Hugh Thompson sat quietly at his dining room table and contemplated the message he had received over his visiphone. He hadn't turned off the phone's screen yet. He stared at the menu, noting it was 9:50PM. He flipped a keycard between the fingers of his right hand, and as it rolled between his index finger and thumb, he stopped juggling it and tapped it on the table. There was so much to think about. He decided to listen to the message again and touched the replay option. A red-headed woman appeared on the screen, smiling sweetly. It was only a recording, but Hugh still smiled back.
Hi, Hugh. It's Amy. Of course, ha ha. You can see me; why am I saying who I am? Anyway, I'm sorry this is so sudden, but I've been hired temporarily by Central Command for a special project. I'm not sure how long I'm going to be gone, but it might be a while. I'll be in Paseo for the duration, but of course if I get any free time I'll be sure to check on things in Oputa. I asked Heinz to check the house occasionally to make sure it's not flooding or whatever, but I want you to have the other keycard in case you need to borrow something. So here… I'm sending you my keycard.
The woman put a keycard into a mini-teleportation unit and punched a few buttons on the front of the machine. Let me know if it gets lost in the ether! She laughed then cleared her throat before continuing.
I know you tend to over think things, but I want you to know I'm in good hands. My new coworkers are all really nice, even though I'm not used to working with people outside the hospital. It's going to be a great experience, I think. Oh, and I might need your expertise occasionally. I hope that's all right. Hey, maybe I should ask them to hire you, too! Um, I guess that's it for now. I'll miss seeing you and the rest of the gang around Great Light. Call me on my mobile when you get a chance, and say hi to Rita for me. Bye!
The last thing to appear on the message was the woman reaching toward the phone, and then the call ended and it was back to the bluish-gray main menu screen. Hugh leaned over and turned off the machine. He sat back in his chair and stared at the ceiling, annoyed. He should have been happy for his friend, but instead all he could think about was not being called to help with this "project" Amy was a consultant for. Why would a medical doctor be needed? Why would she need Hugh's expertise? Well, besides the fact that he was Motavia's leading expert in biology, of course. The thought made Hugh crack a smile.
Of course! He just needed an opportunity to prove himself. If Amy needed his help, he would give it to her in spades. He smelled something big in this special project. In the short time he had known Amy, he had already learned how averse she was to big changes. It would take something she believed in strongly for her to leave her job in Oputa, especially without notice. That sealed it. Hugh was resolved to helping Amy; after all, he was a paid consultant at Great Light Memorial and he could make his own schedule. He could track down Amy and give her all the important research he had conducted during his time at Bio...
Oh, dear. Biosystems. That was more than a problem. Two semesters of work study, if one could call it "study," since he excelled even beyond the scientists and researchers that were his supposed mentors, were lost in that death trap. The accident of two years ago at Biosystems had not been resolved, nor was it possible to retrieve anything out of that building. Hugh frustratedly slammed a fist into the table, right on top of his plate of cold, half-eaten dinner. He griped as he pulled his hand away and wiped it with a napkin.
As he was cleaning up, he looked closely at his hand. He opened it wide, twisted it slowly and looked at both sides. Observing his hand sparked a possible solution to infiltrating Biosystems.
"Vortex!" He rose from his chair so suddenly it tipped over. He turned to the living room and darted down the hallway to gather the supplies he'd need to breech the sealed laboratories. He called out items as he retrieved them and tossed them on his bed. There was no point in waiting; he would leave tonight! He could have those records for Amy by daylight. He wouldn't even have to take time away from his paid research. Biomonsters, bah. He chuckled at the thought of ever fearing them. He had taught himself a very complicated vortex technique that was deadly to biomonsters in one use. Nothing would get in his way in those labs!
"Hugh, you are a genius!" he boasted to himself. "Whatever Amy's a part of, they'll have to take me, too. I know more about the biology of this planet than... than... Dad!"
Hugh's father was a well-known zoologist in Motavia's scientific community. The Thompsons were an academically competitive family, and each generation attempted to outdo the last. Hugh set the bar quite high for the next generation, though he owed part of his success as the foremost biologist on Motavia to the fact that there were fewer researchers after the tragedy at Biosystems Laboratories. Therefore, he put even more pressure on himself to find other ways to overachieve. Fortunately he meant well, and the benefits of his research usually paid off.
After stuffing several items into his backpack and changing into more rugged apparel, he gave himself a quick glance in the full-length mirror behind his bedroom door and smirked.
I'm a genius.
Amy was worrying about something again, and it was driving Rolf crazy. She had been on her mobile device all day long while their group was conducting research at Central Tower, and Rolf was having enough trouble concentrating while keeping Nei company. Rudo wasn't there to help; he had gone to Central Tower's armory more than half an hour ago. Rolf had kept silent about all the distractions, but as Nei bugged him for the umpteenth time about when they were going to eat lunch, he wasn't sure he could take much more of being diplomatic.
"Nei," he said while rubbing his temples, "I really don't know when we're going to have lunch. Trust me, I'm just as hungry as... who the hell is Amy talking to, anyway?" He went up to Amy and crossed his arms, staring down at her, perturbed by her lack of assistance in today's research.
Amy glanced up at Rolf and held up her index finger to stall him. Rolf grunted, but didn't move. He listened to her end of the conversation, hoping his presence would make her uncomfortable enough to end her phone call.
"Since Wednesday?" Amy asked as she tapped her fingers on the table and shook her head. "Oh, Mr. Thompson, I'm so sorry... yes... uh-huh... No, that's the same day I left him a message. I've been out of town ever since then, so no, I haven't seen him... yes... Well, Rita called right before you, and I told her the same thing. I can't think of who else to call, but... Oh! Let me talk to the Commander and see..."
Rolf pondered the mention of Commander O'Conner and was now more curious than ever about Amy's chat. She rose from her chair and patted Rolf's arm, as if he should join her in being upset over... whatever it was she was upset over. After a few head nods and a somber goodbye, her conversation was over.
Amy looked up at Rolf, worried. Rolf couldn't find it in him to be mad at her when she was obviously upset, so he uncrossed his arms and took a long sigh. "Doctor, what was that all about? You're not normally so concentrated on something other than the mission."
Amy broke into tears and grabbed Rolf's arm. "Oh, Rolf! My friend has been missing since Wednesday of last week! It's now Tuesday!"
Rolf cleared his throat. "I'm aware it's Tues-"
"I'm so worried about him! His family has checked everywhere! Work, his fiancée, all of his friends, all the places he frequents... he's gone! He's just... gone!"
Before Rolf could say anything, Nei rushed to Amy and comforted her. Nei seemed to have an insatiable need to make sure everyone was happy at all times.
"Dr. Sage, don't worry. I have a plan! We'll look for your friend! Rolf's an agent, Rudo's a hunter, I have great tracking skills, and you're-"
"You can't just volunteer us like that, Nei," Rolf interrupted. "I admire your compassion, but we have a job to do here. I'm sure we can send this to the Commander, though, and put out bulletins to all the local hunter's guilds and guardian offices as well."
Nei frowned. "Dr. Sage saved my life; I owe her!"
Amy took a tissue out of her pocket and wiped her eyes and nose. "Rolf is right; it's better to let more capable people handle this. The Commander will probably be the biggest help in getting the word out."
Nei grumbled. "Our group is better than anyone the Commander might send."
Rolf couldn't argue, but it wouldn't help Amy feel better to agree with Nei at the moment. Besides, now was a great time to get out of the library. "Let's find Rudo and the Commander and you can relay all that you know about your friend, Doctor," he said as he put a hand on her back and directed her toward the doors. Nei soon followed, adding another suggestion as they departed.
"Do you have something that belongs to him? I bet I could memorize his smell and-"
"Nei!" Rolf and Amy exclaimed.
Hugh was coming unglued. He was scared, exhausted and dehydrated. Earlier he had used some of his technique power to produce water through vapors in the air, but if he used any more power, he might not have enough to outlast the next round of carnivorous biomonsters that unrelentingly came his way. How long had he been trapped in the labs now? It was surely several days and counting. His mobile device had unfortunately been consumed by a monstrous fungus, and even though he was able to retrieve it after he turned the fungus into a pile of foul-smelling goo, the device was already broken.
Suddenly, Hugh was overcome with a panicky thought. I'm going to die in here!
The side entrance to Biosystems was only a dozen or so meters away from him, but it was blocked by debris due to his unsure aim while defending himself against a swarm of giant, mutated mushrooms. The only nearby chute led to the basement with no other route out of the building, and the infestation was worse in the basement. He had only gone down the chute momentarily before realizing that the walls and floors were still covered with liquid toxins from the accident that shut down Biosystems.
"Great Light, you've really gotten yourself into a fantastic mess," Hugh muttered himself, his voice hoarse and trembling. He reached out with a shaky hand to open the door of the cabinet he had barricaded himself in and peered out into the debris-strewn foyer. There was only the glow of the red emergency light, but the faint sounds of scratching could be heard in all directions. He pulled his hand away from the door and let it shut him into darkness. He backed into the corner of the cabinet and hugged his knees tightly. He tried to focus his breathing so that he wouldn't have to open the cabinet any time soon for another oxygen boost.
Eventually he would have to find the courage to try opening the outer doors, but right now Hugh was out of energy and teetering between reason and insanity. Motavia's leading biologist was trapped by the very science he was instrumental in developing two years ago. As Hugh slipped further into delirium, he laughed. Low oxygen or not, maintaining a low profile or not, his maniacal laughter filled the cabinet. Several biomonsters stopped their movement and concentrated on the source of the laughter.
Another round was coming...
Note: More to come, obviously. Rita is from Hugh's text adventure, "Huey's Adventure," and she is his girlfriend. For the purpose of my own fan fiction, he is now engaged to her.