The Leader sat at a glass table underneath a shimmering crystal chandelier. On a slim monitor in front of him, there was a selection of the data that Eva had sent him a handful of hours ago. His eyes brightened at the sight of the results; Eva had collected an incredibly talented group of subjects for the next Alpha Team.
His old, withered fingers darted over the monitor, flicking the data to the side so that it vanished from the screen. He was impressed with the technological advances that he had led Calox into, insisting that simple devices for data storage saved space and paper – not that anyone ever argued against the Leader. He summed up everything that Calox existed for: hatred against the machines and the pure will to destroy them.
When he was younger, he had studied law to try and get into the governments as a member of parliament. Slowly, he developed speeches and tactics to win people over to his side, with belief in what he campaigned for. He’d seen the programming of the computers, and how much closer they became to being human. Some already had artificial intelligence and could store more data than the human brain ever could, and some were replacing jobs in large structures like supermarkets and libraries.
It was almost like the Leader had seen the future. He knew that it wouldn’t stop with a few little adjustments to make life quicker and easier. He’d predicted that the machines would spill out into everyday life and take over from everyone and anyone – and he despised the government for even allowing their production to continue.
So Calox was formed. It started out a small, extremist party that only ever achieved a couple of votes in every election. Then his father had passed away, leaving the Leader with a small fortune, and so Calox had grown from a party into a business. New businesses were rare with the increasing number of computerised workplaces, and so people flocked to him in their hundreds, begging for a position within the company. He’d welcomed most with open arms, disgusted by the overwhelming gratitude people shown him for something as simple as a cleaning job.
He’d watched the human race become desperate.
His speeches had always been hard-hitting and shockingly accurate. He had a way with words, flicking them off the tip of his tongue like bullets, and manipulating people into believing in Calox. He convinced scientists to run trials under his employment, in secure laboratories all over the world. Calox had expanded drastically, buying out high-security prisons worldwide and filling them with people willing to take part in what were advertised simply as clinical trials. Then people offered their relatives in return for money, so Calox had taken them too and began to work on upgrading the human race into something more.
The Leader dreamed of a race that could bring down all of the machines – something new that no one had ever seen before. He dreamed of hybrids, between human and animal, trained to hunt and kill without question. And the Leader was succeeding.
Eva had instructed the guards to load the subjects’ cages into a large truck waiting near a pair of thick iron gates. To Sara’s surprise, the chameleon girl was being loaded in as well – even though she hadn’t been trained with the rest of the Alpha Team before. Eva waved them farewell, laughing, as two muscular guards forced the gates open. The engine of the truck snorted, coughing a plume of thick grey smoke from the exhaust pipe before trundling through the gates and away from Eva.
Sara watched the scenery soar by the cages and felt the breeze ruffle her feathers. She felt a bizarre longing to stretch her wings and fly. The sensation was alien to her, something unknown, but it was stronger than any normal instinct she got. She was quite disappointed to find how secure the cage actually was, with thick, heavy-duty padlocks holding every side in place, and a roof that was more than an inch thick.
Devin and Callum were quite close together, and both had managed to bend the bars of their cages with their long, powerful tails. Devin had broken out in a sweat, with small droplets running down his forehead as he wrapped his tail around one of the most flexible bars. He pulled, scrunching up his face as he did so, and the bar bent even further towards him.
“Callum,” he cried, the wind disguising his voice, “You go next.”
Callum repeated the actions of his brother until the cage was almost shaped like an hourglass. Callum was pressed up against the back of his cage with next to no room in which he could move. Jay, the boy with the retractable claws, noticed this and called out to him. Sara couldn’t hear what he said, but Devin had flicked his tail between the bars and hooked onto his cage before anyone could realise what was going on. Devin pulled Jay’s cage closer and closer, flinching at the high pitched scream that was emitted from dragging metal on metal.
“Watch,” Jay shouted through the buffeting wind.
He flattened his hand so that it fit between the thick bars and pushed his claws between the padlock and the curved bars of Callum’s cage. When the bars had bent, the front panel to which the padlock had been connected had bent too, so there was more room to adjust the lock. Devin’s eyes glimmered as he realised, and he began carefully pulling on the bars of Jay’s cage so that he could open it from the inside.
“I’m free,” Callum cheered as the oversized padlock fell from the top of his cage, “Wow, did you see that, Devin?”
Devin smiled at his younger brother and watched, waiting impatiently for Jay to finish unlocking his own cage. His lock was slightly different, obviously altered in case he tried to pick the lock with his claws. Sara whistled at him to make herself his centre of attention, and then plucked a feather from her wing. It hurt momentarily, but she’d quickly hurried over to the other side of her cage and was holding it out for Devin’s tail to wrap around.
“Use that,” Sara ordered, “It’ll go into the lock, and then get me the hell out of here.”
Jay did as he was told, springing himself and then Sara free of their confinements. Sara rushed over to Devin where Callum was trying unsuccessfully to pull the lock apart with his tail. Sara pulled out another feather, jamming it into the lock and listening as hard as she could. It was difficult for her to focus with the wind roaring into her ear but after what felt like an hour, the lock came away and Devin climbed out.
Erika was released next, shortly followed by the girl with the camouflaging abilities. She introduced herself briefly as Ruby Knight but otherwise did not speak with the others. Sara considered leaving them all and flying away – after all, she’d make it the furthest as she didn’t need to travel on foot. Guilt seeped through her and she knew that she’d have to stay with them. The little group clustered around her were the closest things to friends she’d had for as long as she could remember.
“So guys, what do we do?” Erika asked, “Now we’re free, that is.”
“We run,” Devin said instantly, “We get the as far away as we can from these messed up people and make sure they never find us.”
“Bad plan,” Jay retorted, “Like no one would notice two boys walking around with lion’s tails and call Calox. Especially if they offered money for our capture – we’d be turned in.”
Sara nodded in agreement: “I think we should take revenge.”
Erika’s eyes sparkled and she high-fived Sara. Jay nodded slightly, as did Ruby, but Callum looked unsure. The two brothers looked at each other for a moment, as if trying to read each other’s thoughts from their eyes.
“Let’s put a stop to Calox,” Devin decided eventually, “There’s going to be hundreds more like us, if not thousands. Is there a way we can expose what’s really going on here?”
Sara shook her head, “Are you crazy? That’d be suicide.”
“Then what’s your plan?” Callum replied darkly.
Sara thought about his question for a few seconds. She knew that if she stayed, she would be trained in many areas of self-defence and martial arts. She would wield weapons with skill and think up intelligent battle strategies without a moment’s pause, and then carry them out perfectly. She would become untouchable, almost bulletproof, and bring down as many of the Justice factories as she could.
And part of her wanted to. She knew that Erika felt the same way and would happily bring down the Justice factories alongside her, returning the world to the days where it had a human workforce. The twins, along with Jay and Ruby, would not be as easily convinced that this was the right path, but she had to try.
“I think we should escape and find out as much about Calox as we can,” Sara began, breathing heavily, “We should go to the Justice factories, one by one, and shut them down. People would begin to find work and money, and there would no longer be any need for Calox – we could tell everyone what happened to us.”
Devin snorted, “We’re not spies or hunters, Sara.”
“You will be,” the voice came from the back window of the truck.
Guards swarmed onto the back, clambering through the window and handcuffing each of the children to prevent their escape. Sara considered flying away out of sight, but she wouldn’t last long on her own, and had already decided that she would remain with her friends.
“You lot are definitely the most difficult we’ve had in a long time,” a guard growled, “I can see why you’ve all been selected for the Alpha Team. Personally, I think you should all be exterminated for being too damn clever.”
The guard’s babbling was ignored as a large, sinister looking building loomed over them. It was protected with large gates, just like the previous building, but these were topped with barbed wire that had a five thousand volt current coursing through it. Sara smirked, knowing that no one had thought to prepare for a flying subject. Oh, the disruption she could cause. Smiling wickedly, she followed the guard with the keys to her handcuffs off the back of the truck which had parked just inside the gates.
People swarmed them instantly, many of which were holding tasers ready to be used in an escape attempt. They dragged them all through a large steel door and into what felt like a hotel. There were bright, eccentric decorations everywhere, and enough flowers to force a hay-fever sufferer into enduring their worst nightmare. The heavy odour of lavender hit them as they walked in, and the general comforting atmosphere of the room took effect at once. There was even a perky young woman sat at what could have been a reception desk.
“The Alpha Team,” one of the guards announced to her.
She looked up from the computer she was working at, her eyes narrowed at the children. After tapping the keyboard, a page of instructions was reflected in her eyes, and she took a handful of keys from a small rack behind her.
“They’re going to be in cabin one hundred and nineteen,” the woman said in a sweet tone, “I believe their training is to be toughened, to achieve more prompt results.”
Erika and Sara exchanged a glance. Both were nervous about training. After all, they’d been kept in prison cells for as long as either could remember, and their only form of exercise had been the running tests that Eva had dished out for them to prove that they were Alpha Team material. Now, they were stuck in what felt like a hotel lobby with a group of armed guards who treated them like sub-humans.
“One hundred and nineteen,” the guard repeated, “Let’s go.”
The cabin was actually an abnormally large shed with no heating and very poor sanitary standards. It contained six beds, separated by six small wardrobes in which hung camouflage outfits and heavy black boots. Ruby looked repulsed at the very idea of sharing her room with the boys, but soon adapted to the idea when the guards suggested that she could sleep outside instead.
The walls were a plain grey colour and made from concrete; this came as a surprise to many of the children who had been expecting wood – alike the exterior. The floor was also concrete and extremely cold. There was one window next to the bathroom door which was made from bulletproof glass to prevent escape. Beside it was a creaky door that led into a grubby bathroom, illuminated only by a bulb hanging hazardously from the ceiling, with lukewarm water dripping from the broken shower.
The guards smirked at the group huddled into the shed-like structure. It would be a cold night for them in the cabin but none of them seemed to care; they slammed the door shut and locked it from the outside. Sara had claimed the bathroom first to change into the camouflage clothing that she’d been given. She was impressed to know that it was almost her size. The sleeves were a little long, but she was grateful for the extra warmth they’d bring to her fingers.
As she turned, she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror. The effects of the DNA they’d combined hers with were clearer now. Her hair was now a deep, glossy shade of brown and she’d taken on the sharp, intelligent eyes of the eagle. Smiling, she extended her wings, accepting that her reflection was the new Sara.
“The bathroom’s free,” she announced when she re-entered the room.
She was greeted with the sight of Devin wearing nothing but his camouflage trousers and struggling with the removal of his previous shirt. She looked puzzled by his predicament but soon shrugged it off when he began to curse at his own tail. Erika dashed past her, beating Jay to the bathroom by less than a second, closing the door in his face. He scowled and sank back down onto his bed. Callum, however, had managed to change completely without anyone noticing.
“So what do you think they’ll do to us?” Callum asked gently, “I doubt this training will be pleasant and fun.”
Sara thought for a moment: “It’ll probably be fitness training and practise with weapons, as well as more sophisticated stuff like computer hacking.”
“And infiltration, close combat, and driving lessons.” Jay added quickly.
Ruby snorted, “Driving lessons?”
Jay rolled his eyes at her, showing the bond that had failed to form between them, “Yes, for escaping. Not all of us can blend into the background or fly away.”
There was a deathly silence that fell in the room as Erika emerged from the bathroom. She looked around at all of the frozen, worried faces in the room and stamped her foot in frustration. Her cheeks flushed pink and anger flashed in her eyes.
“Right,” she shouted, “You all need to put up with each other, or shut up about it, because all this fighting isn’t going to help us survive this place. They’re going to train us up to be cold, heartless creatures who all hate each other – and we can’t let that happen! Unless, of course, you fancy being on your own with some freakish animal disfigurement.”
Her sharp tone seemed to have cut the tension in the room, and in response to her outburst, polite, friendly chatter broke out between the others. Sara grinned at Erika, who simply shrugged and continued to lace up her boots.
YOU ARE READING
Firstly, it was just the prisoners that were used. Then it became orphans, and even some of the elderly. Now it is everyone in a society where people are struggling to find work. Money is offered to anyone willing to volunteer themselves or their...