“There’s a server room on the main hallway, ten minutes walk from here.”
Eli’s attention was on Keaton. While the others displayed some quiet form of anger, Keaton’s expression was flat. Eli listened to her speak as she tried to gauge how she was feeling. Was she numbed by what she read in this room? How many little implications had her power confirmed as she noticed the remains in the cell? While the information she was giving them about their next move was a blessing, Eli was sure that in this room Keaton’s ability was a curse. Yet as Eli watched her gather more papers, more evidence, Eli knew that Keaton felt the same way as herself.
A quick walk to a server room and they’d be able to make use of them. It was going to be tough given the expression on their faces. Eli wondered how her own expression looked. It certainly didn’t stand out as much as Natalie’s or Lynn’s, but she was sure that it was darker than Keaton’s. If anything, she hoped that whatever emotion she displayed would give her friends stability. They’d need to keep it in check for just a little longer. Just until their final move on this station.
“Then let’s go, please.”
Eli looked at Archie and gave him a nod. He was doing well, given the circumstances. His pace was even and there had been no beeping from his watch yet. Eli turned her focus onto the hallways before her as the group headed deeper into the Spire. She walked as if she’d been to the Spire before. She kept her head high, and took the inner edge of the circle so that Lynn would be hidden behind her height. If anyone even looked their way she moved to block their view of Lynn. She only gave subtle glances towards their tour guide when she needed to know where to go next, but for most of it she stared straight ahead. At the moment she couldn’t give a fuck who walked by her, how old they were, how depressed or proud they were of their job, or if they had a shoelace untied. These people- no matter how true their intentions- were here because they were okay with the fucked up things that happen behind all of these closed doors.
They might have been taught to feel this way at a young age, but that doesn’t make it an excuse. These people chose to accept it. They decided that parahumans were a disease on their own terms. They were wolves in sheeps clothing.
They arrived at an elevator and Eli was relieved to immediately board it. The less time they spent standing still the better. She positioned herself at the front of the group, offering the personnel that joined them a professional nod before staring ahead. They were doing great. No suspicious eyes so far. Still, a part of her worried that they were just rats in a maze. Was the staff already aware of their little break-in and they were just seeing how far this group could go?
They finally made it to their floor. Eli felt like she could breathe again as she stepped into the hall. She looked over at Keaton. Her eyes most likely displayed her growing anxiety. The fire from before was still within her, but that elevator ride certainly smothered a few embers. She needed to keep moving. She was just about to ask Keaton how much farther they had to go when the first alarm went off.
Eli’s heart immediately jumped into her throat, but she didn’t falter in her steps. She heard Archie’s monitor faintly beneath the louder alarm overhead and looked his way. He had that look in his eyes. She knew the predator was aching to come out, but she could also see him fighting against it. Her eyes remained on him as the announcement began. Her heartbeat was loud in her chest. What would they do now that they were caught? They were floors away from their exit. There was no sense in turning back. Plus, they were so close to the server room. They only needed a bit more time!
"ATTENTION. PARAHUMAN PSYCHIATRIC WARD CONTAINMENT BREACH. ALL PERSONELLE RETURN TO NEAREST SHELTER AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTION."
Eli’s heart skipped a beat. It wasn’t for them. The alarm was meant for someone else. Some other unfortunate soul. She looked around at her group and could see that they were barely keeping it together. The other employees were scuffling by, and her friends were standing like deer in headlights. She wanted to tell them to hurry, but she wasn’t sure if they’d snap if she yelled at them. Archie might snap.
To her surprise, though, Archie made the first command. She stepped back to let him move past her, but followed closely behind him. He was changing already. The lab coat looked shorter than before. He was beginning to look a lot like the night he carried her from the forest. Not as dramatic as a change as the loading bay, but he was getting there. They were on the door to the server room in seconds. Eli wasn’t sure how the others were doing now that they made it. Her eyes were still on Archie. He was acting fine, but he didn’t look fine. His eyes... his eyes weren’t his own anymore. Eli couldn’t even process the crude joke Lynn made to Nic. In fact, she knew Lynn was making jokes this entire time but had no time to react to them. This was nothing like their usual roast sessions. This was life or death. Lynn’s humorous coping mechanism wasn’t working. She wasn’t even distracted by the team’s effortless collaboration. She wanted to feel pride for them, but all she could feel was worry.
“Uh, Eli…” Lynn’s voice was low.
Eli knew what she had to do, but could she do it under this amount of pressure? Could she take herself to a peaceful place amidst this chaos and bring Archie with her? The alarms were loud intrusions into her mind. The halls were empty and yet the chaos still lingered. Her fear was achingly present and was growing with every step she took towards him. Her hand was inches from his arm. She’d have to give it her best shot if she wanted to bring him back from the edge. If she shared the chaotic buzz that was inside her head he would surely lose it. She closed her eyes. He’s not there yet… It’s still Archie.
It was just Eli and the alarms now. In her mind, she was standing alone in the halls. Lights were flashing different shades of red around her. She could feel an ominous presence just around the corner. Not sure exactly what it was, but knowing that it was coming. Her body was tense and her heart still racing. She needed to go somewhere else. She tried to go to the place she’d been before with Archie, but she couldn’t picture it again. Not like this. She needed to find her own peaceful place. It only took her a few seconds, but she was there. Her physical self pressed her palm against Archie and suddenly he was next to her.
Eli looked up from where she stood in a large expanse of sand and dirt. Little desert fauna littered the ground, and every now and then a Joshua tree was standing tall. Eli moved her eyes away from Archie and turned her head to the sky. It was dark out, but the light of the stars and Milky Way band illuminated the desert in a way the sun never could. A warm breeze brushed past them and they felt goosebumps from the chilly night air. Nearby a lizard scuttled over a rock and into the safety of a desert bush. It was a peaceful night in the Arizona desert.
Eli’s heart slowed until she could breathe evenly again. She looked back to Archie and gave him a little smile even though she could still see the reptile in his eyes.
“We can stay here as long as you need to.”
On the outside of her little safe space, Eli’s eyes were still closed. Her hand pressed to Archie’s arm as if it were a lifeline. She had complete control of what was going on inside of Archie’s mind, but her effect on the area around her was stronger given her erratic emotions when she began. Her anxiety of producing a hallucination was leaking into the minds of those closest to her, unknowingly. In a way it might have helped her teammates, but it could also affect them negatively. The sudden whoosh of air flowing past them or the scuttling feet of the lizard might alarm them. Their vision could be clouded by a haze of twinkling stars on top of their view of the broken door before them.
Eli was blissfully unaware of this. She wasn’t thinking about the papers tucked into her coat’s pocket and how they needed to be shared with the world. She wasn’t thinking about the alarms or the Spire. She was still surrounded by her own visionary illusion for Archie’s sake.