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[fic] Lost Days (Part 1 of 3)

December 11th, 2010 (06:26 pm)

I love Silent Hill. Really, really love it. There has yet to be another series that manages to create the same oppressive, almost suffocating atmosphere of the world of those games. So when I started writing this fic, I really wanted to try to capture that same feeling that playing the games gives you. It took a while to write because it's hard to throw out 20 pages of psychological torture and crazy shit without needing a break! But it somehow finished itself :-D.

I wanted post it in its entirety here (because I really think it benefits from being read in one sitting), but LJ hates me :( So it's in 3 parts again.

PS, is that Emily Dickinson quote perfect or what?



Title: Lost Days
Pairing: 1x2x1
Warnings: horror (obv), gore (obv), Post-EW
Note: The title comes from the SH3 Theme "Letter From the Lost Days", which is an amazing amazing spooky song. All my fics are named after songs :/


Title: Lost Days

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.

Emily Dickinson


Duo sat hunched over the body of his dead friend and waited for tears to come, but they never did. That last, throaty rasp of exhaled breath echoed in his ears, would continue to echo for the rest of his life, whenever he heard the word ‘plague’. They were alone, the other kids far away, where it was safe, where they wouldn’t be touched by disease. The room was dark and cold, wet around the edges from rain cascading down between the jagged panes of the broken windows. The corpse, who had once been Solo, was ashen and purple-lipped, and terrifying. It was his friend and it wasn’t.

Solo’s ocean-blue eyes were open, staring up at the dirty ceiling without comprehension, and Duo reached out a hand to close them, because it seemed like the right thing to do. His fingers ghosted across fine, brown lashes and suddenly those blue eyes were on him, glassy and dry, but fixed on him all the same, watching him, and the barest ghost of a smile crept up those dead lips, a cold hand closing tightly around his wrist as Duo opened his mouth to scream--

Duo shot up off the cot with a jolt, panting, eyes wide. For a moment, his mind raced beyond him, still reeling with the shock of the dead boy’s touch, his gaze, before he got his bearings and realized with an embarrassing rush of relief that it was entirely imaginary. He was on a ship, not L-2, not in a hollowed-out building.

Christ, he hadn’t dreamt that in years.

He was in no mood to try going back to sleep. Pulling himself shakily off the cot, he headed toward the cockpit, shrugging on the uniform jacket he’d left strewn across a chair.

“I thought you were taking a nap,” Heero said dryly at Duo’s entrance.

“Yeah, it was a bust,” Duo said, hopping into the copilot’s seat without further elaboration. “What’s our ETA?”

“We have a couple more hours.” Heero gave him a sidelong glance, then swung his gaze back to the dashboard screen as he added, “...nightmare?”

Duo sighed. “How’d you know?”

“I heard you shout, and I figured...” Heero finished with a shrug.

“So, the SOS was a routine ‘distress’ signal, right?” Duo blurted. As an attempt to change the subject, it was rather pathetic. They both had been exhaustively briefed on the mission details hours ago.

His partner gave him a long look. “Routine distress, yes, but no radio contact has been achieved since the call went out. That suggests possible loss of electricity or other mechanical failure. The current mission parameters are to ascertain the status of the crew and perform an evacuation.”

“Easy as pie, huh?”

Heero smirked. “Let’s hope.”

They were somewhere near Mars, en-route to the Persephone Four, an ESUN research space station whose SOS had been recently intercepted. Normally, they wouldn’t dispatch Preventers for just an evacuation, but the Persephone was a bit of an odd case; it was a Preventers ship, and all the non-scientist crew aboard were members of the agency, not government employees. According to the mission briefing, the ship was loaned out on a ten-year contract agreement, the ESUN providing the scientists and the Preventers providing everything else, including the first response to any and all emergency signals.

Last year, they’d been on a similar mission: a small patrol ship off L-3 had sent out an SOS for a computer system malfunction that had nearly turned into a full-blown tragedy when the emergency generator had become unexpectedly compromised. They had somehow managed to get everyone off of the ship intact and with only minor decompression sickness. Duo supposed that their success on that front was the reason he and Heero had been assigned this mission now. He hoped this one would be much less dramatic of a rescue; that patrol ship incident had shaved a few years off his life for sure.

“Listen, I’m wide awake, sure you don’t want to grab some shut-eye?” Duo asked now, one hand absently fiddling with the embroidered insignia on his jacket.

“I’m fine.” Heero replied, glancing over Duo’s nervous movements, heavy brows shadowing his gaze. “What about you?”

“Never better, Yuy,” Duo said evenly.

“You were shouting.”

Duo’s response was a one-shouldered shrug and the pointed cock of an eyebrow. The adrenaline rush that had woken him was already dissipating out of his system, the images of the corpse, the dead smile, already hazy, mercifully difficult to recall. He didn’t want to dwell on any of it, let alone hash it out with Heero.

Heero let out a frustrated sigh, but seemed to realize that he wasn’t going to get any more out of him. “I’ll go get us some water.”

He returned a minute later with two hydration packs, coming up around behind the copilot’s chair to hand one to Duo.

“You never used to be this nosy,” Duo muttered, fiddling with the easy-open corner of the little plastic pouch. These things were a damn pain in the ass.

A hand snaked up under his braid to rest at the base of Duo’s neck, fingers tangling softly in his hair.

“Things changed,” Heero said.

Yeah, they certainly had. If someone had asked Duo even six months ago if he ever thought Heero would touch him like this, he’d have laughed in their face. Or decked them, more likely. Even the other Gundam pilots had teased him about his puppy-dog devotion at their own peril. And then, one day, it had just happened, the two of them falling together so easily, as if it always been meant to be, the fault of circumstance or pride or fear that it had taken them so long. Maintenance in his apartment complex had compelled Heero to stay over at Duo’s for a few days, and it had been the proximity, the palpable, maddening tension, that had done most of the work for them in the end. The few months since had seen the blossoming of something new and exciting and incredible between them. Duo could still barely believe, sometimes, that he wasn’t still pining away for his quiet, inscrutable partner, that Heero had, amazingly, felt the same all along.

“You’re gonna tear that to shreds, Duo,” Heero teased, watching him struggle with the water pack. His hand gently disentangled itself from Duo’s hair and he snatched the pack away, ripping it neatly and easily at the corner. “Here.”

“I had it mostly open already,” Duo muttered, taking it back.

Heero snorted and returned to his seat, his own pack in hand.

A pensive silence fell between them, the hum of the computers and the rumble of the engines the only sound in the room. Duo stared out into space, that calm, serene black ocean, and tried to let it ease the uncomfortable hollow in his chest the dream had left behind. He had once been used to this, this weird, emptied-out feeling that would follow him around for the rest of the day, back when nightmares had been commonplace. But he no longer saw death every day now that the war had ended, no longer kept those memories clinging to the forefront of his mind. It had been years since he had dreamt about that night. He didn’t know what to do when he felt this way anymore. He was out of practice and disarmed. He watched the stars, but they proved little help.

Eventually, the autopilot sounded, indicating they were close to their destination, and the two Agents began to make preparations for emergency boarding, Heero taking over the maneuvering of the ship, Duo grabbing their codec earpieces and weapons from their cases back in the berth.

In the center of their field of vision, a small, grey object became visible among the stars: the space station Persephone Four, floating serenely in stasis. As they approached, the flat grey of its hull took sharper form, expanded outward to become enormous paneled wings and massive tail. Its body domed slightly at the top and bottom, but widened at the center, taking on a gentle rectangle for a shape. Satellite dishes and myriad lights dotted its surface, blinking intermittently; there was at least power on the ship. That was a relief.

“I’m going to patch through to their radio,” Duo said, receiving a nod of acknowledgement from Heero. They needed to get an update on the status of the crew, and the conditions on board.

Duo fiddled with the computer for a few moments, inputting the Persephone’s coordinates so the radio could hone in on their signal. “All right, looks like we’re through.”

Duo entered in the code to activate the call and spoke. “Persephone Four, this is Agent Maxwell with Agent Yuy on the Icelus Seven, responding to your SOS. Requesting a status update and permission to board. Do you copy?”

Their computer showed a connection had been achieved, but there was no response on the other end. A thin whisper of static broke through, then went quiet.

“Persephone Four, do you copy?” Duo repeated. “This is the Icelus Seven, responding to your SOS and requesting an update from you, and permission to board.” Under his breath, he muttered an additional, “...if you don’t fucking mind.”

The radio returned a static hiss, and then nothing.

“Well, this is just great,” Duo sighed. He tried the message a few more times, and got nothing for his trouble. “Real smart of them to leave the radio unmanned while they’re waiting to be rescued.”

Heero’s brows pursed in contemplation. “That’s unusual. We’ll have to unlock the hatch door remotely.”

“Roger that, buddy,” Duo replied, entering rapid lines of code into the computer as Heero maneuvered them toward the entrance of the docking bay, aligning the Icelus along the hull until the enormous hatch door stood impassively before them.

Duo tried the sequence once, twice, three times, but the doors remained shut. They shouldn’t have, they should have swung right open on the first try, but there they were, shut tight and unresponsive.

“Shit,” Duo muttered, frustration mounting, “the hatch doors are totally unresponsive. How the hell are we going to get on there?”

Heero frowned out the window of the cabin. “They shouldn’t be,” he said, “it looks like there’s still power on the station. Are you sure you entered the unlock sequence correctly?”

“Yeah, I am,” Duo replied flatly. “I know it should open. It’s fucking weird.”

“The computer system might be damaged,” Heero said, already moving to the hall closet to retrieve a space suit. “We’ll have to open it ourselves.”

Stripping off his jacket, Heero donned the suit and helmet, and stalked out of the cockpit to the exit bay. A few minutes later, the intercom in the room crackled, and Heero’s voice, tinny inside his helmet, came through.

“Ready.”

“Roger that,” Duo replied, and opened the bay doors, watching Heero, suit secured firmly to their ship by a thick, insulated cord, jet out across open space toward the hatch of the Persephone Four. He free-floated the last few meters, coming to a gentle stop at the side of one of the wide doors.

“The grid has power,” Heero noted, inspecting the control panels on the side of the door. “Maybe the satellite is screwed up. It should work from here.”

“How would the SOS signal work and not the satellite?” Duo muttered aloud. He wasn’t happy with how the rescue mission was beginning. They wouldn’t be having this problem if anyone on the station would answer their call. That bothered him the most of all. Needless to say, he’d be going in armed and ready for anything.

Heero grunted through the intercom. “Hm. The unlock sequence isn’t working here either.”

“Gee, Heero, are you sure you entered it in correctly?”

“Shut up. I’m going to try an override.”

Duo watched Heero’s faraway form, huddled over the computer grid, inputting codes to no avail. The Preventers’ ships were all programmed with the same override codes, as far as he knew. It was a security measure designed to prevent situations like this, getting locked inside or outside of one’s ship in an emergency. As long as some power was running on the ship, nothing short of foul play should have been able to reprogram the override function like that. He supposed a mutiny of some kind could have happened, though it seemed strange for the crew of a research vessel to revolt. What, not enough petri dishes for their liking?

So if not a mutiny, then what? Piracy? It wasn’t unheard of. A research facility was probably full of expensive equipment, and anyone who got the jump on a place as remote as this would have plenty of time to escape before anyone responded to the SOS. But if they hadn’t left...

“Heero, buddy, I am getting a bad feeling about this. I think I’m gonna call in backup.”

“All right. Let me try inputting this one more--”

Suddenly, Heero flew back from the station’s hull, as if repelled by force, and the great doors of the docking bay ground open.

“Woah!” Duo cried, “what kind of override was that?”

Heero grunted in surprise. “That wasn’t me.”

“What do you mean, that wasn’t you?”

Heero was floating in the space between the ship and the Persephone, his gaze directed at the hatch doors, now yawning wide open. “I hadn’t finished inputting the override. Someone else opened the doors.”

“Someone inside?” Duo stared into the open mouth of the hatch. The dimly lit docking bay inside gazed serenely back.

“I’m coming back on board.” Heero’s form jetted out of sight. There was a muted slam of doors from the far end of the ship, and in a few minutes Heero returned to the cockpit, still suited up.

At his entrance, Duo pulled his gaze away from the open hatch before them, realizing then that he had been staring out at it, oddly transfixed, the entire time.

“Did you make that backup call?” Heero said, placing a hand on the back of Duo’s seat.

“Shit, sorry, doing it now.” He had been strangely spaced out there for a while. Rubbing his eyes absently, he entered the codec for Noin’s phone, then his security code. There was a moment or two of ringing and then the click of the call connecting through.

“Noin speaking.”

“Noin, it’s Maxwell and Yuy,” Duo said. “We’re preparing to board Persephone, but from the looks of it, it might get hairy. Think you can spare us a couple of backup Agents?”

There was no answer on the audio-only feed.

“Do you copy, Agent Noin?”

Something garbled and unintelligible hissed through the speakers. It sounded something like Noin’s voice, though distorted, as if someone was fiddling with the bass and treble on the feed at random.

“Noin, do you copy?” Duo repeated, flicking his gaze up to meet Heero’s conspicuously annoyed one.

The garbled sound filtered through again, then dissolved into static.

“Shit!” Duo cursed, breaking the connection and immediately typing the codec again. This time, however, there was no audible response whatsoever; they were greeted with that same obnoxious static.

“What the fuck?” Duo muttered as he hung up.

“Some kind of interference?” Heero offered.

“Yeah, shit. This is pissing me off. Fuck!”

Heero’s hand on the chair slid down to Duo’s shoulder and squeezed. The unexpected gesture appeared to shock Duo out of his temper, the angry lines softening instantly on his face.

“Let’s go in?” Heero said at length.

“I really don’t like this,” Duo muttered softly. He was looking out again at the open, gaping hatch.

“Neither do I,” Heero admitted. The computer lock-down, the codec interference, the high likelihood that they would be met with hostility when they entered, none of it was what they had expected of this mission.

Then again, maybe someone at HQ had. After all, they’d sent a two-man army out on a routine distress call, instead of junior Agents. Maybe that should have raised more questions.

“I’m calling Noin in two hours,” Duo said in capitulation.

“Roger that.”

With a sigh, Duo put his hands once again on the ship’s controls and rolled it forward toward the open hangar, engaging its landing gear. He felt the wheels make contact with the polished bay surface, squealing slightly. The readouts on their console, monitoring the atmosphere outside their ship, indicated that there was still oxygen pumping through the station. Not a surprise to either of them, as they had expected the Persephone to be occupied, but at least it meant they didn’t have to don their suits, and Heero immediately began the process of removing his. Easier to fight without them.

They pulled slowly into the docking bay, wheels squealing below, until their ship came to a full stop in the wide, empty hangar.

“Well, we’re here.”

No sooner had Duo spoken than they both heard a resounding, screeching crash behind them.

“If I’m not mistaken,” Duo muttered, “I would say that was the fucking hatch closing.”

Heero, eyes flicking upward to the video feed of the rear of the ship, nodded. The hatch bay door had slammed shut behind them.

“Bring ammo,” was all Duo said after that.

They stashed their guns firmly in holsters at their sides, ammo pocketed in every available location. The tiny over-ear codecs went on next. Heero, finishing his preparation, turned to catch Duo slipping a knife into his boot and smirked. Loading up for presumably outnumbered combat like this reminded him a little of the war.

“What happened to that priest’s collar?” He said suddenly. Duo looked up from checking the straps on his holsters to give him a slightly confused grin.

“It went the way of your spandex shorts,” he replied. “Why? Feeling a little nostalgic, Yuy?”

“It’s been a while since we did this.”

“Yeah, I know. Just like old times, huh?” Now he was really grinning. They had really enjoyed fighting at each other’s side back then, hadn’t they? It was a wonder they hadn’t figured out what that had meant sooner, Heero thought with a smirk.

Shrugging on their jackets, they went to the console and set the ship to hibernate. They would need the ship powered up and ready to go if they had to make a quick getaway. They would just have to hope that the damn hatch door would choose to cooperate if that happened.

“This is still a rescue mission,” Heero said, as they were preparing to leave. “We have to determine the status of the crew before trying to reclaim the station.”

“Anywhere in particular you’d like to start looking?”

In his mind, Heero conjured up the layout of the ship, which they had both taken some time to memorize en route. “The mess hall and berth are relatively close to this hangar.”

“I vote mess hall. Less rooms to check, we’ll be done faster.”

“Okay.”

“I still want to call Noin at 2100 hours,” Duo added, checking his watch.

Heero nodded.

“All right, fuck it. Let’s go.”

With Duo’s final epithet, they exited the ship for Persephone’s silent docking bay.

It was a little warm on the research station, the air conditioning being one of the first sacrifices for the emergency generator’s sake. The lights around the dock were low, but shone steadily down on them, leaving the smooth surface of the deck slightly gleaming. Everything was a cool, muted grey, sterile in the absolute silence. They scoped the perimeter, checking to confirm they were alone, then made their way quietly to the exit, leaving the dock and their ship behind them as the automatic doors opened with a gentle swish.

They found themselves in a wide, empty corridor, one of the main halls of the ship according to the specs. Behind them and off to the right would be the berthing compartments, stowed below deck; in front of them, to the left, would be the mess hall, and beyond that, the first laboratory. There were three in total on the station, as well as an infirmary, recreation center, and other offices and storage rooms.

The Persephone Four housed forty-three crew in total, mostly researchers, at the time that it went offline. They were greeted, however, by total, heavy silence in the hallway. The floors, walls, and ceilings were pristine, painted that same flat grey. No signs of life, but, at least, no signs of a struggle either.

Heero moved easily behind Duo, watching their back as Duo cleared the front, and they made their way up the corridor toward the mess hall. One wall sported a floor map; its contents already memorized, they paid it only brief attention. As they approached the blind left turn, they took to the wall, just in case, and Duo did a corner check before they continued around it.

The place was kept incredibly, disarmingly clean. Heero could see his reflection in the floor’s laminated gleam. It was a good thing, he supposed; no blood marks, no bullet holes, but he would have expected scuff marks on the floor at least. They looked instead like they hadn’t ever been touched.

Silence surrounded them so thoroughly that even their deliberately muted steps seemed loud in the hallway. Was it the powered-down state of the air conditioning that made it seem so quiet? The lack of any ambient noise whatsoever was... disquieting.

They arrived at the doors to the mess hall, and both men took up sides, hands firmly on their still-holstered guns. Duo put up his fingers to count down. Three, two, one.

Drawing guns even as they busted open the double doors, they burst into the brightly lit mess hall, but were met with nothing more than silence.

The room was a simple cafeteria, with two rows of tables, laying bare now under the fluorescent lights, taking up much of its space. In a far corner, there was a window into the empty kitchen, a few empty garbage cans crowded against the wall. The center of the room sloped gently downward, leading to a drain in the center of the floor, presumably for ease of cleaning.

Something about the scene was odd, but hard for Heero to place. His subconscious, however, was on full alert, and his grip tightened imperceptibly around the gun in his hand.

It was Duo who broke the silence at last.

“How long has this place been offline?” He asked, his eyes scanning the tiled, white floor.

“The SOS went out thirty-six hours ago.”

“Then why is this place so fucking clean?”

That was it, that was what bothered him about the mess hall. The corridors, he might be able to understand, but people had to eat, and they would have been eating in here. There should have been garbage in the cans, some kind of evidence of the mess hall’s use. Hell, even the kitchen looked untouched. It didn’t look like anyone had ever been here.

Though he shared Duo’s confusion, Heero attempted an explanation. “It’s possible that they cleaned immediately before the emergency arose.”

“The way this place looks, that must have been one hell of a job they-- did you see that?”

Duo was staring in the direction of the kitchen window, his gun immediately at eye-level and trained on the spot. Heero followed suit, his gun’s sights set on the window, though he couldn’t see anything.

“Hello?” Duo called.

“What was it?”

“I thought I saw something move in the kitchen.”

Heero’s mood instantly sharpened. “Hostile?”

“I don’t know. I don’t see it any--” Duo cut off his remark abruptly and Heero immediately saw why.

Someone was moving past the window of the kitchen, making its way toward them.

“Hey!” Duo called to the dark shape, which was approaching the kitchen doors slowly. It was hard to make out any features from their distance. “Hello?”

The person didn’t respond, ambling indifferently through the doors. One leg appeared past the threshold, then another, and it pulled itself into the room.

“Don’t come any closer, or I’ll be forced to fire!” Duo said, then his gun lowered a bit and his eyes went wide. “What the fuck?”

Hunched over, seemingly naked, the figure gleamed in the white fluorescent lights, its skin a sickening, charred brown, oozing something oily and obscene. Its legs, scabbed and ragged, appeared free, but its arms, or what might have been called arms once, seemed melted together, a fleshy, tarry lump held uselessly to its chest. Its head seemed to contain only a mouth, gaping, mawing, no teeth to disrupt the expanse of blackness within, the flesh around it bereft of eyes, nose, ears.

Heero stared, and something came unbidden to him, as if his very subconscious was screaming it.

It isn’t human.

Slowly, inexorably, the thing came toward them. It shambled past the sterile tables, ruined legs barely seeming to hold its frame upright, the angry hole of its mouth yawning at them.

“Don’t get any closer!” Duo shouted, his voice surprisingly steady, his gun was trained right at the thing’s head. “I will shoot!”

Unhearing, uncaring, it approached. Every cell in his body seemed poised to run, but Heero only followed his partner’s lead and raised his gun to focus its sights, too, on the figure’s head.

It was close now, and he could smell it, his nose filling with an acrid, wet stench. There was a nauseating wave of familiarity to the smell, but he couldn’t identify it. Five more steps, he decided, and he’d shoot.

“I said, don’t get any fucking closer!”

It only put another foot forward, then another. Five steps, Heero reminded himself. Four... Three...

With a muttered epithet, Duo fired at the figure, hitting it three times, point blank, in the head. It collapsed to the ground with a dull splat and went still.

For a moment, they just stared at the corpse. Heero realized that his heart was beating wildly in his chest, that his adrenaline had risen to alarming levels. It was the deep, primal fight-or-flight response-- something that had once been trained almost entirely out of him.

Duo also seemed to be having trouble calming down. His eyes were wide, his pupils dilated. Feeling Heero’s gaze, he wrenched his eyes from the thing on the ground and stared at him.

“What the fuck is that?”

Heero could only shake his head. For a second, they just stared at each other, not wanting to move toward the figure lying prone before them. Then, guns still drawn and pointed firmly on the thing, they approached its motionless form.

It looked dead, at least. Not that anything that looked as... damaged as that thing should have been alive in the first place. It lay face-down, legs hideously splayed, bleeding a sluggish stream of that same ugly, blackish ooze that trickled slowly toward the drain in the center of the room. They made no motion to turn it over for a better look, but Duo dropped to a squat at its side when he had gotten close, apparently confident it wouldn’t be getting up again.

“What the fuck...” he repeated, entirely to himself. His eyes scanned the prone, scabbed form in disbelief. “What kind of experiments were they doing here, anyway?”

“Something to do with quantum physics. Exotic matter, I think.”

“No Frankenstein shit, though... right?”

“No. Nothing that would produce something like this.”

Shaking his head, Duo stood up, finally holstering his gun. “So, then what? Some kind of chemical attack? I don’t know of anything that makes someone turn out like that.”

Heero stared at the thing, at the trickle of slime winding down the grooves of the tiled floor. “I don’t know.”

“Well, this rescue mission is off to a great start, wouldn’t you say?” Duo sighed. “I’m going to check the kitchen. Watch that guy.”

Gingerly stepping around the corpse, Duo stalked into the kitchen, flicking the light switch there. Heero could hear things being overturned as Duo cleared the area.

“Nothing here,” he said finally, stepping back into the mess hall.

“Let’s move on,” Heero replied.

“Fine by me. Just looking at this thing is making me sick.” Duo hurried around the body and joined Heero at the door, hand travelling back to his gun. He didn’t say so, but Heero was eager to leave the thing far behind him, as well.

The first thing Heero noticed when they stepped back into the hallway were the marks. Where the floor had been spotless only minutes ago, now it was lined with thin, black streaks, as if someone had just hurried down the hall in dirty shoes. Heero was certain, however, that they hadn’t heard anyone pass the mess room.

Duo saw them too, and had his gun instantly drawn again.

“Wanna see where these go?”

Heero nodded, and they made their way silently down the hall, back towards the docking bay. The streaks were everywhere now on the once-gleaming floors. They continued down the corridor, past the floor map, disappearing around the next bend. The two agents kept to the walls, checking around each corner before they continued. After clearing the turn, they followed the marks until they appeared to veer off under the door to the berthing compartments.

“Guess we were planning to look here anyway,” Duo said, without any enthusiasm.

Nodding, Heero pushed the button and the doors slid quietly open.

Space was at a premium on a small research station like the Persephone, which meant that the sleeping quarters were kept on a lower floor. The doors led to a staircase, the same stark grey, bleakly lit by the overhead lights. The marks slid all the way down them, a clear line for the berth.

They made their way cautiously down the stairs, guns trained in front of them, in case whoever left the tracks decided to surprise them. At the bottom, they found two doors, one leading to the women’s berth, one to the men’s.

The streaks led off under both doors.

“I know what you’re going to say,” Duo muttered.

“We should split up.”

“Bingo. Do I get a prize or something?”

“I’ll take the women’s side.”

“I don’t like this.” Duo was staring at the twin paths on the ground, leading in separate directions.

“It would take twice as much time to search the berths together.”

“Yeah, but...” Duo sighed. “I just have a bad feeling, is all.”

Heero, too, was still feeling that uncomfortable pull to leave in the back of his mind. But they had no choice. Their mission was to rescue the Persephone’s crew and, if possible, salvage the station. That meant they had to engage whoever was on the ship with them.

They had no choice.

Turning to face his partner, Heero tapped his earpiece, then, experimentally, gave Duo a reassuring smile. “Contact me if something happens.”

Duo’s worried face softened slightly, his gaze lingering on Heero’s. Then, he tapped his earpiece in return. “Roger.”

With that, the two men took their positions at each compartment door and, with a last glance at each other, stepped inside.

* * * *

The berthing compartment was laid out like a dormitory in miniature, a narrow hallway leading off into bunk-bedded rooms, dead-ending at the toilets. Duo counted twelve rooms in total, six on the left, six on the right. According to the specs, the Persephone could accommodate fifty passengers; he assumed that meant twelve rooms on the women’s side, and two private rooms elsewhere.

The tracks that had led them there meandered halfway down the corridor before veering off into one of the rooms. Not exactly chomping at the bit to go chasing down their source, Duo decided to start with the nearest rooms and work his way down. And he would do it as leisurely as he damn well pleased.

Just like everything else in the ship, the rooms were spotless. Thinking back on Heero’s theory, he wondered sarcastically if perhaps the crew hadn’t had the sheets laundered and pressed, too, right before signalling an SOS and vanishing into thin air.

The layout of each room was identical: two twin bunks, securely bolted to the wall, a couple of desks, and one dresser and standing closet per person. Besides that, nothing. Literally nothing. Duo couldn’t find a single personal item in any of the rooms he checked. No computers, no clothes, no posters; hell, not even a dirty magazine. Needless to say, he found no people, either.

Anxiety thrummed in Duo’s nerves, despite himself. There was no goddamn way this is how the Persephone had looked while under operation. None of these rooms looked like anybody had ever stepped foot in them before. It was like walking through a museum. A crypt.

How was Heero doing on his side? Duo hadn’t heard a thing except his own nervous breathing since they’d split up. If he’d found something, Duo was sure he’d hear about it. And the walls weren’t thick enough to muffle gunfire. So, at least Heero hadn’t run into another one of those... things.

He cleared two rooms, then four, then six, each one utterly empty, beds pristine, devoid of human presence. Next was the room the marks led to. Duo did a compulsive check of his gun clip, just in case. Then, resolute, he turned the corner, half expecting something nasty to greet him.

There was nothing there. The tracks stopped dead in the center of the room. Duo walked right up to where they ended and looked around. Nothing.

Was this some kind of really shitty joke?

Annoyed, Duo turned to exit, ready to move the hell on. Coming down to the berth, it appeared, had been a giant waste of time.

He was at the door when he heard the distinct sound of something small dropping to the floor behind him.

Whirling around, he saw what had fallen: a small gold cross on a chain.

“What the hell?” He muttered aloud. He found himself walking back into the room and kneeling, picking up the necklace gently to examine it in the palm of his hand.

Where had this come from?

Pocketing it, he stood and turned again to the door. Stepping out into the hall, he drew a sharp breath.

The streaks were gone. The floor was once again gleaming spotlessly, as if they had never been there at all.

“No fucking way,” Duo seethed. He almost added another thought, one that had struck him first in the mess hall when they’d been faced with the thing: this is impossible. But something stopped him from giving that idea voice. It felt as if saying those words would be admitting something that he wouldn’t be able to take back. Instead, he continued as calmly as he could down the inexplicably clean hallway, clearing the last four rooms, the bathroom. As expected, they contained nothing, and, of course, no people.

As he hurried out of the berth, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had been brought there just to find that damn cross.

Heero was out of the women’s compartments already, waiting at the entrance for him.

“Did you find anything?” Duo asked.

“No. The tracks led to the bathroom, but no one was there.” Heero looked pretty angry at having been led to a dead-end. Duo imagined his own expression had to look pretty similar. “The marks are gone, by the way.”

“Yeah, I noticed. And if you have any good theories on how that happened, I’d like to know.”

“Did you find anything?” Heero said instead.

Duo pulled the cross out of his pocket and showed it to Heero. He was decidedly unimpressed.

“That’s it?”

“Yeah, it was the only thing in the room with the tracks.” Duo paused, peering down at the little gold trinket in his palm.

“Great,” Heero muttered. “That’s helpful.”

Something was nagging at the back of Duo’s mind as he stared at the necklace. Holding the tiny thing in his hand, the metal slightly cool, the fine filigree of the chain glinting in the harsh light, he felt the distinct, physical pull of deja vu. He knew, somehow, that if he turned the cross around, he’d see a small, nearly microscopic date engraved onto it. How many times had he peered at those tiny numbers and wondered how steady of a hand it would take to etch them on? How often had he pulled the glittering chain off of his neck and held it delicately in his hands like this? It was the greatest gift he’d ever received, merely a tiny speck of shaped metal, yet utterly invaluable to him.

What the hell was he thinking? This wasn’t the same cross, it couldn’t be. He had lost that in the war, somewhere on Earth, for fuck’s sake.

Defiant, he turned the cross over in his palm. There, along one edge, were the tiny, perfectly etched numbers. 8.11.175. He’d memorized them years ago just from looking at them so often.

Impossible, his mind screamed. This is impossible.

Suddenly, Duo was angry. Hell, he was as pissed off as he’d ever been in his life.

“Fuck this,” he said, jamming the necklace back into his pocket. “I want off this fucking station, Heero. They can come back with a fucking regiment to finish this mission, for all I care, but I’ve had enough. I’m getting back on the goddamn ship and going home. I draw the line at monsters and disappearing shoe prints.”

Heero stared at him, catching his gaze with uncomfortable intensity, as if he could see right through Duo’s anger to the very real fear brimming just beneath it. Suddenly, he was clearing the space between them, bringing up a hand to gently rest along Duo’s cheek, the other taking a comfortable, familiar position on his shoulder. Surprisingly, he didn’t look angry at all, though what Duo was suggesting would warrant serious disciplinary actions on their return. Instead, his expression was etched with concern, all those emotions, still barely explored between them, utterly exposed. He had never seen Heero look like this.

“Let’s go,” Heero said.

“Really?” Duo asked, despite himself.

“You’re more important than this mission.”

Duo felt a jolt in his chest and covered it with a thin smile. “Never though I’d live to hear you say that, Yuy.”

In response, Heero pressed his mouth to Duo’s, lingering there for a moment before pulling gently away. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Roger that,” Duo replied, and now the grin on his face was real. He couldn’t wait until they were off this damn ship and back at headquarters, despite the reaming from Noin they were guaranteed when they stepped through the door. Shit, he was practically looking forward to it.

They climbed the stairs, Heero watching their back. Thank God they were still close to the hangar, that they had decided to check the berth first and not the deeper recesses of the ship. They could be off of this god forsaken station in minutes.

Pushing the wide compartment doors open, they stepped out into the hall.

Duo drew in a sharp breath, too shocked for a moment to speak.

This wasn’t the hall they had come from. The blind corner they had turned on their way here was gone, and in its place was a wholly unfamiliar intersection of three sterile grey corridors, leading off in separate directions.

“What the hell is going on?” Heero muttered, staring at the new layout in disbelief.

That word Duo had been dreading to use came spilling out now. “This is fucking impossible.”

“There was only one exit from the berth... we couldn’t have taken a wrong door.”

“This can’t be real. This is impossible.”

Something faraway began to whine-- an alarm, deep in the station somewhere. Heero turned in the direction of the sound.

“What’s that alarm?”

“I don’t fucking know, Heero!”

“Duo, calm down!” Heero was angry, but was trying to keep his cool for Duo’s sake, he could tell. Did he think he was going to fall apart or something? That he couldn’t keep it together? Fuck that. Duo felt his temper rise to match his partner’s.

The whine grew louder, becoming a howl.

“Don’t tell me to calm down, buddy. We just got teleported, wormholed, who-the-fuck-knows-what to a different part of the ship, which, I don’t know if you noticed, does not fucking happen. So unless you can give me a really good goddamn explanation and then a road map right the fuck back to our ship, don’t tell me to calm the fuck down!”

The alarm blared over him now, drowning out his last few words with piercing screams. At the end of the hall in front of them, the overheard lights flickered and winked out. The lights at the farthest end of either side of their hallway extinguished themselves. Then, the next in the row went out. The next. The next.

Heero drew his gun. The alarm wailed and wailed. Duo felt a strange movement under his feet and glanced down to see the gleaming, spotless paint below him curl and peel, slithering away down the hall into the darkness, leaving the walls and floor ragged, filthy black in its wake. The second to closest set of lights around them winked out.

All Duo could hear was the scream of the alarm, and rushing in his ears, growing louder and louder, deafening him. He dropped to the dirty floor.

“Duo!” Heero cried, from somewhere.

Then, the lights above them died, and the darkness swallowed them.