Xaon grimaced. “I’ll call in so the bodies can be recovered.”
“Alright,” Elizabeth slung her rifle around and checked the charge. “Eighty-five percent. How are you?”
“Same,” Xaon flipped open his communicator. “Talos to base.”
“Discovered cache of human remains. No survivors.”
“Alright, we’ll send down a recovery team.”
“Many thanks. Talos out.”
Elizabeth stood, her leg armor creaking as she did. “Colder in here,” she noted, mostly to herself. “Let’s go.”
The pair continued down the white corridor. The story-high windows allowed the sunlight to stream in, illuminating the crumbling walls and floor. Graffiti and other vandalism were the only signs anyone had seen the interior of this building in quite some time. Somewhere above them, the rafters of the building groaned in the mounting wind. Xaon’s sense of unease grew steadily as they ended the corridor and rounded into a stairwell. “Up or down?” he asked casually.
“I’d say up, then down,” his partner responded. “I don’t like this place. It’s got something I can’t lay finger to.”
They carefully made their way up the stairs, avoiding holes where rust had eaten through the steps. “Tread lightly,” Elizabeth pointed at a particularly raw step. Xaon could see the floors far below. The iron grumbled protestingly as he passed over it. Suddenly Elizabeth held up her hand to stop. As she did, a harried fluttering of wings and indignant bird noises came from the top of the stairwell. Both explorers flattened themselves against the outer wall, hefting their rifles into better battle-ready positions. Elizabeth crept forward, remaining hunched over to keep their presence unknown as long as possible. “What do you think it is?” When Xaon’s only response was a shake of his head, she said, “Call it in.”
The communicator sprang to his palm. “Talos to base,” his voice was extremely quiet.
“Be advised we have encountered some disturbance on floor three. We are moving to check it out now.”
“So advised. Do you require back up?”
“Not at this time, however please prepare to respond quickly should we call.”
Elizabeth stretched out further up the staircase and peered over the edge. No movement, now that the birds had taken flight. She carefully scanned the great open room, her sight finally falling on a white form at the center of the floor. Raising her head, Elizabeth squinted. “Talos, there’s someone up here.”
He tightened his grip on the rifle. “I’ll cover you.”
Nodding, she stood and stepped noiselessly up three remaining steps and onto the third floor. The figure lay face down, sprawled and undignified. Definitely human, likely a former patient, judging by the bland clothing. Close-cropped hair gave no indication as to a gender. How did we not hear this person before?
“Excuse me,” she spoke aloud. The silence of the entire building seemed to deepen as her words resounded off the dirty walls. “Excuse me,” she tried again. “Can you hear me?”
No reply. No movement.
Xaon, still at the stairs, eyes roving uneasily, with rifle aimed at the prone figure, shook his head. “Another corpse. Recovery team will get him.”
Elizabeth ventured closer to the body. From this proximity she could see part of the person’s face. There was something vaguely masculine about the jawline, though it was hard to discern when the haunting look of emaciation and poor treatment hung so heavily over him. Something at his throat caught her attention. “Xaon.” She took three hasty steps forward and knelt by the figure. “It’s blood. Fresh. This man was alive a few minutes ago.” She took the body by the shoulder and raised him. “Throat’s been slashed!”
“We’re not alone,” her companion came quickly to her side, rifle at his shoulder.
“Do you hear that?” Elizabeth stood, pulling her own rifle up. “The screeching.”
Very faintly, but growing in volume and intensity, a definite sound of screeching came to their ears from several floors away. Xaon flipped his communicator open again. “Talos to base. Third floor not secured. Be advised: this hospital is infected.”