Wings

{Shortlisted for the Sony Young Movellist of the Year 2013! - DUE TO BE EDITED}

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 children to take part in scientific trials run by the organisation called Calox.

Except no one ever gets the money.

No one is ever seen again once they've volunteered for the trials.

---- Copyright © 2014 Danielle Paige. All rights reserved.

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2. Chapter 1

 

The building had originally been a prison and the company that had bought it had sustained many of its original features, such as the cramped cells, the high-tech surveillance system, and the army of ominously armed guards. Some of the cells had fallen into a state of disrepair, with poorly painted walls and rusted bars adding to the eerie atmosphere. All that could be heard was the shallow breathing of the prison’s occupants and the rhythmic footfall getting closer and closer to cell four hundred and one.
   The door creaked open noisily, waking the man lurking in the corner of the cell. His breathing accelerated as he saw Eric; the rise and fall of his chest was clearly visible through his thin linen shirt. Eric lifted a syringe from the pocket of his white laboratory jacket along with a small vial of murky grey fluid. He stabbed the needle through the lid of the vial and smiled as the liquid seeped into the syringe.
   “Come here,” Eric ordered, his voice echoed through the cell, “Now.
   The man moved from the shadows and looked over Eric’s shoulder at the two guards who were stood menacingly on either side of the door. Escape was impossible, and so Eric advanced on the man with the needle. Upon approach, Eric took a video recorder from his other pocket and positioned it in a small hole in the wall.
   “Come here,” Eric repeated, “Stay within range of the camera.”
   The man took a step forward and held out his arm to Eric, he was trembling helplessly, with beads of sweat glistening on his forehead. In a single, ruthless motion, Eric slipped the needle under the man’s skin and – ignoring his cry of pain – forced the fluid into his bloodstream. Then he stood back to watch the effects of the serum, and these effects began extremely quickly.
   First, the man began to groan in pain, before collapsing to his knees. Then his eyes became bloodshot, looking grotesque against his paling skin. The man scratched at his own flesh, leaving pink marks along his arm, which – after another few seconds – began to bleed. Eric seemed mesmerised by the man who had flopped forwards and started to convulse on the floor. His body pulsed helplessly against the cold concrete ground, his cries getting louder and more haunting with each passing minute.
   “Cell four hundred and one, the subject has been exposed to strand twelve of leopard DNA.” Eric reported to the camera, “This strand has been rejected by the subject, resulting in numerous side effects.”
   Eric reached for the camera, carefully angling the lens at the man on the floor to record each of his bizarre symptoms. The man paid him no attention, preoccupied with the urge to rip his skin from his body with his fingernails. The blood was beginning to form a small pool beneath the man’s body, continuously growing with each drop that fell from his arms, neck and torso. Then Eric reached out of the cell and pulled in a small machine with a flashing screen and a bundle of cascading wires. He untangled two of the wires and connected small grey pads to the ends, before pressing them to the man’s chest.
   “The subject appears to have an accelerated heart rate, although it is unclear as to whether it has been caused from anxiety or from the strand itself.” Eric said.
   He continued to watch as the man’s back arched up, his hands clawing at the floor. He slipped in his own blood, falling onto his side and whining in agony. There were deep marks in his chest, many of which were still bleeding. His shirt was torn and hung limply from his tiny waist, dangling into the puddle of crimson. The man coughed hoarsely, spitting a mouthful of blood out and onto the floor, only adding to the mess that was already present.
   “H-help me...” he croaked, “P-p-please.”
   Eric watched the man and for a fraction of a second, his eyes seemed pitiful, but as quickly as it was there, it had gone. He looked away from the man at the monitor, showing the heart rate that was dropping severely. Eric knew what was going to happen next, after all, he’d seen it a hundred times already – maybe more. The subject was dying, completing the final stage in the rejection process. He turned the camera away from the man who was now lying flat on the floor, gasping loudly.
   “The subject has a heart rate of thirteen beats per minute,” Eric stated, looking into the lens of the video camera that he held at arm’s length, “Now ten... eight... four... the subject has fully rejected strand twelve, and is therefore deceased.”
   Furiously, Eric snapped the video camera shut, ending the recording. He would have to review it again later and write a ten page report on his lack of findings. He’d seen all of the man’s symptoms before in other subjects, but he would be able to document how much more quickly the strand had affected the subject. Disheartened, Eric left the cell, and barked a single command at one of the waiting security guards:
   “Get rid of it.”

*

There was a separate building located behind the prison, that was easily accessible by foot. However, it was surrounded by thick fences, topped with sinister looking barbed wire and multiple security cameras. There were many guards patrolling the perimeter of the building, all of which were cradling machine guns. Some had ammunition strapped across their chest in the shape of an X, wearing vicious scars on their visible flesh like accessories.
   There were two steel gates marking the entrance to the building. These were heavily guarded and held shut by bulky padlocks that glinted gently in the dying sunlight. It was late in the evening when Anastasia Hallow held up her security pass to the guards and waited outside the gates. She looked up at the falling sun with a smile; she had nyctophilia – preferring the night to the daytime. The darkness helped her to relax, and so she worked through the night in her laboratory.
   “Miss Hallow,” the guard grunted, “Welcome back.”
   Anastasia said nothing; she pushed past the guard and continued along the concrete path until she reached the doors of the building. She rummaged in her purse for a moment, her fingers settling on a slim piece of plastic which she slid through the card reader. After registering that her key card was real, the lock clicked and the door slid open. Instantly, she was hit with the sting of sterilised air against her cold nostrils, but she did not react. She stepped through the door and closed it behind her, hearing it lock.
   “Anastasia Hallow,” another guard smiled warmly at her, “You know the drill.”
   With a sigh, Anastasia handed the guard her purse and her jacket. He searched through both of them before resting them onto a small conveyor belt to the left. The guard stepped forwards, running his hands over her arms and shoulders, along her sides, and down her legs. He then patted all of her pockets, checking for anything else that Anastasia might be bringing in with her.
   “It’s only procedure,” the guard said as she began tapping her foot impatiently.
   “I know,” she replied softly, “It just takes so damn long.”
   The guard laughed and handed back her purse and jacket. Then he gestured to the small glass chamber ahead. Behind it were two bulletproof glass doors that could only be opened once inside the chamber, which sprayed its occupant with steriliser, before allowing them access to the rest of the building. Anastasia underwent this process without further complaint, knowing that it was part of her job to ensure pollutants did not get into any of the laboratories.
   The interior of the building was mostly white with small lights embedded into the ceiling. Anastasia’s slightly heeled shoes echoed loudly on the tiled floor, slicing through the silence of the building. She passed many doors, all of which were labelled with a different number. Some also had names of the Professors who worked in the rooms, but these were rare. Anastasia’s laboratory did have her name on it, and was at the very end of the west wing of the building. It was room thirty eight, and was a lot larger than many of the other laboratories. She fumbled with her keys and unlocked the door.
   “Home, sweet home,” she muttered to herself.
   She tossed her coat carelessly onto one of the many desks laid out before her. Her purse landed next to it after being discarded from her. On the front desk, lots of Petri dishes were piled up, each containing bizarre gels and liquids – labelled with letters and numbers rather than actual words. Next to the piles was a blue folder which was the subject of Anastasia’s attention. She ran her finger down the page it fell open on, looking for her next assignment.
   “Eagle,” she said calmly, “Interesting.”
   Next to the word ‘eagle’ was a series of letters and numbers that needed to be matched to one of the many samples being stored in the cupboard at the side of the room. She made her way over to it, finding the matching sample within seconds and taking it to her main desk. There was already a microscope set up, left from the night before, and a small selection of chemicals and equipment.
   From her desk, she picked up a video camera and set it up on a tripod on her right. Clearing her throat loudly, she opened the sample, and held it out for the camera to record. She used her other hand to press a small silver button on the underside of the camera, starting the recording process.
   “Sample of avian genes, specifically from a bald eagle,” she addressed the camera as if it was real person, “The intention is for subject to have an increase in speed and agility.”
   Anastasia set to work on the DNA, sliding the sample under the microscope. She zoomed in as far as she could, before gently focusing in on the nucleus of the stem cell she’d selected. She released a small sample of enzymes into the nucleus, hoping that they would isolate the gene she needed. She had always been given a selection of cells to work on from whatever species was required, trying to extract the finest attributes of the animal, and make them suitable for combining with human DNA.
   “Extracting the DNA,” she didn’t even look at the camera when she spoke.
   She worked quickly with a sense of confidence that she could only harness in the confines of her laboratory. Her hands skimmed over the equipment around her with ease, and she quickly constructed a small apparatus to help her work, before sliding a thin strip of metal into the cell. Cautiously, she lowered a stain into to end of the strip, colouring the extracted genetic material a dark blue. Then she reached for a small phone hooked to the wall.
   “Anastasia Hallow, laboratory thirty eight,” she paused, waiting for the reply of whoever had answered her call, “The eagle DNA will be ready for alteration within the hour.”

*

It was fifty six minutes after Anastasia’s call that the pick-up team had delivered the blue sample to laboratory one – which was under the ownership of someone known simply as Ford. He had been found in a burnt out Ford Cosworth in a lonely field in the countryside, more than twenty miles away from any sort of village, town, or city. When he was found, the ambulance staff had concluded he was less than forty-eight hours old, and had probably been born in the car before it was set on fire. In any case, Ford shouldn’t have survived, but he had.
   “Mr Ford, sir.” The head of the pick-up team, Isaac Walters, was the one who addressed him.
   “Yes, what is it?” Ford snapped impatiently, already preparing a microscope under which to examine the small sample.
   Isaac looked a little annoyed: “Is there anything else you need, sir? The cell number of the next subject, perhaps?”
   Ford didn’t even give Isaac a verbal answer. Instead, he shook his head impatiently, and continued to observe the tiny blue dot supported on a glass platform under the microscope. Isaac threw a last glare at Ford before turning abruptly on his heel and signalling for his two associates to leave the laboratory. The moment the door closed, Ford was away from the microscope and had his ear pressed to a phone.
   “It’s Ford,” he said quickly, “I need a new subject ready for strand seventy of avian.”
   A cold, female voice replied: “We have one ready for you, Ford. Ensure that Eric takes it to cell two hundred and twenty six.”
   Ford reached for the small black mouse connected to the sleek computer system stretched out along his desk, and selected the cell that had been assigned to the strand beside him. His eyes widened in shock as he read a little about the occupant of the cell.
   “She’s a child,” Ford whispered, “I thought children were to be left until we were sure that the strands worked.”
   The woman answered instantly, “I’m sick of failures, Ford. What if the elderly, although good lab rats, are too weak to handle the new DNA? We need younger, fitter people to test our samples on, or we could miss opportunities.”
   “Listen here,” Ford snarled, “We agreed that, until an elderly subject accepted the alterations, the children would remain in our care without being experimented on.”
   “You know your place,” the woman’s voice had escalated into a warning, “We will use this sample on the girl in cell two hundred and twenty six, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll keep trying. It’s not as though we’re short on subjects, Ford. If anything, we’re short on cells to keep our subjects in.”
   “People are desperate for the money we offer,” Ford retorted, “You know the only reason we have subjects at all is because people are suffering so much they have to sell off their own family members for our so called research.”
   There was a short pause before the woman spoke: “So what if we are benefiting from society’s failure? You’re either with me or against me, Ford, and you know what happens to people who are against me.”
   Ford froze, if he spoke up now, he’d be signing his own death warrant.
   “I will administer the serum to the child myself.” Ford said reluctantly.
   “Good,” the woman replied, her voice softening, “I expect to hear from you soon.”
   And with that, the line went dead, and Ford was left alone with his conscience. He forced away the instinct to destroy the tiny speck of blue, ink-stained DNA on the microscope, and instead began the complex task of creating an appropriate serum. After all, he knew that a child’s life could depend on the accuracy of the fluid he was about to produce. He reached for a volumetric pipette and a small glass bottle of clear fluid, and began his work. Drop by drop, Ford created the serum, still feeling disheartened about who it would be tested on. 

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