I am not dead, I am dreaming. Sometimes I feel my eyes opening, but the things I see are as fuzzy as the ones going on in my mind, and I find it hard to tell the difference.
"Mummy, where are we going?" My hands are small, and mother is gripping them tightly. She is so tall, and the sun is too bright and her image is clouded. She is pulling me down the sun lit street, smiling and laughing. God I miss her laugh, she laughed like there was no bad in the world, and it was so sweet and innocent.
"Sweetie hurry!" Her hand falls from mine and she runs ahead, being swallowed by the light. I cannot catch up, my toddler legs are too short, but I am crying out for her. She turns back and beckons me towards her, but every time I come within reaching distance, she runs off again, laughing.
Men in white coats surround me, pulling apart my limbs and taking the starched white bone out. They talk in muffled voices, my heavy, machine made breathing making too much noise to hear them. Machines start bleeping, and the men start panicking and rushing around, shouting things I cannot hear. I feel funny, and the lights are getting brighter.
"We're losing her …" I hear over the din. Is he talking about me? I don't know, probably. It kind of feels like they're losing me, with the bright white light taking over my vision. Then there's a cold weight on my chest, and pain that courses through every vein and nerve and cell in my skin, and blackness replaces the white.
Then I'm alone in my mind, an empty black room with no light, endless. There's no floor but I'm standing on something. I whip my imagined body around, and there's me, looking right into my eyes. The other Ilta walks over to me, and the black floor ripples with her ever step. She looks like me, but better. Her grey eyes sparkle, and a smile softens her face. She looks healthy, her skin is still pale but it looks as silky as milk. Her lips are plump and deep pink. My hair is long; way down past my back and it is wavy and shiny. I didn't know it was so long, or wavy. It looks like black velvet cascading down my white shoulders. I look good. She keeps advancing, until we are practically nose-to-nose. She smirks, and holds my head in her hands gently. She kisses me on the forehead, and a dark flash of pain sears my mind.
I open my eyes.
I'm in a bed, my hands strapped to the metal rails. Needles and tubes are protruding from my arms in a tentacle like mess but I can't see any of my skin because I'm covered in a crisp white sheet. All of them are attached to machines that are spaced around the bed, beeping in a monotone rhythm. There's a mask covering my mouth and nose, and I breathe through it deeply, my head clearing with every lung full. Opposite me is a boy, must be about the same age as me with sandy hair and tanned skin. He's hooked up the same as me, but he's unconscious.
A man in a white coat walks past, and notes my open eyes. He nearly drops his clipboard and stares at me with wide eyes, before running off somewhere.
I have to get out of here. Whatever they are doing to that boy and me, it is not good. I try to shuffle the sheet off that covers my body, but it is tightly wrapped, just like my arms. The boy opposite starts twitching, and the machines beep faster. Then he's full on convulsing, so violently that the wires rip from his arms. A thousand doctors suddenly storm the room swarming around the boy, talking in a language I don't understand. I think it's English, but words I don't know. A woman in a coat comes over to me with the scared guy, and they talk in hushed voices for a moment at the foot of the bed, before she taps something into a machine and blackness grips me again.
I do not dream in this sleep, I do not even think. I just drift mindlessly in a sea of nothing. When I wake again, men and women in white coats and masks are writing vigorously on clipboards, and I cannot see that boy anywhere. The mask is off me and I can breathe easily. The starts of questions form quickly in my mine, but my lips and tongue feel sluggish and my mouth feels like it is full of cotton. I manage to mouth a single word.
"What?" The doctors get excited when I speak, scribbling hastily notes and looking at me with wide, excited eyes. Then I see him, Aale, standing in the corner watching me closely. That Bastard! My mind screams profanities that my mouth cannot form, and I struggle against the restraints that hold me, trying to sit up, I want these wires gone from my body and my hands free to punch him hard right in his fat gob. He just smirks that infuriating smirk, and walks out of the room.
A clear liquid gushes through a wire and into my arm. I find it hard to think, and my limbs feel so heavy like their weighed down by lead, but I am conscious. They just want me calm, but why I do not know. A woman in a suit flaps the doctors from my bed. Her brown hair is pulled back into a tight bun, leaving perfect tendrils framing her face. She is old, but not wrinkled, her face has that weathered look about it, and her green eyes are full of wisdom that only a lifetime can earn. She speaks, keeping her voice calm and level, trying to reflect her attitude back on me. It is not working. The only emotion that finds its way through the fog is anger, directed at the fat man, and now her.
"Ilta, my name is Dr. Dante. I am leading the research team here at the Human Weapon project. I am going to give you some facts, and ask you some questions. We have given you a light sedative, to keep you calm, so you will not be able to speak. So if you could, just wink your left eye for yes, and your right for no. Do you understand?"
Do I understand? Hell no, I have no idea what is going on. Yesterday, at least I think it was yesterday, I was perfectly content with my downtrodden life, slipping under the radar of life and barely scraping by, but at least I was doing it on my terms, with the freedom to choose what I do. I'm choosing not to comply. They've kept me alive for some reason, so they'll keep on doing so. I hope. So I stare her down, intensifying my eyes into a glare. She's the first one to break the stare.
She sighs, and turns her head to Aale, who shakes his.
"Fine then Ilta, we'll do it your way. If you don't want to comply, that's fine. We'll just keep on doing what we're doing until the project is finished, and you can stay in that head of yours until we do." Her tone is harsher now. But I don't care, my mind will be mine. Whatever they're doing to my body they were going to do whatever I say or don't say, so what's the point in playing along? A light blue clear fluid flows along the tubes again and the blackness comes again, though this time I welcome it.
Memories flash through my mind, of my mother and father in the worst times, in the freezing winters, camping in a manmade hollow by the bank of the Thames, sitting on the snow covered streets of the City begging, searching the skips that lie in the backstreets for extra layers, a bit of stale bread behind a supermarket. All the while, I watch the people of the City walking around in white furs and thick coats, fat and jolly.
Aale. The man who took me, stole me from my world to do what? I don't know, and I'll find out sometime. Lying to me, dragging up the horrible memories of my parents, skinny as ever, giving me their last pieces of food while they go hungry. Teaching me the ways of enforcing guilt on the public, because they knew they wouldn't last long enough to keep me safe through much of my life.
"Never take food from strangers Tata, remember that." Dad smiles sweetly. Take their money but not their food. I wish I'd listened Dad, I'm sorry. My mind cries for the first time in nine years, since they died, and I'm sure tears are running down their face. It's all my fault, why you're not here. I'm so sorry.
I wake from terrible nightmares that plague even my waking hours. The tubes are out of my arms, and I've been moved to a different room with no one else around me, on a padded bunk that juts out of the wall. I'm in a simple white sheet, and my brain is trying hard to battle the last of the drugs, get their white smoke out from my thoughts. I sit up, and the first thing I notice is my arms, hands, and fingers. Thin pink scars run all the way down them, mapping out my skeleton like a child. I scream, but my voice is hoarse and it comes out as a croak. I panic at the sight of the scars, itchy and red, still healing. I check my legs and feet, the same line. What did they do to me?
I scan the room, and there's a metal table with two metal chairs in the centre of the room. One of those chairs is meant for me. I sit in one, staring straight ahead. I feel my nostrils flaring at the stench of stinging antiseptic as it seems to burn my nose hairs, but it just fuels the fire in my brain. After a minute, the door slides open and there's Dr Dante, in a crisp grey suit that looks like it's never been worn before. She slips into the opposite chair silently, and puts a file in front of me, pushing it towards my hands.
"Now Ilta, we expected you to be angry with us, we understand that. But you must understand you have been chosen for a higher purpose, something beyond yourself that you could not control. You are behind held in a facility that is experimenting with turning people into weapons. We have a mission we need you to complete. Afterwards you will be handsomely rewarded. Open the file, and see for yourself."
She nods to the file, and I tentatively open it with the very ends of my fingers, worried it might explode or something. After seeing what's inside, I wish it had blown me to pieces right there. War, nuclear war that will obliterate the world, is the essence of it. Easthem is building thousands of weapons that will be like a sadistic gardener, setting fire to the plants and salting the earth after, if fired. Weapons that unleash tiny robots that pulls apart matter atom by atom in seconds. That set fire to everything in a forty-mile radius with flames as hot as the sun. Bombs that will target largely populated areas by heat and carbon dioxide output. Londinium, and Hovall, will be destroyed in a minute. These things will leave the earth a dusty, barren wasteland that will never recover. What do they expect me to do about it?
"Me?" I ask my voice still croaky from whatever they did to me.
"We have changed your body so that with a little training, it will be a lethal killing machine. You noticed the scars on your arms. We've replaced your bones with a Drithinium substitute, a light, indestructible metal that, like diamonds, can only be penetrated by itself. One by one, your bones were removed with delicate surgery, and the bone marrow transplanted. It's state of the art surgery, something that was not even contemplated up until six months ago. We've also injected you with something called RXT34; a serum that will slowly react with your DNA, giving you enhanced brainpower and learning abilities, and perhaps something more, although we have not got that far into the project. You are one of four surviving guinea pigs. It was touch and go for a few weeks, you were technically dead eleven times, but the RXT34 saw to no long-term brain damage from lack of oxygen. I'll give you a second."
What was this woman saying? I'm a monster, everything about me turned against me to become what? An assassin? A ruthless killing machine? Thoughts rush around my mind so fast my brain gets dizzy. Lights flicker before my eyes and colours dart around, dancing to the tune of my utter shock.
"We have been working on the Human Weapon project for a number of months, and we needed subjects from the public to test this out on, but we knew no one volunteer with an eighty percent failure rate, so we took criminals and low lives, such as you from the street. We apologise for the inconvenience, but we have to accomplish this, for the good of the human race. Easthem is getting out of line, breaching the basic rules of THRA, and they must be stopped. If we wage war, as you can see from the file, it will be the end of civilisation; of people and a world that will be able to recuperate and start over. We need someone who will get this done quietly, so we can seize their weapons and prevent another war."
"No." I whisper in defiance. I will not kill. I have seen death and know that it only causes pain, and I will not do this.
"You will, Ilta. We have your friends in jail, and will not hesitate to make them disappear if you do not do as we ask. Do I need to make myself clearer?"
My friends, my last connections to the world, the people who have kept me tethered to life over these years are in danger. How can I say no, really, to this crazy corporation and crazy woman, who seems to think that I, a 5'3 homeless starving girl can take down a government. A whole freaking government. I can't do it, it's not physically possible. No matter what they've done to me, it can't change something impossible to a summer afternoon's work. Nut jobs, the lot of them. But they have my friends, and there's a war coming whether I refuse or comply. I get to live if I kill, I die, my friends die, and the whole world dies, if I don't. Decisions, decision's.
"What do you need me to do?" That's it, with those few words, I feel my shield dying, my spirit gone and my mind tells me to comply, for the sake of everyone. My eyes find the little paperclip attached to the file, and I focus on it, not wanting to meet Dante's eyes like a beaten dog. Because that's all I am now, a dog that will bark on cue and follow my masters commands. I try to tell myself it's for the good of the planet, that cracking these skulls will save us all, but it's like my fight has gone, or just doesn't care anymore.
"I'm glad to see you will help us Ilta. You will begin training tomorrow. It's going to be a quick process with the RXT34 making good use of your brain cells. We're going to monitor you for abnormalities, so don't be alarmed by all the tests; we just want to keep you and the rest of us safe."
"Why? What have you done to me? How am I dangerous?" My breathing is shallow and too quick, and panic rises as bile in my throat.
"It didn't happen with the other human weapons that lived, but we saw it in those that didn't survive. The compound is changing, adapting to your mind, your thoughts and feelings and emotions. Throughout the training process we're going to have to keep you mildly sedated so your emotions don't get out of control, because who knows what sort of damage you could do. We don't know the full effects of what it'll do, we actually have no idea what it'll do, but it will definitely be a world first. You were lucky that we were able to revive you."
Lucky. Life is 99% luck, and mine has taken a turn for the disastrous. And she talks about it as if my living is a good thing. I wish I had caught up with my mother, I'm sure she was leading me into death. To touch her skin once more time, I would happily meet my maker. Dr Dante leaves the room, taking the file with her, and allows a guard to take me gruffly by the arm and lead me out of the room. I feel like letting my body give up, just let me collapse, let me die. I'm doomed no matter what I do, whether I do this deed or not. My very soul, or the black smudge that passes for a soul, will be forever tainted. I can't kill people; I haven't even killed an animal. I don't even think I've ever squashed a bug.
The guard ends up dragging me, slumped over his shoulder as I enter the abyss in my mind where I finally find a dense sort of peace, but it's disturbed when he opens a door, and throws me inside. The carpeting feels soft after the metal, though not like the ones in that damned apartment where my life got ruined. I groan as my scars flare up in pain, and curl up into a ball, hugging my knees tightly to my chest. A hand brushes my shoulder and I snap up, suddenly I'm on my feet without even thinking about it and ready to fight. After everything I've been through, I'm ready to defend myself, ready to fight for the life that was so precious to these sick people.
But I'm met by dark eyes that are jumpy, and a boy. He's taller than I am, and in the same white hospital nightgown as me. He puts his arms out in front of him in case I try and attack him, but he doesn't look dangerous, so I drop my fists, but my guard stays up.
"Are you another one, from the Human Weapon Project?"
Well duh, I'm standing there in a backless nightie, with scars all over my body and the look of a person who thought they were sane up until five minutes ago. He has the same look, though a bit more subdued. Guess he's been here for a while, or they've given him stronger drugs.
"Yeah. I'm Tata." I wipe my nose on the crinkled sleeve, and offer my hand to him. I'm respectful if nothing else.
"John … Smith. John Smith."
The Smiths. One of the most prestigious families in all of Britain, owners of half of Londinium, the only people who actually benefit from the disorder in the country at the moment, because they own the main water supply. I should have know, that true British look, pasty skin, light brown hair and blue eyes. But then I see it, just above his butt chin. The cross mark. This man is an uppity criminal.
"What did you do?" I nod towards his chin as best I can, backing away slightly. You can't trust the marked uppity lot. They've done something really, really bad to be cast out from the prestigious Smith family. His fingers brush his chin, and his gaze flickers for a second.
"It's not what you think. Honestly, I didn't do anything wrong. I just wanted to … be free." He looks at the floor. Be free? He was part of the richest family that has probably ever been. He could have gone anywhere, done anything he wanted, all at the push of a button or the flick of a switch. He had more freedom in his left thumb that the whole of Hovall put together. Why give all that up to be marked forever with the cross, to be rejected from both groups?
"Huh, ok. Um … well then John, how you feeling about this whole 'we got to save the world' malarkey?" I press my hands on my hips and sigh, suddenly exhausted. My whole body hurts right down to my indestructible metal bones. My muscles hurt as if I've run a hundred miles, and I take a quick look at them and see they've grown and become defined, instead of the weedy sticks they were when I last looked. I have a bit more flesh on me now, more of me to ache.
"I don't like it, but they … threatened me. Told me they'd kill my parents if I didn't, told me that I'd be doing the world a big favour. Win win, they said."
"Same. But I don't think I can do it. My morals won't let me, I don't think."
I scan the room, and find there are four comfy looking beds in white, with a chest of drawers by each one and a lamp. The bed beckons to me, to lie down and rest my weary body and mind alike, that if I sleep properly now, I'll wake up and all of this will be some weird dream that I'll tell my friends and we'll laugh like always. My odd dreams have always entertained them on boring nights, because I remember them so vividly. But I already know that I will not hit that bed and wake up on the floor of the squat, cuddled into Flo like a child does a mother. But the sheets are soft and welcoming, and I pull the duvet around me tightly.
"There'll be two more coming, they said. Once they've briefed them on what we've got to do." John pipes up, looking a bit awkward as I cocoon into the sheets. I almost purr for that added effect. He rubs his pasty arms, which I notice are covered in freckles and muscular, more than mine, but he's been better fed and they could probably do more. He's a tall boy, and not bad looking for a true brit. Most of them look a bit, well, teethy, like their faces stopped growing but their mouth didn't.
"Well when they get her wake me. I need to get over this quickly, and the best way to do that is to sleep it off. Like a hangover." I've only gotten drunk once or twice with some homeless alkies a few years ago, and the mornings result was not pleasant.
"How can you sleep at a time like this?" He's almost shouting and that really annoys me.
"Well I can't with you screaming at me. Just accept that there's nothing we can do. Accept the fact that your life is changed forever, and you are going to have to do things you don't want to do. But you don't have to them now so I suggest you sit down and shut up!"
I shouted very loudly at him. After a minute I feel bad, but he's already slipped under the sheets and doing his best to pretend to sleep and I don't want to break his façade. I stir from my sleep briefly to see another body being manhandled into the room. But exhaustion grips me, and I decide to speak to them in the morning.