Avalanche – Snippet 32

“I do not like this, at all.  It is not unlike a theater set…and it is much too quiet.  I think this is a facade.”  Her eyes were getting that flicker of gold in them that meant she was ramping up for combat. John still didn’t feel anything through their combat-sense, though…it was throwing him off, because he had expected to be neck deep in whatever this place had to offer, by this point. They wouldn’t have gotten such a strong reaction through the Futures if they didn’t need to find Zach Marlowe now.

“Let’s push on, darlin’. Crack this nut open, find our package an’ get outta ‘ere.”

There was another double glass door like the entrance, just to the left of the desk in the wall behind it.  They pushed through it and found themselves in a corridor lined with metal doors, everything still in the same institutional green with gray linoleum, with fluorescent-tube lights overhead.  Lights which, oddly in John’s experience, did not so much as flicker. Hell, they flickered all the time at the CCCP HQ, and even in ECHO buildings.   They continued down the hall and passed by the metal doors; he had the feeling if there was anything behind them that they needed, he’d feel it.  There was no sound, nothing, just their own cautious footfalls.

The corridor ended in a T-junction.  John looked quickly to the left and right.  Two more identical corridors, that dead-ended.

“Well…shit. What now?”

Her spear vanished, and she stared hard at the wall in front of her.  “One moment, beloved…”  She approached the wall, and laid her hands on it, just at shoulder height.  Then, gently, she pushed.

A door-shaped section of the wall, marked by the apparent lines of the ceramic tiles that the wall consisted of, receded, then slid to the side, showing…an entirely different sort of corridor.

John hadn’t even seen the hidden passage, and he was usually really good at noticing small details like that.

As soon as the door that Sera had found slid fully away to the left, John knew, not thought, that everything was wrong with this place. He didn’t want to be there. He recognized the architecture in the hallway, the layout, the lighting, even the smell.

This was a Program place. A Facility. Where people were turned into tools, ripped apart and remade into something else with martial purpose. By the same sort of men that John had once turned to cinders.

It was everything that he could do to not send an unending torrent of fire ahead of them, burning this Facility just like the one he had come from.

Peace.  You are a better man than that now.  Stronger.  The strength of a man comes from how little he uses his strength, not by how much.  But he could also feel her anger–controlled and righteous.

I’m not a better man, darlin’, he sent to her. Stronger, but not better. More in control of myself. I’m the man I was then, the man I am now, the man I will be in the future. It’s all me, and what I do. Important that I do better, an’ maintain that control. Does that follow?

A different man, then.  She glanced over at him and a flicker of a smile passed over her lips.

Naw, I’m still just as handsome.

So you are.  We will do what we must here, but no more.

“Agreed, darlin’. I want nothin’ more than to be back in Atlanta, far away from this place.” John’s claymore flared for a moment, a small mental nudge to his resolve. “Let’s get to it.”

“And I want Zachary Marlowe away from this place with us.”  Her eyes flickered gold, and her spear reformed into a fire-sword.  “The sooner, the better.”

They continued down the hallway; John opted to dissipate his sword and bring up his suppressed M4. Somewhat less conspicuous than a great honking claymore made of Celestial fire, especially if they need to deal with someone quietly. Sera, in response, muted her fire-sword until it was the barest shimmer, almost insubstantial in her hands. He got an enormous sense of déjà vu as they progressed, and not the good kind. It had been years since he had seen the Facility that he had come from, but he remembered every horrible detail. There were large office rooms filled with cubicles, desks, copier machines and the like on either side of them; all were completely empty of any people. This first level would be administration; very low-level stuff, just the day to day activity necessary to process paperwork and keep the covert Facility functioning. Payroll, accounting, that sort of thing. This level was empty because it was too early for the 9-to-5 crowd to be here.  The levels below the first one were where things started to get interesting.

John and Sera came to a stop at an elevator after a T-intersection at the end of the hall.

“Do we take the elevator, beloved?” Sera asked, tilting her head.  From the subtle trembling of her wings, John would have known she was uneasy about doing so, even without their connection.

“Naw. That’s a metal coffin. For one, it’d be a tight squeeze with your wings. For another, they have control of it; they could lock us in there, then start throwin’ grenades down on top of it if they wanted. Or just open the doors t’greet us with a mess of automatic gunfire. Stairs are better. This way, darlin’.” They moved to the right of the elevator; John took the lead, his weapon up and ready after they breached the doorway. Stairwells could be tricky; easy enough to get cozy with an unfriendly grenade, or to miss an angle. Taking things slow and methodical helped. If it were a hostage situation, that would necessitate speeding things up, in order to keep surprise on their side while room clearing. But, for now, it looked like they had time.

He paused outside the first door they came to on the way down.  There was a subtle vibration in the floors and walls; that had to be the water pumps, keeping this place from becoming one gigantic swimming pool.  “Ground water level” started not all that far under the topsoil in Florida.  Second floor is going to be Indoc; place to prep “clients” and that sort of thing before sending them down to where the real work gets done. I figure we can skip it for now; besides, I don’t “feel” Zach on this floor. John adjusted his sling slightly after sending the telempathic message to Sera.

I do not either.  In fact…I sense no more than one or two people.  Cleaning people, perhaps.

I think you’re right. This is a much smaller operation than the one that I was involved with. That gig was running twenty-four seven. If we’re lucky, maybe we can do this quiet, get in an’ out without anyone raisin’ a fuss until we’re gone.

Do you think Zachary will be free to move about the Facility?

John paused for a moment before replying. Depends. If he’s cooperative, and they’re feedin’ him a strong enough line of bullshit, he might be given a bit more latitude. I don’t think it’s likely, though; doesn’t seem like that’d be our boy, given what we want him for. So, he might be in Isolation. We might have to carry him out of here; dependin’ on how dangerous he is, they’ll have him doped up, potentially.

They were on the upper landing between the third floor and the fourth floor when there was a deep rumbling from somewhere deep in the Facility, above or below, it was impossible to tell which, followed by a jarring concussion that almost made both of them lose their footing. Dust and plaster shook from the ceiling and stairs, and cracks formed in the walls. One rather large one appeared right next to John’s head; water immediately started to pour from it in a steady current. A beat later, klaxons sounded, and orange emergency flasher lights began to strobe.

“So much for the subtle approach!” John felt a stab of urgency lance through him; whatever was happening, it was related to Zach, and they needed to get to him now. Sera felt it as well; wordlessly, they both started moving. The seventh level was where they stopped; there were still two levels below them, but it was behind this door that John felt the strongest pull.

“Ready, darlin’?”  he glanced to the side.

“Abandon all hope,” she quoted aloud, grimly, manifesting both spear and sword.

“So long as we’re together…never, darlin’. Let’s get what we came for.”

John pushed through the door, Sera right behind him–

–and they almost ran face first into two very frightened looking lab technicians.