On forum: 11/21/2008
We moved through the open workspace, Evgeny taking point, me moving up behind and keeping to one side to ensure a clear field of fire. Nothing moved or made a sound. It was hard to believe that there were any other living creatures here, yet I knew that there had to be a few snorks around at the very least.
At the corner, I moved into position so I could cover both arms of the rough L, ensuring I kept an eye on our rear as well as watching for threats from the stairs or side-room. Evgeny looked over at me, awaiting instructions, and nodded when I pointed to the opening with the mostly upturned, scattered barrels partially blocking it. On my signal, Evgeny made a wide arc around the doorway while I moved forward and crouched behind a row of now-doorless lockers that lay on their side next to an ancient-looking spool-driven databank. He glanced at me again, and I pointed to my eyes and indicated that he should keep watch while I entered the room. Another nod, a quick count from three on my fingers, and we moved, Evgeny pressing his back against the wall with a shotgun pointed in either direction.
The first thing that hit me as I scuttled past Evgeny and entered the room was the smell. The second thing was how much I’d missed on my brief inspection before the Blowout. Previously, I would have sworn that the room had no windows and was utterly blank and featureless. Looking around now, I could see how wrong I would have been.
Sullen grey daylight dribbled through the glassless window, providing just enough illumination for me to see. Two sets of dirty white double doors were set in the wall opposite the previously-barricaded doorway, their hinges so rusted that the only way they’d open again would be when they fell in, while two pipes ran between the farthest set of doors and the window before disappearing into the walls. Overhead, another, thicker pipe ran along the ceiling before turning downwards at a right angle to disappear through the floor. The barrels that had been used to form the barricade had scattered hither and yon under the impact of whatever it was that had gone crashing into them the day before, and now lay where they had come to rest with the spaces between them littered with small clumps of faeces and the odd puddle of urine. Two or three old, thin mattresses lay rotting in a corner, again heavily soiled, while a broad splash of blood and some remaining matter showed where the other bloodsucker had met its fate before being devoured.
What was most obvious – and therefore most troubling due to the fact that I’d missed it before – was the railing that separated the rest of the room from the set of stairs that descended to an area illuminated by what appeared to be emergency lighting.
Grimacing and trying not to breathe through my nose, I gave a low whistle and crept towards the stairs, muzzle up. A sharp intake of breath informed me that Evgeny had entered the room. As noticeable as the smell must have been from where he’d been in the main hall, it was nothing compared to the acrid stench inside. I turned to look at Evgeny and offered a sympathetic grin at the expression of disgust on his face. He pointed at the individual piles of snork shit around the room and held up four fingers, then signalled that they’d be somewhere ahead of us, down the stairs.
I nodded, wondering how he knew how many snorks there were, let alone how he knew where they’d be. I’d have to make a point of asking him later – assuming there was a later; I didn’t know how I knew it, but something had changed. The factory had been quiet before, but it had been a restful sort of quiet. Now, it seemed watchful and expectant. I paused for a moment, drawing my senses back in to myself before letting them reach out again, trying to rid myself of some of the tension created, in part, by the memory of what had happened here previously and the knowledge of what lay beneath us.
A gentle hand on my shoulder. I turned, and Evgeny pointed to his pocket before pulling out an anomaly detector and an earpiece. I shook my head. I had one but not the other. He nodded and indicated that I should move aside as he slipped the earpiece in, only then connecting it to the detector so as to hide any static crackle or electronic squelch that might issue forth. Taking my place at the rear, I followed Evgeny as he tiptoed down the stairs and entered the narrow corridor below.
The smell down here wasn’t as ripe as it was upstairs, but it still carried a distinctly musky note that spoke of age and decay, meaning the place must have been used as a den for quite a long time. Several months, at least. It was enough to make me wish I had a mask.
The corridor opened out into a wider area, and I stepped from behind Evgeny to clear the corner. A passage stretched away to a heavy steel door, beyond which the brick-and-cement wall appeared to give way to bare breezeblock. I beckoned Evgeny to me and pointed, putting my mouth close to his ear.
‘It looks clear. You go first, but be ready. Anything comes through in a rush, shoot. We’ll worry about anything else later. I’ll stay here and guard the rear.’
He nodded and moved up, taking it easy to minimize noise while trying to widen the angle around the door as much as he could without rubbing against the wall. Just watching him made me nervous. In an ideal world there’d have been four of us for this – three as a bare minimum – but it was another case of having to make do. And in any case it was better than being on my own, as I had been the day before. I tried to imagine what it would have been like if I’d entered this area alone, and found I didn’t want to after all; playing the ‘what if I’d done x instead of y?’ game was never a good idea, and that went double this time. I’d been lucky, very lucky, and even the series of ‘what ifs’ that might have stemmed from the actions I had taken formed a scary picture: what if Blondie/Olena hadn’t been there? What if she had decided to take no action? What if she hadn’t seen the bloodsuckers at all? What if her Mossberg had malfunctioned? What if the ‘suckers had realized she was there and ambushed her first?
I’d be dead, I thought. If just one of those things had worked out differently, I’d have died here yesterday, and all that’d be left of me now would be –
A pebble hit me on the side of the head, and I turned to find Evgeny glowering at me. Using just his head, he indicated that the area was clear and ‘suggested’ that I join him. Somewhat shamefacedly, I checked the rear once more and went over to where he waited.
The atrium behind the steel door was dominated by two things: a pair of pipes with large red wheel-type valves, and a second, half-open rusted metal door with a sign upon it, heavily marked with blood or rust...or both.
...a high...voltage...dangerously...area...life, I read. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out what that means.
I pointed at the door and signalled for Evgeny to go first. I didn’t like leaving him to take the all the risks, but there was really no other choice; his shotguns would be next to useless if I took point and came under attack. If he fired, he’d just zap me as well as whatever he’d intended to hit.
Thankfully, he understood that and only nodded his agreement, keeping watch as I stood behind the door to ease it further open. The only sound the hinges made was a low, grinding rasp that set my teeth on edge and caused me to grimace involuntarily, and it came as a relief when Evgeny held up a hand for me to stop. I moved away from the door and took my position beside him, weapon up and ready to go, though he made no move to do so.
‘What?’ I murmured in his ear.
‘Snork,’ he murmured back. ‘I heard it, but can’t see it.’
I thumbed the safety off the L.85 as gently as I could, watching for any sign of movement from the room on the other side of the door.
‘Go on or go back?’
He pointed forward, then leaned in again. ‘No way I’m coming back again. Now or never.’
I nodded agreement. If I found nothing on this trip, I’d tell Fyodor what I suspected had happened and let him worry about it from there. I was done with his place, either way.
As before, Evgeny went first, moving slowly and cautiously as he passed through the door and slid left. I checked our rear one more time and followed, also edging left. The air was a fetid melange of death, decay, and age. Of mould, rust, and rotting meat. Of disuse and dilapidation, waste and stagnation, intense heat and burning.
Evgeny held out a hand to get my attention the pointed forward. An open doorway, lit by white light, stood more or less opposite our position. Without speaking, Evgeny indicated that that was where the snork was likely to be. Moving forward, I cleared the corner and signalled for him to take a position opposite the door, keeping it covered while I looked around. He gave a nod of acknowledgement and we moved.
Evgeny had control of one side of the area; I had to check the other. The control room, partitioned off from the rest of the room by a half concrete wall, half metal mesh combo, was devoid of life, as was the elevator opposite. I checked around the corner, finding nothing but a row of lockers, and entered the lift, pointing the rifle upward in case something lurked near the service hatch, but the plate was in place. An experimental shove yielded no result.
Rusted in place, I thought. Or maybe welded. Though that would have had to have been done from the other side. And why would anyone do that?
Finding no good answer to my own question, I crossed to the control room, where the skeletonised remains of someone or other sat propped in the far corner. I gave the body a cursory inspection, hoping in an odd sort of way that this would prove to be the sniper even though it was pretty obvious that the bones had been there for quite some time. It also became apparent that, whoever it had once been, they had not met with an entirely natural end: the bones showed clear signs of gnawing as well as residues formed from decomposition. I hoped the cause of death had been something like a stroke or heart attack induced by terror. If nothing else, it would have been quicker and more merciful than being torn apart and devoured. I’d never know what had killed this person for sure, or even who they had been, but I took some comfort from the body’s position: sitting in the corner, perhaps having slumped there as the old ticker strained in fear and distress and finally gave out. Had the end come in a more brutal fashion, no doubt the bones would have been scattered all over the place.
Sighing, I stood and checked the panel, trying to ignore the skull that lay on its left side next to the body. The ligaments had rotted away long ago, allowing the lower jaw to dislocate and fall open, thereby giving it the appearance of laughing.
That’s probably what makes it so fucking spooky, I thought. It’s like it’s still aware on some level and can’t help laughing at us for being down here. Or maybe screaming.
I gave myself a shake and turned away, pointedly ignoring the skull. Even then my shoulders bunched in an involuntary spasm as the eyeless stare seemed to bore into my back, gaining weight and malevolent meaning with each passing second.
I looked at the control panel for long enough to determine that it had
nothing to do with whatever it was that kept the lights on and got out of there, turning back as I reached the doorway to find the skull was still there, still lifeless...and still laughing (or screaming) silently at our presence.
Get a grip, for fuck’s sake! I commanded, but my nervous system wasn’t in the mood to play ball. Angered, I was tempted to march up to the thing and pound it into dust. But I knew I could and would not. For one thing, it was someone’s head – or at least it had been. For another, the noise would undoubtedly bring the snorks a-running. Stamping it into dust and dying horribly for my pains...
It’s probably what you want, isn’t it, you bastard? I thought at the skull. Well fuck you, Fred. My bones aren’t going to be keeping yours company.
Movement in the corner of my eye, near the lit doorway.
I looked up sharply and saw Evgeny waving frantically, having taken it on himself to investigate rather than simply cover the area.
I crossed the room and looked him in the eye, gesturing: What?
He leaned close. ‘It’s okay. The snorks are all downstairs,’ he said. ‘I think we can trap them.’
I looked at him, alarmed. ‘It’s a stairwell? You’ve been down there?’ I murmured in his ear.
‘Of course it’s a stairwell. Didn’t you know?’ He smiled as I shook my head. ‘And no, I only went onto the landing and looked down. No snorks, but there’s something I think you’ll want to see.’
He shook his head. ‘I’ll show you.’
We crept into the stairwell, moving carefully so our boots didn’t squeak or scuff. Evgeny smiled and pointed down before leaning over the railing. I followed suit and immediately straightened, gaping at Evgeny questioningly.
He grinned and nodded: Yes, you are seeing it.
Two flights down, at the bottom of the staircase, was a Dragunov sniper rifle. A Dragunov, lying in a pool of congealing blood.
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