A/N: Reviews are love! Enjoy!
After all of the computer equipment was put away, Duncan invited the group back to his house for dinner. "It won't be much, just some burgers on the grill. I've just got to get out of here. I'm giving an exam on Monday and if I don't leave now, I'll have to deal with a group of panicking undergrads with a series of last-minute questions."
"Who answers the questions if you're not here?" Gary asked.
"I like to think that they find their own answers," Duncan said.
"Not always," Skillet said under his breath.
"And if they don't, I just whip out that red grading pen and…" Duncan made a series of Zorro-esque slashing motions in the air with the pen.
"That would be great," Rosen said.
"I'm just going to lock up," Duncan said. "Skillet, will you go close the computer lab and the supply closet?"
"Closing the lab and the supply closet," Skillet said, and headed off down the hall.
Rosen and Gary walked down the hall in the opposite direction towards the student lounge where Thea and Skylar had been hanging out while the professor put away his equipment. Skylar was seated in a big armchair, and Thea was squirreling around on the floor, whipping her helmeted head back and forth.
"We're headed back to the professor's house for dinner," Rosen said to Skylar.
"Okay," she said, and, with one hand to her belly, tried to get out of the armchair. "Gary, a little help?"
"Yeah," Gary said, and grabbed her hands, pulling her upright.
"Thanks. I'm going to the bathroom before we leave," Skylar said.
"Me too," Gary said. "A different bathroom, though."
"Shoot, I forgot my briefcase," Duncan said. "I'll have to go back to my office to get it."
Rosen's phone rang in his pocket. "Hello?"
Static on the line. He put one finger to his ear, and repeated his query louder. "Hello?"
The signal seemed to get better as he moved towards the hallway, so he followed it. "Hello?"
On the floor, Thea's head popped up as though she was a prairie dog, sniffing the air for intruders.
They were all gone.
She crawled forward, to the big armchair, and pulled herself upright with its support. For another moment she turned her head back and forth, the heavy face mask whipping through the air.
Then she took a tentative step forward, holding her hands out. Six steps and she found the wall with her hands. Two more steps and there was the door. Thea tilted her head and listened, though for what she could not properly articulate.
There it was – the humming. She'd heard it the first time the cap with all the wires had been on her head. It was low in the back of her head, reverberating to a Monkees song. The presence of the computer and the cursor and everyone in the room had been too much for Thea; she hadn't been able to pay proper attention to it.
But now she was alone.
With one hand trailing along the wall, Thea strolled leisurely towards the humming. Around her classrooms emptied out, professors tacked up notices, and a janitor pushed a mop bucket towards a bathroom.
She wasn't sure how she was escaping the notice of all of these people; she couldn't see them but she could surely feel them and hear them.
But she moved on, still following the hypnotic beats of the humming.
Her mitted hand hit a doorframe and she stumbled forward. Her helmet slammed against the far wall and the banging in her head brought her to her knees.
The humming got louder.
Thea pushed herself to her knees and struggled to get back on her feet. Her breathing was coming in little gasps now; the humming was threatening to replace her heartbeat and every single thought in her head. "Huh! Huh! Ha!"
Her chest hurt. Her head hurt.
The humming was no longer a Monkees song; it was something far bigger and far more sinister.
Shouldn't have left, Thea thought quickly, trying to turn around. Her helmet whacked the wall again and she sank to her knees. Should have stayed there.
A heavy hand gripped her arm painfully, and Thea almost relaxed, thinking it was the professor or Skillet.
But then a voice broke into her spinning, whirling thoughts. "Well, well, well. And I thought I'd seen the last of you, baby girl."
Gary exited the men's restroom and walked over to Dr. Rosen, who was talking on his cell phone. "Yeah. Thanks, Nina. We'll be on the way there soon. Okay. Yeah. Bye."
Rosen hung up. "How was the bathroom?" he asked Gary.
"Well-appointed," Gary replied. "Four stalls, one of which was handicap-accessible. Three sinks. Three soap dispensers. One paper towel dispenser. One garbage can."
"Glad to know it met your standards," Rosen said.
For the first time he seemed to realize they were alone. "Gary, where's Thea?"
"She was on the floor in the room with the big chairs," Gary said.
Panic gripped Rosen's heart, and he shoved his cell phone into his pocket, turned around, and ran back towards the room where Skylar and Thea had been sitting.
"Let's get out of here," Duncan said from behind him. "I hear a beer or two calling my name."
Rosen turned. "Have you seen Thea?"
"I thought she was with you," Duncan said.
Skillet and Skylar appeared. Rosen hurried over to them. "Is Thea with you?"
"No, she was just…" Skylar looked at the empty room. "Damn it."
"Spread out!" Rosen ordered. "We have to find her!"
… before they do, his head finished the statement. It didn't matter that he wasn't quite sure who "they" were.
Duncan took the professors' offices and the adjoining hallway. Skillet went back to look in the computer labs. Gary went from classroom to classroom as Skylar checked the bathrooms. Rosen hurried up and down the halls, calling Thea's name. "Thea!"
The tiny girl was such a solid presence – how could she just disappear?
She couldn't, Rosen's head informed him.
"Hey," a voice said from behind him. "Hey, mister."
Rosen turned around to see a janitor with a mop bucket. "Yes?"
"Are you looking for that little girl? The one with the helmet?" The janitor was a big, well-built man in a navy uniform, gripping the mop as though it was a bayonet.
"Yes. How did you…?"
The janitor shrugged. "I'm good at reading people."
"Yes, she's with me. Have you seen her?"
"Yeah," the janitor said. "She left with that other professor guy. She didn't seem real happy to see him, though; fought him all the way out of here. What, is he like the mean one?"
"What other professor?" Rosen asked.
"Well, I figured he was a professor," the janitor said. "He had that… that hairstyle you guys all favor."
"What did he look like?" Rosen demanded.
"Um, like early thirties, brown hair. Brown pants, brown shoes, red windbreaker."
They couldn't be that obvious, Rosen thought.
"He dragged her off towards the faculty parking lot," the janitor continued.
"And where's that?" Rosen asked.
"Out behind the building." The janitor pointed.
Rosen shoved through the double doors leading to the stairwell, going down the steps as fast as he could. He wasn't sure what he was hoping to find – Thea had been gone long enough for any savvy government agency to make her invisible. Or, at least, get her to Hackensack.
The faculty parking lot seemed to confirm this theory. Rosen stood at the edge, looking at the three cars in the middle of the lot. No Thea. And no government goon in a red windbreaker.
Duncan and Skillet walked up, with Gary and Skylar behind them. "Pete said you were out here," Duncan said. "No luck, huh?"
"No," Rosen said.
"Well, I might have one piece of good luck," Skillet said, and for the first time he sounded a little enthused about something.
"What?" Rosen asked.
"When Thea was using the computer system, I was having some trouble coordinating all of the separate leads," Skillet said. "So I put a condensing magnet bracelet on her. It makes the leads work as one, which is super-helpful when you're trying to redact the…"
"Cut to the chase, Skillet," Duncan said.
"Cutting to the chase," Skillet said. "Thea still has the bracelet on."
For a moment no one said anything.
"And how does this help us?" Duncan wanted to know.
"Well, our man Gary here's got the magic fingertips," Skillet said. "The magnet's got a specific signal in it, developed so it won't interact with any medical equipment when we use it at a hospital. It's different from any other signal out there, including cell phones and radios… or any scrambling device."
A beat, and then Rosen said, "Gary?"
"Looking," Gary said.
"Get in the car," Duncan said, pointing to his minivan in the parking lot.
They moved as one to the van and clambered into it – Duncan in the driver's seat, Gary as the passenger, Skillet and Skylar in the captain's chairs, Rosen hanging on for dear life on the bench seat as Duncan put the van into gear and peeled out of the faculty parking lot.
"Find her, Gary," Rosen whispered. "Find her, please."