Blakely nodded. "Leave the rest. We evacuate now."
He opened a drawer and pulled out a.45 Colt automatic. He checked to make sure it was loaded and handed it to Roland along with a spare clip. "Take it."
Roland looked as if he had just been offered a venomous snake. He shook his head.
Another explosion caused the building to shake and ceiling dust to sift downward.
Roland snatched the pistol.
With a tiny key, Blakely opened a locked drawer and pulled out a sawed-off shotgun. He cracked it open; two red shells sat in the firing chamber. He snapped it closed.
Turning, he stumbled into Jason. Their collision loosened the boy's quaking control. "My… mom…," he sobbed between tearful breaths.
Blakely knelt and held the boy's shoulders. "Jason, I need you to be strong right now. We're going to make a run for the elevator. Try to get you topside."
Machine gun fire rattled from only a handful of yards away.
"Time to go," Roland said, holding the briefcase in one hand and the Colt in his other. "Out the back way. It's a shorter route to the elevator."
"Good," Blakely said, standing and keeping one hand on the boy's shoulder. "Lead the way. I'll cover the back."
Roland swung around and headed out the door. They followed on his heels, Blakely clutching the shotgun with both hands.
Outside, the sirens had cut off, but islands of gunfire flared around them. Armed men ran in every direction. Two men running with a stretcher darted past them toward the small hospital, a draped figure writhing on the canvas.
A bloody arm slipped free of the sheet, and fingers dragged on the ground.
Blakely searched around the milling men. He needed information. A wild-eyed private backed around a corner into their group. His helmet was gone, and his gun shook in his hand. Blakely recognized the red hair, the freckles.
"Private Johnson," Blakely said, pushing as much authority into his voice as possible. "Give me a report."
Johnson swung around, a look of panic frozen on his face. Blood dribbled from a wound on his forehead. He stumbled back to some semblance of military decorum, coming to shaky attention. "Sir, the base has been breached. They came from everywhere. Popping out of holes, pouring out of tunnels. My… my platoon was overrun. Wiped out." As he reported, his eyes became wider and more glazed, and his shivering worsened.
"Who, Private? Who's attacking?"
With a wildness in his eyes, Johnson blurted, "They… they're coming this way. We have to get out of here."
"Who?" Blakely tried to grip the man's shoulder, but the private whirled from reach, afraid to be touched, then darted away.
Roland stepped next to Blakely. "The elevator's south of us. If it's been lost, then…"
"It's the only way out of here," Blakely mumbled. "We'll have to try and avoid the worst of the fighting."
Roland nodded. Jason stuck close to the aide's side.
They proceeded cautiously, zigzagging away from areas of gunfire. Slipping around a darkened Quonset, Blakely bumped into Roland, who had suddenly stopped. Blakely followed Roland's gestures and carefully peeked around the corner.
The space between the next two buildings was crowded with four torn bodies, limbs shredded from torsos, intestines strewn like party streamers. Suddenly one of the torsos jerked into the darkened alley beyond, dragged by something hidden in shadow.
Blakely suppressed a scream as he too was jerked backward. But it was only his assistant's hand, pulling him out of sight. A howl erupted from only yards away, something wild, inhuman. An answering scream bellowed from behind them. Close.
Roland tested the door to the Quonset hut; the hinges squealed with rust as he swung the door open. They hurried inside, fearful of what the noise might attract. Blakely coaxed the door closed as silently as the hinges would allow, then flipped the deadbolt. Darkness swallowed the group.
Blakely snapped on a small penlight attached to a key chain; it cast no more than a weak glow. In the dimness, rows of stacked boxes stretched the length of the long building. The tight columns went from floor to ceiling. No clutter, no cover to hide behind. But there should be an exit on the far side of the Quonset.
Blakely pointed with his light. "Down the rows! To the other door-"
A large crash boomed as something heavy hit the door. A bellow of protest followed. Again something crashed into the door. This time the frame buckled, metal groaned, but the deadbolt held.
"It won't take another hit!" Blakely yelled above the din. "Run!"
Roland sprinted forward. Blakely grabbed Jason's hand and hauled the boy with him, racing between the walls of boxes.
A third crash echoed through the supply hut. A screech of metal, then light flooded the room. Blakely's breath caught in his chest as something large pushed into the building, blocking the outside lamplight for a moment, plunging the room in darkness.
The smell hit Blakely first. The rot of a charnel house. Then the sound. Scraping and scrabbling. It certainly didn't sound like any footsteps he'd ever heard. In a heartbeat, it crashed into the neighboring row, hissing as it paralleled their course down the building.
In near panic, he jerked Jason forward, causing the boy to yelp and stumble. Before Jason hit the floor, Blakely grabbed a fistful of shirt and pulled the child back up. But it was too late…
The pile of boxes just behind his heels tumbled down as a scream of anger erupted. The boxes were being tossed aside like toy blocks. In moments it would be on them. Searching in front of him, he could see Roland nearing the door. Scooping up Jason, Blakely tried to race forward, but his old knees couldn't manage with the boy's weight. His breath burned in his chest.
Jason seemed to sense this and squirmed. "Put me down. I can run."
Not having the breath to argue, he dropped the boy and willed him speed. The boy was a rabbit, off and running as soon as his sneakers touched the ground.
Blakely took a step in pursuit when a tumbling crate knocked him forward, pinning his legs. He let out a loud cry as he slammed into the floor. Struggling with his arms, he pulled frantically at his legs. Jason had stopped several yards ahead and turned. The boy took a step toward him.
"No!" he yelled. "Run! I'll catch up!"
With a crash of splintering wood, a reptilian snout burst into the row ahead, snapping at the empty space between Jason and Blakely. It hissed and wrenched its neck in the direction of Blakely's penlight; with massive shoulders, it tried to push itself farther through the wall of boxes. Blakely scrambled for his shotgun, but it had skittered beyond his fingertips. As the creature lunged at him, he twisted to the side as far as his pinned legs would allow. Luckily, it was enough.
The snout brushed his shoulder, missing him. The head collided into the crate atop his legs, bouncing it off of him. Not waiting, he rolled away. His instinct was to cram himself between the boxes, but they refused to budge. Trapped, he prepared to make a desperate run after the others.
The beast snarled and hissed, drawing back for a second attack. As the beast's neck tightened to strike, Jason bounced in front of it, twirling his gym bag in circles.
Startled, the beast froze.
The boy used his entire upper body to slam the bag forward, cracking the creature solidly on the nose. Its head flew back from the force of the impact.
Blakely didn't wait. "Run!" Adrenaline ignited his heart, fueling a hot panic. He bolted forward, grabbing his shotgun in one hand. He pounded down the aisle. Jason, agile as a monkey, raced ahead. The creature thrashed behind him as it tried to extricate itself from the piled boxes. He kept running, oblivious to the strain. His sight fixed ahead.
Bright light exploded in front of him.
Roland had reached the other exit. He stood silhouetted against the glare, waving them on. "Hurry!" Roland yelled. "It's coming!"
Blakely tried to increase his speed, but his legs began to buckle. He stumbled to his knees. The sound of crashing boxes got closer. Blakely heaved to his feet, lightheaded and wobbly. Then a sharp pain, burning like bile, blossomed in his chest and shot down his left arm. His heart.
The room tilted… blackness tried to swallow him up…
Suddenly Roland was there, supporting him. He allowed himself to be dragged, knowing he should protest, insist that they leave him. But he was too weak to utter a sound. They tumbled as a group through the exit.
Jason kicked the door shut behind them.
As they limped away, a bellow of rage erupted from within the Quonset hut. Claws gouged metal as it tried to rip after them.
Blakely, his hand tremoring, pointed forward. "The noise'll attract more of them."
They hurried back toward the center of camp, abandoning any hope of reaching the elevator. Gunfire burst sporadically around them. Clouds of smoke billowed in the cavern breeze. Near the north end of the camp a fire burned, flames flickering halfway to the ceiling. They stumbled across the camp, hiding from every sound.
Resting in a sheltered doorway, Roland was the first to speak since the ordeal. "Where do we go? They're attacking from all directions."
"No," Blakely whispered hoarsely. "They're only attacking from land." Wheezing, he pointed toward the lake.
His aide nodded. "It could be safer there. If we could get a boat, get on the water…"
Jason spoke up. "What if they can swim?"
Blakely tried to joke. "Then we better get a speedboat. Let's go." He pushed off the stairs. The slow pace across the base had allowed him to recuperate enough to proceed on his own. With Roland leading, he and the boy followed. With a little luck…
Then, from around a corner, one of the reptiles, a smaller one, muscled and scarred like a street bully, burst into their path-only six feet away. It crouched and hissed at them, bristled hackles raised.
Blakely raised his shotgun and blasted wildly. The creature howled and took a step backward, a bloody gouge torn from its right flank. Roland fired, shredding its upper arm, spinning it away.
"Move!" Roland screamed, grabbing Blakely's shoulder and Jason's arm. He shoved them toward a narrow alley between the mess hall and a wooden dormitory. "Run!"