Chapter 1

Written by: Lrennes

Hubert peered around the corner into the hallway. 

"Have they gone?" Penny whispered, pushing up close to him.

"Yep," he confirmed, his voice lowered. "Coast is clear. Let's go."

The pair rounded the corner doing their best to appear as casual as possible. Briskly, they began walking away from the elevator towards Professor Long's laboratory. Technically, they weren't doing anything wrong but they could feel their eyes shifting suspiciously as they eyed the few oncoming staff members. No one seemed to notice them.

They stopped as they arrived at the Laboratory door. Through the inset window, Hubert could see that the lights were off. There was no one inside. 

"What do we do? Should we just go in?" he asked, turning to Penny.

She shrugged. “Yeah.” Before he had a chance to react, her hand was on the door handle. With a metallic rattle, she shimmied it up and down. It didn't budge. 

"Locked," she muttered, releasing it with a dejected frown.

"Damn," Hubert said. He pulled up close to the glass and peered in, trying to see if there was anything of note. Two long benches topped with various instruments and computer hardware ran in parallel down the centre of the room. At the back, to Hubert's left, he could see a writing desk. In the centre sat an empty laptop dock. The laptop itself was nowhere to be seen. Next to that was a filing tray, laden with documents. 

"Over there," he whispered, pointing to the desk. 

Penny pulled her head up next to his to see what he was looking at. 

"If there's anything in there, that's where it'll be," he said.

"Alright," she agreed. "We just need to..."

"Can I help either of you?" 

The pair jumped back, startled by the loud, stern voice behind them. They turned and came face to face with an older woman, who loomed over them. They recognised her short, curly black hair and hooped earrings immediately. She was Professor Long’s boss, Head of Department, Professor Carrion. Her jagged features were set in a suspicious, unimpressed expression. 

"I uh…" Hubert stuttered. He flicked his widened eyes back and forth between Penny and the Professor. 

The woman cocked her head sideways, awaiting an explanation.

"We...," Penny began, glancing sideways in Hubert's direction in hope of finding some inspiration. "We were just… we left something in there."

Hubert’s face lit up. "Yeah exactly. We were helping Dr Long in the lab yesterday and we left… something behind.”

“Oh?” Professor Carrion asked. It was hard to tell if she believed them. “And what was that?”

“Um, an assignment,” Penny blurted out, “that we were working on.”

“Right,” Hubert nodded along. “We’re not finished with it, and we’re afraid that he might mark it before it’s done.”

“Can you help us?” Penny asked. “We can’t find him anywhere.”

Professor Carrion examined the pair closely with a long stare as she deliberated on the story. They stared back with sheepish un-assuredness. Penny flicked her hair away nervously. 

“Well,” she said finally, with a hint of a smile, “wouldn’t want your grades to suffer over something like that now, would we? You’re not going to find Professor Long anytime soon. He’s been whipped away on… other business. I’ll let you in, just for a second.”

She stepped forward and removed a set of keys from her pocket.

“Thanks so much,” Penny said. 

“Yeah, we were starting to worry,” Hubert agreed.

“No problem,” the Professor replied as she unlocked the door, pushed it open and stepped into the laboratory.

Hubert mouthed the words ‘What now?’ behind her back to Penny as they followed along. She shrugged and shook her head.

“So, do you know where you left it?” Professor Carrion asked, flicking on the light.

“Uh, over there I think.” Hubert pointed towards the desk at the end. “Right Penny?”

“Yeah, I think so.” She nodded and made her way over. “He probably put it in his in-tray if he found it.” She began to rifle through the documents there.

“Although…” Hubert said thoughtfully, “I might have left it over here as well.” He walked over to the other end of the room, drawing Professor Carrion’s attention. He began to feign scouting around in between various pieces of computer equipment with a troubled frown on his face. “Hmm… I can’t see it though…”

“Got it!” Penny announced suddenly, waving a document in the air. 

“Alright,” the Professor said, “very good.”

As they exited back out into the hallway, Professor Carrion turned, closed the door and leaned down to lock it. 

“Thanks a lot Professor,” Penny called out behind her, already heading back towards the elevator.

“Yeah thanks a bunch, you’re a life saver,” Hubert agreed, following along.

“You’re welcome,” she replied as she stood back up to full height. The students were already half way down the hall. 

They scurried into the elevator. Hubert pushed his finger into the button for the ground floor, and the door slid shut. Penny pulled up the documents she had selected from the in-tray as they began to descend.

“What did you get?” Hubert asked, leaning down to eagerly inspect them.

She began to scour over them. “I’m not sure… Some emails I guess. I saw the words ‘Ground 29’ in there somewhere and recognised them.” 

“And there,” Hubert said, pointing to some text in a paragraph, “’Climate Exchanger.’ Who’s it from?”  

She flicked over the page and glanced to the bottom to find the signature of the sender. “Looks like it’s from the Director of Ground 29... Gordon Chalmers, apparently…”

With a ‘ding’, the elevator door opened. Penny pulled the document down, partly concealing the papers behind her thigh. She was in possession of stolen goods, she realised, important stolen goods. She lifted her head and straightened her back as they exited, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.

“Come on,” Hubert said, grabbing her by her free hand. He began to lead her away. “We need to go somewhere to look at this properly.”

Comments

I enjoyed this chapter. It flowed and kept a good pace. The mystery in the emails will be interesting to watch unfold. Nice lead in to chapter 2.
Always hard to get into the story, especially when you are writing chapter one. It takes a lot of thought and Lrennes has carefully made sure we follow on naturally without being boring, and at the same time start to build a little excitement, leaving us wondering about something. (in this case the E mails) I want to know what they say and am still wondering about Ground 29. Nice work,
The previous comments are right on target. This is a great first chapter with good use of dialogue and a nice pace.