The sounds of Dr. Covington and Smith blocking the door were easy to identify. The things they heard scratching at the door earlier seemed to have gotten bored and moved elsewhere, but Dixon heard footsteps shuffling towards him.
He took calming breaths in an effort not to freak out, but when he turned the light on, one of the morbid faces of the things they were fighting snapped at him. The thing scared him so bad that Dixon almost pissed his pants. A noise to his left caused him to fire while turning, the thought of survivors long gone as his basic survival instinct now ruled him. The short burst blew open the neck of a guard and the head flipped to the side held on by a few strands of muscle and flesh. The body hit the ground and Dixon put a round in its head for his own peace of mind.
A moan and he fired as he spun once more. This time, he hit one of them in the chest, knocking it back a few feet. He fired again, turning its head into mist. A quick sweep revealed two more, their milk colored eyes focused elsewhere, even though they made a beeline for him. He fired into the head of the closest one ignoring the gore that splattered him and covered the thick clear plastic of his mask.
He turned his weapon toward where the other two were and shot one in the mouth. It made a gagging noise as it spit up part of its tongue. Dixon fired again, this time a clean shot to the head. He pivoted to take out the other one, but didn’t see it.
Dixon made a full circle becoming unnerved, because it had disappeared. He knew there were two. He was positive. He focused on the sounds, but his breathing intensified and echoed inside his mask. He raised a glove-covered hand to wipe at the gore covering his vision, but only succeeded in smearing it everywhere.
He took small steps, making sure to check behind him every few seconds. The things hadn’t demonstrated any sort of intelligence. In fact, he thought they were on par with a rock when it came to smarts. However, that didn’t make them any less dangerous. In fact, he often found the less intelligent people of the world were the ones you needed to be the most wary of.
The flashlight flickered then went out. He shook his Sig and got it back on, but at a lower strength. Would anything go their way, he wondered? He’d searched the whole floor and didn’t find the thing. Maybe he imagined it, his hands were shaking and he knew it was only a matter of time before nerves got the best of him. He went to the weapons locker and grabbed a fresh flashlight when something latched onto him from behind.
Dixon struggled with it, but the damn thing had a death grip on him. He felt it biting into the back of his suit and heard a tearing noise.
He ran backwards, hoping to ram the thing between him and a wall, or some other hard surface. He felt the jolt and crushing of ribs against his back as they impacted with support column made of reinforced steel on the other side of the room. The hold on him loosened and Dixon grabbed one of the arms, trying not to notice the way the flesh moved as if oiled along the muscle underneath his grip.
A second later, he came face to face with his squad leader. The man who ordered him to go and baby-sit the new arrival for the next shift. Dixon hesitated a moment, and that was all it took for the creature to reach up and rip off the protective mask. Dixon stopped breathing and fired in panic mode. His weapon emptied and the body in front of him had nothing but a pulpy mess on top of its shoulders as it slid down to the ground.
Dixon raced for the supply closet, grabbed the emergency mask from one of the survival kits, and threw it on. He secured the straps and sucked in a breath of air, then another, and another. He was freaking out. He didn’t know if he was infected or not. Did some of the gore from his former CO get on his skin? When he reached around and tried to find the hole in his suit, he sighed in relief at the small size, but still worried the skin inside might have been split and infected by the bite.
He opted not to say anything to the others until he felt sick. No need to worry them, especially if nothing was wrong. Benson would kill him before he could explain what happened.
Dixon did a run through of the floor with a Mag Light and came up with no other hostiles. He sighed in relief. As long as they kept moving, his mind would be occupied with other things than whether or not he was going to turn into a flesh-eating maniac. He knocked on the door three times and watched as it opened in slow increments.
Arthur stood with his weapon raised until he noticed Dixon was alone. The three entered and Dixon motioned them to the supply lockers.
“Grab a couple of flashlight attachments for your guns and pick up extra magazines. I checked, and there are no grenades on this level. Looks like Dr. Covington’s plan better work with what we have on hand,” Dixon said with false enthusiasm.
“What happened to you sacrificing yourself as we made a run for it?” Benson asked.
“Shut up, you ass,” Smith said as she smacked him on the arm.
Arthur remained silent as he thought about what they were about to face.
“Hey, there are extra masks in here. We can put on fresh ones and buy time,” Benson said as he reached for one.
“Wait, we can’t. If the contaminant is airborne, we can’t risk taking the masks off at what is essentially ground zero. All it would take is one molecule to get into the breathing apparatus.”
Benson ignored him and grabbed a mask.
“Put it down, or I will blow your damn hand off, you ass wipe,” Dixon yelled.
Arthur watched as Benson did as told with reluctance.
“Fine, whatever you say.”
* * *
Frank waited for the outburst, especially from Carson. Floor activated sensors with C4, were placed randomly, which even Frank didn’t know the location of what they faced now.
“Well, since you’re our fearless leader, you best lead us,” Carson said not bothering to hide the sneer on his face.
“This level shouldn’t be too bad. It’s an access point for air vents, plumbing, and electrical junctions. At most, there are four people on duty monitoring everything, making repairs or upgrading the system.” Frank pulled the door open to Level 3 with forced casualness.
A blast rocked the room, lifting him off his feet, and then blowing him back into the others. The door swung wide, then ricocheted off the wall and rebounded into Newell’s leg with a crack. He screamed in pain as the others grunted.
“Damn it, I think my leg is busted,” Newell said through gritted teeth.
“What gave it away? The fact the bone is sticking out of your pant leg, or the sound of it breaking when the door hit it,” Carson asked.
“Go to hell, Carson, and get the hell off of me,” Newell spat.
“Piece of cake,” Lightfoot said with a laugh as he pushed Carson off Newell.
Frank was the first to get up and see inside the room. Lights flickered on one side and on the other they were out completely. Two things walked around in what might have once been work uniforms, but were now just canvases for splattered blood and gore. He assumed the strings of muscle and tissue that hung from the swaying lights were the remains of other technicians who wandered over a couple of the pressure plates.
“Hey, Boss, Newell’s leg is in bad shape,” Lightfoot whispered.
“I heard that, you idiot,” Newell yelled.
Frank’s eyes roamed the area for a few more seconds to make sure there were no imminent threats before he turned to examine Newell. “Lightfoot, keep an eye on them. Let’s see if they set off a few more of the sensors for us. I’ll take care of Newell.”
Carson was right. Newell’s tibia broke through the skin. Frank knew what needed to be done and he didn’t look forward to it. “This is going to hurt like hell. You want a shot?”
With clenched teeth and a pale face, Newell shook his head. “Do what you need. The shot will just mess me up, and considering the current situation, that’s not a good idea. I’d rather be coherent and in pain, than unaware one of those things is chomping on my liver.”
“All right, Grimwood and Carson, you’re going to hold him down while I re-align the bone as best I can. Carson, provide some light.” Frank wiped his hands on the sides of his pants in an effort to dry them.
Grimwood gripped both of Newell’s shoulders and nodded he was ready.
“Here goes.” Frank yanked the leg straight and made sure the bones aligned as straight as possible under the circumstances. He poured providone-iodine over the wound as well as some water.
Newell struggled, but Carson and Grimwood kept him from screwing up Frank’s work and putting the bone out of place. Frank pulled a can of spray once meant to capture police suspects, and now used by his company as a temporary cast in emergency situations.
The liquid flowed around the wound and within seconds, grew to an inch thick and hardened like a normal cast. The difference was the strange form it took was clumsy, but since it was for emergencies, no one cared. Frank closed up the first aid kid and glanced at Newell. His face was covered in sweat, and he would have scared a ghost with how white he was, but he managed a half smile for his boss.
“Just a flesh wound, right, Monroe?”
“Yeah, nothing to write home ab–”
Another blast, this time Lightfoot fell on top of them, though he made sure to avoid Newell by grabbing hold of Frank and pulling his shoulder damn near out of its socket. The sticky splat sound of things hitting the wall around them made Frank look up. An eye, which seemed to peer back at him, slowly made its way down the back wall. A half a face was next to it, stuck in place.
“Lightfoot and Grimwood, you get Newell back up to reception, put him by the elevator so any rescue team that comes in if we screw up, find him,” Frank ordered.
Lightfoot leaned over and pulled Newell to his feet, the man didn’t scream, but from his tense posture it was obvious he wanted to. Grimwood threw his shoulder under Newell’s other arm and they headed up the staircase.
Frank assumed there were probably only one or two remaining things wandering around, and if they set off one of the motion sensors on the other side of the room it would be wasted. So far, there was an eight-foot gap between him and the first triggered pressure plate, which he could see. About two by two feet, and seven feet down from there another one had been blown just a tad to the right.
The third one was on the other side and wouldn’t help them if it were blown up over there. Frank stared at the ceiling as he thought. There had to be a way through this. Lost in his thoughts, Lightfoot startled him when he appeared at Frank’s side.
“We’ll need to leave Newell here and pick him on the way back up,” Lightfoot said.
“I can still hear you, idiot,” Newell reminded him in a terse voice.
“Why? More trouble on the other floors? They should be empty,” Frank said.
Lightfoot cleared his throat. “Actually, the door was locked going back up, seems the only way for us to go is down.”
Frank nodded as the news sunk in. There really was no going back. “He’ll be fine; I’m more concerned about how we proceed. I can’t just toss things to see if there’s a plate, needs at least two seconds of a weight of a hundred pounds or more, and none of us are sprinters.”
“Why don’t we just toss Newell in there, it’s not like he’s any good to us now,” Carson said.
“Shut up, prick,” Newell mumbled.
“What about leading that last thing toward the center of the room in some way?” Lightfoot offered.
Frank nodded, but wasn’t really paying attention. No matter what happened, he needed to be the one to lead. He pounded his fist on the metal door and watched the former maintenance man raise a sunken face painted with dark liquids. If he didn’t know better he’d say this one just fed and that’s why it wasn’t after them right off the bat.
It moved toward them with slow shuffling steps, and on an impulse Frank took a giant step forward and shut his eyes as he ticked off the seconds in his head. Nothing happened, so he took another large step, which landed him on the disarmed trap.
“What the hell are you doing?” Lightfoot yelled.
Frank smiled as the thing switched its heading and went for those in the doorway. “When it gets to you shove it in a straight line toward me. Then drag Newell in and position him against the door, he’ll need a safe place to stay while we move on.”
“You’re going to leave me here? What if one of those crazy people comes back?” Newell asked.
“You know we can’t take you. With that leg, you’d slow us down and time is not a luxury right now. You’ll have your weapons, so if anything comes near you, just shoot it,” Frank reasoned.
Lightfoot grunted when the former maintenance man lunged at him. He grabbed it, forcing it back with effort. “One rather rancid smelling bomb detector coming your way, Monroe,” Lightfoot said in an amused voice.
Frank watched as his friend raised his leg and kicked the thing in the chest. It toppled backwards as it stumbled toward Frank. He caught it and did his best to ignore the odor of death coming off it. As Frank turned to face the exit, teeth gnashed against his armor and he pulled the head away from his chest. Short strands of hair came away, as did a patch of greasy looking skin, and several blackened teeth fell out, leaving a slimy trail along his arm.
With a knot in his stomach, he positioned the thing so it faced forward and provided momentum with a swift kick to its ass. With jerky movements, it ambled forward about six feet with no consequences. Frank ran after it and shoved again. He waited a few seconds and sighed when nothing happened once more.
“Alright, guys, bring in Newell and prop him in the corner by the door. Then follow after me, step exactly where I do.”
Frank listened as the others went to work securing their team member. Forty feet remained to the end of the room and he hoped his plan continued to work. At that moment, the thing made a wide turn to come back at him, a groan and grinding of teeth issued from it.
One wrong step and another blast rocked the room, large bits of the venting and water system fell from the ceiling. Frank sat on his ass waiting for his hearing to come back. He moved carefully as he turned to check on the others. The group was covered in a mess of ruptured organs, shredded flesh, and shattered bone. None seemed to be injured, and for the most part, they appeared more annoyed at the thick goop coating their masks and weapons, than the situation they were facing.
Barely half way across, Frank tried to come up with another idea to get them from point A to point B without dying. While he listened to Carson bitch about scraping something off his gun, and Lightfoot trying to assure Newell everything would be fine, the lights flickered and went out.
“Are you kidding me? If I didn’t know better I’d say someone was screwing with us,” Carson’s voice echoed the thoughts of the others.
Frank wondered the same thing. Since he’d received the phone call starting this mission, things seemed to be going wrong. He focused on his breathing, and tried not to think about the narrow corridor or the levels above him, or the thousands of tons of dirt. He’d never done well in confined places, part of the reason he left most of the onsite work to someone else. He felt down the length of his SCAR with his fingers to flip on his flashlight, and screamed when two white eyes, half a nose, and a skeletal head greeted him. “Christ, where did this one come from?”
“You okay, boss?” Lightfoot asked.
“Fine, one of these damn things caught me by surprise.”
Frank put his hands on its shoulders and held it away. Though it struggled to get at Frank, it lacked the strength to do much. As it snapped at him, Frank refused to use his gun. This was his last chance to get them out of there. He felt a tug on his foot and knew there was a second one. They must have been in the ducts working and were freed by the explosions.
Frank fought with the one climbing his body and realized the clothes it wore resembled more of a uniform than worker’s overalls. A quick look also revealed armor and a holster. Frank knew it could be one of the guards from a different floor, but the fact they lacked an insignia led him to think they worked for someone else, someone who might be messing with them.
Whoever was behind it would send more than two, more like six or seven. Perhaps have them split into two teams. He sighed as things got far more complicated and kicked the side of the thing on him in frustration.
“Guys, be on the watch. We have guests and I could use some damn help!” Frank yelled, and then saw several beams focus on his position.
“We’re like three feet behind you, chill out, I got this one,” Carson said in a mocking voice.
“No! Don’t kill it. We need the damn thing to get the rest of the way.” Frank said as he kicked his foot and felt it make contact with the other one lingering by his feet, again. In the dark, knowing there was something lurking around waiting to eat him made the hair on the back of his neck tingle.
The thing on top of Frank squirmed free of his grasp and bit his forearm. Frank yanked his arm and watched in morbid fascination as it moved its head from side to side like a dog with a chew toy. Sick bastards. He continued to try to wrestle it into submission when he felt the other one back on his leg, and heard Newell scream.
“Boss, we’ve got this one,” Lightfoot said as he and Grimwood pulled the charred one off Frank.
“Someone, check on Newell,” Frank ordered as he sat up and he bashed the one eating his ankle with the butt of his gun.
Footsteps echoed as Carson went to check on Newell. Frank stood looking down at what had been persistently trying to get his leg. Half a man, or whatever it was, lay there. The tail end of the spinal column was trailing behind, along with bits of intestines and the mystery meat from lunch. Its left arm was gone from the elbow down, the right hand missing two fingers. The face, however, was what truly made Frank gag.
All the hair and skin had been seared off and the lidless eyeballs stared through him. It had a mouth with no lips or gums, just a black gnarled tongue trying to work the leather of his boot. Frank wanted to put it out of its misery. Something that was once a man should not be left in that condition, but the mission always came first.
“Guys, Newell’s dead. One of these nasty things got him. It was gone by the time I got there,” Carson said.
“You, bastard! Why the hell did you kill him?” Grimwood screamed as he punched Carson in the gut.
“Hey, I don’t have time for this,” Frank yelled. He glanced at Carson, not believing a word he said, knowing Grimwood was right.
Frank put a boot on top of the head of the “nasty” at his feet. “Carson, Newell is fifteen feet away. Unless you didn’t bother to go and check, there’s no way one of these things had time to kill him and escape your keen sense of observation,” Frank said in a dark tone.
“Let me go check.” Lightfoot intervened.
“What, you mean that you don’t believe me?” Carson asked defensively
“No, I don’t. You have a problem with Lightfoot making sure one of our friends is dead and not just left for dead?” Frank asked.
“Whatever, but be careful, there’s a nasty out there,” Carson mumbled.
Frank took hold of the body tossed his way by Lightfoot and used his flashlight to find Grimwood. “Get over here; use the one on the floor as a test dummy. Toss it a few feet at a time and make sure to let us know when you do.”
Grimwood picked up the body with obvious distaste as Lightfoot returned. His face told Frank everything he needed to know. Newell was dead and Carson was a liar.
“Newell’s dead, looks like he bled out. Not sure what caused it though, maybe a knife,” Lightfoot said with a glare at Carson.
“It was one of those damn nasties, I’m telling you. How do we know they can’t use weapons? We don’t even know what the hell they are,” Carson explained, with a tad too much defensiveness in his voice.
Frank sighed. “Well, keep a look out then.” As much as he wanted to beat the crap out of Carson, he needed the extra set of hands, and if he were to be totally honest, he probably saved Newell from an even more horrible death.
“Tossing,” Grimwood yelled as he lobbed the half body five feet into the air. Everyone ducked and did a mental count in their heads. When nothing happened, Grimwood smiled and moved forward. One foot away from the slithering thing, Frank opened his mouth to yell, and then an explosion lit up the room as another team member died.
Grimwood’s left leg went flying in the air, and the force of the impact caused his insides to liquefy and come out his nose and mouth when he landed a few feet from Frank.
“What the hell was that?” Carson cursed. “You said…”
Frank spun around, making sure to keep the nasty he was holding at bay from hurting anyone else. “That was my mistake, I didn’t realize the body wouldn’t meet the hundred pounds needed to trigger the plate,” Frank’s voice was filled with self-recrimination.
“Way to go, fearless leader, how many of us do you plan to kill before you get your shit in gear?” Carson accused.
“Hey, he didn’t plan it, so let’s continue. We still have this one left to use,” Lightfoot reasoned, as he took the wriggling nasty out of Frank’s hands and moved to the last place they knew Grimwood was safe.
“I’ll do this section and then it’s your turn Carson.” Lightfoot grinned into the flashlight beams aimed on him.
Frank watched as Lightfoot progressed about twenty feet with the thing until it hit a pressure plate. As soon as they heard the click, they bent over and covered their heads to avoid some of the grosser bits of decayed and rotten flesh embedding itself into the crevices of their gear.
“Christ, this smell is never going to wash out,” Carson complained.
Frank ignored him and examined the room with his flashlight. In the corner, he saw a large hole and assumed something backed up in the ventilation system and caused it to fail several levels up from the initial explosion and blew out up here.
The area was a good eight feet in a diagonal direction and something told him to go check it out. He wanted to ignore it, because he knew something bad would come of what he found, and there would be nothing he could do about it but worry. He turned toward Lightfoot.
“I’m going to go check over there. I thought I saw something. If the floor decides to turn me into salsa, you and Carson finish the mission, got me?”
Lightfoot nodded, and Frank made his way over to the hole. Each step felt like an eternity in the making. He blew out a breath when he arrived in one piece. He leaned over the ledge and realized it was a huge opening in the wall. He marvelled at the three feet of concrete that the explosion ripped through like it was drywall. No vents were visible, nor ruptured pipes. Whatever, or more accurately, whoever did this, wanted to gain entry on this level for a reason.
Only one reason, and of course, it was bad. This would be the ideal floor to set explosives on if you wanted to take out the major systems and cripple the facility. Frank tilted his flashlight down and two hands reached up, grabbing his shoulders. His chest was pulled against some jagged pieces of rebar and he felt the breath knocked out of him. He struggled to reach for his FNP as a black tongue licked its lips in anticipation. Frank brought the gun around and blasted the thing in the face.
He felt the coolness of whatever was inside these things hit his hands and shivered. If he had any doubts about them being dead, they evaporated.
“Everything okay, Frank?” Lightfoot called out.
“I’m fine, one of those things was in here, caught me by surprise. I’ll be right back.”
“See, I told you there was another one on the loose,” Carson said, the smugness in his voice made Frank clench his teeth.
Instead, he kept his mouth shut and enjoyed the wide-open space in front of him. He glanced around at the damage of what used to be one of the launch tubes for the missile, but was now an empty spot they used to run wires and cables from the lower levels to the top. They designed it this way so that in case of an emergency, all systems would be backed up for a time.
From the looks of it, whoever did this was aware of the extra cables purpose and destroyed them. Someone who was not a member of the silo community. Someone who didn’t want the data to survive. Three repelling ropes dangled in the air. He checked the other two – empty.
Another hole similar to the one he hung out of could be seen lower down, flickers of light illuminated small parts of the darkness.
Frank pushed himself up and picked at the vent remnants beside him, it hadn’t exploded outward as he assumed. The metal bent inwards. The explosion was planned, though he wasn’t surprised. He also realized someone arranged it so if something happened elsewhere in the silo, various other explosions would be triggered. He caught sight of the front of his gear and grimaced. He rubbed off as much of the dead flesh as he could.
Frank walked back to the remaining two members of his team and sprinted to the exit door. He was so full of piss and vinegar it was going to take more than a pressure plate to kill him now.
Someone wanted him and his men not to succeed, something he didn’t like. Frank Monroe didn’t fail.