Chapter Twenty Three - Facing Self
Seconds later Gabe is gently shaking her shoulders.
“Charlie, can you hear me? I need you to wake up now.” Her thoughts are a jumble of images and feelings, crowding around like inquisitive grey ghosts. She summons her will and spears her way through them, towards a light that she knows is Gabe’s voice. “There you are.” The warmth of his breath and the sweet taste of his mouth brings her back. The room is bright and she is curled up beside the first pod. The first lifeless pod. Are all the others empty too? She sits up, with Gabe’s help.
“How are you feeling?”
She puts a hand to her head. Her bones feel like dried, brittle twigs, as if her blood is shrivelling away from the walls of the blood vessels, leaving her desiccated, weak. Gabe looks worried, leaning over her, his hands gentle on her shoulders. Gonzo stands, feet planted firmly apart, arms folded over his chest, his eyes darting around the large space. They are protective of her, bless them, but for all their technology and nerdy intellect, they’re not super human. Whether they realise it or not, they need Charlotte’s powers. She’s tempted to check the state of her arms, but if the boys see slashes of black, necrotic flesh they’ll start thinking of excuses to put her back in the car. Taking a second to focus inside her battered body, Charlotte wills it to heal, to plump itself up, engorged with rich, crimson blood. To renew sagging cells, fast. To be indestructible.
“I could do with a couple of days in bed,” she says, trying to sound cheerful. “Did you find anything?”
Gabe frowns, eyeing her protectively. “We’re quite safe here. For now. They don’t seem to know where we are. Bird says we can get to the main lab via the lift, a set of narrow stairs and a lot of luck. We’ve talked it over and we think that is the likeliest place they’ll be holding your father.”
“They want me to find him, so they won’t make it too hard. None of the clones have my powers.” Her eyes meet Gabe’s as she adds quietly, “That’s unique to me.” The boys nod. Gonzo’s mouth is a grim line. Gabe chews the inside of his lip.
She reaches for his hand, looks up into his brilliant green eyes. “Look, the clones couldn’t break my bubble. It was growing weaker as I lost my strength, that’s all.” She hardens her voice. “And it wasn’t because of anything those fakes did!”
Gabe pinches his top lip, thoughtfully.
“Yeah, you’re right. They didn’t really do anything except fling themselves at the lift doors, trying to get in.” He looks to Gonzo for confirmation.
“And we were easily able to get away,” He nods. “They haven’t tried to follow.”
“Guys, they weren’t meant to!” says Charlotte, losing patience. “Doesn’t this feel like a trap to you?” Gonzo’s benign face is thoughtful. Gabe’s mouth twists. Charlotte explains. “Don’t you think this place has the money and technology to keep us under surveillance, wherever we are? They probably scanned us when we came in. Didn’t you wonder what that glass floor was all about? We have to find Dad, before they… they extract everything he knows and leave his brain an empty shell.”
Gabe opens his mouth to say something, then thinks better of it. Charlotte gets to her feet, shakily, pushing away Gabe’s hand. Unzipping her jacket she looks down the rows of pods. There are many more, stretching away into the dimness. Without a word she strides down the darkened aisle between them. Gabe follows, shadowing her, while Gonzo looks for another light switch. Ahead she can see the last pod, lying stretched out on its own. As her feet approach, a coldness washes over her. This pod is different. Her foot steps into the circle of light over it and something appears in the air before her, as a shimmering cloud, now coming together to form an image. An image of Charlotte. As she stares at herself, the holographic image sharpens and begins to speak, in Charlotte’s voice.
“Stop. You are trespassing on private property. This area is restricted. An alarm has already been activated. Security officers are on their way.” With a loud clunk, glass walls shoot up ten feet high, enclosing Charlotte and the pod.
“Shit!” Charlotte spins, horrified. Gabe is on the other side of the glass cubicle, swearing. He pounds the wall, shouting instructions, his eyes wild, but all she can hear is the faint, dull, thud of his palms against the glass. “I can’t get out!” She yells. Gonzo stands behind Gabe. They talk, arms waving, brows furrowed. Charlotte knows Gabe will not want to leave her here. But it’s obvious she can’t escape from this glass prison. Turning, she makes eye contact with her holographic twin, who continues to stare into space. Not an interactive model then. She walks right through her, grinning at the sense of satisfaction. Approaching the pod she can see a row of tiny lights, only just visible now that she is up close. This one is still powered, but there’s dust on the window. She swipes it away with her hand and peers into the cavity.
Lying in state is a shrivelled gargoyle. Charlotte claps a hand over her mouth. Tears are pouring down her face as she looks at the pathetic creature, the empty husk of a human being that once was a small eight year old girl named Charlotte Emily Campbell. Horrified, she turns away, a surge of revulsion and understanding flooding her. This was the little girl her parents tried to save. She turns back to look, striving to find some familiar features. The brown hair is brittle and thin, the cheeks gaunt, the skin leathery and grey. The little nose is pinched to a tiny line and the lips are non-existent. Is this what Gabe saw? She spins to look at him, standing there, his hand spread on the glass, watching her. Is this what he loved and vowed to protect? Oh, my God! She slumps against the pod, sobbing. It’s as if her whole body has waited for this moment. Every sinew strains to express her grief. Every cell inside her reaches out despairingly to the alien corpse in the sarcophagus behind her, trying to reconnect with its lost self. Its original self.
It’s time to give into it all, hold nothing back. No one can hear her in this silent tomb of glass anyway. It’s time to feel her own grief and loss. Fully.
When the initial torrent has subsided she wipes her nose on the back of her hand and looks for Gabe. He sits cross legged on the other side of the barrier, both palms resting on the glass, a look of quiet despair on his face. He knows what she just saw. She has no memory of ever being that withered girl in the pod. Mercifully, all those memories were wiped the moment of transference to her new body. Her eyes meet Gabe’s.
But something precious was lost in that transference.
Walking over to him she crouches down to match her hands to his on the cold surface. Looking up into his face she can see, stripped bare, his emotions. He is lost. Behind him Gonzo approaches, talking and waving some gadget. They confer, Charlotte trying in vain to lip read. Gabe keeps glancing at her apologetically. She waits patiently for about a minute, then decides to explore her prison. Just maybe there’s a way to deactivate the glass walls. She wonders why the promised security personnel haven’t materialised. Seeing movement out of the corner of her eye she spins round to see Gabe and Gonzo being led away by armed, black-clad figures.
“NO!” she screams, pounding on the glass. “Don’t you dare take them!” In seconds they are in the lift. The doors close. They’re gone. Charlotte stares at the lift doors. While Gabe was there, even with a barrier between them, she could keep her head. Now she has no one. She thinks of her father and begins to weep. How can she, or anyone, rescue him now?
She sits, totally engulfed in despair, time ticking by. Then a sudden realisation hits her. She is the key to all of this. It’s up to her. Glancing at her watch she sees they’ve only been inside Elkwood for a little over an hour. There’s a tissue in her jacket pocket. She unrumples it and blows her nose. Didn’t I tell myself I was fed up with being the helpless female? She checks in with her body. It’s weak, but the pain isn’t too bad. The injection has done wonders. She glares at the glass walls surrounding her. Nothing has stopped her yet. Why should it now? Gathering the residual strength inside she feels that familiar fire rising from the depths somewhere, devouring all it can find. There is a price for using this power. It must be debited from her life force itself. But she doesn’t care.
“Try and stop me now!” She laughs. Holding out her hands she focuses on creating a shockwave big enough to shatter the thick glass whilst building a space-time bubble around herself for protection. Glancing one last time at her withered self, she whispers, “Goodbye, little one. Rest now.”
The walls explode all around her bubble, shattering the pod and its contents like a slow motion nuclear explosion. Outside the safety of the bubble bits of white plastic fly everywhere, dancing gracefully in a predetermined pattern. Shreds of human tissue float softly by. She closes her eyes, gritting her teeth. It had to be done. Glass pieces fall like rain onto the concrete floor in a sluggish blur. She doesn’t wait, moving the bubble swiftly to the lift. With a flick of her hand the metal doors tear open, revealing the warm glow of light inside. The bubble snaps as she steps forward, the echo of power radiating around her in a sizzling halo. How dare you take my father. And my friends! She pounds the button for the next level. She will check every floor of this godless building until she finds them.