“Specimen 42 has escaped. Unique Guards to your stations. All other personnel return to your quarters for your own safety.” Howard jogged through the bright, narrow hallway as the message repeated. The mid-30s, pot-bellied janitor wheezed with strain as he rushed into his room. He locked the door and dragged a nightstand in front of it for the extra peace of mind it gave him. Howard hadn’t seen Specimen 42 yet, but all the experiments he was familiar with were incredibly dangerous. He did not expect the nightstand to do more than maybe trip 42; but, it was an extra second of life.

Howard grabbed his node from the nightstand then took three steps across the room to plop on the cot he called a bed. His room consisted of half the janitor’s closet. The closet was a 10′ x 15′ space filled with shelves and cleaning chemicals. There were several janitors once, but over the years Howard had been the only one that didn’t ask too many questions. The company rewarded loyalty. They trusted him and allowed him to move into the space. He built a wall to give himself some space from the assortment of colorful cleaning liquids.

“42..,” he repeated the number as he swiped at his node. He browsed through the employee information app read the entry.

[La Calavera: Physically speaking, Calaveras are the strongest of all Unique Souls. They are the sum total of all physical training across all their lives. B-class and above are able to destroy an Earth. Do not engage.]

“Alright, I won’t engage,” Howard chuckled to himself. As he laughed he heard a light clunk from the closet. It sounded familiar like when he let the mop handle bang against a counter. “Who’s there?!” He shouted from the cot, then regretted it. The last thing he wanted was to attract attention from a Calavera. After a few silent moments, nothing came tearing out of the closet. Howard let himself breathe again. He tried to distract himself with his node but the mystery noise from the closet kept bothering him.

Could it be a rat?” He ran down a list of possibilities in his mind as he stood from the cot and padded quietly to the cleaning closet. Howard kept his closet organized, there wouldn’t have been a noise without someone or something making it. He turned on the light a second before he pulled the door opened.

He looked at the mop hook first, it was broken. The mop he hung there a few hours ago was flat on the floor.

“Huh,” he walked into the room and looked at the hook. It was bent downward as if someone used it as a step, and it was covered with a sticky, golden substance. It looked and felt like honey, but he didn’t think it would be smart to taste it. Howard looked up at the vent directly above the hook. It looked undisturbed.

Working in a secret lab for 13 years taught Howard not to dismiss any little thing. He knew someone had been in his closet and looked around for more clues. Organization was also part of Howard’s success at the company. He had a place for everything including empty containers that he planned to re-use or recycle. He immediately spotted something wrong. A five-gallon water jug in the corner among the empty containers was filled with amber liquid.

Relax, you’re not dead yet,” Howard reminded himself. 

“Specimen 42 has escaped. Unique Guards to your stations. All other personnel return to your quarters for your own safety.” The announcement played again; Howard had an idea. He hoped to draw out the intruder without getting himself killed. The best part was that if it failed it wasn’t an immediate death sentence.

“I can’t take it anymore,” He grumbled loudly and shook his head. “I’m gonna have to quit. Today, if 42 doesn’t tear the place up first,” he complained to himself and anyone in earshot as he left the closet. When he was two steps out he heard a quiet voice behind him.

“I won’t…,” He expected the intruder, but he did not expect the intruder to be a six-year-old with dirty blonde hair. He was momentarily surprised when he turned around and saw the girl standing next to an empty five-gallon jug. He exaggerated a jump to feign surprise and met the girl’s eyes.

“You’re 42?” he asked. She nodded.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just don’t want to be here anymore. Like you,” she said. Howard nodded at the empty jug.

“Is it uncomfortable to be in that?” he asked. She shook her head and put her hand on the opening. Then, she flowed into it. Her liquid self moved as fast as cough syrup, not at all the slow viscosity of honey. Though her current moved fast she was still sticky, her form clung to one side of the jug as it poured in, then it climbed up the other side. She entered and exited the jug in one continuous golden ribbon. The end coming out did not connect to the end going in.

“Okay, great,” Howard smiled at her. “You stay in there in case anyone comes looking. In a few hours, they’ll think you escaped and cancel the lockdown. After that I can leave with my jug then quit.  Sound good?” he asked. Honey’s smile lit up the room and she nodded eagerly.

“Thank you!” she said as she flowed into the jug again. Howard waved at the jug, walked out of the cleaning closet and turned off the light.

[Specimen 42 located.] he sent a message to the security dispatcher and left his room to grab a snack.

[Your loyalty will be rewarded.] came the reply.

“I love my job,” Howard smiled to himself.

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