Summary:The final battle between Skyla and the escaped clone.
In the Pit
Pretty exciting stuff, that last bit, eh? With the escapes and the kidnapping and the tranq guns and the rescues and the injuries and the miraculous healings- all the good stuff, right? Let me tell ya, you ain’t seen nothing yet, my friends, nothing yet. To get back into the story, there is Skyla, again on the trail of the nasty beast 9836-A, the head of lab security, Arthur Cummings, was looking for her, and Docs Mears and Kelly were at the university hospital, Doc Mears having been injured during the escape of the clone, 9836-A.
The trail of the Beast was wide and easily followed. The coward was running from Skyla rather than face his judgment- and he was brutal and careless in his panic. Sklya soon came upon an innocent- an elderman, weakened by time, beaten down on the path. He was bloodied head and shoulder, and he reeked of the monstrosity she hunted.
“Please,” the elderman whispered to her, the red of his lifeblood trickling out of his mouth and over the dark brown of his skin as he spoke.
“Take your ease, uncle,” Skyla soothed, “I will set it to rights.” She placed one slender hand on his bruised face and the other at the his heart, letting the healing bleed through her and into him.
Often in those times, Skyla had found this simple act of healing an innocent far harder than she remembered it to be. It seemed to take a great deal more of her strength than it used to, and more time as well. She was all but certain that it was to do with how those at the strange keep knew few or perhaps none of the True rituals. They showed Skyla little deference and took no particular heed when she advised them. They keep her vouchsafed inside the keep as if she did not have work to do in their world. They expected her to create havoc instead of restore peace. Mayhap the calling ritual they were using lacked something critical, and that lack hindered her access to her true font, to her powers.
The elderman beneath her hands gave a harsh, wet cough, rolled to his side and spit up lifeblood. Then he pushed himself up to sit and looked at her in awe and wonder, asking, “How did you…”
“Rest the next three days and nights,” she instructed him, and could not tarry any longer. The beast gained advantage with every breath she waited. She stood and followed the wide, wild trail again.
The child safely handed off to a pair of patrol officers, Arthur Cummings took up the cooling trail of the escaped clones. As her followed in the direction he last saw the female go, he dialed the security office at the lab to check status of his downed people. He got no answer, cursed and dialed Dr. Mears cell phone- not that he expected Mears to be conscious to answer it. The phone clicked as someone answered. It was Dr. Kelly’s voice that came over the line.
“Mr. Cummings, tell me you have good news about Skyla,” she demanded, sounding haggard.
“I’m close, Doctor. I’d have them by now except for the fact that there was a civilian involved- a child.”
“Oh God, again?”
“She’s fine- shaken up, but fine. The female clone saw to that. She- do you know what she can do?”
“You mean her strength? Amazing, isn’t it?”
“No, I meant-” Arthur cut himself off remembering his boss injured on the floor. “How’s Dr. Mears?”
“He’s in surgery,” she answered, clipped and tense. “When you say you are close- how close do you mean?”
Arthur grimaced at that. “Honestly, Doc, I’m not sure. And, I don’t have the tracker anymore- lost it in the scuffle, I think. It might be some time, but I’ll find them. You can count of that.”
“You know what there’s nothing I can do here. Tell me where you are. I’ll come and help you talk Skyla in when you find her,” Dr. Kelly offered, maybe ordered, Arthur couldn’t tell.
“Yeah, okay. That’s probably a good plan,” he admitted. “Hey, Doc, do you have access to Dr. Mears’ things there at the hospital?”
“See if he had his GPS tracker with him. It has settings for the clones on it.”
After a time, the hard paths she was following brought Skyla to a chain metal wall- a fence- and a large rusted hole in the fence through which the beast had gone. Skyla ducked through to find a changed landscape. The area was rocky and grey- a quarry where men had carved stones from the Earth. Hearty and hardscrabble plants clung to cracks. She could smell water- still and fetid water. She searched for the monster. He was here, close, hiding or waiting.
As she tracked him, Skyla had taken pains to arm herself, not with the type of weapons she would have liked, not with broadsword or dagger or lance, but with what haphazard lengths of metal as she could come by from the refuse in the roads. She had one good, near to round bar the length of her leg. It had a jagged tip and good heft. She also had several shorter lengths of metal- some round, others squared or oddly shaped, each with tips sharp or jagged- which she had concealed in her garments so as to have some advantage given by surprise. She had found no decent way of armoring herself, nor anything to use as a makeshift shield, which she regretted. She was much weakened by the earlier scuffle and further worn by the two healings she had made. She could only hope that the beast’s wild flight had been a toll on him, and that that would level them.
Skyla stepped carefully across the rocky ground, past great decaying mechanisms once used to score the ground and pull up its treasures. She stood at the nearest rim to the quarry and looked down into the pit. The cuts were far larger and more regular than she had seen before in places of that ilk, when the stones had been hewn by hand and hard labors instead of by mechanical means. Still, they made a rough stairwell down to the level of the water- rainwater that filled the bottom. There was no way to know how deep it went, but she was certain that the murky depths were as the very least deeper than her height.
There was nothing that Skyla feared, not even death, not even agony or torment. She was built to suffer those things- it was her purpose for being. And yet, she would have avoided the water had she the means. She did not fight well in water and the art of moving in the water, floating, swimming, did not come to her easily.
As she was peering at the brackish water, she could sense that the beast was behind her, hidden by an abandoned pile of stones on the left. She moved to put some distance between herself and the ledge of the rock, hoping for a minute to plan for the coming attack.
She had died once in a sodden place like that pit- she recalled her death in the shallows at the hands of the Groc of the Peat, shuddering. Hunting a babe-eater, a monster of the truest sense, she had come to a marshy place. And, she had had to hold the beast down in the muck, his teeth and their poisoned bite sunk deep into the flesh of her forearm as he struggled to free himself. He did not succeed. She had felt the venom burning in her veins even then. Not long after, that same venom had felled Skyla- right there in that selfsame bog, and she had gotten to rest in death.
She pulled her attentions back to the quarry and the beast she was then hunting. His breath gave him away- the ragged sound of it, the stench. He was still crouching behind the stones, but likely had a wide open view of her. She knew she could use that to her advantage.
Even though it took a good fifteen minutes for Doctor Kelly to reach where Arthur was waiting, and therefore delayed his search by the same amount, the fact that she had Mears GPS tracker made up for it. Arthur knew he was no tracker by himself. He might never have found the two clones earlier without technological help.
“You’re certain that they went inside there?” Doctor Kelly asked him as they stood before the locked fence around the Stone Haven Quarry. The place looked closed down, but the fence seemed sturdy enough.
Arthur gave the gate a shake. “You don’t think a little thing like chain link would keep either of those two out, do you?”
She looked doubtfully at it. “I suppose not. But, why would they go-”
Her question was interrupted by a deep growling rumble that Arthur recognized as the male clone’s. That was enough for him. Arthur scaled the fence saying, “Come on, Doc!” but not waiting for her to follow.
Despite her desire not to end this life thrashing in the dark waters- Skyla could almost feel the itch-burn of the Groc’s poison in her arm again- despite her desire not to end this life thrashing in the dark waters, Skyla edged closer to the rim of the quarry once more. She moved left, seeming to be searching the larger darkened gouges in the stone on the near side of the pit, making herself look unprepared.
It was, as she expected, an opportunity that the beast could not ignore. He gave a great battle cry and made to rush her. It was simple for Skyla to use the beast’s rage and wildness against him, to dodge his feral attack and to bring the longest of her metal weapons up and into him, the flat of it striking the monster across his chest and sending him reeling backwards. Alas, the blow didn’t unfoot him as Skyla had hoped. He was able to catch a hold on her second attacking arm with his flailing hand, taking her balance from her more than he should have. Her short weapon, the one grasped in the hand the beast was holding, missed its mark just scratching the skin of his arm, rather than sinking into his gut as she had intended.
It was only her years of hardening in battle that allowed her to recover her feet enough to raise her long weapon again and strike him across the side of the head. The pain of that blow made him to lose his grip on her arm and step back in retreat. Skyla took that moment to strike again with the short weapon, driving its jagged tip into the monster’s thigh high and deep. She knew that she had hit her target- the great vein in the leg- by how fast the blood began to flow from the wound as soon as she pulled her short weapon out from his leg.
As the beast howled in fury and lunged for her again, she struck out with her long weapon, but he dodged it, twisting underneath, only to find himself impaled on her short weapon. It was sunk hard into his gut and had it been lengthier, Skyla was certain that it would have stuck out through the beast’s back. His twist had worked to her advantage, as she had hoped, but her slower than remembered reflexes didn’t allow her to execute the next maneuver she had planned. Along with the beast pushing himself onto her waiting impromptu dagger, he arched into her with such force as to drive her off her balance, and they stumble-tumbled to the edge and over, the monster bouncing against the craggy stone steps as they fell.
It had been a pretty damned bad day so far, Jessica thought to herself as she struggled to make the top of the fence. The head of lab security had already hopped down on the other side and was running in the direction of the noises they were hearing. They weren’t the kind of noises that would point to the day getting any better. From the sound of it, Skyla was fighting with something big.
Arthur had mentioned two clones, as if Jess had been aware of the existence of another. Until an hour or so earlier, she hadn’t been. Then Skyla had gone berserk- literally- suddenly breaking out of her room and beating off the crazed man who had Dennis captive. The man had still managed to stab Dennis with the large shard of broken glass he had been holding to Denny’s neck. Then, Skyla had taken out at least four security guards in minutes, as Jessica had been desperately trying to keep the blood inside Denny’s body long enough to get him to the emergency room.
Denny hadn’t regained consciousness, but the guards who had come with her, Simpson and Werner, had said some things about who the crazed man was- things that made her furious at Dennis all over again. She didn’t have time to stew about being left out of the loop, since by the time they had got to the hospital and Denny had gone into surgery, Arthur Cummings was calling her for her help in finding Skyla and the man she had now come to understand was an earlier attempt at cloning- one that had not gone nearly as well as Skyla had.
Then, she found herself climbing the fence around an old quarry and running to catch up with Cummings as he raced to where the clones were fighting. Jess got into sight of them just in time to see Skyla stab something into the other clone and the two of them fall down into the quarry.
The security cheif was already at the edge looking down into the hole cut from the Earth when she finally drew even with him. Below in the pit, Jess could see the cloned man floating face down in the dark green rainwater that had gathered at the bottom. He wasn’t moving.
“There!” Cummings shouted, pointing to where Skyla was splashing her way towards the near edge of the water. He started making his way down the side of the quarry using the large cuts in the stone for hand and footholds as he went. Jess was no mountain climber, but Skyla was surely injured down there, so she gritted her teeth and scrambled down the face of the rock after Cummings.
At the water level, Cummings was helping Skyla up out of the water, red tinged water streaming off her to puddle on the unevenness of the rock.
“Jess, maid, come to me,” Skyla croaked before her frame was wracked with coughing. Jess kneeled down and took the clone’s outstretched hand.
“I’m here, sweetie. I’m here,” she soothed. Then she turned her face towards Cummings and asked in a low murmur, “How bad is it?” He just shook his head, a bitter look on his face.
Skyla recovered her breath enough to say, “Jess, maid, list to me. You must list.”
“Yes. I’m here. What is it? What do you need?” Jess watched to color leaving the other woman’s face.
“He is bested- the beast is bested, I will not see you again. You must tell the priests- tell them that they have them wrong. The rituals are wrong- missing something vital. Maid, you must tell them- they are wrong,” she gasped as she lost more strength.
Jessica hated that this was happening, that this whole thing was ending so badly. Denny and his damned callousness had brought this woman into a world she didn’t understand, and now, never would. Poor Skyla was still clinging to her old religion and her strange delusions even as she lay dying. “Shh- Of course I will tell them. I’ll make sure they get them right next time.”
“Promise me, maid,” Skyla demanded. And Jess did, empty as it was.
The clones woman gave a shuddering exhalation and stopped moving, her eyes staring dully up at Jessica. And, Jessica couldn’t stop herself from resting her head on the dead woman’s chest and sobbing.
“Doc,” Arthur prodded the anthropologist. “Doctor Kelly, we need to get them back to the lab. We’re all in it deep if the police or any civilians see what has happened here.”
Doctor Kelly didn’t move. He figured it couldn’t hurt to give her a couple more minutes.
“I’m going in after the male.” He set his phone beside her. “Be good if you could try and make contact with the lab. I haven’t been able to, but we should keep trying.” He dropped the GPS and his wallet beside her, and sloshed into the dirty water to drag the other corpse to where they were.
By the time he’d made the dry rocks again, she was on the line with Werner at the hospital, making arraignments for he and Simpson, who had been keeping vigil over Doctor Mears while he was in surgery (no news), to get the disposal started.
Turns out that the existence if another clone was not the only thing Dennis had been keeping from Jessica. As she helped Cummings supervise the securing and disposal of the two clones’ bodies, she learned that for Cummings, this was old hat. He and Denny had buried Skyla twice before- the two times she had been exiled from the labs. So, as Denny recovered from his surgery, Jessica went through his files to see what the hell else he’d been doing that might just blow up in their faces. Luckily, the deaths of the two clones, Skyla and the male, who had been made from a modern human and named on by the code 9836-A, closed out the current experiments as far as she could tell. Neither of the subjects had any remaining DNA and Jess had personally watched as Cummings put each of the bodies in the incinerator.
Later, when Dennis gave her hell for reading his files and said that her input would not be needed on any further experiments, she was glad of it. She shook the whole thing off and started applying for grant money again. There was a certain signing primate she had been neglecting over the last few months.
It was Cummings who actually brought her back in on things. And really, he was about the only person who would have been able to. He had the in of having been there when Jess had watched Skyla die, and the even greater advantage of not being Dennis. So, when he said she really needed to be on the inside again, “To temper Doctor Mears’ mad scientist tendencies,” Cummings had said, she had listened.
It didn’t even take much for Dennis to give her access again, not since Skyla was demanding to see Jess all the time, anyway.
“Good Lord, Dennis, I can’t believe you actually did it again. She didn’t want to come back- she didn’t expect it. She said goodbye to me- a final goodbye,” Jess fumed as she looked through the new one-way glass to Skyla’s room to the sleeping woman inside. Cummings had made a token attempt to beef up security, but they all now knew that it was Skyla’s choice if she stayed in her cage or not.
“I was able to scrape together some more material to try again. And, why exactly shouldn’t I have? This clone is the best chance at success I have, Kel. She’s absolutely the key to making this work,” Dennis defended.
“She’s not a key, Dennis, not just some experiment. She’s a woman, with emotions and opinions and the right to be left in peace. You can’t keep doing this.”
“You can’t stop me from cloning her as many times as I need to to perfect this process, Kel.”
“Yeah, I’m aware of that, but believe it or not, that’s not what I’m talking about. You can’t keep completely disregarding her needs, her feelings- you’re torturing her.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic, she has everything she needs. Aside from asking for you constantly, she seems almost happy this time.”
“Happy? Are you cracked?” Jess stared at him incredulously. “Just because she hasn’t broken out yet, doesn’t mean she’s happy. She’s got no life in there.” She pointed to the bare cell again.
“You know what- I’m done with this conversation. You can go in and see her whenever you want, just don’t tell me how to run my lab!” he concluded and strode off.
Jess peered at the woman who had died in her arms two months earlier and wondered how she was going to be able to make anything better for her.
Author’s note: This is the conclusion of the section, but not the end of the story. Spirals continues in January 2009.