June 14th, 2008
The Fools were once again attempting to navigate through the tunnels beneath Purdue's campus. Scribbled notes and maintenance orders left by a dying man gave them clues to some sort of exit.
"Are you sure we trust this guy's journal to lead us out of here?" Beard asked from the rear, as the group gathered outside of the maintenance room they'd found Marshall Franklin-turned-zed in.
T.Rex studied the diagrams of water mains and steam valves with a flashlight, aware that they did not have many more batteries. After several moments he turned the pages ninety degrees and suddenly things made much more sense. "If I'm reading this right- and I'd like to think that I am - these pipes converge in certain locations before being split to individual building utilities," he told the group. He traced the overlapping lines with his finger, trying to superimpose a mental map of Purdue's buildings above ground to match the facilities underground.
The Fools waited expectantly. Ryan looked up from the pages and saw six tired faces, and he wondered how much more they would have to endure before another break.
"Straight ahead, and stay quiet unless you notice something," he commanded, and the group set off again into the dark maze of tunnels.
Peace led the way with his flashlight, the other lights used up or turned off to conserve power. The group walked single file, pausing at each intersection. The group would wait as T.Rex studied the diagrams for a moment before pointing in some direction.
Straight. Left, straight, right left left.
They were walking along when all of the sudden the light at the front of the column spun, accompanied by a yelp as Peace tripped over an unknown object. The flashlight fell from his hands and rolled away, causing a frenetic light show on the wall of the tunnel.
"Somebody get another flashlight!" T.Rex hissed, and both Beard and Rubble responded with a beam of refreshing light pointed towards the front of the group.
Peace scrambled to his feet, backing away from the obstacle. As the flashlights played over the ground, the Fools saw a corpse laying in the middle of the tunnel, completely still. A dark liquid had spilled from multiple torso wounds and had collected on the ground some distance away
Beard wasted no time pondering the situation. "Cut off its head," he suggested.
For the briefest of moments, T.Rex considered objecting. He wanted to examine the body, to show respect for the dead, and encourage his friends to consider their actions before committing to desecrating another random body. Then he remembered the horrible creatures they'd already fought, all of which had previously been a lifeless body at some point before attacking.
He politely stepped aside as Kamikaze strode forward and crouched next to the body at arm's length. She swung her machete, decapitating the corpse unceremoniously. As they examined the body, it did not appear to have the now-familiar gray coloring of decaying zed flesh.
"Keep moving," T.Rex ordered, desperate to keep the minds of the group away from the grisly scene. He wanted them to focus on the task at hand - escaping the tunnels. The Fools returned to their line formation and pressed on, collecting Peace's flashlight at the bottom of the sloped tunnel.
Shallow left, straight, through a passage made of utility pipes that was so narrow, most of the Fools had to turn sideways and fit their bags of equipment through behind them. They continued on, ducking underneath another set of pipes a little further down the hallway.
"Are you sure this is the right way out of here?" Cowboy whispered to T.Rex.
T.Rex sighed. "No, I'm not. I'm just doing the best that I can."
Another right, and the tunnel they were in suddenly stopped. The Fools crowded around an unmarked door, looking expectantly at Ryan. "Somebody else wanna try this one?" T.Rex joked, reaching for the handle. He winced, turned the handle, and the door opened smoothly. T.Rex held the door and waved everyone by before stepping through himself.
They were now in a much larger tunnel that extended left and right until blackness took over, with linoleum flooring and tiles on the walls. The shape of the tunnel was a large gentle arch, and the flashlight revealed yellow lines painted on the floor. Looking back, the Fools saw the door they'd exited was marked "526 E - Authorized Personnel Only."
"What is this place?" Peace asked, his voice echoing around them.
"Keep your voice down," T.Rex reminded at a whisper. "If I've read this utility map right, it should take us to a safe exit point. A place where we can regroup and then head for Hillenbrand to get Jenny." He pointed down the tunnel. "We should have a long walk that way, so let's get a move on."
The group re-formed. Angel Hair and Rubble led the way more or less side by side, alternating responsibility for the flashlight. Following them was T.Rex, flanked by Cowboy on his left and Kamikaze on the right. Peace and Beard followed, glancing regularly over their shoulders to check for stragglers.
As they walked, their footsteps and equipment made loud echoes, and it made T.Rex nervous. He signaled for the Fools to pause, to make sure the echoes were not obscuring some other noise. The group froze, and the noise of their movement quickly faded. A slight moan drifted to their ears, and T.Rex motioned for the group to spread out in a defensive posture.
If the flashlights are on, T.Rex thought, that might draw them to us. But we sure as hell don't want to fight in complete darkness, and getting caught off guard by a zed in this confined space is gonna be mayhem. "Psst!" he hissed. "Flashlights, both ends - search pattern, go!"
Peace clicked on his flashlight at the back of the group and began sweeping the beam of light to the end of the tunnel, complementing Angel Hair's similar movements at the front end of the group. The rest of the Fools stood nervously, equipment on the ground and weapons at the ready. They all watched the beams of light play down the tunnel, scanning for any threat. After a few minutes, a slow growl reached them.
"That one sounds farther away," Kamikaze whispered, holding her machete tightly.
T.Rex did not want to leave the threat ignored, but was eager to continue. "Rear light out," he whispered, "and everybody grab your things. We continue on, but everybody keep your eyes and ears open. Watch for my signal - we'll stop at intervals to listen for trouble."
Continuing on, the Fools walked even further down the tunnel, pausing occasionally to listen. No other noise reached them. As they continued, T.Rex was estimating their distance in his head, anticipating their next obstacle.
Finally, T.Rex signaled for another hold. The group froze and assumed a defensive stance, but Ryan had other plans. "Alright, now we switch things up," he told the Fools. "I want every available flashlight to search the walls left and right - if my calculations are correct we should be very close to a door just like the one we got into this tunnel with. The tunnel lights are out, otherwise it would be very obvious." The Fools murmured agreement, and then continued on combing the walls with every remaining light.
They moved slower, meticulously covering every inch of the wall. Kamikaze's flashlight died, and T.Rex urged them to speed things up without compromising their thorough sweep.
Finally, Cowboy called out. "I see something! There's a door back here in a little nook!" He pointed his flashlight to the wall, excitedly, and the Fools crowded around. Hidden in a small recess was another large door marked "KLAF - Authorized Personnel Only."
"Yes!" T.Rex shouted, then looked around nervously, regretting his outburst. Then, in a quieter voice he said, "Guys- this is it. This is exactly what I was looking for." He whirled around and clapped Peace on the shoulders. "I need you to get us through that door. I'm not going to sugar coat this for you...we really need that door open."
"What if I can't get it?" Peace asked as he knelt down, digging through is pack for his lock picking equipment.
"Well," T.Rex sighed, "then I'll have to come up with some other brilliant solution, but I can pretty much promise you all it won't be nearly as good as this one. Fools! Let's set up a perimeter and let the man do his work, okay?"
Shuffling around, the Fools stood with weapons drawn, protecting the small doorway. Peace balanced a flashlight on the ground so that it pointed directly upwards, illuminating his target. T.Rex kept looking back nervously as Peace set to work, gently sliding the tiny tools into the lock and twisting.
Peace leaned closer to the lock and squinted, moving his hands very slowly and deliberately. His tongue slipped out of his pursed lips as he concentrated, and the very faint metallic clicking of his tools was the only sound in the entire tunnel.
"Yeah!" Peace suddenly shouted, standing up and pumping his fists in the air. "Ladies and gentleman, you may proceed," he said, as he bowed and gestured towards the door.
T.Rex turned and walked over to his friend. "Thank you, Peace. You've done a great job," he said as he opened the door. "Fools, if you would, please, join me on the other side of this door?"
The Fools, filled with excitement, moved their equipment into the small room on the other side of the door. The only feature of the room besides pipes were a series of metal rungs on the wall. Above the rungs, the only feature of the ceiling, was a metal disk with a few holes letting in a faint light.
"Rubble," T.Rex said with a grin, "do you think you could climb up there and move that cover?"
Angel Hair shut the door to the room as Rubble ascended the rungs about 15 feet into the air. He wrapped his left arm around one of the highest rungs and reached out with his right, pushing against the cover. It didn't move. Rubble grunted, teeth clenched as he pushed again, and T.Rex's smile faded.
Determined, Rubble stopped pushing for a moment and moved one rung higher, ducking to avoid hitting his head. He bent his legs to climb one more step and braced both of his hands on the rungs. He placed his shoulder against the cover and extended his legs, letting loose a primal grunt.
The cover gave way and popped upwards, while soft light spilled in and flooded the room full of Fools. "Time out!" T.Rex said in a quiet voice.
"Huzzah!" the Fools on the ground responded, softly enough as to not draw attention from above ground. Rubble slid the metal cover aside and motioned down at Angel Hair. "Time in," Rubble said softly.
Without another word spoken, Angel Hair scampered up the rungs with both pieces of Rubble's pool cue weapon. "I'll clear the area up here long enough for you guys to bring our equipment up," Rubble said down to the Fools below, and then climbed back into the world.
Current Word Count: 41,424