Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Beth walked past Gus and Phillip. Sensing that Gus wasn’t following she turned around, just inside the shattered door frame of the stairwell. Gus was standing, still as a statue, staring at Phillip. Phillip was still leaned up against the wall, his head bowed, looking exhausted.
“You coming?” Beth called to Gus.
Gus’s eyes flicked to hers, but only for an instant.
“What was that?” he asked, clearly directing the question towards Phillip. “I don’t recall you spending a lot of time in the facility’s gym. Oh right, because there isn’t one.”
“Not now,” Beth said, taking a step back into the hallway. She gave a quick glance to Phillip. He continued to lean up against the wall, as if he hadn’t heard Gus’s question.
Gus took a step back. A line of sweat ran down her back, instantly reminding her of their situation. The power needed to be restored, and they needed Gus for that. She ran through a dozen different scenarios in her mind as the took another step towards Gus. He mirrored her advance, taking another step back. She noticed that the beam of light from Gus’s flashlight looked like it was fluttering against the floor.
His hands are shaking. He’s terrified. Hell, I am too, but I can’t tell him that.
Holding up one hand, towards Gus, she said, “Just wait a second.”
Stepping over to Phillip, Beth said loud enough for Gus to hear, “Phillip. Can you hear me?”
After a long second, his head lifted, like it was a piece of heavy machinery smoothly moving on well oiled hydraulic gears. One of the lenses of his glasses was badly damaged. A chunk at the corner was missing, and the cracks spiderwebbed throughout the rest of the lens. The other was dirty, but mostly clear. The farsighted prescription made his large brown eyes seem even larger. Beth blinked. For an instant she thought she saw a bright blue ring flash around each of his irises.
“Yes, I can hear you,” Phillip replied.
“Can you walk?”
“Well, how about you go first, then.”
It was time for Phillip to look confused. He shot a glance at Gus, who turned from his gaze like he was dodging a punch. Turning back to Beth, she noticed he was being careful not to make eye contact.
Her voice a whisper, she said, “I can’t help you while the power is out. Maybe not even then, but at least I can try. Let me guess, there was a bit more to Martin’s experiments than you realized.”
Phillip looked away, frowning.
Beth felt a cold chill stab at her chest, followed by a hot rush to her face that caused her jaw to clench. Part of her refused to believe that Phillip had kept her in the dark, but here they were. She had her own suspicions and theories, the worst of which being confirmed when her suppression serum was able to save Phillip. But the thought of him being fully aware of the dangers, and not saying anything shook her. They had worked together for too long, and that was wildly out of character for the Phillip she knew.
Is this the Phillip you knew?
Beth shook her head, trying to silence her inner voice. None of it mattered if they couldn’t get the power back online.
“Gus is freaked out, and so am I. You need to be in front, now.”
Phillip nodded, pushing his shaggy hair, now full of rock dust, out of his face. At that moment Beth noticed something that had been nagging at the back of her mind. Phillip wasn’t sweating. Not a single drop of moisture was on his face or hands, while she and Gus were literally soaked. She took a step back.
Phillip seemed to see it as an indication that their conversation was over. She felt a flutter of relief that he didn’t discern the real motivation, and watched his back as he proceeded towards the shattered door frame, his stained lab coat hanging on him like a shroud.
“You want a flashlight?” she asked.
Without turning, he replied, “Don’t need it,” and was engulfed into the shadows of the stairwell.
Beth took a deep breath, feeling like her own hands were on the verge of shaking. The air was damp, stale, and tasted of dirt. The back of her throat was raw, and it was all she could do to not start coughing. She knew that if she started she might not be able to stop.
She sensed Gus at her side, and turned her head just enough to see him from the corner of her eye. He was looking at the stairwell.
“You gonna be okay?” she asked.
“What’s the plan?”
“To get the power back on?”
Gus turned to look at her. There was something in his stare that made her uneasy.
“And him? What are we going to do about … whatever that is, because I’m not to sure that’s Phillip anymore.”
Is this the Phillip you knew?
Her inner voice seemed to echo off of Gus’s words.
“We are going to help him, Gus. We are going to all get out of here, and …”
She recognized his look, and smiled.
“I’m not trying to bullshit you. There’s more going on here than either of us realize. The danger feels too close right now. So lets get the power back on, call for some help, and try going from there. That’s more than enough for you to worry about. Let me worry about Phillip. I can’t do that if I have to also be worrying about you.”
Gus’s posture relaxed. Beth put her flashlight under her arm, and took Gus’s free hand in both of hers. Giving it a gentle squeeze, she said, “We’re going to get out of here. I promise. You trust me?”
Gus smiled, and said, “Yeah, I suppose I do. I mean, we’re ice cream buddies, after all.”
Beth laughed. Letting go of his hand, she saw his face take on a grave seriousness. “How dangerous is he, really?”
Beth held his gaze for a long moment. “I don’t know,” she whispered.
Gus nodded, and turned his light towards the stairwell. Beth noticed the light’s beam was no longer wobbling.
“For what it’s worth, I still consider Phillip one of my closest friends and colleagues. I refuse to believe that he would intentionally cause harm to either of us.”
“Yeah, I know,” Gus said, and started walking towards the stairwell.
Is this the Phillip you knew?
“I can only hope it still is,” she whispered to herself.