“We’re bringing her here.”
“I’m not talking about it. It’s done.” Amelia would walk out of this dome knowing she did everything possible for the team.
“Yes, ma’am.” Stark pulled his rifle’s charge handle partway back and checked the chamber. He released and smacked the forward assist. “Let’s do this, then.”
Amelia performed the same action on her rifle and opened the door to the hall, inspecting for danger. “We’re clear. We’ll move around the ring toward the orchards. I’m hoping she’s somewhere near there.”
Stark nodded and took the lead.
They proceeded with caution, and she turned off the headlamp. “Switch to NVD. I don’t want our beams giving us away.”
The visors auto-adjusted to the dark conditions and switched to night-vision. The green environment annoyed every soldier, but sure as a bee has stripes, brought a tactical advantage. At least she hoped.
The hallway remained clear of debris for the most part. Despite the dome’s abandonment, it didn’t appear a rushed issue. Amelia’s curiosity piqued at the fact they hadn’t found remains of occupants yet. “Stark, any idea why we haven’t seen bodies?”
“Haven’t really thought about it. Thought the people left.”
“Ya, but from what that guy Carver questioned back home said, it seemed like a panicked run-for-your-lives type thing. Nothing looked like anyone left in a hurry.” Doubt crept. Were they being played?
The corridor opened into one of the many common areas in the ring. Both scanned the area for danger. Quiet. Amelia led them around tables with chairs pushed in. The room appeared in order.
The kitchen area displayed dishes put away, counters neat with a fine layer of dust. So strange. She expected disaster. Half eaten bowls of food. A pot of soup left to spoil. Overturned furniture. Though how long had the place lain abandoned? “You getting any weird feelings?”
They continued out of the common area and down another hall. All clear. Light dust, no debris. A check of the doors revealed them locked. “Want to bust open a door and see what the living quarters look like?”
“I recommend saving the noisy part for when we are near Niko.” A good point.
Amelia paused. “Agreed.”
Another large space opened ahead. A projector and chairs faced a wall. A theatre. What movie last played? A USB drive protruded from the side of the projector. Thinking it hopeless to expect power, she hit the ‘on’ button.
A flickering of light on the wall proved her wrong. A blue rectangle formed with a file-selection menu. One file existed on the card, and the title disturbed her. “Ma’am, we can’t wait around.” Stark’s voice shook across the comms. He faced the display, and she knew he read the same words.
Amelia wanted to watch the video file, believing it held answers to this place’s demise. Fingers reached for the smooth, white ‘play’ button but stopped short and instead pulled out the USB card and stuffed it in a pocket on her chest. “We’ll investigate this later. Let’s go.”
Stark nodded in agreement and took point. They moved quick and silent. The hallways and spaces ordered, neat, and like the previous inhabitants had left but expected to return to a clean home. The more Amelia absorbed, the more her skin prickled. An invader, prepared for a resident to step out from the dark and sound the alarm. ‘Thieves! Danger! What are you doing here! You shouldn’t be here! Get out! Get out! Get out!’
Amelia halted and pressed her visor against a metal wall, inhaling every bit of O2 the system delivered. Stark’s hand pressed against her back. “Ma’am? What’s going on? You okay?”
She pulled upright and forced lungs to shallow their consumption. After a moment, “We gotta get Niko. And we gotta get the bloody stinger out of this place.”
“Have you heard from her?” It dawned on Amelia Niko’s sweet voice hadn’t broken over the comms for some time. The concerning talk between her and Stark would have drawn Niko’s attention.
“I’m hoping she just went radio silent. She’s got good reason to.” But Stark’s eyebrows lowered in worry.
At a run through the hall with a rush of uncertainty, and Stark’s boots pounding the metal behind, Amelia knew the timer drew to zero, if not there already. The curve of the hallway presented unknown risks, and the slowing tick in her head pushed her legs harder.
Ahead, the NVD picked up something laying across the hall, and upon closing distance, a body. She jogged to a walk, stopped, and approached. The SM suit meant the body belonged to the team. No helmet. The name tag on the chest gave the identity. “Jacob,” she said into the comms. Her mate and friend’s face existed no longer, ripped off and chewed.
Stark stopped, looked at Jacob’s corpse, and continued running down the passage. Guess he’s taking point. Emotions of the day roiled under her skin, in the stomach’s pit, trying to fog the brain. She couldn’t let it and ran after him.
“We’re close if Jacob’s here. We need to start searching rooms.” Stark stopped, turned to a door, and tried the handle. Locked. “Have a living-quarters master?”
“I should.” Amelia reached him and dug a glove into a pouch strapped to her leg. Fingers danced among the contents, feeling for the ring or edge of a key. Tool wrap, suit repair kit… ah, keys. She pulled them out… for the light crawler transport. Shit. Where were they?
“Can’t find them?” Worry hid behind his smile, and eyes darted over her head and from side to side.
“Not yet.” An inspection of the pouch on the other leg led to nothing. After rummaging through the SM suit’s pockets, “For the love of The Hive Queen… Maybe in my pack.” She unslung the bag and tore through the contents. With the pack turned over, every pocket open, and a pile of gear on the floor, she couldn’t bear to look up at him. Critical to the mission and rescuing her friends, Stark and she had to think of a quick work-around.
“They fell out of your pouch?”
“I don’t know… must have.” A glance at the door they wanted open. “How hard you think it would be to breach it?”
“We don’t have a ram. Would be all shoulder,” he said, rubbing his own. “These wouldn’t hold up past a few doors. Wouldn’t want to bust in on the beast with injuries.”
“The best chance we have is to locate Sammy’s body. Had the other set of keys.” But how? Discovering her brother’s headless corpse would prove as difficult as finding Niko. Amelia began stuffing gear away.
“Ma’am… I think we need to head back and get the hive out of here.”
“No!” They’d come this far and would rescue Niko. Calming herself, “Let’s find a ram… or something to use as one.”
Amelia stood up from the pack, re-slung it, and headed back to the nearest common area. There’d have to be something in the storage or kitchen.
A table, stool… hell, might even use Stark’s head for a ram if he kept bitching about saving the stupid bees.