Mike visibly steeled himself against the debilitating dizziness that threatened to overpower them and took a step towards the door. Jo moved beside him, ready to grab his arm if he needed help. She wondered if she’d really be any help though; she felt as ready to collapse as he looked, and they weren’t even inside the hot zone yet.
They paused at the doorway in, feeling a faint heat wash over them. Mike gasped. “It’s bad in there. Takes a lot of radiation to get so that you feel it. The tabs aren’t going to help us for long.”
She nodded and they stepped through. A short corridor stretched ahead of them, plainly visible until it bent ninety degrees to the right. Blue shadows danced across the walls in the uneven lighting, which did nothing to help Jo’s growing dizziness and disorientation. Aside from the sound of their footsteps and Mike’s labored breathing, there wasn’t a sound to be heard.
The trip down the corridor to the bend passed in a slow motion dream-like state. They kept trying to hurry, but the faster they tried to go, the harder it became to walk. By the time they got to the corner, they were staggering as bad as the last time Jo’d found the bottom of a scotch bottle. Also like that time, she found that hugging the wall helped a bit.
“Ten … minutes,” Mike gasped. “Maybe fifteen—if we’re lucky.”
“I didn’t … ask!” she grunted in response.
“J—just trying to stay focused … talking helps a little.”
They rounded the corner. The hall was constructed about the same time as the door, and of a similar heavy steel in large plates. Ahead of them, just a few steps away, the hall opened out into the foundry floor of the old ironworks. The light there was intense; the dancing shadows were few and far between, simply because there were few shadows to start with.
The space was dominated by large tipping vats that would have held the molten metals, with racks for casting molds to make various pieces and parts on demand. Only the racks and vats remained, and they positively blazed with blue light.
“C-can’t … give this place high marks f-for safety,” Mike stammered.
Jo didn’t reply. The sight of the foundry triggered something in her, and the pins and needles sensation went into overdrive. Her eyes were drawn to a figure on the foundry floor, walking slowly toward a loose group of objects she was certain hadn’t been there a moment ago.
The figure was tall but very thin, with a scholarly air to him. It was an impression she was certain of, though she couldn’t see him clearly. He seemed to be in deep shadow somehow; it was like she was outside again, seeing the ironworks at different points in history. Everything was both brighter than day and darker than night all at once.
Mike took a cue from her and leaned against the wall, but gave no sign that he saw anything unusual. Jo moved with purpose, though she had to do it slow. The tall figure was male, she saw, with a distinctly scholarly air to him. He reminded her strongly of the other man she’d seen; Archerd Dolet, his name had been. This man was younger, and she was certain it wasn’t Archerd. There was a distinct resemblance, though.
He knelt down before the objects, which as she got closer, she identified as bones. She should be repulsed, she thought, but they were hard to see clearly. She couldn’t focus well enough.
He stopped his examination of the bones and turned, startled. His eyes widened as he saw her, and there was a jolt, almost more of a shock, of recognition between them. She gasped; he disappeared. The shadowy, dark version of the basement faded, leaving her eyes stinging with the full force of the radiation’s glare.
“Let’s get out of here,” she whispered. There was no reply. Mike was staring ahead, mouth slack, eyes terrified. She looked around, but couldn’t see what he was staring at. “C’mon!” she yelled. “We’re pushing our time here!”
He started backing his way into the hall again, and she grabbed his arm; he blinked a few times, mouth working soundlessly, and looked around in confusion. “Did you see it?”
“See what? The young man studying the bones?”
He blinked at her in confusion, then shook his head. “No. Leave now, we’ll talk outside,” he said, and they turned and quickly made their way out the way they’d came.