Authors: Nerys Wheatley
TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT BOOK 2: DOWNFALL
Copyright: Nerys Wheatley
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted, without written permission from the author. You must not circulate this book in any format.
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“Phone’s ringing,” Micah called.
“Can’t you get it?” Alex called back.
“Not really, no.”
Alex sighed, wrapped the towel around him, and walked into the living room. Micah was exactly where he’d left him twenty minutes before, eyes closed, flat out on the sofa.
“Where’s my bacon?” Alex said, picking up the phone.
Micah waved a dismissive hand without opening his eyes.
“Hello?” Alex said into the receiver.
A smile spread across his face. “Hello, Hannah.”
“Alex, they’re here.”
His smile vanished at her panicked tone. “Who’s there?”
Micah opened his eyes and looked up at him.
“They killed Jim,” she whispered, the hint of a sob in her voice. “I’m hiding, but I don’t know how long...”
Alex heard a crash, and Hannah gasped.
“Hannah?” he said, his heart pounding. “
To Alex’s intense frustration, the lights didn’t switch on.
He lifted his foot from the step and put it back down again. Then he tried the second step, and the third. Finally, he tried jumping up and down. Still no illumination appeared on the staircase descending into the underground laboratory.
“Can you see anything?” Micah said from behind him.
“Stairs,” he replied.
“I meant anything
the stairs. Specifically anything that might try to eat us.”
“No. But without power, we’re not going to last long if there’s anything down there.”
“You can see in the dark,” Micah pointed out.
“Yeah, but not if there’s no light at all. We’re not going to be much use to anyone if we die.”
He stared down at the corridor leading away from the foot of the stairs. Even though he couldn’t hear any sounds coming from below, it didn’t mean nothing was happening down there. The underground facility was a big place. For all he knew, the little group of doctors they’d left here just two days before were somewhere in the darkness, fighting for their lives.
It was twenty minutes since he’d received the panicked call from Hannah. Twenty minutes on Janie’s motorcycle, picking their way through the vehicle snarl-ups blocking almost every road. Twenty minutes during which almost anything could have happened to Hannah, Carla, Dave, Larry and Pauline.
Hannah could be down there right now, in danger, waiting for him to rescue her. The thought made his gut clench. He’d only known her for a few days, but it was enough to know he wanted to know the pretty doctor for a lot longer.
Alex jumped, startled by Micah’s loud exclamation. “The mobiles aren’t working.”
“No, but I have a torch app.” Micah pushed his hand into his jacket pocket and frowned. He patted his other pockets. “I must have left it on your sofa. Do you have yours?”
“No. I didn’t think to bring it, with the signal down.”
Micah planted his hands on his hips. “We have got to start thinking ahead.”
Alex looked at the door to the shed through which they’d entered. “Maybe there’s something in there.”
They returned through the hidden door to the main part of the shed and began searching the shelves of gardening paraphernalia.
“Found matches,” Micah said, holding up a box. “We could make a torch out of something.”
“Or we could use this,” Alex said, pulling a large torch with black rubber casing from behind a box of lawn fertiliser.
He pressed the power button, relieved when the light came on.
“Those old torches guzzle battery power,” Micah said. “What if it runs out while we’re down there?”
“Afraid of the dark?” Alex said.
“If there are eaters in it, yes.”
“All we have to do is get to the generator and turn it back on. It can’t be that far.”
Alex headed back towards the stairs. “Well, I’m going down. I have to know if Hannah’s alright.”
He strode back into the small antechamber with the staircase and started down. Pulling one of the two skull-spiker stiletto knives he’d brought from his pocket, he kept the blade retracted into the handle, but clutched it ready, just in case.
“Wait for me.”
He looked back to see Micah following him, an aerosol can in one hand.
“If things get desperate,” he said, “I want a way to make some serious light.”
“Okay, but let’s try not to burn the place down around us.”
Alex led the way down the stairs and along the grey, featureless corridor to the entrance into the facility. The sliding security door was closed to within an inch of the frame, just like the first time they’d been this way.
That time, a body had been on the other side. He suppressed the fear that this time, it could be Hannah’s.
Handing the torch to Micah, he pushed his fingers into the gap and pulled at the door. The broken mechanism protested for a moment before releasing, the door sliding open with an unhealthy grating sound.
The storage room beyond was in darkness, just enough light filtering down the staircase to enable Alex’s Meir’s virus enhanced vision to make out the piles of stacked furniture dotted around. He stood for a few seconds, allowing his eyes to adjust and making sure there was nothing hiding in the shadows.
“Anything?” Micah whispered behind him.
Alex shook his head. “Looks clear. Don’t use the torch until we have to though. It’ll ruin my night vision.”
“I can’t see a thing in here,” Micah said, “so give me a heads up if I’m about to get bitten or anything.”
Micah placed his hand on Alex’s shoulder for guidance and they made their way across the room to the door in the far wall. Alex peered through the inset window. The wide corridor beyond was empty, as far as he could see, although his field of vision was limited by the door. He grasped the handle, pushed the door open slowly, and flipped out the skull-spiker’s blade in case anything rushed in to attack them. When nothing did, he took a step in and checked either side of the door.
“It’s clear,” he whispered.
“Then why are you whispering?” Micah whispered back.
“I don’t know. It just feels like I should.”
“I know what you mean.”
Alex glanced back at him. Micah was staring straight ahead, his eyes unfocused, obviously unable to see anything. He looked nervous. Alex couldn’t blame him. He was nervous and he could see, just.
As they made their way along the corridor, Alex glanced at the doors they passed. All of them were closed and he couldn’t see anything but darkness through the windows set into each of them. He wanted to find Hannah, but they couldn’t scour every room in the dark. When the generator was back on they’d be able to do a thorough search, if they needed to.
They reached the door at the far end of the corridor and stopped. Beyond was the employee lounge where they’d first met Hannah and the other doctors. For some reason, opening this door filled Alex with dread. Visibility was getting so bad he could barely see any more. This far underground, with no windows and no light of any kind, even he had to admit defeat.
“I think it’s time to use the torch,” he whispered.
“Thank goodness,” Micah said. “I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m freaking out here.”
He switched the torch on and swept it around the corridor. Alex squinted, waiting for his eyes to adjust, and then opened the door. When nothing burst through it, he walked in.
Furniture was strewn about the room, chairs and tables overturned, a sofa tipped onto its front. The glass in the double doors on the far side of the room was shattered, covering the surrounding floor and making it sparkle in the torchlight. Alex spotted what looked very much like bullet holes in the walls.
Lying near the centre of the room was a body. It was James Lofton, the security guard at the underground government laboratory.
Despite only knowing him for a few days, Alex felt sad at his death. He was good company, something Alex had found out during the two days he’d spent in the lab waiting anxiously for Micah to regain consciousness after being bitten.
“So unless they’ve learned how to fire a weapon, this wasn’t eaters,” Micah said, crouching beside the body and shining the torch on the three closely grouped, bloody bullet holes in his chest. “Do you think someone from outside tried to steal their supplies and Jim tried to stop them?”
“How many members of the general public know how to use a gun? Not to mention well enough to shoot an armed man with that degree of accuracy.” Alex turned away from Jim and scanned the rest of the room. To his relief, there were no more bodies amongst the mess. “Let’s get to the generator.”
They crunched their way over the broken glass around the double doors into another corridor. The walls here on both sides were glazed from waist height up and Micah shined the torch into the labs beyond. But other than a couple more shattered windows, they appeared unaffected.
After traversing two identical corridors, they reached the double security doors leading into the Omnav-run section of the facility, where the corporation responsible for the nefarious part of the lab had developed the new strain of Meir’s Disease to turn the virus into a weapon and eaters into soldiers. The doors were closed, unlike the first time Alex and Micah had come here. Alex wasn’t sure what they would do if they were locked, but when he pushed the handle down, it opened.
Micah shone the torch along the corridor ahead of them, illuminating nothing. They continued in, letting the door close behind them. The atmosphere seemed thicker here, cloying. Alex detected the unmistakeable smell of eater, but he knew the cells where the scientists kept the unfortunate subjects of their experiments weren’t far. He hoped that was all it was.
“Is it my imagination, or is this beam getting duller?” Micah said, using the universal torch repair technique of smacking his hand against the rubber casing.
Alex glanced at the torch. “No, I don’t think...”
The torch went out.
Thick darkness engulfed them.
“You were saying?” Micah said.
Alex heard the torch switch being flipped off and on a few times, then a hand slapping against the casing again. They remained in the dark.
The blackness was so complete it was almost solid. Alex stared into the void, hoping his eyes would adjust, that he’d be able to see something.
But with no light whatsoever, he was as blind as any normal person.
“Maybe we can find something in one of the labs,” he said, lowering his voice again, “turn a Bunsen burner on or something.”
“Yeah, okay,” Micah said. “I think this torch is dead and gone.”
Alex reached out and encountered Micah’s arm. “Give me your hand.”
“You want to hold hands? Now who’s afraid of the dark?”
“I just want to make sure we stick together.”
“Fine, but if the lights go on now and everyone is watching us, you can do the explaining.”
He felt Micah’s hand grasp his. Embarrassingly, it did make him feel a little better.
“Smooth,” Alex said. “Do you moisturise?”
“Feel free to not talk.”
Alex tried to ignore his rising heart rate as he felt his way along the corridor with his free hand. They were fine. It was just darkness. He was a grown man with superhuman strength. He was not afraid of the dark. He wasn’t.
He reached an open doorway and walked blindly in, feeling his way along a workbench running along the wall. He stopped and let go of Micah’s hand.
Something was wrong.
“Are you breathing?” he whispered.
“What kind of question is that?” Micah whispered back. “Of course I’m breathing.”
“Just hold your breath for a few seconds so I can listen.”
He heard Micah take a deep breath and hold it. He did the same.
Slightly raspy breathing remained.
“Please tell me that’s you,” Micah hissed.
Alex swallowed. “It’s not me.”
Across the room, a piece of furniture scraped on the floor.
“Do you have those matches?” Alex said, trying to keep the tremor from his voice.
He heard rustling, then the rattle of a matchbox. At the same time, he heard the sound of footsteps dragging on the tiled floor.
“Micah,” he hissed.
The footsteps were getting closer.
A match flared into life, illuminating a small area around them. The vacant face of an eater burst into the light with a grating moan, lunging at them.
Before Alex could react, Micah yelled, raising the aerosol. The match became a flamethrower.
With a dull
, the eater was engulfed in flames. It didn’t slow down at all.
Alex pushed Micah out of its way and dived to the side, hitting a cupboard before crashing to the floor.
The eater, now a walking inferno thanks to being drenched with whatever Micah had sprayed on it, turned to face him. He scrambled to his feet and backed away.
“Kill it,” Micah shouted.
Alex darted behind a table as the eater advanced on him. “How am I supposed to kill it? It’s on
“I don’t know. A gun would be really useful at this moment.”
The eater attempted to walk through the table. It tried to open its mouth to moan, but its lips were melting together. So much heat was radiating from it that Alex wondered if he still had eyebrows. Sweat dripped down his forehead.
“Pity I used up all our ammunition saving your arse.”
The table inched across the floor as the eater reached its burning arms towards him. Bits of skin peeled off and dropped in little smouldering heaps onto the Formica. Alex backed up against a bench, coughing. The stench was overwhelming.