SUBJECT ZERO

TIM TUCKER

Nestled within the meadowed hills of the Virginia country side lies a research facility of the utmost secrecy. The property encompasses eighteen hundred acres of hushed birch and beeches and although security appears to be minimal no animal larger than a rabbit moves across these acres without being monitored by motion detectors, heat sensors, cameras, and microphones, all sending a steady stream of data to an array of supercomputers for continuous analysis. Unauthorized visitors are subject to immediate arrest, and any unfortunate souls who wander too close to the main facility are shot, no questions asked.

At the geographic center of these pristine acres is an orphanage, a nondescript three story brick structure that resembles a hospital more than a haven for children. Thirty five children currently reside at the orphanage, each one under the age of ten. They are parentless, having not been conceived through love and entered into the world via a woman, but rather they were nurtured in mechanical wombs in a labaratory.

As with any lab specimen that furthers the course of human knowledge none of the orphans have names. To name them would encourage the facilities personal to develop attachment to them. As a result, the children are known by the designation "SUBJECT" and a numerical rank. SUBJECTS 1-35, each one processed through a comprehensive genetic profile library which monitors the development of their special abilities.

And then there is her

On the third floor of the orphanage, in a room all to her own lies SUBJECT ZERO. She is two years old, catatonic, and incontinent. She lies in her crib, wallowing in her own waste until she is changed, and she never cries, never complains, never speaks a single word. She sits motionless, her diminutive body as dark as sand and hair a tangled thicket of curls. Her muscles are partially atrophied even though she is given electric physiotheraphy four times a week. Her soft brown eyes stare into nothing, and if her face was ever enlivened by expression she would have been a beautiful child, but the perpetual slackness of her features gives her a chilling aspect. Cameras cover every inch of her room and records 24/7, which to the more casual observer would seem to be a waste of tape. But if one studies the tapes long enough they will find that inanimate objects around SUBJECT ZERO come to life. Medical supplies levitate and spin in the air, float from wall to wall and circle the child's head, the lights would dim or go completely dark for a time, the digital clock mounted on the wall would race forward and back through time, and a plush teddy bear walks around the room on its stubby legs and cuddles in the bird next to her while she sleeps. Sometimes during her slumber she clutches the bear tightly and wordlessly mewls, as if adrift in the furthest reaches of a forlorn dream.

Four years later...

Of the thirty five children administered at the orphanage, none of them show signs of paranormal abilities past the age of five. Due to continuous budget cuts to the project's infrastructure, the failed subjects are terminated with extreme prejudice. SUBJECT ZERO, however, is not seen as a failure. While all the other children were expendable due to the limited resources, she not only lived, she thrived.

By the age of six SUBJECT ZERO exhibits a preternaturally high IQ. She loves to learn, receives comprehensive daily tutoring, and is currently educated to an eight grade level. She has numerous toys, books, and movies to indulge herself in and the projects handlers do everything in their power to give her as healthy an upbringing as they can manage. Her once slack and disconcerted expression has finally blossomed into a delicate smile and her once listless brown eyes now radiate all the love and kindness of a healthy six year old girl, and just like her physical appearance, her special abilities have also blossomed into something greater, something not even the projects handlers could imagine.

Sometimes, SUBJECT ZERO is able to make small objects – pens, toys, paperclips – disappear. Simply vanish into thin air. She is unable to bring the objects back, but she knows where they all eventually end up: "The Bad Place", an elsewhere infinitely more vast and dark than what normal humans can perceive. Furthermore, she has shown a rapid growth in psychokinetic abilities, able to levitate bigger objects, even herself, for longer periods of time. The researchers are amazed by her radical progress, but alarm arises as well. If her powers continue to grow exponentially, then it will become necessary to look into efficient ways of sedation and isolation – or in the worse case scenario, termination.

And now our story takes us to one warm day in late August. SUBJECT ZERO is alone in her room, reading, when an explosion shook the orphanage to its foundation. She glanced up from her book as the alarm klaxon sent an angry shrill throughout the facility. At first she thought that maybe it could have been an accident from one of the other laboratories but then she heard the frantic screams. And gunshots.

A palpable fear that she had never known in her short life gripped her heart. Another volley of automatic fire ripped through the air outside of her room, getting closer. SUBJECT ZERO stood in the center of her room, trembling, for she understood the dark implications of this attack. Having been born with the full awareness of her place and purpose in the Universe, with the understanding that she carried otherwordly powers within her genes, she knew that she was a very special girl. Whoever was brazen enough to carry out such an attack against her home would not see her as a precious gift that she is, rather they would see her as a commodity, one to be exploited and used for their own perverted pleasures, or worse...a threat that must be eliminated.

SUBJECT ZERO squeezed her eyes shut so tight they hurt. She had never used her powers against another human and as far as she was concerned she was not about to start today. Instead she concentrated on The Bad Place, the one place where she would be safe from their grasp. Though she was still not powerful enough to control the arrivals and departures of objects, let alone herself, to the dark void, she willed her mind and body to become the pen, the paperclip, anything to allow her to escape this twisted reality. Even The Bad Place was a sanctuary compared to the alternative.

Voices outside her door. Strong, authorative voices. There was a terrible screeching of metal on metal and a heavy thud as the door was knocked down. Hurried footfalls rushed into the room, surrounding her, and all SUBJECT ZERO could do was hopelessly keep her eyes closed. Maybe they will make it quick, just one bullet to the head. The last thing she expected to hear was a woman's voice, soft and tender and somehow strangely familiar.

"Sweetheart..."

Cautiously, SUBJECT ZERO opened one eye, then the other. Standing before her was a beautiful, lithe black woman, her graceful figure hidden by drab camoflague fatigues and a heavy assault rifle slung across her slender shoulder. Her kinky hair was tied away from her face in a decorative braid and she regarded SUBJECT ZERO with brown eyes that radiated warmth and compassion. Several men were at her side, their weapons slung across their chest as they stood at attention.

"Do you know who I am?" the woman asked.

"Y-you came to kill me?" SUBJECT ZERO said meekly.

A flash of hurt played across her delicate features. She knelt down in front of the girl. "Baby we would never hurt you! We're here to rescue you."

"Rescue me?"

"That's right. I want you to look at me. Look at me and tell me who I am."

Through a haze of half remembered dreams SUBJECT ZERO could see her face float to the surface of her mind. Those dazzling eyes, twin orbs of chestnut brown, the ebon, aquiline features of her face, all drifted in rivers of thoughts too intense to be just mere dreams, almost as if she were recalling memories that she couldn't possibly have experienced in her brief life. Unless...

"You're...me?"

The woman's face melted into a loving smile. "Yes baby girl! And what's my name?"

The name was a whisper through SUBJECT ZERO's mind that drifted to her lips. "Nina!"

The woman, Nina, beamed as proud as a mother cherishing a tender moment with her daughter. "Good job! You really are the one! My name is Nina Matthews, Private First Class. Six years ago when I was stationed here they used my DNA as part of their cloning project. They wanted to create monsteres bred for nothing but wars and killing but you're no monster. You're a miracle, and now we've come to take you home."

Nina took her by the hand, and in that moment of pure synergy both woman and child felt a connection like no other, one that ran deeper than flesh and blood and transcended to the fullness of existance itself.

"I will teach you," Nina said through tears. "You can be whoever and whatever you want to be now. You can never fail."

Hand in hand they were about to walk out of the room when SUBJECT ZERO stopped.

"Wait!" she cried.

"What is it?"

"Can he come with us?" she pointed to her teddy, who stood beside her bed on his stumpy little legs, his furry arms outstretched towards them.

Nina stared at the bear increduously. "You really are something special. Come along little one."

The teddy bear waddled after them as they made their way out of the orphanage.

Together.

THE END