"I've been thinking." James said as he and Anesh took a right corner.
They were currently headed toward the formation of blue and white tile that Ganesh had spotted for them. The visibility at ground level was pretty bad down on the floor where they were; ceilings of curving overhead walls cutting off their view of the real ceiling, and the panels of the cubicles too high to see anything over them. Beams of bright white light filtered through from overhead, casting sharp edged shadows. Overhead, Ganesh kept track of their path, the column of tile coming down in the distance an easy landmark for him to keep track of. Anesh could always reference his phone for the feed when needed.
Anesh pushed aside a rope of sticky notes as they took the turn. "That's dangerous territory. How are you planning to get us in trouble now?"
James moved forward and checked the cubicles on the right side while Anesh took the left. This hall only extended a few desks before terminating in another turn. "Well," he said as he flipped through a wallet. "I found that hole in the vent, right? I think I told you about that."
"Yeah." Anesh said, keeping watch at the door, eyeing the lamp on the desk opposite them suspiciously.
"Okay, so.. hey, this one has a credit card. Have we ever tried one of these? Anyway, so, I think we should get one of those wifi cameras and stick it up there. Keep an eye on it."
"Are you worried about something coming through and attacking you while you're at your desk?" Anesh asked as they moved on to the next cubicle. "Also there's no way that card is going to work."
James held up his hand to stop Anesh as they got to the last cube in the row. "Hang on, 2.0 under the desk there. Look, see? It's twitching." Anesh nodded and took a grip on the sledgehammer, while James set down their cannon in the hallway and drew his axe. "I don't think that I'm in danger from staplers while at work, I just don't want to explain it. Mostly, I really want to know how long it's open for."
"Why? Oh, and ready when you are. Finish this conversation later." Anesh muttered quietly.
James nodded, and tapped him on the shoulder. Anesh stepped into the cubicle, winding up for a wide swing at the sleek white computer case. Without waiting to be struck by surprise, the shellaxy burst into motion, a fractal pattern of cables beneath it flinging it to the side with a surge of speed that Anesh wasn't expecting. His hammer came down with a crunch as it punched a ragged hole in the desk drawer to the right of where the target had been a second ago.
Stepping in behind him, James had just enough time to mutter a quick "aw shit" as the front panel on the shellaxy opened up, and a series of bright blue beams of light lanced out focusing on his friend, the lasers briefly visible in the dust kicked up from Anesh's hit on the desk. They flickered between visible and not as they burned through the particle matter. Anesh had just enough time to register the problem before the sleeve of his shirt caught fire and the heat on his face started to scald. Jerking the hammer out of the desk, he spun and tried to get the lasers focused on something other than his skin, but the lasers just kept tracking his sensitive areas, and he was forced to reflexively keep his arms up just to protect his eyes.
James, meanwhile, was left basically unopposed. Stepping around Anesh on the left side, he just leaned in and kicked the thing in the side, hoping to knock it over and off target. His heavy steel-toed boot connected, and even cracked the plastic casing a bit, but a rapid pattering of organized cords from underneath the computer pushed it back into position like one of those inflatable clown things. He went to kick it again, and stomp down on it, but as he did so, the side of it rippled like liquid, and the plastic shifted into a series of bristling spikes. His kick slid along one of them and tapped it sideways enough to send the frontal lasers sliding off target into the wall and off Anesh, but one of the spines went up his leg, digging a clean red line against the flesh.
Now clear of the beams for a bit, and only slightly on fire, Anesh maneuvered the hammer into an overhead position. "Move!" He barked at James, who jerked back, stumbling on his now-injured-again leg and having to brace himself on the desk behind him. Anesh howled in pain as the shellaxy righted itself again and brought its lasers into line with his stomach. As his shirt burned away and his flesh started to scorch, he brought the sledgehammer down as hard as he could onto the technological nightmare.
Its outer shell rippled and tried to harden in anticipation of the strike, but the industrial tool was simply too heavy, and Anesh too motivated. The metal head of the hammer punched clean into the creature, and a spray of cold liquid plastic splattered in drops in a ring around the impact as the insides crunched into splintered fiberglass and warped copper.
As the lasers went out and the spikes dissolved into nothing, James snapped at Anesh, "Dude! Shirt! Fire!" His friend went to scrabbling to extinguish the problem, but as James moved to help, he spotted movement. With wide eyes, he shoved Anesh to the side with one arm and snapped his other arm forward, flinging his axe at the lunging stapler that was diving off the wall. It impacted in midair, but at an odd angle. Just enough to knock the thing to the ground, where James stomped on it while he picked up his weapon.
Anesh watched his friend dismantle the little demon, leaning on the desk. He patted the fire on his shirt out, and was pulling his bag off to get a bottle of water out to cool the burned area. As he set the backpack on the desk, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something that made him snap out a "No!" The desk lamp, previously pointed at the keyboard, had swiveled over to focus on James, and was now glowing hot with both light and heat. In an instant, Anesh knew, it was going to pop and spray molten glass shards forward.
So, with no time to think, he grabbed the coat from over the chair, and flung it over the lamp. An instant later, there was a whining *pop* and a burst of white light that stung the eyes even through the material covering the lamp. James looked up, holding the small skill orb from the stapler as well as the larger green one from the 2.0 shellaxy. He'd been alerted by Anesh's shout, but by the time his vision fell on the scene, all he saw was a coat on the desk, a smouldering hole burning in the middle of it.
"What was that?" James asked, raising his eyebrows.
Anesh just sighed, dumping water on his shirt. "Lamp. I told you about them, remember?"
"Oh, I think you got cut off in that conversation. And I got distracted. We should probably get better radios if we're gonna split up again." James stood and resheathed his axe. "So, what do they drop?"
Anesh shrugged. "Nothing, actually. They're more like the coffee cups. They explode and that's it. I got the orbs earlier from staplers."
James shook his head. "Nah, I don't buy it. Everything here drops orbs." He started poking at the lamp on the desk, twisting and turning it to get a good look.
"Not these." Anesh shrugged, then winced. "Okay, I read somewhere that people with darker skin don't burn as easily, and that is clearly a bunch of crap. Can you get some burn gel out for me?"
As Anesh doffed his armor and put the gel and a covering bandage on his burned areas, and James tried to dismantle the remains of the desk lamp, they talked.
"So, you were going to tell me about the doors?"
"Yeah," James said, "there's more, right? We don't know how many more, though. So maybe I just start taking my breaks at weird times, and trying all the doors in the building. Maybe find some other ones."
Anesh smiled as he responded. "But none of this makes you not paranoid about the little guys dropping on your head."
"They look like spiders! I thought they were crab things, but now Rufus is setting webs everywhere! I don't like spiders." James muttered out the last bit.
"I understand, believe me." Anesh said. "But you like Rufus. Anyway, what are we doing with the green orb? I kind of want to use this one at home, just to see what it does."
"I'm fine with that." James said, finally giving up on the lamp, which he had by now hit several times with an axe and tore the power cable out of. "I can't figure out how to get anything out of this, but I'm absolutely sure that we can. Also, you know we have another green at home, right?"
"Yeah, it's on the table. I intentionally forgot about it and hoped that JP or Alanna would notice it. Didn't work though." James shrugged as Anesh looked at him in shock, halfway through putting his pads back on.
"How do you intentionally forget something? Wait, are you trying to get around the oath of silence thing?" He grabbed up the hammer, filling the air with a scraping noise as he dragged it out of the now-hardened plastic. "That's kind of messed up."
James nodded. "Yup. I'm a master at lying to myself. It's how I got through high school."
"You wanker." Anesh broke down laughing as they stumbled back out into the hallway. "Okay, tell you what. If I can have that small one, and the green when we get home, I will give you first crack at whatever you find when you manage to disarm one of the lamps. I don't... a hundred percent agree with you? But I feel like I'm not going to tell you it's impossible that they've got something."
"Yeah, well, the coffee cups keep respawning, right? That seems kinda weird. Everything weird here has a power source." James reasoned. "Anyway, yeah, go ahead and crack that, and the next lamp we see, we'll try to, I dunno, smash it early?"
"Didn't work for the cups." Anesh quipped as he cracked the tiny skill orb.
[+1 Skill Rank - Basketball]
"Get anything good?"
"No. Let's go." Anesh grumbled. He sure as hell wasn't going give James any more ammo on the sports argument, he decided.
They fell into comfortable, companionable silence as they moved on. They weren't checking every cubicle, just ones with things that looked out of the ordinary. So they made pretty good time down the next hall.
This path also ended in a right turn at the end, they saw as soon as they turned the corner. James and Anesh both froze, and turned to each other, then back to the path in front of them. "Hey James." Anesh started.
"Yeeeeeah?" James drawled, turning to check behind them, hand going to his axe.
Anesh took a few steps forward, waving his hand in the air in front of him. When nothing turned out to be an illusion, he moved all the way to the end of the corridor, James standing behind him. "James, we've taken three right turns. All the same length halls."
"Yeah." James said in a defeated, flat tone.
While James felt himself getting fast exasperated with the situation, Anesh came running back to him, eyes sparkling with enthusiasm and excitement. "James. Hey. James!"
"*Yeah*, I fucking know. I get it!" He snapped out.
"James it's a Mobius Hall! We're standing in fancy geometry!" Anesh grinned madly as he grabbed his friend's hand and started dragging him at a jogging pace down the hallway. "This is fantastic! I should take a video of this! In fact, hang on. Hold this hammer."
James just looked at Anesh, already holding an axe and lugging a weighty potato gun in his off hand, balanced over his shoulder. "How, exactly? Just get Ganesh to record it."
"He's... up there? Maybe?" They looked up, to see the area completely covered. "Well, that's probably fine. If a physical mobius strip weren't enclosed, it might seriously mess us up to look at."
"That's great, man, but how do we leave?" James asked dryly as Anesh led them around the sixth right turn, now with his phone out, taking a video of it all.
Anesh just shrugged. "No idea. Maybe we just need to go far enough. We can also try turning around and 'backtracking'. If this is common non-Euclidean geometry, then we might be repeating the same space over and over, but turning around is the only way 'forward'."
"Then why aren't we doing that?" James asked as they took the ninth right turn.
"Because this is super cool!" Anesh shouted as they moved.
James just sighed. This was going to be a long walk.
Support "The Daily Grind"
Bio: I write stuff, and have a lot of thoughts about narrative structure and tropes. Some of the stuff I write is here, the rest can be found over on Reddit on my r/hfy author page. Feel free to message me if you want to talk about ideas, or just have questions about anything I made!