Four minutes later, MC texted me back. “Okay, got it!”
I blinked in surprise. “You figured out a way for me to get past the guy guarding the only exit without shooting him?”
“No. He left. I saw him when he passed the lobby camera.”
I peeked around the corner again; she was right, he was gone.
Well, that made me feel stupid.
“Tell me if he’s heading back,” I said as I holstered my weapon and made my run towards the stairs.
It was easier than expected; it seemed like there really wasn’t anyone down here. I guess I should have realized that—the boiler room and the sewer entrance were in the sub-basement, where not even the elevator went to. The only way in or out was to use the bare concrete stairs, which weren’t even connected to the main stairwell.
The stairs came up behind a thick metal maintenance door. Opening that brought me into the laundry room, where banks upon banks of washers and driers sat, ready for the dorm students to use them at any time. A few of them still had clothes in them, and one of those was actually open and half-emptied. Apparently, someone’s laundry had just finished when the attack hit.
“Anyone on the stairs?” I asked, as I carefully scanned the room. There weren’t too many corners to hide in, but still, I couldn’t be too paranoid right now.
“Maybe. There are no cameras up there, and I think the majority of the screamers in the building left their phones in their rooms.”
Of course they did. It probably made sense because of something about… I don’t know, they were home, so they didn’t bother to keep their phones actually on them at all times, but it still just felt like the universe was screwing with me.
Screwing with me and the four hundred million zombified people, that is.
No. I had to stay positive, as much as possible. Or at least not depressingly negative. That kind of thing slowed you down, got you killed in this situation. There was still a chance we could find a cure.
A cure that the greatest scientists in the city couldn’t find in months?
I shook aside my doubts and focused on what was in front of me. I might not be able to save the city from Elizabeth Greene, but I could climb a freaking flight of stairs.
The first two floors passed slowly, but uneventfully. The stairwell was self-contained, with doors leading off to the dorm rooms on each floor, so I didn’t have to worry too much about screamers coming to investigate strange noises.
The stairs were just concrete though, with no carpeting to absorb the echoes, so even though I couldn’t hear my footsteps myself, I knew I had to be careful.
Evidently, I wasn’t careful enough.
On floor four, I almost ran headlong into an angry girl with a bear’s button nose. The kemo screamed soundlessly and launched herself forward, but I had spent the last day and change surviving ambushes. Even with her power package, my reflexes proved faster than hers; I dropped to the cold ground, and she flew over my head and went tumbling down the stairs. Before she could recover, I turned and spat two rounds in her direction.
She went down quick, falling down the stairwell like a rag doll, but MC was quick to point out something I had forgotten in my haste to defend myself. “The other screamers heard the gunshots. Run.”
Couldn’t run up; a quick glance told me more were coming. Down? No, they’d corner me. Then that just left…
I ripped open the door to the fourth floor and dove down the hallway, past a couple startled screamers who didn’t seem to know what to make of me. Thankfully, they didn’t pursue; I guess they really were that surprised.
While I was busy thanking every single lucky star I had for that little turn of fortune, I blasted around a corner at breakneck speed, until I found myself right in front of the elevators.
Then I hit the call button and waited.
“THAT’S YOUR PLAN?” it wasn’t hard to imagine MC screeching at me, even though it was just text. “We talked about this! The elevator is too slow and loud!”
“I know,” I said as the doors opened. I reached inside, hit a couple of random buttons near the top, and ran like the wind before the doors could even close behind me.
“Is it working?” I panted as I ran, looking desperately for an open door, and wildly praying that I wasn’t about to run into any more screamers and invalidate my entire distraction.
“It… seems to be,” MC texted slowly. “What’s your plan here?”
I ducked into an open dorm room—one not much different from mine, I noted—that seemed to be empty, and swiftly closed the door behind me. A quick scan of the room confirmed that it was indeed empty. Now I just had to hope the occupants wouldn’t come back any time soon.
“Once it’s clear, I’m going to run to the stairwell on the other side of the building,” I managed to get out between breaths. “And… woo… and climb up to the ninth floor, and get my guns. Can you tell where that elevator is going?”
“Floors twelve, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, and thirty-two.”
Huh. Well, a bit random, but it would work well enough.
After a half an hour of carefully climbing the stairs, I reached the ninth floor without any further incident. Although MC couldn’t be completely sure, it certainly seemed like all the zombies were off chasing the bait. Even the hallways outside my room were empty.
“Getting out is going to be fun,” MC texted. “And just to be clear, yes, that was sarcasm.”
“If you have to say it’s sarcasm, you’re not very good at it.”
“That’s because this is text. You know I’m good at sarcasm when you can hear my tone.”
Text or not, I could practically hear her sigh in defeat. “Yeah, whatever. The point is—you do have a plan to get out, right?”
I couldn’t suppress a smile. “Of a sort.”
“I’m not sending a helicopter.”
“I wasn’t expecting you to.”
“It’s just you kinda had a ‘you’ll have no choice but to send a helicopter’ tone in your voice.”
I paused as I fished my keys out of my pocket, hand on my doorknob. “Really?”
“Okay, maybe not, but I’ve had people ask for helicopters before. In this case, I would do it, but I can’t guarantee I could get any airborne without help, and they’re all too far away anyways.”
That drew a chuckle out of me. I opened the door.
And was immediately tackled by a demon.
I didn’t have time to see anything more than a whip-like tail when I was head-butted in the chest with short, stubby horns, and felt my back slam into Ling and Akane’s door.
I fired my Sault Crisis at it, but the angle was horrible, and I had no idea if I even hit it. The screamer did release me for a moment, giving me a chance to spin out of its reach, turn around, and get a better aim at it.
It was Lily.
The small, round face I knew so well, with gentle red eyes and short, silky hair.
Only now her face was a mask of rage, her eyes were the narrow glare of a predator, and her hair was disheveled and dirty as a mop.
She opened her mouth in a silent howl and dove at me again.
I scrambled back, into my room, and tried desperately to shut the door on her. She broke through it like it was made of cardboard, sending splinters of wood flying everywhere.
Sweet, peaceful Lily, the only pacifist in Domina, was screaming like a beast and trying to claw my eyes out.
I couldn’t deal with this. I could not kill Lily. I just, I just…
Well, I had to deal with it, because my girlfriend clearly wasn’t about to stop any time soon. She was already stalking forward, cornering me by my bed. She was too aggressive for me to—
She was aggressive.
Every screamer I had seen since Elizabeth’s attack had started had been defensive. They were intelligent. Violent and dangerous, but intelligent enough to use group tactics and swarm me. A couple had even retreated and come back with friends.
Lily was just attacking, head on, without any thought of the consequences. It could just mean she was confident in fighting me, but considering the caution a lot of the others displayed…
I needed to test this. Something simple. I was on my bed, literally backed into a corner, I didn’t have a lot of options. I scanned the room—trying to keep her in my peripheral vision so I didn’t get blindsided—trying to find something I could use.
She lunged at me.
I hadn’t found anything.
But thankfully, my combat instincts kicked in at the last second.
I dodged off the bed, pulling the blankets off with me and throwing them at Lily, wrapping them around her for good measure. She thrashed wildly, but didn’t seem to be able to free herself. Stupid or not, though, it wouldn’t be long until she just tore them to shreds.
Rushing past her, I found something I could use. Akane and Ling’s door had been splintered at some point, probably when I had been thrown into it. I hadn’t heard it for obvious reasons, but now I could see that it wouldn’t take much to break it down the rest of the way.
A few solid kicks did the trick, and I quickly glanced around the room, looking for something I could use. Akane would have more military hardware—ah hah! Smoke grenades above the fridge! Those would work!
Then I was tackled from behind, sending me tumbling to the hard floor.
Apparently, Lily had managed to free herself.
I struggled around in her iron grip enough to see her scrambling madly on top of me, clawing at my clothes and exposed flesh with her nails. It hurt, but not as much as my injuries from Elizabeth.
With effort, I managed to flip over, sending my girlfriend spinning into Ling’s side of the room. Before she could recover, I jumped onto Akane’s bed, in the same position I had been moments ago in my own room.
This was a stupid move, and if I was wrong—
Lily, mouth open in a mad howl I could not hear, lunged at me in the exact same way as she had before.
I dodged off the bed, in the exact same way as I had before.
And wrapped the blankets around her, exactly as I had before.
It worked, perfectly. As if this was the first time this had ever happened to her. That was a level of stupidity that even an animal would be able to outwit. That was the stupidity of a screamer, stuck in ‘aggressive’ mode.
But why was she aggressive, when no one else was? I mean, maybe I had only run into the defensive ones, or only noticed them, but you’d think there would be a few more, hunting me like animals. Why just Lily?
I didn’t have time for this. Once again, she was only moments from escaping from the blanket. I needed to act fast, and didn’t have a moment to think.
I grabbed the smoke grenades I had noticed earlier, pulled the pin on one, and chucked it at what seemed to be Lily’s head struggling under the blanket as hard as I could. It seemed to explode into red smoke the second it struck her, but I wasn’t in the mood for being cautious. As I was backing out of the room I pulled the pin and threw another, then another, until I had thrown all six, and Akane’s dorm was literally filled with smoke.
That’s when I started to feel drowsy.
I cursed under my breath and held my shirt up to my face, trying not to inhale. Clearly, at least one of those grenades had sleeping gas. That was actually a good thing, but I wish I had known that before I used up all of them.
Whether or not they were going to knock her out, I couldn’t stick around to find out. I ran back into my room, pulled out the case with my guns in it from under the bed, and ran down the hall.
The fire sprinklers started spraying water before I had gone ten steps. The alarm was probably blaring too.
“Adam?” MC texted. I briefly saw a whole bunch of older texts on the screen that I hadn’t noticed during the fight, before she deleted them to make way for the new one. “What happened?”
“You… couldn’t tell?” I panted. I was in good shape, but talking while running after an exhausting fight, with at least a little bit of sleeping gas in my lungs, would have been hard for anyone. Not to mention my injuries still hadn’t had a chance to heal.
“The video feed isn’t very good, and you were moving a lot. I heard a screamer. Female, right? Did you kill her?”
“NO!” I was at the stairs; I stopped to catch my breath. “No. I just… are there more screamers up, or down.”
“Up,” she replied promptly. “But that’s not gonna last. They’re evacuating the building.”
“Because I set off the fire alarm.”
Oh. Heh, that was the good thing about the smart screamers—you could outsmart them. It still counted if you did it on accident, right? “Get me a path out of here.”
“Done. Use the sewers again, but go north this time.”
Escaping the dorm building proved easier than expected; like MC said, all the screamers were running away. By the time they realized there wasn’t really a fire, it actually worked in my favor—they all returned to see what had happened, rather than combing the sewers for me.
About a mile away, underground, I sat by the river of sewage and put my back up against the wall. “Phew. I was not expecting that.”
“Not expecting what? Tell me you weren’t stupid enough to think your trick with the elevator would mean you wouldn’t have to fight any screamers.”
I felt a pang in my chest that had nothing to do with my stab wound. “…no. That’s not it.” I rubbed my forehead, trying to find a way to explain. In the end, I took the coward’s way out and changed the subject. I really didn’t want to have to tell her about Lily. “Have you gotten a hold of Derek yet? Or anyone?”
“No. I was hoping they’d have the satellites up by now—or set up some sort of auxiliary link-up—but no luck. Honestly, I think people are only going to come down when they notice the fires.”
I closed my eyes. Shouldn’t do that, shouldn’t do that… “How are they? I mean, how is the city? The screamers causing too much destruction?”
I opened my eyes a moment later to see her response had arrived. “It’s… bad, certainly, but it could be worse. Not all the screamers have destructive powers, and even those that do are just in engaging in some petty vandalism and looting rather than anything major. In some ways it’s actually better than normal, since no one’s fighting each other.”
That gave me pause. “Wait, seriously? No one at all?”
“Not that I can see,” she confirmed. “These screamers are a little different than the normal ones—they seem almost exclusively defensive, for one thing—but they share that zombie-like alliance as the stupider ones you were fighting before Elizabeth was outed. They don’t fight each other.”
I thought for a second. “Speaking of Elizabeth, do you have any idea where she is?”
“Sure. She’s at Zero Forge. She’s been there the entire time, ever since she first starting singing. She hasn’t slept, or eaten or drank anything, or stopped at all.”
A plan was beginning to form. “…wait. She hasn’t stopped singing since yesterday morning?”
“Remember when Laura killed that singer and that changeling, what was his name—”
Was that how it was spelled? Why were there so many apostrophes? “Yeah, him. She killed the singer, and he was freed.”
“Maybe you missed the part where Elizabeth is immortal.”
I refused to believe that she was literally unkillable, but that wasn’t the point right now. “Maybe, but you said yourself she hasn’t stopped singing. Maybe if she’s interrupted, everyone goes back to normal!”
“Doubtful. Last time, Loga was the only one freed by killing the singers. I suspect whatever time limit there is on this, it has already passed.”
Which meant Lily was permanently a screamer. But I pushed thoughts like that away. “Humor me. You said yourself that these screamers are different. At least let me shoot her in the face, see if it helps!”
“You just want to shoot her in the face.”
“Well, I will admit, it’s part of the appeal.”
I could practically see her rolling her eyes and sighing. “Fine. Go off on your suicide mission.” An arrow appeared on my eyepiece, pointing off to the northeast. “Zero Forge is in that direction.”
I nodded. “Thanks.”
“Out of curiosity, what are you going to do when you get there? She has shields like Derek, a pistol isn’t going to do much good.”
I grinned and opened my gun case, admiring them for a moment before beginning to strap the weapons on in the old, familiar places.
“I have some ideas.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 225)
Yes, there is a reason Lily is the only obviously aggressive screamer. It’s not too complicated, but I’m not sure you have enough information to deduce it right now.