As if Skinnyman hadn’t done enough to piss Wilbur off. Now he’d learned that he was using a building with his family’s name on it? From behind a dumpster around the corner he watched Skinnyman’s goons patrol the exterior of the building. They were carrying the same weapons and wearing the same gear as the thugs from the smaller warehouse, so he didn’t expect to have much trouble with them now that he knew what he was getting into. He waited until he found a hole in the patrol and snuck in closer to the building.
The chemical factory had been outdated even back when it was still in use, which didn’t allow it to age gracefully. The bricks of the outer walls were chipped and missing in places, and it was hard to imagine the interior being any better. Thankfully, this meant that there were a lot of gaps leading inside that had been overlooked when the bigger holes were being covered up. He crawled inside after a quick glance around, making as little noise as possible. The three guards outside weren’t a problem, they hadn’t placed many in patrol to avoid raising suspicion, but if he got caught unaware inside he would be in trouble. As good as kevlar was, it stopped being anything more than flashy clothes after two or three shots. Handgun shots, that is, rifle bullets would go right through it, and probably right through him.
Inside he was greeted with a mess of rusted and wet pipes, catwalks, and metal stairs that either led everywhere or nowhere, depending on how familiar you were with the location. Wilbur had never set foot in the place, so he was stuck with going nowhere. Staying low as he moved further into the building, he kept an eye out for any armed goons as he tried to get his bearings. Thankfully it seemed that the interior was divided into two categories, tight and claustrophobic walkways and hallways, and open and wide spaces. Whatever Skinnyman was doing here it would be in the latter areas.
He heard them before he saw them, a couple of goons patrolling the area and chatting, pistols at their waistband – it seemed they didn’t expect many intruders to get in. Keeping some distance behind them he trailed them for a bit, trying to overhear any useful information. Disappointingly, they were more interested in talking about inane personal crap. He aimed at them both and zapped them at the same time, causing them to fall flat on their faces.
“Shit,” he whispered, wincing. The electric shocks cramped their muscles and kept them from screaming, but bodies were loud when they hit the ground. Hiding behind the closest cluster of pipes he waited for any shouts or footsteps. After he was sure that no one was going to appear from around the corner, he approached the fallen goons and took their weapons away. He gave them one look before tossing them behind the pipes.
He was about to move on when he realized just how obvious the two unconscious bodies were. He searched around for any spot big enough to hide them, but hidden away enough to not draw attention. Grunting, he began to drag them to a spot between the pipes and the stairs. Turns out dragging a body wasn’t as easy as it was in video games.
Continuing to move towards what he hoped was the center of the factory – because where else would they carry out their evil plans – he kept his ears peeled for any footsteps or voices. He could hear the faint murmur of talking and of walking, but the mess of pipes and metal caused the sounds to become distorted, making it seem as if they were coming from nowhere in particular. Realizing that his steps probably wouldn’t sound too different than that of the other guards, he picked up the pace and followed the biggest cluster of noise. He found a group of guards in an old office – or, more accurately, they found him.
“Intruder!” shouted the goon that was opening the door. Wilbur didn’t even give him a chance to raise his gun before blasting him and slamming his foot into his chest, sending his body tumbling onto his friends behind him. He ran into the room and tackled the goon in the back, who had been fumbling with her gun, and slammed the front of his helmet onto her nose. The three other goons that were on the ground had already stood up and were pointing their guns at him.
He was about to roll onto his back and use the female goon as a meat shield, but quickly discarded the idea. He was more bulletproof than she was and it didn’t sit well with him. Instead he got off her and rolled to the side, flipping the metal table up and hiding behind it. He felt the bullets bounce off until the gunfire stopped and he heard the triggers being pressed in quick succession – empty magazines. He stood up and was about to zap them all before he got tagged twice in the chest.
“And that, you morons, is why you don’t just shoot carelessly.”
“My fuckin’ nose,” moaned the woman still on the ground.
“Stop bitching. You two, be useful and bring his ass here.”
“Pft, whatever.” Wilbur could hear them reload as they moved towards the table. When they leaned over it they were faced with a red neon display he’d programmed into the helmet – 😡 – as well a bolt to the chest.
“Motherf-” the third goon didn’t get to finish his sentence before a pistol went flying into his face.
Hearing the impact of metal on meat, Wilbur stood up and blasted the man, then nonchalantly zapped the woman on the ground. When everyone was nice and sleepy he sat down on the closest chair and massaged his chest. The armor had stopped the bullets from penetrating, but goddamn his chest was still on fire – worse still, his jacket was ruined. When he was sure that breathing wouldn’t make him pass out from pain, he tapped a button on the side of the helmet, erasing the display, and got out of the room.
Stealth was out the window now so he stopped worrying about noise and worked his way towards the center of the building, hoping to find at least something of use before he was rushed out. As he was nearing a corner he saw two other guards appear, seemingly going towards the source of the gunshots. Instead of stopping Wilbur kept his momentum going and tackled both of them, sending all three rolling on the ground. He tried to stand up but was knocked to the ground by one of the guards, who proceeded to throw punches at his head. When he realized that wouldn’t work he instead went for his chest. Normally the jacket would make hits like these bearable, but the pain in his chest was still fresh so each punch was agony.
Driven by instinct, Wilbur grabbed the goon by the head with both hands and zapped him until he fell on top of him. With a lot of effort, he moved the unconscious body away from him and tried to catch his breath. He caught the other goon aim his gun at him too late. Balling up from the pain of another shot, he raised his hand and shot several times in his general direction without looking.
After being relatively sure that he wouldn’t get shot more, he stopped zapping the air and tried to sit up, a task that was becoming more difficult each passing second. He first looked up to confirm that, yes, he had in fact hit the shooter in his panicked fire. Then he took a second to inspect the damage. Luckily for him the shot hit him lower than the last two, so the bullet didn’t get a chance to penetrate the torn kevlar. Yeah, as soon as he got home he was going to get a full body massage. Maybe put the hero stuff on hold for a week. Or ten.
After a minute he opened his jacket, letting the squished bullets fall to the ground, and took a look at the vest. Yeah, it was in bad shape. If Ryan’s armor was really all it was cracked up to be, he might give him a raise. Maybe.
Taking it slower this time, he continued his advance deeper into the facility, hoping not to bump into any other guards, or at least to see them before they saw him. His hopes were answered in both regards, because not only did he find the center of the operation without any further incidents, but the guards stationed there didn’t see him as he peeked into the scene.
The place was a mess of plastic curtains, tables sprawling with equipment and samples, computers running all kinds of programs, researchers all over the place, and what he assumed were people strapped to hospital beds. He couldn’t see through the curtains to properly see, but whatever was going on, he would bet Fritz’s savings that it was both illegal and unethical.
There were only three guards rotating outside of the testing area, circling around it at a steady pace. He assumed these were left behind to guard the researchers while the others went around looking for him. These three didn’t worry him, but he knew he was in no shape to carry however many people were being held here, and he also had to consider the rest of the guards that were looking for him. It was best to play smart and call in some backup. Heading halfway back up the stairs, he took out his phone and dialed Jeff.
“So, Jeff. You busy?”
He could make out the sound of a movie being turned off. “Not anymore. What’ve you gotten yourself into now?”
“You know that chemical factory you got kidnapped outside of? The one with my name on it, by the way, so it’s my property thank-you-very-much.”
Jeff let out a long groan. “Yes, Scholz, I do. You sound terrible, what’s going on?”
“I snuck into the heart of it. They’ve got human test subjects held, presumably, against their will. I’m honestly a little scared to see what they’re doing, but they’ve got all these chemicals and test tubes and it’s eerily silent in there – can’t be good.”
“Good lord. Sounds like Skinnyman’s work alright.” A pause. “Is it fair to say by calling me, you haven’t caused a huge ruckus this time?”
“Just a small to moderate one.”
“I can work with that. Go ahead and take some pictures of the place. Text them to me, and I’ll make sure SWAT gets them. It’ll make their job ten times easier – and safer – if they know what to expect.”
Wilbur gave a salute, even though Jeff wouldn’t see it. “Aye aye, cap’n.”
Feeling somewhat calmer about the current situation, he snuck closer to the laboratory area and snapped several pictures, making sure to include each guard at least once. He sent them to Jeff as well as a couple messages explaining what he knew about the outside rotation of the guards, as well as the fact that there were probably more inside roaming the place. When he finished sending as much information as possible, he retreated further back so that he would be hard to spot but would still be able to see the main area. He would be restless just sitting around doing nothing but he knew that was the smart thing to do. He would jump back into the action once SWAT had his back.
His plan worked perfectly for about half an hour, which was when one of the figures in the beds started to struggle and make noise. It couldn’t be called a scream, because it sounded more like the grinding of rocks against each other. This unsettled him, particularly the fact that none of the researchers appeared surprised by it.
He moved closer and waited until the sound was louder to zap the guard, his fall muted by the horrific noise. He didn’t bother hiding the body and instead repeated the process with the other two, until it was only him and the researchers left.
“Drop your test tubes and put your han- Holy shit!” He didn’t finish his quip when he moved aside the curtain and saw what was behind.
The area was surprisingly organized considering where they had set up shop. There were six beds arranged neatly around the area with a computer and a table full of equipment next to each other. There were two researchers per bed, with each one switching between the bed, table, and computer in a practiced fashion. This wasn’t their first time doing this. What had made him freeze on the spot was the state of the people on the beds, if one could still call them people.
Each one was different than the other, but they were all horribly disfigured. The source of the noise resembled an ivory statue more than a person. Their skin was mostly missing and instead of muscle, brittle bone could be seen underneath. There were no breaks in the bone structure so it was impossible to imagine they could move without causing it to break. The growth covered even their face with vague holes where their mouth and eyes should be. Somehow it still managed screaming its jagged scream.
The one to the left looked like its muscles had been inflated to a ridiculous degree, ripping the skin in places and growing outwards from the cracks, as if searching for more space. The next one’s bones seemed to be greatly deformed or otherwise completely different from human bones. While the damage seemed to be mostly internal, the poor sap was contorted in an impossible and painful position. The next two were opposites of each other, with the first one looking as if they had melted onto their bed and the next one looking as firm and brittle as stone, some limbs seemed to have broken off. The last one had their bones sticking out from everywhere, looking to be in the middle of being turned inside out.
The researchers were equally frozen. Wilbur noticed that they were almost all younger than him, college age or close enough. Some were nervous and sweating, while others were simply surprised. In reality he didn’t feel too well himself and had to hold himself back from throwing up in his helmet. One of the researchers took this as an opportunity to try and run away. Wilbur zapped him without a second thought. He then proceeded to zap all the others, not giving them a chance to act.
Keeping his eyes off the people at the beds, but wanting so badly to look at them, he sat on the ground and tried to keep his breathing under control.