The Start of a Friendship
Looking at Connor, all confidence as, once again, some nitwit from Archive tried his patience, Isa remembered the first time she’d worked with him. He’d been with Primrose for barely four months and worked as a researcher under Holloway. And he’d been young, so terribly young, and incredibly eager to learn.
Isa had been Matthews PA for roughly five years already when Connor had temporarily replaced Crosby from team Delta, who was home with a broken arm, on an assignment to a mansion rumoured to be haunted. They weren’t hunting ghosts, of course, but an A-Watch alert. Something alien had holed up in that mansion.
She had been studying Connor and his personnel file during the drive. Considering it had been his sixth field assignment already, it had been clear Holloway had other plans for him. His record had shown strengths she expected from any of her team mates, so, nothing out of the ordinary for a field agent… but he hadn’t been a field agent, yet. So, she had decided to keep a close eye on him…
Isa teamed up with young Connor Smith, and let him take the lead as she followed him into the left corridor.
As they approached the first of three doors, the soft sounds of their footsteps were interrupted by a whispered acknowledgement through the commlink that another room was “Clear!”. Connor opened the door without hesitation and stepped inside. Isa covered him, but stayed outside the room. The curtains were closed, and Connor flipped the light switch, despite Isa mentioning the lack of power during the briefing. She coughed, but Connor merely shrugged.
“Habit,” he whispered as he grabbed his torch and pointed it along the walls, floor, and ceiling.
Isa tried not to be impressed. Many new recruits forgot the ceilings, and more often than not got slimed for it. But Connor didn’t forget, and repeated his zigzag motion a second time. Nothing moved in the shadows, or the light.
He then shuffled along the wall toward the large windows, and pulled the curtain open slowly. Nothing hiding behind those, either. With one last zigzag around the room, he returned to the corridor, and proclaimed the room “Clear!” through the commlink.
He followed the same routine with the second and third room, showing himself human when he jumped at a large, dead spider dropping from the last curtain rail. Isa giggled as he stomped on it with his heel, then moved past her into the corridor.
As they entered the hall, the rest filed in, too, one by one, including the outdoor teams, and Isa declared the ground floor cleared.
Most of the first-floor rooms seemed as untouched as the ones on the ground floor. They reached the back of the corridor when Connor stumbled across oversized orange rat droppings in front of the final door. They both froze, and crouched down.
“Listen up, Everyone,” Isa whispered through the commlink. “We found traces in the east wing, near the end of the corridor. They look like large rat droppings.”
“Be careful,” Groom, Team Charlie’s leader, replied among the murmurs of acknowledgement echoing in her ear.
At her sign, Connor opened the door, revealing a narrow set of stairs to the second floor, and more of the droppings.
“Servant stairs?” he asked.
“Probably.” It was a dark, narrow space, and she could barely see her own hand in front of her. She pointed her torch. “Proceed.”
Lighting his face, Connor nodded, and together they ascended the stairs, one step at a time. Isa cringed when a step halfway up creaked beneath Connor’s foot. He stopped, head tilted as he stared up. It stayed eerily quiet.
After a moment, they continued up the stairs until they reached the second floor. There were no windows here, but tiny beams of light shone through some small cracks in the old roof. Isa could just about make out the wall to the far left of the room and checked it for a way out. But if there were doors, they were hidden in the darkness.
Connor moved aside to make room for her. Isa took the last step and shuffled forward a few spaces, lighting a path on the floor. Together, they scanned the floor. No aliens, but there were orange droppings everywhere.
“I think they may be up there,” Connor whispered, an obvious wobble in his voice. Isa ignored it and pointed her torch toward the ceiling. Clinging to the roof beams, were red brown scaled critters the size of backpacks.
The scales looked metallic in the torch light, thick, too. They were packed so tightly, that it was impossible to see how many legs they had, or where their heads were, exactly. Assuming they had actual heads.
“Oh. Wow,” Connor muttered at the same time as Isa informed the rest of the teams, “We found them. Second floor back of the east wi—” She stopped when the critters moved, as if they were following her voice.
At the same time something scuttered across the floor behind them, and when Connor pointed his torch toward the stairs, there were at least five of the critters blocking them.
“Griffin? What’s going on?” Jimenez asked.
“They just blocked our way down. They’ve got us trapped.” Isa answered.
The critters didn’t approach them, not even as Connor and Isa moved more toward the middle. Instead, they stayed near the stairs, effectively blocking the exit. The ones hanging from the beams followed them to the middle of the room.
“Sentient.” Connor commented. He flashed his light across one of the critters. It stayed put, but its scales clicked across each other, as if the light hurt it. “Possibly good hearing. Sensitive to light.”
Isa agreed and could have easily spent the next fifteen minutes studying them, but though the team were no doubt on their way to free them, she wasn’t ready to simply wait for them. “We can find out more about them later, let’s see if there is a door in that wall.”
Connor nodded and turned towards the wall on their left. He pointed his torch across it. It was an old wooden wall with thick fabric hangings from floor to ceiling. “You think they’ll allow us closer to the wall?”
“We have to try.” Isa crossed the fingers of her free hand. Perhaps the critters wouldn’t block them.
They slowly approached the wall with no reaction from the critters near the stairs, but the ones above seemed to follow them. Pointing a torch right in front of them slowed them down, but it wouldn’t deter them for long.
“There’s a light switch,” Connor pointed his torch at it. “Want me to turn the light on?”
His hand shook, but if Isa was honest, so did hers. It was only healthy to be nervous in a situation like this. As long as he didn’t freeze, they would be all right. Isa shook her head. “We don’t want to send them into a panic.” There might not even be a working lightbulb. “As long as they don’t attack us, we consider them friendly.”
“But do they consider us friendly?”
“I like to think so. Besides, turning on the light might well be seen as an act of aggression.”
“Good point.” Connor moved his torch away from the light switch and concentrated on a rather wide crack between planks right next to one of the wall hangings. “What do you think? Could be our door.”
Isa used her own torch to follow the crack to the floor and see if there would be a gap there, too. There was. The door sat right in between two of the wall hangings. But as they followed the outlines, neither found a knob or a keyhole, or even a sign that there had ever been one.
“Maybe it’s one of those secret doors, with a hidden mechanism,” Connor suggested.
Or the door had been nailed shut at some point, but Isa didn’t want to dash Connor’s hope. “How do you think it opens?”
Connor pushed on one side, trying different heights, but nothing happened. He repeated the same motion on the other side, but, again, nothing. He managed to get his fingers into a wider part of the gap and tried to pull it open, but only succeeded in tearing a nail. He grimaced as he studied it, then bit off a sharp edge and spit it on the floor.
“Sorry, I think we’re stuck here for a while.”
Isa wasn’t ready to give up, but Connor was probably right. She checked the floor for rat droppings. If she was going to have to stay, she was at least making sure the critters wouldn’t drop any surprises on them. When the floor near the wall turned out completely droppings-free, she sat down. After a moment of rigorously wiping his hands on his trousers, Connor did, too.
Together, they watched the strange critters move along the beams as a group, to settle close, but not directly above them. To their right, orange droppings splattered to the floor. They stared at it, then at each other, and finally at the critters.
“How very considerate of the creatures, to not drop any on us,” Connor said deadpan.
Isa couldn’t hold it in any longer, and laughed. And Connor soon followed. Not a loud, happy laughter, but a nervous, quiet one. Still, it echoed through the room, and the critters reacted to it instantly. For a moment, Isa thought the critters would attack, but they surprised her by…shaking. Their bodies were actually shaking, as if they were laughing as well.
It was the start of shared lunches, long conversations, and a warm and close friendship that Isa cherished every day.