Something passed in the mist at an impossible speed. It looked a bit like a giant cat, although the profile of the head was wrong. Weirdly misshapen, almost more like a human head than anything else. It reminded Admiral Bridges of the Sphinx, only alive and moving and as gaunt as a dried corpse.
He fired a few rounds at it, but nothing indicated he had hit. Laying on the floor, firing at a figure moving that quickly, and shooting into the fog – it was worth an attempt, but he wasn’t surprised that he had missed.
A splatter of blood landed on the floor in front of him. It was followed by the head of the woman who had been manning the radio when he’d first come in, landing with the sickening sound of ground beef dropped into a sink, before it rolled away into the mist. He would have sworn there was still life in her eyes, and that she gave him an accusatory look as her head tumbled past.
Hands shaking, the Admiral reloaded his pistol. He might not have been able to save these people, but he wouldn’t just lie down and die.
He saw a few more shadows move past in the mist, which had turned a dark grey from mingling with doctor Parvathi’s ashes and particles of blood Bast was spraying from her prey, but none of them were clear enough for the Admiral to be sure if they were friend or foe.
Then, as abruptly it had started, the screaming stopped. All he could hear was footsteps soft footsteps, and a horribly suggestive munching sound. Like a dog with a steak, but uglier. Ghoulish.
“Oh, this won’t do,” a female voice said, and a wind began to blow through the room, sucking the mist out of the door and clearing his vision. He saw Cassandra first, his intended Trojan horse. She was hunched over a body, holding a chunk of red flesh in her hands and eating it in with a frenetic eagerness, a starving woman finally getting her first piece of bread in days. No, not bread, not from the pleased sounds she was making. Chocolate. Or some other delicacy, the likes of which she’d never experienced before.
Then he saw Bast.
He’d seen her in person before, of course. First as a corpse, then as the woman strapped to the table. Each time, he’d found her underwhelming. She just looked like a woman. A beautiful woman, of course, but nothing special beyond that.
Now, though, he saw her in new light. The gore splattered across her was somehow artful, and the scrubs had been coated in blood to the point where it looked more like war paint. Her hair was wild where it wasn’t matted, and that wildness was mirrored in her eyes. Not wild, mad. She’s gone completely mad – and you drove her there.
She still was beautiful, but it wasn’t just attractive. It was the beauty of a tiger, the beauty of a thunderstorm, and the beauty of a viper layered on top of a gorgeous woman. In that instant, he understood how primitive man had idolized these beings, long before even the first days of civilization. Seeing her like this, some primal entity of death and carnage, he knew in his bones how one could find themselves engaging in rituals with drums and dance and sacrifice. Doing anything and everything you could think of to appease the being that moved like lightning and spoke like thunder.
She finally met his eyes, and the Admiral realized there was no hope of appeasing her.
He raised the gun in a last, desperate act of defiance. With a gesture, she sent it flying out of his hand, skittering over to Cassandra. “Once you finished feeding, use it to finish off any survivors,” Bast said offhandedly to her, not breaking the Admiral’s gaze. The woman – well, the monster – merely nodded as she continued her feast.
Finally, she addressed him directly. “Admiral. Admiral Dale Bridges, United States Navy.” Her voice was almost a purr, the satisfied sound of the cat that had gotten into the birdcage and devoured the helpless animal inside. He tried to rise to his feet. He didn’t want to face this woman he was now certain would be his death while on his belly.
She allowed him to reach his knees before reaching out and running an electric shock through him, seizing his muscles in place so he was paralyzed and in agony. “I like you like this, Admiral,” she said over his agonized wimpers. “Kneeling before me.” She cocked her head and chuckled to herself. “I suppose I should call you Dale, since we’re going to become such good friends. You don’t mind, do you?”
He tried to answer her, but the electric charge was still locking him in place. He could feel his teeth begin to crack from how hard he was clenching his jaw. She let the current hold him there for a little while longer, before releasing it so he could fall prostrate before her. “How long was I your prisoner?” she asked in that dangerously calm voice.
The Admiral coughed, and blood flecked across the floor. “Go to hell, you monster.”
She sighed and kicked him in the face. A few of the cracked teeth shattered from the blow, and he let out a moan of pure agony. “If I’m a monster, I am the monster that you made of me.” She leaned down to put her face close to his, her faux-friendly demeanor dropping as she whispered in his ear. “I have questions, Dale. And you are going to suffer greatly, even if you answer them. I won’t lie to you there. But if you refuse me, if you hold on stubbornly to this belief that you still have any power here, I’ll make you just like her.”
They both looked at Cassandra. She’d finished the heart and had walked over to another soldier, one who was still breathing shallowly. She reached in and, with a savage blow, plucked his heart out. It did a good job of punctuating Bast’s point. “I’ll starve you,” she continued, “until you’ll desperate for a human heart. Then I’ll let you loose with your family. Or friends. Or in a school, or the White House. Whatever is the worst for you, personally. And believe me – at that point, you’ll feast. And when you’re done, you’ll beg for more.”
Admiral Dale Bridges shuddered at the thought, but she wasn’t done speaking. “If you talk, then I’ll just torture you until it gets boring or you die, whichever comes first. Now. How long was I your prisoner?”
Some part of him considered fighting, still spitting defiance in her face…and then pictured himself wolfing down his grandson’s tiny heart in a single bite. “Five weeks,” he whispered.
Bast patted his head, “Good boy. Now, there’s one person still missing. The doctor in head of research. Parvathi? Cassandra told me on the walk over all about her, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting her. Where is she?”
At this, at least, the Admiral could take some satisfaction. “You walked through her ashes over to me. She burned herself to ash so you couldn’t take her alive.”
Bast looked over to the smear on the ground, frowning. “How the hell did she manage that?”
“Thermite suit. Said she’d resurrect at her…what was the word? Nanoverse.” He actually did find the strength to chuckle here. “She’s a monster like you. And she’s still free.”
Bast idly reached down and with a deceptively gentle motion, plucked his left eyeball out of his skull. He started screaming in pain as she frowned at the spot on the floor. “You don’t get to enjoy anything, Dale. Especially not bad news for me.” He could barely hear her, his hand held to his now empty socket as he fought down more screams. “I need more time to think. This is…unfortunate. And you’re going to tell me everything about her. But first…”
She reached down to rest her fingers touch his forehead and he felt something ripple through him. “I liked you screaming for me, Dale, so I want you to do more of it. You will scream so loud it shakes the halls of Hell.” The ripple slowly turned into an itching, crawling sensation across his body. He watched in horror as a cyst formed on the back of his hand. It swelled and burst, and tiny insects began to crawl out of it. He could feel them developing across his body.
“Are you familiar with botflies, Dale?” She asked, in that damnable conversational tone, and it was too much. Admiral Dale Bridges died there, and only Dale was left.
And Dale could only scream.
Dale’s screams did not, in fact, reach the afterlife. Not yet at least. But they did echo though the entirety of Project Myrmidon, reaching the ears of Major Roger Evans, who had just finished disarming a nuclear bomb.
He didn’t know it was the former Admiral’s screams, but he was certain what it meant. Command had fallen. They had lost. Arnold shuddered at the sound, and Diane looked up at the Major. “Sir. What are your orders?”
He checked the power gage on his harness. Eighty six percent. It had stopped charging a little bit ago – he could only assume that Bast had reclaimed her Black Sphere. “We’re getting the hell out of here.”
She nodded. “And the warhead?”
“We’re taking it. There isn’t time to re-arm it. And who knows? It might come in handy later.” He glanced at both of them. “Do you hear that?”
They nodded. The heartbeat sound that had filled the building was gone, but it had been replaced by something else. A humming sound that it didn’t feel like they were hearing with their minds, but that seemed to echo through their souls. “What is it?” Arnold asked, frowning.
“I have a hope,” Evans said, taking a deep breath. “But I don’t want to say yet. In case I’m wrong. But I think we need to answer it.”
The both nodded, and he motioned for them to get to work. The three remaining soldiers of Project Myrmidon reached out, and twisting reality, began to carve their way to the surface.
They had a call to answer.