B3. A collection of utility rooms and conduits that was straight out of the 19th century.

The air smelt of metal rot and urban bilge.

They followed the blood trail in single file down a wide main passage, then a left on a dog leg into a smaller packed access corridor.

“Be careful of the larger steam pipes. They can have high pressure leaks, cut a hole in your neck; you’d bleed out in seconds,” Pulaski said.

Buono snorted and said to Pulaski, “Bet you’re glad you’re tail-gunner then?”

“Oh yeah,” Pulaski answered.

Shadows cavorted and writhed as the squad moved on.

“Something’s wrong with the trail,” Gonzales said. “It should’ve petered out by now.”

“Yeah. And by my reckoning, we aren’t under the bank anymore—” PFC Karlajic was cut off by a wet, splashing sound to the rear.

Sgt. Jamison said, “Fuck it, we’re out of here.”

The squad reversed direction, Pulaski taking point. They took a left onto the dog leg and pushed forward.

“Squad Two, meet us at the B3 landing, we’re getting the fuck out of here. Whatever was in here must’ve left,” Sgt. Jamison radioed.

“Pulaski, hold up. Something is wrong,” Jamison said.

Buono spat out, “Yeah, these are trunk lines, not steam pipes. You get us turned around, you Polack fuck?”

“Shit!” Lee slipped and took a tumble.

Slater helped him up. “Holy fuck, man, you’re covered in blood.”

Karlajic switched to visible light. “Uh, guys, might want to cut the IR, take a look around.”

The passage was suddenly bathed in white light.

“Fucking God!” someone yelled.

In the press around them were festooned stripped human skins, intestines, and other less identifiable innards.



Still dripping.

Dust motes swam in the air through the light beams.

Metal screamed; a gnarled pair of dead white hands pulled Sgt. Jamison against the pipework. Karlajic and Gonzales seized his arms.

“Get this motherfucker off me!” Jamison shouted.

His pelvis and back gave a crack that broke through the air.

Karlajic yanked Jamison’s service pistol from its holster and thrust the muzzle into the pipes, firing two shots.

A blade pushed through Jamison’s neck.

His head tumbled through the air.

Sgt. Jamison’s corpse was pulled out of their grasp.

A bestial form appeared among them.

A blasted acrid stench filled the thickening air.

The six-fingered beast seized Pulaski’s ankles and neck.

Pulaski, with a breath, screamed, “Do some—!” Then gasped out, “Please—!”

Then it ripped him in half like a wet paper bag.

Buono lined up the shot and dumped the mag.

It staggered.

The thing chucked Pulaski’s legs towards Buono. They rolled like some obscene piece of modern performance art.

Bayonet fixed, Buono unleashed a battle yell and charged. His momentum buried the bayonet up to the hilt in its guts.

It roared, striking the weapon impaled in its abdomen, tearing it out of Buono’s hands.

Buono slipped his fingers into his brass knuckles.

Buono boot-stomped its knee.

There was a loud pop.

The beast fell to all fours.

Buono laid into the thing. He rained down lefts and rights.

More hands tore through the nest of pipes.

Panther-like muscled bodies pressed into the corridor. The men of Squad One fought back. Gunfire split the cramped damp air.

Someone was screaming.

Something roared.

A thing on the ceiling grabbed Lee and pulled him into the air, saying, “Gotcha, soldier boy.”

Lee pulled a blade and drove it home into its ribs in a savage fury. It collapsed to the floor, falling on top of Lee. He dug the blade into its neck, deep and hard; drawing with all his strength, he severed its neck to the spinal column.

Clawed fingers dug into Karlajic’s arm. He swung the pistol on a bloodless corpulent face, mouth opened wide. He popped it twice in the face and twice in the gut.

It crumpled to the ground.

Squad Two blared over coms, “Squad One, where are you? We hear shots. Where are you?”

Buono had the six-fingered thing on the ground. He pounded its face into mush.

Gonzales shouted to him, “Buono, clear off!”

Buono rolled away and Gonzales pumped a burst fire into the thing until its brains were splattered on the floor.

Then all was quiet.

The floor and walls were coated with fresh blood and black ichor.

Karlajic tucked the half-empty pistol into his rig and shouldered the SAW.

Everyone did a tactical reload.

Pensive eyes checked their surroundings, weapons ready.

Gonzales knelt over half of Pulaski’s form. “Fuck.”

Someone kept repeating, “Where the fuck is Squad Two?”

“Squad Two, come in,” Karlajic radioed. “Squad Two, where are you?”


Karlajic looked at his squadmates. “Can anyone else get Squad Two?”

“I got nothing, Karl,” Gonzales said.

Karlajic pointed to two fellow soldiers. “Alright. Sewall, Briggs, get a liter together and load up both halves of Pulaski in a body bag. We’re gone.”

Taking point, Karlajic led the men back the way they came.


Three minutes later, the squad hadn’t encountered the turn they had made. The conduits formed a never-ending straight chute around the squad.

No diverging branches.

Karlajic halted the men. “Gonzales, up front,” he whispered.

“Yo, Karl, what’s up?” Gonzales asked.

“You see anything that rings a bell?”

“No. We should’ve hit that turn by now.”

“Yeah, three minutes of walking. We’re well past that point.” Karlajic thought a moment. “Okay, everyone except me and Lee kill your lights. Save your batteries. White chemlights only, except on my say so.”

Snap, crackle, pop.

The corridor went from harsh electric white to a dull gray glow. They moved on, the corridor heading off into the blackened distance.

Ten minutes later, they were still heading straight.

“Hold up,” Karlajic said. “Gonzales, you have a can?”


“Mount it, and when I say so, fire directly ahead, level as possible,” Karlajic asked.

Gonzales took out a suppressor and screwed it onto the muzzle of his M4. Karlajic took out his ear protection and motioned for Gonzales to do the same.

“Remember, steady.”

M4 leveled into the dark, Gonzales took careful aim, squeezed, and a coughing bark broke the silence.

A sharp, supersonic crack echoed back to them a split second after the suppressed shot, then echoed again.

No report of an impact reached them.

“Okay, squad, take 15 and rest,” Karlajic said.

Gonzales and Karlajic huddled in conspiratorial whispers:

“This is fucked. There is no way we are still under the bank.”

“Yeah. Probably not even downtown.”

“The fuck is going on?”

“Heaven help us, Gonzales. Heaven help us. You take point. I’m going to keep trying the radio.”

Karlajic switched out Sewall and Briggs from carrying the stretcher and told the squad, “We’re heading back the way we came. If you notice any sort of change in the walls or pipes, call it out.”

Lee piped up, “I would ask,” but thought better of it.

“Go ahead, man,” Karlajic said.

“Well, how fucked are we? We’ve been walking for two miles at least and there’s no turns we could have missed,” Lee paused and looked at the other men’s faces, “and I swear I’m seeing the same pipes over and over again.”

Karlajic straightened up and addressed the whole squad, “We knew after day one that we were in for some seriously weird fucking shit. Now, I’m not going to say this isn’t next level freaky. But we keep going. There has to be a way out of here. So keep your shit wired tight and stay alert. Let me or Gonzales know if you notice anything, no matter how small. Got it?”

Everyone responded, “Got it.”


The squad crept silently over their own footsteps.

Lee spoke up, “Yeah, see there, ‘Conduit No. 347’ again. Second time I’ve seen it in ten minutes.”

Karlajic checked the conduit, a gray PVC pipe two inches thick encrusted with grime chest height. Wiping a section clean, he took out a chemlight labeled “Green 12 Hours” and activated it.

“Someone give me a couple of strips of tape,” he said and fixed the glow-stick to the pipe.

Karlajic moved the squad onward. “Gonzales, keep an eye on this as we move on. Let me know when it is no longer in sight. Lee, keep note of the conduit numbers.”

The men kept heart, they held patrol discipline, then Gonzales said, “I can’t see it anymore.”

“Alright, everyone hold up.” Karlajic fixed another glow-stick to another conduit, writing “2” next to it.

Lee said, “Karl, ‘Conduit No. 372.’”

The squad’s pace picked up on the unknown path to an unknown destination.

Karlajic paused in his advance. “Lee, move forward with me. The rest of you hold position.”

“What is it?” Lee asked.

“Something is in the middle of the floor ahead. Turn on your light.”

Lee switched his weapon light on. “Yeah, out past 50 yards.” Lee gulped. “Is that what I think it is?”

“God, I hope not,” Karlajic said.

The pair closed in on an object standing little more than ankle-height, placed dead center in the path.

Smiling at them was Sgt. Jamison’s head, mouth ripped open in a ragged grin, eyes yanked out.

Not one drop of blood on it.


“No, no, no, no,” Lee breathlessly repeated.

“Hold it together,” Karlajic calmed him, took off his shemagh, and with care, wrapped up Jamison’s head.

He almost dropped it when from behind, there was a sudden clatter and thump.

Sewall and Briggs shouted.

Karlajic and Lee double-timed it.

Buono shouted, “Get away from him!” He had his weapon fixed on the contorting body bag.

Someone yelled, “Jesus, NO!”

“Fucking hell.”

“No. He’s one of them. Let me do it,” Buono pleaded.

The whole squad stared.

Something strained from inside the bag.

It tore.

Pulaski’s face appeared with a snarl.

His legs kicked free of the bag and flopped around as Pulaski “stood” upright on his hands.

“FUCK!” Gonzales screamed.

The muzzle blast of Gonzales’ M4 burned the air.

Impassive, Gonzales’ dark visage hardened as Pulaski’s corpse rotted away before their eyes.

Gonzales cocked an ear listening, he thought, to Pulaski’s soul tittering somewhere in those black reaches.

Karlajic dropped Jamison’s head and vomited.

Lee pumped it full of 5.56.


There was an intersection, finally.

The squad halted.

Karlajic flicked a lighter.

He watched the yellow flame intensely.

It drew to the tunnel leading to the left.

The air smelt fresh coming from his right.

He keyed the radio.

Faint static, distant voices coming over the coms. “Squad One here, PFC Karlajic. Does anyone read? Over.”

“Karlajic—in—read you—alive—” came the voice.

“Hey guys, I’ve think I’ve got Captain Wagner on the line,” Karlajic said.

He walked four paces into the right hand passage. The signal cleared a little.

“Captain Wagner, this is Squad One. Sargent Jamison and Corporal Pulaski KIAd. We are lost. Over.”

“—Read—interference—Squads Two—Four—and Six—on lookout—my signal. Over.”

“Alright, squad, we have a way out up ahead. Gonzales, spell me on point,” Karlajic said.

The squad marched on, ready, tense, weapons raised.

The walls’ lining changed from electrical conduit to steam and water pipes.

Lee spoke up, “Karl, I think something is following us.”

“Light up your Surefire.”

Lee switched his weapon light on.

A figure in the distance behind them stood stock still.

A figure in US Army OCPs.

Karlajic readied his SAW. “Identify yourself!”

The figure just swayed a little, arms at the sides.

“Squad One, hold position. Lee and I—” Karlajic broke off.

The figurem stiff-leggedm marched on the squad’s position.

Karlajic and Lee brought their weapons to the ready.

“Stop and identify yourself or we will open fire.”

It didn’t stop.

Karlajic could see its collar was stained a heavy scarlet.

The name tape read “Jamison.”

Karlajic squeezed the trigger.

Lead tore downrange; the figure staggered to its knees and crawled forward, leading with the stump of its neck.

Lee took out its arms.

Lee chanted under his breath, “St. Michael the Archangel defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil…”

It stopped crawling towards them and thrashed on the floor of the tunnel.

“What the fuck is happening back there?” Gonzales asked.

“Gonzales, move the squad forward. We’ve got this,” Karlajic called to the front.

Lee dumped a mag into what was once Sgt. Jamison.

A round must have connected with a flashbang.

The tunnel where Jamison’s bullet-riddled, headless corpse was exploded into a starburst of white light and a pounding roar.

A massive, sudden cloud of steam erupted from a ruptured pipe, enveloping Karlajic and Lee.

Steam whistled and screeched as more pipes gave way.

At once, they were lost in a hot, gray world of stifling fog. Karlajic peered through the cloud at Lee.

Lee’s face at close range was beaded with rivulets of sweat and grime. The fog grew thicker and thicker, hotter and hotter.

Their flashlights turned it into swirling milky soup.

“Against the right-hand wall now!” Karlajic shouted.

Karlajic rotated to his left. “Squad went this way. Follow me.”

Lee placed his hand on Karlajic’s pack and followed by feel.

Plodding, they wormed their way along the wall.

“Squad One, do you read me? Gonzales, come in.” Karlajic radioed.

The steam thinned out, a little.

Lee sagged against the wall. “Karl, man. I’m outta gas. The heat.”

“Drink some water, Lee.”


Karlajic found the mouthpiece to Lee’s CamelBak, putting it in front of his mouth. “Come on, buddy, drink up.”

Lee took several long draws.

“Embrace the suck. Get up, Lee, we’re almost out of this nightmare clusterfuck.”

Lee staggered to his feet and moved again.

Karlajic tried the radio again; not even static.

“Fucking great,” he cursed.

“What?” Lee asked.

“Radio’s gone.”

“Steam’s clearing.”


For all installments of “Milites Noctis,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1