20. Clean Up (D2)

He didn’t know how long it went on for. Hours, minutes, maybe seconds. He heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing. The burning pain at his back, legs, and feet. The occasional cry that arose from the woman on his back. It seemed to be engulfed by the wallowing misery in his mind. It wasn’t until he felt the squeeze over his arm that it all came crashing down on him.

He stopped, feeling the full force of it all. “Stop. Stop here,” he heard Patricia sob.  He took in the path ahead, unsure why she would want to stop. He turned around and saw they had passed up a small pharmacy booth.

He trotted back toward the booth, the doors wide open and disclosing it had been raided already. A small trolley stared back at him. The ache in his back pleaded with him to set the woman down over it. He hoped it was still functional because the thought of having to pick her back up was just as dreadful as having to search through the booth with her over him.

He checked first the outbound network. Jimmy figured any important stuff would be about to be delivered but he was met only with the image of the fat man’s skin melting inside the chute. He could only hope none of the man’s body parts were delivered to him now.

He shut the small chute door and sighed as he was reminded of Nee. He tapped the manual controls and sealed the door before inspecting his unit. A clear prompt stared back at him, requesting to be removed from silent mode. He couldn’t help but feel frustrated. Nee gave him all he had requested previously and as thankful as he was to have her back, he also felt distrustful of her.

He scrounged the booth until he found some pain pills which he inserted into Patricia’s mouth with such care it looked as if he was handling a precious piece of vintage art. He resisted the urge to take one himself and focused on the small trolley. The motor was either out of juice or simply not operational anymore, but to Jimmy’s relief, it did not need it to operate. 

It was hard to move without the assistance of the motor but it sure beat having to lug an additional hundred and thirty pounds on his back. If not for the sickening boiled over stub staring back, as well as the eerie, dark halls of this nightmare city, Jimmy was sure he would have laughed at the sight of Patricia’s arms and legs hanging off the small trolley like children trying to push a parent inside a small shopping cart around. The whole thing looked like it would tilt forward and come crashing down at any moment.

But he didn’t laugh. He didn’t even chuckle. He was scared that if he gave any room to laughter it would turn into full blow hysteria.

With the grid of the area back up and Nee guiding him through it, Jimmy began to feel anxious. The corridors were mostly empty, the occasional mutilated body revealed only by the dim blue, flickering lights. Each sound he would hear, however, or any corner he would turn, Jimmy would feel his breath cease as he became convinced that the creature had finally come for them.

It was not so much the thought of it killing them that built the anxiety, although dying after all this effort seemed unacceptable. He was frightened of having to stare into the orb once again and see himself, his true self, in its reflection. The last thing he would ever see.

It was that fear that kept him on edge and seemed to slow down time in a way that would normally have caused his skin to flush but he was thankful for the amount of focus he felt. 

He kept Nee guiding him, even after they reached an area he recognized well. He refused to trust himself. If he had another episode, she would be the only one to help him through it. They passed by Patricia’s office.

He rolled straight past and sped up his pace. His focus seemed to disappear as if in the blink of an eye he had traversed the way. He saw the lab door down the way, relieved by the near end to this all. He was about to slow his pace over the last stretch when he heard it.

The drawn out, insidious scratching that echoed all around him. He wanted to believe it wasn’t real. That it had never been real, but one look at what remained of Patricia’s arm told him better.

The echo narrowed to a single direction that Jimmy could pinpoint from some ways away. He placed his arm over Patricia’s chest to hold her in place and ran. He wasn’t about to wait around to see how fast this creature really was. He ordered Nee to open the lab door and watched it slide open. He zoomed through it, Patricia’s arm snagging on the edge and shifting her but his own hand keeping her on the trolley.

He ordered Nee to close the door and heard the hydraulic sound as it did so, only to be instantly followed by a crash that caused the entire area to vibrate. Jimmy turned around and saw the creature through the transparent part of the door as it picked itself up and cocked its orb as if it was studying the busted door. The frame had been pushed through noticeably enough, a nearly impossible feat, and seemed to have sparked some sort of idea within the creature as it took a few steps back and, in the snap of a finger, rammed the door again, bending it further.

Jimmy didn’t stick around to find out how the creature’s idea would fare. He strained to get the cart moving and did not look back as he felt the shudder each time the creature pounded into the door. He knew for as long as he heard that pounding he was safe.

He rushed straight past Mother’s cell and reached the stairs, hoping he wouldn’t end up like the other scientists here. As he turned around, ready to back in through the stairs, he heard the crash of metal on metal echo through the hall. He wasn’t sure how much time he had before the creature was on them. As he reversed the trolley down the stairs he reached in the bag closest to him and fumbled for the stun rifle. The long claws scraped along the path as if purposely warning Jimmy of its nearing proximity. It had no concern over being heard. It already knew it had won.

Jimmy managed to pull the rifle before stumbling over the end of the stairs and nearly lost his balance. He held the trolley in place as the wheels bounced over the last steps and heard Patricia groan in pain. 

Maybe if you were actually helping you wouldn’t have to bitch so much about your comfort while I am saving your fucking life!

He snuffed the thought as soon as it came, realizing that fear was trying to take over. He wasn’t ready to give control over. Not yet. A shaking sprouted at his feet that was first led by a crash that undeniably came from the stairwell he had just exited. He imagined the creature like a dumb brute speeding too fast for its own good and choosing to use the walls as stoppers instead of slowing.

Except it was clear that the White Knight was far from stupid.

It learned, and it did so quickly.

Jimmy didn’t let the crash slow him. He positioned his rifle straight ahead, aimed directly at the opening to the stairs, and kept pulling the trolley backwards. His finger trembled over the sensor, so much adrenaline pumping through him that he felt unable to keep anything steady. He was surprised that his body hadn’t run out with all the surges it had produced through this entire hell.

Jimmy fired the bright blast at the stairway, hearing the pleasing sound as it gathered energy and dispersed it in an all powerful reckoning, one that laid waste to the walls. He had not been sure if his finger had twitched or if he had intentionally squeezed it because he had seen the creature poke through. Either way, the shot had decimated everything but the creature.

He could see the tendrils exposed over the edge, taunting him to fire again. The creature had let him see it, revealed itself to provoke him to fire. It draped itself further out when the shot did not come. Jimmy didn’t slow, continuing backwards until the creature’s long limbs twitched out in the open, ready to throw itself at him. He squeezed the sensor as hard as he could, ready to give the sea cunt a taste of the pain it had inflicted on them.

But only beeping ensued.

Jimmy jammed his finger over the sensor again and again until he allowed his eyes to let go of the growing menace and look down at the beeping rifle.

Out of energy.

He chucked the rifle aside and let his eyes return to the danger. In those meer moments the creature had slipped forward, unable to extend itself to its full height as it hit the ceiling. Its anemone-like tendrils were pulled back to reveal its incredibly long, bony humanoid body. It reminded Jimmy of a hairless cat without skin and hundreds of holes over it. He felt sick just looking at it. Fear ripped its way through him as its massive claws twitched and its tail slithered and flicked playfully like a cat’s.

Jimmy needed to turn around in order to see how he would slip into the lab but knew that once he did, this thing would be on him. He tried to whisper to Nee to open the door but it came out in a frantic scream. He heard the door slide open and at the same time the creature crouched on all fours and sprung forward. Jimmy turned his neck and put overdrive on as his legs took the last few steps to slip him straight through the door.

“Seal it!” he shrieked as his body breached through. He was reminded of Roberts inside of the tiny chute and felt his hand press down on Patricia. He looked back toward the creature to ensure the trolley had cleared the door and felt a lump in his throat as he watched the thing leap through the air.

“Seal the-!” he shrieked before the door made the familiar woosh and shut at the perfect moment. The creature crashed into the door, causing everything to tremble and the door to bend. Jimmy imagined it hitting him full force like that and blowing through his body to form a cloud of blood in the air. 

Jimmy didn’t bother to wait and see how long it would take it to tear this door down. He kept on past the second door and into the lab where they had first kept the creature as they experimented on it. The banging on the outside reminded him to seal this door as well before heading into the airlock control room.

He pulled the bag free and withdrew the two remaining suits. Habit made him think of suiting himself up first. Just in case. He fought the urge and cupped Patricia’s cold face as he tried to get at least some help.

“Patricia, I need you,” he whispered. She lay sprawled out as if she were dead already. If not for the occasional rising and falling of her abdomen, visible through her skin tight suit, he would have checked her off as dead and left the body behind.

“Patricia, please,” he urged, glancing toward the door. “Help me.”

Patricia’s eyes opened and looked into his. He could see a wandering glaze over them. Her eyes might have been open but she saw nothing. Jimmy had an uncomfortable feeling as he watched her eyes scanning his face and was glad when she finally gave up and allowed them to close. 

He took the suit and began stuffing her into it like a fat and flimsy sausage that needs to be put back into the packaging. The clanging from outside continued, the reinforced doors from in here proving more of a challenge for the creature but not enough to make it want to give up. Jimmy periodically glanced through the transparent part of the door as if it would somehow help him in his escape.

“Prepare the airlock please,” he said to Nee as he finished stuffing the tiny nub into the suit arm and worked on sealing a helmet over her. A loud bang, like a high speed car crash, drew his eyes toward the door. He jumped backwards as he saw the creature’s perfect orb through the transparent metal as if it had eyes within that it was using to scan inside his soul.

His heart pounded fast enough to make him feel like a heart attack was only seconds away. He pushed himself up with trembling muscles and fumbled through the bag for the second suit. He refused to look back now, finally realizing that he needed to focus on what mattered. He needed to save Patricia.

He laid out the suit over her and pulled out Zoe’s unit. He tried to connect with the unit, trembling as he listened to the constant pounding outside the door. He still needed to know how he would get them back home. If he would get them back home.

The pounding stopped, forcing him to check the door.

The creature was gone. 

Jimmy stood and inched toward the door. He had a feeling it was a ruse to get him close only to frighten him further. A game for the predator to enjoy while it hunted its prey.

He strained his eyes on the edges of the transparent opening, hoping he would find the creature waiting or curiously searching other areas of the lab. At least that would mean the creature was predictable or that it couldn’t see through the transparent metal, but there was nothing there.

He exhaled as he became aware he was holding his breath. Looking back at the airlock chamber, the room began to look more like an awaiting doom than their escape. He had no idea where this nightmare would pop up, but he had a strong feeling that the moment he opened the gates, it would be there to greet him.

“Aida can you hear me?” he said, trying to control his shaky voice. He heard only the sound of the suit as he put it on. Both legs went in until finally the signal cut in.

“I’m here James,” said Aida. “Is everything alright?”

“We ran into,” he hesitated as he searched for the right words, “an issue. We lost one of the suits.”

“How many are left?”

“Three,” he said. “I just need to know if we’ll run into any issues.”

He finished strapping the suit on and placed the helmet over Patricia’s chest so he could continue speaking with Aida.

“No, the extra suit was just a safeguard.”

“Good, then what do I need to do to get me the fuck off this place?”

There was a brief silence as he clanked through the locker room walkway and into the tiny section that separated the airlock from the control room. The door shut behind him and he felt an anticipation building. An occasional rush through his stomach like waiting in line to ride a tremendous roller coaster.

“The thrusters will be offline,” said Aida. “You’ll need to turn them on inside the pod and then power on the emergency fuel line. You have to be careful not to engage the thrusters while the fuel is being pumped. It’s extremely combustible.”

“I won’t be dying until I get what’s mine,” he said.

He ended the line and pushed the trolley to the center of the airlock chamber. He picked up the helmet and stared at Patricia’s rising and falling chest. The suit arm where the nub was flopped down like a rubber chicken.

“We’re getting out of here,” he said, before he slipped on his helmet.

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