“In here.” Jack all but shoved Francisco through the door they had come through and closed it, still on the other side.
Francisco grumbled and surveyed his surroundings. It was dark, illuminated only by a TV screen on the far end of the room. The screen showed the same wall that they had seen before meeting Barnabas, though he was not currently present.
“Uh. Hello? Barnabas?”
Nothing. The picture remained unchanged.
Francisco sighed and scanned the rest of the room. Once again, it seemed to be an office that had been reappropriated for the ‘supply room’ purpose. Several large plastic crates were stacked in the corners, with a large metal contraption build into the exterior wall. Francisco eyed the camera on the ceiling, but walked to the contraption. It had a smooth metal door with an elongated handle. The door itself extended from the ground to about waist height, with a numerical keypad built into the farthest right side.
Did this…lead outside?
His stomach churned at the voice, and he looked up from the door and faced the TV screen, where Barnabas had taken the same position as before, with the same static around his face.
“These crates contain supplies. Extra clothes, non-perishable foods, weaponry, ammunition, and toiletries.”
Straight to the point. Francisco pushed away his disgust and resentment and nodded.
“The contraption you were studying when I called you is a way to get resources inside the facility. It does not open from the inside except for the number pad. A single incorrect entry will result in a cease of communication. The door to this room locks automatically when this supply point is open, and unlocks when it’s closed. Supplies will not be given when you are in the room. Should any other person besides Jack and yourself enter this room at any time the result will be a cease of communication. Acknowledge.”
Francisco nodded again. “Got it.
“You are to be in this room at least thirty minutes before midnight to give your report. The only exception is if an excursion into the lower levels lasts longer than twenty-four hours, or some ritual needs to take place at this time for progress to be made. In both cases I am to be informed before-hand. Acknowledge.”
“As stated in the initial briefing, you are free to request any supplies you deem necessary to complete your task, including more people if additional expertise is required. If the justification is valid, it will be provided. I also understand the need to retain high morale in this otherwise stressful situation, so limited luxuries can be requested. If I am pleased with progress, and you have activated video feeds, I may allow them.”
“Is there anything that’s off-limits?” Francisco asked.
“If so, the request will be denied.”
“Just making sure. I don’t want us to be left out to dry if I do something I’m not supposed to that you didn’t tell me.”
“In the event that you perform an error in something thatwas not communicated to you, you will be notified and expected to comply afterwards.”
“Understood.” Francisco paused for a moment, and Barnabas did not speak further, so he decided to see if he could learn anything. “So I know that I’ll be giving another report tonight, but since the tour we’ve gotten to know each other a little bit, and we’re starting to dig through the resources in the file room to see what we can learn. Is there anything in particular we need to look out for?”
“The documentation left by the previous team will be of great use to you. It is advised that you keep similar documentation as some levels may require repeated entry to explore the whole space.”
“Yes, I was already thinking that, and I’m having the team prioritize finding this documentation.”
“As expected. You were chosen to lead for a reason.”
“Uh, yeah. About that. There was some discussion as to what exactly being the leader means. Does this mean I’m like, always the boss, or…?”
“I don’t micromanage.”
Francisco narrowed his eyes and swore under his breath, the curt replies beginning to get under his skin. “All right. Well if there’s nothing else then I’ll start going through some of these supplies.”
The TV turned off, leaving the room completely dark except for the light coming in from the small crack under the door.
“Ok. Bye,” Francisco said under his breath. He felt his way to the entrance and found a light switch next to the entry. He flipped it on and rolled his eyes as a single, bare bulb slowly came to life on the ceiling. At least the aesthetic of their predicament was consistent.
He pulled a crate off of the stack and unlatched the lid. Food stuffs. Granola bars, canned soup, jerky. He took another one down and opened it up, raising an eyebrow at its contents. Hand guns. He didn’t know anything about guns, so he couldn’t identify them. Maybe somebody else did. Then again, maybe it’d be wise to wait until everyone was on better terms before distributing things. Even better, maybe only give them out for excursions and put them back directly afterwards.
The rest of the crates contained just what Barnabas had said. Shampoo, toilet paper, more food, ammunition, and more guns.
Francisco grunted as he pulled the last one from its place at the bottom of the stack. It was probably similar to the rest, but he wanted to be thorough. “What’s this?,” he said when he pulled the lid off. He reached inside and pulled out a small box. Tarot cards. He pulled out another item. A thin, wooden stick. Was this supposed to be a wand of some kind? He dug through the remainder of the box. A chalice, white chalk, salt, a stone pedestal with a pentagram engraved into the top, and a few other items he didn’t recognize the significance of.
“Interesting.” He closed the box up, but didn’t replace it at the bottom of the pile. He would talk with Riley about the items later. They were probably for her anyway.
After replacing the other crates, he exited the room, breathing a sigh of relief when it wasn’t locked. He was on the far side of the atrium, opposite the file room, and on the same side of the square pillar that had the door to the stairs. He approached the pillar and looked at the control panel on the side.
“Heat. Cold. Flush.” He read the labels aloud. Jack had mentioned these capabilities, but Francisco wasn’t quite sure what they were for. “Use if being chased,” he repeated the jailkeeper’s words under his breath. “Like, if there’s monsters in the stairwell?”
He continued staring for a while longer, but eventually shook his head and walked past the pillar and back toward the file room.
“Hey all, any luck?” he said as he entered.
“Kind of.” Jeremy stood up from his crouched position at a bookshelf and stretched his back. “How’d it go?”
Francisco shrugged. “The supply room has supplies. Go figure. And a TV to talk with the big man himself. I have to be there at 11:30 PM every day to give a report. Oh yeah, and you guys aren’t allowed in or he’ll leave us to starve. That’s about it.”
“Perfect,” Sofia said, not looking up from what she was reading on one of the tables.
“Speaking of starving, when do we get to eat?” Jonathan dropped a bunch of folders on the table next to Sofia, who gave him a glare.
Matthew put down the book he was reading and stood from his chair. “Jack did say we needed to appoint cooks. I guess now’s as good a time as any. Anyone here like to cook or is good at it?”
Everyone looked at each other for a moment before Riley spoke up. “I mean, I’m decent, but I’m a vegetarian, and I don’t want to make anything meat related.”
“Yeah, designated strong man here saying that salads alone won’t maintain these guns.” Jon leaned against the table he had just placed the folders on, Sofia shooting him another glare as his hand crowded her personal space. “Let’s call you back up, huh?”
Riley crossed her arms. “Better than a diet full of protein shakes,” she retorted.
“Shows how much you know. They don’t actually do much.” Jon smirked. “Good gains requires good diet. I can cook, but I’ve never done it for a group before.”
“I cook at home,” Cheng piped in.
“As do I,” Matthew said.
“Me too.” Sofia stood and edged away from Jon.
“Great,” Francisco said. “Two teams? Alternate days?”
The four of them nodded.
“All right. How about Sofia and–“
“Matthew,” she interrupted.
“She’s not a J-man fan,” Jon grinned.
Francisco ignored him and continued. “Sure. Sofia and Matthew. Cheng and Jon. Who wants to go first?”
“I think that’s you and me, Cheng,” Jon said. “Getting stuffy in this room. You cool with that?”
Cheng nodded. “Yes. Let’s go.”
“Fine by me,” Sofia took her folder to another table and sat back down, her back to the rest of the group.
“Well, that was relatively painless,” Jeremy said, also resuming what he was doing.
“Hey, Francisco?” Felix timidly approached him. He hadn’t even seen he was there.
“A lot of this stuff is way over my head. I’m not bad with computers though. Maybe I can see if Andrei needs a hand?”
“Sure, I don’t mind.”
“Thanks.” He hesitated. “Can you, uh, walk me over there?”
Jon rolled his eyes. “Kids.”
Francisco gave Jon an exhausted look leading him to hold up his hands in mock surrender.
“All right. I hear you. Come on, Cheng. Let’s get out of here.”
The two of them exited the file room, and disappeared toward the cafeteria.
“I’m going to take Felix to the computer lab, and then I think I’ll check on Martin and Michelle. You guys good?”
Jeremy gave an ‘ok’ sign and the others nodded.
“Awesome. Be back soon.”
Francisco led Felix out of the file room and they started to the stairs along the wall that led to the second floor.
“So,” Felix said. “You seem pretty composed. Aren’t you scared?”
Francisco thought for a moment. What was best to tell a teenager in a situation like this? In the end, honesty won out. “Oh yeah. I’m terrified,” he said. He looked around the atrium over the second floor railing, but couldn’t see Jack, which made him uneasy. He returned his attention to Felix. “But where’s panicking supposed to bring us?”
Felix looked at the floor. “This just doesn’t feel real, does it? At least not to me.”
“Yeah, I can see that. Almost like this is just a really vivid dream that you hope to wake up from at any moment.” They arrived at the door to the computer lab, and Francisco opened it up. Andrei was sitting at the closest computer and was clicking away at a keyboard, typing commands into a terminal. “Hey Andrei. Brought you some help.”
Andrei clicked his tongue, not turning from the monitor. “I don’t need help.”
“Well, Felix says he’s pretty good with computers, so we thought that maybe–“
“I said I don’t need help.” Andrei swiveled in the office chair to face them. He looked Felix up and down. “I don’t have time to train a kid. We don’t have a lot of time.”
Felix frowned, but kept quiet.
“I see. Well, did you find anything yet?”
Andrei slouched sideways in the chair, elbow on the armrest. “All computers are custom Linux distribution. Old. Not updated for a long time. Connected to the internet.”
“Really?” Francisco raised an eyebrow. “That’s surprising.”
“Not really though. Every request routes to same IP. Probably belongs to Barnabas. He will screen everything. Already a few sites won’t load. Others slow. Maybe he will be mad if we try to get help.”
“Is it forcing the ip through an enforced DNS or something?” Felix asked.
Andrei eyed him and frowned. “Unchangeable without root. Cannot escalate privileges. Logs sent off site to the IP. If I disable the log forwarding, it will raise suspicion, and if I try to escalate privileges logs will show.”
“So what are you doing now then?” Francisco asked, not really understanding the more technical portions.
“Looking through commands of last team. Maybe will have some clues.”
“I can do that,” Felix said. “There’s a lot of computers here. Who’s to say that they didn’t use any of them.”
Andrei shrugged and turned back to the monitor and pointed to a table near the door. “Barnabas left passwords in notebook there. Don’t bother me.”
Felix looked at Francisco who nodded at him. “See what you can find. I’ll send someone to get you guys when food is ready. By the way Andrei, we chose cooks while we were in the file room. I didn’t know if you wanted to–“
“Not good cook.” Andrei said over his shoulder.
“Gotcha.” He watched Felix sit down at a computer a few stations away from Andrei and left the room. When he had closed the door he put his hand to his temple, leaned his head against the wall behind him, and groaned. “Calmate!” he whispered to himself. He hadn’t really taken any time to process the situation, and he felt it beginning to really sink in.
He took a deep breath and pushed himself from the wall. He didn’t have time for this. Felix’s questions showed him that, even if everyone didn’t see him as the leader, some people were relying on him. Next step. Martin and Michelle.
Francisco went back to the stairs and climbed to the third floor, entering the east wing where the offices were. As soon as he opened the door he saw Martin sitting on one of the black couches where they had been earlier, mumbling something to himself. He turned at the sound of the door opening and scowled at him.
“Hey. Sorry to disturb. Just checking to see if you’re all right.”
Martin gave a bitter laugh. “No, I’m not. None of us are, and it’s insulting that you all are acting like this isn’t batshit crazy.”
Francisco walked to the couch opposite Martin and sat down. “I’m not saying it’s not. I guess the shock just hasn’t really set in for me yet.” He didn’t have the chance to continue before Martin dropped his head into his hands and began to sob, catching him off guard. Francisco said nothing for a few moments, weighing his words. “Hey man, if you need to talk then–“
“Can you just get the fuck away from me?” Martin spat.
Francisco pursed his lips. “Sure. Did Michelle come through here?”
Martin didn’t look up, but pointed to the sixth door along the wall.
“Thanks.” Francisco stood from the couch and went to the door, giving it a light knock. He heard a rustle on the other side, but even after a few moments nobody opened. He knocked again. “Hey. Michelle. It’s Francisco. Are you in there?”
Another rustle. This time the door opened a crack, and Michelle peaked out from within. “Yes?” Her voice cracked, and her eyes were red and puffy.
“Can I come in? I’d invite you out, but this space is taken.”
“I’d really rather you didn’t,” Michelle said.
Martin snickered from behind him.
“Ok. That’s fine. I just wanted to check on you. Maybe give you a chance to talk if you wanted to.”
Michelle looked at him for a moment before opening the door just a tiny bit wider, though still not wide enough to allow him passage. “Why?”
“Well, maybe it’ll help you feel better.”
“Feel better? About what? Being kidnapped?”
“Preach!” Martin called out from behind.
“Shut up!” Francisco turned back and glared at him.
“I’m sorry,” Michelle brought his attention back to her. “I don’t see how there’s any silver lining to be sacrificed.”
“Whoa! Hey! Whoever said anything about sacrificed?”
“Haven’t you seen any horror movies?” Michelle started to cry again. “What else do they use virgins for?”
Her words hit him like a ton of bricks. Even Martin was completely silent.
“So if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to be alone. Thanks.” She tried to close the door, but Francisco slipped a foot in before she could.
“Wait. Listen. That’s not going to happen. I won’t let it happen. Ok?”
“Sure,” Michelle replied. She closed her eyes and sighed, trying to keep control of herself. “Can you move your foot please?” she whispered.
No sooner did Francisco comply than she closed the door.
“Woof,” Martin said.
Francisco turned back to him, an exhausted look on his face. “What?”
“Nothing.” Martin turned away from his gaze. He stood from the couch and started walking to one of the doors.
Martin stopped at the entrance to his room and turned to face him.
“I can’t make you help. But if you’re not going to be useful, please keep to yourself. Keeping morale high is going to be hard enough as it is without you making things worse.”
“Oh yeah?” Martin sneered. “You think the demons will leave us alone if we’re in good spirits? Pun intended.” With that, he entered his room and slammed the door.
Francisco ground his teeth. This was going to be tough.