Rose couldn’t believe it; it was finally happening, this was really, finally going to happen. Ten pain drenched years in this cold steel hell were finally coming to an end. A decade with the devil, and It had been hell, but it was almost over. Doctor Poer had been the one to bring her into this forsaken ground, this cold, clinical nightmare. He had been the one to drag her down to hell with him, but now, he was the one leading the expedition back out. He was the one heading for the exit, the one holding the door, the one who had found the tunnel. He had brought her here, and now he would get her out. He would escape, and she would be right behind him.
She would be free, in just a few more days. Just a few more days of this torture, this torment. A few more days of being these scientist’s plaything. Just a few more odious days, and freedom would be hers.
She was so close. So close, she could almost taste it.
“Oh my, but you do seem happy today,” observed a smug voice, taking note of the girl’s unusually tranquil demeanour. “Did something happen to our budding rose?”
“No,” the girl replied.
“Oh? But you seem so calm.”
“I’m always calm,” the girl dismissed.
“Of course you are, but now you seem… different somehow. I can sense it within you. Before, you were only calm on the surface. Now… I don’t know.”
“I’m just happy that Megan’s back.”
“Megan?” the older woman echoed. “Now, why should you care about her?”
“I don’t know,” Rose replied. “I suppose I sort of… missed her. I’m glad that she’s back. I’m glad that she’s okay again, back to herself.”
“I had no idea you two were so close.”
“Neither did I. She came to see me so often. I guess she just grew on me… like a fungus.”
“You mean Poer sent her. To check up on you? To spy on you?”
“No, actually. I thought that at first too, but it turns out he didn’t send her at all. Megan wanted to visit me, and so she did.”
“You mean it was her idea all along? Interesting… I didn’t expect this.” The woman’s face cracked open in a sneer. “The fool Poer has clearly given his little puppy too long a leash. Why she would be so interested in you though, from where does this curiosity stem, I wonder. Jealousy, perhaps?”
Rose quirked her brow. “Why should she be jealous of me?”
“A good question, with everything that Poer has given her. I can only speculate that you have the one thing she yet craves.”
“And what would that be?”
“The illustrious Dr Poer’s undivided attention.”
“You think he still wants me? He has a younger, cuter model.”
“Yet he still fawns over you.”
“He… I wasn’t aware.”
“Well, he’s the kind of man who prefers to stay behind the scenes, not one to get his hands dirty. What’s the word for it, coward? In any case, I wouldn’t expect you to notice, but Megan is quite good at picking up on these things.
“Interesting. I thought she’d ensnared him completely… perhaps her failure in that regard has left her feeling insecure.”
“Is that the only possibility?” Rose asked. Did the younger girl really resent her? As annoying as she was, Megan was the closest thing Rose had to a friend. Had their relationship been spawned out of hatred and fear? Was it simply an illusion?
It was fitting, considering their home. Rose dropped her gaze, her heart sinking like a stone in the pool of her stomach. It made too much sense to be anything but the truth.
Perhaps it was too much to hope for after all, that the younger girl might actually want her friendship. The thought almost stung, in a dull kind of way….
Wait, why did she care? Was she actually disappointed by such a possibility? Did she actually need Megan’s visits after all? Was she truly so vulnerable, so starved for companionship?
Rose had never wanted Megan’s friendship, nor did she offer her own in return. When did that change? Could Megan have picked up on the subconscious vibrations in her brain that even Rose wasn’t aware of?
The Doctor was right… Megan was good.
“Of course,” the scientist reasoned, “this is all speculation. Maybe Megan didn’t get to know you for her own reasons, to quell her own feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps it was Poer after all. Perhaps it was simply as I thought… that he sent her to spy on you, to watch you, to turn you back in his direction. Soften you up, break the ice, so to speak… not that being used in such a way wouldn’t lead to said feelings of inadequacy in the first place… yes, I think that makes much more sense, don’t you?”
“No,” Rose countered. Megan had come of her own accord, of her own free will. She befriended Rose because she wanted to, not because Poer had forced her. It had to be, it was. Rose knew it.
“Oh?” Kayla asked, her brow perking. “What are your thoughts on this?”
“Megan didn’t see me because she was being sent. The Doctor didn’t even ask her. She wanted to see me. She wanted to be my friend. She called me her sister. That was all her.”
“What makes you say that? I mean… I know it sounds nicer than the alternative… but—“
“It’s true,” Rose confirmed.
“And why do you believe that, how do you know Poer didn’t send her, what proof do you have? To know such a thing in the wake of more likely outcomes… someone must have told you. Who was it, to whom have you been speaking?”
The woman eyed Rose as though she were a caged rat in some experiment, examining her, watching her with a critical eye.
Finally, Kayla pressed the question. “Did he tell you that himself?” That was what she had said, but it wasn’t what she had asked. What she really wanted to know, her true question: ‘Was Poer here?’ “Because that’s the only way you could know for sure, and even then,” the older woman smirked, “he was probably lying. He’s good at that, lying. He does it all the time. To me, to you, to Megan, even to himself.” Her smirk deepened. “Especially to himself.”
“He wasn’t lying,” Rose defended. “It was the truth, I know it.”
“So it was him. He told you himself, did he? Now, when did he do that?”
Rose looked away, keeping silent. She didn’t even notice as Kayla closed the gap between them. She felt the woman’s hands on her, felt the warm, soft skin of her slender fingers upon her cheek, then under her chin.
Kayla directed the girl’s face gently upward, turning it toward her, facing forward. She stared into the girl’s eyes; her lip curled in a rare smile, not one of her patented cold sneers, but a genuine smile. It was a rare moment of warmth; the woman wasn’t known for them often, but she did have them. She wasn’t playing politics now, this was for real. Rose looked into her eyes, her entire demeanour had changed, shifted. Rose knew, she could trust her. She had to trust her.
“I know I’m hard on you sometimes,” the woman spoke, “but that’s only because I want you to progress, to fulfil your purpose and make the director proud. You don’t want to know what happens to test subjects who fall into obsolescence. Those who are considered unviable specimens for further research are disposed of and given new stations most befitting them. That is truly a terrible fate, and a beautiful young thing like you… I’d hate to see you broken by such cruelty.
“I want to help you, but you have to let me. Tell me what’s going on. When did Oliver Poer speak to you, and what did he say? What’s going on? Whatever it is,” she pressed, “I can help.” The woman spoke softly, as she occasionally did when it was just the two of them. I will help you, I promise. Okay?”
“O-okay,” Rose finally answered.
“Now, let’s start with Poer. Did he come by and see you?”
“Just the once, or…?”
“It was more than once.”
“And what did he say? What does he want from you?”
“He hasn’t asked anything from me, only my forgiveness, and my trust.”
“Forgiveness? What is there to forgive?”
“It’s not like I was holding a grudge… not exactly, but he feels responsible, for bringing me here, for abandoning me.”
“Well, it is his fault,” Kayla reasoned. “And when was the last time you saw him?”
“He was here today. He told me his plan.”
“Plan? For what?” Suddenly, the scientist’s voice changed back to the stern tonality that it so frequently exhibited. Kayla could be soft and kind when she wanted, but evidently, the conversation had taken a turn in a serious direction; she had turned instantaneously from nurturing carer, to strict authoritarian; she was wearing the face that the rest of the world recognised. “What’s he going to do, Rose? I need to know, it’s important.”
“He… he’s leaving.”
Kayla didn’t respond right away. She remained silent, lost in thought, but her smile returned, it never faltered, and the warm glow remained in her eye.
Rose wasn’t sure if she should be telling the woman this. Poer seemed to regard her as some kind of enemy, but he didn’t know her, not like Rose did. He hadn’t seen her good side.
Somehow, the girl knew. Kayla wouldn’t stand in their way, she might even be willing to help. She’d said it herself. Rose’s usefulness here was coming to an end. When the girl ceased yielding positive results, the scientists would have no further use for her as a guinea pig. Rose didn’t know what would await her after that, but Kayla had hinted at it numerous times, and from what she’d heard of it… Rose had to assume it was a fate worse than death. Kayla was the last person who wanted to see that befall her, especially after all they’d been through.
They’d bonded. Kayla was like her mother. She could be cold, cruel, and distant… just like her real mother, but she wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her, not if she could help it, and she would help, wouldn’t she?”
“What will you do?” Rose asked her. “Will you report this?”
“No… if Poer wishes to run away, that’s his business. I don’t think much of the wretch to be honest, but maybe I can use this… tell me, he intends to take you with him, doesn’t he?”
“Yes. Will you help us? Will you come with us?”
Kayla regarded her with a neutral expression, as if considering her position. “I can’t go where you’re going, but I can certainly help you get there. After all, what kind of person would I be if I stood between you and your fate? The experiments on you have been scheduled less and less frequently, and with frequently less and less optimistic outcomes. I’m sure you know what that means. You cannot continue to stay in this room for much longer. I can’t protect you anymore, but I can help you get to where you’re supposed to be. I can help you get exactly what you deserve.”
“So you will help us?”
Kayla smiled once more, that rare, warm, motherly smile. Her hand moved to gently tuck a loose strand of scarlet hair behind the girl’s pale ear.
Rose couldn’t help the grin of relief that erupted across her face. Eyes closed, she embraced the woman who had been both so kind, and so cruel to her. It was a rare display of emotion.
Rose wrapped her arms around the woman’s body, hugging her tight. Kayla in turn reciprocated the embrace, holding the girl close, if only briefly, before gently pulling out of her grasp. She stepped back, looking Rose in the eye.
This is what a mother was supposed to be.
The warmth never once leaving her lips, Kayla spoke, her voice soft and feminine, a tone reserved for when it was just the two of them.
“Tell me everything.”
Ollie poked his head through the door. The halls were empty. Nobody to the left, or the right. The coast was clear.
The man made his way swiftly through the corridor, careful to make no sound, despite the evident lack of security. He looked behind him to see Megan pop her head out of the same hole and scurry over to stand behind him.
She looked up at him, blue eyes staring intently, a content smile resting upon her lips, as though she didn’t realise how much danger they were in, of what could happen to them both if they were caught, of what could happen to her; or perhaps it was that she simply didn’t care.
They could be doing anything, so long as they were together, and that warm smile would continue to grace her.
The pair were lucky enough that their journey so far had been entirely dull and uneventful. They found themselves outside Rose’s room. Ollie didn’t know who to thank for their luck. He hadn’t expected it to be nearly this easy to sneak around the facility at night; they must have timed this perfectly. He turned to the young girl standing beside him. She looked up at him, but said nothing.
“What do you think?” he asked her.
“It shouldn’t be this quiet.”
“This is too easy,” Ollie agreed. “Are you worried?”
“Worried? No. There’s no point. Either things are going in our favour, or they know what we’re up to.”
“So, you think this is some kind of trap?”
“Possibly… which means everybody already knows what we’re planning, even the director.”
“So you’re saying we’re doomed to fail.”
Megan shook her head. “You’re so pessimistic, Daddy. I’m saying we have nothing to lose. We can still turn back, we haven’t actually done anything wrong. Not yet. They won’t be able to punish us, but they will suspect. As long as we stay, they will never stop watching us.”
“Then I guess there’s no reason to remain here.”
“The choice is yours. Whether we turn back or go ahead, this is likely the only chance we’re going to get.”
“Then I say we take it. Is that okay with you?”
Megan grinned up at him, looking through those wide, innocent eyes. “I’m happy with whatever you decide, Daddy… so long as we’re together.”
Ollie reached out his hand to ruffle the child’s hair, pulling her to him. “We will be, always,” he promised.
Their embrace was brief. Ollie released the girl, and she took her position behind him, waiting for him to start.
Ollie made his move. Putting his faith in Megan, he used the pass she’d procured and waited.
The door stood before him, barring his entry, blocking his progress. The red light on the console stared back at him defiantly, greeting him with open hostility. All Ollie could do was wait and hope that the pass would work, that it wouldn’t be blocked by the security system. Megan refused to tell him where she had found it, or how she had managed to bring it back to him, and while that worried him, he trusted her enough to not press the issue. He knew she had gone to personal risk to find this pass for him. He was sure it would—
Suddenly, the console beeped. The light changed from a belligerent red, to a genial green, signifying that the heavy, steel door was unlocked.
He was sure it would work. He knew it would. He turned to Megan and gave her one more genuine smile of appreciation. This was all because of her. The young girl had made this possible. Ollie couldn’t thank her enough. It was unfortunate, but he had neither the time nor the means to show her his gratitude and appreciation, to lavish her with the praise and happiness that she deserved. He wouldn’t be able to thank her properly until they were safely away from this facility. He’d have to find some way to reward her once they were free.
His arm reached out to pet his companion. “Let’s go,” he told her softly, to which she simply nodded. That small gesture would have to suffice, at least for the moment.
They proceeded through the door, and into Rose’s chamber. The girl within sat in the middle of the cell, watching them, silent, staring intently. Ollie found her eyes followed him as he moved about the room. Using the pass once more, he inserted it into yet another console, and after what felt like an even longer time, this console too, beeped in accordance with his wishes, giving way without protest. It took longer to undo Rose’s shackles than it had to open her cell, but it was a more pleasant delay, not an anxious one. This time, he was confident. He had faith in the pass Megan had provided him. He believed in it. He believed in her.
Ollie turned around in time to see the redhead’s shackles come open and fall to the ground with a loud clang. Rose met his eyes, retaining contact. She didn’t thank him verbally, nor in her barren expression, but he knew her gratitude.
The doctor pulled the backpack from his shoulder and tossed it to the ground before her. Rose looked from it, to him.
“Open it,” he said. She did so, reaching inside and pulling out several garments. “I’m sorry if they don’t quite fit or suit you,” he apologised, “but I wasn’t sure of your exact size, and I didn’t have a great selection to choose from.”
“That sounds rather passive-aggressive, doctor,” Rose drawled. “It hardly matters. I haven’t been permitted to wear clothes for some time. I don’t have a style, and as for my size… we’ll find out, though these will have to do, regardless.”
“Put them on, and let’s get out of here,” Ollie hurried her, and she complied with the briefest of nods.
Rose quickly dressed in the attire Ollie had provided. It wasn’t really anything to brag about, though basic as it was, it served its purpose. A white t-shirt, black skirt, and white sneakers with white, ankle-high socks. The t-shirt was a too large for her, swimming on her malnourished body and draping low, reminding Ollie of the shirts his wife would wear to bed towards the end of their…. Ollie banished the memory from his mind.
Still, it was clean and it covered her. The stark white blended with her pale skin and contrasted with her cold, blood red eyes and the long, flowing, scarlet hair that ran down her back.
The girl might not have won any style awards, but it didn’t matter. The look wasn’t flattering per se, but it didn’t exactly look bad, either. It might have actually suited her, had the shirt been a better fit. She looked like a normal teenager, rather than some caged animal.
For the first time in who knew how long, she was dressed like an actual human being. She was going to be a normal person for once, and she looked the part. The only flaws were those red eyes of hers. They would mark her as something strange, something different, something unusual. Something inhuman.
Thankfully, the psychiatrist had a way around that unique feature. He had a way for her to hide her abnormal trait. Without such a measure, she would doubtlessly stand out from a crowd. She would be easily traced, discovered, and, if she were lucky, recovered. The alternative, if she were unlucky… that scenario didn’t bear thinking about.
“Well, Doctor?” Rose spoke, breaking the silence after who knew how long. “You’ve been staring at me for some time. How do I look?” Ollie turned to Megan.
“I like it,” she exclaimed, an enthusiastic grin upon her face.
“Doctor?” Rose enquired, drawing the man’s attention back to her. What do you think?”
“Your eyes,” Ollie replied. “They will give you away.”
“Their colour. Red eyes are an extraordinary feature. We need to hide them.”
“What… what are you talking about? What’s wrong with my eyes?” There was almost a hint of panic buried within Rose’s passive tone.”
“You didn’t know?” Ollie was caught completely by surprise. He hadn’t even considered… she really had no idea. Hadn’t Kayla thought to mention it to her? Perhaps she thought it unworthy of the bother. Evidently, this girl was never intended to be released from this room. They never expected her to see her own image. “Rose… when is the last time you saw your reflection?”
“I don’t know, Doctor,” the girl curtly responded. “This room didn’t exactly come with a vanity cabinet.”
“That’s… unfortunate. I hoped you’d be aware of the changes that have taken place within your own body. So Kayla said nothing to you?”
“No. Is… is this bad?”
“Honestly, I don’t know enough about it to hypothesize the potential long-term effects.”
“Figures. That’s what guinea pigs like me are for, right?”
“If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the effect is purely cosmetic. We can cover it up.”
“What do you have in mind, dark sunglasses?”
“Not quite. What I’m considering is a little more invasive, and a lot more subtle.”
“What are you going to do, change the colour of my eyes?” the girl dryly retorted.
“Exactly,” Ollie responded, catching the redhead off-guard. He produced a plastic container and approached the eldest of the two girls. “Hold still,” he told her.
“What are you doing?”
“Relax, I have to put these in your eyes.”
“What are they,” Rose asked, but did as she was told, remaining completely still, complient, submissive, allowing the doctor to do as he pleased. She didn’t even flinch as his fingers pushed open the soft, pale lids of her eyes and inserted the pair of foreign objects.
“Contact lenses,” Ollie explained. Once he was done, he stepped back to admire his work. The girl’s eyes had returned to their old, natural, emerald selves, the way they had been before she was abducted, before Rexl’s experiments had mutated her body and changed it into what it was now. “Your eyes will never go back to the way they were, but these should help you to disguise them.”
”So these will help me look… normal?”
“That’s the plan.”
“Your eyes were green?” Megan asked.
“Uh… yeah. Why, how are they now?”
“Pretty!” the younger girl exclaimed.
“That’s helpful,” Rose replied, sarcasm dripping from her words and running down her chin, but that only made Megan’s grin widen.
“They look fine,” Ollie assured her.
“They suit you!” Megan chipped in.
“They should,” Ollie supposed. “They look just as they did when I found you. You look good, you look like—” Ollie closed his eyes and smiled as the realisation suddenly hit him. He allowed his breath to escape him in an amused snort. How had he not seen it before? He hadn’t noticed it until just now, but with her natural eye colour returned to her, it was so obvious. She was obviously younger, thinner, paler, and her hair was much longer, but beyond that, the resemblance was uncanny. Those eyes; he’d seen them before,
He recognised them. They were hers. “You look just like your mother,” he answered to the girl’s questioning glance.
“yes, the likeness is extraordinary.”
“So, these eyes, are they permanent?” Rose changed the subject. Was she embarrassed, or was there another reason? Did she hold a grudge against her mother? If there were any lingering resentment, it could be a problem. Ollie made a mental note, but let it rest for now, deciding to move on and answer the question.
“No. These lenses only disguise the colour of your eyes. They only work while you are wearing them.”
“So I have to keep these things in my eyes for the rest of my life? Great.”
Ollie let loose a small chuckle. “Well, whenever you’re out in public at least, and when you have company or when people can see you. I recommend you take them out when you sleep.”
“I have to take these things out of my eyes, and then put them back in again? Every day? By myself?”
“I’m sure your mother would be happy to help you with that. How do they feel?”
“They’re a little uncomfortable,” the girl complained, blinking awkwardly.”
“They just take some getting used to, I’m sure.”
“They feel weird… You’re sure these things are safe, right? They’re not going to make me go blind or something?”
“Of course. Megan’s been using contacts just like those for years now.”
Rose turned to the younger girl. “You… you have?”
“Megan’s eyes were just like yours when I found her. Rexl’s experiments have left their mark on her body, just as they have on yours, but with these contacts, I’ve been able to at least give her the appearance of her old self. I have one more thing for you.” Ollie removed his coat and handed it to the redhead. “It isn’t too cold this time of year, but we will be going outside. You’d better put this on.”
“What about you?” Rose asked.
“I’ll be fine, and Megan has one of her own. Don’t worry about us.”
The girl said no more and put on the garment. The black coat went with the achromatic colour scheme of Rose’s outfit. Ollie hadn’t intentionally colour coordinated the outfit, but seeing it all put together, it did look good on her. The only colour breaking through the black and white was that of her bright red hair and green eyes.
The man looked between his two companions. They nodded in understanding, all reaching the same conclusion, all processing the same thought. “It’s time to go.”
The three walked in silence down the deserted hallways of the compound. Ollie went first, the other two walking a little behind him.
The thought struck him again. This place was like a ghost town tonight. The psychologist didn’t like it. It felt too easy, too convenient, too suspicious. Too much like they were being baited, too much like they were walking into a trap.
He felt his heartbeat pick up.
“Oh, I think we’re almost there,” Megan said, giving voice to the psychologist’s thoughts.
They were getting close. The exit was just up ahead. It felt as though they were approaching the mouth of a great cave. The artificial light in which they bathed was about to abandon them, leaving them alone and helpless in the darkness of that tunnel.
The reality of course, was the other way around. This facility was the true cave. It had been their burrow, their prison, and beyond these concrete walls was their true freedom.
The wide world, the unknown. They were so close. Any second now, the trap would spring, and their aggressor would make itself known. Ollie knew that it would happen. There was no way security could ever be this lax. There was no way Rexl didn’t know what they were up to. There was no way he would allow his brother to steal away his two greatest assets without a fight. It was only a matter of time.
Rose followed behind the man who was leading her toward her chosen fate. The man who’d found her all those years ago, alone and abandoned. The man who dragged her into hell. The man who was pulling her out again.
She looked between the other two, catching Megan as she made anxious glances between her and Poer. Why? What was she so concerned about? They were almost free. They had almost done it, they had almost escaped. Why was she so worried? Did she know something Rose didn’t? Was there something else going on? Didn’t she trust Poer? No, that couldn’t be it. Megan was Poer’s loyal lapdog. There must have been something else, someone else.
Maybe that was it. Was she suspicious because of the lack of security? Didn’t she know that was a good thing? Things were going well, better than they ever could have hoped. Did she suspect some kind of trap? Didn’t she know they had someone on the inside?
Oh, of course not! Rose could have slapped herself. Of course Megan would be worried. She didn’t know about… but Rose had been clearly instructed not to tell. It was vitally important. Poer especially, was not to find out. He wouldn’t be able to trust her, and if they were overheard, who knew what it could mean for their silent partner? Still, she had to say something.
“It’s okay,” Rose uttered quietly, trying to calm the younger girl. Megan simply looked at her, saying nothing, those blue eyes calmly piercing through her. “It’s going to be okay. We’re not alone. Someone has set all this up for us.” Megan’s eyes narrowed, but she said nothing. “There’s somebody else involved, someone on our side. This is all part of the plan.”
Megan continued to stare. “That’s exactly what worries me,” the smaller girl stated in a serious tone. It was cold, distant. Was this how Rose had treated her all this time? Talking to her in this manner? Guarding her responses? On the receiving end, she had to admit, it wasn’t exactly pleasant.
Rose moved to ask what Megan meant by that, when Ollie cut her off.
“Quiet, you two. No talking. Stay silent until we’re clear. There could still be someone up ahead.”
“But I have to tell you–”
Ollie hushed her, preventing her explanation.
At that moment, their secret conspirator stepped forth, appearing from seemingly nowhere. “He’s right, you know. You should have kept your mouth shut. You know you weren’t meant to say anything.”
“I knew it was too good to be true,” Ollie cursed.
“So, I guess this is your ‘person on the inside,’” Megan supposed.
Rose cracked a smile and ran over to the woman that stood before them.
“No, wait!” Ollie called out, but it was too late. Rose was already firmly entangled in Kayla’s grasp.
“Did you change your mind?” the girl asked. “Are you coming with us?”
“No, I just wanted to see it for myself. It seems the wretch has actually managed to pull himself together. He really is organised… of course, he has had help… hasn’t he?” Kayla’s eye focused on Megan, if only for a split second.
“Sis, come back!” Megan called out to the younger of the two redheads. “You can’t trust her!”
Rose looked back at the other two. “It’s okay. She’s been helping us,” she looked back at the older woman, “Right? Tell them.”
“So now what happens?” Ollie asked, eyes peering directly at those of Kayla. “You’re responsible for all of this, right? You’re the reason why we’ve had it so easy tonight. You arranged this somehow. But why? You didn’t do it to help us.”
“Yes, she did!” Rose looked up into Kayla’s amused eyes. “You did it to help me, right?” she asked the older woman. “Tell them.” Kayla didn’t respond, she simply stood, silent, a smug smirk adorning her.
Ollie’s eyes narrowed. “But why would she do that?” he wondered aloud, voicing his thoughts. “I don’t understand. She has to have some kind of angle. This place isn’t just a job for her, she lives for this work. She wouldn’t simply turn on this place, or the man who allows her to do what she does best.”
“You’re right,” Megan agreed. “She’s hard to read… but I don’t think we should trust her. She’s up to something, but…”
Ollie shook his head. It didn’t matter. “We’ll never figure that one out, I don’t understand her at all. I don’t know the how, and I’m sure the why is incomprehensible to those of us that are still sane.”
“Those are strong words,” Kayla sneered, “coming from someone in your position. Just look at the company you keep. One of those girls is a psychopath, and the other’s psychotic. And then there’s you, planning on unleashing the both of them upon an unsuspecting public.
“I’m not a psychopath,” Megan argued, “Right?” she asked, looking to Ollie for assurance. It touched him. She seemed so vulnerable. The psychologist placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Far from it.”
“So… that means I’m psychotic?”
“Don’t listen to her,” Ollie assured the brunette. “She’s just playing mind games. It’s a hobby of hers. Take anything she says with a grain of salt.
“I’d rather not take it at all,” Megan pouted. Ollie smiled at the remark, and Kayla continued to smirk.
“Whatever the case,” the woman sneered, “You three trying to break out of this place just proves that you’re mad.”
“So, are you going to tell us what you’re up to? I assume you’re responsible,” Ollie suggested. “Why help us? Why make it so easy for us? Why have you let us get this far?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Kayla responded. “Simply put, I made it impossible for you to get caught. I made sure that you’d make it this far, solely because I wanted to be sure you’d make it this far. It’s as simple as that. If you had run into one of those pesky guards, they might have shot you on sight. I couldn’t have that, I wanted to be the one to meet you here. I wanted to see it for myself. It was just as you said, Rose.”
“Well, that answers that,” Ollie muttered. Clearly, Rose had been unable to keep the plan from Kayla. She’d told her everything, from the looks of it. Ollie kicked himself. He should have planned for this.
“Nothing we can do about that now,” Megan said. “What’s the plan?”
“That’s a good question.” Ollie focused on Kayla. “So, what happens now? You didn’t do all this to help us, so what is it you want?”
“So many questions,” Kayla teased. “Let’s just play this by ear.”
“Fine…” they weren’t getting anywhere like this. All the same, the psychologist would have liked to at least know how she’d managed it.
They hadn’t run into a single guard all night. In fact, they hadn’t seen a single soul until they got here. That was quite the feat. “How did she pull this off? Convincing Security to abandon their posts for the night? That’s a miracle in and of itself, but to do so without Rexl being any the wiser. How the Hell did she do it?”
Suddenly, Megan’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. “She didn’t!”
“What?” Ollie’s brow furrowed. Rose turned her attention to the young brunette, confusion etched into her face as well.
“I couldn’t figure it out either,” Megan continued. “How did she manage to hide all this from the director? But that’s just it. She didn’t. He knows all about it, doesn’t he?” the young girl accused the older of the two redheads. “You told him!”
“No!” Rose exclaimed.
“Yes!” Kayla revealed. Her face bore no shame, only the sly smirk that contorted what was once attractive, into a twisted visage of madness.
“No… but… why?” Rose spluttered.
“He’s been in on it from the beginning, hasn’t he?” Megan challenged. “You’re just acting on his behalf. All this time, you’ve been drawing us into your trap. You planned this, all of it, didn’t you?!”
Kayla’s grin widened further, impossible though that might have seemed. “You got it in one,” she applauded. “I knew that freakish abnormality of yours would come in useful.”
“It’s a gift,” Megan retorted angrily.
Kayla laughed. “And quite well nurtured, it would seem. I guess you really are good for something other than sitting in that pervert’s lap.”
“Why?” Rose asked, stepping back from Kayla. “You said you would help us. You said it yourself. I’ve lived to the end of my usefulness. I’m approaching my sell-by date. Soon, the scientists won’t have any use for me.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. We’re rather resourceful here. They’ll find a use for you, one way or another. Director Poer is far too economical and pragmatic to throw anybody away. Especially a bright, young specimen like you.”
“But my growth is slowing, isn’t it? I’m approaching the ceiling of my potential, isn’t that why the tests are happening less and less often?”
“You needn’t remain a test subject your entire life. There are other uses for you.”
“But… you warned me against that! You said you didn’t want to see me at the end of that road! You said it was a—”
“A truly terrible fate,” Kayla echoed, her face twisting even further into an impossible mask of madness. The smirk continued to creep along her face until it engulfed her entirely. That sick smile was swallowing her whole, truly a disgusting sight to behold.
The madwoman continued. “You don’t want to know what happens to test subjects who fall into obsolescence. Those who are considered unviable specimens for further research are disposed of and given new stations most befitting them. That is truly a terrible fate; and a beautiful, young thing like you… I’d hate to see you broken by such cruelty.”<p class="has-white-color has-black-background-color has-text-color has-background" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">The words were familiar. Kayla had said them before. But back then, they’d had an entirely different meaning. Back then, the two of them had been alone. The woman had seemed kind, caring, maternal. Now, she was cold, cruel, mocking. That smirk continued to twist her poised beauty into an abhorrent abomination.The words were familiar. Kayla had said them before. But back then, they’d had an entirely different meaning. Back then, the two of them had been alone. The woman had seemed kind, caring, maternal. Now, she was cold, cruel, mocking. That smirk continued to twist her poised beauty into an abhorrent abomination.
Had Rose misjudged her? The redhead thought she could trust the woman. Sure, she was stern, often rigid, and strong; much more so than Doctor Poer, but deep down, Kayla had wanted what was best. She had always done what was necessary. Deep down, Kayla’s actions had ultimately been to protect Rose from the worst… hadn’t they? Was she really willing to throw her to the wolves now? Had Rose been wrong all this time?
“No…” the girl shook her head, disbelief flowing from her in place of tears she couldn’t shed. “You were supposed to help me. How could you turn on me? You sold us out… you betrayed us. Why?! How could you do this? I trusted you, I believed in you. You—you lied to me….”
“Did I lie?” Kayla asked, her response rhetorical. “No, I never lied, you simply misinterpreted what I said. My words still ring as true now as when I first said them. The only thing that’s changed is their context and your perception of them. I meant everything I said. And as for betraying you…” Kayla’s grin widened as she leered down at the girl, “I was never loyal to you to begin with. I owe you no loyalty whatsoever. My allegiance is and always has been, to the one who gave me this position.”
“So now what? What’s going to happen to me? Are you going to kill me? Break me? Or am I going to end up the same as Doctor Poer’s daughter?”
“I don’t know where you’re going, but I can certainly help you get there. After all, what kind of person would I be if I stood between you and your fate? The experiments on you have been scheduled less and less frequently, and with frequently less and less optimistic outcomes. I’m sure you know what that means. You cannot continue to stay here for much longer. I can’t protect you anymore, but I can help you get to where you’re supposed to be. I can help you get exactly what you deserve.”
The girl turned away, casting her eyes down. “You betrayed me,” she accused, her voice barely above a whisper. “You abandoned me. Just like… just like her.”
Rose had put her faith in the wrong person. It was so obvious now. Poer might have left her alone, but only after she pushed him away.
After all this time, he’d never completely given up on her. Megan had taken Rose’s place, but Poer had still continued to help her behind the scenes. They both did. While Megan was sneaking in to visit her, Poer had been sneaking out, making connections, and getting in touch with the ghosts of her old life, from back when she actually had one.
All the while, Kayla had only cared for her as a specimen, a lab rat, no better than a hamster. She was simply an object, a job.
The girl receded into her own mind, eyes blank. She recited the ever-growing, years-old mantra.
“Daddy protects the little girl. Daddy keeps the little girl safe from all who may try to harm her. Daddy keeps the little girl safe from the world. Mother abandons the little girl. Mother leaves her alone with her nightmares. Mother doesn’t care. Mother doesn’t care…”
“So, what happens now?” Poer asked. “Is this where the guards come out? Will they shoot us, or just lock us up?”
“Not at all,” Kayla replied. “I didn’t want the security division spoiling this little get together of ours. I intend to march you into your brother’s office myself.”
“Really… why do you suppose I would comply with something like that?”
“What are you going to do, overpower me?”
“If I must… we’re leaving. You’re not going to stop us.”
“Oh dear. What is a helpless woman to do when faced with such violence? Your brother will be so shocked when he hears.”
“I hope he won’t be too disappointed in you. After all, you were the one who made it so easy for us. It was you who sent the guards off-duty.”
“They’ll be back soon enough, after I set off the alarm. Besides, he can’t be too angry with me. I may have failed to keep you here, but at least I prevented you from kidnapping his dear children.”
“His dear children… if he truly cared about them, he would never have condemned them to a life of torture and misery in the first place. It’s only natural they would flock to me.”
“Ah, so you are the piper, and these, your rats. It’s just too bad that these rats still have a purpose to serve, whether in the lab, or outside of it.”
“You really think I’ll just leave them behind?”
“You don’t have a choice. It’s the only way you’re going to get out of here alive. I don’t really care about you, but I’m not going to let you steal our specimens.”
“Specimens? They’re not just things. They’re people, children. Say it, they’re children!”
“They’re objects, things, test subjects, no better than animals,” Kayla sneered, “and they belong to us. Go on, run away, get out of here while you still can, I won’t stop you, but leave the girls behind.”
“I’d sooner sacrifice myself and let them escape.”
“Wow… I do wonder how long they’d survive on their own. A naïve, sheltered mind-reader, and an isolated, out-of-touch, psychotic shut-in. What a pair, I can’t wait to see their debut on Most Wanted. Tell me, which side of the crime scene do you think they’ll be on?”
Ollie scowled at the woman. He knew what she was saying. These girls were like animals raised in captivity. Did they have the skills to function on their own? Perhaps he was being naive, but… he shook the doubts from his head.
“Even so,” he said, “they’re better off out there than they are in here. With or without me, as long as they have each other, I trust them to make it through. I believe in them. Besides, they have family out there.”
“A fat lot of good that would do them. Besides, Director Poer is the only real family either of them have. He’s their father, and you’d take them from him? Dump them alone in the wild rather than let them stay with him?”
“If he’s truly their father, maybe he should act like it. You call Rose a psychopath, but Rexl is the one willing to put innocent human beings through hell, utilise them like mere tools, and resort to any means to achieve his end; even these barbaric human experiments. He’s condoning torture on innocent, living human beings… even his own children.
“He claims that the end justifies any means, but it’s not even his end.” Poer shook his head. “My brother may have convinced himself, but he hasn’t convinced me. After all, the end goal he’s shooting for isn’t even his. He’s simply acting as a drone for somebody else. I’ve sat by and let this madness go on for too long.”
“You seem to be under the impression that you can actually do something about it.”
“Maybe I can’t… but I have to at least try. I have to act. I can’t just do nothing. These victims, these children… they’ve suffered enough.
”Kayla looked from the man, to the girls before her. “Maybe so,” she admitted. “Maybe this is madness, but at least here, the madness is contained. You would unleash it upon the world.”
“I don’t care. All I want is to protect these two.”
“It’s too bad then. It’s unfortunate, but I can’t allow that to happen. There’s no way in hell.”
Ollie sighed. “You’re right,” he said, flashing a sad grin. “That is unfortunate.” The man loosened his tie and pulled open his shirt, revealing a concealed pistol. Holding it before him in one hand, he aimed it straight at the red-haired woman. “The doorway to freedom is open, I can taste the sweetness of the outside air. I’ve promised to get Rose out, no matter what. I’m not going back on that promise. I can’t let you stop me. There’s no way in hell.”
Kayla’s eyes widened. For a moment, she was silent, but then, her face cracked. Her signature smirk crawled up her cheek and the woman erupted in a fit of mad laughter.
Megan looked between the two adults. To Ollie, then to Kayla. The psychiatrist was serious, she knew. She always knew. He held the gun in front of him, aimed square at the red-haired woman.
Kayla simply laughed it off. She didn’t seem to take the threat seriously. Did she think Ollie was bluffing, or had she simply gone mad? Megan couldn’t tell. Kayla was so hard to read, even for Megan. The young mind reader could usually get a feel for what other people were thinking, what they were feeling, but not here, not now. When it came to Kayla, she got nothing. She was like an empty shell, unfeeling. Megan couldn’t read the mad scientist at all.
She did get one feeling though. A bad one.
This was not going to end well.
“Daddy…” she started. She had to get his attention. She had to stop this, before it was too late. Ollie had said he was going to put an end to this madness, not join in.
“Megan,” Ollie ordered. He spoke softly, yet there was a strict firmness to his words. His voice, it was so calm, so… authoritative. It was unfamiliar, so unlike him. It was scary. “Take Rose and get out of here.”
“Quickly! This is the only chance we’re going to get. You have to take Rose away from here, no matter what. Protect her, get her home.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll hold her,” he replied, maintaining his focus on Kayla. “She can’t stop you without going through me, and she can’t call the guards… you have a free run to the world outside. Take it, and don’t look back.”
“But…” Megan didn’t want to leave without him, but he was right… she didn’t see any other way.
Poer smiled. “It’ll be fine,” he said, keeping his focus on the enemy before him. “I’ll catch up with you outside.”
“Wanna bet?” Kayla hissed, the smirk never once leaving her. She lunged forward, charging headlong. “Let’s see if you have what it takes. C’mon, kill me. Kill me, before I kill you all!”
She moved so fast. Poer had never expected the scientist to be capable of such agility. He didn’t have time to think, he just acted. He pulled.
Poer’s hand squeezed the trigger. The gun sounded. It was deafening.
The woman had begun her charge, hellbent on striking him, but suddenly stopped, standing less than a meter short of her intended victim. Her grin faded. Only a shadow of the malicious smirk remained. Her hand gripped at her chest.
The sound was like a wake-up call. Rose looked up and saw the scene before her for the first time. What was going on? She’d been catatonic, trapped in thought, lost in her own world. What had she been doing? What had they been doing?
Poer, he had… he had a gun? Rose looked to Kayla. She seemed to be gripping her own chest. She’d been shot? Poer had shot her!
Megan ran toward her, gripping her tightly by the arm. “Let’s go,” she said.
Rose remained rooted to the spot. Part of her wanted to rush to Kayla’s defence, but then she remembered. Kayla was the enemy. Kayla would have taken her back. Kayla would have stood by and let anything happen to her. Kayla didn’t care about her, the only ones who had ever even tried to protect her… were Poer and Megan. They were the only ones she could trust.
Rose’s catatonic mantra came forth once again, mumbled, incoherent. “Daddy protects the little girl from the world. Daddy keeps the little girl safe. Mother doesn’t care. Mother leaves the little girl alone with her nightmares. Mother betrays the little girl. Mother doesn’t care…. Mother doesn’t care….” Her eyes glanced back to Kayla. “Mother deserves everything she gets.”
“Come on!” Megan whispered into the redhead’s pale ear. “We have to get out of here, now.”
Rose nodded. “Okay.”
The girls moved together, Megan still holding Rose by the arm. They ran as fast as they could, while the adults, unable to do much else, locked in their mutual stand-off, simply watched them leave.
“Do you really think they have a chance?” Kayla asked. The sneer was gone. She was finally being serious, though Poer couldn’t help but notice the contempt that laced her voice.
“I have faith. Megan knows where to go, I made sure. She knows where to find Rose’s parents. Her true parents.”
“You mean her mother?”
“That’s right,” Ollie smirked. It wasn’t often he had the opportunity to feel superior. “I found her. She’ll take her daughter in. She’ll protect her, protect them both.”
“You’ve spoken to her?”
“That’s right. Rose is better off at home with her mother than in this cold steel hell.”
This time, it was Kayla’s turn to feel superior. She laughed, loosing a short, staccato cackle of disbelief. “Do you actually believe that? You poor, deluded fool.”
“You don’t think they’ll make it, or you don’t think she’ll take them in?”
“I have my doubts about both those things, of course, but that’s not what I was talking about. Frankly, I think the girl’s better off just about anywhere than with her mother, if you can even call her that. Don’t forget, that woman knowingly abandoned her own daughter.”
“She didn’t have a choice!”
Kayla looked blankly to the man before her. No smirk, no sneer. She was completely dumbstruck. “Interesting that you would rush to her defence… did you really buy in to whatever fabricated story she fed you, or are you the type of person who blindly sides with the mother regardless? I wonder if your ignorance is clouding your judgement.”
“I was there,” Ollie reminded her. “I know what she did, and I know why she did it. She made a mistake.”
“That’s putting it lightly. More than one, actually. I can’t help but wonder if you even know the whole story.”
“Why don’t you tell me?”
“The director tells it better than I do,” Kayla spoke, nonchalantly deflecting the question, shrugging it from her shoulders as though it were nothing. “Maybe you should ask him. Too bad you won’t get the chance.” Ollie noticed a strange look overcoming her. What was it? Excitement? Bloodlust?
There was something wrong with this woman.
She hadn’t moved. She was unarmed, wounded. She’d been shot. Though not fatal, the redhead still clutched at the bullet wound in her chest. Even though she hadn’t moved and Ollie had the clear advantage, he got the distinct impression that Kayla was advancing on him.
She was staring him down like prey. There was a hungry glint in her eye, and a predatory grin making its way onto her lips. A low, threatening voice; cold and cruel, unfamiliar and unlike any sound Ollie had ever heard her make, emerged from the sly woman’s throat, rumbling from deep within. Crackling with unrestrained danger, she spoke the final words that Ollie would ever hear from her.
“You’ll never get out of here alive.”
Ollie stared into the woman’s eyes, unable to look away. He was the cliché deer caught in the headlights. He felt himself trembling, and suddenly became aware of the sweat forming upon his forehead. Part of him wanted to back down, to run away, even surrender to her. Was he actually afraid of this mad doctor?
He overpowered his weak, timid doppelganger and squashed it deep down, into the darkest recesses of his gut. He had a purpose. He would not break. He’d made a promise. This was for Rose. Everything he did was for her.
His eyes hardened as his hands steadied the gun before him. Resolve conquered fear, and he met her challenge head on, responding in kind, speaking the last words that Kayla would ever hear from him.
“Neither will you.”