Francisco rolled onto his side and groaned as he stumbled out of his restless sleep. He grumbled at the firmness of the bed. Finding a comfortable position was impossible. What was the point of all that money he spent on the memory foam mattress if it didn’t–
His eyes shot open. He wasn’t home. All over again he realized he wasn’t on his own bed.
The room was dark except for flecks of sunlight sneaking their way through the boarded windows. He closed his eyes and lay back against his pillow, the situation slowly sinking in again. Here, in the dark privacy of his own room, he let himself be weak, tears sliding his cheeks and his chest shaking with quiet sobs.
What had he done to deserve this? Why him? There was nothing especially remarkable about him. He had no connection to the occult, no mysterious missing memories, or anything you would see in a movie. If Barnabas wanted a leader why didn’t he get an officer from the army, or an ex-CEO of a company or something. He had only just started a small business, and it wasn’t even doing that well.
He pounded his fist into the mattress, his face tensing as his anger, terror, and confusion poured out.
Out of the corner of his eye, he heard the camera fixed to the corner of the room make a tiny clicking noise. He froze and listened, but after a few moments of hearing nothing else, he growled, sat up, and swung his feet over the edge of the bed.
He wiped his eyes and glared up at the camera, though he could barely make it out in the dim light. Even though he had known they would have no privacy, the inability to grieve without being watched left him feeling completely drained, and the day hadn’t even started.
With a sigh, Francisco dropped his face into his hands and rubbed his temples. Two days. They were on the clock, and it seemed Barnabas thought a tiny adjustment period was more than enough. They needed to start making things happen.
He stood from the bed and shuffled to the light switch at the entrance of the room. He changed clothes, and went to the door, stopping for a moment to ensure he was composed before opening it.
Martin and Felix turned their heads toward him from the couch.
“Good morning,” Felix said.
Francisco looked out the few windows that weren’t completely boarded up. The dim light told him that it was either the early hours of the morning, or the sun was completely blotted out by clouds outside.
“Good morning,” he said after a few moments. “How did you sleep?”
“Not good,” Felix responded.
Martin snorted, but Francisco ignored him.
“Well yes, but I don’t think that’s the reason,” Felix said. “I think I’m jet lagged. I just didn’t feel tired, and I’m starting to now.”
Francisco looked at the ground and placed his chin in his hand. “You’re from Germany. If we’re really somewhere in the Americas then that means Andrei and Cheng should also be feeling quite jet lagged.” He looked up at Felix, who was looking at him intently. Martin ignored both of them, occupying himself with picking at the couch. “And maybe,” Francisco continued, “that means it really hasn’t been that long since we were taken.”
“You mean like, held in a – oh what do you call it in English – a como?”
“Coma? Yes. Exactly.” Francisco shook his head. “I’m probably just being paranoid. I’ve probably watched too many movies.”
Felix smiled at him. “Well, it is creepy to think about how we got here, I guess.”
Francisco nodded. “And the others? Has anyone come out yet?”
“I don’t know,” Felix said. “I just came out a minute before you.”
“Sofia is awake,” Martin said, still not looking up. “I think she went to shower or look for coffee or something. Andrei didn’t even go to bed last night.”
Francisco raised an eyebrow. “How do you know?”
Martin said nothing.
“Have you been here all night?”
Again, Martin said nothing.
Francisco walked to the couch and leaned down a bit over his hunched figure. “Martin?”
Martin looked up at him, his eyes bloodshot. “What?”
Francisco stepped back a bit at the aggressive tone. He wasn’t quite sure what to say. Luckily Felix spoke up.
“Why didn’t you sleep?”
“Gee, I don’t know. Demons? A brute walking around with a gun? Take your pick.”
“Martin, listen,” Francisco started, but he stopped. Martin’s attention turned back to him, and Francisco saw the depth of despair in his eyes. It looked like he would break down in tears at any moment. Reminded of himself just a few moments prior, Francisco gave him a sad, sympathetic smile. “Thank you.”
Martin eyed him with suspicion. “Huh? For what?”
“For keeping watch.” Nobody said anything so he continued. “It never even occurred to me. I was just so tired and scared last night after my meeting with Barnabas, but you stayed up all night to make sure that everything was safe, and in doing so, you made sure it was safe for us too. For that, thank you.”
Martin once again hung his head.
“But we’re awake now, and you’re exhausted. Let us return the favor for you.”
“We don’t have time,” Martin whispered.
Francisco smiled. “Look. No offense, but I think we can spare you today. It’s not immediately obvious where your chemistry expertise will come in handy, but as soon as we know I’ll come let you know, ok?”
Martin gave a heavy sigh and looked up one more time into Francisco’s eyes, but this time he couldn’t see any anger; only exhaustion, and maybe a hint of gratitude. Without a word, Martin stood and stumbled toward his room, wiping his eyes and sniffing before disappearing into it.
“That went well,” Francisco said.
“You’re pretty good with people,” Felix said.
Francisco turned to look at him and shrugged, but before they could speak further, a door opened and Michelle slipped out. She spotted them on the couch and quickly averted her gaze to the ground, quickly slipping past them towards the bathrooms. Francisco watched her until she disappeared down the hallway.
Felix sighed. “So what now?”
“I think it’s time to get everyone up. We have a lot of work to do.” He turned to Felix. “Go to the computer room. See if Andrei is there and tell him to come here, and while you’re at it, see if you can’t find Sofia in the kitchen, if she’s there and not in the bathrooms.”
Felix nodded and stood. “Ok. Be back soon.” He rushed out of the room, leaving Francisco alone. He walked to each room in turn and gave a light knock, skipping Martin’s. After several minutes, Jeremy, Cheng, Riley, Matthew, and Jon had joined him on the couch.
“Morning everyone,” Francisco said.
“Where’s everyone else?” Jeremy asked, rubbing his eyes.
“Already up, and hopefully on their way here.”
“So what is this then? A daily morning meeting?” Jon crossed his arms.
Francisco shrugged. “For today, sure. We’ll see how it goes. How did everyone sleep.”
“Not good,” Cheng said. “I did not sleep much.”
“I figured,” Francisco said. “Felix didn’t sleep well either. We think it’s jet lag. I suspect since you, he, and Andrei come from further east you’ll all feel this way for a couple of days.”
“That strengthens the America theory,” Matthew said.
“Maybe,” Francisco said. “But the Americas are still pretty big, and nothing is to say we’re in the USA.”
Everyone turned to see Andrei enter the room. He quickly made his way to the couch and sat down with the others, not speaking further. Before Francisco could say anything further, he saw movement in the hallway and saw Michelle hesitating at the entrance of the room, eyeing everyone on the couch. He gestured for her to come sit with them, and after another moment’s hesitation she complied. It wasn’t long before Felix returned, Sofia in tow, a steaming mug in her hand.
“Great. We’re all here,” Francisco started.
“Where’s Martin?” Jeremy asked.
“Better question,” Jon spoke up before Francisco could respond, “is that coffee?” he asked Sofia.
Sofia narrowed her eyes at him and took a sip. “Yes. It’s in the kitchen. I made a big pot.”
“Martin,” Francisco interrupted, trying to get back on track, “kept watch last night. He’s resting now.”
“Watch?” Riley said. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know about you guys,” Francisco said, “But I don’t particularly trust Jack. So Martin was just making sure no funny business happened last night.”
Riley nodded. “Makes sense.”
“So it’s just us for now. Don’t worry, I won’t keep you long. I just wanted to give you guys an update on my meeting last night with Barnabas.” Nobody spoke so he continued. “I told him everything we were doing. Research, and preliminary plans for our first descent. He didn’t have any comments.” He paused for a moment. “Sofia,” he said, turning to look at her.
“I didn’t notice any medical supplies when I first went into the supply room. I asked Barnabas about that and he said that you’re to make him a list of supplies that you require and he’ll get them for us.”
Sofia didn’t say anything for a moment. “What should I be planning for?”
“I have no idea,” Francisco said. “I don’t think any of us do, so I’m going to say to plan for common injuries. Cuts, scrapes, broken bones.”
“Broken bones?” Riley’s eyes shot open.
“Like I said, I don’t know,” Francisco said. “I’m just trying to cover all bases.”
Sofia nodded. “I’ll write something up soon.”
“No. Not soon. ASAP,” Francisco said. “I need it immediately after breakfast.”
“Why the urgency?” Matthew asked.
“Because,” Francisco said. “We’re going down today.”
The room went silent.
“So that’s it, huh? Jon said. “One day to make our peace with our gods and then into the pit?”
“Two days,” Andrei said. “You think it is much time but is not. I don’t even sleep last night. Looking for clues on the computers.”
“I know we don’t have much time,” Jon said, “but I just…”
“Oh, the big shot is scared now?” Sofia muttered.
“Sofia,” Francisco said. “Not helpful.”
“Big words from someone not going down,”
“Also not helpful,” Francisco said. “That’s enough.”
Sofia glared up at him. “I don’t remember agreeing to a dictatorship.”
Francisco stopped for a moment before stepping toward Sofia whose eyes widened and she looked to each side. “Do you want to get out of here?” he asked.
She squirmed in her seat.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “I asked you a question.”
“Yes,” she said.
“Then let’s not make things harder then they already are, shall we?”
She looked down at her mug and nodded.
“Damn!” Jon said.
Francisco shot him a glare, and Jon gave him a smirk in response.
“But hold on just a second,” Riley said. “Sofia’s right. We didn’t agree to you being the leader here. Why shouldn’t the others going down get a vote about when to go down?”
“Oh my god!” Andrei ran a hand down his face in exasperation.
“Don’t worry, Andrei. I got this,” Francisco said. He turned back to the others. “Let me rephrase this then. I’m going down today, and since I’m the only one that can talk to Barnabas, it’s in your best interest that I survive. If you choose to let me go down alone, then that’s your choice, but if I don’t make it back you’ll starve.”
Nobody spoke for a few seconds, but it wasn’t long until Jon broke into a laugh. “Holy shit! This guy!” He slapped his knee and then calmed. “All right. I’m in, Boss.”
“Same,” Jeremy said.
“Those of you above are expected to be useful. Last night Matthew, Jeremy, and I looked through the rest of the report of the first floor. That’s where we’ll be headed, but we need to still sort some files and go through the later floors. Cheng, I’m putting you in charge of this effort.”
Cheng nodded. “Ok.”
“Michelle, Riley, Martin, and Sofia will help you.”
“And what about me?” Matthew asked.
“You’ll be meeting with everyone here daily. As we discussed last night.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Sofia said. “What’s this now?”
“So we learned that the last group didn’t have a psychologist. While some died from what happened below, the rest killed each other. We’re guessing Barnabas supplied us with Matthew so we can prevent that from happening. I expect each of you to take some time with Matthew to work through…all of this.”
“Are you serious?” Jon asked. “We gotta see a shrink?”
“Yes,” Francisco said. “My suspicion is a lot of the fighting that’s been happening between us has been due to the high stress of the situation. If we can nip that in the bud sooner rather than later, I think we’ll have a much better chance of coming out of this alive.”
Jon rolled his eyes. “Not seeing it, Chief.”
Francisco sighed, but held his rising temper. “But now that I’m thinking about you,” he said, looking at both Jon and Jeremy, “I think you two should do light workouts while you’re here. Not anything to require extensive recovery, but just to keep in top form. I’ll be joining you.” He turned to the rest. “And since we never know what’s going to happen, I also advise that for the rest of you.”
“You got it,” Jeremy said. “And if anyone needs some help with cardio workouts, let me know.”
“Almost done, I promise,” Francisco said. “Has anyone here shot a gun?”
Everybody shook their heads.
“Right. I didn’t really think so,” he said. “So we’ve been supplied guns for when we go down. While tensions remain high, I think it’s prudent we leave them in the supply room until they’re needed and put them back when we’re done. But since none of us know how to use one or maintain them, we’re going to need to do some practice.”
“I will teach.”
Everyone turned to see Jack hovering in the hallway. Everyone looked at each other and then to Francisco.
“Sure,” Francisco said. “That would be appreciated. Can we use one of the rooms as a firing range?”
Jack gave a single, stern nod.
“This isn’t an optional thing,” Francisco said, turning back to the couches. “Everyone needs to learn.”
Riley shook her head. “Uh, yeah, I’m not doing that.”
Francisco closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, trying to keep his cool at the constant frustrations. He opened his eyes and looked at Riley. “Ok. I’ve got something important to say, so I want you to listen. Are you listening?”
She looked to the side in confusion, but nodded.
He took another deep breath and clenched his fist. “Shut up and do what I tell you!” he shouted, causing everyone to jump. “All of you!” He looked at each person in turn with a glare. “We’re not here on a fucking vacation. We’re all going to fucking die unless we get this shit done! All of us are probably going to have to do some things in here we don’t like or we’re not comfortable with. Once we get out of here we don’t have to think about anything we did in here ever again, and we can go back to being the people we were.”
He turned to Riley. “So yes, you are going to learn to shoot a gun. You know why? Because we may need to take you down there, and I’m going to need everyone to be defend themselves and others so we can make sure we all get out of this alive. And Sofia, if we need you down there for something, you’re going to get your fucking ass down there, do you understand?”
“Wh-” Sofia started, but Francisco continued.
“And you,” he looked at Jon. “Yes. Shrink. Every day. Get used to it.” He returned his attention to the group. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m trying to get out of here. Alive. Do you understand there are lives other than your own at stake here?” He gestured to Michelle, who shrunk back. “Michelle opened my eyes last night about this. She and Felix were chosen because they were virgins. For human sacrifice.”
Everyone’s eyes opened wide.
“We don’t have the luxury of being bitchy about what we will or won’t do. We’re not trying to recreate a little society in here, ok? Where everyone is trying to find fulfillment and live their best lives. We’re not out there. We’re in here. And the rules are completely different. Adapt or die.” Francisco stopped and caught his breath, surprised at the torrent that just came out of him.
“Finally.” Andrei said.
Jon shrugged. “All right, bro. You win.”
Riley frowned and looked away.
“Dictatorship it is,” Sofia said, eyes still on her coffee.
Francisco glared at her. “Call me what you want. But I’m just trying to get us out of here, and if you’re going to be in the way,” he narrowed his eyes, “I’ll ask Barnabas for another nurse.”
Her head snapped up and her eyes met his, a mixture of anger and fear on her face. Francisco didn’t back down. After a moment she looked back down. “Fine,” she said.
“Good,” Francisco straightened himself. “We’re done here. Matthew and Jon go get ready and then make breakfast, please. I know Sofia was supposed to do it today, but she needs to get me that list. Everyone else, get yourselves ready for the day and let’s do some research while breakfast is being made. After we eat we’re going to learn to shoot. We head down in eight hours.”