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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12. Chapter 11

 

Sara still wasn’t sure what Eva had meant. She had no idea what game she referred to but had some sort of unavoidable urge to find out. She was convinced that there was a routine behind every challenge, some sort of solvable puzzle, and considered that Eva’s meaning was related to how she had solved the obstacle course.
   “Sara, are you alright?” Jay asked, worriedly, “You look vague.”
   As if shaking out the dilemma that consumed her, Sara shook her head from side to side. Then she smiled innocently at the boy facing her, nodded once, and tried to forget about the riddle forming before her. It was her final week of training and she knew that she would be getting her first dose of freedom for years in just seven days’ time but she didn’t feel excited. She wasn’t even considering escape anymore – none of them were – as instead they had been convinced that bringing down Justice would solve everything.
   “I’ll be fine, Jay,” Sara responded, upon realising that she hadn’t spoken, “I’m just feeling a little run down. Are the others asleep?”
   Jay opened the cabin door and peeked inside.
   “Yes,” he replied, “They’re all snoring.”
   Sara smiled. It was pleasant that the guards had decided to trust them enough to leave the cabin doors open. At first, she assumed that they had made a mistake, but after the third night she had crept over to it and sneaked outside. The guards had noticed her sat on the grass but had said nothing, merely continuing their patrol as if she wasn’t even there.
   “We really should sleep too,” Sara said quietly.
   Jay shook his head: “I can’t sleep tonight. I feel too weird.”
   “Weird?” Sara repeated.
   “Yeah,” Jay said uncertainly, “I feel so reluctant to escape now. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me; I was determined to get away from Calox but now I want to side with them.”
   His silence was tense, so Sara added: “I know how you feel.”
   Jay looked up hopefully, his eyes searching for any untruth in hers before he broke into a grin. His claws extended like razor sharp fingernails and he began to pick at the ground, chipping rocks from the hard soil. He had thought he was alone, weak for trusting Calox, and a coward for not escaping sooner. The knowledge that Sara, the girl he’d come to look up to, was experiencing the same sort of fear made him feel less pathetic.
   “I thought that I was an idiot for feeling that way,” Jay confessed quietly, “I thought I should be wiser because I’m older, and my dedication to Calox was wrong.”
   Sara patted his shoulder gently, “You’re not an idiot, Jay. You’re just working out where your loyalties lie.”

*

Anastasia and Ford had been called to the base to see what the Leader had described as the ‘fruits of their labour’. The journey was long and the terrain was rough but they were delighted to see the beginning of Calox’s plan take shape. When they entered the tall gates, the guards met them with identity passes and card keys for the offices located within the main building. They were both offered quad bikes on which to travel back and forth between the main building and the training cabins.
   “Welcome,” the Leader was waiting for them in the reception, “I have narrowed down the hybrids I was given, leaving a smaller selection of just seventy five to the Alpha Team.”
   Eva appeared from behind him: “Here’s the list of the remaining hybrids.”
   Ford took the list, sighed with relief when he saw Sara’s name, and then handed the sheet over to Anastasia. The names meant nothing to her so she paid them very little attention. Instead, her eyes focused on the second column which contained the DNA sample used and the effect it had. Her eyes widened at some of the results and she found herself nodding in approval at the Leader’s choices.
   “They sound like an impressive bunch,” Anastasia said warmly.
   The Leader smiled brightly: “I can assure you that they are.”
   Ford felt out of place and chose not to make a comment. He was exhausted after the long drive and longed only to collapse within the folds of his duvet. The hybrids were not his concern. He felt no obligation to meet them personally and watch over their progress with the Justice factories, although he knew in his heart that the Leader would be disgusted his lack of interest. Despite this, he was praying for the missions to be a success. He loved working with new technology in a professional laboratory with Calox; however, he wished that one day he could go back to a less controversial position.
   “Would you mind if I rest and then browse the hybrids during dinner?” Ford asked, biting his lip anxiously.
   “No, not at all,” the Leader showed no trace of his annoyance, “The hybrids will be in food hall at six in the evening. The guards will show you the way after your rest.”
   Ford smiled appreciatively, “Thank you.”
   He examined the number on his card key for a moment before stepping around the Leader and calling the elevator. When the doors finally opened, there was a lone guard stood where an empty space should be. From his pocket, he pulled a small, shining revolver and aimed it at Ford’s head. Before he could react, the guard had his finger on the trigger and a loud bang echoed through the room. Anastasia flinched as Ford’s lifeless body collapsed onto the carpet. The Leader did not show any emotion at the sight of the corpse staining the floor but walked over to it to ensure that the deed was truly done.
   A small bullet hole had been made in the centre of Ford’s forehead, leaving a trail of crimson liquid flowing out and into his hair. Still expressionless, he stepped over the body and gestured for Anastasia to accompany him in the elevator. She scurried to his side, selecting her floor from the panel on her right, keeping her eyes fixed firmly on the ceiling.
   “Ford was having doubts about Calox,” the Leader explained, “I do not like people who forget their place within the company. We’re a business, ready to take back our planet, and so we only need those willing to stand with us until the end.”
   Anastasia thought over this, before answering: “I agree entirely.”

*

The guards knew that something was going on. Ever since the Leader had given the order to leave the cabins unlocked overnight, there had been a distinct tension looming over each and every one of them. They had been surprised when none of the hybrids had tried to escape. They had been even more surprised that they hadn’t been attacked by any of the more violent hybrids; it agonised them to admit that – in the event of an attack – many of the guards would be useless without their weapons. The Leader had told them to stop carrying those too.
   It was all highly confusing. They could not understand why the hybrids were suddenly so eager to obey the instructions of Calox, but at least it saved them a lot of work. Besides, their job wasn’t to ask questions – it was to keep the hybrids in and do what the Leader told them too. However, the younger guards were more curious.
   “I think there’s something we don’t know,” one said.
   Another nodded in delight, “I think so too. The Leader’s hiding something from us.”
   “Uh huh,” the first replied, “The hybrids are so compliant.”
   “Too compliant,” the second muttered darkly.
   A third guard slammed his fist down on the table that was stood between them. He was one of the oldest guards and knew better than to make up conspiracies, especially against someone who had authority.
   “That’s enough,” he roared at them, “No more talk like that.”
   The two guards looked away like guilty children, taking sudden interests in their shoelaces or the zips on their jacket. No one spoke for what felt like an hour but the atmosphere that settled in the silence was thick and uncomfortable for everyone trapped within it.
   “Right,” the third guard snarled, “The Leader will do what he wants to do and who are we to go asking about it? Do your job or lose it.”
   With that, he left the table to go for a walk. He needed to clear his head. It was frightening to think that something sinister was really being hidden from them, and now the others had begun to notice. He refused to question the Leader; his wages were keeping his family alive and well, although he was desperate to know what had brought the waves of serenity over the hybrids.

*

Week six was by the far the most testing. Sara found herself lying on the floor, her chest heaving as she tried to recover the oxygen she had lost. Her lip was swollen and she could taste the sickening tinge of copper in her mouth. She spat out the blood onto the ground beside her and winced with the pain it caused her. Her eyes tried to close but she wouldn’t let them – she couldn’t let the darkness take her, and so she got to her feet and staggered over to the course.
   “Why is it always me?” Sara grumbled.
   All around her were advancing machines wielding crowbars and baseball bats. Eva was still lingering like a fly, buzzing in her ears with her snide remarks. Her aim was to render all of the machines useless in any way she could, but so far all she’d managed was to painfully receive a baseball bat to the jaw.
   “Go on, Sara,” Erika cheered from the side-lines, “You can do it!”
   “Yeah,” Devin shouted, “I know you can!”
   The sound of her friends cheering her on brought her some warmth. She ran into the middle of the advancing machines and snatched at a crowbar. She clung to it with all of her might, wrestling it from the lifeless metal fingers of her opponent. Unaware of her shouts of desperation, she managed to pull the bar free and swing it viciously into the side of the machine’s head. It crumbled onto the floor, littering sparks into the grass.
   Sara wasted no time in swinging at the second machine, however she hadn’t prepared for what she would do if it snatched the bar from her. Stunned as it lifted the metal from her grip, she dived after the object it had dropped: a baseball bat. The machine brought the crowbar down onto her exposure shoulders and she cried out, becoming flat on the ground again. She reached out for the baseball bat, raising it up as she tried to stand. She saw the machine move and knew that the crowbar was about to strike her again.
   “No,” she whispered, smashing into it with the baseball bat.
   She heard Eva gasp in shock as she witnessed her terrifying escape from the attack. She’d moved at an inhuman speed and was forcing the machine’s arm backwards until the crowbar fell uselessly from its broken hand. Sara smiled triumphantly and snatched at the weapon, ready to destroy the remaining machines that were advancing all around her.
   “Go for it,” Callum cheered, “They’re behind you!”
   Sara turned just in time to stop the machine battering her with something that resembled a barrel of a gun. She didn’t care exactly what it was, her mind just registered that it was thick and metal, so she should get out of the way. She dived to one side, but this machine was faster and blocked her path, throwing the weapon towards her. She managed to duck out of its flight path but it skimmed the top of her head, throwing her hair over to one side of her head. A sigh of relief escaped her lips before she lashed out with her bat, taking its head clean off.
   “Home run,” she exclaimed in a delighted tone.
   Her friends laughed before pointing out the final machine. It was larger, faster, and stronger than all of the others, and was brandishing four weapons – one for each of its long, bulky arms. Sara tried to swallow the lump that formed in her throat at the sight of it but found herself suffocating. The machine attacked, smashing the side of her head with a bat. She was tossed to the side, crying out in agony, but the machine did not stop.
   Eva was startled. She’d frozen completely solid, willing for the girl to get back on her feet. She nearly joined the other four hybrids that were trying to spur her on but remembered her place within Calox; the Leader would see her actions as highly inappropriate. She remained rooted to the spot, watching in horror as the machine moved in for the kill.
   “Move, Sara!” Erika screamed, “Now!”
   Sara missed the second blow by a matter of nanoseconds. She felt the breeze from the concrete bar as it swept past her face at a frightening speed. She had dived onto the floor to escape it but had made herself even more vulnerable. The machine loomed over her and brought a wooden bat down into her stomach; she kicked at it as she cried out with the pain. The machine was thrown backwards for a moment but soon charged after her on its human-like legs. Sara was helpless.
   “Move out of the way!” Devin shrieked.
   Sara rolled across the floor but the machine was ready and pinned her between its two legs, ready to batter her with all four of its weapons. She blocked her face with arms and then remembered the bat she was clutching. She thrust it up into the face of the machine, swinging her arms wildly in an attempt to free herself. The machine’s head flicked backwards and a wire was severed. It collapsed onto her in a heap of scrap metal, crushing her chest.
   She moaned with pain, “Someone h-help me up.”
   Devin rushed over to her side and pulled her out from under the wreckage, holding her in his arms as she gasped for air. She was covered in blood, badly bruised, and breathing heavily. Devin blew the hair out of her eyes softly but refused to give her to any of the others; she was exhausted and he was the one to look after her.
   “Okay, guys,” Devin said, taking charge for the first time, “Who wants to go next?” 

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