Chapter 16

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Sara found it strange to be huddled inside a tree with her friends and someone who used to mean nothing to her. Eva looked genuinely nervous to be amongst them, as if the group were savages which could turn on her at any minute. Her eyes kept darting back to the gun which was wedged into the waistband of Sara’s trousers. The safety was still off.
   “Are you sure about this?” Erika whispered quietly to Sara.
   Sara nodded once, abruptly: “If anything happens to me, there’s a gun – loaded – tucked into my belt. You can shoot to kill if she endangers any of you.”
   “There could be a tracking device on her,” she replied.
   “If there was, we’d have been caught already.” Sara was adamant.
   She had no proof of this and didn’t want to admit her lack of knowledge to the gilled girl. It would only cause unnecessary fuss with the group and a lot of arguments that could easily escalate out of control. Sara could think of better ways to spend her time that didn’t include preventing two animalistic teenagers from savaging each other.
   Eva was extremely quiet. There was always someone watching her with their young, innocent eyes. It was mostly Sara – waiting for a moment when she could turn her weapon on her. Her eyes were not as young as the others. She was definitely the most mutated of all the hybrids, with long, tawny brown hair and wise eyes, which were fixed on her whenever she glanced around. It was unnerving but justifiable – even Eva knew that the little group had every right to be wary of her.
   A branch snapping in the distance woke everyone at once. Erika jumped, startled, and Sara clamped her hand over her mouth. Silently, she slipped the gun from her jeans and raised it towards Eva. Sara was sure that the sound of her heartbeat alone would be enough to lead the guards to their location; she could feel the throbbing in her chest.
   “Do not give us away,” Sara whispered, “Or it’ll be the last thing you ever do.”
   She didn’t like the sound of her own voice. It was cold and empty, the voice of a soon-to-be killer. It wasn’t her own anymore, leaving no trace of her personality the air for anyone to hear – but she was sure that no one outside of the tree could have heard her. Worry filled her as another branch snapped. This time the sound was closer and louder, as if someone was heading straight for the tree.
   It was a tracking device on Eva. Erika was sure of this and snatched the gun from Sara’s hands. She began to shake as she reached for Eva, keeping the gun at head height as she clawed at her jacket. Eva looked startled, but raised her hands without question, leaving Erika to continue her search.
   “Where is it?” she demanded, “Where are you hiding the tracker?”
   Sara acted sharply by covering Erika’s mouth with her hand. She remained completely still as an even closer twig snapped abruptly; everyone froze and watched the entrance to the tree with narrowed eyes. Erika tore her eyes away first, angered when she found no device concealed on Eva’s clothing.
   “Keep quiet,” Sara instructed, dropping her voice to such a volume that the others strained to hear her.
   She took the gun from Erika and crept towards to the opening, holding the piece of metal loosely in her hand. From what she could see, there was no one around, but another snap kept her alert and so she rose quietly out of the tree. She glanced around, rolling onto her toes in case she needed to run. The sound of footsteps met her ears and so she spun around wildly, her eyes searching for anything – anyone – to which the noise could be associated.
   Suddenly, her heart skipped a beat. There was a patrol of guards a matter of metres away, facing the other way. She ducked behind one of the many thick, intertwined branches and levelled the gun on a small indent. Her lungs filled with air in an attempt to keep calm and get an accurate shot, and she told herself to fire on the exhale.
   “Sara,” Devin whispered, “Should we run?”
   “Wait for my signal,” she replied, sounding stronger than she felt.
   Her finger found the trigger and she began to squeeze; her lip was trembling with the fear as she fought against the urge to look away. Devin stroked the back of her hand – the only comfort she had as she tightened the trigger and let the gun buck into her palm.
   “Go,” she cried, “Get out of here – run.”
   She rubbed her wrist with the pain of the recoil. The guard she had aimed for had fallen, blood splattered into the trunk of the tree beside him. He had been wounded in the leg, alerting the other guards to the presence of the hybrids. They were heading straight for them, leaving the injured one on the floor to deal with his predicament. There were only two of them but they were both armed and quickly making up ground.
   “Sara, come on,” Jay pulled her to her feet, “You’ve got to go too.”
   Sara shook her head, holding the gun in her shaking hands. She’d just shot a man! Part of her was grateful that she didn’t take his life, but there was a slight stab of disappointment that her bullet had missed. Her feet began to move, step after step, until she broke into a run at Jay’s side. Her wingspan was too great for her to fly in the forest so she was at a disadvantage; at least the guards were clumsy with all of their heavy equipment and baggy clothes. It wasn’t long before she was with the rest of the group, running at their speed. The sound of gunfire had them all sheltering under their arms. It was little protection but the only reassurance the hybrids could get as they ran. Eva dropped down to the floor, brushing at the leaves with her fingertips as she scurried along. The resemblance of humans to apes was clear in that moment as they all continued their journey bent at the waist, swinging their arms in time with their strides.
   “Keep going,” Jay panted, “Don’t stop for anything.”
   They reached the edge of the woods, bullets splintering the low-hanging branches. Leaves were blasted all around them along with chunks of damp earth as the metal tore up the ground. The noise was deafening, pounding fiercely in their ears.
   “Come on, Sara,” Eva reached out for the younger girl, dragging her from the shelter of the trees and into the open.
   Everyone else was running down the road which was parallel to the line of trees. Sara was pleased to see that the guards were slowing down but they were firing more out of desperation in random directions. She was beginning to get fed up of the whole life-risking thing; it was terribly overrated and definitely not as exciting as she’d hoped.
   The guards stopped at the edge of the forest, watching them run. They fired a few final shots that fell short and began to talk into handheld radios – presumably summoning another team to go after them. Devin wasted no time in taking one of the many quads left by the roadside. He climbed on first with Sara and then Eva behind him. Callum drove the second one with Jay and Erika, providing the quick getaway that they needed.


Anastasia was quick to take Eva’s place at the Leader’s side. She was incredibly obedient but didn’t have the same flair as Eva – she was almost as robotic as the creations of Justice. The Leader scowled at the thought and snapped his next order at the scientist who dashed over to his side with the papers he’d asked for.
   “They’ve found three hybrids so far, sir,” Anastasia said, “It’s a start.”
   “A start,” the Leader repeated sarcastically, “I need to bring down the largest company in the world and you think finding three hybrids is a start.”
   Anastasia pouted, “We’ll find the rest, sir. I’m sure of it.”
   The Leader did not look convinced. Anastasia’s tactics were simple to work out, as all she was doing was reciting what she thought he wanted to hear. Unfortunately, she couldn’t be more wrong. He was sick and tired of things going wrong for him, especially after waiting so long to develop so many hybrids, and then spending lots of time and money training them. He tapped his fingers rhythmically on the desk, furious that he had lost so many valuable assets. First Fox, Eva’s younger sister – Elise, had let her power go to her head, and now Eva had fled the compound to join the hybrids.
   “Leave,” the Leader growled.
   “I’m sorry,” Anastasia said, “What?”
   The Leader slammed his fist into the table, “I said leave, now!”
   Anastasia froze, backing out of the room as slowly as she could. She was hoping that he’d change his mind and put her to some use, but he did not say another word. Instead, he turned away, scanning through the papers with an uninterested expression on his face.
   Anastasia closed the door gently behind her, hearing it click before sinking to the floor. She cradled her face in her hands, wishing that she could replace Eva completely and gain the Leader’s acceptance. She was sure that she had a future that wasn’t confined to a laboratory; she hoped that future would be working alongside the Leader.
   “Guards,” Anastasia tried to sound like she had authority over them, “Come here.”
   One looked at her and laughed, and another mimicked her voice. Then they both marched off along the corridor towards the food hall where a lunchtime buffet had been prepared. Anastasia sighed and let her head slam back against the wall. Not even the guards would listen to her. She was a useless leader and had no control over anyone yet; she needed to prove herself before anyone would do as she said.
   “Right,” she whispered quietly to herself, “It’s time to show them my worth.”
   And with that, she got to her feet and began to navigate her way through the network of corridors. She had been assigned a beautiful office, in which she would formulate her plan of action. She would begin with studying Eva and her duties – a task that would eventually educate her with everything she needed to impress the Leader. 

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