Holly felt as if she were being watched. It was probably the phone she hadn’t hung up again, with Jonah on the other end. And even though she knew he’d be on his way by now, still the feeling remained until she hit the alarm button. But by then everything had gone wrong. The thing stood on their side of the breach, within the containment field and the influence of the eradicator, but still standing as well. Maybe it’s dead and just won’t fall down, Holly thought, but she could see movement in its limbs, and its lank hair swayed as it swung its downturned head a few degrees in either direction. It was naked, its exposed skin dark and cracked. Clumps of hair clung to its body and its genitals, though shriveled, were obviously a man’s. When it had first come through, Satpal—standing close to Holly now, eyes wide in wonder—had called it humanoid. “No,” Melinda had said, “it’s human.” !But there was something so very wrong with that assessment. As the intermittent wail of the alarm filled Control, Holly’s hand hovered over the manual eradicator controls which she’d already turned to full charge. Enough to kill a rhino five times over. One more time, she thought and she pressed the round red button. The breach flashed as the eradicator discharged. Sparking blue light wormed through the thing’s hair and illuminated the deep dry cracks in its skin, a jigsaw of wounds and fractures. It should be dead, if not from the eradicator then— Because of those wounds. !“Charge it again!” Alex shouted, gun aimed. “That was full charge,” Holly said, and Melinda turned to her, wideeyed. Full? her look said. Holly nodded, then looked back at the intruder. The eradicator was designed to cease brain activity and negate electromagnetic function, halting hearts, freezing muscles, shifting a thing from living to dead in a matter of seconds. Their intruder had taken three full charges, and still stood.
“It takes one more step, open fire,” Alex commanded the other three guards. Holly knew that they wore throat mics and inner-ear receivers, so their voices would easily carry over the harsh noise of the alarm. Jonah and the others will come running, she thought, glancing back at the glass wall beside the main entrance door. And Jonah was there, pressed flat against the glass like a kid at a sweetshop window. He looked past her and Melinda at the intruder, and in his eyes Holly could make out the sudden terror that they had done something dreadful. By pressing the alarm she had initiated a partial lockdown of Coldbrook, securing Control and the breach floor within it from the rest of the facility. Jonah could look, but he couldn’t touch.! “It’s not human,” she said. “It can’t be.”! “Stay back!” Melinda said, holding up her hands in a warding-off gesture. She was ten steps from the visitor. “Stay away!” And as though taking her words as a signal, it started forward again. A dry rasping sound accompanied its movement. It shambled, feet dragging, head down, hands barely moving, as if at the end of a walk hundreds of miles long. The intruder had not seemed a threat until the eradicator failed to stop it, and even then Holly had frantically checked the settings and levels of the device she had designed and built. But pressing the alarm button had felt like an admission, and from then on Holly’s fear had been building. Charging, like the eradicator. Ready to burst. Melinda did not move back and, as the man from the other world came within three feet of her, gunfire erupted. Bullets thudded into the shape, its face still turned down but hands raised, reaching for Melinda as if she had always been his goal. Holly saw the bullets flick at his hair and blast bits of him across the breach floor, shattering him as he moved between this universe and another, and she thought, Have we just declared war? But then he reached Melinda, and in a surreal gesture she held out her arms as if to prevent him from falling. He bore down, driving her to the
floor beneath him. He started to scratch and bite. And when Melinda’s scream came it echoed Holly’s, their own alarm filling Control with a very human fear. “Oh, God!” Holly said, a plea in her voice because she didn’t know what they had done. The bullets hit him and ripped him, but he’s still— The shape, previously slow and lethargic, was now frenzied in its movements. It used both hands to bat away Melinda’s arms, which she had raised over her head to protect her face, and darted its head down at her like a bird pecking seed. Even behind the shouting and gunfire, Holly heard the unmistakable sound of teeth clacking together. “Help her,” she said hopelessly, and the guards were doing their best. Alex and another had advanced and were kneeling, trying to adjust their angle of fire so that they didn’t strike Melinda. The other two were carrying a long table down the steps towards the breach floor. Melinda screamed as the man bent his face into her chest and starting biting. He shook her like a dog, lank hair flailing, and Holly closed her eyes and looked away as she saw blood flying, spattering down across the floor from his teeth. Why don’t they just shoot? Gunfire erupted again, several short bursts from two weapons, and when Holly opened her eyes she looked directly up at Jonah. He was still pressed against the window, his face slack. He looked from her to Melinda and back again, and Holly wanted so much to tell him that it wasn’t his fault. Protocol dictated that Control must now remain sealed for three days. All functions would be transferred to Secondary, a room two floors up on Coldbrook’s top level that had full audio and visual access to Control and the breach, and from where Jonah and the others would be able to monitor what happened. And however appalled and guilty Jonah looked, Holly knew that he would follow protocol. The gunfire ceased, and for a moment Holly could not turn around because she was terrified of what she would see.
“Ohshitohshitohshit,” Satpal said. She glanced sidelong at him, saw his hands pressed to his face, fingertips trying to massage the truth from his mind. He looked at her and his expression did not change.! She turned around. The man was slumped on top of Melinda, unmoving. Part of his head had been blown away. There was blood splashed across the concrete floor, and bullet holes pocked the framing around the breach. Did we shoot into there? she thought, and she looked everywhere but at Melinda, because she didn’t want to see. Though the man bore terrible wounds, only his ruptured skull seemed to bleed. The two guards with the table used it to shove the dead intruder to one side. Holly heard him hit the floor, a sibilant sound like something dry, not wet. His head looked like a ruined coconut. “What do we do?” one of the guards asked. “Do we...?” “Not sure there’s much point,” Alex said. “She’s already stopped moving.” Oh no, Holly thought, and she looked directly at the biologist for the first time. The man had made a mess of her, and from twenty feet away she was glad she could not make out the details. Melinda’s face had vanished in a mess of meat, her throat had been ripped out, and the pool of blood beneath her was spreading. “Holly!” Jonah’s electronic voice said. He was using the intercom. There was a button on Holly’s desk, but right now she didn’t know what she could say. Melinda was dead. Blood still trickled from her ravaged throat, but it no longer flowed because her heart had stopped. “Miss Wright,” Alex said, “we need to see if anything else is coming through, check the status of the—” “Okay!” Holly said, pleased to have something to do. She sat at her station and looked at the large high-definition viewing screen to her left. She used her computer keyboard to run through all eighteen views available to her and, when she was confident there was nothing large moving over there, she set about checking the breach containment. All
appeared well. The eradicator was back to full charge, sensors were all online, and the robot pods were fired up to collect anything. But the man had still come through.! We’ve got to shut it down, she thought. Seal the breach and... But that was something for Jonah to decide. And it was nowhere near as easy as simply closing a door. !“Looks clear,” Holly said, and when she looked up Alex was already moving forward. The other three guards covered him. He shouldered his gun and stepped into the puddle of blood. His boots made a slight splash in the congealing fluid and sluggish blood flowed in to fill his footprints. He edged around the dead man and skirted Melinda’s head, approaching from the other side, checking his men’s field of fire and squatting beside her.! Melinda groaned. !“She’s alive!” Holly said. “She’s alive?” She spun around and looked up at Jonah, already seeing the hopelessness in his expression. He’ll still have to leave us in here, she thought. “But she can’t be...” Satpal said. And Holly turned around again, because something about his voice seemed so sure. Alex was still squatting beside Melinda, both hands held out as if unsure if or where he should touch her. She was moving slightly, groaning, limbs flexing, and when her face turned towards Holly she realized what Satpal had meant. She was all raw meat and teeth. “Get me some dressings!” Alex snapped. One of his men dashed to the guard station by the main door. “Is it just—?” Satpal said, and then Melinda sat up. !“Just what?” Holly asked.! A soft, ghostly sound filled the room, like a breeze blowing through weathered rocks.
!Alex was looking at the biologist in amazement. He was still holding his hands out to either side, not wanting to touch her anywhere, when she grabbed his head, pulled it towards her faceâ€”and bit him.