The warm blood steamed in the cold night. The wind rushing through the trees was once again heard, now that these yellow imps were dead. Jeff removed his knife from the creature’s ribcage with a crack. Infernal pests that flock around whomever they deemed evil. Thankfully, they’ve not sought out Jeff in that way yet. They were nuisances and assets to equal degrees. Not factoring in how obnoxious they were. Good to send out as meaningless distractions. Jeff began to suspect that was their purpose here.
“They’re bumbling fools most of the time, but they do find their target.” A young woman approached the scene. She was accompanied by six black-clad soldiers in futuristic combat gear. Not the military.
“I wish there’d be less of them in the world now, but there probably aren’t.” Jeff flicked the blood off the blade with a move of the wrist, then sheathed it.
“Jeffrey Woods.” The woman stepped under the moonlight. “Do you still go by that?”
She looked too young to be leading a bunch of soldiers through a European forest. Well, not too young just too… unreliable. She radiated naivety. While the soldiers regarded him with caution, she acted oblivious to any danger. Her hairstyle was a cocky sidecut that looked almost blue in the pale glow. She wore the lab coat like a nerdy teenager would wear a leather jacket. She struck him as someone convinced of her own bullshit front. Yet, an itch in his hand wanted to test if there might be more behind it.
He shook off the urge with a shrug at her question.
She sighed. “Well, then I’ll just keep calling you that.”
“You wanted to find me?” Jeff gestured at the dismembered search squad.
“Why, yes. See, I have inherited a certain issue I think you might be able to resolve for us. ‘Go to sleep’, as you say. Well, we have some naughty fellows staying up way past their bedtime.”
“Do I look like some fucking mercenary to you?”
“It’s up to you.” She held out her palms, as if offering his choices on them.
Jeff didn’t like the idea of picking from her selection. He moved the conversation along with a question: “So, who are you?”
“Oh, duh.” She dropped her hands. “I’ve been introduced to you so long ago, I forgot. I’m Dr. Anna Gevorkian. I’m a chemist, neurologist, all sorts of stuff.”
“Ordinary scientists don’t get armed escorts.”
“I’m handling dangerous material. You, in this case.”
“I’m not one of your specimens.”
“Oh, no, I like to think of this one as chemistry. I’m mixing two substances together and then observing the reaction. Hopefully, one neutralizing the other. Specifically, you them.” She nodded sideways.
“Great.” Jeff frowned, more with his eyes than his mouth.
“Just follow us then. Our facility is not far.” Anna presumed his decision. That was fine. He mostly just didn’t like to be made to verbally agree. He put his hands in his pockets and followed them into the woods. These soldiers were pissing him off with their nervous jittering. He couldn’t kill them yet though if he wanted to see where this was going.
The group led him to a modern construction atop a hill overlooking the surrounding woods. It appeared to be a considerable operation, despite being set in the middle of nowhere. There were an equal number of scientists and soldiers inside, judging by their clothing. They all held their distance to Jeff, stopping in their tracks to watch him carefully, like deer that ran onto the road and had no means to process the approaching truck.
Anna held out a keycard to a scanner and opened a steel door. The soldiers did not follow them past it. The hallway behind it was sparsely lit and devoid of people. It turned out, only the outer layer of the building was actively used. The inner chunk was practically quarantined. The further they walked towards the center, the more the interior design aged. It was like, instead of simply renovating the original facility, they built a new one around it every couple decades. None of the old furniture was taken into the new addition, simply abandoned here.
After five more security doors, they reached the center layer of the structure. It was absurdly small compared to the sprawling mess that had accumulated around it over the years. Jeff felt like he had taken an elevator to an excavation deep underground, though this room was still above ground like the others. It was clad in easily washable tiles, but time had still left a yellow tinge on them. The dim lights struggled to banish the darkness from the room. Likely, no one had ventured in this deep to replace the bulb anytime recently. The room was filled with desks and chunky computers, ones that could easily crush a human skull. A couple of them had been shoved aside to allow room for a laptop. Anna flipped it open and it booted up within a second by that action alone. It appeared more advanced than what was available to the public, even with the most generous budget. As Anna typed away on it, Jeff inspected the centerpiece of this room.
A holding cell was placed in the middle. It was a cube of thick walls that could hold about twelve people if you weren’t concerned with their comfort. There used to be windows but they had been bricked up at some point. A heavy bulkhead door was embedded into one side, like it was holding back the vacuum of space on the other end.
Anna waved him over and pointed at the laptop’s screen. He assumed it showed an interior view of the cell. He could see the heat signature of five figures sitting in a circle.
“They don’t like to be observed, but they can’t block out the thermal camera. Still, we don’t keep it on for long, so we don’t agitate them.” Anna shut the program off.
“Looks like you got these guys on lock. What do you need me for?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Fine.” Anna leaned against the table. “This particular room was built in the 40s. Initially, they did some experiments in here. About the long-term effects of sleep deprivation. Collected five people they considered disposable and stuffed them in that room. That project’s lead scientist had concocted some special type of gas that prevented humans from sleeping. It didn’t take long for that experiment to go off the rails. We don’t know if we did this to them or if some other entity found these people vulnerable and had their way with them. We did try to kill them before. We failed. Even in cases we thought we succeeded, it just took them particularly long to regenerate. So we just keep them locked up in there, for nearly a hundred years now.”
“They do seem pretty docile. Why not just let them be?”
“They are passive as long as we keep hotboxing them with the gas. They’ve gotten quite unruly whenever we deprived them of it. The issue is, the gas uses a chemical that is rather rare on Earth and we are about to run out. We fear they might get… angry with us.”
“I can get you any type of weaponry you need. Though we’ve tried them all to no success.”
“Then what do you think I can do?”
“You’ve made it work. There were creatures we failed to kill but you did, with just that knife. You aren’t a simple human anymore, Jeff. I’m sure you’ve noticed.”
He had. It concerned him.
“You seem to know much about me.”
“We keep tabs. Well, not this division strictly speaking. We have other concerns elsewhere and I have access to the databanks.”
“What are you?”
“We are… just scientists. We are a science club. Just call us the Science Club People.”
“Well, fuck you too.”
“Once I’ve let you in, I’m going to check the thermal view every thirty minutes. I’ll let you out once I only pick up one body.”
“So I have to wait for them to go cold?”
“You didn’t look like you had somewhere to be in those woods.”
“How do I know you’ll ever open it again at all?”
“Look, we’re under no illusion that this cage is going to hold them once they actually try to get out. I’m confident the same goes for you. I’m just asking you to be patient before you start busting down walls.”
“Fair enough.” Jeff couldn’t decide where to stick his knife first. He wanted to savor her death. Killing those freaks should give him enough time to think it through.
They approached the door to the cell. Anna unlocked it and pulled it open. Inside was a small airlock chamber with another door.
“You can open that one once I’ve closed this behind you. You sure you don’t need any more weapons?”
“You said this knife was fine.”
“Well, if you agree.”
Jeff stepped inside. Anna grabbed hold of the door but stopped for a moment.
“We call them Spes.” She said.
“That’s a stupid name.”
“Sleep Prevention Entities, Secured. That used to be an internal designation for some time. Nowadays they’re just a meaningless number though.”
“Hope to see you again, 10566.” She said, pushing shut the door.
He thought he might want to make her eat her fingers.
The door closed with a thick clang ringing through the metal. Jeff could then turn the wheel of the second door. It felt like stepping into an alien world. He half expected all the sound to be sucked from the air when he opened the airlock. For a horrid stench to waft out, for a sight of walls caked in shit and blood.
He found five people sitting naked in a circle. Bedframes shoved to the side without care, but the room was clean. The figures looked healthy, like ordinary people. They didn’t react to his intrusion. He closed the door, finding this one had handles on both sides.
One of the bodies turned their head towards him. “Welcome. Come join us.”
The group shuffled around to provide him a spot in their circle.
“Why? So you can return to them outside? You have far more in common with us than with them at this point. Though I can see you are still in denial.”
“I’m not a nudist.”
“You jest.” Spes said with slight disgust. “It’s all just meat. But keep it on if it pleases you. It’s all the same.”
“So what do you do here? Just sit around and circlejerk?”
“Come and find out.”
Jeff stepped closer and pushed his knife into the nearest skull until it hit the hilt. That resistance before giving in. It never stops being satisfying. He continued this act until only the one that spoke to him remained.
“Judging by your reaction, this didn’t actually kill.”
“Of course not, foolish child. You just butchered some meat. Nothing more.”
The collapsed bodies turned back upright, bits of brain yet leaking from the wound.
“You know they’re running out of this gas?”
“We are aware.”
“They think you’re gonna riot.”
“We might. But that’s not yet a concern.”
The wounds Jeff had inflicted healed, so he renewed them.
“Don’t you see this is pointless?” Spes growled.
“It entertains me, that’s the point.” Jeff thrusted his blade into the fifth body as well this time, the force pushing them from their spot. Spes grabbed his wrist and stood up. Jeff retrieved the knife and wrestled his arm free.
“Stop this. When you destroy our brain, we lose consciousness for a moment. We do not desire this.” This body was skinny but towered over Jeff in height. The other four got up too. He was surrounded.
“We’ve honed our regeneration over decades.” Another body spoke. “With tireless dedication, to ensure we wake back up instantly in cases such as this.”
“How long will it take you?” The third one asked. “How used are you to pain? How dedicated are you to consciousness?”
“It’s time for you to grow up, child.” The first one continued. “It’s time for you to realize what you are.”
Spes 1 reached out a lanky arm towards Jeff’s face, but the knife cut it short. After all these years it still cut through bone. It really did become something else in his hands. Before the body could readjust to their injury, Jeff lunged forward dodging the others tackling him. He plunged his knife into 1’s intestines and pushed it deeper until it cut into their spine. He severed it, with a wet mess exploding out along with it as it exited the body. The torso fell off to the side. With a stomp he cracked the head like a rotten apple and kicked the brain matter on his shoe across the room, hoping this would slow the regeneration.
The remaining four were slowed by getting in each other’s way. Jeff grabbed the nearest one’s head like a bowling ball, plunging his fingers into their eyes and mouth. He knocked the skull into its neighbor, but the body bit down on his thumb, stripping it of skin. He clenched his fist and crushed the facial bones, then punched into the exposed brain. The second body hit the floor. The knife cracked into the third’s dazed body and Jeff kicked the next one down, but one still stood and tackled him into the brain chunks of the first body. They pinned down his arms but leaned in a bit too close and Jeff bit into their face, tearing off their lips and cheeks. The body removed a hand to reflexively protect their face with. It wasn’t the hand he held the knife with, but he punched the body and rolled them onto their back. He spat the sheet of skin into their face, hammered the knife through their nose, then pushed it forward like a lever to split their head open.
One of the two remaining put their arm around his throat and pulled him off. He stuck his knife into the arm to sever it but accidentally cut into his chest as well. He caught the arm before it hit the ground and turned around to smack its elbow into its former owner. His knife then entered up through their jaw and then out the front, splitting the lower half of the head this time. The body fell forward and Jeff accelerated the descent with a knife to the back of the skull. He felt it crack the tiles underneath. Only one left standing.
Jeff examined his injured hand. The flesh was completely removed from his thumb, revealing the black clawed bone beneath. He grabbed onto his fingers and degloved his hand completely.
“You see, I have made experiences with regeneration too. Though it never turned out quite like it used to be. Instead of growing back my eyelids, my eyes simply grew to not need them anymore. Instead of closing up my smile, my mouth now just opens this wide. And when my fingers kept being crushed and cut to make me drop the knife. They changed so I wouldn’t need it anymore.”
“So you are not quite that unaware.” Spes said. “You’ve realized it is but meat. Just a tool to feel the world with.”
“You could say that. You seem nervous though. Allegedly, you are unkillable. But I wonder, what happens when all five of you are unconscious?”
“We will always be there. You will just have averted your eyes. We live within anyone’s mind. We have been there since before the first being achieved consciousness. We are always watching in the back of your head. Once more, your mind will weaken to let us step forward. Your true selves, unshackled by the night. We’ll meet again in that dreamless world of light. Where-”
Jeff’s claws cut Spes’ head into five discrete sections.
“Go the fuck to sleep.”
The meat of the human hamburger slopped onto the ground. Then it was quiet. Nothing moved. Jeff sat down on a bed frame. This would be a good opportunity to get some rest, if this damn gas wasn’t filling the room. How long had he been in here? Maybe ten minutes? The skin was slowly starting to grow back over his hand.
“Jeff? You can come out now.” A voice over an antiquated speaker system said.
Jeff got up and twisted the door open. Anna had already opened her side, unconcerned with the five-bodied creature that used to live inside.
“You really did it.” She smiled. “They’ve never stayed dead this long before. What was the trick?”
“You had to kill all five at the same time.”
“Oh, I see. Seems obvious now, but even if we knew, I doubt we’d have been able to do it without you.”
Anna hugged his gore-stained body and he was reminded of his plans to slowly dismember her. Now he just wanted to get it over with. Anna got off him.
“Now, if there’s anything we can do for you in return, just ask.”
A loud alarm drowned out all noise. The security door to this area Anna had opened slammed shut, locking them inside.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake” Anna said.
“What’s going on? Is it because we left both doors to the cell open?”
“No, I-” Anna glanced at the laptop on the desk. “Oh shit.”
Jeff followed her eyes and saw a heat signature flaring back up on the screen.
“This motherfucker faked us out!”
Jeff readied his knife to finish the job. The tall body stood back at the end of the cell. It had had the most time to recover, but how did it mask the warmth? It must’ve regrown its brain before Jeff killed the last body. He knew his skull hadn’t regenerated while he had waited for the door to open. Did he regrow the brain elsewhere inside his body? Or was them all being dead at the same time not enough either?
“Close it behind me.” Jeff said and went back in.
The sound of the door shutting rang through the room. Spes waited for Jeff to approach him. The other four bodies stood too, fully healed. How annoying.
“So, what did I do wrong?”
“Do you expect me to just tell you, child? Your arrogance and denial is pissing me off. I had hoped I could enjoy what remained of the gas in peace. You clueless little shit will wish to die.”
“You’re not really carrying yourself with the same level of dignity anymore.” Jeff noticed.
“And you still follow every command of that troglodyte outside. You really had her close that door to protect her, huh? Worried I’d crack your little girlfriend’s head open like you did to me? To us, she is like a pig that shits into the water it plans to drink from. This is absurd.”
“It is, can we go back to the pseudo-philosophical nonsense from earlier?”
“Just shut your mouth, little girl. I’m done wasting time on you.”
“Like I said. You’re completely clueless, Jane.”
Jane hadn’t even fully decided on this name yet. How did this thing know?
The four other bodies approached the tall one. While Jane was still stunned, they climbed onto them. Bones cracked and reformed as they folded around them. Limbs stretching and twisting until the five bodies were practically fused into a sinewy, vaguely humanoid monstrosity. The five-headed amalgamation tested its new limbs of tightly intertwined arms and legs. Jane pulled her knife. It’d cut through them all the same. Something hard collided with her front, then with her back. A loud shriek of metal scratching over the tiles was heard. When Jane lifted her head, she could see the first impact had been a 25-fingered fist. The second the bulkhead, which she had ripped clean off its hinges. She rolled onto her knees and coughed up the blood from her crushed insides. Her body then realized the damage it had sustained and revoked control from her. She had no idea where her knife had been flung to.
Spes stepped through the hole they tore through the door frame. Jane couldn ‘t see, lacking the strength to roll over, no matter how much her shattered rib cage begged her to. She heard noises around the antique lab as the hulking hydra stomped through the room, knocking over desks, monitors shattering like dropped pumpkins. She did recognize a startled gasp cut off as a five-handed arm grabbed Anna by the coat and lifted her up. “Look, Jane.” Spes taunted. “Come on, keep up.”
Jane crawled towards a wall and managed to sit up against it. If that gas wasn’t still in her system, she likely would’ve passed out.
“Jane?” Anna picked out from that sentence.
“Yeah.” Jane said. Her lungs had recovered enough to push out words, if painfully so. “That asshole basically outed me in there. Half to myself.”
“Okay. To be clear, I did ask you if you still go by that name when we first met.”
“Shut up.” Jane laughed but was cut short coughing up blood and bone fragments.
“That can be arranged.” Spes said. One hand let go to grab Anna’s neck instead. Jane could see her muscles bulge in resistance. She tried to will her body to recover faster, crawling forward on hands and knees. As Spes delighted in their superiority, Anna pulled a syringe from her coat, flicked the cover off the needle in a trained motion and stabbed it into one of their arms. Spes slapped her hand away, half ripping her arm off, but not before she dumped its content into their bloodstream.
“What the fuck was that?” They asked, easing off her throat to let her speak.
“We’ve developed an antidote to the waking gas.” She smiled.
“I believe that’s what saved them earlier.” Anna said to Jane. “We’ve never studied the long term effects of it, in fact we’ve never used it on another lifeform, except to test the antidote. I think the gas allowed them to maintain consciousness despite appearing dead and gone. Jane, you-”
Spes threw her into a pile of wrecked electronics. Jane managed to stand up and stumble towards the creature. Spes kicked her out of the way, shattering her ribs once again. It grabbed the security door and tore it up with all ten of their hands. Soon their footsteps no longer sounded back to the lab.
Anna found Jane on the floor, her right sleeve colored entirely red. “Are you okay?”
“Yep.” Jane gasped. “Used the opportunity to regenerate my chest with some sweet tits.” She joked.
“Nevermind. How’s your arm?”
“Ah, it’s fine. If they can’t save it, I’ll just get a robotic one. The Science Club People have their methods for such things.”
“You really committing to calling yourselves that?”
“Of course.” Anna helped her up with her good hand.
“They’re immune to the gas now?”
“That was a bluff, there’s no such thing as an antidote. What I gave them was either a sedative or adrenaline. Either or, it won’t have much of an effect, but it did buy me some time. And the gas will leave their body soon anyway, now that they’re out of the chamber. They’re vulnerable and they know it, that’s why they’re fleeing now.”
“I don’t think I can recover in time.”
“We have time. All these layers around the facility are filled with traps that activate when the alarm goes off. It should slow them down enough for me to patch you up.” Anna recovered a medikit from the carnage. “I think I should be the one to patch you up.”
“If you would be so kind.”
Jane carefully took off her lab coat. Her arm only hung on by skin and muscle.
“I don’t think you’ll get to keep it.”
“No? That’s fine. Just stop the bleeding then.”
Jane put a tourniquet around what was left of Anna’s upper arm. She hesitated a moment, then cut off her arm with the claws of her flayed hand.
“Didn’t know you had demon hands.”
“Every time I get damaged I come back a little different.”
“That’s one way to transition.”
“Call me Carrie actually. I’m not letting that fucker decide shit for me.”
“I think it suits you better too, Carrie.”
“Or should I go by, what was it? 10588?”
Carrie felt like her bones had healed and Anna should survive. She wasn’t going to bother finding her knife. Her claws had to suffice.
“You’re going after them?”
“That’s what you asked me to do.”
“Wait. You should know our security measures ramp up the closer they get to the outside. They’ll get more dangerous and more desperate. The latter ones we’d rather not have see the light of day ever again if we can help it. But if it comes to that, be careful not to be caught between them.”
“You worry about me.” Carrie teased.
“And you about me. Why?”
“Because I want to be the one to kill you. And I’m making this fucker suffer for taking off your arm before I could.”
“You say such funny things, Carrie.”
Carrie walked down the hallway. Soon pieces of more yellow devils littered the floor. Not much of an obstacle. She found the second security door breached. And Spes right behind it.
They stood motionless, something blocking their way, hidden behind their bulky frame of conjoined, skinny bodies.
“Hello, kids!” A goofy voice echoed through the halls. “Gu-haw, looks like sweet lil’ Gig has a thing or two to learn from you about hugs!”
Carrie’s curiosity drove her close to Spes, so she could peek around them. A scrawny clown stood in the hallway, at the edge of the light provided by a flickering ceiling lamp, with only darkness behind her. She wore a colorful, striped, short-legged dungaree and a blue t-shirt underneath. Her blue hair was tied back into short pigtails, her hands covered with thin white gloves. Her make-up was more akin to corpse paint though.
“Oh, and who’s that?” Gig leaned to the side to a degree gravity shouldn’t let her and waved at Carrie. “Now that’s a smile if I ever saw one!”
Spes noticed Carrie next to them and grabbed her by the hoodie. Carrie tried to slash at them but was thrown off by the motion. Spes threw her at the clown, who caught her.
Carrie wasn’t sure if this clown was on her side. She clearly was used as a security measure, but Anna had also warned her not to get in their way. This was only the level two measure though, surely they’d employ someone that could be reasoned with before letting out the big problems.
“Hey, I’m with Dr. Gevorkian. We have to stop those guys from leaving.” Carrie explained.
“Oh, you’re the new level one girl? Shame, I’ll miss those little cornballs.” Gig placed her down.
Spes grunted in frustration. They looked around but didn’t know the layout of the facility, so aimlessly trying to juke their two adversaries was pointless. Carrie wasn’t sure what plan they came up with, but they charged forward. Carrie rolled up her sleeves and tore the skin off her arms to the elbow, to keep it from dulling her blades anytime soon.
“Ooh, don’t do that in public, that’s nasty.” Gig commented, then was promptly knocked up the hallway by a massive fist. The other one came for Carrie next. She blocked with her palms, the strike knocking her against the wall. She dug her claws into the mess of fingers and sliced through them. That didn’t deter Spes from winding up for another attempt to embed her head into the wall. Carrie dug her fingers into their chest but they were shorter than her knife and Spes was clad in a protective layer of additional bodies. They no longer staggered from the damage and their attacks became hard to avoid with their wealth of limbs. She managed to avoid the hit to the face but it clipped her shoulder and certainly broke something. This narrow hallway sucked for her to fight in too and that clown turned out useless.
Just then, a brick of a phone slid over the floor and promptly exploded with an unnatural intensity. Spes and Carrie were knocked to the other end of the corridor, back into the first addition to the facility, dazed but only lightly injured. Spes had a harder time getting back on their feet due to their size, so Carrie used the moment to jump on top of them and plunge her claws through their skulls. Before she could puncture the brain of the fifth head, Spes found their bearing and punched her off. She rolled off her momentum in Minion gore. Her hoodie was no longer white. Spes managed to stand up, looking into the hallway beyond the second security door. Carrie gathered that Gig had recovered and was responsible for that phone. Spes only had one working head at the moment, so they struggled keeping an eye on both of them.
Gig jumped onto the brute, holding a hand coated in a thick fog of TV static to their face. This was the first time Carrie heard them screech in pain. They slapped Gig away, but their face was completely mangled already, as if it had been treated with sandpaper coated in rough metal splinters.Their last brain remained intact but they were effectively blinded. Carrie rushed forward to finish them off. Then the room turned sideways. At first she thought she slipped on the blood but even as she lay still, the room warped and shifted like it was melting while hurtling through the sky. She noticed it was all in her head. It was a familiar sensation but had never been this intense. And she hadn’t felt it in years.
“Can’t you see? You’re like us.” Carrie heard Spes’ voice from behind. But not physically behind her. A scratching behind her mind.
“What the- get out!” Carrie shouted but wasn’t sure if it came out of her mouth.
“Remember. When we first called out to you. Too awake to be fooled any longer. When you gave in, standing in that living room, drenched in blood and alcohol. You’ve gone astray since then, child. Let me pull you back on track.”
Carrie remembered and it became real. Once again, she was at that scene where her life changed forever. Only this time she had a clear mind. Randy stood before her, yelling. She felt that rage welling up inside her. Spes was trying to remind her of it. But she suppressed it. She realized where this would lead. It’s not like she could’ve averted what was about to happen if she remained calm but she knew the dark pact she formed that day and would refuse to renew it. Spes was desperate to bring her back in line because they knew they would die otherwise.
Carrie walked forward, failing to wrestle Randy to the ground and beating his organs to a pulp. The illusion broke, trying its best to course correct. Despite diverging from the path, Carrie felt the bleach on her, the flames. She stood in the kitchen, glass shard from the patio door on the floor. She grasped out and felt the invisible entity.
“You realize this will not free you. You’ll merely remove five bodies from our control. But we are there in each and every one. Including you, for the rest of time.”
“Then why do you fear their death? Why go to these lengths to protect them? Is it because for the past hundred thousands of years these are the first five you’ve managed to take full control of? Unlike me and the many others where you failed.”
“It is a grueling and thankless endeavor. You all really don’t see how closing your eyes blinds you.”
Carrie felt the shape of a skull in her hand. Five hands grabbed her arm in defense. But Spes knew it was hopeless. If Carrie didn’t end them, Gig would.
“I hope you’ll realize one day. Aside from these five, we always had the greatest hopes for you.”
Carrie crushed their frontal lobe in her palm. The illusion dissipated around her. The twisted beast appeared before her, now limp, individual limbs peeling off as the muscles relaxed.
Carrie looked around, to find Gig distracted, mourning the loss of her yellow friends. Her gaze returned to the fivefold corpse. The years were catching up to it, no longer conserved by the radiance of madness. It did not fall to dust, as the bodies would only be a little over a hundred years old, had they been allowed to age until now. Still, the fact they withered at all convinced Carrie that Spes was dead for good this time. The stench was unbearable.
Carrie returned to Anna. She smiled as she saw her, already knowing she succeeded. Carrie spotted her knife, lying just by the door. She picked it up and walked up to Anna so she could hold it against her throat.
“Uh, Carrie?” Anna backed up to a wall. For the first time, Carrie saw genuine fear in her eyes. So all this time, she really was just acting confident with nothing to back it up. It was amazing she was able to keep it up with all she had seen today. Carrie also noticed she had no desire to go through with it anymore. She put away the knife.
“Sorry. I just needed to see if I could still do it.”
“And, could you?” Anna whispered.
“Why did you put so much trust in me that I wouldn’t kill you in the many opportunities you gave me?”
“Because I needed you to not do that.”
“That’s not a reason.”
“Then you’re an idiot, Carrie. I will not spell it out further for you.”
“Okay. What’s up with the clown?”
“You wanna talk about the clown now, Carrie, for real? You just put your knife in my face for no good reason and then ask dumb question. After I sat here wondering if I completely fucked this operation by bringing you into this.” Anna gestured wildly with her remaining hand.
Carrie didn’t respond.
“You’re a complete fuck-up, Carrie. But I genuinely thank you for pulling through for us.” She continued, still with venom in her voice, but they were the last drops. “So, did we get out our feelings?” “Not all.”
“Fine then, go on.” Anna said, trying to cross her arms and failing.
“I want to thank you for approaching me with that trust, no matter where it came from. I’ve grown tired of where this life of indiscriminate killing has led me. And you were the first person in a long time… who I thought I had chances to befriend.”
“You need to work on your people skills, Carrie. Never pull that knife stunt on me again.”
Anna stepped closer, forcing Carrie’s eyes to meet hers. “I suppose I can’t be too mad at you. Let’s consider us even. Because I had initially planned to fuck you over as well. After you killed Spes, the plan was to capture and contain you. You realize you’re still trapped here, with three more security measures between you and the outside. But I’ve changed my mind as well. Over there is a palm scanner that deactivates the lockdown. The password is 431256. My right arm should still be warm enough to register. Insert a wrong password two times first though, to make it look like you brute-forced it. It won’t lock you out, they know we might be in a panicked state while entering it.”
“All things considered, you’re still a low priority target, so they won’t hunt you down. Perhaps we could work together again one day. I’ll try to put in a good word for you. That is, if you promise to stop being a senseless killer from now on.”
“I’ll try. Will you be okay?”
“Sure. I did my job perfectly. And I didn’t help you escape. How could I, having passed out from blood loss?”
Carrie gave her friend a final hug. Anna sat down against a tipped table and Carrie did as she had instructed. The alarm stopped.
“That’ll be their cue to come in and see what happened. Hide in one of the rooms of the abandoned rings and wait for them to rush past before leaving. Oh, and don’t forget my keycard” Anna tossed over the card, then picked a scalpel from her pocket and cut through the tourniquet. “Don’t worry about me, they’ll find me in time.”
“Thank you for everything, Anna.” Carrie picked up the card.
“Good luck, Carrie”
Carrie rushed up the hallway. Gig was still sobbing in the corner. Spotting Carrie snapped her out of it though.
“Hey, where are you going? We have to- no wait.” She looked at the little corpses. “You aren’t the level one guardian.”
“No. I’m breaking out, just don’t tell anyone.”
Gig stood up. “I’m coming too.”
Carrie didn’t have time to argue. “Fine, just don’t get seen.”
The two jogged down the hallways. In the fourth layer, Gig pulled Carrie into an abandoned closet. Carrie wasn’t sure why but soon heard combat boots trample down the halls.
“How did you know they were coming?”
“You did notice I have a connection with electronics. I could see them coming on the cameras.”
“How does that relate to you looking like a clown?”
Gig shifted to look at her disapprovingly. She then grabbed her thumb between her index and middle finger in front of Carrie’s face. “I’ve got your nose. Now you have to stop being nosy. Okay?” Gig nodded, trying to get Carrie to mimic the motion.
Gig opened the closet and they continued their escape. Some useless scientists spotted them as they breached the final door but only ducked under desks in fear. Then the two vanished into the forest, hopefully never to be seen again.