Sara had cheated, as much as she denied it. In her words, it was simply using a tactical advantage, but Erika insisted it was cheating. Part of the obstacle course had involved climbing a very steep wall which all of the others had struggled with. Sara had forced herself upwards with her wings, propelling herself higher up the wall so that she could haul her weight over it and onto the other side. If she had really wanted to cheat, she could have flown over it, but she hadn’t – and surely that counted for something.
“Damn,” Erika cursed loudly, “I could have beaten you, I know it!”
Sara laughed, but she sounded out of breath: “But you didn’t.”
Erika glared at her, “Only because you’re a pigeon.”
“Pigeon,” Sara repeated in a sneer, “I am part eagle, and eagles do not lose to fish.”
Erika snorted like she was about to retort, but she had ran out of clever things to say and so stayed silent. Sara felt pleased with her effort in the obstacle course but was repulsed by the sweat beads soaking through her eyebrows. The Leader had been waiting for her at the finish line with a bottle of cold water, as always. She’d gulped it down and handed the empty bottle back to him before he could speak, and then collapsed to her knees on the floor. They had continued to throb with pain until Jay staggered into sight.
“Well done,” Erika said as he fell down beside her, “I assume the thorns got you too.”
It wasn’t a question, but Jay nodded anyway, rubbing his scratched arms with a look of discomfort on his face. Sara had manoeuvred her way through the thorn bushes with as much speed as she could without causing fatal injury. There was a small thorn embedded in her knee, which she’d pulled out shortly after finishing the race, leaving a tiny, circular hole in her combat trousers.
When they had all finished, Ruby trailing in last place, the Leader had gone to check on a different set of hybrids completing a similar obstacle course. Callum and Devin sat to the side of Jay, both with their tails tucked into their trousers pocket to prevent them tripping during the course. Erika was rubbing her gills, some of which had been cut by the thorns. The guards paced them menacingly, waiting for them to recover enough to be taken down to the food hall – the next stage of the daily routine.
It was a very easy schedule to remember: wake, train, eat, sleep, and repeat.
A few minutes passed in which quiet talking began between the exhausted children. Devin had a headache from a fall and was speaking in a monotone, and Erika was still tenderly stroking the grazes on her gills. They hurt a lot more than she wanted to admit and so kept the pain out of her eyes as the guards forced them to walk over to the main building where the food hall was located.
Yet again, there was a good spread at the buffet. Ruby didn’t bother to use her ability, instead choosing to barge in front of some of the younger hybrids. They scattered at her approach, all aware of her bizarre talent at becoming ‘invisible’, as they called it. She piled her plate again, making Sara wonder how she remained so slender. When they all made it to the same table they’d ate at the day before, the nervous muttering commenced as they all wondered who would be selected for the fights that the Leader had spoken of.
It wasn’t long before the unasked question was answered. The main guard swept into the hall, holding a list of names with a cruel smile on his scarred face. He scratched at the stubble on his left cheek before he coughed loudly to get everyone’s attention.
“Hybrids,” his voice was raspy and deep, “I have been told to announce to you that there will be two fights this evening. One will be between Silver Banks and Tyler Johnson, and the other between Liam Mackintosh and Yuki Tanaka – located in the gymnasium. You are all to attend.”
The Japanese girl called Yuki shrieked with terror, clutching her face. From across the room, Liam looked at her, seeing nothing but a little scared girl with no visible powers. He assumed that the fight would be easy, but he assumed wrong.
There was a boxing ring set up in the centre of the gymnasium with rows of seats all around it. The hybrids had been crammed into the rows to watch the bloodthirsty event taking place in the ring. Yuki had fangs like a snake and equally fast reflexes – she was running rings around Liam whose greasy black hair was soaked with sweat as the venom began to affect him. He stumbled helplessly across the ring, unable to prevent the kicks and punches that Yuki was aiming at him.
“Help...” Liam croaked, collapsing to the ground.
Yuki stopped attacking the boy and rushed to his side. Her piercing brown eyes took in his wounds and she began to tear strips from her t-shirt with which to stop the bleeding. The guards climbed into the ring beside her and carried him from the room and into the medical room where an antidote was being prepared.
The guards who had not followed Liam out of the room cleaned some of the blood from the ring before demanding the next pair of fighters to come forward. Trembling, up stood Tyler, a slightly overweight boy with reddening cheeks and light blonde hair, and he made his way over to the ring in a state of terror. Silver was less scared, standing up eagerly and jumping the seats in front. Apparently, she wanted to get the fight over and done with as quickly as she could.
“Begin,” the guard said loudly, as both of the hybrids clambered through the ropes surrounding the ring.
Silver started forwards, swinging a fist into Tyler who took a step back, but was otherwise unaffected. She hit him again, only to see that it wasn’t hurting him in the slightest. Tyler grinned, showing some large, pointed teeth, and took aim at Silver with a pudgy fist. She dodged effortlessly, having her petite size and fast reflexes on her side, but was caught out by his oversized feet which he’d deliberately placed in her path. She fell, only to be struck in the shoulder by his other fist, and grimaced as the pain caught up with her.
“C’mon, Silver!” Devin found himself cheering.
She seemed to collect some strength from the support she was getting and got to her feet. Her knees were shaking and threatening to give way at any point, but she somehow mustered the energy to jump and managed to land on the ropes behind Tyler, who whirled around in confusion.
“She was mutated with a puma,” Sara said excitedly, “Did you see that jump? It must have been ten feet vertically.”
Erika nodded, sharing her excitement, “I saw it, but I don’t know what Tyler can do yet.”
Her question was soon answered as Tyler opened his mouth, revealing row after row of shark-like teeth. Silver gasped, realising that her attacks had been so ineffective because of how strong his skin was. Hissing, she revealed her own puma teeth, and the fight continued.
Silver lunged for Tyler sinking her teeth through his thick flesh and darted away. The other boy squealed and clutched at the bite marks in his arm that was dripping blood all over the floor of the ring. Silver wiped her mouth as he approached her, jumping and biting again – this time into his shoulder. Callum gave a cry of delight, quite alike the rest of the crowd who seemed to be getting into the violent form of entertainment taking place.
The ending blow was from Silver who Tyler finally managed to bite. A jagged, ugly wound appeared on her upper arm, but she used the strength of the animal she had been mutated with to throw him onto the floor. Breathing heavily, she kicked him repeatedly in the ribs until he was crying out for surrender. The guards rushed in to break up the fight, leading Tyler away with the talk of his three broken ribs hanging in the air.
The Leader grinned wickedly, pencilling out the names of those who had lost fights from a long list of every hybrid in his care. What the hybrids didn’t realise was that how well they fought determined their ranking in the Leader’s personal notes. Those who were deemed useless would be removed from the facility and sent back to one of the many prisons for further experiments. The thought of it would terrify the hybrids, so he kept it a secret. When he needed someone removed from the base, he would drug the hybrids that the selected child shared a cabin with, and remove them in the dead of night.
It was a very simple process but one that had been working effectively so far. Tyler and Liam, as they were named on file, had already been transferred back to a secure facility in Manhattan for experimentation. The scientists working there were under strict instructions to discover how the mutation had affected them and why they were able to mutate when so many others were not.
So far, he had received no results, and so he needed to keep the hybrids battling each other to ensure that only the best remained on the facility with him. He was testing them in a cruel way, and punishing those who couldn’t win the fights, but he felt no guilt. All he could feel was the satisfaction of being one step closer to winning back the world.
As he began to set up the next set of fights, he worried about what the world would be like when he claimed it back from the Justice machines. He wondered if people would worship him, or reject him for his sickening projects involving animal DNA, and refuse to do as he asked. He only wanted to gain control, to set up a new government, and let the world run smoothly. He had no intentions to harm, only to heal, but would the citizens of the new society accept that? Would they be able to look past their disfigured children and deceased relatives? He slammed his fist down onto the table as he realised that many would not.
So he formed a plan, simply entitled Curtain Call. If they did not show gratitude, if they did not conform back into his idea of perfect, they would be slaughtered. He would set his new army of mutated children upon them and ensure that everything ran smoothly. It would be his world soon, and he should be the one to take the credit for its recovery.
It had been ten days since Sara had reached the facility, and she still didn’t like the cabin. It was an ugly building that was constantly cold and hosted its own ecosystem under the floor. With a grimace, she climbed out of her bed in the hope of a long shower to calm her nerves. The fights were happening so much more now; at least five took place every evening. It was only the night before when Erika had nearly lost to a tall boy with the strength of an elephant, but used her self-defence skills to overcome his attacks.
Sara knew it would not be long before they found out what she could do. She looked around the room, knowing that there was only her and Devin in the cabin who had not yet been called up to the ring. She’d watched Ruby’s defeat halfway through the week, and the guards had said that she’d been removed from the cabin to the medical room due to injuries. She still hadn’t returned but everyone was too scared to spare her a second thought; people were more worried about losing their own fights and disappearing to the medical room.
So far, thirty nine hybrids had been taken to the medical room, and none had come back.
Sara turned the shower on as quietly as she could, but was startled by a knock at the door. Four different groans occurred in the bedroom and she left the bathroom to find out what was going on. A guard was stood in the doorway, looking sheepish.
“I was told to inform you of Ruby’s death,” he whispered quietly, “She was taken ill and has got progressively worse since. I’m very sorry.”
He left the cabin as quickly as he had come and desperately locked the door behind him, as if to seal in the feeling of intense mourning that struck the five startled children. Erika quietly began to weep – her first raw emotion since she’d befriended the others. Devin and Callum sat in a shocked silence whilst Jay punched the wall behind him, and Sara simply fell onto the end of her bed, staring into nothingness.
“I can’t believe she’s gone,” she whimpered.
Devin shook his head, “Me neither.”
Although none of the five had known Ruby Knight for very long, they were all deeply shaken by her reported death. They looked around the room at each other as if searching for answers, but of course, none came. Erika continued to cry, tears dampening her pale cheeks and dripping onto the bed sheets.
Erika and Ruby had been in those cages under the watchful eye of Eva before any of the others had met. Jay had been the third, and then Devin and Callum, and finally Sara. It was difficult to accept that her closest friend had been snatched away from her. She cried a little louder, secretly begging for it to be nothing but a trick. She wanted her friend back more than she longed to be normal, maybe even more than she hated the Justice factories and the government.
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...