For the second time in as many months the staff at InfiniTech were audience to the impossible. First it came in the form of a disgruntled zealot folding the universe. Next was the evolution of Milestone City’s fauna. A process taking millions of years of genetic trial and error leaped forward in the space of a morning. How was such a thing possible?
Dr. Storm and her team had theories, of course. They developed working models to explain animal cells adapting at an accelerated pace. To do so required incredible energy – no doubt from space – but the means to measure it evaded them. In hours men, women and others made incredible discoveries. Still few could determine the how and why of the event, let alone a potential resolution.
The doctor sat with knees propped on a chair, offering vantage enough to peer down a microscope. Her hazmat suit crunched as she reached for a recording device and held it to the clear plastic of her visor.
“Every cell – blood, platelets, muscle – have adopted metaplasic qualities,” she said. “It’s like watching a transubstantiation of species in real time! The formation of a whole new genus inside of a single subject! I love it as much as it scares the hell out of me.”
She shifted the focus and observed. Twisting ovals swam under the lens in ways alien to anything she’d seen before.
“Cell division is normal,” she said. “The adaptation is occurring within the cells. This much activity should destroy them, but the membrane walls are holding… reinforcing themselves. They also seem to be mirroring each other… forming in a cooperative manner. This doesn’t make sense!”
There were many questions, and almost as many teams working on solutions. What was the cause of the incident? If radiation, how did it cause such cogent mutation? Was it possible to reverse the process? Why were humans and flora unaffected? They filled the laboratories stationed on three floors. Together they ran the race against an unseen clock.
Dr. Storm continued her study. If she didn’t know better she could have sworn it was building additional chromosomes.
Sirens broke the monotonous drone of air filters as red lights flooded the lab. A pre-recorded voice announced a breach. It instructed them to pass through decontamination before heading to the nearest exit. Auto-locks sealed the at-risk areas until a specialist team arrived.
Stefanie Storm stepped through the first of the pressure chambers. No sooner than she’d entered than other personnel sprinted for the exit. She peered back the way they came to the source of their panic.
Something dark and ravenous moved through the neighboring lab. It made a meal of its containment. No matter how urgent their work it stood second to a brand new monster.
* * * *
Even at subsonic speeds I couldn’t shake the drool. The mutant dog’s slobber found its way to corners I didn’t want to think about, and there was no time to shower. Man’s best friend left more of a mark than I ever wanted.
I doubled back on the makeshift laboratory. With any luck the InfiniTech crew had made some progress. But instead of finding teams hard at work they stood gathered on the other side of the street. They took refuge at the entrance of an undercover parking lot. They watched the skies, wary of danger.
Dr. Storm appeared sprinted to where I landed. “Glimmer Girl! Thank god you’re here! There’s been a breach! The CDC team are thirty minutes out! Something about… gerbils.”
“Gerbils?” What a shock; the day was full of nasties great and small.
“Don’t ask,” said Dr. Storm.
“What do you need from me?”
“One of the teams has been working on an RNA retrovirus that could counteract the mutation,” she said. “You and I need to go inside and find it. We’ll need to circumvent the mutant entity.”
“You want me to go into a quarantine zone?”
“It won’t affect your holographic form,” Dr. Storm explained. “And I’ll be wearing a hazmat suit. We’ll be safe, so to speak.”
“Safe from the mutant entity,” I said.
“It’s only a little one,” she continued, “or… it was the last time I saw. But at the current rate of growth…”
Somehow her words were of little comfort.
Dr. Storm took my hands. “If we do this there’s a good chance this could to end this disaster. No more flying pigs and pink elephants running wild. Can I count on your help?”
I asked myself the same question, and always the answer was the same. This was what I was born to do, and now that I had the power I had no excuse to run. I stared down the entrance to the facility. Ready or not we were going in.
* * * *
This was the part of the story where someone dies. In no book, film or TV show does a pair step into a monster infested building and make it out in one piece.
“I can’t ask anybody else to risk their lives,” Dr. Storm said. “Except you, but only because you’re uniquely qualified. Being an adept gives you a distinct advantage.”
Funny, it didn’t feel like an advantage. I’d already been laid out twice that morning. Her faith was misplaced. But the fight wasn’t over, and I still had work to do. I would do my best, and then push further; that’s what it meant to be Glimmer Girl.
We entered the facility. Each door required a security override that only Dr. Storm possessed. While she was busy punching numbers into the pad I refracted through the windows. A deep red hue saturated the environment.
The door opened with a blip. Dr. Storm entered pressed it closed behind her.
“Good of you to scout ahead.”
“It’s my job,” I said. She couldn’t risk the lives of her people, and I couldn’t risk hers.
We combed the perimeter in search of… well, we weren’t exactly sure. Tracks? Residue? Something that indicated signs of life. All reports had been of a large amorphous ‘thing’ and not much else.
The halls were silent save for the crunching of the hazmat suit against linoleum. Dr. Storm directed her flashlight to the doors and windows, all untouched. The building was eerie in its mundanity.
“I’m sorry for dragging you into this,” the doctor said. “You know I wouldn’t have if-”
“If what’s in here can help there’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” I said.
Dr. Storm shrugged. “I’m still sorry.”
The second floor was as bare as the first. Were the reports exaggerated? Were they seeing things? Not that I was about to gaslight the greatest thinkers. Or it was gone. The creature broke through containment – or slipped through it – and was somewhere else. I almost hoped so I wouldn’t have to see. We rounded a corridor. Still nothing.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Anything,” Dr. Storm said.
“So, you’re a director at InfiniTech, right?”
She smiled. “‘Director of Research and Division Management’. It’s my dream job, right on the front lines of innovation. Organic, farm-fresh frontier science, like Mom and Pop did it!”
I bit my lip. “So you’d know all about Theodore Fellow’s work…”
Dr. Storm stopped and bowed her head. “That man was a monster,” she said. “What he did might not be our fault, but… he used our work to further his goals, and in doing that he hurt you. He hurt a lot of people, but you as well. I’m so sorry.”
I blinked at her. Never had I ever received such a heartfelt apology. How was I supposed to respond to that?
I didn’t have the heart to press further; especially about Dr. Vortex. It seemed she had a lot of regrets tied into the incident. Besides, we had other priorities.
Three floors and we were alone, thank the gods. It could have been that ‘trouble’ found a cool, dark corner to hide in. I hoped not to gestate into something worse. But if Dr. Storm and I were able to move in and out with the retrovirus, what difference would it make? It’d change back once the brains downstairs worked out a delivery system.
There was a noise. Of course there was a noise. Long, lazy slurps rolled along the tile, followed by a blob the color of copper. It smelled like garbage throwing up garbage with a sickly sweet tinge that clung to the nostrils. At least Dr. Storm had a hazmat suit to shield her.
It didn’t have eyes, or much of anything. We stood, frozen, while the creature slopped from one side of the hallway to another. It lifted its… I guess you’d call it a face, picking up dirt and dust from the floor. The thing rolled into itself, as if to swallow. Was that how it ate?
I held my breath. “Why isn’t it doing anything?”
“It doesn’t know we’re here,” Dr. Storm said in a hushed tone.
“Or we don’t register as a threat.” Gods, I hoped that was the case.
Dr. Storm inched closer. Her curiosity and survival instinct were at loggerheads. She reached out with wide eyes, as though she could touch it from down the hall. She murmured something to herself I couldn’t hear.
“How do we get around it?” I said.
She shook herself back to reason. “Um, yes. I suppose we could lure it in another direction. Then I can slip past into the lab.”
I frowned. “By ‘we’ you mean ‘me’.”
The doctor grinned like a naughty child caught in the act. None of what she asked was beyond reason, but it embarrassed her all the same. At least she understood the gravity of it.
A laser from the tip of my finger set off the sprinkler over the blob’s head. The red mass leaped from the floor and started rolling where Dr. Storm and I sat dead center in its path! I snatched her and flew down the windowless hallway. Splattering tendrils flew after us, tacking onto the walls at breakneck speed.
Not exactly my finest hour…
* * * *
As perilous as the climb up had been, scaling down was a thousand times more dangerous. With no support and no previous steps to fall back on the chilling taunt of doom prickled Tanya’s neck. Panic balanced against her survival instinct, at least for the moment. It was only a matter of time before reason gave way.
She pressed herself against the rock face and cried. Only a few tears, enough to release the pressure. Her sides winced, and the blisters on her fingers were stiff competition for her toes. With no end in sight she wondered if she could last, though dared not share the thought out loud.
“Just a bit further,” Brandon said. It was the fifth time he’d said it since the sun vanished from view.
Of all the brash things Tanya had done placing loyalty over survival ranked somewhere at the top. Instinct screamed in the back of her thoughts to save herself. It was only their second date, and nobody could have survived that fall. But what if they had?
Deeper into the shadows she climbed and with the greatest of care. Her eyes strained for the next ledge. And then a voice echoed from the bottom.
“Is anyone there?”
Tanya stumbled, sending pebbles bouncing off the rock face. “Trix! Oh my god! Are you okay?”
Silence. Shuffling. But they called back. “Did anyone get the number of that truck?”
It was a miracle! It didn’t seem like much in the world of heroes, but Tanya thanked the powers that be for small favors.
“We’re coming down to get you!” Brendan cried. “Can you see us?” He waited for a reply.
“I can’t see anything!” called Trix. “It’s pitch black down here!”
How far down did the chasm go? It couldn’t be that much farther; Trix’s voice was too clear.
“We should go back,” Brandon said.
Tanya resolved to press further, as far as the passage went, even if it meant finding her way in the dark. If Kaira were there she’d do the same, adept or not. If strangers were worth the effort then so was Trix. There could be no sitting by; not with the world turned on its head.
“I’m coming,” she said, even if nobody else could hear.
* * * *
The thing was fast; faster than a shapeless blob had any right to be. Whatever happened to the good old days of relentless monsters that moved like snails?
I flew down the hall with Dr. Storm in my arms. Her feet dragged along the floor while she dangled. She screamed into my ears. They might have split if I weren’t in hologram mode.
Without looking I could sense the creature barreling like a tidal wave. Only three steps behind, and gaining. The narrow hall seemed more like a coffin the closer we came to the exit. With an extra push we shot ahead with time enough to open the barricade.
Dr. Storm scrambled to her feet and pressed a keycard to the electronic lock. The red light buzzed at her in annoyance. She pressed again, and again, and each time it denied her. She cried and pressed the glass.
I blasted the door frame, but still it didn’t give. ‘Triple reinforced’ she told me, and the glass was as solid. Even if I could refract through it I would only be saving myself.
She pleaded through the window of her hazmat suit. “Go. Leave me.” In the face of the inevitable she forced a smile. Like I was going to leave her!
The monster flew at breakneck pace, leaving only a second to act. One blast shattered the lock on the janitor’s closet. I threw Dr. Storm inside. Rusty ooze crashed as I pulled the door shut. I beamed through the glass in a flash.
The creature streaked over the window and redoubled into a more coherent form. It was like a lava lamp from hell.
With no time to spare I pushed into another storage room. It was the same as the other side of the security door with only a dividing wall between. It wasn’t as thick as the security door. The drywall exploded with a single blast, and not a moment too soon. Dr. Storm inched away from the red seeping across the shrinking floor until she was dancing on the tips of her toes.
“Get me the hell out of here!”
A new hall meant more room and time to craft a new strategy. She laughed in a cocktail of delirium and terror.
“I need to go back,” she said. “You… you lead it away. I’ll hide somewhere until it passes. O-okay?”
The viscous pool slopped its way through the side room and prepared for launch.
“Stay safe,” I said.
“That’s the idea!”
Dr. Storm sprinted around the corner. Those few seconds were all she had before the goop navigated the makeshift door and back onto our path. As soon as it was out in the open it stopped; to track our scent, or to catch its breath… if it even breathed at all.
I whistled at the blob. “Here boy! Or girl! Or they!”
Nothing. The thing sat in the one spot, rolling over itself like dough kneaded by invisible hands. Slick tendrils oozed from the side. It began to climb the corners of the security door, wedging itself in the corners.
Then it struck! Bursting from the walls came the tendrils that slipped through the cracks. They closed from either side. Hot lasers cut through them like butter, but the monster wasn’t deterred. Its body rolled with hostile intent. I flew and flew, grabbing its attention with spurious blasts, enough to keep it mad – if it even got mad.
The last I’d seen of Dr. Storm was along the final corridor. Gods, I hoped she was safe. At least the blob was on my tail. The more it was after me the less it was after Dr. Storm, or so I thought.
Her shriek rang out between the wet smacks of rolling creature. I cursed my luck. There was no way around; only through it. Copper licks pulled from the bottom of its makeshift mouth inviting me toward doom.
I turned and steeled my nerve. Burning with laser heat I charged, blazing with everything I had.
* * * *
Trix McNichol was lucky to be alive.
Every moment of the fall resonated in the hollow of their stomach. They couldn’t gauge the cuts and bruises in the dark, but they burned enough to tell a story. A chill ran over their flesh with the cooling of adrenaline. Breathing became a precious gift.
How long had they been down there? If it weren’t for the lifeline that was Tanya’s voice they might have gone mad with uncertainty. Other than that there seemed little hope of escape. How could they climb out without a wall to cling to? Air moved around them, and the direction of Tanya’s voices became lost in the chamber.
Tanya echoed from the distance. “You still down there?”
It was a stupid joke, but they laughed anyway. “Don’t worry about me! I’m not going anywhere!” And even if they could, where would they go?
Childhood nightmares stalked their memory. Wild imagination sculpted horrors in the void.
“It’s getting darker,” Tanya called. “I’m getting closer…” Though her voice was a million miles away.
Somewhere in the dark and dirt was a growl. More than the wind and falling rocks was an ominous groan belonging to a creature with a mind. Trix turned, not knowing if it was in front, behind, or from some other direction. For all they knew it was below, poised to leap like a shark snatching prey along the water’s surface.
“Tanya,” they said; their voice a whisper, “I need to move…”
“What did you say?”
The growl resonated through the bedrock, closer this time, to Trix’s right. They had to warn Tanya, even at the risk of exposing themselves. What if whatever-it-was navigated by sound? Their cries would be a dinner call.
“I’m not alone down here,” Trix called to the ceiling. “Tanya, go! Now!”
“No, I’m coming for-”
By then it was too late. Pebbles jumped as they trembled. With wild abandon Trix sprinted into the dark. Their hands lashed ahead, wary of the invisible obstacles that could lay them out. Equal to any monster was the threat of walls or boulders, or a sudden drop to swallow them deeper.
There was no time for thinking; not with the rumbling presence breathing down their neck. They sensed a taste in the air growing warmer, thicker. It could have been their panic, or something else.
Trix McNichol ran and ran as far as their legs could carry. They were lucky to be alive; at least for as long as it lasted.
* * * *
On any other day I’d have laughed at a literal rolling mass of goop. But even schlock horror took a serious turn when it oozed at the only escape. Worse yet, the creature was multiplying.
I bolted like lightning to the other side of the building. There, boxed inside the sealed windows was Dr. Storm. She fumbled inside her hazmat suit and climbed the furthest most table. On the other side, blasting her from the hall was the blob I thought was following me only moments before. I looked back to find a second! Two for the price of one!
The first washed like a wave on my tail. It lashed out with a gelatinous slosh. It was like nothing I’d seen before. Spiraling across the floors, walls and ceiling it formed. A vast gullet opened to swallow anything that dared enter. The two blobs were keen on Glimmer Girl sandwiches for their next meal.
What was I going to do? There was no time to think of a plan, but there was a chance that one of us could survive. With enough room Dr. Storm could make a run for it.
A pointed laser shot drew the sludge beast from the door and turned it my way. I braced for the blobs as they smacked together. Lost in their shapeless insides I pushed for a way out. Their tendrils worked into the same corners discovered by the licks of the adept dog.
Hot blasts opened a path to freedom, but it was no use with the creature pulling back. Gods, I was going to tear myself apart to get away! The blob rolled on itself to draw my escape route closed.
Dr. Storm bashed at the window. She was screaming from the inside of her suit. Why wasn’t she running? This was her chance to get clear! Then she scrambled toward the desk to grab a notepad and marker. She threw her message against the glass:
‘SHOOT THE TANKS!’ it said.
I dragged in resistance of the muck. Then I caught sight of a trio of heavy silver tanks mounted to the wall of the neighboring lab. Each were marked with a dozen warning signs, more than I could make out while fighting for my life. And she wanted me to shoot them?
Time grew shorter, and I was desperate. Lunging to the window I unleashed a heavy blast into the lab. The first tank burst and a pale yellow smog came billowing out of it, flooding the room.
Dr. Storm tapped at the security controls. Moments later the doors flew open and the strange gas burst into the halls.
The blob swallowed my eyes. It slurped my arm inside its body like a noodle. Then it stopped. Its hold loosened around me. In moments the gunk transformed from a viscous body into a loose, watery slime that ran along the halls… and me. I wiped the orange liquid from my eyes and flung it from my glove.
Like a kid at Christmas, Dr. Storm leaped with joy. Not even the awkward crunch of her hazmat suit could contain her mood. “I can’t believe it worked!”
“What… on Earth… was that?”
“That was the RNA retrovirus!” She took my sloppy hands and squeezed them. “I didn’t think it would work so fast or effectively, but I’m glad it did, or you wouldn’t be standing here!” Nice to know I wasn’t the only one glad to be alive.
The mist cleared, revealing the open tank, empty.
“Think of this as a trial run,” Dr. Storm said. “Now that we counter the mutation of Milestone’s fauna.”
I frowned. “But won’t it turn all the animals into… into this?” The slop ran down my fingertips. Gods, did I need a shower.
Dr. Storm beamed. “I don’t imagine so. But we don’t have time for another test, but the virus seems to have returned the slime to something akin to its original form.”
The doctor winced . “Pig’s blood.”
My stomach turned until I wretched. As if things couldn’t get any more gross! At least there was an end in sight; a possible end to the disaster of a day. Despite her mania Dr. Storm seemed to know what she was doing.
To be continued…