((AN: This is just a short story I wrote, serving as a sort of prologue for Fugitive, which can be found in my stories. You don't have to read it to understand this one: I make known the situation of the world and of my protagonist in it. Enjoy another short foray of mine into sci-fi. =) ))


The One They'll Keep

"Ladies and gentlemen; before we get started, I'd like to thank all of you for taking the time to come today."

As the girl seated in the barred arena watched, the lead scientist's voice echoed along the lecture hall chamber above. The room was dark, the seats barely lit with the glow of the high lights that pointed all into the center. Before him sat a separated congregation: white lab coats with black-and-silver name tags belonged to the science teams of Citywide Biotech. The clean business suits and fancy skirts belonged to the men and women that headed the few businesses that were left on a decimated Earth, the space around it constantly watched and beset by a hostile alien race.

There was little life left on this Earth that it could boast about; most of it was harsh, poisoned wasteland. The majority of human civilization had escaped to the stars, leaving only one large city and several towns in protective domes. What remained behind—the poor, the helpless, the rejected, the distrusted—were fending for themselves until the Bagori were forced from the solar system. Aggressively, slowly, but surely, there would be progress. In the last great metropolis, Citywide Biotech was at the forefront.

"Now," the lead scientist began again, an expectant and slightly nervous smile gracing his worn, graying bearded face as he addressed the small, important audience. "As you know, our institute has been fairly successful in the creation and testing of our products. Results have been very promising, and my colleagues and I are pleased to show the fruits of our latest experiment. I assure you, with your help, the Mevara Project is going to be the greatest advent of our scientific pursuits yet."

Down in the brightly spotlit arena, through the carefully fenced-off portion that ended at the lowest of seats, a single human girl with short brown hair sat in a chair surrounded by nothing more than largely spacious concrete floors. Dressed in a black jumpsuit with the customary lab-girl tracking collar about her neck, she was hunched over, scarred elbows resting on her knees and her head dipped slightly in what appeared to be worried thought. But she looked up on occasion, and when she did, her bright blue eyes methodically scanned the people in the seats, expression calm; almost bored, and extremely confident.

"Dr. Wesk," addressed a woman with her hand up in query, "While we're all rather...intrigued about what you plan to show us this time, we do have some valid concerns."

"Namely, the question of whether your practices on these human beings are ethical," added a man.

"Ah, but Mr. Bailey, weren't you the one that expressed concerns to the council about the overabundance of the homeless in this city? And those with fatal illnesses? The weak and the poor, living on the refuse-ridden slums?" Dr. Wesk gave them his trademark placating grin, sympathetic and kind to the eye. "We are scientists, not monsters, sir. Rest assured, we are giving these people a home and a purpose in our facilities. Ask any one of them; they are willingly giving of themselves to help us. And in turn, our successes helped to build the greatest biological weapons on this part of the planet."

The various people of business in the meeting looked between one another with concerned faces, but nonetheless couldn't argue with the scientist. To them, ultimately, problems were problems—however they were categorized.

"And in fact," continued the doctor, "We are presenting to you today one of those successes. The Mevara Project has the potential to churn out the most successful biological weapons yet; starting of course with the girl you see before you: Alpha-CAT142-9, AKA, Mevara."

Hearing her name and designation, the girl—looking no more than a teenager—lifted her head again to meet the eyes of her audience. The scientists looked at her with fond hope and excitement. Dr. Wesk's eyes had pride. Dr. Simons, her primary caretaker, had something akin to fatherly love in his.

And then there were the businesspeople. She had seen many like them before in the years that she was trained and shown and conditioned; people that the scientists tried to impress and coerce into funding their brilliant—and rather insane—endeavors for creating intelligent weapons. These looked at her like the others had; their eyes held mixes of fascination, expectation, and even reservations, wondering what exactly they would be putting her through with their help.

Mevara grinned. She'd put up with a lot, but nothing kept her down yet. She was the one they were going to keep, and the look of approval in the scientists' eyes is what she lived for.

And it amused her anyway, the look of sudden surprise and—dare she think fear—on the eyes of those important investors when she demonstrated the truth hidden behind her youthful appearance and strong unusually-tall six-foot frame.

"And now with all of you here, we can begin the demonstration of her abilities; which will assuredly be customary to any other future subject of the Mevara Project, once we know it's perfected," Dr. Wesk said with a theatrical air as he turned again to fully face the cage in which the girl stood. He turned to activate a nearby touch-panel, and his voice came clearer to her via an intercom on the top corner of her arena-cage. "Mevara, we are about to begin physical testing." Then, his face had a dangerous grin. "Are you ready to run?"

That grin, she remembered, frightened a lot of mutants that came before her. It still did.

But she stood from the chair and rolled her shoulders, mirroring that twist of the mouth. Already, excitement bunched in her muscles, and she cracked the knuckles hidden under her fingerless black gloves.

"I want to run," she answered back, her voice like a growl that answered the challenge.

The investors leaned forward in their seats to watch, eyes wide, while some of the scientists brought out clipboards and monitoring devices. Dr. Wesk slid his finger almost dramatically across the touch-panel.

Blip.

"Begin."

Mevara tensed as the four pneumatic doors at each metaphorical corner of the arena opened with a combined chorus of hisses. Out of them stepped some familiar automatons: four bipedal, digitigrade androids, each carrying a different kind of melee weapon. They surrounded her, the mechanical sounds of their movements echoing in the stark silence offered by her audience. These vaguely human-like robots, their silver-polished chrome scratched and made dirty by many such challenges as her, were used for combat training for humans and mutants alike.

The girl grinned. She could take these without using her little...secret. Not that she could use it yet. They haven't told her to.

She watched them carefully for a moment, wondering which one would make the first move.

After a few seconds, she caught the slightest movement from her right and behind. The one with the sword drawn was advancing at a walk. Then, suddenly, from her left and front, the one with the dagger was sprinting.

She ducked in just the split second when she would have been skewered by the dagger, and rolled away. The sword-drone had sliced straight down onto the hard head of the dagger-drone, causing a shower of sparks and also causing the two to be entangled briefly. Mevara's attention then went to the one with the ax. She sprinted away from it in several swift movements, her feet moving too fast for any machine to predict in a perpetual zig-zag about the arena. It came after her, but she knew that the drones weren't going to be very agile.

It swung its weapon in a large arc, and she led it toward the final attacking drone: the one holding a club. About as quick to the draw as the one with the sword, but still slower. Just as agile as the others; that is to say, possessing little of it. There wasn't much variety that they were giving her in this particular demonstration, but it was all Mevara could do to entertain.

One more confusing zig-zag caused the ax-drone to miscalculate its next swing, and she used her momentum to turn around and leap from its briefly brought-down head.

It was like slow-motion to the watchers. She'd pushed off of the ax-drone, leaped backward clear over the club-drone, and landed just as the latter's weapon had smashed down onto the weak spot of the former's shoulder, dislodging the axe arm entirely and flinging it across the arena to land into the wall with a resounding CRACK.

One down.

Then, suddenly, she was beset by two running blade-drones. The one with the sword swung down in a diagonal arc, which she barely dodged by leaping the other way: straight into the path with the dagger.

But this was what the scientists were showing the investors: Mevara had been trained with average human reflexes and more-than-average human focus. She knew that she was diving into the androids' trap, and had already formed a plan for getting out of it.

Again, as if in slow motion, Mevara reached forward and snatched the outstretched dagger arm of the robot and swung around, the heavy machine turned into a great bludgeon.

WHAM!

There was another shower of sparks, the racing ozone-heat smell of electricity filling the immediate air around her, as the two androids fell over each other in a clatter of metal and spilling oil. They skidded on the hard ground, flailed, tried to get up, and their damaged legs failed them. The sword and the dagger both fell at the same time to the ground, their mindless masters following.

Two and three.

The final drone, the one with the club, was rushing headlong towards her. She stood there, unmoving and waiting, with a dangerous grin on her face and adrenaline thrumming through her body. Her feet dug securely into the concrete's little impurities.

The robot skidded to a halt, raised the club, brought it down...

And then she wasn't there. She had dropped and barreled the entirety of her weight into its midsection. The android crumpled. She'd grabbed the club and brought it around to its head. There was a satisfying CRASH of metal to metal. Electricity snapped and crackled as the robot fell.

...Four.

She stopped. Listened to the silence of the dead androids settling. Dropped the club. Breathed. Waited.

Then, came the crackling of the intercom and the proud voice of Dr. Wesk. "Brilliantly done, Mevara."

She looked up with a wide grin as she regained her breath in the respite she was given, watching the scientists and the looks on the investors' faces. The only words she could find to describe those looks were "completely and utterly shell-shocked".

The lead scientist nodded. "As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, Mevara appears human but is anything but. She is better, equipped with the natural focus of a wild predator and the intelligence of a trained tactician. No hesitation, no fear. Just action."

"...Yes, we see that," said the one that had been called Mr. Bailey, his voice stuttering a little before finding its strength in his previous incredulity. "But, is that all? Even super-humans are still humans, and therefore mortal. It is an impressive set of defensive skills, but what offensive skills can she bring to a battle?"

Dr. Wesk still had that grin. "Very glad you asked that, sir. As a matter of fact, that is not all."

Then, he turned to the touch-panel and flipped a button. "Bring in failed experiment Omega-MAN35-7."

Mevara's eyebrows raised, watching the looks on the scientists' faces now. They tried their best to look impassive, neutral, uncaring. But on two, she could barely spot the biting of a lip, the wavering and quick eye-darts. Dr. Simons looked directly at her and nodded, the fatherly love in his eyes now mostly business-like, but with the very faintest trace of dislike at what he was about to see.

Then, the door furthest away from her opened, and she could hear a voice. It was frantic and uncertain, rippling along the walls. "Look, I don't know what I did, but please, let me try again! Please! What are you doing, where are you taking me...!"

Out of the shadowy darkness, a man was shoved through the door. He wore a white jumpsuit, devoid of much in the way of definition save for a few openings in the sleeves and legs. He was thin and gaunt, spindly, but about as tall has her. His eyes were frantic as his hands protected them in shadow from the spotlights above. As he looked around, breathing harshly and surveying the damage from the downed androids, Mevara just stood and stared. Her own focused gaze was trained on him, through him, observing his state of mind. His reddish-brown hair was disheveled, and he was uncertain as to what he was doing there exactly, with scientists and unknown others looking down upon him.

Up in the stands, Dr. Wesk explained. "When our experiments turn out to be failures, it is, sadly, hard to know what to do with them. We can't exactly imprison them, keep them anywhere—but nor can we release them again into society. They become too dangerous, unhinged. This one in particular took a little too much joy in disobedience. There's only one thing we can do, and that is to impart a merciful end, and give them one last use. Training for her."

Hearing this, the man in white gulped and turned swiftly around to see the other occupant of the room. The girl's face was impassive and neutral. Her eyes, though, had an undeniable spark.

After just a second of confused staring, his eyes widened, the whites bloodshot, pupils drawn to pinpricks. He backed away until his back was flush with the wall, his hands pawing the concrete for any sign of exit. Any sign of salvation. Anything that meant he wouldn't have to face her.

"Y-you...!" he whimpered loudly. "You...you're...no, please God no, have mercy on me, please, anything at all but YOU...!"

Hearing his voice struck a very small chord within Mevara. Stoic as death, she nonetheless could feel the stark and undeniable emotion of pity surfacing in her mind. This man was going to join so many others that stood before her with those same wide eyes, those tears, that pleading voice. For a moment she even wondered. What was fear like? Someday would she ever feel it?

"Please...please..."

But...what did she have to fear? Why did she feel like caring? It would do her no good.

I am not like these mutants. I am the one they will keep.

She heard the soft blip that signified the activation of the intercom again. "Mevara," said Dr. Wesk's voice.

Only lingering one more second on the trembling man, she looked up to the scientist. His face was grim, all business, and dark as the grave.

"Second form."

Mevara's head snapped to the man before her, who by now had known that his end was coming...and if he was going to go out, then he was going to go out fighting. His face, still stark with fear, was wrenched in a grimace as he showed the powers that made him a mutant. Shining blades slivered out from the skin on his legs and on his forearms, down his back, and across his front, all about as long as his thigh-bone. He brandished those blades, an amalgam of technology and a biological trigger system, and stood in a ready pose.

Her human face shone a brief grin...and then it was no longer human.

In a fluid few seconds, she'd dropped to her hands and the air shimmered around her. She felt the nano-circuits in her skin, billions of them, working with those in her suit to flush her body with energy chemicals. Instantly she felt the cold shock of power, fury, strength, and intensity. Her muscles were coiled. Her limbs were liquid steel. From her shoulder-blades down to the end of a metal prosthetic tail, her spine was reinforced and flexible. A mask over her face made her vision, hearing, and smell clearer, so much clearer, so clear that she could hear his beating heart and rushing blood. Claws sheathed out of the backs of hands that had become black pads.

All of this done in two eyeblinks. Where a girl once stood, now there was a beast more akin to a felid. Black as a panther, larger than a tiger, stronger than a lion. Her brown hair was now a straight mane down her back, and her fur shimmered in the light as if it were real instead of a convincing nano-particle illusion.

She could barely hear the surprised gasps of the people above. Her senses were solely fixed upon the bladed figure before her. The pity she'd felt was gone, replaced by sheer euphoria. She was the Mevara, the one that he and all others feared most about being rejected. She was the angel of death. Swift, merciful, deadly, and hungry, and this one was merely the next meal.

I want to run.

She roared, showing a set of slicing teeth. The man faltered in his bladed bravado and ran.

She charged.

The fight was like a duel of lightning. The blade-man stood his ground when he ran out of room to run, slicing where he could at any vulnerable place that she could show. Her claws were fast to parry, faster than her human hands were, and they all knew that her endurance and tenacity would make sure to outlast her victim.

A well-aimed slice sunk a gash into her shoulder. She retaliated with a blow that took him instantly off of his feet, like being hit with a concrete block. He tumbled, but still he slashed.

And still she advanced. She had all of her vitals in her senses. Heartbeat, the smell of sweat and adrenaline, breathing, muscles that were weakening.

Another slash caught her near the eye, and she roared in pain; but he was already broken on the ground. Already faltering. Doomed.

Rearing up and parrying one last blow, her body slammed down onto his ribcage. He could hear rather than feel the smash of a broken bone inside. Intense pain and lost senses made him withdraw the blades. He had one last plea in his eyes as they looked into the gleaming reptile-gold of the Mevara.

She didn't hesitate. His last breath left his body long after the pain ended, his flesh warm beneath those gleaming alloy fangs, and he hadn't even cried out when he was dragged away. Quick, merciful, no energy wasted. Just like she always did it.

When she turned back to the onlookers, still in her second form, they couldn't even tell where he ended up. Nothing was there but a dragged smear of red. She had several slices into her, but it didn't look like she even felt them.

The humans above had such a range of expressions now: bewilderment, shock, disgust, fear, pride.

Dr. Wesk turned to his clientele with another grand smile, though his eyes were wide with excitement and frantic possibility. "The creature that you now see before you is the result of all our hard work on this project; the outcome that we've been fighting to achieve. Imagine her and others like her, trained to fight every kind of biological mutant and weapon thrown at them; she's taken on all of our experimental failures left in our facility and won. In this form she is faster, stronger, and will fight to the last breath. The Mevara project will spawn the greatest soldiers that Earth has ever seen. Perfect soldiers. They will tear holes into the Bagori defenses. They may even pave the way for last of us to finally power through the blockade, and finally get the rest of us into space."

There was a moment of silence. Then, Mr. Bailey cleared his throat. "Well, Doctor, that...that is quite a lofty goal you've set. One could even call it mad, impossible, to even think that we could be saved."

He glanced down at the Mevara again, and her cold golden eyes sent a chill through him. "Still...what we've seen today is...admittedly...very impressive indeed. This...this experiment of yours has high potential."

"Though it is disconcerting, what you put your failed experiments through," said a woman, whose eyes were less on the scientist and more on the arena where she still looked for the man's body. A failed attempt; the arena had disposed of it quickly, though the beast that Mevara was now had disposed of much of it fairly well first.

Dr. Wesk sighed, his head bowed. "As I have said; it is all we could do for them. There was no place in society before, and the failed ones have no place with us. She kills without pain. Nonetheless," he waved a hand towards the creature as she restlessly paced the arena, "She is the best that we at Citywide Biotech can offer to your cause. Help us help you, ladies and gentlemen."

The pause was heavy. They watched her with interested eyes, weighing the pros and cons, the possibilities. In at least one, she thought she saw, there was the look that the scientists gave her every day. Approval. Hope.

Finally, a grim sort of smile showed on Mr. Bailey's face. "Alright, Dr. Wesk. I think you've convinced us. You have our support to get the Mevara Project off the ground. Just keep to your promises, and keep it under wraps."

Barely containing his excitement, Dr. Wesk kept a fairly professional air as they shook hands. "My dear sir, you will not regret it."

"See that I don't," the suited man replied, giving the Mevara one last apprehensive glance.

As the meeting wrapped up, she felt it safe to return to a more human state. Her wounds were there even then, but they would heal much more quickly. Her energy ebbed to a dull ache, always the side effect of that glorious surge of power. She sat on the concrete and breathed. She'd taken some energy from her prey, and it would keep her feeling full for a little while; until the scientists would visit her again with what they called food.

She called it "nutritional mush", considering its consistency. Only that, water, and a few vitamins were her daily sustenance, and getting to hunt was like a real treat for her. Then as now, she would enjoy that full feeling for all it was worth.

When Dr. Simons came to retrieve her again, it was after a short shock of her collar goaded her into a transport container; they didn't like him initiating any kind of physical contact with such a dangerous subject, though she'd proven her loyalty to them dozens of times over.

"You were great out there, just like I knew you'd be," he said, a gleeful smile brightening his face. "Surely they see now. You'll bring this world a fighting chance."

She nodded her reply, and really just couldn't wait to return to her room. Nonetheless, pride nudged itself into her chest, a soft grin on her features; though for a long time, much like the others, the doomed mutant's face wouldn't leave her mind. Pity was there again, the feeling that wormed its way into her brain and chest and stomach.

It's worth it, she reminded herself—again, then as always, the full feeling ebbed the ever-growing guilt of the kill.

I'm the one they'll keep.