They stood in front of the first door chosen for breach. Stark held an axe found in a fire locker, and Amelia gripped an extinguisher.
“This’ll be loud.” He stared down the dark hallway. “If there is a beast around, it’ll hear us.”
“Nothing for it. We need to find Niko.”
“If she’s alive…” He glared. The vote of non-confidence clear. Amelia landed the first blow near the lock, and a metallic clang raced throughout the hall, bouncing off the walls.
Stark swung the axe, causing the door to cave as the head sunk into metal, and he wiggled it free. Amelia struck with the extinguisher, and the slab of steel heaved.
His next impact thunked against something solid. “I think I hit the lock.”
“Good,” she said, putting all weight into another thrust. The door clanged open in sync with the screeching bang caused by another slam of the extinguisher. “What’s behind door number one?”
Frowning, he leaned the axe against the wall. With rifle raised, he entered the abandoned home of an unknown resident. She prepared to follow when padding footsteps whispered from the unexplored section of hallway. Through the NVD, the thermal shape of a four-legged beast trotted. “We have company.”
“Oh… how unexpected, ma’am.” Stark appeared in the doorway and pointed the rifle toward danger. “Want me to fire first, ask questions later… or set out some tea?”
“Cut it out.” Amelia focused on the creature. “It’s large. We’ll wait tell it’s close, then injure it.”
“Injure it?” His eye never left the rifle’s scope. “Why?”
“Ever chase a mouse?”
“Sure,” he said.
“Where does it run when scared or injured?”
“Never really thought too much about it.” Stark paused. “I’m guessing you’re about to say it runs home.”
“If close enough.” Amelia stepped centre-most of the hallway, bringing up her rifle, manipulating the cross-hairs until they rested on the creature’s front feet. A little closer, and a burst of rounds exploded from the barrel.
The beast fell to its face, jumped up, spun around, and took off lumbering. “Come on.” Amelia sprinted after it. Stark grabbed the axe and slung it between pack and back and ran after her.
At the next common area, the beast made a sharp right, skidding on the metal floor, and disappeared behind the wall with a scrapping of slipping claws. In gunfighter stance, she side stepped around the wall and saw it disappear into a kitchen, the swing doors shuttering close. “It went in the kitchen.” Amelia followed it and pushed a door open with the rifle barrel.
“Shit,” she said under a breath. “Run!” back the way she came, and her eyes squeezed shut instinctively to the blindness of thermal orange flashing across the night-vision display. Legs smashed and tripped over a table. Head first over it and crashing to the floor, she rushed to jump to her feet and fought to catch wind, ignoring any pain. No time for it.
She searched for Stark’s thermal image. With heat signatures engulfing the NVD, his shape hid from view. And the humming… it drowned out thought, invaded the mind… seeping and sucking up focus.
“Stark, where you at?”
“We have company… a lot of company.”
“No shit. Can you tell what they are?”
“I think they’re… bees… I can hear them.”
Bees? “We take our chances with them.”
“What about the animal?” A crack of fear worried Stark’s voice.
The bees swarmed over her. The vibration caused by the insects latched to the suit tickled her skin. Effectively blind with the NVD, she reached up and turned on the headlamp. The interior lighting couldn’t penetrate the wall of bees crawling on her visor. After wiping them away with an arm, the headlamp’s light splotched across a dust storm of motion. The walls and ceiling an organic thing full of a writhing dance. The air revealed no free space.
“Turn on your headlamp,” she said.
Stark lit up like a beacon through the swarm, covered head to toe in the crawling insects. “Oh, bloody stingers. I preferred night vision.” Amelia approached. “You look like the queen bee,” he said, laughing at his wit.
Fear and adrenaline powered her next words. “We gotta run, man. And now.”
A yowl sounded from the rear. And then another. A chorus of snapping, growling, enraged somethings pelted them through the deafening drone of the bees. Amelia didn’t turn to watch, “RUN!” and sprinted through the buzzing storm and down the hallway. Stark ran behind. A glance back showed him reach over his shoulder, pull free the axe, and smack the metal wall.
“What the hell are you doing?” Focused ahead now, eyes followed the beam as it bounced floor to ceiling.
“I’ll explain later.” The clanging pursued as boots pounded steel.
Amelia neared the theatre room and spotted the missing keys on the ground near the projector table. Without breaking stride, she scooped them with a gloved hand. The minutes of running had sweat gathering in uncomfortable places. It pooled in the suit’s crevices, drenching her under garments.
SME storage appeared. Amelia performed a rapid stop, grabbing the door’s handle to prevent overshooting and flung it open, turning to watch Stark. Eyes popped wide at the sight of swarming bees behind him… and through the cloud, the lumbering beasts throwing their heads back and forth, snapping up mouthfuls of buzzers.
He entered the room at full speed, and she slid through, slamming the door shut, and locked the deadbolt. Both fell to their asses, gasping in oxygen. A thumping and crash shook the door.
Claws gouging metal produced a screech. Amelia vibrated, and hair pricked up on end. These beasts made the marks they found on the door earlier. Somebody else hid before in this room.
“How long you think they’ll be out there?” Stark said, looking at her and to the door. There was fear in his eyes. Dilated pupils reflected the visor’s interior lights. Stark was right. Niko was right. They should have left when they had the chance.
Now locked inside with the damned bees.
“Why did you make all that noise?”
“What?” Silence and a studied expression of confusion. “Oh, yes… um, well, I figured we disturbed the bees with the noise, and that’s why they swarmed us.”
“I wanted the bees to follow.” He looked expectant, like she understood the logic. But she didn’t. Stark sighed, and eyes rolled. “Look, it was a hunch, okay. I thought if we kept them between us and the beasts, they’d not want to go through them… you know… whole pointy stick thing full of venom…”
Oh… yes… Amelia tried to hide back tears… but they welled and dropped… rolling across cheeks and collecting in her chin hold with the pooled sweat.
She yanked the axe from Stark’s hands and surged to her feet, raising it above her head. As she swung toward the white box holding the saviours of humanity, he lunged forward and crashed into her knees, sending Amelia to the ground. “Ma’am, what the hell?”
“I’ll kill them! Destroy them!” She screamed and crawled, preparing to stand.
Stark scrambled on top, pushing Amelia’s front flat to the steel-plated surface. He grabbed the axe head sticking out from under her and pulled. Still gripping the axe, she struggled back in a whimpering effort, and gave it up. With a thrust, he flung it to clatter on the floor.
Hysteria erupted. Yowls and growls perforated the door. Whining, jaw snapping, then a yelp. Stark glared at the wall, as if trying to witness the events unfolding on the other side. “Sounds like they’re fighting over who gets to eat us first.”
Amelia’s eyes closed and leaked. He climbed off and sat back on his ass, leaving her curled in the fetal position, shivering and sobbing.