Carmen had half-expected to hear klaxon alarms and the thundering footsteps of guards around every corner, but the facility apparently lacked the large staff or intricate security systems that media had led her to expect. At one point, two frantic looking humans in suits ran down a hallway while she hid behind a disused aquarium in an open supply room, but hadn’t otherwise seen any signs of people looking for her.
She wasn’t sure what she’d missed by choosing not to follow the Phantom Matador’s directions, but the path she’d taken had been a long one through a mostly linear set of halls. She’d considered hiding in each and every room she came to to make sure that the coast was clear every few feet, but dismissed the idea as ridiculous and a waste of time. Just when she was beginning to feel that she was going in a circle, she turned a corner and saw two elevators set into the wall. She ran to them and pushed the Up button before beginning the tiresome process of waiting. Finally she heard the elevator chime and saw its doors glide open.
A rapid set of footfalls echoed from around the corner and she winced, worried that the sound of the elevator had attracted attention. She jumped into the elevator and pushed the button to close the door.
Moments later, a second chime was heard in the hallway as the second elevator’s doors opened. Zack, Chip and Hobbar quickly stepped out of the tiny elevator, giving Igneous the space needed to slowly extract herself from the human-sized doors. Two people in suits ran around the corner and stared in surprise at the four of them.
“Hey!” shouted one of the two men. Zack tensed and reached for his pistol.
“They’re with me!” shouted Chip, pushing his way ahead of Zack.
The two men paused, unsure.
“Who are you?” asked one.
“I’m Chip,” he said. “Chip Creep.”
The two stared.
“I work with Murk. I’m an information specialist. These three are with me.”
“I think I’ve heard him mention a Chip before,” said one.
“If you have questions, just go and check the Underjungle Manifest. I’m it’s curator.”
“Oh! The Ravelar thing,” said the second. “Yeah, I know this guy. He does work for us.”
“With you,” said Chip. “Not for you.”
“Sure,” the second man. “Sorry, we heard the elevator and thought-”
“Never mind,” said Chip. “No problem. Carry on.”
Chip turned and walked toward the near end of the hall. Hobbar and Igneous quickly did likewise, followed by Zack. They soon turned the corner and Zack breathed a sigh of relief.
“A little slow on the uptake there,” said Chip.
“Sorry,” said Zack. “Felt like things were going to go south.”
“Yeah, and I would’ve either died in the crossfire, or you would’ve attracted so much attention that we’d have a firefight.”
“Thanks for not trying to pull a fast one there.”
“It wouldn’t have been practical,” said Chip, reaching a door that opened onto a flight of stairs. “Though if they actually check the Underjungle Manifest, they’ll think something’s up since there isn’t a Manifest for that project. Not one I know about. I think she’ll be down here.”
The three shorter figures entered first, allowing Igneous the chance to squeeze through the narrow door. She was glad to see that the passage quickly expanded on its way down.
“I hate it down here,” said Hobbar. “The deeper you go in a building, the fewer exits you’ll get. And I’ve been looking. There aren’t any. The farther we go here, the harder it’ll be to get out if something goes wrong.”
“What a coincidence that that’s where the cells were put,” said Chip, leading the way down. “They really lucked out on that. Truly, Murk’s money was well spent on whatever architect worked that out.”
“Look, don’t start with me,” said Hobbar. “I get jittery if there’s not a good way out.”
“We won’t have to be here long,” said Igneous. “Just long enough to get the racer since Zack’s already got everything else he needs.”
The staircase opened into a long hallway. Reinforced doors ran along one side, with a control panel for each door opposite them. Zack’s eyes shot down the hall until he saw the control panel with a different readout.
“That one,” he said. “She’s there.”
“How do you know?” asked Hobbar.
“Green readouts on the others that say they’re unlocked,” said Zack, running down the hall. “It’s the only one with a red screen. It’s locked.”
The others followed as Zack ran to the control panel. He looked at it, perplexed.
“I’ve never seen something like this before,” he said. “It’s not a standard model. Not like the others.”
“It’s custom,” said Chip. “Designed to dampen psychic capabilities as well as keep the door locked.”
“You’re sure?” asked Zack.
“Like I said, I’ve been down here exactly once,” said Chip. “I can get it open without a password.”
Zack stepped back and allowed Chip to begin working at the terminal. Chip smiled to himself. He certainly remembered adding the custom design to this particular terminal. He also remembered that Carmen wasn’t in this cell. He couldn’t wait for Zack to meet the person who was.