Neither girl moved as the body hit the floor. Instead they both sat watching it, and waiting. Waiting to see if it would get up, or if something else would come to investigate. The light over it had shut off almost as soon as it had fallen, leaving only the dim flickering light to briefly illuminate it.
Gaige was grateful that the other girl wasn’t an idiot, and didn’t move, she had seen to many people walk up to the corpse, only to die. She turned to look behind them, and saw Deathtrap was watching their rear. Noticing her attention, he gave a slight shrug, as if to say ‘Nothing so far’. She turned back to the front and waited. And waited.
A minute passed, and then another. She could feel the cold sweat trickling down the small of her back.
Finally Artemis popped the cylinder on her rifle and reloaded the single spent round, before standing and moving forward slowly. Gaige followed a second latter, moving as quietly as she could.
It took a minute of moving and pausing to listen before they got up to where the body had fallen. After they swung out to check the dark corridors leading off, they turned their attention to the corpse. In the flickering light Artemis tapped the body with her boot, a mostly unnecessary gesture, since most of the things head was missing, before rolling it onto its back.
What greeted them was something that looked like it had once been human, its right side was that of a shapely woman, which judging by its chest and the rest of its figure, had been at least as old as them, if not a bit older. But it was the left side that drew their attention. It was lumpy and deformed, like something had grown within and bulged the surface up in a strange patter. Though they were in different sizes, some only raised as much as a finger and others looked like fists had been shoved under the surface, there wasn’t any discoloring or stretching to the skin around them.
They stood looking at the body, grateful for the dark in that moment, and as something about the shapes that the ridges of protuberances made on the body scratched at the back of Gaige’s mind, it was like they looked familiar from somewhere, but the deformity of them was keeping her from identifying it.
“Do you think it was a disease?” Artemis whispered, scraping the toe of the boot that she had used to flip the body against the ground, like she could clean something infectious off it.
“Think that was what they were working on here?”
“Yeah, I don’t think so either.”
“You mean you hope so, or at least that it’s not contagious.”
“That’s a way scarier thought than any ECHO you’ve shown me.” She said tipping her head back and letting out a sigh. Her eyebrows suddenly knit together as she looked up, like she saw something that was out of place and was trying to figure out what.
“What is it?” Gaige said, joining her in her examination of the dark ceiling.
The other girl didn’t answer right away and instead kept looking up before slowly waving her arm. When nothing happened, she waved it faster. Still nothing.
“What are you doing?”
“Why aren’t the lights on?”
“The lights, I thought they were motion sensitive earlier. But they’re not turning on for me.”
Gaige looked around at the darkness being illuminated by the unsteady flickering and realized that she was right.
“Maybe they don’t like you?” Silence greeted her so she tried again “Maybe a fuse blew?”
The other two slowly looked at her with flat expressions.
“I know. It was unrealistic, but I can’t think of anything.”
“I’d make a crack about you being an engineer, but I know how good you actually are, so let’s just chalk it up to yet another thing to think about later and focus on deciding which way to go.”
“Gee, thanks. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.” She dryly retorted before sighing and looking at her choices. “Well, whatever that thing is, was, it came from down there, and seemed to be going…I have no idea where.”
“It may have been coming to find out what had been making the noise down this way?”
“Maybe, so do we check where it came from, or avoid that way in case somethings waiting for it to return?”
“I’d rather not go that way, but I’d like something coming up behind me even less, so I guess my vote is that way.” She said pointing in the direction that the creature had come from.
“I was afraid you’d say that, cause that’s what I was thinking and I was really hoping for you to have a compelling reason to go a different direction.”
“Well, I guess it’s unanimous then.”
With a sigh they started down the hall, keeping close to the wall. Even with their slow pace and the flickering lights it didn’t take them long to come to an closed door blocking their way.
“No good” Gaige said looking at it “Panel must be on the other side.”
“Why would they put it there?”
“Cause someone wanted to make it difficult for us.”
“Again with the sarcasm.”
“Well, when you ask a dumb question…”
“Thanks buddy. Like I was saying, receiving is on this side right? I mean for supplies and stuff, that’s where we entered. So why block the way from this side?”
“Oh, that is a good point. Maybe they don’t need supplies this way?”
“Maybe, but doesn’t it seem odd? I mean, why make it so difficult to get things through? And if they weren’t getting supplies, why put a door here at all?”
“Welcome to Hyperion, or like we used to say in the wedding business, your logic has no place here.”
Artemis gave a short laugh before turning back the way they had come from “Well, back we go I guess.”
They reached the intersection faster this time and soon found themselves looking in the two remaining directions.
“So we wanna go with, let’s see L501 or R501?”
Artemis pointed to the wall, a little over their head height, and when Gaige looked, she could just make out in the flashing light a yellow band painted with the names the other girl had called out stenciled out of them.
“Huh. Why didn’t you point those out before?”
She was greeted with a shrug, to which she sighed “Well let’s see, L, Loading? Lunchroom?”
“Lavatory, Labyrinth, Laboratory, Launchpad, Liquids”
“What are you doing?”
“What, I thought we were naming things that start with L?”
“Rooms that it could be, or wings.”
“Right, so R.”
“Reception, Rec-room, wait.”
“That doesn’t start with an R.”
“No, what was the way we couldn’t go?”
“That’s what I thought, but no opening from this side, remember.”
“OK, that is weird. Wonder what else it could be?”
“Right, sorry. Back to matters we can deal with. Which way, and back to the ship is still on the table.”
“Enough of that.” Gaige sighed “We aren’t going back empty handed.”
“How many people said that right before they died?”
“Quiet you. Let’s try R. If it’s receiving, we might be able to find out what this place is for.”
“Fine, lead on. Your choice, your lead. Though I gotta point out that the halls could be Solids, Liquids and Recyclables.”
“If this entire place turns out to be Jack’s trash pile, I’m gonna go and find the reactor and blow this place up.” She grumbled as she led the way down the hall.
Artemis stifled a laugh as she followed along, and just as they got to another door, the lights started coming on behind them. Cursing softly Gaige dropped down and popped the panel off the door switch and after a few seconds the door unlocked, but lacking power didn’t open. Deathtrap placed his hands on and pushed while sliding sideways and managed to get it open far enough for them to slip through, just as the lights got to where the dead body.
After doing a brief sweep around the room, they positioned themselves on either side of the door and looked back to see what had been coming down the hall after them. From the distance it appeared to be another feminine form, though once again something was wrong with its left side, though this one didn’t appear to be suffering the same way as the first. In fact it almost looked like the opposite was happening, the arm was too long and seemed notched, the leg seemed to drag behind and then snap forward oddly. They both found it disquieting and disturbing to watch.
Artemis aimed down her rifle, preparing to eliminate this one as well, when Gaige waved her hand signaling to wait. Confused Artemis lowered her rifle ever so slightly and glanced at the other girl, only to find her staring intently down the hall.
She turned her attention back to see the new thing standing over the body of the first, looking down like it was puzzled by it. Suddenly its left arm seemed to lose cohesion. The notches in it expanded and the whole arm unspooled, stretching down to the body on the floor without the torso moving at all. Its fingers seemed to stretch and dig into the body before the new figure turned and started back the way it had come from, dragging the corpse behind it in a peculiar fashion, it would take a step and the arm would stretch, then it would twitch its shoulder and the arm would shrink, dragging the body forward.
After a few moments it was out of sight and all the lights went back to flickering intermittently and the two girls relaxed slightly.
“What, the hell, was that?” Gaige asked dumbfounded.
“Honestly? I have no idea. Never seen anything like that in all my years of traveling.”
“So why didn’t you shoot it?”
“Me? You told me not to.”
“No, I was telling you to wait. I wanted to see what it was gonna do, then you could shoot it.”
“Oh is that what that meant? Let’s go call it back and see if it’ll let us do that again.”
“Yeah, we got a little carried away there.”
They turned and examined the room they were in more closely, while they tried to process what they had just seen. The room wasn’t all that large, and was surprisingly empty, just a pair of couches pushed against the walls on either side, each with a small table next to them and a pair of empty planters flanking an elevator. Other than that, there were two other doors, one on each wall.
“Huh.” Gaige said looking around before walking over to the elevator and pushing the button. When nothing happened, she pushed it again, and then started tapping it rapidly.
“Seems out of order.” She said stepping back.
“Really? I think you almost had it, maybe if you tried it again.”
Gaige threw her a look, and then turned to the nearest door. As she crouched next to it and got to work, Artemis sighed and unslung her bag. After a few seconds of digging the room was suddenly illuminated by a bluish light.
Gaige spun to find the other girl holding a small lamp.
“Why are you digging that out now?”
“Cause I got tired of stumbling along in the dark?”
“No, I meant, why’d you wait till now?”
“Oh, with those things out there, I didn’t really have a chance till now. Want one?”
“…Yeah, sure, hand it over.”
She was soon working by the light of the lantern as Artemis dug a second one out of her bag. She hooked it on her belt-loop just as Gaige got the door open. Deathtrap slid it to the side to reveal a hall with doors on either side.
“Huh, let’s see what’s behind door number two.”
A minute later they were staring at a nearly identical hall. They looked back and forth between the doors and after a shrug headed into the closest. The first door inside stood open, revealing a small room dominated by a bed, a desk and a bland wardrobe. The walls were covered in nearly lewd posters and clothes were strewn across the floor, speaking of the life of whomever had lived there.
“R. For residents or residential.”
“Probably, I guess we should split up. You take one side and I take the other. Deathtrap stays by the elevator in case one of us runs into trouble.”
“Fine. Which side do you want?”
“Why don’t you take the other side, leave your bag in with Deathtrap in case either of us needs something from it.”
“Starting to see the use in bringing this much crap?”
“Shut up.” She said tiredly as the other girl left.
The hall itself went down a ways before making a T, with identical halls going in each direction. Looking at it, and not wanting to be here forever, they sped through the search.
Even with not spending much time in each room, it still took over an hour to finish, and that was just this floor.
When they reconvened, Gaige walked in on Artemis stuffing something into her bag.
“What’d you find?”
“A few things, show you in a minute.” came the reply with a hint of nervousness, like she wasn’t being completely honest.
“Why, what’re you hiding?”
“OK, I found some tools. Happy?” She pulled her hand out with some old tools in it. Gaige looked closer and saw that they were all a bit rare.
“What? You didn’t want to share that with me for some reason?”
“No, I mean, well I was gonna show you latter, when we got back to the ship. I just, didn’t think it’d be a big deal.”
Gaige gave her a flat stare that caused the other girl to look down like a guilty child.
Gaige caught the look from Deathtrap and sighed “It’s alright, what else did you find?”
Artemis looked up beaming and held up her other hand while fanning something out. “I found these. Key cards.”
“And what good will those do? We have no power, remember?”
“Here maybe, but I thought maybe the rest of the facility might have some. Besides, they’re maintenance keys. They get access where most people can’t.”
“OK fair point, wait, was that the maintenance housing on your side?”
“Damn it. Wish I’d went over there instead.”
“Maybe it was better you didn’t.”
“What do you mean.”
“Well, that’s your area right? You’d probably still be in the first hall going through everything.”
“True. Fine, you’re right. You find anything else?”
Artemis held up one last item, an ECHO and said “Just this, well, I also found more girly calendars than I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“Is that what took you so long?”
“Hey, I got back here before you.”
“I was just messin with you. So what’s on that?”
“Well I haven’t listened to it yet.”
“Well, play it.”
She snapped it into her machine and let it play.
Well they did it again.
Those idiot science dorks blew another fuse.
Then they tried to blame us for it. Kept saying they needed more power. More power. Every other day they want more power.
I mean what the heck are they doing in there.
And to make things worse, were supposed to do all this without seeing anything.
I mean there’s places we can’t even go into.
What are they doin in there that they don’t want us to see?
Forget it, I don’t want to know.
Well, least I’m not Davis. He’s on the pumps.
I mean, what are they pumping? Stuff smells like sewage.
I mean, he got some on him and we nearly threw him in the damn air lock to get rid of that stench.
Still, gotta get his supply orders in and get him to sign off on the work orders.
The work never ends here.
Man, I need a vacation.
The two girls stared at the player as it clicked off.
“Well, that wasn’t very enlightening.”
“At least not on specifics. Now, what’d you find?”
“I didn’t find much myself, seemed like that wing was for researchers or something. Found a number of chemistry things, not my field, but this floor seemed to be low rank, judging by the few notes and things I found. But I did find this” She said while producing an ECHO of her own “I held off listening as well.”
She held it up and after getting a nod and waving motion from the other girl, slid it into her player
Those damn fools, why can’t they get the equipment working. Dr. Pretorian is on the verge of a break through, if only her hands weren’t tied. First Jack won’t let us use the ‘Subject’, at least not in any real way. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. Who is this ‘subject’ anyway? I mean, we can’t even use their DNA in most experiments. Not that I’d have clearance to participate in any of them.
But I’ve heard Dr. Pretorian, well overheard, but no matter. She was talking about seeing if we could get Subject 2 moved, and Jack went berserk, threatened her with locking her in a cell with nothing but a Clap-trap unit for company if she ever brought it up again.
Oh the things we could do with that subject, but no, we have to make do with Subject 1. Not that we didn’t learn a lot from it, but we need more.
Oh and then there’s the power problems. Maintenance keeps telling us they’ll fix it, but those lazy bums keep making excuses. ‘The lines aren’t right’ or ‘What do you need more power for anyway’ like they could understand even if we told them.
I’ve seen them, can’t help it, living on the same floor and all. Man I wish I could get transferred down a floor or two, where the real scientists are, but I gotta earn that right. Anyway those maintenance losers are always sitting around, wearing gross, smelly clothes covered in who-knows what, I mean the other day I had to share an elevator with one who smelled like he bathed in raw sewage. I worried that some of the smell might get on me, and then the doctor would think I smelled like that.
If everyone would just get out of our way, oh the things we could do.
But enough dreaming, my shifts about to start, and if I want to move up…down? Hard to figure that one out in this place, but anyway if I want to get promoted I can’t be late.
The two girls looked at each other confused.
“What was Jack doing here?”
“I have no idea, but at least we know that Jack was doing something here.”
“Yeah, but what? And what was the ‘subject’?”
“One and Two. Wonder if there were more?”
“Gotta be related to those things we saw in the hall.”
“Think they were One and Two?”
“Me to. I guess we have to go to the lab. Must be L.”
“That explains a lot. Grab your bag and let’s get going”
Artemis flipped her off as she went to grab her bag only to turn around and find Gaige staring at the closed door, and the floating robot in front of it.
“What do you mean ‘no’?”
“Urrrur” He replied waving at the two of them.
“Are you kidding me?” Gaige started.
Artemis sighed “No. He’s right. We have been a little on edge. Sorry.” Gaige turned and looked at her as she continued “Really I mean it. I’ve been a little short since we got in here.”
“You’ve been a little short since I met you.” She stopped and sighed herself “■■■■, he’s right, you’re right, I’ve been a little on edge myself.”
“Understandable, me, it’s the smell of hospitals. Didn’t even realize it until just now. That’s what I’ve been smelling. Under everything else, least down here. Probably coming from the lab. Hate that smell, something about the way the air, I donno, tastes? Plus there’s that undercurrent of clean, but not like cleaning supplies, I can’t describe it right.”
“That’s right, you were in a hospital for a long time.”
“That, plus this place just gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
“Not the cobbly wobbles?”
“Not quite there yet.”
“Yeah, me to. But for me, I think it’s more of…desperation? No, that’s not it. Frustration? Something like that. I mean what? Two weeks ago or so, everything was normal, then suddenly I might get to go home. Then I can go home. Only to be denied at the last moment. And the truth is, I didn’t think it was bothering be, I mean really bothering me, until just now. And I just, I donno, wanna scream or something. It’s just…”
“That’s it. Unfair. And I don’t wanna be that person, you know ‘Oh boo hoo, life’s so unfair’ and all that.”
“Of course it’s gonna bother you, and it is unfair. I’m with you on that. That’s why I’m here. With you. Because I wanna help. I want, I don’t know, to set things right, or something.”
“You’ve helped enough already. God it’s like you feel that you owe me or something. That’s it. That’s the other thing. Stop acting like you owe me and start acting like you’re my friend.”
The other girl looked awkwardly down “I don’t know how.” she whispered.
“Then act like you want me to act to you, act like you do with Deathtrap.”
“I can try, but no promises.”
“I can’t be too hard on you though, I mean, it’s been so long since I’ve traveled with anyone it’s like I don’t know how anymore. And you’re even worse off. Not criticizing, but it’s like neither of us really know how to deal with someone else. I mean we’ve only known each other for, like two weeks and we’re, I donno, comfortable? Don’t really know what to call it, but the flip side of it is that we don’t know how to, I guess talk to each other. Like this. Neither one of us was meanin to be mean, but we just kinda started goin wrong. Who knows how bad things would have gotten if Deathtrap here hadn’t intervened. Thanks babe.”
“You’re right. Course you are. I suck at dealing with people and emotions. So if I’m getting out of line, tell me. Either one of you.”
“Good enough. Now, can we move on?”
“I guess, let’s find out what kind of crazy ■■■■ they’ve been up to.”
And with that Deathtrap moved out of the way and just before they headed back into the hall, Artemis stopped and looked back.
“What? You forget something?” Gaige said stopping as well.
“No, well yes, but no. It’s just that.”
“Spit it out.”
“Did you find any bodies? I mean, it just occurred to me, but, I didn’t find any bodies.”
“Now that you mention it, no, no I did not. Not even any blood.”
“That’s weird right? You’d think someone would have died in their room.”
“Aw damn it, this place keeps getting better and better on the creep-o-meter.”