Chapter 10: The Language of Violence

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The crawl through the vents was anything but pleasant this time around. The smell was getting worse than ever, an awful reek of blood and murder and, hidden beneath it all, the foul odor of the Slugs and the corruption itself. On top of that, Enzo was forced to kill two Slugs along the way. Not an easy tasked in close quarters. They'd managed to climb up to the next level, the Military Headquarters. The radio chatter had been light since then.

"So, tell me about Stern," Enzo said as they crawled on.

"He's great. Among the best I've ever worked with," Lee said. "He has a good career, fought in the Systems Wars, led his men to a lot of victories. He ran everything with perfect efficiency, never fails to notice everything."

Enzo sighed. "So he's a jerkoff, huh?"

Lee hesitated. "Maybe from a civilian's standpoint."

"I told you I was former Spec Ops, and Marines before that," Enzo snapped.

"Yeah, former. You washed out, because no one just leaves Special Operations."

Here, Enzo openly laughed. "Is that what they tell you? Is that what you believe? No one leaves Spec Ops? You're dumber than you look, Lee."

He paused as he rounded a turn in the vent. Up ahead, debris blocked the path. There was an opening along the right side. Enzo moved up to it and glanced through the metal mesh. A small, ruined infirmary waited below.

"We're getting out here," he said. The morphine was already wearing off and his shoulder was throbbing with all this crawling.

"We can just take another route-" Lee began.

Enzo opened the grille. "I said we're getting out here." He slipped through.

Landing with a grunt, he moved out of the way, making room for Lee. She came through a moment later. He was worried she'd just keep going.

"What's the problem?" she asked, her voice now edged with frustration.

"The vents are too dangerous. Too easy to get ambushed in there. You saw how fast those Slug things are," Enzo replied.

"Fine," she said, moving across the infirmary, "we'll have to head through a few storage rooms to get to where we need to go."

As they made their way through the infirmary and into the first of a handful of storage bays, Lee explained the situation. "The Military HQ is essentially a giant square with a smaller circle placed inside of it. That circle is a corridor that grants access to everywhere in the area. Along the outside of the perimeter, where we are now, are things like mess halls, storage bays, barracks, infirmaries, shooting galleries, the gym, stuff like that. Support stuff. The interior holds the Control Room, the primary communications relay, central security network, the important stuff. From what we can tell, the big Altered thing is roaming that main corridor."

"Fantastic," Enzo muttered unhappily.

They continued to navigate the disused storage rooms, through narrow alcoves between stacks of crates. As they did, Enzo realized he could hear it. A thudding sound, like heavily plodding footfalls of what might have been a fucking dinosaur, growing louder. As it seemed to reach an apex, out of instinct, Enzo froze, Lee doing the same. The thudding became so loud and powerful that several smaller items, previously perched on a workbench, fell onto the floor. The footfalls stopped for a second and Enzo felt his fear ratchet up another notch.

Whatever it was, it must have been close by, possibly just on the other side of the wall he was looking at, past the crates. After a long moment, the footfalls started up again, retreating, the thing making its continual slow circuit around the corridor, no doubt killing anything and everything in its path. Enzo let out a long, shuddering breath.

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