Tila set a brisk pace, with Ellie, and even Malachi, hurrying to keep up. The city was busy now, full of people and vehicles travelling to their destinations with single-minded purpose. Tila saw them all as obstacles. She looked up at the aircraft zipping between buildings and wished they had a faster way to move around the city. Everyone here was so slow.
The river of people on each sidewalk had to be navigated with care, even as she wanted to rush through them and push them aside so she could reach her destination. Between every block, they had to negotiate a street filled with traffic. They had to obey unknown rules and obscure signs and traffic signals. The Juggernaut might be dangerous but at least you didn’t risk getting hit by a vehicle every fifty metres. She looked up at the aircraft again. Flying would surely be better than this.
‘How much farther?’ she called over her shoulder, but heard nothing. She stopped and turned around. Malachi and Ellie had vanished. No, there they were, wading through the crowd a little farther back.
‘Nearly there,’ said Malachi when he caught up with Tila. He held Ellie’s hand so they wouldn’t be separated in the crowd.
‘Where is everyone going?’ Ellie asked, bewildered by the crowds and the rush.
‘To work. They all have jobs,’ said Malachi.
‘Tell her on the way,’ said Tila, and pushed forward again, leaving Malachi and Ellie to follow.
‘But why are they all walking?’ said Ellie, as she trotted to keep up. ‘I thought everyone here was rich. Don’t they all have drivers?’
‘Yeah, but most of them take public transport to get in and around the city. It’s more efficient, but they still have to do some walking. ‘Hey!’ Malachi exclaimed as someone pushed past him.
‘Everyone going somewhere at the same time is efficient?’ said Ellie.
‘And I thought Tila was impatient,’ Malachi muttered at the vanishing suit.
‘She is, but she’s stopped,’ said Ellie, and pointed across the next street.
They waited in a crowd of grey and black suits on the edge of the street until the traffic stopped. Then, as one, the crowd of pedestrians surged forward. Malachi and Ellie skipped ahead of the crowd before they were swallowed by the mass of bodies and reached the other side first.
Tila stood on a corner staircase, flanked by long terraced water features of polished black glass. The water fed lush displays of shrubbery and flowers, and together the plants and water funnelled pedestrians toward one of the three sets of doors into the building. Over all of this towered a hexagonal skyscraper clad in obsidian.
In a city of buildings which were mostly glass and steel and white stone this one stood proud.
‘Whoa,’ said Malachi, awed by the sight.
Ellie looked up, and up, and leaned backward before she could make out the top. She suddenly grabbed Malachi’s arm with a shriek.
Malachi unlatched her fingers one by one. ‘No, it’s not. It’s only the motion of the clouds that makes it look like that.’
Ellie squinted at the building, tracking the moving clouds with her eyes and comparing them to the tops of other buildings nearby. When she was satisfied that the city was not about to collapse around her, she lowered her eyes. Tila was gone.
‘Where did she go?’ said Ellie.
‘Inside.’ Malachi looked concerned.
‘It’s not good.’
‘She’s being too hasty.’
‘It’s not going to get her what she needs.’
‘I thought she only needed to talk to someone.’
‘Yeah, but first she has to make them listen, and they’re not going to do that if she just barges in.’
‘But she barges in everywhere.’
‘I know. That’s the problem.’
Ellie and Malachi jogged up the steps and into the lobby, where they immediately realised how much they stuck out among the impeccable suits which surrounded them. The sharp lines of the perfectly-fitted clothing on the office workers in the lobby around them made their tired clothing, admittedly clean, apart from the damp grass stains of their early morning walk, look like yesterday’s rags. In a sea of professional business-wear they stood out like buoys crying for attention.
Neither of them, however, cried for attention as loudly as Tila, who was already in animated conversation with a receptionist at the large desk of polished obsidian and dark wood.
‘But it’s important!’ Tila said.
‘I’m sorry, ma’am, but without an appointment and a valid ID card I can’t let you in.’
‘Is he at least in the building?’
‘I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m afraid I cannot give out that information.’
Ellie and Malachi finally caught up with Tila.
‘What’s happening? Is he here?’ Ellie said.
‘I don’t know, no one will tell me’ Tila said, glaring at the receptionist. ‘Is he?’
‘I’m sorry, ma’am. You need to make an appointment.’
‘But I need to talk to him now. I already said it’s important!’
Malachi gently but firmly pushed Tila to one side. They had questions, the young man behind the desk had answers, and Tila’s headstrong confrontational style was not going to elicit them. He switched on his brightest smile, the one he knew Ellie would make fun of later.
‘Hi.’ Smile. ‘How do we make an appointment?’
‘Appointments with Mr Harrington can be made through his private office.’
Malachi turned to Tila. ‘See? You only have to ask.’ He returned to the receptionist. ‘Can you tell me how we contact his office?’
‘I’m sorry, sir, but I’m afraid I can’t give you that information.’
‘But we want to arrange a meeting,’ said Malachi. ‘How can we do that if we don’t know how to contact him?’
‘I’m sorry, but I can’t help you,’ said the man behind the desk.
Malachi drummed his fingers on the glass counter. ‘Look, do you understand how that doesn’t help us at all? How do people usually get meetings with Mr Harington.’
‘They don’t, usually. Mr Harrington calls them.’
Tila tried one last time, ‘Can you get him to call us?’
The receptionist looked Tila up and down in a way which made the answer clear without him needing to say anything. He said it anyway. ‘I don’t think so. Mr Harrington doesn’t call… people like you.’
‘Tourists,’ he said generously. ‘You can’t just wander in off the street and expect a meeting. He’s a very busy man.’
‘So, he is here?’
‘I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m afraid I can’t-‘
‘Give me that information? Yeah, you already said that. Never mind.’
Tila pushed away from the desk with a grunt. This must be how other people felt after arguing with her. It was infuriating talking to someone so stubborn. No wonder people avoided it.
But that was the problem when you tried to act from a position of weakness, you had no leverage.
Ellie gave the receptionist an apologetic smile as they retreated.
‘So, that went well,’ said Malachi.
Tila stiffened. She wasn’t in the mood for jokes.
Ellie said, ‘What if he’s not here? I mean, even in the city or on the planet? If he is as important as you said wouldn’t he be travelling all the time?’
‘It’s possible. But it’s not like anyone is going to give us his schedule,’ said Malachi.
‘I’m afraid I can’t give out that information,’ Tila mimicked the receptionist with disgust. ‘But how do we know he’s not here? Maybe he’s on the top floor right now.’
‘Maybe, but we can’t just let ourselves in. Tila? Where did she go?’
‘Oh dear,’ said Ellie. ‘I think you gave her an idea.’
Tila strode toward the banks of elevators at the back of the lobby. Low walls of black glass extended from each side of the reception desk, forming a barrier Tila could skip over without effort. The receptionist Tila had been speaking to, and mocking, had already seen her approaching, and the moment Tila’s feet touched the ground on the far side of the barrier alarms sounded throughout the lobby. Staff and visitors winced as the sound stabbed at their ears, and those near the exit, either entering or leaving, quickly left the building for the relative peace of the street outside.
The alarm caught Tila off-guard, and two burly security guards were on her within seconds. They took an arm each, escorted her roughly to the main door and pushed her out,
Seconds later, Ellie and Malachi were also forcefully ejected from the building. The guards remained in the doorway, silent and resolute in their mission to prevent any of them getting back in. They rubbed their sore arms where the guard’s strong grip had bruised them.
‘Yeah, that really went well,’ Malachi muttered.
Tila glared back at the receptionist who looked in her direction but didn’t make eye contact, as if she was no longer his concern. He touched his earpiece with one long finger as if he was making a call.
Tila admitted defeat at last and turned her back on the Harrington building. They descended to street level. Malachi checked his datapad while Ellie rubbed her friends arm to make her feel better.
‘What do we do now?’ said Ellie.
‘Assuming Tila doesn’t want to try to break in here again, the next person on the list is called Cho Suleman,’ said Malachi
‘Where is he?’ said Tila.
‘Not far from here. Two blocks that way.’
Tila was already headed in the direction Malachi had pointed out.
‘So close?’ Ellie asked.
‘Very close,’ said Malachi. ‘I guess all these trillionaires must be neighbours.’