Doctor McClellan entered the fifteen-foot cube room where a woman in a white jumpsuit was cowering in the corner. Her head between her knees and her oily black hair concealing her face.
“Dani, we’re going to go again,” said McClellan. “You still have four more hours left, then you can return knowing you have contributed to something… greater.”
Dani squeezed her tiny malnutritioned knees in protest. She didn’t want to feel the pain again. The first four hours were a piece of hell manifested in this tiny room.
“I want…to go home,” said Dani.
“You made a promise, don’t think I didn’t forget what you did. You should be grateful that I am offering you something far greater. With this technology, we could-”
“That’s if we survive.”
“That’s why I took the liberty of extending your contract. I could’ve sent you back to the job boards looking for low-risk jobs and getting paid crumbs, but I thought you would enjoy the fact that you’d be making four point eight million.”
“Six days of this,” asked Dani.
“Don’t you think I deserve six days?”
Dani held back her words. She didn’t have the right to accuse or protest. This was her punishment. McClellan called it a cure.
McClellan pulled out a blue vial from her right breast pocket.
“The future of our world is in this. Come now, drink up.”
“Don’t make this harder for yourself,” McClellan said.
She walked over. Dani turned to face the corner, trying to make herself small before she was yanked out by her hair. She immediately reached for McClellan’s hand, scratching it.
“Ouch,” yelled McClellan letting go. Dani glared at her, but McClellan just smiled. A quick kick to the face fixed her attitude. Blood splattered on one of the walls. Dani grabbed her nose and screamed in pain. McClellan didn’t wait. She mounted the girl and pinched her nose, which opened her mouth.
McClellan poured the blue liquid down her throat, not giving Dani time to spit it out.
“I hope we don’t have to do this every time, my dear,” said McClellan dusting herself off. Some blood had stained her lab coat. “Now look what you’ve done. Tch. Oh well. We start in two minutes.”
The panels on the walls started to flip over to a clean side of white. McClellan left the room. Dani laid herself on the floor. Blood was still flowing from her nose, but she didn’t care. What was coming next was going to be worse.
She looked around the room as the white panels started to glow and shimmer. It had been a while since she had been outside. These white panels didn’t deserve someone as broken as this. They needed someone to adapt to their color. She chuckled. “I hate these walls,” and she closed her eyes.
Dani came from the junkyard outside of Manhattan Island, New York. Everything outside the island had basically been turned to poverty, with the new world government establishing a new order. The amount of pay determined the danger of the job. This was to discourage the untrained and non-professionals and encourage those who took time to train and prepare for their career. This immediately threw people in a loop.
Electricians, public servants, and police officers were paid poorly; annual salaries of six to nine thousand dollars were not enough to live off. Farmers started to horde food and create independent states. People lost motivation while the trained and powerful gained more wealth. Manhattan had become a utopia for those who had money. A dream for the poor.
The Junkyard is the trash of trash stretching to most of the country. The water polluted and the food rotten. Rumors were going around that the world had become poisoned and was killing hundreds by the day. The Junkyard citizens knew this rumor to be a fact of their life, but a different tale of abandonment was swirling around.
Dani opened her eyes to see herself floating on a sea of lava as her skin burned. Unfazed, she just continued to look upward to an endless black sky that had replaced the white ceiling, which was there before. She had already experienced this for four hours before and became accustomed to the pain. Phantoms of the four hours prior made Dani flinch.
Even though she had experienced the pain before, that didn’t make it hurt any less.
“She’s adapted to the first trial pretty well,” said the assistant clicking away with notes of the experiment.
“Is she burning,” said McClellan entering the darkened observation room. She was wearing a new lab coat.
“Her body has become accustomed to it. The vial is working.”
“It took too long. Tell Stewart that XP-987V needs some more work. We want it to activate quicker; four hours is too long. The higher-ups need something quick.”
“Um…Doctor McClellan,” asked the assistant.
“If it’s about the subject, then keep it to yourself. We are making history here.”
McClellan looked into the screen at Dani. She was staring back.
“Let’s switch it to the next phase.”
Dani felt a cool breeze.
“That doesn’t seem right,” she said, looking around the vast sea of lava, looking for the source but seeing nothing. She felt a tug, and then she was pulled in. Dani didn’t know how far into the deep she had sunk, but when she opened her eyes, she was no longer in the orange and black sea she once knew but a blue ocean.
Immediately she started to swim upward, but the more she swam, the further away the surface seemed. Like a ticking clock, she knew she was losing time. The water was seeping into her pores. Like it was alive.
She felt something pull her down. She looked down to see nothing but a dark abyss. Then something pulled her up and then behind her and then forward. Dani started fighting and swinging back at the water, but the more she struggled, the more it fought back. She needed to get to the surface, but her chest started to tighten.
“Come on,” growled McClellan.
Dani opened her mouth by pure instinct and swallowed a mouthful of water. She squirmed and reached for her throat. Her face started to turn red as she struggled to stay alive. Then black.
Dani opened her eyes to find herself still floating but breathing. She reached for her face, but no airflow was coming from her nose. It was flowing from her neck. She had grown artificial gills.
“Now that wasn’t so hard, was it, Dani,” said McClellan, her voice was coming from all directions.
“I’ve died twice now, haven’t I?”
“If you want me to apologize– ”
“Gawd, no. It would be an insult.”
“To who? You or me,” said Dani looking up to the surface.
“You know you didn’t have to make things harder for yourself. You had a future, a bright one at that.”
“Too many people watching me.”
“An excuse, just like everything you do,”
“On top, everything seemed great, but it was the depths that I was afraid of.”
“Ironic,” McClellan said as the water started to recede, disappearing into thin air, revealing a swamp. Dani touched down on a solid surface and reached for her gills. They retreated back into her neck.
“Is this Adaptation,” asked Dani.
“It’s called the XP series.”
“You didn’t answer my question?”
“Miss Cocklyn, focus on the task at hand.”
“Don’t Miss Cocklyn me, Michelle.”
“We are not getting into this,” said McClellan. A fog started to form, covering the newly created trees.
“Fine. How did they get to you?”
“When you became unable to perform, I was offered an option.”
“A bootleg Adaptation.”
“All it took was 10 years, and I think we’re pretty close.”
“So was I.”
Dani looked around the space. The silence filled the area. She could feel herself changing because of it. She reached out towards one of the white panels that had reappeared. The tips of her fingers started to switch to a white. She pulled back.
“If you hadn’t stepped in, I would have tripled the earnings,” said Dani.
“Those earnings were supposed to be used to get mom into the city.”
“I was close, and she refus— ”
“You gambled away three million. That was-”
“That was what? Your life earnings, stop joking. You’re making more than that now,” said Dani taking in a deep breath and found it hard to breathe. She looked around, waiting for a response. “Wow. Guess you shouldn’t have trusted me.”
She started to cough. Something else was seeping into her. Dani looked around and coughed again.
“I never understood why you always shied away from the limelight,” said McClellan.
“I wasn’t blind like you.”
“You made history, but you refused it because of instinct. I, on the other hand, see the purpose of what I’m doing. If this goes well, million no billions will be saved.”
Dani coughed some more, covering her mouth. There was blood.
“Poison, should have known,” said Dani taking in a deep breath. She could feel her blood curdling and clotting up.
“A concoction of poison to be accurate, we need to test everything, so we wouldn’t have any surprises.”
“Typical Michelle, always calculating. ”
Dani started to feel her face tightening up, her veins protruded from her face, and her eyes were turning a deep red. She could feel her limbs stiffening up.
“That looks like it hurts.”
“A..lot..more. Then you think.”
“Oh, I know it hurts a lot. We’ve had many subjects turn into a red mist on this phase.”
“Are you…trying to kill me,” said Dani struggling with the symptoms. It felt like someone was trying to pull out her muscles through her pores.
“Yes,” said McClellan.
Dani fell to her knees. Something inside was changing. She could feel the poison traveling to her heart. It was almost like she could see it flowing in her veins. “Dani. Dani? Dan– ”
“I can hear you fine and clear. You know I did offer her the money,” said Dani standing back up and cracking her neck. She looked down at her arm and could see colors of orange, blue, and green coursing through it.
“Yeah, but she refused. Why didn’t you just give it to her in person?”
“Come on, give me the next-” Dani collapsed face-first to the floor. A force was pushing her down. She could feel her spine protruding through the skin as she was being flattened.
“We weren’t on speaking terms. That’s why I gave it to you, thought maybe you could convince her. You were still the golden child in her eyes, but I knew better. The gambling, the drugs, the dealing,” said McClellan.
“Funny, she said the same thing. Well, not about the gambling part but something about how a branch will die— ” the pressure increased, “Argh, when it forgets its roots.”
“It can also be planted to start on its own. I have seen the good we’re doing, Dani. We can save this planet.”
“You know, I never liked the metaphors she gave,” said Dani standing up again with ease. “How are you so sure the people who are paying you are going to have the same intentions?”
“That was faster,” said the assistant.
“Yeah, maybe too fast,” said McClellan.
Dani walked around the white room.
“That’s what I saw when I was working on Adaptation. Maybe some things just didn’t need to exist. This whole planet is trying to fix itself, and I say let it take its course,” she said.
She looked around, wondering where the door was. It had melded together with the wall making it almost impossible to find.
“You won’t find it, and even if you did, there isn’t anything you can do about it,” said McClellan.
The room melted away, revealing an endless desert and scorching sun.
“This reminds me of Egypt. You remember when mom and dad took us before the world went to shit.”
“What about it?”
“Good, at least your memory works. Now let me asked, how did mom hang herself,” asked Dani.
“She had extreme carpal tunnel. So tying a noose is a little out of her range.” Dani felt her skin form scales to help with the heat. She started admiring the design on her skin. “I think that’s eight hours.”
“Seven to be exact,” said McClellan opening the door and returning the room back to the basics. Her hair was neatly placed in a bun and her face enrage.
“Not professional of you.”
McClellan took in a deep breath and relaxed her face. She put on a smile.
“Miss Cocklyn, we’re going to stop there for today. It would seem that XP-987V has made some exciting changes to your body. We would like to keep you here for further study.”
“I know I would do the same thing in your shoes,” said Dani.
“Yeah, killing the people we love so they wouldn’t have to experience the hell we’re making.” Dani’s scales started to recede. “It’s interesting.”
“Yes, it is, just a few hours before you were struggling to speak, and now you have such confidence.”
“Always did, just need something to sober me up. Thanks, sis, I think you help me break my gambling addiction,” Dani said, smiling from ear to ear. Her face oozed sarcasm.
“I’ll make sure to make a note of that.”
“A word of warning. I was offered something when I worked on the Adaptation. It scared me, so I shut down my project. We didn’t need immortal weapons.”
“I don’t run from my problems,” smiled McClellan.
“No, you just kill it.”
McClellan took a step back, placing her hand behind her.
“What are you talking about,” she said.
“We have problems, ones that need counseling, a lot of counseling.”
“Are you trying to give me some advice?”
“Yes. I saw backstabbers and two face lairs, Michelle.”
“A small risk, for the betterment of this world. No more starvation, no more— ”
“For a smart person, you have a lot of faith in people.”
“It’s my project. They wouldn’t dare misuse it.”
Dani moved her hair from her eyes. It was no longer oily. She smiled and headed for the door.
“I quit. I think I’ve had enough of this,” said Dani.
“You’re not allowed to leave,” said McClellan stepping in front of her.
“I didn’t have the budget like you to hire subjects on my project, Michelle. So I had to improvise,” Dani said. Michelle looked up and down her little sister. Then it clicked.
“It was painful, and my health started to deteriorate. Not good for a growing nineteen-year-old. I should be in a wheelchair. I needed something else to get my mind off the project when I shut it down. Gambling seemed fun, made dad kill himself, why not try it.”
“Did you accept this job because you wanted me to pity you?”
“Punishment. Gambling wasn’t working.”
McClellan’s smiled dropped, and her eyebrows went up.
“I wasn’t there when mom needed me the most,” said Dani. “I guess we’re a lot alike that way.” The two sisters stood there in silence because, in their eyes, they killed their mother. “Adaptation was a success, but I couldn’t give it away. I didn’t expect your version of it to upgrade mine.”
Dani headed for the door. As she got there, a sharp pain hit her from behind. She fell to the floor as blood began seeping out of her. She was shot in the back, and the bullet had gone through.
McClellan lowered her gun and walked over to her sister. She fired a couple of more shots into her.
“Have someone come clean this up,” she said, leaving the room and the body alone.
“Are you sure, ma’am? Maybe we could use her to help make a better product,” asked the assistant over the intercom.
“Are you questioning me,” asked McClellan. The assistant glanced down at the gun for a second and turned her eyes away.
“Dump her in the Hudson where she belongs.”
McClellan entered her office and sat down. She moved the mouse, and the computer came alive, illuminating the room. She placed the gun on the desk and exhaled. Her office phone started to ring.
“McClellan’s office, how may I help you?”
“Michelle, it’s Greg, Secretary of Defense, just wondering how the project is doing.”
“It’s goin— ,” she stopped herself. “We need more time, the serum isn’t activating fast enough, and we are running out of subjects.”
“Nonsense, we have resources. I’ll grab you some more so you don’t have to go advertising in the Junkyard.”
“Your welcome. We elites need to stick together.”
“We are doing the world a great justice.”
“Thank you, Greg.”
“If you need anything, feel free to call. Oh, just before I go, don’t forget we have a meeting with the military next week to talk about your designs,” he finished, and he hung up. She knew what she had to do, and her sister didn’t need to be a part of it.
On the other side of Manhattan, in the junkyard by the shore. A figure was getting out of the water. A homeless man spotted it.
“Hello,” said the man being cautious with his approach.
“Frank, calm down. It’s just me,” said the figure.
“Dani, what the hell? I thought you had gotten a fancy job in the city. Oh wait, I know, it was dangerous, and you had to escape right, how many guys did you take down with ya?”
Dani grabbed Frank’s hand. She grunted and threw up three bullets.
“What the hell, girl,” he said, about to wipe his hand when he felt something substantial in it.
“Thought you might need that,” she said, walking past him and into the junkyard.
“Three bullets aren’t enough.”
“You figure it out. I got shit to do.”
“For the yard!”
“For the yard,” said Dani melding with the dark, she had a new purpose. She needed to adapt.