We made it! March actually ended and now we've all staggered into April with hope in our hearts and sarcasm on our tongues. And, just to confirm, dark humor is still humor. Use what tools you have for coping, friends.
I'm here to report that this week I learned a lot more about Roblox than I wanted to. I'm glad it's keeping my kids busy during their down time, but the constant updates of what each kid is doing – complete with running monologue as if there was a listening audience – is not something I could have anticipated happening prior to the self-isolation efforts going into effect. The pet rock update was pretty darn cute, though.
Otherwise this week has involved a lot of staying home, making and eating cookies, and keeping the home learning going for the kids. I know I'm not in the majority, but I'm liking this new routine. I mean, let's be honest, I'd like it more if there was someone else figuring out what to eat for dinner every day. Overall, though, things in our house are going pretty well. Hope you have a safe and healthy weekend!
“Why would they report in and then disappear?” Nate asked.
“We don’t know,” Richard admitted. “This is the reason we’ve been trying to find them quickly. Our doctors believe one or each of them may be injured and they’ve reverted to an animal instinct of hiding and healing.”
“I think we need to be alone for this, like they were,” Jerry said, studying the gym. “Is that all right?” he asked Richard. The English Professor looked surprised at the question, and then as if he was struggling to find the right answer.
“I suppose that would be… acceptable,” Richard said slowly.
“Can you show us the hallways the eleven used to circle around, first?” Ray asked. “I agree with Jerry. We’ll have a better chance of getting into the right mindset if we’re left on our own. I just want to see the rest of the escape route before we get started,” he added.
“Yes, of course. Right this way,” Richard said with a tight smile, holding out a hand toward the computer lab.
The hallway was a short loop that had the gym and computer lab at its center, with classrooms, supply closets, the mentioned training weapons storage (now just empty racks), and a few offices that all looked dedicated to teaching staff. This part of the facility looked like a mash-up of an office building and a high school, complete with what had been a row of orange lockers outside the computer lab. It wasn’t a long distance to get back to the door where they’d first entered the gym. At least, it wasn’t long right now, walking without being shot at.
“I’ll be cleaning up my office, right where I showed you,” Richard said. “Let me know as soon as you have any ideas and I can tell you if we’ve already tried it or not. There’s no use in having you run the simulation using tested theories.”
“Thank you,” Ray said. He turned away to start looking closer at the steel wall opposite where the one-way mirrors had been. Free weights had been thrown hard enough to make dents. Jerry looked around the computer lab while Nate studied the damaged walls in the hallway by Richard’s office. Richard was fidgeting with his phone, stretching out his departure.
“If you need anything else, or any more information, then –”
“You’ll be in your office, and we can find you easily,” Ray interrupted Richard smoothly with a friendly smile.
“Exactly,” Richard said. He smiled as if he was trying to politely swallow food he knew would give him Ebola. Not able to think up any more excuses to stay, the professor nodded to himself – grinding his teeth as he walked out of the gym. He passed Nate just outside the door as the Detective was coming back into the gym.
“Hey, guys, I was looking at –”
“Come and tell me what you think of this,” Ray said, interrupting Nate and ignoring that Richard turned back to stand in the doorway. Ray picked up one of the free weights under the dents in the wall. “How hard do you think this was thrown?” Ray asked.
“I don’t know… my best guess without forensics, though? Pretty damn hard,” Nate said.
“Let’s loop through the computer lab and the hallway once more. I want to see if we missed anything the first time,” Jerry called. Ray and Nate walked over to where Jerry was waiting beside the row of computers, leaving Richard hovering in the door frame, alone and out of listening range. The English teacher clenched his hands into fists and stiffly walked away toward his office.
“What do you think we might have missed?” Nate asked, genuine confusion in his tone.
“First we talk about what we already know,” Jerry said quietly.
“Security protocols are dead wrong for a start,” Ray answered. He kept his voice at the same volume as Jerry’s. “And these pass cards might as well be hand-written for how real they are.”
Nate’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and he looked at the pass card clipped onto his shirt. “What about that conversation in the hallway? Where the soldier seemed like she was reporting to an English teacher,” Nate said.
“She was reporting to him,” Ray confirmed. “Also, there’s no reason for an English teacher to run through a military simulation. Especially for the five times he said he’d done. Did either of you notice that Richard kept calling the kids ‘Hybrids’ after making a fuss about how much everyone cared about them?”
“Oh yeah, that was about the tenth thing wrong about him, right after a rumpled jacket over pressed pants and shirt,” Jerry said. “Now that we’ve agreed Richard is part of the problem, possibly the leader of it if how everyone with rifles is treating him, we need to find those missing kids before he does. At least we can plan on them being trained past the usual army basics. First thing when you’re cut off in a hostile environment is to find safe cover. Second is to find supplies. Third is to find a viable escape.” Jerry ticked off the points on his fingers as he counted them.
“And when you can’t escape, you do whatever you have to for making sure you don’t get found. Like sabotaging the security systems that keep getting fixed,” Nate said. “You two notice nobody told us when or how we go home?”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s part of anyone’s plan but ours,” Jerry said. “We’re only supposed to find those missing kids like the good soldiers we used to be. Then we’re disposable.”
“You know, after all these years, I still don’t miss black ops,” Ray said. “Don’t get me wrong, you were a good commanding officer, I just like that now I know I get to go home after work.”
“Guys, I never did black ops,” Nate admitted.
“Says the Detective who’s been undercover for two years,” Jerry said. A grin pulled at one side of his mouth.
“Point taken,” Nate agreed, and then sighed heavily as his eyes traced over the uneven line of bullet holes above the computer monitors, and two spotted trails in the carpet leading darkly back into the gym. “So, because this base is occupied by the enemy, we’re committing some major treason if we actually help them locate our missing kids. Also, they’re obviously some kind of mercenary force and will kill us if we don’t play along. What do we do?”
“We find those three kids and they show us where the other twenty-three are being held. I think their abilities plus our experience should be enough to get us all out of here,” Jerry said.
“Except every closed door between here and outside the fence is pass code protected,” Nate said, his shoulders slumping. Ray laughed quietly and Jerry grinned.
“Don’t worry about the codes. I’ve got a good memory for that kind of thing,” Jerry said, Ray nodding agreement.
“So, we have the codes to get in and out, and we can assume everyone but the teenagers are trying to kill us,” Ray said, his face cracking a grin. “Pretend the teenagers are the hostile force and that sounds like a normal spring break at my house.”
Nate laughed. “That sentence makes me glad I never had kids,” he said. “At least, ones I knew about,” he added, sweeping an arm to encompass the computer lab and gym. “Where do you think we should start looking?”
“Their dorms and any of the so-called secured areas will be under guard,” said Ray. “As will any common areas like the mess hall, training rooms, or mess storage and coolers. Anywhere those three could get food or weapons would be watched closely, but being teenagers I’d bet they looked for food first and a place to sleep second.”
“So we just need to figure out where they could get three days’ worth of food and water without being seen,” Jerry noted. “Then we’ll look around for a safe place where they’d be able to sleep.”
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