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keskiviikko 8. huhtikuuta 2015

The City of Primen

Chapter 1

The sun was setting in the horizon as our car sped through the fields. Sometime long ago, there had been something called a road there. You could still see the rocky surface here and there, where the grass and small bushels had not been able to take over. Roads had not been needed anymore for decades. Most people just flew around in their hover mobiles. 

That afternoon, however, we had decided to take my great-grandparent's car for a ride. The car had been sitting in our garage for as long as I could remember, taken care of by my dad, who is something of a wizard when it comes to cars, hover mobiles, airplanes or any engines. He had also taught me how to drive that old mobile. 

There we were, speeding through the meadow that used to be a motorway. We had the roof down and music loud, we were laughing and screaming as we hit bumps and hills, sending the car flying through the air for a few meters. We were having fun like the bunch of twenty-somethings we were, wild and free, without a care in this world. 

And then it all came to an end. We had hit a bump again and the car went careening into the field, took a nose dive and as we hit the ground. The right front wheel was stuck in a notch, pulling the right front corner of the car down. The rest of the wheels were barely touching the ground as we tumbled around to get out of the car.

It was a depressing sight. One wheel was stuck in the muddy hole, the front of the car looked like a French bulldog, and the engine would not start anymore. I was devastated. I did not know how I could ever face my dad again after wrecking the family treasure like that. Ours was one of the very last old style cars left in the world! 

We were considering our options in the alarmingly dimming daylight when we heard a buzz behind us. It was the distinct buzz of a hove mobile and it was getting closer. 

"Let's hitchhike!" suggested Arnie, voicing the hope we all felt with the approaching hover mobile. We were stranded in the middle of nowhere, and night was rapidly falling. Hitchhiking to and approaching hover mobile sounded like an excellent idea. 

"We're here! Down here!" we all started yelling and waving our hands in the air. 

The hover mobile came straight towards us and stopped only a few meters away. Two men in long trench coats stepped out of the mobile. One of them had a nasty looking scar on his chin.

"Did you know that you are in a forbidden area? The land belongs to the City of Primen", the scar guy said, his eyes hidden behind dark shades.

A shiver ran through my spine. We all knew about the Primen, of course. They were a people created by an experiment gone horribly wrong. 

The Primen looked like any man - they had been "any man" before they had been injected by this serum created by the scientists. The serum had been composed to alter the brain of the men injected, resulting in ultimate intelligence and resistance to pain; the inability to feel any pain, that is. It had also been designed to induce ultimate obedience, but that part had not succeeded. Instead of becoming a fully submissive army for the government, the Primen had turned into a shrewd and sullen people, fighting to survive.

The Primen had started a rebellion and turned on the scientists. There had been only a handful of them at the time, twenty men or so. The government had sent special forces to capture them, but with their superior intelligence the Primen had had no trouble in taking over the science facilities and keep away the army forces. What once was a topnotch science lab for the government had become the City of Primen.

This had been several decades ago. Everybody knew about the City of Primen, and nobody ever ventured close. There were rumors of people disappearing. We had not been paying attention to where we were driving and had ended up in a field not too far from the city, in an area controlled by the Primen.

"Um, no, sorry. We were just driving and having fun, we never meant to trespass", I tried, hiding my fears as best I could. But the Primen cared not of my fear or fearlessness. They knew no emotions. They were a deviant, unscrupulous lot. And they were looking at us as menacingly as a person can, while wearing sunglasses after the sun has already set. It was actually quite creepy, like they had two black holes where the eyes were supposed to be.

"Get in the mobile", the other one barked.

We were frozen with fear, but Alice managed to peep: "We're ok, we'll just walk back home, thanks." Alice was the sister of Arnie. They both had thick brown hair and quite nice features, with a fit muscular body honed by an active life of sports. Arnie played tennis, Alice was a swimmer. 

The men snorted. I thought it might have been a sort of a laugh, but I wasn't sure. "In the mobile, now!" They took a step towards us, drawing a weapon. In that instant I understood that we had no other chance. If we tried to run, they'd shoot us like we were game. The darkness was not on our side; those men could obviously see perfectly in the darkness.

"Come on," I said quietly to Arnie and Alice and we started walking towards the mobile, "We don't really have an option, not now anyway." Alice looked at me with fear in her eyes. She took Arnie's hand and they followed me to the mobile.

"That's more like it. Now get in. You have been trespassing in our grounds. That is a crime and we will take you to our city, to appear before the council of crimes by outsiders. They will decide your fate."

Chapter 2

The ride was quiet. We huddled together on the backseat not daring to utter a word. The two Primen goons sat in the front, staring grimly into the darkness. As we were approaching the city gates, one of them took out a wireless receiver, contacted someone within the city limits, giving a full report on their encounter with us.

The hover mobile swerved left after passing the city gates and we were taken straight to the Great Hall. Some Great Hall it was. It used to be an auditorium for the science facilities. The stage had been turned into a meeting area of the city council, with a long curved table reaching from one wall to the other. Chairs had been placed on one side only, so that the counselors did not face each other but rather the audience. I wondered if there always was an audience, for each meeting.

That night, however, there was no meeting, nor were there any counselors present. In the center seat behind the large table sat a burly man with unkempt hair and rugged features. He looked at us with hate in his eyes. He made it no secret that having to deal with the likes of us - normal people - was disgusting to him and he would rather have been doing anything else. 

"So, these are the Normals driving that ancient vehicle through our fields. Hmm. Bring them closer", the rugged man behind the table growled. We were pushed forward towards the stairs leading to the stage. Arnie stumbled when he reached the stairs and Alice gave a muffled whimper when one of the men escorting us poked her with the end of a gun. I tried to hold myself together but I couldn't help the shiver running down my spine.

"What are your names?" the man behind the desk asked once we were standing in front of him. "I'm Meg Duncan, and these are my friends Alice and Arnie Harlow," I said with more gallantry than I felt. "Sir, we were not on your lands on purpose. We were driving our car down the ancient motorway and did not realize..." my voice faded away when I saw the sneer forming on the man's lips.

"I am Leader Malcolm and you do not address me without permission!" he suddenly boomed, leaning towards us so close that I could've counted his teeth. "You lowly Normals," he sneered, "how dare you think I would be interested in your petty little excuses. Check their genetics, run the usual blood tests and lock them up in the Chimpery. Get back to me when you have the results tomorrow."

We exchanged looks. The Chimpery? 

We found out soon enough. After taking us to a lab where a blond woman non-committedly draw a tube of blood from each of us, we were taken to a room with different size cages wall to wall. The Chimpery. 

"Let's see. Here we have a cage suitable for the three of you, get in. Move it!" We scampered in and the men threw us some pillows and blankets. "We're not monsters, you know," the other one said, "but we run a tight ship. We don't want to be killed any more than you do." "Yeah, the chimps that used to inhabit these cages had no pillows. You should be grateful."

Chimps! Of course! We were in the cages where the chimps were held when the Primen experiment was in its chimp test stage. Or at least that's what I assumed. 

"Did you notice how that nurse in the lab looked like she was not here, you know what I mean?" asked Alice once we were left alone. "Yeah, I noticed," Arnie replied. "She was like totally spaced out. Like drugged or something. Doing her stuff like a robot." "Maybe she was a robot?" I suggested. "Unless she was one of those really clever human-like androids, I doubt that. I think she was drugged."

The door to the Chimpery opened. In came a man, brown hair, neatly cut beard and a hollow look in his eyes. Just like the eyes of the nurse. "Your evening meal," he said, sliding a tray through the feeding hatch of the cage. "Thank you," I started, "can you tell us what is going on here?" "Your evening meal. I will take the tray in the morning when i bring breakfast." The guy turned on his heels and walked mechanically out of the Chimpery, leaving us alone with our questions again.

"Creepy!" exclaimed Alice. "No kidding!" I joined in. "It was, it is. This whole place is. But let's have a bite to eat and try to sleep a bit. We'll need to keep our strength up if we ever plan to get out of here!" Arnie said. "Arnie's right. We need to eat and sleep. We need to keep our minds sharp," I agreed, grabbing a toast from the tray. Toast, yoghurt, tomatoes, cheese, lunch meat, bananas. Not bad for a prison meal I guess, but seriously, bananas? Someone had a sense of humor.

"Breakfast time," announced a flat female voice. There was some clanging of iron as she removed the old tray and slid the breakfast tray over to our side. I opened my eyes to a bright light, almost too bright to bear. I yawned widely and stretched my arms. "Ouch, you hit me in the nose," complained Arnie. "Oops, sorry," I replied sheepishly. I was not used to waking up next to someone else, but the cage was not a big one and despite the blankets we were cold so we had huddled together to keep warm.

"Thank you," I called after the woman, but either she did not hear me anymore or she was not programmed to answer. That was how I had started to view those people who did all the actual work around there - not that we had seen more than a nurse and a couple of food delivery people, but the pattern seemed quite obvious to me. All of them had seemed programmed to me. Doing their one task, nothing else. No questions asked, none answered either.

We spent most of the day huddled together, trying to come up with some kind of a plan. We needed to get out of there! The problem was, we didn't know what was going on and what we were up against. Nobody had told us anything so far. The only people coming in and out of the Chimpery were the warders and they moved and talked like robots. Except for one of them. 

One of the warders was a young man, maybe approximately our age, with jet black hair and peculiar green eyes. He was acting just like the others, but once I saw a glint in his eyes when I tried to ask him what was going on and what was going to happen to us. His empty stare falter for just a fleeting moment, but long enough for me to catch it. I think he might be the key to our plan. I just needed to make him come out of his act for long enough to provide us with some answers. 

Chapter 3

Meanwhile in the Great Hall

"You have the blood results?" asked Leader Malcolm.

"Yes, we do, sir," answered Jethro, taking off his sunglasses, "and the family relations report as well."

"Excellent! What have you got?" Malcom leaned forward in expectance.

"Sir," started Nolan, shuffling through the paperwork, "well, these Alice and Arnie come from an old farming family, nothing special in their bloodline. Meg Duncan on the other hand has some fairly interesting gaps in her family history."

"What kind of gaps?" asked Malcolm.

"Some ancestors have been erased from the family history, a little bit too thoroughly to be an accident. For example, we could not find anything about their great-grandmother. It is as if their grandfather was born without a mother," Nolan explained.

"Interesting," said Malcolm, tapping the table in thought. "Duncan. Duncan. Where have I heard that name before? Wasn't there a Duncan in the group of scientists, who originally came up with the Operation Primen?"

"Indeed there was, sir," piped in Indala, Malcolm's assistant and lover, who had been silent so far. "Jennifer Duncan. She was one of the creators of the original serum. She disappeared when the riot began and was never seen or heard of since."

"She wasn't killed along with the other scientists?" asked Jethro.

"No, she wasn't. She had also been involved in building these facilities and knew them better than any other person. Apparently, she found a way to escape. No one has ever been able to determine how. Was it a secret passage? Was she just cunning enough to sneak out? Nobody knows," Indala concluded. She was an expert in the short history of the Primen. It was her job to know these things.

"So you believe this Meg Duncan may be the great-grand-daughter of Jennifer Duncan? This makes things more complicated. What about the blood tests? What did they show?" Malcolm seemed displeased.

"All of them got a higher than usual reading on the lymboth particles. Otherwise, normal," Nolan read from his papers.

"I think we are not dealing with our usual Normals. I think these three need to be exterminated. Meg with her hidden history, all three of them with their higher lymboth concentration. Not good, not good at all. I have a suspicion that our serum will not work on them," Malcolm thought out loud.

"I fear you are right," Nolan agreed, "although we could always try first. We are in dire need of some women here, and there we'd have two."

"Nolan, you've got a point there," said Jethro and Malcolm nodded. Indala sneered. She was not a fan of other women around even though she acknowledged the need.

None of them saw the curtain flutter ever so slightly as the jet haired green eyed Leon slipped out of the Great Hall through the side door behind the curtains. This might be the break he had been waiting for during his months of captivation.

Chapter 4

"Evening meal," announced the warder as he stepped into the Chimpery and walked to our cage. It was that jet haired again. "Please, tell us what is going on! What are they gonna do to us?" I pleaded, looking straight into those peculiar eyes. His eyes did a small movement towards the corner of the ceiling. Then again. I followed his look and saw a camera. Of course there was a camera! I started to wonder if there also was a microphone somewhere.

"Have a good meal, enjoy your sandwiches while their warm," he said and left the room like the robot he was pretending to be.

"What was that all about?" whispered Alice. "I don't know, but he was clearly pointing out that camera to me. I wonder if there are some microphones here too," I whispered back, as quietly as I could. "Oh, we're dead! If they've been listening to our plans all day..." Alice trailed off.

Yeah, I knew that. Nothing to do about it anymore, though. I stared at the tray of food and wondered about the sandwiches. Then I saw it. The tiny corner of paper peeking from underneath of one of them. I took the plate with the sandwich, glanced at the camera without moving my head and decided on a corner where the camera could not see and retreated there to have my sandwich and whatever was underneath of it. 

Having checked and double-checked that there were no other cameras in the room that could see into the corner I was in, I lifted the sandwich. Underneath of it was a piece of paper, folded neatly. I signaled the other to come sit next to me and unfolded the paper. It said:

Do not be alarmed. I am Leon, and I am a friend. Meg, my great-grandmother was a friend of your great-grandmother. I will explain rest later. You need to do as I tell you: Pay close attention to how the servants here act. You will be taken into a lab tomorrow and injected with obedience serum. It will have no effect on you, any of you. But you need to act like it has. Normally it takes about half a minute to start to take effect. First, you stiffen. Then exhale. Then, the empty stare. Then obey. The hardest part will be the pain test - you are not supposed to feel pain. Do not as much as flinch when they pierce your ears and poke you with the needles! Together, we will get out of here, I already have a plan, but I need help. 
 P.S. There are cameras everywhere, but no microphones. Be careful, and destroy this note!
"Is this some kind of a joke? A test? What the heck is this?" Arnie exclaimed. I fought the urge to shush him, since Leon had written that there were no microphones around. I supposed it was safe to talk aloud. If we could trust him. "Arnie, we can't be sure we can trust him, so please, let's try to keep hush hush here," I said. "Uh, sorry, yeah," replied Arnie. 

We talked for a while in hushed voices, decided that going according to Leon's suggestion was our best option, whether he could be trusted or not. "How did he get all this information anyway? And what if he is leading us astray here? Can we trust him and this letter?" Alice voiced our biggest question. "I don't know. We don't exactly have anything else to go on, though," I replied, pushing the note into my mouth and starting to chew. What other means did we have to destroy a note there?

Chapter 5

After another cold night and another breakfast of oatmeal, milk and eggs, those two goons, Hubert and Rupert we had named them, came to get us. They lead us to a lab, just as Leon had written. Three nurses were standing in the middle of the lab, each holding a vial. We were taken to some chairs facing the nurses. Hubert and Rupert strapped our waists, necks, wrists and ankles to the chairs and nodded to the nurses. 

Each nurse stepped forward. They grabbed our upper arms, pinching the skin covering the muscle. Then they pressed the needles straight into the muscle and injected the contents of the vials into us. The obedience serum, I knew, or assumed. No one had told us anything. I felt like squirming but I bit my tongue. There was no squirming with that strap around my neck anyway. I counted to thirty, then concentrated on stiffening my muscles, then I exhaled, then stared into the emptiness. 

A nurse approached me with a needle. I prepared myself for the needles by repeating "mind over matter" over and over in my head. It was something Arnie had once read somewhere and taught me and Alice too. "Remember mind over matter!" he would shout when he was teasing us, poking, tickling, pinching and all that foolishness only a teen boy can come up with. We were childhood friends, neighbors, schoolmates. We were tight. I wondered how they were doing but could not turn my head.

A pinch. A poke of a needle. Another poke of a needle, to a very sensitive spot. Mind over matter. Someone grabbed my ear and punched a hole in the middle of the earlobe. Not the soft part some people like to get pierced, not even the upper corner of the ear. Right there in the middle of the outer ear. And it wasn't a fast and painless operation with a piercing gun either. It was slow and steady pain until the needle was through. Then something was fastened there and the operation was repeated on the other side. Mind over matter. I did not flinch.

The straps were loosened and Hubert and Rupert ordered us up. My earlobes were throbbing but I obeyed without hesitation. "F87, take these new slaves to their rooms and inform them of their duties and schedules," Rupert ordered, handing over a sheet with our room information and duty schedules. "Sir!" Leon answered as he grabbed the sheet.

"You three," Rupert turned to us, "follow F87 to your quarters and report to duty tomorrow morning oh-six sharp." "Sir!" we answered in unison, following Leon's que. We walked out in single file, no one uttering a word. Leon led us up and down corridors, until we came to a large round hall. "This is where you report for morning duty," he said, without stopping. I tried to keep track of all the turns, but each corridor looked the same as the next one.

After the hall we took a stairway down. One flight down, we entered a dark hallway with doors on each side. Each door was numbered. "You are B34, C45 and D56. Remember your codes, they are more than just room numbers. They are your codes. Your names will be irrelevant, you will be called by your codes," Leon explained. "There are cameras in the hallways and in the big hall up there. None in your rooms though. That is as much privacy as you get. Your location will always be known to the guards in the Main Room, those ear piercings? Not for fashion, I tell you."

"Here, your rooms," Leon pointed to the doors. "Toilets and showers are at the end of the corridor." We opened the doors to our rooms. There were no locks. The Primen did not believe in letting their slaves lock their doors. "B34, Meg, your duty will be in the kitchen. C45, Alice, you will be stationed at the nursery. Yes, they do have children here, "Leon saw the question in our eyes, "D56, Arnie, you will be in road crew. Wake-up alarm will be sounded at 5:30, report for duty in the hall at six sharp."

"Everybody into Meg's room," Leon ordered then. We piled in and sat on my bed. We were out of sight of the cameras, so we could drop the act. Leon started to talk in haste, saying that we didn't have much time since he needed to report back upstairs soon. He told us how he'd been eavesdropping on the meeting in the Great Hall, decided to warn us and that he needed us to help him with his plan. "I need to go back now. Duties are over at 8 pm, we'll meet here then, every evening," he said as he left.

Alice and Arnie went to their own rooms. We didn't have a change of clothes, no toothbrushes, no nothing with us. We hadn't exactly planned this. Turned out, though, that none of that was needed either. There were clothes in the cabinets and toothbrushes and toothpaste on the night stand. All slaves wore the same kind of clothes in the City of Primen.

At exactly 8 pm there was a knock on my door. "Come in," I called and Alice, Arnie and Leon all stepped in. I sat on the edge of my bed rubbing my eyes. It had been a long two days and I had taken a nap when I had a chance. Judging by the tousled hair and sleepy look in their eyes, so had Alice and Arnie. Leon looked as sharp as ever, his green eyes flashing as he smiled at me. It was the first time I saw him smile and I felt something tingling inside of me.

"First off, never show any emotions to anyone else than the four of us, and never outside of these rooms. There are cameras everywhere. So far, no microphones though, for the Primen believe in their serum and the pain tests. You will be subjected to them weekly - unless we manage to get out of here before the week is over. The Normals do gather together to chat and spend time together, but there is no laughter, no smiles, no sadness, no nothing," Leon said up front.

"What do they talk about then?" asked Arnie.

Leon thought for a minute, then replied, "Sports. If you can call it sports. The Primen competing in different things. The weather. Events of the day sometimes. All of it totally nonchalantly."

"Do they remember their life outside of the City?" Alice asked.

"I don't know. They never talk about it, if that's what you mean. But then again, you also need to remember, that most of them were born here. Descendants of people captured during the riot," Leon explained.

"So why did the serum not affect us? And how did you know it wouldn't?" I wanted to understand what made us immune.

Leon started to tell the story of my great-grandmother, "Meg, your great-grandmother, Jennifer Duncan, was a good friend of my great-grandmother, Emily Steward. She, your great-grandmother, was also one of the key scientists in this Operation Primen. She really believed in it. When the riot started and the facility fell into the hands of the Primen, she managed to escape. She told Emily, my great-grandmother, that there is a secret passageway underneath of the facility. I have reason to believe the Primen have never found out about it.

After her escape, Jennifer went into hiding. She left her husband to care for their two sons, to save their lives. Jennifer did not give in to despair, though. She followed the events of the riot closely and when it became evident that the Primen had won and the first rumors of the Normal slaves started to leak, she guessed, correctly, that the Primen had taken the serum, the most advanced formula that had not yet been tested on humans, and altered it to their own needs."

"We all thought she had been killed in the riot!" I exclaimed.

"Your father must know the truth, Meg, for he has given you the antidote created by Jennifer in her hiding place. When she realized what had happened inside of these walls, she put together a lab with the help of those people who were hiding her. She made careful calculations and created a crystal-like substance that was supposed to give protection against the serum of the Primen. And, as we see, she got it right," Leon continued.

"But, if there is an antidote, why didn't she just give it to our government so everyone could have some? And why hasn't my dad told me the truth?" I asked, my mind full of questions.

"Obviously, I don't have all the answers, I only know what Jennifer wrote to my great-grandmother in her letter right before she disappeared for good, together with her notes. I suspect that the initial batch of antidote was the first trial batch and she planned to refine it some more. Anyway, she sent all of it to Emily together with that letter, telling her to divide the batch in half, to keep the other half and give the other half to her husband, your great-grandfather. Everyone in her and Emily's family was to have some, from generation to generation until we ran out," explained Leon.

"So when was I going to hear about this?" I demanded.

"When you turn 21. You're not 21 yet, are you?" Leon asked.

"No, not yet. In a few weeks I will be, if I stay alive until then," I muttered.

"Oh, you will. I have a plan, didn't I tell you?" retorted Leon, with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Hey, stop for a sec!" exclaimed Arnie. "What has this got to do with me and Alice? How come we are immune too?"

"That was the part I wasn't sure about. You're not part of Meg's family, but maybe her dad had given the antidote to you, too, close as you were to Meg," Leon guessed.

"I think I remember it," piped in Alice. "Meg, Arnie, you remember that one time your dad gave us some hard 'candy', he called it, but we all thought it really didn't taste like any candy we'd ever had? It didn't exactly taste like anything. But your dad just told us to eat it, like it was vitamins or something."

We all nodded. Even Leon. I guess he remembered having similar hard 'candy' when he was a kid.
"So, Leon, about that plan?" asked Arnie, eager to get to the business of getting out of the City of Primen.

"Here," said Leon, taking out a map and a floor plan of the main building of the old science facilities and spreading them on my bed.

We spent the next hour or so studying the floor plan, then the map, trying to map out the most possible location of the secret passage. Leon already had some ideas, having stared at the sheets for hours before, but there were no real indicators visible. Obviously. It was a secret passageway. Still, we came up with some idea. Or rather, Arnie and his meticulous mind did.

“See, right here. The pattern of these hallways. They are all spaced evenly, except for these too,” he pointed out.

“There’s the lab, and the Chimpery. They’re bigger than the other rooms,” noted Leon.

“Yes, but. The Chimpery does not occupy the whole space there. It’s not as wide as the lab,” Arnie insisted.

“You may be right,” I told Arnie, looking at the floor plans. “Where’s the cellar plan?”

Leon shuffled through the maps and floor plans until he found it. I placed it next to the one with the lab and Chimpery and compared the layout. “Look at this here. There’s storage areas on both sides of this area right here, each accessible only from the one side. The area between the storage rooms looks like a hallway but there’s no doors anywhere. I’ll bet you can get into that hallway from the lab!”

“Probably so,” pondered Alice, “but how do you know it’s the secret passage and not a known and used hallway?”

“I don’t. But I just have this gut feeling,” I responded.

“Where does the hallway end?” asked Arnie.

We followed the passage – or what we believed to be the passage – through the cellar floor of the facility all the way to the north wall of the building. “I doubt it comes out there,” said Alice, “that’s like right in the middle of the city!”

“Probably it continues underground up to the forest right there,” Leon pointed at the forest north of the city. “There’s really only one way to find out.”

We fell silent. It was one thing to discover the probable location of the tunnel on a floor plan or a map, but a totally different issue to actually get to it. First of all, there were the earrings with the tracker. If we removed those, it would immediately raise an alarm. If we didn’t, the guy in the control room would know our exact location all the time. Secondly, it’s not like the lab was exactly accessible to us. It was locked, and there was always somebody there. Except maybe at night.

“Ok,” I said. “We need a plan. The guy in the control room needs to be taken out and/or the tracking system disabled. We also need to figure out a way to access the lab, preferably during the night. Then we’re only left with the problem of how to find and open the door to the passageway. Leon, you said you already had some preliminary plan?”

“I do. I’ve been here for some weeks now, I have managed to gain a whole lot of trust which gives me access to some places most Normals don’t get to go. Like the archive and library. That’s where I found these,” he pointed at the sheets on my bed and went on to explain his plan.

“So that is my plan. It’s got a lot of ifs but I believe we could make it work,” he concluded, “but now, we all need some sleep. Tomorrow, eight o’clock here again. Meg, hide the maps, please.”

We all nodded in unison. Alice was yawning and I felt my eyelids droop. I collected the maps from the bed and hid them under my mattress. “Good night,” I called as my friends left to go to their own rooms for a few hours of sleep.

Chapter 6

Few was right. I felt like I had just closed my eyes when the wake-up alarm sounded through the intercom. I dragged myself out of bed and into the shower. I picked through the clothes in my cabinet until I found something more or less fitting and stepped out of the door.

Normal slaves were flooding to the hallway and walking towards the hall in the intersection of the main hallways. We were a ghostly mass, walking forward with empty gazes, no words uttered. Leon had said they occasionally socialize, even get romantically involved, but I saw no sign of that in the morning parade.

In the big hall we all halted, forming a half-circle. A few Primen were already there, ready to escort us to breakfast and then to our duties. They called a bunch of numbers to follow each of the Primen and off we went. I was trying to notice every detail while acting like everyone else. Indifferent.

It was a long day. A couple breaks only – lunch and dinner – and I was beat by the time I got to return to the dorm. I kicked my shoes off and fell spread-eagle on my bed. I almost dozed off when there was a knock on my door.

“Come on in,” I muttered sleepily and raised my head slightly as my friends entered.

“You sleeping? Now’s not the time to sleep! We have a lot of ground to cover before we get into action,” Arnie scolded me.

“Yeah, I know,” I replied, slowly sitting up, “aren’t you guys tired at all?”

“At least I am,” said Alice with a big yawn, “but I’d rather get the heck out of here than sleep. Those kids in the nursery are as creepy as any adults around here.”

“Okay, let’s go through the plan and work down the details. Meg, where are the maps?” Leon demanded.

I pulled out the maps and we went through our plan in detail. We needed a whole lot of luck. That was for sure! By the time the clock hit eleven we were all set and ready to execute our plan.

“Everyone know what they need to do?” Leon asked.

“Yeah, we’re ready,” we all confirmed.

Leon snuck out of the room. It was not all unusual for him to walk around the facilities in the night time on errands for some of the Primen. He made his way to the Main Room and entered. Surprise was the name of the game and before the guard on duty had time to even understand what had happened, he had a hood on his head and a needle in his arm. Leon had managed to steal a vial of obedience serum from the lab one day and had hidden it in his room to wait for this exact moment.

“Now, turn of the tracking system,” he told the guard once the serum had taken effect. The guard started tapping on the computer. Leon held his breath dreading that he would set the alarm instead of doing as he was told after all. Then all the blinkers disappeared from the screen and Leon finally exhaled.

“Stay here and monitor the system but do not turn the tracking back on,” Leon ordered, backing out of the room.

We sat in my room biting our nails, waiting for Leon to return with the news that the most critical part of our operation was done. Without it there was no chance for us to do anything without firing an alarm. It felt like an eternity.

“All’s clear,” Leon declared as he stepped into the room with clippers. “Now let’s get those buggers out of our ears.”

We clipped the earrings off. Leon’s piercing was mostly healed already but Alice, Arnie and I winced in pain when we pulled the metal through the piercings. My earlobes were throbbing and hot, but we needed to go on with our plan. We each had a job to do.

While Alice and Arnie dashed out to keep watch in strategic spots, Leon and I headed to the room of K76, the Normal in charge of the lab. There were always four guards on duty at night, patrolling the premises and we did not want to run into them. Alice and Arnie went to their designated hiding places to watch out for the guards so they could warn us if one was coming our way.

“All clear here,” sounded Alice’s hushed voice in our earpieces. “Here too, you’re good to go,” confirmed Arnie. “’Operation Key fob’ is on its way,” replied Leon, raising a bracelet close to his mouth. He had grabbed four bracelets and earpieces from the Main Room before he left and connected them on a closed Bluetooth circuit so we could communicate securely.

We walked casually to our destination and let ourselves in. K76, whatever his real name was, was fast asleep. “Quick! You gag him and I’ll search for the key,” I whispered. Leon was already on it. 

He pressed a rag on K76’s mouth. K76 opened his eyes wide but did not make a sound. “Shh,” Leon shushed, “just keep still for a while. Where’s the key to the lab?”

K76 tried to shake his head vigorously, but Leon held his grip on his mouth. He then tried to say something, but it only came out as incomprehensible mumbling. “I’ll release the gag, but if you scream, I’m gonna break your neck, you hear me?” Leon told K76 who nodded in response.

“I don’t have the key anymore. Nathan and Master Malcolm decided yesterday it’s not good to keep it in my unlocked room.”

Leon and I exchanged a look. This wasn’t good! Either someone was onto us, or they just had a sixth sense. Or maybe it was only a precaution. Whichever way it was, we were suddenly in a hurry. And we were still keyless.

“Arnie, Alice, bad news. K76 doesn’t have the key anymore,” I reported as we stepped out of K76’s room.

“Dammit!” Arnie swore.

“I think I have a plan B,” Alice replied calmly. “Meet me at the entrance hall, under the stairwell, but make it quick!”

We hurried as unhurriedly as we could even though neither one of them had alerted to any guards approaching. The Main Room still had the camera feed coming in and there was no knowing when someone else would go into the room and discover what had happened there.

“There you are! Listen, someone just went into the lab. He’s been there for about fifteen minutes now. We could grab him when he comes out and get his key,” Alice explained with haste.

“Good going, Alice!” Leon patted Alice on the back. “Now we wait.”

Arnie took the first watch, guarding the door to the hallway leading to the lab. The rest of us sat on the floor, side by side. I felt my breath catch as Leon slid down next to me, our shoulders brushing lightly. “You’ll see your 21st birthday, beautiful,” he smiled at me. Did he just call me beautiful?

“I heard the door click!” called out Arnie. We got up and ready to grab whoever it was that had been in the lab. The door to the entrance hall opened and Nathan stepped out. We rushed out from our hiding place and launched on him, pushing him back to the hallway. The Primen were strong and witty, so our only chance was full surprise. And we succeeded.

Nathan fell back, hitting his head. Instantly he was struggling back, but Leon already had a nylon cord around his neck. We knew that no kicking, punching, biting or anything would do any good since they felt no pain, so we needed to choke him. Only enough to get him unconscious, we didn’t want to kill anyone, not even the Primen.

Alice and I sat on Nathan’s hands, Arnie was trying to hold down his legs. Leon had the cord around his neck and pulled as hard as he could, trying to choke him. At first it seemed that it wasn’t working. Nathan was kicking and struggling full force. All of a sudden he fell limp. Like someone had pulled a switch.

I grabbed the key and fobbed the lab open and we scurried in. “There’s the Chimpery, behind that door,” Leon pointed to the far end of the lab. “The secret door must be somewhere in that corner!”

We started to look around, feeling the walls and shelves and tables for a trap door switch. “I found something,” called Arnie, “but I can’t figure out what to do with it! I tried to move it and to press it, but it won’t budge.”

We gathered around to look at what Arnie had found. It was a small dent in the wall, almost unnoticeable. “I know that shape,” Alice said, “Meg, your locket!”

“What about my lock…et, I see what you mean!” I exclaimed, digging under my shirt for my locket. Good thing the Primen didn’t take away any of the personal jewelry, only the phones. I had got that locket from my dad when I turned eighteen. He said it had belonged to my great-grandma.

I lifted the chain over my head and placed the locked on the form in the wall. “It’s a perfect fit!” Somewhere to our right there was a whirring sound and then the wall in the corner of the lab creaked open.

“Wow, the passageway exists! Let’s go!” Leon commanded and we all hurried through the opening into the darkness. “Anyone got a flashlight?”

“Oh-oh! Did we really neglect that little thing? How do we see where we’re going? How do we see if there’s rats here?” Alice said, voice quivering just a little bit.

I was fumbling in the darkness for a switch to close the door behind us when Arnie flipped on a light. 

“Not neglected, sis. I grabbed a battery powered light from the lab there.” I found the slot for the locket and the door closed behind us.

“Are we on the safe side now?” I asked Leon. “Not yet, sweetheart. We need to move,” Leon replied, taking my hand.

We ran through the dark passageway until we came to an intersection. “Oh, crap! Which way?” Arnie moaned. “Flip a coin?”

We stopped to think for a while, trying to picture the map and the floor plan in our heads. Problem was that we didn’t have clue as to where we were supposed to end up when we emerged from the tunnel. I was turning the locket over and over in my hands, feeling a bit nervous. We’d come so far, we couldn’t make the wrong decision now! The locket fell from my hands and opened. I bent down to pick it up, when I saw a glimpse of something.

“Arnie, shine that light here!” I demanded.

“Meg, now’s not the time to admire the locket,” he complained.

“No. No. Just look at this! It’s a map! A tiny map.” I said impatiently.

We leaned over to study my locket. Indeed, it had a map inside. There had been pictures of my great-grandmother and great-grandfather inside and I had never bothered to change the pics. I thought it was kind of nice to carry their pictures around in a locket inherited from my great-grandma who was killed in the Primen riot, or so I had thought anyway. The pictures had fallen out when the locket hit the tunnel floor, revealing the map behind them.

It was a tiny map and we were struggling to read it. Finally we concluded that we needed to turn left. 

We followed the tunnel for another five minutes until we came to another intersection and stopped to study the map again. We were traveling slightly downhill. The tunnel smelled damp and musty. We encountered several more intersections when we heard sounds behind us.

“We need to run!” I said and took off into the darkness. The others were right behind me, Arnie’s light bobbing up and down as he ran. “How did they find the tunnel? I closed the door behind us,” I panted. “There must be another entrance somewhere, one they knew of. We need to lose them. This is something of a maze and unless they have it all mapped out, they should be easy to lose,” Leon replied, breathing heavy in the humid air of the tunnel.

Arnie had taken the lead and made a sudden sharp turn. We all followed suit and nearly bumped into him. He had stopped and turned off the light. “Here, we’ll hide for a while. This is the least probable place for them to look for us. Alice, do not scream,” Arnie warned his sister. There were rats around us. We were in a small cave, huddled behind a boulder.

“They must be here somewhere, how else would they have vanished from the lab?” I recognized the voice of Hubert.

“They might be hiding in there somewhere,” replied Rupert. “How would they have found the secret door, when none of us even know where it is or how to open it?”

“You heard Indala, that girl Meg is the great-granddaughter of that scientist woman Duncan who supposedly vanished during the Great Liberation. She might know things.”

So that’s what they called the riot that ended up in the slaughter of hundreds of people. Anyway, I knew nothing, it was all just lucky guesses.

Arnie peeked around the bend and motioned us to follow. We tiptoed to the intersection. I could see their flashlight vanishing to the tunnel to the right of us. Wrong path, guys. We dashed in silence into the left one, not even turning the light on.

“I hope that was all of their search team,” Alice wheezed. Her asthma did not do well in the moldy air of those tunnels.

“They don’t seem all that bright to me,” Arnie retorted, “for Primen.”

“Not all of them are superior in their intelligence anymore. The less bright ones have the goon duty. 

You know, guarding, hover mobile patrols and such,” Leon explained. “And probably they are the search party. They messed up with us, so probably Leader Malcolm is planning on leaving them down here to die.”

I shivered, but not from the cold. “How much longer?” I asked Arnie, who had the map memorized. 

“We should be out after just a couple of bends,” he replied, turning right at another intersection.
True enough, after another five minutes or so we came to a cave with thick bushes forming the rear wall, or rather covering the entrance to the tunnel on the side of the forest. We crawled through, twigs and thorns tearing our skin, but we made it. With no idea where we were.

“There’s no clouds. Can anyone navigate by the stars? Arnie?” asked Leon. “Sure,” replied Arnie, “we all can.”

“Our mom taught us all when we were just kids. In case we ever got lost in the woods surrounding our farms. Like we ever could’ve, though. We knew them like our own pockets,” Alice gave a little laugh.

We turned our eyes to the sky and conferred a while. “Ok, this way,” I said, taking the lead. We walked cautiously forward, wondering how we would know when we were out of Primen territory. 

They had a wall around their City, but no fences or anything around the territory they controlled around the City. If they had, we never would have ended up in their lands in the first place.

“There’s a house,” Alice whispered, grabbing my arm. “Should we go there for help?”

I sat down on the ground to think. It felt difficult to trust anyone, to come out of the forest that in all its denseness had started to feel comforting and safe.

“I know what you’re thinking,” said Leon, plopping down right next to me.

“I feel kinda safe right here,” I answered, leaning back so that I could see the stars. Leon followed suit and soon there was Alice on my other side. “I do too,” replied Arnie as he lay down next to Alice, “but I think we should take the risk. We can’t stay here forever and I’d say it’s a pretty small chance that going into that house would turn out bad.”

“Yeah, we’ll go, soon,” I mumbled, taking Leon’s hand in my other hand, Alice’s in the other.

Chapter 7

I don’t know how long we lay there holding hands, looking at the stars. Might have been a minute, might have been twenty. Alice was the first one to get up. “My butt is cold. Let’s go,” she announced.

I woke up like from a trance, shook away the fog from my brain and got up as Leon and Arnie scrambled up too. We started walking towards the house. I felt Leon’s hand land on my shoulder. 

“Wait up, sweetheart, there’s something I want to do before we go,” he said, stopping me and turning me to face him.

My heart missed a beat when I saw his intense eyes on mine. And then he leaned in to kiss me. A gentle kiss that lingered on my lips even as we parted. “Wow,” I sighed, smiling.

“Let’s get moving now,” Leon told me as he took my hand and started running towards Arnie and Alice.

We reached the house and rang the doorbell. An old couple came to the door to greet us. “Last time someone blasted our doorbell like that in the middle of the night there was a lone lady there, who looked just like you. That was decades ago, when we were still young,” said the old lady, pointing at me.

“It must have been my great-grandma Jennifer, and we are fleeing from the same place,” I told her.

“Come in, quickly. You can hide in the same room she used,” she said, unrattled. “We’ll talk more in the morning.”

In the morning we told the whole story to the couple. The old man knew an old army general who was still able to pull some strings and things started to happen. A few weeks later the army raided the City of Primen through the tunnel, all soldiers having taken a crystal of the antidote that the army lab had been able to replicate from some samples we had at my home. The City of Primen came down, the Normal slaves were rescued and treated with the antidote. They had some trouble getting adjusted to normal life, but the government had a helping program for them.

And Leon took me on a date. Then another one and another one. I have a good feeling about this!

Marilka 2015

Author's note
This story is based on a dream I had the other night. In my dream, the details were a whole lot fuzzier, though ;) Somewhere along the way I got a bit stuck, not knowing how the actual escape would go down. My wonderful talented daughter came to rescue. We had a brainstorming session and she helped me out. 

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