Hell’s Womb: p.6

What have we done? Woozy and on the verge of panic, the twenty-one-year-old research scientist shrank into a tiny ball in the corner of #13—the exact location from where the catastrophe originated.

She had essentially belonged to the company her entire adult life, and much of her childhood. Not that she had cared. Her parents had been kindly old miners who’d done their best to raise the stray baby girl they’d found dumped in a cave—a freak with yellow eyes and a love for the dark. And when they’d died, her keen faculties for natural sciences and her fondness for life underground had been nurtured by Texas Pride Energy.

She ran her hands briskly up and down her arms, trying to settle the bristling fuzz. Her skin felt cool to the touch and looked much paler than normal. Her jaw dropped as she made the connection, her stomach lurching from the memory.

Early on she’d administered a small amount of quicksilver to Adam and Eve as potential remedy. Immediately the subjects’ hair had bristled as their rate of abiotic decomposition increased, turning their skin cool and pale. Testing afterwards revealed severely elevated levels of the heavy metal. Under confrontation Vezzoni admitted to an earlier failed experiment involving a neurotoxin cocktail. He’d even handed over the remaining vials of the toxin.

She had let it slide. But now, trapped 400 feet below ground in a ruined cave filled with ruined air and two monsters partly of her own creation… clearly she was just a stupid kid following orders.

Nothing released gaseous quicksilver from coal like fire. But the element had no scent or taste, so what was Gayle tasting now? She knew the answer before she’d finished asking it. What she didn’t know was the effect the vaporized portion remaining of the original toxin would have on her own nervous system, or how far it might spread.

A slithering hiss reverberated from the walls of the cave, followed by the same dragging sound. The echo made it impossible to tell how far away the sounds were. She hugged herself and squeezed. Dammit, it’s not too late. You’re the only one who can undo this.

Her mind flashed. Christopher was a stickler for procedure. He would have recorded his experiment and placed the logbook in the fire safe by her desk before starting. The same logbook contained notes on everything, including all her recent mapping on the neurotoxin’s effects. She had felt close to understanding it, until… she dismissed the thought. The subjects clearly had enhanced physical abilities, but surely the changes stopped there. Yesterday’s incident had been tangential. But today?

Shaking off her fear, she slowly stood. I’ve got to find those notes. She gritted her teeth, straining the toxic air into her lungs. Or whatever happened to them is going to happen to me next.

She focused on the dim, blue glow. Narrowing her eyes to slits, shapes and forms within the shattered lab gradually grew in contrast from the shadows and the further walls. It was an ability she’d been born with, the blessing and curse of her strange, yellow eyes. The familiar blue light came from her crystal pendant, which she always kept in the top drawer of her desk when working. Find the pendant, find the notes.

With utmost caution she tip-toed around scattered debris while keeping her eyes glued to the source of the glow. With every step, she prayed to the God she’d ignored her entire life that nothing would move in her peripheral vision.

She crept past the prosthetics section, unable to resist glimpsing at the lifeless limbs they’d been working on—another high-minded project to replace the limbs frequently lost in mining accidents. For the first time she wondered if maybe they should have been working on reducing accidents instead.

A shadow danced to her right. She flinched. Blinking, she lost the dim, blue glow and fell back into total darkness. A rock skittered across the floor, someone or something kicking it. She bit her lip hard and willed herself to focus on the blue light.

Suddenly a loud crunch emanated from the far end of the cave as a slab of rock fell and shattered on the lab floor. With three long strides she leapt over piles of debris and slid into the recess of her overturned desk. Peeking over the top, she saw a red carbide light darting around the edges of the opening. The sight filled her simultaneously with dread and relief. Notes. Find the notes. If rescuers had found her, the notes could mean the difference between personal salvation or doom for them all.

Part 7

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