DAMNED || LANDEL'S INSTITUTE

A Multifandom Asylum RPG


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Day 55: Cafeteria
YOU ARE SO STUPID IT'S PAINFUL
mustbethesuit wrote in damned


A night spent inside his room had done nothing to ease his jitters. Peter couldn't stop worrying. Over Brainy, what he thought of him now that he knew about what he'd done to Grell, and where he was going for the night. If he'd be safe. If Indy and the others would be safe, trucking on down to the basement. (Not frigging likely, considering 'basement' was synonymous for 'giant ass doom pit'.) If that ominous intercom announcement had meant anything. Peter had spent hours staring into the dark after that, his stomach churning his supper into butter over the horrific possibilities. Whatever punishment that arose for the food fight was a mystery. It didn't seem to infect him, unless it was a particularly trying case of insomnia. No matter how badly Peter tried, he couldn't find the will to sleep. Much of the night had been spent making notations and doodles in his journal by flashlight, peppered with long stretches of staring at the dark.

Honestly, he'd rather be taking another crack at the Hall of Hallucinations instead of rolling around in his bed. Paranoia was his only company the whole night.

Morning felt like a blessing by the time it came. He wasn't sure when sleep had finally overtaken him, but as he blinked his way into life he couldn't help feeling a bit...off.

It was really quiet. Peter's face scrunched under the light, and he stretched underneath the covers. There was a zip of cotton on cotton, and his shirt half dragged itself out from under the belt.

His eyes shot open. Belt? The covers flipped back, and Peter gaped down at his form on the bed. ...Belt?!

What the frigging hell was this? Peter jolted to his feet, patting himself down. He looked like some kind of air cadet. There were freaking epaulettes on his shoulders (was that even what they were called?), boots on his feet and a beret on the dresser. A single pin was nestled into the front, looking freshly polished as it glinted in the light. Peter snatched the hat up and stared. Two letters were inscribed on the pin. Nothing more, nothing less.

"SC..."

Special Counseling? Peter's expression took a turn for the frantic. What else could it stand for? He tried to run through a few candidates, but nothing stuck. Nothing applied so neatly without being ridiculous, because it clearly didn't stand for Super Cuckoo or Spider Cadet. Was he supposed to wear this like some stupid badge of honour? God, just brand it across his forehead, why don't you? My name is Peter Parker and I totally snapped a guy's arm for Mother Landel's. Hail the Smiley!

Peter pressed the beret against his face and groaned into the fabric. This was it. They weren't playing games anymore. They were finally turning this into death match boot camp and sending them off to war. Shit. Shit he was going to be in the frigging army in some messed up alternate universe, and he didn't even know what the frick they were fighting against or why they were fighting. If they were pulling magical whatsits out of every book and TV show known to man, then who knew what wacky threat they were up against. Aliens? If it was aliens, he was quitting. He was going to curl up on the ground hugging a grenade and pull the pin. Just no. No. This was not happening. This could not be frigging happening.

Except that it was. The person who whipped open the door that morning wasn't the affably sour Nurse Rachel, but a hulking, thickly built man who looked like he consumed a toddler a meal solely to fuel his pecs. Peter couldn't even find the breath to argue as he was told to tuck in his shirt and put on his boots and come to the cafeteria. He left just as another soldier brushed past them to collect Brainy, and Peter abruptly realized that in his confusion he'd forgotten to check if the boy was okay.

Too late for that now. Peter tried to match pace with the burly man, fumbling to put his snazzy new beret on and watching with wary eyes as other patients were dragged by. Things seemed even bleaker as they hit the cafeteria. The buffet was empty. The scent of food was lacking. Soldiers packed along the borders of the room so neatly you would think they were part of a particularly tacky wall paper. And worst of all? Buckets. Mops and rags and brooms, all piled in the center of the room.

The lady officer's speech was entirely unnecessary at that point. Peter withered where he stood as she told them their duty. It was like a scolding from Aunt May, if someone gave her a gun and a license to use it. Except the joke only made things worse - now he just wanted his Aunt. The force of his loneliness bowled him over like a wrecking ball. He might never see Aunt May again. Peter's gaze fell to the floor and he clenched his fists.

Was this it? Was his life really over? Escape never seemed so far away.

There was no protest from him as they were sent to work. Ashen and queasy, Peter stumbled towards the cleaning supplies and selected a bucket and a rag. He couldn't even bemoan his lack of breakfast. His nerves were making it impossible to even think about food.

They needed to get out tonight. Everyone. Somehow...

[Lion!]

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Inspector Lunge was already awake and sitting on his bed when the soldier walked in. So that was General Aguilar: no pomp, no show, cut straight to the point as if with a scalpel. Yes, that was about right, clinical and dry and with a real sense of purpose, of an end, yet there was an edge of emotion to it, though one quite unlike any that Landel had chosen to display. Disappointment, faint disgust. Not quite so clinical after all, but hardly the emotional, scripted act he was used to hearing. And the feeling that had come with it, of the hairs on the back of his neck prickling, as though suddenly his every move was being monitored. You’re sharp, aren’t you, Aguilar? You want all of this under complete control- not necessarily for the thrill of it, but for the sheer damn efficiency.

Fascinating. Such change. Such focus.

Lunge would have just loved to meet him personally.

Rats trapped in a maze. He’d used that expression himself countless times before, but it was a surprise to hear it from the speakers. So they weren’t simply lab-rats. They had a far more specific purpose.

The order in the message was further reflected in the order of his new clothing, the uniform he’d woken up in. Clearly military, with the dog tags and new serial number (#14593677, no relation to the number he was given in his therapy session, he’d been through every possibility), far neater and more regimented than it had been before. There was even a beret and armband, the latter bearing the customary yellow smiling face. How’s that, Martin Landel? The beret, meanwhile, bore a single gold pin with the word ‘M-U’ written on it. ‘M-U’? What did that stand fo-

A brief search of his memory revealed the answer, and with it a dull thud in the pit of his stomach. CM-US. Used in reference to the nightshift experimental therapy. He hadn’t wanted anyone else to know, anyone for whom it wasn’t entirely necessary, but now…

That had been irrelevant, and he moved on from the thought swiftly and without (!) hesitation.

To complete the illusion, his inventory had also completely vanished. Confiscated? Possibly, but that didn’t mesh with the idea that the General wanted progress at night, unless this was a fresh start or progress had an entirely different meaning to the man. Neither could be dismissed. Either way, his suit, jacket, weapons and shield from the basement were all gone for the foreseeable future, and there was no point to mourning them.

He was impressed; the change was thorough, and without compromise. There was no illusion to the set-up now, no pretense whatsoever. One had to wonder how far that extended. Had the people of Doyleton known about this ‘purpose’ all along, or was this a secret shared only with the Institute’s primary movers? Perhaps not Marc, but Jill?

No matter. All that considered, it hadn’t come as much of a shock to see his new escort, and he came without complaint. There hadn’t been a morning announcement, but even so Lunge couldn’t be surprised by what they were to be spending their breakfast period doing: this was, after all, the new, efficient, hard-line Institute. No more toying with sedatives and threats. They’d even thrown in a little psychological warfare, separating out the troublemakers from the rest of the patients and lining them up like men facing the hangman’s noose. See? Look at them! They aren’t one of you- they did this to you! Crude tactics indeed.

Taking a scrubbing brush, Lunge knelt down by a bucket of water and began to scrub. Where was the point in arguing, after all? Battles had to be chosen here.

[Edgar!]

The morning arrived without its usual greeting, the announcement just as night faded the only warning for the patients of what was now Aguilar's institute. As soon as he was awake enough to be aware of his surroundings, Edgar felt something was off- it was most likely the collar of his shirt, which was not only buttoned all the way to the top, but had buttons on it in the first place. He sat up, pulling the sheets from him: his entire outfit had been changed. Gone were the smiley shirts and loose pants, replaced with a blue top and black pants, complete with belt. In his lap- it had apparently been on his chest- was a beret and a set of tags.
Edward March
C Class
53180080M
There was barely time to raise an eyebrow to the changes before soldiers marched into the room. Apparently, Aguilar wasn't bluffing: his changes were being instated immediately. His words from the end of the night were of interest, as they confirmed he did indeed know of what was going on at Landel's- not only knew, but was in on it in some way. From the sound of it, the patients were a part of some project, and the nights were meant as tests. Edgar's suspicions had been correct in thinking that Landel was trying to challenge them; however, it seemed the Head Doctor hadn't taken it far enough for the General's liking.

Then how much further would it go? That didn't bode well for those unsuited for the dangers of the night. One thing was abundantly clear: the institute facade was gone. They were pawns to be used by Aguilar, all a part of a project with an unknown purpose. He wanted results, and having seen the hostility with which the soldiers treated the patients, Edgar was willing to bet the General would take whatever actions were necessary to get them.

Edgar laced his boots carefully, stopping by his desk to grab his journal. A new surprise awaited him there: his journal was the only thing in his drawer. His dismantled radio, tools, the relic- all gone. He took the book without a word. He'd expected everything would be confiscated eventually. He only wished he'd prepared better for it, now.

Wearing his hat (as ordered- Edgar thought he looked silly in it and would have died in shame if Locke saw him), Edgar followed the soldier to the Sun Room. His attempt to stop by the bulletin board was met with a sharp warning from the guard, who informed him board privileges had been revoked for the shift for anyone below the S and A classes. Edgar sighed once the man's back was turned- this was going to be an adjustment.

If only he'd known how right he was about that. Instead of the usual lineup for food, the cafeteria was filled with patients standing, most as confused as he was. Soon after, a woman (possibly the one from the day before, but it was hard to tell from the distance he was standing) entered the scene and gave them their orders: scrubbing the floor in retribution of the previous day's events. Patients were set to their task immediately. Others were forced to line the wall, while the more injured patients were ushered to a lonely table in the corner. Ordered to join those doing the manual work, Edgar was handed a sponge and told to find a bucket to share.

There was no choice. As much as he despised the situation, Edgar knew better than the break now. It was likely Aguilar was ready for any uprising- maybe even asking for it, thirsting for a chance to squash any inkling of rebellion out of the hearts of the patients. Even with as little as they knew of the man, it didn't seem beyond him.

Edgar did as he was told, rolling up his sleeves before finding a spot. He dipped his sponge into the soapy water- at least it was warm. "I suppose after this, we'll be eating off the floor come lunch," Edgar said quietly to the man sharing the bucket as he began scrubbing. Though his tone was light, he wasn't willing to say just yet that they wouldn't have that humiliation forced on them, as well.

Lunge had only been scrubbing- mildly and rather ineffectually, but then he didn't particularly see the point in trying especially hard, so long as he was doing something- when someone came to kneel down nearby. Young, male, blond; though he was reminded of Howl, the man wasn't anyone he recognised according to his database.

Even so, they seemed perfectly happy to talk a total stranger while they worked. Outgoing and friendly, then, and not given to working without a steady stream of chat. That was fine with him; it would be interesting to hear from another patient after the messages they'd heard last night. Perhaps he'd been caught out by the punishment Aguilar had put into place. He hadn't felt anything last night himself, but it didn't mesh with what little profile he'd managed to piece together that the General would make an idle threat. He was far too precise for that, too calculating.

"I wouldn't be surprised," Lunge answered. His tone was flat, but at the same time he gave the man a wry smile. "Aguilar certainly seems to want to run a tight ship, between this and last night." The operative word being 'want'; it remained to be seen whether or not Landel's prediction that it would be too much for the man to handle would come to pass.

Edgar squeezed some of the excess water from his sponge, quickly realizing he had too much in it. Cleaning was one of those areas where the king was admittedly ill-practiced. The maids were a comfort of home he missed during his travels, but especially now that he was imprisoned: they not only did a fine job of straightening his messes, but they were far more attractive than the majority of the nursing staff. There was no reason to even compare them to the soldiers that now loomed in every room.

"At least he seems more direct than Landel," Edgar replied, a little surprised the other man had answered him at all. He'd expected no one to be in the mood for chit-chat. "I can't say I approve of his methods any more than those of the Head Doctor, however."

He halted his work for a moment to give a proper greeting. "Forgive my manners. I'm Edgar."

Edgar: no, the name still didn't ring a bell. No matter. Even if the man didn't have any obvious, immediate knowledge attached to him in the same way that Lelouch had when they'd first met, there was still a good chance he would make for a useful witness, at the very least. The Institute was so vast and its offerings so varied that it would have been ridiculous to try and explore it all by himself.

He held out the hand that wasn't holding the brush; he assumed the soldiers weren't so strict as to enforce a rule of silence, but it was worth having a back-up just in case someone came by. "Inspector Lunge. It's a pleasure to meet you, Edgar. And yes, Aguilar does seem to be more direct. Order and punishment: precisely what one would expect from a military man." Precise and military ever being the watch-words for the day. There was nothing more obligatorily military than being made to clean the floor with basic equipment; Lunge had to admit, he was almost surprised that they weren't being made to use toothbrushes.

That, at least, made for a good lead-in for what it was he wanted to ask. "Having said that, though, I didn't encounter anything strange last night, in spite of what his aide had to say on the matter." He gave the man a curious look, edging more on the interested than interrogating for the moment. "Did you sense anything while you were out?"

An inspector? Landel- and Aguilar, Edgar assumed- certainly went for variety in the selection of prisoners. If they were being tested for aptitude in survival and combat situations, it would made sense to use people from all walks of life: soldiers, civilians, specialists, and royalty. Even someone without specific training could prove useful in the right situation- they only needed to be given the chance. It was unfortunate that the institute had to be the proving ground for some, though. There were those who could not protect themselves, and it seemed there weren't many who were willing to go out of their way to help such potential casualties.

Though he shook the offered hand, there was a beat before Edgar answered Lunge's question. There were bound to be more than a handful who had been affected by Project 2911, if that had indeed been the cause of his own strange knowledge of those undergoing the "special counseling." Perhaps he could learn something.

"I did," he answered simply, "though I haven't any idea whether it was a result of the announced project, or if I'm just losing my mind. There are times I'd say the latter is the true aim of this place. Yourself?"

The loss of sanity: that certainly would have seemed the obvious goal towards which the Institute was designed to inch, with all of its traps and tricks and illusions, and with it came the attractive irony of being using a mental hospital as a cover. Were the military exploring psychological torture? Practising methods? Was it even possible to say, with the vast amount of data they had, and with the vast amount they were missing? As much as he could guess, Lunge still had to admit that he needed to ask either Aguilar or Landel face-to-face to get any sort of certain answer.

Or perhaps he simply wasn't as confidence in his ability as he once would have liked to think he was. Lunge knew which he preferred to think.

But last night. Yes, last night was something he could focus on. Edgar didn't seem to have the same sleep study pin that he'd found on his own beret, so it seemed he was referring to something other than the nightly therapy sessions.

"I'm not surprised, given how much of the Institute seems finely-tuned for torture. But I digress. I didn't feel anything unusual myself." He paused in his scrubbing while his expression turned searching and his tone apologetic, almost. "I understand it might be difficult to describe, but would it be possible for you to explain what it was that you experienced?"

In a manner true to his profession, Lunge pressed for more information. Edgar couldn't say he was surprised, though he'd not expected it to come so soon after introductions. As someone who didn't enjoy wasting time- and in a place where time remaining was uncertain, it was a good practice- he couldn't argue with the inspector's methods.

"It's not that it's difficult to describe," Edgar commented, dipping his sponge into the bucket and giving it a tight squeeze. "It's more that it doesn't make a great deal of sense no matter how I try to explain it. Tainted food giving me the knowledge of where the 'special counseling' patients were standing guard? I'm not sure even magic can do that."

Edgar returned his sponge to the floor. He wasn't enjoying the punishment exercise, as its only purpose seemed to be to create tension among the patients by forcing those who hadn't participated in the riot do the manual labor while lining the guilty parties against the wall, making their identities known. While he glanced at the lineup and recognized a few faces, he was certain others wouldn't see them as potential allies willing to stand up to a cruel overload, their hearts driving them to act rather than to think things through. Just as there were individuals working for the greater good of the patient body, there were bound to be some who rather see retribution distributed to those who caused problems.

Then what came next? Probably a system to encourage betrayal, doling rewards in exchange for selling out a fellow prisoner. Edgar's brow furrowed as he rubbed between his eyes. So much for his pushing for cooperation among the patients and distribution of information- it would be harder to know who was trustworthy if something like that came to pass. It was something right up Kefka's alley.

Tainted food? Lunge leaned forward, an flash of interest in his eyes. Now there was a clever way of administering a punishment; most people would be eating before they left for the night, as a way of keeping their strength up for whatever challenges awaited them out in the hallways. It explained why he hadn't felt anything strange himself. And since Landel had only ever started his experiments at night, well, who would think that the daytime could hold such dangers? Wasn't the day a time for rest and recovery?

Silently, he made a note of the fact that they were no longer safe during the day; this was further proof of just how thoroughly Aguilar had abandoned the disguise.

The effect of the food, however, was slightly harder to understand, and his brow furrowed. "Knowledge of the special counseling patients?" That didn't seem to mesh quite with the new military Institute- it seemed more like the kind of experiment Landel might have run, a trick to get people to second-guess themselves or confuse them. And why would the Institute want to give the patients an advantage, if not to trick them?

Hmm. Maybe it was an experiment. "Let me see if I understand you correctly," he started again, shaking his head slightly. "After eating dinner, you report having suddenly gained this knowledge, all of a sudden? How strange." He paused. There was something else, too. "It could have been a hallucinogen, but... 'magic'?"

There were a few reasons Edgar didn't mention magic very often in conversations. For one, he wasn't as familiar with it as he should have been, neither in study nor in practice. For most of his life, he'd thought of the War of the Magi as not much more than a myth: beings who could conjure the elements and use them as weapons with which to destroy entire armies? It all seemed absurd, impossible- not like technology. He hadn't put much thought into it, even when he heard the rumors of the Imperial witch. Even then, he had little faith in what he'd heard... until he saw it for himself.

In an elegant machine, everything had a purpose, had some function as part of the whole that made it work. Magic was harder to explain. The variety of worlds represented at Landel's made it all the more difficult to talk about: just as there were some from worlds where magic (or some equivalent skill) was more common than in his own, there were bound to be those from places where it had never existed at all. Rather than delve into a discussion on a topic about which he had only limited knowledge, he'd just avoided the mention entirely.

Well, until now. Aside from one spell, there was nothing Edgar knew that even came close to explaining his experience. "Yes, magic. It's a rare skill where I'm from, but there is a spell that grants you information about a target- weakness, statistics, and the like; however, it isn't what I felt last night. This was specifically the locations of the brainwashed patients: one in the courtyard, one in the Sun Room, one at the western end of the main hall upstairs, and one where we load the transport to head to town. The gain of knowledge was sudden, but it didn't happen immediately after dinner. If it was an effect from Project 2911, then it must have taken time to work through me. Like a slow poison."

His hand paused as he fixed his eyes on the floor, his expression grim. This place had a way of pushing his buttons.

Lunge had heard a little about magic in his time here, first from the ninja woman in the upstairs kitchen, and more recently had experienced it all too closely for his liking; Howell's hallway monster and the woman in the Sun Room might have been able to produce creations he could go on assuming were purely illusory (a trick of the light, a trick of the mind, it isn't real), but the other night he'd felt it in full force. It had been, unfortunately, impossible to deny the existence of the hundreds of blades that had rained down on L, Marc and himself, impossible to believe that the nick he'd gotten as one barely skimmed his shoulder was all in his head.

Perhaps he resented it purely on the grounds of concept. As a seemingly limitless force it 'explained away' far too much of the Institute for his liking; it was the logical equivalent of papering over the cracks instead of searching for deeper reasons. It encouraged lazy thinking.

Even so, he couldn't help but feel a tug of interest at the mention of an information-granting spell; now there was one use he could certainly have appreciated. Learning his enemy's weaknesses at a glance was, as much as his colleagues liked to suppose, entirely beyond his abilities; being able to do so would have done so much for his investigation...

But his thoughts were digressing. Edgar seemed sure that this wasn't to do with that spell, which meant leaving it behind for the mean time. Lunge nodded. "That makes sense, taking into account the means of administration." Another pause. The man's body language had unmistakeably closed: head down, eyes to the floor, not even cleaning as a decoy. Even his language had ebbed into the painful, poison as a simile. For someone so outgoing-- well, it must have been unbearable, to know that the Institute could so easily work its way into his mind.

"It's a cruel tactic: suddenly giving an advantage, without explanation. Like a Trojan horse," he said quietly. Would Edgar know what a Trojan horse was? It didn't matter. "Designed to make any man doubt himself and his enemy. Intimidation tactics. Do you know if the information they planted was correct?"

Lunge brought up a point Edgar had told himself more than once: the institute was full of tricks designed to make the patients doubt everything they knew, to push them closer to losing themselves to the identity they'd been assigned. But why? What purpose did it serve to rob someone in such a way? What was there to Landel, Aguilar, or anyone else to gain? Edgar found neither prospect- of being a mere shell of himself or being killed- acceptable in any way. As much as he liked to think others would do the same, he couldn't deny the thinning numbers. Patients disappeared daily, their spots filled with new arrivals. How many more would there be?

"I never got the chance to find out," he replied. While it would have satisfied his curiosity even more to see if his unfounded hunch was accurate, he felt that it was a safe bet, given what Ryuuzaki had been able to glean without any logical explanation aside from the reportedly tainted food. He decided to leave that unmentioned for now. Ryuuzaki seemed like a private person, and some of the information he'd discovered through his new-found insight had been of the sensitive variety. The inspector might push if any more was mentioned.

Edgar instead changed tactics, resuming his scrubbing. "I'm aware that this place is designed with deceit in mind, though I didn't know just how far it went until last night. Have you ever been to the room where they keep patient possessions?"

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