Admittedly, no one else had been quite so injured as Sara in the training session with the machines, but they’d all found the exercise distressing. Sara was lying on her bed holding her swollen lip with tears in her eyes. She was freezing cold and in more pain than she could ever begin to express. Her arm draped over the edge of the bed as she rummaged for the water bottle that Devin had brought for her.
“Thank you ever so much,” she whispered to him.
He was awake and sat on the end of his bed, staring at her. Devin was the most caring of the group and was illustrating it by his protectiveness of the winged girl opposite him, although he was unsure as to how else he could treat her. The guards had offered some washcloths which had been soaked in cold water and laid over her bruised ribs. Even so, they were little relief.
Sara drank from the bottle, aware of the chill of the water against her tongue and the sensation of it trickling down her throat. She whimpered as the plastic caught her bloody lip but was quick to recover. Forcing the pain away, she tried to rest, hoping that Devin would then rest too. Part of her felt guilty – he’d cared for her so much but sacrificed his own energy and sleeping time.
“Go to sleep,” Devin instructed gently.
Sara groaned, “I’ll try.”
And so she did. It wasn’t long before she’d snuggled under the covers and began to build up body heat. Within minutes, she was fast asleep, letting out almost silent snores that resembled shallow breaths. Devin was soon to follow suit, drifting off with his head tucked underneath a cushion. There was a long week ahead of them all and they needed all of the recovery time that they could get.
Eva, Anastasia, and the Leader stood forming a triangle at a desk in one of the many offices inside the facility. Between them was a stack of papers featuring detailed reports on all of the remaining hybrids for the previous five days; there were only two days left of the hybrid’s training regime and they were the toughest yet.
“If we send the guards in here,” Eva said, pointing to a small dot on the wall beside her, “Then there’s the risk of ambush that they need to work around in order to succeed.”
Anastasia shook her head, “No, the majority should be here to defend the main door. In the missions, most of the factories will protect the largest entry.”
The Leader looked between the women with a growing sense of despair. He’d never expected his two most opinionated women to be so eager to displease one another. Frowning, he waved them both away from the map, picked up a pen, and encircled an area of the page with a satisfied look.
“Right,” he said boldly, “The guards will positioned here and spread evenly across the space to defend the perimeter of the building.”
Neither of the women said anything against his instruction but both appeared disgruntled by it. Anastasia glanced over at Eva, who looked up and caught her eye, and then they both fixed their gaze firmly on the ground. The Leader rolled his eyes at the pair and drew his attention back to the map laid out before him.
“The hybrids will rush into things,” he explained, “They will be unorganised, sloppy, and disagree with one another. Learning will come of such mistakes but I wish to punish them as lightly as I can in a practise mission.”
“Why?” the women snapped simultaneously.
The Leader snarled in response: “What would be the point in injuring my hybrids just two days before they fly the nest, so to speak?”
Neither of the women spoke, leaving the rhetorical question lingering in the air like a bar odour as the Leader smashed his palm onto the desk. He needed structure in his office and if his staff didn’t begin to regain that structure, he would have to start the redundancies. Shuddering at the very thought, he flicked through some of the sheets stacked before him as a distraction. He paused, scanning the results of Devin’s computer hacking exam.
“This is interesting.” he thought aloud, “The hybrid has baffled all of our guards.”
Eva nodded, “I witnessed that yesterday and am still uncertain as to how he has become so skilled in such a short period of time.”
The Leader looked perplexed: “The computer studies only became a training exercise three weeks ago. This hybrid is practically a genius.”
“What are my orders?” Eva asked impatiently.
The Leader slammed the file onto the desk, “Watch him like a hawk. Ensure he gets the necessary practise.”
Eva nodded and made her way from the office. She couldn’t stand Anastasia and the way she sucked up to the Leader to make herself look better. She only worked for Calox for the money – she didn’t care about job satisfaction or what affects her DNA strands had; she was only at the facility because she’d been ordered directly by the Leader.
Grumbling, she made her way through the vast network of winding corridors until she reached the elevator. Stepping in, she pressed a clear glass button reading ‘ground floor’ and jolted uneasily as it began to descend. When the doors finally opened, she was greeted by the less than friendly receptionist who grunted rather than spoke. Eva ignored her and continued her journey through the reception and out onto the field where her quad bike was waiting. Mounting it, she turned a key in the ignition and inhaled the heavy scent of diesel.
“Only two days left,” she said to herself, “And then we’ll be changing the world.”
Devin was one with the computer. It was a bizarre sensation but the codes darting across the screen in front of him was like his native language. He typed in something to narrow down his results with and watched everything turn black momentarily. Then, fresh codes spiralled in front of his eyes, but he found a route through them and was soon into the Calox Network, watching the psychedelic logo pulse in the centre of the screen.
Eva was upon him within an instant, smirking, “Well done, Devin.”
“Thanks,” he said curtly.
Eva noted down the time it had taken Devin to break into the system with a grin on her face. She was more than impressed with the results he was producing and was certainly eager to report back to the Leader with them. He would be very beneficial for Calox, providing data that would be otherwise inaccessible, and helping them to infiltrate even the most secure of compounds all around the world.
“You may re-join your friends now, Devin,” Eva hissed, “They’ll be waiting for you in the food hall, I’m sure.”
Devin didn’t respond. Instead, he left the room with a feeling of loathing towards the woman. He was repulsed by her very presence, ready to flinch away if she ever tried to get too close to him. He wouldn’t put it past her to hit him or something and was determined to defend himself if she ever did. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of hurting him any more than she already had.
He exited the building and found the food hall within a matter of minutes. He wasn’t sure whether he’d followed the route embedded into his subconscious, or the rich scent of cheese wafting from the open doorway. Deciding on the second option, Devin made a beeline for the buffet and loaded his plate with the macaroni cheese on display along with a hefty portion of salad that threatened to spill onto the floor.
“Devin,” Callum greeted excitedly, “Where were you?”
Devin shook his head, “Eva wanted me for extra computer studies.”
“You must have some serious talent,” Erika added, “Or they wouldn’t be pushing you so hard.”
Devin shrugged and tried to hide the crimson flush that appeared in his cheeks. He hated showing off or being the centre of attention – the fact that he looked completely abnormal was his worst nightmare. After all, it was hard to remain discreet when his ears had formed on top of his head and he had a tail that could double as a belt.
“I guess so,” he said awkwardly, only to add, “I got into the Calox Network today.”
Sara gasped and spilled her juice into her lap. Mopping at her thigh with a tissue, she commenced her thoughts about using the Calox Network to help them to expose the horrors taking place. For some reason, she couldn’t form a plan, and every time she opened her mouth to try and tell the others – something stopped her. It wasn’t anything physical, more of a mental ache that she was unable to push past.
“Is something wrong?” Callum asked her worriedly.
“No,” she said, although the true answer was yes, “I’m fine.”
She could come to terms with why she couldn’t formulate a strategy. She was so used to taking control of the others when they needed her to that it was difficult to realise that even she was hopeless. Angrily, she stabbed a piece of meat on the plate in front of her. As she chewed, she experienced a stab of hopelessness that drained her. It was a weakening situation, but one that she could do nothing about.
“So anyway,” Erika pressed on, “Did you find anything?”
Devin shook his head in dismissal. He was ashamed by his lack of findings but part of him was glad that he had not been given the time to explore the Network. He was scared by what he would find there, and it was very rare that Devin felt real fear. He’d gone through weeks of training and finally felt like he had a purpose, alongside people who shared the same goal. He wasn’t ready to lose all that.
“That’s a shame,” Callum said, “I would have loved to have known what our first project was.”
Sara was still struggling with her mental blockage. Her hand was rhythmically patting the juice from her lap with a damp tissue but her consciousness was desperate to rebel. She found herself unable to utter a word of anything negative against Calox, and was beginning to wonder if she had suddenly found her conscience.
“Me too,” Devin agreed solemnly.
She was wincing with pain now, unable to hide the agony she was experiencing. She could feel the blockage falling away as she dropped the tissue onto her thigh and squeezed her eyes tightly shut. She could feel her thoughts clearing, as if a huge fog was being flown out of her mind so that it was clear again.
“Sara?” asked Erika worriedly.
Sara jumped and the blockage reformed. Scowling, she glared down at her lap. Her trousers were stained slightly orange and felt cold and sticky against her legs. She nodded down at them as if offering an explanation.
“I spilt the juice,” she said softly, “It’s freezing cold and really uncomfortable.”
Erika laughed at her: “Go and change then!”
Standing up, Sara left the hall to make her way back to the cabin. Hopefully, the silence would help her to get back to the crucial point in her mind where she could begin to hear her own thoughts. Something was wrong with her and she was desperate to know what it was.
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...