Chapter 09: The Lockdown

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"Well?" Trent asked.

Sharpe had been silent for a long while, staring around the room, apparently trying to come up with some kind of plan. They'd already ruled out the most obvious choices: a pair of exits, one on either side. Sharpe said that there were drone guns hard-wired to those doors as well and anyone going through would be shredded.

Sharpe remained silent and still.

Trent looked at the others. Drake stood not too far away, mainly trying not to look at the corpses. Trent didn't blame him, he was having a bit of a hard time with it himself. He'd been around death and dead bodies before, but this was a bit extreme even by his standards. Tristan, on the other hand, was doing the exact opposite.

She'd taken to kneeling and investigating one of the corpses.

"Find anything interesting?" Trent asked.

She glanced up. "Sort of. Whatever did this managed to take the skin off perfectly without damaging any of the muscles beneath."

"Jesus," Drake whispered.

"And I don't suppose you have any ideas on what did it?" Trent asked.

"No, not really. It could be anything, given what we've seen so far."

"Anything," Trent repeated.

If brain-eating black lizards and things with acidic holes in their chests and something apparently built to be the perfect flayer was on the table, then basically anything was, Trent supposed. What were the rules here? He had no idea, and so he could rule absolutely nothing out. How dangerous were these things going to get?

Could whatever was waiting for them beyond this point be bulletproof? Flameproof? Not need oxygen? Could they even die?

"All right," Sharpe said. "I've figured it out." She crossed to one corner of the room. "Gather round."

The other three joined her. Trent realized they were standing around a well-hidden grate in the floor. Sharpe knelt, found a release and pulled the grate up, propping it against the wall. They all stared down into a dim hole in the floor.

"They routed most of the power, water, and utilities in underground maintenance tunnels and bays beneath the buildings." She paused and looked directly at Trent. "I'll guide you over the radio to some important equipment governing the drone guns and talk you around disabling them remotely. Get going."

"I'm coming," Drake said.

"No, I want you two here, with me, to make sure nothing else gets in here," Sharpe replied.

"You honestly expect-" Drake began. Trent cut him off.

"Don't worry, I've got it."

Drake stared at him for a moment, then nodded very slightly. Trent was grateful. Sometimes he liked to play dice with his life, Drake liked to do the same thing. Sometimes the other argued, and now wasn't going to be one of those times. Trent knew that Sharpe was sending him down there with the hopes that he was going to die.

He would be glad to prove her wrong.

Trent dropped into the hole, landing with a grunt ten feet down, ignoring the ladder. He looked around, finding himself in a narrow corridor where the ceiling was made almost exclusively of piping and the walls were covered with screens and dials and control panels. Nothing behind him, nothing ahead, good enough for him.

Slipping his finger inside the trigger guard, Trent turned on his radio.

"So, where am I going?"

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