Part 8: need-to-know bASis
I had something I wanted to talk to Jasmine about, but before I could say anything... The train arrived. It stopped at our station seconds after our arrival.
BGM: Agoraphobic Sloth
Wow, that's remarkably fast. It's almost like it had been waiting for us to come by so it could try to jumpscare us.
My perspective on trains has vastly changed since, J. You should keep your mind open. There is no gain in having narrow-minded cultural assumptions about our train friends.
What are you talking about?
It's simple: trains are people like you and I. That construct. The elegancy of the train's shape. The materials used within its construction. All of this couldn't have been engineered by anyone other than the world itself.
Is it too late to exchange our protagonist for a new one? The one we've got sucks right now.
It's just a train! Let's go inside before it drives off!
She pulled me before I could place any other word. I admitted defeat and stepped in.
The doors closed behind us as a voice called out to us. It was an old voice...
No, not that voice- another voice had been drowned out.
There you are! It seems we have taken the same train after all.
I was taken aback by his sudden appearance. What were the chances we would take the same train again? E was along with him, though she was sitting on a chair further in the compartment.
A few seconds later, the train stopped at the station which housed the twins. Neither of them was waiting for the train, so it didn't take long for its doors to open... and then come closed again.
Finally, it took off once more. In the small amount of time we had before we made our way back to the lounge, I could probably talk with somebody. Just one person, though.
Per the response in the thread, it's time to learn how to use the Braille pens so we can speak with E.
I wrote about the strange secondary lab to her and she replied with an inquisitive look. I could tell, even if her upper features were obscured.
I can't say I know what its purpose is. You found a laboratory, you said? Can you describe it briefly?
I wrote onto the paper some more. I didn't have a lot of time, but if she asked for details then perhaps she figured something out that I didn't think about... I exposed the stuff that had been lying around. The formaldehyde. The computer. The password cracking and what I saw in the second room.
While waiting for her answer, I glanced at Jasmine. She was relaying what she knew to A, except she completely omitted the second laboratory.
I see... or, well, I guess I don't. Sorry, I'm not very helpful. I don't know what it's about. If it's a laboratory though, maybe...
She pensively brought a hand up to her headset. Was it related to that laboratory? Suddenly, I believed that perhaps the link she shared with this place may be more conventional than ours.
However, before I could ask her anything else, the station came into view outside of the windows. The train was going to stop. Extending this was an exercise in futility for the time being.
BGM: Ambient Strain
After you, then.
The old man went to fetch E while I left the train with Jasmine.
Are you sure we need all this secrecy?
Information is important here. You never know who you can trust.
We took our conversation further away, into the lobby. Then we went up the stairs ahead of the old man and E, who had just come out of the train.
The lounge was becoming out hangout spot rather quickly. It made me comfortable, but Jasmine's presence was slightly unnerving. I didn't truly believe the old man was suspicious of our secret, or that he had any right to be doubted. After all, he had been helpful so far. He gave me a way to talk with E and he shared information.
I think that's too paranoid.
Look who's talking, Mr. Afraid-Of-Everything!
Hey, that's not fair...
Life's not fair either but I shouldn't be this harsh, you're right. Listen, I just think... there's a bigger puzzle to solve beyond each individual station.
What makes you say that?
She closed her eyes and thought about it intensely, reclining on a couch. I joined her. Even if I got mad at her a little, it wouldn't last very long.
I don't know... I just feel that way, I guess. We found that door and we have no way to open it. Back in the first station we explored, Ray and me, we found some other stuff. There was a hidden room...
BGM: Alarming Silence
Jasmine was no longer merely thinking about the situation. She leaned towards me insistently as if seeking my approval. I could do nothing but nod. Something felt wrong but I didn't really have a grip on reality. Where were the others? Where were the old man and the disabled girl? Shouldn't they have come up the stairs too? Instead, I found myself prey for Jasmine's ideas. She was right, in a way. It was difficult to trust anyone but one's close friends. However...
The thought that Jasmine felt different flashed by again. I couldn't shake that feeling and it made me quite uncomfortable too. Jasmine was dependable, but Jasmine was also a person who usually went with the flow. She didn't really force it. Was she a leader? Totally. But she wasn't one to direct things and she'd been quite bossy so far. And yet, she was the only person I could fully trust here, other than Marco. I felt something against my cheek. It was her hand! She was holding my chin and she turned my head towards her. All I could see now was Jasmine.
Let's just get out of here alive, okay? Anything could happen here, and actions speak louder than words. Don't you agree, S? That's why some things are better left unsaid.
Her breath was heavier. Was she flirting? Was this her way of flirting? I couldn't understand. My heartbeat picked up. At that moment, I didn't realize how much of a dumb teen I was being. I was nervous like some sort of clueless, overeager virgin. But... if she was scared in here, she would understand that perhaps we might die here. If that was the case and my feelings weren't unrequited, then... what she was suggesting...
There's something very funny about the dissonance from Simon getting lost in his head at the slightest attention by the girl he likes while the music is this foreboding ambient horror track
S-Sure. I want to get out of this alive too.
What she was suggesting was to make my attraction to her more obvious, to let my actions speak, instead of my words. Since A and E hadn't come up the stairs yet, we were still alone here. For all we knew, this game would kill me so there was no other option. I had to do something, and let her know that....
And maybe she felt the same way...
That was a strong memory. It was all the stronger now. Why was I thinking about this stupid train again? I had to think about Jasmine. Maybe I could do it... maybe I could tell her...
BGM: Agoraphobic Sloth
In the room, two figures had walked in. They were A and E. Following after them, two more came in: Ray and Marco. They were both fine. My joker of a friend looked at me strangely and I realized I was still somewhat awkwardly sitting down. Thanks, Jasmine.
All of you are back! I'm so glad you're fine.
Yeah, we're back. No signs of the blond furies?
I had to calm down a little. Ray's tone made me feel in danger even if there was no danger at all. Why did I feel so tense? Was it because of Jasmine's actions? I stood up to prepare for a stroll. I needed to clear my head and the best way was to stretch my legs.
I'm just gonna have a little look around for a bit. You don't mind, right?
She gave me a complicit smile, as if she was aware of the effect she had on me. Meanwhile, Marco dropped himself onto the couch, taking my previous spot. He could enjoy the heat I left behind if he wanted, sure.
Ray sat on the one opposite to it, apparently glad he finally got a comfortable seat, since he'd only had a stool before. I didn't know which station they explored but it didn't look like he'd been comfortable there, either.
BGM: Ambient Strain
Cutting my thoughts short, the old man joined me in the lobby.
Ah, S, my legs could use a stroll as well. Shall we go? Do you want to head to a station or something?
I squinted a little, incapable of hiding my suspicion. This was very ill-timed. I did want to be alone doing this, so nobody else would think I was exploring a new station. Why was A here? Was he hiding something too? This was a little dangerous, all of a sudden. Perhaps Jasmine was right.
Or perhaps Jasmine's paranoia was spreading to me. Usually, I was the scaredy-cat, not Jasmine. This thought pattern should've been what I came up with, not something she suggested! I sighed to myself. The moment one started doubting everything, they wouldn't be able to trust anything. The old man arched a brow, unable to read my mind.
Jasmine's behavior weighed heavily on my mind, too. There was something a little... wrong... with her. If I stayed, perhaps something bad might happen too. Something bad might happen... such as getting into a real relationship. I was so afraid of commitment.
I scratched the side of my head in indecision.
BGM: Agoraphobic Sloth
I wanted to know more about him either way. Perhaps this would give me an idea for the possible link between him, E, and the rest of us. They were dressed in such strange fashion, and they clearly knew each other.
Alright, sure, let's go. Where to?
He smiled at me. Agreeing to his proposition was putting him in a good mood. He answered while we walked to the station proper.
I suggest we leave for the station you've explored before. Do you believe that would be a good course of action?
I mentally cursed. If I disagreed with him, it would look like I was hiding something, and if I agreed, then he'd find out about what Jasmine wanted to keep the others from. Him figuring it out at this point was an eventually, no longer only a possibility. Even if I chose to stay, he could go there on his own, and...
That was why it was probably better if I went with him. Now I understood why Jasmine was so paranoid: this man was cunning, more cunning than I thought.
Simon he has literally said like two things to you there literally has been nothing for him to be cunning ABOUT
Fine, let's head over to the science laboratory. What exactly was in the room you explored with E, again?
But it will have to wait until we get to the station. The train is here, so let's go.
We entered the train. As usual, the little chime announcing the train's departure rang and the doors closed. I wondered if the ones still in the lounge could hear it. That thing was pretty loud.
In the train, we had two stations to wait for, so I could ask him some things if I wanted.
Well, I'm definitely not picking that last one, and unless they let me ask all three I think I'm comfortable skipping the 'age gap' one because that, uh, gives me a bad feeling So we'll start with how they know each other.
-A and E's relationship
Are you and E related... somehow?
A was searching for his words. That was somewhat rare of an occurence for him.
The simplest way to explain it would be... I work for the company that has produced the headset and the mask she wears. The two of those objects are very complex. That same company has made the pens you have in your possession, too. My department specializes in... reproduction. Recreation. Printing, or many kinds of printing.
He put a finger in front of his lips, as if calling for silence.
The train came to a stop at a station. This wasn't our stop, but we were getting there soon. After a few seconds, the doors opened. After another few seconds, they closed. We remained silent as the train did its routine. The same chime from earlier sang its tune, and then we were off.
Since we had some time again, I quickly chose how to use it.
I highly doubt he's gonna tell me anything useful, but I might as well ask about the bag
-A's bag and what it contains
Your bag is the only thing I've seen that hasn't been confiscated by Smiley so far. My phone, my wallet, everything's gone, and it's the same for M. What exactly is in there, if it's not too rude?
Though it would've been much simpler if he would've taken it away. I'm sure the fact I have more possessions hasn't escaped the eye of many others in the group. It is such a shame, perhaps they'll choose to trust me less as a result.
He sighed and gave me a sad smile, which made him look even older. I didn't really know what to think of his bag, to be entirely honest. One thing I knew... I didn't like that he had it. There was something in there he didn't want anyone else to find out about.
BGM: Ambient Strain
Let's get a move on. It would be silly to make this walk take any longer than necessary, after all. We do have to go back as well. Wouldn't you agree?
I agreed, yet I remained uncertain of this man's motives. We both left the train and just as quickly, we went for the lobby. The old man was leading the chase: he was moving rather rapidly, disregarding my pace. It felt as though he'd grown impatient. His manners were less polite than before. I felt it strange how he'd changed so much so quickly.
Once we were in the laboratory, he quickly examined the room.
BGM: Ascertaining Speech
However, I will be straight with you: the company I am a part of is doing some... illegal activities.
That's surprising, shouldn't you want to hide this stuff?
He didn't stop moving as he spoke. He shook his head.
There are some branches in this organization that are less reliable. Problematic, to put it simply, if they came to light. This is a rather unique location.
He motioned at the entire room, but he didn't mean this room. Clearly, this old man meant that the entire refurbishing of the metro was a part of what he was investigating.
When I say unique, I don't truly mean it, because we had another one very similar to this one somewhere else.
He opened some drawers, looking at their contents. I looked over his shoulder and I noticed that there was a knife rack. One of the knives was missing.
You mean, the subway in New York?
I am unable to say anything else about it. Breach of contract. At any rate, I am here to bring Smiley to justice, and I require assistance. When we capture him, you will be hailed as a hero.
He offered a smile. I could tell that he was genuinely looking for help, but was that because he was unsure about his own chances of success? This was a deal in which I had nothing to lose, though.
Okay... but I'll need to know more.
I admire your inquiries, but I will be unable to provide you with more details. It's on a need-to-know basis, unfortunately. Otherwise...
He leaned in a little more. This whole time, he'd been talking very low, and I only noticed just now.
Smiley may catch wind of what I'm doing.
He pulled back to where he'd been before.
The old man took a glance towards the strong door. Crud, he found it. Not that it was difficult to do, since it was pretty plainly in the open...
He reached into his bag and pulled out what looked like a strange remote. It had over twenty-six buttons on its surface, each labeled with a letter. Near the top was a small screen showing a few asterisks. The man pushed a few more buttons, and pointed the remote at the door without a handle. The beep coming from it signaled an error, and the screen cleared itself.
I don't know how many attempts we have with this, but as I toyed with it earlier I thought to perhaps enter some digits. Turns out, this remote takes five of them. Unfortunately...
He sighed, as if his lack of knowledge weighed as would the world upon his shoulders.
Wait, aren't we searching for the ninth person?
Yes, but... let's just say that is no longer our priority.
Have you found them?
I was... slightly mistaken. It is not really a ninth... person. I have great cause to believe that this remote is the object we're supposed to find. The ninth person probably is...
BGM: Algorithm Simile
The best hiding place is a room people can't access. If I had to guess, this tool can be used to open any and all doors you may come across. Look at this door, for example...
He reached for the wall, and let his hand slowly come down its smooth surface.
It has no handle, and yet it clearly is a door with a window, tantalizing us with the contents it holds. This would have no purpose to be shown... if it wasn't something important. It may very well be where Smiley is as well, watching on all these monitors and orchestrating our every move.
Of course, as I am sure you are eager to leave, we cannot simply go right now. If you even managed to make your way out of here, maybe that, too, would've been part of Smiley's plan.
Didn't you JUST say your company was doing illegal/unethical stuff?
Do you understand?
I guess... but if we can leave, then I will. Is that fine for my terms?
He didn't look too pleased with that, but he abdicated quickly.
He handed me the remote. I took it with slight surprise.
This is my gift for you right now. If you find anything that will let you use this remote by investigating other stations, you would do well to let me know. I leave it with you, so that you may check for yourself. I have already memorized what this remote looks like, what its function seems to be, and the engravings on the back.
As I held it, I realized there were little dots on the back. However, nothing of it meant anything to me.
What are those for?
I didn't like how he insisted on keeping me in the dark, but also wanted me to cooperate. This was increasingly becoming a one-way deal.
But wait, if this is where Smiley is, why would he give us a way to reach him?
I honestly don't know. Perhaps, in his insanity, he has decided to give us a fair chance. Let's not squander it.
You should not share any of what I told you with anybody else, even your acquaintances. I have strong suspicions that one of them is Smiley's accomplice. That is to say... a traitor.
My eyes widened in apprehension and disbelief. I didn't think Jasmine or Marco could've been allied with Smiley.
But even if they know, if everyone knows, wouldn't they be unable to act?
BGM: Abyssal Snarl
He put some emphasis on the mention of my friends. He did have a point.
Before we go, do you doubt anybody in particular?
I thought about the only people I really knew much about : Jasmine and Marco. I knew Marco; he did study in fields of science, so he wouldn't be incapable of setting this whole thing up... ...but I just couldn't see him in that role. He was a buffoon. Perhaps he was a smart buffoon, but a buffoon nonetheless.
Jasmine... had changed since I'd last seen her before all this. Perhaps Jasmine... Perhaps she might have been the accomplice. However, that was only a random guess, and I didn't want this man to suspect Jasmine.
Why is 'always took sips' on that list???
E was disabled, and the twins were young. The chances they were involved in this were remarkably slim. After all, who'd ever heard of a situation like this being orchestrated by a teen or a disabled person?
No, I don't have any doubts. I'm trying to think about it, but nothing comes to mind.
The problem was... that hypothesis was that Jasmine was the accomplice, and I didn't like that.
BGM: Agoraphobic Sloth
Let us go down to take the train, then.
Before we left, I took another glance at the big door. Beyond it, between the door and the room, was a tiny... very imperceptible set of scanners. It was equipped with them, much like any other exit hallway.
What was the meaning behind this? Was this... an exit too? I kept it to myself- this meant we needed to get that ninth person, even if A believed otherwise. As we stepped down the stairs, I figured if A was right and this remote was the way to the ninth person, then those scanners wouldn't make sense.
I thought about it while we waited for the train, but nothing came to mind. That was a total enigma.
Having said all that needed to be said, our travel back to the lounge was quiet.