Subject 17

“Okay, Ella, you just stay right here. You wait for me right here.” Kaylie could hear the frantic desperation in her own voice. She hoped the rubbery muffle of her gas mask hid her fear from the child. Fear was contagious. The last thing Kaylie wanted was for Ella to be afraid. Not just because of what UNcorp did to her, but because she didn’t deserve it. This sweet girl would never have to be afraid again as long as Kaylie was still kicking.

Kaylie stood to run from behind the crates they were crouched behind, but Ella grabbed her arm. “Wait,” said the girl. “Kaylie, if we get out of here—”

“When, Ella, not if.”

But the girl lowered her face and shook her head. “If we get out of here…can you be my sister?”

Kaylie’s heart unfolded like a century of cherry blossom blooms compressed into an instant. She couldn’t reconcile the swell of emotion with the fact she’d only known the girl a few days. They’d been through more trauma in those days than most people experience in a lifetime. Trauma has a way of binding people together. “Ella,” she said, “we’re already sisters. And we always will be.” Kaylie was up and away before the lump in her throat was fully swallowed.

She half ran half fumbled over the UNcorp facility grounds. The light rain made the pavement slick, and the air was thick with Mind Mist. After the damage Kaylie had done to the processing system it would be a long time before they could stop the outgassing. They hadn’t been lying—about that, anyway; they had enough Mind Mist to cover the earth. But to go through with their plans, they would need Ella. Had to get her out of this awful place.

She came across a row of Jeeps, heavily modified, but not in the usual ways. Armored paneling, black and angular like a stealth bomber. Advanced flat-proof airless tires. Fifty cals mounted to the backs. But when she circled around to the front end it became clear they’d be of no use to her. The hoods were all open, and there wasn’t much remaining in the engine compartments. These were all being worked on—maintenance maybe, or further modifications. Didn’t matter. She needed to find another ride.

After a bit of scrambling through the Mist and in between rows of storage containers and heavy equipment she finally found something suitable: a lone motorcycle plugged in to an electric charging port, the green light indicating a full charge. It shared its design aesthetic with the Jeeps, but the motorcycle was built for speed and little else. High seat with steps far in the rear. She’d nearly have to lay on her stomach to drive it. Dual front wheels with independent suspension for smooth cornering, and one fat tire in the rear to keep it stabilized. And it would be quiet. Might as well have been heaven on wheels, and Kaylie was astride it before she’d finished admiring it. She pressed the start button and the bike instantly came to life. This thing was meant for situations too volatile for keys. Now, to swing over to Ella and get out of this place forever.

A loud shot rang out—gunfire—and a fraction of a second later the bike’s big rear tire let out its own bang as it was shredded by a fragmentation round. The impact knocked Kaylie off balance and she tipped over, taking the bike with her. In moments she was surrounded by a squad of UNcorp’s paramilitary troops, weapons trained on her like the eyes of hungry pack animals.

“Where’s Subject 17?”

“The girl? Already dead you fucking asshole!” She hoped her rage might convince them of the lie. It didn’t.

“I’m not going to ask again—”

The gray and black world was suddenly saturated in magenta. The troops and Kaylie alike turned to see Ella, emerging from the Mind Mist wearing a gas mask and a zig-zaggy hooded poncho, leggings and boots, and brandishing a flare she must have found in a storage crate. “Let her go,” she said.

Kaylie and the shock troops yelled conflicting commands over each other.

El, run!

Get down on the ground!

Half the troops broke off and approached Ella, guns ready.

Kaylie watched in terror and screamed incoherently as Ella reached up with her free hand, pulled back her hood, and removed her gas mask. She inhaled the Mind Mist deeply and quickly like she were hyperventilating. She dropped the flare and fell to her hands and knees as the Mist ran its course.

The shock troops all ran—some toward Ella, but most for cover. UNcorp had tried to turn a little girl into a weapon, and they were about to succeed. But not to the effect they’d pursued. Kaylie had done her best to protect Ella from fear, but in the end it was that effort that had elicited the response, not as a fear for herself, but as a selfless fear for Kaylie.

The shock troops were quickly incapacitated. None were dead, but they all wished they were.

Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Marthe Jonkers, used with permission.

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