I sit at Thomas’ table, sipping at my coffee as I stare at nothing in particular. All last night my dreams were riddled with fear and worry of my betrayal to Danielle. I saw her cursing and swearing at me. Even hitting me. I woke up with a pain in my head and an ache in my heart, but it feels so much worse then when Danielle died.
There is no greater pain then betraying the one you love.
“Are we all here?” Thomas interrupts my thoughts and I startle to attention. This morning I awoke to a phone call from Riles. An emergency meeting had been called.
I had never gotten dressed so fast. I pushed aside all my fear and pain of the maybe of betraying Danielle and instead fixed my mind on the good that will soon come from these news rules. Now I’m just suffering from the loss of sleep.
Thomas surveys the table before nodding and taking his seat, notebook in hand.
“We have ran into an issue with the experiment.”
“Did more rats die?” Marcus asks with a snicker and a few men join in. Thomas shakes his head.
“We have moved onto human subjects, but no, no deaths.”
“Just cut to the chase,” Riles asks as his swings in his chair a little. “What’s the big issue?”
“The tests were and have been going well on our Caucasian subjects,” Thomas explains. “However, when we attempted on an Asian descent, it soon became apparent that something was wrong. We brought in a number of dark coloured people to test on. It seems that our vaccination does not have enough power, I guess you could say, to turn the dark people to white.”
The room fills with murmurs as people screw their brows in worry. I even see worry reflected in the eyes of Nate.
“What does that mean for us?” he asks, panic in his voice. “Does that mean that we’re screwed for and have to come up with another idea? There’s no time for that!”
People yell their agreement and I rub my forehead, feeling a headache coming along. I’m torn between cheering and freaking out over this new development. Part of me is still terrified I have made the wrong decision in pushing The Changed Society.
“Calm down everyone!” Riles yells and people shut up instantly. He turns back to Thomas. “Do you have a solution?”
“I do,” he tells us. “I’m just not sure you’re going to like it.”
“Just tell us what it is,” Gordon instructs roughly and many beckon for Thomas to continue and he does.
“Last night I worked with some of the men trying to figure out how we could fix the situation. Although we can slightly lighten the darker colour, we can’t make anything to overpower the dark colouring.” He pauses and takes a deep breath before continuing. “We can make the white people.”
The room goes dead silent as the news settles in. I’m seated across from Nate and I can almost see the different thoughts running through his head as he comes to terms with what we just heard.
“Meaning, the society would become dark skinned?” Marcus asks. Anger is evident in his eyes too.
People start to murmur amongst themselves. Gordon next to me just shakes his head.
“Then dark skin it is! Come on, men. The days of racism is over. If Richard,” he gestures to him at the end of the table. “If Richard can handle the idea of losing his sexuality then we can handle losing our skin colour. What happened to self-sacrifice?”
Everyone stares down at the table glumly. I personally feel nothing but emptiness. My mind is going one-hundred miles per hour, but it’s not over the skin colour problem.
“There’s absolutely no way around it?” Riles asks, pinching his nose between his fingers. “It’s either dark skin or nothing?”
Thomas nods and Riles sighs.
“Then that’s what we’re going with.”
Riles stands up and leaves the room while everyone else erupts into conversation. I stand up blindly and make my way over to Thomas.
“How are the test subjects going?” I ask him and he shrugs.
“It’s going better than planned. It should be even better now that we’ve overcome this obstacle.”
“Can I see them?” I ask with curiosity evident in my voice. “I want to know what we’ll end up looking like.”
After a moments though, Thomas agrees.
“No one but us scientists and the government officials should have access to them, but I don’t see why not. You might just have to undergo a police check.”
I follow Thomas out the room and down the hall. Rather than turning right into the conference room, he instead turns left and leads me further into the facility then I’ve been before.
“I haven’t been this way,” I warn him and he shakes his head.
“It’s okay. This area was originally designed for more tests and experiments but we recently had it turned into holding facilities for our test subjects.”
“Where did they come from?” I ask. “Are they officials?”
Thomas shakes his head. He chews his lip for a moment before telling me.
“They’re the people that were heled in the confinement cells in the city, caught from the attacks made on the boundaries and borders.”
Immediately, my interest spikes.
“Are any.. are any of them responsible for my wife’s death?”
Thomas shakes his head and gives me an apologetic smile.
“They never caught them, I’m afraid.”
“It’s okay,” I pat his shoulder. “I’ll find them one day.”
We arrive at an intersection again, one going right, the other left and straight ahead. Just like the one in the first hall, Thomas leads me right and he pushes over the doors, revealing me the compounds.
I feel my mouth drop open as I survey the room. It’s three, maybe five times bigger than the conference room and there’s people scattered everywhere. I’m guessing this is where they’re kept when they’re not being tested on because all I can see are rows of steel benches and a food bar with servers, handing out food to the waiting people.
Although this is a chilling sight, it’s even worse seeing how identical everyone is.
At the sound of the open door, many turn to stare at me.
While they’re skin is still different, I still see the same face staring at me everywhere I look. Dark hair, angular faces and, perhaps the most terrifying, synthetic blue eyes that seem to pierce mine. They’re cold and deadly, calculated even.
“Thomas,” I turn towards him slowly. “Are there any guards on these people? If they were inmates should they really be left alone like this.”
“Oh there are guards, of course,” he reassures me and points towards the doors behind us.
I see nothing until Thomas reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small control. He points it at one of the corners and presses a small red button. Immediately, a prison guard materializes.
Complete with a hand gun and protective suit, the guard looks me up and down before turning his head forward again.
I gasp in realization.
“You’ve been working on invisible equipment.”
Thomas grins wildly.
“Yes and I’m quite proud of my success. Of course this wasn’t all my work though. I did the basic maths and the others pieced it all together. This has been around for a while.” He goes to continue, but he’s interrupted by a loud screeching.
I whip back around to see a female inmate dart out of the lunch line and run at fall speed towards one of the servers ahead of her.
Before anyone can do anything, she pulls her hand back and I see the glistening of silver. I’m opening my mouth to scream just as she drives the fork into the lady’s throat.
Everything seems to turn into slow motion as the guards run forward, guns at the ready. The other inmates scatter and stumble backwards as blood gushes from the server’s throat. She claws at it desperate for air as she collapses to her knees. Even from here, I can hear a horrible gurgling sound.
Thomas points his remote at the guards and presses a blue button which turns them invisible again before reaching for a communication device called the Telcom.
“Requesting back-up, requestion back-up. Room three hundred and fifty-two. Test subject on the loose.”
I’m to transfixed on the drama in front of me.
The girl is being thrown around the room by the invisible forces. One minute she’s pressed down on the concrete, fingers clawing for breath as she’s being chocked before being pulled to her feet and thrown against a mental bench.
The other inmates, twenty or so, are huddled in the corner. Eyes flicker from the destruction in front of them to the now unconscious body of the server. I go to move forward but Thomas reaches out to stop me, eyes glum and mouth in a straight line.
“Don’t move. We don’t know what could end up happening. It’s best to wait for back-up.”
“Are you going to stop this?” I gesture towards the girl who’s still being assaulted. She’s now up against the wall. Her head constantly being jerked forward and backwards, like she’s being shaked.
“Why? She deserves it.”
I open my mouth to argue but then the doors fly open and multiple officers make their way into the room, guns at the ready and fully visible. Five make their way towards the girl while another five head towards the group of cowering inmates, all of which have their hands up in surrender.
Two others move towards the server. By now I suspect her to be dead.
“We should leave,” Thomas tells me urgently, but my eyes are glued on the mess around me. A feeling of cold-blooded dread is running through my body and all I can think about is the destruction that’s taken place.
Eventually, I let Thomas pull me from the room.
“What was that?” I demand ones we’re free from the confines. “What the hell was that?”
“You saw. She stabbed someone and action took place.”
“I know that, but what’s with all the cowering and why are they beating her up?”
My face must be a mask of horror because Thomas raises his hands like he’s trying to calm me.
“Look, Jonathan. These things are to be expected. They’re inmates, criminals. They know what happens to them if they step out of line and they still do it anyway.”
“What does happen, huh? I highly doubt they’re just restrained and put into a cell, not from what I saw there.”
I go to march off back down the hall but Thomas grabs my hand. Surprisingly, he has a strong and tight grip for such a skinny person.
“Don’t you tell anyone what you saw here,” he tells me in a low and threatening voice. “Say anything about this and you will pay for it.”
I wrench my hand free.
“Does Riles know what’s going on here? That they’re being abused like that?”
“They’re criminals for crying out loud! It doesn’t matter what’s done to them.”
“They’re still human. It’s against law to hurt them like that and you know it. The cowering? I have never seen that before. Not to that extent.”
“Jonathan,” Thomas pleads. “You have to understand.”
“Then make me understand because really, all you’ve done is threaten me.”
Sighing, Thomas grabs my arm and steers me down the hall again and pushes me inside a darkened room. Inside, he switches on the light and I take a seat at one of the chairs that encircle the table in the center of the room. Yet another meeting room, I’m sure.
I glare at Thomas, waiting for answers.
“Something I haven’t told any of the group yet,” Thomas tells me quietly, “Is that the process is actually quite painful.”
“Painful enough to make them cower like that?”
He shakes his head.
“That’s occurred because of their punishments. As you could imagine, they’re not particularly fond of the vaccination. When they don’t play their part and lash out at one of the doctors, scientists or workers, whomever it might be, they’re punished and as you could see, those punishments are rarely.. civil.”
“That’s against the rules,” I tell him, fists clenched so I don’t let my anger burst through my demeanor. “That’s illegal.”
“Nothing is illegal anymore, Jonathan!” Thomas yells. “This isn’t a civil act and people aren’t going to play civil. We have to use something to keep things under control.”
“You could just knock them out,” I point out and he shakes his head.
“We have been but first you have to get your hands on them. Do you know what happened to the first scientist that tried?”
“I don’t want to know.”
He tells me anyway, moving closer to me with each word.
“They ripped the needle right out of hands and stabbed it into his eyes repeatedly and savagely. They tore his iris and he’s now blind in one eye. They’re savages.”
“Chain them up then!” Again, he shakes his head.
“We need them to move around to make sure it’s working properly.”
I run my fingers through my hair.
“Then get volunteers from the group or maybe we might have to get volunteers from the outside.”
“Jonathan, you’re a stupid man if you think any of those men would volunteer to be a test subject. They hide behind others to see if it’s safe before giving it a go. Would you do it?”
I look down glumly and he snorts again.
“My point exactly. So unless you want people kidnapped off of the streets, then you’re going to keep your mouth shut about this. We have to make do the best we can with what little resources we have.”
I stand to my feet, utterly defeated.
“I thought you were a better man then this, Thomas,” I tell him us I look him up and down. From his shiny black shoes, to his lab coat and glasses. “You’re disgusting.”
“That’s rich coming from you,” he sneers. “You’re the reason this is all happening.”
Without thinking, I pull my wrist back and snap it forward.
Thomas stumbles backwards against the table, fingers flying to cover his now bloody nose as his glasses fly across the room. Calmly, he looks into my eyes.
“Are you regretting your idea, Jonathan? Is that what’s going on here?”
His creepy eyes rake over my face, like he’s peeling back my skin layer and layer to get a good look at me.
“No,” I tell him coldly, “But this was never a part of my plan.”
“All this,” Thomas raises his finger and points it at my face. The other still clutches his nose. “This was all done because of you. Before you blame anyone else, remember who’s truly responsible.”
Without another word, I pull open the door and take my leave.
Sunday is a lonely and empty day. Without church, there’s nothing much to do except mow the lawn and read the news on my INews. It’s a truly fantastic invention. Designed to update automatically, you get a live stream of information as the news stations get it. Expensive to have, but worth it for any news fanatics.
Rosemary bustles around the house doing the washing and dusting. She even fixes me a sandwich for lunch.
“Can I ask you something?” she asks just as I’m taking my last bite and I nod.
Today she’s dressed in a simple black dress complete with a white apron. She looks just like the old maidservants you see in the old Hollywood movies.
“What’s happened between you and Rose? She seems so glum lately and she refuses to talk about you. At the very mention of your name she shuts down.”
“Ah,” I laugh nervously. “Just her teenage hormones I think.”
Rosemary stares at me, eyebrows raised. Eventually, I sigh and give in to her knowing gaze.
“We had a fight a few weeks back. I wouldn’t tell her what she wanted to know and she disobeyed me by going out late at night. I have grounded her for it.”
“What did she want to know? Rosemary asks in confusion. “The truth? She mentioned something about that.”
“Mrs Bownds,” I tell her earnestly. “I have a company secret that I’m not allowed to pass on to anyone. To do so would cost not only my life, but anyone else’s involved.”
Rose steps into the kitchen, arms crossed.
“So Telcorp is involved.”
“Rose, sit down.”
She wants to argue, that much is clear, but thankfully she listens and takes a seat.
Rosemary quickly hurries from the room, gratefully leaving Rose and I together.
“Sweetheart, listen to me,” I reach across the table and grab hold of her hand. Although they resist at first, eventually she relaxes. She keeps her eyes and head down. “I love you, okay? You mean the world to me. I’m sorry for getting angry at you, but I was so scared that you could have gotten hurt.”
“I didn’t though,” she points out and I shake my head.
“You could have. We both could have.”
After a moment, I pull her from her chair and pull her onto my lap. It’s slightly uncomfortable with the hardness of the chair, but I won’t let it stop me from her hold her.
Rose curls up in my lap just like she used to when she was younger.
“I’m sorry I can’t tell you what’s going on, but I really have no choice in the matter. Not if I don’t want you hurt or killed.”
“Why would I be hurt or killed?” she questions and I hold her a little tighter. In my mind, all I can see is the inmate being assaulted. Sure, she killed an innocent person that day, but it’s only a matter of time before that won’t be abnormal.
“I’d be going against the oaths I swore to keep my mouth quiet. I’m sorry, Rose, but I knew the conditions of these oaths. If I go against them, I’m killed.”
“Killed for going against rules?” she asks, a frown on her face. “That’s not fair.”
“That’s life, sweetheart. I’m sorry I took those oaths. I never even though of how they might affect you. I didn’t think you’d ever discover it.”
“I was awake and crying that first night,” she admits. “I heard you coming down the hall so I pretended I was asleep so you’d leave me alone. I thought you might have been going to get a drink but then you got in the car and drove away. I thought you were going to go see that lady from the office.”
“Yeah,” she purses her lips. “I saw the way she looked at you and you looked at her.”
Guilt stops me from speaking and eventually Rose climbs from my lap and takes her own seat.
“I forgive you for that,” she tells me. “I’m sure mum does to.”
“I never told your mother that my eyes began to stray,” I admit and Rose smiles a sad smile.
“You didn’t need to. She could tell.”
Pain hits my chest so hard that I gasp and clench my hand into a fist over my chest.
“Sort of. She knew something must have been going on between you and another woman.”
I don’t know what to say and all I can do is clench my eyes tight and try not to let the guilt take me down the swirling vortex I want to go.
Rose reaches out and touches my hand.
“She forgives you, too. She spoke to me about it once when you were late home from work. She was calm, as usual but I was angry because you promised you’d help me cook dinner. When I asked why she stayed with your cheating ass she told me she prayed every night that you would never have sex with another woman. She believed her prayers would always be met.”
She pauses and then looks into my eyes.
“Did you ever have sex with her?”
I shake my head, guilt still making it hard to speak. Eventually, I manage to say,
“I thought about it though.”
Pain flickers behind Rose’s eyes before she shakes her head.
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
I reach across the table and seize hold of her hand again.
“Thank you, Rose. I’m sorry I keep hurting you over and over.”
“I’m sorry too,” she admits. “I shouldn’t have acted so childishly. I just hope one day you’ll tell me what’s going on in your life. Maybe I’ll be able to do the same too.”
I nod in agreement before standing to my feet. Rose jumps to hers too and for the first time in a month we embrace one another. My daughter and I stand in the middle of the kitchen, squeezing each other tightly before Rosemary reappears to grab my plate.
“Lovely family,” I hear her mutter under her breath and I smile.
Yes, yes we are.