Welcome to New General City, Pt. 8 – Alternative Medicine

Cylinder and I walked up to the front entrance of the St. Dymphna Hospital, patiently waiting for the motion sensor to let us pass. As the glass doors slid back, revealing a quiet lobby, we stepped inside, adjusting our janitor’s apparel. The receptionist glanced up, nodding approvingly at us, and we turned away from her, making a beeline for the elevators. I shifted uncomfortably as I walked, Pulsar weighing down my duffel bag. 

“Not many guards,” Cylinder muttered, looking over his shoulder at me. “I’m guessing security is a bit tighter where we’re going.” 

“You think?” I retorted as we reached the end of the hallway, punching the DOWN elevator button.  

The doors slid back, and we walked inside the cramped space, which we thankfully found empty. Cylinder pressed the button for the lowest parking garage level, and I felt something pull against my stomach as we descended. He glanced at me, and I nodded, keeping my eye on the floor indicator. As we reached “P3,” I concentrated, sending a shockwave from my body that caused the overhead fluorescents to explode, showering us in yellow sparks. The elevator rumbled to a halt as the cabin filled with darkness, and Cylinder quickly strapped a headlamp to his forehead. 

“Backup generator hits in thirty seconds,” he said, lifting the emergency hatch in the elevator’s roof. “Until then, we should be invisible to cameras and security sensors.” 

We scrambled up onto the roof of the elevator, Cylinder’s headlamp cutting a swathe through the darkness. Together, we peered over the edge, our gaze traveling down the thick metal cables holding us aloft until they disappeared into shadow. 

“Doesn’t look like the final floor to me,” Cylinder quipped. “How deep we talking here?” 

I reached out with my senses, examining the space below us. “Hundred feet, max?” 

Cylinder smiled, reaching for his duffel bag. “Good enough.” 

Joining him, I grabbed the grappling hooks and climbing rope, hooking the former to the edge of the elevator shaft while tying the latter around my waist. Around that moment, we heard a distinct hum, and I sensed power returning to the hospital above, kicking the elevator back into action. Cylinder and I traded glances before hurling ourselves off the roof of the elevator, the climbing ropes swinging us into the metal shaft wall with a heavy thud. 

“Thirty seconds doesn’t go as far as it used to,” grumbled Cylinder, tightening his grip on the rope.  

We rappelled in tandem, sliding down the shaft as our elevator rose further above our heads. Within a minute, we found our feet touching the bottom of the space, and we untied ourselves from the ropes, removing our janitor’s apparel to reveal our mission outfits underneath. I affixed my domino mask to my face as Cylinder donned his baseball cap, and summoned Pulsar to my hand as he retrieved new revolvers from the duffel bag. 

“What’s on the menu today?” I inquired, gesturing at his firearms. 

He glanced at me as he loaded bullets into the revolvers. “Nagant M1895s. Made with a system designed to seal the explosive gases from contact with the air. Essentially, a silent revolver. Well, a less deafening revolver. Textile tweaked the casing with some modern improvements to make it actually silent.” 

“Neat,” I said. “Just like the movies.” 

A shadow fell across his face, and he scowled. “No, the movies get it so wrong–” 

I gestured to the doors ahead of us, interrupting him. “Maybe this can wait?” 

“I . . . uh . . . yeah, I guess,” Cylinder sighed. 

Weapons in hand, we edged up to the sliding doors, pressing ourselves against cool metal. I reached out with my senses again, scanning for threats. 

“Nothing on the other side,” I said. “Nothing human, at least.” 

Cylinder nodded, and we pried the doors back, sneaking into a concrete hallway illuminated by white, flickering fluorescents. He took point behind me, Nagant revolvers raised, his eyes twitching as they assessed the area at an inhuman speed. 

“Do we have any working details about where the girl we saw is being kept?” I asked him.  

He shook his head. “The connection was severed after The Living Mortar blew up his house. For all we know, they already moved her out of here. But we have to try, right?” 

I gripped Pulsar tighter, thinking about the children we’d recently rescued from Vampire King and The Last Patriots. “That’s for damn sure.” 

We turned the corner, and I stepped in something wet, my feet slipping under me. I fell back, but Cylinder caught me at an angle, and I looked up at him, chuckling nervously. Together, we glanced at the floor . . .  

The blood-covered floor. 

“Dios mío,” I whispered. “What happened here?” 

Red glistened against the concrete, creating slug-like trails that dragged down the hallway. Bloody handprints adorned the walls and – I looked up – the ceiling? 

“Knowing our luck,” Cylinder muttered, “we’ll probably find out in a moment.” 

We pressed on, haloed by the fluorescent lights, which darkened as we progressed, hindered by bloody streaks and broken bulbs. A rotten smell filled the air, and I stifled a cough, covering my nose and mouth with the crook of my arm.  

“Over here,” I choked out quietly, gesturing to a door on the left. “I’m sensing something consuming a great deal of power this way. Possibly some kind of computer array.” 

Pulsar gripped tightly, I pressed against the door, edging it open and peering through the crack. I neither saw nor sensed anything alive, so I pushed the rest of the way through, holding my breath as I crept inside. As Cylinder followed, I surveyed the dimly lit space, trying to parse its contents. 

A series of computer banks lined the far wall, their buttons blinking red and green and highlighting unfamiliar characters, though I couldn’t see the contents too well. Obscuring the computers sat four glass columns, stretching from floor to ceiling, filled with a viscous, clear fluid. The fluid suspended one object per container, each one stranger and more foreign than the last. Cylinder and I approached the columns, examining them. 

The furthest to the left housed a massive blue jellyfish that I recognized as a man-o’-war, its long tendrils pressed against the glass as if it were trying to push its way through to freedom. The second column contained a black, faceless alligator, its skin so ridged and rubbery that it almost reminded me of a car tire. In the third column sat a cluster of severed, purple tentacles, their edges frayed like the petals of a wilted flower. My eyes traveled to the last glass tube . . . 

Which had been shattered, its contents missing. 

I turned to Cylinder, asking the obvious question. “What do you think–” 

Rapid footsteps interrupted me, and I twisted my neck in time to see a black-masked silhouette rushing towards us. I clutched Pulsar tightly, swinging the flat of the blade into the would-be attacker’s face with a sharp crack. The newcomer flipped onto their back, scrambling backwards across the floor in a series of sharp, unnatural movements. The mask, I now realized, was no mask at all; rather, it seemed that the man’s face was covered by a black spider the size of a dinner plate. 

“What the actual fuck,” gasped Cylinder. 

The man rose to his feet like a puppet pulled by its strings, the body of the arachnid on his face twisting a little to allow its eight glistening eyes better access to us. The spider’s legs tightened around the back of the man’s head, and he reached for a holster on his hip, retrieving a long combat knife.  

“It’s the security,” I said, realization striking me. “This was the lab security we saw in The Living Mortar’s video stream.” 

“Not anymore,” Cylinder quipped, raising one of his Nagant revolvers and pulling the trigger. 

The bullet ejected from the firearm with a harsh whisper, silently whizzing through the air and striking the spider’s carapace. The exoskeleton cracked, a two-square-inch portion flaking away, and green goo oozed from the wound. I heard the spider screech, its cry drilling a sharp pain through my eardrums and into my skull, and the man it was attached to staggered back, dropping the knife. Cylinder fired again, penetrating the hole he’d created, and red blood sprayed from the back of the man’s head. The screeching ceased, and both arachnid and human crumpled to the floor. 

Nearby, just beyond the lab, more footsteps approached, rapid and scrambling like the man we’d just killed. I reached out with my senses, but I couldn’t identify any bioelectric activity. 

“They’re dead,” I explained to Cylinder. “Whatever’s approaching, they’re dead already. The spider, it was controlling a corpse.” 

“I guess ethics is a non-issue, then,” Cylinder replied, and I nodded, readying Pulsar. 

More spider-faced men burst into the room, flooding the space, and Cylinder opened fire, his rapid, precise shots downing the first wave before they could take a second step towards us. After a few seconds and four downed bodies, he pulled his arms to his chest, ejecting spent shells. I stepped forward, hurling Pulsar at the closest attacker. It spiraled across the lab, bisecting the closest spider-face, before returning to my open hand. I spun low, slicing horizontally, and shredded two more of the creatures as they reached out for me. 

“Ready!” Cylinder yelled, and I ducked below a new storm of bullets, bodies dropping like flies around me. “Reloading!” 

I returned to my feet, pressing my palm against an approaching spider-face and emitting a small pulse, the transistor coils in my suit amplifying the electricity enough to deliver a lethal shock. Smoke rose from the spider as it reflexively constricted its legs, bursting its host’s head like a watermelon in its death throes. Rushing past the collapsing corpse, I slashed out with Pulsar, cutting through the spider-faced men.  

The harsh whispers of Cylinder’s revolvers grew closer, and I saw that he’d joined the fray next to me, replacing the Nagant in his left hand with his Bowie knife. Together, we carved a path through the creatures, downing them with blades and bolts and bullets. After a minute, we found ourselves surrounded by a sea of corpses, chests heaving as we tried to catch our breaths. 

“Whatever they were experimenting on,” Cylinder wheezed, “it looks like it got the better of them. We can’t let these things get out of this lab.” 

I nodded, activating my watch. “Textile! I need your help.” 

A brief pause, then Textile’s voice rang in my earpiece. “What’s up, kid?” 

“I’ve got a remote bypass with me,” I said, producing a small USB device. “Can you hack into these computers and activate some kind of purge protocol? A laboratory like this surely has one.” 

“I’ll do my best,” Textile replied. “Just make sure you two are out of these before it deploys.” 

Three of us,” Cylinder corrected as I inserted my remote bypass into a nearby computer port. “We don’t know that they took the girl. In fact, I don’t know that anyone had the chance to leave the lab since these spider-things escaped.” 

“Agreed,” I said, scanning the area again. To my slight surprise, faint bioelectric feedback triggered in my head, and I pointed at the door the spider-faced men had come through. “That way. Something is still alive.” 

We rushed into a new hallway, hurrying down the corridor towards what appeared to be a set of restrooms. As we approached them, four new spider-faced men appeared, but we were able to incapacitate them with our weapons before they could harm us. I kicked open the restroom door marked WOMEN’S, storming inside while Cylinder took watch in the hallway. 

“Hello?” I called, reaching out with my senses again. The bioelectric signature drew me to the second bathroom stall on the left, and I approached it. “Is someone in here?” 

I heard the slight whisper of feet sliding back against tiled floor, and I turned toward the stall door. 

“Don’t be scared. I’m not one of those things out there. I’m here to rescue survivors, particularly a young girl I saw being tortured in this laboratory.” 

A brief pause, then the stall door clicked as a latch on the other side was slid back. The door creaked open a little, and I saw a hazel eye peer out at me. 

“I’m not that young,” a girl’s voice weakly whispered. “I’m almost fifteen.” 

“Okay,” I conceded, “I’m not here to debate ages. I just want to make sure you survive the night.” 

The door opened the rest of the way, and an olive-skinned girl with long, black hair stumbled out, wearing a white, blood-splattered hospital gown. She collapsed into my arms, and I kept her on her feet with one arm, holstering Pulsar to better hold her.  

“What’s your name, chiquita?” I asked softly. 

“I . . .” she hesitated. “I can’t remember.” 

“Okay, okay,” I responded. “Climb on my back. I’ll carry you out of here.” 

“I’m hungry,” she said. “They don’t feed me well. I’m really dizzy.” 

“I got you,” I reassured her, crouching so she could crawl onto my back. I felt her bare feet dig into my hips, her spindly arms almost strangling me as they wrapped around my neck. “Maybe loosen your grip just a little bit, though.” 

She relaxed slightly, and I headed out of the bathroom, nodding at Cylinder. “Got her.” 

“Good,” he said, gesturing down an unventured hallway as he drew his second Nagant. “Because we have more friends coming.” 

A fresh horde of spider-faced men swarmed into sight, and the girl on my back screamed in my ear. I turned away from them, sprinting down the path back to the elevator as Cylinder opened fire. I almost slid as I turned into the lab, not yet accustomed to the girl’s added weight. A spider-faced man popped up in front of me, and I reflexively lashed out with a forward kick, delivering a lethal dose of electricity into the host body that propelled it across the room. It collapsed, smoking, and I pressed ahead, barely registering the faint tinkle of spent bullet casings splashing across the floor as Cylinder reloaded behind me. 

“Textile!” I yelled, my lungs aching as I sprinted. “Please tell me you have the purge protocol activated!” 

“Almost there,” he responded calmly. “But yelling isn’t going to speed up the process.” 

I gritted my teeth silently, turning a final corner and sprinting towards the elevator door. As I reached the metal barriers, I frantically pried them apart, pushing back into the elevator shaft. I turned around and saw Cylinder still at the other end of the hallway, sending a flurry of bullets into the spider-faced men. 

“Hey!” I called as he stopped to reload. “Multi-task!” 

He ran to us, filling his handguns with fresh bullets, and as he crossed the gap, he dropped to the floor, sliding the rest of the way into the shaft, simultaneously firing behind him. Another ten attackers fell from his onslaught before I could shove the door closed again. 

“Any time, Textile,” I whispered. 

An alarm sounded on the other side of the door, and I saw a red light flash through the cracks. A series of heavy thuds alerted us to the presence of the spider-faced men as they frantically tried to pry their way to us. The door began to pull apart, and Cylinder stuck a Nagant through the opening, firing into the crowd until they released it. I heard something hiss, and then a rush of crackling flame, the heat reaching us even through the thick metal doors. Dozens of shrill cries reached our ears, then all silenced at once, leaving us in smoke-filled darkness. 

“Better?” Textile asked. 

I sighed. “Yeah.” 

The girl on my back moaned. “I’m so hungry.” 

“Don’t worry,” I said, glancing over my shoulder. “We’ll get you some food as soon as we get out of here.” 

I felt her stomach gurgle against my back, and a pang of sympathy struck my heart. 

We spent the next few minutes scaling back up the ropes we’d left behind, pausing at the lowest parking garage level to pry open the elevator doors. Stumbling into the garage and returning the girl to her feet, we took a moment to catch our breaths, scanning the dark sea of cars for hostile movements. When none presented themselves, we pressed on, climbing the levels until we reached the main floor, making a beeline for our car. When we were within arm’s reach, though, the girl collapsed on the asphalt, groaning. 

“I can’t,” she whispered. “I’m so weak.” 

She raised her trembling hands, showing them to me. 

“You got, like, an energy bar in the car, or something?” I asked Cylinder, but as I turned to face him, a bioelectric signature flared to life near me. 

A pulse of life, large life, coming from within the girl. 

“I feel like I’m gonna–” she began, but never finished her sentence. 

The girl collapsed to the ground, stiffening her limbs with enough force for me to hear bones snap. As she arched her spine, the cracking continued, like the world’s most gruesome accordion. Blood poured from her mouth, and under the harsh lights of the hospital parking lot, I saw her eyes roll into the back of her head, leaving nothing but the whites. 

Cylinder and I immediately rushed to her aid, but as we touched her, sharp shards of something protruded from just under the skin, nearly slicing through our flesh. I backed away reflexively as green spines erupted from her epidermis, spraying the asphalt with blood. Something stirred within her midsection, inflating like a balloon, and she split in half like a coconut, gurgling in her own bodily fluids. A shadow rose from inside her remains, stretching three, six, nine, twelve feet into the air. The streetlights and stars mixed together, bathing the thing in white light. 

“Dios mío,” I croaked, my concern for the girl superseded by terror for my own fate. 

Stretching a dozen feet over our heads, mandibles clicking and antennae twitching, stood a green-shelled praying mantis. 

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