Normally when I write fragments, they are the ‘beginnings’ of longer untold tales. This is an experiment in writing the ‘ending’ instead.
The building was confusing. Each room, it seemed, held four doors that looked like they had quartered glass panes but they did not, in fact, look into the next room. On the soft, white walls above each door were a list of names and numbers.
A Sanderson 1
C Hex 3
S Wheatley 4
K Rexford 6
Each door had a different list, although some names were repeated. They seldom had the same numbers next to them with each repetition.
Karen was the first one to figure it out. She stepped through the door mentioned above, and then poked her head back in. “It’s a code,” she said. “We’re looking for Sam, right? This door says Sam Wheatley, 4. I step through and the door on the left in THAT room says S Wheatley 2. 4 is the left door, if you start counting from straight ahead as you enter the room.”
Jill followed Karen’s trail into the other room, calling out to us, “Then if that is right, the next room behind the left door will have Sam’s name above the right hand door.” There was a pause during which time we could hear the door opening, and then Jill yelled, “And it is! Karen is right, it’s like a treasure hunt! Come on!”
We hurried to follow her, looking at the names above the door indicated in the previous room. It seemed to be working until the fourth room, when Sam’s name had a 7 next to it.
“There aren’t 7 walls,” Amanda said. She frowned as she looked at Jill and Karen for an explanation. I was the one who figured it out however.
“No, there aren’t,” I said. “But count to seven from ahead anyways: one – ahead. Two – right. Three – the door we just came in. Four – left. Five – ahead again. Six – right. Seven… the door right in front of us.” I stepped through and then turned and looked above the door behind me and sure enough, there was Sam’s name again. This time it had a 2 after it. “It’s a 2. Turn around, and look to the right.”
Armed with this, we began to notice that sometimes the same name would appear over two or more doors in the same room. We quickly determined to follow the breadcrumbs, however. We didn’t want to risk making an assumption about which door was the ‘real’ one and end up lost. Time was of the essence.
We began rushing through the rooms. Once the code was solved, it was easy. At last we came to a door that had no room beyond it. Rather, it lead outside. A walled enclosure on two sides, the building on the third and the bayou on the fourth.
“No!” cried Amanda. We were too late. There, on a dune right before the water began, were Sam and Jolene.
Jolene startled at the yell, but before we could act she struck. She held a syringe in her hand which she jabbed into Sam’s shoulder. Sam made no move to stop her.
Jill and Amanda began to run towards them. Karen and I stood still in shock as Sam clutched her shoulder, pulling the needle free, and then toppled backwards on the sand. The impact jolted us from our shock, and we began to run forward also.
Jolene stared down at Sam’s shuddering body for a moment, then ran into the bayou. She splashed a few feet through the water to where a small zodiac with an outboard motor waited for her. We hadn’t seen it at first because of a clump of reeds. Jill poured on the speed, trying to catch Jolene before she got away, but Jo had planned it too well. The motor caught on the first try, and the little inflatable boat zipped away.
By the time I reached Sam, Amanda was already kneeling beside her, brushing her hair back from her face and murmuring comforting nothings. Amanda ran her fingertips over the thin, jagged white scar on Sam’s forehead, and Sam’s eyes focused on us for a moment. She was shaking so bad.
“Hey guys,” she said. She forced a smile despite the obvious pain she was in from whatever Jo had injected her with. We knelt around her, each of us crying.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “We were too late. We should have figured out the code faster.”
Sam shook her head, “No. You… got here… just in time… “ She lifted a hand which was trembling so badly it reminded me of a moth fluttering around a porch light. “P… Po… pock…” she managed to gasp. Then her face relaxed, her eyes unfocused, and our sister was gone.
Amanda’s scream was wordless and heart-wrenching. We all felt it. Samantha was special to each of us. She had been more than just a sister, she had been a friend, a confidant, a protector, and a guide. Even though we were all the same age, she had always seemed to possess wisdom beyond her years, and she always knew the right way to handle any situation, when to laugh and when to offer advice and when to just hold us without words.
“I’m so sorry,” Jill told her still form. “You didn’t deserve this. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I wish we could have made Jo understand,” Karen said. “We tried so hard, but after Alex died…”
Jill’s face hardened, and she took a deep, ragged breath. “I will avenge you, Sam-” she said, but both Amanda and I cut her off.
“No,” said Amanda.
“No,” I said, “No more. It ends here. Sam wouldn’t want the cycle of revenge to continue.”
“But-” Jill tried again.
“They are right,” Karen said. “Think about it. Why the bit with the building and the doors and the code? Sam could have just told us to take a boat like Jo did. She wanted to slow us down. She wanted this to end. She didn’t even put up a fight when Jo went after her with the needle.”
Jill hung her head. She had nothing to say to that. We all knelt in silence for a time.
Amanda was the first to break the spell. She frowned for a moment, looking at Sam’s body. “What did she mean, at the end? Pock? Pock what?”
“Probably wanted Pocky,” Karen said, and we all shared a brief gallows laugh.
“She did love her Japanese snacks,” Jill tried to smile.
Amanda shook her head, “No. I don’t think that’s it.” She leaned over and began running her hands over Sam’s body. “Here,” she said after a moment. Reaching into Sam’s blouse pocket, she pulled out a folded piece of paper.
“What does it say?” Karen asked.
Amanda unfolded the paper and read it. “Charlotte Hex,” she said.
We all looked at each other blankly. “Anyone know a Charlotte Hex?” Jill finally asked. No one spoke up. Four sets of shoulders shrugged in unison. “We’ll figure it out later,” Jill said. “For now, what do we do with her?”
We all looked at Sam’s body again. Amanda spoke slowly, thinking out her words as she went. “I think… I think maybe there is a reason she picked this place, besides the door puzzle.” She looked at the bayou, and we all turned to follow her gaze.
Jill frowned deeply, starting to get angry again. “We can’t just… she deserves better!”
“She does,” I said. They all turned to look at me. “She does deserve better, but we can’t give it to her. If we bury her publicly, NWG will track her down.” I looked at the bayou again, then turned and pointed at the strange building. “Let that be her monument.”
The others followed my finger with their eyes, and slowly they all nodded. Jill was the slowest to come around, but even she understood the need to keep Sam’s body out of the hands of our erstwhile ‘keepers.’
We all stood and looked down at our friend in silence for a moment. Amanda took her hands and Jill her feet, and they carried her out into the water. As they lowered her body gently, Karen spoke softly, “Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet princess; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
We silently watched the ripples that marked her only visible grave for the moment. Something was scratching at the back of my mind like a dog wanting to come in from the yard. I frowned and looked at Karen. “Charlotte Hex… C Hex. I think…” I bit my lip before forcing myself to go on. “Karen, run over to the building and double check for me. Wasn’t ‘C Hex’ one of the names above the doors inside?”
Even as Karen started to trot towards the strange building, Amanda and Jill were nodding, sloshing back towards the shore. “You’re right,” Amanda said, “I remember that. C Hex.”
“She must want us to follow that trail for some reason,” Jill said. We all began walking towards the building.
Karen poked her head back out of the door. “C Hex, you’re right,” she called. We quickened our paces. Karen pointed at the door opposite us as we entered, “See? C Hex, 1. That’s straight ahead and then straight ahead again.”
We all looked at each other, wordlessly assessing each others’ feelings on the subject. I nodded. “Let’s go.”
We followed the doors, and it was just like the first time. Only this time, it didn’t lead to a strand of beach by the bayou. It lead to a room with only two doors: the one we entered by and one other. It was furnished, with five white rattan chairs. The room was otherwise the same as the others: soft white walls, high ceiling, very light and airy.
There was one other difference. This room was occupied. There, sitting in one of the chairs, was a young woman.
It was Sam. And at the same time, it wasn’t Sam.
She looked the same, except for a few differences. She was… not exactly younger, but less ‘used’ looking. She lacked the scar, for one thing, and the laugh lines around the eyes and at the corners of Sam’s lips. She seemed to be the same age as the rest of us, but there was something about her that said she had lived less than the rest of us.
There were tears streaming down her face as we burst into the room, but she forced a sad little smile that looked so much like Sam’s that we were all stunned for a moment. In Sam’s voice, this girl wearing Sam’s body said, “Hey guys.”
“Who the hell are you?” Jill demanded.
“This is going to take some explaining,” the girl said. She gestured at the remaining chairs, “Please, have a seat. Jill, Amanda, you’re wet… you didn’t try to chase Jo did you?”
“How do you know about that?!” Jill was practically screeching, “Who the hell are you? Why do you look like Sam?” Her hands were clenched into fists and her entire body was trembling.
The girl who looked like Sam sighed softly, and smiled at Jill. “Always the warrior,” she said. “I look like Sam because I am Sam. No wait!” she held up her hand to forestall any outbursts. “Let me explain, please.” She gestured again at the seats, and waited until we all sat with varying degrees of grace.
She looked at each of us in turn, Jill, then Karen, then Amanda, and lastly myself. She wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand, cleared her throat, and began.
“Do you all remember when we were about 8, and NWG was first trying to figure out what we could do? All those tests they made us run? Those insane situations they would put us in? Do you remember how they would take us away from each other for a day at a time? Well, do you remember that they used to take me away more often, and that I would be gone longer sometimes? They said I was sick, and they had to run extra tests to find out what was wrong with me?”
We all nodded, frowning at the memories of our early trials. Those were some of the worst days of our lives. The tests they ran didn’t just border on child abuse, they skipped right across that border and danced merrily in the place where parental concern should have resided. While it was obvious that there were still doubts about this actually being Sam, she knew some details that allowed us to give her the benefit of the doubt, at least for the moment.
The girl who looked like Sam smiled faintly. “I wasn’t sick. We all know that. None of us have ever been sick a day in our lives, but at the time, when we were 8, we believed whatever they told us. That time was very confusing for me, for all of us. We were learning about ourselves, and what we could do. But it was more confusing for me. You see, they cloned me. Actually, they cloned all of us, but since I was the only telepath, mine was the only clone they let live. You see, they realized that, with the right little gizmos stuck in my head… er.. heads… I could switch my consciousness from one body to another. Of course, I was 8 when they started this, and I didn’t really comprehend what was going on. So yeah, a very confusing time.”
Amanda looked even more aghast than the rest of us. “Why in God’s name would they do that?” she asked.
The girl who looked like Sam was silent for a moment, a look of pain on her features. “Mindy, do you remember Project Blackbird?”
We all blanched. We remembered. The government wanted to use us as assassins. Cherubic little girls, hot young teens, beautiful young women, trained to use a variety of weapons and our own abilities to kill targets they picked out for us. Blackbird is what eventually prompted us to escape.
“I would have made the very best public assassin. See, I could be in New York at a party, step out for just a moment to use the ladies room, switch bodies and kill someone in Singapore or Madrid or Chicago, and be back at the party in minutes. Far too fast to have actually committed the crime, right?” Sam looked grim as she shook her head. “And it wouldn’t matter if they caught me on camera, there would be hundreds of witnesses who saw me at the party that same night. No way it could be me, it must just be an imposter.”
“What happened?” asked Karen, “Why did they stop?”
Sam chuckled grimly and touched her forehead. Her unblemished forehead. “I fell out of a tree when I was 12,” she said. “The scar was so jagged, they couldn’t be sure they could reproduce it exactly. So they shelved that part of the project and just concentrated on teaching me to use my mind to kill with instead. But they left the clone body alive. I’m not sure why. Just in case, maybe?”
Jill shook her head. “No. Remember when we escaped? That other lab we passed? Beta wing? Jo did some digging around. They had a second generation of people like us once upon a time. I’ll bet one of them could heal scars. If they captured you, they could ‘fix’ you and bang! Back in business.”
We all turned to look at Jill. This was news to us. “What happened to the Beta group?” Amanda asked softly.
Jill shrugged and shook her head again. “After we escaped, NWG tried to put extra precautions into the Beta group, but the group rebelled. Eventually, they had to put them all in cryogenic stasis.”
Karen gasped, leaning forward eagerly. “You mean there are more like us out there?”
Jill smiled sadly at Karen. “No. Well, yes, but they are frozen and we have no way of thawing them safely.”
“But NWG does, right?” I asked. I looked at the rest of them one by one. Jaws were setting in determination, heads were nodding to my unspoken question. “Later,” I said. Turning back to Sam, I cocked my head slightly. “So why all this? I assume you found your clone body and freed it, so you could stage this whole thing. But why?”
Sam was silent for a long time. We could tell she was struggling inside. Finally, she sighed deeply. “Jolene. I… I wanted to talk to her. One last time, you know? To try to resolve this, to make her understand what happened. I wanted her to forgive me, but if she was unwilling to, then I wanted her to at least have closure. She… she deserves that much. She’s too torn up inside, the darkness is too deep. But at least I could give her my death.” The tears welled in her eyes again, and I felt my own stinging in sympathy.
I stood and held out my hand. Sam took it, and I helped her to her feet. One by one the others stood also. We hugged her and kissed her in tears and silence, grieving the loss of one sister and celebrating the rebirth of another.