She ran as hard as she could, hunched over, cool water splattering down onto the back of her neck from the stone of the ceiling. Cursing, she twisted around the next corner, her boots splashing in the fouled waters swirling around her ankles. She refused to look down, but instead pressed her shoulder in tight on the close-fit stone of the sewer wall. Taking slower breaths, she forced her body to reduce the panting from the sudden flight. She did her absolute best to ignore the pounding of her heart, and listen for sounds that stood out from the sewer ambiance.
Her right hand remained curled around the grip of her rifle, as she lifted up her left hand, pressing the hidden microphone in the cuff against her lips. Softly, she murmured into it. “Tom?” she softly said. The earpiece was in her right ear, and she could hear it crackle, ever so faintly.
“I’m okay,” the soft voice said, reasurring her lightly.
“Bill?” she asked next.
“Here,” came a third voice.
“Sergei?” she asked third. This time there was no response. “Sergei?” she inquired again, with a hint more urgency. The earpiece stuttured out a small groan. She reached into her pocket and tugged out a GPS.
“Bill, move north forty or fifty meters. I can see Sergei’s signal is coming from there. Everyone else, sit tight,” she ordered. She peered down the sewer tunnel from whence she had came, her high-tech night vision catching glimpses of several sources of heat – a rat, one seemed, as well as several flittering bugs – but none of the tell-tale signs of the creature she was stalking. Or, she feared, that was stalking her team.
A gloved hand ran through her hair, pushing the grey-accented strands back into the hood from whence they had escaped. She could feel the faint tremble of fear running through them. That tremble was a recent development, of the past few months. Ever since she’d adopted Juliet. Ever since she’d fallen for her Romeo. All of a sudden, she was afraid of her mortality.
“I’ve found Sergei…well. I’ve found half of him. He’s dead,” Bill’s voice came. “Adelle, what are your orders?”
“Damn,” she cursed, before lifting up her mouthpiece again. “Let’s converge on Bill’s location. Tom, are you good with that?”
“Bill, take cover, and everyone be careful,” she murmured. Adelle hoisted the slightly modified AK-47 and then moved forward, glancing once at the GPS before she started to slowly move through the muck at the bottom of the sewer. She’d mostly committed the sewer plans to memory. It wasn’t too hard. Sixty or seventy metres south, and then up one ladder, and she’d be almost there.
After only a few minutes of careful, quiet sneaking, moving in the necessary crouch, she reached the ladder. It was rusted by years of disuse, and the carefully fitted stone that lined these old sewers had been haphazardly hacked away some decades ago for its access. She cursed softly, and slung her rifle over her shoulder.
The faintest sound of splashing could be heard coming from above. Must be Bill and Tom linking up, she thought. Her goggles weren’t detecting much, the standard flicker of yellow and orange in a sea of green and blue. The leather gloves she wore were soaked through, and her fingers had gotten somewhat numb, and she reached up through the hole, grasping at the stone atop her.
The stone was slick, and she staggered, having put too much weight on her hand. With her free hand she grasped the rusting ladder, and the chamber of her rifle collided with the iron. A heavy clank burst forth, echoing up and down the various connected sewer halls. Adelle grew still.
Minutes seemed to pass, and she could feel the dampness seeping more into her. The faintest crackle in her earpiece told her that her team was still alive. Occasionally she could hear Bill turn in the water, or Tom curse as he stubbed his toe. But she didn’t move, fear that she might have given away her position awash. It was best to stay still, of course. In the sewers, these things can hardly smell you. They only go there because they can’t be found so easily, not because it gives you an advantage.
The ladder was hard to hold onto. It was slimy with years of mucky overflow clinging to the corroded rungs. More of the human offal was dripping onto her hood and her face. She could feel it slowly sinking under the places where her mask, her goggles pressed against her face. The stench of the sewers had long since faded into the background, but she imagined a growing scent of feces and urine stuck inside of her rebreather. It was not terribly pleasant. She pressed her lips tightly closed.
“Adelle?” her earpiece crackled, causing her to stiffen in fright. For a second, her heartbeat sped forward, then she slowly relaxed.
Raising up her glove, she murmured into the microphone, “I’m here. I’m coming.” Only then did she realize the faint glow on her glove, like something was on it, warm, lighting up the receptors in the night vision goggles. She gazed up, and slowly slid a hand down, unhooking the pistol in its holster. She took the next rung, and then the next. Something suddenly dripped down from above, splashing over one of the eyeholes on her goggles. Adelle cursed and tilted her head down, wiping at the glass surface frantically.
The place was getting to her. The taste of something was sliding into her mouth and the scent was filling her nose. Her stomach was tossing. To hell with this hunt. We’re getting out of here. I just have to get up this ladder. She grasped the stone of the hole again. It felt more slippery this time. She tightened her grip and prepared to launch herself up into the hole. She rocked her weight down and then tried to leap up out of the break in the stone.
Adelle’s hand slipped on the extra liquid on the stone’s surface, and her fingers lost their grip. She bit back a small shriek and prepared to fall the ten or so feet to the stone and sewage beneath her. That’s why she was even more shocked when something like a vise grasped her wrist, and viciously yanked her up, as if she was as light as a rag-doll.
She twisted with a noise as she shot up several feet, her arm violently wrenched, pain flaring from the surely dislocated shoulder. She wasn’t sure what she was seeing – tiny lines of bright red flared in the night vision goggle’s view, but then her face was smacked against the stone. Small spots of bright, multicoloured lights splashed before her eyes, failing to illuminate the darkness. She fired the Desert Eagle, and the bullet smacked into flesh, though what she’d shot hadn’t made a sound.
There was a small bit of light coming from a sewer grate far above, and her soft, blue eyes struggled to see what was going on. Whatever had her by the hand suddenly jerked, and her body slammed down hard into the flat stone. The gun fell out of her hand and splashed deep into the waste water rushing past in the sewer canal. The grip released her.
She could hear a hiss, and something uttered in German. She rolled to her back and reached for her AK-47. It was gone. In the moonlight streaming in from the too-far-away grate in the Vienna side-street, her eyes finally caught a glimpse of the half-rotten skin of the beast that had caught her. She had interrupted it as it squeezed what sustenance remained from one of Sergei’s kidneys into its mouth, and she finally had a name for what she had smelled, and tasted, and what had been dripping into her face on the ladder – blood.