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Chapter 37

Chapter 37: Dante

I walk around the observation room, readying myself for what’s about to transpire. I look up at Lauren, who’s setting up a heavier duty light machine gun on the squared railing of the balcony above. She looks at me, seemingly feeling my eyes in her.

She smiles.

I smile back at her, feigning confidence.

I turn my eyes to the doors, staring at them with focus.

“You ready for this?” I say without removing my gaze from the doors.

“Ready assumes I’m prepared for every possible outcome. I’m not,” Lauren responds.

I shrug “Fair enough,” I turn, making my way towards the prep room below.

If Lauren wasn’t going to stay behind, I made sure she would stay out of direct harm’s way at least. She argued when I told her I would be taking the bottom floor. But, when she saw the toy she’d get to play with, she quickly changed her tune. I’m starting to wonder if she has a small fetish for shooting big guns.

I open the door and enter the prep room. A small hole is broken out of the otherwise frosted glass, allowing me a sightline to my incoming targets. I lift the detonator from the countertop, moving it around in my hand as I feel the nervousness creep up.

My palms are sweating regardless of the heat. My heart rate increases as I feel my adrenaline start to rise. All things I learned to take note of before going into a fight.

All things I learned to keep under control.

Something about Lauren entering my thoughts has a tendency to throw that off that calibration process in my head.

It’s like…static in my brain.

Every lesson of self-preservation goes away and all I’m worried about is keeping Lauren safe. I tell myself that I love her. I tell Lauren that I love her. It’s the one thing I can say I really feel…have chosen to feel since joining the UEDF that I’m not sure I quite understand the feeling anymore.

Maybe that’s what it is though. Thinking of someone so highly that you’re willing destroy yourself just to allow that person to keep living.

There’s a faint rumbling. My attention turns to the door. I hold the detonator up, thumb hovering over the switch. It gets louder and louder until suddenly the doors smash to pieces, a flood of the monsters pouring in.

They divide, tracing the shape of the room. Lauren and I wait, allowing them to fill the room. I push the button as they finish saturating the area. There are beeps followed by numerous blasts that throw body parts and whole corpses throughout the room.

The frosted glass is now painted crimson, the red now filtering the light that shines through it. Lauren opens fire as the final explosive goes off, unleashing a near literal rain of bullets upon the horde.

I point my rifle at the glass, no longer giving concern to being noticed and open fire. From the number of screams coming from the room, you’d think we were in a slaughterhouse.

The thought brings a smile to my face as more of them fall. In all the dust and debris, I notice two of them leap on to the walls, clawing their way towards Lauren.

I stop firing, my heart beating faster, realizing the danger she’s in. I fire at the two on the walls, taking them down. Double that jump on the wall in place of their dead bodies.

I stop shooting again. I look at the main floor my eyes meeting with one of them. The glass shatters as another jumps through the window, talon outstretched towards me.

I raise my rifle, firing multiple rounds into its chest. The talon passes by my face, cutting into my cheek, plunging into the wall behind me with the sound of tearing metal.

I keep my finger pulled tightly on the trigger, emptying what’s left of my magazine into the creature. It cries out, raising its second talon.

I stare down at its chest. With each muzzle flash another chunk of flesh tears out, widening the cavity I’m creating. The monster brings the claw down weakly, slumping down, then falling to the floor.

I drop my mag, quickly replacing it with another one. I look to the room, noticing them still climbing the walls towards Lauren. My eyes dart to the main level, a group of them heading straight for me.

“Get the hell out of there! I’ll meet you at the door!” I yell as loud as possible before turning smartly and running for the door.

I bash through it, slamming it shut behind me. Shortly after they break through, the sound of the door splintering echoes through the hallway.

Before reaching it, Lauren bursts through the entrance to the balcony, running ahead of me. I dodge a creature as it dives through the same doorway, flying over me and colliding with the wall to my left.

Two more exit through and run at pace with me. One draws closer, prompting me to fire a burst. It yelps, slowing down and falling behind us.

I look back, the one behind me leaps forward, too quickly for me to react. I tense up, bracing for impact. Lauren turns down the nearest corner just before the creature slams into me. My vision flashes black and warps together as we both land and tumble across the floor.

We cease rolling and slide across the deck. It screams in my face as we stop, lifting a talon. I half roll, dodging the first strike, a hard thump followed by a metallic shear screeching in my ear.

I pull my pistol as I roll back over, placing it directly against its chest. I fire off several rounds, warm fluids splattering on to my hand and chest.

With labored whines it falls on top of me. I look down the hall, noticing the massive group not far behind.

“Dante!” Lauren calls out, fearing the worst.

I heave the creature off of me and stand up into a run.

“We have to go!” I exclaim as I take Lauren by the shoulder and manipulate her body in the same direction.

The sounds of their running grow louder as they quickly begin to gain on us. I pull a grenade off my vest and arm it, blindly tossing it backwards. The blast causes Lauren and I to stumble forward.

I look back, noticing that while it made a dent, there’s still way too many for us both to handle.

“Look! Decon station ahead!” Lauren points out, running faster as her hope raises.

Decontamination stations have a self-locking mechanism once inhabited and can only be exited once decon has been activated or an override code is placed. It’s a perfect safe zone on account of the dual layer tungsten doors on either side that secure it. This on top of the purge mechanism within the control room itself.

It’ll keep her safe. She’s not going to like what I’m about to do.

We nearly collide with the door as we reach it, pounding on the panel. The door opens.

Lauren takes me by the collar, kissing me quickly but deeply, catching me off guard. I stare at her confused before she rotates my body and shoves me inside the chamber.

Before I can react, she slams the door shut, activating the lock. I run to the door, looking through the small hole.

“What are you doing! Open the door!”

she looks at me with glassy eyes mouthing the words I love you before she starts running. I watch helplessly as the horde behind her turns the same direction.

“No! Stay the hell away from her!” I yell at the top of my lungs as I pound a boot into the unyielding door.

My anger fades and my mind concedes, understanding that no matter how strong I think I am, this door is stronger. I step backwards, nauseous with worry, resting my back against the smooth metal wall of the chamber.

I slide down into a sitting position. I fold my arms on top of my knees and rest my forehead on them. A sensation strikes me that’s entirely overwhelming. It presses into my chest so hard it hurts.

Tears form in my eyes and fall on to the deck. I wrap my arms around my knees and squeeze tightly, making my body as compressed as I can.

I start to cry…harder than I can remember ever doing so. My body heaves with each sob, providing momentary relief before my chest tightens up again. Everything I had been holding back for years comes to the front and soaks into my clothing in its own personalized set of tears.

I rock back and forth, attempting to ease the anguish. My body shakes as the waves of tears and sobs fade.

I turn my head to the other door, noticing a small green light shimmering in the dim lights of the decontamination chamber. I stare at it curiously a moment before standing up and reaching for the door’s release handle.

To my surprise, it unlocks, opening into a large lab room. In all of my roves around this I can’t say that I’ve ever been in here.

Looking around the room I notice that the decon station is the only entrance in to this part of the facility. The lab itself is the size of a moderately proportioned gym. Lab tables are placed in symmetrical order vertically in rows all the way down to the end of the room.

This must have been Lauren’s lab for her higher clearance experiments. Must be why she knew it was decon door. It was in her memory not her sight.

I step further in to the lab, studying the various instruments that are filled with multiple different colored liquids. I take note of the fact that the room itself still has power. Must be placed on a standalone grid outside of the main station.

Which means…at the back of the room my eyes see the salvation of a terminal. I smile, a reprieve from all of this now possible. I jog over to the terminal, sitting down and turning it on.

A simple login screens displays, a blinking cursor waiting for a password. I sit back and think a moment, looking back into my mind to remember how Katsumi taught me to bypass the systems on board.

I snap my fingers as the memory comes back. I type at the keyboard, bringing up a command console, entering a series of commands that I memorized. A few moments later, I’m in and proceed to login to mine and Katsumi’s server through another series of commands.

KATSUMI: NOW YOU’RE JUST DOING THIS ON PURPOSE. THIS ISN’T EVEN YOUR SECURE TERMINAL.

MAVERICK: SOS.

There’s a space between the next message

KATSUMI: WHAT HAPPENED?

MAVERICK: TOO MUCH TO EXPLAIN CURRENTLY. NEED EXTRACT FOR MYSELF AND SEVERAL OTHER PEOPLE.

KATSUMI: IS SHE ONE FO THEM?

MAVERICK: KATSUMI…

KATSUMI: WE’VE SPOKEN ABOUT THIS BEFORE. SHIT EVER HITS THE FAN SHE’S NOT PART OF THE DEAL.

MAVERICK: KAT I DON’T HAVE TIME TO EXPLAIN THE COMPLEXITIES OF OUR RELATIONSHIP AND HOW THEY RELATE TO EVERYONE ELSE RIGHT NOW. DO WHAT I ASK.

KATSUMI: ARE YOU TRYING TO GIVE ME ORDERS?

MAVERICK: NO.

KATSUMI: LET ME REMIND YOU THAT YOU NEED ME. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

MAVERICK: I KNOW THAT.

KATSUMI: THEN THE DEAL STANDS. YOU GO. SHE STAYS.

MAVERICK: WHAT ABOUT THE OTHERS?

Another moment of silence.

KATSUMI: I CAN ARRANGE THAT.

MAVERICK: CAN YOU AT LEAST TELL ME WHY NOT HER?

KATSUMI: BECAUSE SHE’S FILTH. SHE’S PART OF THE REASON I DO WHAT I DO. I REFUSE TO HELP SOMEONE WHO TREATS PEOPLE AS PLAY THINGS FOR HER SICK EXPERIMENTS.

My jaw tightens as I resist the urge to become angry at Katsumi. She’s not here so she doesn’t know what’s happened or how Lauren has changed.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m already vulnerable. Maybe it’s that I’m trying to hold back the urge to become angry. My eyes start to well with tears again.

MAVERICK: ASUKE…PLEASE.

KATSUMI: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? DON’T USE THAT NAME.

MAVERICK: I’M BEGGING. PLEASE LET HER GO. SO MANY THINGS HAVE HAPPENED HERE. SHE’S DIFFERENT. WE ALL ARE. INCLUDING ME.

KATSUMI: YOU FELL FOR HER DIDN’T YOU?

MAVERICK: YES.

The space between this message is so long that I feel as if she disconnected without a word.

KATSUMI: DO NOT. MAKE ME REGRET THIS. I’LL MAKE SURE THE RIGHT PEOPLE KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON. LOG ON TO THIS TERMINAL PERIODICALLY AND I WILL UPDATE YOU.

MAVERICK: THANK YOU KAT.

KATSUMI: YOU OWE ME.

She disconnects.

I sit back in the chair, sighing in relief.

My thoughts quickly return to Lauren, however. I wonder if she’s safe. If she’s alive…I have to get out of here.

I stand up and walk along the various shelves on the outer edges of the lab. Every shelf contains various different iterations of even more various chemical creations. Each one has a code name written on it so as not to give away the exact purpose of it.

My eyes catch one codenamed: Rage. I raise an eyebrow as I lift it from the vial rack. The liquid is red and opaque, looking rather unsavory for one to place into their system.

I begin to look at the other vials, taking note of their names. Bulletproof, Eagle-eye, Long jump. All names that sound like they enhance physical properties.

This must be Lauren’s super soldier project.

The one thing that was actually sanctioned by the UEDF for her to work on. I stare at the vial in my hand, a crazy notion going through my mind.

I look to one of the lab tables, a number of needles left out. I look at the vial again. Then back to the needles.

“Fuck it,” I say out loud as I walk to the table, taking a needle in my hand, and jabbing it into the top of the sealed vial.

I extract a portion of the mixture. I place the vial on the table and the end of the needle against my skin. My heart races in anticipation. I take a quick breath in and press the needle into my arm, injecting the fluid.

The feeling is like magma being put through my veins. I feel it work up through my arm, clenching my jaw as the burn gets progressively worse.

I collapse to the floor as it reaches my heart. My brain pounds in my skull as the solution travels there next. I feel as if my whole-body swells as my muscles expand in size, tightening my clothing around me.

The process is agonizing. I start to violently shake on the ground as my body is forced to transform into something different.

Just as quickly as the pain came, it disappears. I slowly stand, noticing how much heavier I am. I examine myself; my muscles are much larger than before as well as denser.

My eyesight is in a permanent tunnel vision, a red halo outlining my eyesight. The halo pulses periodically to my heart beat.

I look back to the chamber, then walk through it to the other door. I place both hands on the release handle.

“Here’s goes nothing,”

I start to pull, feeling the lock struggle against my new strength. I pull harder, gritting my teeth. The metal whines as it starts to give way, finally snapping open, releasing the lock.

The door slowly creaks open. I stare out into the darkness. It’s time to go get rid of the rest of these freaks.

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