Chapter 17: The Core

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Trent hopped off the ladder and looked around, automatically sidestepping to make room for Sharpe. They'd come to a similarly styled underground tunnel as all the others they'd spent the past however long down in. The only difference being that this one ended abruptly behind him and seemed to be extremely barren. Where the other tunnels all supported heat exchanges or piping or power distribution, this was just a tunnel.

"Come on," Trent murmured, making his way down it.

It extended a ways in the same direction, a couple dozen meters, and he couldn't see anything in there with him. The lighting was decent, at least. Trent heard the reassuring sound of Sharpe at his back, making sure nothing snuck up on them. He tried his radio several more times as they progressed down the passageway.

Nothing. Dead silence and deader air.

They reached the end of the passageway without incident and came into more familiar territory. Pipes and terminals and dark, bloody corridors. Only, as Trent made his way into the thousandth antechamber he'd come to so far, he realized that this wasn't like all the miles of corridor he'd tunneled through earlier.

This was worse.

A collection of bodies had been laid out across the floor. They had been ripped limb from limb. There was blood everywhere. In fact, Trent didn't think that four bodies could actually contain that much blood. It seemed to cover every single surface.

"These men died very, very violent deaths," Sharpe murmured, startling him.

"Shit...yeah, they did. Something new?" he replied.

"We're close to whatever is in charge around here, at least I think it is, so maybe this is its handiwork?"

"Maybe."

They contemplated the corpses for another few moments, then pressed on, their boots squelching loudly in the blood. Trent felt the pressure of an unseen presence, of eyes, inhuman and probing, watching him. There was a malignancy in its hidden gaze, an ill intent. Trent felt fear ripple through him, forcing his stomach to do a slow roll. The base seemed to have come to life with a dark, awful energy.

The respiration of the heat exchange had become a haunting, uneven hiss, like the breath of some dreaming behemoth. The soft hum of energy had mutated into a dark, disturbing nightmare noise that seemed to make Trent's teeth vibrate and his bones ache. Every shadow seemed to hold something, every vent some kind of presence.

Possibly worst of all was the heartbeat. Trent could hear it regularly now, a malevolent pulse of ominous intent.

They came across more awful death and bloody ruin. More corpses of Dark Ops troops that had tried to take control of the situation and had failed miserably. Trent felt genuine terror shudder through him: how could he and his handful of allies hope to succeed where dozens of highly-trained, well-armed men had failed?

He supposed, (and hoped and prayed), that the only edge they had was that they weren't trying to contain this. They were trying to end it. The further they went, the worse the horror became. They found one man that looked as if he had been swallowed up by a wall. His legs jutted out of solid, unbroken metal. Another man had been cleaved in half and had managed to crawl quite a ways before dying, judging by the blood trail.

In one room, they found nothing but burned skeletons.

Finally, they managed to locate another ladder that would bring them to the surface of their final destination: Research Three. Trent had little hope that the ground level was any better than the underground, but he hurried up the ladder nonetheless. If he was being honest with himself, underground places had always creeped him out. He hit the hatch at the top and poked his head up, looking around apprehensively.

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