Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
thump thump clap … thump thump clap … thump thump clap
Gus, eyes still closed, rolled towards his alarm clock, waving his hand about like a drunk wizard summoning a ghost, trying to find the off button.
thump thump clap … thump thump clap … thump thump clap
The alarm clock was a hacked together collection of parts he had assembled one afternoon. For the alarm, a random song was chosen from an attached SD card that would play on a loop until shut off.
buddy you’re a boy make a big noise playing in the street, gonna be a …
“Okay Freddie, I’m up,” he said, and smacked the top button on the clock. Clicking on the lamp next to the clock, he winced as yellow light flooded the room. With a groan he slid out of bed, and made his way to the shower, mumbling “We will, we will, rock you.”
Gus pushed the red toggle switch at the top of the BUNN coffee maker. He hummed and tapped his foot as he watched the carafe start to fill with dark brown coffee.
Startled, Gus jumped, and looked over his shoulder.
“Sorry,” Beth said, laughing. “Guess you’re not a morning person.”
“Is it that obvious?” he said with a smirk. After a pause, he continued, “So, you’ve been here over a week now. How’s life with the mad scientists?”
Beth gave him a sideways glance. “Well, I’ve worked with Phillip for years. Martin, on the other hand, seems a bit…”
“Like a freakin’ basket case,” Gus interrupted.
“I wasn’t going to say that.”
“Didn’t have to. I can read minds,” Gus said, tapping his temple.
“Oh really,” Beth replied, pulling her brows together as she gave him an intense stare. After a moment, she smiled, and said, “That was me thinking that the coffee is done, and I have a lot of work to do. Just in case the transmission was garbled.”
Stepping back, Gus motioned towards the coffee machine.
Filling up her oversized thermos, Beth said, “Hey, you going to be around later? I have some questions about some of the systems, and Phillip said you were the best person to ask.”
“Sure. Martin has a delivery coming in, but I should be free after that. Just pop by the control room sometime this afternoon.”
“Cool, thanks,” Beth said. As she walked away she called over her shoulder, “You might want to make another pot, Houdini.”
Looking at the glass carafe, Gus saw there was barely a cup left. With a sigh, he emptied the spent grounds into the trashcan.
“Don’t forget about today’s delivery.”
“Jesus!” Gus exclaimed, dropping the plastic basket.
“No,” Martin replied in his usual deadpan.
Gus could never tell if he was joking. He watched as Martin walked around the coffee station, to the cooking area behind it. He turned on the gas stove, placed a skillet on the burner, and pulled two large steaks from the fridge. With an air of casualness, like it was part of a regular routine, he dropped the steaks into the skillet.
Turning, he stared at Gus. Feeling his stomach churn, Gus broke eye contact, saying, “I didn’t forget about the delivery. This stuff going into your lab?”
“No. It stays on the lower level,” Martin said. With a smooth motion, he fished out a spatula and flipped the steaks, though they were barely seared. “I’ll take care of the rest. Just let me know when it’s here.”
“You’re the boss,” Gus mumbled. He scooped coffee into the basket, but was unable to keep from spilling grounds onto the table.
Martin moved his steaks to a plate, turned off the stove, and carried them to a table. Gus pressed the red toggle switch to start the new pot brewing, and brushed the spilt grounds onto the floor. Turning his head just enough to see Martin from the corner of his eye, he saw him lift up one of the steaks with both hands. Without hesitation, his head snapped forward and he started to tear into the raw meat, swallowing large chunks without even chewing. Looking away, Gus fast walked out of the kitchen, pretending not to notice.
Gus watched as two muscled men in green army clothes corner walked four large crates, each as big as one of them, off the elevator cage. He was a little surprised that they managed to all fit, but had learned a long time ago that these fellas were all about making as few trips as possible.
“Where you want ’em?” one asked, leaning around the side of a crate.
The lower level had become cluttered, and someone had been moving a lot of things around. Gus figured it must have been Martin. Seeing an empty length of wall at the far end of the room, he pointed towards it, saying, “Sorry, man.” With a grunt, both men started to push the wooden crates across the concrete floor.
Making his way to the row of panels that controlled the power generators, Gus noticed the load was higher than normal, and by a lot. Sometimes the labs pulled more power at random times, but this seemed different. Something was pushing the generators to their limit. He hoped there wasn’t a short somewhere, and made a mental note to run a diagnostic when he got back to the control room.
“Sign here,” a gruff voice said.
One of the men, sweating heavily from his exertion, was holding out a clipboard. Gus gave a quick glance to the end of the room. The four crates were lined up in a neat row. Reaching for his shirt pocket, he swore. “This day, I swear. You have a pen?”
Gus wasn’t entirely sure, but it sounded like the man growled. Just a little growl, but it was still unnerving. Without any change to his expression, the man produced a pen. Gus took it, signed the papers, and then out of habit put it in his shirt pocket. The man didn’t say a word, but continued to stare at him. Gus was just about to ask him if there was a problem when he said, “Shit! Sorry. Seriously, if you knew the day I’ve had,” and returned the pen. The man grunted towards his companion, and they both returned to the cage.
“I’ll go up with …” Gus stopped as he realized the cage had already begun to ascend. Fixing his eyes on the stairwell door, he sighed, “Stairs it is.”
His shins burning from the climb, Gus tugged on the door for the second level. It swung open with ease, and he welcomed the cool air that poured into the stuffy stairwell. As he let the breeze blow over him, he heard loud voices from down the hall.
Letting the door close, he moved down the hallway. Turning a corner, he could see the lights were on in Martin’s lab. The door was also open, and it was clear the shouting was coming from there. Arguments between Phillip and Martin weren’t uncommon, but this sounded like a new level of antagonism.
Poking his head around the door frame, he saw the two men standing on either side of a table. Phillip was gesticulating towards the tanks. The water in all of them was practically frothing from the agitation of dozens of giant mutant shrimp. Gus didn’t know what they really were, and didn’t want to know. For him, thinking of them as giant mutant shrimp was good enough.
“You disappoint me Phillip. I expected you, of all people, to understand.”
It was at that moment that they both noticed Gus.
“We’ll discuss this later, Martin,” Phillip said, sounding like he was using every bit of his self control to keep from yelling. Without so much as a glance towards Gus, he marched out of the lab.
Martin, seemingly unfazed by the altercation, continued to stare at Gus.
His stomach tightening into a knot, Gus said, “Your delivery came. I had them put the crates along the far wall.”
Martin stepped forward. These wasn’t anything menacing about the action, but Gus still felt a sudden urge to run.
“Unopened, I presume?”
“Yeah … I mean, yes … just put the crates along the wall.”
“Perfect. That will be all.” Martin said, and turned his attention to the tanks.
Before he left, Gus saw that the giant shrimps had calmed down, and were gently undulating in the tanks. It took a second to register, but he could see that they were all moving in sync, across all the tanks, like fans in a stadium doing the wave.
Walking up to the locked door of the control room, Gus punched in the access code. As the bolts slid out of place, he noticed a yellow sticky note.
Got pulled away. Will try to catch you tomorrow. – Beth P.S. The coffee was delicious. :)
Taking the note from the door with a smirk, he pushed it open, and entered the control room. Dropping into the high backed chair that he’d managed to smuggle in, he spun around and opened a small fridge. Inside was a single tub of Rocky Road ice cream. Pulling off the lid, he saw it was almost empty.
Frowning, he said, “Looks like I’m gonna need to call Thomas sooner than I thought.”
Grabbing a nearby spoon, he brought up a series of diagnostic screens on his console, and dug into the ice cream. Spoon in mid air, Gus paused. He thought he had just felt a low rumble. Looking around the room, everything seemed fine. With a shrug, he returned to his ice cream as numbers marched across the screen.