Hayden looked to Rios’ corpse and the remaining white mesh strands encompassing his legs. “What makes you say that?”
“For one, a hundred years of being cooped up in one of those sacks and it should stink a lot more. Humans if anything smell, especially over time. That and the mess from the release of the body fluids…” Danica pointed to the moist area on the ground where all the pools converged and trailed to the cracks on the floor. “Our vacating bowels would have saturated the entire cocoon by now if not cleaned or changed.”
Hayden moved forward and spotted long flecks of hard white and yellowed chips. “And what are those?”
Danica picked them up, examined them and tossed them back down. “Fingernails. They probably break off when the webbing is redressed. I would not be surprised if hair growth diminished over time and fell off like the nails.”
Carlos stared as his fallen friend. “When the Sentinels remove the webbing, why don’t their victims try to escape? I mean, if it’s just the Sentinels awake at the time, aren’t they outrunning only the one, two at most?”
Danica gestured to the dark coloured sinew-like layers of muscle beneath the skin on Rios’ arms and chest. “Atrophy. Regardless of how fast you heal, lack of use will deaden muscle tissue to the point of uselessness. After a certain period, your mind is basically living in a body that cannot do anything more than breathe.” She shuddered uncontrollably as such a life sentence.
Hayden, not being an arachnologist, asked the question, “Why don’t they just rip out of the webbing at the start? It’s just spider webs isn’t it?”
At this Danica seemed to stiffen. “Spider silk is stronger than you would think. Weight for weight, silk is stronger than steel and as many scientific studies have shown, spider silk has a tensile strength comparable to that of most high-grade alloy metals. So no, once you find yourself in this quantity of it, created by things of this size, there’s no simply ‘ripping’ free.”
After listening to Danica’s lecture, Hayden had only one thing to left say. “Up and until a few minutes ago, since I was a little boy, my greatest fear was being eaten alive by a Great White Shark. I always found the prospect of having been caught defenseless in the water, it coming up underneath me, snatching me up and chewing on my flailing body, even if only for a few seconds, unimaginably the worst fate that could befall my precious self. But based on what I’ve learned today, the price of immortality is having to spend the rest of your life as a webbed up drinking box for an island of these monsters, it makes my dark little shark fantasy my number two.”
Danica grimaced as she shared the assessment. “Mine too.”
Carlos on the other hand. “Mine already.”
Hayden looked to Carlos. “Let me tell you this, even twenty-four hours as a meal for one of those things my friend…” Hayden exhaled slowly. “I can tell you, I’d need a lot more than thirty years to recover.”
Danica felt in her mind, far longer.
Hayden paused and added, speaking to Carlos with sympathy. “You’re a better man than me.”
Carlos felt somewhat uplifted by Hayden’s words. “Thank you Doctor Lattimer, but I think you underestimate yourself.”
Danica admitted Hayden was a lot stronger than he was giving himself credit for.
“What about weaknesses?” Hayden turned back to Danica resuming his focus. “Is there something we could exploit?”
Danica turned to them both and spoke like she was lecturing a class. “When I was studying for my doctorate, part of my studies required me to focus my area of expertise, to allow for greater career specialization. I chose plants and horticultural life. I did minor with insects, but I very specifically avoided spiders. Not because of their ability to find secrets within them, as one of my colleagues was doing some fantastic research with black widows and the anti-coagulating properties of their venom for use with heart attack patients, but I found spiders far too unpredictable. They are, in my estimate, the ultimate survivor. They’re the most aggressive, vicious and cannibalistic carnivores on the planet. They kill without remorse and they’re infinitely patient. Anything that can sit in a web and wait for hours for prey is truly terrifying to me.” She took a quick breath. “Only humans are as close to them when it comes to waiting for food. Personally, I found any creatures such as this were too evil to be studied.”
“So….” Hayden jibed. “No weaknesses then?”
Danica offered an almost sad look. She had no answer.
Carlos was taking slow and gentle breaths. At one point he was near hyperventilating at having imagined how different his life might have been had the tribe not had a debt to pay. He quickly changed his thought direction or he would end up a quivering mass on the floor. “Based on the tribe’s stories, they’ve only been guarding this island for a few centuries, a thousand years tops. How could these things have lasted this long?”
Danica pursed her lips. “With this species, anything is possible. Spiders have been on the earth for millions of years. Some records show even as far back as sixteen million years. Remember, without food, they will eat each other.”
Hayden quickly decided his learning lesson was at an end. “We came, we saw and we discovered the island’s secret. And like Carlos said, it’s not the Fountain of Youth. As far as I’m concerned, this little island of giant spiders and their miracle shit venom can all belong to Maximum Pharmaceuticals for all I care.”
At this suggestion, Danica’s eyes widened. She turned and stepped into the path of Carlos and Hayden ready to depart for the surface, her face pale and sullen. “We can’t.”
Carlos stared at her.
Hayden spoke instead. “What do you mean, we can’t?”
“I mean. We can’t let them have it.” Danica looked like someone had walked over her grave. “I’ve worked for Maximus and Maxima for over a decade. They speak to religion a lot, but they’re not zealots. They are money hungry and ruthless. In my mind, they’re utterly insane, especially when it comes to miracles. They believe, truly believe, in the survival of the fittest.”
At this Hayden shook his head. “So what’s the worst that could happen? They find one of these things, steal its venom and come back with an army to kill the rest for their venom sacks.”
Danica immediately recognized this would not be the route Maximus and Maxima would take. “There’s no way they’ll allow these things to die. If it truly extends life by an incalculable amount as I suspect, they will, to paraphrase a point, want to keep the well full. They’ll do everything they can to keep the Horror alive.”
Carlos, not a business man of the medical world felt compelled to ask. “To what end.”
“Trust me. With this, they could make billions, if not more. As long as someone wants to live a little longer, they’ll have customers.” Danica replied..
Hayden raised an eyebrow. “But how could they possibly expect to control these conditions? It’s not entirely ideal.”
“They won’t think that way.” Danica surmised. “First, they’ll never run the operation out of South America. Were the government here to discover what these things can do, regardless of the countless victims, the politicians will seize the creatures for themselves. Maximum Pharmaceuticals would never take the risk of allowing a billion dollar asset to be removed from their complete control.” She was still ashen. “Whoever holds the key to eternal life, or even a very long life, can control the world. Which means only one thing, they’ll want to take these things off the island.”
“The tribe will never allow it.” Hayden pointed out.
“Regardless of the tribe’s healing abilities, unlike the warriors of yesteryear…” Danica referring to Carlos’ old crew. “Maximus would come back with weapons that would kill so fast, the tribe would have no time to heal.”
Carlos admitted, with today’s weaponry, the tribe would be easy prey.
“Second, they would need to get these things locked up and out of sight fast.” Danica pointed out. “One bleeding heart, reporter or animal rights activist could halt any action they would take. I mean, regardless of the Horror’s modus operandi, Maximum Pharmaceuticals keeping these things for the purposes of draining their fluids forever for corporate gain would be alarming to any consumer group or country.”
Hayden and Carlos could offer nothing to this argument.
Danica was starting to warm again, red flowing into her once pale cheeks. “Be it God, Evolution or plain old bad luck for these things, this lake of acid is here for a reason, if only to keep them away from the world. And I, for one, think it should stay that way.”
Hayden looked to the exit. “So if one escaped, would the army not quickly find it and kill it?”
“Eventually, possibly. But what if that one escapee was a pregnant female?” Danica asked with a dark suggestion to her words. “One tarantula can release over three thousand eggs in a single cycle. God knows how many these things lay. One pregnant adult female, in the world, would have an army of these things in under a year. My God, humanity would be destroyed in less than two or three generations.”
Carlos and Hayden started to envision what terrified Danica so.
Danica continued. “Have you ever heard the quote from Capri, “If spiders were the size of cats, there would be no mankind. Well these monsters are a Hell of a lot bigger than cats and that’s only the ones we’ve seen so far. There could be thousands of these spiders below and a lot bigger than the ones up here.”
Hayden pointed out the obvious. “Problem is… Maximus and his brood are already in the cave system above us. Do you really think they’ll give up after a few days?” He asked. “They’re going to find this island eventually.”
Danica winced. “This is a nightmare of epic proportions.”
Hayden added. “Plus we have no idea how many other people they told.”
At that Danica seemed to brighten. “I can guarantee, they’ve told no one. Trust me. When I spoke to Mr. Darby the other day, he was furious. His was doing his best to protect the company stock from hemorrhaging with the disappearance of the top two executives with no means of contact. For the Thornes, this is a family mission. Until they secure the find, which they still think is the Fountain of Youth; they aren’t sharing this with anyone.”
“What do you propose? We’re not exactly cold blooded killers.” Hayden offered. “We can’t just wait at the bottom and shoot them as they enter.”
Carlos interjected. “Speak for yourself. I‘ll do it and we can drop their corpses into the acid lake for all eternity.”
Hayden and Danica turned in Carlos’ direction with deep scowls.
“Let’s call that plan ‘B.’” Hayden quickly retorted. “We’ll just put ‘B’ in the bank for now.”
Carlos shrugged. “I’m simply saying.”
Danica tried a different tact, thinking as a scientist. “There must be a way to destroy all these things.”
Hayden offered a shake of his head. “The tribe claim they’ve tried for years. Like you said, these things adapt and survive. And I can assure you, something that has been around for sixteen million years, won’t go easily.”
Danica had a wild idea. “This lake is obviously deep right? And this is an island… And I’m damn sure something this big doesn’t float. So that stands to reason something beneath it is holding it up. What if we put enough explosives under it to destroy the foundation and sink the entire thing into the boiling water? Once the island was submerged, it would pour down each and every hole, cave and crevice turning this entire place into a massive lobster pot, killing the Horror and all their trapped victims.”
Hayden was wide eyed, impressed but still stunned. “That’s a huge operation. Months of planning, mining, digging and placing the explosives. And how are we supposed to swim to the bottom of a lake of boiling water with an acidic quality to plant explosives?”
Danica looked at Hayden. “I only come up with the ideas, not implement them.”
Carlos smiled gently. “My resources are vast and be assured, over a hundred years of investing notwithstanding, there are two things of bigger concern. One, I doubt we could pull it off before the Thornes either found this place or discovered its secret.” He looked to her with genuine sympathy. “Plus none of us are structural engineers. We would need specialists to assist. And if you start moving that much machinery or explosives into South America, the bigger problem surfaces, the government would find out. And as horrible as these monsters are, someone will dedicate themselves to protecting them. Or worse, they would want to exploit them.”
Danica felt the wind drift from her sails. “It was just an idea.”
Carlos consoled her. “And a very creative one. But the most important factor here, the force and the quantity of explosives required to sink the island, even if it could be done, would likely bring down the roof above before it sunk. Many of the ancient columns and pilasters, even tipped over, could reach the upper cave structure. Be assured, if these things have a choice between drowning in boiling acid or getting to the top and out into the world, they’ll climb. Spiders if anything are damn good climbers.”
Danica could suddenly picture a giant crack in the Earth falling inward and creating a mile wide crater in the middle of the deepest part of the Amazon Jungle and it suddenly filling with hundreds if not thousands of hungry giant spiders in search of new homes and food.
It would make their believed destruction of the ancient chamber nothing more than a small fleck on the South American government’s radar when the entire country’s populace would be at war with a newly discovered prehistoric arachnid species fighting for dominion whose venom kept their citizens alive for centuries as food.
And that would only prelude the chaos once they expanded to rest of the world.
Hayden lowered his gaze to Rios’ expired form. “Well that leaves us with a pickle. How do we stop your employers from stealing a spider community that can grant immortality by its venom? Or by the same token, convince them to leave for fear once broken free could lead to the demise of all of mankind?”
“They’re no longer my employer.” Danica snapped.
“That is entirely regrettable Doctor Swift.” Resonated the voice of Maximus from the darkness of the entrance they originally came through, causing the trio to turn at his unexpected arrival. He entered, carefully activating the light on his headpiece, a single bulb spotlight affixed to a metal construction helmet not unlike those used in mining, a light he had obviously extinguished to eavesdrop on their conversation. “You will be entirely missed at the company Christmas party.”
Standing behind him was Maxima and their two sons, also turning on their helmet lamps, filling the chamber with a spotlight luminance in every direction.
Maximus raised his right hand. In it was a high powered semi-automatic rifle which looked small in his massive palm. “Now if you please, lower your weapons before I decide to let you join your friend behind you.” Motioning to Rios.
The trio suddenly felt their universe close in on them.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire.