I carried the woman down the hallway, past the corpses of my fellow prisoners, past the dead bodies of the guards I had slain in the hall, and into the main plaza area of the floor where the large firefight happened. I set the strange woman down at the lip of the corridor and then returned to lift her again when I confirmed all the human security guards were dead.
“What is the best way down?” I asked her. I didn’t know if there were any more corporate or military guards in the building, but the group of scientists that had experimented on me seemed to have unlimited resources, and I imagined they were going to send more soldiers after us.
They will, but it will take them some time. We have a small window to escape this planet.
“Are you reading my mind?” I asked her again, but the woman just shook her head a small amount.
Speed over safety. Take the elevator down.
“Got it,” I growled as I sprinted across the floor of the massacre with her in my arms. I had my shotgun kind of cradled in my right arm against her half naked body as I ran, and the rifle bounced against my armored back like an intense war drum.
It was funny, I hadn’t much cared about my life when I had the collar on, but now I had hope and someone who needed my help. The stakes were higher now, and my heart felt a twinge of fear. I didn’t want to go back to the experiments, and I didn’t want the strange woman to die. I did owe her my life.
We reached the elevator, and I pressed the button for the bottom floor. The inside of the metal lift was covered with blood, and there were two bodies of my former comrades lying inside. Each had caught a bullet that ripped through their helmets, and there was no healing from being dead.
I set the woman down, and she leaned against the wall. The door to the lift was closing behind us, and I grabbed whatever ammo, grenades, and knives I could from the tiger-men bodies before the elevator started to fall down the shaft.
The scientist tended to equip us with only the bare minimum of gear before we left for each mission, and the extra ammo, rifle, grenades, and even knives helped to soothe a bit of my fear. I guessed that there would be another group or two of guards at the front entrance of the building and it was going to be a pain in the ass to get through them all by myself, but at least I wouldn’t be running out of bullets anytime soon.
The elevator doors let out a chime, and the bloody doors began to slide open. I readied myself to sprint out the door and then gestured with my head for the woman to stay close to the control lip, where there was a bit of cover.
As soon as the doors opened a hand full of centimeters, the bullets started flying.
I dove sideways through the bottom part of the door. The twist of my shoulders turned the wide side of my body vertical, and I slid across the polished tile of the lobby floor. I felt a bullet ping against the armor of my shoulder, and another punched through my back. Neither caused me more than a passing sensation of pain, and I aimed my shotgun at the group of guards who fired upon me. A quick count gave me only six of them, and they had taken cover behind a portable metal barrier that was positioned about twenty meters away at the base of a gaudy fountain.
My shotgun barked in my hand as I slid across the smooth floor, and one of the guards turned into more empty space than person. The men screamed, I rolled to my left side, and a rainfall of rifle bullets chased a few centimeters behind me.
Another bullet caught me in the back when I sprang to my feet, and the kinetic energy from the hit helped lift me upward in the direction of what looked to be the front desk of the building. It was made of metal, a good nine meters wide, and had an array of computer screens on top of the flat surface. I managed to leap over the top before any more bullets could tag me.
Shots rang off of the metal desk, the alarm continued to shriek, and I heard the men shout at each other. They were either figuring out how to flank me, or they were trying to get to the woman in the elevator. I realized I was a bit out of position to protect the strange woman now, but there really wasn’t much I could do about that now. Staying in the elevator would have only drawn their fire.
I did a crouching walk to the far side of the desk and realized my cover must have also served as a guard station. Two of the chairs sat in front of an array of surveillance monitors and hundreds of terminal switches. I could see the strange woman leaning against the wall of the elevator, and she glanced up into the camera as if she knew I was watching her. I could also see the group of men in the lobby. Two were moving toward the elevator, and the other three had lifted their portable bullet barrier and were moving toward the north side of the lobby. The metal desk-alcove I took cover behind had an opening on the north side, and I guessed they were planning to flush me out. These men could have done the same thing with a few grenades, but they either didn’t have any, or they were worried about damaging the computer hardware that I hid behind.
I didn’t have any such worries, and I yanked the pin out of one of my own grenades. It was one of the defensive fragmentation varieties I’d taken from one of my comrades’ bodies. It would produce a spray of shrapnel in all directions for a good five meters. Body armor would help against the damage so my enemies might not die from a direct hit, but the blast would probably knock their barrier away from them, and I could then finish them off with my shotgun.
I glanced again at the monitor to gauge their position, and then I let the safety lever flip free of the grenade body. The bit of metal bounced off the terminal control panel, flipped through the air like a gymnast, and then pinged off the floor.
I tossed the grenade over my shoulder without looking at its destination.
It was a risky throw, but the guards had their weapons sighted on my cover, and the lack of helmet meant I’d probably catch a bullet to my brain if I stood from the alcove. I did have the security monitor next to me, and I watched the sphere bounce once, twice, and then roll within a meter of my target. The guards screamed, but instead of trying to throw their portable barrier over the grenade, they panicked and tried to run away from it. It was a poor decision, and the explosion sent hundreds of pieces of shrapnel ripping through their bodies.
I leapt over the desk and sprinted toward the grenade smoke. The three men were probably dead, but I didn’t want to risk them getting a final shot off at me while I went after the other two guards. My shotgun roared three times to ensure they wouldn’t be making any more poor decisions, and I continued my sprint back toward the elevator.
The other two guards knew I was coming, and they took makeshift cover behind a wide metal art sculpture. It almost looked like it was a mini version of the city I had flown over just fifteen minutes ago, but the bent metal was just shaped in the outline of the buildings, and there wasn’t really much to protect the two men from a bullet of heavy caliber.
I leapt into the air, and my powerful legs carried me a good five meters into the sky of the lobby. The two guards hadn’t expected this movement, and their bullets passed harmlessly beneath me. I pointed the end of my shotgun down at the guard on the left side of the metal sculpture and squeezed the trigger. I was shooting slugs still, and the hunk of lead ripped through the metal bits of art before it tore the guard’s left leg from his hip at the joint. The man didn’t have much time to scream though, my next slug found his chest, and the center of his body evaporated.
I pivoted my shotgun to aim at the last guard and squeezed the trigger as I landed. My slug tore through the length of the metal sculpture and sent bits of the fake city everywhere, but it missed the guard, and the man sprayed a burst from his own gun at me. His shots also went astray, and I was able to take better aim with my next shot.
He was twelve meters away, but my slug found him and made a crater through his armor.
I sprinted to the elevator and lifted the woman into my arms again. Her strange red eyes were closed, but her fingers tapped against the armor on my chest when I cradled her.
“We are almost out of here,” I said as I poked my head out of the elevator doors to double check no more guards came.
They are sending battle drones from the roof. We must escape to the city. Run as fast as you can.
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” I growled, and commanded my legs to sprint as fast as they could without hurting the woman in my arms. Battle drones were like mini tanks, or helicopters, or whatever horrific shape the designers could come up with. They carried enough arsenal to level a building, and I knew that I couldn’t hope to defeat one without EMP grenades or a rocket launcher.
The doorway exiting the lobby was a good hundred meters away, and the thought of a monstrous machine rolling or crawling through the hallways behind us added some terrified speed to my sprint. I reached the array of doors in record time and threw my armored shoulder against the tinted glass to open them.
They were locked.
“Shit,” I growled. I looked back to the lobby desk and wondered if there was a button somewhere I could press for the locks on the door to open. The front doors to the place were probably armored, and I didn’t want to waste any more time trying to blast through them with just a shotgun.
They are coming. Hurry, Adam. Please.
Her eyes were still closed, and it looked as if her skin was even whiter than it had been when I first pulled her from the tank. Was she injured? Sick? She definitely looked like she needed to eat a sandwich. Maybe she was just hungry.
I thought about leaving the strange woman leaning against the glass so I could run back to the security desk quicker, but I decided against it and just carried her back with me. If the battle drones did show up, I didn’t want us to be separated.
I jumped on top of the desk and then set the woman down in the alcove behind the metal. There were literally hundreds of terminal buttons by the monitors, and half dozen keyboards connected to monitors. I looked to see if any of them had the “Unlock Front Door” tag written on them, but the only writing I could see looked like it was of the Chinese style.
I started slamming on the various buttons, and dread continued to fill my stomach. I wanted to live, damn it. I didn’t want to die now that I had my freedom. Well, maybe I would be okay dying if I could save this woman. I owed her that at least, and I always wanted to pay my debts.
That was how I ended up imprisoned. I owed a blood debt.
I saw a green light flash above the front door, and I guessed one of the buttons I’d brought my furry fist down upon had unlocked it. Leaving the safety of the alcove this time was probably going to be a one-way trip.
I scooped the woman up in my arms, planted a boot on top of the desk, and forward flipped over the monitor displays. I landed on my feet with enough momentum to keep sprinting, and my vision started to tunnel around the far door.
I heard a whirling machine sound behind me. It seemed to fill the entire lobby, and I risked a glance over my shoulder to see the shape of the battle drones. There were two, each larger than a van and in the form of a six-legged robot spider. One was still squeezing its massive bulk out of the far hallway, but the other was hanging from the ceiling of the lobby, and its digital eyes fixed on me as if the thing was actually a hunting animal. There was a mini-gun attached to the bottom of the drone, and the spider-machine leveled its body so that the many barrels pointed in my direction.
I will open the doors. Run faster, please.
Her voice was surprisingly calm in my head, and it helped bring my focus back to the distant doors. I leaned forward as I sprinted and pushed my muscular legs past their breaking point.
I heard the gun begin to whirl behind me.
The door was still fifteen meters away.
The sound of the bullets firing from the gun sounded less like a rapid tap on a snare drum, and more like a constant roar of a rocket engine. The tile floor around me instantly turned into dust, and I forced my screaming legs to leap out of the front doors of the megatower. They opened as I flew toward them, and my body lay horizontal as I passed through the opening.
I had thought the ground would be waiting for me on the other side of the door, but the front of the building was elevated on a high set of stairs, and we continued our falling trajectory for another ten meters.
Into the busy traffic of the city street.
I twisted my body at the last second to keep the woman in my arms safe from my landing. Fortunately, a sleek sedan broke my fall. Unfortunately, I felt all the discs in my back pop from the impact, and we bounced off and into the flow of traffic. A hundred horns screamed out warnings like a church choir, but all I could do was clutch the thin woman to my chest so that she wasn’t injured by the impact of the asphalt.
You are injured.
There wasn’t much concern in the words that echoed in my head. It was more of a statement of fact. I was actually a bit surprised I could hear her over the sound of the horns and the cars swerving around us. A few of the vehicles slammed into each other, and people started to scream. There was complete chaos in the street, and it was creating a good diversion for our escape.
“I’ll be okay,” I growled as I struggled to stand. My legs were kind of numb, but the rage that powered my mutation was already working to heal my shattered spine, and I was able to fight through the agony in my back. The woman wiggled free of my grip and the various straps of my two long weapons. Then she managed to get one of my arms over her frail shoulders. I almost laughed at the thought of her carrying me any length of distance, but laughing would have hurt even more right now.
There were a good fifty people on the far sidewalk, and they were all pointing at me with horror. I could understand their fear. I was a walking tiger covered in military armor and carrying a bunch of guns; who had just flown out of a megatower door, smashed a car with my bulk, and was now walking it off. I had no idea what planet I was on, but I was sure that this was the kind of stuff they saw on television, not what they ever expected to witness.
I noticed the crowd gasp, and then the fingers moved from pointing at the woman and me, to the far doorway of the megatower. I turned around and saw the spider-shaped battle drone squeezing its body out of the front door. The robot moved almost like a real spider, and the way it climbed onto the wall made me think it was alive.
I turned from the drone and tried to skip across the street. My left leg was starting to work, but I actually did have to lean on the woman a bit. I figured it would be another few seconds before I could use my right side again, and I hoped that we would be able to make it onto a side street before the drone came after us.
Would it even come after us? I had no idea how the official government or police forces worked in this world. For all I knew, the place I just freed the strange woman from was actually the government, and every single cop or soldier here would be searching for us.
My ears heard the distant whirl of the battle drone’s gun, and I turned around with surprise. I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I pulled the black-haired woman into my arms and I threw myself to the ground.
It was half a second before thousands of bullets tore through the cars, buildings, and citizens on the busy street.
Horns went off, metal screeched, and people screamed. I saw the citizens on the street try to run, but the bullets were like a molten laser cutting through the crowd without remorse. Blood, clothes, pieces of building, hunks of sidewalk, and body parts flew everywhere, and I turned my back to the drone with a hope that my armor would keep the woman in my arms safe. We both lay as still as we possibly could, and I began to count the number of seconds that passed while the bullets laid waste to the city street.
Fifteen seconds passed before the guns stopped firing.
Somehow, I hadn’t been hit, but I didn’t even want to look at the rest of the street. It was now obvious that this woman was important to whoever these fucks were; since they were more than willing to kill hundreds of innocent people to ensure that she didn’t escape alive. We needed to get out of here, but I didn’t know how to move without the drones spotting us.
They will not stop until I am dead. They know their fates are sealed if I escape. Please help me, Adam.
“I’m trying,” I panted. “If you’ve got any ideas on escaping these assholes, let me know.” I expected the woman to ignore my question again, so I was surprised when she actually replied.
There is a manhole cover four meters northwest of us. By the white vehicle.
I pivoted my head up and around to see the sewer entrance. It was some four meters away, which might as well have been a kilometer away given that the battle drone was probably waiting for still alive on the street below to move so that it could open fire again.
At least my spine felt as if it was healed from the impact with the car.
“Hold onto me,” I growled to the woman. She didn’t make any sort of movement to indicate she heard me, but I figured that she had. I pushed against the street with my left boot and slid my shoulder across the broken tarmac of the street. The drone didn’t open fire, and I let out a sigh of relief.
Only three more meters to go.
I pushed again with the side of my left boot and felt more than a little thankful for my increased tiger strength. It was as if I performed single leg squats with over two hundred kilograms of resistance. Even the strongest of men would have had a problem doing this more than two or three times, but I felt just fine after six, and I glanced up again to see how far away the manhole cover was.
Still another meter and a half.
I was surprised the drone hadn’t seen me wiggle like a worm across the street. Maybe it was just out of ammo. I almost tried to turn my neck around to look at the thing, but I decided against the move. Even if the drone was out of ammo, it would have been able to crush me with one of its spider legs. It probably just hadn’t seen me and turning my head to look at it might be all the thing needed to know that I was alive.
Six more pushes brought me to the manhole cover. My next challenge was getting the thing off of the ground without the drones seeing me. I guessed it would be impossible, and I realized that I was just going to have to be quick, and hope I could make it down into the sewer before the thing could shoot me.
“Get ready to jump down. I’ll lift it, and you go. I’ll follow,” I instructed the woman, but she again gave me no sign she heard me. Her eyes were opened, though, and the strange red orbs stared into mine with an unnerving intensity.
“Here we go,” I growled as I lifted the cover. The thing was heavy, but I had no problem lifting it with one arm. The woman swung her bare legs into the hole and then she fell down. I pivoted my body around to jump in and caught sight of the two drones at the top of the stairs.
Both of the spider-tanks seemed to notice me as I saw them, and their Gatling guns began to whirl instantly. I didn’t even bother to grab for the ladder that I hoped was at the edge of the hole. I just dived into the dark pit and hoped I wouldn’t slam into the woman on the way down.
The bullets left the drone’s guns like a swarm of angry bees, and the manhole cover slammed closed behind me with the force of their impact. I reached out my left hand, grabbed onto a ladder rung, and then gagged as my shotgun got tangled up with a rung higher. The strap tightened against my throat, and my vision started to turn white.
“Let go ass--” I began to say as I yanked my shotgun strap free. The weapon broke loose easily, but it seemed as if the ladder was made mostly of rust, and my violent movement had been the final force of nature to kill the thing. It broke free of the wall, and my stomach lurched as I became suddenly weightless.
I let out a growl as I fell into the darkness. My eyes hadn’t fully adjusted to the lack of light down here yet, but I could see that the pale woman was falling beneath me. She didn’t scream though, and I almost laughed at the irony of us both dying in a fall after we had escaped death so many times in the last few minutes.
Then I was in a river of water.
It flowed over my head, and I fought against gagging and vomiting while I reminded myself not to breathe in the sewage. I kicked to the surface and was then swept up into the current of the disgusting river. The pale woman fought against the river next to me, and I reached out my left arm to grab her. I missed the first time, then the second time, but I managed to catch her the third time and I pulled her close to me.
Then we fell off a slimy waterfall, and I lost my grip on her.
I swam to the surface of the sewage again, tried not to vomit, and looked for the woman. She was splashing against the current downstream of me, and I kicked my powerful legs a few more times to catch up to her. My vision had adjusted to the darkness now, and I could see her red eyes actually looked a bit panicked. I pulled her to me again and caught a ladder on the side of the river.
A few tense seconds later, I managed to yank us both out of the filth and onto a pathway a good two meters above the river. I gulped air when we were safe, felt my insides twist, and then couldn’t keep the contents of my stomach down. I vomited down into the river until my actions were just a dry heave. The retching took me a good half minute, and I felt the woman’s hands gently pat me on the shoulders near the end. It was meant to be a soothing motion, and I nodded at her once I’d finished puking.
“Thanks,” I said, but the woman didn’t nod or smile.
They will keep looking. We must continue our escape.
“Where? Do you have friends who can help us? I have none on this planet. I don’t even know where we are.”
We are on Trappist-1e. Eventually, we will need funds to procure a ship. For the moment, we need to continue. We need money and a place to rest. Let us continue in the sewer for a bit more and then go to the surface. How long can you maintain your form?
“The longest I’ve done it is for half an hour. I get so angry, and my hunger overwhelms me. I start to lose myself. I saw others go insane when the scientists kept them in this state for too long.” I closed my eyes as I spoke and tried to push the memories away. How long had it been since the collar forced me to change? Fifteen minutes? Twenty? The helmet had a clock on it I used to track the time, so I felt a bit naked without it. Still, I didn’t feel very angry yet. I didn’t feel as if the rage was starting to burn the edges of my mind. I would be fine for another quarter of an hour, or so I guessed.
I do not want you to go insane. Let us find some money and a place to rest. As I said before, speed is of great importance. The quicker we can get away from them the harder it will be for them to follow us.
“Right. Let’s go. Are you going to tell me who they are, and why they had you imprisoned there?” I asked her as I began to walk.
The woman followed me, but she didn’t answer, and I decided not to ask again until we had made it to safety.