The Hoven Institute; Prologue.

Ok, well, I want any of you writery types out there to give this a once over and offer any suggestions. I’ll be posting one of these a week – if I remember.

Ok, here goes.

Two people had died tonight. Blood dripped down one wall and pooled on the floor, its stink making the air thick with its sour breath reek. A Taser gun lay, half-digested, in a slushy puddle that John had to step around. He marked it with a locator tag from a pocket in his environ-suit.

Echoes hit the steel corridor and bounced into the building’s machine like guts. Hard industrial groans and organic mumbles blended together in those sounds, making the red lit metal corridor seem more like a throat then a passageway. John swallowed and tightened his grip on his MP5, his thick gloves almost fumbling the motion. Sweat rolled into his eye and he blinked it away.

He breathed into his mask, trying to slow his heart rate.

“… bloody boffs…”

His radio earpiece buzzed softly and he recognised Douglas’ voice over the communal network. His friend was deeper in the complex, somewhere down in one of the sub-basements. A low hooting fuzzed into John’s hearing and he realised that Doug was in one of the containment halls.

“Doug, keep radio chatter to a minimum, please.”

“Sorry, John.”

John stepped over a loop of fallen chain, its black metal scoured and pitted with acid damage. Small holes had been eaten into the walls and floor nearby. His footsteps boomed as he placed them with care, avoiding any potential residue.

He passed under one of the emergency lighting beacons, briefly walking through a hundred shades of blood, his visor goggles smeared incarnadine and his sweat dripping like gore down the inside of his mask.

His respirator turned his breath into a turbine wheeze, the sound both a primitive challenge to whatever lurked in the hell red world around him and a machine prayer for mercy.

He swallowed again, trying to clear the dryness from his mouth. The boil-in-the-bag environ-suit felt slick against his skin. Sweat crawled across his skin, feeling like creeping insects moving unseen across his flesh.

He kept putting one foot in front of the other, his hands tight on the rifle.

“Valentine.” His earpiece pulsed again, his name being driven into his head like a nail to the brain pan. It was Merryweather on a personal channel.

John stopped next to a bulkhead doorframe, the metal door itself having landed some twenty feet away, its twisted form more like a mangled flower than anything made by man.

“Valentine here.”

“Reese’s team got one.”

A breath John didn’t realise he had been holding left him in an industrial sigh. Reese might be a bastard, but John could have kissed him then.

“Maintain the sweep. I want a full damage report. You hear me?”

“Yes, sir, I hear you.”

His team had been sweeping the building for the last hour. So far they had found nothing. Nothing but smashed lab equipment, torn wall panelling and wrecked air ducts that the Subjects had been too big to crawl through.

John had almost run out of the thumb sized locator beacons, the sheer amount of damage caused having seen him place half a dozen in the first twenty minutes of the sweep. Whatever had got out of its cage had been pissed off. When it came time for the clean-up crews and repair teams to take over, they were going to have their work cut out.

He stepped into a lab, pushing the door open with the barrel of the MP5. Glass littered the floor with red diamond shards. They glittered in the low light.

The pool of blood that spread across the floor did not reflect the light however. It looked black and hard, as if someone had poured tar or molasses on the floor.

What was left of the man it had come from mingled with the shattered glass, the over turned tables and the fallen refrigerator, the contents of all three joined in messy matrimony on the floor.

On what was left of the man’s lab coat a plastic ID badge read; Philip G. Hurn. Number three victim tonight.

Phil had won the office poker tournament a week ago. John remembered dealing him his winning hand; a two, a four, a king and an ace. Phil had taken one look and then bluffed for six rounds, coolly raising the steaks each time.

John knelt next to what was left, gently placing a locator beacon on the ID badge.

“Valentine,” the radio made binary shriek either side of his name. “John, the containment manifest lists multiple subjects in the broken unit, copy?” It was Douglas, his voice accompanied by something hooting in the background again.

“How many subjects?”

“Three.”

“Merryweather said one’s down already. Where are you?”

“Containment Hall One, right next to their cage. You?”

“One of the Labs.” John looked around, “Lab Three. I’m a floor above you. Wait there for me.”

“Yes sir.”

John made it to the stairs before the nausea hit him, vomit threatening to turn his respirator mask into soupy nosebag.

He removed it, to hell with protocol, and let a thin stream of sick squirt from his lips.

With nothing to clean his hands and face or, god forbid, wash his mouth out, he wiped his hands on the plastic suit, leaving stinking grey smears in the red light.

Next to his own mess, more blood flecked the stairwell; small dark specks on the plain metal walls and floor. A woman’s hand clutched the banister a few feet away, its fingers locked tight on the metal. A wedding ring gleamed on the ring finger; the stone turned a hot red under the lamps.

John concentrated on his breathing, spitting to clear his mouth as best he could. I can do this, he thought. I can do this.

The stairs clanked as he descended deeper into the guts of the complex.

Doug’s tan orange silhouette crouched at the bottom of the stairs, his own rifle, a stripped down M16, resting across his lap.

In front of him the gloom of the Containment hall spread out like a mountain chasm, empty except for darkness and the low hooting cry John had hear earlier in the background of Doug’s radio.

“Any trouble, sir?” Doug asked.

“Phil’s dead.”

“The poker winner? Damn.”

“When did the lights go out?” The emergency lighting had ended about halfway down the stairwell, turning the shadows first beetroot red, then steak red and finally the black of burned meat.

“Before I came down. I think it might be a precaution, so as not to scare the animals too much.”

The animals lined the walls. Cages and containment crates, some stacked one atop the other, jostled for space in the hall. The low hooting was the only noise in the room, coming from on large cage that remained bolted to the steel wall. The other animals were quiet. John flicked his torch light on and the beam lit up hundreds of reflective eyes and things that passed for eyes. Some of the caged creatures skittered, rocking their bars. Others just grunted and turned away from the light.

“Where’s the manifest?”

Doug passed John a folded piece of waxed paper that felt more like a receipt than a document. In the glare of the torch John read;

Identification; XXII2, XXII3, XXII4

Classification; Formorii

Sub Classification; Formorii Cu2

Date of capture; 6/9/1998

Date of last examination; 8/7/2003

Containment Location; CntHll1, Hoven Institute, Somerset.

Maintenance log

Cleaned; 11/10/2013

By; Susan Birk

Fed; 09;45, 11/10/2013

By; Todd Handover

“Ok,” he switched the radio to all frequencies, taking a moment to make sure his voice was even. “This is Security Officer John Valentine to all Security Team personnel. We are looking for a pair of Formorri, that’s Formorri Cu2’s people, so look alive out there.”

The radio spat static warbles and more binary nausea as facility staff rattled off acknowledgements.

“The hell’s a Formorri?” Someone asked, the slush of overlapping voices and signal squawks making identification impossible.

“It’s not my job to do your reading for you,” John snapped and closed the channel.

“Boss,” it was Douglas again.

“What?”

“What is a Formorri?”

“Damned if I know.”

They found Alex seven minutes later as they walked into the first floor cafeteria. John wanted to be sick again.

The young security guard was bent over a fallen coke machine, his environ-suit, shirt and skin peeled open like a blossom. John tried not to look, but the guy reminded him of a roast chicken carcass. Bits of him had been spread around. John, possibly for the first time in his life, was glad of the all enclosing plastic suit.

Alex made number four.

“Boss.”

“What is it Doug?” John couldn’t take his eyes off the human ruin dripping over the coke machine. I’ll never drink the stuff again, he thought.

“Dead Subject, sir.”

The animal lay on the floor, its back legs splayed out behind it, its groin area – or where normal things would have had their groin area – soaked with urine. It didn’t move. It’s body ended in a rough line at the chest, or where the chest should have been. The remains were roughly the same size as the coke machine itself and if it had been complete then it might have weighed just as much. There was surprisingly little blood and the creature’s thin hair glistened with ropes of thick pale spit. At least John told himself it was spit.

Bite marks and claw gouges had ruined the skin, making the burnt grey flesh into a ragged tapestry of ruin. The remains of its spine jutted in a chewed strand from the wreckage of its abdomen. Where its legs and pelvis were, John couldn’t see.

Doug whistled. “Didn’t know they were cannibals, boss.”

“No one ever knows anything like that here.” If John asked a simple question he either got a stupid answer or a simple we don’t know yet.

John let Douglas make the radio report; he was already stalking forward through the hell-red light, down the corridor. A bloody footprint led him to an open window, glass shards scattered like winter snow.

“Oh, Jesus, Doug, Doug, get over here!”

High above him, a shape was moving up the side of one of the Power Plants cooling tower, claws crumbling concrete as it ran up the near vertical slope towards the top. Steam drifted on the night breeze high above, like a man made volcano.

“It’s trying to make a run for it.” The distance was too great for an accurate shot and the Subject was moving to damned fast, but he opened up with the MP5 anyway, concrete dusting on the high sides of the plant tower. The figure, made tiny by the distance, cawed and climbed faster.

It reached the steam spilling caldera of the tower top, spreading arms that flattened and morphed into wings and it launched itself into the rising hot air and…

…died as a giant shadow rose up and snatched the Subject out of the air. There was the briefest impression of black skin, textured like rusted metal, and then the giant shape and the Subject vanished in swirl of steam.

John stood, body half leaning in and half leaning out of the window, wondering if he had seen what he had. His breath misted on the night air.

Doors slammed open in the buildings all around and workers ran out; scientists, handlers, security, everyone milling in the central yard, looking up at him or else at the steaming tower top.

The radio buzzed and Merryweather’s caffeine and cigarette powered voice snarled across into his ear.

“Report.”

John just kept staring at the top of the cooling tower, the moonlight making the concrete a pillar of silver. Behind him, Douglas answered his own radio.

“It’s dead sir… tried to run, I think it wanted to use the steam at the tower top to help it gain height…”

“Which tower?

“Cooling Tower Two.”

“Alright. Alright.” Merryweather sounded like he could use a drink. John knew he could too.

In the dark beyond the perimeter fence, dogs began barking. John thought he could see some moving up and down the length of the chain link barriers. Some of the milling crowd below moved off towards the security towers built into the fence.

John pulled himself back inside the building, pulling off his plastic headgear and mask and tossed them onto the floor. He tried to fill his lungs as much as he could with fresh air, wonderful fresh air, air that didn’t taste of his own recycled breath or of open wounds and piss and shit and dead people.

“You alright, boss?”

Doug offered him a bottle of water. John swilled, then spat onto the floor.

“I will be. You?”

“Yeah. What do we do now?”

John rubbed his eyes. He could still taste the vomit in his mouth, taste little chunks of it stuck behind his teeth.

“Now we go put our friends in plastic bags,” he said, “and I hand in my notice.”

Two people had died tonight. Blood dripped down one wall and pooled on the floor, its stink making the air thick with its sour breath reek. A Taser gun lay, half-digested, in a slushy puddle that John had to step around. He marked it with a locator tag from a pocket in his environ-suit.

Echoes hit the steel corridor and bounced into the building’s machine like guts. Hard industrial groans and organic mumbles blended together in those sounds, making the red lit metal corridor seem more like a throat then a passageway. John swallowed and tightened his grip on his MP5, his thick gloves almost fumbling the motion. Sweat rolled into his eye and he blinked it away.

He breathed into his mask, trying to slow his heart rate.

“… bloody boffs…”

His radio earpiece buzzed softly and he recognised Douglas’ voice over the communal network. His friend was deeper in the complex, somewhere down in one of the sub-basements. A low hooting fuzzed into John’s hearing and he realised that Doug was in one of the containment halls.

“Doug, keep radio chatter to a minimum, please.”

“Sorry, John.”

John stepped over a loop of fallen chain, its black metal scoured and pitted with acid damage. Small holes had been eaten into the walls and floor nearby. His footsteps boomed as he placed them with care, avoiding any potential residue.

He passed under one of the emergency lighting beacons, briefly walking through a hundred shades of blood, his visor goggles smeared incarnadine and his sweat dripping like gore down the inside of his mask.

His respirator turned his breath into a turbine wheeze, the sound both a primitive challenge to whatever lurked in the hell red world around him and a machine prayer for mercy.

He swallowed again, trying to clear the dryness from his mouth. The boil-in-the-bag environ-suit felt slick against his skin. Sweat crawled across his skin, feeling like creeping insects moving unseen across his flesh.

He kept putting one foot in front of the other, his hands tight on the rifle.

“Valentine.” His earpiece pulsed again, his name being driven into his head like a nail to the brain pan. It was Merryweather on a personal channel.

John stopped next to a bulkhead doorframe, the metal door itself having landed some twenty feet away, its twisted form more like a mangled flower than anything made by man.

“Valentine here.”

“Reese’s team got one.”

A breath John didn’t realise he had been holding left him in an industrial sigh. Reese might be a bastard, but John could have kissed him then.

“Maintain the sweep. I want a full damage report. You hear me?”

“Yes, sir, I hear you.”

His team had been sweeping the building for the last hour. So far they had found nothing. Nothing but smashed lab equipment, torn wall panelling and wrecked air ducts that the Subjects had been too big to crawl through.

John had almost run out of the thumb sized locator beacons, the sheer amount of damage caused having seen him place half a dozen in the first twenty minutes of the sweep. Whatever had got out of its cage had been pissed off. When it came time for the clean-up crews and repair teams to take over, they were going to have their work cut out.

He stepped into a lab, pushing the door open with the barrel of the MP5. Glass littered the floor with red diamond shards. They glittered in the low light.

The pool of blood that spread across the floor did not reflect the light however. It looked black and hard, as if someone had poured tar or molasses on the floor.

What was left of the man it had come from mingled with the shattered glass, the over turned tables and the fallen refrigerator, the contents of all three joined in messy matrimony on the floor.

On what was left of the man’s lab coat a plastic ID badge read; Philip G. Hurn. Number three victim tonight.

Phil had won the office poker tournament a week ago. John remembered dealing him his winning hand; a two, a four, a king and an ace. Phil had taken one look and then bluffed for six rounds, coolly raising the steaks each time.

John knelt next to what was left, gently placing a locator beacon on the ID badge.

“Valentine,” the radio made binary shriek either side of his name. “John, the containment manifest lists multiple subjects in the broken unit, copy?” It was Douglas, his voice accompanied by something hooting in the background again.

“How many subjects?”

“Three.”

“Merryweather said one’s down already. Where are you?”

“Containment Hall One, right next to their cage. You?”

“One of the Labs.” John looked around, “Lab Three. I’m a floor above you. Wait there for me.”

“Yes sir.”

John made it to the stairs before the nausea hit him, vomit threatening to turn his respirator mask into soupy nosebag.

He removed it, to hell with protocol, and let a thin stream of sick squirt from his lips.

With nothing to clean his hands and face or, god forbid, wash his mouth out, he wiped his hands on the plastic suit, leaving stinking grey smears in the red light.

Next to his own mess, more blood flecked the stairwell; small dark specks on the plain metal walls and floor. A woman’s hand clutched the banister a few feet away, its fingers locked tight on the metal. A wedding ring gleamed on the ring finger; the stone turned a hot red under the lamps.

John concentrated on his breathing, spitting to clear his mouth as best he could. I can do this, he thought. I can do this.

The stairs clanked as he descended deeper into the guts of the complex.

Doug’s tan orange silhouette crouched at the bottom of the stairs, his own rifle, a stripped down M16, resting across his lap.

In front of him the gloom of the Containment hall spread out like a mountain chasm, empty except for darkness and the low hooting cry John had hear earlier in the background of Doug’s radio.

“Any trouble, sir?” Doug asked.

“Phil’s dead.”

“The poker winner? Damn.”

“When did the lights go out?” The emergency lighting had ended about halfway down the stairwell, turning the shadows first beetroot red, then steak red and finally the black of burned meat.

“Before I came down. I think it might be a precaution, so as not to scare the animals too much.”

The animals lined the walls. Cages and containment crates, some stacked one atop the other, jostled for space in the hall. The low hooting was the only noise in the room, coming from on large cage that remained bolted to the steel wall. The other animals were quiet. John flicked his torch light on and the beam lit up hundreds of reflective eyes and things that passed for eyes. Some of the caged creatures skittered, rocking their bars. Others just grunted and turned away from the light.

“Where’s the manifest?”

Doug passed John a folded piece of waxed paper that felt more like a receipt than a document. In the glare of the torch John read;

Identification; XXII2, XXII3, XXII4

Classification; Formorii

Sub Classification; Formorii Cu2

Date of capture; 6/9/1998

Date of last examination; 8/7/2003

Containment Location; CntHll1, Hoven Institute, Somerset.

Maintenance log

Cleaned; 11/10/2013

By; Susan Birk

Fed; 09;45, 11/10/2013

By; Todd Handover

“Ok,” he switched the radio to all frequencies, taking a moment to make sure his voice was even. “This is Security Officer John Valentine to all Security Team personnel. We are looking for a pair of Formorri, that’s Formorri Cu2’s people, so look alive out there.”

The radio spat static warbles and more binary nausea as facility staff rattled off acknowledgements.

“The hell’s a Formorri?” Someone asked, the slush of overlapping voices and signal squawks making identification impossible.

“It’s not my job to do your reading for you,” John snapped and closed the channel.

“Boss,” it was Douglas again.

“What?”

“What is a Formorri?”

“Damned if I know.”

They found Alex seven minutes later as they walked into the first floor cafeteria. John wanted to be sick again.

The young security guard was bent over a fallen coke machine, his environ-suit, shirt and skin peeled open like a blossom. John tried not to look, but the guy reminded him of a roast chicken carcass. Bits of him had been spread around. John, possibly for the first time in his life, was glad of the all enclosing plastic suit.

Alex made number four.

“Boss.”

“What is it Doug?” John couldn’t take his eyes off the human ruin dripping over the coke machine. I’ll never drink the stuff again, he thought.

“Dead Subject, sir.”

The animal lay on the floor, its back legs splayed out behind it, its groin area – or where normal things would have had their groin area – soaked with urine. It didn’t move. It’s body ended in a rough line at the chest, or where the chest should have been. The remains were roughly the same size as the coke machine itself and if it had been complete then it might have weighed just as much. There was surprisingly little blood and the creature’s thin hair glistened with ropes of thick pale spit. At least John told himself it was spit.

Bite marks and claw gouges had ruined the skin, making the burnt grey flesh into a ragged tapestry of ruin. The remains of its spine jutted in a chewed strand from the wreckage of its abdomen. Where its legs and pelvis were, John couldn’t see.

Doug whistled. “Didn’t know they were cannibals, boss.”

“No one ever knows anything like that here.” If John asked a simple question he either got a stupid answer or a simple we don’t know yet.

John let Douglas make the radio report; he was already stalking forward through the hell-red light, down the corridor. A bloody footprint led him to an open window, glass shards scattered like winter snow.

“Oh, Jesus, Doug, Doug, get over here!”

High above him, a shape was moving up the side of one of the Power Plants cooling tower, claws crumbling concrete as it ran up the near vertical slope towards the top. Steam drifted on the night breeze high above, like a man made volcano.

“It’s trying to make a run for it.” The distance was too great for an accurate shot and the Subject was moving to damned fast, but he opened up with the MP5 anyway, concrete dusting on the high sides of the plant tower. The figure, made tiny by the distance, cawed and climbed faster.

It reached the steam spilling caldera of the tower top, spreading arms that flattened and morphed into wings and it launched itself into the rising hot air and…

…died as a giant shadow rose up and snatched the Subject out of the air. There was the briefest impression of black skin, textured like rusted metal, and then the giant shape and the Subject vanished in swirl of steam.

John stood, body half leaning in and half leaning out of the window, wondering if he had seen what he had. His breath misted on the night air.

Doors slammed open in the buildings all around and workers ran out; scientists, handlers, security, everyone milling in the central yard, looking up at him or else at the steaming tower top.

The radio buzzed and Merryweather’s caffeine and cigarette powered voice snarled across into his ear.

“Report.”

John just kept staring at the top of the cooling tower, the moonlight making the concrete a pillar of silver. Behind him, Douglas answered his own radio.

“It’s dead sir… tried to run, I think it wanted to use the steam at the tower top to help it gain height…”

“Which tower?

“Cooling Tower Two.”

“Alright. Alright.” Merryweather sounded like he could use a drink. John knew he could too.

In the dark beyond the perimeter fence, dogs began barking. John thought he could see some moving up and down the length of the chain link barriers. Some of the milling crowd below moved off towards the security towers built into the fence.

John pulled himself back inside the building, pulling off his plastic headgear and mask and tossed them onto the floor. He tried to fill his lungs as much as he could with fresh air, wonderful fresh air, air that didn’t taste of his own recycled breath or of open wounds and piss and shit and dead people.

“You alright, boss?”

Doug offered him a bottle of water. John swilled, then spat onto the floor.

“I will be. You?”

“Yeah. What do we do now?”

John rubbed his eyes. He could still taste the vomit in his mouth, taste little chunks of it stuck behind his teeth.

“Now we go put our friends in plastic bags,” he said, “and I hand in my notice.”

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