Gregor turned back, his eyes wide.
“We need to go. Now.”
Ellie grabbed an arm each of Hobbes and Professor Hill and turned them towards the exit.
All three bolted for the corridor. Behind them Gregor and Weis moved too, backing away as fast as they could after the others while covering as much as they could with their weapons.
Just as they made the corridor three of the stalkers appeared almost at the same moment, one had jumped onto the top of the distribution board while the other two leapt out from behind each of the curved sides. All three let out an inhuman chorus of screeching and howling just as the fourth stalker then leapt clean over the distribution board to land between it and the corridor the humans had just fled down. The pitch of their howls moved an octave upwards and their eyes reflected pure fury on realising that the prey had escaped their trap. They turned to chase the run-aways.
After a quick look over his shoulder to make sure that his boss was still heading away, Gregor signalled Ranger Weis and the pair came to a stop half way down the corridor and raised their weapons. The four stalkers were already moving towards them but when they saw the guns they dropped low and lurched into a galloping charge.
Weis’ heavy calibre rifle round exploded the head of the nearest stalker and its body slid forward along the concrete floor under its own momentum, lubricated by the gushing blood from what remained of its skull. Ignoring this Weis was trying to bring his sights to bear on another target. The problem being that the remaining stalkers were now leaping and dodging like monkeys in a cage, their powerful legs allowing them to jump high and sideways before pushing them off from the wall.
Next to him Gregor’s pistol pumped round after round into the bowed, arched back of a running stalker. It took five rounds before enough damage had been done to cause the stalker to crumple and roll forward two metres to come to a halt in a crazy tangle of limbs. By that time, another stalker was already in mid leap with claws outstretched and fangs bared.
Behind them Ellie, Bodil and Hobbes had reached the steps. The field archaeologist slipped and stumbled but barely lost any speed as he raced up the steps and into the semi darkness of the concourse. At the foot of the steps Ellie had stopped and drawn her own pistol before facing back the way they had come, her pistol now held out in front of her with two hands tightly gripping the butt. Bodil was half a dozen steps in pursuit of Hobbes before she realised that Ellie was not following. She stopped and turned just in time to see a stalker crash into Gregor with enough force to knock the big man several steps backwards. Below her Ellie was swaying and ducking, trying to get the angle on the thing now clawing at her bodyguard only four or so metres in front of her.
To Bodil it seemed like an almost exact recreation of Poppy’s excited, playful leap in the bright sunshine of the mountaintop base only days earlier. But this was not a giant fluffy kitten/child whose claws, though sharp, were only slashing threads in Gregor’s suit. The claws of the stalker had already drawn blood as its legs raked Gregor’s torso while its clawed fingers sank into the giant’s broad shoulders, anchoring the creature in place so that it could lunge and snap at his jugular.
Gregor gave up trying to jam the muzzle of his pistol against the leathery flesh of the stalker’s stomach while still desperately holding those snapping jaws clear of his neck with his left arm. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to get off the four or five shots needed to kill the thing before it ripped his throat out. He dropped the pistol and instead used his fist to smash repeatedly at the stalker’s face.
Weis was now retreating backwards away from the dancing, twisting creature advancing on him. Just as with the big man to his left, a change of tactic was required. Without taking his eyes off the stalker and praying to The Mother for just two death-free seconds, he took his finger off the trigger and sought the mode change lever on the side of the breech mechanism. Unfortunately it looked like fate wasn’t going to give him those two seconds because just as his finger was finding the curved metal lever the stalker leapt for him.
Ellie was moving closer and closer and becoming desperate to save Gregor. She drew level with the retreating Weis just in time to see the creature stalking him leap for the little ranger. Weis would have no chance. Ellie switched target from the thing on Gregor to the thing in the air and fired three times. More by luck than skill the first bullet hit the stalker in the jaw, snapping its head around to the left and making it fall just short of its prey. But her luck had run out it seemed and both the second and third rounds went embarrassingly wide.
Gregor's punches succeeded in making the stalker loosen its grip just a little. But it was enough for him to be able to squeeze his right arm in under the stalker’s chin while his left hand closed across the thing’s face. Gregor pushed and twisted with every ounce of his remaining strength and both felt and heard the vertebrae in its neck snap and pull apart. The stalker fell away from him and Gregor dropped to one knee, both arms now folded across the wet, red mass of torn flesh and cloth of his lower torso.
Weis’ finger clicked the lever just as the stunned stalker landed in front of him. With the weapon mode changed his practiced finger again found the trigger and pulled on it. At thirteen hundred rounds per minute the hail of 7.5mm bullets pushed the rapidly disintegrating stalker down the corridor as effectively as a garden hose washing away dog turds on a driveway. Weis only stopped when the stalker’s head came off and rolled and spun back down the corridor to crash into the distribution board at the far end.