“Do my veins look darker to you? I…I think my blood is turning black!” Rosa squished the skin around on her arm, poking at her veins.
“They look fine. You’re imagining things again.” I briefly glanced in her direction from where I lay upside down, hanging slightly off the side of my bunk.
“Isla! You didn’t even look. I really feel different this time. I think it was the last injection they gave me. Look.” She shoved her arm in my face. “They really do look darker.”
“Gee, I think you’re right.” I slowly rolled over and pushed up into a sitting position. “Oh my! Rosa, your eyes are turning black!” Rosa shrieked and dashed to the single mirror we had in our room, pulling down her eyelids and studying her eyes.
“They are not!” She turned to me, hands on her hips. “That is so not funny, Isla.”
“You’ve been here how long? Four, five years? And nothing they’ve given you has ever changed anything. For all you know, they could be giving you a placebo.”
“You’ve been here even longer, and you’re still the same too. Why are we still here if nothing is working?”
I looked away from her, studying my nails. “I guess they'll keep trying until something does work.” Three loud knocks sounded from our door before it slid open, disappearing into the wall.
“Isla? Treatment time.” A tall woman with a sleek bun and a lab coat stood at the threshold. Rosa and I shared a look. Nurse Betty. She wasn’t as bad as the others. Sometimes I thought I saw sympathy in her eyes. But she was still a part of why we were here, and I hated her for that.
“Wish me luck. And don’t stress too much while I’m gone.” Rosa gave a little nod and then frowned as I left the room.
My footsteps echoed down the hallway as I silently fumed about my circumstances.
It started soon after the Formidulo virus hit. The quick and methodical seizure of children from schools, from their homes. Children to be used, tested on, experimented with to engineer a new breed of human. One that would withstand the strength of the Formidulo virus. Airborne, the virus killed nearly half of all who came in contact with it and instilled fear in everyone.
We stopped at the same door as usual and entered the same room where I climbed atop the same exam table and awaited new experiments to be done to me. Just as I had done every year for the past six years.
“Good morning, Isla. How are we feeling today?” A balding man with thick glasses and a clipboard entered the room. Dr. Pearson.
“Oppressed as usual. Devoid of my rights as a citizen.” I glared at his fat shiny head.
“Lovely to hear that. Shall we begin?”
“Why not. It’s not like I can say no.”
“So I heard from Dr. Gilbert that you’ve had an interesting development. Care to show me?”
“Not really.” He raised an eyebrow and looked at me from over the rim of his glasses.
“Chipper, aren’t we?” He stared a little longer, then signalled at the door. “Show me.”
Nurse Betty entered the room again carrying a small cage with a skinny rat in it. Bile rose in my throat. She placed the cage in my lap.
“Show me.” Dr. Pearson’s voice was sharp now, slicing into my heart and making my pulse jump. Goosebumps flared across my back. I stuck my fingers inside the rat’s cage. I poked it behind the head. He spun and snapped at the offending finger but otherwise seemed fine. I knew better.
The minutes seemed to tick by ever so very slowly but soon the rat began to pace before curling up in the corner. Its eyes dilated and its tongue lolled out the side of his mouth. It began to pant heavily, its chest heaving. But as time passed its breathing slowed and then stopped. For good.
“That is absolutely fascinating.” He scribbled furiously on his clipboard. He gestured to Betty again, and she took the dead rat and left. “Can you explain to me what that was?”
I slowly clenched my hands into fists at my sides. The blood underneath my cheeks simmered.
“How about I show you?” I lunged off the table, hands outstretched ready to clamp them around his fat neck.
“Ah, ah, ah.” His hand darted between us, a bright flash making me pause. A taser crackled within his grip. “Dr. Gilbert told me what you were capable of. Did you think I would come unprepared?”
“If you know what I’m capable of then why do you need an explanation?” I slowly backed up until my legs hit the edge of the exam table. I crossed my arms, refusing to give up my standing vantage point.
“I’m just curious to see if you understand what it is that you’ve accomplished. Now be a good little girl and give it your best shot.”
I sneered at him. “I’m nineteen.”
“I’m well aware.”
“I stopped being a little girl the day you people ripped me from my life.”
“Spare me the sob story, dear.” He paused for a moment. “I’m waiting.”
“I gave him Formidulo.”
“You scientists poked and prodded me and filled me with chemicals, and now this is what I am. A monster.” I took a deep breath.
“See, Isla, that’s where you’re wrong. You are so much more than that.” Dr. Pearson’s eyes took on a glint that made my skin prickle. “Your body metabolizes any virus, bacteria, any foreign pathogen that it comes into contact with, and then adds it to your genetic makeup. Your body downloads it into your DNA. And then,” he chuckled, “you can pass it on, upload it into another being.”
I swallowed thickly, not enjoying the childlike enthusiasm that lit up his face when talking about my ability to kill.
“And so quickly, too! Formidulo normally takes two weeks, a week tops, to kill. And you! You did it within a matter of minutes! Incredible.”
“That’s not incredible,” My voice was steel. “How can you talk about death so casually? I killed that rat. Don’t you get it?”
“Yes.” His lips curled. My stomach curdled. “A strength unlike anything anyone else could possess.”
“I thought you were searching for a cure.”
“We were. But now we’ve found something greater. Something we can use.”
I gasped as I understood. “I’m a weapon to you.”
“What's better than a biological weapon with an entire database of deadly viruses?”
I opened my mouth but no words came out. What did someone even say to that?
“You can go now. I’ve seen enough.”
I hated being dismissed like that. But I hated being in that room more.
“Are you alright then? Not feeling sick?” Rosa peered down at me from the top bunk.
“You’ve been awfully quiet.” She raised her eyebrow at my nonverbal grunt. “In fact, you always seem to be awfully quiet when you come back from the experiments.”
I stared at the ceiling, avoiding her gaze. “Rosa…I have to tell you something.” She stared at me a moment, analyzing my expression, then quickly climbed down the ladder, squishing next to me on my bunk and tucking her head against my neck. Rosa was only a year younger than me but felt like a younger sister to me.
“Let it out, Isla. What’s on your mind?”
And I told her. I told her how two months ago they stopped testing serums and pills on me. How every day when I left our little room they began to test my newfound abilities. So many little animals that I had killed. So many viruses and bacteria that they injected into me, all becoming a part of my DNA.
“Do you hate me for not telling you?”
“Of course not! Isla, this is a lot to take in for me. I can’t even imagine how unbelievably hard it was for you to take in.”
I squeezed her tight. “I’m glad you aren’t mad because I’m going to make it up to you.”
Rosa cocked her head to the side. “What do you mean?”
“Not here.” I looked up to the round black camera in the center of our ceiling, to its red flashing light. I grabbed her hand and pulled her into our small bathroom. The only room without cameras. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time now. Almost as long as I’ve known what I can do. The doctors have been testing my abilities, but so have I.”
I slid to the bathroom floor, bringing Rosa with me, and gripped her arms. “It’s not right, Rosa. What they’re doing to us. We’re being treated like animals at their disposal. I can’t take it anymore. We have to get out of here.”
“But how? We’ve been here for so long and never found a way out. I remember picking at the door for hours when we were kids, trying to get it open.”
“I have a plan.” She looked into my eyes, searching.
“I’m with you.”
At twelve on the dot every day they herded all of us test subjects into the mess hall and served us questionable lunch. My plan had been whispered among the kids, passed around all the way down to the smallest captive, Jimmy, who was just eight years old.
“Pst, Isla.” Jimmy poked my arm while staring straight ahead and shoveling bite after bite into his mouth.
“I’m scared. I don’t know if I can fight the bad guys.” His hand clenched his spoon tightly, but I could still see the tiniest of tremors.
“Jimmy, look at me.” He turned his frightened eyes to me. “You don’t have to fight. In fact, don’t. When everything starts, I want you to hide under the table until everything is quiet. Can you do that for me?” Under the table I grasped his small hand and squeezed.
“Yeah. Yeah I can do that.” He squeezed back. I ruffled his hair and then he dashed off to beg for seconds.
“When do we begin?” Rosa’s eyes darted around the room to all of the guards surrounding us.
“Now.” I took a deep breath and then climbed on top of the table. My voice echoed off the bare white walls. “For too long we have been locked up like prisoners, tested on like rats. Enough is enough.”
The clatter of silverware filled my ears as I saw the kids around me gripping forks and butter knives in their fists, their eyes darting around the room, zeroing in hungrily on the guards.
“My brothers.” My gaze landed on Paul, the boy who arrived a month after me. “My sisters.” My gaze landed on Rosa. “The revolution starts now!” They began to pound their fists on the tables, silverware clanking. “Join me! Take back your freedom!” I punched my fist into the air, and my fellow prisoners leapt from their seats with a wild battle cry.
The cafeteria was chaos. Children striking out at guards in any way they could. Small sparks began to light up the room sporadically as the guards brandished their tasers but we had numbers on our side. The guards were overwhelmed.
I jumped down from the table top and sprung into action, darting around the room unnoticed amidst the chaos. An exposed neck here. A palm there. I flew through the whole room until I had tagged every single guard.
One by one they began to fall, slumping to the ground in awkward piles of limbs. Kids celebrated, jumping up and down and laughing.
“What did you do to them?” Suddenly Rosa was speaking from behind my shoulder. I smirked. “The first symptom of Formidulo is drowsiness.”
Rosa raised her hand to her mouth, her eyes wide. “They’re going to die?”
My expression hardened. “I’m not a murderer. That would be stooping to their level. I just gave them more of the sleepy and less of the kill-y.” I laughed.
Just then the cafeteria door swung open, and Nurse Betty stopped dead in her tracks, surveying the chaos, mouth wide open. She was silent for a few moments before finding my eyes.
“You’re going to need this.” In her hand was a rectangular key card. The key to our last obstacle, the front door. She held it out to me. I felt my feet carry me until I stood right in front of her. I took the card.
“Thank you.” Nurse Betty didn’t say anything in response, just nodded her head.
I turned towards Rosa and the others, a massive smile splitting my face. “Let’s taste freedom.”
We ran from the room, some limping along, leaning on others for support. I stopped abruptly when I rounded the corner. There stood Dr. Pearson. I clenched my teeth and stomped right up to him not hesitating to grasp his wrist. I stared into his eyes, and he slowly fell to the ground. I began to walk away from him but couldn’t resist turning back.
Stooping down I poked his forehead. “I hope you like the chicken pox.” I chuckled as I saw small red bumps begin to appear on his skin.
I let Rosa drag me all the way to the thick steel door. I waved the card in front of the scanner. Heard the faint little beep. The door was sucked into the wall, and I felt the sunshine for the first time in six years.