Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
It had been a little more than a week since their argument, and Phillip was still struggling with reconciling Martin’s increasingly erratic behavior. Stepping out of his shower, he allowed himself a few moments of relaxation as he toweled off. The halogen lights were starting their tonal shift from yellow to blue, marking the transition from dawn to morning. It was supposed to be a way to keep circadian rhythms in line with the outside, but Phillip had still found himself losing his sense of days.
While this was Martin’s project, Phillip too felt a sense of ownership and responsibility, and not just to the project, but to everyone involved. Beth had been instrumental in stabilizing the acceleration serum that had jump started the tardigrade’s growth, but it wasn’t soon after that Phillip noticed the control tanks were also growing at a wildly accelerated rate. Without a control group, all their efforts would be for naught. This had been the source of the argument.
Strangely Martin had seemed unconcerned, and even hostile, to Phillip’s concerns. It didn’t help that Martin had been distancing himself from everyone, even more so than usual. The size of the facility was a bit misleading. While there were only four floors, each was spacious, and full of hallways and rooms that were largely unused. He would find himself wandering the empty sections, just to clear his head. He did find it a little strange that he never once accidentally crossed paths with Martin.
And then there were the changes to the EEG patterns. Beth had casually mentioned that, just based on the charts, it looked like the sleeping patient was starting to wake up. That had sent a chill down his spine, but he had no tangible explanation for why. Developments were moving faster, and instead of taking a pause Martin was intent on speeding faster, headlong into who knows what. Flicking the light off in the bathroom, Phillip moved to the bedroom, and started to get dressed. He didn’t relish the thought of going behind Martin’s back, but he had decided that something had to be done.
“You want me to do what? I thought growth was the whole point of …”
Phillip pressed his fingers against the bridge of his nose. He had always been the voice that pushed back against actions based on flimsy things like “hunches” and “gut feelings”. And now found himself on the other side of that position. Understanding the irony, however, didn’t lessen his resolve.
“I’m just concerned that things are moving too fast, and want to have a way to pull the plug, so to speak. If I have to.”
“Pull the plug?” Beth gave him a penetrating look. “What aren’t you telling me, Phillip?”
“Look, maybe it’s nothing. I just … I have some concerns. Serious concerns. Let’s just call it a gut feeling.”
Phillip couldn’t resist a small smile at Beth’s look of astonishment.
“Yeah, I know. Phillip is asking you to trust his gut. Write it down, and save it for later. But seriously, can you do it?”
“Make a serum that counteracts the accelerant? Yeah, I think so, but undoing a thing is always more complicated. You know that. There are bound to be unforeseen side effects. Wouldn’t it be easier to just put the project on a bit of a pause…”
“Martin will never do that.”
“But if he …”
They exchanged a meaningful glance, and Beth continued, “Oh, he doesn’t know about this, does he. Great. What is really going on, Phillip? You know you can trust me.”
“If I didn’t, I would never ask you to do this. Let’s just say for now that Martin seems to be getting a bit more possessive about this project than I’m comfortable with. He’s also been …”
“Hey, any requests from topside?” Gus asked, leaning into the doorway of the lab.
“Don’t you ever knock?” Beth asked.
Gus reached over, and knocked on the door. “Any requests?”
Phillip looked at Beth, “What’s he talking about?”
Gus gave a glance down the hallway before stepping into the lab. Lowering his voice, he said, “You seriously don’t think the stuff up there that’s not some variation on cat food comes in through … official channels, do you?”
Phillip shrugged, and said, “I … never really gave it any thought.”
“Of course you didn’t,” Beth said before turning to Gus, “All I know is you better not cut off that ice cream supply. I’ve killed for less.”
“Alright. Ice cream for Beth. More steaks for Martin,” Gus frowned a bit, like he’d just bitten into a raw peppercorn. Recovering, he pointed at Phillip, “And for you?”
After an awkward silence, Gus looked to Beth, and then back to Phillip, “Seriously, it’s not a big deal. I have a friend that brings all this stuff out. I pay him handsomely from the discretionary funds. It’s a round off error for the folks who pay for,” he gestured towards all the equipment surrounding them in the lab, “and makes things a little less crazy while we all pretend to be mole people living underground. It’s a win-win.”
Phillip shook his head, realizing that Gus had mistaken his concerns, and said, “No, I don’t care about any of that. Did you say you were getting steaks for Martin?”
“Yeah … dude loves his red meat. Word of advice, though, don’t ever watch him eat. Beyond disgusting.”
Phillip leaned back against a table, and absently pulled at the bottom of his beard.
“So … you want some steaks too?”
Beth, a little more attune to Phillip’s thoughts, asked, “What’s the problem?”
“Martin’s a vegetarian. Damn near vegan. And has been for … decades maybe. Certainly ever since I’ve known him.”
“Vegan?” Gus laughed out loud, and continued, “Right. I think we’re talking about different people here. Anyway, you sure you don’t want anything? It’s all on the table, cheese, wine, bourbon?”
Phillip, still tugging at his beard, shook his head, “No, nothing. Thanks, though.”
With a shrug Gus turned to leave, and then caught himself. “Wait, almost forgot. Whatever it is you all are cooking up down here, any reason for it to suddenly be pulling twice as much power than it used to?”
Beth and Phillip exchanged a glance before Phillip replied, “No, why?”
“Damn. There must really be a short somewhere, then. I just can’t seem to find it.” Seeing their concerned expressions, he continued, “Nothing to worry about, though. The load’s higher than it should be, but honestly, if I hadn’t been on the lower floor for that last delivery, I may not have even noticed. I mean, I would have noticed, eventually, but … you know what I mean. No need to freak out about it is all.”
“Delivery?” Phillip asked.
Gus paused, clearly expecting a different question. “Yeah, four big crates. Martin had ’em delivered directly to the basement. Said he would take care of it from there.”
Phillip took a step towards Gus, who involuntarily took a step back. “When was this?”
“I don’t know. My sense of time is garbage, and being down here doesn’t help. A few days ago? Week maybe? Probably no more than that.”
Phillip turned to Beth, and said, “Can you get started on … that the thing we discussed? Now?”
Beth, her face serious, nodded.
Turning back to Gus, Phillip said, “Let’s you and I take a trip downstairs.”
“What? Now? I sorta need to … you know, talk to my guy? Ice cream, and all that.”
Phillip’s tone shifted into one of innate authority as he said, “I want to see those crates, and the power levels. Ice cream can wait.”
Gus tried to look to Beth for support, but she had already turned her attention to a pile of opened notebooks. Looking back to Phillip, he sighed heavily, and said, “Alright. But if Martin’s down there, I’m gonna make it clear this was your idea.”
“Fine. Let’s go.”
As they passed Martin’s lab Phillip paused at the open door. Gus, stopping in the hallway, called back, “Basement’s this way, doc.”
It took a moment for Gus’ comment to register. Phillip said, “Yeah, just … Okay, I’m coming,” and caught back up to him.
As they waited for the elevator cage to reach their floor, Phillip kept trying to make sense of what he had seen. Martin’s lab had looked as it always did, except all the specimen tanks were empty.