"Gary." The middle aged researcher acknowledged his team leader as he glanced up from his terminal. The man did a double take as he registered that Elise was there as well, gun in hand. She endured the familiar look of panic and Gary jumped forward to reassure his colleague.
"Don't worry Donald, it's not one of the thralls." Gary blurted and Donald bounced excitedly in his chair at the news.
"You mean… Unit Six?" Donald examined Elise eagerly and Gary grimaced. Elise let out a small sigh; it seemed this was just something she would have to get used to.
"Who else is here?" Gary changed the topic. "Is Toby around?"
"I don't know where he is, I'm just glad he isn't here. Gives me the willies." Donald shuddered. "Can't work with him looming about. It's just Caitlin and Martin through in the spawning room." He jerked his thumb toward the door on the other side of the lab. "And of course Everett is holed up in his sanctum."
Elise approached the door he had indicated and she heard the two men following behind her. She swiped her hand over the control panel and the doors whooshed open. Elise blinked in surprise as she peered into the large, dimmed room. She thought she had been prepared for this but she had been mistaken. Row upon row of stasis tanks occupied the lab, several of them were empty but within the rest she could make out blurred silhouettes. Soft light filtered down from the ceiling, barely enough to illuminate the walkway between the tanks and Elise hesitantly stepped toward the nearest one. All she could hear was the gentle hum of the apparatus and the bleep of the machines that monitored the clone's vital stats. Within the gloomy tank the clone was suspended, curled and slumbering peacefully, oblivious to the cold world outside. She looked down the row and saw more of the same, clones in various stages of growth. Her heart trembled at the sight.
"I didn't think… there are so many." She whispered in the near silence. "And are they all… all like her?" Gary seemed confused by her question.
"You've met another?" He asked in surprise and Elise nodded.
"And lived to tell the tale." Donald smirked with glee.
"There are seven active units, not including yourself. Another dozen or so here that are fully matured and awaiting activation." He indicated the tank in front of them. "The rest are not yet… imprinted, I guess you could say."
"How could you help him do this?" Elise hissed and Gary's shoulders stiffened.
"At first we subtly tinkered with their DNA, trying to find a way to make them unviable. But Everett's no fool; he saw the failures for what they really were. My people have suffered greatly; you've no right to judge us." He stated calmly and Elise scoffed. She knew she was misdirecting her anger, but she couldn't help herself.
"Where is he?" She asked through gritted teeth and Gary pointed to the far side of the room.
"Down that corridor, past the surgery."
"Stay here, I'll deal with him alone." Elise commanded and turned on her heel. She stormed away from the clones, barely registering the gasp of shock that erupted from the woman Caitlin as she swept past her. It was clear the three technicians had been unaware of the furore occurring outside of their lab, calmly continuing with their daily routine. She hoped this meant she could catch Everett by surprise.
Elise's pulse raced as she approached Everett's lab, stopping in front of the security door. She slid her kitbag off her shoulders, crouching as she rummaged within. Elise retrieved the LAM's Macca had refused as payment and attached them to the door. She synchronised the timers and hurried back down the hallway, seeking cover in the surgery.
Elise tried not to imagine what the surgery was used for as she listened for the bleep of the LAM's activating. The blast shook the lab and Elise ran toward the door, not waiting for the smoke to clear. She leapt through the twisted hole into the room beyond. Beneath the debris, she identified it as Everett's makeshift sleeping quarters and she scurried into the next room.
"Drop it." Elise snarled as she levelled her gun at Morgan. He stood in front of a bank of terminals, pistol in his hand and he hesitated. She could see his mind whirling as he tried to decide what his best course of action was. He was trying to determine how intent she was on killing him. Should he comply and hope for a rescue, or make a desperate attempt to kill her now. Finally the gun clattered to the floor. "Kick it over here." She commanded and Everett obeyed, raising his hands as he did so. She caught it with her foot and holstered her own weapon. She didn't take her eyes off Everett as she bent down to retrieve his gun. Elise dropped the magazine from the pistol and cleared the chamber, quickly dismantling the gun and letting the pieces scatter on the floor. They studied each other silently and at length Everett was the first to speak.
"It was inevitable that you would seek your creator." He stated imperiously, letting his hands fall to his sides; he felt confident of his safety since she had put her weapon away.
"I didn't come here looking for you. But what a pleasant surprise it is." A predatory grin spread across her lips and she stalked toward him. "There's no-one to save you, no more safety precautions." She tapped the side of her head. "I can hurt you as much as I like." He was taken aback by her words, having assumed that she would want to talk, not torture him. He recovered his composure quickly, fighting back the fear as she drew nearer.
"You won't kill me, you want answers. Why have I done all this, why did I make you?" She paused at his words. "A man might as well ask God why."
"You're not God, Morgan; you're not even a man anymore. You're just scum."
"For someone that has seen so little of life you seem overly certain of your convictions. When you have lived as long as I, seen what I have seen, maybe then you will understand what I'm trying to do." He shook his head at her. "Humanity needs to be kept safe and sometimes it requires force. If I can maintain the status quo and let people go about their daily lives, happily ignorant of the dangers surrounding them, doesn't the end justify the means?"
"No, it doesn't. I don't care how you try to justify it Morgan and don't try to tell me that I can't possibly understand. Because I could feel the truth from the beginning, deep in my bones, always in the very core of me." She pressed her hand against her chest as she spoke. "That's why I'm still here; it's why you couldn't just erase me. Because I'm not just some construct shaped by you. I'm a real living, feeling person." Everett scoffed at her words.
"Don't be absurd, you're nothing! You're a genetic aberration; your entire personality is derived from false memories crafted by me." He sneered down at her, as though she were something vile he had just scraped off his shoes. "Just because Tong deactivated that chip in your skull doesn't mean you are free of me. Every thought, every action is still determined by your personality. The one that I made for you. Ungrateful creature!" Elise's fingers curled into a fist and Everett crashed against his monitors as she punched him squarely in the face. She kicked his legs out from under him and he dropped face-first to the floor, grunting at the impact. Elise knelt down beside him, her knee digging into his shoulder as she wrenched his arm upwards.
"Then… you've no-one… to blame… but… yourself." She ground out through her teeth as one by one she broke the fingers of his left hand. She delighted in the sharp cry of pain that erupted from his lips with each satisfying snap. She dropped his hand and rolled him onto his back. Everett crawled away from her and propped himself up against the wall, cradling his twisted fingers and gasping in shock.
"When the enemies are at your gates, you will regret this. You'll beg me for that clone army!" Elise gave him a forbearing smile and rest her chin against her knuckles.
"You're final words ought to be a little more profound, don't you think?" She spoke evenly and Everett's eyes widened in shock.
"You…?" He stammered. "A real human would grant me mercy." He jeered and Elise laughed, even til the end he was trying to manipulate her.
"I hope it's a comfort to you father. To know you were right about me after all." She leapt forward, not giving him a chance to reply. Elise grasped his head and twisted it sharply, snapping his neck in one fluid motion. "I made it quick." She said as she laid his corpse on the floor. "That's mercy enough for you." She staggered away from him and looked around the room. She needed to get Alex here, he would be able to sort through all the data on Everett's computers, figure out what he was up to. She sat down at the nearest terminal and issued a withdrawal order using Everett's authorisation code. Right now all she wanted was to liberate Gary and his team from Majestic-12.
She logged into the security system and removed the lock down on the building. Elise remembered Gary saying something about hostages and she located them on one of the sub-levels. The guards were retreating, complying with her order and she released the locks on their cells. The hostages, a grizzled looking veteran and a young woman glanced at each other uncertainly, before they made a dash for freedom. Elise glanced once more at Everett as she rose to leave, wondering what she ought to be feeling at this moment.
'Sadness, elation, regret?' She didn't really feel anything apart from satisfaction that she had accomplished her goal, she had thwarted Morgan Everett. Gary and his team-mates were huddled together at the end of the corridor, anxiously awaiting her return. She could see them visibly relax as she stepped through the ruined door.
"I freed the hostages and ordered the MJ12 troops to retreat. They seem to be complying." Caitlin sighed in relief.
"Thank goodness, now we can get back to our real work."
"So what's next?" Gary asked.
"I need to get over to the Comm. building and disable the signal jamming so I can contact Paul and JC." Elise walked back past the rows of clones, keeping her eyes fixed firmly forward, unable to bring herself to look up at them. They rode in silence as they descended in the lift to the ground floor. Elise could feel their eyes on her as she brooded. She knew the question that was on their minds, but that none of them dared ask.
'What happened to Everett?'
"Dad!" The young woman cried as Gary emerged from the elevator and he threw his arms around her.
"Tiffany, thank god you're alright." Father and daughter clung to one another and Elise felt a tightness in her chest. She smiled though, glad that she had reunited this family. "Sam." Gary looked up at the other hostage, grasping the man's hand in greeting. "Glad to see you're well."
"Ha! As well as can be expected after being cooped up in that cell for so long." Sam grumbled. Elise detached herself from the group and headed for the front doors. The courtyard was littered with the smoking ruins of the security bots and a few corpses, but there was no sign of any remaining troops. Elise descended the stairs to the ground, scanning the courtyard for any sign of danger as she slowly made her way toward the Comm. Building. She heard the ping of a silenced weapon firing and felt the projectile whiz past her face as she dove sideways. The bullet burrowed into the ground with a little puff of dust. The sniper opened fire in earnest and more dust clouds arose all around her. Elise scurried backwards seeking the shelter of the main building.
"What is it?" Gary cried as she burst back into the main foyer.
"There's a sniper on the roof." She informed them.
"Toby…" Gary discerned.
"How do I get up to the roof?"
"Service elevator near the stairwell." Sam pointed down the hall.
"Right, all of you stay put." Elise raced to the elevator and pressed the call button. As the elevator descended she took the stairs to the next floor. She pried open the doors to the lift shaft and jumped down onto the roof of the elevator car. Elise unlocked the service hatch and dropped inside. She hit the button for the roof and leapt up to grasp the edge of the hatch, pulling herself back on top of the elevator. It slowly ascended to the roof and as soon as the doors chimed open bullets sprayed the interior of the lift. Elise scrambled up the cabling and kicked one of the air vents open, crawling out of the shaft.
Elise freed her pistol as she hugged the vent, scanning the roof for Toby. He was hunkered down on the far side, watching the elevator. Elise scrambled backwards, sliding down from the elevator housing and onto the roof proper. She dashed toward a cluster of exhaust vents, gunfire snapping at her heels as she skidded behind cover.
"Everett's dead Toby!" She called out to him, trying to get him to lay down his weapons. "It's over." Her head jerked up at the staccato of his boots on the concrete. Elise leapt up from her hiding place as he charged toward her. She gasped in surprise as her eyes fell on Toby and she opened fire. Her bullets ricocheted harmlessly off the armour that had been grafted to his chest. "What the hell?" He barrelled toward her, looking like Frankenstein's monster with his shaved head and rows of stitches across his skull.
Now she understood why Donald had found Toby so unsettling but she didn't have time to examine the rest of his augmentations as Toby opened fire. Elise dashed across the roof, her superior speed the only thing preventing her from being riddled with bullets. Toby might have been upgraded, but he was still only a mech-aug.
"My loyalty…" Toby droned, "is unquestionable, Mr Everett." He plodded across the roof, searching for Elise. "Unquestionable…. Unquestionable…" Elise could hear him muttering to himself as she hung from the edge of the building, her fingers pressed against the unyielding concrete.
'What did Everett do to him?'Elise wondered. Clearly Morgan had done more than simply implant augmentations. She knew that mech-augs had a tendency to become aggressive and unstable after years of being shunned by their fellow humans. Toby seemed to have snapped entirely and Elise suspected Everett had been doing some tinkering in Toby's brain.
"I'll see to it, Mr Everett…. Your helicopter is waiting." Toby lumbered past her and Elise slowly pulled herself up onto the roof, creeping behind Toby and pulling her pistol from it's holster. "Half a clove of garlic and add the chopped parsley… No you can't do this to me! What are you doing?!" Elise assumed that his skull had been reinforced so she targeted his neck. "I can't feel my legs, I can't…. I can't."
"Elise?" Toby mewled and Elise hesitated. "Kill me, end my suffering, Elise." His pitiful words tugged at Elise's insides. She knew what it was like to have a broken mind, she wouldn't wish this upon anyone. "No!" Toby spun suddenly, clutching at his head. "I want to live. I want to live!" He saw her and raised his gun. Elise fired, her first bullet shattered his collar bone, the remainder tore into his arm or ricocheted off his armour. Toby roared in pain and lumbered toward her, blood gushing from his wounds.
"Toby stop, we can get you help." Elise pleaded with him but he continued to advance, a frenzied gleam in his eye.
"Do it, kill me." Toby laughed, his mouth hanging open in a feral grin. "Kill us both." Elise took a step back, horrified at the sight of him, hunched over double and still advancing on her.
"Morgan's dead Toby, you're free of him. We both are. Stop!" A chill ran down Elise's spine, she understood the meaning behind Toby's words. He caught her with his uninjured arm, sweeping her up into a crushing hug.
"Toby, no." Elise gasped as she fought to escape his iron grip, the air was crushed from her and she could feel pressure building against her spine.
"Kill us both!" Toby commanded, his laughter unabated. "Do it, do it!" Elise jammed her pistol into his gaping mouth and turned her face away as she pulled the trigger. She felt his grip loosen and she struggled free as he slumped to the ground. Elise twisted and leapt from the roof as Toby's kill switch activated. Shrapnel pummelled the back of her legs and torso and Elise curled up in pain as several pieces pierced her internal organs. Air whipped past her body, catching her coat and jerking her body about as she plummeted toward the ground. The shock of impact and the coldness of water robbed her body of breath and moments later she suffered a second jolt as she hit the bottom of the reservoir.
The water muffled all sounds except the pounding of blood in her ears and even though she briefly managed to flicker her eyes open, Elise was so dazed she couldn't tell up from down. She felt motion in the water beside her, something grabbing hold of her and pulling her along. Elise was heaved out of the tank and she could hear voices, though they still sounded muffled to her, as though they were very distant. Her world had been reduced to cold, wet, painful darkness. She tried to form a question but the words would not come.
"We're here, just rest, Elise." The voice sounded familiar to her, calm and reassuring. "Let us take care of you now."