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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11. Chapter 10

 

Two weeks had passed since Ruby had been declared dead. No one had truly been given time to grieve over her, and so they had hidden their feelings in order to get the training done. There were distinct physical changes now visible in each of them. Callum bore a scar just above his wrist from a fight with one of the other boys, and they had all increased in fitness, forming defined muscles and a flat stomach.
   Sara had changed the most. Her eyes were sharp and glossy, like an eagle’s, and her wings had grown slightly and become a lot stronger than they were. She had taken on Erika’s position as leader within the group and had therefore suppressed her emotions the most, making her calm and collected and the figure of authority amongst the five. In nothing more than fourteen days, Sara had grown up.
   “You first,” she ordered, jabbing a finger in the direction of the climbing wall.
   Devin was sulking but followed her instruction all the same by scurrying over to the wall and placing his feet in the footholds as carefully as he could. Sara nodded encouragingly and kept a close watch on his weight distribution. One false move could send him plummeting to the ground and so her wings were extended just in case she had to swoop in for a rescue.
   Devin looked confident as he scaled the wall, more than glad to be rid of the harness he had been practising with. As secure as it was, it was restricting, and the cables always seemed to get in the way. Finally, it was just him and the wall, running parallel to each other and connected only by his feet and hands. The wind rushed past him from the west and one foot slipped, but he’d been expected it and hauled his weight up to the next set of footholds.
   “You’re next,” Sara told Callum who was bouncing from foot to foot and desperate to catch up with his brother.
   “Awesome,” Callum said brightly, “I’ll beat him!”
   The guards overlooking the exercise glanced down at the stopwatch they were holding between them. Devin’s time was good – better than anything they could achieve – but they still couldn’t help but snigger whenever he lost his footing. The others ignored them, determined to get the best time they could without being distracted by petty insults.
   Just as Devin reached the top of the wall, the guard slammed the button down on the stopwatch, recorded the time – one minute and twenty six seconds – and reset it just as Callum ran at the wall. He lived up to his earlier promise and beat his brother but only by four and a half seconds. Next went Jay who made deep slashes through the wood as he used purely his claws to scale the vertical obstacle in a record time of one minute and one second. Rolling her eyes, Erika started her climb only to achieve the same time as Devin, leaving Sara alone on the ground.
   “Go,” the others demanded, perched on the top of the wall.
   Sara ran at the wall, head down and arms pinned tightly against her chest. If Jay could use his abilities to cheat, so could she. With as much strength as she could muster, she took flight and soared high above the wall, and closed her eyes tightly. She stopped flapping the wings stirring up the air on either side of her and fell into the little platform that the others were sat on. Jay scowled at her and mouthed the word ‘cheat’.
   “What’s my time?” Sara yelled down at the guards.
   “Thirty one seconds,” the guards replied, “But you had an unfair advantage.”
   Sara didn’t reply. Instead she stood on the edge of the platform and leaned back into nothingness. It was quite a dramatic scene as she began her free-fall towards the ground and spread her wings at the last minute to slow her descent. With a smile, she landed neatly on the grassy floor, and looked happily up at the others. They grinned back at her and began their own climbs down to meet her at the bottom.
   “What’s next?” Callum asked the guards as he wiped his hands on his trousers.
   The guards checked the list which was secured to a black leather clipboard: “It’s a run around the perimeter. You need to do eight laps, which is sixteen miles.”
   Jay groaned. He hated running and the others knew it, all keeping as far from him as possible. Erika had sworn to tear out his tongue if he didn’t stop complaining, but even that threat didn’t stop him.  As they began their repetitive route around the perimeter, one of the guards leapt onto a quad bike, wielding a taser as he followed them. None of the hybrids even bothered to try an escape so their pursuit was pointless; most of them had decided that Calox’s plan was a good idea after all and were complying as much as they could.
   “I can’t believe this,” Jay moaned as he ran beside Callum, “This is stupid.”
   Callum was quick to retort, “You’re stupid.”
   He chuckled and raced ahead, thinking that he’d rather tire more quickly than be stuck listening to him. Sara was already quite a way ahead, but still unable to catch up to Devin who was incredibly fast. She found the run mediocre, as the ground was too damp for her to fully enjoy herself, even though she still found the course relaxing. The sixteen miles went in a blur as she spent most of them lost in her own thoughts of heroic scenes: breaking into factories, destroying machines, and watching her family go to job interviews. The thought warmed her from the inside out but it soon faded when she slowed to a halt behind Devin, with Callum hot on her heels.
   “That was draining,” Devin said, bending down to touch his toes, “But I feel revitalised.
   Sara laughed at his choice of vocabulary but made no responding comment at risk of offending the boy, who was scratching his tail with an irritated expression on his face. The two brothers shared a bottle of water which was handed out by the guard who had recently parked the quad bike. Sara was handed the second one, and then Erika was given a third as she staggered uneasily over the finishing line. Jay was a mere speck in the distance.

*

The Leader looked over the third week of training results with a sinister smirk. He was delighted with the hybrids’ progress so far and knew that their final couple of weeks would really distinguish the best from the slightly above average. He found that hybrids learned more quickly than regular humans, and so his Alpha team would be dispatched after six weeks of training on their first mission, to test their loyalty as well as their ability to function under pressure.
   “Eva,” he snapped into a phone, “I need you to come over to my facility and help me judge the hybrids for next fortnight.”
   “I cannot leave the trainees in my own facility,” she replied weakly.
   The Leader replied at once, “The guards will care for them.”
   “Fine,” Eva knew that any argument from this point onwards was a waste of her time, and so she hung up the phone and flung it to the side.
   In his office, the Leader smiled down at the phone and placed it gently onto his desk. He expected Eva’s arrival to be as prompt as possible, and knew that her keen eye would pick out any faults with the hybrids. He wanted there to be no mistakes at this stage, especially whilst he was filtering out everyone and anyone who wasn’t good enough, no matter what useful alterations that they had.
   Grimacing, he slammed his laptop shut and looked over the training schedules for the next few days. His eyes were framed by dark shadows after working late into the night to arrange the perfect exercises for every hybrid. He wanted to ensure that they were all thoroughly challenged so that their strengths and weaknesses were available for evaluation. The one thing he hadn’t expected to encounter was the amount of initiative the hybrids shared.

*

The fifth week was very much the same as the last four. The presence of Eva was unnerving to many of the hybrids; however, everyone was doing what they could to ignore her. Eva smiled sweetly at the sight of Sara, Devin, and Callum, making them all shudder in repulsion. A part of her was delighted that had not been removed from the facility. For some reason, she found herself desperate to make them succeed.
   “Miss Worthington,” Eva greeted as sincerely as she could.
   Sara nodded curtly as they passed, hoping to just get on with the training rather than stand with the woman who’d kept her enclosed. Luckily, Eva made no attempt to continue the conversation, and let her pass without a second glance. Following Sara, Callum glared menacingly at Eva before racing over to the activity which was a rope swing through an obstacle course. 
   Erika went first and received a painful rope burn as she failed to hold her weight. She grunted with the sting but refused to give up, powerfully throwing herself up onto the first obstacle. The damp air was cold in her mouth as she panted. All she could smell was the rubber from the tires she was stood on which burnt her nose as she inhaled. Then she dived to the second rope, swinging through the air and colliding with the second obstacle. Wincing, she clung onto it, her eyes squeezed shut. Out of all of the training exercises, this was the worst. Erika struggled through ropes three, four, and five, but slipped from rope six into a muddy puddle of water that had accumulated under the obstacle: a pile of damp logs. The water went up to her shoulders and she shook uncontrollably with the chill of it, carefully wading over the side and rolling out onto the grass.
   “Erika,” Sara cried from the start of the course, “Get up! Keep going!”
   Erika shook her head, ready to give up, and then looked up at the logs towering above her. She could climb them from this angle and could then leap over to the next obstacle without any difficulties. Grinning with newfound confidence, she hauled herself up the logs and then dropped into a crouching position; she was ready to spring onto the net positioned a few metres away. As she jumped, she caught a glimpse of Eva watching her through the net. She landed the jump perfectly, letting herself consume the momentary shock of achievement that overcame her.
   “Ha,” Erika muttered triumphantly.
   She reached for the rope dangling less than a metre from her and pounced from the net. She swung hazardously through the air but managed to propel her weight away from the rope as it approached the final obstacle. Her ribs still made impact with the heavy steel box but she was able to cling to the top by her fingertips and heave her weight onto it.
   Her pride was clear to see as she stood tall on the top surface of the steel box, punching the air with delight. She beckoned to Jay who was tapping his foot impatiently at the beginning of the course.
   “C’mon, Jay,” she called to him, “If you think you’re so great, you do it better!”
   She felt mischievous by teasing him but the torment was enough for him to charge headfirst into the challenge, making an even bigger mess of it than she had. He also fell into the water, curling into a ball at the last possible second to become submerged in the murky liquid. Erika roared with laughter when he resurfaced, gasping from the sudden cold with an evil glare in his eyes.
   A shadow of determination shaded his face as he charged like a raging bull at the net, throwing himself into it whilst making a sound similar to a battle cry. He wasted no time in diving for the next rope and clambering clumsily onto the box to join Jay. He shot her an apologetic look, feeling guilty for underestimating the task.
   “Sara,” Erika called out, “You’re next.”
   For a split second, Sara was tempted to simply fly over the course and join them on the box without another thought. Then it dawned on her that Eva was still watching, judging her every move and every decision, and so she didn’t even use her wings. Instead, she ran to the side of the first obstacle and climbed onto it in order to be in the perfect position to swing over to the second. She looked up and caught Eva’s eye, and she smiled knowingly.
   “Keep going,” Eva mumbled under her breath.
   Sara leapt onto the third obstacle, flapping her wings to guarantee the rope would swing far enough to make contact with the forth. The fifth obstacle was extraordinarily easy; she even managed to manoeuvre her way over the water without getting soaked. Her journey to the net was by far the easiest and she found herself gliding over to the steel box with little effort, glad to be held steady by Jay.
   Eva was stood behind the box, still wielding her clipboard and rose up onto her tiptoes. Sara bent down into a crouching position, staring into her cold eyes with as little emotion as she could. Eva smiled; her lips formed a pale line.
   “It seems that you know our game,” she said simply. 

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