Chapter 20: Diversion
Manh and Leland pried the door opened just enough to slide a large bar into the gap. They both pulled in unison and they were making steady headway until Nadia yelled a warning about the hunters. Furiously, they doubled their efforts, straining against the door. When the power was off, the doors had been much easier to pry open. With full power restored, it was proving close to impossible.
Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat. The dreaded sound waves reverberated around him sending chills racing down Manh's spine.
The bar slipped out and both men fell on their asses. They gave a quick laugh at each other then quickly reset the long crowbar and started pulling again. Inch by inch, the door was slowly being pried.
Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat.
"We're not gonna make it." Leland said simply.
"I will head them off. You try and get this door open." Manh told him.
Leland released the bar which remained firmly wedged. "We'll both head them off. There might be too many for you to handle alone."
"If I need help, I will call you."
"The two of us can barely get it open a few inches. How far open do you think I'm gonna get doing it alone, man?"
Manh hesitated. This man was much braver than he had given him credit beforehand. He wasn't trying to impress Manh, he wasn't spewing false bravado or making a flippant boast. Leland spoke in the tone of a man with conviction. He meant what he said and he planned to carry out whatever had to be done to divert the hunters from Bower and Nadia. "This mission will have an uncertain end, my friend." Manh said quietly.
Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat.
Leland shrugged. "Whatever will be, will be."
He smiled at the dark man, despite himself. "Okay, let's go."
They hurried into the reactor room and made their way to the center platform where the reactor terminal was housed. It was so steamy they could barely make out the bottom level. Manh pointed at the bay door located on the wall that was astern one hundred feet below them, "I think they are coming through there."
"How can you be sure, man?"
"I don't know. It is what I feel. I can feel them approaching us from that door."
Manh frowned at Leland. He tried to work out a way in his mind to express himself more clearly but Leland interrupted him. "If you think that's where they're coming from, then that's good enough for me. So what did you have in mind?"
Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat.
Both men were aware that somehow Gallo had assumed control over the ship. They spoke in hushed tones, more to prevent Gallo from discovering their plans than to give away their positions to the approaching hunters.
The hunters appeared outside the bay door that Manh had predicted they would. There were ten of them, all horrible, angry and hungry loitering like a gang of thugs. None of them entered the room. They all hung back at the threshold as if they were waiting for something. Manh wondered what they were up to.
He watched as the hunters finally made their way into the reactor room. They moved slow and unsure looking around as though they were ready to flee at any moment. Their caution was uncharacteristic. Normally, the hunters were absolutely fearless. They fanned out searching halfheartedly, in some sort of apparent confusion. They repeatedly clacked their teeth together trying to locate them.
Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat.
Manh thought about making a really loud and sudden noise. Perhaps, in their current tense state, it would be enough to chase them off. The risk wasn't worth the chance.
"I was thinking of leading them through the door on the port side." Manh whispered.
Purposely, neither of them looked port in case Gallo was watching them via camera. "I saw that door too," Leland murmured.
"It is a heavy duty door designed to withstand drastic changes in air pressure and heat. If you can lock it behind them, they will never get back through."
"Okay, man. How do we get them to follow you?"
"They will know who I am. I have fought and killed them everyday I have been awake. They despise me."
Leland quietly chuckled. "So you're gonna tell them 'Follow me you pricks' and they'll do it because they hate your guts?"
"How do you plan on getting back?"
Manh paused. "I will have to find another way to get back."
"You familiar with this part of the ship?"
"Have you at least seen a map of this floor?"
"You could blindly run into a dead end, man. You could be leading them to your own death."
Manh kept watching the hideous hunters mulling around below them. "Death has been around me ever since I was born. I am not afraid of it."
"It's your choice, man but I'd rather try something else. I mean, if we pull this off, we can take control of the ship and set things right. Dying now is just a waste, you know?"
"You have a better plan then?"
"So we are in agreement."
Leland was quiet for a few seconds. "Yeah, I guess."
"Okay. You hide behind the door and lock it behind us."
"No problem. You get your ass back to us safely."
The lights snapped on overhead. Both men were illuminated to the hunters below. The hunters assumed the predatory role and climbed to get to them, shrieking with excitement.
They drew their weapons.
"Go." Manh said.
"Get your ass back to us safely," Leland repeated then he hurried to get to the door on the port side of the ship.
The hunters made it up the one hundred foot climb effortlessly. Manh looked down into the ladder cage as the nearest hunter got to the top. It seemed to be wearing some sort of wrapping around its head but the red hungry eyes were all too familiar. He split its forehead open, sending it tumbling lifeless down into the ladder cage and beyond.
More of the hunters were reaching his level and rushing to get over to his platform. Two of them ignored him and rushed towards the bow where Nadia and Bower were. That's when he decided to yell out to all of them. He yelled something to them that wasn't important. The hunters didn't understand what was being said, so it was of no consequence. What was important was that they followed him as he ran to the port door which, every single one of them did.
As he rushed through the open door, he heard Leland say, "Take care of yourself, man."
The hallway Manh found himself in was narrow, hot and wet. Moisture was dripping from the walls and the ceiling. The grating panels he was running on were loose and weak, probably from rust. He prayed the unsure flooring didn't cause him to trip and fall.
He came to a fork in the tunnels and stopped momentarily. Every tunnel from this fork ended in yet another fork within his range of vision. It was a maze in here.
Manh decided to continue port. If he could maintain at least a minor sense of his direction, it would help him find his way back.
At the next fork, he climbed up the supporting mounts and grabbed the steel rafters pulling himself up. He hooked his legs and his arms into the rafters so he had his back flat against the ceiling. As soon as he had got himself braced in, three hunters dashed port underneath him.
At other areas of the maze, he could hear them shrieking and growling angrily as they looked for him in vain. It seemed that they were moving in all directions away from him or perhaps they had lost interest and had gone off to their lair. After a few long minutes, he couldn't hear them any more.
He decided the best plan of action to get back to the reactor room was to search for and find a long way around. If he could not, then he would try to find his way back to the bridge and meet up with them there.
Manh was about to drop from his hiding place and head starboard, when he realized that he wasn't alone. He froze and held his breath. Silently, a hunter child slunk upside down with him on the ceiling. It climbed right past him and continued towards the bow without noticing him. Manh was about to breathe out in relief when another hunter child climbed right at him from the same direction.
They locked eyes. It seemed like hours passed while they were staring at each other but he knew that realistically, it was only a matter of seconds. The thought of playing dead crossed his mind. He got a fleeting mental image of himself dangling from his current spot pretending to be dead and the two hunter children springing onto him clawing and taking out large chunks of his flesh with their teeth.
Manh just stared at the ugly child and it stared right back.
More seconds passed.
It was clinging to the ceiling with the claws on its hands and feet. The strength of its grip and the lightweight build of its body, probably complimented each other and allowed it to move so effortlessly upside down.
The hunter child hissed.
He turned and saw that the first one had come back. It hissed at him too.
"Nothing to see here." He told them, calmly. "Move along."
They lunged and he evaded their attack by dropping to the floor. He drew his swords.
The hunter children circled on the ceiling overhead.
He saw a third child leap at him from the aft doorway. It's shrill shriek was cut short as he sidestepped its tackle and he twisted on the balls of his feet hacking down at its neck as it leaped past him. He deftly beheaded it.
The two children overhead took the death of one of their own as an opportunity to attack. One landed on his shoulders. The second one he managed to avoid and he kicked it away before it gained it footing. The one on his shoulders bit him. It bit at his throat, trying to tear out his jugular but Manh shrugged it off. The hunter child got a mouthful of shoulder instead.
It bit so deeply, that he could feel its sharp teeth scraping on his bone. The pain was icy, like a white hot burn. He grabbed it's head with his other arm but the more he tugged at it, the deeper it's teeth dug into him. He screamed in pain as it shook it's head violently back and forth, trying to tear away a chunk of his flesh.
Turning his body, Manh rammed his shoulder into wall, smashing it's head against the steel. Immediately, it released his shoulder as it fell away with a broken neck.
He stepped back as the child he kicked away lunged at him.
Hurting, bleeding and injured, Manh was scared. He couldn't remember ever being so concerned about losing his life to the hunters. Perhaps it was the thought of losing his life to a child that had him rattled.
The hunter child circled him slowly. It stared at the wound on his shoulder, drool dripping from its mouth.
Manh's apprehension gave way to anger. He shifted his stance from twin swords to a single sword stance.
The child hissed.
He could feel the hot blood running down the length of his arm. It turned cold as it dripped down to the floor from his fingertips. He needed to stifle the blood flow or he was going to bleed to death.
As they circled each other, the hunter child lowered its head to the floor, cautiously. He saw it lapping at his spilled blood.
You little bastard.
With a blood-curdling war cry, Manh attacked.