“What are you doing?” the girl asked with the conviction of a disappointed parent. Alan pulled his hand back from the bubbling air, his arm causing a wave to erupt from the temporal pool in front of him. They had been walking around the fields of the in between for what felt like weeks. Alan finally realized that the pools were points in time. He couldn’t resist trying to help his friends. Continue reading
One shallow breath sucked into the back of her throat. Continue reading
The girl played in the meadow, a beautiful open field with a large tree in its midst. She split the tall grass, frolicking into a perfectly manicured lawn sitting in the shadow of the tree. She tossed her dress to the left and right as she skipped to the tree, a wonderful apple tree. The girl stopped abruptly as she saw the figure of a man facedown next to the tree. She picked up a loose branch from the foot of the tree and poked the body out of curiosity.
“Hello?” she called out. “Are you okay?”
The man groggily pushed himself up, and turned his body to look at the little girl.
“I’m,” the man looked up at the girl. “I’m fine.”
“Are you, Mr. Mitchell?” the girl asked, her tone more concerned than before.
Alan gave her a curious look, raising his arm to block the light from his eyes, and saw his watch – the watch Elizabeth gave him – ticking away as if it had never broken.
“Where am I?” Alan asked, as he felt his body still in agony from the beating he had taken from the operators. The girl smiled and held her hand out to Alan.
“Welcome to the in between.”
“We have to get out of here,” Elizabeth said. “They’re coming for us. He’s almost here.”
“You’ll go through with the teleporter and make sure she keeps the portal open long enough for us all to make it through,” Marshall explained, his eyes on the woman standing idle next to Castor. “Let’s go now.”
Athena looked at the teleporter.
“She’s going to betray us,” Athena said nonchalantly. The woman’s eyes bulged, bewilderment stricken on her face. Athena looked in the woman’s eyes with a searching, piercing expression. “She’s going to drop us in… a quarry.”
The woman cleared her throat.
“That’s a lie. I wouldn’t…”
“We can read minds, you idiot,” Elizabeth chimed in. “Lying isn’t going to get you anywhere. But if you cooperate, you’ll be fine.”
“Do you know what they’ll do to me if I help you?”
“Do you know what I’ll do?” Elizabeth replied back sharply. The woman flinched as she felt bugs crawling on her skin. She looked down and saw hundreds of spiders climbing up her arms, winding their way to her face. She screamed.
“Oh god, get it off. Get them off!” The woman shrieked.
“Elizabeth, cut it out,” Marshall ordered.
Elizabeth stopped, and the woman was fine again, save for the hyperventilating. Marshall put a hand on the woman’s shoulder, trying to console her.
“We don’t have time for this,” Elizabeth said coldly to Marshall. “He’ll be here any moment.”
“Who?” Castor asked.
“The Director,” Athena said.
The doors to the hub creaked where Castor had welded them shut. Alan looked back at Marshall, who seemed to be growing more concerned by the minute. Marshall turned to the teleportation operator.
“Open a portal. Somewhere remote.”
The woman hesitantly nodded, flicked her wrist, and opened a blue portal next to the group. Elizabeth looked at Marshall, her eyes frantic.
“I’ll be right behind you. I promise.”
Elizabeth went through the portal with the operator. Castor nodded to Athena for their turn.
“You did good, kid,” Castor said. Alan nodded, but his eyes were on Athena. Ever since that first day they met in the lobby, Alan’s eyes had been on her. Now there were silent words passing between them. A message Alan couldn’t forget. He’d never forget that moment bathed in red light in the closet. It seemed to be the only moment worth remembering now. But they didn’t say a word. They just stared at each other, as Athena walked backward into the portal, and vanished. Castor walked in after her.
“We’re running out of time, the portal’s starting to weaken,” Marshall said, as he looked at the hub door beginning to split under the pressure of the Department’s forces.
“Go. I’ll hold them back,” Alan ordered.
“You can’t,” Marshall said. “There’s an entire army through those doors.”
“You have a family that needs you, Marshall. You need to go. Now.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
The doors split enough for a guard to stick his handgun through and fire a shot. Alan held his arm out and stopped the bullet in mid-air.
Alan turned his other arm and pushed Marshall with his mind, watching him dissolve into the portal as it disappeared.
Marshall fell backward into a misty forest. The others were standing around the operator, who was passed out on the ground. Marshall looked at his friends with panic.
“No, no. No, I have to go back. Open another portal,” Marshall begged.
Elizabeth looked down at the operator lying on the floor.
“It took too much out of her, Marshall. We can’t.”
Marshall stood up, and punched the nearest tree he could see as hard as he could. The tree splintered like a twig, sending shards and chunks of wood into the air and into other trees, knocking them down as well.
A lot of bullets. Alan could feel his brain boiling as he tried to stop them all. He pushed back on the guards with all he had in his tank. They flew through the air like dolls. Then the operators came. At first, he could defend himself. The punches and other telekinetics were easier to block than a hail of bullets. But eventually his mind couldn’t handle the workload. There were too many, and their blows pierced through his defenses.
Punched to the floor, Alan coughed blood. He strained to see through his swollen eye. The operators had parted. The Director had arrived. The gray-haired man, in his navy suit, with his perfect smile, and his piercing eyes stood before the kid with the smart mouth, the failing brain, and the instigator of an insurrection.
“Mr. Mitchell, now, I’m going to get your friends eventually. Every last one of your little band of freaks. Anyone who planned this little cabal is going to get what they deserve.”
Alan could feel his knees bleeding as they scraped on the metal grate floor, his eyes peering up into the fluorescent light of the teleportation room. Luckily, the Director didn’t know their faces, so he wasn’t sure who he was dealing with; save for Alan.
“Such excruciating pain awaits the terrorists who think they can oppose us,” the Director snarled, and he nodded to the operator looming over Alan. The operator pushed his hand into Alan’s shoulder, releasing a jolt of pain inside Alan’s brain. Alan groaned in agony, and lifted his head up as best he could.
“It was me. It was all me. I roped them into it. Everyone else wanted to just keep working. It’s all my fault; all of it,” Alan said through clenched teeth, tears of pain streaking down his face. The operator standing over him pressed further into Alan’s brain, tormenting Alan with images of his friends dying. It was all fuzzy chaos, but Alan could feel the raw emotion of loss and tragedy, even though the faces were blurry.
The Director kept a straight face, his emotions under control. He looked at the operator, and then back down at Alan. Little more than twenty years, the Director guessed, but he was trouble regardless.
“Good. I don’t want to waste anymore time. We’re going to clean this up in one strike. Do you know what I’m going to do, Mr. Mitchell?”
The Director bent down, staring at Alan’s wincing visage. Alan looked at the Director’s cold, icy-blue eyes, and knew it would be truly horrific.
“No,” Alan groaned through his teeth, “But I have a feeling it’s not going to be pleasant.”
The Director let a rumbling laugh slip through his diaphragm. His eyes peered into Alan’s wavering gaze. The operator pressed his hand further into Alan’s shoulder, and Alan yelped like a kicked dog.
“I’m going to make it so you were never born, Mr. Mitchell. Not a soul will know you ever existed on this mud ball. Your parents won’t even have an inkling of your soul,” the Director’s quick-worded tirade was laced with venomous hate. He paced as he spoke, as if his hatred gave him energy to carry on.
“How is that-,” Alan winced as he started to lose feeling in his lower legs, “How is that possible?”
The Director looked down at Alan with pity. The boy had clearly gone through hell to save his friends, but he had grown from an inconvenience to a threat; and the Director could not abide threats. The Director placed a gloved hand on the top of Alan’s head.
“When time is on your side, anything is within your grasp, Mr. Mitchell. Anything,” the Director was waxing poetic, the situation truly within his control.
“I’m going to go back and keep you from being born, and we’ll be able to put this whole thing behind us. Maybe I won’t have to kill your friends, or maybe I will just for the hell of it. Who knows?” the Director enjoyed his threats. They gave him power. Even now, as he began thinking about the past, he could feel the world swelling around him. It was a great symphony of light and warmth. He put a hand on Alan’s head.
“Goodbye, Mr. Mitchell; I’m afraid, for the last time,” the Director walked backwards as a bubble – it’s contents a mirror of the world around them – grew out of thin air. Alan looked at the Director and realized – in seeing his devilish smirk – that he wouldn’t stop at just killing Alan. No, this would continue until his bloodlust was sated. Alan felt a thumping in his chest, his heart beating with a ferocity he’d never known before. He pushed the operators off of him, and watched as the Director entered the bubble, then a massive shockwave struck Alan.
The diner was empty this early in the morning. Marshall sat with his group in booths lining the outer wall of the diner, chewing on eggs and bacon.
The TV overhead was blaring the news when a breaking bulletin appeared, cutting the regular news short. It was a special announcement from Director Robert Orson of the Department for Mutated Persons, the same Director who had tortured them for years.
He stepped to his podium and began speaking.
“This morning, the Department was viciously attacked by genetic terrorists seeking to harm our way of life. Their leader, Alan Mitchell, killed and wounded hundreds of honest Americans who were working to keep our people safe. We cannot abide acts of terrorism. We cannot continue to allow genetic deviations to cause destruction and terror on our watch. We have eliminated Alan Mitchell, but we are not safe from future attacks. But this event has given our government reason for a meaningful response. I have received a mandate from our government to expedite the search for genetically abnormal people living within our borders. We will keep this country safe. We will not flinch in the face of terror. Thank you.”
“What a load of bullshit,” Castor grumbled, his fork stirring his scrambled eggs back clockwise into his plate.
“Do you think Alan is really dead?” Athena asked.
Marshall looked up at Athena, her eyes pleading for the lie she wanted to hear; the lie Marshall couldn’t dare to tell her. He looked at his sister Elizabeth, who was keeping guard over the passed out operator.
Marshall remembered the exact moment Alan changed his mind. Right before Alan jumped out of Marshall’s bathroom window to escape.
“Some people think they can escape hell by living in it right now,” Alan replied. “Your family will never be safe, no matter how much you punish yourself to protect them. Eventually we’ll all be rounded up like cattle, and your sacrifice won’t mean a damn thing to the people suffering then. I know I was cynical. I was wrong. You can make a difference. You have to at least try. Otherwise, none of this means anything. We can’t wait for them to change their minds or for things to fix themselves because they won’t. We have to fight.”
Marshall looked at Athena, the tears visibly welling up in her eyes.
“We have to free more of our friends. We have to find my family. I have four more brothers and sisters, and they’ll help us against the Department. We have to unite the six. Alan wanted us to fight.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Athena replied, steeling herself against sadness. She turned it into righteous anger. The others nodded. “For Alan.”
Alan stood quietly in the lab room, his eyes set ahead at the woman unconscious on the table. She looked ironically peaceful given the surroundings. The heart monitor beeped steadily in the corner, while an IV pumped fluids and sedative through the woman’s veins. They were running out of time; the guards wouldn’t be distracted forever.
Alan gently pulled the IV from the woman’s arm, and waited for her to wake up. He could hear men running down the halls and shouting loudly to one another. Then there were men at the door, slamming viciously at the metal work. Alan had destroyed the lock mechanism, so it would take at least two more minutes before they could get the door down. Or not.
The door exploded open, debris flying inside the white room, rattling off walls and shredding the medical equipment like it was tissue paper. Alan protected the woman, curving the explosion of metal all around them and onto the back wall.
“Hands on your head!” the voices shouted in near unison. Alan turned his head to the side to see flashlights and assault rifles fixed to them, shining back at him. He could probably stop most of their bullets. Most, not all; and he wasn’t feeling especially bleedy at the moment. He put his hands over his head, and the men ran forward.
“On the ground!” the voices screeched. Two men pushed Alan to his knees, while others swarmed the woman lying on the table.
“Get the IV back in!” one yelled to another, but it was too late.
The black-haired woman’s eyes opened and she screamed bloody murder. Alan looked up at the ceiling and watched as it began pressing down towards them. The back wall folded in on itself, revealing a black abyss. The floor beneath the soldiers began to shift like a moving escalator, causing the men to fall over. Alan could feel vertigo setting in, his mind overtaken with dizzying nausea. The floor slowly tilted upward, causing soldiers to roll towards the side walls. Alan reached out to keep himself centered on the floor. He watched as one soldiers slipped into the side wall, screaming as he fell, stuck inside of it like a two dimensional piece of paper. Another soldier grabbed the IV stand as it slid, trying to use it to push himself away from the wall that was swallowing his comrades. The IV stand swung wildly, snapping the soldier’s arm at the elbow like a chicken wing. Alan shut his eyes in sheer terror at the sight.
“Don’t be afraid,” the woman’s voice cut through the chaos of the situation. Alan felt a cold hand wrap around his, so he opened his eyes. The woman was knelt down beside him, a look of whimsical curiosity set on her brow. Alan looked around. The soldiers were all writhing around on the floor, panicked breaths and grunts swelling in their chests.
“They’ll be fine,” the woman assured, and she helped Alan to his feet.
The room no longer felt like it was spinning; at least, for him the room had returned to normal. The men continued in their frenzied panic, unaware they were living in a prison of their own imaginations.
“You seem confused.”
“I thought you were…” Alan breathed fully for the first time since entering the room.
“You were expecting her,” the woman replied, filling in Alan’s gaps. “I’m sorry I’m not.”
The woman looked up, her face suddenly aware of an urgency.
“Come with me,” the woman spoke calmly, pulling Alan with her out the doorway and into the white tiled hallway. Alan saw a great deal more soldiers rolling around in the halls as they went.
“They think they’re on fire,” the woman said plainly, her voice soft and lacking any emotional fluster. “Alright, let’s go.”
“We aren’t going anywhere. Not until we find her,” Alan pleaded with the mysterious woman, his hands shaking from the adrenaline rush. The woman opened the metal double doors in front of her, and motioned for Alan to leave. Alan moved his hand back, and the doors snapped shut. The woman looked back, partly shocked and partly annoyed.
“I said no. Athena is in here, and I’m not going to leave her because you’re scared of the boogeyman.”
“Scared? You’re damn right I’m scared. Did you see what they did to me in there?” the woman questioned, her tone shrill and upset. “I’m not going back.”
“You won’t have to, but we have to find my friend – and now – before they scramble her brains,” Alan said firmly. “You have my word, I won’t let them hook you back up to that machine.”
The woman composed herself, then nodded in agreement. “She’s probably in the neural data mine. It’s over there.”
The woman pointed to the hallway heading to the detention area. Alan rolled his eyes. Of course.
“How do you know that’s where it is? You’ve been unconscious.”
“I can read minds. Just as easy to pull information as it is to put in.”
Alan shrugged. If Athena could read minds, and this woman could make people see things, he supposed that there was an overlap somewhere in there to do both.
“Good point, -,” Alan held his hand out, waiting for her to finish with her name.
“Elizabeth,” the woman held out her hand. Alan belted out a huge laugh. He really couldn’t help it. Elizabeth seemed put off by the demonstration.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s just… well, it’s too long a story for now,” Alan said. He pointed to the hall awkwardly, “To the brain scrambler.”
Athena looked up at the circular dish standing over her head.
“Please, try to relax, ma’am. Struggling will only make it worse,” the doctor said calmly at Athena’s bedside.
Athena tensed up, more to spite the amicable mad scientist. The doctor cleared his throats and placed electrodes around Athena’s temples. The doctor pulled some switches, and Athena could hear a feint ringing sound in her ears.
The doctor typed a few deliberate keystrokes into his computer, and the machine over Athena’s head began to light up and beep. Athena closed her eyes, as the machine spun, emitting a sound like a loud vacuum cleaner. Then shattering, metal crashing, and the doctor screaming. Athena could feel her restraints lifting. She opened her eyes.
“Hey,” Alan said, his voice soft.
“I’m drowning! I’m drowning!” the doctor shrieked. “Save me! Help!”
“How?” Athena looked around. Elizabeth walked into her line of sight. “Who?”
“Elizabeth,” she replied to Athena.
“Elizabeth?” Athena looked at Alan, who smirked.
“Not that Elizabeth,” Alan joked.
“Oh,” Athena grumbled, as her shackles came off. Alan pulled her up, embracing her tightly.
“I hate to rain on the parade, but it’s time to get out of here,” Elizabeth said in a dry tone. “Let’s go.”
Marshall barreled his way through the crowd of guards standing in the circular hallway near the hub, pushing them off as he ran. Castor ran behind him, punching with fire-laced fists and melting fire arms in his burning grip. Alan slammed his way through the exit door, startling a teleportation operator on the inside. The asian woman’s eyes were terrified when she realized what was happening. But it was too late.
Marshall grabbed her, holding his hand around her mouth, while Castor welded the maintenance door shut. The guards would have to circle around the to get back to them.
“Listen, don’t scream, ok. We’re not going to hurt you,” Marshall said in a calming tone. The woman nodded. Marshall let her go, and she tried to punch him. Marshall grabbed her arm like she was a child. “I told you we wouldn’t hurt you. I forgot to mention: don’t hurt us.”
The woman struggled for a minute, writhing around, trying to get a holding that would give her leverage. Marshall looked up at Castor, who was trying to fight laughter. Marshall rolled his eyes and lifted the woman over his head. She took the hint and gave up.
“What do you want?”
“We want out of here, lady,” Castor replied sharply.
“But not before our friends get here,” Marshall said, and he put the woman down gently next to him.
The doorway to the hub creaked open, and Marshall nearly passed out at the sight of Elizabeth.
“Elizabeth!” Marshall shouted with joy.
Athena and Alan glanced at each other with confused looks. Marshall gave Elizabeth a huge bear hug, while Castor held the teleporter at bay.
“What’s going on here?” Athena asked.
Marshall looked at Alan and Athena. “This is Elizabeth. She’s my sister.”
Alan bent over the two operators’ unconscious bodies, pulling their walkie talkies off their utility belts. He tossed one to Marshall, who caught it.
“I almost thought you weren’t going to come,” Marshall admitted.
Alan chuckled, unbuttoning the shirt of the lanky blonde-haired man, and tossing it to Marshall.
“I hope this fits,” Alan joked.
“It’s… snug,” Marshall groaned, as the buttons felt like they might pop off. The pants were the same story; the same length, but the width was a little constrictive. Marshall looked down at the walkie talkie in his hand.
“What channel are we on?”
“Eleven,” Alan replied, finishing up with his clothes. “I think their security is always on seven.”
“You know, you didn’t mention you could move things with your mind. I thought you were a magnet?”
Alan looked up, “I didn’t know I could either. That was part of my sentence. They thought I was lying.”
Marshall shrugged, “What’s next?”
“I noticed teleportation messes with the magnetic fields. That’s why the never put cameras in here. Would’ve just shorted them out every time. But the rest of the place has eyes and ears. We’ll sneak around better in these uniforms. You’re going to A block to break Castor and Nick out. It’ll be a left fork in the road once we get out of here. I’ll go to B block to find Athena. We’ll try to meet up at the exit and get a teleporter to get us out of here.”
“Okay,” Marshall nodded.
“Give me a hand here,” Alan said, and they pulled the two operators to the side of the central room, away from the doorway. Marshall clapped his hands together, as if dust had collected from the work. Alan chuckled a little, and pointed at the almost seamless wall off to their right.
“The door’s right there. Are you ready?”
Marshall nodded, adjusting his new, tight uniform.
“I feel dirty in this thing, but, yeah, I’m ready.”
Alan walked up to the wall and the doorway split open with a soft whooshing noise. The metallic hallway seemed so much longer now that Alan wasn’t being dragged through it by the guards. Alan swallowed the lump in his throat, and led Marshall on their first steps down the hall. Alan could hear every boot step clang on the metal-grated floors, the sound rattling hollow in his ears. Alan cleared his throat as they reached the A block fork.
“Well, this is you,” Alan said. Marshall nodded.
“Good luck, kid.”
Alan watched Marshall turn the corner and begin the long walk down the A block corridor. Alan was finally aware he might be looking at his friend for the last time, a sinking weight in his gut. He shook off the feeling, exhaled a deep breath, and continued on his long trek to the B block.
The hallway felt a lot longer without Marshall standing next to Alan. The hallway was lonely, and Alan was left with his thoughts. Athena. Castor. Nick. They were all casualties of a war that Alan couldn’t quite understand yet. Alan didn’t really know how things had gotten so bad for people like him. The events of the past few years had been a blur, with announcements from the federal news flashing warning signs here and there. But really, Alan had been absent-minded and content in his relationship with Elizabeth. Like a satellite, Alan had orbited Elizabeth. Now, he was in retrograde, burning up in the atmosphere. And it felt exhilarating.
During his time in B block, Alan knew that most of the guards took the maintenance hall, which ran a full circle around the central hub where the Department met. It was a way for guards and other workers to get around without having to interrupt meetings or get locked out of their blocks during Department meetings. Alan was going to use it to find a shortcut from the hub to B block, and, hopefully, find Athena.
Alan swiped his badge across the maintenance hatch, and the doorway slid open. The hall was an endless curve. It was a little disorienting at first, but Alan found his footing staring at the floor. It didn’t take long to reach the hatch leading into the B block hallway.
Alan’s boots, which were a tad loose for his taste, clanged onto the B block metal floor and echoed down the hall. The cells were filled with different people. But no Athena. Alan walked back down the hall, and found one of the first inmates.
“Where’s the girl?”
“The traitor?” the man asked smugly, with a deep chuckle in his throat.
“Yeah. The traitor,” Alan said, his voice clearly annoyed.
“Man, I don’t know where she went, but I know where she ain’t,” the inmate waved his hands around. He stood up from his cot, and looked Alan in the eye. “Wait, a minute.”
“Tell me where she went, and I’ll bust you out of here,” Alan said, his voice stern with purpose. The lights strobed and finally died, bathing the hall in a red hue. It reminded Alan of Athena and his previous escape. Marshall must’ve started commotion in A block.
The inmate gave a skeptical glance at the lighting, then at Alan. He cleared his throat and pressed his face to the thick, bullet-proof glass. The inmate shook his head, finally making his decision.
“They took her to C block, man. I don’t think you got a chance; but if you make it, I’ll be right here.”
Alan nodded, and ran off to find Athena in C block.
Marshall grimaced as he sent an A block guard into the metal wall across from the cells, knocking him out cold. Another guard pulled his assault rifle and watched the bullets rip through Marshall’s uniform, then glance off Marshall’s impervious skin. Marshall’s strength ran all the way down to the marrow, a miraculous feat shared by most strength-based mutations. Marshall grabbed the rifle out of the guard’s hands and smashed the metal down like it was clay, letting the pieces rattle as they fell on the metal floor.
Marshall grabbed the guard and gently knocked him on the helmet, causing the guard to pass out instantly. It took a lot of practice to be careful with his abilities, but now it was second nature.
“Marshall? Damn, it’s good to see you,” Castor shouted from his cell. “I told Nick you guys would come back for us.”
“Where is Nick?” Marshall looked around.
“They re-assigned him to a foundry, smelting or some nonsense. Where’s the kid?”
“He’s looking for Athena,” Marshall said.
“Athena’s here too. What a reunion we got going. The control panel’s over there, boss.”
Marshall walked over to the guard post, which had a large electrical panel, a metal desk with a computer and a stack of paperwork sitting on it.
“Just flip the switch, and I can get us out of here,” Castor assured Marshall. Marshall nodded, and grabbed the switch on the electrical panel, just as another guard came in.
Unfortunately, the guard was strong like Marshall. He grabbed Marshall by the arm, and wrenched him into the A block doorway. Marshall could feel his body aching as he peeled himself off the metal wall, leaving a Marshall-sized dent in it. But as soon as he pulled himself off, the guard shoved Marshall right back into the wall.
“Stand down!” the guard shouted as he slammed Marshall’s head into the wall again. And again. Marshall could feel his head was starting to get warm, blood definitely trickling down the side of his face. “Stand down – gah!”
Castor’s red-hot hand grabbed the guard’s right shoulder and pulled him off of Marshall, who then slid onto the floor. The guard turned into the momentum and shoved Castor to the ground.
“Get back in your cell, now!”
“Screw you,” Castor groaned, as he tried picking himself up. The guard shoved Castor again, this time sending him into the back wall near the guard post. Castor winced as his left arm – still aflame – melted through the wall near the electrical panel. Castor tried to bring his arm back out of the wall, but could feel it catch on the metal, so he gave up.
“That’s what I thought,” the guard taunted, as he stood over Castor’s body.
“Yeah, yeah. Big tough guy,” Castor joked.
“Ahem,” Marshall cleared his throat, and the guard turned around to haymaker to the face. Total Knock Out. Marshall picked the guard up and – using his eye beams – welded the guard’s outline to the wall.
“I’d clap, but – ya know,” Castor nodded to his arm tangled in the metal, “You seem to have found your calling, boss.”
“Shut up,” Marshall joked, and ripped the metal away around Castor’s arm. “That better, you big baby?”
Castor rolled his eyes, and pulled his bleeding arm out of the giant hole in the wall. Castor looked at the electrical panel then the hole.
“I have an idea.”
“I’m listening,” Marshall replied.
Castor’s hands glowed white-hot. He followed the electrical panel wiring back into the hole. Castor concentrated, the heat traveling down the wires through the wall, and out of the room. Marshall could see the line of heat glowing as it traveled around the room where the electrical wire was placed.
“What’re you doing?”
“Sending a shock to the electrical grid,” Castor replied through clenched teeth. He pushed even further and the wire started melting around his hand. The metal wall started to warp, bowing under the extreme heat. Lights began to strobe, then died, bathing the pair in a red light. “That should buy us a little more time.”
Guards in tactical gear passed Alan as they ran toward the source of all the commotion. The light was still dimly red, and Alan used the panic to sneak his way into C block’s usually secure gateway. Alan could tell its construction was a large circular room like the hub, but it was made up of small labs stitched together with a honeycomb of hallways. And like the hub, C block had a circular hall running along the outside of the block.
Unlike the rest of the wings, C block was bathed in sickly fluorescent light still.
Alan looked back through the doorway and saw that B block was still blood-red. He wondered if C block ran on its own power source for a reason. Alan shrugged, and made his way down the central hall that bisected the circular complex. He stood at the intersection and saw that the detention area was down to the right. But Alan’s gut told him the large ‘Special Projects’ sign on his left would be where Athena was being held for the neural data mine.
“What did you do, little girl?” the Director’s voice punctuated every word with disdain.
Athena felt the cuffs strangling her hands behind her back, tension pulling them downward with an Operator’s hands pressing down on them with force.
“You know what I did,” Athena grunted, as the Operator pulled back on her cuffs. She could feel her wrists burning raw as the cuffs raked her with every pull.
The Director put his right hand over his temple, fighting off the migraine forming around his skull like a pulsing net.
“We don’t have time for this,” the Director groaned. “I’m sure the young man has gone to Marshall Roberts already.”
“I told him to run and hide,” Athena interjected.
The Director rolled his eyes and looked at Athena with annoyance dripping from his gaze.
“Forgive me if I don’t believe you. Take her to C block for neural data mining. Send a team to the 308. We’re going to fix this, now.”
“I don’t have time to explain,” Alan replied to Finch, who seemed to be on the verge of a panic attack. It was lights out, so no one else was in the courtyard, but it wouldn’t take long if they kept talking like they were. “They’ll be coming for me.”
“Are you kidding me? You brought them here?” Finch asked, feeling a twitch in his eye. These kids were going to give him a stroke. Finch picked Alan up by the arm and pulled him into one of the rooms, Marshall’s room.
“Kid?” Marshall was groggy and shocked. Finch pushed Alan into Marshall’s bulky chest, and shut the door behind them.
“Mr. Mitchell here is bringing the Department to the 308, so you’re going to hide him.” “What are you going to do?” Alan asked as he peeled himself off of Marshall.
“This is your problem kid. I’m not the one who got us in this mess.”
“That’s not fair, Finch,” Marshall replied.
Finch rolled his eyes. “None of this is fair, Roberts. It’s all a shit show, but we deal with the punches as they come. And I’m going to deal with this so our whole precinct doesn’t get wiped, okay?”
Marshall had no response. Neither did Alan, save for a conflicted look on his face and a pounding heart. He was starting to second guess himself. Everything seemed to point to returning to get Marshall, but now he was afraid the rest of the people at the 308 were in jeopardy because of his actions. Finch left Marshall’s room in a violent huff. Marshall opened his dresser drawer, and pulled out some of Alan’s things.
“They usually just toss people’s stuff when they disappear. I grabbed some of your things.”
Alan looked down at his broken watch. He strapped it to his wrist carefully.
“What happened to you, kid?”
“They’re looking for your family, Marshall. Whatever deal you cut… it seems they don’t care anymore. They knew you wouldn’t give up your family, so they went after me,” Alan answered. He could feel the sweat starting to build on his body. Now that he was out, his adrenaline was just pushing him past the point of exhaustion. “They tried to get answers. They were going to even try to crack open my brain. But Athena…”
“Athena?” Marshall stopped Alan dead in his tracks. “What do you mean Athena?”
Alan hadn’t considered how to broach the subject, but now, in his panic, he was confused about how to go forward about Athena.
“She was working for them, Marshall, but she isn’t anymore. Or she is, but she helped me escape. I’m not sure. Either way, I’m scared they figured it out, and she won’t be working with them for long. We have to break her out. Her and Castor and Nick and all the others locked up at the Department.”
“She was working for the Department this whole time?” Marshall questioned. The punches just kept on coming. “No, screw her. She made her choice, we should get out of here.”
“We can’t leave them.”
“They all made their choice, Alan. Like you and Athena always said, this is the world we live in. The best we can do is run while we still can,” Marshall seemed detached from.
“Run?” Alan said, his eyes full of righteous anger. “I could’ve left you, man! I could’ve gone anywhere, and I came back to warn you. What the hell is your problem?”
“You don’t understand these people, Alan. They’ll take everything you have and then take some more!” Marshall was now yelling, “I left my whole family to save them, and now you want me to just throw that all away for your crusade? Screw that, kid. Screw that and the horse you rode in on.”
Alan could feel tears in his face, because it was the only warm thing throughout his body.
“You’re a coward.”
“And you’re a naive little boy with delusions of grandeur,” Marshall raged.
Alan clenched his jaw. He was about to start again when he heard the distinct rushing sound of a portal opening in the courtyard.
Two operators basked in the blue glow of the portal, ominously standing over the courtyard with detached judgment.
“Agent Finch,” one of the Operators shouted, “Your presence is requested.”
Finch was sweating in the lobby when the portal had opened, but found himself shaking in the doorway of the courtyard in the wake of the Operator’s words. Finch reluctantly walked onto the courtyard turf.
“Can I help you, gentlemen?”
“We have reason to believe that Alan Mitchell – who has gone AWOL – fled to this location. We ask that you turn him over now.”
“Hate to tell you guys, but he ain’t here.”
The Operator turned and addressed Finch with a condescending stare, towering a full foot over the older caretaker.
“Choose your words very carefully, Mr. Finch,” the other Operator, a lanky man with blonde hair, replied.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve, kid,” Finch replied, his teeth gritting together. “Why don’t you scurry back to your keepers, and let me run my precinct. I don’t have time for this crap.”
Finch felt his body seize up. One operator held his hand out, taking control of Finch’s body. Finch felt gravity pull his knees to the ground. He looked up at the tall operator, whose hand was now reaching out and pressing down on him.
Alan looked through a slit in Marshall’s window at the courtyard.
“I have to go help.”
Marshall grabbed Alan before he could reach the door.
“Let Finch handle this, Alan,” Marshall replied.
Several people were starting to leave their rooms, driven by curiosity at the noise in the courtyard. Some of them were standing, mouths agape in shock at their caretaker on his knees.
“Go back to your rooms,” the telekinetic Operator shouted to the gathering crowd. The crowd didn’t move.
“Where is he?” the blonde Operator hissed through a clenched jaw at Finch.
“He’s not here. And screw you,” Finch sneered, his eyes looking up in his immovable head.
The telekinetic operator made a fist, and Finch groaned in pain.
“Do it,” the telekinetic operator ordered to the blonde operator. The blonde operator held out his hand over Finch’s heart. Finch could feel his heart pulsing rapidly. His mouth filled with a rusty flavor of blood. The heart pulsed faster. Faster. Faster. Pop. Finch’s body fell limply down onto the courtyard ground.
The telekinetic operator turned to the stunned crowd.
“Where is Alan Mitchell?” the telekinetic operator shouted, his voice echoing in the courtyard.
The crowd changed from shocked to obstinate, their faces emotionless like stone.
“They’re going to kill them,” Alan growled at Marshall. “You don’t understand, Marshall. These people don’t care. They just have the mission.”
Marshall shook his head no.
The blonde operator whispered something into his ear piece, and a blue portal opened up in the courtyard. A teleportation operator walked through with a dark-skinned man in plain clothes.
“Everyone,” the man shouted. “I am your new supervisor, Mr. Torrence. We are looking for Alan Mitchell. Anyone with information to his whereabouts will be rewarded. If you do not comply with this department, your precinct will be liquidated. You have one hour to comply.”
Alan turned and gave Marshall a furious look. “See.”
Marshall looked down at the crowd beginning to disperse. Finch’s body remained limp on the ground amid the Department Operators, who were talking quietly to each other, likely about the crowd. Marshall watched the Department employees walk away into the lobby, leaving Finch’s body on the ground.
“They aren’t even going to bury him. But he’s a normal. What the hell is going on?” Marshall grumbled under his breath.
“They. don’t. care,” Alan said slowly, each word a hammer strike on Marshall’s ears. “Marshall, we can’t keep living like this. Your family wouldn’t want this for any of us.”
“Don’t pretend like you know anything about me, kid. I’ve lived long enough to know what lies at the end of this road, and it ain’t pretty.”
“But it’s the right thing to do,” Alan pleaded, “and you know it.”
Marshall pointed to his bathroom.
“My bathroom has a window unit. You can push it out and escape. I’ll make sure they never knew you were here.”
“Okay, we’re going to cut to the chase,” the blonde operator whispered to his other operator, then he shouted at the crowd, “Where is Marshall Roberts?”
A chair flew out from the balcony level of the apartment complex, smacking the blonde healer operator in the face and across the courtyard into a concrete beam holding the balcony up, cracking it in the process.
The blonde haired operator lifted his hand up, just as Marshall leaped from the balcony toward him. Marshall slowed in the air, until, finally, he was floating overhead.
“Insubordination and terrorist activities. Automatic three strikes,” the telekinetic operator said with a smile, as he subtly spun Marshall in the air. The teleportation operator opened the portal for exfiltration, and stared back at the floating Marshall.
“Where is Alan Mitchell?” the telekinetic operator asked with curiosity in his voice. “Surely, he must be here.”
“Maybe you scared him off,” Marshall grunted through spasming muscles. “You did put on … quite a … show.”
The blonde healer pulled himself up and whipped the dust and concrete pieces from his clothing. He fixed his broken arm with a warming hand, and pointed at his eyes, then at Marshall in an act of intimidation.
“Look… the kid’s… gone. Okay? He knew you were coming. You were pretty… obvious,” Marshall managed to get out. “I gave him the out… and… he took it.”
The telekinetic operator’s curiosity was gone. “We’ll deal with him later. Your amnesty is up, Roberts. You’re coming with us.”
He pulled Marshall down to the ground, and the operators walked through the portal, leaving the rest of the 308 with their new supervisor, Mr. Torrence, and the teleportation operator.
Marshall felt himself pulled apart and pushed back together again as he was teleported into the circular entrance room of the Department. The telekinetic operator came through with his partner, and saw that something was amiss.
“What the hell?” the telekinetic operator sighed under his breath, his eyes meeting Alan Mitchell’s.
“Hello,” Alan said with a smirk, and he clapped his hands together, knocking the two operator’s heads together with his telekinesis.
“Get up, Marshall. We’ve got work to do.”
Alan wondered what Elizabeth would say seeing him in his current predicament. She was the optimist of the relationship. And while he had considered himself the cynic, the events of the past few weeks were now starting to nudge him in another direction. Without darkness, light would have no meaning, but darkness was just as invisible without light. The genetic deviations – as the Department called them – were living in dark times, that much could be seen. But there was a sliver of light beaming underneath the doorway. Alan wondered what was on the other side.
Alan hadn’t seen Athena since their last conversation. He wasn’t sure how much of what he said to her had been what she needed to hear or just desperate bargaining for her to see the light that Alan was starting to get glimpses of. Alan mused that it all bordered on insanity. He was in a no-win situation; a prisoner in a top-secret government installation. But as much as Athena wanted to persuade Alan that he was stuck, that his life was not his own, Alan felt a sense of freedom in his cell.
In solitude, Alan had found a new sense of himself. There was something in him that nothing on the outside world could hope to affect. He felt untouchable in his new center. And if he couldn’t be touched, he didn’t have to fall apart at the thought of prison or torture or death. There was a little light in the crack of the doorway, and that meant that darkness would never fully win. But it also meant something more than that. He had to keep the light from going out.
“I’m going to try one last time,” Athena was standing in front of Alan’s cell, a look of agonizing desperation in her face. She was overwhelmed with the option in front of her. “I’m running out of options here, Alan.”
“I thought you were in control,” Alan said sarcastically, not in a mean tone but levity.
“I thought I was too,” Athena replied, exhausted. “Maybe you were right about me.”
“That would be a first,” Alan smiled. “I don’t even know if I’m right about me.”
“They told me this is my last try,” Athena started again. “Then they’ll start Phase 2.”
“Oh? Phase 2,” Alan joked, “Sounds terrifying.”
“It is,” Athena replied, her eyes on the concrete floor. “It is, and I don’t want you to go through it, Alan. You can’t.”
“That’s not really up to me, Athena,” Alan remarked.
“It is,” Athena pleaded, tears starting to well up in her eyes. “It is up to you. If you tell them what you know, they won’t have to do it.”
“Then they’ll kill me, and they’ll kill Marshall and everyone close to him. This is how you make people disappear. It’s the easiest way. You don’t incarcerate them forever. You don’t re-assign them to another camp. When they’ve lost their value, you kill them. Once I give them what they want, I have nothing left to offer.”
“Not nothing,” Athena replied, pain written on her face.
“It’s good to see they haven’t completely bought you,” Alan replied, his head resting up against the concrete wall next to his cot. “Maybe one day that will start something that ends this whole mess.”
Alan lifted his hand. Athena’s shirt collar pulled upward and wiped the tears from her eyes. Alan put his hand down, and the collar rolled back down.
“I’m not a martyr. I’m just tired of not caring, and this seems the only way to start,” Alan explained. “You’re not going to get any information out of me, Athena. I don’t hold you responsible for what happens next, but I do hope you’ll see now: you won’t have control until you admit you don’t.”
Athena gave Alan a quizzical look, but it soon faded to sadness. Alan was essentially accepting Phase 2.
Alan looked up and Athena was gone.
“Put this on,” Athena said, as she threw a black uniform onto Alan’s cot.
Alan cleared his throat.
“Oh, right,” Athena replied, a red hue of blush forming around her cheeks.
Athena turned away while Alan took off his prison garb and slipped on the black uniform.
“So: Phase 2?” Alan asked. Athena nodded solemnly.
“We can still stop this, Alan. You don’t have to go through with it if you just cooperate with them,” Athena pleaded as she took Alan out of the cell.
“I can’t, Athena,” Alan said.
Athena’s hands shook as the carbon-fiber shackles were locked to Alan’s hands. He looked into her eyes and saw her anguish. Athena couldn’t handle the eye contact and looked away. She put a hand on Alan’s shoulder and led him down the hall.
Athena’s skin felt flush as they got closer to C block, the experimental wing of the installation. At first, her heart was racing as her anxiety grew. But there came a tipping point, where she felt her emotions fall over the side of a wall; from anxiety to anger. How dare they make her choose this path?
Athena felt the remote in her pocket pulsing. Alan’s words were echoing in her brain. The first step to taking back control was admitting you were out of control. They stood at a three-pronged juncture in the hallway. Forward would take them to the interrogation rooms Alan had been in before. On the right was the hallway that led to the exit. And the left. The left would take them to the experimental wing.
Athena cleared her throat, and pushed the button on the remote. The fluorescent lights overhead shut down, leaving a trim of red lights on the ground to barely illuminate the few inches in front of their faces. Alan felt himself pushed to his right, into a side room. He could barely see Athena’s outline, but he could hear her frantic breathing.
“Listen, we don’t have much time. I’m getting you out of here before the normals scramble your brain, okay?” Athena said quickly, as if the answer wasn’t insane and suicidal.
“This is crazy, you know that, right?” Alan replied. Athena regained some sense of vision in the little closet they had rushed into. She pulled bits of cloth off of Alan’s black uniform revealing an Operator’s disguise.
“This is crazy.”
“Yeah, you keep saying that,” Athena said, her voice a little annoyed. “Did you think I was going to let them scramble you?”
“I didn’t know what to think,” Alan said.
Athena shoved a tactical helmet on Alan’s head. She tapped it playfully, then pulled Alan close to her face.
“Don’t make me regret this, Alan.”
“We need to get Castor and Nick,” Alan replied.
Athena shook her head, “Are you crazy? I didn’t bust you out so you could go back to the detention block. There’s no way. Just take this hall down to the exit, tell them your number, and they’ll send you wherever you want to go. Just get as far away from here as possible. Run and hide. Don’t let them find you, okay? I’m going to be really pissed off if I hear they caught you.”
“I can’t leave you. I can’t leave them. I can’t leave Marshall.”
“Oh my god, I’m starting to hate this self-righteous, martyr bullshit. Just let me save you. Go have a long and uneventful life somewhere in the boonies, and forget all this crap we’ve been through. Don’t waste this.”
“You know I can’t.”
Athena rolled her eyes, pulled Alan to her lips and kissed him like they’d never meet again. Athena pushed him back, Alan’s eyes wide in confused wonder.
“If you tell Marshall I kissed you, I’ll kill you myself.”
Alan stumbled out of the closet and walked as fast as he could down the hall. Athena walked out of the closet, the light still dim, as the system started coming back online. Alan looked back at her. Athena shook her head no. She wasn’t coming along for the ride.
“I can’t,” she mouthed, and she turned away toward the C block hall.
Alan realized the minute the lights came back on in his hallway, the cameras would be back on him. The disguise wouldn’t last forever. He walked as swiftly as possible without feeling conspicuous. The wall opened up to reveal another circular room with an Operator standing in the center.
“Where to -?”
“Number 227,” Alan replied to her. “I’m reporting to precinct 308.”
The woman nodded, and held her hand out between them. A blue pool opened, and Alan stepped through.
Pulled apart, scrunched together, then spit out onto the cool, wet grass of the 308’s courtyard. He’d never get the hang of teleportation. The pool closed up in a flash of blue light, the air swirling around him in a small vortex. A cold fog remained like a blanket around him.
“What in the hell is going on out here?” Alan heard Finch’s voice call out from the lobby.
The fog cleared and Finch found himself looking down at Alan, both them looking at each other with terrified stares.
“Well, this isn’t good.”
Athena walked in the round room where the board had sentenced Alan two weeks prior. Alan was still not cooperating with her, and had, in fact, grown more zealous in his confinement. The Board was getting impatient, and they had called a meeting to discuss their options moving forward.
The Board member in glasses, a lanky black man from the midwest, arrived early for the Board meeting and was trying to organize himself at the desk.
“Secretary Glasser,” Athena said respectfully, bowing slightly. Glasser nodded to her, and went back to his work.
The door opened again, and the military official entered with a briefcase in tow. Athena stood at attention.
“As you were,” the General replied, and he sat down next to Glasser.
“Have you heard from the Director?” Glasser asked without looking up from his paperwork.
“We haven’t spoken since he called for the meeting, no. Did you hear something?”
“No, no. Just wondering what this is about,” Glasser replied.
The door opened and the other members of the board entered. First, the blonde woman, who was a judge in the Department for Mutated Persons. The second woman, who had short dark hair, was Deputy Director of the Board.
“Deputy Director Jimenez,” Athena nodded. Jimenez ignored Athena, and began addressing the rest of the Board.
“The Director asked me to begin, and he’ll be here shortly. Where are we at with Alan Mitchell?” Deputy Director Jimenez asked.
The Board turned and looked at Athena. She cleared her throat and reported in.
“We still haven’t been able to get information about Marshall Roberts. Mr. Mitchell has proven tougher to crack than previously expected.”
“I say we start phase two, and crack this kid open like an egg,” the General spoke up out of the group. “We don’t have time to just wait for him to soften up on his own.”
The Deputy Director spoke up, “Marshall Roberts’ family must be found. Now, if you’re willing to risk scrambling that idiot’s brain to get your answers, and lose the only feasible lead we’ve had in years… Well, we’ll let the Director know how you feel.”
Everyone seemed wary when the Director was mentioned. Athena didn’t know him, but, from what she could tell, she didn’t want to.
“Don’t try to intimidate me, Miss Jimenez. I’ve seen far too much to be frightened by a little girl from Des Moines,” the General fired back, smacking his fist on the desk.
The Deputy Director didn’t even acknowledge that the General had spoken. Instead, she was shuffling her papers and making notes with a ballpoint pen in the margins. Her silence gave the General pause. The General cleared his throat, looking at the other members of the Board.
The wall opened up and an older man with graying hair and a dark, navy suit entered. The other members of the Board stood from the seats.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” the man said, his light blue eyes shifting from one person to the other. The Deputy Director handed the man his folder with the day’s notes. “Thank you, Sofía. You all can have a seat.”
Everyone sat down, and the Director walked around to the front of the desk to face the rest of the Board.
“Mr. Director,” the General spoke up, “I would like to start our proceedings today with the Marshall Roberts case.”
“As far as I’m concerned, General, that’s the only case,” the Director replied, dropping his folder onto the desk. “I see from the notes that we’re having some issues with Mr. Mitchell’s interrogation.”
“I have advised we move into Phase 2,” the General chimed in.
The Director looked down at his folder, and then looked at the rest of the Board.
“And the rest of the Board members?” the Director asked. Glasser was leaning back in his chair, hand on his face with his thumb under his chin. His face seemed less than enthused.
“I’m not sure that would be prudent,” Glasser advised.
“Our results with Phase 2 have been inconclusive and dangerous,” Deputy Director Jimenez reported, “I told the General as much before you arrived. I think we have to take our time.”
“And I think we’ve waited long enough. It’s great that Marshall came quietly, but his siblings are just as dangerous to this Department. We have to be willing to take the risk. I believe the reward outweighs the risks involved with Phase 2,” the General implored.
“General,” the Director shouted, then his voice became calm once again. “We risk losing our only lead, and you want to use a dangerous, unfounded technique that could kill our lead or leave him in a vegetative state… because you’re impatient?”
The General swallowed the lump in his throat.
“Now, I picked you for this Board because I thought you were level-headed, but my instincts have proven wrong it seems,” the Director continued, his voice calm and menacing.
“I-I-I wasn’t,” the General stammered. The Director raised his head, his eyes looking down at the General at a condescending angle. “I merely think that the longer we wait the more dangerous it will become for this Department.”
The Director hummed, his head returning to a more normal angle. He looked over at the Deputy Director, who had an unsure look on her face.
“Judge Hastings, what do you think?” the Director asked.
The judge sat up in her chair, her blonde hair wagging behind her. She took out her reader glasses, and looked down at the file.
“I think that prudence should win the day,” Judge Hastings replied, “But we also have an objective at risk, and our very existence hinges on our ability to find and neutralize Marshall Roberts’ cabal.”
“We’ve received countless intelligence reports that this group has made countless attacks on our installations across the country,” Secretary Glasser added. “While I agree that the General’s plan is reckless, I do also believe our time is precious. The longer we wait, the more likely a high-priority target will be destroyed by these genetic-terrorists.”
“Deputy Director?” the Director turned to his right-hand woman. She nodded.
“The General has his points, and the rest of the Board has made a clear argument. I think we need to be cautious with any action that might damage the asset,” the Deputy Director explained.
The asset? Athena had remained silent, taking in the meeting with a sense of detached observation. But they were referring to her friend as an asset. He was a tool, a plaything for these people to accomplish whatever they wanted; to be discarded at the earliest possible convenience. Alan was important to them, for now. But the minute he wasn’t…
“…I would advise we give ourselves another round of interrogation, before looking to alternative methods such as Phase 2,” Deputy Director Jimenez concluded.
The Director nodded, pacing back and forth as he took in his Board’s ideas. He adjusted his navy suit, and stepped back a few paces from the curved desk of the Board. A white podium jutted out from the floor, and the Director pulled the touch screen attached to the podium up to his face.
“I am willing to move forward with Phase 2, after another attempt to gain information from the asset, Alan Mitchell. If he continues to be a problem, we will begin Phase 2 with a neural data mine. I will sign off on Phase 2 when we return to assess the efficacy of the interrogation,” the Director typed in his notes on the touch screen, and signed the document with his index finger. “As Director, this directive is legally binding under section 5 of the Genetic Deviations Act. Any one who circumvents my authority, whether intentional or unintentional, will be subject to immediate incarceration under the Department oversight. You are dismissed. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
The Board stood from their seats, shook hands, and left the room to return to whatever their normal lives were. The Deputy Director remained behind to talk with the Director. The Director turned to Athena, his eyes disappointed and coldly discerning.
“I hope that this next interrogation goes far better than your previous record, Operative,” the Director replied, condescendingly. “We’re only as effective as our records show. I hate having to answer these questions to the Deviation Operations Committee. Senators are about as forgiving as you’d expect. Carry on.”
The Director turned to his deputy, “Ms. Jimenez, can you please brief me on our current installation management?”
The Deputy Director nodded, and she motioned for the Director to follow her out of the room. As they left, Athena could hear the muffled voices become blaring thoughts.
“Have you ever witnessed the neural data mine work?” the Director thought as he asked aloud to his deputy.
“Not that I can recall,” Ms. Jimenez replied, thinking further that out of over one hundred test subjects, a majority were comatose. The rest were dead. Athena swallowed hard.
“A rather unfortunate setback,” the Director replied, as they walked through the sliding door toward D block. His thoughts wandered to Marshall. He would stop at nothing until his entire family was destroyed. Athena shook her head, and turned away from them.
Athena walked back toward the B block of the compound, where she thought of Alan waiting for a day that would never come. Athena bit her lower lip, as the B block doors slid open. Now more than ever before, Athena felt completely out of control, and she was afraid there was no way to fix it.
Hours passed. The interrogation was over, but Alan was still playing it back in his memory. How could Athena do this to the 308? They were friends; at least he thought they were friends. But it was becoming clear to him: she was the enemy. She was just like the rest of the freaks working for the Board.
“Alan,” Athena stood in front of his thick glass cell door.
Alan didn’t get up.
“Hello, officer,” he replied with biting sarcasm.
Athena didn’t reply for a while.
“I’m sorry about Elizabeth.”
“Clearly,” Alan snapped back.
Athena pulled a chair over to the glass wall and sat down in front of Alan. She was no longer in the custom work garb of the 308, but an operator’s uniform. It was all black, with military style pockets on her long sleeve shirt and pants.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Athena asked, her tone compassionate.
“Not with you,” Alan replied and looked up at the camera over his cell, “Now with them.”
Athena looked up at the camera. Several uncomfortable minutes passed, then Athena put her hands on her lap.
“My parents hated my gift,” Athena started.
“Gee, I wonder why,” Alan responded sarcastically.
“I deserve that.”
“Damn right, you do,” Alan replied.
Athena cleared her throat, “My parents didn’t understand at first. It seemed like I was really intuitive, perceptive. I would read their emotions before they even acknowledged them. I wouldn’t come down for dinner because I knew they were mad at each other. Then I started using it against them. I’d play one off the other to get what I wanted. It ended up being very destructive to their relationship.”
“Is this supposed to make me feel bad for you?” Alan questioned.
Athena continued, “Eventually I realized that I was better off being honest with them. I told them what I was doing. I tried to help their marriage. I helped them talk things through, and that seemed to make things better for all of us. And then I stopped reading them. I tried to pretend as though I never read them at all. Life seemed normal for a while. Until I heard my dad thinking about Miss Katherine down the street.”
Alan didn’t say anything.
“I didn’t tell my mom. How could I?” Athena recounted, “About a week later, I came home and the house was really quiet. I wasn’t sure if maybe they’d gone out for the afternoon. Until I walked into the kitchen.”
Alan swallowed loudly.
“My mom was bent over the kitchen sink washing her hands raw. Just scrubbing… scrubbing the layer of skin right off. There was blood all over the place… the sink… the tile… chairs. I didn’t even acknowledge my mom. I followed the blood into the hallway. Then the bedroom. My dad was dead on the floor, shot right in the back. Katherine Waltz was still in bed. I can still remember the look on her face. She was in complete shock. Just eyes wide open.”
Alan locked eyes with Athena.
“I can’t help but wonder if I had told my mom when I found out… They probably wouldn’t be married, but… I mean, how do you come back from that?”
“I don’t know,” Alan replied. “I don’t know.”
“I told myself that I couldn’t let my lies kill anyone else. I know Marshall wouldn’t understand that. He always thinks he can find a win-win situation, but we don’t have those anymore. I just want to control how badly we lose, ya’ know?”
Alan shrugged. He understood Athena. The pain of thinking you could have kept someone from dying and didn’t was a burden he was accustomed to. But was it worth this?
“I don’t want us to lose,” Athena reiterated.
“Why don’t you tell me what to do. How does this end well for me?”
“I don’t know,” Athena said, her voice a faint whisper. “But if you know something about Marshall, you need to tell me.”
“Then I can’t help you.”
“I didn’t ask you to,” Alan replied as Athena stood up. She pushed the chair back to the concrete wall across from Alan’s cell, and walked back down the hall.
Alan was alone again. Marshall and Athena had been two of his only friends at the 308. But they had their issues. Alan wanted to be positive like Marshall, but he couldn’t ignore what he’d seen since joining the work camp. People had been imprisoned, beaten, and oppressed. It didn’t sit right with him. Athena was more realistic about their situation, but she was also in the Board’s pocket. She had sold out her friends to feel in control. Alan couldn’t do that. He wouldn’t. Alan decided he wasn’t going to give Marshall up, no matter how bad it got in his cell.
Days passed. Alan hardly saw a soul, including his own. He was left to fester in his own dark thoughts. Was this how they did it? Would he eventually just succumb to the darkness of isolation? He ate very little and talked even less. He was starting to wonder how he would end it, when Athena walked back up to his cell. Athena cleared her throat, trying to swallow the lump forming.
“Back again I see,” Alan said, his voice scratchy and defeated.
“We don’t get to decide what they’ll do,” Athena said. “We can only make our situation better.”
It seemed to be a planned speech to Alan. Athena was firmly standing, no need for a chair.
“You certainly made yours better,” Alan retorted under his breath.
“Just give them what they want, Alan. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“No?” Alan questioned sarcastically. “You mean I can go back home, with my judgmental parents and their awkward stares. Back to the town that remembers my dead girlfriend, and the freak who got her killed. I don’t have anywhere to go back to.”
“You could go back to the 308,” Athena said, her voice a little less sure than before.
“We both know they would never let that happen, Athena. You seem to be the only one with privileges like that,” Alan said in a low, angered voice. Alan continued, resigned to his sentence, “No, I’m stuck in here now, and the only thing I can do is make someone else’s life worse by cooperating with you.”
“You’ve been rehearsing this,” Athena said in a somber tone.
“So have you,” Alan snapped back. “How long have you been spying on Marshall, hoping he would give you enough information to screw him over? Who does that to their friends? What does that make you?”
Athena’s face was like stone, her jaw tight and tense. She could tell she would fall apart soon if she couldn’t get a grip on herself. She had to stick to the script.
“We don’t have the luxury of having friends, Alan. They don’t let us. Eventually everyone breaks and you do whatever the hell they want you to.”
“No. Screw that,” Alan pointed at Athena forcefully, “That’s bull. We have a choice. We get to decide what to do with the time we have. You can trick yourself into believing whatever you want, but the truth is simple. We don’t have to put up with this.”
Athena scoffed at Alan’s remark.
“We’re both too realistic for you to believe that, Alan. We live on their terms.”
Alan stood up from his cot and came to the thick glass right in front of Athena. She seemed uncomfortable by the change in demeanor.
“I wanted to be realistic – maybe even cynical – about this situation. I really did. You spend enough time talking to yourself in your head, you begin to think there’s two of you. It’s terrible to think you have a friend that’s really just your subconscious kicking ideas back. But you’ve made me realize something, Athena. There’s the prison cell you get thrown into, and there’s the cell you put yourself in. I can tell you, I know which ones worse now.”
Alan looked in her green eyes.
“It’s over, Alan. We lost. They won.”
“It’s not that simple,” Alan replied, “And deep down, you know that too. It might take a while to figure that out, but you will come to realize you’re only as trapped as you make yourself.”
“Funny coming from the man locked away,” Athena rebuked Alan weakly. Alan chuckled, and looked at the thick glass wall between them.
“You know, Marshall is naive. He thinks everything is great, and we just have to make the best of it. And there’s you. You can see the 308 for what it is: a prison. But you also think that we’re stuck following orders, and we’re just whatever they want us to be. But that’s not who we are.”
“Then who are we?” Athena questioned in a patronizing tone.
“We’re special,” Alan continued. “We can do things people a decade ago could barely imagine. We could build wonders. We live in a time of miracles. And we’re squandering it allowing ourselves to be prisoners to people who don’t understand and don’t care about us.”
“It doesn’t matter that they don’t understand or care, Alan. They’re in charge,” Athena pleaded for Alan to see reason.
“That may be, but the day will come when no manner of jail cell will hold us back, and nothing will stop us from seeing the light of day. We aren’t meant to rot away. Humans… deviations… they’re the same. We’re the same, and we’re meant to do something amazing.”
Athena could feel tears welling up in her. Either Alan had grown desperate, or the the solitude had cultivated something inside his soul that was bearing fruit.
“What you are implying is revolution,” Athena said, her voice grave with fear.
“I’m not implying anything. I thought what I said was pretty obvious,” Alan smiled.
“They’ll never let it happen, and they will get Marshall’s information out of you,” Athena said, now resigned to the fact that her friend was going to die before he gave up.
“I’m quite content to bide my time. Eventually, they’re going to get board with me. Then they’ll get rid of me.”
“What good is that?” Athena pleaded. “Alan, they’ll kill you.”
“It will be on my terms, and I won’t bring Marshall down with me. We can’t give up what brought us together.”