{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.


18. Chapter 17


The road was made of red stone which crumbled under the thick tyres of the quad bikes and expelled spirals of dust into the air around the hybrids. Devin, Sara, and Eva slowed to a halt, signalling for the others to stop. There was a small cavern, half concealed by a fallen tree, with an opening large enough to hide the quads inside. They drove in, met only by the eerie blackness of the unwelcoming shadows.
   “Here’s a good place,” Sara said, blinking rapidly, “we could hide for a while and wait it out.”
   “And live on what, exactly?” Eva retorted, snorting loudly, “Because us humans need the basic essentials – food and water, that kind of thing.”
   Sara ignored her and rummaged through one of the satchels left on the quad bikes. It contained a small about of ammunition and a spare gun, as well as a box of flares, a water bottle, and some rope – like a survival pack. She found it infuriating that they were so out of their depth, running from an enemy that always seemed to be one step ahead, with a tag-a-long, Eva, who could be ready to betray them. Was it a lapse of judgement to bring her? Sara wasn’t sure, but she was doubting herself, and that in itself was dangerous.
   In a way, she was finifugal – trying to prolong the journey for as long as she could out of fear of it ending. She hated endings, especially those that resulted in death. She rolled a flare between her fingers, glancing over her shoulder at her friends. Friends, trustworthy people who were relying purely on her guidance, all around her. She smiled reassuringly at them out of appendence, an eager desire to keep them in high hopes.
   “Devin, take Jay and go into the cave,” Sara ordered, tossing him the flare, “If it hasn’t ended before the flare begins to go out, come back and let us know.”
   “Sure thing,” Jay said, poking Devin in an attempt to make him stand up, “We’ll be back before you know it.”
   No one was sure whether or not that was a good thing, but their worries were interrupted by the crack of the flare and the insistent hissing as it ignited – illuminating the cave. It was only a matter of minutes before both of the boys had vanished into the darkness, leaving Callum alone with the three girls. The bottle of water was passed around after Eva insisted that it wasn’t drugged, leaving enough for Devin and Jay. Sara slung the rope over one shoulder so that it fell across her body, over her head, and down to her waist in loops; she knew that it could be useful to her.
   “Sara!” a cry came from deep within the cave, “hurry!”
   Sara pushed Eva first into the inky blackness before igniting a second flare. She broke into a run, keeping one eye on the winding mass of rocky tunnels and the other on Eva. Luckily, it wasn’t long before they caught up to the boys who were stood in a small opening. Their flare had burned out and hung limply in Jay’s left hand, but there were small oil lamps surrounding them. Sara stumbled forwards, dazed by their discovery.
   “Ruby?” Sara whispered in shock.


Inside the cell, Ruby stirred. She waved a hand in front of her face to check her vision, shocked by the way it seemed to appear and disappear. What had happened? Why did her hand vanish as if it didn’t exist? She blinked rapidly and clutched at her head. There was a rough scab under her fringe that had been damaged slightly by the harsh floor, leaving small droplets of crimson on her fingertips. It vanished with her hand as she continued to wave it across her line of sight. Of course, her power! She focused, fighting back the burning feeling in her head as she did so, and disappeared completely.
   “Ruby?” the speaker was familiar, but she couldn’t move to look.
   She opened her mouth to reply but her throat was dry and sore. There was dirt on her lips and her tongue felt like sandpaper against the roof of her mouth. She swallowed, grunting as a sharp pain responded to the motion, and fell back against the ground. Only her head and her lower arms could move, but even that required more energy than she had. It was only a matter of time before she was consumed by the wave of unconsciousness again.
   “Ruby, is that you?” the voice said again.
   The sound of fingernails scratching at the lock met her ears. She twitched, trying to muster the strength to roll over. The mystery was destroying her – the knowledge that she would know the speaker if only she could see their face. She groaned, trying to salivate. Anything that could help her to discover the identity of whoever had found her.
   “Use your claws,” the voice said, “yes, on the lock, just like that.”
   There was a clash as the heavy steel fell forwards, straight towards her rescuers. They must have moved as Ruby could hear the shuffling of feet and then someone clambering over the gate to get to her. A hand pressed against her shoulder and a wavy lock of brown hair fell in front of her face.
   “She’s weak,” the person continued, “could any of you carry her? It’s too narrow for me to fly in here, and I’m not as strong on foot.”

Flight – of course! It was Sara from the compound, before she had been taken. Yes, taken. She remembered now how she was driven away in the back of a van, paralysed by something that had been injected into her arm. She winced at the memory and glanced at the ugly bruise that had appeared; it was clearly the result of a blunt needle. Suddenly, she was bundled into the arms of a male. They were strong, with naked arms dotted with blonde hairs and grotesque claws protruding from their fingertips. Whoever it was, they were careful to keep the deadly mutations away from her flesh, so she was able to relax. She closed her eyes for a moment but could still see the outline of the claws in her mind’s eye, taking her back to the compound where she’d stared into the face of a smiling boy. She remembered him – Jay, one of her friends.
   “J…” she tried to speak, but her voice was raspy and broken.
   “Don’t speak,” he insisted, “save your strength – you might need it.”
   There was a clear meaning behind his words, undetectable by all but those who had faced betrayal. She shook her head senseless, searching for an answer to a question she didn’t even know. She could remember snippets of her life, as if she had only seen photographs of someone else’s life, and was trying to fill in the gaps.
   “There’s many,” a voice interrupted her – Sara’s, she knew it – who continued to speak: “they’re everywhere. There’s no way that we could…”
   “Save them all,” Jay finished slowly with a hint of regret in his tone.
   A pair of boys, extremely similar to one another came into view. The twins – Callum and Devin! She remembered them, with their tiny lion’s ears poking out through their messy hair. Next was Erika, with her gills, who brought back memories of an icy lake with the Leader of Calox waiting for them to exhaust themselves. They were being trained to go up against Justice. She could see it clearly now, the fights, obstacle courses, and cold wooden huts in which to live. It was horrific, but this place was worse. Much worse. She had to warn them.
   “Sara,” she croaked, feeling the burning in her throat, “S-Sara.”
   Sara was at her side instantly, her feathers brushing against her skin delicately. It was amazing that they had remained white despite everything, spotlessly clean and as stunning as ever. She raised something to her lips, a bottle, and tilted it slowly until water began to trickle into her mouth. She swallowed it carefully without spilling a drop and smiled up at the girl. She smiled back and nodded, a sign that she was listening.
   “This p-place,” she groaned slowly, “I was… a, a test subject. A g-guinea pig, as it w-were, and I can s-show you.”
   She reached for her top, but Sara beat her there, pointing to it. Ruby nodded in response and Sara slowly rolled it up her stomach. Jay looked away uncomfortably, but looked back as she gasped in raw, uncensored horror. Ugly wounds and scars coated her stomach, disappearing below the line of her trousers, where Sara assumed that they stopped. Ruby gulped, taking in every horrible little detail for the first time and opened her mouth to explain.
   “They wanted my e-eggs, for tests to do with fertility. T-they said that one day I c-could have a hybrid c-child, like the L-Leader w-wanted.” Ruby said despite the pain searing her throat, “they want to breed h-hybrids as it’d be l-less expensive than DNA t-trials, you see? They’d have n-no need for animal DNA anymore, as it’d b-be in our genes t-to produce m-mutated children.”
   “Like, a sub-species of humans?” Devin cried, “no way!”
   Ruby nodded, looking sorrowful. She was scared of them succeeding, able to produce hybrids and raise them, conditioned to do the bidding of the Leader. It’d be disastrous if such a monstrous human had control of an entire species, not to mention immoral.
   “So who runs this place?” Eva asked.
   “I do,” a voice said coldly, “and it’s a pleasure to see you again, sis.” 

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