Simon hugged his knees to his chest, staring at the bathroom mirror opposite him, and the neon orange squirrel looking back out at him from inside of it. He was trying hard not to think about what had just happened.
“The monsters are controlled by other Inklings like me,” Fortis continued with his explanation. “They're filled with Greys – uh, 'young' Inklings. Sort of. The idea is to spread to as many hosts as possible.”
Simon nodded. He wasn't really listening.
“I can keep them out, though, so don't worry. Only an Elder could overpower me!” he declared, proudly. Simon continued not not really listen. “Uh, n-not that you need to worry. I doubt we'll run into any Elders.”
Simon nodded again. He still wasn't really listening.
“...Okay, dude, what's bothering you? I can tell you're, just, super not into this exposition.”
Simon looked down at his PET, which he had clutched so tightly in his hand he was worried he might crack it. Even though he knew that he wasn't nearly strong enough. “...Do you... do you think they meant what they said?”
* * *
“So... how do we know you're not infected?”
The rabbit – Simon was sure he was an adult, despite not really acting like one – leered down at him with a smug expression. Simon's hand moved instinctively to the green patch sewn into his left sleeve, practically hugging himself as he took a half-step back.
“Hey. Ease up,” same the deep, rumbling voice of the crocodile. Simon really needed to learn these people's names.
The leering rabbit whirled around. “C'mon, don't you find it a little weird? He walks all the way here from the elementary school? And then when he gets grabbed he 'shouts at them'?”
“I have to admit I find it somewhat peculiar...” came Dr. Masterson's voice.
Simon felt his stomach drop. His breathing quickened as his eyes darted around the room. Shelly was saying something, but he couldn't hear her over the sound of his own heartbeat.
He took another half-step back. His grip tightened on his arm. The jerk of a rabbit said... something, louder than before. A large green hand descended on Simon...
* * *
“I dunno. Do humans say things they don't mean a lot?”
Simon looked up at the image of Fortis in the mirror, and then looked away again. “...I dunno. It's hard to work out what anyone really means sometimes...”
The pair sat in awkward silence for a few moments.
“What time is it?” Fortis asked after a while. Simon looked down at his pet's screen – he didn't answer out loud. He knew Fortis could see it. “Nearly five. Okay, so the sun should be up in a few hours... You're not tired, right? Want to head home? Mom and dad are probably worried sick.”
Simon nodded his head mutely. He didn't want to go back to find the others. They didn't want him around, anyway. And even if they did, they'd probably stop him from leaving if he told them he was going to. Adults always did stuff like that.
Simon reached for the door handle-
Fear gripped his heart. A chill ran up his spine, making him shiver uncontrollably. He tried to turn the door handle, but for some reason he just couldn't will himself to do it. He was paralyzed with fear, but couldn't really understand why.
Was there something on the other side of the door...?
Taking a deep breath, Simon concentrated. He willed himself to hear more keenly, adjusting his ears forward, trying to imagine how sound might travel through the corridor outside. He had always been good at this. He just seemed to intuitively get acoustics in a way not many other people did...
He could hear something moving outside. Stomp. Stomp. It sounded like a big heavy elephant clomping around out there. Was it one of those bruise-coloured monsters? No, it was far too quiet for that, it had to be something else... Something worse. He could feel his heartbeat grow fiercer with each thunderous step...
The dichotomy of considering something so loud to also be simultaneously quiet didn't really bother Simon. He just knew instinctively that something was amplifying that noise.
Right. Not going through that door. Simon took several steps backward, looking around the room. No other ways out. Except for the window... but he was on the second floor.
The door opened. Something started to creep through. Something... something like an insect. A smooth oval head with some sort of mandibles, two-clawed grasping appendages gripping at the door. The monster had oily skin that shimmered in the light, and its eyes were a deep, fluorescent green...
Simon leaped out the window.
* * *
This was a terrible idea.
Claws scrabbled at the uneven surface of the wall as Simon plummeted. His shod feet tried to find some sort of purchase, but with his feet confined like this he couldn't really climb that well.
Splat. Simon hit the ground, feeling his entire body flatten out for a split second, before popping back into shape. He sat up, startled. He just feel two storeys! But... he didn't even hurt. Getting to his feet, he looked over at a nearby window to see Fortis looking at him.
“What the hell was that?!” he suddenly heard Fortis shout... from a different window. Confused, Simon spun around to look at the 'inkling', then glanced again at the other window. … Hold on, was that actually his reflection?
He looked down at his hands. They were orange, with the same shiny, almost oily look as Fortis...
“I... I just reacted,” Simon panted, staring up at the open window he'd just jumped out of. Man that was high up... “I-I was just... I was so scared,” he whined. Oddly, though, he didn't feel that frightened any more. Oh, sure, there was that low level fear bubbling away in his gut that had been there since the attack on the school, but nothing he couldn't keep under control...
Simon had already averted his eyes, dreading the chewing out he was obviously about to get. He knew he'd messed up. He wouldn't do it again! Why didn't people ever realise-
With a yelp, Simon dodged out of the way of the slow, oily-grey arm taking a swing at his head. He whirled around, staring at the square courtyard he had only just noticed he ended up inside. The lights were still out, but he could just make out a dozen or so humanoid shapes out there in the darkness... as well as the ruined section of the hospital opposite, seemingly crushed by something very large trying to land on the roof and just falling right through.
“Oh crap. Run!”
“But...” Simon frowned a bit. These... ink-zombies were so slow. Slower than the ones from before. Or was he faster? “I thought you said I can't get, uh, 'infected'?”
“No, but they can still beat you up!”
Simon felt this was a salient point.
Despite having fallen two storeys not a minute ago, Simon broke into a run, aiming for the ruined wall on the opposite side of the courtyard. He wasn't even limping! In fact, running seemed easier than usual right now for some reason. Like he had the strength and endurance of two people?
Simon swerved to avoid one of the ink zombies closing in on him. They were all starting to notice his presence now... He counted... ten? Eleven?
Thud! Simon ran headlong into an inky grey goat-zombie while he was busy counting how many were in the courtyard, bouncing off and ending up landing flat on his ass. The goat towered over him, reaching down to pluck him off the ground – oh gosh this person had been tall...
Simon suddenly felt his arms moving of their own according. His hands came together in a loud clap... which appeared to ripple through the air, knocking the ink-zombie clear off its feet. Simon scrambled to his feet – not entirely sure if it was his own doing or the doing of whatever was controlling his arms – and broke into a run again, hopping over the zombie's sprawled form.
“Sorry,” he could hear Fortis mutter, despite not being anywhere near a mirror.
“You d-did that?” Simon gasped through heavy breaths. He didn't feel tired, per se, but his body was definitely getting a workout with all this running. Dodge left around another ink-zombie, leap up and kick off the wall to avoid a duo blocking his way...
“Yes?” Fortis hazarded, sounding nervous but not at all worn out.
“That was awesome!”
There were only two more between Simon and the gap in the wall. Simon grinned – so if Fortis's ability worked the way he thought it did...
Simon brought one hand up, pointing a 'finger-gun' at the space between the two zombies lurching their way toward him. Simon snapped his fingers, while visualising the sound traveling through the air, similar to the way he had grown accustomed to imagining vibrations traveling through the roof access door in school.
Judge the distance... through this air, the sound should take about one ninetieth of a second to reach them...
With a muffled 'boom', the air between the two zombies suddenly expanded outward exactly one eight-ninth of a second after Simon's finger snap, propelling both ink-zombies sideways as Simon raced his way through.
Simon was still amazed he could react that quickly. Maybe that was part of Fortis's power too? Maybe he should have been paying attention to all that exposition.
Simon gave a woop of triumph as he reached the collapsed wall. He felt a rush of satisfaction he hadn't ever felt before, except for when he finished an album or managed to hit on a really good beat by accident. Who knew adventure was so fun?!
A movement caught his eye. His heart sank, immediately, dread filling his mind as keenly as it had in the bathroom earlier. An insectoid face loomed out of the shadows. Simon turned to flee again, only to run into a wall of muscle and chitin.
He looked up at the looming monster above him. It stood like a primate, but its features resembled a blown-up insect more than a mammal. Its head had this strange threefold symmetry to it, with three eyes and three mandibles arranged equidistant around a circular mouth.
Time seemed to crawl as the bug-ape reached out a clawed hand...
“Hey! Bug breath! Over here!” came a voice – just before a metal filing cabinet crashed into the side of the bug-ape, messing up its aim enough for Simon to just barely duck aside. Simon wheeled around as his confidence started to return. He was still afraid, but for whatever reason it wasn't as paralyzing as it had been a moment before...
Standing where the oily insect-thing had been standing was, instead, the broad-shouldered crocodile from before. “Jesus, Richard was right... you are infected. But...” He hefted a box up on his shoulders. “I can't stand big guys picking on little guys!” he shouted as he hefted the box at the creature.
Simon darted away. Now that he had time to focus, the bug-ape didn't really look that big... oh, it was five times Simon's size, but only twice the size of the 'dile... If it was just an animal, if it wasn't smart, maybe they could actually win this...
The box bounced off the bug-ape as if it was made of packaging foam. Okay so maybe this was Simon's job after all.
Simon looked down at the floor. This hospital had a basement, right? The floor already looked cracked and damaged, so maybe if he could aim it right...
Simon stamped his foot on the ground, hard, and willed himself to visualise the path of the vibration. He stamped again, and then a third time, his mind racing through the floor to map out how the sound waves bounced and ricocheted off each other and anything else they ran into.
Simon stomped his foot a fourth time, willing the impact of his foot to double, triple, quadruple, the ground shaking as he pushed the sound waves harder and harder. The ground began to hum...
And then, with a deafening crash, the floor gave way and Simon felt himself falling into darkness.