Vicky slowed into a walk after a hard run after her coworker, Avera. The older employee had been given her a tour of the Market when she had stopped suddenly and announced that today was the day and tore off down a hallway that Vicky was sure hadn’t been there moments earlier. “Avera, what’s going on?” Vicky panted, “how are you so fast?”
Avera ignored her, her entire focus on a section of the hallway she had abruptly stopped at. It wasn’t the end of the hall either, more in the middle. The section of wall was rather dull, it sat flush with the rest of the wall giving no hints about its secrets. That was if Vicky discounted the two large wheel locks and eight deadbolts that bore into the floor and ceiling. Each deadbolt had its own two key and combination system. “Found it again,” Avera said in a near sing-song voice while wearing a wicked smile that made Vicky shudder involuntarily.
“Uhh… where are we?” Vicky asked after a long silence.
“Here, is where we are. It’s everywhere and nowhere, I’m pretty sure.”
“But didn’t we just come from…”
“It won’t be when we leave.”
“So, what is this?” She pointed at the security system against the otherwise empty hallway wall.
“I don’t know, but have you noticed, that there is no security optics here? They are everywhere else.”
Vicky looked around, the small half sphere domes that were everywhere else in the Market were conspicuously missing from the hallway. Which drew her attention to something else, the silence. Every couple of feet in the rest of the Market had a hidden speaker that from them, came a constant crackling buzz that sounded like someone was talking just out of range of understanding what they were saying. “It’s also silent.”
“Exactly!” Avera threw her arms up in a gesture, “There is no voice here.”
Vicky thought it was better to not ask.
“Do you think it might be the Jack? Where he sleeps?” There was a wild edge of excitement in her voice.
“Jack…” Vicky recalled the rulebook she had been given on her first day of employment. ‘Rule #1: Do NOT wake Jack.’ “How would I know? No one has ever explained who Jack is. Is that the joke on the new employee?” Vicky backed away down the hall away from her co-worker. “I’m going to head back now.” Vicky had already felt uneasy around the other girl, and this was straight out scaring her now.
“But this is where the fun begins.” A male voice echoed up from the hallway.
Vicky leaped nearly to the ceiling and screamed.
Avera spun in a half circle and clapped her hands together, “I knew you’d find us!”
“Us?” Vicky said while trying to put her heart back in her chest.
“No thanks to your directions. This place wasn’t where you said it was.” The new employee dropped two duffel bags with a hefty thud before putting his hand out towards Vicky, “Hello, my name is Kyle.” He stood taller than her, but not as tall as Avera.
“I said it was hard to find,” Avera began rummaging through one of the duffel bags.
“I had to go to the complete opposite side of the building, climb up the escape hatch, then hop three of the gables and climb through a tiny window into some weird attic.
“There’s an attic?” Vicky asked, shaking Kyle’s hand, already feeling calmer with a level head around.
“Apparently,” Kyle answered. “Who is the new friend?”
Avera jumped up from the duffel and wrapped an arm around Vicky’s shoulder. “This is Vic. She followed me. We’re going to be best of friends.”
“Vicky,” Vicky corrected, “and she was training me before she ran off.”
Kyle laughed, “you will get used to her, or go mad maybe. And don’t quote rules at her. That just makes her more eager to break them.”
“If you’re done chatting about me, there is behind a door that requires exploring.”
“Uh… Won’t we get in trouble?”
The two other employees gave Vicky a blank stare and then laughed.
“Only if we’re caught, and there are no opticals here,” Kyle said.
Vicky decided they were both mad.
Avera yanked on one of the locks unable to budge it.
“I think you need to unlock all the bolts first,” Kyle said as he poked one of the keyholes on the closest cylinder.
“We don’t have the keys or the combinations, and that wouldn’t be fun.”
“This is true.” Kyle pulled a Gressler V.2 Turbine Action Saw out of one of the bags and a tripod from the other, “we’ve got this option.”
“No, no, no, put that away before it sees it,” Avera said in dead seriousness and gave Kyle a shove.
“What sees us? You said there was nothing here.”
“I was wrong, there’s a treasure chest down the hallway, waiting. I noticed it once we touched the door.” Avera gave a sidelong glance down towards the end of the corridor.
“I don’t see any…”
“Don’t look at it!” Avera wretched Vicky’s head around, “that’s just what it wants. It’s invisible.”
Vicky rubbed her neck, “you’re listening to her?” Kyle was in the process of putting the saw away.
“Avera may not make sense most of the time, but she is right a lot of the time. It’s her annoying habit,” Kyle answered without a hint of a joke.
“It’s my endearing trait.”
“Hardly. What next?”
“I’m gonna try it,” Avera waved him back and rolled up her sleeves and tied back her hair.
“You’re going to pass out, like last time.”
“I can do this!” Avera closed her eyes and held her hands about an inch from the metal door. Nothing happened for several minutes. Kyle yawned. The air between the door and her hand began to take on a faint yellow glow as her pattern wove together with thread.
Vicky shifted uncomfortably, it was the longest display of weaving she had seen before, “How long until she unravels?” She whispered to Kyle.
“She won’t, she’s not that powerful,” Kyle whispered back, then added louder, “but she’s really good at making things explode and then passing out, leaving others to clean up her mess.”
“Concentrating,” Avera said through gritted teeth, “and do not!” The tainted glow faded momentarily before regaining back its brightness.
“You can argue after I carry your unconscious butt back to the infirmary.” Kyle pulled out a pad and leaned it up against the wall opposite where Avera stood. He gave Vicky a wink, and they both retreated several paces down the hallway. Vicky gave a quick glance to see if there actually was a treasure chest at the far end. She didn’t see anything.
Another minute later they were assaulted by a blinding flash of light and sound as the hallway shuddered against the explosion. Somewhere the air system kicked into high gear and quickly replaced the dust filled the air with fresh air. The pad now laid on the ground with Avera underneath it.
Avera twitched an arm, coughed and made a feeble thumbs up, “not passed out!”
“But can you get up?” Kyle made no move to help yet.
Avera laid there, twitching slightly, “no. Did I get it open?”
Kyle stepped up to the door to examine the hand-sized hole she managed to bore through the metal. “You put a hole in it.”
“It’s still not going to open.”
There was a clunk as one of the deadbolts disengaged. Then another. Vicky helped Avera back to her feet. In turn, the remaining deadbolts unlocked in turn until all that remained were the wheel locks. These rotated in unison; left, right, left, quarter turn right. There was a half minute of the doors inner workings ground and spun until at last, the entire section of the wall pulled back and up on a massive pulley system.
A wave of wet heat hit them as the room beyond was opened. Gas lights flickered on, revealing dead silent machinery as far the light allowed. Kyle entered the room first, followed by Avera who leaned on Vicky for support. As they crossed the threshold, a rumble of boilers being fired up greeted their ears. Several two-story flywheels began a slow crawling spin. As the boiler pressures mounted, the wheels picked up speed and other machinery rumbled to life. Steam vented from escape ports. Small electric sparks appeared on metal surfaces, growing into wild dancing arcs.
“I think we woke it up…” Vicky whispered
AND THEN THERE WILL…. IT SEEMS MY CLOCK IS WRONG. YOU THREE, STANDING BY HATCH 5. WHAT DAY IS IT. AND IT BETTER NOT BE CHRISTMAS DAY.
All three covered their ears at the sudden voice.
“It’s… Foreday, the 23 of Venta in the year…” Avera started.
THE YEAR IS KNOWN. THANK YOU SMALL HUMAN FEMALE. OH DEAR, THEY TURNED ME OFF. DID YOU TURN ME ON SMALL HUMAN FEMALES AND ONE MALE.
“We, uh, came through the door. It was locked That’s as far as we got.” Kyle said to the room.
GOOD ENOUGH. WHAT FUN TO BE HAD AGAIN. WE SHALL BE BEST FRIENDS YOU THREE.