“You’re sure,” Phillip said.
While it seemed to be meant as a question, it didn’t escape Thomas that it sounded more like a statement, or worse, a command. With a hard stare, he locked his gaze to Phillip’s. The magnified eyes behind cracked and scratched lenses met his stare. There was a time when Thomas would have been quick to break such an exchange. The smallest of smiles flicked at the corner of his mouth as Phillip turned to look down the empty hallway.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Thomas said. “Though, to be honest, I’m still not sure you’re right about being able to summon up Martin. If you are, I’ll consent to letting him take control on one condition. You have to succeed, and the others need to make it out of here.”
This time it was Phillip’s turn to flash the smallest flicker of a smile. “Just the others?” He said, glancing back to Thomas.
“You heard me,” Thomas replied.
Phillip nodded, and said, “Agreed.” He rose to his feet in a smooth motion with a fluidity that Thomas would have expected from a young gymnast. Closing the gap between them, Phillip extended his hand, offering to help Thomas up.
With a sarcastic snort, Thomas clasped the offered hand, and the world around him vanished into an inky blackness. The blackness was complete, and Thomas thought he could feel all of his senses strain to sense anything. The sound of a splash erupted around him as his feet suddenly felt purchase. There wasn’t any upward pressure like he hand landed on a water covered surface. Instead it was like the surface below him just materialized out of thin air. A blueish hue started to fill the dark void. It was as if an inverted sunrise was happening behind him. Looking down, he appeared to be standing in about an inch of water, with bare feet.
In the water’s soft ripples he saw motion towards his left. Looking over, he saw the figure of a short man wearing a white lab coat. White hair radiated out from his head like sparks dancing about the metallic sphere of an electrostatic generator. Thick rimmed glasses perched on his face. The lenses seemed to gather all the bluish light surrounding him, and shine it back at him.
“Martin?” Thomas asked. His voice sounded like he was standing behind a motorized fan, pitched up into an alien vibrato.
The figure nodded, and with a voice that sounded like it was from a detuned transistor radio sitting behind a megaphone, replied, “Yes, indeed. Phillip tells me you’ve agreed to take a back seat.” There was a deliberate long pause. “Indefinitely. Is this true?”
Thomas thought about Beth and Gus. He couldn’t see any other way. The hive mind, and Phillip, had to be stopped. “Mutual destruction is what he said. Is that right?”
“It makes sense. I suspect that he … the other … is having a hard time controlling the hive, weakened as he has to be thanks to, well, missing this,” the figure gestured towards itself. “The creatures will do their best to fill in the voids, but that will itself further destabilize the system. If they could reach the surface and make contact with other people, they would be able to stave off the worst of it by absorbing them into the hive. Maybe he could even maintain control for a long while. The strains in the backup facility weren’t ready, so it’s hard to say. I really didn’t think Phillip would take such drastic action. It would seem that I’ve underestimated him twice now.”
“And what about us?” Thomas asked. “You’ve said before that we are inseparable now. Does that mean we will be a danger to anyone? Will you try to resume what you did here, if you make it out?”
The distortion of the voice made it hard to pick up on nuance, but Thomas seemed to sense sadness in the reply, “No, there’s no chance of that. Just like the other is missing what I know, so I’m missing what it knows. To me, all the relevant processes are like trying to remember a dream. The more I focus on the detail the more the image blurs. At the moment, I suspect the other has realized that it doesn’t know the location of the only path out of this facility. Lucky for you, I do.” The figure tapped its temple.
“And you’ll make sure Beth and Gus get out?”
“I’ll do my best, which happens to still be better than most,” the figure said with a wide grin.
“Okay,” Thomas said.
He wasn’t sure if the water level was rising up around them or if they were sinking into it. As the pair lowered below the surface Thomas felt a sensation of weightless drowsiness overcome him. It was like he was stuck at the very edge of falling asleep. The distant sound of voices attracted his attention, but his attention was seemed to be sapped away from him as soon as it rose. All sense of time vanished. For the first time in a very long time, Thomas felt at peace.
Phillip felt an electric charge race up his arm. When Thomas grasped his outstretched hand It was like he was holding onto a live wire. He could sense his dark passenger stirring. He knew he couldn’t hold on much longer, but he also knew this gamble had to work. Without it, all was lost. Thomas started to pull himself up. As soon as he straightened to a standing position, Thomas’ face raised to meet Phillip’s. Two bright blue eyes met his own, seeming to bristle with electricity. Phillip yanked away his hand, and stepped back as he absently flexed it, like he was trying to regain circulation.
“Hello Martin,” he said in a flat tone.
“Happy to see you too, Phillip. Been a long time. How’re things?”
The thin smile on Thomas’ face was so unnerving that Phillip had a hard time looking at him. Before he could reply, Beth turned the corner. She was breathing hard, and as soon as she saw the two of them, she leaned forward, pressing her hands against her knees.
“They’re headed this way. I tried to get them to follow me, away from here, but they weren’t fooled for long. I had to double back.” Raising up, she looked at Phillip. “Were you able to …”
“Oh yes, my dear. The band is all back together!” interrupted Martin.
The tone and timbre of the voice was such a strange blend between Martin and Thomas that it sent a chill down Phillip’s spine. He watched as Beth straightened, her entire posture seeming to become instantly fortified with steely determination. Her gaze still locked on Phillip, she asked, “His choice?”
“Of course it was, my dear,” Martin replied with giddy ebullience.
Beth ignored him, not breaking eye contact with Phillip. Holding her stare, he nodded.
“I think I know where,” Beth’s eyes flicked to Martin for a fraction of a second, “the other one has gathered. I’m pretty sure he has Gus with him. If we can lose them, maybe they’ll return there, buying us some time.”
“How old does he look?” Martin asked, the gaiety gone from his tone.
Beth, still looking at Phillip, relied, “Young. Like when we rescued ….” The last word caught in her throat, refusing to come out.
Eyes almost glowing, Martin looked to Phillip, and said, “He won’t stay away long. I’m guessing his forms are decaying at an accelerated rate. He probably transferred recently. The hive mind is strong, but I should be able to keep the focus on me for as long as you need, if you’re planning what I think you are.”
Phillip nodded, and said in a barely audible tone, “Yes, it’s the only option.”
Beth hissed in a whisper, “We need to go, now!”
Turning, the three of them broke into a hard run down the hallway.
- : Horror