WARNING: This series contains violence and graphic language. It may not be suitable for readers under the age of 16.
The wonderful thing about the ARC Penitentiary for the guards was the that they didn't need to do much. What inmate in their right mind would try to escape a prison cell made up of sheets of water? Consequently, they didn't exactly patrol the narrow halls between the prison cells very often. If an inmate was killed by their cellmate, there was no way for said cellmate to hide it, which would lead to immediate and permanent consequences. If an inmate tried to escape, they'd know, and there was no tunneling out of the ARC Penitentiary. Prisoners had a strict tube and paste diet. No spoons or utensils to use, nowhere to go, no need for guards to patrol.
They of course walked them to their showers, recreational time and meals---there was a good deal of monitoring the inmates then. But during cell time, there were about two guards total in the cell area. One covering the elevator, one covering the back door to leading to the Med Bay.
All in all, guards had a pretty good set up. Prisoners stayed where they belonged and guards didn't have to move much because of it. Good for the guards and even better for the two Runners working undercover as prisoners.
The cascading walls of water that served as the bars of their prison did little to threaten the two Agency members, and the rushing sound of their cell only served to mute the sound of their conversation.
"How long do you think we have until they figure out our DNA is a dead end?" Noah asked.
"I think it's best to assume they'll figure it out sooner rather than later," Commander Valentine said as he paced the area of their cell. It was roughly the size of a cubicle. It contained a bunk bed in its middle and a toilet on either side. Not exactly the most glamorous place Noah had ever been, but not the worst. At least it was clean.
Although the water served to keep their conversation a secret, it did blur all images of the outside world.
"Shall I do the honors?" The younger agent then asked, gesturing to his bare forearm.
"Yes, I think it's about time we contacted Mr. Zdunowski," he said.
Noah pressed one of the tattooed numbers lined up along the inside of his forearm. Upon pressing the number 8, something click softly within his forearm and the number began to glow blue. The thin network of microchips that formed the headset grafted into the right side of his jaw line then began to glow as well.
"Noah, you there?" Z said. The connection had a little bit of static to it, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and his freshly shaved face prickle uncomfortably.
"For now, yeah. Have you managed to hack into the penitentiary server yet?" He asked.
"The connection isn't as stable as I'd like it to be---I think all the water running over there might have something to do with it---but yeah, I'm in. What cell are you boys in?"
"Cell 87D," Commander Valentine said. Noah looked over to see that the commander's right jaw line was also glowing a faint blue, his own head set activated and connected to their call.
"Looks like you boys aren't far from the Med Bay exit. The guard from the front elevator won't be able to see you when you make your move, but you're going to have to deal with the big guy guarding the other door," Z said, "And unfortunately, he's got a clear, 180 degree view of everything in front of him."
"We'll figure something out, Mr. Zdunowski. Do you have a visual of Ms. Eddleson or what lies ahead?"
"No visual of Eddleson, sir. The video feed only covers the above ground levels of the penitentiary and the basement where the cells are kept."
"But the blueprints we went over said there were at least three more levels below this one," Noah said.
"True enough, but whatever security they have for those levels isn't connected with the penitentiary database. Sorry commander, I've got no eyes beyond the level you're on now."
"Looks like we're going to have to do this the old fashioned way, Noah. Where is the lift down to the lower levels?" Commander Valentine asked.
"According to the blueprints, there's an elevator at the back of the Medical Bay. That's your ride, sir," Z said.
"Alright Z, stand by. We're moving."
Commander Valentine motioned for Noah to follow. Both men walked up to the wall of water boxing them in.
"Ready?" The commander asked.
When Noah nodded, the Commander disappeared through the cell wall. Noah took a deep, steadying breath and took a step forward. The feel of icy cold water washing over him made his skin crawl. Images of Sandy's mottled hands and Saul's husk of a figure crawling towards him seared through his mind as he passed through the cell.
But nothing happened. His skin remained intact, if not just a bit colder thanks to the wet.
To his immediate right, he could see the drenched Commander Valentine kneeling down at the edge of their cell and peeking around the corner. Noah knelt down too as he tried to wipe his messy hair out of his eyes.
After a few moments, Valentine turned back to face him, still crouched low to the ground, and proceeded to whisper.
"Z was right. The guard has full view of anything heading his way, so here's what we're going to do," the commander said. Before he could continue, movement beside them drew both their gazes.
In the cell parallel to their own, an inmate began to stir. Even though the water did make it hard to get a clear picture of what was going on, being this close did make it easy enough for Noah to tell that the inmate was walking towards the cell wall. Over the rush of falling water, he could just barely make out what the man muttered.
"Shit, Bill, those guys just walked out of their cell," the inmate said. Judging by the bulge, Noah guessed Bill was laying down on the bunk bed. The other figured stopped just out of reach of the cell wall, staring at them through the water.
"What're you going on about?" The other man asked.
Noah looked at Valentine with wide eyes to see the other man look at him with the same surprised look.
"Move," Valentine whispered, "Go down your way and we'll try to get him from the side before these cellmates get any ideas."
He nodded and started to make his way down the narrow space between the cells. Although he tried to minimize the sound of his footsteps and keep low to the ground, it was hard to avoid the loud squish of his wet shoes or the sound of his wet pants moving. They left a long, trailing puddle of water in their wake as they moved. Occasionally they could hear the sounds of cellmates taking notice of them, but most passed it off for being cooped up for too long.
It was when he reached the end of the walkway and was about to glance around the corner when a scream peeled throughout the quiet of the penitentiary. Noah looked over his shoulder just long enough to see a hand jerk back through the cell that had been parallel to them. In the few seconds he had seen it, he noticed that the skin was already starting to blister, ooze and rot off the man's hand.
Valentine forced Noah to look back at him and motioned for him to move with urgent hand signals. Despite the sound of the howling prisoner's screams, the commotion of the other prisoners taking notice or the echo of the guards running to the cell, Noah remained calm and timed his movements perfectly. He rounded the corner and both men slipped out of sight just as the guards got to the cell.
"What the hell happened here?" One guard yelled.
"Bring down the walls on cell 67C!"
"What happened here?"
As Noah and Valentine snuck past the last row of cells and headed for the door, he could hear the inmate's cellmate try to explain that he didn't know what happened.
"I swear, I didn't push him or nothing. He was muttering about how the water was a lie or some shit like that, I didn't---" his explanation was cut short by a soft crack and a low hum, followed by his own garbled screaming. The guards had tazed him. Noah winced in sympathy for the man as he and his commander slipped through the now unguarded door.
"A group of guards are heading towards your location through the back hall on the left. Take your next right and you'll find an equipment closet to hide in until they're gone," Z said, nearly making Noah jump.
Valentine, on the other hand, hadn't flinched at the sudden reappearance of Z's voice. He just quietly made his way around the corner and into the closet with Noah right on his heels. The door had barely clicked shut before the sound of several pairs of footsteps ran past.
"Hurry with that stretcher! Dr. Figgs, this way, please!"
Noah could hear the voice barking orders fade as the group disappeared into the cell area. At the sound of the doors slamming shut, he looked at the commander.
"You're clear for the time being," Z said, "You guys caught a lucky break. The Med Bay is empty except for one comatose prisoner. But you've only got seconds, you better get moving."
Just as Noah was about to push his way out into the hall, Valentine grabbed his arm, stopping him. Noah knew better than to talk at that moment, just in case Z was wrong and someone was in the hall, but he did look back at the commander like he was crazy.
Valentine just jerked his head, pointing the other man's attention to the contents of the shelf behind them.
They walked out into the hallway with practiced ease. Even though his heart was pounding in his chest, Noah made sure to make his stance ooze confidence to anyone who happened to look his way. They had thrown their waterlogged clothing into a large garbage can, and for the most part, had managed to tousle out most of the dampness from their hair. Now mostly dry, Noah peeked around the corner and through the window of the door that led to the cells.
One half of the guards stood around the tazed inmate, batons out and body language intimidating. The other half, mostly comprised of medical staff in white doctors' coats, were crouched around a body being loaded onto a stretcher. The inmate on the stretcher was howling, although Noah couldn't hear it through the door. The man's face was twisted in his agony. The doctors were trying to pry his arm away from his chest and even from this distance, Noah could see the damage the affected hand had taken.
There would be no salvaging that limb.
"They're still working in there, we're good to go," Noah said. He trailed off a bit as he noticed one of the guards pulling away from the group, evidently studying something on the floor. Said guard kneeled, before looking in the direction opposite of the group. "Shit, I think we've got--"
"Don't worry about the water, there's nothing we can do about it," Valentine said, grabbing his elbow again. "We need to keep moving."
They quickly walked down the hall and through the Med Bay, but what they found within gave them pause. In front of the elevator at the end of the Medical Bay waited a guard. A young, scraggly guard holding a tablet, his attention held by whatever he was reading. Valentine motioned for Noah to follow, and approached the man. When the guard didn't notice them even after they flanked him on either side, Valentine cleared his throat. The young guard jerked to attention, frightened by the sudden noise and appearance of another being in the bay.
"Oh! Sorry, I didn't see you there," the guard said.
Valentine peered over at the tablet, before looking the guard in the eyes.
"I don't think guards have clearance to read patient files, or at least," Valentine said, sizing the man up, "I don't think you do." His voice was cold steel, demanding respect. It made the young guard shrink a bit in his boots.
"I wasn't--- I just came from the lab. I'm supposed to bring this to the Warden," he stammered, "It's about the new inmates."
Valentine held his hand out to the young man expectantly.
"Hand it over," he said.
The young man looked at him suspiciously, but his suspicion was hesitant.
"Where's your IDs?" He asked.
Valentine just quirked a brow at him. The intensity of his scowl even made Noah uncomfortable. A part of him almost felt sorry for the young man being melted alive by the commander's scalding glare.
"I---Sorry, sir. Here," the young guard said, holding the now trembling tablet over.
"Good choice," Valentine said, "Now go back to the hole you came from and pray to God I don't write you up for this."
Noah had never seen a man tuck tail and run so fast before in his life. When the Medical Bay doors closed behind the young man, Valentine smirked. Noah just looked at him like he was an alien.
"How the hell did you manage to convince that kid you were a superior officer, let alone a guard?"
The elevator binged and the doors opened to expose a rather cryptic looking interior. Valentine just gave Noah a smirk before walking into the elevator. He got in after his commander and the doors of the elevator closed.
There was no going up, that much was obvious. The elevator's light was currently on 1, their current floor. Beyond that, there were two more numbers.
"Where to next, Mr. Zdunowski?" Valentine asked.
"I don't know what to tell you, Commander. The blueprints show that there are more levels below, but there's no labels. I can have the crew analyze the schematics for the area most likely to be the laboratory, but that doesn't mean it'll be right or that Eddleson will be there," Z said, his voice crackly with static.
"It's alright. It doesn't sound like we'll have this phone connection much longer anyways."
"Hey Z, what happened to 'there's no one in the Med Bay but a comatose guy'?" Noah said, mimicking the other man's voice.
"You win some, you lose some," Z said, "Be careful guys. I'll try to keep the connection strong for as long as I can."
"Thank you, Mr. Zdunowski," the commander said. He then pressed the Level 3 button.
"Level 3?" Noah asked.
"It's just a hunch. If I was the head of a company whose integrity relied upon the safe keeping and experimentation of a subject, I'd put them as deep into my stronghold as possible."
Together, they watched the numbers light up and fade until finally, the elevator stopped on Level 3. The doors opened and they stepped out cautiously. Before them was a long network of narrow hallways and no one in immediate sight. Noah turned to the commander.
"What does the tablet say?" he asked.
Valentine reactivated the screen and read it.
"Reports that our fingerprints had been burned off acidically, so identification could be made in that form. The DNA swabs taken haven't been matched against anyone in the ARC Government Database," he said, "In short, they've got nothing on us. They might not understand the significance of that, but if the Warden is in with the HsO Company, we can expect he'd know who he's dealing with."
The commander then took the thin tablet and snapped it against his knee with a crack and a spark. Noah watched in a shock as the man then two the pieces and tossed them behind a nearby potted plant, making sure they were out of sight before walking back over to Noah.
"Let's go," the commander said.
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"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011
"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011