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Scene 08

1488 words·7 mins
Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Part 8: This Article

Phillip and Gus stepped out of the elevator cage. The smell of rock dust mixed with cardboard, wood, and engine grease mixed together to form a unique kind of odor that was less than pleasant. Phillip thought he could also detect something that reminded him of rotting vegetables.

“They’re right over …. there? I swear, they were right there,” Gus said, pointing to an empty section of wall.

Gus met Phillip’s gaze, and said, with a cold seriousness that took Phillip by surprise, “I’m not crazy. They were there.”

“I believe you,” Phillip said, holding Gus’s stare.

Gus blinked, and said with cautious tone, “You do?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”

Gus shook his head, started to say something, and stopped. After a pause he said, “It just doesn’t make any sense. Why bring them down here just to drag them back up to another floor. And those were two hefty dudes that moved them. I’m not sure me, or anyone else here, would be able to move them without help.”

While Gus was talking, Phillip scanned the room. It had a parking garage feel to it. Concrete columns were evenly spaced, and the lack of any walls made it feel large compared to the other levels. Fluorescent lights with yellowed plastic covers dotted the concrete ceiling. There were boxes, crates, shelves, and all assortment of random equipment piled up everywhere. It was clear that some of the stuff had been there for a very long time.

“You said they were big. How big?”

“What? Oh, yeah. Well, if I didn’t know better I’d have thought they were snack machines. So, about yay high,” Gus said, holding his hand above his head. “And about this wide,” Gus continued, holding his hands out from his body. “That empty space on the wall was filled up. Don’t you have any idea what they might have been?”

Phillip frowned. The memory of the empty specimen tanks in Martin’s lab stuck in his mind. The specimens had been growing at an alarming rate, and the existing tanks had quickly become overcrowded. He had noticed that the crowding had diminished, and had meant to ask Martin what he was doing with the specimens that he must have been removing. Of course, that’s what he had assumed was going on.

The thought of the tardigrades turning on each other as they became crowded had also crossed his mind. It wasn’t uncommon among some animals, but there hadn’t been any of the typical signs of violence. The water was clear, and the bottoms of the tanks were free from detritus.

“And now they’re empty,” Phillip muttered.

“What?” Gus asked.

“Nothing, just thinking out loud. I assume you’ve looked back there?” Phillip pointed towards the far end of the room.

“Well … sort of. Why would anyone move anything back there? This place is like moving through a hoarder’s house. That’s why all of our stuff is on this end, near the elevator. Basically they just pushed everything they could that way when your gear was delivered,” Gus said, waving both of his hands towards the piles of stuff. “For all I know, the Ark might be stashed somewhere back there.”

Phillip bowed his head in thought. He had just remembered something that Martin had said. They were going over some of the new readings, and Martin had seemed strangely uninterested. Phillip had commented on it, even trying to make a joke of it. The attempt at humor had missed it’s mark, which wasn’t a surprise, but Martin had then said that he had already seen those results, and had made the necessary adjustments. As the report had been generated while they were in the lab, that had struck him as strange. Phillip pressed, and Martin, clearly distracted, had waved him off, saying that he must have been thinking about the other batch. Moments later he had made some excuse, and left the lab. At the time, Phillip had just chalked it up to the escalating neuroticism that Martin had been displaying, and figured that he must have misheard. But now he wondered if it had been something else.

“Do you have floor plans for this facility?”

Gus looked at him, confused. “Um … probably? There’re mountains of paper documentation in the control room. JFK’s diary is probably buried in there somewhere. Why?”

“Nothing, probably. Can you go find them for me? Today?”

“Sure? Did you want to look at the power issue first?”

Phillip, distracted, said, “Power issue?”

“Yeah,” Gus pointed at row of metal panels just behind them, “something’s pulling a lot of power, and I have no idea what. I don’t want to be caught down here if that thing trips.”

Phillip looked at the panels. They were old, and reminded him of pictures he had seen of hydroelectric power facilities. Analogue meters littered the space, with small metal stamped labels above each one. Some of the needles bounced back and forth in a tick-tock pattern, though most were static. He saw a number of them pushing close to a zone colored red at the right side of the meter. There was also a different looking panel to the far right that was covered with a heavy canvas tarp.

“It’s a wonder any of this stuff works,” Phillip muttered.

“It’s old, but was built to last,” Gus said, a note of sadness in his voice.

“I assume there’s not any immediate danger?”

“Well … I mean, yeah, no alarms have been tripped, but …”

“And it’s been holding steady at these levels for how long?”

“Not sure, really, but I noticed a week or so ago. But yeah, it seems to be holding steady. I just can’t account for the increased usage. And, not to put too fine a point on it, the stuff you all are doing down here is starting to weird me out a bit. I’ve been on lots of projects like this, but nothing quite like what you’re doing. I mean, what exactly are you all growing up there?”

Phillip held Gus’ gaze for a long moment.

“Just get me those plans.”

Gus furrowed his brows, and said, “Alright. Fine. You coming up with me, or staying down here?”

“I think I’ll stay down here for a bit. Maybe look around a little.”

“Okay. I’ll send the cage back down.”

“Thanks,” Phillip said. He had already turned away from Gus, and started walking towards the maze of crates and boxes.

“Don’t get lost!” Gus called after him.

Phillip waved his hand in the air as a reply. Moving down a narrow path along the wall, he heard the freight elevator’s metal door clang shut, and the squeal of metal as it began its accent to the upper floors.

Feeling a little ridiculous, Phillip pushed some boxes away from the wall, and smacked the surface with his hand. It was solid concrete. Moving further down, he repeated the process at regular intervals. When he reached the back wall, he turned to survey the landscape of clutter. Scratching at his beard, he tried to look for something that was out of place. He didn’t know what he was looking for, and since everything looked out of place, he was really just hoping that something would present itself.

Moving along the back wall, his foot slipped forward on the concrete floor. Catching himself before he fell, he looked down. In the dim light it looked like he had stepped into a puddle.

Water? Down here? That doesn’t make any sense, he thought.

Lifting his boot, he felt resistance. With an extra effort, his boot pulled away from the floor with a wet sound of suction breaking a seal.

That’s not water.

Stepping back, he squatted down to get a better look. Angling so the limited light would reflect off the surface, he saw it wasn’t a puddle, but rather a large slime trail, extending past the point of illumination. Reaching down, he touched the surface. It was goopy, tacky, almost like a glue that hadn’t set. Holding his hand up to the light, he pulled his finger and thumb apart. He saw refracted colors in the strands of gel that stretched across the gap. It reminded him of the rainbow effect of an oil slick. Carefully bringing his hand close to his face, he used his other hand to wave air towards him. There was a slight acrid odor, but nothing that would suggest solvents.

Stepping back from the slick, he wiped his hand on his lab coat, noticing that the tips of his finger and thumb had lost some sensation.

It’s probably just something that’s leaking from one of these boxes, and like an idiot you stuck your fingers in it. That’s a rookie move. You know better than that.

Smiling at his self chastisement, he gave the area another look, and with a sigh headed back towards the elevator cage.

Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Part 8: This Article