DREXA NEPTUNE (SHORT STORY)
The lone figure on the roof of the old casino drained her water bottle, looked up and down the strip, and sighed. She knew her target wouldn't show but she still came here daily hoping to catch a glimpse of the girl who looked so much like her. The girl who was her clone.
She sat down, her feet hanging off the side of the building, which stood out like a sore thumb among the fancy restaurants and shopping outlets that surrounded it. This wasn't the life she wanted. If it were up to her, she would've been a scientist at The Focus Mission, a cloning and robotics company that was founded by her father, but all of that became impossible after he performed a cloning experiment on her. One that ruined her dreams.
The Focus Mission’s real purpose was creating and cloning Phenors -- silver, giant machines that kept intruders out of Zehhora City, a city that remained sovereign after Arizona became a state. Humans had never been cloned before she showed up at the Cramp, a compound where they kept cloned Phenors and prototypes.
Drexa Neptune closed her eyes. The events of that day, her tenth birthday, still haunted her. She had been a curious child, always in her father’s study, eager to learn as much as she could about the Phenors. She’d jumped at the offer of visiting the Cramp for her birthday. There, she met the President of the Focus Mission, who showed her the new Phenors, which were still hooked up to machines, waiting to be deployed to the border of Zehhora City. She'd never been so happy in her life, then he asked her if she wanted to be cloned…
Drexa stood up and shielded her eyes against the sun. She’d been waiting for over six hours. Feeling disappointed and a bit hungry, she burst into a light flame and sped towards the desert, letting the fury she kept at bay devour her as she tried, unsuccessfully, to forget what happened on her tenth birthday.
The only thing she remembered from the experiment was that her entire body felt like it was on fire. She had screamed until her world went dark, not waking up until days later when the sound of screaming invaded her dreams. Several scientists ran past her bed into the room in the back. Curious, she had tiptoed to the door and peeked inside. They called her Lexie. And she was the spitting image of Drexa. They shared the same round, curious eyes and wavy, shoulder-length brown hair. Lexie even had the same little dent in her forehead that Drexa hated so much.
Suddenly, Lexie stopped screaming and quietly hung her head to the side, as if examining something of great importance in her line of vision, then she looked at Drexa. Time stood still, and after what seemed like hours, Lexie began screaming again. Little specks of flames appeared on her body. Drexa ran back to her bed as the scientists cautiously backed out of the room. She caught a glimpse of one of them in her peripheral, but before she could say anything, she felt a pinch in her arm.
She had slept for days after that, Drexa thought as she headed towards the desert. A great wall, which extended high into the sky, separated the city from the desert. Seven iron gates were built into the wall. The leader of the Phenors, Gloroth stood guard by the gate closest to Drexa's home. She smiled as she flew past him, remembering their first meeting when he had nicknamed her Heat 360.
As Drexa neared the red building that was her home, she furiously tried to block out the cries of a ten-year-old, brown-haired girl with pain in her voice.
The days after the experiment had been long ones for her. During those days, scientists visited the next room and performed various experiments on her clone. She had no idea what they were doing, but it made her sick when she heard the cries of Lexie through the thin walls. A bond soon developed between the two girls and they began consoling each other after the painful events of their days. If Drexa could’ve helped her clone to escape, she would’ve done so in a heartbeat, but the door that opened into Lexie’s room was always locked.
One day, more scientists than usual entered Lexie’s room. There were no screams from her, and that night she didn’t speak at all. Instead, her shallow breathing and gasps haunted both rooms and made it impossible for Drexa to fall asleep. When she finally did, the sounds invaded her dreams and woke her, just in time to find her clone creeping towards the window in Drexa’s room. Somehow, she’d gotten past the lock on her door. As if sensing Drexa’s consciousness, she slowly turned around.
“Where are you going?” Drexa asked, cringing when she saw the sunken skin under her clone’s eyes.
“Far from here. And if you’re smart, you’d come with me.” Lexie quietly warned her.
“I can’t!” Drexa said hysterically as she thought of her father. “My father...”
“Shhh…” Lexie whispered feverishly. “They might hear us. Promise me, you’ll never come looking for me after this. I have these urges--” She made two tight fists and screwed up her face. “We’re different. We might look the same, but we’re not. They made me different…”
Suddenly, Lexie burst into flames and fell out of the window. Drexa stifled a cry when four scientists crashed into the room. They were too late. A human body covered in flames sped away from the compound.
With Lexie gone, the Focus Mission no longer had a reason to keep Drexa around, so they sent her home the next day. That night, a foreign sensation ran through her body. Suddenly, she felt as though she was being roasted over a campfire. She had the urge to reach deep inside her body and rip her heart out. She grounded her teeth and screamed as though a knife was slowly piercing her chest. Then, just like Lexie, small flames began flickering all over her body.
"That was a night to remember," Drexa murmurred as she landed on the roof of her home. It had taken years to master the flames but she’d done it. Now, they ignited with ease. She was even able to become a ball of fire at will. When she opened her bedroom door, a kick in the gut sent her reeling backwards. She doubled over but was able to dodge the other kick that would’ve surely sent her crashing down the stairs to the living room.
“You have some nerve coming into the city looking for me, Drexa!” Lexie yelled furiously. She ran towards Drexa, who was already climbing the stairs that led to the roof. “You’ve been looking for me. Spying on me. Hunting me down. Now you’re running away from me?”
On the roof, Drexa locked the door from the outside and wondered how Lexie had made it this far without the Phenors seeing her. They would’ve surely stopped her. Drexa kicked off and flew towards Gloroth, shaking her head at her clone’s nerve in coming into the desert.
When Lexie was only fifteen years old, she began working for Sonny Crues, a casino owner and one of the most powerful men in Zehhora City. He’d taken a liking to her sinister demeanor and always kept her close by. She became his personal assassin. Crues even took her everywhere and introduced her as his niece.
Drexa didn't meet Lexie again until her twentieth birthday. She was having dinner with her father, Lugx Neptune, at a popular bistro when Crues and Lexie sauntered up to their table. Lexie wore a leather jacket, ripped jeans, a fresh cut above her left eye and a bruise on her chin. Crues looked impeccable in a crisp, gray suit.
“Crues, meet my clone, Drexa,” Lexie had said in a dry voice. “And let us not forget our Mayor." She gave Lugx Neptune a dry smile. ‘We shall overcome crime and punish people like Sonny Crues!’” She laughed as she quoted his favorite line during the election.
A few days after their meeting, Lexie revealed her secret but not her identity to the public during a bank heist that went wrong. Trapped inside the building, she turned into a ball of fire and burst through the bank’s door. Everyone looked on as the ball straightened into a human body, then sped away. There were numerous speculations as to the identity of the thief, but no one knew except for those who were involved in the experiment and Sonny Crues.
After that, Drexa began searching for Lexie. She wanted to help her if she could, but she soon learned that not only had Lexie become a murderer and a thief, she’d become the most hated person in the city. The Phenors got involved when she attacked a feeble Phenor whose metal was tarnished due to his advanced age. They’d kept the events of that day private, but it was public knowledge that they wanted Lexie dead. She’d made many enemies in a relatively short period of time.
On the path towards Gloroth, Drexa decided that a talk with her clone would be better than fighting her. She quickly shifted directions and flew towards the back entrance, which the older Phenors protected. It would be easy getting past them. Suddenly, she felt her clone’s presence and quickly turned around.
“Shouldn’t have done that.” Lexie panted as she grabbed Drexa’s right foot, swung her around, and placed her in a chokehold.
Suspended in mid-air, Drexa closed her eyes and cried, “Don’t do this. I don’t want to fight. Let’s talk.”
“About what?” Lexie scoffed. “Just fight. Fight back!”
Drexa remained still. Two weeks ago, she’d had a conversation with Gloroth about Lexie. The Phenor had looked at her and said, “I have a gift. I can read the hearts of everyone in this city. When I’m given the opportunity to kill Lexie, I’ll take it. It is my duty as the leader of the Phenors to do so.” When Drexa had opened her mouth to agree with him, he continued, “She didn’t have a chance to be anything other than what she became. She was ten years old when she left the Cramp. If it weren’t for her powers, she wouldn’t have survived. Our experiences make us who we are, Heat 360. I am not saying that she needs to be pardoned. I am saying that you need to be better than her. Hatred is easy. You are who you are because of the choices you make.”
“Hatred is easy,” Drexa whispered through swollen lips.
“Hatred for whom?” Lexie spat as she shoved her away. “I don’t hate you.” She laughed scornfully. “I hate everyone.”
“I think that everyone deserves a second chance," Drexa cried.
“Of course you do!” Lexie interrupted. “You forgave ‘daddy’ for letting you go along with that stupid experiment. But you know what really gets to me? How much you changed after that. You didn’t have to. A few silly nightmares scared your ambitions away. That doesn’t make you better than me, Drexa. You’re the weak one. And there isn’t enough room for both of us…”
Drexa stared at her in disbelief, “How do you know about my nightmares?”
“If you feel it, I feel it. It’s irritating. I mean, sometimes while I’m on one of my assignments, it pisses me off when one of your soppy feelings get through to me. I have to admit that I do enjoy it sometimes. I mean, the things that scare you are just unbelievable.” Lexie gave Drexa a manic smile. “By the way…bravo to you. You don’t even know your own mother, yet you call out to her in your dreams. ‘Mommy, where are you? Mommy, I wish this. Mommy, I wish that.’ You make me sick. You're wasting your powers!”
Lexie began attacking her from everywhere. Her speed was unbelievable and her punches were unlike anything Drexa had ever felt before. She dodged a few but was unable to hit back.
The old Phenors, who had gathered to watch them, hung back, with their backs to the walls that surrounded the city. Drexa began to fly towards them, knowing they would protect her, but Lexie promptly foiled her move and caught her in a painful headlock.
Suddenly, while Drexa tried to keep her bruised eyes open, and fight against the darkness that threatened to envelop her, a plan jumped into her mind with a force, so vivid and hopeful, she felt a surge of energy. With all the strength she had, she screamed, willing her flames to become as hot as they could, and it wasn’t long before Lexie’s limp hands began to lifelessly slide down her body.
Drexa flew away from her with a speed she never knew she had. Her plan was to get to Gloroth and beg him to render her clone unconscious so that she could take her back to the Cramp. Somehow, she would convince him that making Lexie a prisoner was a better punishment than death. This was her chance to save her. She would do what was right even though she knew it would increase Lexie’s hatred for her. As Gloroth approached the gate, Drexa noticed that the Phenors were in a circle, looking down at something that was laying in the hands of one of the older Phenors, that guarded the back entrance to the city. Her ball of fire immediately became embers. She slowed her speed and cautiously approached them. She glanced behind her to see if Lexie was on her trail. She wasn’t.
Drexa stopped in front of the old Phenor and looked down into his hands. Her throat became tight, making it hard for her to breathe. Hot tears trickled down her cheeks and she gasped uncontrollably. She stared accusingly at each of the Phenors, stopping when she met Gloroth’s green eyes. He hovered by the gate, and the words that she least wanted to hear came back to her, as though they were being whispered in her ears. Hatred is easy. She jumped in fury when he beckoned her closer. After a moment, she obliged and flew towards him. The flesh on Lexie’s face was completely burnt off, from the bottom of her chin, crisscrossing up her left cheek, and stopping just below her left eye.
“Whatever you did back there was a fatal blow to her,” he said. “Rod caught her just as she started falling away from you.”
“Did he really?” Drexa asked in a bitter voice.
“If you are implying that we killed her, then you are seriously underestimating the power of Phenors," Gloroth thundered. "Only fire at its most powerful could’ve done this to someone who was capable of becoming fire herself. If she was killed by a Phenor she wouldn’t be in his arms. We crush our foes. You would do well to remember that.”
Drexa stared long and hard at him because it was the only thing that prevented her from breaking down again. Then, without a word, she took off towards the red building that was her home.