Upon arriving on Adnan’s Island, they weren’t really sure whether or not to be surprised that everything was still there.
For starters, everything looked just as it had the day before, to say nothing of every bit as brooding. Everything still intact, everything still standing. Begging the question of whether or not anything actually happened.
As a simple precaution, they circled around the island again, seeing the docks on the far side just as deserted as before. All the windows of every building as dark as they left them. If anything had happened in the meantime, there was no way to tell from here.
“Let’s take a closer look,” Shades said as they came back around to the main docks. No new arrivals, either, so once again they had the island to themselves. In spite of how eerie it felt, he could tell his friends also wanted to know what was going on.
No one said a word as they pulled up and docked.
As they prepared to disembark, Shades brought out their radio gear, saying, “For now, we’re gonna stick together, but I think we should carry these. Just in case.”
“No argument here.” Recalling their last couple expeditions, Justin was glad he thought of that.
“Though it doesn’t look like anything happened, we should still keep our guard up,” Shades went on. “If it proves safe enough, we might spread out and test the range on these things. We could use it as a training exercise. We’ve been lucky so far, but if we keep running into people like Erix and Striker, we need to get our act together.”
Perhaps he was putting too much stock in dreams, but anymore he often got the peculiar feeling that still greater challenges awaited them along the way.
“Black Ops?” Max asked, recalling Shades’ nickname for his and his friends’ mostly late-night antics and exploits back on Earth.
“Not quite,” Shades replied, not liking the idea of doing something like that after Mr Donaldson practically agreed to look the other way while they were out here.
“After we’ve secured the area.” Justin paused for a moment, realizing, to his chagrin, that that sounded like something Shades would say, then shrugged it off.
About then it started to rain, and the three of them seemed to arrive at an unspoken agreement to take their investigation inside.
“Where do we start?” Max asked as they made their way up to the main walkway in front of the Academy.
“The main building,” Shades decided, seeing no apparent signs of any recent activity beside their own between the dock and here. “It’s as good a place as any to start.”
He picked the lock on the large double doors and they were in. It was more of a disappointment than a surprise to try the light switches and find the power shut off. Switching on their headlamps, they ascended a couple more steps from the foyer into a grand hallway running both left and right from this middle segment, doors lining both sides.
Their steps echoed deeply in the silent building.
Across from the front entrance, they found the main offices. The lock put up a bit more resistance than the rest, but Shades got it open, then proceeded to demonstrate the “infiltration” training idea he originally had in mind. From there, they turned left and went down one side of the hall. Shades picking the locks and opening each door. Justin checking inside, power pistol readied. Max standing to the doorknob side of each door to cover Justin.
Bandit tagging along idly, watching them with detached curiosity.
They continued like this, using Shades’ plan, going up one side of the hallway and down the other, finding nothing but vacant classrooms interspersed with the occasional office. Finding ascending and descending stairways at each end, they decided to investigate the second floor first. Finding more of the same— unoccupied rooms full of tables and desks and empty offices— they moved on to the top floor to find it just as deserted.
As they headed back down to check the partial basement, Shades wondered why he hadn’t thought to check down there first, thinking it would have been more strategically sound. Then again, given that there were only three of them conducting this exercise, that still would have left the ground floor and both stairways uncovered. By that point they were getting pretty good at their roles, so he mostly just cautioned them against getting bored and losing focus, while Justin wondered if they weren’t going a little overboard with this.
Although giving the impression of having been run decently once upon a time, this basement level had, at some point, fallen out of use, relegated to the storage of unused desks, chairs, and piles of boxes. Everything now blanketed in dust and cobwebs, what few windows there were confined to the rooms themselves and the stair landings. A grimy shaft of light slanting down from the steps at the far end, with lines of shadowy doors in between.
“So, where to next?” Max asked as they finished their rounds down here.
“That other school building, I think. But first…” Shades trailed off, looking down the dim, shadowy hall to one of only two unlocked doors on this entire level, marked BOYS, “I’ve gotta go.”
“But I thought we weren’t supposed to split up,” Justin reminded him.
“I know what I said,” Shades replied. Still vividly remembered what happened the last couple times they let themselves get separated, which wasn’t helping. “You just stand out here and wait, in case anything other than shit happens.”
Justin and Max agreed, sharing an edgy laugh.
As Shades entered the restroom, he pondered again, as he occasionally did, how what few rules existed in the Sixth Dimension as a whole tended to resemble those of a horror movie. Don’t get separated. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t go out after dark. Don’t answer the door. Don’t go in the basement. Don’t go back for anything.
And one that gave him a chill: Never say you’ll be right back.
Given how many of those rules he walked all over since setting foot in St Lucy, he now wondered why he didn’t just think to use the restroom on the ground floor. Yet he was not about to go back and tell Justin he just retreated from nothing; perhaps if he was alone…
The room itself had a couple sinks, a length of mirror, and related fixtures. Two urinals across from them, and three stalls in the back. Most of his light came from a frosted slit of a window near the ceiling, and everything smelled mildewy.
Deciding to maintain an attitude of vigilance, he picked the rearmost stall for its proximity to a ground-level escape hatch, should he need it. It was only after he locked himself in that it dawned on him that a threat could also enter by that way, as well. That was when he spotted something scrawled among the juvenile graffiti on the divider wall.
In that shaky hand in which all but the most adept of vandals seemed to be able to manage:
THE BERKEN INSTATUTE
THE SLEEPER I
THE SLEEPER II
Arrayed around the usual Shithouse Poet Anthology, with a bunch of arrows connecting them in an arrangement whose significance would probably only reveal itself to him with more info to fill in the blanks. As he lowered the toilet seat, he caught a whiff of stale ashtray, for the first time noticing a small collection of snubbed cigarette butts back there. Given such an out-of-the-way location, it was hard to imagine faculty or staff sneaking off down here.
Now he was quite sure the students of this particular school couldn’t possibly be any older than himself.