The slow and heavy breathing of the spiders was fading into a low level background noise, but was still loud enough to keep the two women on edge.
Twice Maxima had to wipe moisture from her brow and upper lip with the sleeve of her shirt, likely due to the humidity, as the enduring heat was both exhausting her mentally and having dire effects on her water retention. She was wishing she had brought more water bottles with her, that or a hydrating fluid.
Danica remained in front, Maxima behind her with the combat blade in her grips.
Their footsteps sounded hollow on the rocky ground, giving way to the fear of causing echoes. Once or twice, they both found themselves unconsciously lifting their feet when they tried to soften their steps.
Danica had her hands at her side, facing forward, fists clenched, carefully waiting like a cat ready to pounce. She knew with the two sons out of earshot, and her being one on one with Maxima, her best opportunity to escape was a matter of opportunity. But she needed to wait for the perfect chance as otherwise, it would be back to square one, or worse, dead.
The two women found and passed through both a second and a third cavern, each equally as large as the first, all filled with the unconscious Horror, many in smaller cubbyholes, one stationary and asleep in the middle of the floor, looking like it had suffered a bout of sleepwalking.
Both Danica and Maxima slipped past it with looks of absolute panic as they moved.
As they exited the third one, it was followed by two smaller chambers filled from floor to ceiling with webbed cocoons, some smaller and rounder in shape, appearing to be either animals or some form of large lizard, maybe even a Kimono Dragon.
Danica was thankful she had found no children. But she suspected the tribe would have saved them by now during these hibernation periods as the Elder spoke of the many times they came down here while they slept
In the second chamber, Maxima looked satisfied. Under the light of her bulb, she placed her medical sack on the floor from off her shoulder. She held the knife tight in her other hand and she began pulling out numerous small airtight glass travel cases, a box of unused hypodermic needles and collection of stainless steel tools for cutting and digging to procure medical fluid from cadavers, or in this case, the living dead.
Over the next ten minutes, Maxima took a selection of samples, watching Danica with the corner of her eyes. At one point, she used a catheter to drain the urine from one victim, filling seven one ounce acrylic test tubes. This was followed by capping them with rubber stoppers.
Danica, while collecting her samples, under supreme duress, took a few careful opportunities to use her hypodermic to inject air bubbles into the bloodstreams of some of the victims she could tell were on the cusp of death. Some were so far gone, she felt they had suffered long enough. She knew in her heart, she could not in good conscience leave them here alive any longer in this island’s inhabitants clutches.
A good air bubble would stop the blood flow quickly.
Danica could never have imagined in her lifetime taking another’s life, in any circumstance, but today, she learned, some things were far worse than death.
Imaginging being trapped here as one of them, she understood the entrance’s warning now.
Once or twice Maxima turned around when a cocoon bucked suddenly as the heart stopped, but Danica would hold the collected sample aloft and indicate she must have hit a bone, noting to Maxima plants were her area of expertise, not human beings.
As they sealed up the case in search of a new area, Maxima finally spoke. “Who would have imagined it?”
Danica was almost afraid to ask, but knowing conversation could lull an enemy into a false position of friendship, making them vulnerable to attack, so she attempted to be sociable. “Imagined what?”
“Seriously, Doctor Swift?” Maxima snapped. “You have to ask that?”
“Oh… I understand.” Danica replied, some distain in her voice. “And you’re right. I certainly couldn’t have imagined it. Being stabbed in the back from the very start by my own employers.”
Maxima sighed. “Don’t be such a child. I meant the prehistoric spiders of an unnatural size holding the key to human immortality.”
“Or the end of the human race.” Danica retorted.
Maxima zipped the bag closed. “You can’t be this naïve Doctor Swift.” She snorted. “Don’t tell me you weren’t even a bit curious when we first told you what we were after. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have jumped aboard this little expedition. Now that you’ve discovered the secret, I can’t believe your interest ends there.”
“We were interested all right. But for different reasons.”
“Really?” Maxima inserted a stray hypodermic into one of the white sacks. The body inside struggled, a muffled cry emanating from deep within the strands causing Danica to wince. The body went still as Maxima drew the needle out and capped the holder. “I wouldn’t be all that surprised if you’d found the prize and in a few short months, Swift Pharmaceuticals would have joined the scene with your new miracle cures.”
“Then you don’t know me at all Maxima.” Danica sneered. “Now that I and Doctor Lattimer know the truth behind the Horror, we’ve chosen to leave nature to its decision to keep these monstrous things where they belong, trapped on this Godforsaken island.”
“Then you’re bigger fools than I ever derived. How you got hired by our company escapes my sensibilities.”
“That presumes you had any.”
Maxima glared in Danica’s direction. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“If you think you and Maximum Pharmaceuticals can contain these things, you’re the fools.” Danica lectured. “Unlike mankind, nature is absolute. It establishes a course and very little can force it to deviate from it. And like this island, sometimes even for a millennia. The only exception being the malevolent involvement or destructive intrusion of man.” She looked in Maxima’s direction. “Or woman.”
Maxima’s tone tightened, becoming more serious. “We’ve every intention of securing these creatures with the best facilities within the means of our company.”
“And you think I’m naïve. You saw the movie about the dinosaurs being brought back to life in Costa Rica.” Danica pointed out. “They thought by altering the DNA, they could control them. They failed. Some things cannot be contained by man-made constructs. There are so many factors you can’t control. Greed, laziness, technology failure and so much more. The more it takes to do something, the more complicated it becomes, and with it, possibility for human error. And with these things, that’s one too many. One escape could lead to the end of us all.” She shook her head, saying it with such deep reservation; it pained Danica to envision it. “At least here, it’s simple. The island is devoid of escape with nothing else to intervene. You should leave things they are.”
“Too bad I’m not burdened by human emotioins and weaknesses.” Maxima remarked. “Conscience is for the inferior and I’ll never be softened by such things.” Maxima gestured for Danica to take the lead again, both because Danica’s lights were brighter and to use her as a human shield in case they were attacked from the front.
After ten more minutes, they could both sense a quiet before them, no breathing could be heard, nothing.
The source being a cave entrance a good thirty feet away.
In there, a few feet felt likes miles.
Maxima asked. “And had it not been these giant arachnids you found, tell me Doctor Swift, what would you have done then? “
“Honestly?” Danica answered. “We had every intention of finding it and giving it to the world… For free.”
Maxima chuckled in disbelief. “Then you and Doctor Lattimer deserve the fate coming to you.”
Danica could sense the threat in those words.
Maxima continued. “I’d have preferred corporate thievery to ignorant benevolence. Had you two revealed to the world the secret in the manner you had chosen, you could have led our planet into a population explosion of an unprecedented order. With no one dying and all disease wiped away, overcrowding would have led to civil war. And let me tell you, man has lost more lives to wars than giant spiders.”
Danica rolled her eyes thinking, ‘Yet.’
Maxima was talking loudly to Danica, impassioned by her argument. “So who do you think would have been the harbinger of the world’s end? Us or your and ‘generosity?’ I think you know the answer.”
Danica was amazed at Maxima’s arrogance. ’Like husband like wife… Or for them, like brother like sister.’
“And if the Horror were to escape, which in my mind is only an eventuality, regardless of your planned zoo to hold them, what then?” Danica asked honestly.
“Some things were simply meant to be.” Maxima recited, sounding like she was a pastor at her pulpit reading a sermon. “At least with our plan, we can filter out and control the future. Only those worthy to survive will be able to afford it. Some genetic lines were not meant to extend. We’re basically God’s gardener, weeding out the weak.” She looked to Danica. “And the worthless.”
“Like inbreeding sociopaths?” Danica replied quickly.
Maxima’s eyes widened. She took a deep breath, trying to regain her control. After a few seconds, she snarled in a whispered tone. “I think you’ve been spending far too much time with Doctor Lattimer.”
Danica grinned without turning. “I prefer his company to yours any day.”
Maxima hesitated before answering and then whispered, loud enough for Danica to hear. “You’ll regret the day you turned on us.”
Danica spat out. “Technically speaking, you turned on me first by attacking and then abandoning me in London. But for the sake of decorum, I’d have turned on you eventually, especially after discovering your plans.”
Maxima was quiet for a good twenty seconds. “So you know, I disagreed with Maximus when he first arrived here.” She stated. “You won’t be missed at our company functions.”
Danica knew right away by her use of the past tense, Maxima had no intention of letting her leave this island alive.
Maxima’s boot caught an outcropping of rock and she staggered forward, her helmet light bounced up and down quickly with the jostle.
Danica knew fate had given her the chance and she took the opportunity. She leapt up onto a small rock edge, her foot catching it for leverage, spinning herself around and delivering a double knife-hand strike, the upper hand leveling across the exposed open neck of Maxima, the lower one the back of her wrist sending the knife clattering away into the darkness.
Maxima almost screamed, but knowing what could be awakened, grunted instead as she found herself and her bodyweight being shoved face first into the cave wall. She felt a wad of cave dirt fill her mouth as she slammed into the wall and slid down. Her face scratched along the edges with a hot deep gouging roughness. But in that same motion, she rolled forward, pushing herself back up and returning a thundering charge in Danica’s direction.
Danica pivoted, using a too sul maneuver, diverting Maxima’s momentum against her and sending Maxima past and into the opposite side of the cave, back to the ground. Danica could see the thin blood trails running down from Maxima’s fingertips as she had used her palms and hands to lessen the impact.
Maxima was already in motion, as she was still a woman who exercised daily for hours at a time. Stamina and strength she had in abundance, so a few hits and pushes were not draining her as fast as Danica hoped.
Maxima thrust her leg back and used her two hands to push herself off the wall. Her foot fired like a ball out of the cannon straight at Danica. The combined force of the shove gave it both speed and power.
Danica twisted to avoid it, but Maxima was too fast. She was able to lessen the blow Maxima delivered by her motion, but the strike still sent an explosion of pain up her upper torso and down her limbs.
Maxima shifted around and charged again.
Danica dropped to one knee and did a smooth upper punch, not unlike an uppercut, using the ground for support. Her fist slid perfectly under Maxima’s front arms to connect into the lower jaw with a resounding crack.
Maxima’s head snapped back and she toppled over a pile of rocks on the ground dropping into the dark. Had her helmet not been attached by a strap, she would have lost it, rendering her defenseless.
Danica moved in again, this time with her open palms in front of her to strike.
Maxima rolled over twice and then used her full lower calves to boost her body forward at Danica, her arms open wide.
Danica may have a black belt on her side, but Maxima was a force of physical nature.
Within seconds, Danica found herself in between the open arms of Maxima. With the intent to strike, she parried, but missed her chance to hit the eyes.
Maxima closed both limbs around Danica’s back and formed a powerful bear hug, her arms like a garbage compactor.
Danica felt her chest and lungs compressing under the power of Maxima’s squeeze. She was starting to black out. Her vision went blurry and her muscles went lax.
Maxima opened her arms to let Danica land directly in front of her.
Danica raised both her arms to block, but her world teetered before her.
Without realizing, Danica in one of her moves had sent Maxima to where she had lost her knife.
With one quick motion, Maxima drew up her combat knife, having held it the entire time during the bear hug and thrust it into Danica’s abdomen and twisted.
Danica felt like her body was on fire. She contained her scream, but the pain was excruciating.
Maxima used the bottom of her boot to shove Danica back through the silent cave opening.
Within seconds, Danica felt a breeze behind her. She turned and looked down to the darkness below and where the cave floor ended.
It was a cliff within the island. As to how deep, it could not seen with the lights they carried, nor with focus to determine the bottom. The darkness absorbed the light like a sponge.
Danica dropped to a crouch at the cliff’s edge to prevent from going over, holding her bleeding side as Maxima sauntered towards her.
Maxima was grinning, holding the blade and wiping the blood on her pant leg. “Nice try Doctor Swift. This is what happens when you face superior foes.”
Danica was not listening. She felt woozy, like she had been drinking heavily, but knowing there was no alcohol in her system. She had her hand over the tear in her abdomen. She felt warm fluid cascading out into her palms, soaking her shirt and upper pants. She was a doctor and she knew she was mortally wounded. She never pictured her life ending like this.
Maxima watched with satisfaction.
’I never even had a chance to ask Hayden to…’ Danica stopped her thought, not wanting to be sad as she died. Her legs buckled and she collapsed completely to the ground. She felt nothing when she impacted with the exception of cold, a chill that oozed into her extremities even with the heavy balm of the caves.
Maxima leaned forward and down, close to Danica’s face, like she was going to give her a kiss, but within inches to whisper. “You could’ve been a part of history. Instead now, you simply are history.”
Danica was in a world all her own.
Maxima placed her boot to the lower hip of Danica who lay bleeding, holding her stomach on the inner cave’s edge. She sneered. “Some people were meant for greatness, while others are simply meant to fall.” And with that, Maxima used her foot to push Danica, side over side, rolling her backwards over the precipice into the darkness.
As Danica fell, her light spun with her deep tumble, her lights dancing on the walls away like a vertical top on a midnight coloured backdrop curtain drawn closed on the stage.
Twice Maxima observed as Danica seemed to hit the cliff side and at one point, for several seconds, seemed to almost float, obviously landing on a rock edifice or cliff before falling further. At that brief airbourne point, Danica hissed, obviously puncturing a lung in Maxima’s eyes. She resumed her plunge
Maxima heard Danica hit the sides of the wall followed by her body coming to a dead halt at the bottom with a bone crushing wet smack.
Then only silence, eerie and foreboding.
Maxima smiled as she listened. She squinted her eyes, unable to see much, but she could see in the dim glow of the lights on the cave floor, the unnatural angle of Danica’s rlight leg and a dark pool forming beneath her, all around her body.
Maxima smiled, offering a sarcastic salute and laughed quietly. “Good riddance bitch.”
Maxima turned and resumed her mission, to get the specimens as Maximus sought.
She thought to herself. ‘One down, two to go.’