AotS – A-40, Part 2

My early childhood is a complete blank. Perhaps we were never children at all, but merely popped out of whatever they grew us in as adolescents. But in any case, I’ll begin on an average day…

 

“Good morning, A-40.”

 

It was a long room, sterile and clean, with walls painted a shade of blue that was supposed to be calming.

 

It didn’t help much.

 

The scrawny figure jolted up out of his bed and clutched his knees to his chest, looking over to the speaker on his nightstand. To his left and to his right were rows of identical beds with identical nightstands.

 

Each one held a person very similar to him. And each day, a few of the beds would be empty when they weren’t the night before.

 

“You are scheduled for the first round of testing today, A-40,” said the speaker. “Get dressed, have breakfast, and then report to examination room one.”

 

A-40’s only response was a nervous squeak. He looked over to the bed next to him, where a dark-skinned girl was meticulously folding her bedsheets. Whenever she’d make a small mistake, she’d snarl, rip the sheets off and start over. She looked back at him, her pink-and-green eyes meeting his orange-and-blue.

 

“Good morning, A-40,” she said flatly.

 

“M-morning, A-13,” he said meekly.

 

All of us in Group A bunked together in that room. It wasn’t easy.

 

The thing you need to understand about us is that… well, you know how I am.

You know how Johnny is and how Troia is. All of us have our little–well, I’ll not mince words. There was an entire manual’s worth of mental disorders to be found throughout the facility.

 

Cloning is not a perfect process. We were made to be perfect, but we didn’t come out that way. We were flawed. Combine that with the strange quirk of the process by which we were created that gave each and every one of us our unusual eye colors, and there you got our nickname.

 

They called us the Odd-Eyes.

 

A-40 didn’t have the same tics as some of the others. The bed did not have to be perfectly aligned. His clothes didn’t have to be neatly starched. He wished his problems were so… tidy. Once his area was inspection suitable, he slipped into his shoes and headed towards the cafeteria.

 

I’m sure that you could picture what it looked like. White walls, commercially pleasing but artistically hollow artwork. Bland decor and blander food, even if it filled all of the nutritional needs. We were not starved by any stretch of the imagination, but we weren’t happy about being fed.

 

The cafeteria was the one place where you would not be closely herded to your group. Whether this was a way to bring in some desperately needed social training, or whether it was just another way to observe us in different situations, I’d never been able to find out. But this was typically where there would be run-ins with the more unsavory of our group.

 

A-40 sat with A-13 whenever he could. She was quiet. She gave him space when he needed it. He liked her.

 

Today, she was quiet, as she neatly arranged her assorted cubes of protein paste by color and size before she started to eat. Unusually, he spoke up for the first time.

“I-I hope they don’t run us through sparring again today,” he said, as quietly as he could manage. “Last time, B-22 hurt me pretty bad.”

 

They both looked over to the next table over, where a tall, lanky boy with brown-and-blue eyes was prodding a stocky boy with his spoon, trying to get a reaction of some kind.

 

“That’s because it’s his modus operandi to be mean,” A-13 said with disdain, taking a sip of water. “He has a weak spot in his knee from when C-23 nearly dislocated it. A little pressure and I’m sure B-22 wouldn’t be so hard to handle.”

 

A-40 sighed. “I just don’t want to hurt anybody. I know the point of the exercises is just to see what we can do. Why can’t he see that?”

 

“Because he thinks it’s fun,” said another young man, who settled down near A-40. B-28 was a rarity among the Odd-Eyes. Outgoing and pleasant to be around. If there was a gossip among them, B-28 was the closest to it. He was maybe a bit taller than A-40 with dark hair, and gold-and-turquoise eyes.

 

“H-hello,” said A-40, scooting back a little. B-28 was nice enough, but he tended to have difficulty with the concept of ‘personal space’. “H-how are you today?”

 

“Tired,” B-28 said cheerfully, and then looked around. “They took two of us last night. Neither came back this morning. It was… loud.”

 

A-40 shuddered. Nobody knew what happened to those who were taken away. Sometimes they didn’t come back. Those who did tended to be… different.

 

“Just between you and me, I think they were trying to sneak out and E-59 snitched,” added B-28.

 

A-13 sighed. “I hate him so much,” she said, not looking up from her tray.

 

“I can’t think of a single person that likes him,” B-28 said with a sigh. “I’m worried though.. the last few haven’t come back at all… what if they’re doing another cull?”

 

“What are we going to do about it if they are?” said A-13. “We are unfortunately and entirely at the whims of these… mmm… unfortunate idiots, what they choose to do with us is entirely up to them. There’s no point getting worked up about it.” She popped a green cube into her mouth and sighed. “I hate the green ones.”

 

B-28 moved his tray over. “You can switch them out for the pink ones if you want. I hate the pink ones,” he said, mindful not to put his hands anywhere near her. You only had to get stabbed by a fork once.

 

“Can’t,” said A-13, pushing the tray back. “I’d have the proportions all wrong.”

 

A-40 slumped down a bit.  “I hope we’re not sparring again today,” he repeated.

 

B-28 sighed, dumping the pink ones unceremoniously onto A-40’s tray. “I think A and B are sparring together, at least that’s what I heard the guards say.”

 

A-40 groaned. He considered what he could do to get out of it.

 

B-28 took a deep breath and slid his tray to the side. “I’ll see you guys later,” he murmured, and left the table.

 

A-40 watched him go. “H-he’s not sleeping again.”

 

“Nothing new about that. He goes weeks without sleeping.”

 

A-40 simply nodded. “I-I need to finish eating,” he said, staring into his tray. He never liked to put the others out if he could help it. He always felt bad about taking what was theirs… but he did really like the pink ones.

 

~*~

 

After breakfast, A-40 went back his dormitory to clean up. It wasn’t long before one of the labcoats came to escort him off for his daily checkup.

 

A few others, including A-13, were selected as well, although they knew better than to touch her at this point as she moved through to the hallways and into the medical annex.

 

The examinations were a daily occurrence. They would check all of our vitals. Take samples. Administer physical and mental aptitude tests. Sometimes simultaneously. They were always assessing us. Trying to find out if we could be made to work as intended.

 

Everything culminated in the group evaluations. We were soldiers. We had to be able to interact in some way or another with other people. Or else we were useless. We were often paired with certain groups, matching units by height, weight, build. We would have sparring sometimes. I hated it. I still don’t like fighting.

 

But often we would have training on weaponry and marksmanship.

 

I didn’t like that any better than sparring.

 

But at least I was good at that.

 

Relief was a rare feeling in the facility, and one that was treasured. But when A-40 saw that they were doing weapons drills today instead of sparring, he was relieved.

A-40 lined up in his designated stall, settling his ear protectors on and felt the world wash away into silence.

 

Despite his dislike of actual violence, this part made sense to him. Find the target, hit the mark, repeat. There was a calming element in the cleaning and preparing of a weapon, in the obliteration of the paper, foam, and dummy targets.

 

They weren’t real weapons, of course. But they were meticulously designed replicas, made to look and feel completely real, while shooting only simulated projectiles, in case one of the Odd-Eyes got any dangerous ideas.

 

Some of the subjects tried their luck anyway, turning the sim-weapons on the staff. Or on themselves. Those who did tended to not been seen again for some time.

He’d never been taken. Not like that. Nor did he want to. There was always something wrong with the ones that got brought back afterwards. A-40 couldn’t place how they were wrong, but it wasn’t something he wanted to find out. With a momentary pause to take a breath, he refilled his magazine and started to fire anew.

 

“Very good performance, A-40,” came the voice. The voices could from from anyplace, at any time. There was no place where they could be hidden from. “That’s enough of that. We’ve got a different sort of exercise for you today.”

 

A-40 nodded, and was met with a white labcoat who ushered him towards a hallway.

He was brought into another room, which was roughly square, with a number of obstacles set into it. There were two of his fellows there. One was a slight-looking figure with pale features and a shaven head; it was hard to tell if this one was a boy or a girl.  The other was a tall, bronze-skinned woman, who was shaking like a leaf. Both of them were holding sim-guns.

 

“You will be performing a live-fire exercise,” said the labcoat. “You will be partnered with C-55 and D-91. Your opponents are somewhere in this room. If you are hit in the head or torso, you are eliminated.”

 

A-40’s eyes widened as he looked at the course, and then at the gun analogue that was placed in his hand. “S-shooting live targets?” he squeaked, as some of the labcoats were already exiting towards the control booth.

C-55 looked at him, then nodded. They were usually quiet; nobody was sure if C-55 couldn’t speak, or simply chose not to.

 

“Who are we–” said A-40, but was interrupted as an alarm sounded. The drill was beginning.

 

D-91 took a deep breath. “We need to go find cover. The other team was probably given similar instructions,” she said. Despite the anxiety pouring off of her in waves, she gripped the gun with a steady hand.

A-40 quickly scanned the ersatz battlefield. Small barriers had been set up for taking cover behind, as well as larger ones for obscuring the sightlines. He wasted no time in ducking behind a small embankment as a shot rang out.

 

C-55 let out a shaky breath, and then pointed to the left, giving A-40 a nod. The other group must have been on the move.

A-40 clutched his weapon closer. “I don’t want to do this,” he said.

 

“It’s them or us,” said D-91, gripping her weapon so hard that her knuckles were whitening. “And what do you think they’re going to do to the team that gets ‘eliminated’?”

 

With that, she darted out from behind cover, her weapon sputtering as it spat out the sim-rounds.

He saw them as she made herself a target. Two of them had positioned themselves behind one of the low embankments. A-40 felt his mind, full of jumbled thoughts, empty. He just had to think of this like target practice, right?

 

Don’t miss. Don’t ever miss.

 

He waited until D-91 bowed out again, and he moved to the other side of the obstacle, firing a clean shot. He watched as a brief puff of smoke appeared, and a second later an ink stain blossomed between his target’s eyes. A-40 recognized her as a member of the E group.

 

A-40 felt his heart pound and his eyes water as he changed targets, and another shot rang out. And then another. Two more subjects fell to direct hits in their center mass, crumping to the ground.

 

D-91 got up, wiping her brow and looking relieved. Then her head jerked back as a round struck her temple.

 

One of the oft-repeated lessons of the handlers rang painfully in A-40’s ears. Never assume that you know all the parameters of the task at hand.

 

Nobody ever said the teams would be even. An amused chuckle echoed through the hall as B-22 stepped out from behind cover, grinning ear to ear.

 

The grin faded momentarily as a bullet sailed past his head.

 

B-22 darted back behind cover, but C-55 rose first, planting a shot into B-22’s chest as D-91 curled into a ball. Her anxiety had finally crested over the edge and dragged her under.

 

Loud, keening wails erupted from their side of the room and they heard a chime indicating the drill was over.

Another labcoat stepped in, different than the one that had initially brought them into the room, casually sizing up the simulated carnage.

 

“Over so soon?” panted B-22. “It was just getting interesting.”

 

“Your team has been eliminated, B-22. But kudos on eliminating a member of the other team. The rest of your teammates seemed to not be up to the challenge.”

B-22 looked like he wanted to snap back, his face reddening. But at the last minute, he backed off. Those who talked back to the labcoats tended to regret it in short order.

 

“A-40,” said the labcoat. “Your performance today was excellent. Well done.”

 

“Thank you,” he said, looking back at D-91 who seemed to have gone from crying to silently hyperventilating. Another labcoat was nearby and seemed to be reading her vitals off of a scanner.

 

A-40 looked over her with concern, but was ushered away before he could find out what had happened.

 

That was the last time I ever saw D-91. And every day was like that. There would be a test. We would be sized up. They put us through the wringer, trying to see if something could be made of us despite our… defects. Or perhaps just seeing how they could improve on the next generation.

 

It was the only life we had ever known. We knew that there was a universe beyond the facility, but none of us ever thought we would see it.

 

That answers one of your questions, I guess. But I’m sure you’re still wondering how I came to be here.

 

Well. That’s where things get… interesting.

 

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