Chapter 1: Switch
“So, this is control…”
Carlos and Aoi were talking with each other, as Junpei pulled at the door out of the room. He knew it was futile- the chances of him getting locked in somewhere then actually being able to just waltz right out were less than zero- but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try. After a few moments more of pointless pulling at the door, he eventually gave up, and turned back to the others.
“The door’s locked tight, I don’t think we’re going to be getting out any time soon.”
Aoi and Carlos both sighed, clearly having come to the same conclusion. Well, if they were stuck here, then it’d probably be smart to have a look around…
“All those monitors- what do you think they’re for?”
“Well, security cameras, duh. There’s probably cameras all over the place.”
“Carlos, it’s 2028. I’d be far more surprised if there weren’t cameras everywhere.”
“Yeah, Aoi’s right. Some of the cameras I’ve used for work were about the size of a woman’s nipple.”
Both of them turned to stare when Junpei cut into the conversation, embarrassed surprise on Carlos’s face, and the typical unimpressed glare on Aoi’s.
“Uh, not uniformly, I guess. Nipple sizes differ.”
Aoi just sighed, clearly not willing to entertain Junpei’s potentially perverted joke. Hey, it wasn’t like he’d actually seen a woman’s nipple or anything- it was just common sense (or at least he thought as much). If Aoi wanted to take things the wrong way, that was his fault.
“Are you serious? It’s not even 2028 anymore, It’s 2029…”
Carlos had checked his watch in an attempt to alleviate the awkward silence, looking between Aoi and Junpei as they both checked their own watches- 00:10. All three of them sighed, wondering just how they’d managed to stay unconscious since 13:30, but nobody voicing those thoughts out loud.
“…Well, anyways, this place looks like it’s where everything in the shelter is run. All the power, water, ventilation, it’s all probably controlled here. Doesn’t look like there’s any phone lines, though… not that we could really expect Zero to make an oversight like that.”
“Aw, upset you can’t order some pizza, Aoi?”
“Shut up, Junpei.”
Aoi hardly reacted to Junpei’s sarcasm, continuing to look around the room. It was Carlos who next spoke though, looking up at the ceiling.
“A carbon monoxide extinguisher, huh?”
“Just like a firefighter to notice that first. I guess you pay attention to different things, huh?”
“Yeah, well… It’s mostly force of habit, really. Whenever I go to a new place, the first thing I end up checking out is always the extinguishers. Make sure they’re all in working order, check out the alarm systems, that kind of stuff.”
“But because of that, you’re able to save a lot of lives. I think that’s pretty cool, Carlos.”
Aoi was smiling, and Junpei found himself frowning as a result. It shouldn’t bother him that Aoi was praising Carlos, what did he care? What did it matter if they got along well? Junpei was just here because he needed to talk to Aoi, and then he’d get out of his life forever. That was all.
“Well, not really. I mean, Carlos is just doing what he was trained to do. Right?”
“Junpei, what the hell-“
“Nah, he’s right. There’s nothing too impressive about it, I just want to do what I can, to help however many people I can.”
Junpei didn’t understand why Carlos writing off his own (in all honesty, pretty impressive) work made him upset. There was no logical reason for it, but it was only irritating him more. Why should he care at all about Carlos? Sure, they’d gotten along well enough at Dcom, but they were still strangers. He was being irrational, he knew, but he didn’t know why. And that only bothered him more.
“Regardless, I think it’s pretty impressive. It takes a lot to want to dedicate yourself to helping others.”
Aoi was staring directly at Junpei when he spoke, the look on his face proving that his words were intended to be a direct jab at Junpei.
“Oh, give it a rest. I am done playing the action hero, Aoi. I grew up.”
Aoi didn’t respond, and Junpei didn’t care. Eventually Carlos came between the two of them, doing his best to break up the tension that’d settled down onto the group once more.
“Well, let’s start looking. There’s probably a key or a way to unlock the door somewhere. Nothing will happen if we just stand here, right?”
“Fine, fine. I guess if we don’t get moving, it’ll be 2030 before anyone gets out of here.”
He managed in one last bit of snark before they split up to look around, shrugging his shoulders as he spoke.
The room itself was filled with machines, screens, buttons, and knobs- it reminded him a touch of the laboratory from the Nonary game. He smiled a bit to himself in amusement as he recalled ‘science boy’- but then the smile fell from his face seconds later as he remembered Clover. That had been one of the last times he’d really gotten to speak with her, before she’d died.
Before everything had gone to hell.
He realized that he’d stopped moving, so he forced himself to start looking around again. He couldn’t allow himself to dwell on the past now, there was too much else that he needed to do. Just lock it down inside, and deal with it later. Now, it was time to find a way out of here.
“This poster.. it looks like the corner can be lifted up.”
“Well then, let’s make like we’re flipping up a girl’s skirt!”
Carlos looked at him with a look Junpei could only describe as ‘shocked and horrified embarrassment’, and he could feel Aoi glaring at him once again, but he responded to neither of them and went straight for the corner of the poster, holding it up.
“Huh, looks like there’s a pair of sunglasses, or something. Guess there really is treasure from flipping things up.”
Aoi punched him in the shoulder and he dropped the poster, but not before Carlos grabbed the sunglasses and held them up to his face, examining them closely.
“There’s no earpiece for these, so there’s no real way for them to stay on… they look cool, though.”
“Hey, they kinda remind me of that old movie. Either of you ever watch the Matrix- you know, it’s got the One fighting the computer AI? Classic.”
“Wow, I’m surprised that you know of it. It’s one of my favourites, actually.”
“I’m a bit of a fan of movies, I guess you could say…”
“Would you two get back on topic? We’re supposed to be searching the room.”
Junpei shared a look with Carlos before they both shrugged in defeat, and got back to searching. The next thing Junpei noticed was a monitor, that appeared to be zoomed in onto a shutter. They found a thing for zooming out, and when they did, there was an entire set of angled lines- ones that looked like they were in the same position as a set of switches that Junpei had noticed earlier.
“You guys think this is a hint for that?”
It only took them a few seconds to get everything lined up, and as soon as they’d done so, a laser clicked on, unlocking a cabinet a bit lower down. Upon closer investigation, they found an earpiece with a battery pack, and a poster describing something to do with the monitors.
“That looks like it connects to the sunglasses… give it a shot, Carlos.”
“Okay.. whoa, there’s a screen on here! Looks like there’s three modes.”
He’d held the glasses up to his eyes, squinting a bit as he went through them.
“Mode A looks like a bunch of squiggly lines… actually, it kinds looks like that poster there.” He pointed at the voltage poster, but then focused back on the glasses. “Mode B is just rooms with numbers on walls… and mode C is a password. Our best bet looks like starting with Mode A, I think.”
“Let me take a look…”
Aoi snatched the glasses before Carlos had a chance to respond, looking at them, and then to the sign. After that, his gaze turned to the voltage box near the computer screens.
“Oh, duh. That’s gotta be the answer, then.”
He didn’t bother letting Carlos or Junpei help, instead getting right to work at putting the pins in correctly. He was done in a few quick moments, and as soon as he did, the sound of a door opening carried out over the speakers.
“Looks like that worked, then.”
Junpei stared at the screen- SE in red, N in blue, E in green, and SW in pink.
“Those’ve gotta be the clue for those round things. C’mon, give me a hand.”
They split up, taking one each (since the blue was already at north), and as soon as the directions were put in properly, a fifth stand rose up, this one black. Junpei was more distracted by the screens however, as the lights in one of the rooms turned off, leaving a section of round containers illuminated. There were switches in the room that matched the location- that had to be what it meant. He didn’t bother explaining himself as he started pushing the buttons, only waiting for whatever would happen once he’d solved it. As luck would have it, his reward was directly beside him, a small door swinging open to reveal an ear speaker, and a card with numbers, similar to a couple others that were scattered around the room.
He handed them both over to Carlos, with a quick shrug. He’d helped, it was Carlos’s turn to do something- which he promptly did, taking the glasses back from Aoi and combining them with the newly acquired earpiece.
“This is a full HUD… there’s sounds going along with the numbers now, in mode B.”
Carlos took the glasses back off, muttering the sounds under his breath. He continued to look around, until his eyes seemed to settle on the monitor with a crane on it, as well as what appeared to be buttons to control the crane. After a second he’d managed to input the proper order, and the rest of the monitors in the set came to life, each displaying a single letter.
“That’s probably how we’re supposed to figure out the password for mode C, right?”
Aoi was talking to Carlos, but he didn’t appear to be listening. He was focused on the glasses, typing into the incredibly small keyboard on the part with the batteries. His face was unusually distant, and his eyes looked like they were staring at something else- and then he blinked, and it was gone.
“N-no way… that was right?”
He’d apparently put in a password on a whim- ‘BETESTEDBYFIRE’- and gotten it completely right. That was more than just dumb luck, that was something else entirely; something Junpei knew far to well. Carlos seemed like just a normal guy, but… was it possible that he was an esper? If he was, then he didn’t seem to be aware of it- he looked positively dumbfounded by the fact that he’d managed to get it right.
“Wow, Carlos. I think I might be falling for you.”
His tone was sarcastic, but Carlos looked like he was blushing regardless- he probably wasn’t used to the compliment. Honestly, he was too naïve sometimes…
“Anyways, I’m going to watch this. It looks like a video’s come up.”
Aoi and Junpei just shrugged, waiting for Carlos to watch and explain.
“Zero… he’s messing with the round things, again. First is green north, then red northeast, then blue west, then pink south, and then black northwest. And… it looks like something comes up, and Zero’s got a cord plugged into it.”
“Sounds like he’s telling us what to do, then.”
Aoi didn’t sound too happy about that fact, but he sighed and got to moving regardless. They had no choice but to follow the clues, otherwise there’d be no way out, and they definitely were not planning on spending all of 2029 stuck in this room.
Turning the stands took no time at all, and as soon as they’d finished with that, the thing Carlos had mentioned rose from the floor, directly beside an oversized plug.
“So… I guess that’s all that’s left, huh?”
The other two just nodded, leaving Junpei to plug it in. As soon as he did so, he jumped back- the thing started sparking like mad, then caught on fire.
“F-fuck! Where the hell did that come from?!”
Before he could get an answer, the extinguisher came on, a low and quiet hiss. It took care of the fire quickly, stopping it before it could grow.
“That’s a relief… looks like the extinguisher did its job.”
“Yeah, I think so… but that’s bringing its own problems. It doesn’t look like it’s stopping, so at this rate, we’ll…”
They’d all started breathing heavily- even without Carlos giving an explanation, it was obvious what was happening.
“The carbon dioxide concentration levels in the air… are normally around 0.04%... IDLH level kicks in around… 5%”
“Immediately dangerous… to life… or health… It’s the highest concentration level… you can continue to inhale… safely… You lose consciousness… shortly after 7%... and after that…”
He didn’t need to keep talking- it was self-explanatory. After the levels hit 7% in this room, they were all going to die, suffocating to death.
“Now commencing the Decision Game.”
“Wh..what? You’ve gotta be… kidding me…”
Aoi was voicing Junpei’s opinion, but the announcement didn’t seem to care, continuing without any emotion.
“Ten lockers are beside the door. Within one of them, there is an oxygen mask. Which locker will you open?”
“Damn… damn that Zero…”
This wasn’t a decision game- this was pure luck! They hadn’t even been given any hints, there was no possible way- they just had a one in ten chance of getting this right.
“Pick one… Carlos. Hurry up…”
Aoi was staring at the taller man, unwilling to open any of the lockers himself. Maybe he didn’t want the blame if he got it wrong? Well, Junpei could hardly blame him, but now didn’t really seem like the time for finger pointing, when the odds they were up against were just pure fucking luck…
“Alright then…. Five.”
Junpei held back a laugh- of all the numbers, of course Carlos had picked five. There was no possible way that the mask would be in there- it was next to impossible. Life hated him too much to actually be that nice.
“Is that… your final decision? I know which locker contains the oxygen mask. If there is a mask in the locker you chose, eight of the remaining nine lockers will randomly open. If there is not a mask in the locker you chose, eight lockers, except the correct one, will open.”
“The Monty Hall problem…”
“The remaining lockers have been narrowed down to two. Which locker will you chose? The exit door will be unlocked… in twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes? Are you… kidding me?”
“There’s no way… we’ll last… 20 minutes…”
Junpei was staring at the lockers- he’d heard this problem once before. There was a trick to it, but what? Dammit, he just couldn’t remember!
“Well… looks like… our odds got… better, at least… fifty-fifty, right…?”
“No, that’s… not true… Jun…pei….”
Aoi was in the middle of speaking, when he collapsed. He was doing the worst of any of them- perhaps it was because he was smaller than them, or maybe he wasn’t used to running into dangerous situations, Junpei didn’t know for sure. However, he did know that regardless, this wasn’t good.
“I think… you have to… switch, Carlos.”
Five was an unlucky number. Even if the odds weren’t fifty-fifty somehow, then it’d probably be more likely that the locker they hadn’t picked first was the correct one- he looked at the rows of lockers, and had to wonder if this had somehow been predetermined- the number left behind was three. Of course it was.
Carlos nodded, and moved to switch. The active light flicked off from the number five locker, and onto the number three. The locker opened, and….
That made no sense. Everything about it was backwards- in what world was five ever a good number? It was too middle of the road, too indecisive. Aoi had said to himself, last year. Five… five was a terrible number.
And yet, they’d needed five to survive. How ironic.
“I’m… really sorry… guys…”
Carlos was apologizing, but Junpei hardly heard him. He was focused only on Aoi, picking up the other man’s body, and cradling it in his arms. Aoi was still breathing, but just barely- maybe he was lucky, in a way. He at least didn’t have to go though this despair…
“Open… open, dammit! Please….”
“It’s… no use… Carlos. That’s just… how the cards fall… it seems.”
Carlos was pulling at the number five locker, trying to open it, but it was no use. It would never open.
“I just… I just wish… I could’ve saved him…”
He was watching the rise and fall of Aoi’s chest, trying to ignore the pull of sleep, and failing miserably. There were no more words for Junpei, only the void, his body collapsing forwards as his mind fell into emptiness.
Chapter 2: Stay
“Carlos… don’t switch.”
The words were out of his mouth before he realized he’d spoken at all, and he wasn’t sure why. Memories forced their way into his mind- the number three locker open, completely empty. It didn’t make sense, but Junpei had no reason to distrust the memories either. They’d kept him from death before, so surely this time, the result would be the same…
The door swung open, and his eyes lit up- somehow, despite everything, they'd picked the right locker. Whether it was one in ten or fifty-fifty, they'd actually been right! However, after a moment more of examination, a knot of lead formed in the pit of his stomach.
There was only one oxygen mask.
“W-well, can’t we… just rotate it?”
“No… that mask… only provides enough… for one… if we tried to… rotate it… we’d all…”
The realization brought both cold dread, and yet somehow, a strange sense of peace. There was one mask, yes, but that meant Aoi… he would live. At the very least, Aoi could live. It was strange- Junpei didn't really know why, but dying like this didn't feel so bad when he knew it'd be to keep Aoi alive.
“Carlos, I… have a request…”
“Don’t worry, Junpei… I wasn’t a firefighter… for ten years… to make… the wrong choice… now….”
Carlos nodded as Junpei slid the mask onto Aoi’s face, and his breathing instantly grew stronger. Junpei had propped Aoi up on his lap, holding him up with a gentle smile- perhaps the first genuine smile he’d had in a long while. It took a couple moments longer, but Aoi’s eyes eventually fluttered open, and when they did, a look of horror overtook his face.
“J-Junpei? Junpei, what’s going on-“
“Hey… Aoi? Do you… remember… when Akane and I… went to that… festival? I wish… you’d been there… too…”
“Junpei! Junpei, stop!”
Aoi was trying to pull the mask off, but Junpei wouldn't let him. He grabbed Aoi's hand, moving it back down to his side, before doing his best to give the other a reassuring look.
“I’m glad… I got to.. hear… your voice… again… I guess this time… five… wasn’t such… a bad number… after all… right?”
“Junpei, stop it! Stop it, stop talking like that, it doesn't suit you! You're not going to die!"
"Heh... probably not... huh? Sorry... about.... that..."
"Shut up! C-Carlos? Please-“
The other man shook his head, only making the look of horror on Aoi’s face grow stronger. He’d been chosen to live, whether he liked it or not.
He’d reached into his pocket, in an attempt to pull out the box he’d had stored there, but it was too late. His consciousness slipped and he collapsed forwards onto Aoi, the small rectangular box sliding across the floor.
But Junpei was no more.
When the door opened twenty minutes later, Aoi didn’t move. He didn’t want to move. Junpei had stopped breathing a long time ago, but to move his body- that was admitting that he was really, truly dead. Even when the announcement came online, reading off the X-passes for Q team, Phi, Carlos, and Junpei, he didn’t move. He couldn’t even cry. It was his turn to hold Junpei now, cradling him in his arms as his body slowly grew colder.
“You… you fucking dumbass… did you think I’d want this? Did you really think I’d want to just watch you die?”
He’d taken off the mask, and set it on the ground- and that’s when he noticed it. The rectangular box was close to Junpei’s body, it must have fallen from him.
“I’m… I’m sorry, Junpei…”
It looked like he’d intended to give Aoi something, but he couldn’t bring himself to touch the box. It felt… wrong. Like he’d be stealing.
He stayed in place for another ten minutes, numb to everything. Junpei's body was heavy, but he didn't want to move it- no, him. Junpei was a him. Saying 'it' was too final. 'It' stripped any remaining humanity from what had been Junpei so very recently, reducing him to nothing more than a cold, empty corpse. He would never call Junpei an 'it'.
By the time he finally forced himself to go back to the lounge and input the X-passes, he couldn’t feel anything anymore. He trudged through the X-door, hardly paying any attention to it as it closed behind him. What was the point? Junpei was…
He took the lift back to the surface, surprised (or at least, the closest he was able to feel) to find that there were people there already. They looked like they were Dcom staff, gathered around the entrance to the shelter with tense faces.
“You- you’re Aoi, right? Where’s the rest of the participants?”
His eyes were dull, and he hardly even registered the question at first. It took the person talking to him a couple more times before he was even able to respond, voice filled with complete apathy.
“Sigma and Diana are alive… but everyone else is dead.”
The people around him weren’t surprised, but rather, started muttering to themselves. Perhaps in other circumstances, Aoi would have found that odd- but he was too far gone. He didn’t care anymore.
And that’s why he didn’t care when he felt something sharp poke into his arm, taking a second to act before he collapsed to the ground.
“We’re very sorry Mr. Kurashiki, but we’re afraid you’re going to have to forget everything that’s happened here.”
Forget? No, he didn’t want to forget. Forgetting would mean he’d forget about Junpei… actually, maybe forgetting wouldn’t be too bad, then… at least if he forgot, then he could hold onto the false hope of finding him again. When he woke up, then in his mind, Junpei would be alive. Even if it was fruitless, given the option, he'd rather live in a world where he could believe that Junpei was alive.
“I’ll look for you… when I wake up… Junpei…..”
Ah, I've been looking forwards to writing this segment for a while, mainly because of that ending. I've always wondered if anyone's gotten the mask by staying- it's not impossible, because it really is random odds in the game. As well, about this chapter, It's kinda explaining in part a certain D-team ending (you know the one). Between this and The Cost of Escape, I may end up making a side-series about post-ending drabbles. That stuff's always fascinated me, in every zero escape game.
It's taken me a long time to get to this one, mainly because school's gotten busier. However, have no fear- I have goals for certain fragments, and I already have so much plotted. I am too fond of this AU for my own good. Thank you so much for enjoying it with me.
Edit: post-ending drabble posted here: http://archiveofourown.org/works/10568652/chapters/23351079