A/N: I don't want to spoil anything, so just be aware: this is massively depressing and violent. I mean no holds barred, pretty much. I suggest you win New Blood first, as well.
ATTENTION: IRENE QUATRO, Ph.D.
Two weeks ago, the police reached the end of the trail at an abandoned Annapolis factory; the finest search dogs and forensics can turn up nothing more. A scrap of red scarf, believed to be Dr. Vaughn's, was found in a water-stained pit. Traces of blood splashed in a holding cell appear to match Nurse Salazar's DNA, and a cracked button from Dr. Blaylock's coat was found in a hallway. The security cameras were destroyed before the police arrived; all attempts at data recovery have failed. Similarly, any remaining records, both written and digital, have been damaged beyond hope of repair. Considering the evidence we do have, I am beginning to pray we don't find our colleagues…or rather, what's left of them.
Dr. Robert Cromwell, Head of Research and Development
August 17, 2037
"Morning, sleepyhead." I ran my fingers through Markus' hair, watching him blink his eyes open. "How do you feel?"
"Like crap." He reached out clumsily, grasped my wrist and squeezed.
"I'm not surprised. Do you remember what happened?"
"Sort of…enough, I guess. Elena, you're here too…"
"Of course, Dr. Vaughn." She was smiling, but her grip on his ankle was more terrified than comforting.
"You girls been…alright?" His breathing was uneven and I could feel his forehead bunching under my hand. "They—hurt you?"
"Not too much, not really. We're tough."
"Really, we're fine Dr. Vaughn."
"What if…what if they'd done something terrible to you, and I had been sleeping? I could never forgive myself."
"Markus, it's not like you chose to get stabbed with the syringe," I teased gently.
"I know, but I don't…like that," Markus brooded. "I want to protect you, keep you from danger."
"You'll get your chance to be our knight in shining armor," Elena said kindly. "But you need to recover first."
"That's right, Markus—you'll shake the groggy feeling eventually. Just lie there until you feel better, alright?"
"Uh-huh." He gave a quiet groan and shivered, curling up on his side.
Elena started fussing with the coats, making sure he was properly covered, and I began rubbing his back. "Just take it easy, Markus," I soothed. "You know it's normal to lapse in and out of sleep after being knocked out. We'll be here when you wake up."
"What would I do without my girls?" He whispered with a smile, eyes shutting. "You are…" his deep breathing told us he was already unconscious.
"He's a great man, isn't he, Dr. Blaylock?" Elena asked quietly.
I continued rubbing my hand up and down his back. "The best I have ever known."
My screams brought Kidman to the cell.
"Jean-Paul, you fool," he muttered, slamming the door behind him and stalking toward me. "What's this world coming to when not even a druggie knows the proper concentration and dosage?"
Kidman only got Markus from my arms because of the savage kick to my side. The whole scene was nothing but jarring images and sounds, Elena's screams blending with my own.
The door slammed hollowly as I was left huddled in a corner, racked with pain and clutching a scrap of Markus' scarf. Elena tried to comfort me in vain—I was out of my mind and the next hours blurred together. I refused all food, all drink, all commands. I only vaguely heard Elena's sobs and felt someone kicking me repeatedly; it was all a dream.
After an indefinite period of time, the door opened yet again and I recognized Kidman's stupid voice. "All right, since the Doc won't cooperate, we'll have a little fun."
I could hear his steps draw closer. I heard his shoe scraping on the gritty floor as he lunged, and a cry pierced the air. Having felt nothing, I looked over my shoulder in confusion.
"Intolerable brat!" Kidman snarled at Elena, resettling his cotton candy pink wig. "You'll pay for your altruism." And he was gone.
"Elena? What happened?" I blinked awake from my stupor.
"N-nothing, Dr. Blaylock." She smiled bravely, cradling her arm. "Everything's fine."
By evening, she was rubbing at her eyes. "Elena, are you crying?" A strangled gasp escaped my throat; she was smearing blood on her cheeks. "Elena…!" Grasping her shoulders, I turned her to face me. My fingers felt strangely warm, and I looked down to see red seeping through her coat.
I cried out and lunged away from her, seized with a spasm of primitive fear. "What's wrong with you!"
Her bloody eyes were wide, the lashes beading with red.
Footsteps approached, a key rattled in the lock and the door burst open. Kidman walked in quickly, accompanied by his crony. "Much faster than I'd dreamed! Leland, get her into a Death Row cell. She's going to crash soon—we must hurry to complete the tests!"
Death row… the dark corridor where the test subjects were confined. On our way into the factory we had passed part of it.
I rushed him, but Lesade struck me a violent blow and the two men whisked Elena away before I recovered. The bolt was shot in the door even as my hands scrabbled for the knob. I clawed at the rusty metal for a few desperate seconds before the word forceps slammed into my consciousness, and I pounced for the medical bag Kidman had so kindly left us.
"Elena?" I whispered, my voice echoing unnaturally down the dim corridor. As I methodically searched the cells, questions I had never wanted to ponder pressed heavy in my mind. How do you get blood on a ceiling? And what sort of process could make a human bone glow? Perhaps worst of all…there were some I saw who didn't seem to belong either above or below ground.
The last cell on the hall was unlit, and inside I saw a body laying where it had been thrown in the shadows. The air reeked of blood. "Elena," I stammered through a tight throat, wrapping my fingers around the cold metal bars. The body stirred, and partially sat up. There was a dripping.
"Yes, Elena, I came for you," I murmured, letting my gaze rest for a moment on the number pad bolted to the door. "Do you know the password?"
"It's four letters," she whispered, arm shaking as she held herself up. "The salt of the earth, he said…" her silhouette collapsed with a splash.
My mind raced. Our captors were scientists—sadists, granted, but men of science nonetheless and I guessed this clue had something to do with chemistry. I had been good at chemistry…once upon a time. "Must be Sodium Chloride…N-A-C-L, that would add up to four." But devil take it, how was I supposed to reconcile letters with numbers? Atomic number! If each element had a double digit number, it would still reach the correct sum.I took a few moments to visualize the periodic table, place the two elements on it and discern their proper number. I figured sodium would come first.
I punched in 1-2-1-7 and hit the enter key with a shaky finger.
"Incorrect password," a mechanized female voice announced pleasantly. I swore under my breath.
"Incorrect password. Please enter password; lockdown sequence for this cell will initiate at next incorrect entry."
"No!" I fell to my knees. "Elena, can you come over here?" Stretching flat on my stomach, I reached my arm between the bars. She dragged herself spastically in my direction, stopping to gasp for breath. Her ragged breathing was interrupted by a forceful cough which sprayed dark liquid over the cement floor. With a grimace I stretched my arm out farther, grabbed her wrist and dragged her through her own blood the last few inches.
I could see her better now. Her fashionable clothes were drenched with blood, and her once-beautiful honey tresses dangled in sticky clumps. As I watched, a laceration began tracing itself across her cheek. Black liquid from the slit trickled down and crossed her pale lips.
My throat pulsed in time to my heartbeat. "Elena… they gave you some mutated strain of Onyx. This is really bad…"
She grasped my wrist feebly. "Please, Valerie...save me…"
"I can't, Elena." I broke down into sobs. "I can't get the door open."
She started to cry as well, and I held her through the bars as a black puddle spread beneath her. She choked on her own blood in the middle of a sob; eyes wide, she clawed at me in terror, pulling off one of my coat buttons. Her desperate struggle for air ended in silence. I gripped her arms helplessly as she lay still behind the bars. "Breathe! Breathe! Come on, breathe!" I screamed. Tears of joy flooded my eyes as she drew in a gagging breath and—
"Test subject 18 has been terminated. Test subject 18 has been terminated. Now alerting all main labs…"
I sat for a moment in silence before shrieking laughter and death rattle imitations leapt from the shadows. "Stop it! Stop it!" I screamed, clapping my wet hands to my ears. "Oh, please stop!" They didn't need to—something hit the back of my head and I toppled forward.
They dump me in a small version of a gladiatorial pit, slam the barred lid and taunt. I refuse the bait. They poke me with sticks, like I'm an animal who's failing to provide them with sport. And like an animal, I snarl at them. I crouch in the rising water—cascades pour from the rusted pipes and splash my head, soaking my greasy hair. My right hand clenches a scrap of the red scarf. To the last second of my life I will not forget the injustice done to all of us. Let the water come…Let it come…I will breathe in my death… Let it come.
A/N: For anyone who cares, the password was 1-1-1-7; the atomic numbers of sodium (11) and chlorine (17), respectively. Val kept getting the sodium wrong by one digit.