“You said the guards were turning off the hallway cameras?” Z asked me as we prepared our weapons. The blonde hacker carried one of the smaller pistols that Uwuwto’s bodyguards used.
“That is what they told me.” My words clawed out of my chest like a ball of sandpaper. I didn’t want to speak anymore. I wanted to kill. “They will see us running through the halls, eventually. We just have to get to the control tower before they can catch us. Are you both ready?”
“Yes,” Eve said. She was carrying my rifle in her hands. The woman had admitted she wasn’t skilled with firearms, so I’d given her and the gun-ignorant hacker a quick lesson when we were in the hotel.
“I’m ready. Oh fuck. We are going to die. This sucks,” Z laughed as she lifted the bags off of the ground. They were mostly our spare clothes and a few extra pistols. I had thought about carrying them, but we couldn’t afford for me to be encumbered during the upcoming fight.
“We will be fine. Have faith.” Eve smiled at the hacker.
“Oh, sure, ‘have faith,’ says the girl with the fangs and the red eyes. ‘Just follow the two and a half meter tall walking tiger-man into a tornado of bullets. What’s the worst that can happen?’ Kitty-boy doesn’t seem to mind getting shot, but I kind of like my blood staying inside of my body.”
“Stay out of the way then. Let’s go.” I opened the door and pivoted around the hallway with my shotgun. There weren’t any guards, of course, but I did see the cameras on the ceiling. I was going to assume the guards at the front desk had not turned them off and were raising the alarm. It meant we had less than five minutes to run two kilometers, get through five security doors, kill the guards at three stations, access the control tower, hack new codes to open the bay doors, and figure out how to get launch clearance.
Z’s fears were reasonable.
I grunted at the women, and they came out of the office behind me. I’d spent the last ten minutes memorizing the map of the facility, so I knew exactly where to run. I grunted again, and then took the lead position at the mouth of the hallway that would take us to the control tower.
I quickly outpaced my friends, but that was okay. I didn’t want to risk them getting shot at. The plan was for me to charge ahead with my enhanced speed and hope I could gain the initiative on any guards. The hallways were empty, and I was soon sprinting at my full speed down the long stretches.
I turned the corner where the first guard checkpoint was and encountered my first opposition. There were only three of them sitting at a desk next to a metal detector, and they wore the kind of uniforms the men at the front of the building had. It looked like the men were playing a game of holocards, and they weren’t prepared for me to come up on them so suddenly.
I flicked out the claws on my left hand and ripped them across the neck of the first guard, and his blood sprayed across the faces of the other men. Before either could scream, I drove my nails into the eye sockets of the second guard to kill him. The final man was tilting back out of his chair, and I slammed the butt of my shotgun into his face. The blow smashed him into the ground, and then another strike from my weapon broke open his skull like an egg.
“I’ll get the door!” Z shouted as she ran through the metal detector. The thing went off with a meek buzz, but the hacker paid it no attention.
Eve and I moved to the blonde woman’s side and watched her plug a cord between her skull and the key pad of the door.
“Alwin’s got a lot of codes that I downloaded. I’m just going to cycle through them first before I actually try to hack the-- and we are good!” Z did a fist pump in the air and then made a motion with her hand as if she was a magician opening up a doorway with her magic powers.
The door did open, and I poked my head around the corner to make sure there wasn’t a battalion of plasma wielding guards in heavy armor standing on the other side. Fortunately, the hallway was clear, and I grunted at them to follow me.
This next segment of the hallway was only two hundred meters, but it had a few intersecting passageways I checked before I ran past. I made it to the security door a good twenty seconds before my comrades could catch up to me, and felt the beast scream in my mind with impatience. I needed to run. I needed to kill. Waiting made me feel caged again.
“On it,” Z said as she plugged her brain into the door again.
“You are doing great,” Eve patted the other woman on the shoulder. “We are almost there.”
“We actually aren’t, but thanks for the compliment. This door is done,” Z made her pretend magic motion with her hand, and the gray armored doors parted with the movement.
“Three more doors.” I peeked around the opening. No guards were waiting for us, and I sprang forward to take the lead again.
This was the longest stretch of distance between the doors. The passage where we ran was on the side of the main shipyard building, and if we wanted to take one of the other vessels, we could have chosen any of the doors on our left side to reach the massive hangar. Then we could have boarded the ship and blasted off without any more conflict.
But Eve wanted the strange manta ray shaped ship, and the woman hadn’t led me astray yet.
I wanted to sprint ahead of the two women, but while the doors on my left led to the hangar, the doors on my right were staff housing and equipment rooms. The map didn’t tell me if anyone was currently living in the rooms, but I didn’t want to risk someone stepping into the hallway between me and my companions. It would mean potential crossfire. I could shave the wings off of a fly with my shotgun at ten meters, but I feared Z would accidently put a bullet in me. Or her whole magazine. I was going to have to teach her to shoot once we got on the ship.
A man stepped out of a door in front of me. He looked like a lab tech since he wore a white coat and was studying a digital pad in his hands. He didn’t even look up when I reached him, but he gasped with surprise when I flung him back through the still opened door. I saw him smash into the far wall of his room and then slump to the floor. He was hurt and probably unconscious, but the man would live.
The tiger screamed in my mind, and I almost staggered against the wall when I tried to run. It wanted to kill the man, even though he might have been innocent. The beast wanted to feed on screams and terror. It was a tightly wound animal rage that only thought in terms of kill or be killed. Hunt or flee. Mate or die. It didn’t understand I had no desire to kill a guy who was probably just working the late shift so that he could support a family. I didn't see anyone else in the room, so I pushed myself to run again.
My boots pounded the tile floor, and the rhythm forced most of my bloodlust back into my stomach. We continued our run, but I could hear Z’s breath pour out of her mouth with painful gasps. I doubted hackers spent a lot of time exercising, and the woman’s heart sounded as if it was working way too hard to keep up with us. There wasn’t much I could do about the problem besides throwing her over my shoulder when she couldn’t run anymore.
We weren’t even halfway to the control tower.
I motioned for my friends to stop at the next corner. There was a guard station up ahead in front of the third security door. The door led to a service elevator which would take us up two floors to another long hallway dotted with endless office cubicles. There were only two more security doors after this elevator, and one more guard post right in front of the control tower. If I could get these men down without raising the alarm, it might buy us another minute before all hell broke loose.
I crouched a bit and crept forward with short strides. I inhaled the scents surrounding me and then twitched my ears around so I could get a feel for the guards around the next corner. My nose caught the smell of their fear, and my ears picked up the frantic drumming of their hearts. Fuck. They knew we were coming.
I debated my options. The animal wanted me to dash around the corner with my enhanced speed and kill the men, but my human brain knew that plan was all sorts of stupid, so I grabbed one of the grenades from my armored jacket. It was an offensive one and I hoped it wouldn’t fry the electronics on the security door when it went off.
The pin came off with a flick of my fingers, and I waited two seconds before I banked it off of the adjacent wall. The men shouted as soon as they saw the explosive, and I turned my head away to protect my ears from the boom.
Their screams ended as soon as the blast sounded, and I spun around the corner on my knees; the three men were all sorts of dead, and the metal detector was ruined. I gestured for my two teammates to run forward, and I checked the other directions of the hallways before I took my position behind Z.
“They know we arrrrrrr here,” I growled.
“No shit, you just threw a grenade. You are like, the worst fucking ninja I’ve ever seen. What happened to being all quiet?” Z was pushing the cord from her head into the door again.
“They knew wwwweee were here before I threw the gggggernade.” It was getting harder to speak without growling.
“I thought we’d just get killed as soon as we stepped out of the office, so I’m going say we are still winning. This shit is opened.” Z snapped her fingers, and the blood covered security door began to slide apart.
“Get down!” I shouted as I heard a stutter of safety switches flick over from the other side of the door.
Eve was already twisting out of the way, but Z wasn’t prepared for my warning, and the hacker froze. I grabbed her shoulder with my left hand while I aimed my shotgun into the opening maw of the doorway. As soon as I saw the first guard’s head I pulled on the trigger of my shotgun.
But the five other guards also began firing.
Z flew away with a flick of my furry hand, but the other bullets slammed into me. Most hit my armored jacket in the chest, but they didn’t penetrate the armor. Two of the shots got lucky and hit me in my left bicep. The slugs ripped almost all of my arm off, but I was carrying my shotgun with my right arm, so I was able to continue yanking on the trigger.
My slugs sprayed across the room like mini torpedoes. One shot punched a hole through two of the men’s chests, another ripped the top half of his body off at the stomach, a third slug left a skull sized hole inside the skull of the very unlucky guard, and the last shot somehow managed to toss all the limbs of the man free of his body when it hit him in the center mass.
Shotguns were quite useful up close.
I fell to a knee and looked at my left arm. It was attached by only a few long tendons, and a gallon of blood seemed to pour out of the side of my shoulder. I’d taken a few bullet hits before and still managed to heal through them, but this was a serious injury. I didn’t know if my mutated DNA would let just let the limb attach back.
“Shit! Are you okay?” Z was at my side, and it looked like the she was trying to decide how she should comfort me during my last few seconds of life.
“I’m fine. Let’s keep going,” I didn’t actually feel any pain, but my legs wouldn’t work for some reason.
“You are very injured,” Eve stated the obvious.
“Push my arm back into its socket for a few seconds. I might heal,” I said, but my heart was pounding in my ears, and I had trouble hearing my own words. Maybe I was whispering.
“Uhhh. Your, whole fucking arm is-- oh jeez,” Z moaned when Eve grabbed onto my left limb and pushed it against my shoulder.
“It’s fine. I think I am healing,” I wheezed as I looked up at the vampire. Her red eyes met mine, and I could easily see her worry.
I heard boots marching down the adjacent hallway from where we had come from.
“More are coming,” I said to the two women as I nodded back around the corner. “You should go. I’ll hold them off here.”
“No. I’m not leaving you,” Eve said.
“Then you’ll die. Just go. I want you to live,” I growled at her. No. I needed her to live. How did she not know how I felt about her?
“I do know how you--”
“Hey! No one needs to die right now. I can close the door. Pick him up!” Z grabbed me under the right arm and tried to lift. The woman’s face turned red with the strain, but I easily weighed one hundred and fifty kilograms without my armor on.
Her effort inspired me to move, and I pushed off of the floor with wobbly legs.
“There we go! Just get to the other side.” Z tugged on my arm in an effort to push me faster, and the three of us stumbled across the threshold of the security door.
As soon as we crossed, Z let go of my arm and plugged her skull cord into the terminal on the other side.
“Come on. Come on. Fucking close. Please,” she started to chant.
The sounds of the boots grew oppressively close, and I guessed the woman could hear them now.
“Yes!” Z cried as the doors started to close again.
They moved really slow.
“Fuck! What is wrong with this piece of shit?” Z moaned. “The blood and guts must have messed with the motors.”
“I’ve got a grenade on my--” I started to say, but Eve was already pulling one of the smoke grenades off of my jacket with her bloody hand. She flicked off the pin with an easy twist of her long nail, and then tossed the cylinder past the closing door.
Just as the men turned the corner.
The door wasn’t done closing, and the smoke had only partially filled the hallway. I raised my shotgun with my right arm and sent a slug into the first in the pack. The fifty-gram projectile made a hole in his chest armor the size of my spread hand, and then the slug took out the two guards running behind him.
The other men jumped back around the corner, and I fired a few times into the wall where they took cover. My slugs smashed through the wall like a jackhammer, and two more of them died.
The door was halfway closed, but the smoke had now filled up most of the room.
Z yanked her cord out of the door’s keypad and turned toward me. A spray of bullets bounced around us, and she fell down with her arms over her head. The guards were shooting blind, but it was only a matter of time before they got lucky. We needed to move.
“Let’s go.” A growl emerged from my throat as I pushed my back against the wall and slowly rolled myself to stand.
My arm was starting to itch at the shoulder like a group of ants were crawling over my wound. It was the familiar sensation of healing, and I wondered if my body was actually going to repair itself.
I probably wouldn’t live long enough to find out. The guards knew we were here, and we weren’t even on the correct floor yet.
“The elevator!” Z yelled as we turned the next corner.
“Down,” I shouted at them as I pulled them forward.
The light above the double doors of the elevator flashed, and the doors began to open. I didn’t even wait to see who opened it; I just let my shotgun roar. The slugs turned the contents of the lift into spaghetti.
I saw the corpses of eight men when the doors finished opening. This group, like the men on the other side of our smoke grenade, wore armored plates over their chest in a design similar to Eve’s armor.
It hadn’t saved them. Very little would stop a solid slug from a shotgun fired at less than twenty meters.
I pushed my right elbow into the ground and seethed when I stood. It was only a few dozen steps the rest of the way to the blood-soaked elevator, and I leaned against the hole filled wall as soon as we stepped in.
“Going up,” Z commented as she hit the button. There was a terminal jack, and the hacker shrugged before she plugged her skull cord into it.
“Ohhhh,” she said after the door slid closed. “Elevators are on a port system.”
“What does that mean?” I grunted. My arm was finally starting to hurt, but the pain was just making me angrier.
“It’s like closed. There is a single access point that the security crew can access for control. If that is turned off, then they can’t move the elevators unless they go local.”
“Can you turn it off?” Eve and I asked at the same time.
“Already did. I also turned off all of the elevators besides this one. As soon as the door opens, I’ll shut this one down also. They can turn them back on if they get someone with a skull jack to one of the elevators, but I just shat all over their code, so whoever it is better bring a big fucking clean disk.”
“Thanks. That will help,” I said. Then I pressed the release button for my magazine, and the almost empty drum of my shotgun fell on top of one of the guard bodies with a wet thud.
“I need a--” I began to say, but Eve was already fishing through the correct ammo pouch on my belt. The beautiful woman pulled out another ammo drum, and then pushed it up into my shotgun until it clicked into place.
“You two have this creepy finishing each other’s sentences kind of--” Z stopped talking when the door dinged, and I pointed the productive end of my gun at the doors as they opened.
The hallway was clear, and the three of us let out a collective sigh of relief.
“Two more security doors,” Eve said.
“Confirmed,” I replied as I took a cautious step into the hallway. We couldn’t actually run with Eve still pushing my arm into my socket, but we could walk quickly.
An alarm began to scream through the halls.
“How rude. It’s like they don’t want us stealing their ships, or something,” Z laughed.
“You are in a gggggood mood,” I growled.
“Men waiting for us up ahead at the next turn. They are heavily armored and have shotguns,” Eve hissed.
“Next corner?” I asked as I looked forty meters down the hallway. “Right or left?”
“Left,” she answered with a nod.
“Yes. Do it,” she confirmed, and I dropped my shotgun onto my sling so that I could pull out my second to the last grenade. It was a highly offensive one, and would probably wreck a good sixty cubic meters of the passageway with bouncing shrapnel.
I pulled the pin and then chucked the grenade down the hall toward the corner. As soon as it reached the turn, the sphere froze in mid air and then darted a sharp left. The men around the corner screamed out a warning two seconds before the detonation. The grenade was a beast, and the boom of its explosion shook the walls, dimmed the lights, and made the floor shift like an ocean.
“They are dead,” Eve said after a cloud of smoke poured out of the side hallway.
“No shit. Did you have a nuke in your pocket?” Z asked me. “Please say you did. I have a snappy joke ready.”
“Let’s go.” I grabbed my shotgun and started to walk forward.
“Ahhh,” she whined.
“I’m surprised you can make jokes at a time like this.” Force of habit made me check the hallway with my shotgun before we walked past. The sound the grenade made had been much less horrific than the damage it caused to the armored men. Most of the hallway had been reduced to bits of armor drenched in a thick red soup.
“It is how she copes with stress,” the vampire said.
“Exactly! Eve gets it.”
“The next security door is around this corner,” I said. The door would take us to the lobby area of the control tower. Then there was another guard station before the door to the control room.
“I got it,” the blonde hacker said as she pulled into the terminal.
“There is no one in the next room,” Eve whispered.
“That’s strange,” I said.
“They were probably the guys in the hallway you just exploded. Or maybe they were the guys in the elevator that you aerated,” Z said. “Or maybe they were watching the security footage, and they just figured that they wanted to live. I’m just glad they aren’t there. We should have been dead five minutes ago. Here is the door.” The metal panes in front of the blonde women started to shift and part. I raised my shotgun and slid to the side so I could have a little cover in case Eve was wrong.
The doors opened, and I leaned past them. The lobby was about fifty meters wide by eighty long. The sides of the room had small counter nooks, and I could see the neon lit words of various restaurant brands I noticed in the city. This was less of a lobby and more of a food court. There were tables, chairs, and trash bins stacked to one of the sides. I saw the guard station on the far end of the large room by the elevator passage leading to the control room. It appeared that Z was correct: There was no one manning it.
“Let’s move,” I ordered as I stepped into the foyer. Eve was still holding onto my left arm, but the numbness had started to fade, and agonizing pain accompanied the horrendous itch that came along with my healing. It was almost too much for my human mind, and the tiger who lived in my soul begged to be cut loose so he could run through the halls.
I fought against the beast inside of me. I couldn’t lose control now; we were almost in the control tower. Once we were there, Z could jam the doors and we’d have a few minutes of breathing time. I just had to make it the rest of the way across the room.
You can do it, Adam. I am with you. Soon we will be with the stars.
Her voice came to my mind and pushed the animal back from the edges of my vision. I let out a long breath and managed to close my left hand into a fist.
“Huh,” I said as I stared at the bloody cat hand.
“You are powerful. They didn’t know your true strength, but soon they will,” Eve whispered as she let go of my arm. The limb stayed connected to my shoulder, and I began to think I’d have full use of it in ten minutes.
“Last door,” Z sighed thankfully as she pushed the cord from her head into the terminal slot. “I’m getting faster with their systems.”
“Hurry,” I said. “I hear something.” I pointed my shotgun to the far side of the open plaza. There was a wide tunnel there that I guessed was a supply delivery port.
“I don’t sense any--” Eve began to say.
“It’s a spider drone,” I whispered as the first outline of the giant combat machine became apparent to my sensitive eyes.
They must have been out of guards and sent these fuckers instead.
“Door is opened!” Z screamed at the same time as the machine’s cannon barrels began to spin.
“Go, go, go!” I growled. My arm burned a red hot agony when I pushed Eve through the door. Z had already pivoted around the opened steel shutter, and she was trying to close it behind us.
“Hole. Eeeeeee. Shiiiiiit!” the hacker screamed as the wave of bullets erupted from the spinning gun. The ground, walls, and ceiling seemed to instantly turn into dust as the bullets separated their molecules with their kinetic energy. I’d pushed Eve deep into the hallway behind the door, but Z was kind of close to where the drone’s bullets were spraying, and I threw my giant tiger body over her.
“Mmmmmmhhhhhhhh!” she screamed into my chest as the endless stream of bullets smashed into the world behind us. I felt one tag me in the back, but it skipped off of my armor like a rock across a pond. Then another slammed into my side, and it tore through my stomach like a red hot poker. The blonde woman screamed again, but the intensity of her shout made me think she wasn’t actually injured; she was just upset I’d gotten shot again.
Then the door closed, and the staccato roll of bullets turned into the sound of angry hail slamming against the thick security doors.
“Are you okay?” Z said when I pushed myself off of her. The woman’s blue eyes were wide, and she pointed down at my stomach.
“Yeah,” I coughed, and it felt like a gallon of blood spilled out of my mouth.
“Uhh, no. You’ve got half of your guts coming out of your stomach.”
“Help me lift him,” Eve instructed the hacker as she pulled up on my right arm. The dark-haired beauty looked as if she weighed fifty-five kilograms soaking wet, so I was a little surprised when she yanked me to my feet. Z pushed her shoulder under the bloody armpit of my left arm, and the two women tried to help me walk toward the elevator leading up to the control tower.
“We are almost there. Uhh, don’t die. Okay?” Z said after we’d taken half a dozen steps.
“I won’t,” I tried to growl, but another bucket of blood splashed out of my tiger maw. Shit. How did my body hold this much blood?
I didn’t feel the monster inside of me. I only knew human fear, and a dark fuzzy fog at the sides of my vision.
My body hurt damn bad now. There was no numbness. It was just pain that I wanted to go away at any cost. I was so tired. I wanted to lay down for a bit and close my eyes.
“Fight it,” Eve hissed. “Do not die. Keep walking.”
“Confirmed,” I said as I focused on the next step. Then the next step. Then the next step.
We reached the elevator and moved inside as soon as the doors dinged open. The inside of the lift car was empty, and Z plugged herself into the terminal so that she could manually open it.
The doors closed with a happy ding, and the car shot up the shaft with a sudden rush. I hadn’t expected the speed, and my knees almost buckled against the force of gravity.
My blood pattered on the floor tile like a heavy rain.
“We are almost there. I’m sure there is a medical kit or something in the control tower. Everything is going to be fine. It’s going to be good. We’ve got this. Just hang in there,” Z pleaded.
She cares for you. She has never seen another man protect her. They have all left or betrayed her. Fight this. You are strong. Death is your minion. You do not succumb to it. She needs you. I need you. The galaxy needs you. Use your anger. Don’t quiet the beast. Let it save you.
There are men in the control room.
“Confirmed,” I said as the elevator door dinged. Then I turned to the two women and raised my shotgun. “Step away,” I growled. Eve nodded and moved to the side of the car, and Z did the same, only the blonde hacker looked terrified.
The tiger roared in my stomach. It filled my blood. It beat against my skull like a war drum. My sight was already tinted a bit yellow because of my form, but the walls of the elevator began to shift into a crimson hue.
The door slid open, and I jumped through. There were three men with pistols standing behind the cover of the various flight control equipment. Their first volley of shots missed me when I dove through the door, but my first shotgun slug found one of their arms. The limb exploded off at the shoulder as the slug passed through, and the hunk of metal dented the thick glass window that looked out over the gigantic spaceship yard.
I fell on the ground with an impact the shocked my entire body. I felt a whimper escape my mouth, and I rolled over to my side so I could aim my shotgun at the next attacker. My landing stunned me a bit, and the man was already sighting down his pistol barrel at me.
Then half of his skull disappeared when the bullet from Eve's rifle passed through it.
I sat up to aim my weapon at the last man, but he was taking cover behind the metal computer station, and I didn’t have a clean angle on him. I almost thought about shooting him through the terminal, but I didn’t know how much of this equipment we needed to escape. I expected him to poke his head out from the right side to take a shot, but the man surprised me by throwing his pistol to the floor and waving both of his hands over his head.
“He is surrendering,” Z translated.
“Fine, let him go,” Eve said as she gestured with her rifle to the elevator door.
“Do you need him?” I asked the blonde girl as I stood.
“What was that?” she asked, and I realized my words had been mostly a guttural growl.
“He knows nothing of the system,” Eve said as she gestured with her rifle again. Then she spoke a single word, and the man ran into the elevator. A few seconds later, the door closed, and the car was descending to the lobby.
“Well, we made it,” Z said as she sat in front of the largest array of computer terminals. “Now we just have to do the hard part.”
“We have faith in your abilities,” Eve said as she put her hand on the other woman’s shoulder.
“Heh. Thanks.” The blonde woman pushed her skull cord into the desk and then turned her face to me. “You going to be okay?”
“Confirmed,” I said as I looked down to my stomach. I was still dripping blood all over the floor, but my intestines were somehow back in my body.
“Good. Now sit back and watch some fucking techno magic.” The blonde woman cracked her knuckles, wiggled her narrow shoulders, and then began to dance her fingers across one of the many keyboards.