Elise didn't argue when Warren brusquely suggested that Jared leave, though she sort of wanted to. At the very least, she had hoped she could offer him a drink of water for his trouble. But that was a stupid notion; she wouldn't be able to get him anything in such a huge place. So she silently watched him cross the room toward the door.
She smiled warmly upon hearing his goodbye. Moons smile... what a lovely phrase, she thought before nodding. "It was nice to meet you, too. Thank you for all your help, Jared." And then, the door closed behind him, sealing the room in silence.
Elise glanced down at the surface on which she stood. Whoever had cleaned the glass had done an immaculate job; she felt like she was walking on air. She sat down carefully, sitting on her knees and placing the dishes in front of her. A glance at Warren told her that he was staring at apparently nothing, though Elise had a distinct feeling that he was aware of her every move regardless. She tried not to become too unsettled by that feeling as she began to eat, realizing how hungry she had become during all of the excitement.
For a man his size, Warren had done a pretty good job of preparing the tiny portions of food. The mild flavor indicated that everything must have been enhanced with proteins. At least she wouldn't need to worry about malnutrition while she was here. She finished the light meal in silence, taking a drink of water before setting the dishes aside gently, careful to keep them away from the edge of the table.
"Thank you," she said softly, looking over at Warren from where she sat. It felt strange to break the silence, but it hung over the room like a cloud. Elise felt ... awkward. "I ... I hope that I am not taking you away from your other duties," she added politely. She marveled at how such a big room felt so empty.
Warren's brown eyes slid over to the end table, shifting very slightly in his seat on the couch to put her more in his sights.
"You are my other duties now." He informed her. A lengthy pause drew out, more and more obvious of his own creation. "I apologize for my lack of conversation. I'm not as talented as our Secretary in matters of articulation. Rest assured, I'm certain Ambron will want to continue your earlier conversation at her earliest convenience."
Elise nodded, her lips pursing faintly in thought. She had to wonder what else the Secretary would want to speak about. She took a deep, cleansing breath, trying to prepare herself better. She would need to be more articulate and ready to answer questions clearly than before. Her nervousness about size should not have been allowed to fluster her that much.
She closed her eyes for a few moments, and she could almost forget that she was sitting on a gigantic end table in the biggest apartment she'd ever seen. Elise was thankful that she was still alive, though she knew she wasn't out of the woods yet. She felt wholly outranked for the task before her, and a nagging feeling in her heart told her that Ambron would pick up on that if she hadn't already. She opened her eyes and turned her head to gaze out the huge window, admiring the landscape. At least she had a relaxing view before getting back into the fray.
The room stayed silent for nearly half an hour, except for the trickle of water in the fountain. True to his word, Warren didn't speak, and Elise didn't push him for conversation. It was amazing that the Secretary had assigned Elise's care to her own personal assistant. Elise perked up and looked to the door when she heard it sliding open, half expecting Jared to have come back already.
Elise gasped and got to her feet hastily when the new arrival proved to be Ambron instead, looking as austere as ever. The woman held a transparent glass tablet in one hand, different from the one she had used in the clinic. She scanned the room with her sharp eyes. "Hello again, Elise. I thought we could chat some more now that you appear to have settled in," she announced, her tone pleasant.
"O-of course, Secretary," Elise answered.
Ambron strode in, the long wisps of her white coat trailing behind her.
"Thank you, Warren." She smiled as he stood up to let her take his seat. She flipped through documents on the tablet and took a steeling look at their contents. "It's not standard procedure to make many copies of these files, but your case requires a reinforced documentation."
She ignored the alarmed look Elise sent her and folded her hands in her lap. "The lab technicians have validated that your ship was indeed an Allied Planets model." She said, narrowing her eyes in irritation. "We have told you people time and time again that we don't want to be bothered. Why can't you take NO for an answer?"
The sun went behind a whisper of a cloud, casting a shade over the room.
Elise eyed the tablet as Ambron looked it over, trying to ignore how tall Warren looked from her lower vantage point on the end table. Something about the look in the woman's eyes rang several alarm bells in her head. My case? she thought with worry, wishing she could see what the documents said.
The look on the giant woman's face brought a familiar sinking feeling to her gut. Fear. Elise's legs tensed, but she tried to keep her composure as she looked up at the intense eyes fixed on her. "I-I don't understand," she answered, confusion and worry both evident in her voice. "W-we ... th-the Allied Planets has no data on this planet," she explained.
Ambron did not appear moved by Elise's answer. "To be frank, Elise, your cover story is thin enough as it is. It's a bit too convenient that your ship would just so happen to malfunction while orbiting here."
Elise balked slightly. It certainly didn't seem convenient to her. "But it's the truth," she insisted. And then, something Ambron had said wormed its way into her mind, making a way through all the distress. "Was' an Allied Planets model? I-is it ...?" If her ship was beyond repair ... would she be stranded for good?
"We are not a space-faring people. Our scientists do not have the resources to repair your ship, even if it wasn't on a miniature scale. I do apologize for getting your hopes up." Ambron continued calmly. She looked Elise head on, not wavering under the tremulous shock upon her face.
"You're a talented actress, I can appreciate that. But it's time to start telling the truth. This doesn't have to get anymore uncivilized than you make it be."
Elise took a shaky step backwards, her knees threatening to buckle at any moment. "A-actress?" she asked weakly. She could hardly form a coherent thought as the overwhelming reality of her situation roared in her ears. Trapped. She was trapped. Her gaze darted between the two gigantic beings in the room with her, feeling cornered. What was she expected to say? It sounded like they'd already made up their minds about her.
She wished Jared or Kaye were there to support her.
But, she realized despairingly, those two might already be in trouble, just for finding her. Elise put her shaky hands over her mouth for a few seconds, breathing deep in an attempt to calm her fear. Ambron's cool expression indicated that an answer would soon be necessary. She lowered her hands, though they still shook visibly. "I swear," she began, her voice almost breaking, "I already told you the truth."
Ambron rolled her eyes, clicking her tongue impatiently. "Your previous comrade was at least up-front about his intentions. Surely you don't intend to keep up this ruse?" She waited, but Elise's expression remained the same. Ambron closed the tablet and folded it away, and leaned down towards the table, eyeing her with a cold scrutiny. "What is it you're after? Money? Our resources? We never hurt anyone, never invaded your planets, making demands."
Elise could only stare in shock as Ambron dismissed her words, continuing with the interrogation. She shrank back when the woman's giant face loomed close, looking even less friendly from this distance. Elise was now only a few steps away from the edge of the table, quite effectively trapped. She shook her head numbly, her wide eyes fixed on the angry face in front of her. "H-how could I steal anything from you? I-I'm just... " she trailed off, not wanting to admit it out loud.
Too small. I'm just too small. Ambron's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly at her, clearly unimpressed. Elise broke her gaze away, too intimidated to keep up the staring match. She wanted to ask about the 'previous comrade' that had been mentioned, to find out what had happened to him. But, Elise was afraid to know the answer.
Ambron sat back and clenched her fists impatiently. She sent Warren a harried look, seemingly equally disturbed by their visitor as she was of them. "Very well. I consider myself a patient woman." Se rose to her feet, taking the file with her. "You have twelve hours to come clean about your mission. Consider your answers more wisely in the future."
As she strode for the door, she pointed at Warren. "Lock the room down. No one in or out without Beta Class ID."
Twelve hours. The number sent a shiver right down Elise's spine. Twelve hours to confess to a crime she didn't commit. She watched as the door slid closed behind Ambron, wishing she could think of something to say that would magically erase all doubt. But there was nothing, and soon Warren had entered a code into the panel next to the door. Elise wondered at the futility of it; she couldn't have opened the door on her own anyway.
When Warren stepped away from the door, his bulky frame looked much more menacing than before. He knew, Elise realized. He knew all along that this would happen. Elise had been completely blindsided by the accusations, and now her whole body trembled with the emotions roiling around inside of her.
Elise forced herself to look up at the huge man, feeling smaller than ever on the glass end table. She could feel a familiar sting in her eyes, but she fought the urge to weep. She could not cry in front of these people, though all she wanted was to run and hide beneath the immense furniture and cry until her eyes were dry. I may never get home. "W-what will happen in twelve hours?" Elise tried to keep her expression neutral, but her green eyes only showed a plea for help.
"Containment." Warren replied bluntly, pacing back over to her. "You'll be fed, sheltered... And our way of life will be preserved."
He reached down for her with a gargantuan hand, this time shirking his prior manners.
Elise's eyes widened as Warren answered her. She tilted her head further back as he approached, unable to withhold the expression of horror that overtook her face.
His hand came at her, like the biggest claw she had ever seen. Her memory flashed briefly to the times when Jared had offered her a hand, so polite and reassuring. He hadn't confined her or made her feel insecure in any way, despite the sheer size. Jared's careful movements had made her feel ... safe. But Warren's hand was upon her before she could even take a full step back, and Elise was distinctly certain that she did not feel safe.
Elise had put her hands up weakly in defense. But now, her arms were compressed awkwardly to her chest as fingers thicker than her waist secured her tightly in the man's grip. Her eyes shut tight and an audible whimper escaped her throat when she felt herself rising through the air. Her breaths came short and fast, feeling like they never made it all the way to her lungs. The walls had literally closed in, and it was the worst feeling she'd ever experienced.
She opened her eyes slightly when Warren started moving, watching his progress into the kitchen. She started to squirm, uncomfortable in the man's powerful grip. If he felt her struggles, he did not acknowledge them. On the counter in the far corner of the room was a glass cylinder, looking perhaps like it was meant for long-stemmed flowers but hadn't held any in a long time.
Warren dragged the container towards himself, the glass loudly scraping on the countertop. He tilted it at a steep angle, and released his hold on Elise just above the opening. She hit the glass with a faint "Uff!" and began to slide inevitably towards the bottom, landing in a heap just as the vase was set upright again. She tried to get to her feet, but her knees were no longer reliable, so she stayed seated as Warren knelt to peer in at her. She quivered at the sight of his hard expression.
"If you feel like confessing, I will call the Secretary immediately," he told her, before standing up and moving away. Elise leaned against the wall of her tall, narrow prison (she doubted she'd even be able to lie down along the diameter of the container), trying to control her shaking. This apartment had never been for ;her;. It was for Warren's benefit while he waited for a confession that would never come.
10 hours later
Jared loosened the collar of his grey shirt. He didn't know why he was nervous. Elise had specifically requested that he take her out on the town... It wasn't like Warren or Ambron had specifically told him not to come back. He and Kaye had doubled in popularity overnight amongst their colleagues, everyone curious what they had left in the middle of the day for. He didn't mind, except for the fact that his usual slacking off time for playing video games was practically eliminated.
The pod whisked through the central shopping district, through the glittering nightlife. The two other passengers exited and he was left alone. He rode all the way to the end of the line, to the embassy suite again. This area was still unfamiliar to him. The ride had been a mere ten minutes, leaving him with little time to prepare himself. His hands tingled with the memory of holding Elise. The pod eased to a stop, cheerfully dinging and alerting him his stop had arrived. Jared straightened his ash-colored, scale-detailed jacket and stood up.
He tried out a couple approachable smiles, working up his confidence as he strode in through the small room with the painting, and laid his hand on the typical black sensor. The light glowed expectedly, but the door remained shut. Frowning, Jared pressed his hand onto the sensor again.
"Access denied." The machine insisted.
Jared frowned at it. Apparently, they hadn't been expecting him. He was about ready to knock when he heard footsteps fast approaching. Heavy footsteps.
"I'll get rid of the intruder. Are you on your way?"
"Krivnex," Jared muttered the curse, whirling around with only seconds to act. He dove behind a pearly column at the front of the room, squeezing as much of himself into the crevice as possible. In the last second, he thought he snap out an arm and send the pod away. He ducked back silently just as Warren exited the embassy.
Jared held as still as possible, somehow knowing he had made the right decision to hide with the way Warren was looking so menacingly around the room. The bodyguard went right up to the pod platform, tapping the white illuminated panel to track where the last pod had gone. He pressed the middle button, calling a new pod.
"I'm on it. I'll be back shortly to deal with her." Warren said to the mystery person on the other side of his call. The pod arrived, doors sliding open. Warren crammed himself inside, and in seconds, was gone.
Jared revealed himself to the empty room, running a hand down his face. What was going on? His eyes darted to the embassy door, his mind alight by Elise. Had something happened to her?
He had to get through that door.
He couldn't count on Warren to be gone long, so he set to work. Jared still had a few tools from work on his belt. Not many, but enough. Using a thin pen-sized laser, he burned through the sensor panel, into the intricate wiring underneath. It took a precious two minutes of fiddling, but finally, he disabled the door lock. He wedged his fingers into the crack between the door and the wall and gave a great heave. He forced the door open halfway, enough to get in.
"Hello?" He called out in a hushed tone. The fading afternoon light lit the door in lavender shadows. The rubber soles of his boots made barely audible sound as he crept further. "Elise? Are you in here?"
He hoped his instincts were correct about something being awry, and that he hadn't just broken into government property for sheer paranoia.
Hours passed, with Elise trapped in the glass container with nothing but her thoughts. She hugged her knees to her chest, trying to forget what it felt like to be stuck in the giant man's hand. When she was sure her time was nearly up, Warren took a call on a device barely larger than her head. A new wave of trembling overtook her. But, soon Warren was interrupted by a warning chime at the door. The man left in a hurry, barking into the phone about an intruder. It was as if Elise wasn't even there.
She was so tired, and with the giant man gone she considered trying to sleep. But she feared waking up in a different place, trapped for good. So she stayed awake, blinking the sleep from her eyes. She jolted in alarm when the door wrenched open, sounding like it hadn't done so normally. Her heart leapt to her throat, almost making her laugh with relief when Jared walked back through the door.
She got up on her knees, pushing her hands against the glass wall facing him. "Jared," she rasped. She coughed to regain her voice. "Jared! Jared!" She hoped her voice would carry to him despite the thick pane of glass in front of her. Elise couldn't think of a time when she was more relieved to see a friendly face.
His gaze whipped to the side, eyes immediately locking onto the vase. His face drained of color. It was worse than he imagined.
"Elise!" He exclaimed, slack-jawed with horror as he hastened to the counter. His face peered in at her for a split second, in disbelief. This was so barbaric! So vastly different from the state he had left her in hardly a day ago.
Elise felt her heart quicken as Jared closed the distance between them, quickly filling her vision. She stared up, unable to believe her luck that he had returned mere hours before her deadline.
"Hang on, I'm going to get you out of there." The glass was obscured by a new hand as he effortlessly turned the vase horizontal, flat on the counter so Elise could crawl out.
"W-What happened?" He stammered, momentarily leaning close and disregarding personal space in light of the urgency.
She winced when his hand surrounded the glass, and her. But, she crawled to the opening in the vase, taking a deep breath once she was free. Her legs gave out beneath her when she tried to stand, so Elise stayed sitting, her body still shaking from the confinement.
Jared was so close, Elise could probably reach out and touch his face if she dared. "Sh-she... Secretary Ambron, she said that they've told the Allied Planets 'no' many times. Asked me what I'm here to steal. My ship ..." she stopped herself before her babbling became incoherent. "G-gave me twelve hours to confess before..." Her words suddenly stopped in her throat.
It wouldn't be professional to cry, an unhelpful part of her brain reminded her. But as she looked into those huge, concerned eyes, her shoulders bunched up with sobs and her eyes shut tight. Elise thought, To hell with professional. What does it matter? I'll never have to explain myself to my boss anyway. The horrid thought finally broke the dam. Elise put a hand over her mouth as the tears finally came.
"I'm ... I'm not ... a s-spy," she choked out between sobs, one arm wrapped around herself. She felt so pathetic, sitting there crying and looking more disheveled than she ever had before.
For a split second, the same doubts flickered over his face, wondering if her entrance had been a planned ruse. But the longer he looked at her helpless, trembling form, the more he came to a different conclusion.
"I believe you." He said quietly, no longer trying desperately to understand what was going on. It was more obvious than he cared to admit; his government had turned paranoid against this creature; Ambron had ordered her trapped or worse instead of lounging in luxury. His fingertips shook as he reached out to comfort her.
Elise was sure that her face couldn't adequately portray the gratitude she felt upon hearing Jared's simple reassurance. He believed her! It was nice to know that not everyone would assume the worst about her intentions. She took a few shaky breaths, trying to regain control of her composure.
"This is wrong. I don't know what's going on, but they can't do this to you!" Jared muttered, seeming to convince himself. He glanced nervously toward the door, heart pounding.
"He'll be back any minute. Come on." He gingerly wrapped his hand around Elise, making sure she understood he was on her side before tucking her out of sight in the shadow of his jacket and racing to escape the embassy.
She stiffened as his hand slipped around her, lifting her from the countertop. He allowed her to keep her arms free and didn't squeeze her like Warren had done. Even so, her stomach did flips as she left the solid surface behind.
Soon, Elise found herself enshrouded in semi-darkness, swaying with the movement of Jared's hurried steps. Her hands found the fabric of his shirt, gripping it with white knuckles. The enclosed space made her shiver once, but it was infinitely better than being stuffed in a vase so she'd be easier to babysit. At least Jared was helping her.
It hadn't sunk in for Jared yet that he had just committed treason against his own people.