(The photo for this story isn't mine, and came from a website/blog called Bookmaarks. I'll provide a link if anyone's interested; just remove the spaces in order to use it: lauratj . blogspot . co . uk)
Reviews are eagerly welcomed, and constructive criticism even more so!
I was awoken by two nurses.
Their faces filled my vision, but their features were blurred and distorted like faces in an old photograph. Bright light slammed into my eyes, and for a moment everything was scarred with black spots that shimmered and multiplied confusingly before finally fading away. Eventually, colours sharpened, and the edges of shapes became cleaner and more distinct, and I could make out my surroundings.
I was in some sort of white room, with sleek walls that seamlessly fell into an equally slick tile floor. Several trolleys were laid out neatly with dangerous-looking blades and needles, and trays of strange liquids in heavy-looking glass beakers lined the walls. At my shoulder, a machine bleeped urgently in time with my heart. Then it registered: it was my heartbeat. I was connected to the machine with several thick wires taped to my chest.
My hearing was still strange, everything echoed like I was hearing everything from underwater. One nurse seemed to be talking to me; her mouth was moving, but the resulting speech came several seconds out of sync, and even then it was a hazy murmur that I struggled to understand. I shook my head, and that seemed to help. Some sound managed to seep through into my head, but even then my brain couldn't comprehend it, being too busy throbbing painfully with the effort to understand what the hell was going on.
"… you may feel groggy or ill, but that's quite normal and should wear off pretty quickly," the nurse said. Her words finally caught up with her fast-moving lips. She flashed me a dazzling smile which took me by surprise, before turning to her companion who was toting a clipboard and a pen like they were fearsome weapons.
"Subject 9 is awake," the nurse said clearly. I hazily realised that Subject 9 was me. That was my name. Was it a good name? What even was a name supposed to be like anyway?
"She seems disorientated, but her heart rate is average, and she is quickly adjusting." She continued to talk, whilst the other one scribbled furiously.
I took the opportunity to study my apparent captors. The one who'd been talking was clearly attractive with glossy black curls and sparkling blue eyes, and the biggest smile I'd ever seen. Only when she turned back towards me did I see the ugly blemish that spread across one side of her face, an angry purple and red mass that crept across her cheek and down her neck under the collar of her shirt. It looked swollen and painful - surely it hurt her to smile so much?
The other nurse was more severe - plain features, thin brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, and dull grey eyes that watched my impassively from behind a large pair of glasses perched on her nose. She could've been anyone, anywhere, the sort of face that belonged in a crowd where no one looked twice. I already didn't like her. She seemed cold and distant. She'd be the person who watch a playground bully with his victim, and not give it a second thought. At least the other nurse tried to be nice, even if it was only a cheap mask.
Unsteadily, I pushed myself up. From what I could tell, I was on some sort of bed that had been combined with a sun lounger. It was far from comfortable. The edges dug into my neck and back, and I was glad to move and get rid of the stiffness that screamed in my joints. How long had I been here? That was the question that hovered uneasily at the edge of my mind, now revealed from the quickly-retreating fog that had numbed my senses and made my body its own. I tried to ignore it. I could work that one out when I was feeling a little more… solid.
Then I found I could go no further. No amount of tugging would let me forwards. I looked down with a strong sense of misgiving to find that I was tethered in place. Thick straps of leather were wrapped around my wrists, shackling me down. I experimentally flexed my wrists, leaning my body weight into the bonds in the hope that they might give. They didn't.
I suddenly felt horribly vulnerable. I was pinned to a cold slab rendered completely helpless, and totally exposed to whatever they wanted to throw at me. A sour taste filled my mouth, either from fear or a sudden surge of anger.
The black haired nurse was watching me sympathetically. She came to perch on the edge of my bed, and involuntarily I flinched, pulling my feet up and away until my knees were tucked under my chin in a defensive stance. My eyes bored holes deep into her skull.
"Hey, it's alright. You're safe." Her words dripped with honey, and I felt like a wasp being helplessly drawn towards her, intoxicated with sweet promises. Warily I let my legs down, and she patted my knee reassuringly. The contact made me shudder. I didn't know what it was, but that smile seemed a little too wide, like a crocodile's before it ripped its prey apart.
I found my voice. "Where am I?" The syllables were dry and hoarse, but I managed to spit them out.
"Subject can speak within the first few minutes of waking," said the other nurse, jotting down the incredibly obvious fact with a flourish and tweaking her glasses with barely-concealed self importance.
"Well duh," I muttered. I'd started talking - I wasn't about to stop.
"Of course she can! She is human." The black haired nurse shooed indignantly, until the severe looking nurse reluctantly shuffled for the door.
She turned to glare at me. "Not completely." The cold intensity of her gaze, magnified by her glasses, chilled me to the bone. There was something ruthless in her, something cold and clinical that told me she wouldn't care if I died as long as she had my body to dissect and analyse. I was glad when the door slammed shut behind her.
The black haired nurse turned to smile at me again with straight white teeth. "I'm sorry about Emily."
I repeated the question. "Where am I?"
She patted my knee again, a meaningless gesture that merely made me feel even more uncomfortable. "You're in a laboratory," she said.
She struggled for words. "It's a place of science and learning. Experiments. Things like that."
"Why am I here? Who are you?" A recent memory popped into my head. "What did the other woman mean, not completely?"
The nurse seemed surprise by my sudden flow of questions, my sudden thirst for knowledge, but nevertheless she answered in a slow tone, like I was a baby and didn't understand her. In a way, I felt like a child. My mind was slow and desolately empty of knowledge that should've been there, and everything seemed new and strange.
"Well, I'm Jen." She pointed at herself. "And you're here because this is your home. You were born here, grew up here. Some of the doctors knew you when you were a tiny embryo."
I struggled to make sense of her words. "Why? Is everyone made in a laboratory?" I must've sounded so stupid, so naive, but I was confused beyond belief.
"No!" She giggled a little at my ignorance, but soon stopped at the sight of my aggrieved face. "You were specially grown for an experiment. To be one of our greatest experiments actually." She winked. "It's quite an honour."
"Experiment?" I didn't like the word. It tasted too complicated, too full of hidden meaning.
She sighed. "I'm not really the person to be talking to you about this. Ask the doctor, he'll be in soon."
Jen got up to leave, but I managed to cram in one last question.
"Do I really need to be tied down?" The leather was uncomfortably tight and chafed painfully, but that wasn't the only reason I wanted rid of them. They made me feel like an animal that had to be secured and caged before being deemed to be safe.
She nodded apologetically. "They're just an extra precaution for your own safety as well as our own."
"Precaution? But I'm not dangerous!" In my mind I knew that I wouldn't willingly hurt or kill any of these people, even though their company made me feel uncomfortably vulnerable. Evidently nobody here trusted me.
"I'm afraid that's for us to decide." She smiled a thin sympathetic smile at my weak protests, before heading to the door, the heels of her shoes clicking loudly against the tile. She hesitated a little, glancing over her shoulder, and opened her mouth like she wanted to say something. But then she thought better of it, swallowing the words before slipping through the door.
I was left in cold silence. I took the opportunity to strain at my bonds properly, throwing my whole weight into my shoulders, willing the leather to loosen or fray. Nothing happened. A fan whirred calmly overhead, and the cold air washed over my face and easily pierced the thin nightgown I was wearing. I was quickly shivering bitterly.
At that moment the door swung open, and another person walked in, this time a young man in a spotless white lab coat and carrying a clipboard loaded with sheets. I caught a glimpse of paragraphs of figures and numbers, and strange black and white diagrams that made no sense.
"Hello, my name is Doctor Winter," the man said. I instantly approved of his name. I guessed that he was handsome, with thick brown hair and an attractive smile, but his eyes ruined the image. They were an glassy blue, and completely emotionless. Like when ice settles over a pond so that you couldn't see what swam beneath.
He pulled up a chair next to me, and sat rifling through his notes, occasionally pausing to scribble something here or there. Eventually he looked back up, as if just remembering that I was still there. "You're health statistics are fine," he said. "Your heart rate, blood pressure, and internal functions are all working smoothly. I asked for x-rays to be run on you," he gestured at the weird black and white diagrams, "and bone structures and growth are all fine, as we expected. We've tested reflexes and reactions to various stimulants whilst you were asleep, and everything is as predicted, taking into account your… abnormalities." He said the last word delicately, and his eyes dropped from my face, seeming to be suddenly fascinated by the results on his clipboard.
"Sorry, abnormalities?" What did he mean?
"Didn't one of the nurses tell you?" He looked annoyed; he didn't want to be the one who broke the news.
I shook my head mutely.
"Right." He settled his frosty blue gaze on me intently. "You're an experiment."
Experiment. One of the nurses mentioned that word earlier.
"We've fiddled with your DNA using a special serum," he said. "You were designed, created to be the perfect human being."
My head was spinning in bewilderment. Long words, complicated words that I didn't understand, and yet were making more and more horrible sense the more I listened.
"Perfect?" I whispered.
He nodded. "Yes. We tried to remove most human flaws, making you faster, stronger, more resilient, and with heightened senses. Smell, sight, that sort of thing. We've increased your brain size and IQ so as to make you cleverer and quicker at solving problems. We've even looked at your internal system, increasing the speed of certain processes such as digestion. Your lungs are bigger so that you can hold your breath for longer. Faster reflexes, increased healing… You are the world's first truly perfect human."
He spoke with a robotic sort of enthusiasm; he was talking about something he was passionate about but yet he fumbled clumsily for words. I concluded that he didn't like talking to children, or people really, especially the stupid ones. And I was a stupid child. The perfect storm. As he talked, his eyes melted a little, so that I could see a glint of true emotion beneath the surface, and all of a sudden I wanted to get away, anywhere, so that I wasn't anywhere near this man. I'd seen the same flicker in Jen's eyes when she'd smiled, and I hadn't recognised it. But now I did.
These people. They were all completely insane with this idea of 'the perfect human'. They had managed to create me, but I felt several hundred miles away from perfect. In fact, I didn't even want to be perfect. Right now, I wanted to be normal, as being normal meant being safe.
I had to get out of here.
"So." The madness had faded, but I could sense that it still lurked shadow-like under the surface. "How do you feel?"
"A bit sick." That was true. My head ached persistently, and my stomach was doing desperate little flips, either in hunger or just plain fear, but either way I was resisting the urge to spray vomit.
"That's very normal. But how," he leaned in, "do you feel?"
Oh. He wanted emotions. At that moment, I felt like an emotions smoothie, even though I wasn't really sure what a smoothie was, but I chose the most obvious one from the top. There was no way that I was opening up my head for Doctor Creepy to rummage around in.
"Confused," I said.
He looked satisfied, and jotted something down on his clipboard. "We attempted some information downloads whilst you were asleep, so as to update your knowledge. We don't know how the downloads went since they're still pretty recent technology, but you should have the knowledge of a regular fourteen-year-old, even without the schooling. We also tried to simulate some dreams for you to interact with, but your brain rejected them." He glared at me accusingly. "Not many people can do that."
How many people had they tested it on? I felt sick with revulsion but managed to mutter a faintly sarcastic retort. "Well apparently I'm not just anybody."
I watched him hastily scribble a note: Subject shows signs of humour.
"Today I'd advise for you to get some rest. You've been asleep in a coma for a very long time, and it might take a while for your arms and legs to recover. Oh, and Jen will bring some food in, although go steady. You've been on drips for quite a while, and it might take a bit of time for your digestive system to kick in and start processing solids again." He stood as if to leave. "We'll start the tests this afternoon."
"Yes, tests." he looked at me as if I were completely stupid. Well, perhaps not stupid. More like incredibly slow on the uptake. "This afternoon we'll start slowly; take some blood samples, run a couple of chemical tests on your body to see how it holds up. Tomorrow we'll test you mentally. Run you through a few exams testing intelligence as well as the data you've managed to absorb from the download. I want to put you through several simulations to test decision making and puzzle solving, as well as emotions triggered in certain situations. And I know that the psychology department are dying to have a word with you. We'll leave physical tests for another day so that you can gain your bearings. We'll take you down to the gym, test speed, strength, agility and reflexes, and I personally want to see you pushed to your very limits." He leered a little at the prospect.
I was in no hurry to jump through hoops and balance a ball on my nose whilst clapping for these people like a performing animal, but I couldn't exactly refuse. I remembered the nurse called Emily, the cold way she watched me. I could probably die here and no one would really care. Hell, no one might even find out. I was a mere experiment, and if they decided I was past my sell-by-date, there was nothing I could do. I was dealing with dangerous forces - and I should play along in case I got hurt, or worse.
"Um, okay," I agreed slowly, although I probably didn't have much of a say in the matter.
"Good. I'll send Jen in with some food." He was almost at the door, before I blurted a question.
"Could I have some clothes?"
He turned to look at me.
"Please," I added as an afterthought.
"Clothes?" He sounded bemused, almost a little surprised that I should ask for such a thing.
"Yeah. I'm really cold."
He looked thoughtful, and I thought he was about to write my request down. Anything I said seemed to be jotted down as if it was of the utmost importance. "Yes of course," he said finally. "I'll see what I can do."
He left, and Jen shortly reappeared, a bundle of clothes slung over one arm, and a tray of steaming food carefully held with both hands. I sniffed appreciatively. Whatever it was, it smelt good, and my stomach gurgled in agreement.
She set the tray down, and placed the clothes at the foot of my bed. "Food and clothes, as requested," she said brightly. "But first, you need a shower."
She cautiously unfastened my restraints, and I shot upright. My wrists were red and raw, but that was the last thing on my mind. I was finally free!
"Don't go crazy," she warned, and a shadow of panic passed over her face for a second.
"I won't," I promised. Although I needed out, I needed food, clothes and a wash more.
After peeling off the tubes taped to my chest (which was curiously satisfying as well as painful), I pushed myself onto my feet, and the whole world swung round and round in quickly accelerating circles. I swayed unsteadily, and Jen quickly caught hold of my arm. Everything felt numb and awkward; surely my legs were too long?
There was a second door set into the wall, and she pushed it open to reveal a glass cubicle.
"You'll be alright in here, there are bars set into the walls that you can use for support," she said kindly. "Push the button to turn the shower on. You wash your hair with the shampoo and conditioner, in that order. Rinse it all out and don't get any in your eyes. If you do, rinse it out with cold water from the sink. The pink gel is for your body, and you should also keep that out of your eyes. And finally, take the nightgown off before you get in. I'll leave the clothes in here. Just yell if you need a hand." She turned to go, leaving me clinging to the rail for dear life, but then thrust a big soft thing into my arms. "Oh, and you'll need this. It's a towel, for drying yourself before putting on the clothes." She grinned - was that amusement at my childish feebleness? - and shut the door behind her.