An Excerpt From: DOOMSDAY
Getting off that elevator could very well have been the stupidest thing I ever did. And with my track record, that’s saying something.
I stepped from the elevator and into the basement, then headed to Unit B, the one place in the forty-seven story building I should have avoided like the plague. Careful to keep my dagger anchored to my captive’s neck, pointy edge against the hollow of his throat, I edged him forward using the weight of my body. My annoyance made me more aggressive than necessary, but I wasn’t applying much pressure to the knife. I didn’t want to kill the guy, but if he kept up like this I might have to hurt him. Just a little; especially if it meant getting him moving faster. He’d been whining ever since my partner and I ambushed him coming out of the break room thirty minutes ago. I thought a little complaining was par for the course. We did sort of kidnap him after all. But this guy was acting like he’d never had anyone pull a knife on him.
Come to think of it, he probably hadn’t. He wasn’t a parasite like me so he hadn’t grown up in the Underground, where someone’d pull a knife on you as quickly as they’d look at you.
“Move it,” I ordered, grinding my elbow into his spine.
“It’s after seven,” he said. “Nobody but level three security comes down here after seven.”
Beside me, Davis snorted. He shoved a few micro braids away from his face with the back of his hand. His brown skin, so like my own, seemed to glow under the lights. “Don’t worry big guy, we’ll protect you from the bogeyman. See this?” He indicated the dual tank blaster he was pointing at the guard with a jerk of his hand. The ridged handle and extended barrel didn’t look nearly as deadly as the weapon truly was. I knew from seeing Davis use it that the weapon could blast a hole five inches in diameter through any scumbag. “I don’t think your Bogeyman will like my blaster,” Davis continued, “or the torch my partner has. What do you think?”
Though tufts of brown hair were sticking up at odd angles all over his head, and despite the fact that he was wide-eyed with terror, for a few moments the guard managed to look amused. “Weapons? You think weapons mean anything down here?”
Davis eyed me and smirked. “Weapons mean everything.”
Though I nodded, I wasn’t so sure. Even if I couldn’t imagine a scenario where weapons would be useless, the guard’s fear was genuine. And the closer we came to Triune’s Unit B, the more I realized this guy wasn’t afraid of Davis and me. He was scared of whatever was in UB.
A frisson of excitement danced up my spine. This could be what I’d spent the last couple of weeks looking for.
I worked for Murphy and Associates, a not quite legal investigative firm with an office in Asphodel. Asphodel was the unregulated twin city of Confederation run Bal’Mor (where I now stood). My job was to pose as a scientist at Triune headquarters and find out what was going on there. At least seven men and women had gone missing in the last two months. Though they ranged in age from nineteen to thirty-nine, something they all had in common was the fact that like me, they were parasites— offspring of the generation of Shatook residents who were hit with The Bomb, a biological weapon that changed the genetic makeup of anyone who breathed in the toxic fumes. Parasites suffered with a number of debilitating ailments. Some were born disfigured, some had scaly patches all over their skin, others were born with an abundance of hair. And then there were those who had been born like me, able to pass as a normal, but anything but.
Another thing the missing people shared is the fact that every one of them had last been seen in the custody of Peace Keepers, the Confederation’s police force, which was owned and controlled by Triune. The most recent man to go missing, Lincoln Carey, had last been seen two weeks prior. Since he was spotted being loaded into a Peace Keeper cruiser nobody had seen or heard from him again. Yet, despite these disappearances, and Triune’s involvement, business at the company had continued as usual. Contacting the Confederation about the missing parasites hadn’t netted any fruit, either. Confederation officials couldn’t be concerned with a few missing parasites. As long as they weren’t living topside it wasn’t the Confederation’s problem.
Problem was, I hadn’t found out anything worthwhile, and I’d been looking for almost two weeks now. I figured it was time to force my way into the restricted areas of Triune. If there was nothing there, we’d have to broaden our search outside of Triune walls.
We came to a set of steel doors at the end of the corridor. A red laser shone out of a metal panel set into the wall at my right. I gave the dagger a twist. “Do your thing,” I said into the guard’s ear. “Get us in.”
Stubborn as ever, the guard didn’t move. He stood stiff, rigid as stone in my arms. “You deaf, man?” Davis demanded.
“No.” The word exploded out of the guard like a bullet.
I sighed inwardly. I didn’t want Davis to hurt this guy, but the guard was making it damn near impossible to protect him. “Get us in. I won’t tell you again. Way I see it, you can either take your chances on the other side of this door, or here with us.” I gave the dagger another twist. It was barely touching his skin, but that didn’t make the threat less scary.
“Out here with us, death is a definite. On the other side you at least have a fighting chance,” Davis continued, saying what I knew he figured I couldn’t.
We’d never kill the guy. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but we had to scare him since fear seemed to be the only motivator he responded to.
Eyes narrowed to slits, the guard looked over his shoulder from me to Davis. It seemed like he was weighing Davis’ words.
“He means it,” I added, lying through my teeth.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” the guard said. “We go in there, we’re dead.”
Was someone keeping the missing people prisoner on the other side of this door?
Even if they weren’t here, maybe there was evidence of their whereabouts.
“You decide,” I said, anticipation making it hard for me to stand still.
“Shit,” the guard groaned. “Shit. This isn’t good. This is not good.” But even as he spoke he was edging forward.
He pushed the panel aside, depressed a series of buttons, and then stood back.
“Preparing for eye security scan identification,” the computer said.
I waited as the security settings clicked into place, bringing a soft humming from the wall and myriad machines hidden behind it.
“Please step forward to begin eye security scan.”
The guard moved forward and widened his right eye in time for a green laser to flash on and begin the scan. It only took a second.
As the panel on the wall whooshed shut, a small, rectangular display appeared on the double doors. The soft screen where the guard had to press his thumb glowed bright indigo. He paused, looked at us over his shoulder.
“Do it.” Davis lifted his blaster and aimed it at the guard’s face.
The guard turned to the display, pressed the pad of his thumb into it, and then waited for the locks to disengage. When they did we pushed the doors open and entered a small antechamber where another set of double doors stood.
“Shit!” Davis exclaimed. “What the hell are you people hiding down here?”
“Believe me, you don’t want to know.”
As the guard repeated the security process, something strange happened. I started to doubt the wisdom of what I was doing. There was still time to change my mind. I had a sense that once I crossed the threshold, there’d be no going back.
But there was no way I couldn’t enter UB. If the missing people, or evidence of them was here, I had to find it. Families were depending on me to find their loved ones.
The moment the guard finished, I pushed him through the second set of doors and into UB.
Pausing at the head of a corridor, I scanned my surroundings. UB was dimly lit. The walls were painted a dull, lifeless gray, and a series of monitors lined the walls at twenty-foot intervals. The monitors weren’t a problem. Davis had disabled them before we’d come down. Unfortunately, there was no way to loop the video feed. He’d had to shut that down.
Tucking a long strand of hair back into my bun, I started down the corridor toward what looked like detention chambers. The white lab coat I had on was large and not my first choice of clothing when entering a potentially hostile environment, but I was undercover. “You still got the injection, right?”
Davis snorted. “Of course I have it.”
“I’m just saying…you know you lost it last time. We had to drag that man two cities over to your supplier just so we could inject him and be sure he’d have no memory of us. I’m not in the mood for a road trip tonight.”
Davis snorted again. “I’ve got it. And I told you, that wasn’t my fault. Donnie—”
I held my hand up for him to stop. I’d heard the story before and hadn’t believed it the first three times he’d told it.
“This ain’t so scary,” he said after a few seconds. “Don’t know what you’re all worked up about, guy.”
On a typical night, Davis would have been lounging at some illicit, back alley bar in New Shatook, watching questionable women take their clothes off for questionable men. He’d have been chugging moonshine, eating old-world cheeseburgers, and breaking every law known to man.
When I’d first started working with Davis three years back, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to put my trust in someone so different from myself. He broke Confederation laws as a matter of principle. He drank too much, ate too much, and was a little too fond of violence for my liking. Still, something about the man had drawn me. He was everything I hated about the cities without Confederation control, but I’d never trusted anyone as much as I trusted him. I put my life in his hands on a regular basis.
“You’ll never get away with this, you know,” the guard was saying. “This place is wired, know what I mean? Constant surveillance.”
“Hear about that power outage in southwest Bal’Mor today? News said the entire sector lost power this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I heard about that,” I said. “Probably a power surge or something.”
“We shouldn’t be here,” the guard said.
“What I wouldn’t do for some coffee,” Davis said, ignoring the guard and keeping a few steps behind us.
I shook my head. “You’re in Bal’Mor. Coffee is illegal.”
“Not illegal in New Shatook or Asphodel. And it’s coffee for crying out loud. What’s so bad about coffee?”
“It’s crazy being down here,” the guard continued. “Crazy.”
“It’s a stimulant,” I answered, ignoring the guard, too.
“Yeah, babe. Coffee is a stimulant, and you’ve been drinking too much Confederation Kool-Aid.”
I rolled my eyes. We’d had this conversation about a thousand times. “No. I know the value of following the law.”
“Ya know, I just don’t get you. No matter how many laws you follow or how hard you try, to the Confederation you’ll only ever be a parasite.”
“I don’t want to be Confederation.”
Davis shook his head. “You know what I’m saying is true.”
“I don’t know—what was that?”
“What?” Davis said, then stopped walking.
He’d heard it too. And there it was again. Someone was speaking. But that wasn’t right. It didn’t sound like talking. It was more like…
“Is that chanting?” Davis asked, looking as perplexed as I felt.
I thought about turning back again. Then I thought about the people who hadn’t seen their family in weeks. I thought about the families back at home, terrified that something horrible was happening to their loved one. On the practical side I also thought about the money I’d make on this job, about the fact that I only had enough money in the bank to cover rent, electric, and my net bill. I had nothing for food or to cover my cell and insurance.
“I was just wondering the same thing, if that was chanting.” I pulled the guard closer to me. “What’s down here?”
“Prisoners. The worst prisoners in the Confederation. We should not be here. You think four walls and some metal bars are gonna hold what’s down here?”
Davis and I exchanged a look. “What’s down here?” I asked again.
“Friggin’ nightmares, that’s what. You do not want to be here.”
I didn’t hear the chanting anymore. “It sounded like it was coming from up there.” I indicated the hallway ahead with a nod of my head.
“Impossible. There’s nothing down there. The corridor dead-ends around that corner,” the guard said.
“There it is again.” Davis came to stand beside me. Like me, he stared down the hall ahead of us trying to figure out where the sound was coming from.
“Could the sound be from inside one of the cells?” I asked.
The guard shook his head. “The prisoners, they’re all muzzled.”
“Well someone is talking.” Davis moved to the opposite side of the hall and walked to the first cell.
“You do not want to do that.” The guard struggled weakly. The move seemed like something you’d do for show. He wasn’t really trying to get away from me. He’d put up more of a fight getting him out the elevator.
Nodding my agreement, I walked toward a confinement cell on my side of the hall, the guard held secure in front of me.
Now he fought. He started shouting and kicking. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t know my secret. He could scream and kick as much as he wanted, but it wouldn’t do him any good. I was strong. Hell, I wasn’t just strong, I was strong as an old-world superhero. Inhuman strength was one of the things that separated me from a normal and identified me as a parasite.
I didn’t want to stab him accidentally while he was thrashing around, so I drew my arm around his throat and jerked him back. His back arched and his cries stopped the moment I applied pressure.
“Calm it down,” I said into his ear, then eased the pressure on his neck.
“Please. Please. I don’t want to die.”
I looked at Davis over my shoulder. He was standing facing me, staring at the guard, mouth hanging open. “Dude is terrified.”
“Are the prisoners secured in their cells or allowed to walk freely?” I asked the guard.
“The prisoners are kept in ten by ten cell rooms and chained to floor shackles at the wrist, chest, abdomen and ankle so they can’t harm anyone.” He was talking so fast it was work to hear every word. “Least that’s the idea. No beds, no interior lights. The only light they get’s whatever comes in from the corridor through the square of glass in their cell doors. But I wouldn’t think light would matter much since they’re kept blindfolded.”
“No light inside the cell. What if someone needs to go in?”
“Please let me go.”
“What if someone needs to go in?”
“Each room has a long, rectangular fluorescent light built into the ceiling with a switch hidden in a recess in the corridor that’s only accessible to Triune staff.”
I took two large steps forward, propelling the guard ahead of me.
By now he was in a full panic. If he could have gotten away from me he would have, but my grip was sure.
“I’m trying not to hurt you,” I said.
“Just let me go.”
“I will blast a hole through your head!” Davis shouted from behind me.
Not particularly helpful.
“Start looking in the cells,” I said. To the guard, I told, “Look, we just want to have a look around. The quicker that happens, the quicker we all get out of here.”
“You’re making this take an excessive amount of time.”
“Son of a bitch!”
At the sound of Davis’ outburst, I looked over my shoulder.
Instead of standing in front of the cell like he’d been when I last saw him, Davis was in the center of the corridor, blaster pointed at the cell.
“Son of a bitch!” he said again. “What the hell is that? What the hell is in that cell?”
“I told you, man. I told you,” the guard said.
I looked through the window on the cell door on my side of the hall. A prisoner was bound and spread-eagle on the floor. He wasn’t moving at first, then he seemed to stiffen. A moment later he swung his head toward me. Could he sense my presence?
A low growl rose from the room, and I could see bared fangs in his muzzle.
He growled and hissed in my direction, looking more like a rabid beast than a man. What exactly was I looking at?
With light shining into the cell from the corridor I could make out a few details, but not many.
His hair looked pale and wild on his head. Sweat-drenched tendrils were matted to his face and stray strands fanned out on the floor beneath him. Though his eyes were covered in a black mask that enveloped most of his face, I could feel the force of them on me like a physical blow. Muscles flexed beneath their bonds, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the guard was right. Those chains didn’t look strong enough to keep him bound.
Bare from the chest up, his only covering was a pair of white polyester briefs that allowed me to see that his legs, arms and chest were covered with fine blond hair. Not hair like you’d see on a man, or even on a parasite. It was more like fur. He looked like an animal; half man and half beast. He probably outweighed me by a good hundred pounds. Maybe more than that.
“Shit.” The guard peered through the glass, shaking his head. “You had to go and wake it up.”
“What is this place?” I asked.
The guard didn’t answer.
“There’s a monster in that cell.” Davis backed up until he was standing against me. “A fucking monster.”
“This guy looks like something out of that old world movie, The Island of Dr. Moreau,” I said. “He’s got fangs and everything.”
“That thing over there ain’t no movie monster. It’s hairless, completely fuckin bald. It don’t have a nose or a mouth, that fucker’s got a snout. But then it has arms and legs, like a human…and feet like…like a pig. Hooves and shit. What the hell is this place?”
“Don’t think either one of them are the chanter,” I said.
“I could give a fuck!”
I looked back at my cell, then at the cell door. There was a metal plate fixed to the door with a name etched on it. “Jonas Adu,” I read out loud. I looked at Davis. “That’s a name from our list, isn’t it?”
“Jonas Adu. That’s one of the seven who are missing. What is this place?” I demanded of the guard.
“A prison,” he said.
“Bull. Is that Jonas Adu in that cell?”
“As far as I know, this is a prison. I don’t have clearance to be down here. I’ve never been down here before.”
“Bull,” I said again. “It’s your clearance that got us in.”
I moved to the next cell, pushing the guard ahead of me. “Keep looking, Davis. Check the metal plates for our names.”
“You crazy? I’m not checking shit for shit. I’m out of here.”
“The prisoners are shackled to the floor, blind-folded, and muzzled. And they’re locked inside a room behind a steel door.”
“There’s not enough money in the world.”
“We check the cells and the names, then we go. If you were locked up down here you’d want someone to find you, wouldn’t you?”
He stared at me, mouth breathing into the air.
“Okay, then maybe you want to remember that it’s twenty grand for each of us if we find them. Maybe you don’t need the money, but I have rent to pay, a cruiser that I’d like to keep, and an assortment of bills that aren’t going away any time soon. If you want to leave you can go, but I’m checking the cells.”
Davis looked down the hall the way we’d come, then back at the cells. Fists clenched, he looked at the ceiling and grunted. “You know I won’t leave you down here.”
“I can handle myself. I’m armed and I’m strong.”
“Damn it!” He punched the wall.
“If you’re staying, check the plates. If you’re leaving, goodbye.” I turned then and moved forward to the next cell.
“You don’t got blood in your veins, you’re all ice.”
I edged to the window of the next cell and slowly moved in front of the glass.
My breath caught at what I saw inside. It was human in shape, but instead of skin it was covered in scales. Not patches of scales across his skin like parasites I’d seen; this thing didn’t have any skin. The creature’s face was a hodgepodge of human and lizard features. His ears were long and pointed like a bat’s, his nose wasn’t a nose but two holes in the center of his face. I couldn’t see much else of his face, but what I’d seen had been enough.
“Janine Brown,” I read. “Son of a bitch. She’s on our list too. Why is her name on this door?”
What was going on here? Something far worse was going on at Triune. Something that went beyond imprisoning parasites. Did anyone on the outside know about this? I’d read stories, pseudoscience stories about so-called genetic alterations Triune had performed on humans after the third world war, but I’d never believed any of them. Did I have the proof in front of me?
“Give me the key,” I told the guard.
“I don’t have the key,” he said.
“Hold up,” Davis said from across the hall. “Don’t be getting ahead of yourself. We’re not letting anything out. Let’s finish our search and see what we have.”
I stood, indecision fixing me to the spot. Finally, I peered back into the cell. “What if that’s Janine? What if Triune did something to her?”
“It’s not Janine. These things aren’t even human.”
“What if they used to be? How different are they from first generation Shatookers?”
“Far and away different, Remy.”
Swallowing, I continued to the next cell. Davis was right, we had to know what we were dealing with before we could open doors.
I looked into each cell, then at the name attached to the plate on the cell door. Davis did the same.
We found our seven names and nine more who weren’t on our list. Davis wrote down the names so we could look into them after we left Triune.
The floor buckled, throwing me off balance.
“Shit.” Davis rushed to me, blaster held down so he didn’t accidentally shoot me.
“I told you, man. I told you,” the guard was bouncing on his toes, trying to twist out of my grasp.
“Stay still. You’re not going anywhere.” I took a deep breath. “Felt like a tremor. You all right, Davis?”
When he didn’t answer I looked toward him. I had time to catch a glimpse of him out the corner of my eye. And then everything went black.