Chapter 38: Lauren
Silence looms all around me. My breathes are stuttered with fear. My body is cold and clammy with dripping sweat saturating my skin from an unknown amount of time I had spent running.
I can’t tell if finding a hiding place was a better or worse decision. In continuing to run, they would have followed in a straight line. In hiding, they slow down, spreading throughout the hallways like a cancer. Watching…waiting for me to make my presence known so that they can tear me apart.
I hear their footsteps.
The snarling and gurgling raising my heart rate.
I peek over top of my hiding place behind a pile of debris. They walk the halls, trudging along like undead sentries awaiting a command to attack.
I left the gun behind. It was too heavy to run with. Didn’t think to grab a sidearm.
We all thought the plan would be perfect. How could I be so stupid as to make such a foolish assumption. I always plan for extra contingencies. How could I not do so this time?
Stupid Lauren. You’re so stupid.
There it is. A brief opening.
I quickly leave my current position and make way for one of the adjacent rooms, quickly entering through the half-opened door. I continue my watch through the broken glass.
Another opening appears. I exit the room and begin to round the corner into a hallway to the left. I fall backwards as one of the creatures careens by me, colliding with the wall. Blood splatters all over as I hear its body break.
I notice the others turn toward the source, not even taking notice of me. They let out their telltale scream and converge on it, turning from individual nightmares to one massive horror as they fill the hallway.
“Come on you ugly bastards!” Dante’s voice resonates as it’s followed by the sound of cracking bones.
I hurry to the corner, peeking around it. The voice my ears heard are confirmed by my eyes as they focus on Dante. His body is almost three times the size it should be.
His skin is red, veins bulging from underneath. The look of a berserker paints his face as he swings left and right with enough force to pound a normal man to dust.
The effects that of which are proven by the mutations that are crushed and tossed aside. I see his body become laden with slashes, but only remaining on the surface level. It seems to glance off rather than penetrating seemingly due to…no…he didn’t.
I look away, pressing my back against the wall. I only intended for him to be locked in there. Not sample the various oddities. And of all the ones he could tried it had to be the most volatile.
Rage was the most dangerous of our serums on account of the sheer volume of physical transformation it induced. It multiplies the muscle mass while at the same time causing them to be more tense. Enhancing strength as well as providing a natural armor to the user.
They become like a walking freight train.
Along with that however, comes massively increased blood pressure, a heart rate higher than any suited for a human to have, and an unreasonable stimulation of the aggression centers of the brain.
Hence the name ‘Rage’.
I take a deep breath and look back around the corner. Dante continues his warpath, obliterating all set in his sights. I start to notice, however, that the serum is wearing off. It won’t be long before Dante crashes, leaving him vulnerable to what was previously his prey.
I steel myself then round the corner, charging into the group. I take advantage of the fact that they’re all seemingly focused on him, allowing me to slip by them unscathed so long as I dodge their flailing talons.
I shove my way through them as Dante begins to slow down.
“Lauren…is that you?” He says as I slip through the crowd, his speech slightly slurred.
I hurry over to his position ahead of the next wave of mutants. I take hold of his grenade belt, ripping it off his body. I activate one of them and throw the rest towards the remaining horde.
I take Dante by the hand “Hurry. Come with me and don’t stop,” I say to him.
Dante’s eyes start to swirl as he grows dizzy, stumbling as I pull him by the hand, running away from the impending explosion. The blast causes Dante to fall, very nearly taking me with him as I struggle to pull him to his feet.
The hallway lights up in bright orange light as if the sun were just a few feet behind us.
Pulling Dante along turns into me cradling his arm around my shoulder as the serum finally dissipates and he collapses from exhaustion. I drag him into a nearby room, nearly falling to the floor as he goes limp.
I feel his pulse. It’s weak.
His breathing is shallow.
I fumble with his flight suit, taking off the upper portion to look at his torso. The cuts from the creatures, while shallow, still present a threat of assisting in his bleeding out due to the sheer number.
I examine further down his arms towards his wrists and hands. While Rage enhances the muscular structure, it does almost nothing for skeletal density in order to compensate for the growth. Due to that…Dante’s hands are a mess. They’ve already noticeably swelled and upon feeling them, are definitely broken. Numerous boxer breaks in various areas as well as what feels like fracturing in the carpels. It’s a wonder how he didn’t manage to snap his wrist in half.
The slow heart-rate is most likely attributed to the fact that his heart is simply over-exerted. Unfortunately, there’s no way to just stop his heart to allow it rest. I can only hope the slowing to a normal rate allows it to recover.
I lift his undershirt off. Darkened patches on his skin inform me of the numerous areas where his veins have blown out from the pressure. Certain places are a darker color than other to denote places where a vein is collapsed.
I avert my eyes, tears beginning to flood my vision.
How could he be so reckless? What was he thinking?
I cover my mouth with a hand as the sobs start heaving out. This…this was me. He did this because of me. Because I was in danger. But…they would have never been there had I not created them in the first place. I finally understand the weight of the things I have sown. How many countless individuals have I tested these chemicals on? I can’t even count the number of failures due to the multitude. How many people have suffered at my mind and hands?
How could I not see myself for the same monster that everyone else knows I am?
I place a hand on Dante’s face, lightly brushing his cheek with a thumb.
“Forgive me,” I say quietly in the dark.
“Check it out, looks like they came this way,” voices echo in the hallway.
Quick footsteps follow soon after. They go by the door, fading slightly before suddenly stopping.
“Jesus. What the hell happened here?”
“It looks like something went to town on these things,”
“I don’t see any bullet holes either. This was all close quarters,”
“The hell has the capability of doing something like that?”
I stand up, rushing to the door and exiting. My eyes fall upon Ethan and Damien. My voice chokes as I attempt to speak, a cracked squeak forcing its way out.
They two of them flip around, rifles raised.
Damien lowers his “Is that Lauren?” He says, prompting Ethan to drop his completely.
They jog to my position.
Ethan places a hand on my shoulder “Are you alright?” Where’s Dante?”
My hand, trembling, slowly points inside the room “Help,”
They give each other a glance before heading inside.
“Holy shit…what happened to him?”
“He’s still breathing. We gotta get him to Thomas. Grab one of his arms,”
Moments later they exit the room with Dante slung around their shoulders.
“We have to go Lauren. Dante doesn’t look like he’s going to last long,”
I continue to stare forward, giving a slight nod to confirm I heard their words.
Thomas exits the operating room, wiping his hands of Dante’s blood. He reaches up, removing a surgical mask. It had been hours since we brought him here. Ethan and Damien, though resistant at first, agreed to get some rest after my demanding and Elena’s pleas.
Elena attempted to convince me to do the same but I wouldn’t budge. Sleep would only escape me at this juncture anyway.
Thomas walks closer to me as he removes his surgical head covering “What did he take?” He asks plainly.
I breathe a long sigh, stifling another wave of tears. “We called it Rage,”
“For obvious reasons,” He interjects.
“I didn’t know he was going to be that reckless,”
“Well, how could you? He’s only in love with you,”
I look at Thomas, an angry hurt in my eyes.
He exhales, looking away a moment before turning his gaze back towards me. “I suppose that was unfair of me. You thought you were doing the right thing. I doubt you could have anticipated the other side remaining unlocked. But we’re both doctors here. Which is why I fail to have much sympathy for you,” Thomas expresses, pressing the guilt further down on my shoulders.
He takes a seat next to me. “I suppose I should have led with he’s going to live,” He says, instantly grabbing my attention “Both hands are broken in multiple places. His carpels are fractured. His internal organs are bruised. Probably from the muscular expansion compressing his chest cavity. I’m sure you saw his vascular system with all the skin discoloration. Popped blood vessels in both eyes. Multiple lacerations. Near fatal blood loss. Dislocated shoulders and hips from the muscle tension. Two cracked teeth. And finally, as my first diagnosis of it ever, heart exhaustion,” He finally finishes.
“Thank you for treating him. I couldn’t have done that,”
Thomas folds his arms “I know. And don’t mention it. Currently, in order to rest his heart, I have him in a synthetic coma on a pump so that his blood continues to circulate,”
I nod my head shallowly. There’s a brief silence.
“How does it feel for one of your little projects to hit home?”
“Thomas please…I know,” I beg him to stop.
“You know? No, I don’t think you do. You’ve never been there to see the after effects of your experiments. I know who you are. And I know who you are because of what you used to do. Before here, you used to make chemical weapons for the UEDF. That’s how you earned your keep,”
I look at Thomas, eyes wide.
“No one else knows that about you. For good reason. You made sure it was buried. But I witnessed the destruction your filth wrought. After so long trying to treat numerous cases of collateral damage, you tend to research the person causing it. And it’s without a doubt that I can say…you’re the reason I decided not to follow those Earthen hypocrites anymore,” he looks into my eyes “I suppose I should thank you though. You freed me. But maybe now you’ll see beyond yourself,” Thomas concludes, standing up.
He fidgets with his surgical cap “You can see him if you want. But he won’t be awake until I deem so. Take a few minutes and then I suggest you get some rest. All goes well he’ll be just fine,” Thomas says before finally exiting the room, leaving me in the silence.
I stand up, shuffling my feet as I reach for the door. I open it, stepping inside. My eyes fill with tears again as they lay witness to what Dante has been reduced to.
He lies there, his body bruised and broken. Tubes connect to his chest as more extend out from his mouth. His hands are casted and immobilized. Numerous bandages wrap around his arms and legs. The only sound in the room is the sound of the artificial heart pumping his blood through his body.
I step closer, lightly taking his hand in mind.
“This should have never happened,” I start, tears trailing down my cheeks.
“I’m so sorry. I hope you’ll come back to me…I going to make a promise to you…because I know you’ll hold me to it. I promise you…I’m never going to use my knowledge to hurt anyone again…I love you. I hope you know that. I’ll be here when you wake up,”
I turn away and walk out the door, saying nothing else.
I exit the medical ward, taking a step towards the Security Center. I stop a few steps in, my mind bringing me back to that lab. I turn around, walking towards it, all the while toiling over the things inside.
I reach the decon station, noticing the mangled door where Dante tore it open. I run my hand across the bent latch as I enter.
I open the second door, stepping inside the empty lab. I walk to the center, looking around at all of the multicolored serums lining the shelves.
A sudden anger overcomes me. I tense my body so hard I shake. I take a chair nearby and toss it into one of the shelves, shattering a multitude of the vials. I lift another chair, then a another. I take what ever object I can from the workbenches, throwing them into the abominations I played a part in creating.
I throw objects until I scream and fall to the floor out of exhaustion. I wrap my arms around my legs as I bring them to my chest, rocking back and forth, shifting into another fit of crying.
It’s then that I feel a firm hand on my shoulder.
“It hurts. I know,”
I look up, seeing Damien of all people to my surprise. I wipe my eyes and sniffle, attempting to fruitlessly collect myself.
He sits down next to me.
“What…what are you doing here?” I ask.
“Couldn’t sleep. Figured I’d come check on fly boy. Saw you walking the opposite way. Something told me to follow,”
I chuckle disbelievingly “You hate me though. So why?”
“Ya know I thought I did. But…” He scoffs “I guess I don’t anymore. You’ve done a lot of bad things. No one needs to remind you of that. Least of all me. Who am I to punish you for it though? Seems like you’re doing that all by yourself,”
“You should be careful, Damien. You sound like you actually care,”
He laughs “I think it’s more like…you and I have a solidarity. I’m not going to rehash it but I’ve made some decisions that got people I cared about worse off than Dante. It got them dead. So, for you…that gives you a chance to correct what you did wrong,” He turns his head to look me in the eyes “A friend and I promised each other we’d hold one another up. I think maybe I should add you to that list. If you’d like,” He offers.
I feel my bottom lip quiver as I try to hold back the urge to cry more.
“I…I would like that, Damien…I would like that very much,” I say with a broken voice.