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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6. Chapter 5

 

Once the thirty minutes of work out time was over, the group was split up and sent into separate rooms with each of the guards. Sara was surprised to see that Eva went with Erika, shooing the guards away from her. She muttered something to the guards and they led away the others: Sara, Callum, Devin, Jay, and a younger girl with the climbing abilities of a monkey who was called Rebecca. Each guard selected a different child and took them into a smaller, more scientific training room full of expensive software.
   Sara was given new clothes to change into with long strips along the back of the shirt so that her wings didn’t have to be trapped within the material. She was also given a pair of tracksuit bottoms along with some sports trainers. The guard gestured over to a small room that was hidden only by a flimsy plastic curtain, but at least it was a moment of privacy for her so that she could get changed in peace.
   “Miss Worthington,” the guard said in a deep, husky voice, “Please hurry.”
   Sara was surprised by the guard’s politeness but wasted another few seconds ensuring that her shoelaces were tight. She then turned to view her image in the floor-to-ceiling mirror that was to the left of the curtain. Shocked, she reached for her hair, raking through it with her fingers in a moment of pure panic. Her hair had begun to change colour, from her usual honey blonde to a muddy shade of brown.
   “Why is my hair different?” Sara said aloud to her reflection.
   The guard, worried, ripped the curtain aside and focused his eyes on Sara. She looked quite surprised if anything – it was the most emotion he’d seen in the girl so far. It was a reminder to the guard that she was still a human, not a mutation or a subject as Eva had so often called them.
   “It’s probably an effect of the DNA strand,” the guard shrugged, “We don’t have time for this, hurry up.”
   He dragged her towards a treadmill and positioned her hands onto the silver part of the handle before prodding his short fingers at the touch screen wired to the treadmill. He set a time as well as a limit to the speed that the conveyor could move at, and then placed a small leather strap around Sara’s wrist which was wired to a heart-rate monitor.
   “You will run for an hour, non-stop, at a speed that suits you,” the guard said.
   Sara nodded just as the conveyor below her began to move. She was practically walking at first, but soon found herself jogging – each step springing her into a momentary flight. It was quite the rush for the first few minutes, almost as if she was free again, but soon it began to hurt. Her thighs burned as her muscles stretched and relaxed over and over with every movement she made. Of course, she’d paced herself badly, but there was no stopping now – just like the guard had warned her. It was an unexpected method of torture, but an effective one.
   The machine to her left bleeped in time with her beating heart. The guard watched the monitor carefully, his beady eyes following the erratic green line darting across the screen. Sara tried not to notice it but she pain was becoming unbearable. She flashbacked to her change; she remembered the burning once she’d been injected with the serum and the choking agony as her back tore open. Shaking her head, she stumbled and fell onto her side next to the treadmill.
   “Get back up, Sara,” the guard’s voice had hardened, “You need to finish the hour.”
   Sara wanted to protest or complain or merely continue to lie on the floor, but she found herself getting to her feet. Her knees were weak and shaking. Nevertheless, she got back onto the conveyor belt and focused on the roughness of it under her feet. She took her first step on it, feeling the floor slide away from under her. She took another step, and then another, just like before – and then she was running.
   “Keep going,” the guard spurred her on gently, “Don’t stop – just twenty one minutes left.”
   Twenty one minutes, or one thousand two hundred and sixty seconds, seemed to tick by with deliberate slowness. Still, Sara held out until the end and was grateful when the conveyor beneath her feet came to an abrupt halt. The guard didn’t say anything. Instead, he began to analyse the data that had been recorded by the machine and copy some of the figures into a handheld touch screen.
   “What are you doing?” Sara asked him, only to be ignored.
   She approached him carefully, peering over his shoulder at the digits. They meant nothing of her but seemed to be of the utmost importance to the guard, who snatched them away from her view. He scowled at her, his eyes darkening.
   “It’s none of your business,” he growled.
   “Well, actually, it is my business,” she retorted angrily, “I made those stupid numbers.”
   The guard ignored her again, continuing his work as if she wasn’t even there.

*

Eva received Sara’s statistics a couple of minutes after she’d finished copying Erika’s. A few of the guards had already sent in their notes – most surprisingly, Devin had finished his run first, without giving up once. Many of their trainee subjects stopped once, twice, sometimes even three times. She smiled knowingly, certain that Devin would be a good recruit for the future. After all, dark times were coming and Eva had to be prepared for it.
   “Guards,” she barked into her communication device, “Allow all of the Alphas to shower and then feed them in the hall.”
   She sighed. It was most unfortunate that she had received all of the Alphas. They had been her most promising team so far, and she had taken great pleasure in ensuring that they were all suitable for what lied ahead. She’d done her job now, and to finish it completely, she encircled all of the bubbles of data that she had been sent on her screen and tapped a small icon reading ‘send all’. She scrolled through a list of contacts, all of which were saved under fake names or codenamed, until she found the one she was looking for: the Leader.
   She tapped the name with regret, watching the icons disappear from her touch screen and inevitably appear on someone else’s. She had been the Leader’s second in command for many years, taking over for a woman who called herself Fox. She had become reckless in her position of authority, eventually injecting herself with a fox’s DNA in an attempt to become unique and powerful. The attempt had killed her.
   Eva had been told this story by the Leader after she had applied for Calox, at the age of just nineteen. The Leader had been impressed by her bravery and determination and given her the job instantly, upon warning that it was not an easy commitment to make. She had accepted it willingly – knowing the struggles that people were going through just to make it to a job interview. They’d stripped her humanity from her, removing her emotion piece by piece until she was the perfect person for the role: almost a machine.
   The story of Fox brought back a slight snippet of untamed feeling that was washed away the moment she felt her eyes water. She couldn’t think about it and banged her fist furiously against the wall in an effort to forget about it. The Leader had told her that emotion was wrong, inhuman, but she knew otherwise. She knew that she was meant to feel this pain and guilt and mourning because Fox had been her younger sister: Elise.

*

All of the members of the Alpha Team were sat on tables in a large dining hall which was serving types of food that most of the children couldn’t name. On table number five, Devin and Callum were sat opposite Erika and Sara. Both were quite surprised at the mutual friendship that had formed between the four, and tried to sustain it with small talk.
   “So where were you guys from, before the prisons?” Callum asked.
   Sara shrugged, “Some tiny town in England that no one’s really heard of.”
   Devin laughed: “And you, Erika?”
   “I’m an American, in case you’d all failed to notice,” she rolled her eyes at the boys, emphasising her American accent as much as she could, “I lived on the outskirts of New York, close to where the machines were being manufactured.”
   Devin nodded: “One of the Justice factories!”
   Callum and Sara shared a look. Neither of them had ever heard of the Justice factory and weren’t sure why it seemed so important. Sara shrugged, hoping she’d learn pick up the relevance of it within the rest of the conversation.
   “All of the factories that build machines are part of a company called Justice. There were the Justice campaigns, convincing people that their jobs would be easier with the machines to help.” Erika continued, “No one expected the machines to do their jobs for them, rendering us humans useless.”
   Sara snorted, “So this is why Calox exists!”
   Three pairs of eyes turned on her. Erika’s cold eyes were warning her to keep quiet, so she dropped her voice to a whisper to benefit the twins and spoke as quickly as she could without drawing unwanted attention to herself:
   “We’re mutated humans, not machines,” she hissed, “And so Calox want to show that – if machines can be upgraded – so can we, and that we are capable of overpowering them.”
   Devin smirked, “You might be onto something here.”
   “She is,” Erika said, her voice almost inaudible, “Eva told me that they had plans for us, breaking us up into teams of soldiers to fight back. We’re the next generation of spies and assassins, you see?”
   And suddenly, Sara, Devin, and Callum did see – they were destined for a future of crime and violence and murder. Despite appearing as potentially the most dangerous member of the group, Devin shuddered first. He seemed repulsed by the very idea of become a spy or an assassin. His brother soon mimicked his expression, as if feeling exactly the same way as his twin. Sara, however, scared herself. She wanted to fight back against the machines for everything they’d caused. She wanted to her revenge for losing her family. She wanted to put a stop to all of the poverty in the world.
   “I feel it too,” Erika said knowingly into Sara’s ear, “I want to get my own back.”
   Sara smiled and turned to the boys. They’d seemed to work out what the girls were feeling, and Callum’s expression had turned to one of horror. Devin seemed to contemplating their emotions in an attempt to work out why the felt that way and then his eyebrows raised at once. His hand ruffled through his brown hair as he concentrated, weighing up his options.
   “Why are you under the ownership of Calox?” Devin sounded uneasy.
   Erika was the first to respond: “I was fetching some bread for my family. We knew someone who could make it really well so I did chores for her and she repaid me with food. Calox snatched me right off the streets as I was running home.”
   “I offered myself to Calox,” Sara explained, “In return for money for my family.”
   Callum and Devin shared a look; both had taken on an expression of unease and were debating on how to respond to the girls’ stories. Devin cleared his throat, tilting his head slightly almost as if he was listening to Callum. Callum’s lips were tightly shut, so much so that they were becoming pale. Devin scratched one of the sandy coloured ears poking out from under his hair, flicking his tail as he did so.
   “We were orphans,” he mumbled, “Calox ‘adopted’ most of the orphans across Europe for the experiments. That’s why we don’t feel the betrayal of being sold or taken from our family – we never even knew our family.”
   There was a nanosecond on uninterrupted silence before a low whistle escaped Erika’s and Callum coughed hoarsely to snap through the barrier of tension that had settled across the table. Devin jumped at the sound, his eyes flicking back down towards the plate of salad wilting in front of him.
   “Don’t be sorry,” he said before taking a bite of crispy green lettuce, “It’s not a big deal – as I said – we never knew our family so we have no feeling towards them.”
   Callum nodded in agreement. He two had turned back to his food and was stripping chicken from the bone with his teeth. Between them there had always been an enormous amount of curiosity where their parents were concerned. They’d been offered no information about their parents before they died, and shared a blurred, creased up photograph of the woman they called their mother. 

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