Frank pushed open the exit letting his momentum carry him through to the landing. Lightfoot followed by Carson and a loud explosion. All three fell to the ground from the force, but didn’t suffer any serious injuries.
“What the hell was that? A little warning would have been nice,” Carson yelled.
“We’re out, you’re alive, and as far as I see it, you have no reason to be bitching.” Frank stood and checked his SCAR. “Let’s get moving, we don’t have time to waste.” Frank took the steps three at a time to the door of Level 4.
He pulled it open, his mind unprepared for the horrors on the other side.
The silo, designed to be self-sustaining in case of emergency had what they called a “green room.” An entire floor dedicated to growing vegetables and spices, as well as an area where they kept chickens and goats.
The smell of manure was to be expected, the sight of a few of the “greens keepers” also expected. No need to put them down, the security measure on this floor was acid in the sprinkler system. The ground smoldered around the bodies of some of the employees. Special lights managed to stay lit and it illuminated bits of fur and feathers floating around the room.
“Great, what do we have to deal with now?” Carson asked.
Frank took a breath before answering. “Well, we don’t need to worry about any of those things here, but we do have to figure out a way to get across the room before getting soaked with sulphuric acid.”
“You have some serious issues, man,” Carson said.
Frank ignored the comment, but had to agree. The loss of his family had changed him, and not for the better. He tossed out his moral compass and exchanged it for the ability not to give a damn about those he hurt. He wondered if he ever went too far, or if he covered up his loneliness with a few too many drinks to “help” him sleep. Not that it mattered now; they were going to die, so thinking about the past was pointless.
Lightfoot poked his head in front of Frank. “Looks like they set them off, or is this more pressure plate stuff?” he said as he pointed toward the goopy piles of people and animals that once were.
“Worse,” Frank said, “motion sensors, they’ll keep going off.”
Carson kicked the door behind them. “Dammit, you knew we couldn’t get past this level and you made us come down here anyway.”
Frank turned and grabbed Carson. He shoved him against the door and put the full weight of his body into Carson as he pressed. “Listen, you little prick, you used to be a good team member, and then you went and got yourself screwed up on drugs and gambling. I could care less if you make it out of here, but if you do anything to jeopardize my life, or screw this mission up, I will put you in the ground myself. Got me?”
Frank didn’t ease his hold until Carson nodded imperceptibly. Frank made sure to watch him for a few seconds in case the guy tried to take him from behind. When it seemed he was going to do as told, Frank went back to surveying the room.
When he designed this particular deterrent, he’d just returned from installing a security system for his boss in which he wanted thieves to be marked permanently in some way so they could be tracked down no matter how long it took.
Frank came up with the idea of acid, and it morphed into what he looked at now. Who would think the most dangerous level to breach in a secret compound would be where they grew carrots. He made sure to leave a wide gap of eight feet in front of each door so the person or persons entering would feel safe. Once the system was triggered, those sprayed would panic and essentially run over those behind them in an effort to get out. Though it wouldn’t matter, after being set off, the sprinklers hit every square inch of the floor.
All he needed to remember was the safety mechanism. They installed one when doing this level, because the first time it malfunctioned, they had a hard time explaining to certain people why their husband or wife who did agricultural work, died under mysterious circumstances and needed to be cremated.
For the first time, he cursed his standards. When they installed the mechanism and programmed the code, he asked not to be made aware of them because he didn’t want to risk being a security breach. At this moment, Frank would have given anything to go back in time and let the designers tell him.
“I’m not asking to piss you off, but is he right? Is there no way to get across this one?” Lightfoot asked in a quiet voice.
“There’s always a way. Fool proof doesn’t exist.” Frank eyed the area closest to him taking in everything, looking for a hidden panel or a switch that didn’t belong. Nothing stuck out and he growled in frustration.
Frank took another step forward, still within the eight-foot area. Emergency lights were on, but there was additional lighting for some reason. Could be part of the motion sensor system, or the indicator needed to determine where they were. He glanced up at the rows of plastic covered halogen tubes and wondered.
“Lightfoot, give me a lift, would you?” Frank asked.
A second later, he was kneeling on the shoulders of Lightfoot tearing off the light covering. Sure enough, he found a security panel inside. A keypad waited for him to plug in the right set of numbers to deactivate the system.
Frank knew time was of the essence, but he didn’t know how many tries he had before the sprinklers went off. Maybe, just one time or three, he didn’t know. He should have asked to kneel on Carson’s shoulders and told Lightfoot to wait in the hallway. However, Carson would probably drop him.
Frank opted to keep his worries to himself and punched in his employee ID as if he knew the solution. A red dot appeared and the silver colored sprinklers lowered from the ceiling.
Frank slipped a bit. “Try to keep it steady, Lightfoot, or we’re all going to be turned into human soup.”
The screen cleared and he punched in his passcode for entry to high security floors. Another red light and the little spur like heads started to spin. There were three bulbs; he knew one more wrong guess and they were toast.
“Get down from there before you kill us all. I don’t give a damn about this mission, but right now the only one jeopardizing it is you,” Carson yelled.
Frank went to punch in another number when a voice called out to them.
“Wait, I know the code,” a muffled female voice echoed from somewhere.
Frank pulled his FNP and almost fell off Lightfoot, who in the meantime tried not to drop his boss while drawing his M4.
“Who the hell are you, and more importantly, where the hell are you?” Frank demanded.
“I’m in the storage shed, last structure on the right. My name is Selena Harrison.”
Frank didn’t trust her. Someone appearing out of nowhere with the code, not to mention she survived the acid spray, reeked of a set-up.
“Anyone else in there with you?” Frank asked as he jumped off Lightfoot’s shoulders.
“It’s just me, I think the acid killed all of those… things…and the animals too,” Selena said with sadness.
Frank huddled with Carson and Lightfoot. “I don’t know if we can trust her, seems off to me. What do you guys think?” Frank asked, more interested in Lightfoot’s opinion.
“We don’t have a choice. I don’t see why she would lie to us. She’d be stuck in here when the acid started to spray again if she gave us the wrong set of numbers,” Lightfoot pointed out.
Frank didn’t mention the woman wouldn’t know the code if she worked in the agricultural area. Either Selena was part of the higher echelon of Sunset Inc., or she was something else altogether.
“Alright, give me the code,” Frank yelled as he hefted himself back onto Lightfoot’s shoulders.
Selena called out, “Four, seven, three, eight.”
Frank keyed them in and watched the red dots turn green and the acid sprayers return to their spot in the ceiling. He jumped down with his FNP at the ready. Carson and Lightfoot followed his lead.
“Ms. Williams, step out, please.” Frank aimed at the structure she claimed to be in.
The men waited a few moments as they heard several loud sounds and grunts come from the general direction of the remnants of the building. They watched as a tall woman with red hair and a gas mask came out of the room with her hands raised. She wore a black skirt that ended right above her knees and a white lab coat over an ivory colored blouse. Something about the way she moved set Frank on edge. She had a little too much confidence for someone who sounded so scared a few moments ago. He ignored the part of him admiring her figure.
“I’m not armed, so you can put your weapons down,” she said.
Frank pretended he didn’t hear her comment. He walked forward and as he neared the middle of the room, he saw half-eaten carcasses of animals in some of the structures in which the acid hadn’t melted the roof away entirely. This upset him; if he ever used this technique again, he would use a stronger substance so there was no chance of survival. For all he knew, there was an army of infiltrators waiting to jump out at him. He peered over his shoulder and motioned for Lightfoot to check things out.
When Frank was three feet from the woman, he realized she didn’t have any dirt on her, but several smudges of something black, like soot. Her fingers and nails were bloody and torn, and for the life of him, he had no explanation for his desire to tend to them. Women, he’d always been a sucker for a damsel in distress. The fact this particular one might be waiting for him to get close enough to stab him was an afterthought.
“What happened to your hands?” Frank asked.
“When the place went into lockdown we tried to calm the animals, but they were acting strange…like they were afraid of us. Then Charlie turned to me, threw up blood, fell to the ground, and convulsed. Mary and I went over to help. We thought he was having a seizure or something. He bit her and all of a sudden, Glenn came lumbering after us. We tried to run away, but Mary started to shake and stumbled to the ground grabbing her stomach.” Selena seemed lost in thought, so Frank gave her a moment before urging her to continue.
Selena fidgeted with the ripped part of a pocket and switched her weight from foot to foot. Frank noticed her heels and downgraded her threat to about a four. People in their line of work regardless of gender wore appropriate footwear. The only reason he kept her as high as a four was she might want to appear defenseless, and he tended to have terrible taste in women, hence his not dating them.
Her eyes cleared and she spoke, “Anyway, I saw the whole situation deteriorating fast, so I locked myself in the storage shed. Then the screams turned to moans. The ceiling above me started to melt and crack, so I pulled all the shelving that I could find over me. I figured the rescue team was on its way and here you are,” she finished with a smile.
Frank had so many questions, but too little time to ask everything, so he started with the obvious. “Why were you wearing a gas mask and not the others?”
“Oh, Mary was wearing one too. I assume the bite infected her. We had them on because of allergies to be honest. We were filling in for two people who called in sick today. Normally, we’re down in the med lab helping out, but Dr. Watkins said something went wrong and we needed to come up here,” Selena said with a sincere smile.
Frank wanted to believe her, but she knew the code and they didn’t, even though that was Frank’s fault. She would have known they weren’t the rescue crew based on that alone – if she was the suspicious type. The name Watkins rang a bell. If he remembered right, he was the guy testing on people. More questions for a later time. For now, they needed to move forward.
“I can leave you here or you can come with us, but I’m warning you, don’t slow me down, don’t get in my way, and do exactly what I say. And please tell me you know how to use a gun.” Frank looked at her with a raised brow.
“Come on, boss, we’ll take her with us for some fun,” Carson snickered.
Lightfoot punched him and returned to his ready stance.
Carson glared at him. “I’ll get you for that, prick.”
Lightfoot laughed. “Right, in your dreams, junkie”
“Alright boys, we have work to do and limited time to do it. Selena, those things you saw are all over the place. I have no idea what they are, but I think you’ll be safe here,” Frank explained.
Selena scrunched up her face. “That doesn’t make sense. If you keep going down, how are we going to get out?”
“I’m hoping to figure that out after we reach our target. Now let’s go. Selena, it’s your call if you come or not, either way you’re going to need this.” He handed her an M4 and made sure to switch it to a three round burst. “Make sure you don’t freak out and unload all your ammo in one go, and try to aim for the head,” Frank warned.
Selena laughed. “Right, stay calm when someone you’ve known for years vomits blood and then tries to eat you, got it.”
Frank quirked a grin at her and shook his head. At least she had a sense of humor about the whole thing. He walked to the end of the room and entered the stairwell. Level 5 was next and he sighed in relief, an office floor. Rows and rows of cubicles, full of scientists and their assistants, papers and computers, but that was okay, the security measure would be helpful for a change.
* * *
Marshall watched his screens show him the progress of his plan. So far, things hadn’t gone as smooth as hoped, but his people were prepared for the unexpected, and he’d helped as much as he could. The dead rising was most definitely a surprise, but interesting.
He punched the intercom. “Get the computers ready for a link up, my secret weapon is going to be in the server room soon and I want everything ready.”
A smile crossed his face as both groups moved forward, bound to meet in the middle, and then have nowhere to go. That’s when things would get ugly, and oh, how he looked forward to that.
* * *
Arthur took on the mantle of group leader, unwanted as it was, but since it was only Smith, it didn’t really matter. He tried to keep an eye open in case Benson popped up, but figured the guy was out saving himself, to hell with the rest of them.
“Arthur, what do you think we need to worry about on this floor?” Smith asked him.
He stayed his hand on the knob and wondered. “I really have no idea, Dixon didn’t either. Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it.” He smiled in order to reassure her, but knew he failed.
Then he asked himself why he cared, he didn’t trust her after the Dixon incident. Hell, he didn’t trust anyone. For all he knew, the whole lot of them were working for outside sources and he was the dimwitted scientist in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The handle twisted and he pulled open the door to reveal Level 11 as slowly as possible. The lights in the room were bright and arranged in neat lines along the ceiling. Inside were rows and rows of mainframes taller than he was and almost as wide. Most had smoke rising from them, and he was thankful for the first time that he had something on to protect himself from the toxic fumes.
A soft glow came from several spots along the ceiling and Arthur assumed it had something to do with the computers systems, or more likely the security measure. As he held the Sig in front of him, he eyed the panels. Dixon mentioned they would have shut down and erased all data so anyone who broke in with the express purpose of stealing their secrets would have done it in vain. Arthur asked himself again what type of people he was working for. Security measures, protecting their information to the extreme, sure no one liked their stuff hacked, but it happens.
His thoughts went back to the lights and he wondered about the ones glowing softly. Arthur stopped to listen when they reached a blind corner. The last thing he wanted was to be taken by surprise. With a quick move, he peered around and saw a contaminated hunched over the body of someone in a black suit.
Slurping sounds and other sucking noises came his way and Arthur forced his stomach to calm. He glanced around the corner once again and saw another contaminated a few feet away holding a head in his lap and sticking its fingers in eye sockets to get at the grey matter inside. Arthur didn’t know if they took down two people or decapitated one, but didn’t want to look at the grisly scene any longer. No matter how much he saw today, he would not become desensitized to it, to do so would be handing over his humanity, and at this rate, that was the only thing he had left.
Arthur moved back and put a finger to his lips, Smith nodded. Arthur stepped out and aimed carefully. The one closest, hit the ground with a slam, as the rounds exited through its forehead. The second one didn’t lift its head from the meal in its lap, unconcerned with anything but the gooey goodness, it reached further inside the skull.
Another round, and another contaminated on the ground. Arthur moved forward wondering why someone was suited up in here. He shone his light up and down the aisles, and in crevices until he was sure nothing lurked in the shadows.
“Benson must have raced through here,” Smith said.
Arthur nodded, but didn’t think so. The lights on some of the panels blinked and were clean of dust in some areas as if someone had used them recently. Arthur went to one and tried to access the menu. Once more, he faced the dreaded C: prompt and got nothing in return. Whatever the man did concerned him, but what was more worrisome was the trap awaiting them on the next level. The one on this level hadn’t gone off or Benson knew how to turn it off. If that was the case, they owed him one for not turning it back on and screwing them over. Arthur decided to call them based on what Benson did to Dixon.
He examined the server and realized heavy coated wires went into the ceiling and then into the walls up to another set to back up the information on. At first, he thought two rooms was overkill, but after seeing all the samples and experiments they were doing, he wondered if there wasn’t a third room hidden somewhere. Of course, the wires might lead to somewhere on the surface as well, Arthur didn’t believe for a second that Sunset Inc. would be running these kind of experiments and willing to erase the data in an emergency. A scientist always keeps a backup, and a backup of their backup.
“Let’s get out of here.” Arthur started walking toward the door when Smith tugged on his arm.
Arthur slowed down and stared at her with a questioning look. She pointed and he followed the direction of her arm. Off in the corner a man in a suit huddled against the wall. He seemed unaware of their presence rocking back and forth, as he mumbled.
Smith, on her way over tried to get his attention by using a calm assertive voice. Arthur jogged to catch up, not sure what to expect, after what the man had been through. Chances were high he’d react with violence of some kind.
“Careful, he’s in shock.” Arthur skidded to a stop next to Smith as she laid a hand on the man’s shoulder.
He twisted violently and then stopped as he pulled off his mask. “Are you here to help me? The others went crazy. I was just cutting through to get to the labs and there was an explosion–”
Arthur interrupted the mile a minute rambling of the man. “Put your mask back on, we’re pretty sure whatever’s happening to everyone is airborne.”
The man stared at his mask, then over at the bodies. Tears formed in his eyes as he dropped it to the floor. “It’s too late for me, you should kill me now. I don’t want to live after what I saw. They ripped his head clear off. They moaned like they were in pain and then…and then they started eating him.”
The man closed his eyes and Arthur noted the tag on his suit read Jones. “Look, Jones. I know you’re scared, but we’re not about to kill you for the hell of it. Not to mention you can help us. There’s supposed to be some sort of trap on this floor, do you know what it is?”
Jones kept his head down as he answered, “Yeah, it was set off by those things. Some sort of gas, that’s why I threw on my mask. Otherwise, I would have been infected like them.”
Arthur knelt next to the man. Jones’s face was paling in the dim light and the energy in him diminishing by the second. “Jones, can you tell me what kind of tests they’ve been doing here? Human trials? Something that could have caused this to happen?”
Jones jerked his head at the barrage of questions. “They told us it was for the benefit of mankind. That we’d be making history. My specialty was in cancer research. They gave my assistant and me a lab, some unique compounds, and told us to get to work generating formulas. I thought I was making the right decision, until–”
“Until what?” Arthur grabbed the man and shook him. Nothing happened.
“Arthur, back up,” Smith warned.
“What? He has answers, answers I need!” Arthur yelled.
“Back the hell up, now.”
Arthur turned his head in time to avoid the first globs of blood mixed with other fluids expelled by Jones. Seconds later, he convulsed on the floor and then moved no more. Smith fired her Walther P99 into the doctor’s head and walked away.
“How long did it take for him to get infected?” Arthur asked.
Smith turned on him with angry eyes. “Does it matter? This crap is in the air. If we open the hatch up top, we’re going to be releasing it into the world. We have an obligation to protect them. We should stay here.”
Arthur wanted to argue. Tell her she was wrong. But he knew the truth. All they could do was try to gather as much information as possible, though he was only kidding himself by doing that. An activity to keep him distracted from counting down the minutes until his mask crapped out and let in the contaminant.
“You’re right, but I think we owe it to those who are coming to rescue us to kill as many of these…these…whatever they are.” Arthur motioned to the pile of bodies.
“Screw that, I said we should stay here, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to. I didn’t create this mess, so I don’t see why I have to be the one to die because of it. You, on the other hand—
“Me? What the hell did I do? I ran one test and all of a sudden, this is my fault? I want to get out of here as much as you do. I have no intention of dying here if it can be avoided,” Arthur argued.
“Fine, Level 10 is next; it’s where all the scientist offices are according to the map.”
“More offices? Hell, they might as well of made this a high rise for all the damn offices in here,” Arthur tried to lighted the mood.
Smith pushed the door and made her way up the stairs. Arthur took one last look at Jones and sighed.