“We should just walk,” someone suggested.
“What if the electricity comes back on?”
“Then don’t step on the rails.”
“We’re safer here.”
Oh, shut the bloody hell up!
“Quiet!” another shouted from the back of the car, echoing his sentiment.
Finally, someone with sense.
“Listen!” the same man said.
Then Edward heard it, too. A low rumble, getting steadily louder, like another train was hurtling down the tunnel intended to rear-end them. But as it got louder, he heard a telltale gurgle.
He stood, along with everyone in the tram, and moved to the back of the car. The tunnel stretched out into darkness, measured by the small red emergency lamps every fifty yards.
Then they all saw the monster eating one light after the other, far down the passage. A flood surged toward them. Most started screaming. One man dashed out of the door, intending to outrun the flood.
Edward held a hand to his throat and sank back to his seat. He didn’t want to watch. After years of working at an underwater lab in Dubai, he would drown here in the middle of the bloody mountains, thousands of feet above sea level.
Though he didn’t watch the surge swallowing light after light, counting down the last seconds of his life, he still heard Death coming for him. A couple of people were on the floor, praying.
Even bloodier fools.
After all that went on at that lab, God was surely deaf to their pleas for salvation.
The rumble grew to a thunderous crescendo—then the wall of water struck the back of the tram. The impact threw them all to the rear of the car—and sent the tram rolling down the track, bobbling hard but moving!
People gained their feet, clutching for handholds.
Water sprayed through cracks and seams at the back, but the sealed car was like a bullet in a gun barrel, being shot down the tunnel.
No one spoke, all fearing to express hope.
Even the prayers had stopped, the supplicants already forsaking their God.
Someone at the front called back, yelling to be heard above the roaring beast that propelled them forward. “Cellar’s ahead! I see lights!”
The secret depot.
They were going too fast.
“Is there a manual brake?” Edward called out.
The guard rushed forward. “Yes!”
Edward joined him as the end of the tunnel hurtled toward them. He saw there were indeed lights ahead: a fiery, blazing conflagration.
The guard abandoned the brake and sat down.
Edward did, too.
Moments later, the car shot into the heart of the inferno. Water spread outward through the labyrinthine cellar complex, blasting into steam. Fires blazed all around. Their little pocket of air was only useful to fill their lungs for screaming—which they did as they slowly burned.
Kat clutched her husband’s neck, carried in his arms.
Blood flowed from scores of tiny lacerations, shallow and deep, wounds from her battle with the helmeted pod’s flying horde.
She had beaten them back as Monk and Kowalski swept in, shedding their chutes and rolling to her aid. She half-fell out of the tree into Monk’s arms. He had grabbed the last few flyers out of the air with his prosthetic hand. The tough synthetic skin and crushing grip made short work of them.
She could have used one of those, and told him so.
His answer: You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Now they fled together through the woods, chased by scores of the pods, creatures of every ilk. The loss of blood, along with the exhaustion of her battle, turned the world into a hazy, fluttering view, shadowed at the corners.
Kowalski fired behind them, keeping the worst at bay, but there were too many. Like ants boiling out of a flooded nest, the legion came crawling, leaping, spinning, burrowing, flying away from the destruction behind them.
“There!” Monk called to Kowalski as they broke into a wide meadow.
A steep-sided outcropping of granite offered a vantage from which to make a stand. They fled toward it.
From her perch in her husband’s arms, she watched the hunters break out of the woods on all sides, converging and sweeping toward them across the grasses, hundreds of them.
Monk sped faster, Kowalski at his side.
They reached the outcropping and manhandled her to the top, then joined her.
As they huddled, the hunters came surging up to the rocky island, scrambling over one another to reach them, climbing higher, using their living brethren to form a growing bridge.
The attack also came from the air. Clouds of flyers burst high out of the grasses, like a startled flock of crows. They swept in an organized, beautiful spiral, gathering others to them, swelling their ranks before the final assault.
They’re learning fast.
A spinner buzzed from below, hitting the rock at Kowalski’s toe. He danced back, coming close to toppling over the far side into that churning mass of deadly steel.
“Now would be a good time,” Kowalski said.
Time for what?
“Can you stand?” Monk asked her.
“Yes,” she said with more confidence than she felt.
He swung her to her feet.
“Keep holding on to me,” he ordered.
Monk worked at the wrist of his prosthetic and popped the hand free. One finger still wiggled.
Kat frowned. “What’re you—?”
He threw the hand high into the air. She followed its trajectory, but Monk pulled her chin down, wagged his finger—and drew her into a kiss. His lips melted into hers.
Overhead, a loud bang clapped the air, sharp enough to sting.
Monk drifted back, smiling at her. “Hand of God, babe.”
She stared out at the fields.
Nothing moved below.
The flyers fell heavily out of the sky, like steel rain.
“Mini-EMP,” her husband explained. “One-hundred-yard-effective radius.”
Electromagnetic pulse … used for incapacitating electronics.
“Painter had me equip it after the countermeasures described in Dubai. Figured there might be some defense like that at the Lodge and wanted to be prepared.”
Kowalski scowled, patting his pockets for a cigar, pulling one out. “Don’t think he was counting on a robot apocalypse, though.”
She slipped her hand around her husband’s neck, partly because she needed to, but mostly because she wanted to. “What now?”
Monk checked his watch. “Well, I do have the babysitter for the whole night. What did you have in mind?”
He raised an eyebrow lasciviously. “So you want to play doctor, do you?”