Xenophi Klondall, the newest and youngest addition to the security unit assigned to the institute for human development, strolled down the immaculately clean white corridor, twiddling his electric night stick in his six fingers. Doors lined either side of the long hallway, a fingerprint scanner on the wall beside each of them. He whistled as he paused at each door in turn and peered in through porthole sized windows. The children inside, human, slept quietly in their beds or sat about on the floor doodling on paper or throwing bals against the wall. Xen felt a rise of bile fill his throat and his gills flared alarmingly. Soon now and they would able to dispose of these bloodsucking pests.
He moved onto another door and peered in. His four sets of eyes narrowed for a second, before widening in alarm. The room was empty. He flicked a switch on his baton and it began to buzz and hum, as electrical currents pulse through the stick. Hurriedly, he carried out the hand scan and the door slid up with a mechanical hiss. Cautiously he inched inside the room, his baton held aloft in front of him, the bright flare of it’s electrical conduit reflecting off the walls. He tensed himself, ready for the child to spring out from the shadows, but after a thorough search of the room he discovered no child at all.
Dr. Allandre Pandar moved hurriedly through the many brightly lit corridors and hallways that comprised the institute. In one hand she was cradling a tiny newborn child and hanging off her other hand was a young girl of around five or six. The baby was quite silent, dozing quietly in the nook of her arm but the girl kept moaning every five minutes.
‘I’m tired and hungry. Where are we going?’
‘We’re nearly there. Not much further. Keep hold of my hand,’ Allandre said breathlessly.
She glanced over her shoulder, expecting there to be a squadron of security guards bearing down on her but the corridor behind was empty and still. She rounded a corner and had to duck back suddenly. Two doctors were conversing a little way down the hallway. The girl, who was oblivious to what was going on carried on trotting along and Allandre had to yank her back out of view sharply. The girl opened her mouth to protest but Allandre covered her hand with her mouth, forcing her to be silent.
The girl grimaced. Allandre was one of the Plethi, a species of alien who were distinctive for their long slender bodies and pale, almost translucent skin. Currently, it was tinged red in colour, a clear sign that she was in some state of distress. She glared at her blossoming skin with a look of contempt. Damn her ancestry. Why couldn’t she have been gifted with a useful trait like invisibility or the power of foresight. No, instead her skin simply changed colour dependent on her emotions.
A few of the children clustered behind her, shuffled around impatiently. Allandre hissed at them to be silent. She didn’t like to snap at the infants but it was for their own good. If they were caught and returned to the cells, their fate would be far worse. It was at this moment that her skin suddenly flushed icy grey, as fear took hold of her body. Sarah, one of the youngest and slowest of the children had disappeared. Allandre searched the faces of the dopey children hurriedly, praying that she had made a mistake. The younglings looked back at her with dull, vacant eyes.
Each had a hand placed on the shoulder of the child in front. Allandre had insisted on this. It lowered the chance of any of them falling behind or wandering off. Or so she had thought. Her eyes darted along the corridor and through the glass windows of the empty labs either side of her. Then she spotted her. Somehow, Sarah had managed to enter one of the nearby labs. Someone must have forgot to lock it. Allandre’s skin dimmed slightly as she watched Sarah. She turned to the foremost child of the group. He was slightly older then the rest with sandy blonde hair and dark eyes.
‘Stay here and don’t move,’ she whispered in a hush tone.
The blonde boy looked at her blankly for a moment and Allandre was about to repeat the instruction, when he slowly nodded his head, indicating he understood. Allandre nodded, gave his shoulder a tight squeeze which he looked at for a moment puzzled, and then she backtracked down the corridor to where the lab door stood a fraction open. As her hand reached for the edge of the door frame, she hesitated and took one look back at the huddled children. Her skin morphed pink, as guilt flooded her mind and body. Then she slipped through the door into the lab.
Sarah was standing at the other end of the lab, staring fixedly at a rack of test tube phials on a rack on the table in front of her. Allandre approached her slowly and cautiously. Humans were like gleamdings, the four legged creatures that roamed the wilds of the planet. Any sudden movement would startle them and they would either panic and make a noise or bolt away. Neither were options Allandre relished the thought of. The newborn still huddled in the crook of Allandre’s long arm shifted in his sleep and she paused, not wanting to wake the baby.
Sarah had tilted her head to the left and was examining the brightly coloured liquids in the phials curiously. The newborn wiggled about a bit, then fell back asleep. Allandre breathed a sigh of relief and inched closer to Sarah. The girl glanced to her left and saw Allandre, who stopped and smiled. She didn’t seemed surprised or perturbed by the doctor’s sudden appearance. She smiled back with a toothless, goofy grin. Then she did something that made Allandre’s skin flash both red and grey simultaneously. Sarah reached out a hand to one of the phials.
Time seem to suddenly grind to a halt, as Allandre watched Sarah’s hand outstretched towards the test tube rack. For a moment it felt like they were frozen in some sort of temporal time distortion. Allandre’s mind whirred like a bullet train, as possibilities, ideas and outcomes popped into her head and then out again milliseconds later to be replaced by yet more. If she called out to Sarah to stop or dashed forwards to intervene, she risked waking the baby. That would alert the two doctors stood in the hallway outside. Alternatively, if she did nothing, Sarah might drop the rack in her clumsiness.
Humans were notorious for their poor motoring functions and reaction times. Allandre didn’t know what to do and Sarah’s hand was moving steadily closer to her goal. Allandre was just about to step forward and intervene when Sarah suddenly withdrew her hand. Her head had swivelled to look at the other door of the lab. Beyond was the second corridor, where the two doctor’s stood conversing. The sound of one of them laughing had drawn her attention. Allandre used the opportunity to move closer still.
‘Sarah,’ she whispered.
The girl ignored her and moved over to the other door. Allandre felt her green blood run cold and her cheeks flush silver. She dashed forward but had to skid to a halt, as the newborn gave a disgruntled moan in its sleep. She shushed the tiny infant soothingly and rocked it back and forth in her arms, until it became calm once more. She looked up. Sarah had opened the door and was wandering aimlessly into the corridor.
Panic seized her. She moved forward and was about to proceed after her when a concerning thought struck her. The doctors would see her. There was no doubt about that now. The only way out of this conundrum would be to talk her way out of it. Problem being that the moment she stepped into that corridor, her red and grey pigment of skin would give her away to the doctors almost immediately.
Allandre closed her eyes and placed a hand gently on the cool surface of the door. As a child she had experienced much bullying and teasing from other doctoral students, in regards to her skin changing condition. The plethi were a dying race, their lineage almost extinct. Most women and men of the plethi race chose careers that suited that strange genetics, such as emotional companions for down on their luck individuals or even worse, as performers and dancers.Allandre had seen the latter of the two first hand and it was a barbaric form of entertainment. Participants would find different ways to evoke emotions out of the unlucky plethi, then sit back and watch the light show it produced.
When Allandre had announced she had aspirations of becoming a doctor of medical research, her parents had scoffed and then when she had begun her training, her classmates had wound her up to force her emotions to reveal themselves. So, with the help of her uncle, the only member of her family who had encouraged her to follow her passion, she had learnt how to control her emotions. To clear her mind and repress the emotions fighting to be seen. She took a deep breath and emptied her head. Sarah was getting closer to the doctors.
It sounded like one of them had noticed her. Allandre forced herself to ignore this. She needed to concentrate. After a few seconds, the red tinge in her cheeks and arms began to fade and then the silvery grey also began to dissipate. Her brow was furrowed, as she willed all of her power on dampening her emotions. Allandre opened her eyes and looked down, smiling. Her skin was milky white. To any outsider it would appear as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She smartened down her lab coat, checked the baby was still alright, which it was, then nodded curtly to the door in front of her before opening it and stepping into the corridor.
Doctor Jamala Ark paused in her detailed explanation of human subject 44, as she caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye. The many cogs and wheels of her mechanical brain whirred, as she moved her head around to look down the corridor. She was an android, as were most doctors who had joined the clinic. Due to their design and intelligence, they were usually hand picked for important roles such as medical work or research. The doctor standing with her was a younger model, built by the same technology but more advanced in design. He followed her gaze and zoomed in on the approaching figure with his bi focal lenses.
‘Subject 29,’ he said, as images and words filled the upper right corner of his mechanical right eye.
Jamala nodded, although hastened to not mention that it had taken her a full thirty seconds to figure that out. She liked spending time in the company of the younger androids as she found their conversations always stimulating and challenging, but she sometimes found a small amount of bitterness for their superior design. Then typically, she would berate herself for thinking that because emotional interference had been ironed out in the later models, and it would only serve to reinforce her disappointment in her own inferior limitation.
‘Stop,’ she commanded, holding up her hand.
Sarah continued walking on, oblivious of the doctor’s instruction. She didn’t even seem to have noticed the two doctors stood there. The young android reached for a panel on the wall next to him. This would alert the guards to the escape subject but at that moment another doctor stepped out of a lab and into the corridor. Jamala took the opportunity of her younger companion’s distraction to scan the approaching doctor first. Her bi focal lens hummed and vibrated, as it zoomed in and registered the individual.
‘Allandre,’ she said with a satisfied clip to her tone.
The younger android, whose name was Artemis looked puzzled. This was a rare occurrence with one such advanced as himself. Jamala had to remind herself that he was still very new to the institute. She only knew of Allandre herself, as they had attended the same medical school some years prior. Since then, the reclusive doctor had mostly kept to herself. She never socialized with the other nurses and doctors.
‘She is carrying an infant with her. Looks like a new subject. Yes, 123 I believe.’ Artemis noted, in his calm and even manner.
Jamala tried to scan the small bundle in Allandre’s arms too but she could feel an eye migraine worming it’s way into existence. She needed another check up. Her bi focal was suffering from wavers and trembles again. The thought of which was not pleasing. Although she had proven herself a valuable asset to the company, if the check up came back with too many faults she could very well be decommissioned and removed from the program all together.
‘Doctor Jamala isn’t it?’ Allandre said, slightly short of breath as she reached them.
‘Doctor Allandre. It’s been a while.’
She observed Allandre closely, despite the niggling pain behind her eye and consulted her data banks. That was right. She was of plethi descent. The race famous for their colour changing skin, when reacting to emotions. Allandre was watching Sarah, who had stopped in her tracks and was looking up at Artemis in stunned awe.
‘You won’t believe what happened with this one. I was tending to this little fella and S….subject 29 just ups and walks out of the room. I tell you, you can’t take your eyes off these humans for a moment.’
Jamala and Artemis exchanged sceptical looks. Allandre swallowed and forced herself to remain calm. She had almost blurted out Sarah’s name by accident. She was the only one that gave the humans real names. The others simply referred to them as patients.
‘Why was subject 123 in subject 29’s cell in the first place?’
‘A study. I wanted to see if there was any difference to 29’s behaviour when introduced to another subject.’
‘Was this medical study sanctioned by your acting doctor in charge?’
‘Of course,’ Allandre said evenly.
Jamala observed Allandre closely, particularly her face and arms to see if any emotions would betray her. There was a slight blue to her skin, which exhibited a small level of anxiety but that could be due to the runaway subject.
‘Check if it has been approved,’ Jamala said to Artemis.
Artemis nodded and moved away to consult his own data banks. He was a top of the range model but even retrieving information such as medical sanctioned orders took a bit of time. Jamala turned back to Allandre.
‘It’s nothing personal. Just have to follow these things up. You understand of course.’
Allandre nodded. She glanced at Artemis. He was still searching. His back straight and eyes misty, as androids became when they were deep inside the online data banks of the cloud.
‘Would you mind holding hi…subject 123 for a moment?’
The request was so unusual that even Jamala’s fast mechanical brain had trouble comprehending it. Before she knew what had happened the infant had been thrust into her arms. She looked down at it in surprise and then felt something sharp and cold pierce her neck. The lights went out but she didn’t fall down. Her body stiffened and her eyes turned completely black. She was frozen solid on the spot. The baby woke up suddenly and started to squirm and kick but Jamala’s stiffened arms kept it from falling out of her grasp. Artemis had scanned the entire set of records from the east wing head office. There was nothing pertaining to any such sanction.
His eyes flickered back into life and he opened his mouth to alert Jamala to this revelation, when a new sensation hit the recently commissioned android. Surprise. Allandre, subject 29 and subject 123 had disappeared. He glanced to his right and had his second surprise of the night. His colleague Jamala was frozen to the spot, her arms outstretched in a peculiar fashion. He turned to press his hand against the alarm but was beaten to it, as a moment later the corridor was bathed in darkness. The lights flickered on a second later but had changed to red and were flashing urgently. This was accompanied by a high pitched siren, emanating from speakers placed at various points throughout the building.
Allandre herded the children as fast as she could down the corridor. It was like trying to herd cattle. Some of them were crying and the baby was kicking wildly in her arms, howling it’s mouth off. Allandre tried to keep stock of her bearings but it was extremely hard with the distraught children and poor lighting. Her tempered skin was changing from colour to colour in a myriad of tones. She could hear running footsteps behind her and shouts. She refused to look back. It would only confirm her worst fears. She steered the procession of confused and wailing children around another corner and skidded to a sudden halt, her skin turning completely silver in the crimson glow of the light. Two guards were running towards them from the end of the corridor.
‘Stop,’ Allandre screamed at the top of her voice.
The children who had been stumbling and tripping over one another in their confusion and panic suddenly came to a rigid halt. Allandre was taken aback. This must have been the first time the absent minded juniors had done as she had asked. The guards were advancing on them, their granite sized teeth bared, their webbed feet echoing across the marble floor as they slapped their way towards them. Allandre looked back the way they had come and she could make out the hunched shadows of other guards. This was it. They were penned in. In her desperation, she ran over to a lab door and press her hand to the panel. It flashed up with a security measure saying access denied. Of course. The place would be on lock down.
Then something very peculiar happened. Two human children were suddenly in the middle of the corridor. Allandre studied them. Even from this distance, she could tell they were not any of hers. It was as if they had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It was a boy and girl, dressed in the white overalls all human children wore in the facility and they were holding hands. The encroaching guards paused and hesitated, then assuming them to be with the rest of the small ape like beings began advancing forward again. They reached the two children who seemed quite still and calm, unlike Allandre’s brood, who were snivelling and sobbing in front of her. One of the guards smiled a wicked grin and reached one of his slimy reptilian hands towards her.
There was a brilliant flash of white and a moment later the guard recoiled, clutching his arm. No correction, clutching the stump where his arm had once been. The child had torn it clean off and black oily blood poured from the exposed wound. There was another bright flash and the second guard’s head flew into the air, more of the black blood spraying across the corridor wall in an arterial fashion. Allandre winced at the bright light. The one armed guard was scrabbling backwards on the floor, using his remaining hand and arm to pull him away from the dazzling light. It dimmed and the two children had gone. In their place were too strange looking creatures.
They were both completely blank, like shop floor mannequins. The one who had been the small boy moved forward and leapt into the air, landing on the guard’s stomach. There was a scream from the creature, as it’s whole chest caved inwards. It jerked and twitched around violently for a moment, before falling still. The second blank figure, who had been the young girl turned to face them, and as she did so there was yet again another bright flash of light. When Allandre’s eyes had adjusted, she was met with two plethi? But that couldn’t be. None of her kind worked in the facility. The female plethi spoke.
‘Come with me now if you want to live.’
Allandre thought about asking who she was but the grunts and shouts of the remaining rear guards were getting closer, their loud booms bouncing off the walls of the corridor. There would be time for questions later. If they made it out of here alive. She began waving her hands wildly at the children to follow the two strangers, and after they didn’t move she screamed at them in the same manner as before. It seemed to work and they began to trot down the corridor, their snivels and wails slightly more subdued.
The baby was coughing alarmingly and Allandre tried her best to comfort the infant, while still moving. The poor thing had cried itself hoarse. The male plethi had already reached an exit door which led to the stairs of the compound. Allandre was just about to point out the place was on lockdown when there was a third flash of light. She wished they would warn her before doing that. The light faded and a guard stood facing them. He was stood slightly left to the door, which was now open. Her initial reaction was to backtrack, as her brain automatically assumed that it was the enemy. Then she reminded herself that it was the shape-shifter in yet another disguise. He beckoned them through hurriedly.
They all bundled through the door. The female shape-shifter held back, and as Allandre passed through the door last of all she gave her a sharp, purposeful nod and closed the door. There was the sound of gunfire and shouting from the corridor they had just left and some of the children ducked down frightened. Sarah grabbed hold of the shape-shifters leg. The ditto glanced at her momentarily but seemed unfazed by the child’s behaviour. Allandre felt bad for the other one who had remained behind to stall the enemy but at the same time she had to focus on getting the children to safety. From what she had witnessed, the shape-shifter could take care of herself.
She went to descend the stairs but got no further then the first step. The shape-shifter had grabbed her roughly by the arm. Allandre shot him a furious look of indignation. The shape-shifter looked at her blankly, not caring about her feelings and knelt on the floor. He placed one hand on the cold surface and closed his eyes. Allandre glanced at the door they had just exited and saw shadowy shapes shrinking and expanding through the frosted glass. Then a scream made her jump and some unspecified liquid sprayed across the glass. It didn’t take a genius to work out that it was blood. She turned around. The shape-shifter was moving up the stairs instead of down. More bizarre was the fact that the children were following obediently behind him. Allandre glanced over the railing and understood why.
There was movement on the stairs. Barely audible. The guards had some kind of way of concealing the noise of their footsteps, as they were ascending extremely quietly. Allandre and the children tried to keep up with the shape-shifter but they were much slower then him and his speed and endurance never seemed to run empty. Allandre glanced behind her despite knowing it was a bad idea, and felt a silent scream trap in her throat as a guard leapt up onto the rail and squatted. His reptilian eyes flickered evilly. A forked tongue darted out of his mouth and shot across the space towards Allandre. The tip was poisoned. Allandre knew from studying the creatures at medical school.
If it touched her, she would be paralysed in seconds. A shadow fell across her and the shape-shifter dropped from above. He landed between them, severing the guard’s tongue in half with his arm, which had transformed into a long metallic blade. The guard toppled back in surprise, falling down the stairs and landing on the rest of the pursuers with a loud crash. The shape-shifter turned to Allandre and gestured upwards with his blade arm. Green acid sizzled on his chest. When he had sliced the guard’s tongue, the poison had sprayed onto him. The shape-shifter went to lower his hand but the paralysis had already set in.
‘Thank you,’ Allandre said to the stranger and turned and ran.
The guards were fast, aided by their ability to leap several steps at a time and cling off walls and rails with their webbed fingers and toes. Yet the troupe managed to make it to the roof exit before them. The shape-shifter’s interception had delayed the guard’s advancement. Sarah was at the front of the procession and Allandre at the rear. Despite their lack of coordination and awareness they were all moving at a steady pace, and Allandre nearly knocked over the child in front of her when the group suddenly came to an abrupt halt.
She pushed her way through the children to the front. Sarah was stood in front of the roof door pushing it repeatedly with her hand. But the facility was on lock-down. The customary panel flashed at her from the wall beside the door, waiting for authentication. Allandre tried to dull down her panic, so as not to frighten the children. Not knowing why she put a hand into her pocket. There was nothing in there that would help. Only the guards could unlock the doors. A lump formed in her throat, as her fingers touched something wet and slimy.
The soft, moist pad of the guard’s feet were getting closer. Stomach doing somersaults, she pulled out the unknown object from her pocket. It was a guard’s severed hand. Some of the children recoiled at the sight, others looked at it with macabre interest. Fighting the urge to throw up, Allandre moved forward to the panel and placed the six digits on the lock screen. There was a whirring sound and a click. Sarah was still pushing on the door and as it unlocked she stumbled forward onto the roof. They bundled through and Allandre closed the door behind them. The guards would be able to open it easily but at least it would add an extra stage of delay.
A landing pad stood before them with a large black helicopter sitting idly. Allandre squinted and could make out one of the automated flight bots at the wheel. There was no sign of anyone else. As they approached it the side door slid open automatically, while at the same time the engine began to whir into life. Allandre had to assume that the bird was part of the escape plan. Besides it was not as if she had any alternative. The children reached the copter, as the propellers began to slowly spin. One of the children, entranced by the circulating blades tried to raise his hand to touch them. Allandre seized the child before he could do it and forced his arm to his side.
It took a while but eventually, Allandre managed to get all the children into the helicopter, leaving just her and the baby as the last two to get in. It was at that moment that the rooftop door burst open and several guards spilled out onto the roof. Allandre bit her lip and then did something dangerous. She handed Sarah the baby, closed the door shut and hammered on the driver’s window with a fist. The bot turned it’s mechanical head to face her and did nothing for a moment. A bullet thudded into the side of the aircraft and the bot suddenly seized control of the situation and began to lift off from the landing pad. Allandre watched the helicopter rise into the air, saw the terrified and confused expressions of the children inside, felt the heat of the engines and the whoosh of air rush over her.
Then with a swallow, she turned to face the guards. Seven of the reptile guards stood facing her, their guns pointed at various points on her body. Her body flushed grey for a moment and the lead guard sniggered at her fear. Then something strange happened. Her body transformed into purple. Fear had momentarily vanished to be replaced by anger. Screaming, she ran forward. The lead guard fired his gun. It had been aimed at her heart but her unexpected movement took the shooter by surprise and instead the bullet hit her in the shoulder. Allandre was thrown back into the air and crashed down on to the roof with a dull thump. She lay there for a moment, pinned to the ground by the shock and force of what had happened.
In the sky above her, Allandre could make out the large black shadow of the helicopter ascending into the clouds. She smiled and a tear ran from her eye. The flip flop of the guard’s padded feet were growing closer and closer. They were advancing to finish her off. Allandre’s shoulder felt numb but she could feel the hot blood soaking her arm and breast. From somewhere deep below, there was a low humming. She thought it was her imagination but as the guards drew closer it grew louder and stronger. The ground roof her was beginning to vibrate. With an almighty effort Allandre raised her head to look at the guards. They had paused and were eyeing the floor of the roof curiously. The building began to shake and Allandre felt the tiled roof beneath her tremble and rattle. There was a pause and the lead guard smiled satisfied and turned his attention back to Allandre.
Then an almighty force shook the foundations. The roof beneath the lead guard disappeared, him along with it. The other guards looked at one another, confused. A shape flew out of the hole, high up into the air. All Allandre could see was a massive, black shadow. It rose for a good while, then arched and began to speed back down towards the roof. The shape was headed directly for the remaining guards. Some of them tried shooting at it, others attempted to dive out the way. Neither succeeded. The shape smashed into their ranks, sending guards flying in all directions.
Concrete, brickwork and creature exploded into the air, in a cloud of destruction. Allandre tried to keep her head up but the loss of blood was making her light-headed. Allandre felt the roof beneath her disappear, just before she drifted into unconsciousness. She didn’t fall though. The last thing she remembered before being consumed by blackness was being lifted into the air, almost by a pair of invisible hands. Then darkness consumed her entirely, as she let go and allowed herself to be taken by it.
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