After talking to Townsend, reporting the pipe might have been tampered with, the boys also conveyed the information about Jen being gone.
“She’s probably not feeling well and still in her living cell,” Townsend said. “I don’t think the screw is of any concern now. It’s fixed, which is the most important thing, besides Jen. Make sure she’s alright, we won’t wait for the population check.”
“Yes, sir,” said Gebriel. Tommy and Jones nodded.
Population checks were a pain, like a prison, but someone had to keep track of everyone and everything. The checks, beyond presence, were also medical. Depression, hunger, even scrapes and bruises might become septic without treatment. Damon, the complex’s physician, was an older man with salt and pepper hair. An aura of arrogance seemed to follow him, at least that was Tommy’s first impression. His later impressions would worsen.
The young men turned and left, headed for the living cells located on the far west end of the complex.
After Jen wasn’t found in her living cell, they dreaded that the search might not be so easy. They still had flashlights and they added water, a med-kit, and a multi-tool knife that Tommy found and kept.
“This place is too big to search everywhere together. We need to split up,” said Tommy trying to be efficient.
Tommy was a natural leader even though on occasion he felt like he overstepped his authority with older people. Gebriel was different even though he was a little older. He was easy going, fit in well, and didn’t mind, because he had say so when he needed it.
The other two nodded in agreement.
“Jones,” Tommy continued, “you take the central core area, medical center, and conference hall. Gebriel, you want to go for the storage areas?” Gebrield gave a quick nod. “I will take the east end. Meet back here at the conference hall in two hours.” He looked at them and nodded. “The sooner we find her, the better and easier things will be,” Tommy injected.
“Check,” replied Jones.
“See you both in two hours, hopefully with Jen,” Gebriel concluded.
There’s never been anyone missing here before, Tommy thought, but then again, before was unclear. They went their separate ways to search.
Tommy scoured the halls and walked past the cafeteria to peek in on Dahria. It was a slight detour again, but worth it. A missing person was a concern, and Tommy needed the piece of mind to make sure Dahria was okay, a mandatory action. She was there cooking, washing, and cleaning with some of her other co-workers. He smiled. Good. He saw Alexa there with her. She was Dahria’s friend, and they looked out for each other. That was good to have in this place.
He walked through the cafeteria without disturbing her. Tommy came to the south block hall heading east towards the power centers. He passed a couple people and asked them a few questions about Jen. No one had seen her.
Gebriel checked his areas, cells, and offices only to find some people, but no-one named Jen. He headed for the tunnels next.
Jones was covering his ground as best he could. He checked many places but only found an unpleasant face. However, the pompousness was not a reason to be rude.
“Hey Theo,” Jones said.
Theod looked up and recognized him. His reddish eyebrows relaxed as he focused back on what he was doing.
Jones thought there was something deeper to Theod that most people didn’t observe on the surface. A lot of people didn’t like him, but Jones, even though he didn’t particularly care for him, penetrated a little deeper. He wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt before he made a judgement.
“Jones,” said Theod. He was engrossed in something, but gave Jones his attention, but his eyes remained cast at his sheet.
“What’re you doing over here? Aren’t you supposed to be in the cafeteria?” Jones eyebrows raised. An honest little question.
“Well,” Theod’s eyes rolled as if recollecting what had happened and replied slow, “I came to get something from Damon. He owes me.”
“Damon, huh,” Jones said with a not too pleasant tone. “Whatever he owes you, you owe him a kick in the ass. So do I for poking those needles in us.”
Theod scoffed remembering the inoculations. He stared at Jones but said nothing. It was a little awkward so Jones got down to business.
“I’m out looking for Jen,” Jones said directly.
Theod’s eyebrows rose waiting for more, “yeah? and?”
Seeing the blank face Jones continued, “She’s been missing since this morning. No one seems to have seen her, but she was checked last night.” He looked at Theod. “Have you seen her?”
“So, Townsend assigned you as a detective? Quite a step up.” Theod said with sarcasm. “Have you tried her cell? I think she lives there.”
At that moment Theod’s reputation became a bit more clear to Jones, he was an ass.
Theod laughed but stopped his mocking, “I saw her yesterday. Nothing seemed unusual. She hangs out in one of the storage stations in west block sometimes, but, no idea why someone would want to hang out there. Creepy places.” He thought for a moment before speaking again. “Well, she’s kinda creepy herself,” he finished.
“Man, your ass is growing as big as your insults,” said Jones, “or maybe your head.”
“Sss,” teased Theod like it was water rolling off his back. He just wants to be me.
Tommy was unable to locate Jen anywhere, but had the two stations left. Remembering station two, his hair raised in sensation and his skin crawled. He had just been there, so he decided to start with station one and save the worst for last. Station one was pretty much the same dark nasty place though, but station two gave him a sour feeling in his stomach.
Tommy opened the station one chamber door. With a heavy crank, the door resisted the effort to open due to its sizable inertia. The hinges scraped and moaned as the heavy door accelerated opening. It stopped on its own friction and Tommy turned on the flashlight and shined it around. Taking a good long look before he entered, the light illuminated many areas and exposed a multitude of shadows, pipes, dirt, and a long tunnel. As he stepped over the bottom obstacle frame for the door, the dirt met his boots in a sound of grit, like sandpaper being scratched with rubber. It was quiet after a few steps. Silent. The smell of musty humidity pumped through his lungs. Tommy took a few more reluctant steps shining the light around. Alone, he sighed.
The man saw the flashlight shining as he peered out from the darkness. A strange sort of anger blended with pleasure erupted in him. A need to start the game and deliver the killing hammer cleared his mind for the scenario. He focused on the figure walking closer as he could see the flashlight bobbing around. The man in shadow envisioned the events of a perfect kill from start to finish; the efficiency, effective maneuvers, and the finale. His concentration made him perspire. Methodical planning formulated in his head like a computer calculating numbers. He listened to the cadence and predicted how long it would take to reach him. He stood still and used patience waiting until the perfect moment. The urge to kill too quickly yearned inside him, but the training kept him focused. As he watched, it appeared the figure was searching for something, or someone. Maybe him, he didn’t know. As the figure passed he recognized the time to pounce. In an instant he jumped out with smooth skill, took one step and hit the person on the back of the head with the knuckle ring of his knife. The blow was precise, aimed at the location to induce a shock to the brain that rendered unconsciousness. Experience and training paid off. The subject fell like a sack of lifeless solitary bricks. The flashlight flung from his hand as he hit the ground
Blackness turned to gray, then to blurry.
His eyes slit open and severe pain resonated his head. He felt woozy and nauseous, like he couldn’t stand on his own legs, yet he was standing. At that moment he noticed something held him up, not his legs. Blinking twice, it felt like pebbles and sandy dirt were in his eyes. The pain released tears washing away the grit. He shook his head and instantly regretted it. The pain was great, and the shake made it worse.
What the hell is this? He felt like he was rolled up in a carpet. Am I...tied up?
Some fogginess drifted away allowing him to see an image of a man covered with darkness materialize.
“Hello?” He gasped, his voice weak.
“There you are.” Another man responded. “Thought we lost you for a second.” The smile protruded on him. He was covered in shadow.
“Where am I?” Looking around groggy and squinting, he looked at the rope that held him up. His eyelids were almost too heavy to keep open.
“You’re in the tunnel a ways from the command center. Looked like you were searching for something,” the man in shadow said in a polite, easy voice. “You fell back there and hit your head. I found you and tried to help you stand, but you were useless, so I tied you up to get the blood flowing out of your head.”
“Oh, thanks. Well...” He paused while physically and mentally checked himself for any serious injuries, “I think I can stand on my own now. You can cut me down.”
“Oh, yeah, just a sec, duh,” the man with the knife said. He came closer, held the knife under the rope, and sawed. The rope wasn’t cut, but the arm it was tied to was. The blood seeped out. “Oh, shit,” he said, “I’m sorry man, I accidentally cut you, Jesus what an idiot! I had the damn blade backwards!” He sneered.
The captive looked at the wound. The sharpness of the knife must have been pristine because the wound didn’t hurt. The blood dripped in a nice line down his arm. His frown developed as his mind couldn’t place what had happened. The amount of blood spilling raised his concern.
The snicker and laugh filled the air from the man in shadow. “What’s the matter?”
The laugh startled the captive, and he looked at the man who slowly appeared out of the shadow. He couldn’t speak as some light of the situation came into play. He looked confused.
“Here, sorry, let me try again. Hopefully this time I’ll have the sharp side on the rope where it supposed to be. My hands are a little shaky, this whole ordeal being trapped underground has made me a little nervous,” he lied. The smile never left his cool and calm face.
As the second cut was made, the tied man’s eyes were darting back and forth and adrenaline pumped into his arteries. The blood flowed faster.
“What the hell are you doing?!” he said frustrated, feeling the pain for the first time.
As the third cut sliced into flesh, fear gripped his heart and squeezed. He yelled and struggled as hard as he could. “Help! Someone!” The ropes held as if he were a dingy trying to sail away but a rope designed to hold a cruise ship was attached.
The killer knew the location was secluded, and the sealed doors made it hard for sound to travel. Still, his captive was forced to scream as intense pain was released through the vocal cords.
The face of the killer was now in full concentration. Swift, precise strokes were slashed into flesh finding their way to arteries and veins with accuracy.
The sound turned into pure agonizing gurgled screaming. Soon the struggling came to a slow close, energy draining leaving only a desire to sleep.
“Whoo, that was pretty. Smile for the camera now.” The man with the red knife sounded like a game show host. He studied the dying mans eyes. Pure confusion. “Mm, Lost for words a?” A smile curved up in the corner of one side of his mouth. “That’s okay, I’ll do the talking. How does it feel to know your life is leaving you? Draining from you like a tire with a leak. Sssss.”
The dying mans brows furrowed. Confusion. Huh? What the hell happened? Who is this guy? Where am I?... Damn it! Where’s, Where’s. Wait! I’m not rea…Then his eyes glossed over. The reaper came.
Time lapsed over an hour after Jones finished his areas to search. He waited for Tommy and Gebriel in the conference hall. People were at tables having conversations about different things, but neither Tommy nor Gebriel showed yet. Not quite two hours yet, He sat down and waited longer.
Time went by and nothing.
A little more time and Jones became agitated.
Come on, he thought to himself. What the hell? It’ been way more than two hours now. There’s got to be an easier way to do things around here. His mind thought of Jen missing. Now Tommy and Gebriel weren’t back yet. He pondered and drummed his fingers onto the table. This is shit, I can’t wait here any longer.
Jones tried to stay calm as he went to search for them. Looking for Tommy first, he passed through a couple tunnels, opened and closed the door for the electrical junction. Jones couldn’t help walk fast even though he was trying to keep calm. It was dark in here, alone. Claustrophobic. Fighting to keep the anxiety down, the concern for his friends were greater. He walked down another long tunnel. After a while his steps sounded different, like walking on a sidewalk after a rain. Shining the light down he saw a muddy wet stone floor. This places leaks too much, he thought. Moving the flashlight he followed the wet trail as it disappeared around the corner. Needing to find the other two, Jones moved on avoiding the wet stream on the stone and dirt ground. He came around the bend and the light shined on a column illuminating the top of the pipe first.
What the hell is that? He squinted to gain more focus. Red paint splotched the column. Some of the liquid streaked down it being too heavy to remain stationary. The paint was a deep dark red color but looked out of place, like some irresponsible kid took a bucket of paint and threw it up on the column, but there were no kids here.
Jones followed the red veins down the column with his flashlight. Is that paint...oil...wet...?
The moment was surreal.
Jones illuminated a body. Tied to a pipe, the head lolled so the face was not visible. Blood seemed like it was everywhere sliding down from several obvious wounds, still wet. His face cringed as his brain was trying to process it without success. Disbelief of reality fought within him. Was it a dummy?
Jones stepped closer with trepidation to confirm that this was not some idiot playing a trick. Why would someone do that? Real fucking funny.
Moving closer, some of the blood was wet while other areas had dried. His hands trembled as he noticed the body slumping being held up only by the ropes.
There’s no way this is real. His stomach scored knots that seemed like someone put a baseball inside his stomach. His throat constricted like someone one squeezing it just enough to make it difficult to breathe and swallow.
As he moved even closer, it was obvious this was not a dummy. Jones froze. His eyes became wide. His heart beat fast.
Who is it? Oh my God! Tommy?
“Tommy!” He looked for identifying marks. Frantically searching for who it was, his next thought entered his mind. Who the hell did this? His eyes became wide, and he had a rush of adrenaline, Are they still here? His body trembled with agitation.
God damn it, he hated to be interrupted from his artwork.
The man in shadow had watched the eyes glaze over from his kill as he observed a flashlight coming down the tunnel. He had darted into darkness behind a set of large vertical pipes. His playtime with his toy disrupted. Forced to change tactics, he had to get behind the person coming. He needed to confirm it was only one person. One at a time was efficient and effective, low risk, but when another person entered into the scenario it presented all kinds of unknown variables. He didn’t want to increase his risk this early. Once the compound noticed his artwork, the prey would not be as easy to hunt. The game changes then. It becomes a blood bath.
Confirming only one person was present, he reset his mind for another display of affection. Speed and surprise was a large advantage.
His eyes peered out between the pipes. He observed the person walk by with no hurry in his stride. He was searching for something too. Watching the person observe his displayed artwork of blood, the guy froze.
This’ll be quick, he thought. He had the perfect opportunity as the guy was fighting with his mind to figure out what it was. The killers heart quickened for the swift pounce. His mind focused on the takedown with precision and he moved out of the shadows bloodied knife in hand. Two steps...
“Jones?!” Someone screamed down the tunnel.
Just out of the shadows, the killer changed direction and entered the cover of darkness once more. He watched the figure observing the corpse tense and twist around to aim the flashlight in the direction of the yell.
“Yeah! Tommy? Is that you?” he yelled back.
“Hey man, what’re you doing down there?!” came the reply from his friend.
Jones mentally thanked God that his friend was not the person with his life drained on the floor. “Dude come quick, I think someone’s...!” Anxiety was clear in his voice as he couldn’t finish the sentence.
The killer could hear footsteps now hitting the ground hard. The other flashlight bobbing and bouncing around from the shock of the feet hitting the ground.
“What is it man? Did you find Jen?” Tommy said coming into view making eye contact with Jones.
He observed pure terror and shock in Jones’ eyes.
Out of breath, he repeated, “What’s up man? What happened?!”
Jones was pale. This was unusual for him being darker skinned. “I don’t know. Something happened, I think he’s...dead. There’s blood everywhere, come here.” He pointed his flashlight in the direction and shined it on the body.
Tommy’s lungs heaved from the run. His eyes were wide as his brain processed the image. They both ambled closer to the unreal sight aiming the light at the grotesque scene.
“What the hell?” Tommy said in disbelief. His eyes narrowed as if wincing in pain. “Who is it?”
“I don’t know yet. I just found him and then you came. Here,” he pointed his flashlight down, “look at the boots.”
Tommy recognized with a sinking heart, “It’s... It’s,” he had trouble finishing it, but then forced it out, “Gebriel.” He stared trying to comprehend the sight. “What the hell happened? Why would someone kill him…?”
Tommy looked at Jones, who had no answers. As he observed home, there was no sign of blood on Jones. Tommy immediately felt ashamed of reflex, but his instinct made him gather the information without realizing it. He already knew Jones had nothing to do with it, but this reaffirmed it. Good.
“Look,” Jones said pointing, “the blood’s still wet. He was alive just a few minutes ago.”
The hair on the back of Tommy’s neck stood up. “We better get out of here,” desperation and panic were evident.
“I think I agree,”
“We’ll have to come back for Gebriel later,” Tommy was filled with regret, but there was nothing they could do for Gebriel. They had to leave this place.
Dahria… Tommy shuttered.