November 4, 2012 by Vee Villarreal
The familiar warmth of the pale streaks of morning light that fell upon his face woke him from a dark and disturbed slumber. His eyelids felt sticky and leaded as he tried to open them. Sitting up on his elbows offered the shuddering throb of a headache. He laid back against the pillow again, as the cot creaked in protest. His thoughts sloshed around in the pulverized gelatin that now seemed to make up his brain; the pain was blinding, each time he tried to reopen his eyes a ray of light would enter and the agony would spike. After a few deep breaths the pain ebbed enough for him to attempt to sit up. He did so slowly, his head and neck stiff, sitting on the edge of the cot with his elbows propped on his knees and his head lagging forward in his hands. Kai was still asleep, looking serene and rested. Kopi was envious after a night of intermittent sleep punctuated with terrifying visions. He’d dreamt of the night they were taken over and over, each time he would slip back into the memory it was worse. In his memories the soldiers are blood thirsty monsters and the air smells metallic and ripe with fear. When he’s drawn back there in his dreams he tries to run, to hide, but every time they find him, every time his fate is the same. Their fifth summer in the camp was drawing to a close and he could tell he’d grown since they first arrived because his toes now stretched over the edge of his cot. He had grown lean and muscular from rigorous training. Every day he and his brother grew stronger, faster, and more combative; soon they would be isolated. His chest tightened from thinking about how long it had been; four years of imprisonment and four years without seeing his parents or his siblings, just Kai. As he glanced across the room at the sleeping boy he was glad that at least he had his brother for company. He hoped his parents and brothers and sisters had each other, wherever they were.
Tentatively he rose to his feet and his actions were immediately met with a stinging pain in his right temple and a wave of nausea. It would ease, he told himself, and by breakfast they would dose him again. The drugs they gave them took away the pain, but they also fogged the mind and dulled sensation. Someone had forgotten to dose him the day before and the effects of detoxing were taking their toll, but for the first time in months he felt he could think clearly, and for that he was momentarily grateful. He stood at the edge of his brother’s cot, looking down on his peaceful form. Bending down he placed a hand on Kai’s shoulder and shook him gently. He roused and opened his eyes to Kopi standing over him. Neither of them spoke and they readied themselves in amiable silence. Soon they would be escorted to the washroom to change into new garments, so for now they pulled on the loose, drawstring pants and linen tunic that made up the prisoner uniforms. Kopi referred to them, the mutants held captive in Compound 17, as prisoners even though the guards and camp staff never did, because to him this was a prison. His freedom had ended as a boy the moment he stepped foot off that truck and into the yard. As long as he remained here his life would be nothing more than fulfilling the wishes of his masters. He would rise when they told him to, eat what they made for him, listen to their lectures and practice the arts they wished for him to learn; all so that he could achieve their vision for him. The idea infuriated him, sitting in his gut like a hot stone.
The lock of the steel door turned over and the morning guard stepped in. The sickening green glow of the lights in the cell slowly charged up, casting their skin in a pale emerald hue. The click of heavy boots in the hallway tipped him off to the presence of another guard. He and his brother were unceremoniously pushed out of the cell and into the hall where he found himself staring into a familiar and sinister face. Sergeant Wilcox looked as surly as ever in his well starched and pressed uniform, perfectly squared away, but puckering at the waist ever so slightly when he took a deep breath. Kopi almost laughed when he realized he and the man were nearly the same height now, but he choked it back. Instead he defiantly met the man’s eyes, imitating his best blank-faced and thoroughly medicated inmate expression. Wilcox wasn’t fooled and his frown deepened, darkening the permanent creases around his mouth.
“Wipe that stupid look off your face, boy.” He commanded.
Kai tripped on the doorway as he stepped up behind him and they both tumbled forward into the sergeant’s chest. Wilcox backed up allowing them to fall to the floor unobstructed. Kopi landing on his stomach and Kai crashed onto his back knocking the wind out of him and jarring his head painfully. He gritted his teeth waiting for his brother to stand. As he began to lift himself up, he was jerked quickly to his feet. Wilcox lifted him by the back of his tunic, pulling the fabric tight around his neck and causing him to choke. He was released shortly and tried to catch his breath, his rasps for air echoing loudly in the empty hallway. Suddenly it struck him, they were alone with the guards and the other prisoners were still in their cells. That was odd, theirs was the second to last cell before the washroom and the guards always emptied the cells furthest from them first, waiting until they were all emptied before escorting their captives to the restrooms for morning hygiene and changing. His heartbeat quickened, something was wrong, but before he could puzzle it out further they were being corralled toward the washroom.
The guard opened the door for them and scanned their chips, both of them had been implanted just weeks before and his fingers often absently wandered to the small bulge over his right collarbone.
“Take off your clothes and shower quickly, there are new gowns on the benches for you when you’re done.” The guard instructed them coolly then walked out, shutting the door behind him.
Kopi turned to his brother, who looked as confused as he did. Normally, they showered at night, before returning to their cells. In the mornings they would use the bathroom, wash their faces, brush their teeth and change into new clothes, but they were never instructed to shower. Kai touched Kopi’s shoulder and tilted his head toward the showers, as if to say the reason wasn’t important and they might as well get it over with. Kopi knew he was right, what choice did they have, but to obey? He walked toward the tiled corner of the wash room that served as their showers; dangling shower heads hung above their heads. He removed his clothes and deposited them in the laundry bin before turning on the water. Kopi leaned against the cold tiled wall and let the water wash over him. It eased his aching head, but he couldn’t linger. Kai was playing absently at making wispy water figures, but his mind was elsewhere, as evident by his vacant expression. Kopi finished washing and turned off the tap before reaching over and turning off Kai’s as well. The stream died, but the figure in his brother’s palm stayed, swaying back and forth as if dancing to some secret rhythm. After a moment, Kai came back to reality and the twirling apparition dispersed. They both toweled off and grabbed the folded clothes from the bench, which turned out to be simple linen gowns that reached to their knees; just another unusual aspect of the morning to add to the list. They weren’t given any underclothes or pants to go with the overlong tunics.
Wilcox opened the door and barked at them to hurry up, holding the door open so that they had to pass very near him to leave the room. They were lead upstairs to the second level, Kopi following behind Wilcox and Kai behind him with the other guard taking up the rear. His heart jumped in his chest as they approached the imposing, steel doors. The heavy, pivoting doors lead to one of the laboratories; he’d only been in one a handful of times, but each time had left an impression. Wilcox swings open one of the doors and waves for him to enter. He hesitated, but the vicious, little man scowled at him threateningly and Kopi cautiously stepped into the room.
The acrid scent of detergents and bleach stung his nostrils, overwhelming his senses and powerfully reminding him that his stomach was still unsettled. Everywhere he looked he could see his ghostly reflection in the surfaces of the room; floor to ceiling stainless steel surrounded him. Under his bare feet the frigid linoleum felt slick. A forceful hand at his back pushed him forward, toward one of two large metal tables; sinister looking leather straps laid open and hung over the edges of the table. Kopi had been expecting an exam or for one of the white coats to appear to draw his blood again, but it was clear that today’s events would be a different flavor entirely. Vomit rose in his throat and he swallowed hard. They lead Kai to the other table, but instead of looking frightened or anxious, Kai appeared distant and oddly peaceful. Kopi wondered if it was the drugs that kept his brother so calm or if he knew some secret for separating himself from the horrors his body would inevitably be experiencing. He considered fighting them for a second, but knew he wouldn’t even make it out of the room with Wilcox there. He was ruthless and wouldn’t flinch at the opportunity to shot him in the back. Kopi submitted to being strapped onto the table and the leather bit into his skin as Wilcox sadistically tightened each strap.
From his position on the table he couldn’t see Kai or either guard, but he heard the door swing open again and the sound of two more people joining them in the room. A young woman in a white coat appeared beside his head. She was arranging metal instruments on the tray next to him and the pieces clanged against the surface noisily. Her eyes never met his; as though she preferred to pretend he wasn’t there, watching her as she set the scene for his torture. Severe, clipped footsteps approached and the face that leaned into his view stole his breath. Icy grey eyes and a chilling, stiff grin gazed down at him. The man placed a hand on his on Kopi’s chest and the smile broadened; his bony, tallow-colored fingers stretching out over Kopi’s flesh like a hideous, yellow spider.
“Good morning, today is a very auspicious day for you.” His voice was smooth and warm like a soft velvet blanket filling the space between them, but its wake choked the fire from Kopi’s blood, leaving him frozen in fear. “I am Doctor Omairo Mezrahii and I am in charge of the wellbeing of all the guests here at Compound 17. I have been watching you and your brother for some time. You both show a lot of promise in your training; extraordinary in ones so young. I thought the same of your father and brothers, you come from a truly remarkable family, you should be very proud.” He patted Kopi on the shoulder and he shuttered to retreat from the man’s touch, but the straps gave him no leeway. “Unfortunately, they all proved less than able to handle my plans for them. I am hopeful that your youth will aide your recovery and your successful ascension to phase two of the enhancement process.” Kopi’s stomach clenched, he’d mentioned his father and brothers. They had been here, in the same place he was now, listening to this maniac and his speeches, but they’d disappointed the man. What did that mean? Were they still alive, did these enhancements harm them? Kopi’s mind was racing with questions, but the doctor had finished his monologue and didn’t seem interested in answering any of Kopi’s probing questions, and even as his mouth opened to speak, his voice failed him.
The female white coat to his other side pierced his skin with a syringe and slowly injected a cold fluid into his arm. Kopi balled his fists and the straps seemed to tighten further over his wrists, but soon a wave of relief crashed over him, subduing his instinct to fight the bindings. His head suddenly felt much smaller and the incessant throbbing eased. He drifted peacefully on a cloud of semi-lucid consciousness; pain free and submissive, all the serpent-tongued doctor had to do was reach over and scratch behind his ear and Kopi would close his eyes and purr like a contented kitten. He was vaguely aware of the large syringe filled with a silver-black fluid that seemed to hover above him. The liquid caught his attention, it was swimming; metallic jets swirled and moved within the confines of the cylinder. He watched it, captivated, until a terrifying screech pulled him back to the room. His head felt as though it weighed a hundred pounds as he tried to lift it up to see the other table over his bound legs. Kai was screaming, a continuous and piercing cry. He searched the blurry haze of his surroundings for his brother, but couldn’t put anything in focus past the boundaries of the steel table. His gaze fell back upon the syringe, which now stood up out of the bend in his elbow. The liquid inside compressed as the plunger pushed toward the tip and within a second a stinging inferno sparked in his veins. The unbearable sensation grew engulfing his entire body and making him jump and pull against the restraints. There was no controlling it, his body bucked against the invading serum. His arms, now somehow free of their bindings, curled grotesquely against his chest like gnarled tree roots, but his legs still kicked out in furious and excruciating strikes against the metal table. The belts loosened and he felt himself falling and the smack of the cool floor against his face and stomach. His vision cleared enough for him to see two pairs of shiny, black boots in front of him; everything around him was cast in a bright orange glow.
“Don’t touch him.” A booming voice commanded and the boots shuffled back a foot. “That aura is hot enough to melt the flesh from your bones; step back.”
His focus was returning, but every cell in his body was screaming in agony and he shock violently as he tried to lift himself up off the floor. Darkness crept in from the edges of his vision; he had to find Kai before it claimed him, because when-if he opened his eyes again he wasn’t sure if his brother would be there or if he would finally be totally alone. That was his last frantic thought before nothing; no pain, no screaming, no glowing heat, just black.