Tunnels 02 deeper, p.48
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       Tunnels 02 - Deeper, p.48

           Roderick Gordon

  "We both know you so well..."

  "We've both cooked your lousy food..."

  "...picked up your filthy clothes..."

  "...washed your soiled, stinking underpants..."

  "You dirty dog!" one sneered in disgust.

  "...and listened to you blubber in your sleep, crying out for Mammy..."

  "...but Mammy don't care..."

  Despite the dire situation he found himself in, Will squirmed with acute embarrassment. It would have been bad enough if there was only a single Rebecca saying all this, but two of them, knowing every little intimate detail there was to know about him — and discussing it between them! It was more than he could bear.

  "Shut up, you foul cow!" he screamed.

  "Oooh, touchy, touchy," one of the twins cooed mockingly.

  Temporarily oblivious to the legion of Limiters surrounding him, Will was suddenly transported back to his home in Highfield, to how it had been for all those years before his father went missing. He and his sister continually clashing over the most trivial of things. This felt exactly like another of their outrageous spats when she would wind him up with her interminable needling and well-aimed taunts. The outcome was always the same — he would eventually blow his top, and she would stand back to gloat, a smug smirk on her face.

  "And I think you mean foul cows," the Rebecca on the right suggested with a sibilant "s," while the other continued to harangue him.

  "But Mammy didn't have time for her little Will... he wasn't in the program guide..."

  "... he wasn't Must-See TV."

  Two belly laughs.

  "What a sad, sad boy," a twin cawed.

  "Joe Nobody digging his stupid holes, all on his lonesome."

  "Digging for Daddy's love," sneered the other, and they both cackled uproariously.

  Will closed his eyes — it was as if they were poking around inside his head, picking out and cruelly exposing his innermost fears and secrets. Nothing was inviolate — the twins were putting everything on show for all to see.

  Then the twin on the left spoke out, her voice deadly serious.

  "What we wanted to tell you, Will, and that lumbering oaf Chester, is that very soon now there won't be any home to go back to."

  "No more Topsoilers," the second twin warbled gleefully.

  "Well, not quite so many," the first corrected her in a sing-song voice.

  "What are they saying?" Chester demanded. He was sweating profusely, his face an ashen white under the patches of dirt.

  Will had had enough.

  "Lies! It's all a load of lies!" he shouted, his whole body shaking with terror and anger.

  "You saw for yourself, we've been busy bees in the Eternal City," a twin said. "We've had the Division prospecting there for years."

  "And they finally isolated the very bug we were looking for. Our scientists did some work on it, and her are the fruits of their labors."

  Will watched as the twin on the left took something that hung around her neck and held it up into the searchlights. It glittered as the beams caught it: a small glass phial, or so it appeared.

  "Choice little number, this... bottled genocide... the big daddy of all pandemics from centuries ago. We call it Dominion."

  "Dominion," the other repeated.

  "We're going to let it rip Topsoil and—"

  "—the Colony will reclaim its rightful home."

  The twin with the phial proffered it to her sister as if she was proposing a toast.

  "To a new London."

  "To a new world," the other one added.

  "Yes, world."

  "I don't believe you, you witches! It's all trash talk!" Will protested. "You're lying!"

  "Why would we bother?" the twin on the right countered, waving a second phial. "See this? We've got the vaccine, old chap. You Topsoilers won't be able to produce it in time. The whole country will be crippled, and there for the taking."

  "So don't flatter yourself that we're down her just on your account."

  "We've been doing a spot of spring-cleaning in the Deeps, ridding it of rotten old renegades and traitors to the cause."

  "As well as running some final trials on Dominion — but then, some of your new buds have seen that for themselves."

  "Ask Elliott. She knows the story."

  At the mention of her name, Elliott jerked her head up from behind the rifle. "The Bunker," she mouthed at Will, recalling the sealed cells she'd blundered across with Cal.

  Will's mind raced. He knew in his gut that Rebecca — the Rebeccas, he had to keep reminding himself — were capable of the most abject cruelty. Did they really have a plague? His thoughts were brought to an abrupt end as the twosome started up again.

  "So, to business, bro," the Rebecca on the left said. "We're going to make you a one-time offer."

  "But we're going back first," added the other.

  Will watched as the doppelgangers both spun daintily on their toes and began to skip their way up the slope.

  "I might be able to nail one..." Elliott whispered. She was behind her rifle again.

  "No, wait!" Will pleaded with her.

  "...but not both," Elliott went on.

  "No. You'll only make it worse. Hear what they've got to say," Will begged, the blood in his veins turning to ice as he imagined the pack of stalkers descending on their gang of four, ripping each of them limb from limb.

  As he watched, both figures slipped from view among the menhirs. What were the twins up to? What was this offer going to be?

  He didn't have to wait long to find out. The twins yelled down at him in quick succession.

  "People have a habit of dying around you, Will, don't they?"

  "Fun-loving Uncle Tam, sliced to shreds."

  "And that fat fool Imago. A little fish told me he got sloppy—"

  "—and now he's stone-cold dead," the other twin chimed in.

  "By the way, have you bumped into your real mother yet? Sarah's down here, and she's looking for you."

  "Somehow she got it into her head that you're to blame for Tam's death, and—"

  "No! She knows that's not true!" Will cried, his voice cracking.

  For a beat the twins were silent, as if they'd been taken by surprise.

  "Well, she won't get away from us a second time," one Rebecca promised, not sounding quite so confident anymore.

  "No, she won't. And while we're playing family reunions, sis, do tell him about Grandma Macaulay," the other Rebecca suggested with a harsh edge to her voice. This twin was clearly not fazed in the slightest by Will's interruption.

  "Oh, yes, I forgot about her. She's dead," the first Rebecca answered bluntly. "From unnatural causes."

  "We spread her on the pennybun fields." They both shrieked with laughter, and Will heard Cal murmur, his face still pressed against Bartleby.

  "No," Will croaked, fearing for Cal. "It's not true," he said weakly. "They're lying." Then, in an anguished shout, he asked them, "Why are you doing this? Can't you just leave me alone?"

  "Sorry. Not possible," one answered.

  "An eye for an eye," the other added.

  "Out of curiosity, why did you put a bullet in that trapper we were 'questioning' back on the Great Plain?" a twin continued. "It was you, wasn't it Elliott?"

  "Did you get him mixed up with Drake?" the other said, then gave a full-bodied guffaw. "Bit trigger-happy, aren't you?"

  Will and Elliott exchanged confused looks, and she mouthed "Oh no," at him.

  "And as for that silly old goat, Dr. Burrows — we left him to putter around..."

  Will stiffened as he heard his father's name, his heart missing several beats.

  "—like bait in a trap—"

  "—and we didn't even have to finish him off."

  "Looks like he did the job for us."

  The twins high-pitched giggles echoed around the dark stones.

  "No, not Dad," Will whispered, shaking his head as he pulled back behind the menhir. He slid down its rough surfa
ce and slumped to the ground, his head hung low.

  "So this is what we're putting on the table," a twin shouted, her voice deadly serious once more.

  "If you want your little gang to live—"

  "—then hand yourself over."

  "And we'll be lenient with them," her sister piped in.

  They were toying with him! Just as if they were playing some childish game, only this was sheer torture.

  They went on in persuasive tones, telling him that his surrender would help his friends. Will could hear what the Rebeccas were saying, but it was all just noise. As though a dense fog had descended on him, he felt disoriented, and it was all he could do to sit upright against the menhir. He examined the ground around him, listlessly lifting a handful of dirt and crushing it in his fist. As he raised his head, his eyes alighted on Cal's face. Tears were streaming down the boy's cheeks.

  Will had no idea what to say to his brother — he couldn't begin to express what he himself felt about Grandma Macaulay's death — so he just turned away. In the opposite direction, he noticed Elliott had left her position behind the menhir. She was snake-crawling through the arch by the edge of the Pore, almost at the first of the stone steps that led nowhere. Connected to her by the rope, Chester had begun the same short journey.

  Trying to pull himself together, Will flung aside the fistful of dirt. He glanced again at Chester. He knew he should be following him, but he couldn't bring himself to — move. He was in a maelstrom of indecision. Should he give up the game and just hand himself over? Sacrifice himself in a bid to save the lives of his brother, Chester, and Elliott? It was the least he could do... After all, he'd gotten them into this. And if he didn't surrender, then they were probably all doomed, anyway.

  "So what's it to be, big bro?" a Rebecca twin prompted him. "Going to do the right thing?"

  Elliott was now completely hidden from sight down the flight of steps. "Don't, Will! It won't make any difference," she called to him.

  "We're waiting!" shouted the other Rebecca, without any hint of her former humor. "Ten seconds, ready or not!"

  The sisters began to count down, their alternating voices proclaiming each second.



  "Oh, God," Will mumbled, throwing another glance at Cal.


  Sobs wracking his body, Cal babbled incomprehensibly at Will, who could only shake his head hopelessly in response.


  From behind the edge of the Pore, Elliott was urging him and Cal to get moving.


  Chester, at the top of the steps, was jabbering at him, rapidly.


  "Come on, Will!" Elliott snapped, her head bobbing up above the lip of the Pore.


  Absolute confusion reigned as they each tried to speak to him at the same time, but through it all Will only heard the seconds as they twins coldly announced them, nearing the end of the countdown.


  "Will!" Chester yelled, yanking at the rope in an attempt to pull him closer.

  "Will!" Cal was screaming.


  Will staggered to his feet.


  "Zero!" the twins said simultaneously.

  "Your time's run out."

  "The deal's off."

  "More needless deaths you've notched u, Will!"

  Will heard Cal shouting and spun around.

  "NO! WAIT!" his brother was shrieking. "I WANT TO GO HOME!"

  He'd jumped out from behind the menhir and was waving his arms, in plain view of the Limiters and bathed in the full beams of the spotlights.

  Right in the firing line.

  Cracks of multiple rifle shots came from all around the upper reaches of the slope. So many in such a short space of time, it sounded like a speeded-up drumroll.

  The barrage struck Cal all over his body with a messy, deadly precision. He didn't stand a chance. As if swatted by a huge invisible hand, the bullets' impact swept him off his feet, leaving a momentary red trace airborne in his place.

  Will could only watch as his brother flopped in a broken heap by the very edge of the Pore, like a puppet whose strings had all been cut. It was as if it had happened in grisly slow motion. The bounce of his brother's arm as it hit the damp ground, the fact that he was only wearing one sock — Will absorbed even the smallest details.

  Then Cal's body simply tipped over the edge. The rope around Will's waist snapped tight, the sudden tension yanking on him and forcing him several steps forward.

  Bartleby, who had been waiting obediently where Cal had left him, scrabbled up in a whir of long limbs and burst after his master, vanishing from sight over the lip of the Pore. The drag on Will from the rope increased, and he knew that the cat must be hanging on to Cal's body.

  Shots sizzled through the light beams, which switched back and forth so rapidly that they gave a stroboscopic effect. The bullets fell around him, like a metal rain, whining and ricocheting off the menhirs and flicking up sprays of dirt at his feet.

  But Will didn't make any attempt to hide. With his hands pressed against his temples, he screamed with every last drop of air in his lungs, until all that was left was a rasping croak. He swallowed down more air and screamed a second time: The word Enough! Was just discernible through it. As his howl came to an end, a deathly hush filled the place.

  The Limiters had ceased firing.

  Chester and Elliott were no longer yelling to get his attention.

  Will swayed where he stood. He was numb, oblivious to the rope as it bit sharply into his waist.

  He didn't feel a thing.

  Cal was dead.

  This time there was no question in Will's mind. And he might have saved his brother's life if he'd surrendered to the twins.

  But he hadn't.

  Once before, he'd thought Cal was gone for good, and Drake had performed a miracle and resuscitated him. But now there were no reprieves, no happy endings. No this time.

  The intolerable weight of responsibility he bore crushed him. He, and he alone, had been responsible for destroying many lives. He saw their faces. Uncle Tam. Grandma Macaulay. People who had given everything for him; people he loved.

  And he couldn't help but believe his father, Dr. Burrows, was lost to him, too. He would never see him again, not now. Will's dream was finished.

  The lull was brought to an abrupt end as the Limiters opened fire again, the barrage even fiercer than before, and Chester and Elliott resumed their panicked shouting as they tried to get through to him.

  But, as if the sound had been turned down, Will wasn't hearing anything. His glazed eyes drifted over Chester's stricken and desperate face, mere footsteps away, as his friend yelled with all his might. It had no effect — even his friendship with Chester had been taken from him.

  Everything he'd relied upon — the certainties underpinning his uncertain life — had been knocked out from under him, one after another.

  His brain burned with the horrific image of his brother's death. That last moment blotted out everything else.

  "Enough," he said, quite steadily this time.

  Cal had lost his life because of him.

  There was no avoiding it, no room for excuses, no quarter.

  Will knew it should be him hanging there, punched full of holes, not his brother.

  It was as if something was being stretched and stretched in his mind, creaking and bellying from side to side, until it was so close to the breaking point that it would fracture into tiny, sharp fragments that might never be pieced together again.

  He struggled to stay upright as Cal's deadweight pulled at him. The Limiters continued to fire, but Will was somewhere else, and none of it mattered anymore.

  He took a single stride toward the Pore, allowing the weight to draw him on.

  From the top of the stone steps, Chester came toward him, holding out his hand and hoarsely shrieking his name.

l looked up and saw him as if for the first time.

  "I'M SO SORRY, WILL!" Chester yelled, then his voice became strangely calm as he realized Will, at last, was listening. "Come here. It's OK."

  "Is it?" Will asked.

  Just for that second, it was as if they were insulated from all the horror and fear that surrounded them. Chester nodded and smiled briefly back at him. "Yes, and so are we," he replied, his words heavy with meaning. "I'm sorry."

  A tiny germ of hope was born within Will.

  He still had his friend — all was not lost, and they would get themselves out of this somehow.

  Will took another step, reaching out his hand toward Chester.

  Faster and faster, closing the distance between them, the rope pulling him forward: By the very edge of the Pore, he was just about to take hold of Chester's hand.

  At the top of the slope, the Rebecca twins shouted simultaneously.

  "Good riddance to him!"

  "Bust out the big guns!"

  The heavy artillery bucked into life. The Limiters' bank of howitzers spat massive shells that swerved like fireballs, leaving flaming red trails behind them. The whole slope was lit up with their blazing light, and the sound was deafening.

  The shells struck, splitting any menhirs in their path and throwing up huge curtains of dirt, smashing into the paved platform and lifting the flagstones like a gust of wind scatters a pack of playing cards.

  Will was thrown forward, knocked senseless by the blasts. He sailed straight into the pitch-black, clean over his friend's head.

  If he'd been conscious, Will would have seen Chester's flailing arms and legs as he grabbed at anything he could in a last-ditch attempt to prevent himself from being dragged over by the rope that bound him to Will.

  And he would have heard Elliott's screams as she, too, was yanked into the Pore after Chester.

  If Will had been capable of thought, he would have felt the dark air rushing around him as he plummeted down and down, his dead brother somewhere beneath him, and the other two, still howling and screaming, up above. And he would have been terrified by the odd sections of masonry and rubble from the pulverized menhirs that were falling all around them.

  But there were no thoughts, just a black nothingness in his mind, identical to what he was plunging through.

  Will was in free fall, his ears popping mercilessly and his breath stolen every so often by the rush of air as he shot through it, reaching terminal velocity.

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