Chapter 42

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The polish and gilded edges of the elevator interior most likely cost more than Zoe's entire apartment. Everything she had seen since stepping into Kohler Corporation's headquarters was as ostentatious as it was impractical. From the numerous unnecessary marble columns coated with gold tops and bottoms to the unnaturally shiny white walls, the display reeked of new money, desperate to project wealth and class, ironically failing utterly in the process.

When the door opened, Zoe was greeted by a pair of security guards in simple black suits. Even this late at night, the two women were wearing sunglasses. Whoever was in charge of security had evidently received her education primarily from badly made spy movies. Though the tall, broad shouldered women looked intimidating, Zoe could tell from their uneven postures and mismatched steps that they weren't hired for any real security or combat experience. They, like everything else in the gem and gold studded hallway, were primarily there for display. The door to the company Vice President's office was by far the plainest thing in the entire building: a simple black board of polished wood.

"Major Kruger, I'm sorry for the bare reception. We weren't expecting you."

Vice President Annie Weber, a petite shrew of a woman, reached out to shake Zoe's hand. Her grip was surprisingly strong for a woman her size and age. The middle aged woman walked back and took a seat behind her desk, a surprisingly plain and unoccupied black thing without even a family picture to adorn it. She straightened her greying hair and cleared her throat.

"Don't worry about it. I won't be here long. I just have a few questions regarding your... ventures into the middle of an active warzone."

Weber let out a half scoff, half laugh. It was at best a forced exhalation. "Oh, yes. I suppose that makes us look a little opportunistic and unethical. But I assure you every facility we're planning has been approved by an independent government board. In fact, several sites were decided on with significant government input."

"Define government. State? Federal? Which department?" Zoe said.

"Well I..."

"Don't even try to lecture me about confidentiality. Even if it was a Top Secret security clearance level matter..." Zoe showed Weber her military ID badge. "... I have the clearance."

"I... well... the thing is..."

"I also noticed from a few documents I subpoenaed that you were planning a transfer of over a thousand employees to the new facilities, several days before the news started reporting the new, aggressive national policy of the Dannic military. I didn't know companies liked wasting money transferring an entire workforce instead of just a skilled management team to oversee enslaved locals."

"I'm sorry. I don't... I'm not familiar with all these details. You'll have to consult my superior."

"The CEO? You mean your mother in law? Yes, I'm sure you have no idea what she's ever doing."

"I'm sorry Major. I have an appointment. I'm going to have to ask you to leave," Weber said. There were a few beads of sweat condensing on the top of her brow, just above the large crease that marred her otherwise smooth, pale skin.

"Of course. Thank you for your time. And I'll be sure to talk with Miss Kohler whenever she's available."

***

The walk home was, especially this late, a silent and empty event. Aside from the seedier bars and brothels in the area, whose patrons scuffled in the shadows like cockroaches, there was virtually no sign of any life in the town. Zoe wondered why any rational corporate executive would put her headquarters in the middle of a poor, crumbling corner of a shrinking city. Then again, Frida Kohler was the shining antithesis of rational.

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