by Martin Lochman
The day didn’t start well. It was still pitch black outside when I was
brutally awakened by the sounds of heavy machinery and construction
robots coming from the building next door. Apparently, the asshole
developer thought that it was a good idea to begin work at this hour.
After failing to fall back to sleep I got up to make myself a good cup
of coffee only to discover that the coffee maker had decided to go on
The journey to work took ninety minutes which was still a bit less than
I had expected considering the heightened security measures. These
included three checkpoints equipped with military grade scanners that
had been scrambled at the beginning of last week after some religious
nutjob had almost managed to cook the entire city block with a small
homemade fusion bomb. The experts had estimated that had he been
successful with setting off the device, over two thousand people would
have been instantly vaporized--yet this would still not qualify as the
worst attack in the past decade.
When I finally arrived it quickly became clear that today wasn’t going
to be just another day at the office. I barely had time to take my
jacket off before my boss called me and a couple of my colleagues into
the meeting room.
It appeared that there had been an incident last night in the Van
Hooven’s Leisure Center. The Centre had been built five years ago by
one of the richest entrepreneurs of the century, Mr Robert Van Hooven,
as an attempt to give the oversaturated entertainment industry
something new and exciting. The truth was that the vast majority of
attractions it featured couldn’t really be considered that new or
original--you had your run-of-the-mill VR simulators, live action
shooters, games of chance, 5D cinemas and things of that nature. On the
other hand there were also a few that had a potential of piquing the
interest of even the most bored-out-of-their-mind customers. It wasn’t
because they utilized state-of-the-art IT technology or advanced
robotics--on the contrary: they seemed almost archaic in comparison
with the rest.
One of them, Labyrinth, was a gigantic underground complex occupying an
area of nearly ten square kilometers. The main idea behind the
attraction was ridiculously simple: find a way out. Van Hooven himself
had revealed in an interview a while back that when creating the
Labyrinth he had been inspired by the Greek mythology and the legendary
craftsman and artist Daedalus.
In the tales, the center of the maze was occupied by a deadly monster
called Minotaur. Luckily for the visitors, its real-life counterpart
didn’t feature any man-eating animals--until today that is. As my boss
went on to explain an unknown animal had broken out of its confinement
in the Land of Beasts--the other unconventional attraction that had
been very loosely based on the historical zoological gardens. As such
it housed two different types of animals: a decent number of carnivores
including (but not limited to) lions, tigers, crocodiles and snakes
and--just in case these were not spectacular enough for an average
visitor--a fair share of genetically engineered creatures. It was one
of the specimens belonging to the latter group that had viciously
attacked and mauled the caretaker and during its escape had somehow
found its way to the entrance to the Labyrinth where it had taken a
chunk out of some poor sap of a guard who had been unlucky enough to
get in its way before disappearing inside.
Fortunately for the general public (and Van Hooven’s PR team), all of
this had gone down shortly after midnight when the entire Leisure
Center was closed so there were no more casualties. Unfortunately for
me and my colleagues, we were now supposed to go clean up this mess as
quickly and quietly as possible.
"So what’s the objective?" Ryan asked once boss finished giving us the
basics. "Find, sedate and haul it back to the zoo?"
Boss shook his head. "Find and terminate. That’s it. Van Hooven will be
sending his own people to deal with the carcass."
Why can’t they kill it themselves as well? I thought bitterly.
Even though it was a part of my job description I never liked putting
an animal down, no matter how dangerous it was deemed to be. The sad
reality was that the percentage of cases when we had to do just that
had been growing steadily year after year. Thanks to the huge
advancements in the fields of biological engineering and genetic
editing it had become much more convenient (and cheaper) for
owners--down to your average cat lady--to put down problematic animals
and replace them with identical clones. Did your dog bite the
neighbour’s kid? No problem, just get rid of him and get a new copy
with improved, custom made personality traits.
As far as the bioengineering was concerned this still wasn’t the worst
part. Not only was it common to design pets according to preferred
physical and psychological specifications but people literally took
bits and pieces from different species and molded them into a brand new
animal. It had started with cags, hybrids combining the best features
from cats and dogs--I mean who wouldn’t want a pet that was loyal,
friendly and affectionate and at the same time fairly independent,
capable of shitting in a litter box and cleaning itself--and over time
gradually moved towards creations so complex that they would make
Mother Nature itself cry.
There was one single upside to this craze: the scientists were able to
resurrect some of the species that had gone extinct because of mankind
such as the white rhinoceros, the blue whale or the snow leopard. In my
opinion, it still hardly made up for messing around with the natural
order of things.
Further pondering about the state of the world we all lived in had to
wait until later since the meeting was over and it was time to grab the
necessary equipment and get going. Boss had decided that a three man
team should suffice to handle the task at hand which meant that me,
Ryan and Peter were in for an interesting morning.
Apparently, Van Hooven wanted to reopen the Leisure Center in the early
afternoon. That didn’t give us a lot of time to locate the escaped
creature and kill it, especially when considering the size of the
Labyrinth. The greedy bastard had at least arranged for a fast
transport so within half an hour after the meeting we were already
standing at the entrance of the attraction.
"So, how does it all work here?" Ryan asked shortly after the heavy
one-way door had closed behind us and he slowly swung his pulse rifle
around in a wide arc to indicate what he meant.
"What do you mean?" Peter said. "There is one entrance and one exit.
You get in, try your luck. If you manage, good for you! If you don’t,
you can use one of these..."--he pointed at the wrist computer that one
of Van Hooven’s guys had given him outside--"...to retrace your steps
and get out."
Unlike the computers that the visitors were regularly given, Peter’s
device actually contained the complete plans of the Labyrinth--not just
the app that tracked your movement and automatically generated a map
based on it--so we could theoretically find the exit pretty fast. Not
that there was any reason for it.
"That’s it?" Ryan looked baffled. "You just run around empty metal
corridors for hours on end and hope for the best? How is that even
"People are bored, I guess," Peter shrugged. "Internet, virtual
reality, digital gambling...it’s all too conventional, too accessible.
It doesn’t have anything new to offer. That’s why they do all sorts of
crazy and dangerous shit and why they go for something as stupid as
"Still, just how stupid do you have to be to...?"
"Guys!" I decided to step in because I felt that the conversation
wasn’t going to lead anywhere and I didn’t want it to cloud their
focus. "Let’s leave this for later, all right?"
Not waiting for their agreement I continued: "Are you picking up
I was referring to the tracker that Ryan was carrying. It was a small
handheld device that could detect the faintest traces of biochemical
compounds left behind by an animal and in doing so help pursue it with
uncanny precision. It was ten times more effective and reliable than
the best trained hound which made it a perfect tool in a variety of
different settings including airport security and police field work.
Normally we wouldn’t even need to use the tracker since the
creature--just like every single animal in the Land of Beasts--had a
subcutaneous GPS implant. The Labyrinth, however, was shielded from
satellites and the cellular network coverage by design, to prevent the
visitors from cheating.
"Yup, strong and steady--we are definitely on the right track," Ryan
nodded. "And based on these readings Labbie shouldn’t be far."
Peter and I shot a perplexed glance at him. "Labbie?"
"Yeah, why not? It’s not like they gave us its name...or the name of
its species for that matter."
Peter rolled his eyes. "You do realize that this animal actually killed
two people? It’s not your neighbor’s labradoodle!"
I was going to add that it was also quite cynical to give cute names to
a creature we were going to put down but then my ears picked up a
distant rhythmic thumping noise. It was coming from the corridor ahead,
slowly gaining on intensity.
"Guys," I said but my colleagues were already aware of it.
"Looks like it’s going to be over quicker than we thought," Peter
remarked and switched off the safety on his rifle.
I followed his example.
A few long seconds had passed. The sound was getting louder, getting
closer and then it occurred to me that it was maybe a little too loud.
"Isn’t it supposed to be about as big as an adult lion?" Ryan asked, a
hint of nervousness in his voice.
I quickly recalled the details of the meeting earlier. Labbie was said
to be 2,1 meters in length and 1,5 meters in height, weighing slightly
over 200 kilograms. The creature that was now coming in our direction
sounded way bigger and heavier than that.
In fact, what bursted out from around the corner was approximately the
size of a rhinoceros but moved with surprising speed and agility. We
took a couple of shots at it but the energy charges didn’t even slow it
down. Ryan and I managed to jump to the side but Peter wasn’t so lucky.
Labbie snatched him like a ragdoll and swiftly disappeared in one of
"Holy shit!" I gasped and then the full realization of what had just
happened hit me like a freight train.
Peter was dead--there was very little doubt in my mind about that--and
we were way in over our head. We had never dealt with an animal this
big and vicious before so every strategy and procedure we knew went
straight out of the window. There was only one thing to do: get the
hell out of here before Labbie kills the rest of us. I was just going
to suggest it to Ryan (even though I was sure that he was fully aware
of it as well) but he whispered: "It’s coming back."
He was right. The telltale noise was once again getting closer.
"Run!" I said.
So we ran.
It turns out that we both had different opinions on sticking together
to increase our chances of getting out of here in one
piece--considering the fact that Peter had been the only one with the
map of this place. As we were passing through one of the countless
junctions Ryan suddenly took a different turn even though he had been
following closely behind the entire time. With Labbie literally
breathing down our necks, there was no time for me to run back and
follow him so I just kept on heading my own direction.
I was running for what seemed like an eternity. When I finally stopped
in a narrow passageway that seemed to stretch to infinity, my legs
unable to continue, I found out, to my surprise, that my pursuer was
nowhere to be seen or heard.
Even though I had just escaped a certain death I was painfully aware
that my problems were only starting.
According to my watch it was exactly two hours and twenty seven minutes
since I had last seen Ryan. Wandering through the maze of gray metal
corridors that all looked exactly the same began wearing me out but I
couldn’t let myself stop and rest. I had no idea how much distance I
had covered or in which direction relative to the entrance I was
actually heading. I might have been walking in circles for all I knew.
My mind was wholly preoccupied with recounting today’s events starting
with the meeting at work and encountering Van Hooven’s people at the
entrance to the Labyrinth, trying to recall everything that had been
said in order to find something that would explain the discrepancy in
Labbie’s size. Engaging my brain this way also somewhat helped me to
avoid thinking about Peter’s untimely demise and how I was inevitably
going to end up just like him.
I was so preoccupied with this intrapersonal battle that I didn’t even
notice a rather sizable inanimate object lying on the floor up until
the moment when my foot made contact with it and caused me to fall
forward. I landed painfully on all fours and lost grip of my pulse
rifle which skidded across the floor and hit the wall with a dull,
In the absolute silence the sound seemed unbelievably loud. I scrambled
to my feet, grabbed the hold of the rifle and turned around to
investigate what I had just tripped over. At the first glance the
object appeared almost alien but then I realized that I was staring at
a corpse. A closer look revealed that it wasn’t even a complete corpse
but rather just a torso. A bundle of intestines were sticking out from
the lower end whilst the chewed up tissue of the neck at the top
suggested that the head had been separated in a very violent manner.
All that remained of the left arm was the shoulder with a little piece
of bone. Surprisingly though, the entire left arm was intact.
I had seen plenty of dead bodies over the course of my "career"--the
vast majority of them had belonged to animals but there had been human
remains in a couple of instances as well--but it was knowing that this
one belonged to my colleague and friend that caused me to fight the
rising urge to throw up.
I leaned against the wall and took a few deep breaths, willing the
contents of my stomach to retreat back down from my esophagus. Once the
sick feeling passed, I swallowed hard and forced myself to look at the
remains again. There was no doubt that they belonged to Peter--the gray
shirt, black jacket and the wrist computer confirmed this with absolute
I knelt down and pressed one of the small buttons on the side to switch
on the screen. Nothing happened. I pressed again but with the same
Damn it! The delicate circuitry of the computer had to have been
damaged in the attack which meant that the detailed map on it was as
good as lost and I was right back at square one.
Only now I noticed that Peter’s hand was still gripping the handle of
the pulse rifle. Without even thinking about it I pried open his
fingers to retrieve the weapon. The curious cynic in me noted that they
were still quite warm--contrary to what one would expect.
I checked the power cell--it was showing 85 percent of the full
I stood up and briefly contemplated how I would effectively carry both
rifles since they were not equipped with slings. I wasn’t willing to
leave one of them behind because a part of me--the overly hopeful,
optimistic and illogical part--was utterly convinced that with two
weapons I somehow stood more chance. Before I could reach any
reasonable conclusion, I heard the all too familiar thumping sound
approaching my position. Few seconds later, an enormous shadow appeared
at the end of the corridor ahead.
A thought flashed through my head that I should make my stand here and
now. Then my inner skeptic reminded me that against what was currently
heading in my direction the pulse rifle would be about as effective as
a glass of water in a forest fire.
"Screw it!" I said and ran.
I was crouching in a ventilation shaft, trying to catch my breath. My
head was spinning and legs felt like they were filled with lead but at
least for the time being I was out of reach of Labbie’s clawed
The creature itself, however, was not exactly far. It was lurking just
outside of the opening of the shaft, emitting a low growling sound that
seemed to make the air, the walls and every cell in my body to vibrate.
For the first few seconds after I had kicked in the cover and crawled
into the vent Labbie was trying to pull me out with his enormous
paw--sort of like a cat attempting to get a piece of dry food from
underneath a wardrobe. I had squeezed out a couple of shots but save
for the burn marks on its thick skin they didn’t appear to cause any
significant damage whereas the monster’s claws were leaving half
centimeter indentations in the metal walls. Once Labbie understood that
this particular prey got away it roared angrily and decided to play the
Even though my situation just got a whole lot worse, knowing that I had
survived not one, but two close encounters actually made me feel a
little bit better.
My heart rate returning to normal, I turned around and started crawling
deeper into the ventilation system. My hopes at finding an alternative
way out were abruptly extinguished when I came around the corner and
discovered that the shaft ended with a filter and a huge fan spinning
rapidly behind it. Attempting to break through it with the rifle would
take ages and a lot more ammunition than I had at my disposal.
"God dammit!" I yelled out of frustration and sent a couple of shots
out into the hallway.
The growling stopped.
I held my breath, trying to pick up the slightest noise. I made out a
soft thump and click, followed by another and then by another and I
recognized that Labbie was in fact moving away.
What the hell is it doing, I thought and as silently as humanly
possible began crawling back towards the opening of the shaft. I
stopped where I was sure the creature would not be able to reach me
with one of its limbs.
By now, the sound indicating Labbie’s movement dissipated into silence.
For a few moments, I was immersed in almost absolute quiet. Then I
I immediately understood why the monster retreated so suddenly. I also
realized that those footsteps could belong to only one person.
"Ryan, run!" I yelled at the top of my lungs.
Unfortunately, by the time those two words left my lips it was already
too late. I heard the characteristic hiss of the stun rifle, followed
by a blood-curdling scream that sent chills running down my spine.
A desperate idea popped up in my head. Considering that it was entirely
based on what I remembered from Chemistry in elementary school it was
assuredly right in the category of the dumbest things that my brain had
ever produced, but in light of current events it was also the only one
that gave me a fighting chance.
I flipped open the small compartment on the underside of one of the
rifles and took out the power cell. It was a five centimeters long and
one centimeter thick cylinder that contained raw meonium--a synthetic
chemical element commonly used to produce clean energy. Exposed to air
and higher temperatures, it was highly unstable which was why the
military utilized it to create explosives with an immense destructive
I put the power cell on the floor. Now came the riskiest part of the
plan--I had to compromise the protective shell but only to a small
extent. I took a deep breath and hit the cell with the butt of the
The first two impacts did not produce any noticeable results. Upon the
third, a barely visible crack appeared on the side of the cylinder. For
a fraction of a second I considered hitting it again but then I thought
that this would suffice.
I quickly took off my jacket and tore off one of the sleeves. I wrapped
the power cell in the cloth and took out an electric lighter from my
side pocket. Never in a million years would I have thought that my
filthy habit could one day become useful.
I crawled to the opening of the shaft and peeked out. I couldn’t see
Labbie but based on the loud crunching noises I knew that he was
somewhere close. I set the cloth on fire and carefully placed it on the
floor in the middle of the hallway.
It took only a few seconds for the entire fabric to burst into flames.
I had absolutely no clue how long I had before the meonium reached
critical temperature or how powerful the explosion would be (which made
the whole plan seem even more idiotic) so I initiated a hasty retreat
into what I assumed was a safe distance.
Now for the hard part!
"Hey, Labbie!" I yelled. "Come get some dessert!"
The crunching stopped and a gargantuan head glanced from around the
corner. As if hesitantly, Labbie slowly emerged and I noted that it
looked a bit different than on the photographs and video that I had
been shown earlier.
The creature was a quadruped and to a limited extent resembled an
oversized gecko. It had a short but thick tail, powerful hind legs that
hinted at its ability to move quickly and long forelegs with four
clawed fingers. The whole body with the exception of the abdomen was
covered with thick dark green scales. The conical head and jaws filled
with serrated teeth reminded me of a shark but at the tip of its snout
there were long thin appendages that protruded into space and looked
How many different strands of DNA had they used when they were creating
it? Despite everything that happened, despite the fact that it
viciously killed Peter and Ryan and it was going to kill me too I
couldn’t help but to feel sorry for it.
Labbie was staring intently right back at me, crimson red blood
dripping down from its teeth. It was sitting perfectly still on its
hind legs and nothing suggested that he would be launching an attack.
"Come on!" I shouted again.
Nothing. It did not move an inch.
What is going on?!
Then I realized that Labbie was not watching me but rather my
improvised explosive device burning on the floor. If the circumstances
were any different, I would have probably bursted out laughing. Much
like most animals the creature was actually scared--or at the very
least apprehensive--of fire!
Something popped and crackled in the flames and Labbie moved back. That
was not good because I needed him as close to the detonation as
possible. Not knowing what else to do I switched off the safety of the
rifle, aimed and fired.
The shot hit the beast squarely in the snout. It roared, shook its head
As if in slow motion I watched it gallop towards me, the horrifying jaw
wide open. It was probably five meters away when the meonium exploded.
I found myself flying through the air, immersed in a feeling of sudden
weightlessness. Then the back of my head smashed against the cold metal
and everything went black.
A high-pitched wheezing sound ripped me out of the merciful depths of
unconsciousness and threw me back into the cruel reality. It took a
moment before the feeling to returned to all parts of my body and I
could start enjoying a colorful collection of different aches and pains.
My head felt as if someone was hitting it with a hammer and I couldn’t
move my legs. I slowly opened my eyes and when everything came into
focus I discovered that I was lying on my back next to a wall, about
thirty meters away from the place where my primitive explosive went
off. There was now a huge steaming crater in the floor and the walls
and the ceiling were charred by fire.
I looked down and experienced an immediate rush of adrenaline. It
turned out that my legs were trapped under Labbie’s massive body.
Driven by panic and a healthy dose of self-preservation, I began
thrashing and twisting around, ignoring the throbbing pain in my skull
that was gaining on intensity. After a little while I managed to free
myself and I sprang to my feet only to have a million little stars
explode before my eyes. I promptly collapsed back to the floor.
As soon as the pain subsided to a manageable level and I could think
straight again, I slowly got up. The creature was lying on its side, a
huge gaping wound stretching across most of its underbelly. Overall, it
looked positively dead.
Before I could breathe out a sigh of relief, however, it became clear
to me that the annoying wheezing sound was in fact coming from the
enormous body. I carefully walked up to Labbie’s head and to my
absolute horror saw that its eyes were wide open and staring at me. The
sound was coming from the jaws that were quivering ever so slightly.
Then I noticed that skin and the underlying tissue on the edges of the
wound were growing back at an unnaturally fast rate.
"You gotta be kidding me!" I groaned when one of the hind legs
I was tired and in pain but after all I had been through in this
godforsaken place I would not admit defeat. So I picked up the rifle
and did the one thing that had proven to be the most successful so
After several hundred meters I stopped dead in my tracks. It wasn’t
because I couldn’t run anymore--on the contrary; despite my current
state I could probably go on for at least two more minutes--but rather
due to a sudden change in my surroundings.
The cold, unwelcoming gray metal was replaced by polished wood, there
were ornamental lamps hanging from the ceiling every five meters and
the floor was covered by a red carpet. A small sign featuring a bright
green arrow pointing somewhere ahead hung on the wall. The corridor
itself was a bit narrower and curved to the left.
It took a while for my brain to fully process what I was seeing and
then a little longer to jump to the only possible conclusion--that
somehow I managed to stumble upon an exit.
I was overwhelmed with joy. Just five minutes ago I had thought that I
was surely going to share the same fate as Ryan and Peter. Fueled by
the barrage of positive thoughts I jogged forward. At the end of the
corridor was a wooden door equipped with an old fashioned handle. Not
waiting for anything I opened it...
...and stepped into a small round alcove with no visible windows or
My heart skipped a beat.
I started tapping and knocking on the walls in a desperate attempt to
locate any hollow spaces, hidden buttons or anything that would suggest
that there was a way out of here. As my panic grew, I was putting more
and more power into each knock until I was hitting the wall with my
Then suddenly something clicked and a hologram of a man materialized in
front of me. There was something very familiar about him but before I
could realize who it was, a prerecorded message started playing.
"Hello, brave visitor. I hope you are enjoying your time in the
Labyrinth. I am quite impressed by your adventurous spirit but I am
afraid you will have to try harder to find the real exit. Good luck!"
The hologram disappeared. In utter disbelief I stared into the empty
space and then--recognizing the absurdity of it all and recalling what
Ryan had said earlier about the Labyrinth not being exciting enough--I
I stopped when I heard the characteristic low growl and steady thumping
of four heavy feet coming from the corridor. I checked the power cell
of the rifle and saw that there was enough meonium for one, maybe two
There was nowhere for me to go, nowhere to hide, not anymore. This was
the end of the line.
I pointed the weapon into space in front of me. It wouldn’t be long
before the hideous snout appeared and then...
I would go down swinging.
© 2018 Martin Lochman
Bio: I am a Czech emerging author currently living in Malta and
working as a University librarian. My flash fiction and short stories
appeared in Ikarie, a former Czech SF magazine, Theme of Absence,
Aphelion, AntipodeanSF, 365tomorrows and in a bunch of Czech
anthologies. You can find me at
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