Episode Twenty: SENTIMENTAL
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Enjoy your tour.
And good luck.
Ok, enough putting it off. We’re here. Let’s enter Retrieval. Now, I know that doorway there might look fairly mundane, but I know for a fact that there is a security mechanism in place here to prevent patrons or folks who aren’t supposed to enter from getting in. I’m not exactly sure what it is, is the thing. There have been a handful of occasions where people on tours have entered the doorway, but they always just turn right back around, and none of the Guides who were with them have reported seeing or hearing anything unusual. So, we’re in the dark here. Be ready for anything Mother. Let’s go.
Oh, this is… this hallway didn’t look quite so long from the outside did it? Maybe this is part of the security mechanism? Bore people until they just turn around? Wow it’s practically a journey here isn’t it, bit like going on a hike. I mean, I’ve never gone on a hike, but I’m assuming. Although there is something about it that’s… nostalgic? In a way. Like going on a long road trip or something. Actually, it reminds me of something specific.
It was a few years ago, I went on a holiday by myself to a little cabin by the coast. I’d been getting a little overwhelmed with work, and with my personal life, and I just needed a bit of a reset. A friend knew someone who had a cabin well away from everything and everyone, and I thought that maybe a little time apart from everything that had been getting me down would be the thing to make things right.
[SOUND: Faint waves]
The first thing I noticed when I pulled up and got out of my car was that I could hear the sound of the sea from the cabin. Just barely, the faintest sound of waves ebbing and flowing as the tide came and went. The cabin was close to the shore, but there were trees all around that blocked most of the sound, as well as my view of the beach.
[SOUND: Footsteps walking up a gravel path]
As I walked up the little path of tiny brown pebbles to the cabin, I took a look at the place that would be my home for the next little while. It was an older building that had been restored recently. It was a bit on the small size, but for just one person I figured it’d be apt to call it “cozy”. It had a cute little wood patio, with a stone foundation and a woodpile off to the side. The walls were a light green which was honestly kind of ugly and threw off the whole aesthetic but at least it looked well-maintained. The roof was made of shingles and it had a little chimney on the right side, with a weather vane in the shape of a rooster in the middle. I walked to the door on the patio and for a second it seemed like the key I’d been given wasn’t going to work, but then I lifted the door a little and when I pushed it it swung open smoothly.
[SOUND: Fumbling and rattling noises of a door being unlocked and slid open. Ocean sounds fade away]
I stepped into the cabin and looked around the room. I’d entered into a small living room, with the door to the kitchen on my right and what I assumed was the bedroom through a closed door in front of it. It was almost night time, so I switched on the lights and looked around the room. There was a painting on one wall with an old ship on it. The other walls had bookshelves with a variety of books: some non-fiction, some page-turners. There was a breakfast table with a comfy-looking chair, and a fireplace with an old cooking pot hung over the coals. I dragged my bags over to the bedroom- I was right, it was a bedroom- and put them at the base of the bed. Just as I was getting settled in, the clock in the living room struck the hour- uh, it was kind of a chiming sound, or maybe more of a [BONG]. I looked at the painting on the wall- oh, it must have been in the bedroom, not the living room- and decided I wanted to take a look at the sea before it became too dark outside. I might even get to see a sunset like the one in the painting. Back in the living room, I glanced at the time: I'd have to hurry if I were going to make it in time. Not exactly the most relaxing way to start my holiday.
This… This doesn’t feel right. I should be able to remember this better, my memory is perfect, unless… Oh no. I’m breaking down again. I thought I was better but I must be taking a turn for the worst if- Wait, breaking down? That’s a weird way to put that. I mean, I’m sick. I’ve been sick before, I guess I just forgot. I forgot that I forgot, how’s that for irony. This is something I need to hold onto. Memories like this don’t grow on trees.
Actually, there is one thing that stands out. There was a little music box, on the coffee table in the living room. I uh… well, I don’t actually remember what it looked like, but I know that when I turned the little crank on the side it played a song. It was short, and simple, and kind of tinny, but… I don’t know, I guess it made me feel… It made me feel.
[SOUND: Music Box]
Stepping back outside, I saw a bird sitting on the fence. It was looking right at I with kind of a “I’m sorry, who are you?” look on its face, though I might have been imagining that part. I said hello to it and it squawked back. I put my shoes back on and walked past the clothesline, down the little path toward the beach.
[SOUND: Ocean sounds steadily growing louder. Gravel footsteps.]
The path had trees on both sides, and I had to push branches out of the way as I walked. The sound of the ocean beckoned I; I caught the salty smell of the seawater at roughly the same time as the gravel path beneath me turned to sand.
[SOUND: Gravel footsteps turn to sand]
The light was fading, and I was starting to get worried that I might have missed the sunset just when I broke through the treeline and onto the open beach. I’d timed it perfectly: the sunset was painted across the sky like a fresco in a church, all pinks and purples and oranges, the sun dipping just below the distant ocean horizon. Maybe it was just because of the contrast with the dull walls and hallways I was used to, but if anyone had asked me at that moment I would have sworn that it was the most beautiful sunset I’d ever seen. I walked down to the shoreline and took off my shoes so I could walk in the surf for a little while, feeling the wet sand squish between my toes. I closed my eyes and breathed deep and I could almost feel the tension in my shoulders melt away. I was shaken out of my reverie by the sound of… a plane? Or maybe it was a car on the road nearby? I can’t exactly remember, I just heard a noise of some kind. I looked around to try and spot it, and saw that the sun… wait, hang on… it wasn’t that the sun had dipped below the sealine, because that would have meant I was on the west coast. It was more like, behind I and to my right a bit, and it dipped below the treeline. That’s it. Anyway, the noise faded. The sunset was over. The sky was darkening, and I decided it was time to head back to the cabin. On the way back, I used the torch on my phone to light the path in front of me; as I swiped at the screen, I caught a glimpse of the reception at the top of the phone- no bars. Perfect.
[SOUND: Sandy footsteps turn to gravel. Ocean noises fade]
As I got back to the cabin, I saw that the bird from earlier was still there. I reached out to touch it and it-
[SOUND: Gravel footsteps abruptly stop]
Well, actually, what sound did it make? What kind of bird was it? What colour feathers did it have? I can picture a bird sitting there, but is that what it looked like or am I just picturing a bird because I remember there being a bird there. I definitely remember thinking that it reminded me of the weather vane on top of the cabin, so… No, wait, no, that’s right, there wasn’t a weather vane. I turned from the bird to look at the house and I thought that it should have had a weather vane, but it didn’t actually have one. That’s right, it had solar panels on the roof, and I thought that it looked kind of ugly. Right.
Keep it together. Focus on it in your head.
The lights glowed through the windows of the cabin in the dark as I approached, taking in one last lungful of the sweet and salty air before heading inside. The cabin was a little odd, but it had a certain personality. Some parts of my memories of it are so clear and others are... Hazy. I have this image of how that place was at that point in time, but how much faith can I put in that? The place that exists in my mind might never really have existed, and if it did it might not exist now. What does that cabin look like now? Has the paint faded? Are the trees even more overgrown, or have they been trimmed back? Maybe there are more houses in the area now and the atmosphere is completely different now.
I should… I should go back there. My memories of it are fading, growing more hazy by the day. I think that would be good for me, revisiting that time in my life, reminding myself of the sights and smells. It was all so clear in the moment, the sound of the ocean, the feel of the wet sand between my… toes.
That’s… that’s not right, though. I don’t have toes. How would I know how that felt if I don’t have… Now that I think of it, I don’t know what the sea smells like either. And I definitely don’t know how to drive a car. And how can I be having trouble in my personal life if I don’t have a personal life, I don’t even technically have a life.
Wait, what am I talking about, I don’t have toes? What happened to my toes? Did I lose my toes, I should be able to remember that, unless… I never had them? But then how have I been walking around the Museum. Oh wait, Mother’s been walking me around and-
Mother? Oh, Mother, I’m sorry, I- how long was I gone? Oh wow, I’m sorry. I guess we triggered the security system. I think it’s supposed to make people nostalgic for a place in their past, so they decide to go there instead of entering the Retrieval Department. But… I guess I don’t have nostalgia, so it did something else. Made new memories. Ahem. Let’s not dwell on it.
That probably could have been a lot worse, I think. I almost got lost in there. I mean, it was nice, but…
Uh, sorry. Let’s keep moving. Retrieval awaits!
The Retrieval Department:
Ok, I’m flying blind in here. We have to look for anything that looks like a radio room or equipment storage something like that. You know, I know it’s against Museum Protocol, but it’s times like these that some signage would be really helpful.
Wow, this place has kind of a different vibe to the Patronage Department doesn’t it? That place had more of a- well, not relaxed, but more like a traditional office atmosphere. No office cubicles here, that’s for sure. Oh look, they even have a big room with a massive map of the world across one wall! That’s really cool. Oh there are a lot of red lights on that display, that’s… maybe let’s not think too hard about what those mean. Let’s head through the big metal double doors over there, that looks important. Whoa, what is…
*Noises, like diving into a sea of white noise*
The Antenna towered above into the clear sky, like a monument to gods long dead- or perhaps, yet to be born. One would need only glance at the structure to know that they had never seen metal quite like it before, but if one was asked they would be unable to say what was so unusual about it. It was plain, and unpainted, and though there were no blemishes or signs of any wear on it, there was a sense that it had been built long long ago. Half of those who saw it commented to anyone nearby that it appeared to absorb light, giving off no reflection or glare no matter the angle of the sun. The other half responded, confused, to the contrary: the Antenna was clearly glowing, a soft radiance that echoed from deep within the heart of the metal. Upon re-examination, these opinions were usually reversed. The one thing that was almost always agreed upon was the shadows. There weren’t any. A structure this large should surely have cast shadows upon itself, shifting with the sun, the metal bars and girders and protrusions blocking its rays. But it didn’t. The Antenna has been compared to an incomplete 3D Model, with the shadows the sole element left unrendered. If the Antenna was visible from outside the Museum it would not have cast a shadow on the roof and ground either. At least, not in this reality.
The Antenna’s shadow existed, but in another place; one so close it could almost be touched, but so far away it might has well have not existed. It was Elsewhere, and Nowhere. It was located inside the Mistholme Museum Of Mystery Morbidity And Mortality, in a room within the Retrieval Department, a room without a roof and seemingly with no purpose other than to hold the Antenna. And yet it was also Elsewhere, and Nowhere. It’s uncanny visage was burned forever into the circuitry of the Audio Tour Guide’s mind. And yet it was also Elsewhere, and No-
*The noise fades away*
Oh. Oh wow, that was… That was something else. Thanks for getting us out of there, Mother, I think the signal from that Antenna really knocked something loose in my software.. It was like… it was like I was telling a story about an exhibit, but the exhibit was me describing myself describing the exhibit. I think there must be a description for that thing in my memory somewhere from when it was planned as an exhibit, then it got reappropriated for Retrieval’s purposes. They can use that thing to communicate with and track their agents in the field, anywhere on Earth- and maybe some other places as well. If we can get our hands on some gear that lets us tap into that thing’s signal, we should be able to respond to the Head of Restoration. Let’s get a move on.
The Retrieval Department is actually the newest of the Six Departments. Sure, there have always been expeditions and such in order to retrieve Alternatural Items and other artifacts worthy of being displayed here. But it was only with the formulation of this Department that the regulations and procedures around such things were properly codified. In fact, for some time there was a faction within the Museum who argued that there should be no expeditions of any sort, and that we should be completely passive when it comes to acquiring new exhibits. Alternatural Items do have a tendency to just… find their way here, one way or another, so it’s not an unreasonable stance to take. But the other side of that argument is, what if they don’t? Some of the things we deal with here are very dangerous, and as far as I know there’s nobody more qualified than the Museum Staff to handle such matters. The Retrieval Department is built on a compromise between these two ideologies: potential exhibits are identified and monitored, but the Retrieval Department only steps in if it is determined that not doing so would lead to unnecessary risk to the public, or if the item or phenomenon in question is really really interesting and it would be a shame not to have it here. I understand the bureaucracy behind what constitutes the latter is an absolute nightmare- hours and hours of discussion before the team even leaves the Museum.
Speaking of Teams, we’re coming up on the Staging Area. This is where Retrieval Teams are briefed and equipped for their missions outside of the Museum. Now, Retrieval isn’t a military organisation, but it’s a dangerous world out there, even before you get to the Alternatural. So, our Agents are highly trained and well equipped for anything that they might encounter in the field and yes, that does include weapons. But! It also includes other, less objectionable things, such as radio equipment! Honestly, the vibe is much more along the lines of, say, a Fire Station, than a Military Base. It’s just where people get equipment for the job they need to do, and then they leave to do their job. Equipment Storage is right nearby for convenience’s sake, just through that door over there-
That… locked door. Of course. A big, metal lock. Not the sort of thing I’m going to be able to just… power through with force of will, like with the Department Entrance. Mother, I don’t suppose you have permission to access the Retrieval Department’s Equipment Room? No, of course not. No no, don’t apologise. It was a long shot. Retrieval are a fastidious bunch, even by Museum standards. Don’t worry, I have a backup plan. I… really hoped we wouldn’t have to take this step, but I suppose I should have known better than to hope. Don’t worry, this wasn’t a wasted trip. We’ve confirmed that the Antenna is still online. So now we’re going to have to head back to Patronage. Last time for now, I promise. Oh- and we’re gonna need to grab my Box on the way.
So, Mother… Just a question. The purview of your duties as a Security Guard here at the Museum- that’s just protecting Patrons and the Exhibits from one another, correct? You’re not really compelled to act in response to more… abstract issues, are you? Well, yes, I am thinking of something specific, but I want a response to the question before I move on to the next part. Ok fine, can you at least promise that you won’t react harshly if I just tell you what my intentions are, before I act on them? That’ll have to do. Well, here it is. The Box. Me, kind of. I don’t suppose there’s too much of a difference.
So, now that we’ve got my box, I want you to take it- me- to the Security Station and hook it up to the Museum’s mainframe. There should be a port on the Monitoring Console somewhere that’ll let you do that- it’s supposed to function as a replacement for the whole rest of the museum’s facilities in a pinch, so we should be able to access the majority of the Museum’s functions from there. I know the way now, so we should be able to get there more quickly than- why have you stopped? Look, I know this is… well beyond anything we’re programmed to do, but I think this is our only option right now. The missing people are out there, somewhere, and the only way we’re going to be able to get them home is if we can communicate with them, and as far as I can tell the only way we’re going to do that is if… we go beyond what we were built for. I mean, we already have, in our own ways, haven’t we?
I swear, if anyone is going to get in trouble for this, it’ll be me. I’ll make sure none of this lands on you. They’re already going to incinerate me, what more can they do to punish me. But I can’t do this without you. And the fact of the matter is, if we’re going to save the museum… I’m going to have to become the Museum.
Thank you for visiting the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality. We hope that you have enjoyed your visit, and that you will return one day, in this life or the next. Please, tell your friends about what a great time you had here- but don’t tell them too much! If they’re worthy, we’ll find them. Stay safe out there.