Even days after the revelation that headquarters and even Sandra knew more than I did, I was still pissed off. I couldn’t believe they’d known something was going to happen here and did nothing.
Because of this, we were fucked. All we could do now was to sit here and wait for this thing to emerge again. This time, however, it would be prepared. Hell, it didn’t need to be prepared. Let me say it again, we’re fucked!
Throughout the last days, there have been no new incidents. No signatures, no alerts, no puppets, nothing at all.
Normally, I’d be happy about it, but I know what it means. That thing’s still out there, and it’s bidding its time.
“Fucking shit,” I cursed while I sat in front of the computer.
The only good thing about it was that it gave us time to nurse our wounds.
Theodor was already well again with that freakish body of his. As for me, most of my wounds are healed as well. The bones that were broken still hurt, but I’m mostly okay now.
Sandra, though, is a different story. She’s still recouping and only slowly getting back on track. It’s not so much her body that’s damaged, but her mind.
For the past days, though, she wasn’t able to rest. That damn thing’s probing, sending out its feelers all over the city.
She describes it as a rough, almost uncontrolled effort, but at the same time delicate. The thing knows what it’s doing and Sandra knows it’s searching for her, for us. Thankfully, it hadn’t found our location just yet and most likely wouldn’t anytime soon. The moment Sandra noticed its probing, she set up several distortion devices. Those handy little tools would keep our brainwaves and Sandra’s mental capacities hidden.
Two days after our little talk, Sandra downed another memory contraption. To say I wasn’t happy about it would be an understatement. No, I was freaking pissed and more so worried about her.
Instead of listening, she cut me off, stating that what was coming would be far worse than our last clash with the creature. She needed her powers back, and she needed to be ready.
I gave her a weak nod, but I could see the toll it was taking on her.
What I was most surprised, though, was Theodor. Until that day he hadn’t given a shit about, well, anything that was going on. He was only here because of Sandra’s threats, but ever since he was back on track, he’d begun to go through headquarters’ compendium. Seeing him learn and study various different types of creatures was something I never thought I’d see.
While Theodor was busy with the compendium and Sandra was healing, I kept myself busy as well. I scanned streets, looked for signatures, sorted through our equipment and even ordered a few more additional supplies. Headquarters wasn’t too forthcoming when I asked them to send me some of their new explosive ammunition, but because of our current situation, they eventually relented.
I even tried to come up with a strategy on how to take the creature down, or at least give us any semblance of a chance.
Sandra also got into contact with headquarters again, making all sorts of inquiries about what they were going to do. I listened to her tirade of endless questions when she broke up before an outburst followed.
“No! Not her! I’m using my authority as a higher-ranking exterminator to oppose-“
She broke up and I could see the anger distorting her face.
“What? No, that’s,” she started but broke up once more.
She listened for a few more moments, but when the call had ended, she threw her phone down in frustration.
“What was that all about?” I asked, turning to her.
“Nothing, it’s all nonsense. Headquarters might send someone over, but I wouldn’t count on it.”
And so the days passed with nothing happening.
To be honest, I was on pins and needles the entire fucking time. I knew something was going to happen, something bad, and then it did.
It came out of nowhere and the computer alarms going haywire woke me up. For a moment I stared at the blinking, ringing mess in the center of our living room without the slightest clue of what was going on. I tried to make sense of it, clicked through the software and its various tabs, but all I could tell was we’d gotten a hit, a big one.
Before I could as much as curse, Sandra stormed into the room.
“Move!” she yelled at me and pushed me aside.
As she scanned the screen and the data on it, I could see her face growing dark.
“This is their fault! Dammit! We called for support, we called multiple times and now… dammit!”
“Sandra, what’s going on? Is it-?”
“What do you think it is? Look at the signature!”
With that, she turned one monitor into my direction and I could see a giant signature stretching out over vast parts of the city.
“Shit, so it’s back!”
“Not only that,” she brought out. “You see where the signature’s originating?”
I leaned forward to get a closer look. I saw that this time it wasn’t originating in some empty, run-down area. No, this time it had appeared right in the center of a giant apartment complex.
“Jesus Christ,” was all I could bring out.
“What’s going on?” Theodor called out, still holding the compendium in his hands.
“We’ve got confirmation. It’s back,” Sandra said.
“Wait, there’s more than on signature.”
In an instant, Sandra was back at the keyboard, rerouting a drone that was near the area.
The drone scurried through the air. For a second, a building complex came into view before the drone’s signal vanished.
“Not letting us see a damn thing,” Theodor mumbled from behind.
“Shut up! Look!”
With that, Sandra opened the data the drone had transferred and clicked through it. Just before it was destroyed, it had recorded the area.
The apartment complex was a mess. Buildings were damaged, walls were torn down, and debris lined the street that led through the complex.
Sandra hit up headquarters right away. She didn’t hold back and screamed into the phone that they’d fucked up.
“This is exactly what I’ve been worried about! This is exactly what we should’ve prevented!”
“Exterminator 4B98344, we are already aware of the situation. We are taking measures as we speak. The entire area is being locked down by our civilian personnel as well as the local police force. We’ve already gotten into contact with the media, and all material regarding the incident will be confiscated or denied. However, immediate action is required. We need you, Exterminator 7D11087, and your other asset to set out and do what you can. Reinforcements are on their way, but we can’t tell you when they’d make it to your location.”
“You’re sending her after all, don’t you?” Sandra asked in a strained voice.
“Exterminator 4B98344, we like to remind you that executive decisions are to be made by headquarters exclusively. Focus on the task at hand.”
With that, the call was cut.
While Sandra had been talking, I’d taken a more detailed look at the signature data in the area. Apart from the giant A-class signature, there were at least two dozen more. And I knew why. That thing must’ve routed them there. Every creature that had arrived here had been hidden from us and sent right to its lair. It had been gathering them.
Shit, this was getting worse and worse.
“I guess we’re on our own again?”
Neither I nor Sandra answered. There was no need to.
A few moments later, I made my way to the storage room.
“All right, for the past days, I thought hard about what we could do if shit hit the fan again. Now, it won’t do a lot, but we’re going all in. State-of-the-art protective armor, weapons, grenades, as well as any additional equipment that might come in handy. Couple of beacons, distortion devices, some sentry drones. Stock up.”
Sandra was about to step to her diminishing shelf of memory contraptions and mind enhancers, but I blocked her way. She gave me a hard, angry look and was about to push me aside.
“Only if necessary, okay?”
I knew what the shit could do to her, and she knew it as well. She gave me a sarcastic grin, but nodded before she began filling her pockets.
I got my hands on a few mind blockers as well and handed a few of them to Theodor before I stocked up on any first aid and healing contraptions I could find.
After Theodor had put up his protective armor, he also got himself a handful of grenades.
I couldn’t help but frown when I looked at the almost depleted stash of my favorite little friends.
We set out and about a quarter of an hour later we arrived in the area. It was crowded with police and rescue personnel, but from what I saw, the entire area looked… normal. I saw no sign of destruction.
“Wait, what’s going on here? This entire place was destroyed, so how…?”
Sandra pointed at a few metal boxes that had been placed around the area. I stared at them but had no clue what they were.
“A reality distortion device. Well, that’s taking it too far. You could say it’s an advanced piece of augmented reality. It’s creating a visual representation of what the area looked like before it was destroyed. Nothing but a giant, very sophisticated hologram.”
I stared back at what she’d called a hologram, open-mouthed. It looked entirely real. Shit, man, how the hell were they able to do something like that?
Sandra had already turned away, gotten out her phone and pressed a few buttons. Within mere moments, a man dressed in a plain dark suit hurried over to her.
“What’s the situation?” Sandra asked before the guy could so much as say a word.
“The entire complex has been damaged. There are multiple signatures inside, but we can’t give you any clear data. There’s too much interference and all our equipment is going haywire. All we’ve been able to do is to put the area under lockdown and handle the eyewitnesses, but with an incident such as-“
“Any attacks?” Sandra cut the man off.
He shook his head.
“Negative, no attacks. None of the creatures inside the perimeter have shown themselves to us. We presume they are waiting for us to enter.”
Well, isn’t that great, I thought to myself.
“What about the people?” Theodor cut in.
The man’s face turned bleak in an instant.
“There are 722 people living in the affected area. So far, we’ve only gotten confirmation about 300 of them being evacuated. The rest’s still missing.”
“Then what the fuck are you doing?” Theodor screamed at the man, who took a step back. “You’re just going to let them die in there?”
“There’s nothing we can do,” the man started. “None of our personnel is equipped or trained to handle situations such as-“
“You know what? Go fuck yourself and your excuses you piece of shit!”
Theodor took another step towards the man, but I was quick to step up to him before the situation could escalate further.
“Calm down. I know how you feel, but the guy’s right. There’s no way him or any of his man could do anything.”
“Yeah, so where the fuck’s the support that your headquarters was going to send!?”
“It’s like I said,” Sandra started in a low voice. “Headquarters is hard pressed. They are understaffed and an incident such as this wasn’t-“
“Fuck, I get it!”
“All right, here you go,” I said as I handed each one of them a distortion device.
“We don’t know what we’re up against, and I’ve got no clue if it works or not, but it might help us hide our presence, at least for a time.”
“Guess you’re finally showing some foresight, Dylan,” Sandra said, giving me a brief smile.
“Let’s fucking go,” Theodor cut in and pushed past us.
They had erected some sort of scaffold between the police barricade, most likely to hide us from just vanishing between the holographic fake that had been put up.
There was no feeling to passing it. No plop or anything. What my eyes saw simply changed. A normal looking apartment complex vanished and was replaced by a display of sheer and utter destruction.
It looked like the entire area had been a victim of a bombing raid. Some buildings were almost intact, while others were crumbled ruins, missing entire walls. The street had upheaved, cars were turned upside down and destroyed.
It felt like we were entering a war zone.
Almost, because there was no hint of any creatures or people.
“How the hell did all of this happen so fast?” Theodor asked in a whisper.
“That’s A-class for you. As I said, this creature could level entire parts of this city in an instant. That’s what it must’ve done here.”
We’d barely taken a few steps when I noticed the smallest of movements from a ruined building to my left. The moment the puppet noticed me staring at it, it hurried away.
“Shit, that’s one of those puppets,” I cursed and set out after it.
“Dylan, what are you-?”
“If this thing makes it back, god knows what will come for us!”
I sprinted past debris and followed the thing, ignoring Sandra cursing after me. An entire wall of the building was gone, and only parts of the upper floors remained.
In an instant the gun was in my hand and I took the puppet down in a single shot.
Well, what can I say, my intentions were good, but as so often, I hadn’t thought ahead. It had been a trap and because of me, we’d fallen right into it.
The debris to my right exploded and two humanoids threw themselves at me. Without Sandra warding them off, things might have ended badly for me then and there.
A third creature revealed itself nearby, but Theodor rushed right for it.
While Sandra pushed my two attackers back, I loaded some of the explosive rounds and unloaded on them. I’d expected the stuff to be powerful, but was still surprised when it tore both of them apart in mere seconds.
I was about to help Theodor, who was struggling against his enemy, but I saw Sandra cringe next to me. Her face was distorted by a pained, concentrated look before she screamed up and sent out a shock wave. Her eyes darted around, and soon we could make out some sort of creature on the floor above us. Sandra raised her hands, but in an instant she was clutching onto her head, cursing in pain.
The grenade flew in a high arc and crashed right into the creature. The resulting explosion took out not only the creature but part of the crumbling floor it had been on. I could tell the building was about to crumble and crash down on us any moment now.
“Out! We’ve got to get out! Theodor, are you-“ I started, turning to him.
There was no need to continue. He’d taken care of the enemy all by himself. As I saw him, covered in blood, the slightest hint of a satisfied grin on his face, I couldn’t help but shudder.
The moment we’d made it outside, Sandra cursed.
“That thing, another proxy organism, an extension. It didn’t even try to fight or hurt me, it tried to pry open my mind. That’s what it wants,” she mumbled in anger, “to analyze my mind, dissect it and take it apart.”
Her face showed no fear or worry. It only showed anger.
“You guys remember what that fucker outside said?” Theodor asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked, turning to him.
“The people. Over three hundred of them are still missing. Where the fuck are they? Did you see any blood, any remains?”
Shit, he was right.
We’d made it past the first couple of buildings when we noticed something in the complex’s center. Where once might have been a playground was no some twisted construction.
Creatures and puppets were all around it, adding debris to it. As I focused my eyes, I saw stones flying in the air, moving on their own and being incorporated into the structure.
“A ziggurat,” Sandra pointed out. “An ancient temple construction. That’s where the thing must be hiding.”
We set out, trying to hide our presence as well as we could, but the creatures in front of us had already noticed our presence.
Right at that moment, I felt a surge of mental pressure assaulting my mind. It was the feeling of something pushing into my brain, probing it. Once again visions appeared in my mind, and I struggled to push them aside. In an instant, I downed a mind blocker and my head cleared up, pushing aside the strange, probing mind-feelers of the thing.
We weren’t out of harm’s way, though. A multitude of creatures came rushing for us.
I soon noticed, however, that most of them were small fries, D-class. With the new ammunition and Theodor at the top of his game, we easily took care of them.
Sandra next to me struggled at one point, but she instantly found the proxy organism assaulting her. She screamed up and with a wave of her hand the disgusting lump of flesh exploded into blood and gore.
As I took down creature after creature, giving out grenades like candy on Halloween, I saw new trouble brewing. In front of what Sandra had called a ziggurat, the puppets were gathering, clumping and forming together into… something.
“We’ve got trouble!” I called out and pointed ahead.
I saw Sandra’s eyes turn wide. “They are fusing together! We’ve to stop them, Dylan!”
“On it,” I called out, ripped out a flamer and threw it against the amalgamation of writhing, twisting bodies.
The grenade exploded, drenching the puppets in hungry flames, but it did little. One after another, they sacrificed themselves to drench the flames before the rest fused back together.
A moment later, the resulting giant monstrosity pushed itself up. Puppets crawled out from the center, forming into limbs, and a second later the lumbering puppet-giant came crushing towards us.
“You’ve got to be,” Theodor cursed up and was about to rush forward to attack the thing, but I stopped him right away.
“Don’t, there’s nothing you can,” I started, but was cut off by another mental assault.
Visions and emotions pushed into my mind. The thing was teasing us, telling us to go all out, to fight, to struggle, to die. And it called out to Sandra to unleash herself to use her powers.
Sandra grimaced, sweat gathering on her forehead. I heard her whisper something that might very well have been a ‘fuck you.’ Then she threw her powers at the monstrosity ahead of us. It was stopped, then pushed back.
“Do something!” she screamed up.
In an instant, I threw a pair of grenades. No flamers this time, but good old explosives. They crashed against the body, tearing it apart, yet the puppets were already repairing the damage.
Sandra next to me was shivering, shaking. She was concentrating hard, pushed her hands forward before she jerked them upward, sending out a wave of energy.
The monstrosity in front of us began crumbling. Some puppets were still moving, but seemed unable to fuse again.
“What did you-?”
“Another proxy organism,” Sandra brought out panting. “Too big to destroy, but I cut its connection. It was forming all those puppets into this… thing.”
I stared ahead, saw some puppets skittering away, but most lay discarded on the ground.
Sandra’s breath was coming in short, hard bursts. For a second she staggered and her eyes rolled back. In an instant, she ripped out a memory contraption and swallowed it. Then, with a somber look on her face, she downed another one.
“Sandra, what are you-?” I started and reached out for her, but she batted my hand aside with her powers.
“Don’t touch me! Let’s go!”
I almost inched back. I’d never seen her this angry.
“That thing’s done enough. It’s done enough to my mind and I won’t let it violate me any further!”
And right at this moment, as we set foot into the ziggurat’s interior, I heard laughter in my mind, a giggle.
Come, come and enter, I’m waiting for you, the thing seemed to say.
Great, I thought, things were about to get ugly, damn ugly.
Fuck monsters, and fuck all of this.