“It’s pretty simple, once you get down to it.”
Cornea had already withdrawn his finger, but all the accusatory intent it carried still floated precariously around me, suspicions raised.
“There are medical explanations, sure. They’re not impossible — hopefully I’ve established that much after talking for this long — but they sure are implausible. We can bring up nanobots and implants and secret pseudo-extralegal drug doses until the cows come home, or we can simplify everything and call By a liar. In situations like these, I’m inclined to lean towards the latter.”
“Because I made a mistake? I’m not going to say that it isn’t super sketchy that I got Sludged so early on in the way I did, but c’mon. Be a little charitable.”
That wasn’t an argument — or even that good of a emotional persuasion, really — but I didn’t have one to seriously offer in its stead. I was not a mole, but what I had done was excruciatingly suspicious, and had it been anyone else, I would’ve been quick to point (literal) fingers as well.
Still, I had to force myself to respond, even if it was just going through the motions. It was impossible to deny something without looking at least somewhat suspicious, but it was better than the alternative of not trying to deny it at all.
“It’s more than one thing,” said Caroline. “You found the panel, you found the Sludge, you just happened to squeeze it in the right way to have it break on you and only you. It’s all very… convenient.”
“…Hypothetically, say that I was a mole; how does that even factor into this conversation? I was still put to sleep by the Sludge, right?”
“You might have been faking it,” said Dent.
Cornea shook his head.
“No, she was out. Arm drop, sternum rub, rapid eye movement. I wasn’t poking around for show.”
That’d be fun to watch on TV later, Cornea prying my unconscious eyelids open in front of everyone. That’s what I’d really come for, honestly. The mystery solving was just incidental.
Corn trotted out the finger again, waving it as he stuffed yet another strawberry into his gaping maw.
“However, if we assume that By was a mole, then it all becomes much easier. She could’ve taken a slow-acting drug before or during our time in first room and then ran to the panel as soon as she felt it start to take effect.”
“…The vote, then. If I’m a mole, why have the vote? The gamemakers and I could’ve planned things out so that I get Sludged, but that there also wouldn’t have been the issue with the rules, so I stay in without a fuss.”
“Credibility,” said Caroline. “They take some legitimate risk in having a mole get taken out early for an attempt at boosting her reputation as a trustworthy figure.”
“Because this is making me come across as so trustworthy, right?”
“Attempts fail, sometimes. And that’s assuming they didn’t have safeguards. You could have multiple moles, several voting with you, some encouraging others without necessarily siding with you openly. Look at Joyo.”
Joyo looked incredulous.
“The fuck are you talkin’ about? I didn’t even vote for her!”
“No, but you were loud and obnoxious enough in your opposition to have potentially convinced several others to switch sides. You at least cemented a few people further on her side, if the reactions of Dot and Claim are to be taken seriously.”
“Oh, fuck off. I ain’t a mole.”
“…It’s possible. Regardless, this line of questioning can’t go much farther in the moment beyond everyone deciding to place extra suspicion on By, assuming she has nothing else to say in her defense.”
Everyone looked back at me. There were some responses I could make — flimsy ones, for the most part — but it was probably better to just end the discussion as quickly as possible. Caroline had finished by emphasizing the fact that there were multiple people worthy of distrust, and as much as the spotlight was still directed at me, I at least figured that I’d have ranked higher than Joyo on a poll about trustworthiness. I could earn back more trust later, but pushing back so hard against everything at that moment wasn’t going to settle well in people’s memories.
“…I don’t, I guess.”
There was a short pause — most of the others had expected me to offer more of a fight, I figured — but it was broken by Lu, who I had yet to hear speak. Her voice was even lighter and more childish than her appearance hinted at, soft and bubbly to the point of almost coming across as unnatural. The permanent smile didn’t help.
“By, can I ask you something?”
ZB leaned towards me. Her body language suggested that she might have been preparing to whisper, but she spoke more than loudly enough for everyone to hear, Lu included.
“Ignore her, By. She’s pretending to be nuts. It’s the worst gimmick here.”
“I’m not pretending to be anything, ZB. My friend is…”
Her eyes rolled up again for a moment, coming back down after another short flicker of rapid eyelid flickering.
“Okay, sorry. My friend says it’s fine. It’s okay if you don’t believe, ZB. Nobody needs to argue right now.”
She turned back to me, carefully adjusting her tiara as she did.
“My friend wants to know why you opened the panel in front of everybody. If you realized that it existed, why didn’t you wait until when you were alone to try and open it?”
“…I was just really excited. That sounds like a shitty defense, but finding a big secret like that in front of everybody made me stop thinking about strategy. I was the second person to arrive, and I was there for longer than almost everybody else, so I by that point I was desperate to find anything.”
“…So if you found something secret while in a group, you’d share it with us right away? That’s what my friend wants to know.”
“Great, By! That’s so great. Can I see what you stuffed inside your pockets?”
Her tone of voice didn’t change, but the maliciousness was more than evident through meaning alone. Already caught and not wanting to go through the hassle of everyone demanding to see it, I retrieved it without argument, placing the four folded pieces of tinfoil on the table.
“Is there Sludge in that?” asked Quote, who looked at me with what felt like real suspicion for the first time since we’d met. That hurt, a little. Caroline and Corn had managed to drag in some of the more hardcore members of the party into their anti-By campaign, but Lu’s current gambit was doing much more damage. Even ZB and Strait were giving me looks, now.
What a first day.
I opened up all four pieces and flattened them out, clearly showing off to everyone that they were empty.
“Not a drop. It’s just tinfoil.”
“For transporting any Sludge she finds later, I assume,” said Caroline. “If it comes in plastic capsules similar to the original and actually is an anesthetic, having a safe way to move it around would be very important. Tinfoil would be a very optimal way of doing so.”
I sighed. Unlike the first time I found something cool, I’d gone out of my way not to reveal it to the group, but that hadn’t worked, so I wasn’t left with any other option aside from showing them. There might have been some weird lies I could’ve made up about what I was planning on doing with it, but that wouldn’t explain why I had been secretive, so coming clean was all I had if I wanted to save whatever shreds of face I had left.
“I’m not sure if this’ll work, but when I saw the tinfoil, I wondered if I could use it like this…”
I took two of the four large pieces and wrapped them around my bracelet, pressing it tightly and clumping it down against my wrist. I waited for a moment, not expecting anything to happen.
“Oh, I get it,” said Corn. “You thought the bracelets operated via signals sent from somewhere else in the facility. If the bracelets end up having Sludge in them that pops out whenever you break a rule, you could wear the tinfoil to block the signals and circumvent the consequence.”
“Wouldn’t that be against the rules?” asked Quote.
“…I mean, it wasn’t stated to be,” I said. “But that’s not why I picked up the foil, though.”
I took the other two pieces and opened up the new layer of bracelet I’d made, sliding them in the thin space between my skin and the bracelet instead of just surrounding the latter. With the bracelet completely isolated from both my body and the outside, I closed it all up again and waited a few seconds.
The tinfoil shifted slightly, the bracelet releasing and opening back to the way it’d been when Mr. Dogsi handed it to me. I pulled it off together with the tinfoil in one smooth motion, dropping them both on the table.
“Not a doctor, but people’s bodies constantly produce electronic signals or whatever, right?”
“Yeah, that. Since the bracelet clamped down on me the way it did after my skin touched it — and for all of you too, I’m assuming — it gave me the impression that it was set to do so after having made contact with a human body. The best consistent register of that is probably EKG, so I figured that if it did run on that, and you managed to block it, it might be set to come off.”
“But how did you come up with the tinfoil idea?”
“Tinfoil blocks electromagnetic waves, at least to an extent, so you can use it to make something like this ineffective. I read about something similar in a story once. When I found it in the kitchen, I decided to go for it.”
(Bullshit, but nobody cared anyway. Little fluffy white lies were fine if they kept me from looking like too much of a giant loser.)
We argued back and forth for a while after that, most everyone trying out the tinfoil for themselves after seeing that I’d been able to do it without it counting as a rule violation. I was annoyed that I’d been forced to do it front of everyone, but it was nice to see my theory confirmed. Beyond the added suspicion of me seeming to know more about the mechanics of the game than should have been reasonable (which was more really the fault of unoriginality in game design than it was of me being particularly smart or insightful), it did add several very odd factoids that we were forced to go over.
If the bracelets could be taken off, that suggested that they weren’t how punishment for rule violation was doled out (assuming the gamemakers weren’t that shortsighted). Rule 28 stated that players who broke any rules would be eliminated instantly. If that was the case, and it wasn’t the bracelets, how was it handled? Would the gamemakers open the nearest ceiling panel and start firing Sludge at them with a paintball sniper? Something like that would work, but it seemed really impractical.
I didn’t want to keep my bracelet off, and neither did anyone else, and by the time we wrapped up both our talk and dinner everyone had put theirs back on. If our hunch about punishment violation was correct, then none of us had any reason to assume that not wearing them brought us any sort of advantage (at least not yet).
(On a more emotional level, I liked having it on, especially after the vote. It felt like confirmation of the fact that what I was doing was real; having it off felt dirty, in a way.)
We left the kitchen, a few of us taking along snacks as we headed back towards our bedrooms.
To my annoyance, everyone grabbed some tinfoil.
As a group, we peered down the single escalator that led back downstairs. It was still going up, even if at an absurdly slow pace.
We’d made a mutual agreement to turn in for the night and fully explore the rest of The Facility in the morning, and after a quick stop to the Health Wing to check out the bathrooms, that’s where we had headed.
Did they just want us to chug back down it? With how tall it was, I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was with that. Part of it was my thing with heights, but it didn’t exactly seem like the safest thing in the world, especially with how long it went on for…
“Here,” said Caroline.
She pointed to a small screen about the size of a smartphone mounted onto the side of the stationary railing. Like the screen on the wall of the Dining Room, it listed a small explanation about how its room worked. A small pink button lay just beneath it.
- Any escalator in The Facility is capable of operating in either available direction and stopping completely.
- To change the direction of this or any other escalator, simply press the pink button located near the top and bottom of it.
- For safety reasons, the direction of any escalator will not change or stop if any players are riding it at the time the button is pressed.
After reading it aloud, Caroline pressed it once, which stopped the escalator. As stated, a subsequent press made it go in reverse, and she cycled through everything two extra times, making sure there weren’t any extra or faster modes of operation we might have been missing out on.
We rode it to the bottom, me feeling marginally more comfortable than I did going up (but not by a lot). Once we made it, more than a few of us had gotten the same idea, and we sent a lone bracelet up to see if it would let us change directions as it rode.
It did not.
I was back in bed.
Once making it back to the first room, we had all agreed to go to sleep. I was sure that more than a few people were intending on breaking that rule to explore The Facility overnight and try to find some Sludge, but as much as the temptation appealed to me, I didn’t want to risk leaving.
My room, was much as I might’ve disliked it otherwise, was safe, and that couldn’t be said for the vast majority of the rest of The Facility. People could enter my hallway without any issue, but the bedroom itself required my keycard to get inside of, and the rules banned people from Sludging me while inside anyway.
I wasn’t against taking risks, but after what I’d been through, I figured that it probably wasn’t worth it. I’d been given a reprieve; it was better not to waste it with more carelessness. (I was a little scared, too. With how hyped everyone was, I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone got offed on the first night. Better to play it safe.)
Still, falling asleep was proving to be difficult. Getting drugged twice had thrown off my sleep schedule, and getting back into it was not easy while in a new bed. I’d already tried killing time by fiddling around with the electronic number lock again (it was completely off, registering nothing) and examining the limited options available on my bracelet, but neither provided me with much entertainment or extra knowledge, and I’d spent at least a half hour staring at the ceiling in thought.
Partially pulling myself out of the nice blanket they’d provided me with, I suddenly recalled that I’d forgotten to update the book. Turning to the side, I picked up my backpack, fishing it out.
THE DM BOOK
It wasn’t much more than an old composition notebook of potential answers listed in no particular order, but I brought it along anyway, not liking the thought of being away from it. Without turning the lights back on, I wrote Dent’s full name on the current page, where it rested beneath Danger Mouse and Deutsche Mark. It had been awhile since I’d updated it, but it was still nice to finger through the worn pages. I usually much preferred typing to writing stuff out, but when it came to making lists, I had a preference for paper. I’d written about thirteen-hundred possible entries for what it might have stood for, and although I never expected to get any sort of real clarification on which was correct, it was oddly cathartic to have them all jotted down somewhere.
On the first page, D’s name was listed at the top, although I’d dropped even the vaguest notion of it being him a long time ago. He never would have done it.
After returning the book to its place and tucking myself back in, I thought about D. It had been a ridiculously long time since we’d been away from each other, and if the game continued for more than a week, it would’ve been our longest period of separation since meeting. It was crazy to think about it, what a big piece of my life he’d been. Not that I didn’t want that.
I eventually got to sleep, although it took a long time. I could manage to get to bed easily if I had him or a surgical-grade anesthetic, but without either, it was tough.
I missed having him next to me. Most people wouldn’t have thought it just by looking at him, but he was an excellent cuddler.