Home > Zero's Return (The Legend of ZERO #3)

Zero's Return (The Legend of ZERO #3)
Sara King

CHAPTER 1 – Twelve-A

This is our future.

Though their bodies were naked, their minds empty, the fearful, half-mad faces that followed Marie from behind the sanitized bars of their cages were Humanity’s hope.

Marie hurried her step.  Despite almost thirty years on the project, the depraved gazes never ceased to bother her.  They haunted her dreams, peeked at her from beneath her floorboards, watched her from the other side of her shower curtain, looked up at her from her morning cup of coffee, stared at her from between the lines of her medical charts.  Unlike the other experts on the project, Marie had never been able to see past the source material they had used for the project, and every day, it ate at her.

A familiar voice entered her head, unbidden.  It will be over soon, Marie.

Marie shuddered and gripped her pen, her eyes unconsciously drawn to the slender, blue-eyed experiment in the corner cell.  His drip-bag had run out again and he was awake.  Her heart started to pound as she met the deep cerulean eyes tucked behind the useless titanium bars.  She knew, better than anyone, that Twelve-A could kill them all, should it ever cross his mind.

The slender experiment said nothing more, merely watched her from his thin, military-issue mattress.

Fighting the gut-deep urge to drop her charts and run, Marie hurried back through the foot-thick leaden doors separating the holding area from the lab and slapped the glowing red button inside the monitoring room.  She allowed herself a soft breath of relief as the massive hydraulics of the holding area hissed shut, locking the experiments in their silent bunker of lead and concrete.

“Twelve-A needs another dose,” she told the techs at their stations, trying not to sound as unnerved as she felt.  “He’s awake again.”

“Colonel Codgson wants him awake,” Sunny Carter, a young blonde Army lieutenant, said.  The woman gave the holding area a nervous glance, then her eyes flickered back to her vitals monitor.  “Codgson’s got us monitoring him, making sure his patterns stay level—he’s scheduled another demonstration for this afternoon.”

Marie cursed.  Codgson was a bureaucratic furg.  Ever since he had discovered their prodigy’s unique talents, the man had made every attempt to show him off to the board in every brutal way possible.  Twelve-A had been pitted against everything the other labs could throw at him again and again—and had lived.

“Do you think Twelve-A will survive this one?”  Lieutenant Carter asked, her face etched with worry.  She cocked her head at the monitor that showed him hunched around his knees in one corner of his cell, staring at the wall.  “What if they find a better minder and he doesn’t survive?  Don’t we need him?”

Marie knew the lieutenant was partial to the handsome, blue-eyed young man in the last cage on the right.  She didn’t think of him as a killer.  Marie, having seen the lifeless bodies Twelve-A left behind in the Dark Room, knew better.  She also knew there was nothing that could stand against Twelve-A.  By some luck of the draw, it was their lab, of all of them, that had hit upon the lucky combination that no amount of desperate cloning had been able to reproduce.

“He’s survived all the others,” Marie said.  Still, Marie felt dread creeping into her soul.  Twelve-A hated the Dark Room.  If left awake after he was pitted against another experiment, Twelve-A would go broody and silent—or sometimes just curl into a ball and cry for hours.  Ridiculously, ‘Mental Fortitude’ was Codgson’s lowest rating for Twelve-A, just under ‘Emotional Resilience.’  What if, one day, their star performer just decided not to cooperate?  What if he one day sat down and let the inferior creatures Codgson pitted him against simply end his misery?  What if he just stopped caring?  What if he grew angry?  Or worse…what if he grew vengeful?  Just the tiniest slip by the technicians monitoring him and he could wreak destruction on the whole lab.  He could escape.

That, right there, introduced a whole new wave of horror to Marie’s nightmares.

“I know,” Lieutenant Carter said, observing the rows of monitors displaying the experiment wing.  “That’s what bothers me.  He doesn’t like it…it hurts him.  What if he doesn’t—”

A male voice behind her interrupted them.  “We have his DNA.  We can always make another, if he fails to cooperate.”

Marie stiffened and turned.  The colonel stood in the hall, his perfectly crisp blue uniform accenting a bored demeanor, as if they were talking about cloning rats.

You don’t have a clue, you stupid furg, Marie thought.  “We’ve tried that,” she reminded him, having to physically stop herself from adding something unpleasant.  The colonel’s dull black eyes reminded her of the rodents they used in the early days of the project.  Though she had said it a thousand times to the gun-happy thugs running the military side of the project, she explained it again.  “Even an exact genetic match is no assurance of the same abilities manifesting in a clone.  There is something more at work here, something that makes it all the more important to protect Twelve-A until we can figure it out.”

The colonel caught her gaze and smiled, a wormlike twisting of his lips that chilled her to the core.  “The first rule of this project is not to become attached to the subjects, Doctor.”

Marie’s anger spiked, as it always did around the colonel.  As usual, he had completely disregarded that there was more to their project than simple genetics, as it didn’t fit within his tiny mental box.  Despite the outrageous and ingenious successes of the project, he had written off their failure to reproduce Twelve-A’s…unique…capabilities as simple Human error and fired a few technicians.  Then, when the second, third, and fourth clone batches had failed to manifest more of Twelve-A’s special abilities, only telekinetics or telemorphs instead, he had reported it as ‘mechanical malfunction’ and ordered more equipment.

They were on the eighth and ninth batches now, though they were still in the pre-fetal stages.  Several times, when walking past the incubation tubes, Marie had considered sabotaging them herself, to spare them the fate she knew awaited them if they disappointed their benefactor.  Several months ago, after the seventh batch had been tested and confirmed negative for Twelve-A’s minder qualities, Codgson spent a night in the lab destroying all the previous clone batches—after Marie had made a specific request to keep them alive for study.  Eighty-four blond, blue-eyed young men, some only five years of age, most with the strongest mover or maker abilities they had ever seen.  Dead.

Security footage had shown Codgson stalking from the building that night drenched in red because the sadistic shit had used a combat knife, sort of a manly coup he could tell his drinking buddies about in the Officers’ Club.  The next morning, because there were too many bodies for the technicians to take care of before they began to stink, Marie had been one of the ones on her knees mopping blood from their cells with a crimson rag.

For months, Marie had wanted to kill him.

Looking into Codgson’s glinting, hollow eyes, she still did.  It took all of Marie’s control to keep her anger in check as she said, “You shouldn’t leave Twelve-A awake.  He could kill us all right now if he wanted to.  He could empty our minds, make us all stop breathing just like he does in your Dark Room.”

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