It had taken Ajay precisely seven minutes and eleven seconds to walk to the end of Tesla Court from his bungalow at 91 Road to Nowhere. En route, he had passed five houses, no less than two of which featured swimming pools to their rear. There were no people in the pools or relaxing by their sides. Every resident was locked indoors.
Arriving at the end of Tesla Court, a small side street, Ajay was already at the edge of town. He squinted into the distance, shielding his eyes with a visor made out of his palm, wishing he had checked in the tiny local shop on the way there to ask if they sold sunglasses as he observed Road to Nowhere tapering off to a tiny dot on the horizon between the two canyon walls.
Tesla Court was easy to find. True to word, it featured a large radio antenna where the town received its signals. A middle-aged man was walking downhill. He wore a thick, navy blue knitted sweater. Ajay made a mental note to ask him about this at a later date.
The man wore blonde, backcombed hair and had fair skin that was cold to the touch when he exchanged a firm, masculine handshake with Ajay.
"Loki Beaker, pleased to meet you," he said. He immediately turned on his heels and paced uphill without even giving Ajay a second glance. Nervous, Ajay followed him, making sure to remain several metres to Loki's rear.
Loki paused at a pair of cast iron gates enclosing the only visible house situated on Tesla Court. His smug grin gave the impression that he expected a sign of esteem from Ajay, which he granted with a subtle nod of the head. Loki's house was by far the grandest of all those in Strangetown. As a small community, it would not sound like an impressive achievement unless one knew that well over 90% of Strangetown's residents were exceedingly wealthy and at the top of their careers. Ajay shifted on his feet, feeling somewhat out of place as a young man only just beginning to make his way in the world.
The pair walked along a winding pathway through a garden furnished with cacti and little else. Loki was clearly not a gardener, yet Ajay would have bet money that he was an incredibly house proud man who delighted in boasting that his abode was the grandest in Strangetown.
Inside was no different; the place was panelled in walls of pure mahogany, lavish carpets of foreign origin paved the floors, and a winding staircase ascended up through the high ceiling of the living room. There was no television, only bookshelves as tall as two men lining every inch of the walls. A fire blazed in the hearth, and it was only then that Ajay realised that the heat was no longer unbearable. Outside, he had scratched the skin of his back beneath his black polo shirt and raked up sweat beneath his fingernails. Inside the Beaker manor, the temperature felt pleasantly cosy. Ajay walked towards the stairs.
Loki's face turned and he shouted, "No!" stepping forward and grabbing hold tightly of Ajay's bony wrist. Ajay flinched, staring downwards in deep shame like a child being told off by his headmaster. His arm went limp and Loki retracted his grip. The man exhaled a deep sigh and said, "There are extremely dangerous and unreleased experiments taking place at several locations within this manor. Until I instruct you otherwise, assume it is off limits. That would make you a trespasser, do you understand?"
Ajay swallowed a lump in his throat and nodded quickly, barely able to choke out the phrase, "I'm sorry."
Loki appeared satisfied. He looked Ajay up and down, searching for any signs of dissent and found none.
"Very good," he commended. "Now I will show you to your office."
Comparative to the rest of the house, his 'office' was exceedingly disappointing. The corners of Ajay's mouth dropped when he saw the grubby white desk and outdated computer model sat waiting for him. A limp, neglected ficus plant sat drooping solemnly from an ochre pot.
Throughout the morning, Ajay twiddled his thumbs and browsed the internet. He discovered that Strangetown actually had a spa, which came as a surprise. Apparently it was popular with out of town visitors. It was Strangetown's only attraction for the average person, if you took 'average' to mean people who didn't spend their days ghost busting or looking up into the sky with paranoia fuelled by little green men.
Around noon, a dark-skinned woman with cropped hair introduced herself, bringing Ajay a cup of steaming coffee. Her eyes were obscured by tinted sunglasses which she seemed to wear constantly, for there was certainly no need for them inside the dimly lit abode at 1 Tesla Court. From the moment she entered his suite, she was brushing down the pencil shavings from his desk into a wastepaper basket. She also removed all of the dead, brown leaves from his ficus. She also spoke a lot, though in a dry, monotone voice. She described to him in vague detail the daily workings of Beaker Technologies Inc., including the basics of their coverage from the press in recent times and the companies that they had correspondence with in relation to marketing their newly developed medical products. After an hour long lecture, Ajay was still none the wiser about what the Beaker couple actually did. The spread sheet detailing their accounts was equally hand waving: $10,000 for 'equipment' – what was that?!
At 3pm, Ajay departed with instructions to return the following day at the same time. He rolled his eyes as he left, feeling distinctly unfulfilled. He realised right away that there would be no chance to move upwards in this job, for Loki and Circe kept everything a big secret. Oh well, at least he had left $168 richer. He could put the money towards a nice new couch.
The chugging along of a school bus painted bright yellow was the thing that brought Ajay back to Earth on his way home. He paused in his way and stared across the street as four teenagers and two younger children left the vehicle. When the bus pulled off from its only stop in Strangetown, Ajay's mouth hung loose in horror at what he saw.
It was one of the teenagers.
A boy, no older than fifteen, with skin a washed-out shade of green.
He was only aware that he was staring when a second teenager, a dark-skinned young lady with dreadlocks in her hair, yelled across the street, "What do you think you're looking at?"
Deeply ashamed of himself, Ajay turned his gaze back to his black shoes and walked the rest of the way home without once looking up.