Chapter Twenty Five - Last Stand
Through the gauzy curtain of the space-time bubble the Charlotte clones stare at their original, their faces intent yet curious, as if they actually know she is the genesis of their existence. As one, they raise their weapons slowly, like hands on a clock ticking away the seconds, and fire upon the bubble. As twenty beams of light travel in the air towards the bubble Charlotte has plenty of time to think, to take in her surroundings, to see, with heavy heart, Gonzo, being held by two male clones, to note the sharp intake of breath from her father, slumped beside her.
“Charlie…” says Gabe softly. “Can you handle this?”
She flashes him a smile.
She leans over to kiss her father’s forehead then gets to her feet. Standing with her feet apart she braces herself, focussing all her attention and energy upon the shimmering barrier that keeps safe the men she loves. Her hands tremble in front of her, the skin on her forearms hideously blackened. She is beyond shame now. Anna Povic stands, her eyes glitter like dark jewels of hatred, her face distorted by the bubble into an alien, shifting form. Grinning, she points at Charlotte and shouts something. Slowed by time, the words are easy to lipread: ‘Keep firing. She can’t hold it much longer.’ A chill is creeping up from Charlotte’s stomach. The bubble wobbles, sliding in and out of shape.
No! Charlotte grits her teeth, summoning every last shred of heat from that internal furnace. The bubble is disintegrating. Desperate, she looks at Gabe and her father. They are watching grimly. Hoping.
‘Charlotte…?’ Bird whispers in her ear. ‘Are you all right?’
“Argh!” She groans. “Help me! I can’t hold it!” He takes her by the elbows and holds up her hands. The strength and warmth of his body is so soothing she just wants to let go and fall into his arms. Float, light as air…. Be free of this burden.
“Charlie, you have to stop! It’s killing you!” Gabe chokes out. “Come that you do this to yourself.”
Her father reaches out to her. “Yes, Charlie, let go. I don’t want to lose you again!”
“No!” Charlotte pants. “I won’t let her win! Never!” Shards of pain drill through her scalp and into her brain. Time outside the bubble is speeding up as its structural density fails. Commanding every cell in her body to obey, she reaches down deep for more power. The room darkens as blindness begins to overtake her. Gabe’s voice is faint and dim against the frantic thudding of her heartbeat. The bubble is reduced to shreds of dazzling light.
Outside the bubble, Gonzo is kneeling in front of Anna Povic. Five or six male clones aim their weapons at his head. The Russian spy lifts her chin in glittering triumph, her hand raised, ready to give the order.
Then the lift doors open, revealing a slight form clad in black. Instantly he is overpowered by female clones and is pushed down on his knees beside his friend just as Charlotte’s eyes fail completely.
“No…” Charlotte can no longer hear her own voice in the utter blackness. There is nothing more she can do.
She has lost.
The bubble snaps and she falls to the floor. She can feel Gabe’s arms around her, smell his cologne, but it is as if she is a hollow shell of a person now. She has failed everyone she loves. A dim greyness appears in her vision as her eyes fight back. Sounds are muffled. She can vaguely see Gabe’s face close to hers, feel his lips on her cheek. She finds the energy to move her eyes to take in the twilight scene around her and the seed of an idea wriggles its way into her mind.
“Gabe,” she whispers. His hand caresses her face.
“Charlie?” His voice is muffled.
“Get them close. Bird. Gonz…”
“But you -”
“Do it,” She hisses, too tired to speak clearly. “Tell her I want to say goodbye.”
Gabe says something. She can feel the deepness of his voice vibrating through her body. There is a harsh reply from a female voice. More talking. Dim shapes move about. She knows it’s Gonzo kneeling beside her. And Bird. Her father’s hand is grasping hers as she lies in Gabe’s arms.
“One. Last. Time…” She whispers. A tiny flicker of heat fires up inside her, its flame so small and distant she can hardly feel it. But it grows. She feeds it with everything she has, every memory, every moment of laughter, every tear, every argument and kiss she’s had with Gabe, every snarling, vicious remark she ever made about anyone, every look of pure love from her father, every longing she’s ever known. A wind swirls inside her. No, it’s outside her body; roaring, cold, far more powerful than the bubble. But it is ravenous, taking her life essence, every last drop of self. She can feel her hair falling out, her skin sloughing off her bones like wet ash. And Gabe’s hoarse cries of horror.
But she isn’t done yet.
The wind builds in strength, faster, screaming her fury. Through the crimson pain in her head she has only one thought - Save them!
The end, her end, is coming. She can feel her cells begin to betray her. Screwing tight her eyes she wills the wind to gather itself around her and those she loves. The sound is deafening, even to her dulled ears. There’s a second’s pause.
She releases the explosion. And is no more.