Darian was halfway to Skyla’s chambers–his boots clanging hard on the metallic floor and sweat beading on his forehead–when he whipped out his radio. The last few times he’d barged into her room he’d been unannounced. He relished the look of surprise on her face, which was often coupled with a relief–like she was actually happy to see him. This was probably not a time to surprise her, though.
“Skyla. Queen Skyla. This is Captain Flaherty. Come in.”
Her reply came a few seconds later. “What’s wrong?”
“Something’s happened at the medical bay. I’m coming to secure your quarters.”
“No!” There was a sharp edge to her voice that tore Darian’s heart. “Is it Lady Harmony? Lady Dominique? Have they escaped?”
“I don’t know. I’ve sent the men to deal with it. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
“Don’t worry about me! Get down there and do what needs to be done to contain it.”
She is not your friend. She is your queen.
“Yes…yes, your Highness. Flaherty out.”
A stab of guilt twisted his guts, but he had to do what she said. She would be fine, he told himself as he did a complete one-eighty.
Lieutenant Starkley was in front of the medical bay with about a dozen men, but most of them were fending off the journalists. Damn it. Several of the reporters had cameras, video and still, and were taking pictures of the scene. This would be all over the Dome and Earth’s Internet in mere minutes.
The ruddy glass of the bay doors were in pieces over the floor. As if breaking the door wasn’t enough, there was a gaping hole in the wall next to it, wide enough for two grown men to step through side-by-side. Darian’s men had roped off the area with black tape, and inside the lights were flickering madly. Whatever infection had been contained, it wasn’t contained anymore.
“Why hasn’t this been blocked yet?” Darian barked to Starkley.
“Sir. We were dealing with–”
“I see that. Leave two here to crowd control, and the rest are with me. This isn’t a game.”
“What was being contained?” one of the journalists shouted.
“What broke the door? Where are Doctor Leeland and the other medical personnel? Is it safe to go inside?”
“Where is Lady Harmony now?”
The last was Mac Jaclow, that so-called journalist who had sent Skyla into a frenzy earlier that day. Darian balled his hands into fists. “I don’t care about your stories and I don’t care about your damn deadlines. We have a real situation here.” He looked to his men. “Well? Board. This. Wall.”
“Answer our questions!” Mac Jaclow demanded. He shoved the other journalists out of the way and began wrestling with the guard, a Sergeant Sage. Sage held Jaclow back with little trouble but it still made Darian uneasy–he couldn’t have Jaclow setting a bad example for the other reporters to follow, not again.
Darian nodded to Starkley. “C’mon.”
Eight men followed Darian into the ruined medical bay. It was like walking into a club that doubled as a crackhouse. Shards of broken glass crunched under their boots. One of the guards almost slipped on something large and knelt down to see what it was.
“Captain? I think this is a body,” he said.
“Anything we can do about those lights?” Darian asked.
One of the taller men, Lieutenant Kraul, stood on his tip-toes and gave the fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling a good beating. After a couple of punches, it flickered again and then came back on permanently.
Bodies, everywhere. Six of them, all of them dead. Their faces were a mess of brain, bone, and blood. It was like a savage beast had mauled them and then snacked on them, leaving the rest of the body to rot or to be ravaged by some other animal. One of the guards vomited in the corner. Without their faces, the lot of them just seemed unreal to Darian–like they were dolls, or mannikins. But the scratch marks on their necks and arms sent a clear message–someone had attacked them, something not human.
“Weapons, men!” Darian ordered, drawing his own gun. “Set to heavy stun. I want to see what killed these people.”
Banging sounds in an office off to the left sent a sharp chill down Darian’s back. He raised his gun and crept slowly towards the sound. The window to the office had been smashed–and the door was ajar. More shuffling noises, followed by a gurgling groan. Darian gestured for Starkley and two others to take up position by the door while he scouted the window.
A shadow crossed the room and gurgled once more, and was made flesh in the light that crossed near the window. Starkley kicked open the door for a better sightline.
She was still alive. Somehow–though her face had been chewed off, her eyes empty black holes, her teeth missing and her tongue gone, and her nose a sunken mess, this woman stumbled about the office. Her white nurse’s uniform was caked with her own brain matter and drenched with blood. She sounded like a drowning cat.
Starkley’s voice wavered. “Do we shoot it, sir?”
This was no doll, no mannikin. This woman had a family somewhere. Darian tried to steady his aim but the ghoul looked straight at him–as if she could hear him thinking about her–and let out a loud, cruel moan.
“Yes, God yes,” Darian said.
All four of them fired their razor-thin lasers at the woman and she slumped backwards. Hopefully dead, Darian prayed.
Starkley stepped into the office, turning on his flashlight and sweeping the area until he deemed it safe, and then checked the body. “Dead, Captain.”
“Leave her for now. There are people trapped in here, somewhere, and we’ve got to get them out.” Darian turned back to Kraul. “Take four men and go down the east wing. Check for survivors. Doctor Leeland is in here somewhere–he could have important information about what’s going on. Find him.”
The reporters were shouting more questions now–they would’ve heard the shots. Two of Darian’s men had found some emergency supplies and were boarding up the hole, but the body count was spirialing out of control.
Darian got out his radio again. “Captain Darian Flaherty to any available guardsman. This is a public call to all guards under my command. We have a Class 5 emergency. Shut everything non-vital system down. Escort civilians to their homes. We have a potential murderer on the loose. I repeat, shut everything down.”