And Men's Wear.
 
 

“Okay, I’m taking point.” I slipped past one of the silvery hemispheres and slid through the walk space Wyatt had left. “Keep these guys still. I won’t be long.”

“Don’t need to get too far,” Wyatt reminded me. “When I let the jackholes out, they’ll have no idea we were here. They should keep moving away from us.”

“Understood.” I prodded gently at my shoulder, noticing most of the pain had entirely faded. It didn’t seem to be completely knit yet, though; that would take a bit more time.

Carefully, I stepped around the corner.

The inside of the Atrificia had been crafted of gleaming metal and glass. The structure could have been right out of any fifties sci-fi flick. 

I hurried down a few steps into a gleaming passage that ended in a ‘T.’ Halfway down the corridor, on my right, a metallic door had been set smoothly into the wall. 

“Look at this…” I muttered, considering. It held the same kind of bio-reader Thorne had activated before, but that wouldn’t stop Wyatt if we needed inside. If my lumbering friend wanted, he could turn the metal door into helium or some such weirdness, and we’d walk right through.

This might be just the thing.

An empty room could be a good place for us to plan and reassess. Perhaps the alertness of our hosts might die down. I’d stay invisible, do a little recon and give us a layout—

“No…” I popped the knuckles on my right hand. Bad idea.

The Designates had no idea what had happened to us. As far as their telemetry would show, we’d been in the Legacy, travelling down a lonesome highway. Abruptly, we flickered in and out of Rationality. They might have even received fragments of Anya’s epic freak out as we drove between worlds.

With no warning, we had vanished.

In most circumstances, holing up and gaining intel might be the smart play. But adrift in an alternate topiatic reality, the rules significantly changed. Without connectivity to the Lattice, my cadre had no way to know how long we’d been dimensional castaways. How much “real” time passed while we fought the tentacled horrors outside? Hours? Days?

We might have been gone weeks. 

“Time is not on our side,” I muttered. Turning, I crept further down the hallway, staying close to the wall.

You don’t have to scout out the whole building, Wyatt reminded me. If it’s safe around the corner, we’re ready to follow.

Will confirm. I trotted over to the T and scoped something on the wall. Give me a moment here.

As I approached the hallway corner, the object came into view. A brass plaque that held a few lines of engraved text, first in English, then in Japanese kanji:

T’sia

Garnath Research Station

Atrificia 131

“Nice to know,” I muttered. 

To my right, the passage extended several dozen meters before branching off again. Light flickered for a moment in that direction.

To my left, a smooth metallic door took up the entire passage. It looked nothing like the doors I’d encountered thus far. Rectangular and squat, a split creased its center, like a mundane elevator. Also, a small panel of glowing push buttons sat at the right of the doors, with a sign attached to the wall.

Admittance to sub-basements forbidden to lower tier company personnel. Proceed into the Atrificia at your own risk. Level seventeen quasi-radionics present. Please report to your supervisor if you experience hallucinations or difficulty sleeping after entering this area.

“Forbidden?” I scoffed. The elevator didn’t seem to require a key or an access code. Exactly how forbidden could it be?

I turned, glancing at the triangular marker that showed the direction of the emanations. As Wyatt noted, the closer we approached to the marker, the more it drifted below our feet.

Yup. We needed to go down a few floors.

I’m calling it clear, I linked, powering down the Wraith at the same time. No one is here, and I may have found our way forward.

Understood, Michael. We are en route.

For a moment, I examined the hallway behind me. The lights flickered again, as if there might be a poor electrical connection. 

I took a step in that direction. Maybe I should have checked that out? 

“Hey, Hoss.” Wyatt held one hand up as he approached. “I see yer not getting yer ass handed to you.”

“Not this time.” I scowled at him. 

“Good for you, sport.”

“I have, however, soundly defeated an elevator.” I rapped on the door and pushed the button.

The door chimed merrily, in a way no dangerous door ever would. It slid open. 

“Weird.” Wyatt eyed the doorway. “I have to admit, a mundane elevator in a dimension of murder-tentacles seems out of place.”

“A forbidden elevator.” I raised one eyebrow at them and gestured at the small sign.

“Sounds dangerous.” Wyatt flicked his gaze inside. 

“We cannot possibly know the reasoning behind the classification.” Anya glanced at the small sign and then stepped inside. 

“Petrova, you rebel,” Wyatt teased, raising the brim of his hat with one finger.

“If the device were truly dangerous, it would require an elevator key or a biometric reading to enter.”

“See? That’s what I thought.” I gestured at Anya. “Thank you.”

“I like that logic.” Wyatt strode in, shrugging his pack higher up onto his back. 

“Like a sign can hold us back.” I followed and punched the solitary button on the panel with one extended finger.

The elevator shifted and then began to descend jerkily.

“We need some data.” Anya brushed a golden lock away from her face. “If the area beyond is secure, I will take telemetrics.” 

“Not every danger shows up on telemetry.” Wyatt raised an eyebrow. “’Sides, you could take yer readings while we ride down.”

“Are you worried, Anya?” 

“I wish to share something. A suspicion.” She glanced at me again, and I thought I saw a touch of nervousness in those blue eyes. 

From a Preceptor? Surely not.

The downward motion went on far longer than I expected. Once we came to a jostling stop, the marker that showed our emanations’ source shifted a bit higher.

“Ground level,” Wyatt said with a smirk. “Otherworldly monstrosities, tentacled telepaths, and men’s wear.”

“I wish.” I fingered the hole in my jacket. 

With that happy little chime, the door slid open.