Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
As they approached the stairwell door Gus could see a problem. The heavy steel door was bent, its center bowing towards them like a swelling balloon. Cracks and crumbled rock littered the floor directly in front of it. While there were no gaps at the top, it was clear that the left hand side was much lower than the right. Gus pulled up his already damp shirt, and wiped sweat from his eyes. He looked to Beth. She too was staring at the warped and wedged door.
Gus turned to look at Phillip. Flicking his light up, he saw Phillip was a dozen feet or more behind them. He had his hand pressed up to the cracked concrete that ran down the length of the hallway. His head was bowed, as if he were listening to something.
“What’s he doing?” Gus whispered to Beth.
A second beam of light joined his. Both of them trained on Phillip maed it look like he was caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. He didn’t pay any more attention to the second beam as he had the first.
The stuffy claustrophobic atmosphere had been wearing down Gus’ otherwise cheery disposition. He knew it was mostly in his head, but he felt as if he were having to almost gasp for breath, like there wasn’t quite enough oxygen. As he looked at Phillip, seemingly in commune with the wall, his frustration bubbled over.
“Hey! Buddy!” he yelled.
Gus had meant to be loud, but was still surprised at the way his voice echoed up and down the hallway.
Phillip slowly turned his head towards him. Gus felt like he had just attracted the attention of a giant lizard, and instantly regretted his outburst. He felt a strange pressure envelope his head, reminiscent of a sinus headache right before a storm front rolls in. Except the pressure wasn’t static. It felt like a clamp was slowly but inevitably being tightened, one slow turn of a screw after another. He tried to look away from Phillip, but felt frozen in place. He barely noticed Beth take hold of his arm. Phillip looked away from him, and the vice like grip vanished. Gus’ flashlight tumbled to the ground as he swayed in place. If it hadn’t been for Beth, he was certain he would have fallen.
“You alright?” Beth whispered.
“Yeah, just … dizzy. Fine now. I think.”
Crouching down, Gus picked up his flashlight. As he rose, he saw Phillip had joined them. He avoided looking directly at him.
“Sorry, I was … it doesn’t matter … what’s the,” Phillip’s sentence cut off as Beth shone her light on the stairwell door.
Looking at Gus, as if they were best of friends, Phillip asked, “Any other way down?”
Still avoiding direct eye contact, Gus noticed that Phillip was rubbing the back of his neck, as if he had just woken up from an awkwardly positioned nap in a chair. Pulling up his shirt to wipe sweat from his eyes, he noticed something else. There wasn’t the faintest trace of sweat on Phillip’s skin. Both his and Beth’s face and clothes were practically soaked. Phillip’s lab coat was damp, but his clothes underneath were not. He looked like he might as well have just stepped out of a refrigerator.
“Well?” Phillip said.
Gus aggressively wiped at his eyes as the salty sting of another bead of sweat slid into the corner of his eye.
“Yeah, sure. There’s the elevator shaft, but we would need rope, and … look, either we get through that door, or … do I really need to spell it out?”
Gus watched as Phillip looked towards the door. With a shallow nod, he walked up to the slab of warped metal. Beth and Gus followed him with their lights. Being well over six feet tall, Phillip could reach both sides of the door with little effort. He ran his fingers down each side of the door where it was bowed out a few inches from the wall. It reminded Gus of the way an insect might use antennae to probe its surroundings.
“What are you…” he started to ask.
“Step back, both of you. At least ten feet,” Phillip said as he hooked his fingers around the edges of both sides of the door like he was giving it a giant hug.
Gus looked to Beth, who shrugged her shoulders. Keeping their lights on the door, they both backed away.
“Are you clear?” Phillip called out as he spread out his feet, and bent his knees like he was preparing to lift something heavy.
“Yeah,” Beth answered. Gus could hear the curiosity in her voice.
They stood in silence. Gus knew what it looked like Phillip was trying to do, and if their situation hadn’t been so dire he would have laughed. In fact, part of him half expected Phillip to turn around at any moment, and nonchalantly rub his hands together, announcing, “Just kidding.”
Instead he heard a low metallic groan. Moving his light to the cracked concrete around the door frame, he saw rivulets of rock dust form in the cracks as small chunks of concrete tumbled to the floor. The groaning intensified, and Gus took another step back as larger concrete chunks broke free, and fell to the floor around Phillip. A strange blue light reflected from the surface of the door, as if there were a pen light in Phillip’s front pocket, but just for an instant. With an animalistic roar, the hallway filled with the sounds of tearing metal as the door dislodged from the wall. Phillip lumbered backwards, rotating his body with the chunk of metal, falling with it as it slammed into the floor. Behind him streams of rock dust spilled, creating a veil of dust where the door had been.
Phillip lay motionless against the metal door. Gus started forward, but Beth grabbed his arm. Turning, she looked at him, her expression full of serious intensity. She shook her head. It was a short quick gesture, but it was all that Gus needed. They both took another step back, and kept their lights trained on Phillip.
Slowly he pushed himself up and away from the mangled piece of metal that had been the door. Resting on his knees, he swung the pack of serum around to his front. With a casualness of someone fetching a cigarette from a pack, he removed a vial of serum, loaded it into the injector, and pressed it against his neck. The now familiar hiss of the delivery blended with the falling silt. Phillip bowed his head, and after a long minute, returned the injector to the pack. Zipping it up, he staggered to his feet, like an old man struggling to extricate himself from an armchair. Stepping to one side, he leaned against the cracked wall of the hallway, and motioned towards the stairwell.
“After you,” he said.