We continued on, crawling in heavenly silence for a while - which was very nice for once. It was relatively quiet, except when Jane hyperventilated - haha, geddit? - occasionally from her position at the end of the line. We had to stop a few times so she could take a quick breather and get her sanity back.
When we were on the move, Jax helped navigated the way through the labyrinth of tunnels in the facility. I was very grateful for that, since everything looked so identical to me, and I knew I would've got lost only five seconds into it if it weren't for him. Thank the gods for technology!
The vent system was pretty dark for the most part, so we occasionally had to rely mostly by feel rather than sight. It was crazy, I felt practically blind.
"OW! That was my face!" Rickie rasped from the back of the line. His voice echoed rather loudly in the small space.
"Oopsies! My bad... Didn't mean to mess up that already-messed up face of yours." Jane cackled.
"Alright, shut up! Don't make me come back there and separate the two of you..." I warned. If they're loud bickering got us caught and killed, I would personally strangle the both of them in the Afterlife and drag them back to Hell with me. Don't think I wouldn't!
Jax started to reply, thinking he could make the situation 'better' ... "Hey, to get your mind off the crazies you're with, maybe I could make some shaft jok-- "
"NO!" Jackie, Ella, and I all exclaimed together, rather loudly, shooting it down before it could encourage Rickie even further. Jane and Ella giggled in the background.
Jax sounded half disappointed, but also half amused in his reply. "Alright, alright. Just a suggestion..."
"Keep your lousy suggestions to yourself and do your dang job!" I ordered, finding it harder to resist the urge to do a face palm.
Imbeciles! I'm surrounded by imbeciles!
Jax chuckled in my ear. He was lucky he was on the chopper and not there at that moment. "Okay, forget I said anything... You'll take a right at this next corner and you'll come to the end. Pop out the vent door there and that will take you in a storage room. There should be a bunch of cargo boxes inside with supplies." Jax instructed. "Just make sure the room's devoid of guards or workers before entering."
"'Devoid'? Really! Are you some walking dictionary?" Jane exclaimed, bewildered.
"It means 'empty' Jane." Ella translated, dumbing it down for Shorty here.
"Ahhh, that makes more sense now." said Rickie who was equally "Big Words" challenged.
I rolled my eyes, continuing on my way as Jackie smothered a little laugh behind me. "Copy that, Jax." I said as I was rounding the last corner. I peered through the blinds of the vent into the room beyond.
Sure enough, there were boxes piled high up from the floor, stacked pretty conveniently up to the ventilation ducts. WAY too easy. There was even a sort of stair steps leading down the floor below made by all the stacked crates.
"All clear, guys." I informed the party line behind me as I maneuvered my feet around in front of me, ready to kick, hard. "Cover your ears... it's gonna get loud!" I warned, bending my knees as I prepared to kick like hell. The action reminded me of a stubborn donkey preparing to kick an annoying human in the butt for standing too close. That was the best symbolism for Yours Truly, just an FYI.
I thrust my feet in a hard forward motion. As my shoes collided with the vent, it was blasted from the wall, flinging off into the room. A millisecond later, a major loud clatter on tiled floor signaled to me that it had landed on the ground. Looking out, I could see it laying at the bottom of the crate pile, bent at odd angles from the force my feet had made.
"Holy moley, Rox. You sure are scary sometimes." Ella exclaimed from behind me.
Was that worry I heard in her voice? Good. It was nice to know I could strike fear in the hearts of my friends. Maybe they'll listen to me more often - one can only hope!
"Sometimes? How about ALL the time! I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of that kick ever." Rickie claimed, sounding equally scared as Ella.
I couldn't stop the satisfied smirk from forming on my lips. I was enjoying this very much. "Remember that the next time any of you get on my nerves." I told them right before I slid out of the air duct. I turned around to help the others out, starting with Jackie.
"Roger that," said Rickie when he climbed out.
Jane inhaled deeply beside me, looking greatly relieved to be finally out in the open and out of the ventilation system. "Aaaaahh, now I feel MUCH better. So glad to be outta there!" She shivered.
"You and me both," Ella agreed, clambering down the stack of crates towards the gound, and we all followed suit.
Right. Almost forgot; Ella's kryptonite was heights, just like Jane's was the 'everything-in-the-phobia-books.'
"Hey, before we go out there and risk blowing our cover, we should probably wear a disguise of some kind to blend in." Jackie suggested, looking around the room. "This is an equipment room, right? I bet they have some equipment in these boxes we could use to help disguise ourselves... I could look in that closet over there, for starters." She indicated a door off to one wall.
I nodded. "Great idea! Go have a look, the rest of us will search these boxes."
Everyone split, searching crate after crate while Jackie looked through the closet. The rest of us were able to find plenty of equipment we could use to help with our costume disguises, like picaxes, drills, and other gem mining equipment.
"Why gem mining equipment? Is that what the NGO is after? Is that what that mysterious "ammo" stuff is made from?" Rickie wondered, picking up a deadly looking axe and examining it. Weird, I'd noticed that, too.
He asked good questions, questions I'd love to know the answers to, but I didn't have a clue at that moment. We'd just have to investigate further to find out.
Ella shrugged. "I've got no clue. Odd... what sort of gem is that radioactive and dangerous?"
Rickie shrugged. "Couldn't tell you. It's definitely a gem I'm not familiar with - but I'm no Gem Expert."
"Rickie, you're only expert in pure laziness. It's what you do best, isn't it?" Jane retorted.
"Hey guys, I found good disguises, one for each of us!" Jackie announced, interrupting Rickie before he could do something drastic, like start a full blown fight.
We dropped everything and came over to investigate. "Whatcha got, Jackie?" I asked as I came up.
She held out two articles of clothing. One was a leather and denim mining outfit, and the other was one of those yellow hazmat suit onesies - but instead of yellow, these were white and silver, and looked a bit different than the ones I've seen. "Which ones?" she asked us.
I pointed to the white hazmat suit. "Probably that one. We're not sure exactly what this "ammo" stuff is that we're looking for or what it's made of, so hazmat suits seem like the best bet. It will protect us from whatever kind of radioactive material it's made of."
Jackie nodded, giving it to me. "Alright, here ya go." She handed out the others to the rest of the team, and we suited up.
"Nice! I feel so official now." Jane giggled once she had put on her suit. "Plus, it doesn't clash too bad with my skin tone."
"I know, right?" Ella agreed, examining her new outfit.
Rickie groaned, rolling his eyes. "What the crap, Jane. What does "clashing" have to do with anything? It will protect you, that's all that matters. This ain't no fashion show!" He grumbled.
Sometimes, we never quite understood that weird mind of hers.
Next, we grabbed a few equipment items from the crates before heading out into the hallway, leaving the storage room behind. The walls were a dark coal gray, which suited the place perfectly, and it felt a few degrees cooler than normal - probably since we were now below ground, surrounded by rocks.
"Jeez, it's like an icebox in here; I can almost see my own breath!" Jane complained, her whiney-voice sounding muffled through the protective plastic of her hazard suit.
"Aww, you poor baby!" Rickie crooned.
"It's not that cold," Jackie pointed out. "Thankfully, our suits keep the cold out, so we should be fine."
"Alright, let's keep moving. Quit doting and let's get this show on the road." I said, picking some random direction and started walking.
"Do you even know where you're going? I haven't heard Jax or Blake in quite a while, now that I think about it..." came Rickie's voice, and I was hit hard as realization suddenly dawned on me. I stopped abruptly in my tracks. How could I not have noticed?
"Oh crap, you're right! They've been totally silent since we got out of the vets." I put a finger in my ear, trying to reach them while my friends looked on, worried and fearful expressions on all of their faces. "Jax! Blake! Anybody there? Hello?" I called, pressing my finger on my ear piece. Unfortunately, all I got was static.
Jackie read the doomed expression on my face. "Can't reach them?" She guessed, looking disappointed.
I pulled my finger away from my ear and shook my head. "Nada."
"Maybe they lost connection? We're probably pretty deep under ground." Ella suggested with a shrug of her shoulders.
That was a great logical guess, until Rickie decided to shoot that idea down by pointing out, "But Jax said the communication device could cut through anything, even hard granite."
I frowned, my thinking gears turning in my head. Then it came to me. "This is a mine, right? What if the rock they're mining isn't any normal rock? You've read the documents! This "ammo" was super radioactive. It probably has some crazy property we don't even know about."
I let them think about it for a minute.
Jackie was the first one to get it. "What kind of crystal did the NGO get their hands on? It must be really important, or else they wouldn't have a secret base like this." She was right. I was just as mystified as they all were.
"I don't have a clue, but we're gonna just have to deal without them until we can get some sort of signal through. I'm sure Jax is working on that. For now, we continue on and do what we set out to do." I turned around to keep going, but Ella's freaked-out voice stopped me.
"But what if they can't get through? What if we get caught and we get trapped down here?" Her voice rose up a few octaves as she spoke. I turned around to look at her, seeing Jane's expression, which mirror'd Ella's. Jackie and Rickie were the only ones who were at least attempting to conceal their own fears.
I sighed. "Guys, we'll make it, trust me. I will NOT get stuck down here, not if I can help it. We're gonna get out. Now come on. Have some faith for once." I turned back around and pressed on, my friends followed reluctantly behind. They just needed to learn the art of confidence, even if they had to fake it.
We wandered down hallway after hallway, trying all the doors along the way. Some were shut with a security code, others just seemed to be plain locked. To me, there seemed to be about 50 trillion rooms, plus a trillion more, down here. The hallways seemed endless and were so plain boring, I was afraid we had gotten ourselves lost already.
I was starting to freak out silently in my head. We were wasting precious time! Any moment the NGO would know what was up and send soldiers to trap and kill us.
A million worse-case scenarios flipped through my head, not making our situation any better. We needed to do what we came here to do and then get the heck out of there. Soon.
Later though, we must have gone up a higher level or something, because it was then that a loud noise screeched in my ear, causing me to go temporarily deaf for a few seconds.
"HOLY COW JAX!" I exclaimed, tugging my ears. I had half a mind to rip out my earpiece, it was that loud. "Not so freakin' loud!" I repositioned the comms in my ear. Once my ear stopped ringing, I was finally able to talk again. "I see you finally got through." I said, rearranging my earpiece. Everyone around me cheered in celebration.
Jax clapped in the background. "HEY! 'Bout time we finally reached you. Must have lost signal somehow along the way, though not sure why. We thought it could possibly be that crystal stuff they're mining here." He said.
"Yeah, we were wondering the same thing. The sooner we get through this place and find that crystal, the faster we can leave." I said, quickening my pace. "Alright, where the heck are we and where do we go next?"
"Okie dokey, let's see..." shuffling papers could be heard in the background as Jax consulted his maps and the computer. "Take a left at the next intersection. After you go twenty yards down that hallway, there should be a door to your right. It leads into a room I'm sure would interest you..."
I followed Jax's instructions, all the way up to the door he'd mentioned. It was made of metal and had yet another keypad we needed to bypass. On that door, in big black letters on a yellow background, a hazard sign read: 'CAUTION: Radioactive Materials Inside'
"Bingo," I snapped my fingers in indication of the jackpot we'd just hit. "Now, Rick-- "
"Do you folks need help?"
We all spun around in the direction of the newcomer. A woman with similar clothing to ours walked towards us, carting a bin filled to the brim with metal canister-like parts. Something one would use to contain science experiments and such - I'd seen Jax have a few like those before. The woman had a cheery smile on her face, pushing the canister bin to a stop when she'd reached us. Her eyes flickered curiously to all of us, still grinning. "You all must be the new recruits. Forgot the combination the Sergent told ya, huh? No worries! You're in luck, 'cause I happen to know it."
She grinned happily at us, like we were long-lost friends of hers or something.
Thankfully, no one said anything as we made room for her to get to the door, going along with her version of events. We'd gotten this far, we couldn't afford to blow our cover now.
Pressing the correct buttons, the metal door unlatched and Miss Sunshine Rainbows threw open the door. Beyond that, we saw people in hazard suits and such shuffling around, fiddling with strange instruments on metal lab tables that were spread out throughout. People were carrying the metal canisters with blue-liquid stuff inside that gave off a weird, alien-like glow. Everything in there reminded me of Area 51 - not that I know anything about that. It probably never existed, though, if it did, it probably doesn't anymore.
"Come on in! Don't be shy, now." The lady said, gesturing all of us onward. We probably resembled deers stuck in the headlights of a car as we stood there staring. Rickie's mouth was wide open in awe.
I was the first one to step through, and everyone else followed behind, slowly but surely.