Horror rose inside of Clarice as she watched the blood from the cut draining down Jonathon's neck and staining his shirt. Orlando cut slowly like a surgeon, not going deep, barely piercing the skin. She felt her stomach pinch and churn. Nausea overwhelmed her. A cold heat broke out on her face and she knew she was going to vomit. But somehow she fought back the nausea just enough to keep her stomach from lurching.
"Why are you doing this?" She cried softly, her own strength beginning to leave her.
Orlando didn't answer as he concentrated on the incision he was making down Jonathon's neck. Why wasn't Jonathon even trying to fight? What was wrong with him? It was like the life was already gone out of him. She squeezed her eyes shut and refused to accept that. He wouldn't give up so quickly.
"You'll want to see this." Orlando spoke low, his words tinged with an excitement Clarice didn't comprehend.
She slowly opened her eyes against her own will. Orlando laid the knife aside then carefully worked his fingertips into the incision. A frown pinched her brow as he began to slowly peel back an extremely thin, almost see -through filmy layer of Jonathon's skin. The surface beneath the filmy layer of peeled skin was gray and mottled, tough looking, woven through with tiny red and blue veins.
Clarice's throat tightened and began to close. She didn't know what she was seeing. Or maybe she did and her mind just couldn't accept it.
"Need more proof?" Orlando asked slowly as he picked up the knife again and touched it to the curve of Jonathon's jaw. "Take a look at what's beneath door number two."
"No." Clarice shuddered.
The tip of the knife pierced the skin of his jaw. Jonathon flinched. "Don't...please."
"Can't hide forever, Johnny." Orlando told him. "Shouldn't she know what's growing inside of her?"
He made a smooth incision along the curve of Jonathon's jaw and up over his cheek bone just past his eye.
"What the fuck?" Hunter breathed out low, a hard frown pinching his brow and narrowing his eyes. What kind of freaky shit was this?
He watched in both horror and fascination as Orlando laid the knife aside again and slowly peeled the filmy layer of skin away from the left side of Lancaster's face, once more revealing the veiny gray tough mottled skin beneath. As he peeled the skin up, it pulled away from Lancaster's eyelid, drawing away a wisp of covering from his eye itself.
"No fucking way." Hunter whispered as he stared in disbelief at the eye beneath the wispy layer. The white of the eye was a pale gray and the iris was a gold color with spears of black stabbing towards the center where the pupil should be. But there was no pupil, only the meeting of the black spears.
The woman was shaking in his arms and he wouldn't have expected any less. The man she loved, the man she had been sleeping with and having sex with, the man who's child she was carrying...was not a man at all. What the hell he truly was...Hunter couldn't begin to imagine.
He felt the woman's warm tears draining off her face and over his arm. She was clutching his forearm but no longer trying to free herself. Orlando backed away from Lancaster. The man...or whatever he was...just sat there unmoving, his unveiled face turned away. Hunter actually pitied him. Whatever the hell kind of creature he was...he had truly cared for the woman. And Orlando had just taken her away from him forever.
The woman was crying openly and shaking so bad he thought she might pass out. Without thinking, he adjusted his hold on her and wrapped both arms around her, holding her up. He could feel the despair in her and in that moment his hatred for Orlando was enough to cause Hunter to put a bullet in his head. It would be the one time he actually enjoyed killing someone. Just one more first to add to the list. One that would be a welcome addition.
If he loosened his arms, though, the woman would drop to the floor. And a compulsion he didn't understand made him hold onto her, as if the good and decent man that still lived inside him understood that she needed a man's arms around her right now, someone to hold her while her whole existence came apart piece by piece.
Her head was spinning. Or was it the room? If it hadn't been for the sniper's arms holding her up, she would be laying on the floor. His arm was no longer around her throat, he was actually holding her, hugging her to him. She didn't understand it, but at this moment she didn't understand anything. Her mind couldn't process what she was seeing. She squeezed her eyes shut as the spinning intensified and she felt her legs weakening as dizziness overwhelmed her. The sniper's arms tightened around her, keeping her on her feet. Why didn't he just let her fall to the floor?
"Huh?" She heard Orlando's voice through the hazy fog. It had a self satisfied tone to it. "Do you see now? Do you see?"
"Knock it off." It was the sniper speaking now, his voice low and dangerous, so much so that a new shudder rippled through her.
"Excuse me?" Orlando said quietly, a cold, hard edge to his voice. "You work for me or have you forgotten? You don't give the orders."
Clarice didn't know what was going on between the sniper and Orlando, and she didn't care. She opened her eyes slowly. The room was still spinning but it was gradually slowing down. Her eyes began to clear and Jonathon came into focus. She stared at him, at the exposed alien skin. The thin filmy outer layer must meld somehow with his true skin to create the illusion of human skin. But when she touched him...it felt so real.
"Yeah? Well not anymore." The sniper lowered Clarice to the sofa then straightened up, his weapon still gripped firmly in his hand. "I quit."
Orlando glared at the sniper. "You were paid to do a job." He said coldly. "And that job isn't finished yet."
"You paid me to kill her." The sniper spoke low and calm, but with a deadly tone. "When you altered the plan, my job ended. You can have your money back."
"I don't want the fucking money back." Orlando hissed. Clarice could feel his eyes boring into her as she sagged against the back of the sofa, just a couple feet away from Jonathon. "I want you to kill her after all."
Clarice heard the words but she couldn't react. She could only stare at Jonathon. He seemed to barely be breathing. He almost looked dead. The thought stabbed her through with fear. She tried to speak his name but her throat felt swollen, thick. The word couldn't find its way out. Jonathon kept his face turned away. Clarice wanted to reach out to him but her hands wouldn't obey. Was she frightened of him now? Repulsed? One of her hands rested against her stomach. She waited for the revulsion to hit her with the reality that the baby growing inside her wasn't entirely human. But it never came. She barely heard the other men's voices until Orlando spoke the words that filled her with terror.
"I don't need her." He told the sniper. "I only need the baby...and I can cut that out of her."
Clarice's head snapped around Orlando was serious. And by the wild look in his eyes, insane as well. She looked back at Jonathon, panic swelling in her like a rising tidal wave. Jonathon's head had turned towards her a bit and the alien eye stared back at her, the black spears pulsing against the gold, resonating a deep fear. A single word exploded through her head.
Hunter stared at Orlando with horror and disgust. "You twisted motherfucker." He breathed out slow.
"Shoot her." Orlando said without a shred of human emotion. Hunter had to wonder who here was the real monster.
Hunter shook his head slowly. "No."
In a burst of rage, Orlando lunged forward, grabbing for Hunter's weapon. The sudden action caught Hunter off guard and he took a step back as Orlando hurled into him, knocking him back further. Hunter's grip on the weapon tightened, unwilling to let the other man tear it from his grasp. But the man's sudden psychotic break had given him strength Hunter wasn't prepared for. Orlando ripped the gun away and smashed the butt of the handle against Hunter's temple, laying him out.
Hunter went down hard. He laid with his face pressed against the cool wood floor, dazed, his head spinning and a blackness at the edge of his vision, threatening to consume him. He waited for the gunshot that would take the woman's life and put the final touch on this insane job. But rather than a gunshot, he heard a roar of rage erupt from deep inside Orlando.
"Where is she?"
The room swam and spun around Hunter but still he smiled. The woman had run. She was still alive...for now.
The icy air swept into Clarice's lungs, stealing her breath as she climbed upward along the trail that would take her to the gorge. It felt like her heart had crawled into her head and was now pounding forcefully from the center of her brain, making her temples and forehead throb. Her whole body seemed to grow heavier with each step she took up the dirt path. The hard frozen ground was causing the bottoms of her feet to ache as if she'd been on them for a straight twenty-four hours.
She could see Jonathon sitting there on the sofa, his strange gold eye staring at her, his voice in her head telling her to run. There had been more than just fear for her and the baby in that look. He had been viciously and intimately exposed right before her eyes. His mask ripped off and his true identity revealed without mercy. A part of her mind was still in shock. She had yet to fully comprehend what she had seen. But there was another part of her looking it in the face.
Jonathon wasn't human. Not even partially, as Alec was. He was an alien. Alien. Not from this world. Another species altogether. How had she looked in his eyes and made love to him without seeing it? Without even suspecting the mind blowing difference between them? She'd held him without suspicion or reserve, welcomed him into her body, willingly accepted his seed. Her hand touched her stomach. His baby was growing inside her.
Our baby. Tears burned and spilled over. Was she really prepared for this? Prepared to accept the reality that her baby was half...alien? She couldn't wrap her mind around that word. What did it even mean, really? Foreign. Unfamiliar. Even repugnant. How did any of those words describe Jonathon? Or their baby? She recalled the smug, self satisfied tone in Orlando's voice after he'd shown her the true origin of the man she'd been sleeping with. He'd exposed Jonathon in hopes of taking her away from him. Surely convinced that once she saw what Jonathon truly was, that she would willingly give up the baby to him, repulsed at the thought of what was growing inside her.
A strangled laugh squeezed out through her tight throat as more tears fell. "Well guess what, Dr. Orlando?" She spoke out loud, her voice rising to a shout. "You can kiss my ass!" Fuck him. He wasn't going to win so easily. If he thought she was going to just hand over everything she had left in this world, he had another think coming.
She climbed the path, never letting her pace lag. She wasn't sure why she was running away. Even if she managed to escape Orlando, Alec was still out there somewhere and she didn't have a gun. Despite her almost paralyzing fear of the brother she'd never known existed, her heart ached for him, for all he'd went through at the hand of Victor Orlando. Just one more reason to hate the bastard's guts. If she had to die today, she would rather it be at Alec's hands than Orlando's. Somehow Alec's misguided reasons for wanting her dead made more sense to her than Orlando's twisted purpose.
Was Jonathon still alive? Or had Orlando, in his madness, killed him too? He'd said Orlando was his father. She understood now that Orlando wasn't really his father, but simply the one who had been in charge of him. And by saying he was all Orlando had left...what he'd meant was that he was the last of the pure alien source. That's why Orlando had said he was irreplaceable.
She realized that Jonathon was irreplaceable to her as well...and not because of his genetic origins. He was irreplaceable because he was the love of her life, the father of her child, her sole reason for even wanting to be alive.
"Come on back, girl, there's nowhere to run."
The words suddenly echoed up the trail behind her, freezing her blood. She spun around. Orlando was following her and he was close.
"Come on, honey, I'm not gonna hurt you."
Panic tried to grab her as his words catapulted her back twenty years to the dark hallway of her childhood home. She fought the panic and ran up the trail. Inside, she was again running from the Hispanic intruder as he called out to her. Only this time, Jonathon wasn't waiting up around the corner to save her. Her childhood fear overwhelmed and her stubborn bravery of a moment ago vanished as the child in her took over. A part of her wanted to cry out for her dad and mom to save her, the two people who were always there to wrap their arms around her, keep her safe.
Tears chilled against her wet face as she gasped and ran harder. Aaron's face rose in her mind and she cried harder, cried for the brother who had been her lifeline, the other half of her existence. His face transformed into Alec, the same exact features but so different inside. She cried for her lost brother too, who had never had the chance to know the love of his family, who had felt abandoned and left behind.
Clarice stumbled and went down, cracking her knee on a rock. She cried out fiercely, more out of the unfairness of it all than from the pain snapping through her knee. She considered just staying there, waiting for Orlando. What if she did die? Who cared? There was no way out of this. Orlando had them. Crazy or not, he had them. Jonathon was weakened, and she couldn't win this fight on her own. She couldn't save herself, much less Jonathon or their baby.
Her body wilted and she cried uncontrollably, her tears hitting the frozen ground. The oncoming night was drawing in closer and closer. She just wanted to lay down and be done with it. God, she was so tired. She just wanted to...
Get off your ass and move!
Clarice flinched and twisted around, the words so clear in her head that she thought someone had spoken them from right behind her.
Fuck it if you're gonna give up now! Run, dammit!
Clarice was on her feet and running before she even realized she had moved. A surge of energy swept through her and she bolted up the trail. She emerged from the trees at a sprint and found herself in a grassy clearing. Across the clearing, everything dropped away into oblivion. She ran across the clearing then slowed as she approached the edge of the gorge. A wave of dizziness threatened her as she peered down into the deep gorge.
To her left, a short plank walk with hand rails gave access to the rope bridge Jonathon had told her about. The rope bridge. She stared at it. Her heart shuddered. A single large rope stretched across the gorge, the siding a mere weave of smaller ropes V-ing up and outward to the other two large ropes meant for hand rails. She swallowed tightly. "No freaking way." She whispered. This was where she would face her fate. There was no way she could go out on those ropes. No way.
"There's nowhere to run, girl."
The sudden voice spun her around. Orlando was standing a few hundred yards away, the sniper's gold handgun gripped tightly in his fist. Had he killed him too? His own guy?
Don't fear the reaper. That's what Jonathon had told her. Would he have helped them? That didn't make sense, he was a hired killer. Hired to kill her no less. And yet, when Orlando had ordered him to shoot her...he'd refused. What had he called Orlando? A twisted motherfucker? Then said he quit.
She stared fearfully at Orlando. Had he just eliminated the man? Even that thought made her throat tighten with tears, though she wasn't sure why. There was just something about the man, the tenderness in the way he'd held her when she was falling apart, like he was trying to comfort her somehow. But whether or not he was a good guy at heart didn't matter now. She was alone here with Orlando, and he had the gun.
Somewhere along the line, Hunter had passed out. Apparently Orlando had hit him harder than he realized. But through the fog, he felt hands grabbing at him, trying to wake him up, lift him off the floor. He opened his eyes slowly and his head swam again, but the dizziness began to abate and his vision cleared.
Lancaster was kneeling beside him. "Wake up, dammit." There was fear and desperation in the man's - or whatever he was - voice. Hunter could still feel the weakness in him as he tugged at his arm.
Groaning, Hunter pushed up on his hands and knees then dropped back on his rear, sitting up right on the floor. He touched his temple where Orlando had hit him with the gun. "Motherfucker." He spit out, a painful knot swelling in the spot. He raised his eyes and Lancaster was staring at him. One human eye and one...very non human eye bore into him. Hunter figured if the guy wanted to kill him, he'd be waking up dead right about now.
"Are you all right?" Lancaster asked stiffly. "Can you get up?"
"Yeah." Hunter coughed then crawled to his feet, expecting the dizziness to grab him again, but he stood steady on his feet. "Where did..." he looked around. There was no Orlando. No woman.
"He went after her." Lancaster said. "Up the trail to the gorge. He's...going to kill her."
Hunter looked at him. Even with his face half peeled and that rather creepy alien eye staring back at him, he saw more humanity in Lancaster than he'd ever seen in Orlando. "Do you have more weapons?" Hunter asked.
"In the basement." Lancaster motioned towards the pantry.
Hunter moved quickly and went to the basement. He grabbed a Luger 9mm, checked the clip then took the concrete steps two at time back up through the pantry. He stuffed the handgun in the back of his jeans and covered it with his jacket. "This way?" He pointed towards the back door.
Jonathon nodded, then asked, "Why are you helping us?"
"Let's just say I've seen the error of my ways." He offered no more as he sprinted out the back door, spotted the head of the trail and took off up towards the gorge.