"If you didn't find a body, then he's not dead yet." Dr. Gilman paced in front of his desk. "This 'Agnar' has plagued me for months. You reported him dead last week. Now I have an intruder somewhere in the hospital, and my security expert tells me Agnar might not be dead after all?"
"The entire building collapsed after the explosion! You can't expect me to believe . . ."
"Haroldson," said Dr. Gilman gently, taking a syringe from the desk. "This Agnar is clearly more than he seems. He destroyed my abomination, and mortals just don't do that. It's a virtue to be thorough, and you weren't thorough. How do you suppose I should punish this failure?"
Haroldson eyed the syringe, swallowed hard, and said, "Um . . . Don't deal with me until you've taken care of the intruder, doctor."
"Clever Haroldson, trying to buy yourself time. Well, your little gambit worked -- follow me to the breeding chamber. We'll observe the progress of our intruder from there." Gilman gestured casually with the syringe. "I'll have you unshackled. But if you get disruptive, I'll have to . . . medicate you."
Gilman put on his white lab coat and latex gloves as a thick-necked orderly emerged from the hallway and unlocked Haroldson's shackles. Pocketing the syringe, Gilman strode down the corridor, followed closely by his captive.
The hospital technicians and orderlies knew better than to stare, but everyone noticed the contrast between the pair. Gilman was angular, thin, bald, and walked straight forward, never glancing sideways or back. Haroldson was paunchy, bearded, and panting, sweat beading on his brow as he glanced into every doorway he passed and every hallway they crossed.
The pair went down a service elevator, with Haroldson's eyes widening briefly as the red letters on the floor display descended below the basement level: -1… -2… -3. The elevator stopped with a lurch.
A wave of hot, wet air rushed into the elevator as soon as the doors opened. "Turn left and go to the end of the hallway, Haroldson," Gilman said. "I'll join you shortly."
Haroldson turned around, but Dr. Gilman was gone. Clapping a meaty hand on his tingling neck, he half-tiptoed, half scurried down the hallway.
A blue glow limned the computers and medical equipment crammed into the cavelike room at the end of the corridor. In the center was a glass cylinder that stretched from floor to ceiling, full of greenish syrup and air bubbles that rose slowly and popped with wet, slow-motion explosions. In the center of the tank, Haroldson could see a dark, oval mass at least 10 feet across.
A voice from behind him echoed across the chamber. "Pupation will be complete in another hour. If we haven't resolved the intruder situation by then, perhaps my new creation will take care of matters for us."
Haroldson whipped his head around, but didn't see the source of the voice. But when he turned back toward the tank, the doctor was there, caressing the tank with one hand and pressing his ear to the glass.
"It's in a chrysalis, but it can see and hear us. In fact, its senses already reach far beyond our own. Pull up the security cameras, Haroldson, and tell me what you see."
Haroldson sat down at a work station, relieved to be doing something. "Normal . . . normal . . . normal . . . wait. Fourth floor corridor; there's something spilled on the floor. I'm zooming in."
The voice, vaguely female, was felt rather than heard, as if every object in the chamber was vibrating to produce the sound. "The blond man, master. He slays those whom you have marked, then hides the bodies. But the bodies bleed, master. The bodies bleed."
Haroldson forced himself not to turn his head back toward the tank, typing commands on the keyboard even faster.
"You see, Haroldson, its senses are remarkable! You should be proud. Some of your . . . procurements are important ingredients in my finest creation."
Haroldson's computer screen started to light up with blinking warnings. "Doctor, the intruder has disabled the locks on door 4-dash-70. I'm gassing room 70." Haroldson furiously typed a string of commands.
Ominous silence filled the chamber. Haroldson risked a look back. Gilman had clambered atop the tank and thrown open the hatch. He dipped a flask into the syrupy substance, then held it up to the light.
The vibrating voice returned. "Master, the blond man lives. He's turning off the machines, one by one."
Gilman shouted, "Get me some time, Haroldson! It's no exaggeration to say that your life depends on it, one way or the other!"
Haroldson stared at the building schematic on the computer screen. "Okay, I'm sending all security squads to the basement above us. That's 24, wait, 32 men, and they'll shoot to kill. If they go down, I can detonate explosives on all three elevator shafts once I see an elevator move. That'll trap us down here for a while, but that's not an insurmountable problem."
"I hope you succeed, Haroldson."
Haroldson wiped his brow frequently during another long pause that followed, staring at the computer screen. Gilman collected more of the tank fluid with an eyedropper and brought it down to a centrifuge on a nearby table.
"Master," the voice boomed. "The blond man is slaying again. Blood is spilling on the floor. They seek him, but he's too stealthy and clever." Then a pause. "Master, the blond man is tricking the soldiers into shooting each other." Haroldson started to click through windows on the computer screen blindly, trying to look busy.
Another pause. "Master, the surviving soldiers are regrouping. But the blond man has grenades. He's slaying them . . . they're all dead now."
"Time, Haroldson! I need time!"
Haroldson barely heard Gilman's voice. He stared at the elevator icons on the computer screen, his finger poised above the mouse button. One elevator flashed, and click, click, click -- Haroldson gave the command to destroy the elevators.
One roar and a shiver in the floor. A second roar and shiver. Then another interminable pause.
"Master, the blond man is descending in the third elevator."
Haroldson felt a sharp prick in the back of his neck, then a cold wave of dizziness overtook him. As he slumped out of the chair and onto the floor, he looked up at Dr. Gilman holding the syringe in one hand and an eyedropper in the other.
"There's one last way you can buy me time, Haroldson. The emergence process for my creation will go quicker if there's a little more carbon in the suspension fluid. Did you know that your body has 36 pounds of carbon in it, Haroldson?"
To be continued...
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