Infrared Isolation: Chapter 17

New to the series or certain you’ve missed a chapter? You can find the introduction Here and the table of contents Here.

I slowly woke up in a dark room. It took me a while to figure out that I was awake at all, since I was in perfect darkness, but eventually my sluggish mind started to put together the pieces of what had happened to me. At the same time, in a way that almost felt mocking, the throbbing pain of my head and face rose to match my increasing awareness of my situation. When I finally remembered that I was probably locked up in a prison cell of some kind in the Cultist’s base, I almost lost control of the sense of panic that had been lurking at the edges of my mind ever since I opened my eyes to only darkness.

Once I had that under control, I started carefully moving my body. My hands were now fixed behind my back, pulled together by a material I couldn’t feel since both of them were numb and tingling from the position I was laying in. I felt some pain in my shoulders, back, and chest, but that probably had to do with being sprawling on a concrete floor with nothing but my wrenched-back arms to cushion me. My legs felt fine, thankfully, and I quickly realized that they’d been unbound at some point.

With that bit of good news to bolster my spirits, I carefully levered myself into a sitting position and did what stretches I could do to relieve the cramped, aching muscles crying out as I sat up. Eventually, when some of the feeling began to return to my arms, I rolled and shuffled around on the floor until I managed to get my arms up and around my legs so they were in front of me again. I gently rubbed my bonds on my face so I could get a feel for what they were made of and was surprised to feel the sharply smooth texture of nylon rope around them instead of the plastic zip ties I had expected.

With that mystery solved, I carefully worked my arms in order to restore feeling to them while doing what I could to examine my surroundings. After a minute, I concluded there wasn’t even the faintest glimmer of light anywhere. After five minutes, I realized that the faint buzzing noise I rarely noticed before it stopped was something walking back and forth outside one of my walls. It seemed quite a feat of engineering to me, to successfully block all light to a cell but not actually make it soundproof. 

Rather than think on that any longer, I started slowly shuffling along the ground until I fetched up against a wall. Using it to support me, I pushed myself to my feet and then carefully, slowly, shuffled around the room I was in. My measured steps eventually revealed I was in a room that was about thirty feet by twenty feet and that it seemed to have nothing in it except me. There was nothing along the walls, at least, not even a gap or dip in the concrete that would signal a door. The only reason I knew to expect one was the noise of someone walking outside my room.

It was possible I was in a pit, of course, but I was unable to reach any kind of ceiling at all, no matter where I stood. I considered jumping for it, but I didn’t trust myself to stick the landing in my current state, with my head still throbbing and my hands bound together. Once I was out of exploration options and my brief, aimless forays into feeling around the open space for objects yielded nothing, I found a corner and slumped down into it.

“Hello?” my voice croaked into the empty room, echoing slightly but immediately being swallowed up by the sound of me coughing. My throat was so dry, it felt like I’d been out for maybe a day. My mind started to panic about that, about what that would mean for me since prolonged unconsciousness after being beaten upside the head was rarely a good sign, but I shoved it down. I didn’t smell anything and didn’t need to use the bathroom that badly, so it couldn’t have been a whole day. I probably just felt as dry and raspy as I did because my mouth had been bleeding earlier.

Just as I was about to settle down to get what rest or sleep I could, since I was still exhausted from being beaten, I heard a sharp, rapid noise outside the walls of my cell. A moment later, before I could even begin to think what it might be, part of the wall to my left silently swung open. I was saved the worst of the effect as blinding light poured into my once-dark cell since I was behind the door, but I still couldn’t even see enough to make out a silhouette of who might have been in the doorway.

Just as my eyes started to adjust enough to see that someone was standing there, the door began to close again. “Wait!” I started coughing again as my voice caught. I nearly buckled over from the force of the coughs, but I managed to keep myself sitting up. A tall figure stepped around the doorway, blinding me once again with the light reflecting off them, before they pushed the door shut and the light vanished.

A moment later, a dim fluorescent light flickered into a view as the figure set a small lantern on the floor in the middle of the room and crouched down across it from me. As I blinked in the harsh light, I was finally able to make out Cam’s face.

“Here.” Cam shifted forward, temporarily blocking the light, and handed me a bottle. “Water.”

I twisted off the cap, clumsily breaking the seal on the flimsy plastic bottle, and then began to quickly drink, Cam spoke again. “Keep it down. Little to no talking. We’ve got a few minutes, so keep ‘em focused and to the point.”

“You’re the best.” I paused and cleared my throat, spitting the dried phlegm and blood to the side. “Anything you can do about this?” I held up my hands.

“Yeah.” Cam leaned forward and, producing a switchblade from out of nowhere, quickly sliced through the rope holding my hands together. As I rubbed my wrists and stretched my arms, Cam moved back to squatting behind the light. “I’m surprised you didn’t manage to grab anything. This is the shoddiest operation I’ve ever been nabbed by.” I could detect the slight hint of a teasing tone in Cam’s voice and that did more to set me at ease than anything Cam could have said. If they were prepared to joke around and give me shit, then things couldn’t be that dire.

“Maybe they’re not that shoddy, then.” I stood up and started stretching my entire body.

“Nah. Only reason they got us was because of those traitors. They didn’t even strip us naked, Marsh! They separated us into masculine and feminine groups and sent us into different rooms. I got sent with the masc folks and there was a bit of a commotion when they ordered us to strip to our underwear and realized some folks were wearing binders and stuff. It woulda been hilarious if it wasn’t also humiliating. Forced us to join the feminine group.”

“Sorry the death Cultists are also bigots. We’ll make sure to murder them extra good.”

There was a moment of silence as I moved over to sit next to Cam. “So you got nothing, then? No tricks hidden away?”

“I was a bit too unconscious to think of doing anything. Plus, it’s my job to get beat up and keep them focused on me. It’s your job to have so many weapons they can’t find them all.”

“Fair.” Cam sighed and then smirked. “Softie.”

I reached across the lantern and gave them a playful swat on the shoulder. “Enough jokes. Fill me in. How bad do I look?”

“Well, didn’t ruin your good looks. But they can’t ruin what you don’t have.” I chuckled a bit and gently shook my head as Cam snapped their fingers at me, to accompany their joke. After a deep and slow breath, they continued. “We’ve been here about six hours, as far as I can tell. They took all our stuff except the clothes we were wearing. I guess they think that if they keep us cold, we’ll be less likely to resist or something. I dunno.

“They’re disorganized. Leadership is just that one guy, Greg. Everyone answers to him individually and he oversees everything that’s being done. We’re in the prison cells and storage area, which is kept a bit separate from the living quarters and main armories. Trying to keep us from being able to get to them quickly, maybe. I dunno. In another minute or two, Lex is gonna show up for some private time with you and he’s our ticket out of here.”

“Representative Lex?” I rolled my shoulders and shifted my position a bit to prevent my muscles from cramping up,

“Yeah. He got assigned to guard duty for mouthing off and is probably going to use that to rough you up a bit. I heard the current shift talking about it. He seemed eager to get you alone. All the guards have keys, so he’ll be able to open the door and then we’ll take him out.”

“Why can’t we just leave?” I looked over towards where Cam had entered from and my heart sank when I realized there was no sign of the door they had used.

“No handles and stuff on the inside. They can only be opened from outside and I knew you were going to need a few minutes after that beating you got. I couldn’t risk leaving the door open for one of the guards to see during their rounds.”

“Oh.” I sighed and tried to calm my nerves as they started amping back up. “Alright, well, I guess me jump him when he shows up?”

“Yeah. You still pretend you’re still tied up and, when he comes in, you go low. I’ll go high. After that, we leave. He’s gonna be in charge of this cell block, so we won’t need to worry about someone walking past for a bit.”

I gently nodded, and blinked my eyes, trying to get my mind to settle down and focus on the situation. “I can do that.”

“Cool. I know you’re probably going to be rattled for a bit, given how many times Greg rang your bell, but just stick with me and I’ll get us out alive.”

“Always.” I took a deep breath and settled into a more slumped and defeated position on the floor. I took the bits of rope that Cam had cut off and started arranging them on my wrists as they picked up the lantern and moved into the position I’d had behind the door. I took one quick glance around the room as I adjusted the ropes to hide the spot where they’d been cut and noted that the entire thing was just as smooth, empty, and featureless as I’d thought during my stumbling in the dark. A moment later, the lantern went out and I steeled myself against the oppressive darkness.

A couple minutes passed without any sign of Representative Lex and I could feel anxiety building in my mind. When I couldn’t contain it any longer, I spoke up. “What if he doesn’t show up?”

“Then someone else will soon, with food. Or to take you to Greg. Or to mop out the room. Something will happen before long and they won’t be expecting two of us. It will be fine, Marshall.”

“How long before someone notices?”

“Hours. I only took out the guard who came for me, so it should be hours, yet.”

I nodded but didn’t say anything. A few more moments ticked past before I said “Thanks, Cam.”

“You’re welcome, Mar. You know I wouldn’t leave you here.”

I closed my eyes and quieted my breathing, trying to listen for the sounds of someone moving outside the room. It felt like hours passed before the silence broke, but some part of me knew it was only another minute or two before the steady clip of steps approaching outside stopped in front of my door.

As the door creaked open, I shut my eyes and was still almost blinded by the light that stabbed into the room. As I tried to blink some clarity into my vision, I heard the dark shape in the doorway say “Hello, Captain Marshall.” It was Representative Lex, just as Cam had promised, and I fought against every instinct screaming to throw myself at him. He needed to enter the room, first.

“I guess we get to have our time together today, after all.”

I blinked and did my best to stare defiantly at the dark figure in the doorway. “Fuck off, asshole.” My vision cleared enough to show two more shapes behind Lex, presumably there to watch his back. “Take your two cronies and fuck right off. I’m not into people like you, so go find someone else to hit on.”

Lex chuckled. “Bravado, and nothing else. We both know you can’t do anything or else all your little friends and lovers are going to get it. Maybe I’ll go visit some of them once I’m done here. Let them all know what I did to you.”

I was about to fire something back, but Lex took that moment to step into the room. I saw Cam shift their weight, ready to pounce the instant I did. I shifted backward, getting my feet under me as I pretended to try to move away from Lex’s slow advance. He seemed to be enjoying this, so it came as quite a surprise when I launched myself at his knees, knocking him down fast enough to see Cam blur past him, switchblade in hand, as they ruthlessly killed the two laborers standing just outside the doorway with a pair of quick stabs to the abdomen for each of them.

As Lex and I struggled on the ground, I was able to rapidly seize the upper hand. In his fall, I’d heard his head bounce off the concrete floor and the somewhat weakened, imprecise defense he mounted told me that Lex was probably seeing stars if he was seeing anything at all. Not one to give him a moment’s respite, I threw a pair of quick punches to his liver, shifted upward, and then slammed a fist down into his face, breaking his nose with a sickening crack. As I rolled the almost senseless man to the side, Cam dragged the two bleeding corpses into the room, making sure their clothing caught the blood flowing out of them until they were inside my cell.

As Cam stacked their two bodies in the corner they’d been hiding in, I quickly patted down Lex and started pulling things out of his pockets and off his belt. There wasn’t much there beside a small truncheon, a ring of keys, and a flash of water. After that was done, I looked over at Cam who held up a set of clubs and flasks for each of the Laborers they’d taken out and shook their head to indicate that was it. I glanced at the doorway and then moved over to look up and down the blank concrete hallway. When I saw that there was nothing to clean up and no one coming, I turned back to Cam and said “all clear.”

“Cool. Any questions you want answered?” Cam was squatting next to Lex, holding the point of their knife to his throat to keep him docile as he squirmed in discomfort and confusion. When I shook my head, Cam nodded and, rather than stab him in the throat, delivered another pair of quick stabs to the kidney. We didn’t wait around to watch Lex die, instead moving out of the room and closing the door behind us. Cam pushed in front of me once the door had clicked shut and I moved to follow them down the hallway.

Cam was in their element as we silently stalked the bland concrete halls of our prison. As I did my best to just follow them, they took out three cultists and one of the laborers as they patrolled hallways. All I could do to help was open doors, check pockets for more keys, and stay out of their way as Cam killed them so quickly they didn’t even have time to register our appearance. I still felt woozy and saw lights flickering at the edges of my vision, likely signs of a minor concussion, so I had to keep pulling my attention back to the task at hand from idle thoughts of ibuprofen and getting some proper sleep.

When we finally reached the place where Cam’s cell had been located, they started going from door to door, checking for more Wayfinders. All of them turned up empty, but going around the far corner immediately bore fruit. When I finally found the right key for the door, I opened it to find Lucas shielding his face from the light streaming in behind me. He had a pretty dark bruise up one side of his face, but the way his eyes quickly cleared and snapped to my own made it clear he was in better shape than I was. He bore a set of manacles, though, instead of rope, so it took me another minute to find the right key to open them.

While I hunted, I heard Cam in the hallway, continuing to go down the hallway in search of more Wayfinders. As the sound of frustrated grunt and jingling keys got further away, Lucas grinned up at me. “You’re a sight for sore eyes. Though, if I may say so, the sight of you looks like you’ve got sore eyes.” He chuckled as the manacles finally clicked free of his wrists and I hauled him to his feet.

I tentatively rolled my eyes and then gave a more firm grunt of exasperation when I didn’t start reeling or lose my balance. “You’re one to talk. Your face looks worse than anything I’ve been put through today and you’re stuck with it constantly.” I smirked at the faux-injured look on Lucas’ face and immediately regretted it as it pushed against one of my bruised temples. As Lucas rubbed life back into his wrists, I glanced around his cell. It was a little bit smaller than mine, but it had a small pallet in one corner and a bucket in the other. In the back of the wall, between the two, was an iron ring embedded in the concrete, with a loop of chain dangling from it.

“How’d you get out?”

I looked back to Lucas, but his attention was on the doorway where Cam was suddenly standing. I almost flinched at their sudden appearance, but managed to suppress it, which sent another wave of pain through my head as Lucas moved over to embrace their sibling. “I couldn’t manage to conceal anything on me and got this beauty mark for even trying. They kept guns on me constantly after that, so I figured I’d have to wait for a rescue.”

“I stole my guard’s keys while he was distracted during the strip search portion of our capture.” Cam shrugged. “I got sorted in with the masculine group initially, as did a few of the other non-conforming people, so there was a bit of confusion as these assholes enforced the gender binary they all seem to live under. Hid the keys and one of my knives in my shirt as I was shifted from one group to the other in my underwear. They were all too busy ogling to think to check me after that, and I got redressed without them finding the keys or knife.”

Cam huffed out a quiet laugh. “First time shitty gender assumptions actually helped me. Plus, these young guys seem pretty timid. I bet that Greg guy keeps them all on a pretty short leash. Didn’t exactly spot any feminine folks in the group that apprehended us, so I imagine they’re not exposed to anyone but people just like them.”

“At least we’ve got that going for us, then.” Lucas sighed as he stretched out his arms and legs. “Maybe you can just flash them if they spot us and Marshall and I can take them out while they’re reeling.”

“No.” Cam shook their head. “I’m not doing that. You know how I-”

“I know, sorry.” Lucas smiled apologetically. “I’m just nervous. It was a dumb joke. We’ll just kill them.”

“All we’ve got so far is Cam’s knife and a bunch of clubs. That’s great for Cam, but I’d like to find some guns or at least more knives for the two of us and whoever else we rescue next.” I blinked my eyes again, trying to chase away the last traces of being knocked unconscious as I pushed my tired mind to work. “Can we afford to split up?”

“Nope.” Lucas shook his head. “While I was being enthusiastically disciplined for trying to hide my lockpicking kit, I heard Greg tell the guards to spread us out. We’re going to need to check every door in this massive place and, if we start killing people too soon, they’re going to figure out we’re loose. They’re on one-hour guard shifts and sure, the shift just changed ten or fifteen minutes ago, but their patrols take them through the guardpost between the prison and storerooms and the barracks area. If they don’t check in every thirty-minutes, the alarm will…” Lucas trailed off as he saw the look on mine and Cam’s face. “Ah. We’d better hurry then.”

“Well, at least I can say that we’ve got four fewer laborers and five fewer cultists to kill.” Cam shrugged when I arched an eyebrow at them. “I found a couple hanging out at this little alcove at the end of the row here. They’re all tucked in cells at least.”

“Then we’d better hurry.” I sighed and pushed my aching body back into action.

Lewis rubbed his hands together and then grabbed one of the clubs I offered him. “Speed and murder it is. You two head toward the western wing and I’ll finish whatever you two didn’t get in this wing.”

“How big is this place?” I looked between Cam and Lucas as they moved right into action. “Did you two get a map somehow? How do you know about wings?”

“Cam struck gold during processing, saying something about a trap in some of our supplies that would blow up all our grenades and bullets if someone didn’t defuse it every twelve hours, so they paused outside the guardpost long enough for them to “defuse” the trap.” Lucas took the keys Cam offered him and carefully settled them in his empty fist so they wouldn’t clink as he moved. “These morons had a massive map inside the booth, just hanging on a wall, that everyone got to see while we waited. I guess except for you, since they’d already carted you off by that point.”

“Which is why I’m sticking with Cam.”

“Which is why you’re sticking with me.” Cam nodded and then gestured for me to follow them back the way we came. “We’ve got a checkpoint to clear, but there’s probably only a couple guards there now since the shifts don’t change. Hopefully taking out the guardpost will buy us a bit more time if we can get there before they realize something’s up.”

“I’ll send anyone I find there to hold it in case we need more time.” Lucas saluted Cam and then me as they turned away from us at a four-way hallway intersection. “See you soon.”

I saluted back and turned to continue following Cam. “Do you know where they stuck our things?”

Cam shook their head but said “I know where to get some of their guns, though, which I hope will be enough for now.”

“Well, that’s something.” I sighed and hustled after Cam as we ran toward what was probably going to be a fully armed and prepared guardhouse. “At least it’ll be over quick, one way or another.”

“Let’s hope so, Marshall.” Cam shot a grim look over their shoulder. “I don’t think we’re getting out of this alive any other way.”

Previous: Chapter 16

Next: Chapter 18

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