“What? No? I—” Martin looked around at the group seated for their morning meeting in a panic. He balled his hands into fists and started to tremble. “I can’t—”
“Martin.” Francisco did his best to keep a neutral expression and posture, but he couldn’t help and steal a worried glance at Matthew beside him. “He gave us one more day’s worth of food. One. Like if we rationed it we could maybe stretch it out for two or three more days, but that would only delay the inevitable. We need to go down again.”
“But I— Me?” Martin’s breathing increased and sweat beaded on his forehead.
“The laboratory is the next level. I get the feeling Barnabas won’t be too pleased if you don’t go down and at least get inventory.”
“Martin, listen,” Matthew stood from the couch and placed a hand on the shaking man’s shoulder. “They’ll be with you every step of the way, and this seems to be another cleared floor so there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.”
“Easy for you to say,” Martin spat. “Why don’t you come down with us, huh?”
Matthew stammered and removed his hand.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Francisco furrowed his brow. “No, no. That’s not a bad idea.”
“What is?” Martin asked?
Matthew’s eyes opened wide and he looked back and forth between the two men. “You don’t mean…”
“I do,” Francisco said with a nod. “Matthew, you and Martin both will be coming with us. I have a suspicion we’ll all be needed down there at some time or another, so might as well get your first excursions over with.”
“What’s the matter, big guy?” Martin glowered. “I thought the floor was cleared so there wasn’t anything to be afraid of.”
“You’re still coming too, Martin,” Francisco said.
Martin glared at him. “Yeah, I got that. Thanks.”
“Francisco, are you sure that—” Matthew started.
“Yes. I’m sure. In fact…” He turned his attention to the others seated on the couches, who had kept quiet to this point, perhaps in hopes that Francisco would forget they were there. Each squirmed under his gaze except for Jon and Jeremy. After a moment his eyes came to rest on Riley, who started to fidget when he stopped on her.
“Wait…” she said. “It’s a laboratory, right? What could possibly be down there that—”
“Doesn’t matter,” Francisco interrupted. “Like I said, we’ll probably all be going down there at some point. You most of all given your ‘expertise’. Wouldn’t you rather your first descent be in a safe zone.”
“I told you already!” Riley raised her voice and struggled to hold back tears. “Wicca isn’t—”
“Doesn’t matter,” Francisco said again. “One more day’s worth of food guys. One. More. Day. Barnabas isn’t playing around, and I’d rather not make him regret his leniency in giving us a movie yesterday.”
“If I would have known the trade-off for watching Star Wars was going down I wouldn’t have—”
“Riley, that’s enough!” Francisco said.
“Can you stop interrupting me?” Riley hissed.
Francisco paused and gave an exasperated sigh. He gestured for her to speak.
“Thank you.” She turned her gaze to the carpet. “Look, I get that I’m going down at some point. I also get that if you say I’m going down today then I’m going down today but…” she took a deep breath before continuing. “God, can’t you have the slightest bit of sympathy here?” She started to tremble. “I’m terrified here,” she squeaked.
Sofia reached over and took her hand. She looked up and scowled at Francisco.
He ignored her and turned his attention to Andrei who slumped back in the couch and groaned.
“Hey!” Riley snapped at him. “Not all of us can not give a shit like you, ok?”
“Are we done?” Andrei asked “I guess you don’t need me to go down so you have someone on the cameras.”
Francisco shrugged and nodded. “Yeah.”
“Ну и отлично,” Andrei stood. “Then I’ll be going back to the computers.” He left without waiting for further comment, and Francisco turned back to Riley.
“All right. Are you done?”
Her defiant look melted into one of resignation. “I’m really going?”
“I’m afraid so,” he said. He looked at Jeremy and Jon. “Ok everyone. Let’s get ready. We’re going down in an hour.” Taking a page from Andrei’s playbook, he exited the room without another room and walked downstairs. He navigated to the supply room and double checked that the light indicating the small door leading outside wasn’t in use before entering.
Francisco’s heart stopped cold at the unexpected, yet familiar voice. He turned to face the screen, which was on with Barnabas in his usual place.
“Your handling of the situation so far. You’re navigating the difficulties of your team nicely.”
Francisco held back a sneer, but could not find it in himself to thank their captor for the compliment. “Hopefully it’ll get easier after everyone’s gone down at least once,” he mumbled.
Neither man said anything for a few moments, and Francisco turned to see if he had just switched off the screen and left without saying anything further. But no, Barnabas was still there.
Francisco shook his head and opened the box with the guns. He took out a few and placed them on the table alongside holsters and ammo. A few guns, earpieces, knives, bottled water. Gods was Barnabas still there?
“Need something?” Francisco asked, turning back to the screen.
“Not yet,” came the reply. “I’m thinking.”
Francisco furrowed his brow. “Uh…okay?”
“Please continue with your preparations.”
With a shiver, Francisco turned back to his work, the hairs on his body standing on end as his captor continued to watch him gather supplies. After some time, he had placed everything he thought they’d need on the table. He turned back to the screen to see that the monitor was still on with the table and chair visible, but Barnabas was no longer sitting there.
“What the hell?” Francisco said under his breath. Either way, he didn’t have time to consider further. He scooped as much as he could carry in his arms and left the supply room, before arranging the equipment on the tile outside of the room.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the group trickled downstairs, some lending him a hand in sorting the piles of equipment, and others filtering into the library to continue research, though Riley was not among either group. Francisco exited the supply room with the final load in his arms, and saw Jon and Jeremy already beginning to outfit themselves. Matthew and Martin exchanged a worried glance and started picking through the tools.
“So uh…” Matthew stammered. “I don’t know how to put this on.” He held up the gun holster and tried clasping it on his body.
“I got you,” Jon said, going to the psychologist’s side.
“Hey,” Francisco looked around the room. “Has anyone seen Riley? Did she go in the library?”
“I don’t think so,” Jeremy said. “I didn’t see her, at least.”
“Sorry, boss man,” Jon didn’t look up from helping Matthew. “Haven’t seen her since the meeting.”
Francisco swore and growled. He turned on his heel and went back into the supply room. “Barnabas,” he said to the still lit screen. “I need your help with something.”
After a few seconds, a staticy figure came into view and sat on the chair. “Yes?”
“Can you tell me where Riley is? You know, since you can see the whole building and all.”
There was silence for a moment and Francisco wasn’t sure if he was angry at being asked to perform such a menial task or actually looking for her. But he didn’t have to wait long for his answer.
“She is crying in the corner of the women’s bathroom on the office floor,” he replied.
“Thanks,” Francisco said. “I’ll be taking my leave now if that’s ok with you. We’re about to descend.”
The screen switched off, and Francisco left the room.
“Everything ok?” Jeremy asked.
“Yeah, just a second.”
Francisco jogged up the stairs and walked down the hall until he reached the bathrooms. He pressed his ear against the door and thought he heard some faint sniffles. He rapped his knuckles against the door. “Riley, are you in there?”
There was no response, but any sound he thought he heard was gone.
“Riley!” He knocked again.
Still no response. Francisco groaned and looked up and down the hallway. He was well out of eyesight and earshot of anyone else, so he closed his eyes and pushed the door open. There in the far corner of the room, sitting and hugging her knees tight, sat Riley. Her eyes opened wide at his entrance.
“What are you doing in here?” she asked.
He ignored her question. “Come on,” he said. “It’s time to go.”
“Francisco…” she whimpered.
He walked forward until he stood above her and then sat on his haunches to be eye to eye with her.
“Don’t make me go,” she whispered.
He sighed and gave her an even look. “I’m sorry,” he said after a time. He paused and looked at the white-tiled floor for a moment before looking her back in the eye with a more determined expression. “You’re not going alone. There’s six of us in total this time, and the floor was cleared of danger by the previous team. We’ll be fine.”
She shut her eyes tight. “I want to go home,” she breathed.
“Me too,” he said. “And this is how we do it.” He stood abruptly and held his hand down to her. “You’re not alone,” he repeated. “We’re a team, and we’ll get through this.”
Riley looked up at his hand and took a couple of deep breaths before reaching up and taking it. He helped her to her feet and turned to leave the bathroom.
“How did you find me?” she asked.
“Talk later,” he said. “Let’s get this over with first.”
They sped through the halls and down the stairs.
“Hey!” Jon called out. “There’s our resident witch! Glad you could make it.”
Francisco expected a curt reply, but turned back to Riley in surprise when none came. She hugged her arms around her body and looked at the ground.
“Right, well,” he said. “We’re all here. Let’s get Riley geared up, and head down.” He turned toward the door that led to the stairwell. “Floor two.”