Another excerpt/scene from my WIP, ‘The Little Queen’:

As Kaya had hoped, slipping through the barriers unnoticed was actually extremely easy thanks to Sayuri’s distraction and the fact none of the guards were really paying attention to the individual lab-coats filing through. She supposed it wasn’t surprising that Jen just happened to have a couple spare coats too. Now the pair were in an office area – a small corridor with rooms either side filled with desks and computers. All were locked, but Jennifer was able to fool the card reader on one with her tablet and a small bundle of wires. When Kaya asked her what she was doing Jen answered that they needed a map.

“I thought you said you’d studied all the security here?” Kaya asked.

“I have,” said Jennifer, “I know all the software and can unlock all the doors. I can even trick the cameras to look the other way or play a short loop if need be.”

“But you don’t have a map?”

Jen’s cheeks turned pink as they did whenever she was a bit flustered. “Th-there are dozens of laboratories here with different experiments going on – robotics, engineering, weapons research. It changes all the time.”

“You never came here with your dad?”

“No. They never had a bring your daughter to work day. Everything they do here is secret, and children tend to talk,” Jennifer said, sitting down to do some presumably fancy computer stuff while Kaya watched for anyone else coming.

A number of employees seemed to be going home although there were new ones arriving. So far at least none seemed interested in the two of them. “You always were chatty,” Kaya said to make conversation as she waited. “Remember when you told everyone about Santa Claus and made half the class cry? Then the teacher tried to make you stand up in front of everyone and tell them you were lying, but you…”

“I told the truth,” Jen said, clearly remembering. “I never meant to upset anyone. I just always believed it was better for people to know the truth.”

“Yep. You had that conviction even when we were seven.”

“I guess it never made me many friends.”“Well I thought it was funny.”Jennifer peered up at Kaya from behind the office desk. “Of course you did,” she said, “you’ve always delighted in other people suffering.”Kaya winced. Jen really wasn’t going to let that go, was she? “That’s not true,” she tried to explain, “it’s just, when you’re a teen, you want to be a part of something, figure out where you belong, and after your mom and dad left you became so withdrawn that I…”“I don’t want to know,” Jen snapped, and then was pink and flustered again. “I’m sorry, I just – I need to concentrate.”“Sure thing,” Kaya sighed. Probably wasn’t a good time to talk through their emotions anyway. Every minute they spent in here meant more and more danger. Luckily it only after a moment that Jen announced that she’d got something. “What is it?”“There’s a project called ‘ELF’,” Jennifer read off the monitor.“Elf?”“ELF. It’s an acronym – Engineered Life Forms.”“So what exactly is it?”“Experiments in synthetic biology. I can’t really tell you much more than that from here. We’ll just have to go and look.”And so soon they were out in the corridors again. White, odorless, sterile – Kaya just trusted that Jen had downloaded some map and had some idea where she was going. A few scientists passed them by. Kaya was worried that she might draw some attention in here with her creatively dyed hair, but it turned nerds could look just like regular folk. Who knew. She was more worried now that Jennifer would give them away – whenever anyone looked in their direction she avoided eye contact with them, looking awkwardly at the wall or floor. The last way you wanted to look while committing a crime was guilty, but they had already one or two suspicious glances.Kaya waited until they were out of earshot of anyone, then urged, “hey, keep your chin. Act natural, okay?” She of course immediately realized her mistake – Jennifer was acting natural. “I mean try to act like someone who actually belongs here, like your dad or act how you are with just me. If you look like you’re afraid of being caught then we’ll probably be caught.”Jennifer peered sideways suspiciously. “How did you become an expert in sneaking around?”Like most of her life, that was a long parade of mistakes Kaya didn’t want to get into right now. “It’s just… people,” she said. “I understand people, and if you look guilty people will notice. If someone looks at you just nod or smile back at them.”“All right,” Jen took a breath as if preparing to face someone in a boxing ring, “I’ll try,” she promised. The next researcher that looked at them Jen returned a smile that made her look like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Kaya praised her effort, but pointed out that he’d ran away out of fear and from now on she should just nod.“So this lab we’re going to,” Kaya said in yet another bland corridor, “they do genetic engineering and stuff?”“Stuff,” Jen confirmed, still looking at her tablet to guide them. “Yes.”“Mom hates GM food. Always telling me to buy organic, like she’s afraid we’ll all turn into huge rabid tomatoes otherwise.”Jen sighed, rolled her eyes and uttered, “your mom’s an idiot.”“Well, yeah,” Kaya conceded. “She’s still my mom, so, you know…”“I’m just saying you can’t absorb vegetable DNA by eating it. If you could there’s no reason you wouldn’t from every thing you eat, however it’s grown. Not to mention people have been genetically modifying food for thousand through selective breeding – all that’s happened now is they can do it more efficiently. Now you can question the practices of some of the companies that offer it, but ultimately genetically modified food is necessary for humanity to survive…”Kaya had to admit she’d started to zone out after the first sentence there. Jen was probably making some valid points and was likely correct as usual, but when she’d finished Kaya just blinked and said, “tomatoes a fruit.”Jennifer squinted at her, the corners of her mouth straining.“Hey, what is that?” Kaya asked. “Is that an actual smile trying to break out there? You should let it out. It’s good for you. Better than holding it in.”“Shut up,” Jen said, shaking it off. “We’ve work to do and I’ve lost track of where we are.” They were at a kind of cross roads, four corridors leading away from them. “I’m not sure if it’s left or straight on,” Jen said, turning the tablet around in her hands. “I’ll need a moment to get my bearings.”“Sure,” Kaya said, “or you could just look up at the sign over there.”“What sign?”“The one there that’s got ‘ELF’ written on it?” Kaya suspected she would never be able to resist – flustered Jen was just so cute.“Right,” Jennifer tried to compose and straighten herself. “This way then.”Kaya shook her head, half-grinning as she muttered, “how can someone this smart be so dumb?”

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