"So, we sit here?" Bryce asked.
They sat in the convertible, the top down, leaving them exposed to the chill night air. They parked in the middle of the street, facing the entrance to the Gen-Corp marketing building.
"We wait for the Simps," Ruby said.
"And how close do you think we should let them get?"
"Close enough to keep them interested."
Ruby stood on her seat. "Hey everyone," she shouted. "I'm very, very depressed. I could sure use someone to come along and cheer me up."
"You're crazy," Bryce muttered.
"We've got to get them all as far from the lab as possible."
"Why don't you use the Ord ring?"
"It's in my jacket back in the lab."
Silhouetted figures appeared at the Gen-Corp entrance. They lined up along the glass, looking out. A tall figure pushed the front doors open.
"Here they come," Bryce said.
Ruby turned. Under the street lights, she spotted more Simps approaching from behind. "We're surrounded," she said.
"What?" Bryce threw the car into gear.
"Wait. They're not close yet."
"Are you kidding?"
"We've got to draw them away. We need to let them think they almost have us."
When the nearest Simp, a woman in a bathrobe, was only a few feet away, Ruby said, "Okay, now."
Bryce yanked the steering wheel. The car rose ten feet in the air.
"Okay, back up about forty yards and set the car down again."
Bryce complied. "We've got their attention. There's got to be fifty of them."
Ruby scanned behind them. The street was well lit for a mile. No Simps approached from any direction but the one they came from. "When they get within five feet, do it again," she said.
They continued, baiting the Simps and luring them away from the lab. "How do you know all the Simps in the lab came out," Bryce asked.
"I don't. But our only hope of saving all these people is in that lab, and I've got to go back in."
"I'll come with you."
"No you won't," Ruby said, laying a hand on Bryce's arm. "They got Basha and Chandra. If I get caught, we need someone who knows there's a cure in the lab."
"And what can I do?"
"I don't know. Get reinforcements. Navy Seals. Something big."
"Maybe we should do that now."
"Maybe, but I know where the cure is, and I need to try while we're here."
The nearest Simp rushed forward in the headlights. Bryce yanked the wheel and bolted upward out of reach.
"This is far enough. Take me back to the lab."
As they soared over the heads of the groping Simps, Bryce said, "Okay, do it. Take my spark."
She turned to him. "You'll feel weaker."
"As long as I can still drive."
Ruby laid a hand on his shoulder and closed her eyes. She envisioned the light within him, flowing up through his chest and into her hand. She closed her fist and felt revitalized.
"Okay, that's weird," Bryce said.
"Yeah. Are you okay?"
"Fine, I guess."
They reached the Gen-Corp entrance. Ruby leaped out of the car where it hovered ten feet above the walkway.
"Good luck," Bryce called.
Ruby crouched on the ground and scanned the area as Bryce pulled away into the sky. As the engine noise faded, Ruby was left in utter silence. Nothing moved. Ruby took a deep breath and ran.
No one appeared as she pushed through the front doors of Gen-Corp and raced for the CDC stairwell. There were plenty of places a body might hide in the cubicle jungle. Ruby chose haste over caution and sprinted for the stairway. Nothing jumped out at her. She reached the doorway, calmed her breathing, then eased the door open and listened.
She could hear only the distant hum of machines below. The stairwell was still lit thanks to Tim, but she didn't want to tip anyone that she approached. She snuck down, stopping every few steps to listen. Nothing sounded out of the ordinary. She reached the bottom step at the sub-basement. A trail of blood led from the step where she left Dr. Yocum back into the open doorway of the laboratory.
Yocum. He wanted to stop the upgrade. Was he inside sabotaging Chandra and Basha's work? Ruby decided it was time to cast her caution aside. She sprinted again.
She found Yocum crawling, swaying on hands and knees, returning to the machine where Chandra had synthesized the upgrade. Ruby kicked him aside. She was almost to the machine when a hand reached out from a corner, catching her by the wrist.
Ruby spun. It was Basha, his eyes empty, his grin drooling. "Hi," he said. "This is a nice place, isn't it?"
Behind him, Chandra and several other Simps closed. She kicked Basha in the chest, knocking him back into the others.
Ruby reached the machine and pulled the catchtube away. The liquid inside was clear. Now, all she needed to do was inject it into a subject. She scanned for a syringe.
The Simps continued after her. She moved to shove them back, then realized she'd nearly lost the contents of the tube. She needed a stopper, something to protect the precious contents. There was no stopper, no syringe, nothing she could use. She pressed her thumb over the tube and retreated towards the door.
Chandra stood in the stairwell doorway, her head cocked to one side, her teeth gleaming. "What's wrong?" she asked.
From the floor, Dr. Yocum laughed. "It's over," he chuckled. "There's nowhere left to go."
Ruby shoved Chandra, only to find there were a dozen more Simps right behind her.
"Why do you resist?" Yocum asked. "They only want to ease your pain?"
Ruby backed away. She scanned for a place to evade them. The Simp cage? She darted towards it as Basha and others closed in on her. She wouldn't make it.
"Don't worry," Yocum said. "I can fix the formula. You'll be yourself in no time, only better."
Ruby backed towards a corner. "Why don't they attack you?" she demanded.
Yocum pulled himself up on a chair. "They're programmed not to," he said.
"You'll understand soon enough."
Ruby's time was up. They were all around her now. She had the upgrade, but no way to administer it. Basha stood before her, leering.
"Let me help you."
"Sure," Ruby said, her back to the wall. "Drink this."
Basha's eyes grew confused. He continued to advance. Ruby held the catch tube protectively, looking for a way out. There was none. Bodies surrounded her on all sides.
There was only one thing to do. She drank the tube's contents.
She braced herself for whatever came next.
Basha leaned forward and sank his teeth in her shoulder.
Ruby screamed. She shoved at him, but his grip was unyielding. She felt the tear at her flesh. She felt a spreading fire down her arm. She couldn't move. She couldn't think.
The fire turned warm. Gooseflesh shot up from her toes. Her head swam with a giddy rapture. She smiled. The smile grew wide. She felt like laughing. She understood.
The people around her waited.
The grin faded. Ruby stared at Basha, who watched her with a perplexed smile.
The giddiness that had consumed Ruby departed. She felt nothing but the pain in her shoulder.
"Why aren't you smiling?" Basha asked.
"I don't know. I guess it worked."
"Why aren't you smiling?"
"There's nothing to smile about."
"Why... aren't you smiling?"
"Because I've got the Aeterna Storm upgrade."
Yocum pushed through the throng of bodies, his face livid. "You will not pervert my work," he shouted, lunging at Ruby.
Ruby punched him in his already bloody nose. Yocum fell backwards into Basha, who ignored him.
"Please share the upgrade," Basha said, his eyes fixed on Ruby.
Ruby stared up at him. "How?"
"Please share the upgrade," Basha repeated.
Should she bite him? Was that the only way?
"Please," Basha repeated. His smile faded. He looked lost.
"Please share," said a woman in a lab coat behind him.
"Uh," Ruby said.
She sighed. She stepped forward and kissed Basha on the mouth. To her disgust, Basha shoved his tongue through her teeth. Ruby pushed back.
Basha stood frozen, staring.
A moment passed. Basha's face went blank. He shook his head. "Holy crap," he said. "Now that was some sick shit."