Rob washed the grease, sweat, and metal shavings off his hands, then checked the fridge for a quick bite to eat. Apple. Sure. He leaned against the counter of the cramped kitchen they’d tacked on to the underground base.
Jimmy’s picking up Bri, because they’re still doing their weird thing for whatever reason. Michaels’s visiting family, should be back soon. And Sean’s picking up more alcohol. Life is good, so long as he remembers the damn everclear this time. Glad we could get back together.
He chowed down on the apple. Need to get back to work soon. Again. Armor always needs tweaking. Gotta check weapons, mask is half done, might work on the BAT later. And there’s always-nyah! Fucking seed. He spat it into the sink, then threw away the apple core.
He passed the communal living room on the way back: a TV hooked up to a busted cable box that they’d jury rigged to actually get some shows for free. See, Sean and Jimmy? If you two work together, you can actually get shit done.
They’d already cleaned out the dust in the base from the (how long was it? Two months? Three? Four? Nah, just two) two months of disuse. I had to make sure everything worked properly again. I did check all the plumbing and stuff, right? Eh, I’m sure I did.
Everyone had moved back in, it was like no one had ever left. Jimmy’s door still had that skewed, paint spattered street sign with the gas mask picture on it. Michael’s room had his bookshelf with several different fantasy series of varying quality. Just like he remembered it. Rob drummed his right hand along one of the sheets of metal on the wall. Maybe text Amanda later, see how they’re doing back in Colorado.
The lights flickered a few steps later. He turned around. Damn it, knew it was too good to be true. Maintenance is never that easy. He mockingly glared at the lights in the empty hallway. They remained steady. Nothing else but the bedroom doors and that metal sheet to his right. Whatever, I’ll figure out which one it was later.
He resumed the walk to his workshop, half shutting the door behind him once he reached it. With the fan on to circulate air, he resumed his work. Gun needs cleaning. May as well do that. He took a seat at his stool next to the table and disassembled his shotgun. He plunged into his work for some time. How long have I been at this? Feels like a while, but it still isn’t clean.
A gleam off the unfinished mask to the side caught his eye. Fuck it, why not? He grabbed the mask he’d been working on earlier, a sort of welcome home present for Sam when he finally got leave to visit family, or whatever Lock Corp. let him do. He lost himself again in his work for a bit, not an unusual occurrence in and of itself. People entering, violating the most sacred techie law of not entering a workshop unless invited, was unusual.
Just need to sand down that edge a bit. Aaaaand there. Good. Sam, you’d damn well better appreciate this mask when you get back from wherever the hell you are. Just gotta make the filters and lenses. See if I can scrounge up some glass, some random cleaning chemicals, and a towel no one cares about.
“Hi, Rob,” said a vaguely familiar voice. He suppressed a surprised jump and looked up.
Two girls, don’t recognize. Not hostile, seem to know me. I think I know them from somewhere, can’t see one’s face under the vaguely familiar scarf, the other… don’t know. And what the fuck are they doing in here?
He jerked his head towards the door they hung back by. “Out,” he said. Both hesitated. The one who spoke seemed to physically recoil from his statement.
“Bu-” began the scarf-less one.
“OUT,” he repeated, raising his voice. His hand drifted to the shotgun. People can’t just sneak in here. Only four people besides me have the keys and combos necessary, and neither of you are them. No alarms set off either.
Scarf girl grabbed the other’s shoulder. “Come on.”
No scarf opened her mouth to protest, but went anyways without a word. They closed the door behind them. Good. He grabbed his shotgun and stuffed the box of shells into a large pocket of his work pants. I may have been alone in here, and the prospects of no pants may be tempting, but when working with machinery it’s still recommended you wear them.
Rob leaned against the doorframe, the shotgun held out of view of the people outside. He partially opened the door and leaned into the frame. Scarf leaned against the wall, while no scarf stared at the ground, rubbing her upper arm with the other hand. Both looked up when he opened the door.
Before either could say anything, he said, “Who are you, how did you get in, how do you know me, and what do you want? In that order. Go.” And why the fuck did you barge in on me like that? But that’s a question for later.
After a silent moment where the two of them absorbed what he said, scarf said, “It’s really hard to explain. I’m Miya, she’s Olivia.” Who is she talking about? Oh, right, the lair in Colorado. Fuck, how did I forget that? She gestured to both of them in turn. Buuuuullllllllshiiiiiiit.
“Cute. Try again.” He pushed off the doorframe with his shoulder, letting them get a glimpse of the shotgun.
“No, seriously. You have to believe us,” said the girl who called herself Miya, with a hint of desperation. She does sound exactly like her, but why is her face all covered up?
He pointed at Olivia. “She’s literally half the Olivia I know. An’ why you coverin’ up your face, Miya? An’ for that matter, why go halfway across the country for a visit without so much as a heads up? No, you gotta do a lot more to convince me.” Olivia’s eyes widened. That is a very Olivia kind of response. What the fuck is going on here?
“You have to hear us out,” pleaded Miya. Shotguns! “Some guy’s power did this. None of this is real.”
“So a power changed the two of you, which is why I’m guessin’ you got a scarf, an’ teleported you here. Somehow.”
“Kind of, yes,” said Miya.
“No power I ever heard of.” That’s stupidly powerful. You think I’m a fucking idiot?
“No, no, no, this isn’t real,” she said, motioning around wildly to the base. “None of it. That shotgun was in pieces when we first walked in, remember?”
No. Wait, yes? Fuck, what was I doing? The hell? He glanced down at his shotgun. Definitely in one piece now. I was cleaning it out, then I was working on the mask. I… didn’t put this back together at all.
“Are you willing to listen now?” asked Miya.
One long explanation later, mainly Miya’s explanation with Olivia clarifying every now and then:
“So, quick rundown,” began Rob, still behind the doorframe. “We’re in an alternate dimension thing. Reality is inconsistent, hence the lost track of time and the self assemblin’ shotgun. These are more mental projections of ourselves, so I’m forced to assume Miya has some sort of shameful tattoo on her face she got one drunken night that she lasered off before we met, and Olivia can now only crush people’s ribs, rather than cars.”
“No-” began Olivia, forcing him to listen closely so he could actually hear what she was saying.
“Yes. Your hug this time around was more bone crushing, rather than last time, which probably nearly killed me,” countered Miya.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean… you know. Um,” she stammered. Never have I met someone so in dire need of a hug. Still not sure about this story, though.
“Anyways,” he said, saving her from having to stammer some more. “This is all due to some local ghost story. Like the kind you’d find anywhere, or you’d tell around a campfire. Stop me if I’m off track here.”
“No. That sums it up.”
“OK. Now, you get around by thinkin’ about it real hard or something, you weren’t too clear on that. He’s doin’ this for shits and giggles, too. Forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical of this Matrix-esque scenario you’re paintin’ here.”
Fuck this. The shotgun thing is right, and it is a bit odd how long we’ve been in here without Sean or Michael at least coming back in. These two act exactly like Olivia and Miya, but they look super different. That and the whole reasons behind this are insane. Fuck this.
“But-” began Olivia.
“Idea. We’ll be going now,” said Miya. “Show us the door and we’ll be out.”
“What?” asked Rob and Olivia simultaneously.
Miya nudged Olivia, who, rather than taking the hint, asked, “And what was that for?” Well it’s a good thing I have mental alarms, because right now they’re ringing like crazy.
“Did you fuckin’ booby trap one of the doors or somethin’?” He began to push his way past them. So help me, if one of my team is hurt or killed because of that, you’ll pay. Probably why none of them have shown up yet, either.
There were three entrances to the base. All three were enormous slabs of metal, the only way to open them was to put in two keys, which would unlock the place to put in the nine digit combo. Try to pick the locks or cut through anything, and the opening mechanism would shut down, and the aforementioned slab of metal would cease to function as a door.
And before you think of trapping us down here like that, it’s actually quite easy to open them from the inside. The only reason you could move them in the first place was how the slabs were balanced. Thank you, Panama Canal, for that idea. And the glory of it all is that it’s entirely mechanical. No electronic systems for some techie to get through.
“What? No. You want us gone and we’ll be gone,” said Miya, rushing to keep up with him as he stormed down the hall. “Just lead us to the front door.” Olivia hesitantly followed.
He passed the kitchen and living room again and stopped at the blank patch of wall where the elevator should have been. The fuck?
He turned back around the other two. He pointed at the wall. “Wha?”
Miya shrugged. “I’ve never been here before. Is there supposed to be a door there?”
“Yep.” Fuck. I know damn well there’s supposed to be a door here.
Shit. They’re right. That’s why the lights are all wonky, I never flipped a switch to turn on that fan in the workshop or to turn on a light. This isn’t real. It’s like a lucid dream. And, hang on, what did I say about the lights?
As if on cue, a concrete wall materialized between him and the girls. Uh oh. A quick look to his left and right revealed more impassive concrete wall. He spun around just to cover all the bases. A pale, naked man stood before him. Don’t look at the crotch, don’t look at the crotch. Even though the lights had dimmed quite a bit, Rob could barely make out the man’s features.
His face is… blurred. A bare, rounded stump for a nose, colorless eyes, protrusions shaped like ear silhouettes on the sides of his head, and no hair. And no mouth. Your power did a number on you, you poor bastard. His head cocked to the side at a relatively extreme angle, as if he couldn’t get it upright. Oh joy, I’m in a motherfucking horror movie.
Rob couldn’t make out any distinguishing marks on the man, either. No tattoos or freckles. The skin was absolutely smooth, with the color of sour milk. The man, John Doe if the girls were to be believed, raised his arm in the general direction of Rob. He blurred every time Rob tried to get a better look at him. Are there fingers at the end of that arm? I can’t tell.
They stood like that for maybe a minute without motion, until Rob said, “Me?” Fuck it, let’s see if he understands human speech anymore.
The head twitched in the semblance of a nod. To John Doe’s right and left, images appeared, flickering in and out.
They were things from Rob’s memories, more specifically ones attached to his old team. The original meeting when they’d finally finished construction and Rob passed out the keys he’d slaved over for a week. That time he and Sean had walked in on Bri and Jimmy on Jimmy’s enormous beanbag. No one could meet each other’s eyes for a week after that. And I refuse to sit in that thing now. The one time they’d found an injured stray dog and debated whether to keep it or not for an hour before finally giving it up to a good shelter. What did we call him? Ranger or something equally generic. Can’t believe no one else wanted to call him Crushinator or something.
Rob shook his head to snap out of it. “How do you know these things?” he asked. A single close up of a twitching bloodshot eye, completely unattached to anything else, appeared.
“You watched?” A nod/twitch thing. “In my brain, right?” he asked, tapping the side of his head. Another nod. Really confused for a second.
Another silent moment. “What do you want?”
The memories resumed, taking the place of the eye. Rob couldn’t distinguish between them except by their familiarity. What is he saying?
“You want me to stay here.” No reaction. “You want me to want to stay here.” A nod. Living here, thinking everything is alright, everything is back to normal and just the way I want it. Living in a lie.
“I only got one thing to say to that,” said Rob, staring directly at John Doe. The intensity of the images lessened a bit. Lying son of a bitch. “Shotgun!” he yelled as he lifted the aforementioned weapon and fired directly into John Doe’s face.
The images, and John Doe himself, vanished. Fuck. How dare I think that’d work? The surounding walls disappeared a moment later.
“Rob!” Something hit him from behind, squeezing the air from his lungs. This did not help the sudden, incredibly intense headache.
He managed something along the lines of, “Aaaaaaggghhhahahag.”
“Right. Sorry.” She released Rob, who nearly collapsed. He caught himself on the wall.
“Give him some space,” said Miya.
“Sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Like the flamin’ penis of Satan himself,” Rob groaned. Fuck, this hurts.
A minute later, after the headache subsided enough for him to form a coherent though, he said, “Ow. I was just force fed all the crap I’d forgotten earlier.” I looped about three times. This last time I spent an hour just cleaning the gun over and over.
“What the hell happened with the walls?” asked Miya.
“That didn’t happen to you? I thought you two were the experts on this.”
“No. We were just standing there when the lights got all screwy like any good horror movie, then the wall between you and us just popped up out of nowhere.”
“Right.,” he said. He looked around at the all-to-familiar base. “Gotta get outta here.”
“Wait, are you looking for a physical way out, like a door?” asked Miya. “There won’t be one.”
Like hell I’m going to bend over and take this. “I know this place like the back of my hand. If there’s a way out, I’ll find it.”
He patrolled the whole area, checking every possible escape route he knew of, and a few he didn’t. This isn’t exactly my old place, John might have fucked up and left a way out somewhere. The two backup exits were in the same condition as the main entrance: a clean sheet of concrete where the door should have been. The escape routes he’d put in his workshop and every bedroom were also gone. The air ducts let nowhere, and weren’t big enough for most people to fit through anyways. He ended his search in the living room.
“Fine, you’re right,” he conceded. He crashed on the couch. His shotgun he placed on the coffee table before him, barrel pointed away from anyone.
Miya took the reclining chair, and Olivia threw herself backwards onto the beanbag. Wait, no. I don’t think Jimmy ever washed that. Olivia settled further into the beanbag, presumably enjoying the fact there were no wings sticking out of her back while it lasted. God damn it. I’m just not going to say anything.
“That never happened to any of us,” said Miya, looking over her shoulder.
“Well fuck.” Rob thought back to before he found himself in his old base. They were in the lair, they’d thought Miya had been taken, he’d been gathering weapons, then something black and shadowy jumped out at him, then here. He got Ben, too, if what Miya and Olivia said was right. They seemed certain of it, though they don’t have any idea why he’s not here too. Bastard, we have no clue how his power works.
“Maybe…” began Miya. “Maybe he can concentrate more on fewer people.”
“Hm?” Olivia sat up a bit. She’s looking over her shoulder a bit too.
“He had six of us. I got out, and now Ben and Olivia too. Now he only has three, now two, people to control. He’s not as spread out. This place was a bit more consistent than the place I started out at.”
“Yeah. Where did you start out at, anyways?” asked Rob.
“None of your business,” she said with the air of having explained it several times.
“Come on. You told me about Olivia’s place, and Ben’s place,” Which I need to talk to him about later. “And my place. What’s wrong with yours?”
“Because,” she began heated. She stopped and took a deep breath. “I’d rather not say. That’s all. Please drop it.”
He shrugged. “Fine. Whatever. We got a game plan?”
Miya tried to exchange a glance with Olivia, who simply said, “Find the others.”
Rob grinned. “Let’s do it.”