I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I blinked, twice, trying to correct my vision. It didn’t do anything; there was nothing wrong with my eyes.
My hands shook and my skin crawled. We’d never dealt with anything like this before.
Dust from the pulverized floor tickled my nose, but I fought back the sneeze.
A humanoid creature dragged itself onto the tiles. Its fingers were webbed, each tipped with a long, sharp nail. Its feet scrabbled for purchase against the wall below, to push itself over the ledge.
When it eventually moved clear of the doorway, it pushed up on all fours, moving forward in a strange shuffling motion. It froze, surveying the wall directly in front of it.
Its hair sprouted coarse, and white as snow, from its deformed skull, but switched abruptly to a mousy brown halfway down. Its translucent skin wrapped tightly around the creature’s bones, like plastic food covering.
Purple veins wound snakeish paths below the surface, pulsing thickly with grotesque life. The blood glugged as it traced through the vessels.
It turned to face us and I found myself gaping at the almost human face of a male. Gray pupils filled the eye, but his whites were flooded with blood.
He blinked once in, like a cartoon owl. Hunger spread across his face, eyes locked on us.
Thick green saliva pooled at the corner of his mouth. His tongue darted out to drink the fluid in again. A rotting stench assailed my nose and my stomach churned. I swallowed, trying to fight back the urge to vomit.
Something else scratched and scrabbled in the elevator shaft.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The shrill alarm punctured the tension. The creature looked unsure of the noise, but not frightened. I reached to silence the watch; the other girls switched theirs off too.
We should have escaped when we had the chance; we needed to get out of this place.
A strange guilt settled over me. I always knew we weren’t the only ones the scientists experimented on, but at least we’d turned out all right. These creatures were stuck like this. We could have ended up like them.
Another pale hand reached out of the shaft and pulled itself free. This one took its place next to the first creature, followed by a third.
They sat there, contemplating us. Not a muscle moved between them.
Guy took a deep, shuddering breath. I could do nothing but watch from the corner of my eyes as a violent sneeze threw his entire body forward.
The creatures reared onto their hind legs, and started toward us. Their hunched backs and awkward gait should have slowed them, but it didn’t. They could easily outrun normal humans, even Guy.
“Stop!” Nicole commanded.
They showed no sign of comprehension. They kept coming.
I wasn’t going to take any chances. I raised my gun and shot the first creature three times in the chest, exactly where a heart should have been.
It barely slowed the thing down. They opened their mouths, a yellow substance dripped from their teeth. I shot it twice more in the head, but still it didn’t stop. It barely slowed down. The other girls shot too.
“They aren’t dying!” Briana squealed.
Annoyance flashed within me, she knew better than to scream.
I took a deep breath and centered myself; it let my training take over. I took in the scene as if from above. I took note of the creature’s speed and course of movement. I assessed the options and possible outcomes.
They seemed humanoid, even if impervious to pain. They had to have something like a brain controlling the movements of their bodies. Severing the link to the brain should stop them immediately.
As if on autopilot, I holstered the guns. My hands went to the straps of the large pack and pulled the webbing to loosen the shoulders. The bag slid down my arms to thump on the ground.
I reached back and drew my sword from its sheath.
Nicole moved in the periphery of my vision, a tanto blade clutched in her hand. I surged forward, Nicole did too. Mouse and Briana stayed close to Guy.
I didn’t tackle the creature in the center. Instead I took the one slightly behind him to the left. He stretched, trying to grab me, but my sword gave me more reach than his empty hands allowed. I brought the sword down across one of its wrists and severed its hand.
It screeched like someone dragging nails down a chalkboard. The noise drilled into my skull.
I used my momentum to spin past the creature and brought my blade around again. I drove the tip through the creature’s spine, where its head met its neck. It froze and flopped to the ground. I was with Mouse and Briana again before the creature’s body hit the floor, Nicole by my side. The second creature collapsed a few feet away. Blood gluggled from where its head once sat.
There was only one left now, the first that had climbed from the shaft. Guy let off two shots into the creature’s face. One hit the bridge of its nose, the other penetrated above its right brow.
He froze, twisting his left pupil inward in an attempt to see what happened to his face. The right eye lolled to the side. Deciding nothing was wrong, he refocused on us.
I moved forward to meet it. The creature reached for my throat, but I sliced my blade through his neck before he got anywhere near me. The bone was brittle as chalk.
The monstrosity seemed confused for a moment, before its head slipped from the neck and bounced to the floor. Its body followed, but not soon enough that I wasn’t wondering if the damned thing was still alive.
“What the hell are these things?” I asked through gasping breaths.
“God knows.” Guy looked bewildered. “I’ve never been down there. Only scientists and their guards have the key cards for those levels.”
More scrapes and bangs came from the elevator shaft and echoed around us.
Mouse glanced in the direction of the noise, her knife in her hand. “Let’s get out of here.”
We heaved our bags onto our backs again, each of us now armed with a blade and our guns.
Guy led us back the way we’d come earlier, his gun sweeping the path in front of us. We had to make our way to the opposite side of the building, which meant passing our cell.