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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3. Chapter 2

 

The inhabitants of the one hundred cells on the second floor of the prison were all between the ages of the six and eighteen. Anyone under the age of six was raised in the maternity section of the prison, which was said to be a brainwashing facility. Of course, everyone in the prison knew what would happen to them: they were all human guinea pigs for elaborate experiments involving animal DNA. Everyone was told upon entry to the prison, stripped of everything including their name, and referred to simply as ‘subjects’.
   This wouldn’t even be happening if the government hadn’t approved it. It had started with people already sentenced to life imprisonment, forced to take part in the ‘clinical trials’, and slowly spread to prisoners willing to volunteer – told that they could be released early if they helped out. They had all assumed it’d be a few easy tests, maybe a blood donation, or a survey. Instead, they’d be left to suffer as they were injected with mixtures of chemicals they hadn’t even heard of, for an organisation called Calox. Eventually, the elderly people had been targeted. After that, they moved onto the orphans, adopting child after child and taking them to the prisons for their experiments.
   Then the economy had collapsed. Jobs were taken from people and given to machines with the intention of removing human error and the cost of wages. Unemployment rose, leaving millions of people in poverty and reduced to going to extreme lengths just to earn enough money to buy something as small as a loaf of bread. The government had stopped caring. The only jobs available were given to those with the knowledge of construction and programming of the machines, and even those were threatened by new types of technology and super computers. The world was becoming robotic.
   Calox had seized this opportunity, beginning only as an extremist group with the intention of improving humans so that they could overpower the machines. So far, the experiments had killed hundreds of people, leaving Calox with barely any evidence that their DNA alteration program would ever work, but their company had grown with people begging outside their headquarters for a job. No one in the outside world knew of the horror taking place in their prisons. Many even resorted to selling their own family members to Calox for the money they offered, or they simply volunteered themselves for the sum they were offered.
   However, the volunteers were never seen again, and life on the outside world was too harsh for people to worry about what was happening to them.
   One of the many people who had been sold to Calox was Sara Worthington. She was quite tall for a girl of just sixteen years old, with blonde hair that was tied back in a ponytail, falling to just below her elbows. Her ivory skin was marked with dirt from where she’d slept on the cold floor, and there was a cut on her lip from a fight with the girl across the corridor.
   “Great,” she muttered, seeing two security guards appear outside her cell, “I guess it’s me next.”
   She’d seen this many times before, usually on the floor below her. The stairs were just outside her cell, so she could see many of the prisoners on the first floor. At first, the deaths had haunted her, keeping her awake at night, or giving her gruesome nightmares. After a couple of months in the cell, she’d gotten used to it, using her bony fingers as makeshift earplugs to block out the screaming.
   “Come on, girl,” Eric had been called back into the prison by Ford, who was accompanying him, “Come over here.”
   There had been a very tense discussion between the two before they’d entered the prison. Eric knew that there were rules against testing on children, but Ford insisted that these were his instructions. Torn, Eric had eventually decided to follow Ford into the prison and watch him administer the serum. After all, his job depended on his ability to follow instructions.
   Ford had never been into the prison before. He usually remained in the laboratory, carefully constructing serums that could be injected into people without damaging any of the genetic material within it. Now he was in the prison, stood awkwardly outside a prison cell, staring in at a girl no older than sixteen, whilst clutching strand seventy of avian DNA. His heart was pounding violently against his chest, echoing against his ribs which were threatening to break at any moment. He was weak at the knees and really hoped he wouldn’t collapse.
   “Come here,” Eric repeated, feeling sick to the stomach, “It’ll only take a moment.”
   He ran a hand through his mousy brown hair as the girl stepped forwards, watching him with icy blue eyes, filled with curiosity. She was very thin, paler than he expected, with a pointed nose and high cheekbones. In different circumstances, he knew she would grow into a very pretty young lady.
   “What are you going to use on me?” Sara asked, “What’s in the needle?”
   Her question startled Eric. Usually, his subjects remained silent: “I’m not going to use anything today. He’s going to be administering the serum.”
  Sara’s eyes shot to Ford, who shifted his weight from foot to foot. She could see he was anxious. He looked up in time to meet her eyes, still brimming with curiosity, and absent of the fear he’d expected to see. Despite everything, Sara was more confident than Ford – who was unable to find the words he needed to answer the girl’s questions. Luckily, Eric came to his rescue.
   “The man here will be using a type of bird cell.” Eric said, seeing no reason to lie.
   “Ah,” she replied distantly, “Avian DNA. If I start sprouting feathers, I will not be pleased.”
   Ford and Eric exchanged a look. Neither of them had ever seen a subject so calm and collected before and it was quite unnerving. Ford fumbled with the syringe in his hand, filling the barrel with as much of the deep blue serum as he could. He raised it to eye level, ensuring that there was enough for the experiment to work. Beside him, Eric had set up the video camera and stepped aside.
   “I don’t think I can do this,” Ford hissed at Eric, who just shrugged in response.
   Sara rolled her eyes, “Just get it over with; I’m going to die anyway.”
   Surprised by her bluntness, Eric started the recording and watched Ford give the syringe one last shake. He gently wiped Sara’s arm with a ball of cotton wool, displaying the tremble in his hands, before pushing the needle into her skin and watching her gasp with the sharp pain it caused. She didn’t move, merely watching as the needle sank deeper into her flesh.
   “Subject is being exposed to strand seventy of avian DNA.” Ford muttered in the direction of the camera, “The subject is the first of the under-eighteen batch to undergo a trial.”
   Sara, for once, remained silent as the indigo liquid was injected into a vein. If burned slightly as it joined her bloodstream, beginning the route through her body. She knew it was only a matter of time before it got to her heart and stopped it beating – she could only hope that it wouldn’t be as painful and distressing as some of the other deaths. After all, the boy in the cell next to her was only nine years old. She didn’t want him to hear her screaming.
   Ford gently twisted the needle and withdrew it from her skin. He watched her with apprehension, waiting for the symptoms of rejection to begin. Ford knew that this experience would live internally as a memory, haunting him forever, but couldn’t pull his gaze away from the expressionless girl. She was staring at her arm in confusion, watching the hairs stand up on her skin from the chilly breeze blowing through the prison.
   “Nothing’s happening,” Ford mumbled, “Shouldn’t she be reacting by now?”
   Eric didn’t answer his question. He was used to waiting. Sometimes it took a couple of days for any symptoms to occur, so he set up recording equipment within the cell, and ensured that the guards remained outside at all times. For now, he would have to remain with Ford and the subject in case anything did happen. It was so strange to be experimenting with a child that he felt inclined to stay, even if it was morally wrong.
   “I feel dizzy,” Sara stated.
   In the time it took for the two men to register what she was saying, she collapsed against the right wall, sliding her back along it until she was sat on the floor, facing the left wall. Her head flopped to one side and every breath she took sounded like she was choking. The fingers on her left hand pressed at her neck, before she began to rub slowly at her throat. Ford watched her in horror, knowing he was about to witness the death of a teenager.
   “Water,” she gasped, “P-please.”
   Eric reacted at once. He knew that all the odds were against her. He’d never seen a subject survive a strand before, so he wanted to make the next one to die as comfortable as possible – especially such a young one. Eric slammed his fist against the cell door to signal one of the guards; he barked a command at the one who reacted first and watched as he sprinted down the corridor to fetch a glass of water.
   “There will be water soon,” Eric said soothingly, “I promise.”
   Sara nodded, gasping more and more loudly. She was feeling constantly out of breath, no matter how deep the breath she took, the desperation for more oxygen did not cease. Ford was staring at her worriedly as she suffocated, lost in a sense of complete uselessness. The forceful sound of the returning guard’s footsteps had Eric pressed against the cell bars again, snatching the glass filled with a stunningly clear liquid. He knelt down beside Sara, pressing the glass to her lips and pouring it into her mouth.
   “Thank y-you,” She said, unsure why she was thanking her killer.
   Sara continued to drink from the glass, mustering the strength to hold it in her unsteady hands. Neither of the men said a word to her or each other; they were both sat on the floor of the cell with mirroring expressions of regret.
   Eric had a feeling of emptiness in the pit of his stomach that he couldn’t describe. He’d seen so many people die that it was difficult for him to sympathise anymore, but the subject – Sara – was so young. If the world hadn’t exploded with poverty and despair, she would have had so many opportunities. It was such a waste.
   Ford was sickened by what he was seeing. He had never sat and observed the death of anyone before and certainly didn’t expect his first to be a young girl, sold away so that her family could survive. Calox gave him more money than he needed so he had never had to face the reality of how others lived and now that he knew, he never wanted to acknowledge it again. It was distressing beyond anything he had ever encountered before.
   Sara was wondering what her mother would say if she saw her now. After all, Sara had convinced her that the trials would be safe, and provide enough money for her to feed herself for a few months, at least. Her mother had never trusted Calox and begged for Sara not to volunteer, so she’d faked her mother’s voice on the telephone and spoke of how desperate they were for money. Sara had watched the officials place the money into her mother’s withered hands and the realisation creep into her face. She’d screamed as they’d seized her, dragging her cruelly into a waiting van and driving her to the prison.
   “The subject seems to be suffocating and dehydrating,” Eric reported to the camera.
   Ford jumped at the sound of his voice, obviously having forgotten that everything was being recorded by the waiting camera. The tiny red light blinked repeatedly in the gloom of the cell, capturing what Sara thought would be the last few minutes of her life.
   “I-it hurts,” she complained, “It r-really hurts.”
   Both of the men locked their eyes on the girl sat against the wall. She was paler than ever with a purple tinge to her lips. She’d finished the glass of water, set it down on the floor beside her, and resumed her rapid breathing. Then she sank down on her side, moaning in pain, which caused Ford to look away in repulsion.
   “Help,” she whispered, “Stop it hurting. Kill me.”
   Ford gasped upon hearing her request. She sounded so serious and hurt that he didn’t think he could bear to see any more of her suffering; he certainly didn’t want to try. He looked to Eric for support but he was staring at her in shock, searching for the words he could say to make her feel better.
   And then she screamed.
   “The subject appears to be...” Eric was struggling with his report, “D-dying, in intense pain.”
   “Kill me,” she shrieked, “Oh please! Kill me!”
   Crying could be heard all around the prison. Children from cells all over the second floor felt her pain and suffered with her, almost as if they were dying too. Even Ford, the hard-faced scientist from laboratory one, had tears in his emerald green eyes. Everyone was full of raw emotion for the subject, for the girl, for Sara. One of the guards outside the cell rattled the bars of cell two hundred and twenty seven in an attempt to scare the wailing occupant into silence. Instead he was louder, leading the most haunting symphony that had ever been heard inside the prison’s walls.
   “Kill me...” Sara repeated weakly.
   Blood was beginning to seep from the back of her shirt. She hadn’t clawed at her back like the last man Eric had watched die. She hadn’t even torn her shirt in any way, so why there were deep welts in her back was a mystery. Sara arched her back, distressed, and continued to groan as the blood dripped through the material of her t-shirt. Eric scuttled forwards, pulling the girl onto his lap. Her blood soaked straight into his white jacket but he ignored it and instead ripped open the back of her shirt to see her wounds.
   “Ford,” he cried, “Look!”
   On her back, blood was running out of two wounds, both of which were the identical – one on the left of her back, and the other on the right. They were so similar that it was frightening to Eric, who nearly let go of the whimpering girl after inspecting the wounds more closely.
   “Ford,” he said again, “Come here!”
   When Ford finally approached, he rolled Sara onto her front and carefully pointed to the wounds with the tip of his forefinger. Within the wounds, beyond all belief, were small grey points that suggested the development of feathers. The serum really had altered her DNA – she was changing! Slowly, painfully, but most definitely, Sara Worthington was developing wings. 

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