Chapter Twenty Four - Fury
Charlotte stands in the lift, her hands clenched by her sides. There’s a barely perceptible jolt and the doors open. Bird is standing there, dressed entirely in black, wearing a slim backpack.
“What are you doing here?” She snarls, hauling him into the lift and slamming the ‘close doors’ button. In the silence of the enclosed room they stare at each other. Up close for the first time, Charlotte notices Bird’s sharp chin and darting blue eyes. He’s shorter than her and so slender he looks as if he could easily jump on her back and be carried, like a small child.
“Here,” he says, holding out his small hand. “Put this in.” She stares at the ear piece.
“Why aren’t you in the car?”
His mouth twitches. He draws himself up to his full height and stares defiantly up at her.
“Because you don’t know what you’re doing up here. Now, put it in!” His voice is shrill. She obeys. He leans across to push the button for level five, then folds his arms over his puny chest. Charlotte almost laughs. He’s like a miniature hero! She decides to trust him, for now.
“They’ve taken Gabe and Gonzo,” she says quietly, her eyes on the floor.
She looks up, feeling irritated. “And did you know I shattered that glass cubicle? And the pod? How do you think I got out of there, huh?”
Bird looks at her.
“I saw what you did. I hacked into the surveillance cameras.” His eyes squint. His mouth is a thin line. “You scare me,” he says quietly.
“Then why are you here?”
“Gonzo has been my only friend since I was five. I’ll do anything for him,” he says determinedly, his thin face ridiculously stern.
Bird nods. “Gabe too. Haven’t known him as long, but -” The lift doors open. “He is where we split up,” says Bird. “Good luck Charlotte.”
The doors close. Charlotte is staring at them still trying to reconcile the apparent confidence of the slight figure with the whiny nerd she’s used to. The lift moves again and when the doors open Charlotte crouches, ready for whatever they face. The room is brightly lit and looks very much like her father’s lab at Parson’s. The same sort of equipment and furniture. Female clones bustle about in white lab coats, machines beep and flash. One of the females notices Charlotte. All of them stop what they’re doing and stare.
“I hate this,” mutters Charlotte darkly. “It’s like looking into a thousand mirrors at once.”
“Steady,” says Bird beside her. “I armed?”
“Charlie!” says a familiar voice cheerily. A man in a lab coat is striding towards her.
“Dad!” She screams, rushing into his arms. “You’re ok!” she whispers, clutching him, fighting the tears. Pulling away she glances at the clones, who are watching them silently. “It’s creepy having so many of me in here. Why did they only use my genetic material?”
Robert Campbell chuckles and gently pushes back stray locks of hair from her face.
“Because you are the pinnacle of my work. You are the essence of humankind, Charlie. Better, stronger, smarter. In every way. Aren’t they wonderful?” He says, his eyes sparkling.
“You’re kidding!” She frowns. “Dad, they kidnapped you.”
“Well, perhaps it’s not such a bad idea, sharing cloning techniques.” He looks down at her upturned face and smiles. “Think what it can do for humankind! Wipe out disease, still birth, genetic conditions. Think of it, Charlie! No more haemophilia, Down Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, cancer, blindness, diabetes, tuberculosis, Alzheimers disease -”
“Dad!” She shakes his arm. “Do you really think they care about diseases of humankind?” She gestures impatiently at the clones standing awkwardly around them. “Don’t you realise what they will do with this knowledge? They know about my powers. They want to make more of me, to expand on my abilities. Weaponise me! Think what they will do to the world, Dad. You can’t let them have it!”
He takes her by the shoulders and smiles at her warmly.
“I have been given a gift - my intellect, my instinct. It’s my duty to share this gift with our species. Please try to understand, my darling girl.” He turns away, leaving her speechless. The lift doors open. Gabe and Gonzo are thrust into the lab, their hands tied in front of them, surrounded by clone guards. Then Anna Povic steps out coolly from behind them, immaculately dressed in her secretarial outfit, stalking confidently forward. His face is bruised, one eye swollen and there’s a burn mark on his shirt, through which red flesh shows. Gonzo is favouring his left leg, shifting his weight constantly. Charlotte runs to Gabe and turns angrily on Anna Povic.
“You didn’t have to hurt them!”
Anna Povic shrugs. “They resisted.”
“Charlie…” Gabe begins to say, his pale face etched with lines of fear. She’s never seen him so weak and quiet.
“I’ll make you pay for this,” Charlotte growls, gathering hot power inside herself. It roils and rumbles like a firestorm, eager to be released.
“Charlie, there’s no point,” Gabe whispers. “Look at her. Haven’t you noticed her broken leg isn’t broken?”
Charlotte nods and reluctantly, the fire inside recedes.
“I know. She’s a clone too. Unless she has amazing powers of regeneration,” she adds sarcastically.
Anna Povic tips back her head and laughs. “You think you are so special,” She snarls. stepping in close, her eyebrows arched, her teeth bared. “But you are nothing. Now that I have your father…” She turns a chilling smile upon Robert Campbell, who returns her smile nervously. “I, too, can live forever.” Charlotte swings round to face her father, her blood like ice.
“You betrayed us? How could you, Dad? Why?” He shrugs, his eyes twitching with some emotion she can’t interpret. Charlotte shakes her head. “It doesn’t make sense. You wouldn’t betray everything you’ve worked your whole life to develop.” She walks over and takes his hand in hers. Looking up at him she sees the same genial man she loves, but…
There’s a sheen of sweat on his brow. Something’s not right. Charlotte narrows her eyes. She must find a way to communicate with him in code.
“Always and ever.”
She nods too, feeling a tingling sensation inside. Dad is Dad and he has a plan, but she doesn’t know what it is.
“Come. Come,” says Anna Povic, impatiently beckoning. “Let us begin.” She gestures to two of the guards. They approach Charlotte tentatively. She flexes her hands.
“What are you doing?” She demands.
Anna Povic puts her head on the side.
“Surely you must realise we need DNA from you, this version of you, to complete our tests? We tried with the original, but…” She makes a disparaging sound. “It was deficient.”
“Deficient?” Charlotte replies incredulously. “It’s dead! I died. Of course it’s no good you pathetic, stupid cow!” Charlotte spreads her fingers, ready to blast them all to hell. Anna Povic takes a step back, her face fearful, then changes her mind.
“It doesn’t matter what you do to me. I have more clones.”
Charlotte snorts. “But you can’t transfer the memories, can you?” She looks at her father’s tense face. “Dad didn’t know how. Then. So I lost everything up to the age of eight.” She turns to look at Gabe. “Even the most important stuff.” Gabe gives her a slight smile of dismay, his eyes brilliant cut gems.
“Ah, but you obviously do not know,” continues Anna Povic, taking Charlotte firmly by the arm and leading her to a vacant cubicle. “Your father continued his work, over many years, and finally…” She sighs deeply, her face altered by the broad smile upon it.
“You mean…?” Charlotte says, horrified.
“Of course.” She pushes Charlotte into a chair. Gabe and Gonzo are standing just inside the door, held tightly by guards. Anna Povic clicks her fingers. “Now please, professor.” Charlotte’s father comes in, carrying tubes and a needle set. He rolls up her jacket sleeve, ties rubber tubing and inserts a cannula into the throbbing vein on her right hand. Tears fall down her face in rivulets as she watches his calm face. Oh Dad, what are you doing? Do you really have a plan? She looks around. And where the hell is Bird?
‘In case you’re wondering,’ says a high, soft voice in Charlotte’s ear, ‘I’m in the main chamber.’
“Bird?” Charlotte looks around.
‘Sh! Not so loud.’ Bird hisses.
Charlotte turns her head away and drops her voice to a whisper, resisting the urge to push her finger on the device in her ear.
“What’s that Charlie?” says her father, replacing the first blood-filled tube.
“Oh, nothing.” Charlotte looks at Gabe. He struggles against the guards holding him, his eyes angry and desperate. Charlotte drops her gaze to watch her crimson blood seep out of her body and into the vial. Clone blood. For a second she has a flash memory of the withered child in the pod, the distant self she lost so long ago. Warm tears trickle down her cheek.
“Sh, oh Charlie, it’s all right. Just a little blood.” Her father pats her arm. “You’ll be fine.” Their eyes meet. He grins unconvincingly. She tries to read what he isn’t saying in that look, any clue as to his plan. Looking up she sees Anna Povic’s greedy expression and a lump forms in her throat. How can she defeat this woman, when her own father seems to be on the side of the enemy?
Bird’s soft voice croons in her ear.
‘You have to get out of there, as soon as you can, ok? Ow! Ah, it’s fine. Don’t worry. I’m ok. Just tripped.’ Charlotte rolls her eyes. Trust me to leave my fate to a clumsy nerd. She doesn’t know how to communicate with Bird without alerting the others, so she nervously hums a well-known tune:
‘Come to me, my lover. I can’t live without you in my life.’
There’s a soft chuckle in her ear. ‘Nice try, Charlotte, but you really do have to get out of there. Can’t you use your powers?’
Charlotte clears her throat, glancing at Gabe, who is staring at her. She hums another song:
‘I’m lost without you. Everything I do is just a waste of time. It’s getting harder every day, for I cannot escape my love for you.’
“That’s a good girl!” Enthuses Robert Campbell. “You really are relaxed about this.” He winks. From her corner, Anna Povic grins maliciously.
“She knows there is no point resisting.” She smooths her hair, smiling like a well-fed cat. “She is part of the future, Professor Campbell.” Twisting her lips conceitedly she stares Charlotte down. “Mine.”
Charlotte lifts her chin. “No matter what you do, you won’t have my powers.”
“How can you be so sure?” Her nemesis says quietly.
“The Infinity Gene. It’s unique to me.”
Anna public laughs quietly, the sound like twigs scratching against class. “We already have the Infinity gene, thanks to your father.”
“What?” Charlotte stares at her father in horror. “Dad? How could you do that?” Her father ignores her, quietly filling tube after tube. It doesn’t make sense. Why would he give away his biggest secret to these monsters?
‘Charlotte…’ Bird says quietly in her ear. ‘What are they doing?’
“How many more tubes of my blood are you going to take, Dad?”
He finally looks up. “Sorry, Charlie.” He glances at Anna Povic. “A few more - ”
“I want thirty five, minimum!” Anna Povic snaps, her brows drawn down in a sharp V.
“But that’s too much!” protests Professor Campbell. “Even Charlie can’t recover from so little plasma. You can’t -”
“I can and I will, Professor. Keep going,” the woman replies in a deep tone of authority.
“But, won’t you need her, for the future experiments?” He caresses Charlotte’s cheek. “She is invaluable,” he says softly, his eyes shining. “One of a kind.”
“Not anymore.” Anna Povic tilts her head on the side. “I don’t think we even need you, Professor.”
“But you promised you’d let us go -”
“Guards!” shrieks Anna Povic, pointing at Professor Campbell. The male clones raise their devices and fire at Charlotte’s father. Jumping to her feet, Charlotte rips the cannula out of her wrist, spurting blood. Tubes fly and smash on the floor as she raises her hands. A wobbly space-time bubble erupts around her father, Gabe, Gonzo, Charlotte and Anna Povic. The clear streams of energy bounce slowly off the bubble in a perfect splash pattern. The faces of the clones are grim, their eyes widening in slow motion, pupils dilating. Her father has collapsed against the wall, his shirt blackened with burn marks. Inside the bubble, Anna Povic spins on her heel. Grabbing Charlotte by the neck, she screams in her face.
“Release it! I command you!”
Charlotte feels her life force draining away as she tries to keep the bubble intact. Anna Povic’s fingers tighten around her neck. Charlotte gasps, straining for air.
‘What’s happening?’ asks Bird in her ear. Charlotte tries to speak but it comes out as a gurgle. The room is going dark. ‘Charlotte!’ Bird screeches, his sharp voice sending shudders of pain through her head. The bubble snaps. Suddenly Anna Povic’s hands loosen. There’s a look of surprise on her face as she crumples to the floor, unconscious. Standing behind her, Gabe is holding a fire extinguisher, his face hard and angry, his chest heaving. The guards fire again, at Gabe this time. Charlotte doesn’t have time to warn him or even scream in terror. Flinging up her hands she squeezes a shaky bubble into existence. It pushes out, fighting gravity and time itself, to encompass herself and Gabe. Their eyes meet and they both know it at once.
The professor and Gonzo are on the outside.
Gonzo squats down beside the professor, but the movement is so slow it looks ridiculous. Meanwhile the guards have turned their weapons onto the two defenceless captives, waiting for orders to fire.
“Dad…” Charlotte croaks, reaching out to him. She can feel her body giving up the last of its power. With a grunt she throws herself over to fall beside her father. The bubble adjusts to her new proximity with a wobble, its surface thinning, but keeping Gabe, Charlotte and her father inside. The Professor’s face is haggard and pained. Charlotte touches the scorched fabric. “Wake up, Dad! Oh, please, not you too!” She glances desperately at Gabe, whose face is stoic, his lips compressed. He touches his ear.
“Bird?” He says quietly. “Anything?”
‘Well, er, I hacked into their private server and um, yeah.’
“Damn it Bird. Tell me!” Gabe snaps. “We don’t have time!”
“Got locked out,” says Bird’s high voice feebly. Gabe growls in exasperation. Movement outside the bubble attracts Charlotte’s attention. The female clones, about twenty Charlottes, are armed after all.