Chapter 16: The Cold

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"Son of a bitch," Trent snapped as he stopped.

He'd stopped so abruptly that Drake walked into him.

"What-oh," Drake said as he came around him and got a good look at what was irking him so. The others gathered behind them. They'd come to the forked corridor that led to both Research One and Two. The corridor that led to Two had collapsed.

"You've got to be shitting me," Trevor said.

"Is there any other way to get to Research Two down here?" Trent asked.

Trevor shook his head. "No. This was it. We need to go up through Research One now and take the tram to Two."

Trent heaved a sigh. "Fine, whatever. Sooner the better. Let's get going."

He turned and began heading down the corridor. The others followed silently. For a long moment, they walked in silence, which was broken only by the dark hum of energy flowing through the base and their quiet footfalls. Trent listened to the base as he walked. He often found that if he listened, his environment talked to him.

It had something to do with a life of violence; especially one lived by a man who took the violence and twisted it to his will, bent it to his own accord, honed it finely for use in a universe that seemed to care little, if at all, for those inhabiting it. Trent listened, heeded the advice of his environment around him, and in return, he got to live when others didn't. Because not everyone listened, and even those that did weren't always lucky.

So when he stepped into the next room, another heat exchange, Trent looked around, saw nothing and was about to give the all-clear. Something made him look up. He barely managed to throw himself out of the way as the Fiend dropped from the ceiling directly towards him. It hit the floor where he'd been standing and he knew, as he crashed to the floor, that if he hadn't looked up, if he hadn't moved, his head would have gone right into its chest hole.

The others opened fire and put a quick end to the nasty thing.

"You know," Gideon said as Drake helped Trent up off the floor, "I think that of everything we've encountered, this thing is the creepiest. I mean...just look at this fucking thing. Those giant hairs in the hole, no head, all that dark, bristle skin...damn I hate these things."

"You'll get no argument from me," Trent replied.

They moved through the heat exchange, more on edge than ever. After another few moments, Trent finally managed to locate the first ladder that would bring them up to the surface level. He went first, as always. Trent climbed up, popped the hatch and looked around. A small, empty room, lit by the soft ambient Cyr glow, awaited his inspection. Seeing nothing hiding anywhere in the room, he hauled himself up and out, then helped the others.

"Where to now?" he asked.

Trevor shrugged. "I'll need a terminal to figure out the best route."

Trent sighed and opened the only door in the room. Beyond was a vast corridor, and it seemed to Trent, as he stepped out, that all of their meddling in Dark Ops' affairs had finally done some serious damage. A dozen black-armored corpses littered the floor. They had all had their brains scooped out of their skulls. A few black, lizard-like Harvester corpses were mixed in, as well as a pair of Fiends and a Bugbear body.

"Damn," Gideon murmured.

"Maybe they wiped each other out," Trent said hopefully.

That was when a sustained, staccato burst of machine gun fire sounded somewhere else in the facility. More guns added to the discordant symphony. Something shrieked wildly. Then the eruption of a grenade. Trent sighed.

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