KATIPO I: Restart: Part Five
You have never been to this particular stretch of the Brightvale Coast before, and, honestly, you wish you could be coming here for different reasons.
The landscape is breathtaking. You would compare it to a faerietale, but — that’s the funny thing — this is where all the faerietales take place. You can see farms on the hills where future knights do their morning chores, and you can see castles in the distance where heroes plan their next journey. The fields of flowers seem endless, and the bright-coloured flags that dot the dirt paths to and from the neighbouring towns seem almost surreal in their mystical beauty. Spending so much of your time around technology has really taken a toll on your appreciation for these sorts of things, you realise — flowers, and the scent of the ocean, and the quietness of crisp morning air, free of the whirring of streetlamps and spaceships...
But, unfortunately, you can’t enjoy it.
You’re supposed to find the one place around here that is full of technology.
The more and more steps you and your partners take through these lush green meadows, though, the more convinced you grow that this supposedly technologically advanced headquarters doesn’t actually exist. How could it? Where could the electricity be driven from? Everything is so peaceful here...
Well, peaceful, until you hear a gentle beeping coming from your earpiece, and you sigh loudly enough at the technological disturbance that both Sam and Riff turn to look at you. “I’m here, Tee,” you say, already knowing that Tony is the one on the other end of the call.
And he is. You hear him cough, then clear his throat, then, “Awright, the GPS says y’all are right b’side the entrance now. Can you guys feel any currents?”
You repeat the message to Sam: “Can you feel any currents?”
She hums a bit to herself, making a face at the ground, dragging her toes across the grass and kicking up a few flecks of dirt. An angry Moach hops out of the way of her claws, then she shakes her head no; pauses, then nods yes, still looking hesitant. “Now that you mention it,” she says slowly, turning to angle her head over her shoulder, “I think so... but just kinda. Barely.”
The reason the academy keeps Sam on the force, despite her perpetually terrible attitude and tendency to smash things that she doesn’t agree with, is that she’s the only fully-fledged electromancer this side of Qasala. She likes to claim she got her ability from the same supernatural force that gives King Jazan his powers over lightning, but everyone’s pretty sure she only says that to try to sound more interesting than she is. Already, though, as she continues to drag her claws through the grass — feeling for something, you suppose — Riff is on the display screen strapped to his wrist, trying to punch in a code for detecting electrical pulses as quickly as possible. A race, sort of. The two of them always race.
Your focus flits between the both of them. It’s easy for you to feel enchanted when watching your colleagues work — seeing their specialisations in real-time action — but then, Tony’s voice comes in through your earpiece again, “Oi, Cam?”
“I’m here, I’m here,” you say, sounding surprised, and Riff looks over his shoulder at you — gives three quick blinks, then finishes inputting his ridiculously long number sequence into his wristpiece.
Tony says, “Did you find it?” in the same second Riff says a cheery, “Got it!” You tell Tony yes, and you thank him for the info, and you ask him to keep an eye on your location in case something goes awry, and then the three of you are off again — in silence.
Riff keeps staring at his wristpiece as he begins to lead you and Sam towards a crevice in the mountainside that none of you had seen until now. It’s a little pathway hewn into the rock that had been completely concealed behind tree branches and shrubbery, but, of course, Riff’s got a fancy machine for everything. Finding secret passages? Check. You all continue without hesitation.
The farther you and your partners walk through this passage, though, the deeper the sinking feeling in your stomach that screams everything’s about to go wrong roots itself. You decided to try to distract yourself from the churning by taking in the scenery as much as you can while you can — lift your eyes to the blue and cloud-dotted skies, listening to the rustling of the grasses below and the Crokabeks cawing above; the crunching of Sam’s claws against the dirt and the waves crashing down upon the Brightvale coast’s beaches. You’re feeling your worry as a thorn in the back of your throat, and it stings, and it’s distracting; but, just when the surrounding realm’s beauty has helped you to almost swallow it, Riff’s saying a soft, shocked, “Woah...” brings you back to the mission at hand, and you sigh long.
When you finally turn your focus back before you — back to where you’ve been heading — you find yourself in the middle of the ruins of what looks like a collection of ancient crypts and tombs — or, what once were crypts and tombs. Crumbling concrete pillars painted with cracks and Spyderwebs lie in piles of rubble across the ground, covering the grasses in white, snow-like dust. The greenness of the grass that frames this collection of what-once-were-buildings slowly fades into dirt and rubble as you look farther up the pathway upon which you now stand, then your eyes finally rest upon an intricately carved and arched doorway that leads, presumably, underground. What sounds like a howling wind comes from within the maw of this artificial cave. A whirring, a clicking, a buzzing...
Sam sneezes, then says a short, sober, “Yep.”
The one syllable is enough for you — and seemingly Riff, too — to understand that she’s definitely sensing some sort of electrical current in what should be nothing but a medieval graveyard, and you, once again, sigh at the thought.
But work is work, and you’re the head of this mission, apparently, so you’re the one who takes the first few steps forward, reaching for the blaster that’s holstered to your hip, just to check to make sure it’s still there, or something. You’re not sure if you’ll need to be prepared for something bad, but just in case... “Let’s just get this over with,” you mumble, surprised by how sleepy your voice sounds, then you hear the other two’s unenthusiastic footsteps following close behind.
When you finally enter the whatever-this-place-is, it still looks and feels nothing but completely medieval. You hear a whirring of machinery — or, what you’re assuming is machinery — and praying isn’t zombies — but a small part of you still isn’t convinced. This just looks like a crypt to you — dark, damp, and dismal; covered in dust, and moss, and Spyderewebs; mostly silent, totally uncomfortable, and far too claustrophobic for comfort. You feel a shiver shoot up your spine, then the backs of your knees tense. You scratch your neck nervously. Riff types a few more numbers and letters into his wristpiece, then leads you and Sam down a small side corridor with an impassive, “This way.”
It's here that you realise that the three of you are descending, and fast. There’s no stairwell, and no concrete, and nothing but eternally burning magical torches lighting your way, but you’re still painfully aware of the fact that the meadows you stood in just seconds ago are slowly getting closer and closer to the sky. The air turns chillier. Your inner ears give an awkward little pop. You feel the pressure of the world above you on your shoulders, and you’re suddenly worried that everything is gonna cave in, but you manage to find comfort in the way that the other two walk so calmly, Sam still trying to feel the static in the air and Riff with his nose still buried in his wristpiece’s screen.
You’re descending, and it’s taking a long time.
Descending, and the sun feels so far away.
Sam is the first one to say anything once the three of you make it... here.
You’re honestly shocked by what you see. More than shocked. You have no idea how you somehow didn’t notice the caverns’ rock walls suddenly being painted in blue, but the dirt and dust come to a sudden end as a platform of chrome comes into view, leading into a small laboratory. The torches on the walls switch to flickering lights. Coffins and shrines have been pushed aside — so disgracefully so — to make room for what honestly looks like something straight from the Virtupets Space Station. Everything is glowing a ghostly blue from the electric lighting reflecting off of the screens and tables and just general metal that fills this room. There’s doorways lining almost every wall, save for the one to your left that’s made up of mostly one giant computer screen — the screen being off, of course, seeing as this place seems practically deserted. Everything that you’d just been cradled neatly within — the lush seaside grasses and the calm of the lack of machines — seems like it had never existed, now that you’re here.
And none of you move.
You don’t know if it’s because you’re all shocked, or scared, or confused, but still. Nothing. Just silent stares, and deep breaths.
Eventually, you’re struck with the realisation that, oh, right, you’re the leader of this mission, so... “Come on,” you say, still sounding nothing short of exhausted, starting to take a few steps forward once more. “We just need to see what’s happening here.”
Sam asks you, “What exactly are we trying to find?” sounding genuinely curious for once in her life rather than nastily sarcastic. She’s still got that snarky undertone of pessimism that never leaves her throat, but something in the way her cadence falls makes it sounds like she’s honestly forgotten why you’re here. Or maybe you forgot to tell her entirely. She never really asks what’s happening — she just follows. It’s kind of a fault, really.
But that’s not really important. You tell her that you’re all just searching for more information about this AJ and whether or not this place has any ties to the lab ray, and she huffs. She asks for more clarity, and you say, “Just... first thing’s first, try to see if this place is at all connected to the ray, whether distanced or under the ocean. Papers, security cams, workers, I dunno, just... something...”
And with those very exasperated words, you finally convince yourself to step onto the cold chrome floor.
Sam doesn’t object, but she looks hesitant to follow. Her bare feet make this more difficult for her — feeling the freezing metal beneath her paw pads — and her claws make little clicking noises as she takes her first step, sounding like raindrops on a metal roof. She eventually gains her typical strength back, though, once she’s completely left the caverns outside. She sighs and joins you at your side while Riff pokes at his earpiece, still in the seeming sanctuary of the Brightvalian dust.
You ask him what he’s doing, and he aggressively bats a hand at you, though you know that the motion just means to hush because he’s trying to hear something. He speaks into his earpiece, “Yeah, sorry, just wanna make sure you still see us,” then gives you a worried glance.
You assume that he’s talking to Tony, and you assume that he’s only doing so because he’s a bit paranoid. He’s explained to you before how, sometimes, being in a space that’s completely surrounded by metal can cut off communications to outside devices — something about magnetism, or wires, or wavelengths, or... whatever — you know absolutely nothing about this stuff. You raise your eyes to the fluorescent lights that whirr above, and you’re a little unnerved by how thick the metal plates of the ceiling look. Maybe Riff actually isn’t being paranoid this time. Maybe this is a genuine concern...
Riff mumbles out a few “uh-huhs” and “mm-hms;” then, with a sighed-out, “Thanks, Tee,” he takes a little skipping step into the lab, suddenly seeming confident.
With a short nod, you tell everyone to begin searching the room, and they do.
Riff, of course, goes straight to the computer’s keyboard — which, to you, honestly looks more like a musical instrument. Sam taps around at the walls, probably trying to feel for wires or hidden tunnels, and you go straight towards the open doorway to your right.
You hear a click and a buzz as Riff manages to turn the computer’s screen on, and you all immediately look up towards its bright, bluish glow. There’s a long sequence of flashing numbers as it all boots up; then it flashes white, then it all goes black; then, finally, an image appears across the screen — live-fed footage from a surveillance camera.
Sam sounds in awe as she speaks: “That looks like...”
“It’s the coast of the lab ray,” you say, your voice sounding unnaturally frustrated. So this is the place...
The footage looks like it’s coming from a security camera of sorts, slowly panning left and right, watching the coast of the hidden island on which the lab ray rests lazily. The picture is so HD that you can see the expressions on the faces of the pets and their owners that await their turns to be zapped — or, possibly, doomed to a fate similar to yours... and Alex’s...
Riff clacks away at a few more keys, fiddles around with some multi-coloured switches, then, finally, the footage switches to a different camera — still focused on the island, but from another angle. Riff’s “a-ha” at his managing to figure out the shortcut to switch feeds is said more to himself than anyone else, and when you turn your nose down to glance at him, you see him smiling proudly. He’s always proud when he manages to figure out someone else’s technology. A few seconds spent scrutinising the monitor, then Riff uses two nimble fingers across a touchscreen before him to swipe to new cameras — new angle, after angle, after angle, after angle...
But then the loop stops.
You’re back at the beginning.
And all three of you say in unison, “No, no, there’s got to be more.”
Well, at least you all can still find something to smile at, as you all giggle a bit into your palms at the realising that you’re still on the same brainwave. All of your soft snickers help to make the weight of your realising that this is the source of the madness seem a little less cumbersome. Riff clicks a few things to shut the screen off, still chuckling softly, then mumbles a suddenly worried-sounding, “I hope that got shut off enough to not look touched...”
Sam mutters something under her breath along the lines of, “Who cares; they’re weirdos anyway,” then your focus is drawn back towards the open doorway to your right.
When you’ve finished staring down the dimly-lit hall and turn to look at your partners again, you see that they’ve followed your gaze, but you broach the thought first: “We should go deeper. I think we’ve just scratched the surface here.” You ignore Sam’s scoffed-out “duh” then continue with your thought: “If there are this many cameras focused on the island, there’s got to be something they’re watching for, you know?”
“Do you think it’s a someone not a something?” Riff asks, pivoting on his heels to face you more.
You pause in thought, but... “I honestly don’t know,” you eventually settle on saying — which, of course, is the truth. How could you know? This sketchy place is nothing short of a conundrum.
Sam’s seemingly gaining all of her confidence back again, because she’s the first one to start walking towards the doorway. “Okay, why are we still standing here, then,” she says, her supposedly-a-question being phrased like a blunt statement. “Let’s just see if these freaks are actually causing the bugs or if they’re just, like, keeping an eye on them, or whatever.”
And it’s true. That’s all you’re here for. And it’s probably better to get this over with while the place seems to be deserted. You quickly trot after her, your wings dancing lightly in the stagnant air as you speed pace.
Riff’s nose is immediately buried in his wristpiece again as Sam taps her claws down this new corridor’s walls, following a path that only she can feel. The hallway forks, but she’s confident in keeping right. Another fork, another right. And another. And another.
Then, you all reach a doorway — closed shut, and with no visible means of entrance.
You hate locked doors...
But Sam’s got this covered. Or, at least, that’s what she tells Riff when he asks if she needs help with the lock. She confidently places one hand against the wall, taps around for something with two clawed fingers, then closes her eyes and breathes deep. You hear the faint sound of static as she channels a small electric current; then, in two seconds flat, she gives the door a little zap, and everything is cleared. The golden energy she casts from her palms clacks and crackles against the chrome walls, and you feel a tingle of electricity rush down your arms like dripping water; but then, the door opens — slides to the left to reveal a dark stairwell, and all of you smile in relief.
Riff sighs, seeming calm. “Good job, Sammy,” he says, leaning forward as if to get a better look into this wherever, though the winding stairway’s corridors are so small and tight that all any of you can see is the angle at which it curves.
Sam turns towards you with a smug, fangy grin across her lips, then extends one sarcastic arm out towards the hallway. “Lead the way, Cammy dear,” she says, her tone acidic, though you get the feeling that she’s only asking you to lead because the mystery of this darkness is forcing her worry to return.
She wouldn’t be the only one, though. Something’s starting to fill your gut again, so you feel at the blaster at your hip. That sinking feeling is back. It feels almost like a tickle in your diaphragm... But you’ve got a weapon, and you’ve got Sam, and you’ve got Riff, and you’re trying to convince yourself that that’s all you’ll need to keep any dangers at bay. Not to mention, they both seem pretty certain that this is the place where all the energy is coming from. You feign an infallible confidence as you finally take a few wide strides into the stairwell.
You hear Sam’s claws and Riff’s gentle footsteps following you down into blackness, but the way it echoes actually just makes you feel lonelier, and scared. You run your fingertips across the wall as your eyesight fails to adjust to the darkness — Stupid light-sensitive faerie sclera... — but then Riff turns on a little light from his wristpiece, and you’re suddenly glad that he’s so obsessed with that stupid trinket.
Eventually, lights begin to line the halls again. Eventually, the stairwell starts growing wider. Eventually, you see a room coming up ahead — an open door, and an even brighter light. Eventually, you all cross through the threshold.
But it’s the strangest thing, really...
Nothing is here.
The room you’ve found yourself in looks like it once housed plenty of equipment, but that it had all been removed — torn away from the walls violently, leaving nothing but faulty wires poking out in little sparkling strands, smashed computer screens, and half-torn panels of metal. The roof is entirely too high, and it actually looks like there’s another room above you — circling this strange pit like a dungeon entrance.
A dungeon entrance...?
Sam’s voice sounds so weak.
Riff begins to tap desperately against his wristpiece when its light suddenly flickers out, all the while Sam keeps mumbling panicked no, no, nos. You’re sure something else must be happening. Still, though you can hear the panic in both of their movements, you hardly pay them any mind. You’re too busy realising that a figure now stands at the edge of this pit, staring down into the hole like a hunter.
From the corner of your eye, you see Sam suddenly drop to all fours and make a mad dash towards the doorway that the three of you had just entered through, but she’s too late. The door slams shut, and she clumsily skids into it, cussing loudly through her feral Werelupe snarl as her shoulders crashes into the metal and her claws leave sparks in the metal floor. At the same time that she starts trying to ram the door open, Riff gasps, and it’s loud enough to sound like an expletive, too. But still, again, you hardly pay them any mind. You’re too busy meeting eyes with the being that now looms above you, and the sickness of betrayal that quickly takes over your everything. “Tatum...”
The alien Aisha looks down at you with a look of almost... pity.
All she says is, “I told you not to come here.”
Then the roof slams shut from above.
To be continued…