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Dec 02

Chief: Searching

Chief led the way out of the central room with confidence, his gait strong and natural, his gaze fixed on some point ahead. He pulled the jumpsuit he wore up over his upper body as he walked, zipping it up to his neck.

Red followed behind, still unsteady on his feet.

Kid hustled to keep up, his own pacing still awkward, almost a process of stumbling along, as if the ground was tipping below his feet. He hastened to catch up with Chief, using his arms to propel himself along the walls almost as much as he was his feet.

“Where we go?” Kid asked.

“Find Callie. Kali. Girl. Whatever her name is.”

“She say she outside?”

“Fitness room,” Red said. “Something about outside. Outbuilding?”

Kid nodded. “You know fitness room?”

Chief stopped at the halls’ intersection, looking swiftly down the crossword branches.. “No. Mostly cabins. Not check all rooms though. Might be above though.”

“Above?” Kid asked.

The older man smacked his lips. Talking, speaking was getting easier. Catching up with his thoughts, which weren’t so muddled. “Halls are three rings, yes? Circles. I checked a few cabins in the outer rings after I woke up. No window. Maybe underground?”

Red folded his arms and nodded. “Kali talking about outside. Probably above.”

“I see,” Kid said.

“But we check here first,” Chief said. “See if she’s on our floor. If not, we’ll climb up elevator to surface, look there.”

Red put out a hand to trace the symbols painted on the wall at the intersection. “Good plan, Chief.”

“Can you read it?”

“No. You?”

“Not yet.” Chief looked at it again. “Almost.”

“Not me,” Kid said.

They walked on. If they could remember how to read the symbols, Chief reasoned, they could more easily navigate the halls, make a more logical search of the rooms. As it was, he wasn’t sure which rooms he’d looked in on earlier and which he hadn’t.

“Look at this,” Red said, stopping at the next intersection, patting the symbol on the wall there. “First symbol same as last. Others changed.”

“Good eye.” Chief examined it. The first symbol was made of thee connected lines, one vertical, two horizontal. There was another horizontal line after it, and then… numbers? Yes. Numbers. A letter, a dash, and some numbers.

“Floor,” he said tapping the first one. “And then… rooms?”

Red took a few steps down the circular hall, glancing at the symbols on the doors. “They follow the same pattern. First two are same. Third change. Room numbers.”

A broad grin spread across Kid’s face. “Good!  Good. We did good.”

Chief stared at the symbols, looking for the intellectual understanding of what they were. He knew what they were. What they meant. He knew that he did. It was just so hard to connect with that level of abstract–

“Eff,” he said, the letter falling off of the tip of his tongue. “It says F-16 to F-30.”

“This room is F-18,” Red said.

“Floor F,” Chief said.

It was so obvious, now that he’d named it. And Red seemed to have picked it up as well. A mental block overcome. Chief let a small sense of satisfaction flow through him, but they had another purpose. Another task. Finding Kali.

“Yes!” Kid pumped his fist.

“Okay. We can ignore rooms that are F-numbers,” Chief said. “The fitness room would have a different name, right?”

“Makes sense to me,” Red said. “Go faster this way.”

“Okay. You check this hall. I’ll start on the far hall. Kid, you check the inner ring back there, and then come to the far hall and start checking the opposite way.”

“Got it,” Kid nodded.

“If you find her head back to the middle by the elevator and wait for the rest of us.”

Red nodded and started walking down the central ring, while Kid ran his stumbling way back towards the center. Chief watched them go before heading off on his own. They were enthusiastic, and that was good. He didn’t know what he would have said if they’d refused to help. As long as he could keep them busy they wouldn’t panic, wouldn’t make trouble, wouldn’t get into trouble.

They were, after all, his responsibility. He’d woken them up to… to this, whatever it was. Accidentally with Kid, intentionally with Red. He didn’t know what to do about the other hundreds of sleeping men and women in the other tubes. It felt wrong to just leave them here, but for now, it was better to let them sleep. Easier to manage.

At least, until they had found a way out of this place, or figured out what was going on.

He had two reliable men with him, and for now, that was enough.

***

Hours had passed before Chief and Kid returned to the central room to find Red waiting for them, sucking on the feeding line coming from the tube he’d been awakened from, in the way that Kid had showed them.

“Find her?” Chief asked, knowing Red hadn’t, as no girl was in sight.

“No. You?”

“No,” Kid said. “We did see a fitness room. But she wasn’t in it.”

“Maybe she left?”

“Maybe.” Chief leaned against one of the tubes and folded his arms. “But if she had, surely one of us would have run into her.”

“We could try the intercom again?” Red said.

“Let’s try the elevator,” Chief said.

The three men stood at the open doors. Red looked up towards where the next floor must be, while Kid cast his gaze below into darkness.

“How do we–” Red began.

Chief pointed. “There. A ladder on the far side.”

“Jump?” Kid asked.

“There’s a small ledge running along the side.” Chief tapped it with his foot. It wasn’t much – just enough of a lip to rest most of your weight on. “And hand-holds above.”

“Seems dangerous,” Red said.

“I go first,” Chief said. “Awake longest. I’m the most steady.”

“How deep do you think we are?” Kid asked.

“We’re on ‘F’,” Chief said. “A-B-C-D-E. Five? Six floors down?”

“Hold on,” Red said.

Chief watched as the big man went to his tube and grabbed a handful of the exposed hose. He set himself into a firm stance, then pulled it taut. Veins stood out on Red’s forehead and his muscles bulged as he strained, until the hose broke with a snap and came free.

Red held the hose up. “We break into a few of the broken tubes. Tie together. Make a rope.”

“Okay, but don’t give yourself a hernia.” Chief pulled the razor out of his pocket and handed it to Red. “Cut with this.”

Red nodded.

Kid ran to fetch more razors for himself and Chief, and the three went to the malfunctioning tubes, removed the corpses, and collected what exposed hose they could. Together the wove them into a braided length of rope long enough to tie around their waists, with several yards of slack between them.

“Okay. If I fall, you hold on, pull me up,” Chief said.

His companions gripped the edge of the elevator’s door firmly as the old man began to edge carefully around the yawning abyss below them towards the ladder.

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