Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
“You want a flashlight?” Beth asked.
His back to her, Phillip stared into the darkness that filled the stairwell. He had been noticing that he was able to sense things around him in strange new ways. It wasn’t that he could see in the dark, but at the same time he knew how far he was from the wall, from Beth, from the bottom of the stairs. He also knew that the stairs going down were mostly clear of debris, aside from dust and pea sized chunks of gravel.
It was much the way he knew he could move the crushed door. There hadn’t been an explicit thought that he could rip the door from its stone encasement, but rather an understanding that it could be done. It was akin to knowing that one can walk forward in a straight line. There was no consideration to the activity, it was just done.
Except there was a bit more to it than that. As he had strained against the door it was clear that he was not alone. He knew Beth and Gus were behind him. It wasn’t that. In his mind, there was another presence. It felt like a kind of splinter that was wedged into his psyche. He could sense it digging in. Taking advantage of his new abilities seemed to fuel the entity. At the moment Phillip still had a very clear sense of self, but while he was pulling the door from the wall there was a moment, just a split second, where he felt like the barrier between his own mind and the entity was gone. In that moment it had been unclear what it even meant to be himself.
The suppression serum, originally designed to just slow the development pace of the specimens, seemed to be effective in keeping the barrier in place. However every time he administered a dose it felt a little less effective. He couldn’t tell whether it was a case of tolerance or whether the entity was just getting stronger. After pulling the door free he had felt a short moment of panic, wondering if he would be able to maintain control of his self long enough to administer a dose. He had to find Martin.
“Don’t need it,” he replied to Beth, and proceeded down the stairs.
As he descended he could sense their conversation. It wasn’t like eavesdropping, but more like he could sense the emotive content. He wondered if it was similar to the way animals sensed changes in their environment without actually knowing what was going on. Proximity seemed to matter, however, and upon reaching the bottom of the stairwell Phillip could only sense that Gus and Beth were near, nothing else.
The door to the lower level, the power room as they often called it even though it was mostly full of random boxes, pushed open smoothly. The glow of yellow emergency lights gave the space an abandoned warehouse ambiance. Opposite the stairwell was the elevator shaft, with the power panels feeding the facility lined up against the connecting wall to his left. The rest of the level sprawled out to his right, a maze of boxes and crates.
The thought came to him, not like a verbalized thought, but just something he knew. Somewhere at the back, behind all the boxes, there was another door. Except door wasn’t quite right either. He struggled to resolve the thought. It was like he was trying to translate a phrase from another language that didn’t have a direct translation. He felt a sensation of pins and needles creep over his skin. Swinging the ice pack around, he removed another vial of serum, and delivered a dose. It felt like he had just opened an icy freezer door while standing in a dry desert. The prickling sensation subsided. The intrusive thought faded into the background of his mind, and his awareness of his surroundings numbed. It was almost like a thick blanket had been thrown over all his senses. The feeling was uncomfortable, but he feared for the time when it would be gone all together.
Phillip jumped a little as Beth and Gus walked past him, their lights bouncing around the room. Beth hung back as Gus advanced on the row of power panels. She pointed to the ice pack that was resting against his stomach.
“Another dose? So soon?” she asked. These was an uneasiness to her tone.
“Preventative, mostly. You two should stay away from the back of the room.”
Beth swung her light over the boxes and crates.
“I don’t think it’s anything you can see, directly at least,” Phillip said.
He started to tell her about the slimy substance he had discovered back amongst the crates, but became distracted by the sound of static. It was far off; faint but clear. There seemed to be a voice underneath the crackles. There were words, but he couldn’t make out their substance. He felt the presence of the other waking up, or trying to. The effects of the serum deadened its influence, but Phillip was certain it was reacting, maybe even trying to respond, to the static.
“Ah ha!” Gus exclaimed.
Beth’s light swung across the room, and she walked towards Gus. Phillip followed her, but not too closely.
Gus had his light on a central panel that was leaning away from the wall a good six inches. A large coupling was disconnected from the top of the panel. Pointing at the gap, Gus said, “Well, there’s your problem.”
“Great. How do we fix it,” Beth asked.
Phillip looked over his shoulder. The strange tingling sensation had returned to his skin. He focussed on the darkness in the back of the room. The sound of static was louder now.
“Well, do you think you can do it?”
Phillip turned back to Beth. Both her and Gus were looking at him, though Gus was being careful to avoid direct eye contact.
“Sorry … distracted. What’s this about?”
Beth looked to Gus.
“This master panel, it must have gotten pulled away from the wall during the quake. The latch for the coupler that hooks the main feeds into the panel snapped, so it pulled away. That’s why we don’t have power.”
“Okay. Maybe I’m missing something. Can’t you just … plug it back in?”
Gus handed his flashlight to Beth, placed both his hands on the panel, and pushed as hard as he could. He might as well have been pushing against a stone wall. Taking the light from Beth, he said, “That’s quarter inch steel that’s been bent out at the bottom. That’s not something that I can just bend back into place. But I thought maybe ….”
“Oh,” Phillip said.
…on their way…know…there…out…
Phillip shook his head, trying to ignore the increasing volume of the static.
Gus stammered, “I just thought … you know … after the, um, door…”
Phillip, realizing that Gus had misinterpreted his gesture said, “I didn’t mean … never mind. Step back. I’ll give it a try.”
“Are you sure?” Beth asked, a hint of fear mixed into her hesitation.
Gus picked up on it too, and looked at her, and then Phillip.
“It’s fine,” Phillip said.
The two stepped away, training their lights on the power panel. Phillip reached out, and pressed his hands against the corners. Taking a deep breath, he concentrated. He felt the creature’s consciousness notice his attention. It seemed to be confused, unsure whether to pay attention to him or the static. Even with the serum, Phillip could feel the euphoria of raw power course through his system. With a heave, he pushed. The metal casing groaned as it bent back into place.
Reaching up to the conduit, he pushed it into the socket at the top of the panel. As it snapped into place dials across all the rest of the power panels lit up as light flooded the room.
“Yes!!” Gus exclaimed. “Now we just need to…wait…where’d you come from?”
A sharp shriek filled Phillip’s mind, rapidly fading into a persistent high pitched tone. Turning he saw Martin standing just in front of the boxes and crates. Except it was a young version of Martin. The wild white hair had been replaced with jet black locks. Wrinkled skin was smooth as porcelain. And his brilliant blue eyes seemed to be illuminated by a inner light, shining brightly even in the now fully lit room.
“We think we need to have a … a … a … talk,” Martin said.
With each stutter Martin’s head tilted to one side, reminding him of a record caught in a scratched groove. Phillip felt his inner creature thrashing. It was afraid. Afraid of whatever it was that stood before them, because Phillip was now certain that it was not Martin. At least, not any more.
“You are not Martin,” Phillip stated flatly.
The figure stared at him with a blank expression, and then smiled. Phillip noticed that Martin’s finger was tapping against his leg. He could hear the rhythm in his head like a low frequency drum beat. His dark passenger’s fear shifted into panic. He could feel his skin beginning to crawl, like it was being stuck with a thousand tiny invisible needles all at once.
Looking to Beth and Gus, Phillip yelled, “Run!” as the figure of Martin launched towards him.