Category: Moment in the life of an experiment short fic.
Disclaimer: Maximum Ride belongs to James Patterson
Author's Notes: It just demanded to be written one day.
What is trust?
It's a timeless quantity, an abstract noun for an abstract concept.
The faith in someone through anything; trust is to put your life into his or her hands.
My days as an experiment are long over, and I am free. My cage bars hold me no longer, I do not dread the hours of torture that each day once brought to me. My memories still haunt me though as in my mind I can relive those days. One day would run into the next like a river that was slowly passing me by. I never had control of my fate; unlike a river I could not steamroll through obstacles that blocked my way. None of us ever did know when our time would be up; when we'd rejoin the ocean that all rivers eventually led to.
My days as a child. I do not miss them.
Trust was the wild child that was one day dumped on my doorstep, although cages do not have doorsteps. She had been badly treated, even worse than we had. For experiments, we at the Academy were lucky. She was a transfer, one of those brought to our neck of the woods when the Institute was compromised.
The child couldn't have been older than about five. Her hair was matted and dirty, her nails ragged and bleeding. The dark feathers of her wings were dull and lifeless, well, the feathers that remained. She was covered in bruises and cuts, marks of old beatings and those more recent. Her skin was covered in layers of grime, her clothes were little more than bloodstained rags, and she smelt something awful, a mix of three day old sewage left out in the sun and decomposing flesh.
Even then, she was more beautiful than I was.
They could not get her into a cage, so they shackled her to the floor. She fought them the whole way, until they knocked her into unconsciousness. And there she stayed for a week, living in a pit of her own filth and blood, because they could not get near her. I hated to watch her growing slowly weaker. All nine of us Human-Avian hybrids in the section did.
So did the Whitecoat in charge of our section, and so I had my chance. One day I asked, after seeing a Whitecoat get intimidated for the fiftieth time, if I could try to tame this wild child. I was an experiment. But, at that point they were desperate enough to give me the opportunity. They did not want to lose a specimen as interesting as she was supposed to be.
A shock bracelet was strapped around my wrist, and I was let out of my cage.
"One shot, and one shot only!" I was told again. I nodded, I understood. There were never second chances.
I approached the ragged pile that sat in the middle of the floor. The chain clinked harshly as I came nearer. She was conscious, and she was watching me. I halted where I was as wild eyes peered out at me. Her eyes were hooded; they had seen things that no child should have ever seen. All nine, now ten, of us that lived here had endured far too much.
I halted about three metres away from this filthy child, and watched her. Neither of us moved, and the spiteful Whitecoat who had previously been hurt by this little one hissed at me to hurry up and move. I ignored her. This would take patience and time. She was like a wild animal, chained, caged, beaten, and I would have to undo years of cruelty and pain. This was not going to be easy.
I sat down, my sudden motion causing the girl to hiss and draw back into a tiny, pathetic ball. The chain rattled against the concrete floor, and the cloth crackled as layers of dirt were cracked apart. I winced; I hadn't meant to startle her so soon.
Now, learning from the mistake I had made, I resolved not to make any more sudden movements. Slowly, I spread my aching wings, shoulder muscles quivering with effort. Years constrained in a cage had meant that I could not easily unfold them from my back. My wings spread to their full, an impressive three metres of silver-grey feathers.
Equally as gently I tilted my wings, and slowly lowered them so that my finger-feathers lay against the floor, supporting the weight of the rest of my wings. I knew that as of now, I'd not be able to fly; I had no strength as this had proved.
She watched me, I watched her back. The first move had been mine, I had then set the stage. I waited. This was her move now. And she began to move. The ball uncurled itself, encrusted dirt flaking off of her rags. I could see her face, and it was calculating and ancient with all that the mind behind it had seen and experienced.
I could see her thinking. Years of abuse had not managed to completely erase the emotions on her face. my own years of watching for the flickers of any other emotion besides sadism in the faces of my captors had honed my sight to see it.
And she decided.
Gently the girl shuffled forwards, examining my face and wings. She realised that I was like her, not an Eraser or a Whitecoat. Maybe, just maybe, and I saw it in her face, she could trust me. Maybe I was different. Maybe I wouldn't hurt her.
I swore that I never would.
Seeing my breakthrough, the worst Whitecoat stepped forward, triumph and sadistic glee written on her horsy face. I will never forget that face. The girl before me squeaked in terror, face white, eyes wide. She threw herself into my arms, desperately trying to shield her body with mine. I didn't blame her. We all learned early to pick the worst of the Whitecoats.
I wrapped my arms and wings around the shaking child, and I shielded her. My defensiveness stalled the Whitecoat in her tracks. She glared at me, and I knew that I would pay dearly for my defiance.
I don't think she realised how much she helped me in that moment, because of her actions I had made myself a lifelong friend.
The girl held on to me tightly, and despite the smell I held her on to her. I turned my eyes to the senior Whitecoat in the room, the section leader, effectively dismissing the woman who was now fuming to my right. He nodded at me immediately, understanding my silent question. 'Could I take off the chain?'
He took a key off his belt, and bent down to gently place it on the floor. A well-aimed nudge with the toe of his boot sent it skidding across the floor to my hand. To this day I still wonder if that man had children – for all the things that he had done to improve our lives, for helping us to escape when everything went wrong…aside from the experiments, I wish I had a father like that.
I picked the key up with one hand. I knew all about keys. Keys were very interesting things. A key unlocked something. You had to have the right something for the right key, and the right key for the right something. I knew the shape size and colour of the key that unlocked my cage like I knew the back of my hand. Yes, I knew what keys were for.
With my free arm I slid this key into the shackle that encircled the girl's ankle. I twisted the key, and the lock popped open. The girl pulled back a little, to look at me wide eyed. She knew about locks and keys too. Experiments didn't have keys, yet I'd just opened a lock. I tossed the shackle away, and couldn't help but notice the delighted relief on her face as she rubbed at her scabbed ankle. I winced as I took in the red ring where the harsh metal had bit deep.
Now that she wasn't chained to the floor and I could move her, she really needed a shower. My nose had been complaining loudly, and I was keen to indulge it. We were lucky that we had showers, and they let us wash at least once a week. We could get all the grime and blood off of our skins. It stopped us from getting sick from infection. Sometimes they even let us at other times too if we got really dirty or bloody. They couldn't afford to waste us, stealing children from their parents wasn't an easy task.
"Can I take her into the showers?" I asked, grinning at the looks of surprises on some of the new Whitecoats' faces. Most weren't aware that we could talk, or would just prefer not to think of us as human. When one of us spoke, it usually put large dents in their delusions, and so they treated us worse to try and re-delude themselves.
The section leader was the only one who mattered at the moment, as it was his decision. He nodded, and gestured to one of the other Whitecoats, who opened the door and stepped back into the hallway. Carefully, I spun the key back to the tall man, and then with both of my arms now free, I began to gather up the girl. She protested with a squeak, and I quietly shushed her. If she made any move at all then they'd lock her up again, and I didn't want that.
She understood, and wrapped her filthy skeleton-arms around my neck. I was glad of my human-avian strength, because I could carry her easily. I was much stronger than a normal human, and so was she. We were both much lighter, she was too light. A shower, clean clothes and a decent meal, then.
My wings began to complain; as I stood they were lifted from the floor and lost their support. I folded the useless weights to my back and sighed with relief. I was sure that if I ever got the chance to fly then I'd feel differently. I followed the Whitecoat, girl in my arms, into the tiled white room that was our 'shower'. The water was already running.
The girl looked at the hissing water warily, and, as I set her down, she changed her clinging grip from my neck to my leg.
I sighed, and peered down at her. She looked back up at me. "It's okay," I said, but she didn't believe me or loosen her grip. A thought came to mind. I could certainly do with a shower, anyway. I had no idea where the girl had been – or what the girl had been in.
I picked her up again, and then stepped into the shower with her in my arms, fully clothed. I watched her face, it was delighted with this new thing that didn't hurt at all and was warm! She loved it immediately, and I knew why, I loved it myself.
Now able to set her down again, I did so, and let her have a play in the water, showing her the easiest way to block up the drain so that the bottom filled up with a layer of water. She loved that too.
And I also had the opportunity to get myself a little bit cleaner than I usually was at this stage in the week. But, of course, I was only showing the wildchild by example, right? Soap, Shampoo and a scrubber were in their usual spot on the table by the basin. Picking them up, I placed them by my charge, who probably thought they were toys for her amusement, as she proceeded to propel them around the rapidly filling shower-lake.
I shook my head in mock despair, and showed her how to pull the shampoo bottle underwater so that it shot up into the air. Delighted by her newest 'toy' she quickly learned how to fire the bloody thing at ME.
I forgave her.
The water streamed down on the both of us, and I picked up my favourite type of shampoo. It smelled sweet, and it made me smell sweet for a while.
We left the shower only when the water turned cold, and I was allowed new clothes, the shirt and the pants that they gave us. They were clean, and smelled of soap, and we dressed quickly. She knew as well as I did that after the cleaning up that there would be food.
I led her out of the room, where the section leader waited. The little one shrank behind me, but I met his eyes defiantly. He half smiled sadly, and then gestured down the hall to the cage-room. I followed, pulling her along behind me.
Waiting there was the doctor-man who made us better when we were sick. Gathering the wildchild up into my arms, I walked over to him and sat down on the bench. The doctor-man was nice, and held out a pair of mugs, the soup-stuff that we were given when we were sick. She knew what it was, and swallowed it down, eyes on the doctor. I took mine, and sipped it slowly, looking around the room to see that the others were fed too.
They were, so it was okay.
Doctor-man asked me politely where the little one was hurt, and I told him what I had seen – that there were a few injuries on her arms, and the band around her ankle, but otherwise only bruises. He nodded, and offered us both sweetie-things, and she let him put a bandage around her ankle. I grinned, and we both went quietly when they put us back into the cages, clean, and full of food.
I made a lifelong friend that day, and I trust her, and she trusts me, and more than once, over our escape, and while we were on the run, have we had to put our lives into each other's hands.
Though only four of the nine of us from that section survive today, we all trust each other, and we remember those of us that weren't so lucky.