Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Runaways characters (even though I wish I did and could probably--scratch that, definitely--do something better with them than Marvel is currently doing).
Note: This is a part of the Marvel Mayhem continuity
The city bus screeched to a halt outside the Slaton Enterprises building, a massive skyscraper that housed the main offices of all the major divisions of one of the largest conglomerates in the world. Slaton Enterprises had its fingers in numerous different industries. From food, to technology, to media, to shipping, to electrical, engineering, medical, entertainment, you name it they did it. It was also responsible for opening up tens of thousands of jobs all across the U.S. and other countries. By all accounts, it was a great and well respected business.
Only one person stepped off the bus before it continued on its way, a teenage girl with long, oddly styled black hair: Nico Minoru. She stared down at the music player in her hand, scrolling through a lists of songs with her thumb. Her black-painted nail clacked against the screen steadily as she went. When she reached one she felt in a mood to listen to, she hit play and turned the volume up, music pumping and pounding out of her ear buds.
With a small sigh, she finally glanced up at the building and frowned. Here she was, just like everyday for the past four years, her traditional after school 'hangout'. She didn't know why her parents insisted on her coming to their job and waiting for them to get out before going home, instead of just going home to begin with. 'It's not safe' they'd tell her. 'We work late' they'd add. Aside from the occasional after school venture to the mall or the movies, Slaton Enterprises was where she spent her afternoons and evenings, doing her homework and like a good student and trying desperately not to go insane from boredom. Grumbling under her breath, she finally trudged forward through the entrance.
The security guard at the front desk—Mike, she thought his name was—gave her a simple wave as she went on by. After four years, he knew her face well enough to send her up without stopping her. Those first few months, though, had been a pain in the ass, not least because there had been a different guard every few days. Now, they didn't change shifts as often, so Mike was typically the one she saw on the way up. On the way down, it was... Daniel. Maybe. Nico never bothered to remember.
Just as she reached the elevator, however, she overheard a commotion above the music pulsing through her ears. Pulling a single ear bud out of her ear, she looked back and noticed a teenage boy with shaggy blonde hair rolling through the lobby on a skateboard. He gave a single kick-flip as he zoomed by the desk, waving at the guard with a grin.
“Mr. Stein!” the guard called, bolting upright from his seat. “No skateboards in the lobby! You know that!”
“Yeah, yeah,” the boy replied, jumping off a second later. He landed with a jogging stop and reached down to pick up the skateboard, tucking it under his arm. “Nice to see you, too, Mikey.”
He joined Nico at the elevator just as the doors opened. She gave him a sidelong look before turning her attention straight ahead of her and walking into the elevator, doors closing swiftly behind them. When she turned around to hit the button for her floor, she noticed him look over at her.
“Fifty-two,” he said, giving a slight chin nod.
Nico furrowed her brow and glanced back at him. “Oh... that's where I'm going.”
“You don't say,” he replied, chuckling quietly. “Weird coincidence. Name's Chase, by the way.”
He held her hand out to her as the elevator began to descend, and for a brief moment she just stared at it. Then, finally, she reached out and shook it. “Nico.”
“Nico... Nico... wait, Minoru?”
“Uh... yeah? Have we met before, or...?”
Chase gave a smile, pointing his thumb at himself. “Yeah, yeah last summer, remember? My family had yours over for a cookout, kind of a work related thing or something? I almost didn't recognize you with all the, um...” His eyes traveled up and down a moment, no doubt taking in her... unique style of dress, which she had only recently taken a liking to. “...all the eye shadow.”
“Uh huh,” she replied, pursing his lips. “I think I remember. You were a lot shorter then.”
“Oh, yeah... this past year was good to me, I guess. So what are you doing here, anyway?”
Nico shrugged. “I'm here pretty much every day.”
Chase lifted an eyebrow. “Oh, you work for your parents or something?”
“More like I have to come here after school so they can keep an eye on me. You know... parents.”
“Ah, weird. Same thing with my parents. Normally on the twentieth, but they had some big meeting or something today on the fifty-second, told me to wait up there.”
Nico lifted her own brow this time. “Huh, so did mine.”
The elevator doors opened again a few moments later. Nico stepped out first onto the fifty-second floor lobby with Chase following closely behind. The lobby was small, with a couple of couches set up around a coffee table, potted plants in the corners of the room, and a front desk at the opposite end. Several doorways behind the front desk led off into separate hallways with offices, boardrooms, labs, and the like.
Two other individuals were already present in the lobby. The first was a teen girl with glasses and her hair dyed purple, sitting on one of the couches and scribbling away in a notebook. A calculus textbook lay open on the coffee table in front of her, and a graphing calculator sat next to it. The second was a a younger girl, maybe eleven years old, with long brown hair and a funny pink hat. She stood at the front desk, leaning over it with her hands occupied by a hand-held gaming system. The secretary sitting behind the desk did not seem at all amused by the girl's presence.
“See, if you combine the web and the golden silk, you get a special net that lets you capture the diamond unicorn!” the girl said. “And once you have the unicorn you can fly to the castle and fight the dragon! It's seriously awesome.”
“That's... lovely,” the secretary muttered, trying to keep her attention on the computer screen in front of her.
The purple haired girl looked up from her notebook and sighed quietly. “Molly, come back over to the couch.”
Molly rolled her eyes and huffed out an annoyed breath. “Fiiiine.” Pushing herself away from the desk, she marched back over to the opposite couch and plopped herself down, eyes concentrating on the game.
“Looks like it's a regular party up here,” Chase said, approaching the other two. “Don't tell me, you both have parents who work here, too.”
“Yup.” The purple-haired girl glanced up from her notebook at him, then quickly moved her focus to Nico. “Oh, hey, Nico.”
“Uh... hi?” She blinked, lifting an eyebrow. “Do I know you?”
“Well, not like-- I mean, we don't know each other. We're in the same gym class, though.”
It took Nico a moment to put things together, but eventually the light bulb went off in her head. “You're the girl that got beaned in the face during dodgeball last week! Gertrude, right?”
Gertrude pursed her lips, then looked back down at her notebook. She erased something, then quickly filled in a correction. “Yeah, that's me. And you're the one who sits on the bleachers all class and listens to music.”
“Er...” Nico muttered, scratching the back of her head. “I'm not really a gym oriented person.”
“Neither am I, but I still want to pass the class,” Gert said, with a shrug.
“So what are you doing here?”
“Like I said, parents work here. They make me come after school, do my homework and all that. Then we go home when they get out.” Gertrude reached forward and grabbed her calculator, rapidly punching in an equation. “'Course, they usually work in R&D down on the thirty-third floor. Something about being in a big meeting or something today, though.”
Nico paused a moment, sitting down on the couch next to Gertrude. “Huh... same with mine and Chase's. You think they all work together?” She glanced back at Chase. “Chase, do your--”
“No, no, no, you gotta use the silver dagger!” Chase proclaimed. He leaned over Molly's shoulder, staring at the screen of her gaming device. “Look out, dodge the spikes!”
“I'm trying!” Molly said. She lowered her face closer to the screen, thumbs clicking buttons like mad.
“Watch out for the lava! Left! No, your other left!”
“You're distracting me!” Molly tried to lean away from Chase, holding her hand-held device out at arm's length.
“Wait, no, not the--!”
A low pitched rumble burst from the system's speakers, followed by a sorrowful, 'game over' type chime. Molly groaned, falling back against the couch with her head tilted backwards. “Way to go, you got me killed!”
“Hey, I was just trying to help,” Chase insisted. “I told you not to use the hammer, it doesn't work on the mud guardian.”
“Ugh, now I gotta do the whole temple over again,” she muttered, holding the game back up close to her face. “And no help this time.”
“Fine, fine,” he said, scooting away to the other side of the couch. “But don't come crying to me when you can't get to the eternal forest.” A few moments passed, and then he noticed Nico and Gertrude staring at him. He raised an eyebrow, returning the gaze. “What?”
“...Never mind,” Nico said.
The elevator at the end of the lobby dinged open again, this time revealing two more young individuals. The first, a teen girl with long blonde hair tied back in a braid, walked forward with a cell phone held to her ear, engaged fully in her conversation. She made her way straight to the couch and sat down next to Nico, but didn't actually look at anyone.
“No, no it's fine, really,” she said, with a small sigh. She held her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes, groaning under her breath. “Really, it wasn't that important anyway, I just thought I'd try and see how it went. Yeah, it's no big deal. No, Stace, you don't need to do that. Let them say what they want, it doesn't make a difference. Really. Yeah, I know... thanks. I'll see you tonight? Great. Love you, too. Later.”
When she hung up her phone, she fell back against the couch and huffed out a loud breath, blowing a few stray hairs away from her face.
“Karolina?” Gertrude said, leaning forward to look around Nico. “You okay?”
“Yuh huh,” she replied, though her tone was unconvincing. “Just dandy.”
“Was that about the cheerleader try outs?”
“Yeah. It's a no go.” Karolina folded her arms and looked away, frowning. “Not because I wasn't good enough, not because they didn't have any spots on the team--they just didn't want me. God, it's like they're afraid I'll stare at them while they change or something.”
Gertrude frowned, turning back to her homework. “People are jerks.”
Karolina shrugged. “You know what, though? I'm glad I didn't get accepted. More than that, I'm glad I never tried out the past three years, either. I don't want to be a part of that kind of group.”
A small pause followed, during which time Nico looked back and forth between Karolina and Gertrude. After a brief moment, she asked, “So, you two know each other?”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah,” Karolina said, looking back at her. She gave a smile and held out her hand. “Sorry, forgot to introduce myself. Karolina Dean. I think we go to the same school?”
Nico reached out and shook her hand. “Uh, maybe, yeah. You do look kind of familiar. I'm Nico.”
"Nice to meet you, Nico," she replied, smiling warmly. "Awesome outfit, by the way. Looks great on you."
Nico lifted her eyebrows, then glanced back down at her jacket, unaware of a smile of her own beginning to form. "Oh, thanks. Made it myself."
“And I'm Alex, in case anyone was wondering,” said the boy standing off to the side of the group. He had entered the lobby at the same time as Karolina, but had up until this point remained silent. “Alex Wilder. Gotta say, it's nice seeing some other faces up here for a change.”
Chase puffed out a small laugh. “Why, you up here alone often?”
“Usually,” Alex replied, leaning against the side of one of the couches. “Parents work on this floor. I'm going to assume all of you are in the same boat as I am.”
“You mean forced to sit around a stuffy office building every day, do our homework, and wait for our parents to get out and brings us home?” Nico said. “Yeah, pretty much.”
Alex shook his head head slowly. “Parents, right?”
She sighed, rolling her eyes in agreement. “Yeah, parents.”
“So I take you're all up here because of the meeting?”
Karolina shrugged. “I guess so. My folks said to wait on this floor today, said they were working on something.”
“Mine, too,” Molly said, not taking her eyes off her game. She tilted her head slightly, tongue easing out between her lips as her thumbs pounded away on the buttons; she was the epitome of concentration. “Big meeting, different floor. Booooring.”
“No one else finds it a little weird that all our parents work in the same company, and are in the same meeting on the same day?” Gertrude said, glancing up from her notebook. Her pencil had stopped for the moment. “And that they all make us wait for them every day?”
“I dunno, I guess,” Chase said, with a small shrug. “I mean, it's like one of the biggest companies in the world... so it can't be that weird that they all work here, right?”
“I guess, maybe.”
“So how long is this meeting supposed to be anyway?” Nico asked. She finally leaned forward and unzipped her bag; might as well get started on her homework. “I really don't want to be here until seven.”
“My mom said it was going all day...” Karolina muttered, folding her arms. “Didn't really have a set time, though.”
“Oh, I'm sure they won't be too long,” Alex said. “How long could a meeting possibly take?”
Evidently, a long time. The group sat together there in that lobby for hours. They finished their homework before long, and aside from Molly, who had her game, the others had nothing else to do. Even Nico got bored of her music after listening through the playlist four times. So, with nothing else to do... they talked. For over two hours. They told each other about their parents, about their interests, about their lives, really got to know each other.
Alex was applying for an internship over the summer to work at the company, while Chase already had a job delivering pizzas on a bicycle (once Gertrude thought about it, she recalled seeing him biking down 32nd street one time and nearly flip himself over a taxi cab). Gertrude herself was in the middle of college applications, aiming for some of the top universities in the country. Come to find out, Nico was applying to a lot of the same schools. In spite of her less than stellar gym performances, she had near straight A's in all her other classes. Karolina wanted to go to art school; she loved to paint, and loved photography. With any luck, she'd get accepted to the same school as Stacy, her girlfriend. And Molly... well, Molly had made a point of going through her entire collection of games and explaining what made them awesome. Crystal Kingdom, Princess Powerful, Rainbow Kart Racing, Adventure Planet, she had them all.
“Man,” Chase said, leaning back on the couch and uttering a long yawn, “anyone got the time?”
“It is...” Karolina started, pulling her phone out of her pocket. “...eight-thirty.”
Nico groaned. “Seriously? The heck is taking them so long?”
“Wish I had an answer,” Gertrude replied. “You'd think they were plotting world domination or something.”
Alex tapped his fingers gently on his arms, looking over at the nearby desk. The secretary had gone on break about ten minutes ago, leaving them completely alone in the lobby. “Well, we could always go find out for ourselves. My guess is they're in the boardroom down the hall.”
“What, you mean like spy on them?” Gertrude said. “I don't really think we need to go that far. They'll be done... eventually.”
“I don't know, would be nice to know what the heck they're doing in there, right?” Chase suggested. “I mean come on, we've been here for like six hours already.”
Nico folded her arms, lips gently pursing. “Well... I am all pretty much talked out, I don't know about the rest of you.”
Karolina glanced back over at the empty desk, then towards the doorways behind it. With a contemplative breath, she turned to the others. “I guess we could... but couldn't we get in trouble for that? Not exactly sure we're supposed to be snooping around back there.”
“Don't worry about, everyone on this floor knows me,” Alex assured. “We get caught and I can talk our way out of it pretty quick. So, who's in?”
Molly gave him a studying stare, arms crossed. “So this is gonna be like an adventure?”
“About as big an adventure as you can have in an office building, I suppose,” he said.
Instantly, the young girl grew a large grin on her face and jumped up from the couch. “I'm in!”
Five minutes later, the six kids were walking down one of the long hallways on the fifty-second floor. Most of the adjoining offices were dark and empty, completely unused this late in the day. Most of the nine-to-fivers were already gone, having left hours ago. But not their parents, no. Their parents were still up here somewhere, doing who knew what.
Alex led the way, poking his head around the corner of the hallway and motioning for the others to follow when the coast was clear. They continued until they found themselves outside a large, empty boardroom, with glass walls along the corridor. The lights were out, chairs empty.
“Huh, I don't get it,” Alex said, scratching the side of his head. “This is where they should be.”
Suddenly, a faint, shrill cry echoed down the hall. It was barely audible, but Nico still picked it up, turning her head sharply and staring. “You hear that?”
“Hear what?” Chase asked.
“I don't know... something.” Before Nico realized what she was doing, she was leading the others farther along. A few moments later, the cry rang out again, only this time it was slightly more audible.
“Okay, I heard something that time,” Karolina said. “Any idea what it is?”
“Not a clue,” Gertrude stated. “If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was someone screaming.”
They group soon found their way to the very end of the winding hallway, which seemed to go on for a lot longer than should have been possible on a single office floor. In front of them stood a heavy, metal, bolted door, with a small Plexiglass window. Beyond the window, it was dark, mostly, though every now and then a flicker of colored lights glowed from within.
“You see anything?” Chase asked.
Nico peered inside the window, squinting in attempts to make out the muddled shapes within. Before long, her eyes adjusted. A variety of expensive looking equipment lined the walls of the large, circular room beyond. In the center was a single, cylindrical tube, about the size of a person, with numerous cords and smaller tubes connected to it.
“I... think so,” she said. “I see my parents. They're in the back, working on... something. I can't make it out clearly, looks like their hands are glowing.”
“Let me see,” Alex said, easing his own face towards the window. “Okay, those are my parents in the middle of the room. Don't know what they're doing, though.”
Before long, Gertrude, Karolina, and Chase all poked their way towards the window to get a good look inside.
“And those're my folks at the computer over there in the corner,” Chase said.
“Mine are right next to them,” Gertrude added. “And by the way, there's no corner, Chase. The room is round.”
Karolina squinted a little harder, trying to find her parents. Whatever was causing those flickering rainbow lights, however, was really messing with her eyes' ability to adjust. “I... think I see my parents. On the other side of that cylinder thing. Damn thing is glowing too bright, though.”
“Hey!” Molly said, trying to push her way through the others to get a look. Even if she did, however, she wasn't tall enough to see into the window. “I want to look, too! Are my parents in there? What are they doing?”
Inside the room, Mr. Wilder made some kind of gesture to his wife, who hit a few buttons on the electric panel in front of her. The Steins looked back at them and said something they couldn't hear, then pointed to the Minorus. The Minorus pulled their hands back (which, unless the lighting was causing an optical illusion, were in fact glowing) and shrugged, marching off to the side, while the Hayes both began to rotate a pair of levers on the other side of the room, with the Yorkes working busily on a computer screen nearby. A second later, another pair of adults came out from the other side of the room, the Deans... both of whom were glowing—their entire bodies, glowing like rainbows and emanating wisps of energy.
Karolina's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. “What the hell?”
“Uh... anyone know what's going on?” Chase asked. “I don't think humans are supposed to do that.”
A second later, the cylinder in the center of the room began to raise upward, revealing a mass of metal restraints, hinges, and wires within. It was what those restraints contained, however, that caused the kids looking on to recoil and very nearly shout out loud. A young, sickly woman hung from her wrists, wires attached to numerous parts of her body. She was frail, her skin ghostly white, and blood leaked from her eyes. She looked very much near death.
“Oh my god,” Gertrude uttered, her voice no more than a hoarse whisper. “Ohmigod, ohmi-”
“What the hell are they doing?!” Nico shrieked, barely keeping her voice down.
Mr. Wilder released the restraints and pulled the woman free, only to quickly drop her to the floor. He sighed and shook his head, while Mrs. Wilder shrugged and scribbled something down on her clip board.
“I don't... what are they—” Alex said, pressing his face closer to the window.
“What is it?” Molly pleaded, desperately wanting to know what the others were looking at. It was probably something amazing. “What's going on!”
At this point, Mr. Minoru walked over and handed Mr. Wilder what looked like... some kind of ceremonial knife. Without even flinching, the large man reached down and grabbed a fistful of the woman's hair, lifting her head upwards.
“No... no, no, no,” Alex said. “They're not... they're going to...”
With one swift motion, Mr. Wilder cut the sharpened blade of the knife across the woman's neck, spilling out a spray of crimson onto the floor. The woman sputtered, twitched, and then crumpled. Cold. Motionless.