Chapter 14 – First Night Inside
Everything was just as they had left them a few weeks earlier. The light was still shining bright blue on the control panel and the door was still opaque. Without hesitation, they pressed the purple button. They had forgotten how bright the light was and it took a few seconds for them to adjust before pressing the green button. Eirik looked at the water rising, with his dive computer in hand. Fourteen seconds to fill up, Eirik noted on a white underwater slate. Now they also knew the process, depth and relative time to swim to the entrance from shore.
Entering together, they soon performed the same routine and, before long, they had removed the equipment and left them inside the corridor toward the left. Jack sighed as he looked at Eirik, who had already started measuring the dimensions of the chamber and written how long it took for the water to recede. The container, not having been designed to be submerged to this depth, had taken in water. As he unclipped the metal brasses and removed the top, he confirmed his initial feeling that the container had been as air-tight as a fishing net. But before they had time to assess the damage, everything in the container started to dry out rapidly as if by magic, which wiped the look of worries from their faces and replaced it by dumbfounded ones. Eirik, who had observed the scene unfolding, took note of it on his slate and was thinking “Facility one, divers zero.”
“Come on, give me a hand. I think we’ll have to lift it,” Jack requested, slowly recuperating from his experience. With the help of Eirik, they lifted the container, which was now completely dry along with everything in it and carried it to the corridor. “Don't
stop here, let's bring it directly into the first room on the left.” At that, Eirik nodded and they took it inside the room they had first visited.
Jack quickly grabbed his backpack and some clothes from the opened container and placed them on the bed. “I think we should change out of our inner garments and make ourselves comfortable. We’ll be here a while. We have three days’ worth of food and water, which isn’t going to be a problem,” he said as if in a hurry. “Then we need to sweep our immediate area before we start taking more notes.”
Eirik ignored him. “I'm so excited that I have the feeling I will just start running everywhere like a little kid in a candy store,” offered Eirik excitedly as he removed his suit. He took a long, deep breath and paused for a moment remembering his plan, and grabbed a notepad from the container that he had wrapped in a Ziploc bag.
“As soon as we are done preparing, we need to stop and think. It’s important to try and do this methodically,” Jack said, as he finished putting on a T-shirt and then clipping the backpack on his shoulders. “I have a lot of food rations and water in there, along with extra clothes and tools we might need,” explained Jack, pointing behind him. “I also suggest that we both sleep in the same room tonight, which would prevent us from being separated.”
“Afraid of the dark, are we?” asked Eirik looking at the bedding platform, clearly not happy with the prospect of having to share it with Jack. “There is a room just like this on the other side.”
“Maybe you're right, but I still think that it would be safer for both of us to be together,” Jack insisted, remembering some training he had taken back in the States during his short trial at a military career. “It is true that the place seems totally deserted, but I don't think it’s reason enough to lower our guard,” he added, looking at Eirik who truly was not convinced. “I want to treat this as a reconnaissance mission. It is true that the place looks structurally sound, but we can't be sure that it is completely secure. A lot of things could be lurking behind every corner and that’s why I’m planning to carry my backpack with me everywhere.”
“I’m surprised. Technically I’m the civilian and you are the military-trained soldier. Why are you afraid and I'm not?”
“Knowledge and experience,” responded Jack sharply. “Carrying a backpack with tools and extra rations may seem ridiculous if you walk in an office building, but this place may be protected. They may have booby-traps installed. We might get lost for days and let's face it—we have determined it is extremely big. Maybe we're not alone here and when I face whatever is in here, I will not do it empty-handed,” he concluded as he finished fastening a long-jagged knife to his belt.
“Whatever you say, Rambo,” shrugged Eirik. “My approach to this is more of the peaceful explorer. I don't think we should be barging into this place, guns blazing like American cowboys.”
“I have been trained to be overly cautious,” offered Jack, feeling sad that all he could bring with him was a knife and not a sub-machine gun; but that was Norway, not Texas.
“Now that we have the time to explore, we should start with all the main locations which we have seen on the map in the elevator first. That will increase our chances of finding interesting things at the beginning. Then, we can explore the corridors like this one,” proposed Eirik, making his way toward the door now dressed in a pair of nice-looking black pants and a stylish shirt.
“Sorry, I would have to disagree with you,” objected Jack, barring Eirik’s way and placing a hand on his shoulder. “We should first explore the rooms around us–”
“For security reasons?” interjected Eirik.
“Precisely,” replied Jack with a smile. “I know you want to go and learn all you can and as fast as you can, but we need to be careful and methodical. You said it yourself. Don’t worry. I’m not saying that we should explore all the rooms on this level, which would take too long, but at least a few rooms in all three corridors.”
“Okay, it makes a lot of sense, but first let’s take our stuff here,” said Eirik.
“That’s the spirit,” cheered Jack, exiting the room and returning with some scuba equipment and depositing them in a corner. “Let’s go to the corridor on the right first.”
Jack was in front, carefully making doors vanish and exploring the inside methodically, starting with each side of the door, then sweeping from left to right before entering and making his way to the bathroom, but never entering it. He didn’t feel the need to venture inside and always kept one hand on the door frame as if he had been afraid of the door closing behind him.
Eirik, for his part, was busy writing down the symbols on the strips to the right of each door and taking note of what was in the rooms. After half an hour, no longer able to see the three-point junction behind them where they had started, Jack turned to Eirik.
“More corridors,” observed Eirik, looking at a new corridor that had just come into view on the right.
“Yeah, this place is so huge! We should go back; these are all mainly rooms with the same bed and table configurations,” observed Jack, sounding disappointed. “I’m not sure if we should venture to more corridors at the moment. We have seen enough in that direction and I don’t want to get lost. We don’t have any good point of reference in here. All the rooms are of various shades of grey, the corridor is grey and the elevator is grey, too.”
Eirik had readily made a map almost to scale, with the corridors, the elevator and the relative position of the rooms they had opened. He felt that getting lost was as unlikely as meeting Elvis, but he didn’t press the issue. “Middle corridor next?” he offered, more interested in not creating tension between them than satisfying his curiosity.
As they made their way back, Jack glided his hand on the wall, feeling the smoothness beneath his fingers. No dust or imperfections at all.
Arriving at the junction, Eirik looked at the decompression chamber to the right. It was lit and the door was still in its transparent state. He walked in and pressed the purple button at the entrance side and felt better for it. The door had reappeared and although a hundred feet separated them from the surface, he wasn’t sure if people could see the light at that distance, but he didn’t want to take the chance. They then turned in the corridor directly in front of the chamber, the central corridor he had named it in his notes, and started walking and stopped at the first doors which were facing each other. More bedrooms, he assumed.
Jack pressed the button on the left door and it vanished. Almost immediately, his heart started racing in his chest. As he turned toward Eirik, he saw the astonishment in his friend’s face as well. The room was smaller than the others and didn’t have any bed or drawers on the walls like most, instead they could see things hanging on the walls on the left. They resembled long boards that could have been mistaken for snowboards. On the floor in front of them was a machine which was not unlike a motorcycle, equipped with two seats, one behind the other and a little storage at the back. But what had shocked them was the lack of wheels or controls, and the base was slightly larger than the rest of the frame. On the wall on the right, they saw a myriad of objects of various shapes and sizes, some they thought could be mistaken for palmtop PDAs, and some as an advanced touch screen and remote control. None of which they could guess their usage at first glance.
“That is incredible!” yelled Jack as he stepped into the room and made his way to the odd-looking machine in front of him. Eirik couldn’t find his voice and contented himself to follow him. “What do you reckon this is?”
“Beats me,” Eirik answered, touching the machine and motioning toward the seat facing a black panel. It looked like the door controller, but larger. Looking at Jack who was on his way to grab his arm, he continued, “I know what you are going to say—we need to be careful—but since in the end we are going to sit on it anyway, what does it matter if it is today or tomorrow?”
Jack smiled, “True enough, but it never hurts to be careful and take a minute to see if we can understand what it is before jumping on it.”
“Yes Sir, but there is not much to see that can give us a clue of what it is. These are seats and on seats, one sits,” replied Eirik, sitting down on what he guessed to be the front seat. But nothing happened, at least not until he passed his hand near the black panel. Lights opened on each side of the device and the control panel in front of him was now displaying the Facility’s layout using the same holographic projection the elevator had done when they had entered it during their first visit.
“Wah! What the hell!” screamed Jack. Eirik turned to look at him, wondering why. Looking down on the ground, Eirik noticed that he was a good half a metre higher.
“I didn’t even feel it move,” said Eirik, nervously. “Anti-... hmm, wow, anti-gravity unit.”
“That is nice, it is a transportation device for two people then?” asked Jack, knowing the answer already. “It seems it wants you to select a location, but I’m not sure that it fits in the elevator.”
“Why don’t I zoom in and select our room?” asked Eirik, who had already started playing with the holographic projection. “That way, we will be able to see what it does on a short distance.”
“Sure,” Jack replied. “I’m going to follow you on foot just in case.”
Using his hands to zoom in, he noticed that a black dot was blinking on the holographic panel. “That’s it, that’s the exact room where we are and that is the room where we placed our equipment.” As he said it, he put his finger on the destination and the vehicle slowly started to move, making sure to wait for Jack to clear the path before moving toward the door and exited slowly. Everything was in complete silence except for a soft beep sounding at a precise interval. It rotated on its axis and continued for the ten metres, which separated the storage to their room in the adjacent corridor until it stopped exactly in front of the door. The hovering machine then lowered itself to the ground and the display changed. A series of pictograms were now changing in the top corner, but neither of them knew why.
Jack had no problem keeping up on foot behind it at a brisk pace. “Anti-gravity or magnetic levitation from the ground? What do you think?”
“No more walking!” replied Eirik, clearly excited as if he had just driven his dream sports car for the first time. “Let’s leave it here for now and continue looking at the stuff in the room.”
“Sure, let’s go and try the snowboards next,” Jack said, also thrilled by the experience, which in reality should have been no more exciting than riding grandpa’s electric wheelchair, but without wheels.
They both spent a long moment trying various equipments, some they managed to identify and operate successfully and some didn’t reveal their secrets at first. Among them, Jack managed to make the snowboard float, but it didn’t seem to allow him to ride it, but it could carry equipment. Eirik managed to understand some very basic functionality in a pad with menus and information that he couldn’t read. He also discovered a cutting tool, but with an appearing-and-disappearing blade that cost Jack the end of a strap on his backpack—a small sacrifice for science, as Eirik reassured. After a little more than an hour, it was clear that Eirik was able to use more equipment than Jack, but unlike the doors, Eirik was unable to invite or grant Jack the right to use them.
“I’m pretty much done,” concluded Jack, who was clearly frustrated with the situation, but stopped in mid-sentence and looked at Eirik who was trying to open a cube shaped object while sitting on the floor. “Do you hear that?”
Eirik stopped and listened: It seemed to have come from the corridor. He nervously approached the door, let out a low yelp and hid on the wall next to the door. Jack, who was still on the other side of the room, reached for his knife; he could now see two lights making their way up the corridor toward them. Eirik, being next to the control panel on the wall, pressed it. The door reappeared and the noise was brought to an end. Jack, who had not seen his friend press the button, jumped as he saw the door instantly rematerialized in front of him.
The idea was short-lived, as the door almost instantaneously disappeared again and they could see on the back wall two lights shining brightly. Too nervous to remember the noise, Jack ran to the opposite corner and hid next to the door looking at Eirik and raised his knife, ready to stab whoever was coming in the room. He finally recognised the sound of the beep… beep… beep… as the vehicle Eirik had just rode an hour ago entered the room and took its position in front of the back wall.
Jack, his eyes now returning to Eirik, sunk to the ground still clutching the knife in both hands and shaking a little. Eirik, not yet dazed off the shock, looked at him and collapsed in his turn, slumped against the wall and started laughing out of nervousness.
Eirik was the first to break the silence. “Damn, I should have known: When I stepped down from the machine I saw the symbols changing. I guess it was counting down.”
“Must be to make sure it gets recharged or that it is not left in the middle of the corridor for too long,” offered Jack, but he didn’t think that thing needed recharging.
“What do you think? We continue opening doors up that corridor and then do the one on the right? After that, we go back to our room, eat and sleep a little? I have the feeling that tomorrow will be a long day,” proposed Eirik, his legs too weak to push his body back up.
Oh so you want to sleep in the same room with me now, chicken! But these words never crossed Jack’s lips.
After three hours of exploration, they went back to their room, the one closest to the decompression chamber, and pressed the button to make sure the door reappeared behind them. Eirik went straight to the bed and lay down. The bedding immediately formed around him and he felt warm and comfortable. He then took a pillow from the other side of the bed and placed it at the back of his head to raise himself in a sitting position. He played a little more with a notebook he had brought with him from the equipment room, scrolling up and down what seemed to be menus and text.
They each drank and ate. Eirik, who had lifted his nose on the Meal Ready-to-Eat at first, soon realised that it had tasted much better than anticipated. Without refrigeration, it seemed that MREs would comprise their entire diet in the near future, but to his surprise, he didn’t mind.
“I’ll pass out in the chair here; it seems comfortable enough,” offered Jack, pointing to the slightly inclined chair in the corner.
“Ok, I’ll study this a little and then I’ll see if I can close the lights, unless you prefer that I leave them open for the night?” asked Eirik, but the only response he got were snores.