Outward: Chapter 11: Spider’s Web

“Alpha Team to Raskin,” TSgt Abernathy spoke into the radio, “we have entered the front lobby. Do you copy, over?”

The three looked around. With the power having been cut to the building, the only light was that streaming through the glass at the entrance, casting long shadows in front of them which the emergency lighting failed to do anything about. Aside from the crackle of the radio, the room was silent.

“Raskin to Alpha Team,” the voice on the radio said, “I copy. Proceed with your mission. Over.”

TSgt Abernathy gestured for SrA Grant to take point. The first thing they were going to do was return to the subbasement to determine the extent of the Mackinelly Device’s incursion there. They walked slowly, single-file down the corridor, SrA Roberts taking up the rear position. They didn’t expect to encounter anything on the first floor, but Delta Team hadn’t come through yet, so they couldn’t be sure. SrA Grant checked the entrance to the stairwell, signaled all-clear, and led them down to the bottom.

“Raskin to Alpha Team,” the radio crackled. “I’m having problems with the video feed, over.”

SrA Grant checked the camera strapped to SrA Roberts’s helmet and gave a thumbs-up. She then pulled a flashlight out of her uniform and switched it on, sweeping the stairwell.

“Alpha Team to Raskin,” TSgt Abernathy replied. “Our equipment’s functional down here. The building’s like a Faraday cage, though. My cell phone could hardly get a signal down here the other day either. But we are recording. Also, it’s pretty dark down here. When all this is over, OSHA ought to make a surprise visit. I’m pretty sure the escape path lighting here isn’t up to code. Over.”

“Understood, Sergeant. Don’t let your guard down, now. Over.”

The team headed for the room underneath the Mackinelly Device. The hallway was empty, though they could hear faint noises in the distance, too faint for any of the three to figure out just where they were coming from. They reached the door, and SrA Grant waved them in.

“Pretty much the same as before,” she said, the beam of her flashlight jumping from shelf to shelf.

“You’d think this would be spider central, what with being right under the thing,” SrA Roberts said.

“For whatever reason they don’t seem to be interested in what’s in here,” TSgt Abernathy replied, approaching the partially-dissolved shelf in the middle. The thick little puddle was still there, just as she had left it.

“Maybe they’re after something in particular?” SrA Roberts guessed.

“Most of the stuff in here’s junk, and they know it,” SrA Grant said.

“Alpha Team to Raskin,” TSgt Abernathy radioed, “we’re below the Device now. No change. I’m going to try collecting a sample of whatever this stuff leaking out of the Device is. Over.” She pulled a sample vial out of her pocket.

“Negative, Alpha Team,” Maj Raskin’s voice replied. “There’ll be plenty of time for that if we find the Device non-hostile. And if it is hostile, we can’t have any of it getting out of the building before we light it up. No alien souvenirs. Over.”

“We copy, over,” TSgt Abernathy answered, mostly managing to hide the disappointment in her voice. She slid the vial back into her pocket. She desperately wanted to know what that alien goo was made out of, but orders were orders. “Let’s move,” she commanded. “Next door.”

They filed back down the hall to the next door. The one she and SrA Grant had gotten a peek into before evacuating the building. TSgt Abernathy and SrA Robers placed one hand on their weapons, ready to draw them if needed. It was unlikely, but they didn’t want the spiders to interpret having guns ready as a threatening sign. SrA Grant stood next to the doorway and, with her arm outstretched, inch by inch pushed it open.

This storeroom had been ravaged by the spiders. Boxes had been knocked off of shelves and half-dissolved to get at their contents. One of the shelf assemblies had literally lost its footing and toppled over, knocking over two more as it fell. The team’s flashlights reflected off slick-looking shiny spots on the floor, without any sign of whether those were from bottles that had been spilled in the chaos or from any of the robotic spiders scampering about.

“Alpha Team to Raskin,” TSgt Abernathy reported. “The storeroom next door was harder hit. There’s about a dozen or so of the spiders there. Biggest one’s about as big as my foot. They don’t seem to have taken any notice of us yet. Over.”

“Acknowledged. Over.”

“Sergeant,” SrA Grant said, “look at this!” She shined her flashlight on the floor just inside the room. At the center of the beam one of the spiders was lying motionless on the floor. One of its legs was missing, and there was a blackened spot where it would have connected to the flat, rectangular body. She reached her arm into the room and swept the flashlight up the inside wall, stopping at the light switch. It’s plastic cover was missing, and there were more scorch marks around the edge of the opening.

“The little buggers don’t like 120 volts AC,” SrA Roberts observed.

“And here we went and shut the power off for them,” TSgt Abernathy thought aloud.

“What do you suppose is in the next room?” SrA Grant asked, now moving her flashlight from one spider-sized hole in the wall adjoining it to the next.

TSgt Abernathy thought back to her discussions with Marcus before Maj Raskin had arrived on the scene. “Server room. Let’s go.”

At least, it had been a server room, as they saw when they opened that door. The only sure sign of that now were the remnants of the equipment racks themselves, now bending over as though suffering from metal fatigue. The floor crawled with countless spiders.

“It’s a Luddite arachnophobe’s nightmare in here,” SrA Grant whispered.

It wasn’t all spiders, though. There was something on the floor in the center of the room. It was circular, only four inches high but many feet wide. It was a jumble of colors: black, silver, green. And the spiders were swarming all over it.

“Alpha Team to Raskin,” TSgt Abernathy quietly spoke into the radio. “They’ve picked the server room clean. It looks like they’re building something. Over.”

“Acknowledged, Alpha Team,” Maj Raskin replied. “Can you tell what? Over.”

“Investigating. Over.”

“Makes sense,” SrA Roberts said. “Computers are full of all kinds of different metals. Whatever it was they were looking for, they found it here.”

“But what do they need it for?” TSgt Abernathy said. “That’s the question.”

“Something electronic, that’s for sure. No idea how they’re planning on powering it up.”

“They probably know.”

“Look at the floor,” SrA Grant said. The floor’s surface glistened slightly. “What do you make of that?”

SrA Roberts pulled out a small pocket notebook. He tore off the cardboard that served as its back cover, bent down, and dropped it on the floor just inside the door, pulling his hand back quickly.

They watched it for a minute.

“Nothing,” SrA Grant observed. “Maybe it’s just alien robot spider pee.”

“That sounds pretty unlikely,” SrA Roberts replied.

“Yeah, well, take your pick,” she said, gesturing at the room.

“We need a better look at whatever that thing is in there,” TSgt Abernathy said.

“I’m going in,” SrA Roberts said. He removed the camera from his helmet and held it in front of him.

“Airman–” TSgt Abernathy began.

“I know, Sergeant. But one of us is going to have to, and I’m the one with the camera. Cover me.”

SrA Roberts toed up to the edge of the doorway. Slowly, deliberately, he lifted his left foot slightly and moved it forward a few inches before setting it back down. He then repeated the procedure with his right foot. He kept moving like this, advancing slowly into the room, focusing his attention on the floor in front of him to watch what the spiders were up to, and only occasionally glancing at the camera’s view screen to make sure the mystery object was still in frame.

For their part, the spiders seemed content to walk around him. SrA Grant clenched her teeth as one of them skittered across the floor between him and the door. He advanced farther.

“Roberts, on your two!” TSgt Abernathy half-whispered, half-shouted at him.

One of the larger spiders had stopped in front of and to the right of SrA Roberts. It lifted itself up onto what were presumably its hind legs and stood there, facing him. SrA Roberts froze, staring back at it. The spider’s body fell backwards, swinging its front legs around to land on them. It then rose up on its new hind legs, and sprayed a thin clear fluid at him.

SrA Roberts screamed and scrambled backwards through the door, his arms instinctively raised to cover his face, still clutching the camera in one hand. Once he was through, SrA Grant fired several rounds at the spider. The impact of the bullets flung it backwards several feet. She then fired in an arc closer to the floor around the door before slamming it shut.

TSgt Abernathy immediately positioned herself between the door and SrA Roberts, who was now pressing himself against the wall. She pointed her weapon at the lower part of the door, ready for something to try to make it through. “Grant, get him out of that uniform ASAP before whatever that was soaks through! Roberts, are you OK?”

“I I I think so,” he stammered as SrA Grant wrestled his jacket off of him.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” TSgt Abernathy said. “Do you think you’re good to walk?”

“Probably,” he replied.

Holding her firearm steady with one hand, TSgt Abernathy reached for her radio with the other. “Alpha Team to Raskin. Roberts was hit. Some kind of chemical spray from a spider. No effects yet, but I’m sending him out with Grant for medical attention. Over.”

“Acknowledged, Alpha Team. Over.”

Behind her, she heard SrA Roberts get back onto his feet. “Apologies for being out of uniform, Sergeant,” he said.

If he felt good enough to joke around, that was hopefully a good sign. “You heard what I told the Major. Grant, help him out.”

The radio cracked to life again. “Raskin to all teams. Mission abort, repeat, mission abort. All teams are to fall back to the one-mile perimeter immediately. Repeat, all teams, fall back. Over.”

Chapter word count: 1,762 (+95)
Total word count: 19,598 / 50,000 (39.196%)

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