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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9. Chapter 8

 

The food hall was like a large restaurant, with pretty oak tables decorated with newly polished cutlery and pastel table cloths. There was a buffet set up along the back wall with a tower of plates and row after row of different foods, each stored in heavy steel trays that added to the quantity of steam already flooding the room.
   At least fifty children were already in the hall, much to Sara’s surprise. She realised all too suddenly that she was staying in cabin one hundred and nineteen, and there was therefore one hundred and ninety nine other cabins left spare for other hybrids. She was amazed by quite how many were making their way in to fill their stomachs, each with a ravenous look in their eyes.
   “Look at them all,” Erika breathed, “There’s tons of them.”
   Callum smirked, “There’s hundreds, although now we’re got to stick together.”
   “Why?” Jay raised an eyebrow, “Can’t we mingle?”
   Everyone’s eyes turned to Sara and Erika who were stood side by side, as if the leaders of some bizarre social group. They exchanged a look, meeting each other’s eyes for less than a second before they reacted.
   “Sure, you can talk to other people,” Sara said slowly.
   “But you still have to live with us,” Erika added, “And we don’t want to cause any rivalry.”
   The group joined the queue for the buffet, Sara first, and then Erika, Devin, Jay, Callum, and Ruby at the back. She looked disgruntled by this and rubbed her stomach with a pained expression. Slowly, she changed her skin tone to blend into the background and pulled off the clothes she was wearing. Confident that she wouldn’t suddenly become visible, she handed her clothes to Erika and made her way to the front of the queue. Erika passed her clothes forward, rolling her eyes, and watched as what appeared to be nothing but air pulled on a pair of shoes.
   “Smooth,” Devin muttered as he finally reached the plates.
   “Don’t lie,” Callum scolded, “You’d do it too, given the opportunity.”
   Devin tilted his head in agreement and followed the lead of Sara, who’d loaded her plate up with spaghetti carbonara and some slices of garlic bread. Then he followed her over to a table opposite the buffet where Ruby was already tucking into a meal of beef casserole with a pleased look on her face. The others joined them at the table happily and they all enjoyed the fresh, warm food, restoring their energy levels after the swim from earlier.

*

The Leader strode into the food hall unnoticed, hiding behind a long black coat and a pair of sunglasses. His shoes squeaked on the tiled floor as he walked, moving swiftly to the centre of the room. He’d been preparing this all afternoon, and having the entire Alpha Team assembled was the perfect opportunity.
   “Hybrids, I wish to share some important information with you,” his voice boomed around the hall, and he waited until they were all seated before he continued: “It is time that you all learned to fight. We have altered your training schedules to ensure that you gain experience in physical combat, as well as extra skills in other beneficial subjects.”

No one spoke. No one even moved. This shock announcement was enough to startle even the most trained hybrids. In all of their time at the facility, they had never had to fight each other. There were competitive scenarios, such as races and challenges, but never a situation in which they were to bring harm to one another.
   “From here on,” the Leader continued, “There will be selected fights every night which will be assessed by the guards and I, and your progress will be evaluated.”
   Ruby was horrified, “Why?”
   The Leader had exceptional hearing, and turned on his heel towards the table. He raised an eyebrow as if trying to work out who had spoken, and finally fixed his attention on the group of new hybrids. He smiled warmly.
   “You need to learn how to fight,” the Leader explained, “And what better way is there than to put you into a real one, with a real opponent, with a genuine urge to win.”
   He was tired and did not wish to keep explaining his decisions, so he left the hall, closing the door behind him and making his way back up to his office. It had been a long day, and he had tomorrow’s fighting schedule to look over before he could rest.

*

What the Leader did not hear was the way the hall dissolved into chaos after his departure. Chattering broke out instantly, many was high-pitched and tainted with a whirlwind of negative emotions. Jay was looking at his claws with disgust, scared of the damage that he could cause with them. Devin and Callum shared a worried expression, both traumatised by the idea of having to attack each other.
   “We can’t do this,” someone murmured.
   Someone else cried: “No, I won’t fight against my friends!”
   Sara remained silent but her thoughts were extremely loud. She had been in a few fights before she was taken by Calox, often over food with other children in the neighbourhood. She’d won some and lost some but that didn’t mean she was comfortable in the slightest with what the Leader had proposed. With shaking hands, she picked up her fork and stabbed a chunk of pancetta viciously. She didn’t want to be a violent person but if she wanted to restore the world to its normal human workforce, just like Calox wanted, she’d have to be a fighter. With a gulp, she swallowed the pancetta whole.
   When the others finished eating, they stood up and left the hall, only for a group of guards to swarm them and drag them back to their cabin. The walk was slow and wordless; a dull atmosphere had settled onto the six and drained their happiness from them. When they finally reached their cabin, they all settled into bed after the usual routine of face washing and teeth cleaning. It wasn’t long before their duvets were wrapped tightly around them to block out the cold and they each began to slip into their subconscious.
   Callum fell asleep first. He dreamed of a time when he and Devin did not have long tails and their ears on top of their head. He could see the orphanage that he grew up in and how it fell into a state of disrepair over the years. His memory wandered back to the day that the officials from Calox appeared, selecting some of the startled children at random. He was picked first, and then Devin after a few the men realised that they were inseparable.
   The carers at the orphanage had explained how they liked to cling to each other at all times, refusing to sleep if not in the same room. Luckily, Calox had chosen to honour this and keep them as close as they could.
   Suddenly the dream changed and Callum found himself stood in a boxing ring, his tail snaking out of the bottom of a pair of shiny white shorts. He had red boxing gloves on his hands and red trainers, and was facing an image of himself who happened to be wearing blue gloves and trainers. As his reflection stepped forward, he realised it was Devin. He watched as his brother raised his fist and slammed it into his jaw, but Callum could not react. Instead, he was defenceless as he was struck with blow after blow into his chest, arms, and face. Blood seeped from his lip as it split open, sending a spark of pain through his body. Devin hit him again and again, eventually tossing him to the floor.
   “Sorry, bro,” Devin said, leaning over him.
   Callum screamed as his own brother brought his foot down onto his face with a sickening crunch. He jolted forwards, only to see the beginnings of daylight flooding through the dirty window. He reached for his nose, glad to feel that it wasn’t broken, and that there weren’t rivers of crimson pouring from his nostrils. Devin was awake too, along with Sara and Jay, who were watching him with panicked expressions.
   “Bad dream,” Callum explained, “Sorry I woke you.”
   Sara yawned and climbed out of her bed, making her way over to the window. She inspected the view for a few moments silently, worried by the sight of guards in the distance, but shook off the feeling straight away. She made a vow to herself to remain as calm as she could at all times; she had decided that keeping level-headed would benefit her more with her training than excessive emotions.
   “We should be getting up anyway,” Sara said dully, “The guards are coming to collect us already, probably to drag us off to a brutal workout session.”
   Callum chuckled and reached over to wake Ruby. Sara went to Erika’s side, and Devin pulled the duvet around his bare chest as he stumbled around in search of his t-shirt. Everyone felt uneasy and somewhat anxious about the closeness of the guards but tried to distract themselves by early morning tasks, such as getting dressed and taking showers. It was a long process as there was only one bathroom but they worked around it.
   Then there was the sound of a key grinding the lock, and the cabin door opened.
   “Rise and shine,” the guard grunted, “It’s time for an obstacle course. I hope you’re all ready.” 

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