THE SUBJECTS, AIM

CHAPTER 1 (AN EXTRACT)

‘I have to end it today.’ Subject B ground her teeth together, deciding that no matter what the Professor did, she would go through with her plan.

She looked up past the gumtree’s branches to the blue dome above her and crouched low in the foliage. Pixelated cockatoos flew across the cloudless sky.

‘I wonder what it’s like to soar across the skies, free,’ B cast the thought from her mind, furrowed her brow and refocused.

She held her gun poised, but did not pull the trigger. The Professor was just trying to distract her from the real target. ‘There!’

She took aim and fired. The bullet hit the clay disc, shattering it into tiny pieces. The visual projection of the gumtrees, the blue dome and foliage vanished, leaving behind the empty space of the warehouse-sized room. The simulation was over.

 

The robotic voice boomed, ‘101 out of 105 hits: new personal best. Congratulations.’

Taking a deep breath, the stench of disinfectant filled B’s airways. She kicked a piece of clay as hard as she could and watched it slide across the cement floor. It didn’t even reach the other end of the room. Her eyes scanned the blank walls, which seemed to cave in, squeezing the life out of her. The simulation room was like the rest of the laboratory, bare and white.

B released the barrel of the gun. It was empty, just as she suspected. That was why the Professor hadn’t asked her to dispose of the rest of her bullets, like he usually did before he entered the simulation room.

Her fingers tingled as she loaded the gun with the bullet shells she had collected from her last training session— now stuffed with ball bearings, wadding, match stick heads and strikers. She clicked the barrel back in place, bit down on her lip and wished the Professor had given her another choice.

Hinges complained as a heavy door opened. Her hand tightened around the gun, sweat breaking on her brow. It was just her sister, Subject AB exhaled slowly, the muscles around her neck unclenching.

‘Well done!’ With the poise of a ballerina, A strolled inside and stood by the entrance. After flexing from side to side, she pulled on the straps of the bulletproof vest until it hugged her slender body. Twisting her ebony-brown hair into a ponytail, she flicked it out of the way. It was her turn to try the shooting simulation. B cringed at her obvious enthusiasm.

The Professor entered the room. He was as sterile as the laboratory—always in an immaculate white lab coat, sleek greying hair parted on the side, his chin clean shaven. B watched as his distant, lifeless eyes scanned her, but never made eye contact. He would be satisfied with B’s efforts; after all, she did achieve a personal best. But none of this mattered to her.

 

B’s hands became clammy as she tightened her grip on the gun. She tried to steady her breathing but it escaped as short sharp stabs. Whipping around, she stood like an unmovable anchor, her right arm outstretched, pointing the gun at the Professor. ‘I’m sick of this! Why are we learning all these ridiculous, irrelevant things?’

The Professor glanced over his rimless glasses at her. He smirked, stopped in his place and then started scribbling notes.

B, what are you doing?’ A’s large, almond eyes had doubled in size. ‘Put the gun down!’

‘No! I can’t let another second pass, or it’ll go on forever.’

The camera in the corner of the room redirected itself, locked on her every move.

‘Do you think you can do experiments on me, lock me in this lab and not tell me what it’s all for?’ B’s voice bounced around the walls. ‘Answer me!’ The Professor continued to scribble as if B had not said a word.

Then it hit her: he thought her barrel was empty. She cocked the gun and fired the first ball bearing into the wall just above his head.

His pen stopped scratching away at the pad. For one crazy moment, B thought the Professor would at last answer all her questions. The moment passed and nothing happened. With four long strides, B was at his side, holding the gun to his temple.

‘Answer me!’

The book fell from his hands. For the first time, he looked directly into her eyes. They held each other’s gaze. An electric chill went from B’s stomach to the back of her head. She had always thought that if he would look at her straight in the eyes, she might be able to find something in him—some warmth, some affection, some indication that she meant something to him. She was wrong.

A high-pitched beep echoed throughout the room—the alarm signalling the start of the next simulation. Startled into a knee-jerk reaction, B pulled the trigger, but the Professor had grabbed her wrist, directing the last ball bearing into the ceiling. With one swift motion, he twisted B's arm behind her and plunged a syringe into the nape of her neck.