Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Gus watched in astonishment as Phillip pushed the main power panel back into place. The section of wall that had bulged it out in the first place had crumbled into gravel, leaving a large hole. The groaning of the thick metal brackets filled the air as Phillip pushed. Vacillating between being amazed and terrified, Gus tried his best to focus on the next steps once the panel was back in position.
The main cable attached to the top via a massive conduit connector designed for high amperage. If the geothermal generators were still operational, that cable would be hot. He had thought about warning Phillip to be careful careful, but hadn’t. The opportunity to mention it just didn’t come up, he told himself, knowing it was a vain attempt at rationalization. If the cable wasn’t live, then they had even bigger problems.
His eyes drifted to the dark emptiness of the elevator shaft. He couldn’t actually see it, the bright lights of his and Beth’s flashlights ensuring everything more that a few feet away was nothing more than murky blackness. Even so, he continued to stare, knowing it was there, just beyond the lights. He had already decided that once the power was restored that he was going to gather up some rope, and venture down below. He hadn’t forgotten about Thomas, and was sure he would catch grief from Phillip, maybe even Beth. But he also didn’t care, or at least he kept telling himself that. Either way, the decision was made as far as he was concerned.
The panel was again flat up against the wall, mostly covering the hole behind it. Gus watched, butterflies in his stomach, as Phillip reached for the conduit. With a heave, he socketed it into the top of the panel. The sounds of relays slapping back into position filled the room as if a dozen mechanical toys were clapping for joy. The main lights flickered a few times, and then remained on.
“Yes!” Gus exclaimed, “Now we just need to…”
He caught himself mid sentence. Amidst the bright lights, almost blinding after being in the dark for so long, Gus sensed movement in his peripheral vision. Turning he saw the figure of a short man, maybe in his early thirties. There was a familiarity about him. Gus was simultaneously sure he knew him, while also sure he was a stranger. The wild black hair seemed to radiate from his head, making him think of Medusa’s snakes. Bright electric blue eyes that seemed to shine were staring directly at Phillip. That’s when Gus noticed the lab coat. Just above the breast pocket was a stitched label. It read “Dr. Martin Rahm”. Gus felt the gears of his mind grind as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.
“…Wait…Where’d you come from?” Gus said more to himself than anyone else.
The words were barely out of his mouth before the figure, presumably Martin, spoke. His speech had a strange cadence, like someone tying to repeat a phrase they learned phonetically of a language that was foreign to them.
“We think we need to have a … a … a … talk,” the figure who appeared to be Martin stammered, directing the speech at Phillip.
Phillip took a step back. He raised his hands as if he was going to grasp his own head, but stopped midway. Looking up, he seemed to both relax and swell in stature. It wasn’t that he became physically bigger, but something about his presence changed, demanding attention.
“You are not Martin.”
There was a soft harshness to Phillip’s tone that caused goosebumps to swarm over Gus’s skin. Phillip stood in place, still as a statue. Gus was convinced that it would take an extraordinary force to move him even an inch from that spot. He shot a quick glance towards Beth. She was staring at Martin, eyes narrowed.
With a burst of speed that reminded Gus of alligators rushing from the still waters of a pond to snatch an unsuspecting prey, Martin launched himself at Phillip. Arms outstretched, lab coat whipping behind him, he almost looked like giant bat as he flew forward.
Slamming into Phillip, the two crashed into the power panel. The lights flickered for a moment, but stayed on. Phillip drew his hands back, like he was performing a push up, and shoved Martin off of him. His body went sailing, twisting through the air, only to land on both feet, one hand bracing himself against the floor.
Gus’s eyes were drawn to Martin’s other hand, hanging at his side. Each of the four fingers seemed to be swelling, and darkening as they did. From the tips of each finger sharp a black claw extruded. Instead of blood, a goopy clear liquid oozed out onto the floor.
Claws extended, Martin rushed again at Phillip, wrapping him in a bear hug. The two turned in circles, like lovers forced to perform a macabre dance. The claws dug into Phillip’s back. Thick red lines bloomed across the soiled lab coat. Phillip began to beat against Martin’s back with inhuman force, filling the room with the sounds of crunching bones.
Beth moved forward, her taser raised. Gus started to say something, but was frozen in place. The two continued their dance, moving farther from them. As they neared the looming emptiness of the elevator shaft Phillip locked his eyes on them. His voice a choked snarl, he yelled, “Run!”
Beth took another step forward, and Gus grabbed her arm. She whirled around and gave him a look of pure fire.
“We have to get out of here,” he whispered loudly.
With a gasp Gus released Beth’s arm as he saw Phillip and Martin teeter for a moment at the edge of the elevator shaft. Beth’s scream seemed distant, like his ears were full of cotton, as they watched both of them tumble over the edge, vanishing from sight.
They both started to race across the room, but stopped, freezing as they saw another figure emerge from behind the boxes and crates. It was one of the tardigrade creatures, pulling itself forward with sharp black claws. The creature’s ring of solid black eyes swiveled towards them.
Beth, with a strangely calm motion, leveled her taser at the creature, and released the barbs. They sunk deep into the creature’s side, and Gus felt like his brain was melting from the inside. He wanted to beat at his ears as hard as he could. Anything to stop the shrill spike of sound that was trying to crack open his skull.
He felt hands at his shoulders, turning him around, and pushing him towards the stairwell. He forced his feet to move, though he was so disoriented that he wasn’t sure how he was able to make it up any of the steps without falling. By the time they reached the first landing the shrieking had stopped, though his head still felt stuffy, like he had just spent a hour sneezing uncontrollably. For a moment he thought he had smelled the salty spray of ocean water.
Hands turned his head, and he found himself staring into Beth’s deep brown eyes. He saw that her mouth was moving. She was talking. Gus blinked, and tried to shake his head. He felt Beth’s grip tighten.
“…us … ear … me …”
The sounds seemed far away, though he knew they were coming from Beth, who was literally only inches away from his face. He saw her mouth moving again. This time he could hear the words clearly, like someone had turned up the volume on a stereo.
“…Gus, can you hear me.”
He managed to nod, and croak, “Yeah, I can now. What … what happened? Did you … could you … what was that sound?”
“Sound?,” Beth said, releasing his head gently.
Gus looked down the flight of stairs that he didn’t remember climbing. At the bottom the stairwell door was closed. He felt his heart beat faster thinking of what must be on just the other side.
“Yeah, it was like my head was being split in two. It was weird. Almost like I was being pulled somewhere … somewhere else. I can’t really describe it, and don’t really want to try, honestly. It was …. not good.”
His mind clearing, the memory of Phillip and the thing that had looked like Martin plunging into the elevator shaft bubbled back. Looking up at Beth, he opened his mouth to speak. A quick shake of her head stopped him.
“We have to get back up to the control room. You have to get a message out, and we have to stay alive long enough to make sure that whoever comes knows that this place has to be incinerated.”
Beth’s matter of fact tone chilled him. Suddenly he remembered Thomas. Looking back at the bottom of the stairwell, he started to get up.
“I don’t know if it’s dead, but we better get some distance between us and it,” Beth said, assuming he was still thinking about the creature.
Gus, still looking at the door, decided not to correct her, saying, “Yeah, I suppose so.”
Struggling to his feet, he nodded to Beth, and they started down the hallway.