The ground floor of the Synchron Organization was filled with alarmed people.
“Who are these guys?” asked Zack.
“Other employees of the Synchron Organization,” said Astrid, then recognized someone tall among the crown. “Carter! Hey, Carter, why are you down here?” She ran towards the figure, and Zack and Weston followed.
Carter Trent turned to them, and a frown formed on his face upon seeing Zack.
“Hi, Cart,” said Zack.
“I've told you a hundred times not to give me a nickname!” Carter scowled at Zack. “And – er – what did you say, Astrid?”
“I asked, why are you down here? You were working on another landscape model for the Gladiator Games, right?” Astrid frowned at him.
“I had to run an errand to get a new program,” said Carter. “Mikey disappeared for some reason, so I had to get it myself.” He held up a small round disk. “The new 3D modelling program. It's supposed to have added features like calculators and measuring equiptment to build the landscape by acres. And I can't have it transferred online because all the computers used by my team are working on the plans of the landscape.”
“Can I see what it looks like?” said Zack.
“Definitely not,” Carter replied immediately.
“You're on bad terms with him?” Weston asked, as Zack skipped off to wander around through the crowd.
“He doesn't seem to be holding a grudge against me, but he doesn't even notice that I am,” said Carter. “Even though he's probably a pleasure to have around for Chief Madison's team and the Director, he's a hindrance when he intrudes my team's offices.”
“What is he, a kid?” said Weston, amused, shrugging helplessly. Then he frowned. “Say, what was that explosion earlier?”
“We're waiting down here for news from the upper floor,” said Carter. “Director hasn't reported anything yet. He shouldn't be injured, though. Speaking of which, now where did he go? That Zack.”
Then he realized that Astrid was staring at the ceiling. “Hey, Astrid?”
“It's . . . shutting down?” said Astrid, looking stunned.
“What is?” asked Weston.
Suddenly, a red aura blazed up from one corner of the floor, and screams came from the people close to it.
Weston, Carter, and Astrid stared as the aura became a beast three times the size of a lion, outstretching its large reddish-brown wings. It reared a head with a beak and sharp blue eyes, and screeched through the whole floor, making the people on the ground floor begin running to the doors in a panic.
Weston and Carter started towards it, summoning their weapons out of their Gladiator keys, ready to fight. Astrid gasped, and ran after them.
When they reached it, they found that Zack had drawn Galadhar and was standing right beside the creature.
“It's a griffin!” said Weston. “Zack, get away from the creature!”
“It's mine, don't worry,” said Zack. “I meant to scare people because-”
The lights of the ground floor suddenly went out, one by one.
“Huh?” Weston gasped.
Then the doors moved on their own.
Astrid ran back towards the doors, alarmed. They shut tight before she could reach them and then, there was a resounding click.
Now, that left the four of them as well as a few who had been brave enough to stay and were about to attack the griffin as well. Everyone else was outside.
“What just happened?” asked Weston.
“The doors locked,” said Carter with a frown.
Zack snapped out of his surprise, and waved his hand, and the griffin disappeared.
Hologram screens opened up above them and they froze as a black masked face appeared on screen.
“Greetings, Synchron Organization,” said a cold, icy voice. “My name is Blackray of the EAS. I apologise for the inconvenience of having to put everyone here on lockdown, but for the sake of clarifying our request, we will have to be serious this time. If you thought that my last message was the joke of an amateur hacker, you are wrong. If you are reconsidering it, that's fine.
“But our own patience is wearing thin as well. So I will give you a one hour limit.
“I have cut off the link that connects the Core to this building. Do you know what happens when a human heart is trying to force blood through a clogged vein? That's exactly what I've done. I hope you understand what that means. And just in case of some rebellion, I've set off some of our people out here so they can keep you in line. Take note that this situation involves risking your lives, so I'd like no one to die here.”
Silence came on, and the screens turned blank, with the letters 'EAS' in front of a logo that resembled a shield, before whispers broke out among the people still inside the building, trying to guess what that was about.
But Zack spoke pretty clearly: “That was a hacker.”