This whole operation depends on me getting down into the basement labs before Dr. Gilman finishes growing a new abomination. And because his hands are up in the air and my gun is pointing right at him, I think it's safe to say it worked.
"Away from the tank, Gilman." I can see something floating behind him in a massive tank full of sludge, and I'd rather not be around when it decides to leave that tank. Gilman complies, shuffling toward a desk covered with computers.
Then there's a voice in my head: "Master, the blond man is about to . . ." It doesn't get any further than that because I toss a grenade into the tank, then another. There's still a mass in the center of the tank, but now there's a lot of chum whirling in the greenish fluid. That ought to shut it up.
My ears are ringing, but I can hear Gilman's nasal, pleading voice. "Agnar, I can make you wealthy . . . or powerful. Whichever of my rivals sent you, I assure you I'm more reasonable than they are. And you have me at a disadvantage -- enrich yourself! Once you pull that trigger, I have no value to you." Gilman's eyes are wide, darting back and forth between the tank and the door behind me. He's looking for an exit and hoping that his abomination will wake up and slaughter me.
Which it would. Humans, even in numbers, even with explosives, just don't beat abominations. It doesn't happen.
Except I did beat Gilman's abomination a few weeks ago -- in a situation where even I would have bet against me. That's why I had to pull a risky commando raid on Gilman's labs -- I wanted to get here before he had time to grow a new monster.
"None of your rivals sent me, Gilman."
"How can you be so sure? They're subtle creatures, Agnar. Some of them are thousands of years old, and others have made pacts with evil forces that can cloud your mind."
I laugh. "I'm older than I look, Gilman. And I know what you're up to. You don't get to end the world. Nobody does until I say so."
But then my laughter cuts short. I feel the vibration of a pager at my waist. I dropped sensors all along my path, and they're starting to detect someone else in the building above us. I left only dead bodies up there. And it's not the police -- I'd have heard the radio chatter on my headset.
Ten bucks says it's another endbringer -- or at least an abomination.
Gilman again -- he's loudly protesting that he wants to end the world. How dumb does he think I am?
I cover the space between us in three strides and throw a forearm across his neck as he sprawls onto a desk. The pistol barrel is against his nose as I say, "Not ending the world, Gilman?"
Using the business end of the pistol, I hunt-and-peck a password on the desk computer next to Gilman's head. With a blink, up come the schematics for a summoning ritual. For the big guy himself: Cthulhu.
"Cthulhu doesn't do the little stuff, Gilman. You know that, and I know that."
I want to continue this, because Gilman could probably tell me a lot about the other endbringers. But my pager is vibrating so hard that it's emitting an audible buzz. And I'm not exactly blind to the motion in the tank behind me. Time to cut this short.
"One of your endbringer rivals is picking through the wreckage upstairs, Gilman. Part of me wants to just step back, let you two duke it out with your abominations, and maybe pick off the weakened winner.
"But that part just got outvoted by the sensible part of me."
Two shots to Gilman's head, and he's done. Another bullet to the computer, just because I get a vicarious thrill out of shooting Cthulhu. Two more grenades go into the tank, and then I'm up the elevator -- I don't want to get trapped down here. Once the elevator reaches ground level, a satchel charge wrecks it well enough that the rival endbringer up here won't get access to Gilman's research -- or whatever was growing in that tank down there.
Tonight, I'll get to cross Gilman's name off my list. But part of me wonders which endbringer is rooting around up here.
I should make my escape, but the sensible part of me gets outvoted. I want to see who else was gunning for Dr. Gilman. So I creep down the hallway and up a stairwell. Now I'm in the hospital's public basement.
Janitorial? Nothing. Physical Plant? Sporadic trails of some kind of ichor, but otherwise nothing. That tells me I'm probably stalking an abomination, and the sensible part of me is screaming to get out.
I round the corner and see the morgue. Of course. Where else would my quarry be?
With as much stealth as I can muster, I creep down the corridor toward the swinging doors that mark the morgue entrance. Gun in hand (like that'll help), I peek a sliver of my head against the window.
There's an abomination there, all right. This one's about 10 feet tall, gorilla shaped, with elephantine tusks. And it has sores all over its body that emit scurrying cockroaches and the pus that I found on the floor.
But that abomination isn't alone. It stands watch over a dark-skinned woman dressed like an Egyptian pharoah. She's pulling back a drawer in the morgue, pinching open the mouth of the body inside, and feeding it a black snake.
Then the corpse sits up as its skin flushes with color. "Neferhe, my queen," the zombie croaks.
I've heard enough. I'm running down the corridor, trusting that the grenades I scatter in my wake will keep the gorilla-abomination from catching me.
I've got a new name, "Neferhe," for my list of endbringers. And it's time to brush up on countermeasures for ancient Egyptian necromancy.
To be continued...
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