“Agent Nelson Tethers here. I...I can’t honestly say how many more of these I’ll make. It gets a little harder finding blank tapes these days, and with the current situation, pausing to talk might seem rather...counterproductive, if I’m gonna be honest.”
The former lounge had seen it’s fair share of office parties gone wild or late night rendezvous between agents who thought the dorms were just a little too safe. Now it was still standing as one of the last secure places you could depend on finding again if you left, and finding it intact. The vending machines had been raided a while ago, mostly holding the things no agents really wanted in the moment. The lights flickered and swung on frayed wires and the walls seemed to pulse and warp, occasionally fluttering off one of the many sticky notes Nelson had stuck to it.
The man stared as one fell silently to the floor, pulling himself off the couch to stick it back into place. With a soft sigh, he continued, heading back towards the sunk-in couch space near the center of the room, “Agent Threepwood has mostly stuck to myself and Agent Marley’s side since finding us in the maze. The two went out for a supply run about thirty minutes ago.” He paused a moment, seemed to think of something, and hurriedly clambered to the coffee table to start writing it down on a sticky note, “The structure of this place has become entirely random. I tested a few possible paths that might have led us to the Motherlobe exit before. A few of them led right back to my room, which helped get some of my tools back.”
“But we’re still no closer to finding a path out.” He hopped off the couch again to pin a note to the wall-a simple ‘EXIT = FLY???’ “The current idea is we might be able to commandeer a jet if any still remain in the hangar. The trick will be to find where the hangar currently resides, and find out how far we can go before any risk comes to Threepwood.” Nelson gave another pause, looking over a few of the papers, “...Agent Riggs did return to the Motherlobe however. After establishing contact with us, he has currently chosen to seclude himself in his own dorm. We’re not entirely sure what he’s doing in there, but he insisted that we didn’t touch him.”
“...I don’t know why this is happening to the Psychonauts. Or why Guybrush has seemingly become patient zero. But I’m going to find some answers. I have to.”
One of the doors nearby slid open, Nelson stopping the recording to look over, letting out a soft gasp before coming over, “Here, lemme-”
“I-nnf!-Got him!” Elaine was helping wrangle a limp noodle of a man, curling and shifting even as he laid across her back in a slight stupor. Nelson went for his other arm, pulling on it to coil around his arm to better drag Guybrush to a couch.
“Should I ask?”
Elaine gave a hum, “Depends. Think you’d like the answer?”
Nelson took a slight glance down, unable to make eye contact with her. He got the feeling he wouldn’t, but curiosity was winning a battle against common sense. “W-what happened?”
Elaine glanced off, as if she was considering how to phrase it for a long moment as they hefted the spaghetti man onto the couch, “...He found one of his old taunt books while we were looking around.”
Nelson blinked a few times, “His...what now?”
Elaine crossed her arms and took in a deep breath, sitting on what little space wasn’t taken up, “He got really into swordfighting a few years back. Thought he could add it to his repertoire. But turns out the only thing he really wanted was the witty banter, so he...wrote a lot of it. By himself.”
There was a growing dread in Nelson as Elaine went on, his eyes slowly widening when the pieces began to click, “Oh no...did he-”
“Read every single one aloud till he passed out from lack of air?” Elaine huffed, “Yep.”
Nelson couldn’t help a groan, rubbing his face as he took up one of the loveseats opposite, “Guybrush...He’s going to be quoting them at us for days .”
“I think it just got him excited is all.” Elaine had turned her gaze to watch the man, brushing a spiral of hair out of his face, resting her hand on his cheek, “It sounds awful to say, but he probably needed something to settle him down for a bit. I can’t remember the last time I saw him sleep.”
Nelson let out a breath when he considered it, nodding his head, “It’s been a while, that’s for sure.”
“Course, I could say the same about you, Tethers.”
Nelson sat up a bit straighter, glancing her way with an owlish expression on his face, “I-I don’t know what you mean.”
Elaine gave a half smile, waving to the wall, “I don’t recall that corner there having so many notes when I got some sleep.”
“Ah…” Nelson gave a sort of sheepish laugh, “It’s a little hard to sleep, considering the circumstances, isn’t it?”
“Doesn’t mean we don’t need it, Agent.” Elaine waved a hand, almost like she was trying to shoo him off. “Go on, at least a couple hours. I’ve got watch just fine.”
Nelson always found it difficult to argue with her. Mostly because the majority of the time she was right concerning most topics. Over the last few days, he could start to understand how her and Guybrush g-...had gotten along so well.
Guybrush remembered her, thankfully, but in his current state his affection would come with increasingly longer proportions, mood swings, and the intense panic attacks that were becoming less of a surprise every day. Guybrush had always seemed like a man with his heart sticking half-out: genuine and heartfelt to most he met, but hiding a vulnerability very few people got to see. Even to someone who loved him, it had to be exhausting.
Still, Nelson couldn’t hide he was just as tired at a time like this. He worked up a smile, “I’ll try in a bit. Just…maybe take a look at some of my ideas first?”
There was a warning tone to her voice when she set a serious look on him, “Nelson.”
He raised his hands, “I’ll sleep! I promise! Just...take a look at this?”
Elaine brushed another curl out of Guybrush’s face, giving a soft sigh to herself when Guybrush leaned his face into her hand, giggling in his sleep. “...Alright. But I’m not getting up, for the record.”
“Understandable, Agent Marley!” Nelson quickly got up, having to search the walls until he found one particular corner he found promising enough, turning and clearing his throat. “Okay, so, I think our next best option for getting out of here would have to be flight. We know there were jets in the hangars when the incident occurred. We haven’t confirmed yet if all of them are gone and if we play our cards right, we can probably fly one out of here...or I’m sure you could anyway. Probably not your first time in one, right?”
“Can’t say it is.” Elaine waved a hand, “So how do we get there?”
“That’s where I’m stuck.” He dug in his jacket till he could find a pen-light, shining it towards a section of the wall. Post-its had been clustered into one spot that formed what looked like a pile of worms on paper. “I tried mapping out the maze.”
“Yes, it uhm…” Nelson cleared his throat, “Didn’t work out so well. I really can’t figure out a pattern to the changes around here. During a scavenging run yesterday, I entered the same door three times and entered three separate locations, yet I’d end up back at the same spot if I went through it again. Every time.” He waved his hands outwards, “The only possibility I could think of is rooms seem to show up if we need them. We’ve entered this break room multiple times from different directions… Could Guybrush be an influence in that?”
“If he was, it wouldn’t explain how we got back so fast...but he does seem to influence things in his sleep as well.” Elaine leaned on the back of one hand, curled under her chin, “We could blast our way through.”
“We could! Potentially-but with how closely this place is linked to Guybrush’s mind, the chances of damaging him could potentially skyrocket.” He brought a hand to his mouth, “I suppose we could do a quick test on the environment to confirm it though. A little scratch or blast onto a wall here or there.”
“Even a little scratch can be damaging on a brain though.”
“It can…” Nelson pressed his hand against his temples and winced.
“Nelson…” He hadn’t realized she’d gotten up until she was steadying his back with a psychic hand, “You’ve been researching for how long?”
“Nhn...a few days, at least.” Nelson’s shoulders slump, “Maybe I do need a little rest...”
Elaine patted his shoulder, his shoulders drooping under her touch and the look of sympathy she was giving him, “I’m keeping an eye out. Promise…”
He smiled, almost a look of relief on his face. If one looked, they could see just how deep the bags under his eyes had gotten in a short amount of time, the whites verging on bloodshot as he gives a nod, “Of course. Course you will…” Nelson rubbed over his face, stumbling from the wall to one of the arm chairs to curl up on. Elaine waited, making her way back over to Guybrush’s side with her eyes on Nelson, waiting until she could see the gentle rise and fall of his chest as he relaxed.
Elaine let out a soft breath. “What to do about you two…?” She reaches around till her hand reaches the end of Guybrush’s hair and combs her fingers through, leaning into his forehead, “I know you’re awake, dear.”
Guybrush didn’t move for a moment, his cheek to Elaine, waiting till she gave a huff and leaned in to turn his head to kiss her, grinning ear to ear with a snicker.
She rolled her eyes and put an arm around the giggly man, “Alright, alright, you got me. I’m here.”
“YOu ArE!!” He wrapped his arms twice around her waist and planted another kiss on her cheek, nuzzling against it like an especially affectionate dog. His hand found hers and his fingers seemed to curl and wrap around hers, and she accepted the hold with her own stiff fingers. “I LoVe yOu!”
“I love you too, dear…” Elaine brought up his hand to press against her cheek, her smile soon fading as she looked him over, “...We are going to find who did this to you.” She turned her head so her mouth was against his hand, “We’re going to find them and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get you better.”
Guybrush’s smile wobbled off balance, “I’M okAy?”
“You’re not, Guybrush.” Elaine took a deep breath, shutting her eyes for a moment as she leaned against his hand, “You’re sick…” she let it out, her hand squeezing around his as she brought it down, forcing a smile, “But we’ll get you out and make you feel all better. I promise.”
“WhAt if I DoN’T want to?” Guybrush was looking right at her. He was so distracted lately, the sudden focus had taken her completely off guard with the question. The smile had slipped off his face as he stared, waiting for her answer, his grip tightening on her hand.
“...” Elaine narrowed her eyes, leaning even closer to him, “ I promise. We’ll get you back.” Elaine cupped his cheek and tried to see if she could find whatever had taken her husband from her in those wild eyes. It hid away the moment she tried, and the giggle that came out of him just put her less at ease then before.
He stood up, “I ShoUlD WaLK!” He said, before simply gliding along the floor, feet barely touching as they bent and twirled, out the door before Elaine could stop him. It wasn’t him wandering off that she was concerned about-he always came back during his excursions recently, most of the time carting whatever snacks he’d managed to find out of rooms or vending machines if he could get his arm flat enough.
Elaine didn’t realize she was holding her breath until she found herself getting dizzy, letting it out slowly and glancing towards Nelson’s spot. If he’d heard any of that, it didn’t show on his sleeping body. Elaine rubbed her face, standing for the nearby sink to splash some water on it. Her hands gripped the counter as she looked into the paper towel dispenser, her reflection dulled in the chrome but managing to show just how tired she felt, hand over her mouth. She had to keep it together. Things had gone to hell, but she was a top agent. She had seen and survived far worse...hadn’t she?
But... this was bad. Guybrush recognized her right now and seemed positive about her, but she could recognize a glint of something dangerous in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. Elaine had met enough lunatics to recognize madness in a person, to see how someone could be warped and shifted by their own desires clouding any judgement that remained. She had seen it once before: in the desperation in Guybrush’s eyes when he’d woken up so long ago. The tears in his eyes as he begged for her to tell him this was all real. That he was real.
She doesn’t know if she could give the same answer she did then.
Elaine stiffened and turned at a noise behind her, her guard fully up as her eyes landed on Nelson. She’d thought the man had been dead asleep, but at some point while she’d been distracted, he’d gotten himself back up and had begun to scribble on the walls. He must have decided the notes weren’t doing enough, mumbling to himself as he scrawled patterns and words onto the surface with a ballpoint pen. With considerable effort on his part, gouging the pen like he was carving the shapes into it.
“Nelson, I thought you were going to sleep?” He didn’t turn to look at her. Elaine felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck, approaching with caution. “You need to rest. We’ll figure this out when you’re awake enough for it-“
“Where’s Guybrush?” He spoke, pausing the mumble to do so.
“He...went for a walk.” Elaine had edged herself to just behind Nelson, squinting in the darkness to see what he was writing, “Are you trying to make a map again?”
“Do you think it’ll work?” Nelson still didn’t look her way. The pen dug into the softer metal and carved away at a curved line.
“I...the plane plan?” Elaine stepped just a bit closer, “Maybe. If we find one, I’m sure I could pilot it out, but-“
“No, any of what we’re doing.” Nelson gouged in like he was trying to stab the heart of something, his mouth a thin line of tense concentration, “Escaping this maze, getting Guybrush back to normal, getting any of us back to normal .” With those words his hand clenched, knuckles white as they drove the pen in, “We’re just putting things off.”
Elaine stiffened, her eyes widening. Nelson had seemed tired earlier, but he’d been confident in his plan. Was he really having second doubts? Or was all this straining him more then she’d realized? She grit her teeth and straightened her posture, “Agent Tethers, I’m giving you an order now. Return back to bed or I’ll be forced to take action.”
“Are you scared?”
Once again, the question threw her off. “Tethers. Stop this right now. Return to your-“
“You are! You’re shaking… tell me…”
When had he looked at her? Where had he gotten that tape recorder from? Her mind staggered and reeled as he held it out to her like a natural extension of his arm, the soft red light illuminating how deep and lifeless his eyes looked, reflecting off in a way that felt entirely inhuman as he looked her in the eyes with that flat expression on his face. “Do you really think any of this is working?”
The tape rolled. The room stayed silent as a morgue. A minute clicking by. Two minutes. Three minutes. Nelson stared at her face for that time, unblinking, unmoving, until something seemed to snap him out of it as he blinked a few times, “E-Elaine? I...I didn’t… what did I-...” his eyes widened, “What are you doing?”
Elaine had jumped back about a foot from him, a hand to her temple and the other outstretched. It was hard to hear his question over her heart pounding so hard in her ears. Slowly she lowered her hand, swallowed, and took another step back, willing her heart and mind to calm down, “I...I need to go, Nelson.”
His eyes widened, “What?” He took a step towards her, “What about Guybrush?”
Elaine stepped back. “Where I am right now, I...I can’t do anything to help him.”
“I know that.” Nelson stepped forward. “That’s why we’re working together on this, right? To get out of here and find a solution, right?”
Elaine took two steps. “Nelson, I don’t know how much you realize it, but you are compromised. If Guybrush can warp this place so badly, what will he do when he gets outside?”
Nelson stopped walking, “Elaine...I’m not. I’m not compromised, I-“
“You are Nelson. I don’t know with what but...but I can’t let either of you outside.”
“I’m coming back. I will be back, but only when I can help everyone.” She’d managed to get back to the door, backed up to it, glancing one last time over the wall of notes.
Nelson gave her a pleading look, “Elaine, please . I know you’re scared-I mean, I’m terrified! This whole...thing is scary! But we can’t separate now! Guybrush needs you here! I need you here!” He reaches out, taking her arm in his grasp.
For a second, she nearly takes it back. Then she sees it. The pattern, in plain view as she stared at the wall. At the gigantic eye the notes had formed, its pupil trained solidly on her. Nelson smiled out of desperation, gripping her arm, “We need to look out for each other...you get that, right?”
When you trained yourself well enough, a psychonaut could easily control how powerful a psi-blast would be for a target. At such a close range, it was more of a challenge, but it wasn’t impossible. Elaine was a very good psychonaut. She got just a glimpse of the look of wide-eyed surprise on Nelson’s face before he dropped like a sack of potatoes, letting go of her arm in the process. Maybe if he tried to stay awake a little harder, he could have heard the muffled sob she tried to stifle before running down the hall and out of sight. The only sound he actually heard was the sound of a running tape recorder.
When he came to, it was to something nudging his shoulder. “NeLSon?” Nelson’s head throbbed, finding it harder to pull himself upright as the hand kept nudging him, waving it off. It seemed to coil around his chest, helping him sit up and brushing off his jacket of any dust off the floor. “NeLson!” Guybrush was in his face before he could blink, jumping with a start at the figure before he got a hold of himself enough to pat his shoulder.
“Oh, Guybrush...it’s just you.” He clutched his aching head, “Don’t suppose you found any ibuprofen out there, did you?”
“NoPe!” Guybrush had curled his hands behind his back however, trying very unsuccessfully to be sneaky in a way, biting his lip as he fidgeted with whatever it was, “FoUnD you SomeThInG cooler!” He must have been too excited about whatever it was. Nelson couldn’t get a sound out before the object was nearly jabbed into his face, taking a moment to make sure his nose was intact before he got a good look at it.
“Oh!” Admittedly, it was a pretty good surprise, the Rubik’s cube fitting nicely in his palms, giving it a few turns here and there out of habit, “You were over by the dorms I take it?”
Guybrush quickly nodded, “Do YOu LiKe iT??”
Nelson couldn’t help a little smile, already starting to put colors idly together as he spoke, “Honestly, I was starting to really miss it…” The ache was starting to subside to a slow, dull pain as his hands worked, Guybrush still looking like he had some sort of secret up his sleeve as he glanced around the room, “Looking for something?”
“YEah! I Am!” Guybrush looked back at Nelson and tilted his head, “WheRE’s Elaine?”
It took a minute longer then Nelson would have liked to remember what happened. The clicking sound of plastic pieces fixing themselves together getting slower, until he’d dropped the cube entirely out of shaking hands. “NElson?” Guybrush asked again, “WHeRe’s Elaine?”
Nelson covered his mouth, drawing his knees up to his chest. Now that he remembered, he couldn’t stop thinking about her face. How guarded she’d looked, how terrified that last expression had been. Her wide eyes as she looked from something beyond him towards his eyes. A hand to her temple as she decided she didn’t like whatever she saw.
Guybrush was starting to slow his movements, his smile slipping just a few inches as he watched Nelson curl in on himself with an anxious noise. “...Nelson?”