Super late, I know, but it looks like I’ll be caught up by the time of the pony post.
Onwards with Chapter 2, where there be monsters.
The three scientists stood in shock, staring at the guard.
“Hide!” she shouted. “Now!”
Snapping to his senses, Wally shoved Jensen, who looked at him reproachfully for a moment, then shook his head and dove under his desk. Ritzi seemed to be falling rapidly into a world of her own, so Wally had to half-drag her behind the counter on which the giant mechanical arm he’d been working on was laid out in pieces.
“We’re going to die,” she whimpered. “They’re coming back.”
“No,” said Wally. “We’ll be fine. They won’t come here. It’ll be okay.”
“No, no,” she said. “I’ve been here before. Mitsuda Street.”
“Oh,” said Wally, and hugged her. Mitsuda Street was in the Overlook Square neighborhood. Thirty years ago, Overlook Square had been one of the nicest places for a lower-middle-class family to live in the Fifth Jerusalem capital, right up until a Div attack had appeared out of nowhere one evening. It was far and away the worst of the twenty or so attacks the Federation had seen in the centuries since the creatures first appeared, with thousands dead, many of them children.
“I was seven,” Ritzi whimpered. “It, it tore our wall off. It was big and horrible and I was so scared. Daddy was twisted all wrong, and Mommy told me to run. She had the knife she used for cake. I ran out the back door and kept running until I couldn’t breathe. I was sure it was behind me.”
“Shh,” said Wally. “It’ll be okay.” His brain didn’t seem to be working right. Ritzi was older than him after all, and that was hilarious, but he didn’t dare laugh.
“No!” she cried. “It won’t! It’s never going to stop following me!” She tore out of Wally’s grasp and ran out from behind the counter.
“Ritzi, no!” he called.
“What the hell?” shouted the security guard. “You idiot, get away from there!”
Ritzi scrabbled clumsily at the door, trying to force it open. “I have to get away from here!” she shrieked. “It’s coming for me, I have to run!”
Wally watched in horror as the door suddenly dimpled inward under a forceful blow. Ritzi stumbled back away from it, stunned. Something roared, Ritzi and tearing metal both shrieked, and then something enormous forced its way into the room. An enormous three-clawed, scaly hand shot out and wrapped itself around Ritzi’s head. It swung her sharply against the wall, and her screaming stopped.
The security guard was screaming in incoherent rage, firing continuously at the Div, but the bullets just bounced from its chest. Wally felt strangely calm, able to dispassionately observe everything as it happened. He was dimly aware that he, too, was screaming, but it was simply another fact to be noted.
The Div was enormous, half again as tall as a man and twice as wide. Its torso was bulbous, almost spherical, supported on thick, short legs, and its arms were long and muscular. It had three claws on its hands, one shorter and opposed to the others, like a thumb. Its feet had three claws as well, two in front and one behind, like a dinosaur from a holo. Its eyes were small and dark in a bat-like head, with large ears. A narrow crest of thick, course yellow-brown hair ran from between its eyes, over its scalp and down the back of its neck. Its skin was a deep, dark red and scaly, and its chest and back were covered in thick yellow calluses, almost like armor.
It was horrible, a nightmare creature, a childhood ogre, and Ritzi was dead and bullets couldn’t hurt it. From far outside himself, he saw death approaching from one direction and panic from another.
Slowly, the reality of it all was settling in. He was going to die.
The security guard shrieked in frustration and stood, still firing. Her arc of fire traced across its chest and struck it in the face, and the creature roared as bullets chewed its head apart. As fast as the wounds formed, however, they closed again, healing as if they had never been.
It threw Ritzi at the security guard. There was a sickening snap as she struck the floor. Bullets sprayed across the ceiling for a moment as she clenched the trigger in her death throes, but then the gun dropped beside her, quiet and still.
The creature roared again, and Wally shrieked and ran for the closet. He pulled the door shut behind him, piled everything he could find against it, and then cowered against the back wall, trembling and sick, his arms over his head. They couldn’t shut out the sound, however, of the thing roaring, of Jensen screaming, of the wet crunch that ended the screaming.
“Go away,” he whispered. “Go away go away go away.” But slow, inexorable, heavy footprints approached the closet.
Wally yelped as the Div struck the door, its claws penetrating clean through. He stared helplessly as it tore the door off and flung it aside, then brought its face down to look at him through the doorway. It screamed high and loud and reptilian, and Wally screamed back, his hands covering his ears.
The Div straightened. It reached for him. And a dark figure dropped from above, something bright and red slashing across the Div’s face. It howled and reared back. The dark figure landed in a crouch and immediately launched herself again, striking the Div in the face with a spinning kick and knocking it farther off balance.
Slowly, incredulously, Wally stood as the figure lightly and nimbly leaped back and forth, kicking and slashing with shining red blades, driving the Div away from him. The Div tried to strike back, but she jumped onto its arm with incredible speed and launched from there at its head. Unlike the security guard’s bullets, the figure’s attacks didn’t seem to heal, and soon the Div gave a last mournful cry and collapsed heavily, shaking the entire lab with the force of its impact.
She turned to face Wally, who could only stare. She was no more than half his age, and tiny; the straight black hair hanging to her waist probably weighed half as much as the rest of her. She wore a navy blue, formfitting jumpsuit covered in pockets, and carried a pair of long knives, fading now from their previous cherry-red glow.
“Um… thank you,” he said.
“Dr. Wallace Alexander Petrovich?” she asked.
“Y-yes,” he managed. “How–?”
“Your ID,” she said, pointing at the card dangling from his belt loop. “Also, I was given your description.”
“The Federation sent you.” He sagged against the wall. “Did — did you do this?”
“No,” she said. “I believe the Ur government has staged this incident to wipe out all facility staff not loyal to them. You were right to contact us.”
She walked over to the broken tangle of limbs from which the room’s only light shone. Wally followed hesitantly and knelt next to the bodies. They didn’t look like people. They looked like store dummy parts mixed at random. But there was too much blood for store dummies, an overwhelming smell of meat that made him retch, and an ID card protruding from the mass. The picture was obscured by blood, but the name clearly read “Adelaide Ritsuki”. He felt dry and hollow.
“We should find the other card,” Wally said as the woman from the Federation reached into the tangle. “I should at least know her name.”
The woman pulled the flashlight free, shook it to get rid of what blood she could, and held it out. She was saying something, but Wally couldn’t follow it. She shook the flashlight at him again.
“It’s hers,” Wally said. “I can’t.”
“Take it. She doesn’t need it. You do.” The woman allowed the briefest look of exasperation to cross her face, and clipped the flashlight to his jacket herself. “Can you fire a gun?”
“What?” Wally stared at her. “Sort of,” he said. “I mean, it’s been–“
“Here,” she said, and handed him the assault rifle. “Follow me.” She started to stand, but Wally didn’t move.
“We should say something,” he said. “For Ritzi, I mean. She- she was scared. It wasn’t her fault.” He looked up helplessly. “We should say something.”
The woman gazed back at him dispassionately. “Were you friends?”
“Lovers,” Wally said. It wasn’t precisely true, but he didn’t feel up to explaining.
“All right,” she said. “But then we have to move. There are other Divs where that came from, and we might have to tangle with security, too.” She knelt beside Ritzi and the security guard and bowed her head. “Almighty Lord, take your servants into your bosom. Guide them and guard them with your wisdom and your power. Though they fell in battle, may they find peace beyond reach of any weapon.” She opened her eyes and stood. “Ready?”
“No,” he said, and stood. “But I’ll come.”