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Phantom of Truth

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Phantom of Truth

There is one thing even more vital to science than intelligent methods; and that is, the sincere desire to find out the truth, whatever it may be.
- Charles Pierce

At 5:30 am, Maddie silenced her alarm and rolled out of bed. Ice cold concrete met her bare feet. The air smelled stale and foreign, reminding her immediately that she was not at home. She fumbled for the light switch. It flickered on, a weak illumination that did nothing to brighten the dull beige walls.

Well. She hadn’t come here for comfort; certainly not to admire the decor.

Dressing quickly out of her suitcase—in this spartan cell of a room, her hosts had neglected to provide a dresser—she quietly opened the door, making sure her ID badge was securely pinned to the front of her lab coat. She made the short walk to the facility's cafeteria. It followed the themes of her room; drab colors, minimal, slightly rusted furniture, and no windows of course. The only view outside those thick cement walls would be featureless bedrock.

Maddie picked up a bagel, filling her coffee mug in silence. The few personnel awake at this hour treated her with civil but unbroken silence. She spent a few futile moments trying to catch someone’s eye, but they continued to politely ignore her. Besides the lettered agents, she’d had no success in making anything resembling conversation. Doubtless a "good morning" would result in a grievous breach of homeland security, she thought wryly.

Maddie suppressed a sigh as she stirred a generous amount of sugar into her coffee. It was times like these that she missed her husband most. Jack's boisterous, cheerful, blundering attitude had a way of evaporating all forms of social tension. But it was that very character that made him unqualified for this job. The scientist smirked fondly as she took a bite out of her bagel and headed for the lab. Subtlety was something Jack had never quite grasped.

Three hallways, two security checks, and a short elevator ride brought her out of the staff quarters and into the lab division. It consisted of a single long hallway with endless rows of numbered doors, uniformly lit with harsh white fluorescents. It seemed ordinary, like a block of offices or perhaps a military dorm, until you noticed that there were quarantine doors recessed in the ceiling at regular intervals, and panels on the walls hinted at concealed weaponry. Every door had a palm scanner and a keypad, watched by the black plastic eye of a temperature-sensitive camera.

Maddie balanced her coffee in the crook of her arm and pulled off her glove, placing her hand on the scanner. It buzzed briefly, then blinked green, text scrolling onto the small screen above the keypad:

::::::::::::::::DOCTOR MADELINE FENTON::::::::::::::::ACCESS REQUEST TO LAB 013:::::::::::::::::
::::::::::::::::CLEARANCE LEVEL 03::::::::::::::::APPROVED::::::::::::::::::::
::::::::::::::::PLEASE ENTER ACCESS CODE::::::::::::::::::::::::::**********:::::::::::::::::::::::::::
::::::::::::::::ACCESS CODE APPROVED:::::::::::::::::::::

The door opened with a pneumatic hiss and she walked into the lab. She was greeted with the the familiar smells of recent soldering, various sharp-scented chemicals, the semi-sweet tang of ozone, new paint, and of course, a faint but distinct odor of ectoplasm.

The room itself was an unremarkable rectangle, every inch covered in windowless grey steel. Shelves and cabinets lined one wall, full of devices that to the casual observer would have been mysterious and bizarre, shining green and silver mechanisms that whirred and blinked, and came in a vast array of shapes and sizes. She, however, knew intimately the function of every device, having invented several herself. Near the front of the room stood a permanent console with an impressive array of buttons, dials and monitors, with a short amount of counter space at the end which allowed for a chair and a chunky but powerful desktop computer. All in all, it was one of the most well-stocked and secure ghost research labs currently available.

Maddie sat down at the desk, wedging her coffee between the monitor and her stacks of handwritten notes. She booted up the computer, which responded with a fuzzy electronic beep, whirring to life, the monitor flickering on. Despite its archaic appearance, the computer was connected to very advanced hardware. That included a direct line that allowed the owners of this facility, the paranormal branch of the US government commonly known as the GIW. They could view and record all the data she gathered at a separate location. Maddie disliked the idea, especially after years of doing her own research. But it was better than half a dozen high-clearance, low intelligence interns hovering at her elbows.

It was, to be honest, a better deal than she’d anticipated when they’d approached her. They would get their data, and she was free to conduct the experiments in her own way.

Numbers and graphs scrolled across the screen, feedback from various monitoring devices. Maddie picked up her clipboard and pen. Only then did she allow herself to look up at her subject. This...this was worth putting up with any number of restrictions. It was even worth giving up a summer with her family, though that had been the hardest part.

The containment unit took up the majority of the center of the room. It consisted of a large metal frame rising out of the floor to form a cube, which projected shimmering, near-transparent walls of green-blue energy. Inside, tethered by a long cable anchored to the floor, was the reason she'd agreed to be sequestered here in a remote government facility. It was an unmatched acquisition, one she'd had her eye on for a long time. It held a wealth of potential information. Quite possibly, it was the key to unlocking the secrets of the paranormal world, and in turn, the universe.

"Geez, I bet it's not even light outside. Can you even call this morning yet?" He stifled a yawn behind one white glove. Glowing green eyes met her own as they squinted into a hopeful smile. "Bring me any coffee?"