Ch. IV, p.3

“What are the signals for?”

“One’s a medical distress, and the other… I’m not so sure.”

“Well, if he’s still there, I’ll find him. Dom, stay here and—”

“No,” she interrupted. “Both of you go. You need to watch each other’s backs; I’ll lock myself in the security room. I’ll be fine… In the meantime, I’m going to try again to get and gather whatever information I can to help.”

“How do we get down to level III?”

“Use the stairs,” she said, pointing to the far end of the room where a metal panel stood out amidst fading wall. “Power is down, and we might need our mini generator later, so it’s best if we don’t use the elevator.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’ll see you in a few minutes then. Tell me as soon as you get to M-12.”

Her voice is soft and smooth. Even under pressure. I don’t think God made a more perfect woman anywhere… And doc, if you’re listening to this, probably after I die, I want you to know I really mean that.

They headed for the far end of the room, checking the sights on their weapons.

“Remind me what we’re doin’ here again?”

“Mountains, fresh air, helping a pretty lady… besides, maybe we’ll see some action.”

“Yeah, ‘ooh, scary,’ animals…”

“Better than nothing. Gets your blood pumping, at least.”

They came to the metal door, twisted against its frame; there was barely enough room to squeeze under. He looked over his shoulder—she’s safe. Placing a hand on Dom’s back, he followed through the opening, rifle at the ready.

It’s a good thing Dom’s going first…

Cold steel and smashed plaster littered the narrow corridor, slanting downwards. A pair of chutes ran on either side of a battered stairway and were engulfed in darkness. I almost thought I’d see a trash catcher or a maintenance droid. Or something else… But he doesn’t like to expose his fear.

“Activate your Aura. Test comms.”

‘Aura.’Sepia tones brushed away the shadows. “This always reminds me of skiing. All that white snow, orange-brown from your goggles.”

“Comms active,” Dom thought in reply.

“Received.”

They headed carefully down the stairs, watching the ceiling and walls for any signs of movement.

Focusing helps to keep the fear at bay. This isn’t like fighting in the forest; there are only two directions to run in, and the only cover is a waist-high banister made of glass and steel. Other than that, we’re completely exposed.

The stairs emptied onto a wide platform labeled II, where a large archway was sealed off by collapsed construction, fallen from the floor overhead. Another flight of stairs stretched beneath them, soon leading them to level III.

“This is it. Cover me while I ping the area.” He placed his back against the wall and commanded his system to scan. A sonar map detailed the surrounding architecture, glowing blue and white overtop the dark vestibule.

“It’s not clear... M-12 doesn’t show up. The scan doesn’t go far enough.”

“What do you see?”

“Nothing. Just a bunch of rubble… It looks like we’re alone.”

“You and me… Alone… Just the way I like it.”

“Yeah, okay, let’s just get this done.”

“You’re so sexy when you’re uncomfortable.”

“I don’t like dark, small spaces, okay? Just cut me a break, Dom.”

“Calm down. There’s nothing here…”


They pressed forward. Through an archway, a dismal glass wall approached on the right; behind it, twisting columns of vine laden tree trunk spiraled high into the ceiling, awash in a sea of plant life.

“Contacts… in that arboretum. They’re on top of those trees… too much movement to tell what they are.”

Red dots floated over his vision, indicating the unknown life forms.

“We can go around them, the path this way is—”

“Shit.”


They both saw it at the same time.

“Systems caught something; stay alert.”

They stood still, hardly breathing. In the distance, a large, black object hurtled into the hallway with a loud shriek, skittering to a halt. Tail whipping at the ground, it slowly gauged up its prey.

Schraeee!

“What the hell is that thing?”

“I don’t know, but I bet it doesn’t like bullets.”

“I bet you’re right.”


Shouldering his rifle, he lined up the metal barrel with the creature, click clacking towards them heavily about 100 yards away. For a moment, he wanted to wait and watch. Just to see what it would do.

But that would be crazy. He pulled the trigger.

. . .

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