It turns out that not every rogue gets killed for breaking the rules as I previously thought. A lot of them do, of course, but then where would the laboratory get their test subjects from? They couldn't test on average, law abiding citizens now, could they? Nor could they advertise their requirements to volunteers; no, better keep this to a low profile. Nobody will miss the criminals that they all hate. They deserve this.
What had I done wrong? I had an education, I had talent, I had a loving family and great friends... I couldn't refuse to join the army, but did that really mean I was lower than mud? Did it really mean I wasn't human anymore and that I had no emotion? I'm not human any longer. What emotion I retained is not worth having. I want to die and yet I'm being forced by unfinished business to stay alive.
When I awoke after my long unconscious sleep, I found that I had been strapped to a metal bed that sat in the middle of a large room. My arms were outstretched, attached to more metal poles and when I tried to move the pain as well as the other restraints stopped me.
I lost track of time; I assume that I was too drugged up to stay awake longer than ten minutes – when I could open my eyes; the blinding white room forced me to shut them again. I was kept nourished by a tube that ran through my body and so there was no need for me to eat or drink properly.
The only visitor I received, or that I recall receiving, spent a minimum of thirty seconds with me. During which time, I would attempt to speak upon seeing them enter the room, but they would silence me by stabbing me with syringes. Injection upon injection… I have hundreds of scars across my whole body where they thrust needles in me as if I was a lump of meat. These injections kept me drowsy, I think, as well as many other things.
After a while of me being there, I began to seriously think about what was going on. This became aggravating; during these periods, although I would be rather sleepy and my body was still not co-operating, I was yelling at myself to try and get out. I even worked out a plan but it took everything in me to try and put it to practice. I was in the laboratory. I knew it. I knew they were doing bad things. But I let them do it.
And so, when Mary and Tommy came to break me out, I was even more ashamed that I'd gotten my friends in the same hell hole. I hated that I needed rescuing, that I couldn't save myself. But I was relieved that I was getting out.
When they entered the white room that I was in, I wanted to speak. It's that terrible feeling where you've got a dead leg and you so want to move it, but it's impossible. I tried to force myself to speak as if my life depended on it, but I was wrecked. And when they immediately started to stab me with even more syringes, I wanted to scream.
But these were good medicines; they woke me up. They allowed me to think more clearly. I could even speak, albeit in a very hoarse voice. They disconnected me from the metal scaffolding and Tommy caught me before I hit the floor. I wanted to hold onto him, but despite the rest of my body regaining some strength, for some reason I couldn't move my arms.
"Rita," Mary spoke. It was so good to hear her voice again. "You must listen to me very carefully, do you understand?"
"Do not try to move your arms; do not even concentrate on anything else other than getting out of here. We will try to get out of here altogether, but if you do not see us with you then you must escape alone. It is very important that you do not come back for us. We will find our own way out and if you come back for us then you will ruin everything – do you understand?"
I nodded. Tommy lifted me up and encouraged me to walk, but the floor was cold and making my feet numb. He was a rather large bloke and so it was easy for him and by the time we left the room, I was making progress. Their medicine was extremely strong.
There was a deafening alarm screeching throughout the ward. I leant back on the wall to rest, but Mary grabbed my shoulder and pulled me forward so that I would walk with them.
And then, the lights went out. From blinding white to pitch black; only the dimmest of lights lit our path and I didn't trust that they were leading us in the right direction. I began to hear screams and wails and I knew, even then, that they were the other inmates. Their howls followed us as we ran through endless corridors, feeling for our way, attempting to open every locked door.
Mary eventually found a door that was unlocked but as I was about to follow her, Tommy held me back. He pushed me behind him so that he could look through the door for Mary, but when he did, the sounds of shrieks and bawls grew louder – I swear I even heard Mary's cry. Tommy dragged me away from the door, but I wanted Mary.
"We have to go back for her," I tried to shout but my voice was still rough, and Tommy only just heard me.
"Remember that Mary told you not to go back for her, no matter what," Tommy ordered. I had to keep that in mind.
As we continued to run through the corridors, I began to wonder why nobody was chasing us and trying to stop us. It was only when I stumbled upon a well lit room that I realised.
I called Tommy's name as I went through what I thought was an exit. But I was so very wrong. It looked exactly the same as my room, except that there was already an occupant in this one and she, too, was free, kept secure in the room only by the thousands of wires that infested her body. She was tiny and looked exactly like a child's rag doll in every sense; the laboratory had hacked at her and rearranged her, adding new parts and taking old ones off. I wanted to set her free and take her with me, but as soon as she saw me, the ugliest smile crept onto her misshapen face and she began to scream. Her broken hands reached for me as she ran, quicker than anything I've ever seen. She was hungry. She craved me; whether she wanted to eat me or experience a kill, I wasn't sure. But it was only thanks to Tommy who pulled me out of her room just in time that I escaped her. I heard her head thud against the door. I heard her skull break. Her screams stopped.
I followed Tommy as he ran through the corridors with his hand pressed against the walls to determine which doors could open and which doors were locked; we didn't have much time. But when I saw two double doors at the end of the corridor hidden in darkness, I knew that was the exit.
"Tommy!" I screamed, my voice changing due to my sheer excitement. "We're here! This is it!"
I turned back to see a large door swing shut. Tommy must have thought that was the exit before I had found mine but I had to get him; he had saved me from that little girl and if the monster inside here was as bad as her, then I could drag him out just in time.
I swung the door open and stumbled inside to see my frequent visitor, or one of her friends, embracing Tommy. Her gown and mask were grey, no longer the clean white due to the darkness of the room. But a small light from in the corridor shone on a large syringe that had been plunged into Tommy's neck; I could see my visitor wrapping her left arm around Tommy's torso, and although she was wearing a mask, I could tell that she was smiling.
I staggered as I backed out of the room and ran for the exit. The doors were locked, but when I looked out of the windows I could see the ocean. Whether it was an illusion or the truth I wasn't sure, but I couldn't run around this building any longer. I threw myself at the doors, hoping that I would be heavy enough to open them.
The doors began to separate from their hinges and I once I'd broken them just enough, I had to slip through them; I gained cuts and bruises but I could immediately feel the salty sea air hit my face. I jumped out of the door's grasp onto what I thought would be a platform, but instead I began to fall towards the black, open sea.
So, now that I was back home, I could visit Theo. I was so happy, I almost cried. I picked myself up but I was rather confused when my body felt heavier than it usually did. The medications were gone, or the ones that mattered; I had rejected them all from my body and was attempting to recover from them. So even though I was still weak, I should be feeling somewhat normal?
This is when I finally looked down at myself and at what the laboratory had done. I visited the doctors about this last week, and so I'll tell you what they told me. It starts about halfway down my upper arm, where my original bone from my arm begins to expand and mutate. Because it has grown in such a short space of time, it has begun to rot like any other bone would and thus became black, bumpy and spiky. When I asked how I could swim in the sea, the doctor explained that while it is five times the size of my original arms, it is hollow. I can only move my arms because the laboratory must have installed something inside the bone to enable me to move them. It's strange; they feel like they are my original arms, but they're numb. I catch them on so many things and I don't know if I knock something over because I can't feel anything. You can see why I've made so many mistakes on this typewriter.
To put it bluntly, I'm a monster.
When I asked if I could ever be back to normal, the doctor said that my arms, if I still had them, were dead and could never be used. He mentioned prosthetic limbs but I know that's unlikely and if it were to ever happen, it would take years for me to get it. Doctors in the city can create artificial limbs quicker than I can make a cup of tea, and with their technology, many people have reported that they feel completely normal again. But our doctors haven't had their experience as we don't have that technology and we won't be keeping any of the city's doctors as they are against us.
Why had the laboratory done this to me? Because I was like Sparky; an attempt to recreate the perfect race. Do not even ask me how I would be a good substitute.
I realised that I could not go back to Theo looking like this. For one, he would be terrified of my new look and it would prove that I had broken my promise to him and gotten into trouble. It was better if he didn't know.
You can guess what happened next. As Theo was helping me to drink a cup of hot tea, there was a heavy knocking on the door. We ignored it at first; Theo said that his friend would have told everyone what he had seen and so people would have avoided disturbing us, but when the pounding continued, Theo had no choice but to open the door.
There were three men and one woman, all dressed in heavy black gear. They had even dyed their hair black, although I wasn't sure why. The woman strode past Theo and into our home, followed by the three men who stood behind her as she stood before me. I didn't recognise them and I assumed they only wanted to come inside to look at the freak show and so I was hurt and angry that more people saw what I had become.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" I snapped. "Fancy having a bit of entertainment, do you? Get out."
Theo swung both doors open and stood beside them. "You heard her."
"Theodore H. Jacobs," the woman spoke in a rich, sharp voice. "You will be quiet unless you require help with that."
I saw the look of surprise and rage on Theo's face; nobody spoke to him like that, but before he could retort, the woman turned back to me and lowered her sunglasses, examining me carefully. I growled, knowing full well that I looked like an animal.
"Rita," she continued. "Am I correct? That is your full name, is it not?"
"Rita Jacobs," I corrected her. This was impulsive; I merely wanted her to know who she had insulted, although taking Theo's surname as mine seemed appropriate, which is why I have kept it. He is my family, after all. Besides, she was wrong anyway and to ignore her error would have been ridiculous. I had a family before I met Theo, thus I had a surname. Just because I don't share it with people doesn't mean I don't have it. I love my family, but I am closer to Theo now.
The woman raised her eyebrow at Theo who was glaring at her. "That's not what my files say."
"Fuck your files."
She laughed. "You are certainly Rita. Henry said you'd be snappy."
Henry; your friend. Our boss. The freak who got me into this mess. The failure who built up this army only to see it rise with misinformation and shatter and fall. Thanks, Henry.
"Who are you?" Theo snapped, folding his arms. "This is a very inappropriate time to call. Do you know the time?"
"Do you know the time, Mr Jacobs?" The woman replied, not turning to face him. I could feel her stare burn through her sunglasses at me. "It's a very difficult time, and we need Rita to aid us."
"She is still a soldier, is she not?" The woman asked, still eyeing me up. "Her term is not up yet. She has a duty – she signed the forms."
"Wait," Theo said, shaking his head in disbelief. "You're vigilantes, aren't you? I've heard about you people. If the army wants Rita, they can come and get her themselves – bring this Henry bloke here. Whether Rita will go or not is another matter entirely."
"She does not have a choice," she said sharply. "She either comes now or she is banished from this land until the day she dies."
"I don't remember seeing that written down in the contract," I piped up.
"It's not," she said, almost smugly. "It's our code. Your neighbours won't allow you to live here if you cower out of your duty."
"Cower?" I yelled. I stood up but stumbled as I remembered the difference of my new arms. "Cower? What the fuck do you expect me to do? I can't even dress myself, let alone fight in your damn war!"
But she shrugged, unmoved by my outburst. "You signed the contract. It is your duty. Now we will take you with force if we must, but we would rather not do that, of course."
"My duty is to bring justice, not to go along with that army's sick idea of a joke!"
"Force it is then," she called. "Gentlemen!"
This is when Theo stepped in front of me, the soup saucepan firmly held in his grip. Water and soap dripped from the pan and onto the carpet as he held it threateningly in the air against the three men who were getting ready to act.
"If you dare move towards her," Theo hissed, "you won't be able to live to regret it."
The woman sighed and took her sunglasses off as she rolled her eyes. "If you don't come now, we'll only have to get your fellow soldiers to remove you. Is that something you want?"
"Are you blackmailing me?"
"No, I'm asking you nicely; come with us now. If your friend won't let us near you, we'll just have to persuade you through other means. How much does this vehicle mean to you?"
I watched her as she led the remaining soldiers through the other doors where they would guard the doors to prevent escapes and mistakes until it was over. They locked the doors securely behind them, with one waiting to unlock the door for Rita to escape from when she detonated the bomb.
"Is there anybody left?" I heard her speak to her former master.
He didn't look around at the hundreds of people squashed together, exchanging worried thoughts and useless plans of retaliation. Before her former master could reply, somebody bumped into Rita by mistake, to which she swiftly turned around and smashed her fist into their skull.
"No, this is it. I'm sure."
She turned back to face him, one eyebrow raised. "Right. I'll see you in hell, then."
He nodded as she pushed past him to get to the exit. People demanded answers from her, they shouted insults at her but she ignored them all. The only way to get her attention was for one man, one that she apparently recognised, to shout over to her former master which caused silence to descend upon the hall.
"Going to let her walk away with telling her the truth, I suppose?"
Rita stopped in her tracks. I was oblivious to what this man was talking about and I assumed she was going to teach him a lesson when she turned around and began to walk back to her former master, although this bemused me even more. I saw her reload her gun, a task that she had made sure would be easy for her to do, and lean it on her shoulder as she carried it, a way for her to intimidate the others. I began to get a little impatient at this point; we needed to be fast and get this out of the way. The only reason why I didn't rush Rita was because I had to trust her.
She reached her former master and looked around at the hundreds of people who were watched them tentatively, wondering if she would lash out at her master too. But she didn't. She merely stood close enough so that he could hear her quiet question. "What truth?"
Her master didn't speak. He looked annoyed and I could tell that the man who had shouted out previously had ruined some plan of his. Rita must have known this as well, because she aimed her gun at his chest and repeated her question.
"It shouldn't come as a surprise to me that you've got something else stashed up your sleeve," she hissed. "Out with it."
He sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets as he glared at the man who had shouted out. This only angered Rita more, who pushed her gun further into his chest to get him to speak. He took one hand out of his pocket to wipe his brow, realising he could not escape Rita now.
"I love you."
She scoffed, obviously unimpressed. "Oh fuck off."
He laughed shortly and shrugged, nodding a sarcastic thanks to his friend, who was making his way over to them.
"It's true," he replied, shaking his head fervently at his colleague who was pushing his way through the crowd to join him. As Rita saw him, she rolled her eyes and turned her head away with an obvious dislike for the man.
"You're always full of bullshit," she snapped. "So if you 'loved' me, why did you keep me imprisoned? Why did you force me to dance until I collapsed? Why did you let me get taken away by that damn laboratory?"
He shook his head, his once calm demeanour replaced by a solemn and grave one. "It was not my intention for you to be taken away to that place. There was no way for you to escape this city and so my sole purpose was to give you everything I could except for your freedom. It was because of your performance that night that led you to -!"
"Don't you dare!" She suddenly screamed, lifting her left mutated arm up to point at him so that he would back away nervously. "Don't you dare blame me – when I had nothing left, when you had taken everything from me, what else could I resort to? To sit beside you like an obedient slave? I knew I'd be punished for that act but anything, even this mutation, is better than being your fucking slave!"
He seemed surprised and a little hurt that she felt so strongly about it; even comparing it to her transformation seemed a little extreme to him.
"I…" He seemed to struggle for words, knitting his eyebrows together as he thought for the right thing to say. "I spoke to Mary and Tommy about it, I… I understand why you…"
Rita laughed in disbelief and turned away from him, having heard enough. I think that she was ready to leave there and then if it weren't for the second man who had finally made his way to them. He grabbed his friend's shoulder, who in return was glaring at him angrily, but he took no notice and forced Rita to turn back to face them with his next statement.
"That's not all you spoke to them about, was it?" He spat, obviously angry with his friend's silence. "I do recall you being forced to dispose of them, like she had been, but you refused didn't you? And don't even get me started on the rules you broke watching her when she was outside the city!"
I saw as Rita realised that that's how her former master knew about her dance routines. It didn't explain why he was so fixated on her or why he bothered to obsess over somebody whom his culture deemed common and low.
"Why are you causing a scene?" Rita's former master replied, folding his arms and turning to face his friend. "This is pointless."
"Because I cannot stand by and watch you do everything she says while she has her way and kills us all! She was under your control, or so I thought."
The cameras suddenly shook as there was a loud bang which made everybody in the room jump. Rita had smashed her fist into the floor, causing her former master and his friend to face her in shock and silence. She was shaking but out of rage or the force of the collision I wasn't sure.
"Right," she said, satisfied that she had everyone's attention. She ripped her vest jacket off to reveal the bomb that had been strapped to her chest. It had been set to a timer as her fingers were too big to press any buttons and I saw that she only had three minutes left. She needed to be quick and get out of there. "I know what this timer says but my gun can go off at any time; if you don't start making sense then I'm going to shoot you all where you stand and believe me: that's a lot more painful than the bomb – especially when I do it."
The man beside her former master turned back to him with a look that seemed to say that his point had been made. He sensed this and stepped forward to Rita, who shook her head and pointed the gun at his face.
"Tell me the truth."
With one last look at his friend, her former master lowered his head as he tried to think of the best way to phrase what he had to say. When he had come to the conclusion that he had to speak, he had completely lost his calm attitude that he had been practising minutes before.
"I… How did you think Mary and Tommy managed to break you out of the laboratory on their own?"
I saw that the question caught Rita off guard as it was the last thing she expected, but she shrugged. It obviously hadn't crossed her mind.
"Well, the sight of seeing the only two friends I had left give up their lives for me was so traumatising that I had to block it out of my mind and so I never really thought about it."
Her former master shook his head and I could see that the thought of Rita's two friends made her wince and shake her head violently in an attempt to expel the thought from her mind. I knew for a fact that she hadn't been able to block the thought from her mind; I had seen her suffer panic attacks and inflicting self-harm on her monstrous arms when she couldn't handle it anymore. In fact, the only reason why Rita didn't end her misery was so that she could get justice and destroy the people who had messed her up.
"I knew… it was my fault when you were taken away," he continued. The look on his face was of pure regret and sorrow, a vast contrast to Rita who was shaking with anger. "It took me a few weeks to find out where they'd taken you and because I had to dispose of Mary and Tommy, I arranged for them to break you out as a punishment for them as I knew it would be tricky. I knew you wouldn't come back to me after that. I knew you'd go back to the army and tell them everything that you saw here and so I left the code intact on my home and led you here without any hesitation."
But Rita was far from impressed. I don't think she believed him. "That's charming, really. So why did you make it so easy for me? I thought you loved your city and everyone in it – you do make up half the laws for it, after all."
"Because I didn't question why we did what we did until you made it obvious that what we were doing was wrong. I couldn't do something about it myself and it wasn't my intention for it to end like this but when I knew you'd been taken away, that was all I could resort to."
"That's fucking great," she spat. She began to pace, forcing the crowd to move out of her way in terror. "You knew something had to be done but you just left it up to someone else to take care of it. That's what a proper leader does, isn't it?"
But he shook his head and stepped forward towards Rita, who in turn stepped back. At this point I realised that Rita only had two minutes left before the bomb went off and I had grabbed my own walkie-talkie, hoping that I wouldn't have to tell her not to leave her exit to the last minute.
"I apologise. If I could give you back you back two years of your life, I would… but I can't. The best I can do is let you kill me and let you live your life like a free woman, like you've always wanted to. All I ask that you think back to why I did the things that I did. I was so proud of you that I wanted to show you off to everybody – other slaves were chained to the floor at night, but I instead I gave you the reign of the place. I gave you everything that I could give and I'm sorry that it was never enough."
"You have no right to tell me any of this."
"I have every right."
"If you love me so fucking much, tell me your name," she challenged. "You can't expect me to accept your confession without even knowing your name. You were so desperate for authority that you refused to tell me your real name, and so I was forced to lower myself to that of a – a slave whenever I called you 'master'!"
He stepped forward too fast for Rita to react and pulled the gun from her grip, grabbing the back of her neck as he did so to pull her closer to him. He whispered something that I couldn't hear into her ear and I could tell that Rita was surprised by how he had reacted – his willingness to confess to her his secret was something that she didn't expect. I could see by the look on her face that she was still in shock, so much so that when he suddenly pulled her into a hug I could see her squirm. She had a mere thirty seconds left and my walkie-talkie was gripped firmly in my hand. I couldn't let her forget her position.
"I'm so ugly," I heard her mumble. "Why did you let this happen to me?"
"I assure you," her former master replied. "I did not want this to happen. If I could take it away from you and wear it myself then I would, believe me. But you are not ugly."
The timer was ticking, fast. I had no choice but to contact Rita – why wasn't she moving? She had done nothing but fixate on this moment for months and she was watching it pass away before her own eyes.
"Rita," I said, forcing myself to keep my voice steady. "Get out of there, now. You have ten seconds. You can make it if you run."
She lifted her head up as if she had only just remembered that her communication hadn't been cut off. I saw her look at the camera above where our eyes would meet if she could see me. Her gaze moved from the camera, swiftly past her former master and to the timer, where she watched it move from seven seconds to six.
And then she smiled and shook her head. My heart stopped and jumped into my throat as I realised her intentions. In my mind, I saw myself screaming at her to get out of there before she and the others were blown to pieces but in reality, all I could do was stand in shock, my numb fingers gripping onto the walkie-talkie as if I was holding Rita's own hand.
And then, we lost signal of the camera and the screen went static. Through my walkie-talkie, I heard Rita laughing quietly before that too, died.