The cruel desert sun beat down upon a quiet and unassuming Iranian hamlet. Square, tan buildings dominated the landscape, offering shelter to those within. The sounds of music drifted off into the distance, rhythmic notions from a lone player. From the outside, all was normal. Another calm day in the Second World. But the rumbling of an engine betrayed trouble in this peaceful town.
A column of heavily armed soldiers made its way down the dusty streets. A military truck with a long back covered by a camouflaged tarp—the kind used to transport troops—followed close behind, kicking up a modest cloud of dirt. Out in front was the man obviously in charge of this little sortie. He did not tote around a rifle, but instead carried a riding crop at his side.
Their presence was not welcome. The occupants of this little town met them with fear and confusion. People closed windows and locked doors. Children scurried inside, encouraged by their mothers to make haste. No one dared interfere with the soldiers. Whatever their business, it was not worth getting shot or worse.
After passing a mixed selection of through streets and alleyways, the column came to it's destination. The leader raised a clenched fist, and they all stopped on a dime. Even the truck did not miss a beat, so disciplined was its driver. The leader turned to his right, and the soldiers wheeled to do the same. He approached a door immediately in front of him, giving it a few harsh raps with his riding crop.
"Royal Army, open up," he said with an authoritative tone. There was no response. "Open this door or I will be forced to break it down."
He didn't even give the occupants time to respond. He gestured over his shoulder for one of the troops to come forward. A man armed with a shotgun rushed up to his right side. Without a moment's hesitation, the soldier pressed the muzzle of his weapon against the doorknob and pulled the trigger, destroying it altogether. The door swung open. The moment the precipice was clear, the rest of the soldiers began to pour in.
"Search the house, secure the girl." The leader barked orders at his men.
The soldiers spread out through the property, holding their guns up at the ready as if in search of hostile targets. It wasn't long before they located their prize. A struggle emanated from the back room: scuffles and shouting, the sound of a rifle butt stock impacting a human forehead. After a few seconds the soldiers presented their findings to the leader in the main room. An older man and woman, along with their young daughter, allowed themselves to be forcibly led by the armed brutes.
"Excellent," mused the leader. "Bring her here." In compliance with their orders, two soldiers restrained the girl as she was brought forward.
"No, not my daughter!" Screamed the older woman. "Not Ayda!" She struggled against the soldiers restraining her, kicking and pulling in a desperate attempt to get away.
"Take me instead! She's just a little girl." The father made the noblest of scarifies, also trying to escape from the men who had overpowered him. Indeed, the only one who didn't make much of a fuss was the little girl. Perhaps it was shock, but she made not a sound as the captors moved her. The closest thing she made to an escape attempt was a few limp punches at one soldier's wrist.
When she was presented to the leader, he bent down momentarily to look at her in much the same way a farmer would inspect a cow. He nodded and gave a huff, turning around to exit the house. The men transporting the girl follow behind him.
"What should we do with these two?" One of the troops still inside the house stopped the leader.
"Same as the others. We don't need them, so kill them." The leader resumed his walk. All but two of the soldiers began to exit the house.
This was the final necessary push to awaken the beast within the girl. She thrashed about wildly, kicking and screaming howls of bloody murder. Being still small and weak, her feeble attempts at freedom were little more than a minor inconvenience for the big strong men taking her away.
"No, let me go! Mom!" The little girl cried out to her mother for assistance, desperate to save them both.
"It's okay, honey, everything's okay." The mother called through the open door.
A single shot rang through the streets.
"NO!" screeched the little girl.
"I love you, Ayda!" The father made one final dedication to his daughter. A second shot.
"Daddy!" Ayda's voice broke from fear and sadness, little more than a hoarse wail. She stared back into her house. Between the throngs of soldiers, Ayda got a clear view of her living room. There, she saw the horrifying image of her father slump to the ground, thick red blood leaking from his head.
"LET ME GO!" She fought and screamed, everything in her power to get away.
Ayda was little more than a vicious ball of thrashing limbs by the time the soldiers reached the covered truck. They stopped behind the vehicle. A third trooper came up behind them and lifted her into the air. It took all three of them to heave her into the back of the truck. Her chin slammed against the metal floor and she slid a few inches.
The girl was quick to react, however. In an instant she was on her feet and sprinting back toward freedom. One of the soldiers was partially inside the truck. He gave Ayda a harsh backhand which sent her crashing against the bench running along the left side of the vehicle. The impact knocked the wind out of her. While she was still stunned, the same soldier quickly zip tied her wrist to one of the poles upon which the tarp was stretched.
Plastic restraint firmly in place, the soldiers sat down around her. The rest of them had formed up at that point, and the vehicle filled quickly. While they filed in, Ayda picked and thrashed against the zip tie, trying vainly to either break or undo it.
The leader was the last to enter. He reached Ayda and gave her a sharp smack across the knuckles with his riding crop. She yelped in pain and shot accusatory eyes up at him.
"Stop struggling," he ordered. "It doesn't become you."
Of course, Ayda did not listen to him. Immediately, she resumed her attempts to break the tie. Her efforts were met with another hit. She stopped momentarily to catch her breath and then once again tried to escape, producing the same response. The leader gave her an impatient look, daring her to try it a fourth time. But Ayda was too smart for that. Knuckles red and throbbing, she knew enough to give up. Her shoulders sagged and she sat more normally in her seat, utterly defeated and broken.
The leader pushed aside some of his underlings to take the spot across from her as the truck drove off into the midday sun.
Many hours passed in the back of the truck. The tarp covering offered little protection against the boiling sun. It was hot. It smelled of sweat and oil and burning rubber. The men did not speak. Most hardly moved. Ayda couldn't be sure if it was fear or obedience which stayed their tongues, but it didn't really matter, either. She also remained silent and motionless. The antagonists around her had guns and knives. She dared not do anything to anger them, lest she meet a grizzly fate.
The gravity of everything which just transpired had not really hit home with her yet. In the dingy summer haze, it all seemed like a dream. Soon she would wake up. The smells of her mother baking bread would fill her nose. Her father would come in, bid her good morning, and recount all of their plans for the day. A good life awaited her, and all she needed to do was wake up.
But the logical part of her brain knew this was not a dream. This horror was very real. Her parents were gone. She sat in the back of a big truck surrounded by strange and violent men, bound for some unknown location in the middle of the desert. Nothing would ever be the same. She was afraid. Her father was not there to comfort her with his big strong hands. Ayda would never know comfort again. She was afraid.
The long and uncomfortable drive didn't help to ease her mind much. Canvas flaps drawn over the entrance to the truck's back obscured her view of the outside. Every once in a while she would get a good look through as they warped in the wind. Whenever she did, the surroundings were always the same; sand. Nothing but sand and rocks and the occasional scrubby bush. Were her arm not tied up in such an inconvenient position, Ayda may have fallen asleep from sheer boredom. The heat certainly made her drowsy.
After what felt like forever, time having long since blended into one incoherent entity, the truck began to slow. Ayda was so out of it at this point, she didn't notice the chance in velocity at first. But, when she did catch on, she sprung to life. Ayda pulled at her restraint and craned her neck around, trying to get a view of the outside through the canvas flaps. It all still looked like sand, nothing to indicate a significant change in locale worth slowing down for.
The truck ground to a halt. Ayda tried her hardest to pick anything out from the scenery, any sort of subtle hint as to the situation. She received a partial answer in the form of a loud metallic screech. It came from the front of the truck. The sound was brief, replaced immediately by a monotone electric motor. It only lasted a few seconds.
When the new sounds had ceased, the truck resumed motion, albeit much slower than before. Ayda just happened to look up in time to see a shadow creep across the tarp ceiling above her head. She followed it with her eyes and found herself suddenly engulfed by shade. The air shifted. It was cooler. A slight breeze blew.
Yes, they were most likely inside somewhere. This hunch was confirmed when the metal screech and electric motor sounds returned. The source of these disturbances was an extremely large garage door. It folded down from the concrete ceiling to close off the outside. It became much darker without the sun as a light.
The truck stopped again. As soon as it had, the soldiers began filing out. Two stayed behind to deal with Ayda. One grabbed her by the back of the shirt. The other cut her free before taking her left bicep. Together, they led her out of the truck. Unlike before, Ayda didn't struggle at their escort. Whatever this building was, it most likely belonged to them. She was in the belly of the beast. Escape would not be possible, even if she did manage to break loose.
Ayda looked all around, trying to take in her new surroundings all at once. This was obviously a motor pool. The space was one huge concrete room, easily large enough to contain a dozen vehicles, although it hadn't even half that at the moment. It was absolutely abuzz with activity. Soldiers, mechanics, and people in white lab coats went about their business. They reminded her vaguely of swarming insects.
Ayda looked to her right and was immediately grabbed by what she saw. On the far end of the room were six other children, boys and girls, guarded by four soldiers. They were all about her age, although—at a guess—she was probably the youngest by at least two years. Just after she noticed them, her escort began moving her over to the group of kids.
The children tried not to look at her, risking only a few sly looks. None of them hid it particularly well. The soldiers guarding them must have known what they were doing. They either didn't care, or were just too lazy to enact any sort of authority. The kids, though, were obviously terrified. They'd probably had similar experiences to Ayda. They'd every right to be afraid.
The men escorting Ayda deposited her none-too-gently among the kids. A firm hand between her shoulders forced Ayda down on her knees. She just barely caught herself before her nose could impact the pavement. Momentarily, she was stunned. This passed quickly, however. Ignoring the pins and needles in her hands, Ayda scooted into place beside one of the kids, a tubby boy. They exchanged quick glances before contenting themselves to inspect the floor.
"You're late," said an especially pretentious male voice. Whoever it was spoke Persian just like everyone else, but with a decidedly American accent. Ayda looked for its source, but couldn't see anything through the scattered throngs of people.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Vahlen," said the leader. "We met a storm on the way to the village. It slowed us down considerably."
"Don't worry about it too much," Vahlen sighed. "I didn't really have any big plans for today, anyway."
A few seconds after this conversation completed, a man appeared before the children. Ayda assumed this was the Doctor who just spoke. They must have been closer than she thought. He was a middle-aged man, most of his square features obscured by a thick beard and bushy eyebrows. His round glasses caught just enough of a glare to conceal his eyes. He was tall and reasonably built, a stout neck upon broad shoulders.
"Stand them up," he said shortly. The soldiers began jabbing the children with their guns. The kids got up, inspired by fright. Ayda didn't need to be prodded in order to stand. She got the drift.
Dr. Vahlen walked up to the boy on the far left of the line. Ayda was on the far right, last in line. Vahlen bent down until his face was just a few inches away from the boy's. The child looked away but the Doctor grabbed her cheeks and forced him to look into his eyes.
"No," said Vahlen after a few seconds. He moved on down the line to the next child, a girl. Again, he leaned to look her very close. She tried to divert her gaze and retrieved the same treatment.
"No," he repeated. Vahlen went to the next person in line, a boy. He rehashed the process, but this time the child did not look away. He learned from his peers.
"This one." Vahlen said something different this time. As he went to the next child in line, two soldiers came in to escort the previous away. They took him to form a separate group with two other guards off to the right.
"This one," Vahlen indicated with a nod of his head. Again, the same two soldiers led this chosen girl over to where the first boy was taken.
"No," Vahlen said of the boy next in line. Just as with the two before him, no soldiers came. Vahlen moved on to the boy right next to Ayda. This time, he only glanced at his subject. "No," he said with a grimace and went on to Ayda.
Vahlen bent over and got right in her face. He was very close. Those piercing brown eyes of his seemed to stare into her very soul. Ayda desired nothing more than to avert her gaze, but she knew such a gesture would be useless. Vahlen would just force her to look. Ayda remained locked in his stare. She may have been in impossible circumstances, but this much she could control. She had command over her own willpower.
Vahlen spoke lowly, words meant only for her. "You've got some fire in you." He stood. "This one."
Ayda knew the drill. She began walking over to the secondary group before the soldiers could escort her. They took a couple quick steps to catch up with her. When she was securely in place, the four soldiers who had been guarding the original group began to lead them toward an open personnel door. Ayda tried to watch them as they left, but Vahlen's voice ripped her attention away.
"I don't really have the patience for a speech right now, so I'll keep this brief." he adjusted his glasses before continuing. "Now, I know you're all scared, and rightly so, but you needn't be. This is a safe and organized environment, committed to the betterment of mankind. Together, you and I will contribute to the advancement of science and society. You will be part of something much bigger than yourselves. Together, we will make history. But, in order to do that, I need your complete and undivided cooperation. Can you do that for me?"
This was clearly a rhetorical question. As if they really had a choice in the matter. None of the remaining children spoke up. Ayda looked around for the other group but they were nowhere to be seen, probably outside already. They were the lucky ones. They probably got to go home.
This suspicion was quickly rejected as a gunshot broke the silence. Ayda flinched. It came from outside, just on the other side of the wall. It was from one of the rifles the soldiers carried. Ayda could never forget that sound.
"I'll take your silence as a yes." Vahlen said. A second gunshot. "Take them to their quarters," he instructed. The four soldiers began to move, prodding the children to do the same. A third gunshot.
The youngsters allowed themselves to be led toward a set of swinging double doors almost smack dab in the middle of the far wall. A fourth and final shot. Ayda looked behind her just in time to see one of the soldiers walk back inside from the personnel door. He flicked something wet from his glove. Ayda leaned back to try and get a better look, but a soldier shoved her. She contemplated the ground. No doubt about it, that was blood.
A long, dimly lit hallway awaited the kids on the other side of the doors. It was a rather boring space, made completely of concrete bathed dull yellow by hanging lights. The only decorations on the walls were thick wires and metal electrical boxes. Ayda only peered around in sparing glances, fearful of retaliation should her eyes wander too far.
The soldiers turned them left and they made their way down another, identical corridor. They repeated this pattern a few more times, never once encountering anything more interesting than a few scattered doors. Indeed, much of the facility seemed wasted space.
When they finally reached the end of their journey, they found themselves in a cell block. Five large iron bar doors broke up the left and right walls of the area for a total of ten. Ayda glanced into the cells. Each contained multiple kids. The occupants looked up at the new arrivals as they passed. Most were older, but a few were around her age.
As soon as they entered the cell block, the soldiers broke off to lead one of the children to their new homes. Ayda was no exception. Her guard took her all the way to the end of the dead end room. He extracted a key from his pocket and opened the cell on the far right side. Ayda stood before the abyss, staring at the people already inside. The soldier shoved her. She stumbled forward into the cell. Before Ayda could regain her footing, he slammed the door behind her, locking it with a turn of the key.
And then he left. No ceremony, no parting words. He just left. His boot steps were not the only ones to depart. If Ayda counted correctly, two others also departed, leaving one behind to watch over the prisoners.
Ayda's breaths became labored and ragged as panic set in. Her eyes darted around the cell, searching for a way to escape, some sort of chink in the armor. There had to be a way, a loose chunk of wall or spot of rust on the bars. She took one deep inhale and let it out slowly. There was no way out. These walls were all concrete and steel. She could never make it out. This was her new home. Trapped like an animal in a cage. That was her reality.
Ayda turned around, and was met with the faces of four other children. They did not look at or otherwise acknowledge her in any way. Indeed, they seemed dead to the world around them. They were dirty and destitute, dressed in identical baggy tan clothing. All hope long since vacated their aura. One, a blonde boy with striking blue eyes, was about her age. She walked over to him.
"Hey," she whispered to him. He did not react. "Hey, where are we?" Ayda tried again, unable to hide the despair from her voice.
"No talking!" A gruff voice barked from outside. Ayda turned in its direction for a moment, but gave up any notion she had of protest after a second. She wasn't allowed to speak, and her cellmates were obviously closed off to any other form of communication, so she took the only other option available. Ayda sat in the far west corner of the cell.
It was simple, but this small, quiet motion jogged her brain to clarity. The grim reality of her circumstance slammed home all at once. This place, all the kids, the soldiers, Dr. Vahlen, her parents, it was all now very real. Oh God, her parents. They were dead, taken from her. They were really gone. Nothing could ever bring them back. She would never see anyone she loved again. Would the word love even mean anything in the coming eternity?
An icy depression gripped Ayda's heart. Her life was over. She would die in this cell, and no one was coming to save her. Ayda curled up into a pathetic little ball and wept.
NOTES: This is the first part of my project to turn a rather shoddily written screenplay of mine into what I hope will be an at least halfway decent novel. This is my first foray into the superhero genre, so I want this to turn out well.
I've never posted to Booksie before. If I'm being honest, I didn't even know it existed until a few days ago. I hope this little story is up to the standard around here, and you enjoy reading it.
One thing I like to do whenever I write is give each chapter it's own accompanying song. The soundtrack for this chapter is "Isolation" by Matthew Sweet. It began playing when I was writing the last two pages. Although its subject matter doesn't really fit, its lonely mannerisms are quite complimentary, I think.