Fading hope (Pt. 8)

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The sun had left the sky with the moon taking its place. Each of us waited patiently in the penthouse for the first hour of the night. That length of time allows for the majority of Infected to leave their dens and prowl the streets. From above we watched as countless dark shapes scurried in all directions looking for their next meal. The sight sent shivers down my spine.

Getting into the mall was as to be expected. Riley and Howard located a way in by running along one of the tops of the sky bridges to a third floor outdoor plaza. The greenery had died in the decoratively designed leisure spot. The space was left looking as creepy as ever especially when we all stepped into the mall. The moonlight faded behind us as we headed into pitch black.

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With as little light as we needed to use, we made our way through the desolate halls of the shopping mall. It was the epitome of death inside. Walkways piled with merchandise, manikins, a variety of demolished furnishings…and bones. Lots of bones. Skeletal remains of countless individuals were strewn in complete disorder. Not all of their bits were in the same area. It was truly horrifying to see.

We moved more silently than I could have given us credit. We tracked from the third floor of the mall all the way to the ground floor with nary a fuck up. The Alphas had gone and even Freakers were scarce in the mall corridors. A number of Stumblers were present but easily avoidable given how spread out they were. Crossing the massive shopping center, one of us surely would have kicked a can or knocked something over. Yet, there we were at the service elevators of the mall leading towards the basement levels.

Peering down the elevator shaft with our flashlights we determined it had fallen too far for any of us to be able to get back up. The cables had snapped but the security locks seemed to have kept it in place. Riley wondered out loud if Rachel had caused the elevators to shift given there was no way non-Infected could make the jump. Considering that we knew we were heading in the right direction.

Without even having to think long about what to do, several of us were already hooking up my counterweight tool. We had to use a fair length of the rope to secure it to locations in and outside the shaft to utilize it. One by one we descended down to the top of the elevator with Josh as our anchor above. He was to be the first lookout.

From there we got lucky. The elevator we climbed down into was cracked open wide enough to fit through. Squeezing into the small space of the first basement floor, the other doors to the elevator shaft were already cracked open. The elevator itself had fallen too but was more accessible that its companion. With all of us there, we climbed down onto the top of the second elevator leaving Duane as the second lookout.

Before I followed the other three, I stopped to have a quick second with Duane. It was the most fleeting of moments given our current situation. My hands clutched at his vest pulling him as close as possible. I gave him what could be the last kiss I ever could and damn did I make it count. Pulling back, I felt him resist as he whispered in my ear, “Come back to me.”

I looked at him in the darkness barely able to see his eyes and said albeit a bit too casually, “You know I always will.” I forced myself to believe that or my legs wouldn’t have moved.

Ripping myself from him, I moved as quickly as I could to catch up with the others. I got to the second floor with them waiting not even a minute. That small amount of time could have affected our success rate, but I had to do it. No one questioned me or even brought it up. The mission was still the priority.

We left Howard by the elevators and pushed further on into the bowels of the shopping complex. The farther we had gone into the building, well, even hearing about its location made me question the whole thing. Why would the government have put a stash of resources this far below ground? Sure, it was apparently a “secret deposit” but why would they do that? It didn’t make sense. The whole stash would have been abused by the Radicals or even those that took shelter here before.

I wondered if we were on a wild goose chase. Scavengers have done it before in lying about large caches of resources only to mislead others. Even I was dupped more than once when I first started out as a Scavenger. In this case, it could have been Rachel giving everyone something to hold on to. To believe there is still a tomorrow. Fuck her if she did and if not then I have another respect to pay. If I survive to pay them that is.

For all the doubts I had about this entire mission, I was so relieved to have not thrown myself into the meat grinder for nothing. The intel had indeed proven fruitful. There was a secret stash of government goods locked away beneath the mall. Thing was, the problem Rachel had mentioned was far worse than we could have imagined. So much I didn’t even want to continue to obtain proof. I felt as if seeing it was justifiable evidence alone.

In the deepest parts of the second basement was a massive nest of chrysalises. Their greenish glow cast a faint light from their sacks in the large concrete chamber. They were all over the floors and sticking to the walls with a few hanging from the ceilings as well. Each of them in the works of mutating an Infected into its mutated variants.

Or its third if the lord commander is to be believe.

Each of us held back our vomit as we proceeded to sift through the nest. All of its inhabitants had gone for the evening leaving only the sacks to be weary of. Not like that was our only concern. Aside from the chance of one of the countless dozens of sacks birthing a monster right in front of us, there is always the possibility that one of its inhabitants didn’t take a moonlit stroll.

I prayed to Lady Luck hoping she’d consider us her most precious examples of how kind she can be. From one end of the creepy space to the other, we came up to the government instillation of a type of shelter. It was built separate from the rest of the building like it was an afterthought. A large thick metallic chamber that dwarfed the space it was crammed into. Finding the entrance made us hesitate as the door had been severely scratched and thrash ajar.

The opening created was widen enough for most of us to fit through. Drake and I made it in with ease, but Riley misjudged the space and cut the space between his neck and shoulders from a bent piece of metal. Hearing him bite back the pain we knew the clock was ticking now. The smell of fresh blood attracts Infected like sharks in water. None of us freaked out, we were too experienced for that. Riley covered the wound best he could to hide the scent of his blood while we proceeded to look around.

We quickly determined we were in a sperate chamber as Drake found another door at the other end of the room. Using our flashlights, we scanned the room only to find answers to plenty of questions. There were multiple piles of bones crunched about under and around grimy bits of military clothing, overturned tables, and fallen cabinets. Aged documents were cast about the floor, some stained and others completely illegible.

Riley found a key-like device on one of the bodies that had the most metals clipped to its uniform. It wasn’t a typical key but a stick like device that had teeth on the end. We quickly determined it didn’t unlock or turn anything on in the room but looked to see if it could open the second chamber door.

A folder on the floor with the faded red words “TOP SECRET” stamped on the front caught my eye. As the other two proceeded to figure out how to unlock the other door, I flipped through the perfectly cut papers seeing what was inside. What I found explained just about everything.

“Guys,” I whispered grabbing their attention, “this place was designated as some kind of fallout shelter.”

“So?” Riley whispered back looking for the slot to put the device in.

“It says here,” I ruffled the folder in front of them, “This mall was supposed to be converted into a fully functioning community. They used the underground tunnel connecting the mall to the parking garage to repurpose this place. There were plans to ration food, provide shelter, agricultural production, and even medical services. Everything Nova needed to survive and thrive!” I dropped my voice as my tone went up.

“From what I can see,” Drake said looking behind me, “their plans weren’t successful.”

“No,” I agreed flipping through the pages and found something else. “Hold on there’s something here talking about the cache.” I read the paragraph thoroughly before jerking my head up to. “STOP!” I hissed as quietly as I could.

My hand grabbed Riley’s arm that had just inserted the device he held into its slot. He was about to turn it when he froze. Looking at me with questioning eyes he hissed back, “Why? We’re about to get our proof.”

I shook my head and informed them both, “I just read an entry stating this was the backup stash. This entire chamber was designed to keep the goods pressurized to make everything in there lasted longer. Only to be opened as a last resort.”

“Great, then we should retrieve what we came for and get out.” Riley was about to turn the key when Drake placed a hand on his.

“Wait, my friend.” His face expressed his urge for Riley to listen as he explained, “What Kit is trying to say is if we open this door, the goods will spoil faster than if they were left undisturbed.”

However that translated to the man, he understood he should not unlock the door. With a quiet huff he asked, “Then what are we going to bring back as proof?”

He was right about that, but then again, our proof was already in hand. Both of our hands. “Riley,” I pointed at the device in his hand, “You’ve got the key.” Holding up the folder in my own hands, “I’ve got documentation.”

Drake’s smile lit up brighter than our flashlights, “We have our proof.” He motioned with a hand towards the mangled door. “Shall we leave this horrid place?”

The tone in Riley’s voice said it all as he turned towards the door saying, “Please, I don’t want to be here any longer than we need to be.”

Riley and I both secured our pieces of proof and headed out with lights off. I nearly cut my leg but managed to wiggle around the sharp sliver wanting to taste my blood. Weaving our way back through the nest of chrysalises had me thinking of just how they were supposed to be dealt with. There were so many and those that slumbered here during the day weren’t even present to show their strength in number. The grueling concept made me glad of my career choice having nothing to do with exterminating the Infected.

“Guys,” Riley hissed causing us all to stop, “do you hear that?”

Chills ran up all our spins as we heard the unmistakable sound of clicking. It wasn’t like a rattle or a tapping, but like a repetitious clatter that seemed to be…hunting. We each looked about for the source if only to know which direction to avoid it. Then as quick as we heard the clicking start. It stopped.

It fucking stopped.

Silence replaced the sound before Riley broke it whispering, “I think we’re good.” A small pause then, “Let’s keep mov-GAH!” Drake and I turned around to with our lights cast on Riley. 

My stomach dropped.

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