Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Institution

By Sarah Begg

She opened her eyes in darkness and silence.
Unusual, she thought. The hum of the LED light in her cell had become such a constant that the silence which now pervaded was strange.
Perhaps it was the popping death of the light that had awoken her, she with inhuman hearing. The faint white glow that lit her small chamber – that lit all the corridors and rooms she was routinely taken through – was always there, never wavering.
She closed her eyes and opened them a few times, expecting the light to return.
It did not.
Turning her head, she looked towards the door but there was only darkness there. The corridor beyond also was unlit.
A prickled warning crawled across the back of her neck and she remained absolutely still.
Experience had taught her to not do anything. They'll come back, she thought, and turn the lights on again.
They have broken you, a voice whispered through her mind. You used to long for this day.
She sat up fiercely.
Swinging out of bed she dropped from the raised platform and landed lightly on the floor with the stealth of a cat. After all the experiments they had conducted on her – injecting her body with drugs, sticking needles into her muscles and immersing her in acidic substances – she was stronger, fitter and more agile than anyone on the outside walls of the institution. Their creation, they called her. Their masterpiece.
She crept to the door and was surprised when it slid straight open. The locks, she knew, were highly advanced and unbreakable – she had tried to break out of this cell enough times to learn that. Yet being at the forefront of technology they also had the failings of most modern creations – they needed a power source.
She stepped cautiously into the dark corridor and her heart began to race.
What if this was another test? There had been so many tests she had stopped counting. Tricks and deceptions – apparently meant to train her mind, to turn her into their warrior, into their weapon. If she failed a test, whenever she made the Director unhappy, the punishments were excruciating. Even just the thought of what they would do to her if they found her outside her room now was enough to turn her insides to liquid.
But she had to push on. Test or not – she wasn't broken enough to ignore an opportunity for escape, even if the chances that this was real were slim.
Creeping down the corridor, there was no sound, no sign of anyone. She did not need light to know where the end of the corridor was – she had walked the length so many times before, often blindfolded. Yet something else was missing – at the end of the corridor in the top corner near the ceiling, there was usually a red pinprick of light signaling that all movement was being watched in the control room. Today, the red dot had vanished.
She reached the door and this one too swung open without resistance.
Beyond, in this corridor a faint light was present.
Sliding delicately into the wide space, she looked towards the light source. There, at the far end of this corridor, the staircase was lit.
She ran lightly to the stairs, her enhanced eyesight scanning the closed doors and the ceilings as she went. In this corridor also, the red dot of the all-seeing Directorate was missing.
She paused on the staircase, just outside the reach of the light. Here, security was working. The red glowing eye that never blinked guarded the stairs.
There was nothing else for it but to run.
Had anyone been watching the screens in the control room, they would have seen a dark streak flash past, so fast she was. In the upstairs corridor she paused in the shadows in the corner, holding her breath. But the alarms did not begin.
There was an open door just ahead, and soft voices were trickling out of there. There was even the sound of soft laughter – two staff members brightening their otherwise mundane work day.
As she approached the doorway, she slid to the ground and continued on crab-like, her body pressed close to the floor. She now suspected no one was watching the security cameras, as the alarms were not going off. Someone, or something, had granted her a window of opportunity.
From her floor-level view she spied the two workers in the room. They were wearing the white, sterile lab coats that all employees here wore. Surrounded by beakers and potions, their faces covered by protective goggles, in their hands they mixed concoctions of drugs that would be used to inject their test subjects. She knew that some did not survive the experiments. She could hear, from deep below in her own cell, the screaming agony of those who reacted badly to the drugs. She had even experienced her own excruciating pain when they had given her something new. But she had survived. Even strapped down to the hard metal table, her body cramping and spasming with the pain, begging them to just end it for her – still, she had survived.
She had a strong desire to kill them both. Here, right now, she had the advantage. They had bred her for this – to kill. She could easily slide in, kill the first one before they knew there was an intruder. But that second one was on the wrong side of the table, and she knew well enough that there was an emergency alarm within arms reach. She could easily kill the second one, but the chances of them pressing the alarm first were too high. She couldn't throw away her slim chance of escape.
She glided past the door easily as the workers continued to chat away.
The alarm had still not gone off, but if something was happening in the control room she knew it would only be a short matter of time before the watch resumed.
Springing lightly to her feet she began to run silently, her body still crouched low to the ground so she was below window level for the closed doors. Though it had been years since they had taken her up this far, taken her up to ground level and allowed her to see the sun, still the route was imprinted permanently in her mind.
Stairs, corridors, more stairs – she couldn't believe that no one was about, that the alarms hadn't been raised. The possibility of this being a test was almost more than she could bear, her heart pounding in her chest far more than it should.
Then the final door was in sight – the door that led outside. Running flat out like a mad woman, she threw herself at the door without thought to the locks and bolts that normally closed it.
Yet it sprang open easily and she burst out into the starry nighttime air.
There was a body at her feet – a fallen and dead security guard, but she sprang lithely over the top, not sparing it a second thought, and ran on into the night. Ahead, a dense row of trees stood in front of the electrified fence – she ran straight towards it, smelling freedom.
As she entered the treeline her nose picked up the smell of man, her ears twitched like a wolf's and she heard the inhale of breath just behind the tree to her right.
Her arm sprang out and she grabbed the neck of the man who hid there,was about to snap it when a voice shouted out.
She froze on instinct, the commanding voice impossible to ignore from her conditioning.
Yet it wasn't the voice of the Director that spoke. It was another voice – a long ago remembered voice that she now only heard in her dreams.
“Savante!” the man whispered, his voice breaking with emotion as he stepped out from the trees. Her eyes, glowing eerily in the moonlight, took him in and something in the back of her mind seemed to break a little.
“My sister – you are alive!” he stepped forwards, his arms outstretched.
She dropped her hold on the irrelevant man and focused on he who now stood before her. Brother. Though she could not remember this man, his face looked like hers. The passage of time had been so long and yet so short in the Institution, seeing time told on the face of he who had been just a child made her heart break.
And then the sirens started – the alarm, finally raised.
They took off at a run – she, her brother, and his group of renegades who had infiltrated the Institution and facilitated her escape.
They flew through the butchered hole in the electric fence and took off into the wasteland desert beyond.

1 comment:

  1. This is really powerful Sarah - love your use of language. I almost thought I was walking into a Frankenstein movie at the beginning!


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