Chapter 6

June 13, 2011 at 12:10 am (The Job) (, , , , , , )

“Shit!” Petrillo yelped.

Parker rolled her eyes. “What now?”

“They’re looking for me. I’ve got to get away from their bots, which means you’re on your own.”

“What does that mean?” Parker demanded, just as an alarm sounded throughout the lab. “Never mind, I think I know what it means.” Before she could gather the files from the desk and dump them into her bag, she heard an ominous sound. Barely audible over the wailing alarm was the click of numerous cages being unlocked. Whipping around, Parker saw that all of the cages on the wall were now unlocked and several of the doors were being pushed open.

Quickly stuffing the papers and the small silver cases she hadn’t yet investigated into her pack, she ran into the anteroom. Grasping the door handle, she gave it a solid yank. Locked. She could find nothing to indicate an emergency bypass system.

Shrieks from the vet clinic were quickly followed by the frantic slap of running feet. Parker drew her gun and watched the door to the decontamination chamber. Two figures sprinted through the room, heading for the lab. Behind them, Parker could make out the lower, bulkier silhouette of a gorilla. The girl came first, sprinting straight through the door and heading for the anteroom at the end of the lab. She stopped short upon seeing Parker standing there with a gun trained on her.

The man managed to swing the door to the decontamination chamber closed, but he couldn’t get it locked before the gorilla smashed into it. Stumbling away, dazed from the impact, the man tried to block the gorilla’s attack. With a tremendous, rage-filled roar, the gorilla lunged forward. Parker loosed three rounds, catching the gorilla in the head and chest. He crashed into the man, his weight collapsing onto the much smaller frame.

Parker strode across the lab and rolled the dead gorilla off the man. He was covered in blood, but it wasn’t his own. Hauling him to his feet, she gestured toward the main lab door.

“How do you open it in an emergency?” she demanded.

Before he could answer, the woman spoke up. “You can’t. Someone triggered a level five containment, which locks down the entire floor from outside each room.”

“We can’t get out of here?” Parker asked, horrified.

“We’d need someone from security to bypass the system.”

Parker could hear more animals exploring the decontamination chamber. “Can we bar this door?”

“Yes, but it will only slow them down,” the man answered. He flipped the lock and stepped away from the door. “I’m Len Kleiner. I’m one of the lab techs.” Len held out his hand and Parker shook it.

“I’m Kelly Blatt, library assistant.”

“You don’t dress like a library assistant,” Len said, gesturing to her black ensemble and the gun in her hand.

Parker gave him the once over, taking in his unbuttoned shirt, his barely hitched pants and his bare feet hastily shoved into his wingtips. She cocked an eyebrow at him, but remained silent.

“I’m Monique Ballantyne,” the woman said into the silence. She had managed to grab a little more clothing and to get it buttoned before the shit had hit the fan. She was quite lovely, with her short blonde bob, deep brown eyes and her lean, athletic figure. Len’s somewhat doughy body and milky white skin made Parker’s fingers itch to button his shirt up.

“I’m a tech, too,” Monique continued. “Toxic substance specialist.”

“You’re the one milking the spiders,” Parker said.

“You’ve seen them?”

“Yeah, I had that pleasure, so to speak.” Parker grimaced at the idea of the creepy buggers, looking over her shoulder to confirm that the shelf was still securely closed. One of the smaller monkeys was sitting on top of the spider shelf, an ear cocked to the side, listening.

“They’re very aggressive spiders. Very territorial. We’ve had them in the lab for over four months, but we still know so little about them.”

“That’s very reassuring,” Parker muttered.

Something slammed into the decontamination chamber door and Parker pivoted in a fluid motion, her gun up and tracking the stress points of the barrier. She missed the look that passed between the two lab techs. Right now, they didn’t care what she said she did for a living. She had a gun and had already proven her skill with it. They were not going to leave her side.

“This won’t hold much longer. Let’s get into the anteroom.” Parker motioned them ahead of her. She walked backwards, keeping her eye on the locked door. Something large was bashing into it and already it was starting to warp under the stress.

“How many animals are in the vet clinic?”

“There are eighteen female gorillas and one alpha male,” Len replied. “Four of the females are known to be pregnant and three others are suspected. The one you shot was one of the known pregnant ones.”

“That was a female? How big is the male?” Parker demanded.

“Bigger,” Len said, unhelpfully. “He’s quite protective of his harem. Shooting one of his mates isn’t going to endear us to him.”

Parker grimaced. If his mate had lived, Parker doubted the alpha male would have been any more receptive to their presence. “What are they used for?”

“Near human testing,” Len admitted.

“I thought orangutans were closer to human than gorillas,” Parker said.

“They are and we have three of them in the lab. They’ve all been injected with the latest dose of venom.”

“Orangutans are very smart. The fact that they haven’t left their cages yet tells me they likely succumbed to the venom.” Monique gripped her hands together.

Parker closed the door to the anteroom with a resounding thud. She would not let Monique go back into the lab to check on the orangutans. Her studies would have to suffer without the new data.

***

The fire grew from a few circuits and wires into a snaking line that followed the cables down to the PC towers. Josie watched it, mesmerized. Soon, she knew, the towers would melt and the fire would spread to other combustible objects. The security room was full of them.

Trying to shake off her stupor, Josie wheeled her chair over to the steel racks against the wall. She searched the contents for something sharp enough to cut through the duct tape. The steel racks had shelves made of wire grating, allowing her to view the contents from below. She spotted an exacto knife on the shelf just above her head. It lay in a clear plastic container, amidst pencils, paperclips and wire zip ties. Gripping the arms of the chair, Josie lifted it a few precious inches off the ground. Grasping the edge of the container, she tossed it to the floor.

The exacto skidded across the floor and came to rest near Gary’s body. Seth had pulled Gary from the chair Josie was now strapped to and tossed him to the ground like garbage. Wheeling over, she managed to grab the knife with her bare feet. Gripping it between her toes, she angled her leg up high enough to grasp the knife between her fingers. Extending the blade out two notches, Josie flipped the knife around and tried to cut her bonds. Her hand couldn’t keep a solid grip on the knife.

Grasping the end with her mouth, Josie leaned over her wrist and sawed through the tape. Her strokes sloppy, she cut her hand several times before she broke through the layers of duct tape. With her right hand freed, she quickly slit the tape on her left. When she stood up, the remnants of her clothing fell to the floor. Seth had cut them from her, leaving them where they fell.

Stepping over the clothing, Josie knelt on the floor next to Gary. His eyes were wide open and staring at the wall. She stroked a hand down his cool cheek. His body had voided the waste, but his heavy-duty coveralls had contained it. She knew there was nothing she could do for him. He had died before he’d really recognized a threat. She could be grateful for that, she supposed.

The pop and sizzle of the fire caught her attention. Josie retrieved the fire extinguisher and sprayed the contents on the building flames. The retardant coated the entire security console before she was certain that the fire was fully smothered. The damage to the console was extensive. The main console was useless. Seth had seen to that. Circling the room, stepping carefully around the bodies, Josie examined each station. The monitor on one console was still active, showing her a clear picture of the lab on the fifth floor. As she watched, an enormous gorilla barreled through the door from the decontamination chamber. Josie could just barely make out the three figures huddled inside the anteroom.

Tapping her fingers on the keyboards produced nothing workable. The entire system was damaged beyond use. Walking back around the console, she entered the break room and grabbed an extra pair of overalls. They were far too big, but they covered her completely. Slipping her shoes back on, she headed for the door. She paused with her hand on the door knob. With a lurch in her heart, she stared down at Gary.

“Goodbye,” she whispered to her fiancé. Opening the door, she stepped into the hallway.

***

Parker heard the fantastic crash as a gorilla tore the door off its hinges. Half again the size of the pregnant female she had shot, Parker assumed this was the alpha male. He couldn’t fit through the doorway, his shoulders were too wide. He had to duck to get his head through and then angle his body to get the rest through. Still, it was a tight squeeze. Parker estimated he had to be close to ten feet tall and likely weighed over five hundred pounds. His arms were massively muscled, his fisted hands as big as boulders.

He bounded into the room, sniffing the air. Spotting the downed gorilla, he stepped closer and nudged the dead female. His giant hand was gentle as he turned her head to face him. When she wouldn’t rouse, he tilted his head back and let out an ear shattering roar. His rage sent him crashing through the lab, slamming into desks and toppling anything that would move.

When he headed for the shelves, Parker gave serious thought to opening the anteroom door and shooting it. Too late, she watched as the alpha male toppled the end shelf. It landed on its side and the doors flung wide. Dozens of plastic cages came spilling out onto the floor. Lids popped off. Some cases shattered from the impact. Spiders skittered across the floor, hissing and raising their middle legs in a display of territorial aggression.

The alpha male ignored the spiders. He continued his destructive path along the shelves, working his way closer to the anteroom door. One of the smaller female gorillas batted at a spider, which turned and bit her arm. The spider’s fangs were strong and penetrated the gorilla’s hide with little difficulty. Giving her a full blast of venom, the gorilla barely managed to crush the spider in her palm before she dropped to the floor.

“How the hell did it kill her so fast?” Parker whispered.

“We’ve suppressed the immune systems of some of the gorillas, to see how quickly the toxin works,” Monique responded, her voice clinically detached. “The venom of the Phoneutria fera is an impressively strong method of self defense. In smaller doses, it produces an erection in both male and female humans and the effect can last many hours longer than your typical erectile dysfunction medicines.”

“You’re not studying them to create competition for Viagra,” Parker muttered.

“Not specifically, no, but never underestimate the financial possibilities of such an endeavor. Wagner Pharmaceuticals is a wealthy organization, but drug research is extremely expensive as well as competitive. If we could turn a profit from it, we’d market it.”

Monique stepped up to the window in the anteroom to watch the alpha male. The movement attracted his attention and he barreled over to crash against the door. The walls shuddered from the impact, but the door held. Enraged, the gorilla bashed its enormous body into the door again and again.

Parker searched the room for any possible means of escape. The ceiling was twenty-five feet above their heads, with pipes running through the walls into the lab and into the hallway. Parker pulled her pack from her back and fished around inside until she came up with her climbing rope. Measuring out fifty feet, she grasped the remaining bundle of wound rope and tossed it in the air. Arcing up and over the largest pipe, the bundle swung down the opposite side. Attaching it to the hallway door handle, Parker grasped the rope and climbed, freehand, up it.

“I don’t know if I can climb that thing,” Len admitted.

Parker ignored him until she was at the top. “If I can punch through this and get to the hallway, you won’t have to. I’ll get the door unlocked and let you out the easy way.”

The pipe was cool to the touch. Air conditioning unit, she assumed. There was no hatch to allow her entrance to the inside. She assumed that would be found somewhere in the lab. With less than two feet of clearance between the ceiling and the top of the pipe, Parker didn’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre. Placing her palms against the ceiling to give her purchase, Parker kicked her heel against the pipe. After a dozen kicks her efforts had earned her a sore heel and nothing more. The steel hadn’t dented.

Inching her way along the pipe, she kicked at the wall leading out to the hallway. One kick told her that idea would be fruitless. The wall was poured concrete masked over with drywall. She couldn’t break through the pipe and she couldn’t break through the wall. Turning around, she faced the wall leading into the lab.

“What are you doing?” Len demanded, his fear making his voice crack. “We can’t go that way!”

“We can’t go the other way either. You want to stay there and wait for that gorilla to smash his way through that door?”

“What if Monique and I got up there on the pipe with you?”

“Gorilla’s like to climb things just for fun,” Parker reminded him. “Do you really think a twenty-five foot climb is going to present a challenge to a ten foot tall gorilla?”

Len remained silent. Parker recognized the flaw in her plan. If they broke through this wall and scrambled out over the pipe, the gorillas would attack. Here, in the anteroom, or out there in the lab, the climb would be the same. Effortless. They would be dead inside of a few minutes.

“Can you climb up here?” she asked. She had her gun and bullets would arrest the gorilla’s ascent, in the short term.

Monique grabbed the rope and hauled herself up a few feet. Tucking her foot around the end to act as a break, she carefully worked her way up to the ceiling. Parker assisted her to top of the pipe and got her settled against the lab wall. Len grasped the rope and tried to freehand his way up, but he didn’t have the upper arm strength for it.

“Don’t just use your arms. Copy Monique’s technique,” Parker instructed.

Len dangled from the rope, trying to hook his foot around the end. His arms were starting to shake and his palms were getting sweaty. He dropped back to the ground and swore under his breath. “I can’t do it,” he admitted.

The door to the anteroom was starting to bend. It wouldn’t be long before the alpha male pulled it off its hinges. Anyone still on the ground when that happened would be turned into hamburger. Parker didn’t have the right angle or enough room to get balanced to haul Len up. “Thread the rope through your belt loops and tie the end. I’m going to act as a counterweight.”

Len did as instructed, grasping the other end for balance. Slipping over the side of the pipe, Parker gripped the opposite end of the rope. Even with a fully loaded pack on her back, she wasn’t heavy enough to overbalance the load that Len provided. Hooking her foot around the rope for purchase, she grasped Len’s side and, hand over hand, forced it upward. Working her foot downward, she maintained as little slack in the rope as she could. They were face to face at twelve feet off the ground.

“Hold my rope and don’t let the balance shift you down.”

Len got a firm grip on her rope and nodded that he was ready. Parker flipped over so that her head was pointing to the ground. Grasping the rope end that was still attached to the door handle, Parker instructed Len to climb upward using her rope. As he did so, she aided him by pulling down, toward the floor.

“He’s close,” Monique called down. She assisted Len into a seated position on the pipe.

Waiting until Parker had untangled herself from the rope and dropped to the ground, Len untied the rope and dropped it to the ground. The full length of rope coiled at Parker’s feet. Looking up, she saw the frown on Monique’s face and the resignation on Len’s.

“I don’t think this pipe can support all of us. You’ll have to stay down there and deal with the gorilla.”

“What the hell did I ever see in you?” Monique muttered under her breath.

Len flinched, but didn’t look at her.

“Len?” Parker called out. She waited until she had his attention before aiming her gun at his left leg. One shot and the bullet tore through the meat of his calf. It was a flesh wound, but it would still hurt like a motherfucker. Len cried out, his balance upset by the sharp movement of his leg. Gripping the pipe in fear, he looked down at Parker.

“Forgot about the gun, didn’t you?” Parker growled. A low creaking sound turned her attention to the door. The gorilla had stopped banging against it and was now using his bulk to press against the weakest point. His shoulder low to the ground, he was gradually forcing the steel door inward.

Parker stepped over to the door and looked into the lab. The smaller monkeys had all climbed to the highest points, avoiding the spiders. More gorillas had entered the lab behind the alpha male. Four of them were dead from spider bites, but the others were unaffected by it.

“How will the male react to the spider bites?” Parker asked.

“They won’t stop him,” Monique responded when Len remained silent. “He has been injected with the antivenin. It would take a boatload of spiders to bring him down.”

Parker stared up at Monique as she lounged against the lab wall. “What about the darts?” she asked.

“How do you know about those?” Len demanded.

Parker sneered at him. “I think we all know that I am no library assistant.” She turned her attention back to Monique.

Monique shook her head. “The darts are in the safe, inside the lab.”

“The darts are here, in my pack.” Parker pulled the pack from her shoulders and unzipped it. Pulling the silver cases from inside, she popped the lids on each one. Inside one case was the injector. It was similar in size and shape to a pen. The other case held five cartridges of venom. “How do I load it?”

“Remove the top part, like you would with a pen. Slip the cartridge in so that the needle point exits the pen first. Do not prick yourself with that needle!” Monique cautioned.

Parker pulled the pen top off and set it aside. Carefully nudging one cartridge out of its molded compartment, she slipped it inside the pen and recapped it. “I thought this thing was supposed to fire forty darts.”

“The cartridge contains forty darts. You only see one needle but when it fires, the outer casing disintegrates and the rest of the darts are exposed. Turn the top of the pen all the way to the right, until it clicks.”

Parker turned the pen top and at the click, a tiny button popped up halfway down the shaft. Holding the pen in her left hand, her finger hovered over the button. She gripped her gun in her right. The gorilla had already curled the bottom edge of the door up nearly half a foot. The shriek of metal almost drowned out the sound of an axe hitting the door behind her.

Parker stepped closer to the door leading out to the hallway. It shuddered as the axe struck it again. “Hello!” she yelled through the crack of the door. Parker could just make out the response. “Please hurry!”

“Parker, behind you!” Monique called out.

Parker whipped around, catching sight of the alpha male staring in through the small window in the door. Her voice had distracted him from his task. Monique hadn’t called down to warn her about the gorilla. It was the gap in the door that was the problem. Pushed almost a foot off the ground, the door allowed the spiders to roam in. Legs raised in agitation, they ranged themselves around her.

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