November 16, 2287: Friday, 4:56 AM
Jeju City, Jeju Province, South Korea
He had never feared death. Not at all. In this era of the evolution and dominance of science over what his ancestors called God, anything would be possible. Death is insignificant. People enjoyed a life of eternal youth and splendour. But what is this? The gnawing feeling not just on his chest but also on his brain, made him take actions irrationally. His receptors are on overdrive, enabling him to tap onto his innate adrenaline. It was awe-striking, really. He had never experienced an adrenaline rush in a real-life, not to mention, life-threatening, situation.
Yes, for the first time in his life, he feared death.
Stepping harder on the accelerator, he ignored the growing pain on his chest. The main building will be just after the last curve. He will make it. Glancing briefly at the rear-view mirror, biting his tongue as they closed in on him, he took a sharp turn left, barely avoiding a bullet aimed on his head. The jet-packed motorbike lurched forward and within a second’s notice, his finger jabbed on the green button to trigger the metal glass orb, protecting him from any potential damage.
He groaned. He had already ridden past the edifice and he was still moving forward, to the former capital city. It was a desolate place, reeking of nuclear waste, putrid remains of what it seemed to be past humans, of destruction and abandonment. Even as he concentrated on living, on the road, on keeping the evidence safe on the bag in front of him, he couldn’t help glancing at the ruins.
Huge mistake. The front wheel of his motorbike caught on a protuberance on the road, causing the vehicle to wobble and then at last, rolled to one side.
And then for a moment, there was darkness.
Opening his eyes, pain erupted all over his body. What happened?
He checked his surroundings. He had stopped moving and he realized he was lying on his side.
It was only then when dawned on him.
His motor. Bits of cement, loosely overhanging electrical wires, and glass shards thrown here and there. And blood. He passed a tongue over his smarting lip. It was his blood. Oh fuck. What is that smell? Sweet, chemical... and is that a hint of… gas? Panic shot through his system and he jolted upwards, his head hitting the glass dome around him. He tried to press the buttons, use the voice recognition command but couldn’t get the damn thing to respond.
Hearing something click beside his head, his eyes widening in apprehension, he swallowed. They had finally caught up to him, ordering him to give the briefcase, grabbing him by the hair and lifting his bloody form up. He spat at his captor’s face and madly smirked. There’s no way he would give the documents up. He reached for his pocket. There was still hope. The boss should never get his hands on the formula. If that happens, who knows what will happen to the general populace? It was a risk they took years ago and it failed miserably. What happened to the capital city was only one of its end results.
He revealed a small grey orb, with an even smaller glowing blue orb on top. Closing his eyes, he pressed the detonator and there was light.
The old man flung the folder sideways and brutally hit the table with his hands as he stood. “Where is the folder?” he growled, grabbing his plaque, hurling it at her direction, missing her and hitting the glass wall instead.
Ignoring the broken shards flying all around her and the pain that pricked her left cheek, she glared at the man squarely, not even feigning fright. “I believe I cannot tell you, Sir.”
“I am your boss, I have all the right to know where the damn document is.” a sweat trickled down his forehead, passing through the grey orb that was his left eye, its glowing red iris glaring back at her.
Jerking an arm in ire, she exclaimed “And what, Sir? You have already done the project 20 years ago, the board has already decided not to repeat what happened then. Seoul, Sir. Do you still remember what happened to the capital? The people? Everything and everyone in the city died. Isn’t Pandora’s goal to uplift science as a tool for enhancing people’s lives? Not to experiment and make them wreak havoc!”
“That is exactly why I was reluctant to hire women in this company!” the boss brooded. “The children… all those we had their genes genetically altered… are this world’s future.”
“No, Sir! Think of what Japan has done to its children. They look like mutants! Their mothers were subjected to tests and experiments while they’re pregnant. The babies may have developed supernatural abilities but do they fit in to the general populace? No! They were shunned!”
“Do you know why?” the old man raised his brows, a smirk playing on his lips. “Because the people are foolish. They fear the company’s genetically engineered humans. They feel this irrational inferiority towards them. So they were shunned. But that was before. The GE humans have learned to stand up for themselves. They realized what they are capable of doing. They realized they can be gods.”
She cringed. Power. It has driven people mad over the centuries. By the end of the 21st century, almost all the people can already have access to the benefits of science, using it as a tool to rise above others, money-wise, health-wise, intelligence, everything, making them think they are more competent. And then everyone seemed to want a taste of it. Savour it. Indulge in it. And in the end, crush everyone that is inferior to them. But since the emergence of the GE community, the common people, who were so used to their supremacy, now do not have the right for it.
“For all we know, there’s already a couple of GE’s in the government.” He spat. “Seoul was a part of the sacrifice. Believe me, it will be for this country’s greater good. Now, hand me the files for Project: EXODUS.”
She knew it will end up like this. Right from the start. Resigning was a futile attempt to turn over a new leaf. Grinning, she thought. She hasn’t even seen a real leaf. From her pocket, she revealed a pistol, something her father gave her years ago, a relic from the 21st century. Eyeing the man straight on, the pistol aimed right at the side of her forehead, she imagined all the babies inside the glass tubes back at the lab, wondered what kind of future will they face and if they do live, how will they be able to face each day knowing they’re all different. Tears pricked her eyes but she bit them back. This isn’t the time to be emotional. If the old man doesn’t find out about the files and the project be discontinued, the babies might as well die. But it will be fine. It will be for the better.
“Don’t.” her boss commanded, hiding the panic in his voice. He raised a hand, going near her to stop her foolish actions. “Just tell me where the documents are and you can do whatever you want. Leave the company, kill yourself, I don’t care!”
A click of the trigger.
And a loud gunshot.
The other employees who saw the incident through the glass walls, with their mouth agape, either began to think they will do the same, boycott, leave or kill themselves, all for the safety of the children they were experimenting on, or continue the project with their boss and uplift the company’s advocacy for a better technological tomorrow. Either of which was a tough choice, a life-changing one to be precise.
It might as well be just another end or otherwise, a new beginning.
January 21, 2310: Tuesday, 9:36 PM
Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan
Her fingers clacked furiously across the keyboard, her glasses reflecting the screen of her laptop, muttering incoherent words as she went.
“…initiating Protocol 727…”
Typing at a speed of 100 keys per 25 seconds, she filled the screen with numbers and letters, binary codes that would give her access to the site.
“…starting hack…” She halted and groaned at the big black alert box that appeared on the screen. “…firewall detected…”
“…initiating code 2…”
She sat back, grabbing the mug that’s sitting on her table for so long, the coffee had already stained the white ceramic. “…eat them away baby…” she munched on the saltine cracker and amusedly watched as the ‘zombies ate all the brains’.
“…ah, firewall shattered…” she smirked.
“…commencing hypervisor attack…”
Nestled comfortably on a bean bag in one corner of her dark room, she slammed her hands on the table, knocking the mug down the floor, the loud breaking sound disrupting the silence. She cursed under her breath. Now she had to clean it up. To think that it was her last mug. The last she threw out her window out of frustration. She’ll have to repeat the process later on… but first….
A small creak echoed from behind her and she looked back in alarm, catching sight of the old cleaning robot holding up its vacuum hand. “Impurity detected.” Its cold robotic voice soothed her. At least the robot knew perfect timing. Switching her laptop off, she now stood and glided across the room, opening the lights with voice command.
“Dinner.” She muttered, hearing her own stomach growl. She opened the mini fridge and scanned her ration. Nutrient shot or real food? Ah, tough choices.
She looked back at her cleaning robot, the only thing she had for a companion at home, and smiled, bent down to pat its metal head and said, “I’ll buy something from the store. Clean my room, okay?”
“Affirmative.” It replied, its voice streaked with static sounds.
“I guess I’ll have to fix your circuits again later.” She muttered, inserting an arm on the strap of her O2 pack. “Ugh, even this needs some refilling.” She grunted, putting her boots on and heading out the door. “Hmm, what to eat?”
The unforgiving January snow welcomed her outside her flat door. She dragged her feet along the thick pile, struggling to keep her balance. The nearest store was two blocks away and it seemed to be too impossible for her to tread the way towards it. Holding on to a post for support with one hand, while the other trying to yank her boots out, a thought entered her mind, she looked up at the post and imagined what it would look like if it had branches or leaves. Trees are a myth. They don’t exist. Well, at least, not anymore. The sad truth that came with that is the fact that even the oxygen present in the air is becoming scarcer by the century.
It had been the root cause of most deaths for the past years and the government had commissioned this one company to create and distribute O2 packs: rationed oxygen bags with built it masks and small refillable tanks. It was, of course, light weight, and usually came in different sizes. Yes, it was rationed. Budget was a tight enemy that now, only the rich and abled can afford them, causing even more deaths to the underprivileged people.
Hers was heavy-duty. She didn’t have all the time in the world to refill every single day and besides, her flat room had a built-in O2 regulator.
Mist wisped out of her mouth every time she huffed. It was a tiring effort and she cursed herself for not bringing her motorbike home. Damn Rhys for being so poor and dependent on her. “Maybe I should’ve—” said no in the first place. The words never came out after that.
She gasped, her eyes widening in surprise, as someone grabbed her mask. Whoever he was, he was trying to take her pack away. By instinct, she jerked her foot, trying to kick the person but realized she had missed. She turned around to look at a lad, no older than she was, maybe even younger. But she didn’t care about that. She didn’t ever care if he looked half-dead, a walking zombie of some sort. Heck if she cared if he needed her pack. She needed it too. The guy held on to a post for support and she inched her hand inside her jacket’s pocket.
He took a lurching step forward, preparing for an attack but she too, charged and basically touched his torso with a 2050 edition Taser. It wasn’t training or a skill. It was instinct. People like the guy was normal around the city outskirts: stealing others’ O2 packs, nutrient shots, whatever.
The electric shock ran though his body, like lightning travelling though ground, and he flew backwards from the shock, his back hitting a nearby house’s concrete wall. She stared at the limp body, amused and irked at the same time. Yes, while he did have some guts, he was still, for her, a lowlife. With a flip of her hair, she turned around, and left him like that. “He’ll probably die out without an O2 pack anyway.” Her last word died out when a black van passed by her and stopped just beside the house where the weird stray guy landed.
Men in both white and black got off the vehicle and surrounded the unconscious stranger. A faint static sound heightened her senses and she vaguely heard one of the men saying, “…Subject 2657 located. We’ll have to return him to the lab at once.”
Ah, so an escaped lab rat, huh? She thought, hiding a smirk with a hand and innocently took the trail back to her flat, looking at the corner of her eye as the men scooped the younger one up and literally, brutally hurled his body inside the van. Thrilled at the sight, she now wanted to return to school and experiment at the university lab. Well, to be completely honest, she did see Rhys as her own lab rat, experimenting on him using mirrors, prisms, lasers and of course, to scare him off, darkness. Heck, she’ll just have to hack the stupid site later and feed herself with a nutrient shot. Besides, it’s easier than actually cooking and eating. And yes, she didn’t really know how to cook.
She waited for the van to take off and to be sure, she tried to get its licenced plate but realized it had none. Rides without plates must be owned either be government officials or private companies. And both of those didn’t really want others running after them for exploiting the money out of people for their own interest. It’s honestly a clichéd act but the people hardly ever changed that much over the past centuries.
Anyway, that’s what her History class have taught her.
Dragging her foot back to her flat, she was greeted by the similar robot. She went straight to her fridge and took a small syringe from her stock and injected herself intravenously on the arm. While doing so, she weighed her means on how to go to the university. Rocket train would cause her a fortune. The single bullet bus at the Ikebukuro Station would be a nice option only if it didn’t give her a heart attack for having fatal brakes. She grabbed her wallet on the shelf above her fridge and got a wad of cash. She was never really that organized when it came to money but had never run out of it either.
On one hand, she did consider using her M-card but it would be too big of a risk to use it alone. Besides, it caused millions. And Rhys will probably snip it anyway.
Ah, speaking of him. Gliding across the room, she grabbed her phone and tried to ring him but was answered only by his answering machine. She turned her attention on her desk with a deep sigh and jabbed a button on her laptop, scrolled down the list of her contacts and chose his name. A small cube beside the computer then projected a hologram, showing Rhys: chopsticks halfway towards his already full mouth, his eyes wide with apparent surprise. “Iwish!” he blurted, sputtering out his food all over the table.
She wasn’t really good at perfect timing. Especially during times like these. One time, she even saw him doing his business in the bathroom.
“Where are you?” she raised a brow and crossed her arms.
“At school, needed to fix some papers for the dean.” He swallowed and then took a big gulp from a jug of water.
“Tsk, you really have to stop doing things for the old woman.” She snapped but tried to keep herself reserved. “I’m going there. Wait for me at the lab.”
“Found something new?”
“Yeah.” She hesitated and repeated, her voice quieter than before. “Well, yes, kind of.”
“Iris?” he peered at her, his face occupying the whole holographic field, making her recoil.
“Wear your lab gown.” She huffed and ended the call. There’s something from she saw earlier that stirred her inner madness, a characteristic she tried to hide from everyone. Hiding a crazy grin with her hand, her head now reeled to her equipment at the lab and Rhys enduring all that she had to make him do.
Now to go. “V10, activate security system and set up barriers.” She voiced out, commanding her computer to watch over the house while she’s gone. “Require password when accessed.”
“Affirmative.” A robotic female voice answered.
She nodded, feeling quite relaxed now. The voices of her computer, her robot, even the answering machine on Rhys’s phone soothed her nerves. “Then bullet bus, it is.” she sighed, making up her mind. It wasn’t much of a safety choice but rather a thrifty one. With one last pat on her robot’s head, she took off again.
Setting down on the chair, she reached for the mic and cleared her throat. “You ready in there?”
He raised a thumb’s up. Ever since she started experimenting on him, he didn’t even complain once. Besides, he needed money and she was paying him off. It was a fair trade. And he did want his ‘power’, or whatever it was, gone. It was aggravating to say the least.
Chanting in his mind, ‘Don’t close the light. Don’t close the light. Don’t close the fucking light!’ and gripping the arms of his chair, he closed his eyes as the electricity ran through his body. He kept his ears focused on what Iris was saying from the other room to avoid hyperventilating or passing out or both for that matter.
“…atmospheric pressure at 0.3%...”
“…lowering mercuric pressure…”
Last time, they had tried argon. It didn’t respond well to his body and he suffered mild hypoxia.
Now, it was krypton. In high concentrations, it can cause asphyxia. Errors in proper judgement and rescue may cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting and loss of consciousness. Worst case scenario would be death.
But no. She wouldn’t let that happen. She can just adjust the concentrations. The last time she released argon in the chamber through the tube connected to the tank the university had lend her, she did turn the gauge to 2.4% - higher than what the atmosphere usually already had. And it had been released in a steady pace. Only when she saw him choking did she stop and called for an emergency termination.
She will just stick to the normal levels of concentration.
“I’m going to turn the lights off.” She said, knowing what a big wimp he was when it’s dark. “If you light up, then maybe I can use your body parts to make bio light bulbs. Not to mention, it’ll be a good way to rid yourself with your ‘power’ or whatever the hell is that.” She smirked.
“Not a good joke.” He snapped, eyes still closed.
“It’s not even one.”
As darkness enveloped the whole room, she pressed one button, the one on the upper left, one which she knew by heart. At first, only the sparks of electricity that ran through his body was visible and then he flickered once.
Her breath hitched up her throat. He sparked.
Then again, another glint of light.
And he glowed. He was a human light bulb.
It hadn’t been possible for every test subject she had ever handled, no matter how she adjusted everything: the pressure, the gasses and electricity. Once, she even used a cyborg but thought that it wouldn’t count even if he did light up. Well, honestly, he didn’t.
But Rhys did.
Even though his charts showed signs he wasn’t ordinary, he was still human. And he was glowing under similar conditions inside a regular fluorescent light.
She saw him smiling through the glass that separated the lab and the chamber and it was as bright as he was now. As if on autopilot, he stood, disconnecting all the wires from his body. But that wasn’t why she was gaping at the sight. Despite not connected, he was still glowing brightly in the darkness.
Grabbing the protective mask, she ran inside the chamber and clasped his shoulder. “Rhys, you did it! You’re—”
He wasn’t responding. His eyes were blank.
“Rhys?” she gasped. She ran back out and turned the gas gauge, opened the lights and looked back up at the chamber. He’s gone? Where was he?
She entered again and saw him on the floor, unconscious. He wasn’t glowing anymore.
“Ah-ah.” She muttered, a hint of disappointment marked her voice. He still needed to know how to control it. “Anyway, let’s just check your vital signs.” She sighed and dragged him out.
Hearing him groan, she looked down. He was slowly opening his eyes and was smiling weakly. “Did I do it?”
“Yes.” She replied, patting his shoulder. “Now, come on. I’ll treat you out for this success. I’ll give you your pay later.”
Standing with her help, he nodded. “Hmm. Thanks, Iris.”
“No sweat, Rhys. You were awesome.”
“Really?” he beamed but quickly frowned at her answer.
Smirking, she said, “Yeah, you’re one heck of a lightbulb.”
January 22, 2310: Wednesday, 01:45 AM
Onna, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan
He struggled to break free, literally hardening his muscles to rock solid and hurling his captors away from him. But then, he collapsed, panting and clutching his chest. The mere process of the muscle solidification quickened his heartbeat, and without proper source for his ability, it could even be fatal. Just then, pain shot up on his nape, a needle embedding itself on his skin and he felt hot, acidic liquid coursing through his veins. He howled and curled in a heap on the cold, tiled floor, his eyes rolling back and finally lost consciousness.
The men looked at each other with a shrug. He had always been the easiest to tame but heck if they cared about his sudden change. One of them grabbed him by his shirt and dragged him across halls and rooms, only to hurl him back to his cell. “And stay there.” He snapped and locked the room.
Feeling the hard impact on the side of his body, Zeke groaned before slowly opening his eyes.
Tiles. And concrete. Everywhere. Not one sign of sand or soil or even dirt. He reached his hand towards the wall-mounted bed, struggling to stand. Letting out a sigh with a bitter grin, he thought. Who was he kidding? He couldn’t even stand at the moment. Rolling on to his back, he breathed heavily, trying to focus his mind. He blinked and then tightly shut his eyes. The pain wasn’t subsiding and there’s suddenly a gush of metallic liquid coming from his mouth.
What? Why? He thought. He didn’t even use his ability for over five hours. That was his limit and yet…
“Zeke!” a familiar voice hissed, stirring him away from unconsciousness. He looked up and saw his friend from the next room, his hands and cheeks pressed against the metal glass. “You tried to escape again, didn’t you? I thought I told you to tell me about it so I could help.”
All of them had tried escaping whenever they were being subjected to experiments outside their chambers and all of them failed with each and every attempt.
Axel, too noisy! His mind groaned.
In the glass chamber beside Zeke’s, Axel knew they weren’t supposed to be talking to each other because if the Controllers saw them interacting, they’d activate the Bands clasped on their necks. Zeke’s was electric while his was frost.
Just then, he suddenly jerked back, a cold sensation wrapping his neck. Falling backwards, he tried to see if Zeke was being electrocuted and was actually quite relieved he wasn’t. He abruptly stood, catching sight of a cyborg, one of the usual guards set to punish them whenever they violate a rule. Banging the glass with both fists, “No! Do it or I’ll burn all of your circuits!” he growled.
The cyborg, a half-Thai man, half robot, looked at his direction without any emotion and walked over in front of the raging test subject’s chamber. Staring at him for a while before shaking his head, he pressed a button, typed his Authorization Code and lowered the temperature on Axel’s neck band.
Axel choked, the freezing sensation on his neck intensifying. Every second of it was torture. He gasped for air and pulled at the metal band, ignoring the futility of his attempt. He stumbled backwards, his back hitting the white, concrete wall.
The other test subjects, who were either across or beside his room, were alarmed and they all went near the glass that separated them from each other. One banged on his side of the room, one shouted his name but he could barely speak.
“Axel!” one called and, seeing his other unconscious friend, added, “Zeke! Damn it, what did they do to you?”
“Blake, calm down. It’s too late.” The calmer one realized the situation and told the other one off.
“But, Leo, how could you say that?”
There were actually four chambers all in all, with one test subject each. Zeke, on the second one, was barely breathing and a pool of blood formed at the sides of his head. Axel, on the third chamber, whose eyes had already rolled back, was either breathing or wheezing. At that point, it was hard to tell.
“They’ll regenerate later on. You know that. No matter how serious an injury is, we always heal. Always.” Shooting a spiteful glare at a cyborg guard who was nearing their chambers, he shushed Blake and sat on his bed, pretending to stare at nothing in particular. Blake also sat on the floor and looked worriedly at Axel and Zeke.
They’ll regenerate. He knew that and yet… “Fuck, Leo, how can you be so damn heartless?”
Once the guard had passed, both Leo and Blake agitatedly looked at the two. Both bit their lips and turned back at the sight they usually see, experience and live in.
“Rhys, you’re disgusting!” she pulled a face at him as he slurped his noodles. They were at the small ramen store, someplace that looked like a bar from the 2200’s, with ceiling fans that are clearly outdated, a serve-yourself bar at the centre of the store and tables and chairs made of steel. The ambiance was fairly cosy, complete with air and O2 conditioners. And it kind of reminded Iris of home.
They were seated at the far corner of the store, beside the wall, painted poorly with brown to mimic wood. It’s rather pathetic because it didn’t.
One of the waiters, a lad in his mid-twenties, who was getting their order for beverages, laughed, speaking with his hard Okinawan accent. “You can’t blame him. He looks like he isn’t been eating well for the past few days or does he look like he’s been taking those nasty nutrient shots.”
Rhys looked up, his brows knitted in confusion. “How could you tell?”
“Health shows.” Iris bluntly said, forking her noodles.
“You too, miss. You can’t just eat half and leave the half. It’s a waste of good food.”
“Well, actually, she’ll give it to me.” Rhys beamed at the waiter. “What’s your name?” he even added. “I’m Rhys. This is Iris.”
“Jett.” He offered his hand for a shake and Rhys happily took it.
“Childish.” Iris fired again and then slowly pushed her half-filled bowl towards him. “Here. We’re here to celebrate the experiment’s success so eat up.”
She stared at him while he got the bowl and ate. His vital signs earlier fluctuated. Was it because of the gas? The electricity? Or the fact that he lit up?
“Heartrate, blood pressure, respiratory rate… all of them were off the charts. It’s ridiculous. Is this guy… even human?”
“Iris?” Rhys peered at her and she jumped in surprise, staring wide eyed at him for a moment. “You listening?”
“So I was saying, I was scared when they turned the lights off but Iris came in with her flashlight and I thought, ‘I’m saved!’ and all that crap. Yeah, I know… kind of lame, huh?” he smiled softly, not looking at Jett, the waiter.
“No.” he shook his head sympathetically. “I have fears too. Your friend here must have some. So no, it’s not lame.”
“What are you scared of?” Iris looked at Jett, eyeing him, scrutinizing his facial expressions.
“I’m scared of fires.” His shoulders dropped and got hold of a mug, only to absentmindedly wipe it with his apron.
“Well, everyone is.” she shrugged.
“No… mine’s different. It’s as if it melts the crap out of me. The burning flame, consuming every inch of your body and—” he trailed off for one second and halted, shaking his head. He then looked up, beaming a bright smile. “Never mind that! Hey, miss, want some drinks?”
“You sure?” he raised an amused brow at her and then glanced at Rhys.
The other lad grinned, “I’ll take her home if she gets drunk.”
“I won’t get drunk!” she snapped. “And I don’t want to be taken home by you.”
“Ouch.” Jett chuckled and turned back to get a bottle of vodka.
She tried biting back the words at the back of her mind. Words like: childish and immature but instead she snapped. “What?”
“What are you scared of?”
“What?” she repeated, this time confusion marked her voice.
“There must be something the almighty Iris Baxter is scared of, right?” he said, swirling in his glass the brandy he ordered earlier.
“Yes.” She quietly admitted. “But it’s not for you to know. It’s too personal.”
“You’re unfair. You know my fear, even the guy who just introduced himself to us shared his. Why won’t you?”
Sighing, she looked at him. “Rhys, it’s too complicated. At least you should respect that.”
“But I do respect you.” he mumbled and took a swig of alcohol.
Silence followed after that and they stayed quiet for a long time, with Iris staring at the wood-imitation paint and Rhys eating his ramen.
“By the way,” she muttered. “You haven’t been taking nutrient shots, have you?” shifting her head under her palm, she looked straight at him, waiting for his answer.
“No.” he replied nonchalantly, still slurping his noodles. “Those are nasty.”
Iris grinned. “You one big scaredy-cat.”
“Vodka for the beautiful lady!” Someone announced, making them look at the voice’s owner in surprise. It was Jett, holding in one hand a tray, with a bottle of vodka and a glass filled with ice. Placing the tall glass in front of her, he proudly said “Made that ice myself.”
Iris looked disbelievingly at him. Everyone can make ice. Even babies can do it. Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration.
“Want to see me do it?”
“Ain’t that just putting plain old water in ice cube trays and freeze them in the fridge?” Rhys pointed out, swinging his fork around.
Jett laughed. “No. Well, I do need water for it but yeah, basically, they came out of my hands.”
Iris choked on the drink and coughed wildly. Rhys came to her rescue and patted her back. “Dude!” he warned.
“Serious!” Jett raised his hands. “I don’t know where or when or even how I can do it but I just can.”
Iris and Rhys looked at each other and then up at the waiter.
They stood abruptly, Iris grabbing her bottle of vodka and Rhys manhandling Jett. “Lab. Now.”
Having been wetted with a bucket load of water, his uniform soaked and his tie askew, Jett was staring and asking both Rhys and Iris what the hell was going on. “Freeze it.” she ordered but he just gawked at her in disbelief. “Freeze it. Now.” She repeated with more edge.
“Tsk.” He groaned. “Done.”
“What?” Iris gaped and looked at Rhys. She nodded once, telling him to check him.
He nodded and went inside the chamber. Inching his way towards Jett, he instantly felt the chill wrapping his whole body. “Iris, check the temperature.”
Like something clicking at the back of her head, she turned to her right and scanned the screen. Heartrate: normal. Respiratory rate: normal. Temperature…
Close to freezing point.
“Iris, his clothes are rock solid!” Rhys shouted from inside. “And freaking cold.”
“What?” she removed her lapel and ran towards the chamber. Hesitating, she slowly walked. Indeed, she could feel the cold. It’s… too cold. Her arms instinctively wrapped around herself for heat but it wasn’t working. “Cold.” She stuttered.
“Let’s fix that.” Jett smiled and for a moment, nothing happened, but then… he started to drip. His once rock solid, icy clothes were soaked again.
“How in the world can you do that?” Iris grabbed him by the shoulder and looked up. Dang, she looked intimidating for a smaller woman.
“I don’t know. I told you that earlier.” He sat on the floor.
There must be a reason. A scientific reason. He can lower his own body temperature. He can freeze water. Heck, maybe he can even freeze things. There is water vapour in the air. He can use that to freeze practically anything and everything. Does he even know that?
“Hey. Are you okay?” Rhys’s voice brought her back from her thoughts. She immediately looked at Jett. His eyes were blank. Like... when Rhys lit up and he looked like he was in a trance. “Jett!”
Biting cold enveloped the two of them and they ran out the chamber, checking again the temperature. It’s dropping! And dropping still!
“He’s going to freeze the room!” Iris shouted, not even trying to hide her frantic voice.
“How can we stop him?” Rhys interjected, his fingers clacking on the computer keyboard. His heart was racing. One minute they were enjoying... or he was enjoying two bowls of ramen and now this. “I’ve tried lowering the temperature inside but at this rate, the gauge is going to blow! Iris, we better get out of here! We’re going to freeze to death!”
Her brain gears working, she blurted. “Fire.”
“What?” His head jerked up.
“He said he was afraid of fires. Seeing him now, it’s perfectly obvious why.” She stuttered, shaking wildly, almost convulsing in the cold. “Lighter. We need a fucking lighter!”
Rhys whirled on his heel and then turned again, trying to pinpoint where he last saw a lighter. Seeing one on the left side of the lab, scattered with all the documents and some chemical-containing test tubes, he made a mental note to reprimand Iris for putting the lighter with fire-hazard compounds and papers. He grabbed it and ran back into the chamber but slipped into the icy floor. Not even bothering to stand anymore, he flicked and tossed the lighter towards Jett and everything was wrapped in steam.
Their eyes snapped open and they sucked in deep breaths one at a time.
“Axel? Zeke?” Blake stood and leaned forward on the glass window. Leo looked up and stood too to check on them.
They slowly got up on their feet. Zeke stared at the pool of blood he left on the floor and looked around, dazed. “How long have I been out?”
“About four hours. Your regeneration has been off these past few days. You should’ve been awake two hours ago.” Leo sighed and sat on the floor facing Zeke’s chamber. “Axel’s took time too.”
“All of us are taking time to regenerate.” Blake interrupted. “It’s not like before. And it’s those damn bastards’ doing. They inject us with chemicals and experiment with us on a cellular level.”
They were all interrupted when a robot stopped in front of Blake’s chamber, dropped a small syringe inside a small opening and locked it again.
It was time for their meal. And their everyday meals only consisted of nutrient shots.
Axel waited for the robot to roll past him before grabbing his and immediately injected himself. “Damn this life!” He growled, throwing the syringe away, breaking it but not the glass wall. A shard flew back at him, getting his arm.
“Someday, we will get out of here.” Blake tried to reassure him but Leo can’t swallow it. He had forgotten his sense of freedom after his third attempt to break free.
The others kept quiet, looking at the ground or the wall or nothing in particular. Not attempting to speak, not having the gut to encourage each other while refusing to accept their fate, they all crawled in a heap and pretended to sleep.
What else can they do when all attempts they make proved to be futile? For them, it all comes down to stay and live or escape and die.
But sometimes, sometimes, the second option was far better than the first.