From Steelewood headquarters, the Fujikawa Network hub was only about two miles away. Emma had no interest in making this trek, but duty called. She especially hated making the trip with this guy Duckett in tow. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, but definitely not the kind one would want to have on a stealthy mission through the blazing city of Boston. And the reason for that was this:
“So, you know how to get there, right?” Duckett asked. Emma insisted on taking point.
“Yeah, I got it,” Emma whispered back. She kept her rifle up and raised, checking every spot thoroughly to ensure that no zombies or Steelewood troops stalked them.
“Are you sure we're not being followed?”
“You're sure about this gun? I mean, I've only shot-”
“Right, fine, but if I get bit and turned into a zombie, the first person I'm biting is you.”
“You know, if it wasn't for the apocalyptic blazes, I'd say it's a rather nice night out, wouldn't you?”
She ignored him.
“You know there's going to be guards at the hub right?”
“What?” Emma stopped. She turned around to face Duckett. “The hell didn't you say so before?”
“I thought you'd have figured that! I mean, Steelewood owns the-”
“Hey, Ben, right?”
“Yeah, Ben? Shutup.”
Liam closed the gate to the parking garage behind them. His mother, still quiet and still looking ridiculously out of place in her full tactical gear. The fear on her face did not match the bravado of her rifle. She was definitely a cause of concern, but Liam's real worry was the concern itself. Lena made for a massive distractions and, in combat, distractions could make for mistakes. Mistakes were fatally unacceptable.
“Stay close,” Liam told his mother. “And stay low.”
“Got it,” Lena replied.
“You know the drill,” Liam said. “Just... stay close.”
“Don't worry about me. I'll be fine.”
Liam nodded. “Then let's go.”
Guns ready, they made their way to the metal door at the wall of the parking garage. Beside the door was another keypad. Liam tapped in another one of Isadora's codes, this one with only eleven digits. The codes were normally only five digits long, but the additional numbers were part of an override sequence to keep security from detecting the door opening. Steelewood HQ, even before the outbreak, was renowned for being one of the most secure buildings in the world. But it had weaknesses and workarounds. Isadora knew all of them because she created them.
Once the code was input, the lock clacked open. The door swung inward, so Liam first peered inside to the left and then pivoted into the room, rifle raised, to the right. He checked behind him and then whispered, “Clear.”
Lena followed him.
They were in a concrete room with stairwell and an elevator. Isadora's description told Liam that the stairwell led up to the lobby and down to more parking below. The elevator would take them all the way up to the top floor. There were risks involved in taking the elevator. What if it stopped and opened right in front of a team of Steelewood commandos? Then again, climbing fifty stories worth of stairs was hardly better.
Liam hit the call button on the elevator. The readout on the right side read: 31.
“You ready for this?” Liam asked. He replaced the magazine in his rifle and cycled in a fresh one. He had fired six rounds killing the two zombies before, so a new clip was not totally needed, but was certainly beneficial. Liam would do anything to make him feel better about what was to come. 26.
“Can I be?” 20.
“Suppose not,” Liam sighed. “Be ready. There might be someone on the elevator and it might stop at random. If it does, just be ready for anything.” 14.
“Could be soldiers, could be a civilian. Just be ready.” 6.
“Yeah. Okay. I'm ready.” 2.
Liam did not believe her, not really. He couldn't. Not even he was ready. But hearing her say it somehow assured him. The readout read P1 and the elevator dinged. Liam tightened his grip his rifle and pointed it firmly at the center of the door. He took a breath.
The door opened revealing a woman wearing a loose pantsuit. She must have been somewhere in her forties. Liam didn't care. He got one glimpse of the scared, shocked look on her face before lunging at her. Against the butt of his rifle, she was completely defenseless. The woman lost balance and started to fall, but Liam caught her. He put his right arm around her neck and put his left hand over her mouth. And he squeezed. The woman fought and squirmed, but Liam was stronger.
“Wha- what are you doing?!” Lena exclaimed.
“Mom, keep it down,” Liam grunted.
“Liam, stop! She's not- she can't hurt us! She's unarmed!”
“Mom, quiet!” The woman rammed her elbow into Liam's stomach. He recoiled, but his body armor took the brunt of the blow. He squeezed tighter.
“You're killing her!”
“Liam! No, I-” Lena protested until the woman stopped moving. “You-”
“Mom, it's fine. She's only unconscious.”
“Why'd ya do that?!”
“If we had just let her go, she could have raised the alarms and we would be done for.” Liam gently set the woman in the corner. “She'll be fine.”
“Okay, but Liam, I-”
“Mom, I did what I had to do.” He stepped into the elevator. “Now, come on, we need to go.”
“Okay.” Lena nodded and followed her son. He pressed the button for the fifty-second floor and the doors closed. Lena stood behind her son. He crouched and raised his rifle, ready for whatever might lay on the other side....
Emma ducked behind a dumpster in an alleyway and peered ahead at the Fujikawa Network hub. She spotted Steelewood soldiers keeping watch with perhaps more in places she could not see. Unlike other areas they had passed before, there were barricades. These men stood around the street with little to no cover in a rough formation. Emma could tell they were nervous, but five was more than she could take.
Duckett hid with Emma and did his best not to talk, but it was a nervous habit and he was way past nervous. He found it nothing short of a miracle that he wasn't blabbering on about everything. He looked to the soldiers ahead and raised his finger and was about to say something, but-
Emma stopped him, “Not a word.”
He put his finger down.
“Ben, I can't take all those guys.”
He said nothing.
“So, here's what's gonna happen. You're just gonna walk up to the front door.”
“Look, you're an executive. You're their boss, you should be able to walk right up and-”
“But what if they kill me?”
“They won't, aren't you listening? Do you have an ID or something? Anything that shows you-”
Ben pulled out his Steelewood identification badge. “Yes, I've got this.”
“Then have that out. Hide the gun somewhere and have that where they can see it. Put your hands up when you approach them and act like you own the place. You do, you're the damn CEO-”
“Whatever. You're their boss. Just do it.”
“Ben! Do it!”
“Alright!” Duckett put the Taurus pistol Emma had given him in his belt and held his ID in the palm of his hand. He stood up, loosed his tie, took a breath, put his hands up by his head, and walked out into the street.
One of the Steelewood soldiers immediately ordered, “Hold it right there!” The others turned and trained their rifles on him. Emma brought herself out of cover as much as she could without risking being exposed. She was in the shadows deeply enough that it was unlikely they could see her, but there was always a chance. She aimed her G36C at the man doing the talking. If anything happened, he would die for sure. “Identify yourself!”
“Uh- um- well, um, my name's Duck- Duckett. Ben Duckett. I am the CFO of Steelewood and-”
“Is your ID?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Eddie, take it from him and check it!” One of the soldiers lowered his rifle and obeyed. “What are you doing here?”
“I was, well, you see, I was coming out here to check some records at Fujikawa hub and then all this happened and-”
“Looks legit, sarge!” Eddie said as he returned Duckett's ID.
“Alright, fine, go on ahead. Do what you gotta do.”
“Good then,” Duckett lowered his hands. He started towards the door of the hub, but then stopped and said, “Oh, look, I've got my bodyguard with me. She was going to wait, but-”
“Where is she?”
“Emma! Come out!”
Emma wanted to refuse him, but knew that might just make things worse. She stood up, lowered her rifle, and stepped out of the shadows. The Steelewood soldiers rapidly brought their weapons to bear on her. Emma stopped.
“She's with me!” Duckett exclaimed. “Put your guns down!” The soldiers complied nervously. “Don't give her any trouble or I'll cut your pay.” They suddenly seemed eager to do whatever Duckett said.
Duckett opened the door to the hub and let Emma go in first. He followed her in, closed the door, and turned the lock. Why they didn't have it locked before was beyond him.
“So, I'm your bodyguard now?”
“Just go with it or I'll start talking again.”
Emma sighed. “Just find what we came for.”
Lena stayed back in the rear-left corner of the elevator while Liam crouched right in the center with his rifle raised and ready to kill. Since getting on, the elevator had not stopped at all, but it could happen any second. Miraculously, they passed thirty-two floors and nothing happened. Both Lena and Liam kept quiet. She breathed deeply, but with irregularity.
At the thirty-fourth floor, the elevator stopped. Lena panicked and raised her rifle. Before the door opened, Liam whispered, “Easy. Don't shoot unless I do.”
Lena quivered as the doors slowly opened. She expected an armed brigade of Steelewood mercenaries or even death herself waiting on the other side. But there was not death or commandos, but worse. On the other side of the door was the doctor of pain, suffering, and humiliation. It was Dr. Wu, who stood there wearing a look of haste and worry. His brow sweat and he looked out of breath. In his hands was a briefcase. His suit was messy and his tie loose. Just one look and anyone could tell that he was trying to flee the building. But Lena didn't give a darn.
Before Liam could stop her or say anything at all, before Wu could try and flee or slime his out of punishment, she gave it to him. With a pull of the trigger, her HK released a single reverberating shot. Her eyes squinted shut in reflex, but she opened them again. Wu had taken a step back, but his chest had burst open and blood filled his white shirt. He looked down at his wound and back up. Lena fired again. And again. And again.
Wu finally fell backward in a shower of his own blood and entrails. Lena adjusted her aim to shoot his downed body, but found her rifle jerked upward by Liam's strong arm. “Mom!” He shouted. “Mom, what the hell?!”
“Mom! Dammit, mom, we can't-”
“Liam! That's him!”
“Who? That's who?”
She recoiled at the thought of his name. “It's Dr. Wu. He's the guy that-” Lena cried.
“Mom, I-” Liam let go of her rifle. “Mom, I'm sorry. We can't afford to-”
The alarm klaxons blared. Lena's eyes shot wide. “Oh, gosh!”
“Dammit!” Liam exclaimed. He pressed the Close Door button and then said, “Okay, look, they're gonna know we're in the elevator. We need to figure a way out of this!” The elevator resumed its course to the top.
“Shouldn't we get out?”
Liam shook his head. He looked up and had an idea.”No. Well, yeah, but not the way you're thinking.” Using the butt of his SCAR, he knocked open the emergency escape hatch and said, “Mom, come on. We're going up.”
Isadora sat on one of the couches in her office waiting. She stopped talking to Sergei after a time because there was simply nothing left to say. They had argued about his leadership, about the current situation, about his lies-- about everything. Neither of them was going to give any ground, so why bother at all? Instead Isadora resigned herself to sitting down on the couch and waiting for her friends to arrive.
Sergei either paced the room or he sat behind the desk working on the computer. The radio on his belt went off periodically and he gave orders through. it. There were times when Isadora considered giving him a suggestion or two, but knew that keeping silent was the best approach. Besides, seeing him frustrating his way through her job gave her a degree of satisfaction.
Sergei was pacing when his radio announced, “Breaches one, three, and four have been secured. Repeat, breaches one, three, and four have been secured.”
He ripped the radio off of his belt and asked, “What about breach two?”
“Units have been diverted to assist active units already in the area. They report positive progress.”
“And what of the city?”
“Armored units are sweeping the streets and removing swarms and stragglers. They expect the city secure within the hour.”
“Excellent,” Sergei said. He put the radio back on his belt and looked at his mother. “You see? Looks like whatever plan your friends had to destroy me is failing.”
“I wouldn't count them out just yet, Sergei,” Isadora replied, standing up. “In fact, I think they're plan is-”
The intruder alarm klaxons blared.
“What in the bloody-” Sergei drew his radio again. “Someone give me a report!”
“Shots fired on level thirty-four!”
“Who fired them?
“Unknown. Fire teams are being sent to investigate- wait. Reports are coming in that armed assailants are on the elevator going up.”
“Then get soldiers to intercept them!”
Isadora laughed, “I told you not to count them out.”
While Duckett worked at a computer, Emma waited around doing nothing. Duckett worked rather loudly talking with himself. He kept a running commentary of everything he did. Remarkably Emma was not terribly annoyed as she amused herself with a paperclip.
Finally, Duckett sighed and said, “There isn't anything here. There are records, but I don't see anything with Sergei. He must have deleted them.”
“So, now I see if I can Lisbon on the line and see if they've got it.” He punched a few commands on the keyboard and then the main projector screen fired up. “I'm sending them a call now.”
A message appeared on the blue screen, ESTABLISHING CONNECTION.
The blue screen was replaced by a high-resolution image of Dr. Fujikawa, who politely asked, “May I help you, Boston?”
“Oh, yes, um, yes, this is- my name is Benjamin Duckett, I'm an executive at Steelewood and we seem to be missing some records over here. You wouldn't happen to record calls, would you?”
“Of course we do, Duckett-san. What call are you looking for?”
Duckett told him.
“Give me a moment while I search.”
Emma put down her paperclip and sighed. She wanted to be with Liam taking Sergei down, not babysitting some corporate whelp. She and her brother were meant to fight together. They worked as one. Sure, by themselves they were incredibly lethal, but their true strength was in unison. Their father trained them to fight as one and to think as if they were one part of a whole. In a combat situation, Emma felt incomplete without her brother. This was no exception.
Machine gun blasts came from outside. Emma immediately set her finger on the trigger and readied her rifle. More reports joined the first volley. She trained her rifle at the door they had come from, which was down a short hall of only about fifteen feet. It was a glass door with a steel frame. The streets outside lit up with muzzle flares. Emma could only see flashes.
But that changed. She saw several of the Steelewood soldiers still outside backpedaling and firing on an unknown enemy. Four of them passed and then she saw the fifth one get dive-tackled by a zombie. He hollered in pain and fought to escape, but at least a half dozen more of the beasts swarmed over him. Emma put the reticule of her red dot scope on the closest monster. She wanted to help the poor soldier being eaten, but knew that drawing attention was a bad plan.
“What's going on out there?” Duckett asked.
“Nothing,” Emma lied. “Just get the recording!”
Fujikawa returned, “Yes, we have a copy of that call. Would you like me to send it to you?”
“Bloody yes! Send it over!”
“Alright, alright, Duckett-san. Sending it now.”
Duckett checked his monitor and it read, incoming file. “Alright, I've got it.”
“What kind of name is Duckett?”
“Look, very funny.”
Emma kept her rifle raised and ready. Her heart pounded, but she kept her breathing under control. Normally she looked forward to killing those awful monsters, but this was too important to let emotion, even positive emotion, get in the way. More came around. The gunning thinned and more zombies rushed. And finally, the shooting stopped. The zombies slowed their run. And on flesh they feasted.
“I've got the file!” Duckett exclaimed.
“It ain't doin' us any good, Ben.”
“The outside's swarmed with creeps.”
“Wh- creeps? You mean the zed word?”
“Yeah, them. We're stuck here.”
“Well, that's bad, but we're fine. I can just send the file right to the comm center at Steelewood HQ. I reckon even that limey bastard Sullivan's gonna wanna have a look at what we've got here!”
“Okay, whatever, just-” Emma stopped when a monster slammed against the glass and snarled. Its glowing bright blue eyes pierced Emma's. The beast hungrily pounded into the glass. A second undead joined it and then another, and another.“Ben, get that damn file sent now!”