The siren wailed, and the Updater lay curled on the floor, eyes squeezed shut. His grin stretched wider, lips peeling back from brown teeth.
Then his eyes shot open, bulged. His spine arched, and a screech ripped out of his mouth. He continued to scream and writhe, feeble arms battering the ground.
Decker took a step backward, mind racing. His fingers twitched, and he thought of his shotgun, back in the truck.
Then the Updater went still, stretched out on his back. Seconds dragged by to the unceasing scream of the siren. And then the Updater lifted his head.
His face had gone blank. His eyes stared at Decker, cold and emotionless.
The Updater started to get to his feet. Decker stepped forward and lashed out with a kick. His boot connected with the Updater’s chin, and the creature’s head whipped back with a crunch.
Decker ran over the Updater, reaching out for the door. It beeped and slid open for his wristlet. He allowed himself a split-second pause to scan the hall, make sure it was still empty, then ran through and let the door close behind him.
A broken neck wouldn’t stop that thing, not anymore.
He walked down the hallway. His heart hammered faster, urging him to break stride and flat-out run. But he had to go slow. He couldn’t be seen.
Part of him protested that this couldn’t be happening, not in Firewall Zero. The story of the firewall going down had been a quick fabrication of his own, something he could scare his way into the tower with. It couldn’t have actually happened, half an hour later. What a twisted joke that would be.
But Dio 11 had gone Infected right in front of him. And that siren was still going. If anyone could hear it, it was already too late for them.
One of the hatches slid open behind him. Decker threw a look over his shoulder, muscles tensing to run.
A huge figure emerged from one of the farther Updater cells. Metal parts glinted, and at first Decker thought it was a robot or something, but then it turned to face him, and two very human eyes looked at him down the hall.
The creature was naked, a patchwork of metal and gray flesh, with shoulders different sizes and a lower face of seamless metal under a flat human nose. It looked at him dispassionately for a few moments, and then it raised one hand and rocked it back and forth in what looked like an uncertain wave.
Then the elevator behind the thing opened, and five soldiers burst out in a flurry of bullets.
Without flinching, the creature spun around and crashed into the men with a force that sent two flying backward into the wall.
Decker swiveled and sprinted in the other direction. If Zero military and that thing wanted to fight—he’d just leave them at it.
Did that monster have something to do with the shady business Zero had been up to lately? It just escaped a little while ago, the Updater had said. Whatever that thing was, it didn’t look like it was supposed to be out in the open.
He pushed the question to the back of his mind. Right now he needed every brain cell focused on staying alive.
Decker rounded a corner, leaving the gunshots and screams behind. In about thirty yards was another elevator. In front of it, another squad of soldiers crouched and sprawled on the floor, clutching and shaking their heads like they had wasps in their helmets. It had started for them.
Still jogging, Decker stooped and twisted the rifle away from a soldier who knelt pounding his forehead on the ground. He would have liked a shotgun, but all these guys had the same Firewall-issued weapon.
He turned the rifle around, aimed at the man’s head, and pulled the trigger. The rifle popped, a hole appeared in the side of the sleek white helmet, and the soldier’s body went limp, flopping over onto his side.
“Sorry,” Decker murmured.
Rotating and firing from the hip, he administered the same mercy to each of the other men. It was the kindest thing he could do, at this point.
It also meant less Infects on his tail in the not-too-distant future.
He left their bodies behind and entered the elevator. On the holographic pad, he tapped a course for ground floor. The elevator closed and sunk down, and in the few seconds of safety, Decker leaned his head back against the smooth metal wall and breathed deep.
Running from Infects was usually a bad idea. Hiding from them wasn’t that much better.
On the ground level of the Core 3 tower, Decker knelt behind the metal cylinder of an elevator, one of a huge row stretching across the entire room. Between him and the front door was three-hundred feet of cream-colored tile floor, a couple of ornamental fountains, and about fifteen brand-spanking-new Infects.
Some were Zero military, some nicely-dressed tower workers, a few were white-coated scientists. All of them stood with that same dead rigidity, hands hanging by their sides, not moving except for the occasional head turn to scan the room.
From outside came the muffled noise of gunfire and death screams. That would be the last stand of the Downgrades, as the people they once had served came at them with emotionless eyes and pulled them apart like ants on a grasshopper.
Decker tried not to think about Rudolph and Gar, tied and helpless in the back of the truck.
There wasn’t going to be any sneaking out the front door. He played a dozen possibilities over in his mind, and all of them ended with him running from an entire city of Infects. He’d have to try to find a back entrance, somehow.
He twisted around. The back wall was about ten yards away. An oblong door in the middle, stamped with a stylized Firewall Zero logo, led to the back part of the tower, where maybe he could find another exit. Or another big nest of Infects.
He needed to do something, though. Any minute the elevator could fly into the ceiling, leaving him exposed, or something could come through that back door and see him.
Sweat dripped down his neck. With his mind screaming silent curses, Decker slowly walked backward toward the door, staying in a crouch.
One step at a time, pausing after each one to make sure that the silver elevator tubes still stood between him and the Infects in the front part of the building. Nausea swirled in his stomach, bringing on a dizzy spell. Decker steadied himself with a hand on the tile, clamping his jaw together and willing his body to forget, just for a little while, about the drugs it wanted so badly.
It passed, and he kept going. A quick glance over his shoulder, just to make sure he was still on track. Then face forward, toward the elevators, backward step after cautious backward step.
He sensed the wall a foot or so behind him and reached back, praying his wristlet still worked.
It beeped, the sound shattering through the quiet, and the door whiffed open. Decker thought he heard a shift in the front of the room, a couple of footsteps, and he spun, crossing the threshold a little too fast for true stealth.
One unbearable moment later, the door shut behind him. Decker stood in a wide, well-lit corridor, lined with glass doors. They all led to rooms clogged with machinery and computer screens, except for one at the very end of the corridor, which seemed to open into a stairwell.
Decker jogged for it. He swung the door open, stepped through, and started down the dim staircase.
He exited the short flight, coming out into an expansive floor, low-ceilinged, and lined with vehicles of various shapes and sizes. Streamlined, windowless cars manufactured by the Firewall. Patchwork trucks and cars, scavenged and brought in by Downgrades.
Low green lights cast deep shadows in between the vehicles, and as Decker moved into the room he kept his rifle ready, finger on the trigger, ready to blast anything that moved.
The bunker seemed empty, though. He scanned the walls. There were a few large hatches to let the vehicles out, but they probably wouldn’t open unless he was driving something. But on the side of the room, in a gap between a couple of scavenged trucks, there was a small, square hatch with a manual release lever.
Decker went to it, shifting his rifle to one elbow to get both his hands free. Wrapping his hands around the lever, he set his feet and pushed all his weight forward. The lever rotated slowly, and clicked into position. Decker squatted and leaned on the hatch, pushing it open a crack.
Through the thin slice of outside, he could see the ground, a bit of the greenish horizon, and the side of another tower. The tower on the right, if you were facing them.
That would be Core 2. Where the weapon was. Just a boy, apparently, if Dio 11 had told him right.
The sounds of the Downgrade resistance had died to the occasional spurt of gunfire, but hopefully it was enough to keep the Infects occupied. Under the distraction, he could get into Core 2, extract the weapon, and disappear through the fence.
Or he could just skip the first two steps, go right to the disappearing part.
That made a heck of a lot more sense. How could he even know for sure the weapon was still there? How did he know it wasn’t something that was going to explode his butt off as soon as he tried to hustle it out?
It was stupid. Trying to get in there was stupid.
Also, that kid was the only leverage he had against Hyrand and the Firewall right now. That’s what he’d come all this way for, right?
It wasn’t like he’d never done this before. He was a Downgrade, for crying out loud. Sneaking stuff out of Infected cities was pretty much his job description.
Another burst of gunfire, this one further off. Decker growled quietly in his throat, tightened his grip on his rifle, and squeezed through the door.
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