By A.D. Harding
My eyes scanned the dark area before me. Left, right, left again.
I had my back firmly pressed against the pale, featureless wall of the stairwell. The lights were off, but I could see the pinpoints of red from the gun-topped laser cameras sweeping about. One slip…just one wrong move from the comfort zone in which I stood and I would be killed. Such is the fate—I guess—for a runaway.
I stood there and simply breathed quietly through my mouth, and then more silently through my nostrils. The small chains that adorned my black outfit barely made a sound, and I intended it to stay that way. My eyes went from sweeping the hallway to the ceiling as I stifled to keep from sweating. As far as I could see in the dark, I was standing in a square with stairs that led downward to the right and upward to the left. What floor I was on, I had no idea. I didn't count floors. I just wanted to run…from what? What was I doing?
Oh, yeah, escaping.
Your fear is getting the better of you.
My memory went through its pictures of horrid and disgusting things that I often saw people doing to things like me. I was raised in a laboratory, kept there like an animal. Sentient, the scientists knew…but they still talked to us like children or savages. That's what we were created to be…savage, mutant people. The lab was filled to the brim with us, mainly discarded remnants that didn't work and were to be thrown away like old scrap metal.
But not me, no…I was special. I was a weapon. I did my share of killing. The training field…that was fun. Running after the targets, the discarded mutants, until they were too weak to run any more. I could smell their sweat. I heard every sound they made down to the breathing of the dirty air in their heaving, aching lungs. They bled from over-exertion. I tracked them, smelled that blood and followed it with that sense alone. At my best, my eyes lit up pitch dark and allowed me to see.
They would fall on their faces, exhausted and waiting for me, the executioner…the angel of death.
And in no time at all, what was once a living, breathing creature ended up a stain on the grass. Coming out of that savagery, my face and hands were covered in blood…always with blood. I would be rewarded with the faces of my creators and the way they looked at me with satisfaction. I could hear them whisper among themselves…they had created one of the ultimate war machines…a biological marvel.
But when they showed me to others…the look on their faces was not that of satisfaction. It was of uncertainty…disgust. It was fear. I can smell fear, I knew what it was…but this fear had rage in it. This was a grim fear. And soon, my creators—you could technically call them my parents, but I hate technicalities—they had it too…with each passing day, with each new target that I went after, they were filled with more fear. I saw it growing.
These emotions…fear…I had never known it myself until that day…just two days ago. The scientists, they had me put in a sound-proof glass chamber.
Sound-proof for a human. With the ears of my other form I could hear what they were saying.
They wanted me destroyed. They thought I was too dangerous…I was smart. I could plan. I could manipulate just as well as I could kill. Intelligence was dangerous.
I did not want to die. More so than ever, I did not…because when I thought about fear, the more I came to realize the horror of my own sins. I was made and forced to be a murderer. Now that murderer had remorse.
Toward dusk, I found a weakness. I exploited it and ran…simply ran.
That was today. I was now on the edge of the threshold, looking down into an abyss that looked too deep for me to risk crossing.
See, they've had escapes before from others. Smarter than me, quicker. Yet, they were always caught…I saw what they did to those that they caught.
A shudder ran through my body that quaked me to the core. The sweat poured. My heart thundered.
I was at the point of no return now. I could sense the night closing in from the outside. Soon there would be no people. They always left the building barren at dusk, thinking everything was locked up tight. This was my one chance to get away, to finally find a way out of this trap…before they realized I had gone missing.
As the lasers below continued their silent, unfeeling work, I raised a hand to my neck. Hanging loosely from it was a collar, very plain and steel-colored. They gave it to all of us…inside was a chip that could chart our whereabouts. It was hard to try getting it off…it was made with reinforced rubber and steel. And if I tried in here, I would probably be caught before there was any success.
I needed to be away from the perimeter. That meant leaving the borders of the city.
I had to run across the city…without capturing attention…without stopping…until I either got there, or I was killed.
Make your choice! Make it, now! I scolded myself. I knew that at dusk there would be no people…but as soon as there was no more natural light, the building's security system would turn on high alert. Nothing would make it through two inches without an alarm going off. It would be that way until dawn. But then, people would be returning.
I made my choice. I had to go...down to at least the third floor and out of any window I could find. Luckily I knew the place inside and out.
I inched over, my bare feet making little noise. I watched the pattern that the camera sweeps went in. There were five of them on both sides of the walls in a zigzag pattern, each one just a foot away from the other. The closest to the stairs was on the right, and in its arc, the beam would have almost touched my foot. Would have, if I weren't as swift as I was.
The cameras swept…covering every inch of the arc…
There! An opening! GO!
I bolted down the stairs, hopping as I went, jumping and ducking and weaving around the lights. I couldn't let any part of me touch those lights. Those guns were programmed to shoot on a hair trigger.
Left! Right! Down! Jump! Jump! Swerve! Up! Right! Left! Duck!
ZOOM! I was free, down to the next floor. I could stop for my breath. I saw the number on the white-painted, metallic door. This was the ninth floor. Six flights to go.
Listening carefully for any more noise, I went over the plan in my head. I would be a human going through the city. Hide as well as possible, in every shadow that I could find. Avoid contact. No noise. Stay focused…don't get lost. The gate is on the northeast side.
And above all…use the second form ONLY in an emergency.
In my second form, I could run faster, jump higher, and was much stronger. But, people around here knew how to aim, shoot, and disable, very well. And I had to save my endurance…it was run or fight. Not both. I would run as a human. I would fight as a beast.
If I was going down…I was not going to show them that I was weak enough to be tossed away.
If I could get to the gate and past it…well, then I would figure out what to do next. Thinking ahead was never one of my talents.
I looked down the next stairwell, and it was pretty much a clone of the last one…this time the closest camera gun was on the left side. I was behind its arc.
I watched the pattern again, took a few deep breaths, and jumped in.
Dodging and weaving, I kept my focus on the camera movements. Each laser again barely missed a part of my body by mere millimeters. Then I turned and just sped down using the same momentum, same focus, for the next set. It would be much faster. For a moment I was proud of myself and my agility. I probably would have been able to make it.
Suddenly, as I was clearing the last of the lasers, I stumbled. With a quick lurch, I yanked my foot away from the camera's line of sight JUST when the beam flashed the tips of my toes. I slammed against the wall and froze, my breathing halted.
That can't be enough to set it off…was it?
The camera paused. Then swerved towards me. The beam was locked on my chest.
I dodged out of the way, giving a brief screech as the gun's barrel released a blast that singed straight through my heavy elastic pants and burned my skin. The camera was focused on me now, locked and shooting my footsteps just milliseconds after I had left them.
I had no choice but to just keep running, dodging whenever I could.
I passed through more lasers. More cameras noticed me. More of them aimed and fired as soon as they did. I easily forgot how sore I was, bruised and burned as each beam whizzed past my face, inches away from incinerating me. I just ran, full-out, chest burning, without a second thought except to get out of that building and fast.
Seventh floor. Sixth. Fifth. Fourth. More cameras, more lasers, more shooting down at me. The stairway echoed with the noises of the ricochets that they made on the walls.
The worst part was, it was hard to tell if those ricochets were going in a set direction or would be thrown off-course. I could hear one of them hitting another gun. I heard the explosion.
Run, run, run!
I chanted to myself as I finally reached the door to the third floor. Without a second thought, I threw my weight into my shoulder against the door. It took three tries to get it open, and by staying in one place, I was nearly killed. Blood trickled down my leg where the beam had hit.
SLAM! The thing rocked from its hinges and was thrown open with a loud squeal. Door needed oil. I bolted in and slammed the door shut behind me.
Finally, all was quiet again. Without a target to chase, the lasers became silent. I took a deep breath for the first time in minutes and slumped to the floor. I needed rest, but I couldn't afford to rest there for long. Looking around the room though, this was exactly where I needed to be.
The third floor was where they kept a few of the labs that they simply use for medicine. It had the least security concerns.
Also, it was the highest place in the building in which I could jump from the window and have nothing broken.
I looked towards those windows. They were on the side of the building that faced an empty alley. And just by my luck, it was already nightfall. Dusk was fading fast…in minutes, this place would go on high alert from the mess I had made in the stairwell. The cameras would have caught my movements.
Hopefully by then, I'd be long gone.
I stood up and leaped across the room, past computer consoles and other technology. I could just hear the sirens going off in the building, alerting them of an escape.
NOW I can never go back…I lamented. I threw my shoulder forward and the glass shattered.
Shards of glass fell around me. My clothes were cut up a little, but I was not worried about a simple injury. I stood there, framed in the window, looking out at the city. Glorious and sprawling, there were buildings of all types and sizes as far as the eye could see. Hover vehicles lined the streets, and people in different colored uniforms for different aspects of work were moving toward an unknown destination like wounded soldiers or sad slaves…they merely walked, slumped or perhaps bland…nothing else. Across the whole of the city, I could see it thinning out towards the horizon into a field of long, golden grass. Just beyond that was the border.
I didn't have time to watch the sights. I took a deep breath and launched myself out the window.
To anyone watching below, they'd have seen a shimmer in the air where I was…followed by a creature landing on four padded, clawed paws. Then, with another quick shimmer, I was human again. Luckily, there was nobody there to see me.
That's when I heard them.
"There's been an escape!"
"Where is it?"
"Oh damn, it's the Mevara!"
I heard engines coming from the other side of the building and sweeping the sky above it. A shadow blocked out the sun before the large vehicle kept going. I could hear sirens and shouting nearby. There was no time to linger.
My feet were like springs. Tired though my muscles were I could still work my way through the alleyways. I leaped past all the garbage and refuse, past bewildered homeless people sleeping in corners, and hopefully past all curiosity that they would know what I was.
The alley wouldn't go on forever, though, and at one point, I would have to run straight into the main road that led to the plains. I heard the engines from the flying machines as they came back around to search. I knew that they were tracking the signal in my collar. I had to somehow remove it before I reached the wide-open space.
I paused and grabbed a long knife like a miniature sword, still sharp, from a discarded box. While running, I poked and jabbed at the collar with it. "Come on, damn you, get it off me…" I growled beneath my breath. I must have been quite a sight to some of the bums laying around, a young girl running full tilt while jabbing a knife in her neck.
The hover plane was just above me now. No doubt, they had caught my signal. I ran faster, my lungs aching and begging me to rest. But if I did, it would mean my destruction.
And just my luck, the alley I was running down was starting to open up, providing a way clear enough for them to see where I was and which direction I was going. Too long, too clear.
It was risky. But I had to find someplace to enter.
Without thinking, I grabbed the nearest doorknob and turned. To my surprise, it was unlocked. I bolted in, closed the door, and locked it myself. The room was empty and featureless, except for the dust and some broken bottles strewn around the floor. There was another door across the room and stairs leading up to the second floor. Four windows—two across and two on either side of me—were the only other openings.
I was lucky so far. Perhaps too lucky. I didn't want to jinx myself by thinking that I would definitely make it…but just the same, I had hope. I had to try.
"I think she's gone this way," I heard someone mutter from behind the door. My back was flat against it as I tried to keep out of the window's vision. I heard footsteps…about twenty of them marching along the alley. I could hear their conversations clearly.
"Why are we looking for this mutant anyway?"
"Because she's more dangerous than a cargo of weapons in our biggest tank, that's why. Stay focused."
"I still think the border authorities would take care of her."
"Just keep going. The signal's weak, but it's around here."
They kept going past the door. I stifled my breathing as I heard them just behind me. I prayed they wouldn't think about glancing into the curtain-less windows of an empty house. I didn't think they would…they were so caught up in capturing me that perhaps they would make errors that I could grasp and use.
Suddenly I didn't have enough time for a sigh of relief as the footsteps left. Because soon enough, they came back my way.
I saw their shadows across the floor, as dark as the floor itself, as the moon was out now and bright. I believe they had seen through the windows, because I heard one say, "Wait, this house is empty. Have the men search the empty houses. Someone open the door!"
The doorknob rattled against my side. "Sir, it's locked."