The air was heaven on my skin, and I couldn’t help myself, I had to throw my head back and laugh. This was freedom, with nothing but air above me and air below me.
I doubled back around the building and decided to let them look for me for a while, the roof was fairly safe right? I wasn’t sure if it would work, but it did.
One of the last “tests” I had been through was to see if I could take on aspects of a particular animal at will. Maybe they were training me to be a weapon, but I could do some cool stuff when I had to.
This just proved that I didn’t need to be in the same room as the animal in order to call upon the traits, I hadn’t been sure it would work, but death was better than being imprisoned again.
He was waiting for me on the roof. Holly’s boyfriend – I didn’t have anything else to call him.
“That was fast.” I said, landing lightly and leaning on a pole. “Did you run?”
“Come on.” He held a hand out; I was still precariously perched, able to fall at any moment.
“Why?” I asked, “Why should I? I have been gone for three years and now.” I leaned backwards, drunk with the warmth of the sun. “Now I’m free, why should I give that up?”
“I don’t know.” He said.
That startled me; I think it might have been the only sincere thing I had heard in the past fifteen minutes. “Okay.” I said, holding my hand out.
If this surprised him, I didn’t know. I was too busy trying to get purchase on the slippery surface of the roof.
“I want to know everything that’s going on.” I warned.
“I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t guarantee anything.” He was staring at my back, where nothing but a couple of almost-invisible slits in my jacket remained to show what had become of my bat wings. “You have wings?”
I smiled, “Not anymore.”
He took me back to the conference room where everyone was still staring out the window. I would have laughed if Chloe hadn’t been crying.
“Miss me?” I couldn’t help myself. I’m sure if it had been four years ago, I would never have dared speak out like this, but I had nothing to lose now.
Chloe launched herself at me, and refused to let me go. She was murmuring nonsensical statements, all I could make out was “Don’t, not again.”
I looked at Suit and cocked my head over Chloe’s sobbing form. “I’m going to make this very clear. I am not your puppet, slave, lab-rat or prisoner. I will not be held against my will.”
“I don’t think you understand the situation.” He said back, slowly and deliberately. “We are at war and, to be perfectly honest, don’t have the time to coddle you. If you don’t willingly submit to tests, we will have to resort to force.”
“I don’t think you understand.” I stalked forward, anger bubbling through my veins. “I haven’t gotten out of that hellhole just to end up in another endless maze of experimentation. Now if you want something from me, we can talk about it like civil beings.”
Suit looked around. Chloe had huddled behind me and Holly’s ex was staring at me silently. The others in the room were muttering amongst themselves, giving me furtive glances or staring with outright hostility. Whatever this Resistance was, well, resisting, they must really believe in it. My attempts at freedom were obviously not all that welcome.
He gestured at the large table in the middle of the room and took a seat at its head. Everyone in the room followed his lead and I stationed myself opposite him, still trying to figure out just what he would let me get away with.
“I guess this is a negotiation.” His eyebrows rose and he clasped his fingers, waiting for me to state my terms.
I turned to Chloe, who was sitting next to me. “You want me to speak for both of us?”
Her eyes snapped to me and she nodded tentatively.
“Alright then, here’s the deal. We will stay with you and tell you anything we know about that warehouse. We will undergo your tests, but we reserve the right to refuse anything that makes us feel uncomfortable, and to leave if we so choose.” My father had been a lawyer, but I never could get the hang of legalese.
“No deal. Our scientists will work with you, but you will submit to their tests. We can’t allow you to leave for security reasons.” He leaned forward, eagerly waiting for my response. I suppressed a shudder, seeing The Robot in his actions. Maybe they were related.
“There’s no way you’re keeping us here without letting us say ‘no’ to some experiments. You don’t want us going out? Fine. But this is something that I’m not negotiating with.”
He leaned back and the room snapped into focus. Everyone was staring at me, the tension in the room was palpable. A few mutters started up in the silence, but I didn’t pay any attention to them. Chloe stiffened beside me, eyes glancing to the window. I wondered what she would do if we were held at gunpoint and forced to march into a cell. Would she launch herself out the window like I had? Would that work for her? There was no telling what sort of abilities she had. If she was some sort of lizard hybrid, would she be able to climb down the outer wall?
“Alright. You have veto rights, but those go away if they are used overly excessively. I’ll have someone escort you to your rooms. We will be moving to another facility in the morning.” He got up and swept away, anyone with an argument following him to air their views and the rest granting us cold glares before trickling out. Holly’s Boy became the only one left in the room with us as Chloe rounded on me.
“What did you do that for?” She hissed.
“You told me I could speak for you. If there was a problem, why didn’t you say something?” I crossed my arms over my chest and stared her right in the eye.
“Because I was hoping you would win!” She scowled, looking like a little girl playing dress-up.
“If we want to escape, we can. For now it’s better to play along. It’s not like I have anywhere else I have to go, do you?” Her furious expression and continuing silence was all the answer I needed. “Well, then, I guess we’re stuck here.”
“Are you hungry?” Holly’s Boy asked, watching us with interest.
I immediately thought about the tasteless bars they had been shoving down my throat. “Please tell me you have actual food here.”
He smiled and walked out of the room. “Guess you’ll have to follow and find out.”
It wasn’t a full home-made roast dinner, but it wasn’t rations either. I guess I could live with the professional salad and seared chicken, all three portions of it. Shifting really did a number on the metabolism.
My room was across the hall from Chloe. The small room contained a single bed, a small dresser and a tiny bathroom. It looked like it might have been a storage area at some point, but the walls were a dark grey, the bed was more comfort than I had seen in years and after spending so much time stretched out on a hard metal bench, it was unnerving to feel the mattress sink under my weight. After an hour of tossing and turning, I sighed and rolled off the edge, bouncing a little on the floor and sinking into the wonderful oblivion of sleep.
“She trusts you.”
“No she doesn’t. What would make you think that?”
“You’re the one that rescued her from that warehouse and talked her off the roof, you think she would have come back if it had been someone else out there?”
“She doesn’t have anywhere else to go and neither of them understands the world now. You should have seen her when I told her to get in the car.”
“Well then that should make your job a whole lot easier, shouldn’t it? Look, orders are orders and you have yours.”
The voices tapered off and soft footsteps sounded down the hallway. I sighed, disappointed that I still didn’t have Holly’s Boy’s name. Holly’s Boy was such a mouthful, and it wasn’t like I could say it to his face. Whatever had happened between them had been intense enough for him to still flinch when she was mentioned.
My door opened and for a split second the entire room faded to white. The corridor beyond glowed in that same, unearthly light and the small part of me that still knew how to be afraid trembled in her fantastic boots. Then the room righted itself and I raised my chin, wondering if Holly’s Boy had seen the flash of emotions roll through my body. Some people were just like that, they could see everything. If he did, he didn’t say anything.
“Pack whatever clothes you’re taking in the bag in the wardrobe and meet us in the mess hall for breakfast in half an hour.” He ordered, turning his back on me before I could say anything. I let out another sigh. Breaking him in was going to be tough.
Chloe met me in the hall after I was done packing and showering. The showers had been tough to figure out. Sure there were the usual two handles, but there was also no showerhead, buttons and a weird, ridged floor. Twisting the handles hadn’t done anything, so I started pressing buttons and of course I had to trigger a downpour of soap, and then air jets before I hit the water – which was freezing thanks to my manipulation of the handles.
She looked as disgruntled as I felt and the shivers told me that she might have run into the same problem. “Damn space-showers.” She muttered.
“Maybe they’ll do a hot breakfast?” I offered hopefully.
Her frown deepened as she cocked her head. “Nope. There are other people bitching about it. Looks like just the cold stuff for moving day.”
“Great.” I hugged my middle, not really cold anymore, but needing the comfort. Being in that maze had kept most of the gnawing anxiety for my future away. I always had to live in the moment and simply survive. There were no plans but now there were suddenly possibilities – or at least the illusion of them.
I straightened the second we were through the mess hall doors. The entire place was sectioned out into wings that had camp-ground-like names, and it was messing with my head. The mess hall was huge, set up with long, sleek tables and benches that tucked neatly underneath. A small make-shift kitchen was hidden away behind some partitions down the far end, and had the walls been anything other than a sleek office grey, I might have thought that we weren’t smack in the middle of a skyscraper. An illusion that would have been shattered the instant I looked over to the right. Floor-to-ceiling windows stretched across the wall, giving the entire room a breathtaking view of the city sprawling below. My earlier though that the entire place looked like crystals thrusting up into the sky returned as I took in all the harsh, sharp lines and points that made up the silver-grey landscape. I couldn’t see one single lick of green in all of it and a pang hit me hard in the chest. Beyond the city all that could be seen was the red-yellow of the desert and I suddenly needed to know what had happened three years ago to result in such a drastic change.
Chloe sucked in a breath next to me. “Wow, great view, huh?”
I gave her a weird look. “Really?”
“Well, I guess it’s better than the whole grungy underground rebel base, right?” She said back cheerily. “Well, they have fruit loops, so you’re on your own.”
“Wait!” I grabbed at her arm. “Do you know anything about this?” I gestured to the window. “Why is it so…”
She blinked at me. “Dead?”
She shrugged. “Bet it had something to do with the bombings. Wonder what brought that about.”
I let her go. That day came back to me, horror and all. There hadn’t been any warning, just chaos and screaming and ringing in my ears. “Latest tragedy…”. The police officer had said that. If that was even what he was. Had there been bombs before? The city had been in the middle of intermittent blackouts, but that didn’t mean something shouldn’t have been broadcasted on the radio or the news.
I walked up to the window, one hand reaching out to the view. My fingers brushed up against the cold glass and a shudder went down my spine. This wasn’t the world I remembered. This wasn’t even close. I had never been a nature freak, but seeing nothing but grey and red was doing something to me. It felt wrong. It felt dead and harsh and about as far away from right as it could possibly get. Even in a desert I should be able to see something. A gnarled shrub, a mirage of water. Something. Anything. But all I was seeing was nothing.
“You’re going to miss breakfast.” Holly’s Boy walked up behind me.
“What happened?” I asked, not bothering to turn.
“End of the world.” He replied. He leant against the glass, clutching a bowl of cereal.
“You really like making people work for information, don’t you? What’s your name? What happened out here? And what the hell are you people supposed to be fighting against?” I faced him then, a fury rising in my chest, one born of frustration and fear. No, not fear, terror. A bone-deep terror that had settled itself into my bones and started to change, to mutate with the rest of me.
“Calm down.” He hissed, glancing over my shoulder.
“Give me something!”
“Danny.” He said.
“That’s my name. And if you need a reason to trust us then there it is.” Danny shovelled a spoonful of soggy cereal into his mouth, keeping eye contact as he did.
“Your name. I should trust you just because you gave me your name?” I shook my head and took a step back.
“No, you should trust me because I was in love with your sister and you’re the last thing I have left of her.” He barely flinched at the mention of her, but it was there. It was in his eyes, I could see it.
I swallowed and nodded, choking down my other burning questions. With another look at the chilling view, I headed for the front table.