Authors: Steve Feasey
This book is for all the ‘freaks’ out there.
You know who you are. SF
The raiding party comprised only seven individuals: six mutants and the ‘Pure’ insider who’d planned the incursion. They hurried down the corridor that led to the research facility, stepping over the uniformed bodies of the guards that lay on the floor. The small canisters of powerful nerve gas they’d used to incapacitate those in charge of this place – pumping it in through the air-conditioning system – had worked better than any of them had expected, and they now stood before a huge steel door, sweating behind their awkward gas masks.
The man closest to the door slid a key card into a small metal box on the wall. When he tapped in today’s security code and held his thumb over the scanner, he was rewarded with the noise of automated locks disengaging.
The seven stepped through this door, squeezing into a decontamination chamber on the other side. From here, they were able to pass through a second door and enter the top-secret facility beyond.
The air supply in the lab came from a separate system to that in the rest of the facility, and they could finally remove their masks and look around them properly. Steel benches crammed with high-tech equipment lined the walls, but their eyes were immediately drawn to the huge glass tank that took up most of the centre of the room. Inside, suspended in a murky yellow liquid to keep it preserved, were the remains of a grotesque humanoid figure. Long dead now, it was almost unrecognisable as a man; its limbs and body were bent and contorted, as if they had been incorrectly attached by some sick and twisted creator. A huge, deformed head with large bulging eyes stared sightlessly back at them through the glass.
‘What is that thing?’ the woman named Maw asked.
‘The mutant they found in the Blacklands,’ Silas answered. As the insider responsible for getting them all into this place, he had seen the preserving tank many times. Nonetheless, he was still horrified by it. ‘That poor, unfortunate wretch is the reason we’re all here today.’
A noise from behind a door set into the far wall silenced them. It was the unmistakable sound of a small child crying out.
‘Let’s get a move on,’ said Silas. ‘We don’t have much time before the effect of the gas wears off.’
Another keypad, another door. This time, as it swung open, they halted on the threshold to take in what lay beyond.
The nursery was a harshly lit, featureless room containing three aluminium cots and, at the far end, two beds. Beside these were small wheeled trolleys, vials, syringes and other medical paraphernalia neatly arranged on each one. There were two cameras mounted in opposite corners of the room. Motion-activated, they now swung towards the door and the intruders, the whine of their servo-motors just recognisable over the hum of the air-con. The men who usually monitored the images from these cameras would not be raising any alarms. Like the rest of the workers on the facility, they were out cold.
The children, none of whom was asleep despite the late hour, stared back at the strangers, almost as if they had been expecting them. There were three in the cots, all around two years old, maybe a little more. The other two were older. One, an albino, appeared to be about six; the other was perhaps four years older. Unlike the toddlers, these two were secured into their beds by leather straps around their wrists and ankles. Silas hurried over to one of these beds, motioning Maw towards the other. He quickly undid the restraints and helped the albino boy to stand up. Already tall and lanky for his age, the young mutant’s skin was the colour of milk. He looked back at the man through eyes of the palest blue imaginable.
‘Jax,’ the man said, nodding at the youngster.
‘I knew you could do it, Silas,’ the boy replied. He spoke in a clipped and calm manner that seemed at odds with his age and the situation.
Jax stepped over to the nearest cot, reaching inside to lift the little girl out and balancing her on his hip so he might stare into her face for a moment. ‘They’ve come for us, Anya. They’ve come for us all.’ As he looked at her, tears welled up in his eyes and slid down his pale cheeks. As if in response to this show of emotion, the infant in his arms transformed into a spitting-and-hissing wild thing; a furless cat-like creature that pulled back its lips to bare its teeth at the newcomers.
‘No, Anya. These are our friends.’
It was the gentlest of remonstrations, but the animal quickly became a girl again, burying her face into his chest as if embarrassed by her outburst.
The young albino shrugged apologetically. ‘They have already been through so much, and they’re only babies.’ He looked about him at the other children, shaking his head at what he saw. ‘And the men who ran this place called
‘Where are the scientists?’ Silas asked.
Jax gave him a sly grin. ‘Those metal helmets they wore? The ones to keep me from using my powers on them? Well, it seems as if they went missing just about the time that the alarm sounded. The scientists had a terrifying vision. Apparently they were under the impression that a giant snake-headed monster had broken into this facility. They fled via the emergency escape tunnel.’
‘A snake-headed monster?’
The pale child’s grin intensified, and he shrugged again.
The woman, Maw, having undone the eldest boy’s restraints, knelt by his side, her hand resting on his arm. The boy lay in the bed watching everything going on around him. If Jax was tall for his age, this youngster was
for his. A great blockhead stared back at his rescuer, a hint of a smile touching the corners of his mouth. ‘Brick!’ he said in a loud voice.
Maw reached out to flatten some stray hairs that stood up on the boy’s head. In response, the youngster reached up and took her hand in his, pressing it to his face. ‘Brick,’ the boy said again.
‘Why does he keep saying that?’ she asked, without turning away from the child.
‘Brick was one of the first experiments,’ Silas explained. ‘His mental faculties were impaired by the things they did to him. One of the guards said he was “as thick as a brick”.’ He shook his head, the corners of his mouth turning down at the memory. ‘He would torment the boy over and over with that expression, until eventually the name stuck.’
‘How could such cruelty be allowed?’
The look Jax gave her suggested the guards’ taunts were the least of it.
‘You’ve already met Anya,’ Silas said, gesturing towards the girl in Jax’s arms. He nodded to the other cots. ‘The little boy is called Rush. The girl next to him is Flea.’
‘Who named them?’ Maw asked.
‘I did,’ Jax said. ‘Before that, they were simply known by their case numbers. Many of the scientists still insist on referring to us in that way. I suppose they’re frightened of humanising us.’
‘So who named you?’
He looked at the man by his side and smiled warmly. ‘Silas did.’
There was a moment while the members of the raiding party took this in.
One of them, a man called Josuf, reached inside Rush’s cot and lifted him into his arms. ‘They’re just kids. What kind of person builds a place like this?’
Silas turned to him. ‘As Jax said – a monster. A monster who likes to pretend he’s a god.’
‘There’s no place anywhere, not even on a messed-up planet like Scorched Earth, for a horror factory like this one.’
‘Then it’s a good job we’re here, isn’t it?’ Silas said. ‘Come on, we’ve got to get out of here. We still have a lot to do tonight. Take the children back to the safe house where we rendezvoused. I’ll join you there as soon as I’m finished.’
Silas watched the children and their new carers depart until only he, Jax and the woman who was to escort the boy to safety were left. When she reached out to take his hand, Jax shook his head. ‘I’ll stay and help Silas,’ he said.
‘That’s not what we agreed,’ Silas said.
‘I’m not going without you.’ Again it was hard to reconcile the boy’s tender age with the way he spoke and acted.
The woman hesitated, not knowing what to do for the best.
After a few moments, Silas sighed. ‘Let him stay,’ he said to her. ‘Go with the others. I’ll bring Jax.’
The woman gone, Silas and Jax stood in that terrible place, looking about them in silence. Eventually Silas turned to the albino boy. ‘You’re sure you can wipe their memories?’ he asked.
‘Brick will be difficult, if not impossible. He’s older and things are . . . complicated inside his head. But he won’t give Maw too many problems.’
‘And the little ones?’
Jax nodded. ‘Trust me – I’ll erase every last trace of this place from their minds. They’ll be able to live normal lives.’
‘As normal as possible.’
‘What about their powers?’
‘Separating them will help. The powers we have are enhanced when the five of us are together. In addition, I should be able to suppress the areas of their minds associated with their gifts. That will help for their early years, but as they get older, there’s a good chance those “bizarre abilities” will re-emerge. It’s in all of our natures to be what we really are, Silas. You’ll need to keep a close eye on them, even if they are sent away.’
‘And what about you?’
‘I can’t exactly wipe my own memory, can I?’
‘I guess not.’
There was another pause before Jax said, ‘I’ll stay with you. If you’ll have me.’
The boy’s proposal was unexpected. Silas had planned that Jax too would be sent off to a remote location, to live in one of the safe houses he’d set up.
‘That won’t be possible. Even with this place gone, you’re hardly difficult to spot.’
‘You know I can make anyone see me however I want them to, Silas.’ As if to demonstrate this, the boy transformed into a replica of the man himself, so that Silas was looking at his own twin and hearing his own voice speak to him inside his head.
Even though this is only a trick of the mind, I think you’d agree it’s a pretty good disguise.
His doppelgänger disappeared as quickly as it had appeared and a grinning albino boy was standing before him once again.