Mark flipped the light switch set into the decaying wall and the filaments flickered in the fixtures. The sensors in the gloves on his hand told him that the wall was not irradiated too badly. Well, not irradiated beyond what the sleek, lead-infused rubber of his Haz Mat suit could handle.
“Looks like someone was here recently,” he said, speaking into his helmet and lifting the nose of the Torch. The deadly metal glinted in the weak light.
His ear bud cackled with dirty radio waves and the Operator’s voice sputtered in his ear. It was pleasantly feminine. “Keep your eyes open, Echo One” she said, unnecessarily. He wondered if she was new.
Mark stepped into the dirty room. The layer of dust and grit ground beneath his boots as he pivoted to get a better view of the entire room.
“Clear,” he murmured.
“I’m not detecting any life signs,” the Operator said. It should have been a comforting thought. It was not.
“The light was working,” Mark said. “Someone was here.”
Mark waited as the silence stretched over the communicator. Finally, the radio crackled. “Proceed, Echo One,” came the Operator’s voice, though she managed to inject some anger into it. Operators hated delayed orders and indecision.
Mark surveyed the tiny room, its contents covered with a thick layer of dust and grime. It looked like it had once serviced the old asylum as a salon. The style of the chairs was ancient, probably mid-Twentieth Century, and covered in a thick layer of dust. He could smell the rotting stench of the fake red and black leather upholstery through the sensors in his helmet. And there was another smell, something worse, something that made him wish the rotting smell of leather was more prevalent.
The pale porcelain sink glowed in his vision when he focused on it. It was clean, as were the surfaces around it. And there were a few things arranged neatly around it: a razor and an emergency stitching kit, a can of hair spray, and a wrapped roll of toilet paper of all things.
Mark passed a hand briefly over the surface of the razor. DNA data flashed over the visor of his helmet. “You getting this?” he asked the Operator. “It’s him.”
“Yes,” she said. “Your orders are to Torch on sight.”
The floor creaked as Mark took a step towards the rotting green walls and a closet door. His heart pounded. He hated and loved this part. It was the best and the worst.
Placing his gloved hand on the doorknob, Mark grasped it and paused, letting the data filter through his helmet. There were no fingerprints on the doorknob, just like there hadn’t been on the door that led into the room. But there was organic matter, recent organic matter. The composition of the skin cells and blood on the door knob flashed in front of his vision on the helmet visor.
Before Mark could turn the knob, the door burst open. Mark screamed as Jamie, or what had once been Jamie, flung himself from the small closet.
The man that had once been Jamie no longer wore his helmet, and his skin was pocked with radiation blisters. His lips peeled away from elongated yellow teeth and he snapped at Mark’s throat.
“Shit!” Mark struggled with the man.
“Do you need backup?” the operator asked coolly.
“No!” Mark grunted and levered an arm under the Cadaver, flinging the rotting body of his former friend off of him.
Jamie leaped to his feet and Mark struggled to his. Mark still stood between Jamie and the door. But the small room suddenly felt a lot smaller. Mark trained the Torch on the body of his former friend.
Jamie smiled, showing his teeth. “You’re not gonna kill me, bud,” he said. The voice was Jamie’s and so was the tone. Mark gritted his teeth. “You always wanted to save them.”
“You killed a kid, man,” Mark said, keeping his eyes on the Cadaver. “Jamie wouldn’t do that.”
“Maybe I like this,” said Jamie with a snarl. “Immortality is great. Maybe you should try it.” The Cadaver took a step towards Mark.
Mark pulled the trigger. The nose of the Torch erupted, spewing fire at the Cadaver. Mark held the trigger until the tank on his back was nearly empty. He felt his anger and fear dissipate with the fuel on his back and the heat that seared through the rubber of his suit and the Kevlar helmet.
After a minute of blazing fire, Mark released the trigger. He sagged and dropped the nose of the torch. Jamie’s corpse reclined on the red salon chair, the flames peeling and blackening skin and fake leather.
“Cad Torched,” Mark said to the communicator, the words exhaled in a held breath.
“Return to base,” said the operator, her voice was quiet.