I barely had time to notice Claire before a meeting began, one that was odd to say the least. I had followed Kamau through into a dining room similar to one at my college, only a little more cavernous, and as we'd woven through hallways, I'd felt a group join behind us. It was then that I'd felt her hand slide into mine, and I had turned just as we entered to see it was her.
I can't believe it. Claire's here. Why? What does she have to do with any of this? I have no opportunity to ask her though, because there are five other men and women as powerful-looking as Kamau watching over us, one for each of us, or so it seems. The one that Claire has been following behind us doesn't look as strong and macho as the rest, she looks like she belongs down here, never leaving the caves, wearing a pair of highly-magnified glasses that make her look a little like a mole.
I try to mouth a reply to Claire, but everybody begins talking, and I stand around the table in this impromptu gathering. Claire stands behind me, her hand gripping mine tightly, and I imagine that it's her easiest way of telling me she's afraid without outright admitting it. Romulus is here, or at least somebody else with a scary, hooded robe.
He talks to us about the revolution, something that I'd heard enough of down the hallways with Kamau. I'm getting sick of it, and by the looks of it, so are the others. Kamau names me as "the rat" amongst the others, and the googly-eyed woman calls Claire "the tech", though I have no idea why. Throughout the whole meeting, I refuse to let anybody else in the room with me know what I'm thinking. There's one girl with braided hair and combat gear who reminds me of a Lara Croft wannabe, and who seems to be taking this whole revolution thing way too seriously. As the meeting continues, I put on my act, crossing my arms and giving everybody in the room my winning, nonchalant smile.
"Eat well and sleep," says Romulus on a final notion,
"Well, shit," I say as I collapse into a chair at the other end of the table, my voice void of any of the seriousness Kamau hopes for me. He tenses with a look of half-humiliation from his fellows, and as the meeting disperses, he and the other five mentors spread out around the room to speak with each other and their "pupils". Me, I don't hesitate to pull Claire by the arm to the corner of the dining room. She looks exactly the same, apart from a change of clothes from when I'd last seen her, black jeans and a knitted jumper with a cowl neck half-smothering her face. Her white Converse are pretty much red from all the dust she's been trudging through. She looks a mess, but then I'm sure I do too, half-soaked with a swollen arm.
"What the hell is going on, Claire? I haven't seen you since that night at Halo,"
"Yeah, well...these past few days haven't made a bit of sense," she shrugs,
"What do you mean? When did you get here?"
"Probably a half hour ago, I feel as if adrenalin's all that's keeping me going,"
"Did they hurt you?" My voice is dark, my fists clenching,
Claire shakes her head reassuringly, "not in a word. See, after you went off that night, I finally managed to get me and Dad into a taxi, but it seems we had a dodgy driver. He went in the complete opposite direction to our house, pulled up in an alley, and before I could even threaten to phone the company, I was being dragged out by these two guys and chloroformed like something from a movie. Then there was this incident with Mark - long story, don't want to talk about it, like I was in a Saw marathon, and then I think I passed out. I woke up here with Annamarie leaning over me like a specimen, telling me it's days later and that I'm her new "assistant"."
"I thought they only wanted me because of Mom," I say, keeping my voice low as some of the others eye me, as if Claire and I are plotting their murders right in front of them. "So, what the hell's the connection between us all?"
"No idea," Claire shrugs again, her way of shielding her feelings. "Some people seem to know each other, and some are even trying to get chummy." She gestures in a glance to the two girls next to each other at the table, rolling her eyes. "I don't trust any of them, though,"
I chuckle, suddenly feeling much better now that there's one glimpse of familiarity in this place. "Then it's a good thing I'm here, or else you might have to socialise with other girls,"
"Heaven forbid," she smiles, using wordplay that isn't lost on me in this situation.
"There any way to get out of here?"
Claire shakes her head. "Already tried it. Annamarie even took me down to this computer cave just now to show me digital schematics and security feeds, just to prove there's no way to blow this place."
I sigh. I'd expected the worst, since, though I might not like to admit it, the guys running this operation know what they're doing. It wouldn't surprise me if doors were bulletproof and cutlery was blunt, teenager-proofing this place had probably occurred to them already. I glance back at the table of the other four, segregated by a space that I am happy to butt into: Lara Croft, a guy who I'm pretty sure is a little bit stoned, a girl so thin she looks about twelve, and another girl who I'd probably hit on if we were in Halo. Whether I like it or not, I'm as clueless as the rest of them, and I know that there's only one way I'm going to get Claire and me out of here.
I hold out my arm for Claire like a gentleman might. "Come on then, m'lady. Let's go mingle,"
A grin quivers on her lips, one she never likes me to see, and she threads her arm through, the two of us marching to the table like out of a 50's melodrama.