“They’re breeding,” Lucy whispered, a faraway look in her eyes. She had her ear pressed against the cold concrete wall of the cellar, and the gloved fingertips of her right hand cautiously explored the rough surface. It looked as though she had closed some kind of circuit and was using her hand as an antenna of sorts, trying to tune into whatever signals were emanating from behind the stone.

“What does that even sound like?” Taylor asked. He scratched his stubbled chin in nervous agitation.

“Like a whale song, played in reverse. At least, that’s how you’d hear it. To me it sounds like noctals breeding. Now shut your fool mouth and let me focus. And stop that damn scratching.” She shot him a sidelong glare without shifting her head from the wall and Taylor’s hand fell from his face as if it had been slapped down.

I smiled to myself. I’d only been working with the two of them for the last three days, and already I knew it was going to be a good gig. It had to be better than my last job, ghost hunting in the Eastmoor Heights, though that wasn’t really saying much. Even sanitation work would have been better, and a lot safer too. But it was nice to be part of a team of professionals again. I glanced at Taylor, and he gave me a nervous grin. Semi-professionals, even.

We’d been searching for the noctal nest for the better part of the afternoon, and it seemed as though Lucy had found it. There’d been several killings in the vicinity in the last month, and careful plotting on an overhead map of the area had pinpointed this block as a likely location. Once we had the general position it had been boots on the ground, and the terrifying tedium of door to door searches.

Taylor had been surprisingly effective during that stage of the hunt. Morgan, the guy who’d set me up with this crew, had told me that Taylor had been part of the last big urban conflict, and had a lot of experience with breaching and clearing. I’d been meaning to ask Taylor why he hadn’t gotten into something safer, like the police force, but there hadn’t been a decent opportunity. Maybe once this job was finished there’d be time for some small talk.

Lucy snapped her fingers and tapped a spot on the wall. I stepped up and slapped a small brick of explosive where she’d indicated, and ran a length of fuse down and away into the cellar. I trailed it behind an old, rusted boiler, my boots churning the dust as I hunched down and connected the cord to an electric detonator. Lucy and Taylor crowded in next to me, their backs to the boiler.

“Fire in the hole,” I said, and twisted the detonator. Too late I realized I’d forgotten to pull my filtration mask up over my face, and the cellar exploded in a flash of white light and then filled with billowing dark grey clouds of dust.

Taylor was up on his feet first, racking his shotgun before planting it firmly against his shoulder, the pure white beam of its under barrel light lancing through the dirty air. I watched the beam swing as I struggled to seat my mask. My teeth ground on a mouthful of grit. I worried for a moment about asbestos and then remembered there were far greater and more immediate dangers waiting on the other side of the hole I’d just blown in the wall.

Lucy hauled me up and pushed me in front of her, her own weapon-mounted light snapping on and cutting an arc through the roiling tumult. The bricks had blown out clean. Beyond the wall was a low chamber with curved walls, capped with a quarter-circle of a half dome overhead. The smell of feces was overwhelming, even though the mask. I fought hard not to gag.

“Husks here,” Taylor called, follwed by the echoing boom of his shotgun. I heard the wet slap as his shells tore larval noctals into chunks of dead flesh. There was a narrow gutter running down the center of the chamber, a drainage ditch of sorts, and I caught my boot in it. Lucy pushed against my back as she squeezed into the room, and bowled the both of us over. A lance of pain shot up through my ankle as it twisted in place.

“God damn it!” I shouted as my rear end slammed down onto the hard stone floor.

“Sorry,” Lucy said, as she swept the room with her weapon.

“I think—” I gasped, “I think I’ve twisted my ankle.” Another boom from Taylor punctured the room.

“Can you walk? Get up,” Lucy ordered, and reached her arm down for me to take. I grasped it and hauled myself up on my good leg. I tested the other and winced in pain.

“I can hobble. I hope we don’t have to run.”

“I don’t think we will,” Taylor said. He loomed into view. The exposed parts of his face were covered in dust and lined with dripping wet streaks where he’d been splattered by exploding larvae.

“You got some on you,” Lucy said.

“Yeah, hard to avoid when you’re cranking them at point-blank. Looks like Mommy and Daddy ain’t around though.” Taylor grinned, flushed with the excitement of the breach. He'd had his chance to do what he did best, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before he was back to his nervous self.

“No good. We need to find them,” Lucy said. She swept her light over the walls. “There, looks like this is the end of a sewer of some kind.”

“That’d explain the smell,” I said.

“I’ll take point,” Lucy said. “Taylor, give him a shoulder to lean on. Seems he’s gone and busted his leg.” Although I couldn’t see her lips, I could hear the smile.

“I had a little help with it,” I said, and put my arm around Taylor.

2014.08.24 – 2023.04.21

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