Vera’s footsteps echoed through the halls as she ran, her breathing filling her ears along with her pounding heart. Shrieks in the distance made her jump and her grip on her gun tightened even though she knows it’s out of bullets.
Red and blue lights flashed wildly, creating strange shadows across the metallic walls. Signs and arrows on the walls flew by as she ran, but the lights made them difficult to read. Stopping to catch her breath, Vera read the closest sign.
“Hydrogeology, Hydrokinetics, Hydroponics…water labs? Shit!” Vera pulled out a flashlight and a small map. Her eyes searched the collection of papers. “That means I’m somewhere in the center and if I take the next left I should…should pass the Core Chamber.”
A sharp pain in her neck sent a shock through her. The flashlight fell to the floor and she slapped her hand to her neck. Blood from a deep wound quickly soaked her glove.
“Gotta keep moving.” She grabbed the flashlight and put it and the map away. She ran forward, taking the first left she saw. The hallway stretched on and on, but soon it opened into an enormous circular room.
The room was one hundred yards across and stretched high above and below. Every level of the compound could be seen. A faint blue light shone down from above, providing enough light to see. Vera wasted little time sight seeing and ran around the large circular opening. There should be stairs five hallways to the right.
If the emergency systems hadn’t locked them down.
Reaching the hallway, Vera paused grabbing her flashlight and peering into the dark stairwell. The doors were open and the stairs looked stable.
Roars echoed suddenly around the chamber. Vera turned and saw shadows moving on the other levels, drawn to her light. She turned back to the stairs only to see something large crash down from above, blocking the stairs.
Cursing, Vera ran towards a different hallway, not daring to stay long enough for the shadows to catch up to her. Even as her thoughts filled with keeping distance, she could hear them reaching her level. She turned down different hallways, attempting to confuse them.
“Vera? Vera, come in!” a voice called from her pocket.
Reaching into her pocket, Vera placed the small earpiece into her ear, feeling something wet on her ear and cheek. She realized the blood on her glove was still damp and she quickly removed it. She smeared blood down the beginning of one hallway and threw the glove as far as she could before turning down the opposite hall.
“Come in, Vera. Are you there?” the voice called again.
Vera tapped the earpiece once, activating the microphone. “Sam! Thank God you’re alive.”
“Vera,” relief filled Sam’s voice and a small laugh echoed in Vera’s ear. “You’re still…we found your crew. We thought the worst until your tracker suddenly showed back up on our scanner. Where are you?”
“I just passed through the Core Chamber on Level T, but I’ve got a group of them on me. I’m doing my best to shake ‘em, but not having very good luck.”
“But other than that you’re all right, right?”
Vera fell silent and her hand rose to her neck.
“Vera, you’re all right, aren’t you?” Sam asked.
“I… Shit!” Vera groaned in frustration as she hit a dead end. She quickly turned and retraced her steps back to the last hallway crossing. “Where are you, Sam?”
A brief pause before his answer made Vera aware he wouldn’t forget she hadn’t answered his question. “We found a possible exit back up to the surface, but its only access point is on the maintenance level of the entire compound. You just passed through the Core Chamber? Vera, you need to get down here.”
“All the stairs on this level are either locked down or destroyed. I’m making my way through the hallways, but I’m in unfamiliar territory and don’t know any other way down.” Vera swallowed a lump in her throat. “Unless I head back to the Core Chamber and try to climb down.”
“You wouldn’t make it down before they got you,” Sam interjected. He spoke quickly to someone out of range of his microphone. “All right. Vera, look around you for any sign with your exact location. We’ll see if we can find another way for you to get down here.”
Vera slowed her pace enough to read the next few signs. Her eyes locked immediately to one with large yellow letters and numbers. “Okay, here we go. I’m Level T Sector 45…”
“What is it?”
“This is strange. Beneath the Level and Sector it usually states the nearest stairwell. The last stairwell I saw was ST 25, but on this sign it says EX 60. What does that mean?”
“Yes!” Sam exclaimed happily. “We lucked out. Vera, follow those EX numbers. You have to get to T-45-1. The EX means there’s an emergency stairwell in that sector and you’re heading straight for it. The number indicates how far you are from it in meters. It’s one of the few stairwells that’ll take you directly to the maintenance level.”
“Sixty meters? Even if I make it to the stairwell, there’s no way I’ll make it all the way down to you. They’re getting closer!”
“You’ll make it. I know you will.”
Slowing her run, Vera placed her hand on her neck. “Sam, I have to tell you something…”
“It can wait until we’re out of here. Keep going until you reach T-45-1. The stairwell should be clearly marked. Be careful.”
Before Vera can respond the line cuts out. Strong emotions filled her and she slammed a fist against the wall. She stormed down the hallway, her eyes searching the walls for every sign.
T-45-55. T-45-54. T-45-53.
Running and running, the hallways blurred as she ran. The sounds behind her grew closer no matter how fast she ran.
Her foot slammed into something and she fell to the cold, hard floor. Quickly crawling to her feet, she glanced behind to see a body torn in half. The scraps of cloth on the floor belonged to a lab coat.
It must’ve been one of the many scientists and judging by how hard the body was when Vera tripped over it the person died hours before. But it might still give her a little more time. They didn’t seem to mind eating the dead.
Turning down another long hallway, Vera’s eyes caught sight of the next sign. T-45-44. She was making progress.
She heard roars from behind as her pursuers found the body. She pushed herself faster, trying to gain additional distance. She recognized the layout now. Every level was similar with small changes depending on the needs of the levels, but overall they ended up still being the same.
Reaching T-45-31, Vera stopped to rest. Her legs ached and her lungs burned. Sweat rolled down her forehead and her uniform clung to her body. She leaned against the wall and rested her head against the cool metal. The dead body wasn’t going to keep them busy long, but at least her neck wound finally stopped bleeding.
She dropped her gun and took off her bulletproof vest. The weight was only slowing her down and even if she had bullets, they were useless if she couldn’t see her targets.
Her neck stung as sweat rolled across the sensitive skin and Vera’s eyes teared up. What was she going to do? What was she going to tell Sam? How could she tell Sam?
Soft static came from her earpiece. “You have to keep moving, Vera,” Sam’s voice whispered in her ear.
Vera clenched her fists and opened her eyes. “Sam, I really need to tell you—”
“When you get here we’ll talk, but not until then. Keep moving.” The static cut out.
Taking a deep breath, Vera pushed herself from the wall and moved forward. Damage on the walls and doors showed the results of fighting. Burn marks from fire and bullets as well as long tears in the metal grew more frequent as she moved.
Turning a corner quickly, sparks flew at her from a loose cable. Vera barely managed to keep herself from running right into the live wire. She ducked low to the ground and passed safely beneath. She hoped if any were following the cable would manage to shock a few.
She didn’t know how long she ran, but soon her eyes caught sight of the signs. T-45-5. Rereading it to be sure she wasn’t delusional, Vera smiled with laughter. She could make it. She sprints down the hallway, her gasps growing louder and louder.
T-45-4. T-45-3. T-45-2.
A lighted doorway stood open with arrows only visible in the emergency lighting pointing in. Vera quickly ran inside and searched the inside of the doorway for a way to close the door. She pushed a large red button and the door slammed shut.
Relief flooded her and, even though the stairwell was dark, she felt far safer inside than back out with the flashing lights. She reached out until her fingers found the railing and she peered down. Light from the bottom floor could be seen and she took out her flashlight. She leads with the small circle of light and began the climb down.
She was on Level T, which meant she had to go down seven flights to reach Sam and the others.
A slam on the door she closed made her jump and Vera hoped the door was strong enough to keep them out. The slam was followed by several smaller thumps and scratching. She quickened her pace down the stairs, passing two levels when a terrifying thought revealed itself.
The doors from the other levels were still open.
She quickly ran up to the two doors she’d already passed and pressed the buttons to close them, but a sound from above proved her effort useless.
The sound of clawed feet rushing down the stairs sent a shock of terror through her. She had no weapon and she still had five floors to go. She quickened her pace, but as she made it one more level down, something blocked her path. She shown her flashlight in front of her and saw something had blown the door and debris across the stairs. She couldn’t get past.
Gripping the railing, she quickly glanced over the edge. It was a clear shot down, nothing obstructing her. She risked a glance up and saw movement getting closer.
“This is a stupid idea,” she whispered to herself as she swung her legs over the railing, resting her butt on the top. She carefully turned herself around as the sound of growling and clawed footsteps grew closer.
Taking a few deep breaths, she pushed herself from the railing down to the opposite railing a level lower. She did it again, nearly missing and falling four floors, but her hands caught hold of the railings. A roar from above preceded the sound of something rushing past behind her.
Vera screamed as claws tore into her back and her grip loosened. She fell, readying her body for the impact of the concrete below, but the body of the creature that fell before her softened her landing. Judging from the screech it made when she landed, it had survived. Thinking quickly, Vera pulled out a knife and turned, stabbing the thing in the head, or what she hoped was the head with the light still too faint to see. It jerked once before falling limp and she sighed. She rolled off and stood, not realizing she’d rolled beneath the lower stairs.
Her vision blackened as she slammed her head into the concrete and she fell to the ground. Before falling unconscious, her eyes regained focus and she stared into the reptilian eyes of the creature that had been chasing her. She could see her reflection in its large golden eyes and almost thought she saw her own eyes mimic the beast’s reptilian slits.
Then the world faded away.
* * *
“It’s a Code Red Evacuation alert. Everyone up and at ‘em,” Sam yelled across the room.
As though to emphasize his point, alarms rang loudly. Dozens of bodies climbed from their beds and dressed. Vera was one of the first ready and hurried to Sam.
“What’s the cause? Gas leak? Fire?”
Shaking his head, Sam stood to the side to allow the others passage. “We don’t know for sure yet, but your father was throwing around the big ‘T’ word.”
Vera’s heart pounded and she leaned close to Sam so he could hear her whisper over the alarms. “Terrorist? Really?”
“We’ll find out soon enough. Let’s go, Vera.”
The world around her darkened, but Vera could still hear Sam’s voice.
“Vera. Come on. Wake up! You’ve got to wake up!”
Jerking awake, Vera stared up into Sam’s worried face. “Sam?”
Pulling her into a tight hug, Sam released a loud rush of air. “Thank God! I thought for a moment that thing got you. I saw the blood and was convinced you were dead.”
Releasing her, Sam shone his flashlight to the floor. Vera saw the dead body she’d landed on before she spotted the small puddle of blood where her head had been. She raised a hand to her head and winced at a sharp pain. When she pulled her hand away it had blood on it.
“I should be dead,” she whispered.
“It’s not bleeding anymore. That’s from the puddle,” Sam said as he placed a hand on Vera’s head. He flashed his light at her and his eyes scanned the damage. “You banged your head pretty good, but the cut isn’t deep.”
Eyeing the dead creature, Vera placed a hand at her throat. “I don’t think there were anymore following me. But this bastard got a good chunk from my back.”
“Shallow cuts, as well. Come on,” He helped Vera to her feet, “we have to head to where the others are. They’ll be worried.”
Hesitating, Vera avoided Sam’s eyes. “I have to tell you something.”
He took her hand and led her out of the stairwell, her eyes briefly catching a glimpse of a sign with the word maintenance in large letters. “I won’t tell the others. If they ask, you got it when you fell down the stairs. It’s a scratch, nothing more.”
“But…” Vera trailed off, unable to find the right words.
“I promised your father to get you out alive. I’m going to keep it. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter.”
They hurried through the dark hallways. The maintenance level, unlike the rest of the compound had metal walkways and piping along the walls. Beneath the walkways were more piping and wiring with cement flooring beneath. The emergency lights were red and made it harder to see except for a lighted path along the edges of the walkways pulsating towards emergency exits.
Sam pulled Vera behind him, expertly navigating and ignoring the direction of the pulsating lights. Soon voices could be heard further ahead and he stopped, quickly turning to Vera.
“Let me cover up that…mark before we get closer.” He pulled some bandages and gauze from his pack and quickly covered the wound on Vera’s neck. “Don’t need them to see the damage.”
A sharp pain sent an involuntary twitch through Vera’s body. Sam flinched and jerked back, staring at her. Vera saw fear fill his eyes for a split second before Sam regained his composure. Her heart dropped.
Seeing how his reaction affected her, Sam grabbed her and pulled her into a hug. “It’s going to be all right. We’re getting out of here and we’re going to find a way to help you.”
Vera carefully raised her arms and squeezed Sam back. Her neck ached and she closed her eyes.
You’re mine, a voice echoed in her mind. Her thoughts filled with everything that happened since the first alarm sounded and tears threatened to form. She fought them back and pulled away from Sam.
“Let’s go,” she whispered, afraid if she spoke any louder she’d lose her composure.
Nodding, Sam took her hand and headed in the direction of the voices. Turning the corner, Vera could see at the end of the hallway seven people, two women and five men, standing around a door. One man and woman are dressed in regular clothes while the rest wore the same uniform as Vera and Sam.
Two of the men in uniform stood on either side of the door, struggling to open it. Vera recognized Greg’s vibrant red hair, made even more so with the emergency lights, as he rammed into the door. Allen searched the sides of the door for anyway to loosen it or dismantle it.
“Are you sure it’s a way out?” Vera asked.
“Well, as sure as we can be,” Sam answered.
As they approach, everyone in the group besides Allen and Greg look up at them. Erin, the other woman in uniform, gripped the small computer on her lap, the light from the screen lighting up her face. She smiled at Vera, relieved to see her alive. Dried blood on her arms and abdomen don’t appear to be from any wounds and Vera fights the urge to ask whom it belonged to.
“Look who finally decided to join us in the basement of horrors,” one of the men said smirking.
“Not the time, Jason,” Sam warned.
Jason shrugged his shoulders, wiping a trail of blood from a cut above his eye. “It’s not far from the truth. We’ve no idea what’s on the other side of this door. It could be a closet for all we know.”
“It’s not a closet, according to the map it’s an exit,” Erin said.
“What’s the situation with the door? Are we closer to getting it open?” Sam asked.
“When the emergency systems turned on all of the doors in and out of this place were sealed off.”
“We already know that, but why would the emergency exits be sealed off?”
“I was getting to that.” Erin held up her computer screen for everyone to see. “Every emergency system has its own set of rules and protocols, but there’s only two that seal off all emergency exits.”
Vera felt eyes on her and she looked towards the man and woman in civilian clothing. The woman’s eyes were glued to Vera’s neck.
“And they are?”
“Quarantine and…” Erin hesitated, “and Irreversible Contamination.”
“What?” Sam demanded.
“If this was simply a Quarantine System our codes would be able to open the emergency exits,” Erin continued.
“But?” Vera asked.
Jason threw his hands up in the air. “But our codes don’t do shit down here. Which means no one can leave unless the higher ups on the surface give the all clear or all biologics cease.” He laughed, covering the fear in his voice. “As someone once said in a similar situation: ‘Game over, man.’”
“That was a movie,” the other uniformed man said, his deep, monotone voice hiding any emotion or thoughts.
“Still the same situation. We’re fucked, Roy.”
“What happened to your neck?” the woman in civilian clothes asked suddenly. She walked towards Vera, never taking her eyes off the bandages.
“I was scratched when I fell four stories down a stairwell. And you are?” Vera asked.
“Kara and Jacob. They refuse to give us last names. We found them huddled under a table in the pharmaceutical labs,” Sam said. He turned back to Erin. “Is there a way to open the door via a programming loophole in the protocols?”
“Not unless you want to open every door in this building, giving those things a way out.” Erin wiped sweat from her forehead, leaving a smear of blood from her glove.
Kara stopped a few feet from Vera, her eyes still boring into the bandage on her neck. Vera tried to ignore the woman, but she could hear Kara’s breathing quickening.
“Or giving people a way in to be food for them,” Jason added.
“All we have is this door between us and freedom.” Sam watched Allen and Greg slam their hands or kick the door in frustration. “Have we at least found out if this is really an exit?”
“It’s not listed in the main system, but I found an old blueprint of the first three floors, including maintenance level. It’s not very detailed, but it may show what’s on the other side of this wall,” Erin said.
“Keep searching those blueprints. I’m going to check in with Allen and Greg and see how close we are to getting through that door. Wherever it leads, it’s our best chance to escape.” Sam patted Erin on the shoulder as he passed her. When he reached Allen and Greg the two stopped and the three spoke quickly.
Exhaustion swept over Vera, being in the company of her comrades calming her. She collapsed to the floor, leaning her back against the wall. Her eyes drooped lazily, but the eyes watching her kept Vera alert.
Kara strained against Jacob’s arm resting across her shoulder. He struggled to keep the woman close, but she dragged him closer to Vera with surprising strength. She stopped in front of Vera, towering over her like a statue.
“It’s not a scratch,” Kara said, her voice shaking. “You were bitten.”
“It’s a scratch,” Vera said, raising her eyes to meet Kara’s.
“You’re lying. You were bitten,” Kara’s voice rose in volume, “They go for the neck when they bite. It’s the best place for injecting the venom. You’re going to turn into one of them!”
Jacob desperately tried to pull her back. “Kara, be quiet.”
“No, no, I won’t be quiet! She’s been bitten! She’s been bitten!” Kara screamed.
Strong hands grab the frantic woman and drag her away. Kara’s wide terrified eyes meet Sam’s as he slapped her across the face. “I saw the mark, Kara. It was made with claws, not fangs. If you continue to scream and draw attention to us I’ll be forced to hit you again, harder.”
Tearing herself from Sam’s grip, Kara placed a hand on her sore cheek. “Then let’s see it.”
“No. There are more important things happening right now besides playing into your crazed paranoia. Let me also tell you this bit of important information about me. I only give one warning. If I have to tell you to be silent again, I’ll forego hitting and just shoot you.”