Rowan woke to a loud slam, shooting her upright in her chair and jumpstarting her heart. Blinking the sleep from her eyes, she searched for the source of the noise through the shadows of the empty research lab. When had it gotten so dark? She wasn’t sure what time she fell asleep, but by the look of her coffee mug, she was about halfway through her fifth cup. She hurriedly brushed through her flat hair with her fingers to erase the evidence of napping, but unfortunately, her interrupter already saw more than enough for an accusation.
“I’m sorry, sleeping beauty, did I wake you?” Cameron teased from across the room, where he stood innocently next to the door he had just thrown closed. When he flipped on the lights, Rowan squinted.
“I was just resting my eyes,” she insisted.
“You were drooling,” he countered.
Rowan scowled, her cheeks going red with guilt and embarrassment. “No, I wasn’t.” She wiped at her mouth.
Cameron crossed the room as Rowan picked up where she left off, tapping the screen of her tablet to wake it up as well. “What are you even doing here this late, Row?”
“Phelps needs these reports proof read for tomorrow,” she explained, scrolling up with her finger, pretending to read even though the words were nothing but a blur to her sleepy eyes. She only had a couple more to finish. A little while longer, that’s all she needed. She’d be ready for work the next day with a couple hours of sleep, even. It’s not like it was that late yet, anyway.
Rowan checked the time on the tablet to confirm, cringing when she was proven wrong.
“If Dr. Phelps knew you were working at two in the morning, he’d tell you to go home. So I’m going to do it on his behalf.”
“I just need—”
“Go home, Rowan.”
She gave him a pointed glare for interrupting, starting again. “I just need to finish with this, and then, I’ll go home.”
“Sure.” His skeptical tone and eye roll said how often he’d heard that excuse. “You know, I’m a security guard here. I can make you leave, if I have to.” With his casual threat, Cameron adjusted his utility belt around his hips and gave a smug grin.
It was Rowan’s turn to roll her eyes at his faux professionalism. “And I’m a doctor here. I have the hierarchy over you.”
That wasn’t entirely true. Rowan didn’t have her Ph.D. yet, making her little more than an intern. Her mentor, the renowned biologist Dr. Robert Phelps, who was an integral part in creating the first successful treatment for the common cold virus, was the only doctor at the Eureka Center for Biological Studies who actually had superiority over the security personnel. Rowan was sure nobody would argue against her right to be there after hours though, if only because she practically lived at the facility with the amount of overtime she put in.
“But I have the gun,” Cameron said, his eyes laughing when Rowan offered nothing but an unimpressed expression in response. “Besides, what kind of friend would I be if I let you work yourself to death? How’re you going to finish your dissertation and become a real doctor if you’re six feet under the ground?”
“I’m a body donor, so when I die, I’ll be used as a medical cadaver, not rotting away in a hole.” Rowan looked up from her tablet when she realized her tone had went pretentious, giving Cameron a guilty grin. She offered some self deprecation to bring herself back down off her high horse. “And you know I’d find a way to work even from the grave.”
Cameron opened his mouth to keep up their banter, but through the early morning silence of the facility, the two of them were both distracted by an approaching commotion outside: The rumbling engine of a large vehicle. Odd, because besides Cameron, who was supposed to work nights, and Rowan, who wasn’t but did anyway, the building and surrounding area was generally deserted after hours.
They exchanged a curious glance, then Rowan rose from her chair to follow Cameron as he rushed over to the window. The research lab she had been hiding out in was on the second floor, which looked out over the parking lot, giving them a clear view of the interruption.
An armored truck approached the front entrance, followed closely by a jet-black SUV with tinted windows. Both had their headlights off despite it being nearly pitch black this far out from the city, and both parked near the doors rather than any of the numerous, designated parking spots. The engines were left running as several, armed men in SWAT gear emerged from the vehicles, assault rifles hugged in their arms.
Upon seeing the weapons, Rowan and Cameron immediately ducked down under the window, getting out of the line of sight.
Cameron could only gasp, frozen in shock next to Rowan, a dreadful uncertainty filling the air between them as they continued to survey from over the window sill. Out of the SUV came four more men, resembling secret service agents in their matching black suits. As the armed men moved for the doors of the facility, the suited ones approached the back of the armored car, opening the vehicle's rear doors.
“Aren’t you going to do something?” Rowan asked in an urgent whisper.
Cameron gave her a defensive glare. “What do you want me to do?”
She hesitated. “I don't know. You're security. You said you have a gun!”
“Yeah, and they have six!” Cameron said, struggling not to raise his voice in his growing hysterics. “Do you think they’re here to steal some equipment or something?”
Rowan tried to remain calm despite her racing heart. It wouldn’t help them to panic, that was certain. She peeked over the window sill again, shaking her head. “No, they don't seem like criminals...”
As she continued to watch, they wheeled something out from the back of the vehicle. Cameron gathered enough courage to look out the window again, just in time to see what arrived in the car.
“Holy shit. Row. Is that— is that a body?”
It was a medical gurney. The SWAT team surrounded it as the suited men pushed the cart inside. Even covered with a sheet, it was hard to mistake the shape.
“What’s going on?” Cameron swore under his breath a few more times.
Rowan didn't have an explanation, so she didn't answer. Her head swam with questions as she tried to decipher her way through the anxiety sitting in her throat. If it was indeed a body, was it alive or dead? And what was it doing there? Someone important maybe, a celebrity or politician? It would explain the suited men but didn't solve the question of why they were at a research facility and not a hospital.
A cadaver was a more reasonable explanation, since they often studied dead bodies in the facility, but not many deceased were transported by a posse of armed guards. That fact alone made Rowan’s stomach twist with an ill dread. She tried to remind herself it was not like a scientist to fear what she could not explain, but it was unnerving nonetheless when her logic failed her. After all, it didn’t happen often.
As Rowan fought to piece together an answer, a third vehicle approached. Cameron swore again when he heard it, but once it came in from the distance, Rowan sighed in relief.
“It’s Phelps’ car,” she explained, standing and hurrying for the exit.
Cameron stumbled to his feet and raced after her, his hand on the gun at his hip. “Are you sure?”
“I would recognize that dirty old lemon anywhere,” she affirmed, jogging out into the hall to the stairs.
Rowan was reassured with Phelps arrival, positive she simply missed the meaning of everything happening. Phelps would be able to fill them in once she spoke to him, and all this commotion would be resolved.
Speaking to him would be the problem though, with guns aimed at them the moment they left the stairwell and arrived at the main entrance.