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Chapter 1: Awakening
The space was too confined to lay completely flat, or to stand. He rested his naked back against the cold, rough surroundings that encased him, his knees drawn up halfway to his chest, trickling in and out of consciousness.
How long he had been there was a mystery.
So too was the way in which he had ended up in this dark place that stagnated in the heat, and froze in the cold; in this cage he couldn't see, that forced him to contort in on himself, constricting his breathing, made his muscles burn and itch for space.
He had cried out, banged the walls, cut his palms and his fingers trying to conquer the lock and chains. To no avail.
Here he sat, alone, confined and frightened. Buried alive.
Perhaps this would be his final resting place. Perhaps not. He could no longer summon the energy to wonder.
“Well, it’s stopped fighting, it seems. I’d give it a few more days; otherwise you might get a nasty surprise when you open the door. They can be tricky, resilient, these ones. Do you think it still retains any memories?”
The one in the lab coat had a thoughtful expression on his face.
“I doubt it. They’ve been thorough, and they were designed to be serviced when necessary. It is odd, though, that they can go so wrong, when the work was so meticulously executed. Is he—it….one of the new series?” The doctor spoke with a reverential tone.
The double sided mirror before them showed only a dank, darkened room, with a vague box-shaped object at its centre.
The other, suited, a businessman, returned his gaze to the mirror. “Yes. Latest model, only released last year. I suppose we’ll see what state it’s in, when it comes out of isolation. We’ll have to be careful. This one is…difficult. Different. I’m sure the TRDC didn’t see all that coming.”
The doctor snorted through his nose. “I’ll bet not.”
He would die soon.
He didn’t know a lot now, only darkness and heat and cold and hunger but the thirst would kill him. It had begun already; swallowing was torture. His head pounded dazedly. White spots flashed across his vision and he woke sporadically, unconscious more often than not. His belly was an empty sack, collapsed. His fingers itched. His heartbeat and breathing had slowed to conserve what food energy remained in his system from…a time before now. If there had been a time before now.
It didn’t matter.
Maybe he was dead already. But surely death, at least, would be a sanctuary from this unpleasantness. Death must surely be a relief, not an extension of the consequences of living.
There were no memories of a time before darkness, and dark fear.
It didn’t matter.
“What day is this, twelve?”
“Almost day fifteen.”
The businessman passed a hand across his brow. “And how long before it’s complete?”
“I think it’s weakening. I wonder…”
“Perhaps it’s time to release it.”
The businessman looked up sharply at the man in the lab coat. “They’re far more resilient than us. They can survive under extreme stress. Their hibernation mode is far more effective than you might think.”
“Yes but, sir, we run the risk of permanent damage, and with this being a relatively new market, there is simply not room for loss. Besides, he was the best they had. One of a kind. It’d be a shame to waste him.”
The other man looked stern. “Doctor, that thing—” he pointed a thin finger at the mirror, “is not one of us. It is not natural, it is not human, it is not to be pitied. It is a malfunctioning unit.”
“Yes sir, I know.”
The light was sudden, making him cry out, eyes in agony, and he felt sick, in sudden motion.
Nothing was attached to it, no shapes, no sounds, just movement and the sheet of white that burned him.
“I just hope we haven’t pushed too far.” The doctor sighed, brow furrowed. This was more than he had signed on for. It wasn’t human, exactly, but it was packaged the same. Just a kid, really. Looked the same age as his son.
“Boundaries are made to be broken, doctor. Test it. Poke it with a stick and see if it moves.”
He coughed and spluttered and choked on barely anything.
The white had gone, replaced by a cool blanket of grey.
There was space, air. No cold-hot air. Still trapped, but the cage was far richer.
“I think it’s…back to factory settings, if you will.”
“Good. When can we send it on?”
The doctor blanched. “I have extensive tests to run on the subject, it could take weeks to have an assessment of its faculties!”
“Don’t get all hot under the collar. You have time. Just makes sure it’s functioning.”
No, not this time. He tried to lash out, and couldn’t.
There was a crackle. “Careful, doctor. They bite.”
Both voices were gone. Silence. To think in.
He could not move, or open his eyes, or speak.
His body was disconnected from his brain, it seemed. There were drugs that could do that, he knew. Paralytics. He knew not much else.
He could not tell if the man who came in periodically was his captor or his rescuer.
But he did not trust him.
“Can you open your eyes?”
The voice was soothing, the way a trainer of large cats speaks to his animals.
Water was trailed across his eyelids, and they lifted.
“Good. My name is Johnson. I’m here to help you.”
So perhaps this was a saviour. He could trust no-one, even this man with kind eyes and and premature grey in his hair.
“What’s your name?”
“I—” he found his voice worked.
“I don’t…” A thin rasp.
“Don’t remember?” The doctor looked at him compassionately. “That’s to be expected.”
“You’re in a rehabilitation facility.”
“An accident. You were injured. Trapped in the wreckage of a building.”
The confined space…it made sense now. The doctor’s face was drawn and tired.
“You saved my life?”
“Well, you were in a bad shape when we found you.”
“I owe you a debt.”
The doctor shook his head. “No.” His mouth smiled, but his eyes did not.
“Was there anybody else, doctor? Trapped?” He didn’t know why he was asking. The white room glared at him.
“A girl. She died.”
For some reason that hurt. Internally, he filed the feeling away for later.
“Who am I?”
“We think your name is Alexander Smith.”
No, that wasn’t right. “That seems familiar. Alex is familiar.”
“Good. We found a wallet near you, and assumed…correctly.”
“Thank you, doctor.” His tone was dismissive, but not enough that the doctor realized it consciously.
“This button—” there was a green button and a red one on the arm of the bed he laid in, and the doctor pointed to the green, “press it for assistance.” He smiled, and walked away, through the sliding glass doors which were suspiciously thick for an infirmary.
Alex, which he decided would serve for now, moved to rub his eyes, and found his hands attached by cuffs to the thick bar of the hospital bed.
Manacles; so he was dangerous. Or they were.