'. From the email, I was able to find out that the door to the workrooms where the sarcophagus was held was electronically locked. The code, 2538. In addition, a keycard was required. 'What a shame no-one ever deletes the important emails', I said with a smirk. Looking at the desk, I amended my thought. And they even leave the keycard lying on a bench, it's almost too good to be true! Snatching the workroom keycard, my mood soured. When something was too good to be true, it usually was. I had a sneaking suspicion someone was guiding my steps. Subtley, but just enough for it to be noticeable. Sighing, I left the laboratory, my eyes on the camera as I entered the passcode and swiped the card at the door.
At the end of this corridor I'd find the workrooms. I knew it. Crawling underneath the observation window, trying successfully to escape the guards notice, I opened the door, and groaned.
Along each side of the corridor were metal-rimmed holes, each parallel to one on the opposing wall. I assumed this was some sort of security system, where coming into contact with the beam would trigger an alarm system. Only thing was, no beams. Were they invisible? Even to my eyes? I couldn't turn around, couldn't think of a way around them. I'd have to go through them. I closed my eyes, stepping past the hole. Opening my eyes nervously, I looked. And listened. No approaching guards. No siren. Maybe by avoiding notice, the security system hadn't been enabled. Elated, I walked quickly to the end of the corridor.
'Hey, what are you doing back here?!?', came the startled cry. I clenched my teeth in frustration. Turning to see the guard standing by the delivery entrance, I could have screamed.
'Oh fuck off', I growled at him, clenching my fist. His eyes glazed over as his head lolled to the side slightly. Hopefully he'd remain out for a while. I stepped into the door labelled 'Workroom'. Finally I could get the oversixed coffin and get out of here.
I don't know how long I spent looking at the separated sections of the crate, and the very large sarcophagus shaped hole in it's centre. It could have been seconds. It could have been hours.
'I can't understand why someone would go through the trouble of stealing a box with a very ancient corpse - this city's not that dull'. I turned to face the bearer of that cultured voice. I recognised him, from his dark-rimmed sunglasses to his brown leather coat.
'Beckett! What are you doing here?'
'Did you get a chance to see it before it was stolen?', I asked, looking at the crowbar marks on one of the crate sides.
'Antediluvian?' Things were just getting murkier.
'So, everyone believes Gehenna is coming', I mused. Beckett looked at me, that curious smile on his lips, waiting for my next question. 'Are there supposed to be any other signs of this so-called apocalypse?'
'That reminds me. Were you able to find out more about the thin-bloods?'
'So, they're not quite human, not quite vampire. Must suck, being shunned by both worlds. Makes you wonder how they can exist. In fact, it makes me wonder how we can exist. You seem to know more about this than anyone else I've spoken to Beckett. Do you know where we come from?'
I thought. The idea of a mystical curse didn't make much sense. Especially seeing we were thinning out the herd. 'Well...maybe we're some kind of evolution. Not so much better, or worse, just a step up on the food chain?'
'Yeah, goodnight Beckett, thanks for the chat', I sighed, looking with open hatred at the broken crate. 'I suppose I better break the news to his majesty.'
An hour later, I stepped angrily through the front door to the Foundation, stepping in front of the desk. Chunk snored happily, muttering in his sleep. I stood there a moment, watching, then slammed my hand down on the desk.
'Wake up Chunk!', I snapped.
I tried to keep my anger on a leash, but the voice was whispering about the desire for junk food. Looking at chunk, I could just imagine him being the supersized BigMac meal of the vampire world - good for a change, once in a while, but you wouldn't want to live off it.
'LaCroix's expecting me Chunk.'
I tell you I'm busy, but still you talk and talk and talk...
'Goodnight Chunk', I said firmly, walking up the stairs to the elevator. I was dreading this.
LaCroix stood looking out the window, his hands crossed behind his back. His demeanour worried, yet his head held high, he was the personification of the troubled leader. I knew he wasn't enjoying the view. This little display had been prepared just for me. I walked up to the window, standing behind and to LaCroix's right.
I imperceptibly rolled my eyes, tired already of the peacock's display of martyrdom.
'I take it you've been busy then?', I said, refusing to play his game. LaCroix's brow wrinkled, his tone severe, his manner offended.
Oh wonderful. If I didn't know any better LaCroix, I'd suspect you had Grout murdered yourself. No-one would miss a raving Malkavian, and to get rid of Nines in the fallout...
'Yes please. If you could start with a private investigator. Someone appears to have borrowed it.'
'Aaaaaah, Gary! I see. Gary you bastard, what won't you do?' I paused. 'Who's Gary?' Watching LaCroix's face fall in such a way, seeing an eventuality he hadn't prepared for knock him to the floor was incredibly satisfying. Suddenly the night didn't feel like such a waste.
'I assume by your explicit information I'm taking a trip to Hollywood.'
'It's quite alright, my Prince, I know the way'. I turned, whistling happily as I left the room. I was playing a dangerous game, but right now, LaCroix needed me alive. He was currently off-balance. Maybe if I could keep him off-balance...
Leaving the building, I ran to The Last Round. Hurtling past Damsel and up the stairs, I looked for Nines. He was gone. Dead or hiding, I didn't know which. I turned to ask Skelter, the words stuck in my mouth as he slammed me against the wall, fist under my throat.
'What the fuck are you doing here, Lick?', he growled menacingly.
'What the fuck is your problem?', I growled back.
'What? I said he was there, that was it. There was someone who was the mirror-image of Nines, I never said he killed Grout.'
With a grunt, Skelter dropped me to the floor. 'Expect him to lie low until this bullshit is resolved', he muttered, turning to look over the railing. Dismissed, I turned to Jack.
'I got trapped in the middle, Jack. I've got a feeling that whole thing was planned for me to see. Where is Nines now?'
'But surely the Anarchs would rise up to protect their glorious leader, right?'
Oh really. I looked suspiciously at Jack.
'Now how'd you hear a thing like that?'
Jack had me. He knew exactly what was going on, now he was just looking for confirmation.
'Yeah, LaCroix sent me to retrieve the sarcophagus. It was missing though, he thinks a Nosferatu has stolen it.'
'Why's he want the fucking thing? If it contains some all-powerful vampire, hello Gehenna. If all it contains is some mouldy bones, he wins nothing. Either way he looks like a fucking chump.'
'Can't say I have', I replied.
A thought came to me, a dark thought, born of the powerplays I was seeing performed all around me.
'And what's to stop you doing it in that case Jack, or Nines? Maybe the bitch-queen herself downstairs wouldn't mind having the blood of an ancient running through her veins.'
I threw my hand up, making a sound of disgust. I stormed out of the building in a rage, looking for something to bite.
Who do I trust? Not a goddamned one of you.