Four weeks into his internship at STAR Labs, Barry is stopped in the hallway by Cisco on his way out.
“Hey, before you leave, do you want to see something awesome?”
Barry had met Cisco his first week at STAR, and they’d become fast friends with a lot of common interests, so Barry is confident that Cisco has a pretty solid definition of ‘something awesome,’ and it would definitely be worth taking the time to see. “Of course.”
Cisco grins and leads him down several hallways to a freight elevator tucked away in the west wing of the research complex. He fishes out a key to call the elevator, and when it arrives he hauls open first the sliding exterior doors and then the metal grate of the elevator car.
“Why this elevator?” Barry steps gamely inside at Cisco’s exaggerated flourish.
“This is the only one that goes down far enough. We’re going to Sub-Basement 3, baby!”
“What? There isn’t a Sub-Basement 3.” Barry realizes as he says it that there very likely is, because lying about it makes no sense, and would probably rank even with ‘I got your nose!’ for World’s Most Transparent Prank.
Cisco smirks, and presses the bottommost right-hand button (the numbers have long-since worn away, and Barry notes with only mild trepidation that the elevator inspection certificate is four years out of date). With a lurch, the elevator starts to descend, much slower than Barry is used to and groaning like a metal beast all the way, and it is with some relief that he finally steps out once they reach the bottom.
Cisco flicks on a light switch, revealing a wide hallway with black-and-white checked tiles and a low ceiling. Sounds echo eerily in the empty space; Barry’s grown accustomed to the constant hum of machinery and equipment in STAR Labs proper, especially the all-encompassing HEPA air filters, so much so that the sudden silence this far underground in a deserted wing presses against his ears like they are stuffed with cotton.
They don’t have to travel far down the empty corridor to reach their destination; Cisco turns to the left to open one door that is just like all the other doors they’d passed (and Barry would have raised the question about whether they were even allowed down here, except the door isn’t locked…)
Inside is a lab - an old lab, probably part of the original construction. All of the equipment looks dated, from the sixties, maybe even the fifties - the height of the Cold War, and the gauges are analog and the consoles covered in switches and dials and indicator lights, and Barry is overcome by the desire to poke everything. He spends so long staring at all the equipment, wondering what it was all for, that it takes him a while to notice the rest of the room.
There are several chalkboards set up, covered top-to-bottom in writing and equations that he does not recognize, and a lab bench in one corner with a chemical safety cabinet behind it. There is a modern mini-fridge, two plush bean-bag chairs, and a tangled mess of wires and parts around a shiny metal machine that looks half-finished at best, and ready for the scrap heap at worst.
“I call it the Cortex.” Cisco gestures grandly to the room. “It’s where I come to think sometimes. And to get away from distractions – it can be hard to find a way to forcibly remove yourself from the internet, but this place was built to be x-ray and radar-proof, and it’s three stories underground; there’s no way any kind of signal is getting through down here, no way no how.”
Barry blinks in surprise; he hadn’t thought Cisco was the kind of person who’d willingly part with modern technology. He turns slowly, still trying to take in the aesthetic of the whole space. “Who else knows about this place?”
Cisco flops backwards into a bean bag and fishes out a bag of twizzlers. “Just Caitlin and Ronnie - but they’re both off on their honeymoon at the moment.”
“But then… if no one knows about it, how did you get an elevator key to get down here?”
“Oh, well,” he waves one twizzler airily, “other people know it exists in the abstract, it’s not actually a secret, but we’re the only ones who come down here. And all the freight elevators use the same key, so that’s not a problem.”
“Huh.” Barry collapses into the second bean bag chair and accepts the twizzler Cisco offers.
They chat for a bit, mostly about science. Cisco explains what some of the apparatuses were used for; Barry stares in admiration at a yellowing, aged poster that begins with ACHTUNG! and ends with ZO RELAXEN UND WATSCHEN DER BLINKENLICHTEN. This is, without a doubt, the coolest lab he's ever been in.
Eventually, Cisco gets up and goes to work on the unfinished machine at the center of the room, and Barry wanders after him.
“This - ” Cisco pats it fondly “ - will one day go ‘ding!’ when there’s stuff.”
Barry snorts. “Really, what does it do?” He isn’t an engineer, and the tangle of wires is all pretty incomprehensible to him.
“My friend, you are looking at the world’s first prototype tachyon particle generator.”
“Tachyons!? But those are only hypothetical!”
“They’re only hypothetical now,” Cisco corrects.
Barry stares in wonder, trying to tamp down his skepticism so as not to offend his friend. It is an incredible claim; while he has no doubts about Cisco’s intelligence, the thought that he could have come up with such a design at his age is more than a little unbelievable.
Cisco must see something in his expression, or else he just guesses the direction of Barry’s thoughts, because he laughs and claps one hand on Barry’s shoulder. “Relax, I can’t take all the credit. The design is all Dr. Wells’.”
“Who’s Dr. Wells?”
Cisco grins and gestures with one hand. “He’s around.”
Barry has a sudden and acute feeling of being watched prickling on the back of his neck, and becomes aware of another presence in the room. He spins around as though he expects the elusive Dr. Wells to be standing right behind him, but the lab is as empty as before – he blinks and shakes his head - how could he have been so certain that -? why had he thought…? – His eyes alight on one of the chalkboards, off to his left, which bears new words that send a chill down his spine as he reads:
Hello, Mister Allen. My name is Harrison Wells.
Barry jerks back a step and stumbles, because he definitely would have noticed if that message had been there before.
“Cisco! Is this a prank?!”
Cisco stops stripping a set of wires, and looks between the board and Barry with an expression that vacillates between mirth and sympathy. “Nah man, that’s just Dr. Wells. Did I forget to mention that he’s a ghost?”