Vibrant, fluorescent lights flicker on overhead and my eyes take a moment to adjust. When they do, I’m looking at a gigantic miniature city on a massive stainless steel table that’s laid out before me. The mini-city and the table it’s on is positively gigantic, maybe the size of sixteen ping-pong tables arranged 4×4. It takes a minute and I need to blink a few times, but then I realize what’s odd.
The city’s in motion.
And by motion, I mean that the little miniature people and cars in the city are all moving around. Miniature pedestrians are walking along sidewalks and little delivery trucks, sedans, vans, and school buses are driving up and down the city streets, halting and going at stoplights, dropping off kids, the whole nine yards.
“What in fresh hell is this?” says Coleman, bewildered. “Some kinda model train set on steroids?”
“Please don’t touch anything,” Vanessa says wearily. “But feel free to take a look around. Though please do be careful.”
Her tone makes it sound like she’s a parent chaperoning a school dance who’d really much rather just be at home nursing a pint of scotch.
I take a step closer to the miniature city to get a better look. The details on the tiny models are amazingly intricate and lifelike. One of the skyscrapers even has little window-washing men cleaning the building’s glass façade, dangling from steel cables to do their work. Upon inspection, I see that the entire mini-city’s actually in fact enclosed under a thin glass dome. Clearly, whoever slaved away on the model didn’t want anyone touching anything, a sentiment I can most definitely understand. I search for familiar landmarks in the model but don’t see anything I immediately recognize.
“This is impressive,” I begin, “how did you guys–“
“Good god. You lunatics actually built it.”
I turn and see Katherine’s half a step behind me. Her face has paled, drained of all color, and she looks like she could suddenly faint so I reach out to help but she just swats my arm away. She pushes past me, walks up to the miniature city, and puts her hands and face right up against its plexiglass enclosure, like a kid looking into a candy store from the outside.
“Hey!” snaps Vanessa. “No touching!”
Katherine just ignores her. A moment of awkward silence passes and the rest of us just look at each other. Whenever you’re in a group of adults and someone outright transgresses, blithely deciding to simply not follow rules, it always gets weird. Like, no one ever knows what to do. Is someone supposed to tackle her? Reprimand her sternly? The protocol’s honestly unclear.
Finally, it’s Chopra who speaks up. “You recognize it, don’t you?” he says softly. “You know what this is.”
Katherine gives a short, bitter snort. “I damn well should. After all, I designed it.“