We picked our way back down the cold, damp stairs. The temple acolyte’s dim smoking oil lamp showed which direction to go, but did not point out the trash or rat corpses. Were there so many new corpses already? My feet did not remember so many, with their bones poking around and through my rotting sandals. The huge key looped around my arm banged and clattered against the wall. At last I found level ground and followed as the lamp swung past several metal doors along a wall to halt in front of the one, my goal. The familiar nightmare figures carved onto the door glinted in the flickering light. I stood in front of the great door, surrounded by the others in the flickering torchlight. “This is Vault B, as you wish,” the elder priest said as he stepped behind me. They all watched me silently. Something slimy passed across my foot, and I heard the hiss and chitter of creatures in the near-darkness.
“Will you open it?” the priest continued. “You should not.” His voice took on a lilt of reciting a poem. “You should not, for your own good. You should not, for our good. The curse you will rain down upon us and the whole land, nothing inside this room can compensate. Nothing you do can atone. I urge you, go now in peace.”
“Why don’t you stop me?” I asked. The ache in my head squeezed my eyeballs and pressed my ears to meet my nose. “I can’t get back upstairs if I wanted to.”
“This is your decision,” he said. “I only read what is etched here, as we have read for thousands of years. So. Will you go in?”
I gasped with the exertion and wrestled the key loose. It fit into the large keyhole as they told me it would. I cranked the key to the left and leaned against the doorframe. My knees wobbled and my fevered eyesight grew cloudy.
“Is it safe to open it?” he asked.
I grunted, spat on the ground, turned the key and swung the door open. “I’ve got nothing to lose,” I said before I stepped inside.
Rupert flicked a finger alongside the glasses frame on his right temple. “I’m listening. Baby, replay that,” he said while his gaze wandered up and to the left. A light glowed green from the upper left lens.
“So how much did I say we need next week?” asked Francesca.
“Thursday,” Rupert said as he bobbed his head three times. “It’ll be here by Thursday.” The green light flicked out, and a red light glowed above the right lens. “Baby, stream data.”
Francesca threw her hands up in the air and pushed back from the conference table. “I give up,” she said. “He’s on some other planet right now.” She stood up and faced Betty. Did he just get those today?”
Rupert jumped up and extended his left hand. “And it’s good doing business with you too.” He tugged his left earlobe and gazed off to his left, then waved his hand across his eyes twice. “Our legal department will send a copy for you to sign and we can wrap this up. Baby, time stamp.” He started moving his mouth as if sounding out words.
Betty put her head down on the table. “We need to get those things banned.” She stood up. “Francesca, it’s been three days since he got those. I thought the Google Glass thing was annoying, but this-” She waved towards Rupert, who spun his finger around his ear and waggled his head. “Even if he were participating with us here, all those semaphore wagglings would drive me crazy.”
“I’d better be going,” Francesca said. “We won’t accomplish anything today. Would that I just had to deal with Glassholes.”
Betty rolled her eyes. “They were bad enough. At least we could get some use out of the old Glass, even when people zoned out every so often. You could check the stock market or get business updates. I have no idea what Rupert is doing with these, though. He could be watching ‘Romper Room’ reruns for all I know.”
Francesca gave a last look at Rupert – and saw an image of herself glow from his glasses’ left lens. Suddenly a sharp piercing BEEP blasted out of Rupert’s glasses and he lifted them off his nose. “Always a pleasure doing business with you, Francesca Monique Balancone. Baby, get CV.” He fitted the glasses back onto his head. “Give them my best at your alumni functions at Lower Merion High School, Radcliffe, and the Wharton School.” He wandered out of the room.
Francesca and Betty looked at each other. Silence. Then they burst out laughing simultaneously.