Rob walked several yards up front, senses heightened, gun ready in his sweating hand. Behind him the injured progressed forward slowly, moans and whispers echoed through the hallways of the facility. The area was quiet, no gunshots or other sounds of struggle. Lucian at the rear was keeping his eyes open, alert and ready to report.
The group had reached a staircase leading to level 21 a few minutes ago, but it was blocked; the blast had created a shock wave which had toppled over something heavy in the rooms above, causing a part of the floor to collapse over the stairs. Twisted metal, bare wires and leaking water made the staircase too risky to climb, so Rob double-backed and took an alternative route around one of the storage areas towards the back.
The sergeant was moving forward swiftly - not fast enough to leave behind the civilians, but without much delay, either. He reached a split, the corridor taking off to the north-northeast and to the north-northwest in the form of a Y. He stopped and recalled the facility blueprints which he had to memorize as a part of his assignment as head of security. The left corridor of the Y would lead them further around the storage area to the maintenance area which was connected to the upper and lower maintenance section via elevator and stairs. The right corridor would lead away from maintenance and to the Storage and Logistics offices. There was a chance that if any survivors were still on this level, they would be there.
Rob hesitated. His human side insisted he took to the Storage and Logistics to look for possible survivors. His rational side urged him to forget survivors - too much risk of encountering hostile units, too much risk that possible survivors could be infected with the Ferenzi, too much delay that the badly injured couldn't afford. His rational side won and he waved to the group behind to follow left.
The sergeant hurried forward down the left corridor. Flickering lights and hissing ventilation created an eerie environment in this place. The air was cold, dry, and still, and smelled of blood and spilled chemicals. Chaos had swept through the area - various boxed and containers were lying around, piled up or broken to shards after the blasts. The body of a young man in a maintenance uniform was pinned to the wall by a large piece of sharp metal - a shrapnel ripped off god knew where and sent flying across the air from the blast to end up sticking out of a man's chest. Rob threw a glance back at the moaning dragging group. He wished they didn't have to see this.
Approaching the left turn of the corridor that led to the maintenance area (server rooms, life support unit rooms, rooms for storing disinfection chemicals, tool racks, locker rooms, bathrooms all connected to one another with a web of tight corridors), Rob waved to the civilians to slow down. He looked from behind the corner: the other side seemed clear. He sighed of relief and took a few steps forwards out of the left turn.
Footsteps before him made him stop. A door opened slowly, about fifteen yards ahead. The lights above were broken, leaving the spot dark. Someone came out of the room and stepped into the darkness, then stopped.
Rob knew better than to ask who it was. He remembered people doing it on these horror movies he had watched back in Iowa a long time ago - waving and saying stupid things like "Hello?" and "Is anybody there?" and "Who is this?". But that was before the Ferenzi. When the virus struck, nobody wanted to make scary movies anymore. Not when real horrors lurked outside. Horror had lost its charm.
So Rob didn't say anything. He just waited, gun down by his hip, eyes trying to pierce through the dark. Then the stranger stepped forward and into the light.
Her shoes were covered in blood. Her white scientist's apron was stained in dark red and some green substance. Her hair was a mess, a part of it was completely missing, ripped right off the skull. She looked up at Rob with dead lifeless eyes and smiled maniacally, holding a large and heavy wrench with both hands like a baseball bat.
"Purr." she said.
Rob didn't feel anything. He had gone through this so many times before. He just aimed and fired, and her head was blasted apart by the hollow-point bullet like a ripe pumpkin. Her lifeless body, now cured from the virus, thudded softly onto the metal floor, still holding the wrench.
The sergeant took a few steps back and looked over his shoulder, towards the scared civilians that had stopped, unsure what to do. "Everything's fine." he told them. "One ferenzie. Could be more up ahead. Stay close and keep your eyes and ears open! We're almost at the staircase."
In this moment, laughter broke out up front and echoed through the web of tight corridors and under the flickering lights. It wasn't the kind of laughter you would hear when your friend laughs at a silly joke. It was the kind of laughter you would hear when the mad scientist is plunging the scalpel into his horrified victim. There was nothing funny in this laughter. It was twisted, broken, and sick. The civilians gasped, and Rob himself shuddered. It didn't matter how much of a veteran you get in the fight against the virus - some things simply couldn't be gotten used to.
Slowly, step by step, the sergeant began to move forward. There were about 400 yards through maintenance to the stairs. Four hundred yards can be quite a large place when a deranged killer is stalking you. The gun wasn't pointing to the floor anymore. It was pointing straight ahead, eager for a target. And Sergeant Rhodes was now Hound Dog. And Hound Dog was definitely planning to get to those stairs.