The door was tough. Being bent and off its track made its motors malfunction and useless. Its emergency release allowed us to push it, but we only dared to press slowly and cautiously, for fear of alerting the beast.
We hoped it had left. After all, it had been thirty minutes since the last bang-scrape-clang from the MCJ was audible. But there was no way of knowing without sticking our faces out and checking.
A dull low squeak climbed from the base of the door, as it ground along the edge of its track. A faint echo of the agonizing tone bounced back to my ears as I pushed, running a shiver along my spine.
Lin shook my shoulder, her head wobbling left and right. As my eyes met her face, she released a faint, “Shh.” Her eyes bulged with fear and annoyance.
I nodded back. About nine inches of empty space spanned the entrance, and it would have to do. I picked up a railing I had disassembled from one of the beds, and whispered, “It’s time.”
Gazing through the door’s opening, I felt like I had created a canyon. There was no going back. If the beast returned, it could toss the metal seal aside like paper, and we would be trapped and lined up like a buffet. But just the same, once we crossed the threshold into the open corridor, we’d be without any shelter or place to hide if the monster showed.
I gathered a deep breath for confidence. I pushed myself into the tight opening and released every molecule of air I had just take in so that I could fit. Halfway through, I jerked, and my ribs failed to follow. My lungs yelled to expand, but there was no room. I waved at Lin, but my face was stuck looking into the hallway. Did she see me?
My shoulder felt Lin’s hands and their push. I strained and pressed against the outside of the door. My ribs ached. My head pounded. My body inched. And inched. And inched. I popped out into the hall, sucking in an emergency gulp of air. Releasing it, I gulped in another. And the awareness of my location spiked the hairs all over my body.
I was out- really out, and I had no plan. Wait, I did have one. It came back to me. I planted my feet with slow and gentle steps, leaning for a peek into the MJC and beyond. Clear? At least as much as I can see.
I returned to the door and waved Lin out.
She paused and closed her eyes, before extending her bed rail to me, and diving into the crevice. I took the metal shaft and watched as Lin slid through. She traversed the gap almost effortlessly and in only a few seconds took back her weapon.
I flashed a thumbs up and a pair of raised eyebrows, which she returned.
Twenty meters separated the Infirmary entrance from the Main Complex Junction. To reach any real weapons or to use the complex’s communications systems we needed to go through there and get into the Communications and Terraform Control wing.
It’s just a little ways. Twenty meters, turn, twenty meters, turn, and straight ahead to the Armory. Piece of cake.
I marched forward with a delicate pace. Firm in my push and soft in my contact. Forward without stopping, I strode. I felt Lin behind me and led with my steps and my pace.
At the edge of the MCJ, I paused and crouched, scanning the immense space. Tables and chairs from the mess were scattered across the floor. Glass walls into the commissary and arcade had shattered to shards. The room was lit with interior lighting. No rays fell from the skylights. Darkness loomed above, and for the first time I saw frost on the far side of the barrier; red frozen beads of rain stood solid and still in the sub-zero exterior of the complex. There was no sign of the creature.
I nodded forward and rose. Stepping into the junction, I hugged the wall to the right and kept an even pace.
Keep going, keep going.
My eyes bounced over the room again and again.
I could have missed it. It could be anywhere in here.
Reaching the corner, I stopped and studied the CTC wing. The beast had been through here. Scratches and scars decorated the walls surrounding each door. And the Armory was a no-go. Its door was dented and off its track, as the Infirmary’s had been.
There was no time to work on that in the wide-open hallway, not now.
But beyond the Armory, the Communications entrance was pristine, and Lin worked there. She must have the code to open the door.
I tapped Lin on the shoulder, jolting her from her stare into the junction. She glared at me, and I pointed to the Comm entrance. She nodded.
Forward, step by step we drove onward. We passed the Armory, and my wants cried out for a rifle; a bright and shiny rifle to blow those things away in a beautiful blue blast of plasma. I grit my teeth and kept moving. Reaching the Comm entrance, I stood aside. I flexed my fingers along their grip of the six-foot composite pole. I looked at the weapon and imagined cracking it over the beasts head and knocking it to the floor. Shit, I wonder if this would even hurt those things.
Looking up, I saw Lin staring awkwardly at the control panel. She mouthed words to me, It’s already open.
Stepping left toward the entrance, Lin halted as the door was sucked into the wall. With a rush of adrenaline, I jumped inside. The end was in sight. Safety, and freedom from worrying about the beast. Lin joined me, and the door slid shut behind her.
“Thank God,” I said, exhaling stress.
Four rows of white interactive desks faced Lin and me. A large window formed the left wall, blocked by the two-inch security shell. At the back of the room were two offices, with doors open.
“Yes,” Lin said, setting her pole on the closest desk. “That was the worst thing I’ve ever done.”
Her pole wobbled and rolled. Its end hung over the edge of the desk and slid. Clink, it tapped the floor and pulled the rest of itself down, Clang-ang-ang.
Lin and I jumped and swung ourselves around in a circle, until from the back office on the right, the smash of a desk chair toppling over focused our attention.
“Shit,” I swung my rod forward and pointed it as if I knew what I was going to do.
Lin took a step toward her pole and froze, as a head emerged from the room.
Followed by shoulders and a dozen legs, the black furry face of German Shepherd Dog flowed into the room. Its teeth drooled a dark purple ooze from its altitude of four feet in the air. Its legs spread with spines from their joints and at their ends, claw-tipped tentacles punched holes in the floor as it crossed the room. It growled, vibrating the tables it neared.
“Get back here,” I told Lin.
She leaned back and sprinted at the door.
The beast leaped forward, onto the desks, and bounding toward Lin. It touched down on the second row, the closest row, and into the air, he sprang toward Lin.
Lin reached the door and slammed her hand into the panel. As it slid open, she was face to face with a pair of men with plasma rifles. They aimed into the room, as Lin squealed and dropped to the floor.
The monster landed next to Lin and launched itself at her, as blue light and waves of rotating blue energy tore into the room, making contact with the airborne creature.