Chapter 4

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Sara woke up on a floor even colder than the concrete in her cell. It was made from steel and she was surrounded by bars. With a start, she realised that she woken up in a cage. She peered through the bars, disgusted to see that there were others – some brutally disfigured with tails or fur or feathers – all around her in similar enclosures. A young girl opposite was watching her with keen interest. Her skin was shimmering slightly and it took Sara a minute to realise that she’d developed scales and a forked tongue that flicked dangerously from her mouth.
   She tried to stand, only to hit her head forcefully on the thick steel ceiling. She glared up at it, feeling so trapped. She couldn’t even stretch her wings – and this scared her more than anything. She hadn’t had her wings long but they’d become a part of her, and not just in the literal sense. Angered by her containment, she slammed her clenched fists into the bars of the cage, attracting the attention of many of the other children in the cages all around.
   “Who are you?” Sara whispered to a small boy hunched over in the cell next to her.
   “Cole,” the boy didn’t even bother to look at her, snapping his answer like an insult, “And you are?”
   Sara was happy that he was maintaining the flow of conversation at least. It took her a few seconds to get over the initial shock of him replying so she didn’t realise he’d asked her a question until his expression hardened.
   “Oh, sorry,” Sara blushed, “I’m Sara.”
   “Sara,” he repeated emotionlessly, “Cool.”
   He looked around, facing her at last. It took a lot of self-control for Sara to prevent the gasp from escaping her lips. His face was horrifically formed; he appeared almost burnt, but in fact was camouflaged with brown and tan patches all over his rounded cheeks. His hair was faded in place, as if he’d grown old extremely quickly, and was unevenly cut so some fell over his eyes.
   “Yeah, I was one of the side effects of chameleon DNA,” Cole explained, his voice low, “Someone did survive it and is now able to completely blend into any background though.”
   “That’s her over there,” a perky voice hissed from the other side of her cage, “I’m Erika Davis, by the way.”
   Sara was so confused. She’d been told that she was the only survivor, but the children all around her hadn’t been taken from her prison. In horror, it dawned on her that there could be hundreds of prisons – just like the one she came from – experimenting on children all around the world. A lump of air caught in her throat, suffocating her until she mustered the strength to swallow.
   “Hello,” Sara greeted, trying to cloud the fear in her voice, “How long have you been in here?”
   Erika shrugged, her blonde ringlets jumping with her shoulders: “Maybe a week. They take us out for a few tests and make us exercise though.”
   Sara groaned. She hated confinement and she thought that her time in the prison had been bad enough. Cole and Erika both stared at her through the cage; it was unnerved to be watched constantly by two pairs of eyes. Tired and annoyed, she pulled her wings around herself and snuggled into the softness and warmth of her feathers, in an attempt to relax.


 “Eva,” Ford said into his telephone, “Did the subject arrive safely?”
  The woman he was speaking to was sat a mahogany desk with her feet resting on the edge. The heels of her leather boots clicked as she positioned one foot over the other, clipping the corner of the desk with her knee.
   “Yes,” Eva replied with a smile, “I picked her up myself to be certain. I have very high hopes for this one.”
   Ford sighed with relief: “Ensure she is treated well, Eva. I know it is not my place to say, but she is exceptional. I believe she could become a valuable asset.”
   “Indeed,” Eva said coldly, and hung up the phone.
   She hated having to report to Ford. He was the best scientist she knew, especially since he had business-like talents and a way with words. Still, she was his commander, and he should show her more respect. She made a mental note to ensure that he would not step out of line again; her personal guards could deal with it later. In the meantime, she needed them.
   “Guards,” she snapped into her handheld radio, “Rally at my office now.”
   It didn’t take long for the team of guards to flock into her office. There were eight of them in total, all of which had given one of their own children to Calox in order to sustain their job. It had made them bitter and distrusting of Eva, but they were obedient. They stood in formation in the narrow space between her desk and the door, each as expressionless as the next.
   “Guards,” Eva repeated, “I want all of the main subjects in the training room at once.”
   The main subjects were the ones with the most useful mutations; it included Erika and Sara along with a few others caged up in a room simply titled ‘storage’. The guards reacted at once, filing out of the room one by one until they were all assembled in the corridor outside. They marched together down the hall without speaking a word to one another, all keeping their backs straight and wearing a perfect poker face – just as Eva instructed.
   They reached the storage room quite quickly, unlocking the door with a plastic card that was registered with the heavy grey scanner, which was connected to the handle of the door. There was a quiet bleep as the door popped open, illuminating the wall with a flashing green light. The first of the guards entered the room, holding a taser ready in his left hand as he sorted through a bundle of keys in the other.
   “Sir,” one of the guards said, “When you’re ready...”
   The guard who spoke positioned himself next to Sara’s cage, and her eyes gleamed at the sight of him. She was crouched and ready to escape, but the guards had been expecting it. The moment she darted, the second guard launched himself at her, winding her before pulling her into his strong arms. He chuckled gently in her ear.
   “She’s a feisty one,” the first guard muttered.
   Erika smirked at her: “You won’t escape, Sara. Trust me, we’ve all tried.” 
   Sara struggled but soon accepted that her effort was wasted. Erika stepped out of her cage, rising to a height that wasn’t far off Sara’s, and watched as the guard gripped her forearms. She shivered at his touch, wincing with the pain.
   “Can you quit it?” Erika snapped, “That seriously hurts.”
   The guard scowled at her, loosening his grip just enough for the blood to run back into her hand. She didn’t look pleased and in any other situation, Sara would have laughed at her expression. She noticed that Cole wasn’t taken. Instead, three other boys were, one of which looked roughly eighteen years old and had long claws that had retracted into his fingers. The others were definitely twins, and seemed to have reacted similarly to whatever they had been mutated with, as they both had cat-like eyes long, furry tails.
   One of the boys spoke up: “Where are we going?”
   The guards didn’t answer. They looked over the boys with interest and then turned their attention to Sara who was watching the main guard – a tall, muscular man with a confused expression on his face. The boys must’ve been new as they treated them the same way as they treated Sara: with caution and mistrust.
   “Boys, we’ll be training.” Erika announced loudly, “In the gym, as ever.”
   She rolled her eyes casually, looking almost at ease with the circumstances she was in. Sara wondered how long she’d been in her cage and when she’d been changed. It was hard for her to believe that Erika was actually appeared to have gills on her neck, but then she remembered that she had enormous white wings protruding from her back. Her doubts were instantly forgotten.
   The guards led them from the room, slamming the door shut behind them. The sharp click of the lock rang in Sara’s ears, but at lease guards had released her from their grip. The air carried the stench of steriliser which made her eyes water uncontrollably, tears running down her cheeks. Erika pulled a tissue from her pocket and handed it to her; Sara accepted it gratefully and dried her eyes.
   “Don’t worry,” she muttered as Sara continued to wipe her cheeks, “That happened to all of us.”
   Sara simply nodded at her, shoving the used tissue into her pocket. The guards were very on edge as they marched them down the corridors, every noise seemed to catch their attention and every movement was monitored with extreme caution. It wasn’t long before the guards paused outside a door, swiping a card through the lock as they had before.
   “For those who are new here, this is the training room.” Eva was stood just behind the door in front of one of the many treadmills, “You will all train your hardest and your progress will be noted down on file. You are the Alpha Team – the best subjects. You are the ones with the most potential, so show it.”
   The group split up with Erika heading straight for a climbing wall. It was surprising to see that, for someone mutated with some form of aquatic creature, she was good with controlling her breathing on land. Sara stood awkwardly with the two boys from earlier, both of which flicked their tails from side to side. Bizarrely, it looked quite menacing. Sara did not back away from them; instead she stepped closer and tried to appear friendly. When neither of the boys moved, she nodded politely.
   “I’m Sara,” she said, “I assume that you pair are brothers?”
   The first boy was taller than the other by an inch, and nodded in reply: “I’m Devin, and this is indeed my brother, Callum. He’s younger by thirteen minutes.”
   Sara grinned, “It’s nice to meet you both.”
   “Likewise,” Callum replied in a relaxed tone, although his voice was deeper than Devin’s.
   Eva snapped her fingers at the trio impatiently, ushering them over to the vast array of equipment spread out around the room. Sara picked a wooden bench on which to do step-ups and was surprised to see Devin do the same on the bench opposite – Callum chose to run on a treadmill next to Erika. It was only a couple of minutes before Sara’s forehead was coated in tiny beads of sweat. The back of her legs ached, his muscles felt like they were on fire, but she didn’t stop.
   Eva was stood at the back of the training room, paying extra attention to her newest recruits. Erika was definitely one of the strongest, but she had shown an increasing level of fitness from the first day she’d arrived, and that had been just over a month ago. Callum and Devin were both physically fit anyway, despite being kept in a prison cell together from the age of nine. Now both were seventeen, just one year younger than the boy from America, Jay – who had already dug his claws into the mat he was doing push-ups on.
   However, Sara was the most fascinating. In all of her time training the mutated, she’d never seen a subject with such noticeable alterations before. She was the first child in existence to have survived the fusion of human and avian DNA, and it certainly had promising effects. Eva strolled over to Sara’s side, smiling confidently at her.
   “Miss Worthington, a word – if you’d please,” she said curtly.
   Sara felt slightly nauseous by her tone, but stepped down from the bench and followed her to the back of the training room. Eva did not smile, instead walking in a circle around her, as if she was looking for something no one had noticed yet. When she was stood behind her, she reached out for Sara’s wings and gently ran her fingers through the feathers. Sara froze at her touch as if she’d been paralysed.
   “These are astonishing, Miss Worthington,” Eva muttered thoughtfully, “Do you know you’re the first child to survive a mutation with avian DNA?”
   Sara shook her head.
   “Ah,” Eva said, “You see you’re in this group because you have the one ability that no one else has been able to gain yet: flight. You, Miss Worthington, are important – so please don’t give me a reason to have to remove you from the Alpha Team.”
   Sara could see the threat seeping through her words and frowned. She didn’t like being told what to do, even by her own mother, but she resisted the word to snap back at her. Instead she just nodded her head and made her way back over to the bench. 

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