Ryan held his helmet in the palms of his hands, feeling the weight. It didn’t weight much more than a motorcyclist’s, so no sore necks for him. He rolled his chair back, sprung from his seat, and slammed it as hard as he could against the corner. It barely scratched the visor. Pretty good for an impromptu kinetics test. He was just about ready to roll.
He noticed a small device just behind his desk. Kneeling down, he picked it up. It was a USB. Probably one of the guy’s, he thought. Might as well see who the clumsy one is.
Rolling over to a computer, he plugged the a device in and waited. The pop-up window said Wilbur was the owner, but that wasn’t the strange part. The files were all named such things as ‘tests’, ‘subject’ and ‘weekly report’. He double-clicked a random file and was met with biology jargon. The further he read, the more horrified he became. These were Skinnyman’s files, and he was conducting these experiments on human beings. They were going to conduct these experiments on his sister.
Sweating now, he began to search for something that indicated a location, glancing over his shoulder every minute. Eventually he got an address for an abandoned steel mill. He recognized it as one the kid from the hospital gave him, but he hadn’t gotten that far down the list yet. He cleared the screen and yanked the USB from the port, staring at it for a few moments.
Wilbur must be Shortcircuit. That would explain why Fritz has been so nonchalant about his gloves going missing.
At that moment, it didn’t matter to him. He was shaking with impotent rage, and he needed an outlet for it before he went insane. He placed the USB back where he found it, grabbed his helmet and other assorted armor pieces, and went back to his apartment for some guns.
Ryan waited until the sun had long set before making his way to the steel mill. His phone blew up with calls and messages from his co-workers, asking where’d he gone during his shift, but he ignored and blocked them. A new identity for him and Lisa in Canada awaited them – or they’d die together. Whatever happened in the next hour, he certainly wasn’t sticking around Blackburn any longer.
He camped out on the outside catwalks, surveying the building. Other than a smelting floor that probably wasn’t in use by Skinnyman, he expected the hallways to be cramped and narrow. His choice of an SMG would be perfect. Gripping a P90 in his hands, he rolled his shoulders. He was still breaking in the full suit, but the armor felt as light he’d hoped.
Two sentries were guarding the front entrance. A third was patrolling the catwalks, but he was on the ground floor at that moment. Ryan took aim at the pair and drew a long, deep breath before squeezing the trigger. A short burst ripped through the air and into the first guard’s skull. The second guard staggered back, barely exclaiming ‘What the fuck!’ before Ryan put three in his chest.
Just like that, what were once men were now stiff piles of meat. Ryan had never killed anyone before. He’d heard stories about war vets zoning out after their first kills, disassociating with reality in order to cope with the magnitude of snuffing out a human life. But he wasn’t feeling a goddamn thing. Maybe it was because they weren’t the first dead bodies he’d seen around Blackburn. Or maybe it was because anyone who did to people what they did deserved to die.
He got to his feet and scanned the catwalk. The third sentry must have scampered off. He made his way past the dead guards and into the side entrance before stopping by the bio-scanner. After figuring out what it was, he dragged one of the guards inside by the arm and used his print to gain access to the lift.
The files mentioned that the B2 level was where the experiments were carried out, so that was where he headed. The lift came to a halt and the grate pulled back, revealing half a dozen of Skinnyman’s thugs in a firing squad formation.
A deafening cacophony filled the floor as the thugs emptied their magazines. Ryan wasted no time leveling his weapon, firing in a horizontal sweeping motion despite being peppered by gunfire. The thugs, most of whom weren’t wearing any armor, were cut down like flies. Ryan slumped to the ground, running his fingers over his torso and feeling several 7.62 rounds in his vest and quite a few 9mms. He let out an labored, but elated laugh. “Holy shit…” One thug was still squirming. Ryan reloaded and popped a few more rounds into him.
Down the hall a goon stuck her head around the corner. “Holy shit!” She retreated behind the wall. “He’s still fucking breathing! What do we do?!”
Forcing himself to his feet, Ryan began stalking the halls, entering every room in the hopes he’d find Skinnyman’s captives. The guards seemed to have fallen back and the floor became unsettlingly quiet, the only noise coming from the faint whirring of machines. All he kept finding were supply rooms, an empty rec room and rooms that were completely barren.
Eventually he came to what looked to be an open operating room. Several empty stretchers lay about, and most of the equipment seemed to have been removed. If Ryan had to guess, they were anticipating Shortcircuit to have called the cops in. Bits of shattered window and broken test tubes were barely illuminated by a hanging bulb. He stepped around a puddle of mysterious liquid and made his way to the back. Several body bags remained piled on a table.
“Oh, Jesus…” He set his helmet on the sink, fearing he might vomit at any moment. Taking a moment to center himself, he unzipped the first bag. He sighed in relief when he saw that it was a man. That was as far as he could discern. Age and race were a mystery – his skin had turned blue, and severe frostbite had eaten away at the extremities and nose. It was the tail end of winter outside, but this was far worse than your typical case of hypothermia.
He moved the first victim to the side before moving on the second. It was also a man, blood congealing around his eyes, nose and ears. All his hairs were all sticking straight up, as if someone had rubbed a charged balloon along his body. He recognized the type of burns on the palm of his hands – electrical burns.
The third bag was noticeably lighter than the first two, to the point where he thought it was a child. He unzipped the bag and let out a scream. Even with her loose, cracked skin and lost fat, he immediately recognized it as Lisa. The smell of pooled sweat was making him gag. He hurriedly zipped the bag up and began puking in the sink.
Logically he had known this was a possibility. But he hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on it. He’d put so much effort into this plan, thought so long about a life after Blackburn. But all that was left of his family was in a body bag fifty feet below ground. For an eternity he sat slumped against the sink, contemplating just blowing his brains out. Then, filling the doorframe, stood a thin figure with glowing yellow eyes.
“You’re no policeman. Are you another vigilante? Who are you?”
Ryan grinded his teeth. He got up, put his helmet back on, grabbed his P90 from its sling and opened fire. Three seconds later and fifty bullets hung suspended in mid-air.
“How the fuck…?”
“It’s really quite trivial.” Skinnyman let the bullets clatter to the ground. “There’s nothing for you here, boy. Shortcircuit has drawn too many prying eyes. Though I can make it a pair less.”
“Go to hell.” Ryan slung one of the stretchers at Skinnyman before hopping out the window. Two guards were now standing in front of the lift. They took pot shots at him, forcing him to run down the hall. He remembered an armory among the supply rooms. He made his way there and began rummaging through the supplies, his pounding heart driving him to move faster.
“Come on, come on…” A box of grenades sat inside a crate. It would do. “Come here you emaciated prick, I’ve got something for you!”
He peeked his head out the door and to his left. Nothing. When he spun to his right, he nearly bumped right into Skinnyman. Instinctively he threw a punch, but Skinnyman tossed him into the wall. Ryan could feel the muscles in his neck begin to twist. The struggle against the psychic control was painful, but eventually he worked a grenade off the belt, pulled the pin, and let it drop to the floor.
Skinnyman let him drop to the floor, focusing his attention on the grenade. Five seconds passed, then ten. Had he used a dud? Ryan used the opportunity to pull out his sidearm and fire several rounds into Skinnyman’s gut. To his surprise, it actually worked, and Skinnyman’s charcoal robes began to turn crimson. The psychic stood motionless, but when Ryan attempted a headshot, the bullet froze in place.
“You are all kinds of messed up…” Ryan raced back the way he came, making sure to toss a grenade into each room he passed, shredding everything Skinnyman had left behind. When he came to the room Lisa was in he came to a complete halt.
“I’m sorry sis…” He was down to a few spare grenades now. He tossed one in and began making his way back to the lift. The two sentries remained there. He cooked a grenade and hurled it their direction. They didn’t even have a chance to react before being torn to bits. There was one more grenade on his belt. He almost pulled the pin on it. But… why not save it for later? Walking over the pile of corpses he’d created, he entered the lift and made his exit.