The trip up took twenty damned minutes. Hundreds of feet. Finally we jolted to a stop and an opening appeared in the wall. We were looking at a long corridor, rounded at the top and made seemingly of smooth stone, like marble or polished granite. It was lit with fluorescent lights and decorated with warning signs about contamination and ID badges.
I wrapped my fingers tight around the plastic handle of the chainsaw and stepped into the hall, Molly following a step behind. We went maybe the length of four or five city blocks, John with the little pi lot flame dancing at the end of his flamethrowing toy, me wondering how much noise the chainsaw would make when I pulled the rope thing. Or if it even had gas in it.
We reached a door. Just a regular metal door with a knob. We readied ourselves. John flung it open and we ducked inside.
The floor turned into a metal grate and we realized we had emerged onto a catwalk. I looked over the rail and saw we were suspended over an expanse the size of an airplane hangar, but dimly lit. The floor was populated with people in white, bustling around like a marketplace, swarming around tables and equipment. It was noisy as hell. Machines and grinding and rustling of feet, people working in the dark.
We took a few steps forward and realized we weren’t alone. A man, wearing a white jumpsuit with a hood and a glass faceplate that reminded me of the contamination-free “clean suits” you see people wearing in labs, stood on the catwalk about ten feet away. He had a Subway sandwich bag in one gloved hand and a pack of cigarettes in the other. He stared at us for a long moment, eyes bouncing from Molly to my chainsaw to the finger of flame dancing from a tool that the man probably couldn’t help but think was a flame throwing squirt gun.
John said, “We’re from the fire department.”
The man spun on his heels and sprinted the other direction, feet clanging on the grated metal floor. We gave chase. He passed through a doorway. We followed and found ourselves on a spiral stairwell going down, John shouting at the man all the way, asking to see his flammability permit.
The man hit bottom and threw himself out of another doorway. We followed and found ourselves at ground level on the factory floor, or what ever it was, surrounded by people in white jumpsuits who were doing an excellent job of ignoring us. These men did not wear the face masks and seemed, to a man, to be completely bald.
Dark, dark, dark. Little red lights here and there on pieces of machinery that I couldn’t identify, but no overhead lights and no lamps and nothing but little glowing patches that cast upside-down shadows. The man we were chasing disappeared into the crowded darkness and we didn’t follow.
To my left were blue plastic barrels, rows and rows of them, hundreds. At the edge were two without lids, full of a deep crimson fluid that indeed looked like transmission fluid. Two men were standing over one of the open barrels, dipping into it and collecting samples in vials. One of the men turned to face me, and I saw that he did not have a face.
Or, I should say he had half a face. The forehead curled down over where the eyes should be, joining the cheeks. The nostrils were wide and flat, African. He had a thin, lipless mouth and huge ears. The guy next to him was the same. The four guys down the row as well. Those guys were hefting huge translucent plastic bags, vacuum-packed and shrunk around what looked like sides of beef.
I gawked around like a little tourist kid. Along my left were long glass tanks as tall as houses, something you’d see at a city aquarium. The liquid inside was a cloudy pink. Floating inside were pale blurred shapes that might have been people and other things, smaller lumps that held the shape of small animals, dogs and things like squirrels. I walked down the row, dazed. I blinked, trying desperately to adjust to the semidarkness, trying to take everything in. I had the crazy thought that no wonder they didn’t pay to light the place. Most of the people here didn’t have eyes. No need to pay the extra electric bill.
No matter where you go, management is always a bunch of cheap bastards.
I heard John make a breathy sound behind me, shock or disgust or both. I followed his gaze and saw a wire cage twenty or so feet away, containing a thin, young boy. Maybe ten years old. He stood there, looking terrified, fingers hooked through the wire mesh, staring at me with wide blue eyes. There was a device next to the cage, round and maybe five feet tall. It had a red light glowing on the side. The light flipped to green, an electronic sound emitted. The boy screamed.
The boy’s skin bubbled and wrinkled. One of his eyes deflated and ran down his cheek as a white goo, not unlike semen. Muscle liquefied and fell off his bones. He folded into the ground, left as a quivering lump. The lump bubbled and twitched and took on shape. Two stumpy feet emerged. A cloven hoof. Two more feet, a round body. I heard whimpering behind me, Molly watching along with me. In five seconds, I was looking through the cage at a pink, well-fed pig.
That was John, behind me. The pig trotted calmly over to the wires of the cage, sniffing at me. It put its front hooves on the wire cage and I thought, but wasn’t sure, I saw the same imprinted pi tattoo Molly once had and Drake had and—what the fuck did it all mean? I yanked the pull string on the chainsaw so hard I thought I’d rip it out. The saw roared to life.
John looked down at Molly and said, “You better poop that bomb because we’re blowing this place to Hell.”
“PUT IT DOWN!”
John and I spun to see a man in one of the “clean” suits, maybe thirty feet away, pointing an enormous rifle at us that seemed to have too many barrels. His voice was filtered through a small speaker on the side of the hood and he was shouldering his way past the white-suited workers.
John did not put the flamethrower down. What he did instead was point the flaming end of the thing at the man and say, “You put yours down, asshole.”
I said, “I’d do it, sir. We’re pissed.”
“YOU HAVE ONE SECOND TO DROP THAT CHAINSAW AND THAT . . . THING.”
At this point, John flung himself to the ground and screamed, “YOU SHOT ME! AAARRRRGHHH!”
Not a shot had been fired. I rushed to John’s side. “You shot him! He has four kids! Or should I say, four orphans.”
The man stepped over, the gun trained on John. The weapon seemed to be from the year 2050, smooth sides and a thin electronic sight that glowed green. There was a small barrel on the bottom and a cavernous one on top that looked like it fired cannon shells.
“YOU. STEP AWAY AND GET ON THE FLOOR OVER THERE.”
I said, “You shot him, you son of a bitch!”
“DO IT AND DO IT NOW.”
I stood and backed away. The man loomed over John and aimed the rifle right at his head.
“YOU’RE NOT SHOT. GET UP.”
Two urges rushed through me at the same moment. There was the urge to surrender, to put an end to the tension and fear and accept my fate. And then there was the urge to do violence.
I don’t remember making the choice. All I know is that my muscles caught fire with adrenaline and I suddenly felt the fear and rage that is the most intense high the human animal can feel. In that split second I knew I was overmatched but I also knew that if I was going to die, this was how I wanted to do it. I wanted to give this asshole a scar with an interesting story behind it.
I flung myself at the man, swinging the chainsaw like a baseball bat. I was aiming high, trying to chop his arm off at the shoulder. I missed by two feet and hit his hand.
It was the hand holding the grip of the rifle. The spinning chain bounced off the gun and the impact made me drop it. The chainsaw fell to the floor, rattling on the ground with the vibration of the motor.
But the man screeched in pain and, to my horror, two of his fingers dropped to the ground in a red splatter. The rifle clattered down to the concrete. I dove for the gun and grabbed it by a handle that was slick with blood. I found the trigger to be where it is on most guns. I aimed it at the man’s chest and climbed to my feet. John stood, looking at the man’s fingerless stumps with disgust.
I said, “Sir, you need to get that looked at.”
The man didn’t move. My heart hammered. I realized I had crippled this man for the rest of his life. John said, “This is the part where you run away and find a first-aid kit, dipshit.”
The man got to his feet and stumbled off. Around us, dozens or hundreds of the bald, faceless workers stood as still as the mannequins they resembled. Everything had come to a stop. Machines were being shut down.
I tried to catch my breath, felt like my bladder was going to let go. I said, “This is going well.”
There was a POCK sound and suddenly one of the blue barrels next to me sprung a leak. John and I looked at it curiously for a moment before we noticed about a dozen men in clean suits racing toward us from just about every direction, each armed, dodging the worker mannequins and toppling equipment.
I raised the rifle, no idea what to do, heard pops of gunfire that seemed faint in the cavernous room. I turned, pointed at the massive tanks of pink fluid and who knows what else, and pulled the trigger.
The gun exploded. Or seemed to; instead of the crack of a rifle shot it let out a thunderous boom that punched the butt of the rifle into my shoulder. The tanks erupted in a spray of glass. Fluid and flailing shapes poured out onto the floor, faceless workers sprinting off in every direction.
Madness ensued. Inhuman screams. Crashing glass, toppling tables. The things that spilled out of the tanks were writhing, thrashing limbs around, and I thought I saw a human face stuck on the body of a hairless baboon. But it was all a dark blur and John took off running. I followed.
We dodged people like running backs, the chaos passing around us. The scenery was a department-store hodgepodge of nonsense, something out of a dream. We ran past hundreds of the walking mannequins, past tables full of clothes and what looked like tailoring equipment and rolls of cloth. A shelf full of underwear. We ran past a section of men working on what looked like dentistry, drilling and crafting bridges and false teeth. We knocked over chairs and tables and filing cabinets. We saw a young woman strapped to a table, her legs missing. We saw racks of fat bags like we saw in Amy’s bathroom, imprinted with numbers. I saw a man chained to a wall who seemed to have snakes for arms, each hand replaced by snapping jaws and venomous fangs.