Elementary particles (and all 'matter') are artifacts of the staticness of the observing framework.
- Dreamer's Handbook
Rob eyed the big red button, resisting the temptation to push it. "Hey Pete, look what I found!"
The salvage operation was one of the most promising their crew has been on; the demons slaughtered everyone in the underground facility and retreated without taking any of the spoils. They did leave, however, corpses in blue and white labcoats with blood smeared all over.
"What!" Came the muffled reply from the far side of the corridor.
Many of the reinforced doors were already bashed in or broken in half. Naturally, the crew raided the blood depository first - no self-respecting vampires would let all that tasty blood get ruined. It's good we arrived in time, while there's still electricity. Not even the clan leaders knew why only facilities such as these had electricity and working technology - or if they did, they surely did not bother telling Rob.
"Just come over here!" Rob yelled back.
The big red button wasn't the only tempting thing: the wide control panel occupied the entire length of a wall and the better part of the room. It was covered with switches, dials, small buttons and various indicators, and the words 'BIOPRINTER 3000x' were featured prominently above. The panel seemed to have suffered no damage; the room and its massive steel walls were untarnished, and the only thing indicative of the attack were torn pages scattered all over the floor.
Rob picked up a few pages that looked like part of an instruction manual and started reading:
'...The insta-clone setting couples the ancient bioprinter with advanced bioscanning technology that we developed in-house, right here at Midflower. Identity and the mythical 'soul' evade us - mid and higher brain functions are not present, and insta-cloning any animal or humanoid results in a severely afflicted biomass. But, so far such failures proved helpful for deeper research into the Virus; they also provide a refined learning tool for technomages beyond the mere smoothing of perturbations in the fabric of reality. Since electromagnetic and other fields...'
A muscular vampire entered through the door. He was toying with a knife in his hand, and like Rob, he was wearing body armor - loot of an earlier salvage expedition. "So? What is it?"
Rob didn't answer, just pointed along the control panel with a sweeping gesture.
Pete raised an eyebrow. "Just tech? No chemicals or usable bio stuff?"
"That's what I'm trying to figure out. Grab a few pages and help out, would you?"
Pete grunted. He started picking up the pages and handing them to Rob, who stacked and sorted them.
Rob's eyes glazed over much of the text as he skimmed it.
'...It is infuriating how much at odds the predominantly subjective nature of technomagic is with hard facts and cause-and-effect chains of scientific methods. We all know that Serum users' brains establish additional pathways below the threshold of reality - that's why there's no coming back from Serum addiction. Despite their hyper-intelligence, the technomages haven't yet condensed that higher understanding into a shared context with objective symbol-sets - they profess a tendency to convey information through the collapsing fields of the very fabric of reality, and there might be the beginnings of a language there. Such fleeting advancements...'
"Hey, did you hear? We found survivors!"
Rob looked up. "Really? Friendly or hostile?"
Pete shrugged. "Not hostile. Some of the brainiac zombies locked themselves into a panic room. 'Technomages', they call themselves. They're promising a lot for a safe transport to another facility, and the Boss is negotiating with them right now."
"A proper escort job for a change? That's great!"
Pete nodded. "They said something about 'Serum-rationing' and 'tech-enabling trance'... The Boss looked concerned. He says we don't have much time before electricity fails."
"I see. We'd better hurry, then." Rob continued reading.
'A rumor-theory circulates that technomages are getting dangerously close to the domain of demonic entities, or more precisely, to the mechanism of possessing humanoids from higher realms of awareness. Although this could explain the increase in seemingly random attacks from demonic forces, so far no facts support the shaky assumption.'
Pete attempted to make sense of a few pages, but soon threw them away in frustration. "Gibberish... all of it..." He muttered.
With the corner of his eye, Rob saw Pete fidget - and lift his fist to smash down on the big red button. "No!"
For several seconds, strong vibrations and a pervasive hum emanated from the walls. Rob's body tensed and his mind emptied itself in anticipation of the unexpected.
When the humming ceased, one of the steel walls slid apart slightly to reveal a small chamber - from which a limping zombie staggered out.
Rob immediately sized up the danger and swung into action: with a powerful right hook, he separated the zombie's jaw from the rest of its body, and followed it up with a shin kick. A twisting of arms - a response to a meager counter-punch - brought the zombie down.
Rob was honest with himself enough to admit: he enjoyed stomping on the jawless skull and watching the partly liquefied brain drip from his boot. It's the adrenaline high.
Without much sound, the steel walls closed. Rob took a few steps back, recovering.
"That's it? All it does is open a secret door?" Pete casually smashed the big red button again. "Pff... I hope there are supplies we can use in that chamber."
Rob briefly considered berating his brother-in-arms, but he didn't think it would do much good.
After another round of humming and strong vibrations, the metal wall opened to reveal a second zombie - exactly the same in all features as the first one. With a limp, the zombie stepped out of the chamber.
"Ha, another one!" Pete exclaimed with almost childish delight. "Where did he hide? Move, this one is mine!"
Rob didn't try to stop him; he just rolled his eyes. This idiot will get me killed sooner or later!
Pete stepped closer, daring the zombie to attack. "Ha!" The zombie obediently lunged, and Pete backed away. "Take this!" He readied a strong blow that would leave a hole in the decaying torso.
While Pete's swing was gathering momentum, the lights blacked completely out.
Damn! Rob strained his eyes.
The lights came back half a second later, but the interruption was enough to disorient Pete and make him miss his aim. The lights continued to flicker.
The strike severed the zombie's arm, but the other arm drew the brutish vampire in a hostile embrace and made him lose footing. They tumbled onto the control panel and rolled over the switches and dials.
Rob couldn't do much, except stand idly by while - after much bone-crunching and flesh-rending - Pete finished the zombie off. When the humming started anew, Rob realized that the two managed to hit the big red button one more time.
Pete stood up, shaking. Claw and bite marks adorned exposed parts of his skin.
The humming, the vibrations, and the rapidly blinking lights set both vampires off-balance and made it seem like they were guinea pigs in some horrible psychological experiment.
The steel walls moved apart once again.
The piercing, but shaky flashes outlined another copy of the same zombie - no, two! Rob had difficulty ascertaining the correct number of limbs, but he saw at least two identical heads, five arms, and a number of legs which flailed in the air without supporting the mound of flesh they were attached to.
The monstrous zombie tried to step into the room, but succeeded squeezing through only on the second try. A wailing sound wheezed from one of the mouths.
Rob's subconscious fight-or-flight instinct said 'flight', and his conscious mind agreed. He turned around and fled out the door, yelling to Pete: "Run! Run!" The monster was scary, but despite limited night vision, losing electricity in an underground facility that depended on it was scarier.
The two vampire grunts ran hastily for safer grounds. Rob could hear Pete's heavy breathing from behind.
What neither of them could see was that after making two more steps with its weight-bearing legs, the ghastly creature tripped over the body of one of its predecessors and fell. That was all the unformed brains - even by zombie standards - could handle.
As a tree that falls in the forest, it exhaled the last breath of a life that never was.