They could smell their quarry coming out into the open. Each shivered with anticipation, the fur slicked back by the blood, and their ears perfectly alighted to hear each footfall. Their eyes focused on the openings above them, and their nostrils opened wide to draw in the scent of each and every one of them. Each knew their own scent, and for some reason, the scents of a few of the people coming down the hallway were familiar to them. They drank it in, enjoying it. Especially the scent of the females. There were only two, but that would make it two more than what they already had, and thus their pack could grow. That was what was important, nothing else mattered.
Each kept still, waiting to strike at the proper time. It would not be long, and all that caution would be wasted. They were not operating with all their senses; they could never detect them. The superiority of the wolf, the use of each and every capability they had made them the victors before the fight even began. Each knew this, knew it very well, because it was true. They were doing the right thing by this. Not only had the pack alpha ordered it - an odd designation for his lofty and easily contested position but it seemed the one that came to mind - but also it was innately required.
With the sound of each step they drew closer, and closer. The lingering and offensive stench of some poisonous gas clung to them as well. That was of little concern though, for it would dissipate in time. Just as their humanity would give in to the lupine nature that was so strong, so too would the scents change to a more pleasing aroma and one that would identify them to all who could detect it. Besides, then they could join in the camaraderie and fellowship of their particular gestalt. That was enough reason to do what was right.
McGee held his gun in his hand. He did not like having to use it, but it was better to stop them at a distance then to fight the up close. While he was reasonably sure that he could handle himself in hand-to-hand combat, he certainly did not want to try. His job was to get these five scientists to safety, and that would not be best accomplished by trying to look impressive. His skills were useful, and he was certain that he would have to use them, but he did not want to. He would have rather stayed in the Research Facilities, but that was impossible now. The chlorine gas that had somehow begun to seep throughout the ventilation system was enough to dissuade him from that course of action. It was suicide to try anything else but escape, and even that was pretty close to suicide as well.
Having some experience in the military, he quickly arranged the five scientists behind him, keeping Anselm close so as not to loose sight of him. Dr. Johnson and Dr. Panufnik took the middle while Dr. Sessions and Dr. Handley kept up the rear. It was not the most pleasing or arrangements, but he didn't have anytime to elaborately plan this escape. He would lead them, he would play point, it was dangerous, the most dangerous place to be, but he needed to do it, nobody else could take the risk.
The hallway immediately leaving the Research Facilities, was not that long, and it curved off to the right rather quickly. He stared at the other five, Anselm who was only a meter or so behind him, and the rest who were huddled up to his back. Anselm had a worried expression on his face, but he was keeping calm. Johnson was shaking so terribly that she was effectively useless, her hand gripping her clothes and letting go frequently. Panufnik, being a rather short gangly man did not seem to be too competent either, as he was darting his eyes about frantically. Handley of course was a bit shaken up but otherwise she seemed pretty calm, her eyes straying to the floor, ostensibly to look for samples if he judged her correctly. Sessions, a balding man with thick rimmed glasses, was turning back to look behind himself often enough, a good quality for the rear guard. However, there was nothing else he could do for him, so if they were attacked from behind, Sessions was probably dead.
In fact, most of them were probably dead; he did not envision them making it to the Greenhouse completely intact. He was going to do his best to make sure that happened but the chances were slim, if there were any chances at all. He took a deep breath and looked over their faces, noting the fear and the concern in each one. He wondered if any of them had been in combat before, but doubted from the look in their eyes than any had seen the like of it. Even Anselm looked worried; the man that seemed completely incontrovertible was worried. That gave him some satisfaction, but he recognized it as spite, and quickly shut it out of his mind. He needed to stay calm. He would save whomever he could, regardless if he liked them personally or not. That was what he was trained to do, save others and himself.
McGee wet his lips with his tongue and then began whispering softly, "All right, I'm going to stay ahead of you all, if I hold my hand up like this," he made a fist with his free hand, "I want you all to stop where you are and take up defensive positions. If I do this," he waved his hand forward, "I want you to run ahead of me. You all know how to find the Greenhouse now, am I correct?" A few of them nodded. "Well if you don't know, follow the ones that do. If I give you a thumb's up, you can walk behind me. I'm going to be continuously scouting ahead, checking around corners, and until I give you that thumb's up, don't make a sound. Do you all understand? Just nod." Each one nodded in turn and McGee gave them a quick smile.
McGee turned down the hallway, holding his gun out before him, stepping silently on the ground. He breathed deeply with each step, taking in the air, trying to pick up any stray odour that might give away his enemies. All he could smell was the chlorine. He peered around the corner, noting the dim shadows from where the lights didn't quite strike. There seemed to be nothing, no unusual stains, no marks, no scratches, nothing he would expect from a normal ship. He quickly stepped around the corner then, the gun held closely in front of him, his eyes intent on the rest of the passageway. There was nothing, not a creature at all. The passageway continued on with a single turn to the left midway down. That would lead back to the Greenhouse, the other path taking back towards more maintenance sections of the ship, places that were not normally tread.
He breathed a sigh of relief, and wiped his free hand on his forehead. He had already begun sweating; this was not easy work. His heart was beating fast in his chest; he could almost see it beating through his uniform. McGee rolled his tongue about in his mouth, clearing his mind of the fear, clearing it of the nervous tension. He needed to be absolutely calm. After a few moments his heart was once again ponderously proceeding at its lugubrious pace, and he was no longer so ready to fire at nothing. He did not look over at the scientists, but gave them a thumb's up, and winced as they tried to walk quietly towards him. He could hear their footsteps ring in the hallways despite the sound dampening qualities it possessed. At times he enjoyed that feature as it gave him greater freedom to move quickly without being detected. This was not one of those times. The werewolves would also benefit from it, and he wanted to be able to know where they were before they knew where he was.
Once Anselm and the others reached him, he showed them his fist, and he proceeded forward on silent footsteps. He put his back to the right wall, and kept his eyes going down the leftern passage. Sucking in his gut, he pulled the pistol close to his chest, snaking his head about to see if he could get around the corner. He was reminded of that one time where he and the other members of the Security team had gone to an artificial combat labyrinth. It had been an elaborate capture-the-flag exercise, and they had played against another security team. That had been harder on the senses as they had employed strobe lights and varicoloured wall patterns. That the labyrinth had been almost as big as one floor of their ships did not help either.
It had been a rough contest, and he could remember being the front scout then too, while Tembo and Gorecki held down the base with Corigliano and Ziegler the back up men flanking McGee; Dutton had been acting like a sniper. It had been completely silent, and he had no idea if his opponents were just around the next corner. The tension had been quite hard to control, but no matter what happened in that simulation, he was not going to die, or in anyway be hurt, except possibly for embarrassment. This situation was worse, because he could actually die, and the people flanking him were incompetent. Now that wasn't completely true, they were very competent scientists, but when it came to military action, they were certainly never going to be up on the front line.
McGee rounded the corner with a similar feeling of dread, but found it to his delight to be just as empty as the first had. The hallway ended shortly ahead into a larger passageway with two adjoining sets of staircases; he would have to watch those. There were doors lining the walls, most looked to be various maintenance facilities, a couple JUDEs, and a few administrative offices. The holding cells would be off to the right out of view. There would also be two airlocks, one at either end of the hallway. Somehow, he doubted that the werewolves would be hiding in either. Just in case though, he intended to take the left passageway. After they got started down that passageway, it was a straight run to the not too distant Greenhouse. If necessary, that was what they would do.
He gave them a thumb's up, and they quickly collected behind him in the intersection. McGee then began his walk down the last passageway. His eyes darted back and forth, his hands ready. Those stairwells seemed like death traps to him. It would be very easy to hide down there out of the way. He tried to scent the air again, but he could not smell anything but the noxious chlorine. Gritting his teeth together, taking slow deep breathing, he scanned the stairwells. This time he paused in his progress. There was a little bit of blood along the passageways here. The werewolves had been through the next hallway, and it looked like they had been up and down the stairs. He bit his lip to keep from gasping at the site of it. He had seen worse things in his days, but he was not, like some had been, completely desensitized to it. Death was still horrible to him.
He reached the opening, and he kept his back to the left wall as he peered down the right staircase. He was taking a chance here, of course, he knew he would have to. Most of the blood seemed to be on the right side, so it was only fair to inspect that side first. The stairs were directly in front of him, so he could see all the way down to the next floor. There were bits of matter fur that had been torn out on one of the steps, and there were a few drops of blood here and there, but otherwise, nothing. He could now smell the blood, even over the abhorrent fumes of the chlorine that had clinged to his uniform.
Seeing nothing down the right hallway and stairwell he quickly shifted to the right wall and peered down the left side of the passageway. It looked much the same, though there was less blood. Peering down the stairwell he could see no other visible signs of the werewolves' presence. He gulped down his breath, the fear in his body beginning to overwhelm him. This was a terrible situation and he could not stomach the idea that he was leading these people to what might be their slaughter. Still, it was better than knowing that they would be dead, as if he had left them in the research facilities. He would like to know why the place had begun to fill with chlorine, there didn't seem to be any logical explanation for it at this time. Still, that was something to discuss after they reached the Greenhouse. There were many mysteries left to be unraveled. He should be used to that by now, but ones such as this, ones that did have solutions, he liked to make sure that the solution was known.
Stepping out into the middle of the passageway he waited, listening to the air. If nothing came now, then he would know it was safe, as safe as any place here could be. He calmed his heart again, looking back at the others who waited for his word, noting the looks on their faces again. Each was frightened by what could be awaiting them. None of them had ever seen a live werewolf. McGee had never seen one either, yet apparently, they did exist, and the evidence he had seen in these last few moments indicated that Rhodes and Thibaudet had been telling him the truth. Not that he ever doubted their word, just that the human mind was incapable of getting past its inherent questioning nature. Once it accepted a schema for the ordering of the Universe, that was it, nothing else mattered nor could easily stand outside of that schema.
He idly pondered what schema each of the scientists operated under; he wondered if any of them had ever before believed in werewolves. Anselm, maybe, considering what he was. The others, most likely not. Some seemed to have dealt with it coolly, as Sessions had done. Dr. Johnson and Panufnik both seemed too frightened to have completely synthesized it into their understanding of the world. Handley had done something odd though, she had seen it as a means to a profit. That thought startled him.
Still, there seemed to be no sound coming from any of the passages. He sighed a breath of relief, perhaps they were elsewhere, or maybe they were sleeping. Or perhaps they weren't hungry anymore. He hoped that was the case. He gave the others a quick thumb's up, and they quickly began walking towards him. McGee waited for them as they began to pass by the stairwells; he wanted them all up with him before he moved on. From here on out through, they could take no chances. They would have to close off the stairwells, or they would have to follow after him. He preferred them closing off the stairwells, even though it was not hard to reopen them. At least it would give them a warning. He kicked himself for not already doing it, but it was too late now.
Way too late.
The attack came suddenly, only after the group was squarely in the middle of the passage. Dr. Johnson emitted a high pitched scream, and McGee turned to see the werewolves flooding up both stairwells. Sessions and Handley were trapped back in the narrow hallway, while the others were out in front.
McGee quickly took stock of the situation. There were about four of them, each of varying size, all large, and all slashing away at them as they came charging up. He took aim and shot the nearest two in the head, but could not get a clear shot at the two on the other side as Panufnik was standing in the way.
"Dr. Panufnik, get out of the way!" McGee shouted at the man, but he was frozen in terror, and just stood there shaking, even as the nearest of the werewolves slashed at him with his clothes. Panufnik fell to the ground, his blood spurting from his chest, his arms flailing about as he screamed in agony before lying limply face up. Blood poured from his mouth and his body quivered in its death throes.
Before McGee could act, Dr. Johnson was grabbed about the ankle by the other werewolf and dragged to the ground. She clutched at the ground, trying to claw her way towards them, but the werewolf dragged her screaming down the stairwell and out of sight before McGee could even stoop down to help her up. Her screaming continued for a few more seconds until there was a sickening crack then resonated upwards and then her voice stopped. The other two werewolves began stirring as well, the bullet holes healing quickly in their heads. McGee shot them both again, and then shot at the third werewolf, the one that had struck down Panufnik so quickly. It fell backwards, tumbling back down the staircase and suddenly they were once more alone.
"Sessions, Handley, get out of there now!" McGee yelled out, his attention riveted on the scene before them. It was a horrible mess. Blood was everywhere, mostly Panufnik's blood; it was amazing that such a small man would have so much of it. The two werewolves who had been coming up the left staircase lay in a heap at its entrance as their bodies quickly regenerated from the wounds. It wouldn't be long before they were chased again. They had no time to waste anymore, they had to hurry. He had already lost two of their number. He did not want to lose any more.
Sessions was quick to dash through the gauntlet, but Handley stooped to yank a bit of the fur from one of the prone werewolves. "Dr. Handley!" McGee called out in warning tones. "Do you want to die?"
Handley gave him a dark look and stuffed the fur into her pockets and continued on after them. McGee checked to see who was there, Anselm had stayed behind him the whole time, never even moving a finger, while Sessions and Handley were a little slick from where the blood had splattered them. McGee was already heading down the left corridor, his gun held out before him. He did not know how many shots he had left, but he didn't imagine the number was very high. He looked behind him and noticed that they were right on his tail. His heart was beating so fast and he was sweating so hard that he didn't hear them. He did hear the howls from the werewolves behind them as they recovered and began to take up the chase.
"Don't look back! Just keep running!" McGee called out as he turned the corner, right past the airlock, and stared down the long straightaway. It was clear ahead of him, but the Greenhouse was still a good distance away. It would take them a few moments to reach it. He could hear the clicking and the sounds of panting from behind him as they ran, getting closer and closer every moment. He waved for the three of them to pass him and he stopped and turned about to face the four werewolves that were in quick pursuit. He shot at their legs this time, immobilizing the first two, while the others continued to push past. He took a few steps back and fired a third shot.
McGee did not have time to fire a fourth. The werewolf was on him in a moment, leaping towards him. The other three had sprawled to the ground and were howling in the agony of the pain. He had perhaps ten seconds before they were up on their feet again. He tossed the gun behind him and quickly stepped to the side, grabbing at the werewolves' shoulder. It was thick with fur and tight with muscle, almost like grabbing a fancy coat being worn by a professional football player. He twisted the shoulder just enough to send the werewolf sailing into the nearby wall. It crashed headlong into it, and seemed dazed, not comprehending what had just happened to it.
McGee stepped behind it and with a quick kick snapped the bone in its upper left leg. The creature collapsed to the ground with the others, its clawed hands reaching down to feel the break. McGee stepped back, reached down to snatch up his gun, but it was not there. He looked up at the sound of gunfire. Up ahead he could see Anselm firing his gun at another pair of werewolves that had come up from another set of staircases. Sessions and Handley were pressed back against the wall as Anselm dispatched the two.
Try as he might, he couldn't quite be angry with the man for purloining his gun.
McGee ran towards them as fast as he could, taking a momentary glance over his shoulder to see that the four of them were slowly getting to their feet, the bullet wounds already healing. For a moment he envied that ability, to get hurt but to keep on going. It would be very nice to have, it would even the odds. But the price to pay to gain such a power was more than he wanted to pay. He wondered just who were the humans behind the fur, behind the tails and the claws and the paws and the jaws. Just whom was he fighting? Just who had he shot? Just who had killed Panufnik and Johnson? He shuddered, not wanting to speculate and quickly raced up to meet the scientists.
"Quick hurry! We are almost there," McGee advised, almost out of breath. He snatched the pistol out of Anselm's hands, who didn't seem to object too strenuously.
The three of them took off down the passageway again, racing towards the nearest door to the Greenhouse. McGee could see it clearly now, and he thought he fancied a figure standing just inside the door. Of course they were expecting them and would be waiting to let them in. McGee stepped around the two struggling to rise werewolves, and took a look back at the four that were quickly gaining on them again. He fired a few more shots at them, sending two more to the ground before he realized that he was out of ammunition. He tossed the gun to the ground, and just ran after the three fleeing scientists. Anselm must have used too many shots on those two that had surprised them before.
Before they could reach the door however, he saw something else that frightened him, two more werewolves were charging down at them from the other end of the hall. Just how many of them were there? He now had a count of eight werewolves, were there more? There was something odd about one of the werewolves too; it looked like it was different from the rest. After staring for a brief moment, he knew why; it was female.
Sessions and Handley tried to beat the two of them to the door, Anselm in close pursuit, but the two werewolves were there first, and they almost stood guard over it as the other six began to trap them in from behind. Without his gun, and with no other protection, McGee no longer had any choice in the matter; he was going to have to fight them hand-to-hand. Yet he had to do it just long enough to get them away from the door so that they could get inside. He took a quick peek behind him; the other werewolves were no longer rushing, but seeing that they were trapped were taking their time in approaching, just making sure that they couldn't get away.
They had been circled like prey and were now going to be taken down. The strike when it came would be quick and they would all be dead before they knew it. McGee however, was not going to wait that long. He charged at the two of them, moving his arms in front of him in a very intricate pattern. The three scientists got out of his way quickly, though Sessions called out, "Are you mad?"
McGee did not respond, he had a job to do. The male of the two stepped back and the female came forward, her own forearms moving in similar patterns. It caught McGee off guard for a moment, and he let his defense down. She took advantage of it with a quick slice to his chest, but he jumped back just as fast. He knew who this was. It was Gorecki, the only other person on the ship who knew the martial arts to any degree as he did. He had sparred with her on many occasions, and he still had the advantage, he knew her weaknesses. He had to exploit them quickly though, or the three others would be dead. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see that the others had been completely trapped off. There was no other course but to knock these two back. He did not think there was going to be enough time.
Still, McGee had no choice but to try. He quickly moved in for the strike, but her arms blacked the maneuver, and the subsequent counter attack nearly landed on him. He stepped out of the way, and grabbed her arm in a quick lock before she could even move. He pushed her back into the male who was surprised by the sudden attack. While the overly large male werewolf fell backwards, Gorecki did not go as far as he wanted. With her added weight and the change in leverage, she was able to twist around and swing behind him. Her claws slashed out at the other three, cutting Handley across the face suddenly, and the trickle of blood spilling from her cheek made her step back in shock.
McGee grimaced, smashing his leg into the back of her knees, bringing her down to the ground. He spun about with the arm, hyperextending her elbow as she bellowed in rage and pain. Gorecki then twisted about his own legs with her, and sliced them together, sending him toppling to the floor. She was overtop him in an instant, and her jaws went for his throat. He did the only thing he could to save his life in time. He jabbed his arm as far back into her throat as he could, making it impossible for her to close her jaws. Like any dog or wolf, there was a spot between her canines and her molars were there were no teeth. Still, his arm was bitten, but it was better than being dead. He got his feet beneath him, and shoved her off.
He quickly got to his feet, and saw that Anselm was sliding a card through the slot on the door to the Greenhouse. It then opened suddenly, the figure behind it looking quite stunned. McGee sneaked a quick glance back down the hallway and saw that the other werewolves were now running at them again. Anselm pushed his way through the door, followed quickly by Dr. Handley. Sessions was too far back to make it in time as the first werewolf jumped on his back, sending him sprawling to the floor. McGee moved to save him, but his back was ripped open before he could make another move. Sessions gave one last scream of pain, and then his head fell to the floor, the life gone out of his body.
McGee wasted no more time, jumping through the open portal, leaving the werewolves behind in the hallway. The door shut quickly behind him, and the impact of bodies against the door was quick and sudden. It almost sounded frustrated. McGee just lay on the ground, his bitten arm laid out to the side as he caught his breath. He looked up to see the other two were also on the ground, Anselm shaking slightly, and Handley shivering, her eyes wild. He had gotten two of them here, two out of five. For some reason, he could not even think to be disappointed.
End Part 1 of Part XIX
Continued in Part 2 of Part XIX