The Origin Of Darkness


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Also Featuring:

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Scene Title The Origin of Darkness
Synopsis SESA leads a team of government and civilian specialists to the ruins of Fort Hero to search for the origin of the rats… and finds far more than they bargained for.
Date October 20, 2018

The New York City Safe Zone is bordered by miles of chain link fence, forming a guarded perimeter around what was once Brooklyn and parts of Queens. Multiple checkpoints serve as security entrances into the Safe Zone, guarded by the 91st military police battalion. It isn't a perfect system, it isn't a flawless line of defense, but it provides a measure of security and protection to the people dwelling within that is, in some instances, taken for granted.

The closer to the border one gets, the more deleterious the condition of the Safe Zone becomes. Buildings are in varying states of inhabitation and disrepair, though no residents out that far are legitimately placed, but rather squatters and smugglers or other criminals working on the periphery of civilization. But beyond the checkpoint on Jackie Robinson Parkway headed due east out of the Safe Zone, everything rather dramatically changes.

The ruins of Queens are a harrowing sight. Miles of tenement buildings, office parks, businesses, and all other manner of building are leveled flat to the ground in a rolling series of hills comprised of collapsed buildings. Those that do stand are pockmarked with high-caliber impact scars. This part of the city saw pitched fighting in the first full year of the war, but a carpet bombing run in the last two months of the war demolished nearly all of the city limits.

Packs of wild dogs roam the ruins alongside gangs of scavengers and opportunistic criminals looking to ambush unwary Safe Zone travelers. Health hazards in the area originate from several destroyed gas and chemical plants along the coast that are still leaking toxic chemicals into the ground. Invisible killers that claim those who do not die from structural collapses.

But it has been several years now since the war ended, and the ruins of Queens did not stay dead. The life inside merely changed. The further east past the ruins one travels, the greener the ruins become. Fresh growths of juvenile trees, dense rows of bushes overgrown from once trimmed hedges, fields of grass growing up atop the collapsed ruins of buildings, forests spreading out from the parks they once were contained in.

Queens may be a ruin, but Long Island is still alive.


Just Outside of Plainview

Long Island

20 Miles Outside the Safe Zone

October 20th

9:18 am

It's been drizzling all morning.

Though Long Island is a verdant ruin, it is not uninhabited. Staunchly independent civilians have chosen to make a home off the grid in the wild reaches of Long Island’s parks and forests, living as many of them had since before the end of the war. There is no law enforcement out here, nor is there any appreciable infrastructure. Perhaps that's why it hasn't turned into the haven of criminal activity Staten Island has become, or perhaps always was.

Windshield wipers slowly sweep side to side, and within a black SUV marked with the seal of the SLC-Expressive Services Agency a small, hand-selected team of federal agents and civilian contractors are bound East to the ruins of the old Fort Hero base at the eastern tip of Long Island. It's a journey of 120 miles from the Safe Zone to Fort Hero, a roughly two and a half hour drive before the war, extended out to an estimated three and a half hours one-way due to the damage done to the roads.

Agent Rhys Bluthner sits behind the driver’s seat, carefully watching the crumbling highway as the post-war scenery rolls past. In the passenger seat, he's offered to let one of the civilian contractors — Lance Gerkin — take role as copilot. Rhys’ partner for this case, Corbin Ayers, sits in the first back row alongside fellow former Company agent Niki Zimmerman. In the rear row of the SUV sits the last civilian contractor, a teenage girl with the ability to echolocate.

Rhys calls her Squeaks.

“So then,” Rhys continues his story, “the only real way to do it was to come in to the office around 1 am. I knew Agent Lin was going to be home by then — though he was a bit of a workaholic — and it left me plenty of time to put everything on his desk in the molds and chill them in the break room refrigerator.”

Rhys looks into the rearview mirror at Corbin. “Come morning we’d laid out every office supply on his desk. Even his mouse, and everything was just… wobbling inside jello.” Nearly wheezing with laughter, Rhys wipes a tear from one eye. “So, moral of the story… just because the food’s expired doesn't mean it isn't valuable.”

There's still a long way to go.

Normally, there might have been some argument about being made to ride all the way in the back. Especially with Lance getting to ride in the front, and not just the front but the shotgun seat. Didn't the grown-ups know they're a team? Maybe they did. But instead of being all kinds of suspicious about it, Squeaks only huffed a breath and made herself comfy for the trip.

Car rides are still an exciting thing anyway. And the passing scenery, even if it's mostly destroyed things, is still way more interesting than whatever talking is happening in the up front seats. The teenager sits to one side, with her face resting against the window so she can see all the things as the SUV travels.

Squeaks hasn't really been listening to the story. She's been watching the land change, the different places making her wonder what else is out there. She's seen parts, both from above and the Underneath, and she knows there's still lots to find out there. But Rhys’ weird laugh briefly draws her from those ideas to frown with confusion in his general direction. How is putting things in Jell-O funny?

“Oh, man,” Lance laughs, his head tilting back against the seat-rest of his chair briefly before he’s shaking it, “I wish I could’ve seen his face when he walked in on that… at least he had some dessert waiting for him?”

One arm rests on the window-edge of the door against the glass, his attention sweeping to the ruined architecture as they drive by, “That even beats the time I glued all of Brian’s shoes to the ceiling when I was a kid. Do you have any idea how many shoes Brian owned? Back then he couldn’t duplicate clothes yet, so… there was a lot of shoes, and I mean a lot…”

Similarly to Squeaks, Niki Zimmerman has been watching the world pass by through the tinted rear windows of the SUV. She glances toward the front occasionally, listening to the chatter between Rhys and Lance without overt interest. She snorts quietly at the punchline.

“Once,” she murmurs mostly for Corbin’s benefit, “someone tried to prank Jessica back in our Company days.” Niki shakes her head, a mirthless little smirk playing on her lips. “She broke their arm. Left us both alone after that.”

“Well now I know why Bowie accepted that promotion,” Corbin responds to the conversation up front with a wry shake of his head. This was a prank he had definitely laughed at, even then. With Niki’s response, he nods, probably having heard of that incident actually.

“I did a few pranks back in the Company days, myself.” Never to Jessica, obviously, or he probably would have been injured by it. “I used to change people’s homepages to a mock up New York Times websites which showed only joke articles.” Since he had wrote for the New York Times Online as his cover, it had been easy to replicate the template.

“Now I stick to gifting novelty coffee mugs and t-shirts.” Usually with funny animals he thinks says something about the person. “People are less likely to break your arms over them.” Or at least he hopes they are. It hadn’t happened yet.

“Oh don't get me wrong,” Rhys says cheerfully, “Agent Lin? He's a prankster, I mean, in his own way. It's like…” he raises one hand and makes a motion in the air like he's painting. “There was one day? I had a post it note on my monitor. It just said, Rhys: How many apples grow on a tree?. So I try and find Bowie to figure out what it's about, right? Apparently he'd taken the day off…”

Rhys looks in the rear view mirror at Corbin. “Next day? New post it note that just read All of them.” both of Rhys’ brows slowly rise. “It's like getting a dad joke in haiku form.” He shifts his attention out the passenger side window briefly. “I miss him.”

Up ahead, the forest starts to part in both sides of the road, and Rhys is forced to slow down as an entire passenger airliner lays in ruin across the middle of the road. The wings are shorn off, tail section missing and nose demolished, but it's definitely a 747, likely crashed during the EMP over Manhattan during the riots.

“Christ…” Rhys exhales, crawling to a stop and looking at what the terrain off the road is like. Squeaks has seen wreckage like this before in Queens, when she met that strange old man while looking for Eimi. Not the same plane, but it evokes the same feelings.

Shaking her head at the continued joking, Squeaks puts her attention outside the windows. Those things are way more interesting to look at. She studies trees and leafy things as they pass, eyes tracking until she either has to turn around to keep watching or give up and find the next neat something. There’s a magical wonder in the way the land stubbornly works on reclaiming, and the age it presses into what it does take.

She leans way over at one point, to not only look through the window but also up and way up to maybe see the skyline. And she’d probably stay like that for a while, since it’s a new way of looking, but she sits up when she feels the SUV slow and roll to a stop.


The teenager scoots in her seat, hands on the back of those in front of her keeping her held forward, as she stares at the giant airplane laying across the road. If she thought she could get away with it, she’d probably be over those seats and leaning into the windshield to look. The impulse to go explore that is stronger than even all the ruins they passed before, and she does wrestle off the seatbelt so she can practically lean over between Corbin and Niki.

“Can we go there?” Squeaks hasn’t asked for anything yet. And it’s blocking the road anyway, she so adds, “I bet if we go there and looked we could find a way around.” It sounds logical.

“Did he get assigned to Abu Dhabi or something? Do you know when or if he’ll be… back…” Lance trails off in his question about the agent— who, he has to admit, he rather liked— as the airplane looms in the road ahead, the shattered trunks of trees knocked over like bowling ten-pins laying upon blacktop and earth.

“Holy shit,” he breathes out, and then he’s twisting to look back, “I don’t know if you’d really want to go up there, Squeaks, there’s— well, uh. I don’t think anyone’s come by to clean up the…” Softer, “The passengers.”

Clearing his throat, “Looks like we might have to go around though.”

“Kansas City, I thought I… heard.” Niki was spared the worst of the war as it was happening. New York City, however, is a tomb once you travel outside of the Safe Zone. It highlights the horror of it all in ways that written reports simply can’t.

Niki swallows uneasily as she eyes the downed aircraft. “Shit,” she whispers under her breath, censoring herself somewhat due to the presence of the teenager in the car. Even if it’s quite probable she’s heard much worse and probably even said it, Niki still holds on to some instinct to police her choice of language. “Going around seems like a good option.” She’d rather none of them subject themselves to what’s probably inside the wreckage.

“Kansas City is right, I think. Though I’m not sure he’s going to enjoy it out there,” Corbin responds with a sorry tone, even if he’s agreeing with Niki. He’s sorry cause he rather liked the man too. He already had a report with at least one of these teens, as he can see, and he knows that Rhys and him had gotten along. He sometimes wonders how much Rhys knew about him, too, considering.

And he almost wished that he hadn’t been chosen to start on this. Fort Hero was a place where he had some pretty unpleasant memories. At least it wasn’t Hartsdale, though.

“We’re not here to explore anything other than Fort Hero. So yeah, find a way around, Rhys.” That, at least, he can sound confident about. “Your guardian might skin us all alive if we went in someplace like that.” Whether the paperwork was completed or not. He’s not going to chance it. Lin might fly back from his assignment and skin him as well, if something happened to one of those kids, too.

“We don't really have time to stop…” Rhys says, his voice quieter than he'd intended. Something about the wreckage haunts him, and he's forced to recollect himself in the face of it. Perhaps it's Lance's reason, perhaps it's one of his own. Regardless, Rhys takes one look into the wild grass off the road, puts the SUV briefly into reverse and backs up, cutting into another lane to angle toward the gulley, then drives ahead.

“We need to keep moving. We’re burning daylight.”

Thirty-One Years Earlier

Fort Hero

Camp Hero, Long Island

«It's the top of the ninth, and Pete Hernandez is coming up to bat. The Mets are running strong with a staggering six point lead over the Phillies tonight…»

“Hey, lirio, can you flip to the news?” Under stark fluorescent lights back by the dull and suffocating gray of concrete, a tall and square-jawed man with dark complexion offers a swift nod toward the television while stirring a coffee. “We all know the Pirates are gonna’ choke anyway.”

“Did Angela tell you that?” Asks a tanned brunette woman sitting at a round Formica table, cradling a bowl of cereal in one hand and delicately stirring the Captain Crunch with soft inks of a metal spoon. Ghostly pale blue eyes flick up to the man across from her in the break room, the corner of her mouth rising in amusement. “What's on the news?”

He looks over at her, one brow raised. “Hopefully not us,” is the grinning admission. With a roll of her eyes the brunette woman moves one hand away from the bowl and then toward the television. The picture on the black and white screen goes blurry for a moment before the knob clicks over to the next channel. At the same time her spoon pivots through the bowl to stop, pointing toward her hand.

“Infinite cosmic power,” the dark-haired man says with a flash of a smile as he sees Tom Brokaw’s stoic face and the nightly news flash across the screen, “and you use it to change stations.”

Flashing a smile, the brunette woman twirls her fingers in the air and the spoon begins to stir her cereal again as crackling motes of blue-green light flare around the metal. “If you've got it,” she winks, “flaunt i— ”

Before she can finish her sentence the power flickers and the lights nearly go out completely. She sets down her bowl and rises up from the seat, pushing back her chair with her legs. The man she's with turns toward her, brows raised. “It wasn't me,” she says with a wide-eyed look.

“Then…” he looks around, up at the still-flickering fluorescent lights, “what the hell was that?”

Present Day

Fort Hero

Camp Hero, Long Island

It's been nearly ten years since Niki Zimmerman or Corbin Ayers had laid eyes on Fort Hero. For the others, it is a time capsule into not only the past of the Company, but of some of the most conspiracy-riddled sections of American history. The chain link fence that once surrounded Fort Hero is all but gone now, trampled over in the intervening years and overgrown with grass and tall foliage. The SESA vehicle drives straight over the chain link gate that once closed off the camp grounds, little more than a muffled rattle below sturdy tires.

Beyond the fence, the first thing that becomes visible at Fort Hero is the massive radar array set atop the squat, boxy stone building. The rectangular array is mostly stripped of components now, little more than a skeletal framework of rusted steel encrusted with crawling ivy. Sea birds nest in its iron latticework, flying in small flocks around its upper reaches. Fort Hero itself seems to have weathered the war as well as any building could, with its windows blown out and fire-blackened. It looks as though an inferno gutted much of the building.

There may not be anything to find here.

Rhys drives all the way up to the front door of the circular driveway. As he throws the vehicle into park, he looks back at everyone and makes a wait here gesture, then opens the driver's side door and steps out of the car. For a moment Rhys is silent, looking as though he's listening for something. Whether he hears it or not seems to not change the reaction, of waving everyone else out.

"Before we go in," Rhys says, moving to the back of the SUV and opening the rear hatch. "Niki, Lance, Squeaks," he peaks from around the corner of the vehicle, "I'm going to need you both to put on vests. Civilian contractors are required to." As Lance steps out from behind the van, he's carrying the chest piece of an AEGIS body armor suit.

"Velcro straps," Rhys says with a raise of his brows, peeling the Velcro apart.

As the building comes into view, Squeaks picks herself up from the seat that she’s been lounging on for the last million-and-a-half miles. She sits way forward, head poking in between Niki and Corbin’s seats, curious but with a teeny bit less enthusiasm than she showed the old airliner. And she stays that way until the SUV comes to a stop.

Then the seat belt comes off, and the girl starts eyeballing for a fast way out. Now she can get to exploring. Only Rhys’ motion to stay keeps her from climbing out of the vehicle. She’d probably have done it, even climbed over the grown-ups in front to make it happen. But she waits until it’s okay to move — and for one of the passengers in front of her to climb out first — before she jumps out of the SUV.

With her feet on the ground, Squeaks lifts her arms up over her head to stretch from the long ride. She darts a side-eye look at the grown-ups, then looks in wide-eyed wonder at the strange box-building with its weird roof ornaments. A swivel of her head shows she heard her name, and quick steps follow so she can get fitted into a vest. But not before sending out a quick series of clicks — just to get an idea of what’s around her.

“So what happened to this place,” asks Lance as he climbs out of the SUV’s passenger side, looking over the fire-gutted building with the skeletal remains of the array reaching up towards the sky, “Doesn’t look like it was bombed from the outside…”

The offer of the vest actually brings a grin from him as he steps over to accept it, “Primal. We’re not expecting anyone to shoot at us, are we…?” Starting to pull it on and strap it on, twisting his body a bit to figure out where the straps go, he adds, “I can toss up a silence field so no squatters or animals will hear us, if you want, Agents - I’ll need everyone to stay within about fifty feet or so, though. We’ll be able to hear each other and everything outside, but nobody past the line will hear anything we do.”

With a wry grin, Corbin doesn’t say anything about how he’s supposed to be the one in charge of this, waiting patiently until they are all waved out before he moves, still grinning a little— at least until he actually looks at the building. There’s a grimace there. It looks both different and the same, all at once. He’d never been back after that day, when they’d fled. “Most of this damage might have happened the last time I was here. When the Institute…” he trailed off with a shake of his head.

His former affiliations had not been unknown. He had testified in the trials, after all. He had known when they fled this place that what the Company had done had caused as much damage as they had prevented over the years. That the ideals that he had worked for had not been in everyone’s hearts. If he had been directly involved in any of the worst things, he likely would not be here today.

He shakes his head, “There could be squatters, though I doubt it, either way, I don’t expect we’ll get shot at.” Even then, he’s wearing something under his shirt himself, and he carries weapons, both his sidearm and one of the nonlethal Banshees that Raytech had designed. He hopes he doesn’t need to use either of them.

“No arguments from me,” Niki comments about being required to wear a vest. She climbs out of the SUV and waits her turn to have one doled out to her. Once she receives it, she needs little time to strap herself in. She remembers standard protocol and there’s a certain amount of muscle memory that comes with kitting up. When she finishes, she helps Lance with his. “This one goes here,” she instructs quietly, letting him do the work of tightening the straps until he’s comfortably snug in his body armor.

Only once that task is complete does she bring her attention up and really look at the husk of Fort Hero. There’s a pang in her chest and a flutter in her stomach, but Zimmerman keeps her expression neutral. As though there might be no memories to stir at the sight of the place. She gives a glance to Corbin, as if to assess his condition. Maybe she just wants to feel less alone in her haunting.

Blüthner’s hauntings are a whole other story. There’s a moment of concern that flickers on her face, but it fades quickly. Rhys doesn’t need anything that might resemble pity from her. Niki’s aware that he’s plenty capable. With a short nod to Corbin, she signals she’s ready to advance, whatever the decision that might be made about silence fields.

“Okay, I got us here,” Rhys says with momentary apprehension, avoiding directly answering the questions about squatters or getting shot, just flashing an anxious smile to Lance. “According to the survey done following the Institute’s clean sweep of the facility, the upper levels were set ablaze with a thermite grenade but some of the basement levels are likely still intact. If there's anything to find here, they'll be down there…”

Rhys breathes in deeply and unclips the strap on his holstered Banshee, just in case. As Corbin leads the way up along the main walk to the facility, Rhys begins discussing the layout with the others who hadn't been here, like himself. “The uh, first basement level contained agent quarters, offices, a conference center, mess hall, rec room and infirmary. I'm… thinking what we’ll want is on sublevel 2. The library and research facilities were contained there… as well as a railway access that connected to Queens’ subway system prior to the war. If… if this all started there, it could be how the rats first got into the sewers.”

Glass crunches underfoot up to the doorway of the old concrete building, and surprisingly the lobby foyer is still intact, though the walls partitioning it off assuredly aren't. The second floor leading to the radar array is likewise eviscerated by fire from nearly ten years ago. Creeping ivy and small bushes grow up along the edges of the building, where nature has reclaimed its ruin. Birds chirp high in the gutted ceiling, their nests poking out in bristling clumps from gaps in the walls.

“A library? Can we look?” Squeaks looks up from trying to tighten the velcro on her vest more, even though there’s nothing left to tighten. There’s even a quick peek at Lance, then Niki, to see if maybe she missed something. But there isn’t. It still hangs loose on her, like pretty much everything she wears anyway. She peels a strap apart and sets it back together again, but it’s no good either. Her hand presses hard against that side, and then she tries the other side again.

She looks down, to fuss and fidget with the velcro some more while Rhys continues his explanation. Her mind even wanders a little to those maps she’s drawn, to try and remember if she knows the tunnel he’s talking about.

The footsteps getting away from her eventually pull the girl out of her wonderings. And it turns her attention away from the vest straps. Squeaks looks up at the others already going toward the old building, then sprints to catch up. She starts walking when she’s caught up, and starts testing out her ability again as she follows the others inside.

Grateful for the assistance from Niki, Lance is soon secure in his vest— and then he steps over to help Squeaks as best he can, although the slip of a girl isn’t really big enough for the vest she’s trying to wear. It should still keep bullets off her body, though, he hopes.

“You do your thing once we’re down there, Squeakers,” he encourages her with a grin, and then he’s moving to step with the others, instinctively silencing himself for the moment. The only clue is the lack of crunch when he steps on the bits of glass in the doorway, looking around with a fascinated expression. He doesn’t have the history with the place that some of the older members of the expedition have.

Niki nods along as Rhys explains the situation they’re walking into. She might feel a little more confident with a gun at hand, but she’s here as a civilian. Not a Company agent or a representative of Redbird Security. And, realistically, she’s never needed a firearm to protect herself or those around her, even if she’s heavily abstained from reliance on her ability since the beginning of the war.

“I’m not sure the library’s going to have the sort of reading you’re most interested in,” Niki says of Squeaks’ request, but then she frowns. “Then again, maybe it might.” She always thought Micah would be bored by the thick technical tomes he’d bring home, but he’d proved her wrong then, this girl may now. “If it’s safe, I’m sure we can sneak a peek.”

”If we have time, we’ll check the library,” Corbin offers the youngster, even as he checks his weapons and most importantly, his flashlight. Not everyone can lead the way like a bat navigating in the dark. And they will definitely need it the further down they go. He leaves out that they will likely need to check the library to get some of the information that they were after. “The research labs are likely our first stop.” The Company had been famous for, in their past, running experiments. Some of which he’d known about.

Many of which he found out much later. Even with his clearance level, there had been many secrets.

“I’m not surprised they burnt the place,” he mutters as he walks along, looking around and almost picturing the place how it had once looked. Only he imagined he had a different memory of this place than most. His time in Fort Hero had been punctuated with many things he almost wished he could forget.

The ground floor is a scorched tomb. Occasionally amid the broken glass there are old, corroded shell casings on the ground. Many of them stomped flat or warped from heat. Rhys carefully treads across the fire-blackened floor, bouncing his foot every so often as he listens for precarious creaks or groans.

Even here, Squeaks can already tell that much of the ground floor is structurally sound based on how much the floor resists her sonar. It's thick concrete supported, likely, by steel mesh and beams. For Corbin and Niki, there's little left here that looks familiar. Even the ceiling, with parts open to the sky, feels like it's from another life… or another world.

Corbin and Rhys lead the way to the basement stairs, beside a pair of empty elevator shafts. The stairwells are entirely concrete, soot-blackened but have long since lost the smell of smoke. Shell casings line the floor here too, and pockmarks from gunfire mar the walls. There's a weight to them, for those that escaped this place with their lives. Memories that there were many agents who didn't.

As they reach the second floor landing, Rhys pauses by the doorway and pushes the crooked door out of the frame, grinding it across the floor and shining his flashlight down a long and dusty hall where the drop-tile ceiling has long since fallen in. He takes a moment to listen, then shakes his head and motions with his flashlight to continue downstairs.

The sub-basement stairwell is cold and surprisingly damp. At the bottom of the stairs the concrete sinks into six inch of night black water that reflects the glare of the flashlights on the walls and ceiling. “Shit,” Rhys whispers, wishing he'd brought his high-waders. He blames this all on Bowie. Somehow.

“I'll…” Rhys doesn't finish the sentence, just takes a few tentative steps into the ice cold water with a shiver. As he raises his flashlight, Rhys reveals what Squeaks could already tell without looking, that the door to the sub basement had long who been blown off of its hinges. There's a concrete hall behind the doorway, glistening with water along the walls and stinking of rust. He looks back to the others, to gauge how they feel.

The dark and ruins really aren’t much of a bother. Even without her ability, Squeaks would probably feel just as comfortable crossing questionable floors after a couple of steps to test the springiness. She’s light enough to get away with it. But she has the ability to know what’s where, and so she keeps a running map of everything as she follows Corbin and Rhys.

When Rhys stops, just a few steps into the water, the young teenager gives him a look like he’s wasting time. She steps into the water, face showing quick surprise because it’s colder than she expected. It takes her some seconds to get used to the chill, and then to slosh another few steps away from the stairs, giving room for others to take a look too.

Taking several more slow steps toward the opening, Squeaks looks at the others and then down the hallway again. She doesn’t wander too far away, since there’s the safety of the group, but she does try to get a teeny bit further away from their noise so she can focus on her own. Her eyes squint a little, her head tilts toward one shoulder, and she projects her little sounds at that hallway to see what’s down there.

“…yeah, I’m really wishing I’d bought rubber waders now,” Lance quips as he stares down at the black waters before them, and then slowly steps forward, grimacing from the wash of cold and wet over his feet and calves as he moves into the water, “Guh, cold— If I get electrocuted in here by a rat, I’m gonna be really upset. I’m just saying that now.”

He stops just behind Rhys, letting the silent field drop as Squeaks moves forward, so as not to impede the use of her ability. “You see anything, Squeakers?”

The waders hadn’t been on his mind, but then again he hadn’t expected flooding, but now that he thinks of it he should have. Corbin clicks his tongue a little, but they’re already wading out into it so, he follows, grimacing at the cold and wishing he’d have worn thicker anything. His socks are going to slosh the whole dive back, he just knows it. “I guess we can’t expect you to see the future,” he murmurs about the fact that he wishes they had had the foresight to expect this. Of course after all these years, so close to the water, they would have flooding in the basement. The odds of anything in the library having survived certainly seemed smaller.

After a moment, he looks toward the kid, the one who they brought along due to her ability, a form of echolocation, as far as he understood. She should be able to see what they can’t see. Even with the flashlights.

Since he’s not sure if outside sound might affect it, he chooses to wait for her response.

Only Corbin sees the red silhouette reflected in the water’s surface, in spite of there being no one there to cast it. The slim outline of Hokuto Ichihara follows Corbin into the dark, real enough that he can feel her hand on his shoulders. “This place is nothing but pain,” she whispers at his back, slowly shaking her head. Yellow cat’s eyes scan the dark, but they can see no better than Corbin, after all. “Please do avoid tetanus too,” comes with a crooked twist of her mouth into a smile.

Rhys briefly glances back at Corbin, then back to the dark ahead.

Niki hesitates on the stair, her flashlight shining into the dark. The water ripples and for a moment she seems transfixed by something, like she’s seen a ghost. Or maybe she’s having second thoughts, despite the fact that she’s dressed for the occasion. Her knee-high boots are waterproof - it comes in handy when she’s scavenging.

Drawing in a deep breath to steady herself, Niki lifts her head again and steps forward into the water. She can feel the chill despite the insulation. She’s content to bring up the rear of their expedition and let the others lead.

The flooded basement carries with it a sense of weight all it's own. Being down here is haunting for Corbin, because once they've started to move through the doorway he recognizes exactly where they are. He remembers the last time he was here.

At the back of the group, Rossling starts to turn from the smoke, contented with the way he's managed to bottleneck it at the base of the stairs, thick and choking. There's a noise though, from beyond the smoke, one that once Ryans hears he knows what it means.



Striding through the smoke, dressed in white plastic chemical suits, black visored respirator masks covering their faces, Retrievers of the Institute are the last thing that should be here in Fort Hero. The MP5 submachine guns they carry are primed with a click of the slide as they emerge through the smoke, and Rossling's eyes grow wide as he watches them approaching. «Targets in A-Wing Stairwell,» one crackles over his external speaker, «hostile. Neutralizing

Corbin can feel the vibrations of gunfire in his bones, even though the only sounds are subtle clicks from Squeaks’ direction and the gentle slosh of water. As they move down the corridor, Rhys directs his flashlight to the ceiling, noticing that much of the drop-ceiling material had collapsed over the years, exposing ventilation ductwork that was much more concealed in the past. Rusted frames from the ceiling and mold-crusted ceiling tiles pole up from the icy water.

Up ahead, a pair of shattered glass doors partition off a demolished laboratory. Equipment is filthy with grime, computer monitors are riddled with bullet holes, tables are cluttered with the collapsed detritus of the ceiling tiles. Corbin’s chest tightens some.

Ahead of Grant, at the sliding glass doors that lead out of the forensics lab, there are the scattered remains of three men in black fatigues. Scattered because they have been divested of their limbs, some cut in half, others sliced at an angle or covered with bone-deep lacerations. Holding one bloody hand out, Grant is hyperventillating, his free hand clutching his side where stitches have clearly torn and a fresh gunshot wound has struck him in the chest too low to be a shoulder wound. His breathing sounds wet, lips are pink.

"There's— more…" Grant wheezes, keeping his hand held out, "they— they're ducking for cover on the other side of the glass doors." Glass doors held open by severed limbs scattered between them.

"Grant!" Gracie shouts, rushing from the stairs and over to Grant's side, taking a knee next to him and training her gun towards the door. Grant's shoulders rise and fall quickly, his hand trembling and face pale. "Oh God, oh God… Grant, it— it'll be okay. Lashirah!” The other agent Lee is the closest thing to a doctor here. Panic is making Gracie unprofessional. There's nothing they can do — right now — for agent Fitzpatrick.

Squeaks notices something, much as Corbin is being made painfully aware of his own past, she is being made aware of something unusual up ahead. There's another lab, not far nearby, and ventilation ducts in the ceiling seem to go beyond a metal-reinforced concrete wall. The echo Squeaks is getting feels right, rigid, like an enclosed space.

Something hidden. But she's too far away to tell what.

“I don’t know.” Squeaks’ answer isn’t given right away, having to pause in those tiny sounds she uses to say anything, and she sounds really distracted. There’s so much to look at, and she’s trying to find all the things that would probably normally be missed. Her head swivels, eyes darting to look at one thing then another as the flashlights catch on shiny things. But then she shakes her head and walks forward again.

The sounds start again as soon as her feet start moving. Sometimes she shoots a look up or behind, probably confirming what her echoes are sending back to her. And mostly she stays close to the group. Until there’s a really real change in the sounds. Faster steps, almost jogging, bring her close to the wall.

The girl turns a circle, then directs a look up to the exposed ducts. She stands very still for a long second, eyes squinty while focusing her sonar. “There’s space over there,” Squeaks explains, pointing at the wall. “Those tube things go over.” She takes a step backward, still staring at the ducts. Her arms stretch up overhead to reach, but she’s too short to get up there by herself. So, “I need up.”

At the request, Lance slants a look over to Corbin and Rhys for approval— and assuming it’s given, he steps over and crouches a bit to offer his hands cupped together low, just above the surface of the water they’re wading through. “Put your foot in here, your hands on my shoulders, and I’ll boost you up. Just be careful, alright?”

He flashes the girl a grin, “Mom’d kill me if I let anything happen to you, after all.”

Of all the new and interesting experiences of late, this sudden reliving of memories took the prize. Corbin stops near a wall, one hand pressed against it, while the other reaches up and touches his chest, still holding the flashlight that he had been using to scan the interior. “This isn’t something you’re doing, I hope,” he whispers quietly, to someone that may not even be there. He knew that she had been there that day too. Before anyone physically there can offer him help, he waves the flashlight, as if to dismiss everything he’d just said and throw off any suspicion about what he might mean.

The one who what he had said this for would know, if she were even there. Hokuto wasn’t always. Wasn’t most the time, even. “This place has some uncomfortable memories,” he decides to say. He hoped that Rhys wasn’t getting the same kinds of things. Cause it was definitely unpleasant for him, the feeling of the bullets that were long, long gone, with only the bullet holes showing they had been there.

The young teen gets a glance, before he nods, moving closer to her to offer her an arm and shoulder up. “If you see or feel anything that might hurt you, pull back immediately and we’ll send Rhys up there instead.” Though he’s not sure even Rhys would be small enough.

Niki watches the others move to boost Squeaks up into the vents with a frown. “What if you find a room with no exit and can’t boost yourself back up?” She knows that her answer is that she’ll melt a damn wall to get the girl out, but that’s not necessarily the most efficient or even safest route to take.

Still, she can’t help but admit that if there’s a secret space to be explored, Squeaks is the best one to reach it. “Just be careful,” she offers as her (frankly unneeded) approval of this approach.

As Squeaks is boosted up to the vent by Lance, her fingers find purchase on a brace of rusted old metal. It creaks and groans when she pulls her weight up onto it, but soon enough the small teen is able to haul herself up into the vent itself. As Corbin watches her feet disappear into the darkness, Rhys is making a noise in the back of his throat and slowly shaking his head. Something about this doesn’t feel right…

In Corbin’s periphery, Hokuto offers him a worried look, then turns to look at the vent that Squeaks disappeared into. She and Corbin remember, at the same time, a voice in the back of their minds.

Memories of that last day here.

The day Martin Crowley died.

"Have y'ever seen the section of the labs, sealed off b'concrete?" Both of Martin's brows raise as he shuffles away from Ryans, "there was an accident here in the labs in the 1970s when th' Company was first experimenting w'the Shanti Virus. Apparently there was a mutation, a strain of the virus that was engineered t'cohabitate with somethin' like Ebola. It attacks th' body's cells, breaks down cell walls and causes liquefaction. It's what Pinehearst was using as the basis for their advent project…"

Stepping over the bodies and towards the hall, Martin looks left and right at the cross-unction, then back into the lab. "The virus was v'resiliant, long lived, near impossible t'kill. It got loose in th' lab, they 'ad t'seal the whole ward off, researchers an' all…"

Martin moves into the middle of the hall, back up against one wall and gun clutched in his hands, looking back into the forensics lab then down the right corridor. "C'mon, We gotta go tha' way."

Inside the vents, Squeaks is pressed into a claustrophobic space that — for anyone else — might be impossible to progress through. The vents are narrow and dark, barely wide enough even for someone of Squeaks’ size to squeeze through. The echoing clang and bang of her movement through them is joined by the occasional clunk as an errant elbow or knee strikes against the side of the vent. Then, unexpectedly, the bottom of the vent just breaks under Squeaks weight and the teen drops abruptly from the ceiling in a lightless space.

She crashes bodily onto her back against an empty table with enough spring to it to somewhat break her fall, but the force of the impact knocks the wind out of her. Metal rivets and braces clatter down around her, and the noise of her fall echoes out into the hall on the other side. Squeaks coughs involuntarily from the dust thrown up into the air from her collapse. Wherever she’s landed, it’s dark and has multiple connecting rooms. Perhaps… another hall?

While fighting to pull in that first breath, Squeaks’ hands cover her ears to muffle the rest of the clanging and crashing sounds. And as it echoes back into silence, relative silence from where she’s found herself, she lets her hands drop again. Shoulders bounce with small coughing fits and for a good solid second she stares up at where the hole should be. “Ow,” is a quiet observation and not a real statement of pain, interjected between coughing and catching her breath.

Rolling over and sitting up, the girl gives her head a shake then waves a hand in front of her face to chase away lingering dust. “I’m okay,” she calls up to the ceiling. Hopefully the others will hear her.

She slides to the edge of the table until her feet hang over, then eases herself down so she’s standing on the floor. Squeaks turns her head about, looking first in the darkness. There isn’t a lot she can make out that isn’t immediately in front of her. So after that first look around, she repeats it but this time with her ability. “It’s a room,” she calls up again, interrupting the mapping. “I think. With other rooms. And maybe a hall out?”

The sounds start again, and the younger teenager turns a whole circle for a better look. Physically moving probably isn’t totally necessary, but it feels like it helps. With her head swiveling to take it all in, she slinks away from the table and follows the shift in sounds that tells her there could be an opening.

As that crash echoes back through the vents, Lance’s stomach drops out from under him and he pales instantly. “Squeaks?!”

A leap up gets him a finger-grip on the edge of the wall where the vent begins, and he’s peering into it — although he’s probably too big to get in — until there’s that call back, and he breathes out a sigh of relief, dropping back down to the ground with a splash as he hits the water. Sorry, Rhys, you’re getting even wetter.

“Do you see any signs or anything?”

“You have to be kidding me,” Corbin murmurs to himself as— yes, he remembers that day. Even more vividly than usual, to be fair. But then again he hadn’t exactly visited this place since, so maybe it’s the place. Maybe it’s something else going on. Either way, he does remember what Crowley had said. And the man didn’t strike him as someone who would have lied or over exaggerated. He meets the woman’s eyes, the one only he can see really, and nods toward the wall, as if asking her if she could go in and check on the girl.

“You’re right. We probably shouldn’t even be here.” And he’s regretting bringing children into this. Even if from Lin’s description it would probably have been hard to keep them out of it. Bringing some of them along had seemed like the safest way to insure that they didn’t break in on their own.

Either way, he really he doesn’t have to explain anything to family members AND the government when this all is over with.

“Squeaks,” he calls through the wall where they could hear her. “Scan the area, but look for ways back to us while you do it as well.” If this is what Martin had said, then just that hole alone was probably bad enough, really.

There’s a momentary look of horror on Niki’s face at the horrible commotion that accompanies Squeaks’ fall from the vents. It’s only once the girl calls out to them with her assurances that the panic switches off and she heaves a sigh of relief.

She doesn’t say anything resembling I told you so even if she might be thinking it.

Sloshing through the water, she approaches the wall that should be opposite Squeaks’ position and gently knocks on it, trying to judge density, soundness. If they wind up needing to create a doorway to get the girl out, then they may as well be smart about it.

Navigating by echolocation, Squeaks is able to estimate that she's in what would have been a room roughly fifteen feet by ten. Cabinets, a desk and chair, and… maybe an old, small television on the desk? The details are hard to pick up, but it might be some sort of office. The door is still present, but open. Everything in the lightless space smells of dust and mildew.

Beyond the office is an adjoining hallway that she's close to the end of. Outside of where she fell, Rhys is following the wall Squeaks went over, moving toward a point in the wall Corbin recalled seeing, an area where steel beams were fused into concrete and blocked over with concrete-filled drums. There's calf-deep water on this side, but on Squeaks’ side it's dry.

“Why…” Rhys murmurs, running his hands over the concrete and steel covering a doorway, “why would anyone…” There's a look of anxious horror on his face as he backs away, calling out to Squeaks much as the others have. “There's no door on this side!” That, she could tell all by herself.

Down the other end of the hall were two more offices, and then the hall opened out into a spacious room with intact glass-faced cabinets. She could tell because the glass subtly sings when her clicks and chirps hit their surface. It's a large space, lots of tables, other indiscernible shapes.

A light switch.


No electricity.

More worrisome… no discernible way out.

Working her way from one end to the other is not a quick task. Even though her ability lets her see her surroundings even in complete darkness, instinct still warns her to be careful in the dark. It isn’t the boogie man she’s worried about, but catching her feet on something. Without looking back, Squeaks follows the hall until it opens again, stopping briefly just inside the mouth of the larger room.

She takes a small turn, hand finding the wall so she can follow it around. But when her fingers touch the lightswitch she pauses going further. Flipping it once does nothing, so she tries it three more times just to be sure. When it still doesn’t work, the switch gets a huff. She probably should have known it wouldn’t work, but she still puts blame on it anyway. The girl turns to face the wide open room again. There should be more than one way in and out, even if she never found the right way in.

Clicking and squeaking sound starting up again, Squeaks works her way around the room. Maybe there’s a door or hallway hidden behind something. Or she just missed it with all the other echoes. But at least she can get an idea of what’s here first before going back to the room where she fell. That hand stays close to the wall as she walks, fingers trailing over the surfaces and keeping her distracted from the giant box she’s stuck in.

“See what you can find in there,” Lance calls up into the vent encouragingly, “We’ll try and find a way to get you back out.”

The voice may be encouraging, but he’s looking a little worried as he looks around— lips pursing, he asks, “You think you could fit up in there, Rhys? We could— do we have rope?” He looks between the other expedition-eers — the adults, really — questioningly, “If he can get at least most of the way, we can feed the rope in and she can pull herself up. Hopefully.”

Usually the walls the Company erected to keep its secrets hidden were metaphorical. Niki frowns as she watches Rhys look for some entrance to where Squeaks is apparently trapped. Her stomach ties itself in knots as her gaze drifts down to the rippling water they’re wading through. It’s times like this when she misses her original ability. She’d be kicking a hole in the wall by now. At least she’d have a helpful outlet for her frustration.

Is the water around her bubbling? Startled, Niki takes a step back from the others. No, of course it isn’t. She has her current ability under control. Unlike the current situation. Forcing herself to look up again, she swings her flashlight around for any instrument she can use to their advantage here.

“I heard a story once about a place in here that was sealed off by concrete. This could be it, but it doesn’t make sense they would leave a vent access open, either.” Which is why he hadn’t really thought of it. Not if the story Corbin recalled was accurate. There was no way there would have been vent access. But he also doesn’t intend to scare people with what he remembered, either. He was worried enough as it was, now.

But he did bring rope. Not a lot, but a bundle at his belt, which he undoes and hands over to the teenager. “We could try tying it to a flashlight or something to get it to fall, but she’ll have to watch for jagged edges where she fell out.” He doesn’t think they’ll get a lot of second tries.

“Young lady,” he calls out a little louder. “If you feel anything that looks like a sealed door, don’t try to open it, but see if you can find any paperwork that might be laying around.” That could at least get brought up if they manage to pull her out that way, and could possibly answer some questions. “She didn’t take a flashlight, did she?” he has to ask Lance. Cause echolocation might open many things up, but a flashlight would have helped.

“I’ve got some rope in my bag,” Rhys makes a gesture back to the truck, “I didn’t think we’d need it but…” He’s already backpedaling and making his way toward the entrance. “Someone toss her a flashlight through the vent!”

As the others turns their focus on to the chamber Squeaks has found herself in, Squeaks continues to pace out the shape and dimensions of the sealed wing — and it’s just that, a wing — with increasingly diminishing hope of finding an alternative exit. There was a door out of here, but she can feel that it was bricked over and concrete poured over the door, reinforced with steel beams.

The remainder of Squeaks surroundings are starting to come together for her. It isn’t televisions on the desks, but very old computers. The kind that have their keyboards attached to the monitors. There’s filing cabinets in here too, bookshelves, and laboratory equipment. She can feel the shape of a microscope with her hands, some places are littered with broken glass, but she’s familiar enough with those hazards to avoid them even when sensing by touch. The floor cracks and crunches in here, broken plaster, glass, shattered plastic… she’s heard all of these sounds in the past.

Then, as she explores one of the rooms with the filing cabinets, she feels something laid out on a table. Rectangular, light, plastic, with a piece that flips up along one side and two wheels. It’s an old VHS cassette tape — caked in dust like everything else — laying amid old moisture-rippled papers. This place feels like a lab, and maybe a library, all in one.

Unfortunately, there’s only one way out.

The strange and unusual — and often even the very plain and ordinary — are things that often find their way into her pockets. The microscope is of particular interest, and if there was light she’d probably be spending a long bunch of minutes figuring out how it works. But she’s stuck in the dark, so she only focuses on turning knobs and checking for slides before moving on from it. That tape is fast tucked away into the front pouch of her hoodie as soon as it’s recognized. The papers follow soon after, with Squeaks ignoring the damp feeling in order to slide them into the back of her overalls. Her head turns toward the continued sounds of the rest of the group while her fingers work over table, feeling for more interesting bits and pieces.

Drawers are opened and closed after a hand fishes through them in the dark. Mostly empty folders are passed over like the broken things that cover the floor, but papers are as likely to be collected as anything else. Who knows what’s useful or not, in the dark it’s all the same and it can be sorted out later. Her exploration of shelves is likewise as quick and direct, on the hunt only for those things that can easily be stashed into a pocket for the trip back through the vent.

“There’s only one way out!” Squeaks’ voice comes from her side of the wall once she’s temporarily satisfied with finding things. Her voice is distant at first, but not really worried and it grows louder by the last word. “There used to be a door. It’s all sealed now.” She pauses so she can climb onto the table she’d landed on minutes ago. “There’s tables and things over here. I can maybe stack chairs and climb up?”

“I’m on it,” Lance calls back to Rhys as the agent departs, bringing a foot out of the water again and bracing to a piece of half-submerged furniture— maybe a cart— and boosting himself back up, grabbing the edge of the vent and holding onto it. He calls back into the vent, “I’m throwing you a flashlight!”

Using just one hand to support himself, he pulls his own flashlight from his belt, weighs it in his hand and then gives it a toss down the vent.

Clang, clang, clang, CLANG

“Duck,” he yells helpfully.

"Here," Niki murmurs, moving to Corbin's side. "I'll give you a boost. Should make it easier to feed the rope through instead of fighting gravity." Switching off her flashlight and strapping it back to her belt, she bends forward a little and laces her fingers together to make a foothold for Corbin to step into.

"Whenever you're ready."

Since the young teen already tossed the flashlight, Corbin ties a piece of metal on the end of the rope so that it has some weight. The girl doesn’t need two flashlights, though duel wielding flashlights is an amusing image. Also amusing is the fact that she’s the one giving him a boost up. But it’s not something he’s going to bad mouth or turn down, it seems, as he just steps over and puts his foot on the hands, pushing himself up to gently toss the rope over, skidding the weight so that it will hopefully find the hole.

If they need to, they can tie the rope that Rhys brings back to the end of this one. “We’re sending a rope, but you should have a flashlight. See if you can carefully stack some chairs, but if you can’t just tie the rope around your waist and hold on at the same time. We’ll get you back up into the vent.”

And then back to them. And out of this horrible place and it’s horrible memories.

It’s luck and not finesse that has Squeaks’ hands wrapping around the flashlight when it tumbles out of the vent above her. It probably would have bounced off her head if she hadn’t gotten her hands up in time, and as it is she fumbles with it until she has a good beam of light giving visual character to all the things she already knew were there. The light dances from one thing to another, just quick short movements as she jumps off the table again.

“Okay,” she calls back. A look and the light is sent up to the vent hole, then away as she jogs down the hallway. It’s easier now, she probably should always bring a flashlight when she goes into dark places.

The light bobs with each step, but it’s still directed into those dark rooms she’s already visited. It can’t be helped, she’s curious to see what’s there with her eyes and not just her sounds. But since people are waiting for her — and she told them there’s no other way out — Squeaks keeps her mission on gathering a couple of chairs and dragging them back to the table. It’s not the safest climbing structure, but maybe it will work.

It's absolutely a lab. Everything inside looks like it's from sometime in the 1980s, the computers, the furniture, the…

What's this?

In one of the rooms where Squeaks is looking for tables and chairs to move, she spies an unusual detail to the furniture she’d sensed. One of the tables isn't a table at all, it's a wooden maze, the kind you run rats through. There's a chalkboard in the room that has mostly erased equations on it, some old folders full of paperwork, and most unusually a video camera set up on a tripod facing the maze. Everything is covered in a thick layer of dust and grime.

As her flashlight sweeps around the room, she notices that aside from the erases equations on the blackboard there's also what looks like a chalk sketch of a map. There's a square that must be a building marked DB, street names and intersections, and then a list of names.

A. Baumann
W. Renautas
D. Trafford
A. Smith
N. Dawson
V. Mas
R. Ayers
M. Cambria
C. Morrison
C. Roux
R. Drucker
F. Mansoor

There's others, but they're erased.

Outside, Rhys comes jogging back in with his duffel bag and a second rope. Seeing the setup Corbin helped get together, he steps in to the freezing cold, shallow water and brings the rope over to them. “Is she ok? Oh please let that kid be okay.” Then, quieter, “No one tell Gillian she fell through a ceiling?”

He absolutely has to tell Gillian.

At first she passes the room, but only by a couple of steps. So when her brain catches up to the stranger things that catch the beam of light, things that aren’t computers from another century, Squeaks actually walks backward until she’s facing into the room. Her light moves slowly, first following the walls and alleys of that strange maze table then lifting to the camcorder when it catches the light. “Weird,” she breathes, and she takes a few steps into the room to take a better look at what’s in it.

“What.” Her eyes squint a little as her light finds the chalkboard, and she spends a minute to study the erased and not erased parts. That’s definitely something strange. She finds a pencil during a quick look through those old folders, and one of the folders becomes a canvas for quick sketches of the map and another has the list of names scribbled onto it. She works as fast as she can to copy it all down, lower lip caught between her front teeth in concentration. She even double and triple checks spelling and map lines before she’s satisfied with it.

Those folders, and the ones that she didn’t use are tucked against her back with the ones found earlier. Then the teenager goes to the camcorder to take it completely off the tripod. There might be something in it, but if it’s like the other one she found it’s going to need power that doesn’t exist in this place. Once she’s got that thing in her possession also, she’ll find those chairs and get the heck out of this strange secret room.

“I’m not saying a word to her,” Lance mutters in response to Rhys’ request, because if she found out he let Squeaks crawl up a vent completely alone he’d be in some deep shit with his almost-mother. He assumes, anyway.

He helps with the rope and the hauling, and he’s there to reach up and help the younger teenager down with a grin, turning to deposit her back into the water with the rest of them. “There you go— scared us there, li’l sister.”

With the return of Rhys, Corbin knots the other rope onto the end of his so that he can allow her more slack so she can get the rope around her better for safety. He tests the knot a few times with a really strong pull or three, and is pretty sure it will hold. It’s not an exact sailor’s knot, but it should be enough if it takes more than him and Niki to pull her up. Assuming the makeshift climb she put together wasn’t enough. “We got some extra slack on the rope, so we should be able to get you up.”

Especially if those chairs prove as strong as the ceiling. “I’m not telling her,” he responds with a shrug, though he will have to put it in his report in the end. Even if he knows there’s one thing he intends to leave out.

Once the rope has been fed through the vents, Niki lets Corbin back down and rolls her shoulders. Then, she waits with a grim face, listening for the sounds through the ventilation shaft that signal Squeaks is ready to return to their side of the wall. Only once the teenager is safely back with them does she finally relax.

“Good work, kid,” the blonde commends, nodding in approval of the artifacts scavenged from the forgotten laboratory.

There’s a nervous look in Rhys’ eyes even once Squeaks is safely back on the other side of the wall. Sweeping the area with his flashlight, he shakes his head and takes a step forward, gently placing one hand on Corbin’s shoulders, then looking back to the passage behind them. The dusty, mold-splotched file folders clutched to Squeaks’ chest elicit a twitch from one of Rhys’ brows, and the young man shines his flashlight up into the duct she emerged from, then back down to the floor at his feet, reflecting off of the water.

It isn’t that Rhys is nervous for Squeaks, but rather he seems nervous about the contents removed from the sealed room. Wringing his flashlight in two hands, Rhys moves past Corbin and takes a step closer to the others. “Corbin and I are going to need to take a look at those before anyone else does,” those were the rules. “But… okay. This…” he looks back to Corbin, nervously, then over to Niki, then back to Squeaks.

“Let’s go up that way, see if there’s anything left of the old archive.” Rhys seems eager to move away from the vent, from where all of this went down, and whatever it was Squeaks has dredged up from the dark. Though it was what they’d come out here to do, there was some small part of him that didn’t think they’d find anything. Corbin and Bowie’s legwork paid off, though at what cost Rhys wasn’t yet sure.

“Come on,” he urges, turning his flashlight away from the group, “this way…”

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