Tunnel Travels


claire_icon.gif devon_icon.gif

Scene Title Tunnel Travels
Synopsis Beneath Boulder, CO, Claire and Devon lay groundwork for what Wolfhound hopes will become a useful lead.
Date March 18, 2018

University of Colorado, Boulder

Plan A — approach from within the building — was a bust.

Plan B starts with lockpicks, the dead of night, and a grate on the north side of parking lot 319. It's an eerie feeling, being in the middle of what was just hours earlier a bustling campus full of students, faculty, visitors; of conversation, games, the hurry to beat the clock; of light and life and everything that goes with them. Now it is dark and cold and desolate, only the occasional sound of a distant car rolling across some road interrupting the still of the night.

The lock on the grate is old; it's simple to pick in principle, but stiff and stubborn from untold years of elemental exposure. Eventually, it yields, and the grate is opened — any potential rusty squeal silenced by advance application of WD-40. Below the grate is a ladder, and at the end of that, a tunnel. The hollowed-out corridor is probably ten feet wide, but rows upon rows of pipes line its length from floor to ceiling — white, black, brown, copper; some as small as Claire's wrist, others larger around than her head. Still more run along the ceiling overhead. Between these pipes and the metal framework that supports them, there's just enough space for a single person to walk comfortably, at least in terms of the horizontal dimension. At every supporting cross-bar, Devon will have to duck.

The air in the tunnel is pleasantly warm, and just mildly humid. A string of bare-bulb lights can be glimpsed behind the ceiling pipes, currently dark; based on the map, the void of the tunnel stretches to north and west from here, with north being the avenue towards their destination.

Whoever said that old skills learned as a PARIAH terrorist would not come back to be useful, it gave Claire a momentary sensation of usefulness and accomplishment when she picked that lock; hearing that satisfying click. With her dark gray hoodie, jeans, and half laced boots, she is at least more comfortable then she had the other day when she tried to look the part of a sorority girl.

Her clothing was much more practical for what she was currently doing, which was inching her way through old tunnels, lit only by a pair of flashlights; with only a sidearm resting cool against her lower back and knife made of bone tucked until her boot top. This didn’t feel too dangerous at the moment, just routine, so she doesn’t move with a weapon in hand.

Pausing, she turns to level the light at the feet of the younger man and the map he holds, it throws dramatic light up over his taller form. “This is all you, Devon.” Claire gives him a reassuring smile. “Get us to that room.”

He knows the map inside and out. He’s studied it, poured over the rough schematics and compared it to the overview of the campus as a whole. Eventually, Devon came up with a nearer to scale in various colors - the campus proper in a lighter color and the tunnels in a darker one, to aid with reference - and that’s what he holds in his hands. He’s studying it again when the Claire turns his way and casts a light on him.

Like Claire, he’s dressed to fit in, looking every bit the typical young adult in jeans, hoodie, boots, and backpack. Just overlook the firearm in his waistband above his flank.

The map is rolled up and tucked into the backpack. The straps are pulled onto his shoulders and settled as he nods at Claire. “It shouldn’t be difficult to get there.” Shouldn’t be, but Devon doesn’t sound like he believes it. He shakes off whatever misgivings he has about being in the tunnels and starts down the northern route, hand partially covering the light thrown by his own flashlight. Every so often he ducks or leans to avoid the pipes and framework that come too low for him to walk by easily.

The passage stretches on farther than flashlights can reach, its native darkness ultimately consuming those meager rays of light. A constant, slightly buzzy hum can be heard in the distance, gradually growing louder. The temperature seems to be going up, too.

As they walk, their lights pass over a sign attached near eye level: 'ASBESTOS: DO NOT HANDLE OR DISTURB WITHOUT PROPER TOOLS AND PROTECTION'. Fortunately, disturbing the pipes is the last thing the interloping Hounds intend.

The background noise becomes recognizable as a fan, one that rattles.

A mere hundred feet in, the air becomes palpably sticky, and their flashlight beams diffuse off a light mist. The temperature feels like it must be approaching a hundred degrees; ninety, at the least. There's an offshoot to the right that, by Devon's map, should lead to a dorm; by sound, it also leads to the fan that's now unconscionably loud. They pass it by.

At foot level, another label comes into view: 'HIGH PRESS STEAM'. Continuing on reveals the source of the mist: steam escaping from around a fitting. Any sound the leak makes is impossible to discern over the noise of that fan.

Luckily for Claire, she is tiny and there is no need to duck under anything, though some of the lower pipes might make her duck her head down out of instinct. For the most part she is silent, focused and on task. Her light swinging this way and that to catch on signs, but it is the tunnel with the fan that gets a true lingering presence of her light as they pass it. Eyes narrowing, looking for the source.

As the heat rises, Claire pulls off her hoodie and wraps it around her waist, securing it by the knotting the sleeves. As they get closer, her hand goes up to stall Devon behind her. “Hold up,” she says just loud enough to hear over the fan. No matter how she turns her head she can’t hear the hissing, a look of irritation going to direction that the fan noise is coming from, while she swipes at a bead of sweat. “Is that the only direction?” she asks just loud enough to hear over the fan.

If she had her full ability, she would just walk forward and see what happens, but… that’s not her anymore. Still, the best person to check if it is safe to pass by the steam is her, she just has to move with more care and caution.

A light shines more brightly than it had down the tunnel, illuminating the signs, the various pipes, the fan. Already slowing as the source of the noise reveals itself, Devon comes to a full stop when Claire puts a hand out. “Yeah. I mean, from here it is, we’d have to find another entrance somewhere else.” And likely waste time. He pulls off his backpack, and the hoodie follows.

Before he pulls his pack on, he digs into it again. In the dim it takes a few seconds, but as he straightens again, Dev produces two respirator masks. “Just in case,” he explains, offering one to Claire. The other is pulled on and snugged to his face. The backpack follows, settled again on shoulders, and then the young man begins moving carefully, slowly into the mist.

The hoodie stays in one hand, held so Devon can put it over the leak. Or use as a mitt to close off the valve when he finds it. But he’s continuing on, just at an even more cautious pace. The flashlight is back in the other, casting more light than before. “I really don’t like tunnels,” he observes, voice barely a murmur into his mask. “Never any good happens in tunnels.”

The steam is not truly an obstacle; sticking a hand into the leak would be unwise, but passing it by is simply unpleasant. As it recedes in their wake, so does the heat and humidity; after another hundred feet in the dark, the tunnel's returned to relatively clement conditions — for a tunnel.

Fifty feet more brings them to a bend, and the distinctive sound of running water. A short distance past the bend reveals a foot-wide drain in the floor, and what seems nearly a miniature creek disappearing into it. The tunnel floor takes on a steep upward slope for another fifty feet; fortunately, so does the ceiling. Everything at ground level here is muddy, where it isn't outright wet.

Hiking up the slope leads past the broken pipe that's gushing water into that 'creek' and to a four-way intersection, one that's widened out slightly into what's almost a small chamber. A panel in one wall reads 'High Voltage', clearly identifying the black lines adjacent to it; the panel door sits slightly open, unsecured. By Devon's map, west leads to a dorm and north (eventually) to the engineering building, among others.

There are voices coming from the east. At least two, probably male. It takes a minute to be sure, given the way sound bounces through the tunnel, but the voices seem to be getting louder.

While Claire did take the offered respirator — because you never know — she doesn’t really put it on, it has been left to kind of dangle around her neck. While she does insist on skirting the steam to be sure it is safe, the regenerator allows herself to be led by Devon through the tunnels.

She reaches out a hand to grab Devon’s arm when she first hears the voices. Head tilting a little, she puts a finger to her lips as she hones in on where it is coming from. Could be anything, but it could just be maintenance workers.

Finally, she lets go of his arm and leans close enough she can whisper, “Where to?” In other words, let's get moving.

As soon as they’ve passed through the steam, Devon pulls his mask off his face and allows it dangle at his neck. The mud is regarded with a touch of loathing. So much for making it in and out without leaving tracks. He tries to pick out the most solid patches to slosh through the least amount of mud and muck and water. He’ll probably still leave tracks through the mess, but hopefully he can minimize signs of his presence. And once he’s on drier ground, he uses his hoodie to wipe off the bottoms of his shoes.

Just as Claire is grabbing his arm, he’s already turning off his flashlight to hide the beam. He’s heard the voices too, and he nods at her. “Put out your light,” he whispers back. As careful as he can to limit the noise, he pulls his pack around to dig into it. He fishes inside quickly, not wanting to linger too long, and eventually produces a pair of glow sticks. The light will be more difficult to see by, but it will be less noticeable than the flashlights. He bends the first near the center and hands it to Claire after it gives a hushed snap.

Dev takes the lead again as he snaps the second glow stick, walking quickly in spite of the lack of light. He continues northward watching the shadows for a place for himself and Claire to hold until the voices manifest into people or recede. Preferably the latter, it would suck to wait for them to go away if they come this way.

A short distance up the north corridor are a jumble of vertical pipes and gauges that at least provide initial cover, a place to wait and evaluate the situation as it develops. The passageway runs on for quite a distance beyond.

The voices are getting louder.

Glimmers of light gradually coalesce into the haze of flashlight beams as seen from the side, bouncing around rather haphazardly as their holders walk. Footsteps become discernible but not decipherable, a muddle of treads overlapping one another.

"…so anyway, the guy? Was apparently — I kid you not — the college president. Out taking a steam bath to hydrate his wrinkly-ass old skin."

"Ugh." The second speaker's shudder is audible in his voice. "Man, that's gotta be even worse than finding a ghost down here."

The first speaker laughs, not kindly. "Seriously — what is it with you and ghosts, Luke?" There's a momentary flash of too-bright light, then a wordless exclamation as the darkness of the tunnels becomes complete once more.

"The fuck, Carl? Give my light back!" The footsteps stop, supplanted by the sounds of a brief scuffle.

Neither of the boys seem to have the slightest awareness of their audience. How long they might linger in the intersection is anyone's guess.

The chemlight is taken with a short nod in thanks, before following after her teammate and eventually ducking behind the pipes. Claire listens to the voices, crouching down behind the pipes and tucking the glowstick away to hide their presence. A moment is taken to put back on her hoodie; with the hood pulled low on her head to obscure features, should the flashlight sweep this way.

Crouches as she is, Claire feels around to find something small with weight — something that will make noise. Finding something… is that a metal nut? Maybe? It is hefted, considered, and finally sent flying down the direction of the voices. Ducking back again, She waits… Hoping the clatter of sound will startle an already flighty individual.

It’s fitting that they are teammates, because when Claire begins to pull on her hoodie Devon is doing the same. The hood stays up, over his head and pulled low to cover his face, and it’s fitted over the backpack, giving him the appearance of more mass than he naturally has. Great minds.

While his partner is crouched, he remains standing. Drying mud and muck from the fabric is smeared over his hands and face and jeans. Hopefully it will aid in making him look frightening. Maybe an urban legend or ghost story of the school come to life.

His head turns toward the sound of Claire’s thrown thing. Devon waits for all of a heart beat then purposefully shuffles across the tunnel and a step toward the pair. Just enough noise to further exacerbate the creepiness. On the opposite side, he only partially turns toward the two men. He keeps himself obscured within the pipework and cables, intent on spooking them out of the intersection and elsewhere.

Metal tinks against concrete, rolls a little, the sounds louder than they should be in the dark. "What—! Carl!" There's a few more footscuffs against concrete, and then the sharp click of a light snapping back on. Its beam is swept across the tunnel. "See, there's nothing —"

Carl sweeps the light back towards the shuffling sounds Devon has made, overshoots, then snaps back to linger on his dark silhouette, such of it as is visible around the piping. "There's something!" Luke exclaims. "Yeah, probably just a creep," Carl replies. "Hey!" he calls down the tunnel, rather louder than necessary. "You! Creep!"

"Caaarrll…" The beam wobbles, presumably from Luke grabbing Carl's arm. "Don't, like, provoke the axe murderer or whatever."

"Man, you really need to lay off the scary movies. All right, all right…" Footscuffs, again, and the beam turns entirely away, leaving Claire and Devon once more in the dark. Their voices retreat down another tunnel, the boys apparently arguing the relative merits of serial killer versus secret society as explanation for finding someone in the shadowed tunnels.

Once the voices recede enough that Claire feels safe, she fishes out the glow stick again, filling the area with dim light again. The glow casts light over the Amarok’s Lieutenant’s features, revealing an amused grin, which she turns to Devon. “Good work.” Who says a mission like this has to be boring?

“Lets go. I’d really like to get this done and get out of these tunnels before I catch something,” Even though the regenerator has a reputation of getting sick a lot, at the moment, she’s making a bit of a joke at her own expense. Though in honestly, she will probably get a nasty cold from this trip.

There’s a moment when the boys turn toward him that Devon experiences a thrill of adrenaline. He remains absolutely still, but for an instant his mind races to come up with a response or reaction should they decide to investigate his presence further than just yelling. And when they leave, he’s just a little giddy as the rush leaves him.

“Shouldn’t be too much further,” he whispers. He steps clear of the pipes he’d hidden amongst and turns to lead the way east. “I can’t believe that worked.” As he walks along, he pulls his hoodie off again. This time it’s threaded through one of the straps of his pack, hanging close at hand.

Backtracking the direction the boys had come from soon leads to another four-way intersection, this one narrow and tight. There's an odd alcove in a corner, its original purpose obscure — storage, maybe. Currently it houses a folded-up card table (but no chairs) and a carefully constructed pyramid of beer bottles. There's no dust on any of them, so they haven't sat there long… which is a clear indication someone uses this space frequently.

The north and south passageways each lead to a different dorm building; east continues on towards the business school. It's 250 feet to the next intersection, 250 feet of dark tunnel that has curiously fewer pipes, none below shoulder level save a cluster of thin black electrical wires. The space feels expansive by comparison.

Most of the pipes overhead are white, large, and labeled with nothing more than cryptic bands of color. The walls and floor are scrupulously dry… curiously, as they draw nearer to the second intersection, they find the floor covered with plastic sheeting, perhaps evidence of a project in progress. The material rustles obnoxiously with every step they take.

The tunnel also gets lighter.

At the intersection, a T-junction with branches extending north and south, the lights in the cross-corridor are all on. There are cardboard boxes, plastic five-gallon buckets, and even what looks an old, broken chair scattered along the edges of the corridor — some of it probably in use for ongoing projects, the rest just detritus plunked down, swept aside, and ignored. None of it is large enough for concealment.

By Devon's map, they're almost to their destination — another hundred feet south. At least everything's quiet… save for a sudden clanking noise that shatters the silence, loud and abrupt… then more silence.

Of course, Claire couldn’t believe it really worked either, but she doesn’t say that. Only re-enforces the the fact that he did good.

The plastic is curious…. a little worrisome, especially the sound it makes when they step across it. However, it could be nothing. That does not need her from trying to step lightly and reduce the noise a tiny bit.

The hair stands up on the back of Claire’s neck at the sound. Even all these years later, a sound like that brings back the memories of robotic animals created to hunt their kind down. Luckily, there isn’t the other sounds like the escape of stream…. Still it drives her to snag Devon’s arm and press herself up against the wall, listening listening for more sounds like that.

The signs of life that begin appearing in the tunnel are noted. The bottles could easily be dismissed as used by those boys they spooked off moments before. The plastic may very well be from a forgotten project. Devon takes pains to cross it as light-footed as possible, and his jaw aches from clenching his teeth at every noise it makes until they’ve reached the other side.

He’s just beginning to relax when the silence of the tunnels is broken with a startling suddenness. Devon’s body goes rigid and he’s looking over his shoulder in the direction of the noise. The returning silence is loud in his ears and he stays motionless for a full second, anticipating further noise. When nothing more comes, he find’s Claire’s hand and removes it from his arm carefully. He motions for her to stay quiet as he begins down the south tunnel. And toward the sound.

As he moves, he angles himself to be less of a target. His side will be seen more easily than his core. He hopes. He keeps one hand ready to grab his firearm, the other makes light contact with the wall to maintain space and balance at such an angle of travel. Hopefully whatever made that sound was just a rat, but he’s ready if it isn’t.

As Devon picks his way down the tunnel, the silence seems almost deafening. There's the quiet scuff of his own footsteps on dirty concrete, the soft rustle of cloth that accompanies his every motion, the muted rush of breath through his nose. The lights overhead buzz faintly, incessantly. Nothing else stirs.

One minute stretches into two. Three. Devon realizes he can hear a faint murmuring sound from a pipe that disappears into the wall beside an access panel — water running, maybe, or something of the sort.

Out of nowhere, the clank sounds again, practically right in Devon's ear; it comes from behind the panel. The murmur stops.

As soon as, Devon is on the move again, so is Claire. Not, because, she is using him for cover, but because he knows where they are headed. It is tough, sometimes, not to be the one out front. She’s is use to being the shield, not that it is needed here. Old habits…

The repeated sound draws her attention. Relief washes through her almost immediately. Of course, pipe noise. A part of her is embarrassed that she hadn't noticed it for what it really was. The irritation at herself is pretty plain, as she says softly, “Let's get this done and get out of here… I'm ready to be done.” With it all, really. Claire doesn’t like feeling this jumpy over nothing, even if it is justified.

The sound is startling, but Dev doesn’t whip around and draw his gun. He does turn to stare, head tilting to get a better listen at the sound, or the lack of sound.

“Hopefully it’s just someone having a bad Taco Bell experience,” Devon murmurs. It’s not a hopeful guess at what could be the source of the sound. He studies the pipe which leads into the wall panel, fingers prying at the edge to gain a look inside.

He doesn’t try too hard to get behind the panel. If his fingers don’t easily move anything, he carries on at Claire’s prompting. His posture remains much the same, creeping and angled and poised to draw if needed.

The panel is latched, but not locked. It opens readily, revealing a bank of gauges and valves that are clearly built into the tunnel infrastructure. No robots, and indeed nothing self-mobile or even detachable at all. No people either, and nowhere for them to hide.

Continuing south to the very edge of the stretch of illuminated tunnel, where light fades into dark once more, brings the two to their destination — or should. Unexpectedly, there is no open tunnel to the left, nor door waiting to be opened. Instead, there is a grate at knee-height, padlocked. Behind that grate is a crawlspace rather than a full-sized tunnel, a detail whoever put together the tunnel map failed to note.

Aiming a flashlight down its length reveals the crawlspace is at least thirty feet long; the light doesn't reach its far end, but it can be expected to feature a matching locked grate. Pipes and lines run through the crawlspace as well, tucked into its corners. One of the pipes radiates heat, and whoever decided to run high-voltage electrical lines through a crawlspace probably failed out of design school. Then again, that makes a good reason for the shaft to be grated over and locked. There's not much room left in the middle for anyone to crawl through, now.

“You have got to be kidding,” Claire murmurs, half under her breath, when they finally come upon the grate. “I’m guessing that map is older than we thought.” There is a soft sigh as she crouches and leans over a little to peer through the grate, flashlight shining through as far as it will go.

“Looks like a fun ride.” The words are sarcastic and laced with amusement, as her light falls onto those electrical lines. “I guess easy would be too much to ask.” Claire flashes Devon a bit of an amused smile, before reaching into her back pocket and removing the picks she brought with her.

Flashlight handed off to her companion allows her to have the use of both hands. “Otherside might prove to be difficult, but I guess we’ll see when we get there.” Claire turns her attention to what she is doing waiting for the soft click that will allow her to open the grate.

“Or the guy who drew it didn’t think to include this.” Devon’s tone is dry. He doesn’t look exactly thrilled at the idea of crawling through that narrowed space. He holds the flashlight for Claire to give her light to work and get the lock open. He splits his gaze between watching her work and looking over his shoulder.

“Could use my ability to take the other grate off.” If they do find another locked grate at the other end. Devon, juggling the flashlight between one hand and the other as he shrugs off his backpack, settles onto his knees to get another look down the crawlspace. “Probably’ll end up making some noise, but we could be far enough under not to draw attention.”

The grate she unlocked is considered, lips pressed together tightly. “I don’t think I’ll be able to do the same on the other end, if it’s locked.” Straightening, Claire backs up a few steps from the opening and gestures towards it. “You first.”

Claire will wait till he gets in there a ways before she follows, replacing the grate as best she can. Then she’ll move forward cautious and careful about where she touches.

After looping the top handle of his pack around one foot, Devon places himself at the entrance to the crawlspace. He takes a breath, steeling himself before leveraging himself onto his belly and crawling forward into the confined space. These narrow spaces definitely make him uncomfortable. He keeps himself that way, pressed against the floor with backpack dragging behind and flashlight guiding the way.

As he nears the grate on the other side, he reaches out with a hand. As his fingers wrap around the grate, Devon pushes himself closer with his feet, very nearly running his face into the obstruction. It gets him near enough to see what he needs, however, with the not fantastic illumination from the flashlight. “This is probably the worst idea I’ve ever had,” he states. He laughs weakly, the sound of a young man who knows it’s a really bad idea.

Still grinning like a fool, Dev focuses on the grate within his grasp. His ability works, to synchronize with the metal, to bring it into his control. And after fifteen seconds he uses that control to push the grate at one side so it swings open and allows them to escape the confines of the crawlspace.

Beyond the crawlspace is another tunnel, one with stairs down to the left, an unlocked gate several dozen feet on, and a hallway into a large, long room — one made less large by the machinery it houses. Clusters of pipes feed into banks of valves that split and continue up into the ceiling, supplying the greater building overhead. Large blocky metal housings mark air handlers and heat exchangers, while the cylindrical tank along one wall is obviously a water heater. Others have the look of electrical boxes. Two other doors lead out of the room, presumably into the business school proper.

Picking through the room reveals a number of storage cabinets as well, and three desks sited where they happen to fit between pieces of equipment. Each desk has a logbook and a phone: square base with handset, a small LCD screen at the top of the base, and a label with its number.

Emerging into the room, Claire is thankful that it was currently empty. A search of the room, a flip through the logs, and a check at each door. Finally, she nods. “Alright. Let’s get this done. Quickly.” A smile is offered to Devon, motioning for him to open the pack. “I’ll try to keep a look out and help where I can.”

Claire reaches in the pack and starts extracting cameras. “I think we should try to get at least one camera on each or the other phones, just in case. Two on the main camera.” She holds up another pair, “I’ll get one of these on each door.” With that she is off to do just that, trusting Devon to do just that.

As he enters the room, Devon takes a good long look around. He takes notes of details, the standard accoutrements that belong in an office, the subtler nuances of those who dwell in the office. As Claire speaks up, he drags off his backpack and sets it on the floor. Crouching with it, he opens the compartments and lets Claire take charge of the camera. After those are extracted, he begins taking out tools: a precision driver kit, needle nose pliers and vice grips, wire strippers, electrical and gaff tape.

He takes the remaining cameras as the plan is explained. “If we have extras, we should try to get an angle or two that gives us the greatest view of the room also.” It’s a suggestion, tone lilted toward a question. He doesn’t wait for an answer, but trusts Claire to make the decision on that after they’ve covered the angles that have already been decided upon. He sets to work placing cameras as directed, finding places to set and attach them to where only a keen eye and someone who knows where to look would find them with some difficulty.

The same amount of care and attention is given to the two that Claire has decided to put up. The angle isn’t perfect with everything in the room, but she still manages to find a couple of spots that only someone really looking would find it. Work only stops when she thinks she hears something. A moment of stillness until it moves on.

Finally, her head tilted over and teeth caught up on her lower lip, Claire checks the position of the camera she is working. It’s tough, because she’s so damn short. Making sure they are on, she steps back finally. Eyeing first her cameras and then Devon’s placements. “I think that has it,” she says softly as she steps alongside him, looking up at one of the cameras.

He’s meticulous. It’s almost absurd how much attention is given to detail. But Devon wants to make sure that the cameras won’t be seen unless someone is specifically looking for them. And even then, he wants to know they won’t easily find them. As it is, a camera is placed so it looks up at whomever uses each phone, hopefully offering a clear shot of the face.

He cleans as he goes. After a camera is set up, he gathers his things and eases anything moved into its rightful place. It takes time, but he tries not to linger too long. Once all the cameras are in place and Devon’s tools are returned to his backpack, he gives the room a once-over. “Think we’re good to go,” he says.

But he doesn’t move for the crawlspace right away. He takes out his phone and takes several of pictures of the room, from various angles, first. Sure, they’ll have video evidence, if everything works out right. But they can use the stills as reference. Once he’s completed that, then he turns to lead the way back into the tunnels.

The room around them is not completely silent, its soft background noises the vital signs of a sleeping building: air murmuring through ductwork, the electrical hum of an industrial-scale heater, a harsher buzz heard only when passing near a control panel. This ambiance is a constant, readily absorbed and adapted to as the two go about their work, filtered out and ignored as the normal state of things.

Another sound is not. Muffled, distant, it occurs only once — a muted crump that is felt more than truly heard, and could be almost anything. The most that can be said for sure is that it's well outside this room… and not originating from the tunnels.

Perhaps half a minute later, a faint, rhythmic patter that grows quickly louder. A voice, just outside the far door. "Seriously, Mike, if you forget your card again— " comes as the handle is turned, the door pushed open.

As soon as the sounds change Claire is listening. Her head tilts in the direction of the sound, before she then she springs into action. She motions Devon into the tunnel, “Go.” She whispers fiercely. Recognizing that there is only so much time, she quietly picks up the grate, to hand to him so that he can slip it into place, once he is inside the crawl space.

By time the door swings open, Claire is ducking behind equipment, pulling up her hood and then keeping herself as still as possible, pressed close, ready to move with soft steps to keep the bank of equipment between them and her. Unlike Devon, Claire is tiny and thin…. Much better for hiding. Now she just waits.

He has also heard sound that isn’t a sound, and his initial retreat into the tunnel is halted. Devon looks at Claire, brows pinching together as he tries to place that not-sound sound. Maybe if he’d had more time he might have figured out what it was. But that thought is interrupted when there are voices right outside and the door is opening.

He says nothing. His pack is kicked into the open crawlspace at the same moment he takes the cover from Claire. Dev crawls in backward, scrambles, really, pulling the grate with him. He tries to stay silent, to move without making noise as he fits the grate over the opening and backs himself into the narrow space. Hopefully the grate will stay in place and whoever is coming into the room won’t stay long.

The man who barges in wears a maintenance uniform and knows exactly where he's going, beelining across the room with cellphone plastered to one ear. That he crosses the whole room means Claire has to move to keep herself hidden, but the man's too intent on his purpose to notice. He stops at a desk — not the one with their phone of interest — opens its top drawer and rummages through it. Not finding what he wants, he frowns, rifling through the second and third drawers below. "Look. I'm not seeing anything in the drawers." He quickly scans the desk surface. "Or on top. Are you sure it's even here?" A moment's pause. "Yeah… color me surprised. Not."

The man turns, walks his way back at a more casual but still brisk pace. "Uh-huh." He pauses in the midst of the room, head turning towards where Claire is repositioning herself again. "Wait— Dammit, I keep telling them to change the locks. I'll call you back." He orients on the bank of equipment, but doesn't approach. "Come on out, I heard you there."

With a silent curse, Claire slowly brushes the hood back, letting her hair free before she puts on an embarrassed and sheepish look, slipping from the shadows. There was a reason they dressed like college students… it was for moments like this. Fingers slide along the metal cabinets that she was hiding behind. She looks suitably chagrin, purposely not looking at that man.

“Hey,” Claire offers softly. “Can — can we pretend you didn’t see me here?” She seems rather hesitant….nervous. Which she doesn’t have to fake since Devon is currently hiding. Fingers reaching up to tuck blonde locks behind her ear, she angles a look at the ground, trying to seem defeated, “I think I just got stood up .”

It’s a rare thing that Devon ever wishes he could make himself invisible or cloak himself with shadows. This is one of those times. Since he can’t, he presses himself against the floor of the crawl space, willing himself - unsuccessfully - to be smaller. He keeps his breathing slow and even despite a pounding heart, no need to stir up dust and give himself away. It’s unfortunate enough that Claire has been caught. Nothing he can do about it right now but watch.

Which is what he does. Keeping one cheek pressed against the floor, eyes fixed on the grate openings, he watches the goings on that he can see from where he’s waiting. He listens, too, noting every word both before and after the man has caught Claire. As quietly as he can, movements deliberately slow and miniscule, he eases his phone out of his pocket and sets it up to record the conversation. In case things go south.

Faced with Claire's response, the man shakes his head slowly, conveying both exasperation and a negative response. "How drunk were you when — never mind," he says, raising a hand, "I don't actually want to know." A flick of his hand summons her forward, and in the direction of the door he himself had entered by. "Look," he continues, more weary than confrontational, "I can't just leave you in here. You're not supposed to be here, and you know it."

Claire managed to look horrified, but then covers her face with a hand, as she approaches. “Oh god. I know… I know… I just… You know those Delta Phi guys…” Thank you useless intel… not so useless now. She will never doubt those seemingly useless fact, again. “I… I don’t even remember getting here…But… I remember a dare.” Brows furrowing a little. She gives a nervous chuckle. “Too many shots I guess.” The hand drops away and she gives him a small smile.

“I think I’ll be avoiding those Alpha Delta Phi Keggers…” Walking towards the door that heads out into the main college, she looks over her shoulder; mainly to check the grate, but also acting as if throwing a glare back at the room, “Especially, if they are going to troll a girl like this.” She murmurs under her breath, “Assholes.”

He’s a shadow. Nothing more. There’s no one behind the grate. Devon remains absolutely still. It does them no good to both get caught now, not after Claire’s stellar performance. It seems like all is going well from his vantage point, and once they’re both in the clear, he’ll get himself down to the labyrinth and text the lieutenant for a rally point.

The man keeps an eye on Claire — as one does with a foolish stranger in a restricted area — even as he precedes her to the door, holding it open for her. "Might want to avoid all the keggers, Alpha Phi or otherwise," he says as she passes through. "Trust me, five, ten years down the line— " In Devon's ears, his voice is cut off by the closing door. Claire receives the end of a bit of paternalistic, well-meaning advice, and is escorted to the business school lobby and out through its doors without any significantly greater censure than already given.

Devon, unnoticed, is left behind in the crawlspace.

Left alone, Devon closes his eyes and lets go of all the anxious feelings. He’ll be buying Claire pizza and beer for taking the front on that stage and getting the maintenance man out without really raising suspicions. Doubtful he’d have gotten away with anything like that.

Pushing himself onto his hands and knees, he crawls backward and works his way through the crawlspace. As he enters more open space, Dev pulls his backpack onto his shoulders again and puts some distance between himself and the remaining grate. He retraces his steps, moving only marginally faster than before. No need to blow cover being hasty.

It may seem like forever for him, but eventually, Devon’s phone buzzes… upon looking he’ll find a text awaiting him.

All Clear. Heading to tunnel entrance. Will meet you there.

There is a moment, before another text pops up.

Ugh. It was like listening to my dad.

That might have been partly for Hana, who Claire feels might be monitoring their communications. Partly… cause she’d get it.

It’s roughly ten steps from the crawlspace when Devon stops to take out his phone. He doesn’t know how long it’s going to take Claire to find her way out, and his intent is to let her know he’s going to check out a couple of those places they’d passed on their way in, the plastic on the floor and the alcove and those too-neatly stacked bottles to be sure. He can’t help but grin at the message he finds waiting on his screen.

Dad voice. Lame. Going to take another look at things here. Won’t be long.

He’s never met Claire’s dad, but chances are he’s had similar lectures. He’s familiar with the tone that was being used as the man escorted his teammate out of the room.

Returning his phone to his pocket, Devon looks at the crawlspace. If they’d had more time, he might have poked around a bit longer. He could go back, but that seems risky even by his standards. Another time. Turning, he starts down the tunnel again. The need to move quickly is still there. He can’t be too long or they both risk being discovered again. But he can’t risk running, either. If there’s anyone still down here, the sound might eventually be heard. So he picks a pace somewhere in between; long strides cover the ground efficiently.

Long strides carry Devon away from the crawlspace and back down under the lights. Alone, the lit hallway seems even more abandoned now, the detritus scattered along its length giving the impression of a work crew having disappeared mid-shift. All it needs is the frantic patter of someone running scared, or a creepy silhouette emerging from where light gives way to shadow.

None of that happens. Aside from the sounds of Devon's own making and the ambient noises he's long since become inured to, the tunnels are as quiet as a tomb.

If he could be sure he wouldn’t be heard and therein discovered, Devon might start whistling a tune to give himself a bit of noise. The absence of life is disconcerting and the silence is unsettling. He can at least pride himself a little on not being jumpy when the pipes clank or hiss this time. The ambience is almost familiar, at least he can identify noises. He thinks he can, anyway.

His purposeful walk carries him under the lights and past the panel he’d examined before. Soon he’s approaching the T-junction. There his pace slows and he draws out his phone to take pictures of the clutter of boxes and buckets. A memory of Jaiden instructing him to get anything that might be important captured before investigating draws him toward the buckets and boxes, to photograph labels and contents first.

Once satisfied with his visual documentation, Dev starts shifting containers around. Box flaps are opened carefully and contents are examined. Buckets are likewise investigated, if the contents are easily identifiable as harmless. Otherwise he’ll just get more photographs.

Most of the boxes are unlabeled, or their designations given only by large handwriting in permanent pen. Some of it is old equipment, broken down, sometimes obviously broken and other times only presumably so. A few contain new parts still in plastic sleeves, batch lots of fittings and valves and cables. Several of the buckets have apparently been pressed into service as expedient garbage cans, holding waste of the plastic and packaging variety along with some bits and bobs of things. Others contain industrial quantities of connectors, ties, screws, and the like; a couple contain something viscous and synthetic-smelling, likely some type of silicone sealant.

None of it stands out as remarkable, given the setting.

Nothing nefarious, but best left alone. As best as he can, Devon leaves things as he found them. He feels safe in thinking that if anything is remarked as tampered with, it’ll be assumed it was any one of a few thousand students that have probably wandered where they shouldn’t be. He moves on from the junction.

This time, as he approaches the next target on his mental map, the young man has his phone ready. His flashlight shines up at the pipes and he takes a couple of pictures of the bands of color for future reference. All this before he even steps up to the plastic. That troublesome material and its noisy presence is also photographed from a couple of angles by itself and then as part of the whole oddly clean section of tunnel.

The backpack is pulled off a shoulder and pulled around to his chest to be opened. With flashlight crimped between chin and chest, Dev digs around until he’s found a pair of needle nose pliers. His pack is returned to hang against his back and he squats down. With the pliers he pinches the corner of the plastic and, as he stands upright again, he pulls the sheet with him and looks underneath.

Up close, the sheeting appears to be covered in a moderate layer of dust — possibly from nothing more than the passage of time, or as a side effect of ongoing work. Particularly close inspection of the pipes, or rather their supporting framework, would reveal particularly clean patches where the structures are anchored into the wall, and at a few points there are empty holes visible, suggesting older anchor sites no longer in use.

Beneath the sheeting, nothing is visible except concrete, its surface marked by scuffs and cracks such as might be expected for something that's seen decades of foot traffic.

At least there are no dead bodies.

The plastic is released and the pliers are jammed into his back pocket. A look is cast over his shoulder as Devon gives a second consideration to going back to the office. What are the chances that the maintenance man will return a second time? Maybe if he had something that he could claim was part of a prank he could get away with it. “Maybe I can talk Claire into a second trip before we leave,” he murmurs to himself, voice just loud enough to reach his ears.

With that thought, he sets to crossing the intersection and continuing on his way toward the entrance. As he moves from relative light into oppressive dark, he covers his flashlight to mute the illumination it casts. Somewhere not far ahead is that weird alcove.

As before, Devon becomes increasingly cautious as he approaches. His phone is out and ready to take pictures of the odd setup, the strange alcove and the empty bottles so precisely placed. It could be just leftovers of the boys he and Claire had spooked off, it probably is, but there’s that just in case thought which makes him check it out more thoroughly.

The alcove proper is a rather featureless little space — no panels, no old holes drilled in the walls, no pipes or cords transecting it. There are some discolored patches in the concrete, which seem to be literal patches, filling old cracks and damaged spots. The empty bottles are dry, not even residual liquid clinging to their insides; they may have been placed here recently, but the bottles themselves are at least a few days old. They also have no labels.

As his inspection continues, Devon hears footsteps coming from the western corridor, the one he needs to leave by. They're distant yet, but a few moments of listening suggests whoever's making them is approaching.

The flashlight is covered with a hand as soon as the sound of footfalls reaches Devon’s ears. He listens, not even breathing, until he’s sure of the direction of the sound. That it’s coming from the way he needs to go is not good.

He looks at the table for a second. He could wedge himself into the alcove, use the table as cover. The idea is almost as foolish as going back to the office, but he’s short on ideas. Devon throws a look toward the approaching footfalls and abandons that idea. He scoots a short ways down the northern tunnel instead. There he inserts himself into the pipework to hide, flashlight being clicked off as soon as he’s found a place to wait.

It isn't long before the footsteps are joined by voices. Rather familiar voices. "Look. There wasn't anything there. It was all your overactive imagination," says the one Devon recognizes as Carl. The beam of his flashlight comes into view first, illuminating the intersection. It goes dark as he sweeps the light south — "See, nothing there…" — then glares brightly but briefly in Devon's eyes as he turns it north — "…and nothing there, either!"

"Yeah, well, let's just — go in already," says his companion, the one named Luke. They turn south, and both voices and footsteps soon recede into the distance. Their cessation is punctuated by another noise, a muted thump that most likely corresponds to the closing of a door.

Nothing there but pipes and no one hiding amongst them. Devon resists the urge to turn his head and chance giving himself away when the student’s light cuts through the dark. He’ll suffer with those annoying blobs in his vision for a few minutes. He doesn’t move even when it becomes dark again, waiting until those sounds have faded, punctuated by the shutting of a door. Only then does he relax and take a deep breath. Time to get out of these tunnels before he starts believing in monsters creeping and crawling down here too.

Extricating himself from the pipes is an easy feat, even in the dark. Devon turns his flashlight on once he’s free and gets back on the trail to meet up with Claire. He skirts past the alcove and takes the path the boys had come from, resuming that purposeful but cautious march that will take him by the remaining obstacles and back to fresher air.

The rest of Devon's journey passes without interruption — no startling noises, no wandering people. He still feels distinctly relieved when at last he emerges from the dark, warm, desolate silence of the tunnels into the dark, cold, desolate nighttime environment outside. From there on, it's all downhill: the return to the hotel, the return to the airport, and ultimately the return to Rochester.

Left behind, spy cameras wait with unblinking digital eyes for anyone to enter their field of view — but most of all for a certain phone to once again be used. The infinite patience of inanimate things is invaluable here; it won't be soon.

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