The parking bay was what Ray expected from his times touring other underground facilities. Each one he’d visited before had been clean, brightly lit, nicely painted, and well ventilated. The tunnel and blast door they’d driven through now looked old and much too ‘Hollywood military’ in comparison. The rumble of diesel machinery stopped when the blast door was fully open. A soldier walked to a control terminal inside the parking bay, near the door, and Jerry glanced back to see he was punching in the same two codes Richard had used.
“We might not die after all,” Ray said, nodding at the now familiar setting. Nate was still looking around at the parking bay, his eyes absorbing the layout first and the collection of vehicles second.
“Maybe. I’m still Latino and you’re still black, though. And we haven’t done the simulation yet. I don’t want to get my hopes up,” Nate said with a shrug.
After parking the SUV, Richard led them on foot to the security desk where their pass cards were waiting, and then to the wall of pristine elevator doors. The ones that smoothly opened dropped them down fifteen more floors. The elevator stopped and this time the doors scraped open, jamming with a gap only wide enough for one person at a time to pass through, to reveal the mess Jerry, Ray, and Nate had been waiting to see. A warning alarm droned to life inside the elevator, adding a mosquito pitch buzzing into the white noise of banging, beeping, and cleaning up.
Bullet holes and scorch marks covered the walls. The wall panels meant to cover electrical systems were hanging half open or had been blown off, and the exterior doors of the elevator were buckled backwards (which is why the interior doors had jammed). Ceiling tiles were in pieces or missing, and the overhead lights were destroyed. Strings of caged light bulbs had been hung from one wall to brighten the hallway for safe walking. The floor tiles were chipped and broken, but the floor had been swept so nothing shifted loosely underfoot. Dust, debris, and shrapnel were shoved against the walls in piles, and the piles only had six meters between them at most. Workers were at some of the electrical system panels, their work spaces brightened by free-standing lights and watched over by armed soldiers. The tired workers didn’t look up as the newcomers passed them, but Jerry noticed the soldier’s postures each straightened.
Richard led the small group to a hallway where floor to ceiling windows had once lined an entire side. Kevlar nets had been secured across the openings and the shattered glass swept to the other side of the hall.
Jerry stopped to look through the net and found a high-ceilinged, indoor jungle on the other side. It was dark in there; the only light was from the wire-caged bulbs in the hallway, but he could hear trickling water. Some kind of medium-sized, yellow parrot was hanging on the other side of the net and cleaning its feathers with its beak. Jerry wrapped his fingers around one strand of the net, his hand close to the bird. The yellow parrot barely glanced at his fingers before going back to preening its wing. It ruffled its feathers, chirped calmly as it looked around, and then flew away to land on a low branch of the nearest tree, its bright colors fading to disappear into the shadows. The flapping triggered more birds to fly to different perches, all of them silent or quietly chirping during their short bursts of flight. Regular reflections aligned with the splashing sounds and Jerry could just make out the silhouette of a low fountain.
“Is it night in there right now? Down here is on a different cycle?” Nate asked. He stopped beside Jerry to look in.
“No. Down here runs on the same time as above,” Richard answered. “The damage from the attack affected the power grid so we’re leaving the lights off in all unnecessary areas. We need the electricity elsewhere,” he added.
“Are there only birds in this garden?” Jerry asked.
“Yes,” Richard said. “Well, except for a few fish in the pond. And this is an aviary – a large bird cage – not a garden, Mr. Karloft,” Richard corrected. “Why do you ask?” Richard stepped closer to the net and squinted toward the same shadowy direction Jerry was looking.
“That bench beside the fountain,” he said, tilting his head to point in the direction he was looking. Richard nodded, peering closer. “I was just thinking it looks like a nice spot to drink a beer and pat a dog,” Jerry continued. “But” –he smiled at Richard– “no dogs in there.”
“Ah, yes. I guess it would be a nice spot.” Richard spoke the agreement through a barely contained scoff that twisted his mouth into a frown. He hooked his fingers into the net and forced a smile at Jerry in return. A big, green parrot with a red face and blue on its wings burst out from hanging on the net nearby Richard’s hand, its screeching action scaring the professor into jumping back. The squawked warnings for its entire flight from the net to the trees was deafening among the muted noises of cleaning up and repairs. Other birds startled up into an ear splitting flock that crashed through leaves to circle the garden before settling again into quiet.
“Well, that was loud. Is this were you want us to start that simulation to guess where were our clones might be?” Jerry asked, turning from watching the reflections around the fountain to watch Richard quickly smoothing his jacket.
“No, not here. We’ll start you at the initial point of contact with the enemy forces. Follow me, please.”
As they walked down the next hallway, a soldier told Richard about two of the wall panels repaired the day before being – again – damaged. Richard glanced at the trio he was leading before thanking the soldier. She looked confused at his reply, but nodded and walked back to stand over a pair of workers. Nate glanced between Ray and Jerry before choosing to keep his observation about the strange behavior to himself. Neither of them appeared to notice the odd, short conversation between the Richard and the soldier.
“This is where we’ll start the simulation,” Richard announced. He stopped outside an open door into what used to be a workout gym. The damage in the gym was mainly in the form of tipped and scattered equipment. Only a few bullet holes pocked the walls and there were no scorch marks from small explosions.
Nate went in first, his eyebrows creasing into a frown as he looked around. “Why in here?” he asked.
“This is where the attempt to abduct the Hybrids happened,” Richard said.
“That explains the lack of explosion scorches,” Ray said, following Nate into the room. “Wouldn’t want to damage the merchandise,” he added under his breath.
“We think the attackers believed the Hybrids would be trapped in here,” Richard said, starting to explain. Jerry followed the English teacher into the gym. “Eight of the Hybrids were tranquilized. The other eighteen overpowered the attackers and escaped here” –he pointed at the door they’d all walked through– “and here,” he said, turning to point at a wall of shattered one-way mirrors. The room behind the broken mirrors looked like a high school computer lab. “Of the eighteen who escaped,” Richard continued, “eleven went through this study lab and seven went through the door we just came in. The group of eleven Hybrids acquired training weapons from a store room just in that hallway and then circled back through the adjacent hallways to this door. Security teams were dispatched, arriving from the elevator, and the attackers ended up between the group of eleven Hybrids and the security teams. And, well, you saw the damage between here and the elevator.”
“So if eleven Hybrids were fighting, and the security teams were fighting, where did the seven Hybrids go?” Ray asked.
“Into the nearest office,” Richard said with a heavy sigh. “My office,” he added. “I was lucky; I wasn’t there. They locked the door and forced off one of the office’s air vent covers.”
“So all seven went into the vents?” Jerry asked.
“Yes,” Richard said. “The injured two were among the seven, and they all returned within twenty-four hours of the all-clear. The missing three were part of the group of eleven. They checked in as safely returned, but then… poof,” he said. He held up his fist and popped his fingers open like a little grenade going off.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!