They walked into an elevator.
It was clean and in good condition, very familiar and claustrophobic at the same time. Instead of an array of buttons, there was only one.
“This seems pretty uncompromising,” Terence said to the capybara. “Does this look familiar?”
“Outside of it looking like an elevator, no. But it’s getting dark out there.”
“And the door evidently doesn’t close until you press the button.”
Dr. Ransom pressed the button.
The door closed and the elevator lurched. There was a vibration, but Jeanette was skeptical about what direction in might be headed: her stomach told her nothing, and she was very aware of there being more than three dimensions. She actually hoped it was in one if the unorthodox ones, since emerging on an upper level amid the girder nests of the vampire pteranodons was not what she wanted.
“So they have elevators in your world,” Terence said.
“And in many others,” the capybara answered. “You’d find my world surprisingly unexotic after a few days.”
Jeanette was still more than a little shaky. What surprised her of how little of that seemed to stem from having fought a bunch of monsters with a sword. She even smiled a little to herself at being the only one in her school who had benefitted from all the training in magical combat that everybody engaged in in their free time. As a matter of fact, having spent some time wearing her friend Isaac’s Oculus Rift, the fight for her life back there hadn’t seemed all that much more real. What bothered her, as she sank out of that little island of cheerfulness, was being lost and far--infinitely far--from home.
The elevator dinged a muted ding, and as the door opened, she stared in surprise. Her father’s reaction was “wait--are we home?”
The elevator opened out onto a hallway. It was grey: grey walls, lighter gray metal trim, slightly darker metal doors along both sides. There were fluorescent panels at intervals along the ceiling providing light, and gray-streaked with gray flooring. Everything looked familiar, though inviting was something else again. Nonetheless, they got out of the elevator, which closed behind them.
It might have still been Sunday, or at least before Monday morning, which would have explained the place being deserted. The complete lack of windows kept things indeterminate, and although the hallway was broad and the ceiling high, it quickly became oppressive.
They walked to the end and turned a corner--and walked to the end and turned another corner. “No, I don’t think we’re home,” Terence said, and Jeanette moved closer to her father. The absolute uniformity of the hallways, coupled with the complete lack of signage--nothing on the doors, nothing at the corners, and very much no exit signs, made things creepy. Jeanette’s expectations had started out low, but they were now at the level of the vampire dinosaurs.
Then they came upon a doorway with no door, and when they went in, they found something welcome, as far as it went. There were tables, and a couple of vending machines on one side, and a cabinet on another. There were gray metal chairs, all shoved in to the tables.
“A break room,” Dr. Ransom said without the enthusiasm he should have had.
The vending machines were the first splash of color they had seen in what seemed like forever, and both Jeanette and the capybara moved to them immediately. Terence’s attention was drawn to a coffeemaker on the cabinet with a round glass pot full of obviously cold coffee. There were torn-open boxes of creamer cups, sweetener packets and plastic stirrers.
One of the machines was a glass fronted thing with various items on screw-like mounts. They ranged from packets of nuts to brilliantly colored packages that could contain anything. The other was a soda or drink machine with cans just as brightly colored in raised plastic tombs with buttons underneath. There were no letters anywhere, which confirmed that they were nowhere on Earth. On the other hand, though, there were no coin or bill slots. When Jeanette pressed one of the buttons in the matrix next to the glass case, the corresponding screw turned and what looked like a plastic-wrapped danish marched forward and fell. She did the same for a bag of peanuts and a mystery package. When she moved over to the soda machine and pondered her alternatives, Senhor Capoeira waddled up and pressed more than half of the buttons.
Terence stood before the coffee maker: he had found the on switch which was glowing orange. “You know what that’s going to taste like,” the capybara said as he deposited his pile on the table. “I will probably have had worse, and I need some coffee,” Terence responded.
Jeanette’s danish was the kind that had so much stuff added to it that it would never get stale, and way too sweet. The peanuts seemed coated in oil, and the mystery pack revealed a couple of chocolate bubbles that probably contained alien seed-pods. But she was very hungry, so she ate.
Terence came to the table with a cup with heavily blonde coffee, and sat. “Jeanette, I want to apologize. Back there. If I had just stopped the car and waited…”
The capybara interrupted. “Dr. Ransom, if you’ll look at your daughter’s face, you’ll see that that is precisely the thing she doesn’t want to hear from you right now.” Jeanette turned and stared at the floor, and Terence came over and crouched beside her. “Jeanette, you were amazing back there. Who’d have thought we had super-powers? This is shaping up to be quite an adventure. Well, not this, exactly: this sucks.”
“How was the coffee?” Jeanette said thickly, without raising her head.
“With three creamers and six sugars, it was like drinking beige paint.” He held her shoulder.
They got up and dumped the plastic and wiped down the table and the cabinet, and went back into the hallways.
Hours went by, maybe more. They found a stairwell, and climbed up with cautious expectation, only to find another hallway, of different length but otherwise identical. They found a door without a handle that turned out to be a bathroom, and they used it by turns. They continued on, never seeing a window, never a sign, never a difference. Their weariness turned to dread. They passed another break room and didn’t go in.
It felt like days to Jeanette, and she very gradually despite her reason and her courage, felt panic rise. She felt like running, and finally she did--but only to the end of the current hall, because she couldn’t stand to turn and lose her father and her monster.
She came back to them, and held her father, who looked terrible and drawn.
“I think we are in Hell.”
She squeezed tight to him, and she knew that he was right.