"Do you think there'll be anything left? You know, up there?"
Jory shook his head slowly, looking downward as he did so. She also lowered her gaze, experiencing the same melancholy.
"I don't think so, Sacha," he said eventually. "Not with the fire storm raging. You know what the Head said, the storms destroy everything, organic and inorganic alike. The only things that'll be left will be whatever managed to stay standing of the buildings."
"I don't trust the Head," Anwar said.
Jory and Sacha looked up. Anwar was standing in the metal doorway and leaned up against it. His casual pose didn't match the concerned look on his face.
"What do you mean?" Jory asked.
"I think it's bullshit. These fire storms, I mean."
"How? You've seen the video, right? There's definitely something out there and it's not calming down," Sacha said.
"I think it's fake," Anwar responded, shaking his head.
"Fake? Why?" Jory asked.
"I don't know. But I overheard someone from the security team talking about Oscar yesterday."
"Oscar?" Sacha said, looking at Jory confused.
"Yeah, they said something about him reporting back in."
"What? ... But Oscar's been dead since the fire storm hit, over a year ago," Jory responded.
"That's what we were told, right? That Oscar -- and his entire team -- was swallowed by the fire storm as it hit, and then we were shoved underground and kept here. And after that, we've been told the same shit story every single day. We can't go up there, it's too dangerous, we gotta wait it out."
Anwar took a step into the room and grabbed and filled a glass of water.
"I'm telling you, it's all bullshit."
"But again, Anwar, why? What's the purpose? What does the Head gain by doing this?"
"And again, Jory, I don't know. But I'm sure we could find out if we talked to someone from security, or maybe the Head's support staff."
Jory and Sacha looked at each other, and they both realized what Anwar was suggesting at the same time.
"Are you seriously suggesting a revolt?" Jory said, sitting up suddenly.
"Well, maybe not a revolt, but a subtle mutiny, perhaps. A truth-finding mission, if you will."
"Okay," Sacha said quietly, after a short silence.
"Okay?" Jory said, whipping his head around. "You're okay with this?"
"I am, yeah. I've kinda been thinking things haven't been adding up recently as well. Not as far as Anwar here," she nodded sideways to Anwar, who nodded back, "but close enough. We've been here for over a year, there has been no change in the storm, a phenomenon I'd never even heard of before it hit."
"Hm, true, I didn't either. You think we would've heard about them beforehand. It's not like we didn't have any information about this place."
"So... We doing this?" Anwar asked, leaning against a table. He grinned. "We don't need to do anything illegal right away, we can simply ask around and maybe influence -- nay, sway -- opinions a little."
Jory thought about it for a while but eventually agreed as well. His reasoning being that while he hadn't necessarily noticed anything, if there was enough for two others to notice, he trusted them enough to go along with it.
"So where do we start?" he asked.
"The security guys -- It was Arthur and Kelsey, didn't see the faces of the rest -- who were talking about Oscar," Anwar said. "They know more, for sure."
They agreed to meet up the day after, early in the afternoon, and find Arthur, Kelsey, or both. They were in luck, as not long after they had met up and started into the lunch room, they saw Arthur sitting at one of the tables, eating alone.
Anwar nodded at the others and they moved.
"Hey, Arthur," Sacha said sweetly as she sat down, smiling a friendly smile.
"Having a good day?"
"Uhm, yeah," Arthur said, putting his fork down. He looked up at Anwar and Jory and straightened out. "What's up, guys?"
He sounded wary.
"Not much. Hey, remember how -- what was it? -- a year ago? Oscar and his crew got... Lost? In the storm?" Sacha said, demanding his attention back to her.
Arthur's breath caught for a second.
"Yes," he said coolly, now fully wary. "What about it?"
"So, Anwar here, he heard you talking about Oscar," Sacha continued.
"So? We talk about him and his crew from time to time. It got all this --", and he waved his hand around, "-- started."
"Yeah, see, I didn't hear you talk about Oscar in the way that I'd expected."
"What do you mean?" he said as he looked up to Anwar. His face was now in security detail mode, eyes focused and jawline clenched a little.
Jory looked beyond Arthur and saw Kelsey and another security guard walk into the lunch room. They didn't notice them yet.
"He heard you speak of Oscar in the present -- alive -- tense," he quickly said, hurrying the point along. "And we were wondering why."
Arthur immediately switched to anger.
"Then Anwar heard wrong," he said resolutely as he got up.
Jory looked back at Kelsey, who had her back turned. The other security guard was looking in a cupboard for a plate.
"I didn't. And given that him being alive means other things might not be as they have been told, I feel we deserve to know," Anwar said, now also letting some annoyance in his voice come through.
Arthur paused and looked around. Because he had his back to Kelsey, he didn't see her or the other guard. He looked Anwar straight in the eyes and after a few seconds of silence, whispered, "Fine."
"See me tonight, after my shift, in the rec room. I'll make sure it's empty."
He picked up his tray and sighed.
"Now fuck off," he said, as he turned around and walked away.
They did so. After they left the lunch room they breathed deep and had to calm down a bit from the adrenaline of pushing a security guard -- even if it wasn't very intense, it was more than they had done before. The underground base was generally a really calm place, and the security department was there more for neighbor spats and misappropriated items than for actual security.
Later that day they were standing in front of the recreation room, normally a hot spot in the evening, but now seemingly devoid of life. A hand-written sign had been put up on the door: "Security training, closed for the evening."
Anwar chuckled. Smart, he thought. Nobody's going to mess with that.
"You think we'll be fine?" Jory asked.
"What are they going to do, murder us?" Sacha said in a cynical tone.
"She's right, if 3 out of 54 people go missing, that'll be tough to explain," Anwar said.
"Maybe we went outside and got swallowed by the fire storm, like Oscar's team."
Anwar looked at Jory.
"Fair enough," he said.
He pushed on the door and went in. Sacha and Jory followed.
Inside, they saw Arthur sitting on the side of a table. He looked up as they came in.
Then they stopped walking.
Next to him was Oscar. And the Head.
"What..." Anwar started.
"Just stop. No questions," the Head said resolutely. "You figured it out, congratulations. Now shut up and sit down."
They sat down on some chairs that were around.
The Head had been the commander of the mission. They had been the one to decide that it was no longer safe outside and had ordered a retreat to the underground base. Even if the mission protocols were no longer valid, that didn't mean that they didn't run everything around here.
Oscar stood up.
"Hey, guys," he said with a faint smile. "Long time no see," he added sheepishly.
"What the hell, Oscar?" Sacha said.
"No questions!" the Head yelled, getting up abruptly. "It's time to listen now."
Sacha sat back and nodded. It was worth listening, and they could always respond if it wasn't worth it.
"Oscar here has been alive this whole time. Good job! But you're not supposed to know, and that's not so good," the Head said. "Because what he's doing is in all of our best interest, but best done in secret."
Anwar cocked an eyebrow. The Head noticed.
"Yes. Remember how we were sent out here to set up a mining operation? Well, turns out that after we left, war broke out. It all turned to shit. Countries, companies, everything turned against one another. I don't even know the details -- we never received them."
"We did receive something, however," Arthur added. "A communication that there was another mission -- not by anyone I would call friends -- to come over here, take us out, and take over the mining from us, sending everything back to Earth, but again, not to anyone I would call friends."
"It would have been the death of all of us. And the only place that wasn't on the blueprints was this location," the Head added.
Anwar, Jory and Sacha looked at one another, shocked.
"Can we...?" Jory started.
"Not yet. Shut up," Arthur said.
Oscar cleared his throat and took a step forward.
"Guys, they're up there right now. Have been this whole time. They've brought way more people than we've got, and they've got weapons. We don't. But we've been sabotaging. This whole year, we've been messing their shit up and making sure their yields are terrible. We've caused loss of machinery, habitat, food, and even..."
Oscar sighed and looked away.
"Life," he added quieter than he'd spoken before.
Now the Head stepped forward.
"And we can't have the people here find out, because they would go crazy. Some would want to leave, beg to be let off this planet from those who would kill us on sight. Some would become militant and want to fight them in the open, and that wouldn't work out well either. So we stay put. We have a small team on the outside, fighting for the good cause," the Head added.
Then they paused.
"Now you may speak," they said.
"Okay, so why are we here? Why are you telling us this?"
"Well," Oscar started, "it's actually pretty good timing. Now that you know, we can't have you in there with the rest of the crew. It's too risky, you might talk."
"We're getting murdered," Sacha said sarcastically.
"Thrown into the fire storm," Jory added dramatically.
"There's no fire storm, and I think you know that by now," Arthur said. He was not entertained.
"You three don't really have a choice, but I hope you're okay with the situation as it's being offered," Oscar said, smiling faintly again. "We've lost some good people recently, and we could really use some more manpower."
"You're recruiting us?" he said.
"Okay," Sacha said.
"I'm in," Jory said.
Anwar looked at them both.
"Wow, that easy?"
"Anwar, we've been stuck here for a year. This is an opportunity to get out, right?" Sacha said.
"And do something useful. Remember, you were the one who pushed us to investigate this," Jory added, nodding knowingly.
"Like you needed much pushing!" Anwar said.
He then laughed.
"Alright, fine, it's better than staying here, you're right."
He turned to look at Oscar, the Head and Arthur.
"I assume we illegally exited the base and got swallowed up by the storm if anyone asks?"
"Obviously," Oscar said with a full-on smile.
He extended his hand to Anwar, who got up and shook it.
"Welcome to the team, guys," Oscar said. "Now let's give 'em hell."