A thick, dense, toxic air finds its way through the unsealed connection joints of the outgoing air shaft. With the machine outsmarting us at every turn, we have no choice but to run.
Assuming Mayze and his team is waiting for us above, we hurry toward the exit. I cross my fingers hoping that we can retrace our steps to find the Blucifer exit a second time.
As if he was watching us, Mayze’s voice comes over the comm. “You’re trapped, LT. You got nowhere to go. My men are on their way to you and they have every exit covered. Their orders are to shoot you on site.
“I gotta hand it to you, though. You did manage to kill five of my guys. But how much ammo do you have left? Do you really think can fight your way out of this?”
Mayze is right, Darwin and I are down to a single clip each. That’s more rounds than the number of men he has, but it leaves very little margin for error. They are better trained and more skilled than we are. Our chances of getting through them are almost non-existent.
“He’s bluffing,” Darwin says.
I poke my head out the door and look down the hallway. Both to my right and the left I see light reflecting around the corners as Mayze’s team make their way toward us.
“Not today, he’s not,” I say, cursing and closing the door behind me. I look around the room, assessing our options. Spots are already starting to appear on the outer skin of our lifesuits where the gas has begun eating it away.
“What about the teleporter?” GoPro says. “We can use it to teleport somewhere else, maybe find fresh fuel tanks and food supplies.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Where would we go, how would we get back?”
“It might work, boss,” Darwin says. “We could wait them out. The toxic air will start eating through their suits. They’ll have to go back to base. If we can get a hold of some fresh air tanks, we can wait them out. They’ll have no idea where we went, and if they do try to follow us we can take them out, one man at a time as they come through the portal.”
I nod, thinking about it and realizing it’s our only viable option. It doesn’t answer how we get back to home base, but it may keep us alive for another day.
As we hurry toward the teleporter room, Mayze comes back on the comm. “Right about now I bet you’re thinking about teleporting out of here. You might want to check me on this, but I may have accidentally left the cage doors open. Sorry about that. I’ll try not to let it happen again.” He laughs to himself at this.
I sprint over to the observation room and bust through the doors. Before I’m halfway down the walkway to the cage, I see that Mayze is right. Both cage doors are propped open. I keep moving, through the doors and up to the control panel, but I already know what I’ll find. The EMP waves have fried the teleporter’s circuits. It’s dead.
“What do we do now?” GoPro cries from behind me.
“I have no idea.” My heart pounds the inside of my chest. Somehow Mayze knew. He knew that we’d be back here and that we might try to use the teleporter to escape, and he sabotaged it! But how did he know? “If anyone has any ideas, now’s the time.”
I get nothing but silence from the team, who all look as if they are going to cry. We are out of options, and scared. The sound of gunshots can be heard as Mayze’s men fire off rounds in the hallway as they approach. This is surely meant to intimidate us, and it’s working. It’s their way of letting us know that they have us right where they want us.
“I’ll make you a deal LT,” Cleaner says. “I’m feeling generous right now. If you come up the stairs and open up this door before my men do, I’ll instruct them to leave your team alone. It’ll just be you and me. Face to face. But, you’re gonna have to leave the gun behind.
“Consider this your last, last chance. But if I see anyone other than you open this door in the floor, then the deal is off. I’ll kill you all and go home and get some sleep. Then tomorrow I’ll go back to the past and kill you and your mom all over again. I’ll consider it a two-fer!
“But don’t take too long to think about it. If my team gets to you before you get to me, well, then, as you like to say, whatever happens, happens.”
I look to the team, but nobody knows what to do. But then a moment of clarity hits me. I let out a sigh, resigning myself to my fate.
Mom sees it in my eyes. “You’re not seriously thinking of going up there?”
I nod. “I don’t have a choice. I’m not going to put your lives’ in jeopardy.”
“But if you go out there, my life is in jeopardy. He’s going to go back in time and kill me.”
“We don’t know that for sure. Maybe Bellinger has taken control of the Studio again and when Mayze and his men return they’ll be arrested. Maybe Darwin will be able to stop him somehow. Or maybe going back in time and changing history is impossible—we still don’t know. But what I do know is that right now, if I don’t go up there, we’re all dead. If I do go, at least you’ll have a chance.”
I hand my rifle over to GoPro. He tries to protest, but I look him in the eye. “I need you to take this. The team needs you. Keep them safe.” I turn and look at each person individually, making eye contact with each one. No words need to be spoken. I hug mom then turn to leave.
“Wait a second, boss,” Brooklyn says. “There’s something you should know.”
“Tell me over the comm,” I say.
“I will, but take this,” she says, shoving something into my pocket. “Think of it as a parting gift.”