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Prologue

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The cells are white - pure white. They lie dauntingly in perfectly aligned rows; five hundred symmetrical squares each holding a single occupant. Strangely, the rooms are barren. The only apparent item is the conveniently placed waste bucket in the upper left corner, located at precisely twenty-five centimetres from the nearest wall. The prisoners are clad in uniform white garments, pressed stiff with powdered starch. Some are like broken dolls; their limbs splayed lifelessly as they await their fate. Their eyes are hollow, carved from within. Others are attempting to find ways to past time. They look for a flawed ridge in the perfection that is the Institute or speak aloud, listening as their voice echoes back against the thick soundproof walls. Stronger ones stand defiant. Not a single sign of fear or uncertainty is etched upon their features. They will not give the WhiteCoats the pleasure of seeing them squirm.

Then, it begins.

There is no strong. There is no weak. As the transparent gas fills each cavern of a room, they are all the same - a pathetic convulsion of limbs against the smooth floor. The WhiteCoats examine them from behind the safety of the surveillance cameras. The sound of a dozen fingers tapping against smooth metal is the only audible noise in the whole building. A young boy gasps for air - Is it even air anymore? - only to inhale another mouthful of the gas like substance. With a final shudder he falls to the ground, a frothy concoction of saliva and blood foaming from the edge of his mouth. Ugly black patches spread rapidly across skin, angry blotches of red overlapping scars and blemishes…. Chaos, confusion, and catastrophe – nothing is certain anymore. Then, in a matter of minutes, it is over. Hanging in the stiff silence is the stench of death, slowly staining the pristine white.

A single WhiteCoat draws a haggard breath, traumatized by this turn of events. He stumbles back but no one pays any heed to him – they are far too preoccupied with the outcome of this experiment. It was a gamble, a deadly risk that they were well aware of. The Government has long since out ruled this kind of study. Branding it with labels like "barbaric" and "uncouth", their research was made illegal. But they know they cannot stop now... No, it is far too late to step back over the edge of insanity. They were falling, falling, falling from that first encounter with "X".

And who could blame them?

It was a discovery that held so much potential, and the possibility that this, this at last, could bring the Institution out of ruin. The WhiteCoats were honoured once. Every aspiring geneticist spoke of them only in whispers like those would of a fabled myth or legend. They were put on a pedestal; their presence was too wondrous to be dirtied by casual chatter.

Then, that day, everything crumbled beneath their feet.

Isolated by society, they took refuge in a deserted asylum on the outskirts of the mainland. Slowly but surely, they rebuilt the pillars of their work.

How foolish it is that humanity never learns from their mistakes…

This is the second time the experiment has been conducted. This is the disaster that led to their exile. The WhiteCoats console themselves by assuring one another they have thoroughly prepared everything, that the subjects are convicts that no one of any importance would miss. But does this make it any different? They brush aside this lingering feeling of doubt for this task has no tolerance for hesitation.

Finally, a lone voice breaks the silence.

"Do the monitors register any sign of life?"

There is a fragile tension across the room. Their bodies are so on edge that the simplest string of words could make them snap, their muscles coils of wire as they wait in anticipation for the sentence that will deliver the dreaded outcome. Yet, deep inside, they already know what to expect.

"Professor, there is no-" a bespectacled woman begins apologetically

"It is a failure, the same as before." A bitter voice sharply interjects.

A string of foul language sweeps across the room, an unusual occurrence for people of this intelligence. There is a noticeable change in their posture; every proud scholar has visibly slumped. The volume of their muttering increases into an odd syncopated rhythm of words and unintelligible sounds. Glaring, nineteen pairs of eyes focus upon their leader. He is frozen, every fibre of his being rigid with shock. This cannot – he thinks to himself. He is so consumed by his thoughts that he does not notice the circle of his colleagues rounding in on him…

For this experiment they sacrificed everything. They tossed aside their friends, families, and their humanity - all for a failure.

Him – it is all his fault.

Is it?

Or are they all equally guilty?

It does matter for they are beyond the voice of reason now. Long elegant fingers encircle his neck squeezing his windpipe…

"Silence!"

Their reaction is delayed for a few seconds. The impact of the words echoes off the walls before they are registered by the brain. Then, their heads turn sharply towards the source of this outburst. A shock of red meets their gaze, wiry springs of hair sticking out in every direction. If she senses the venom in their glares, she takes no heed.

"Listen." The woman hisses urgently, jabbing her finger towards the monitor.

The WhiteCoats strain their necks to glance at the device she's gesturing so frantically at. One after another, eyes widen as they hear the sound emitting from the machine. The monitor beeps several times in a regular pattern, repeating the thudding rhythm until it is imprinted firmly into their memory – a heartbeat.

No, it is not a single heartbeat. The beats are blending into another, the first one joining the next until the line between them no longer exists. Like the ticking of multiple clocks, they ring out simultaneously each at a different pace. An awed silence descends upon the WhiteCoats – there are no words to describe what they are feeling now.

"How many? How many are alive?" The Professor croaks, his voice raw with disbelief.

"Three, Sir."

"Three…" He pauses briefly, a slow smirk spreading across his features. "Three is more than enough."

It is a success. The experiment is a success.

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A/N: This is actually my first official story here on FictionPress. I have a few more chapters lying in wait so I would really appreciate it if you could tell me what you think. What's in the next chapter? Well... that's a surprise.