Chapter 46: What Lies Within
For a time, they were forced to do nothing but stand up, leaning hard against the doors. Partially this was to keep them closed while the creatures outside assaulted the entryway, trying to get at the intruders, but partially it was because with the doors closed, the inside of the base they found themselves in was pitch black. Without being able to see, it was impossible to orient themselves inside the void.
There was something particularly disorienting about standing in complete darkness and occasionally being rocked by an unseen force. At one point, a gargoyle hit the door hard enough to send Jay collapsing to his hands and knees. He started to push himself up, but unable to get a sense for which direction was “up” in the complete darkness, he instead just collapsed to the ground. He curled up into a ball and tried to focus on simply not throwing up.
After a couple minutes the pounding on the doors finally stopped, and one by one everyone in the group slid down to a sitting position on the floor.
“I… really… hate you…Eli,” Amber said between labored breaths.
“What?” Eli squawked, surprised at having been singled out. “Why? What did I do?”
“Before I met you, I thought dealing with stupid, slow zombies was more than enough craziness. Since you, there’s been running zombies, Draculas, werewolves, and now… gargoyles?”
“I fail to see how any of that is my fault. Why does everyone keep blaming me? And they’re vampires, not ‘Draculas.’ ‘Draculas’ isn’t even a word.”
“Whatever. The point is, life was significantly less crazy before you, and now it’s like freakin’ Abbot and Costello up in here. Life before you, life after you.” As soon as she said the last part, she remembered she was sitting in completely blackness and nobody could see her. “That was two levels I made with my hands,” she explained. “You’re the crazy-as-shit level.”
Eli sighed and laid his head back against the metal door, deciding he didn’t really want to argue. Instead, he changed the subject. “I take it nobody has a flashlight?”
“Psh, who needs flashlights?” Jays scoffed. “Real badasses have night-vision goggles.”
“You have night vision goggles?”
“Guys,” Aliyah interjected, “look!”
For a moment, Eli considered pointing out that even if there was something to look at they could not possibly know which direction to look because nobody could see her pointing, but then he saw it. In the short time since they had closed the door, their eyes had all adjusted to the darkness enough to see what Aliyah was seeing.
Down at the end of the hall a strange blue light was flickering across a wall.
It was dim, and in normal light would probably have been utterly invisible, but in the pitch black of the hallway it burned like the sun.
“What the hell is that?” Eli asked.
Amber groaned. “If that’s another new creature, I am taking one of your baseball bats and hitting you over the head with it.”
“It’s some kind of light, not a creature,” said Aliyah.
“Guys!” Jay called, voice wavering with fear, “guys! I can’t see it! I can’t see it! What… where? I…”
He stopped talking suddenly, having thrashed about enough to apparently point himself in the right direction. “Oh, there it is.” The light proved to be enough for him to regain his orientation, and he pushed himself up onto his feet and stood up. “It looks like electricity.”
“Well, let’s follow it,” said Eli.
“What? No!” protested Jay.
“Maybe Jay’s right. Maybe we should go back out and get our supplies from the truck,” Amber pointed out.
“And risk being torn apart by those gargoyles again?” Eli scoffed.
“Have you ever heard the expression ‘out of the frying pan and into the fryer’?” Amber shot back.
“It doesn’t matter,” Aliyah snapped, trying to take control of the situation. “We’re as prepared as we’re likely going to need to be. We’re here now, we might as well go take a look.”
Amber muttered something under her breath, but she wasn’t as willing to argue with Aliyah as she was with Eli.
“What about Daina, and Gabe?” Jay asked. “Shouldn’t we go back for them?”
Aliyah hesitated for just a moment. “I… I hate to say it, but they’re on their own for now. If Eli’s theory is right, we’re at the finish line. If we go forward, we might be able to finish this, but if we go back, we risk two more trips through those gargoyles. If we push on, we might just be able to bring an end to this nightmare now.”
She paused and waited for anybody to offer anymore disagreements. When no one did, she continued. “All right, weapons ready. Let’s go.” She took a couple steps and then changed her mind. “Actually, weapons away. I don’t want anyone running into someone with a knife or tripping and killing themselves.”
There was some rustling while everyone hurried to comply and then they started off down the hallway once again. Going was slow and careful. Their eyes had adjusted enough to where everyone could make out the dim shapes of the others and a general feel for the hallway, but the blue light did not provide nearly enough illumination for them to casually stroll down the hall.
Jay reached the corner first, and leaning up against it he peaked his head slowly around the corner. He turned back and put his finger to his lips. Unsure of whether or not anyone could make out the movement, he also whispered, “Quiet. There’s someone in the room down at the end of the hall.”
As stealthily as they could all manage, they rounded the corner and continued down the next hall. As they went, Eli strained to see into the room Jay had mentioned. He could make out little more than the silhouette of a figure as it moved about the room, its proportions demonic and staggering as they danced wildly around in the flickering light.
As they drew closer, he began to realize that there was something else in the room. It was a large, bulky shape, and the first figure seemed to be pacing around it, almost impatiently. The second figure slowly resolved itself into what looked like a surgical table, with someone lying upon it. The figure seemed to twitch and jerk with each flash of the blue light, as if stuck in some kind of danse macabre.
“Electricity,” breathed Eli, his voice barely even that of a whisper.
The first figure in the room spun in their direction, having somehow, impossibly, detected the noise. It reached up towards the source of the blue light and made a motion with his hand. The light flickered and went out.
For a moment, they were plunged into complete blackness.
Then, slowly, there came the sound of one pop after another as emergency lights throughout the base came on one by one. Now bathed in the bright halo of halogen lights lighting the hallway, and with the figure in the room staring directly at them, they no longer felt like there was much point in sneaking. They each stood straight and stepped into the room, drawing their weapons as they did.
The man, or more accurately, the thing, standing in the room was horrifying. He was tall, probably close to seven feet, towering over everyone in the room. His skin was multi-colored, green here, pink there, dark brown in other places, like someone had tried to sew him together like a quilt from spare patches. His eyes were cold and dark black holes. His face was a masque of rage.
He was dressed in surgical gear, covering him in blue cloth from his head to his toes. On his hands he wore thick, rubbery gloves. Over his chest he wore an apron. It was covered in blood.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded. “You are ruining everything!”
His voice was unusual. It boomed loud and angrily, bouncing off the walls almost as if in stereo. It seemed like two voices were coming out of his throat.
“What?” Eli heard himself say, not fully cognizant in that moment of the fact that he even could speak.
“Who are you?” the creature demanded. It had not moved from its original spot. The rage had left its features, and it now regarded them with the cold disinterest of a scientist studying cell cultures.
“Who are we?” Eli echoed. “Who are you?”
“What the hell have you done to this guy?” Jay asked, stepping forward to get a closer look at the person laying on the table. It was a second man. His skin had an uneven patchwork design to it as well, but he was perfectly still. “He’s dead!”
With a speed that completely contradicted the façade of calm radiating off the creature it whipped up a large, serrated surgical knife from the table and aimed it straight at Jay’s chest. “You stay away from him! He is perfect!”
“Perfect?” Jay scoffed, disbelievingly, but he did take a step back, putting extra distance between himself and the dangerous blade. “He’s not breathing. You killed him!”
“He’s not finished!” roared the creature. He slammed the knife down on the table he had retrieved it from so hard that it knocked several other pieces of surgical equipment off the table and sent them crashing down to the floor. Still his expression did not change.
He continued. “You all must leave. Now! You are interrupting vital research.”
“What research?” Eli demanded. “What are you doing here?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I am creating perfection!” The creature clutched at a scar visible on his upper torso, peeking out from above the blood-slick apron. His eyes rippled with small flashes of light, which Eli only slowly realized meant that they were becoming unfocused. “I am… perfecting… on the flaw that created me.”
Eli’s mind raced with the possibilities. Was this a new kind of zombie? A new kind of vampire? Another creature entirely? Or was this simply some truly disturbed human who had simply made this base home in order to perform sick experiments?
It was actually Amber who figured it out first.
“Sergeant Moore,” she exclaimed, her voice a quiet, airy whisper.
“Who?” Eli asked, confused.
The creature’s eyes went wide, unprepared for these strangers to be speaking its name. “No!” it shouted. It began thrashing about frantically, knocking aside tables and equipment. “No! No, no, NO!” Continuing its cries of protest, the creature dove for safety in between two metallic cabinets along the wall, squeezing itself down into a sitting position with his knees up. He continued repeating “No,” and began banging his head into his knees, reiterating the protest in time with each steady bounce.
Amber cautiously approached him. Kneeling down next to him she placed a calming hand on his shoulder and attempted to gently force him back so he couldn’t keep banging his head into his knees. Then, in the kindest voice Eli could ever remember hearing her use, she said, “Hey. It’s okay. It’s okay. We can help you. We’re here to help you. We can help you.”
“You… help me?” The creature looked up at her with an expression of sadness. Despite the surreal nature of the entire situation, the scene looked like nothing more than a mother comforting a small child.
“Yes, we can…” Amber started.
“ME?” The creature roared. “Help me?” His hand lashed out like a snake, grabbing Amber by the throat and clamping down. He rose, impossibly, straight to his feet, lifting Amber with him as he went. “How could little imperfect things such as yourselves possibly hope to help me?” Each word rose in volume as his body rose in height. “I. Am. Perfection!”
The creature was standing fully straight now, his arm holding Amber completely extended. She scratched at the giant paw wrapped around her neck, but it was of no use. She tried kicking at him but his arm was too long. She couldn’t get any strength behind the kicks.
“Let her go!” Eli demanded, stepping forward with his bat raised, ready to strike.
Aliyah also stepped forward, raising her gun. “You heard him! Let her go!”
“I am too close to perfection to stop now!” The creature bellowed, ignoring them. “You cannot stop me. I must finish the experiments. I must create the perfect world!”
Amber had ceased her flailing, no longer able to find the strength. Her face was turning a frightening shade of purple.
“That does it!” Eli stepped forward and swung his bat around Amber and into the creature’s side. It didn’t seem to even notice the assault. Eli didn’t pause for a second, but continued delivering blow after blow to the uncaring monster.
After a moment, the creature reached out with its spare hand and slapped Eli aside. He stumbled back into the others. Aliyah stepped around him, took aim, and fired her gun straight into the creature’s shoulder.
He roared with rage and tossed Amber across the room. She crashed into the others, knocking most of them down as they attempted to catch her.
There was a jumble of confusion as the creature lurched across the room to the table and threw the switch he had turned off when they had first entered the room. The electricity crackled to life, and once again the man lying prone on the table began dancing his jig of death. The lights began to flick rapidly on and off sporadically like the building itself was having a seizure.
Amber was down on her hands and knees, coughing and wheezing. Eli knelt over here, a hand on her back, watching her with concern.
“We have to stop him!” shouted Aliyah over the noise of the machinery.
“You’re welcome to try!” Eli called back.
“Hey,” Mac said suddenly. He had been so quiet that Eli had actually forgotten the man was there with them. The sound of his voice surprised him so much that he leapt up to his feet and brought his bat about to bear.
“Look,” Mac finished, oblivious to Eli’s reaction. He pointed to the far side of the room. Eli looked.
Several more figures, all with the same surgical patchwork, had entered the room.
The first creature, the tallest one, the one who had spoken to them, approached these others. He reached up and patted two of the newcomers on the shoulders.
“My children,” he said in his booming voice. “My perfect, perfect children. We are so close to achieving our dream. Gather up these intruders for me. They will join our glorious ranks!”
The newcomers started toward the group silently. Their movements were slow, lumbering, like the steady oncoming storm of death.
The first creature returned to its machine and flipped the switch back off.
“Rise!” he demanded. “Rise and join your brothers!”
For a moment there was only the movement of the newcomers, continuing their march across the room. Then, almost imperceptibly, the man on the table twitched. He twitched again, and then a moment later an entire limb moved. Then another. Then another.
Then Eli and his companions watched in horror as the dead man sat up and rose from the table.