Year 2083, Military Base Munich
Brilliant sunshine. A blue, cloudless sky. A canopy of leaves above her, gently dancing in the wind. A flower meadow surrounding her. A perfect illusion. Almost perfect.
She let her fingers brush over what allegedly looked like fresh grass, tried to remember how the soft culms should feel like, how a cool breeze on her skin would feel like on a warm summer day. Three years. She couldn’t believe it had already been three years since she had been on the surface for the last time.
Not in her most horrid nightmares would she have ever dreamed that the war would one day take on such a disastrous dimension. War was something that happened in Syria, in Afghanistan, in some poor African countries – but not in the democratic western world! Naïve as she was back then, she had assumed the placement in these underground bunkers would only be a temporary precaution and the United Nations would soon come to an agreement. Scarce resources, climate change, technological and medical supremacy … All those problems weren’t new, were they?
Instead, one country after another had declared war until the whole world had been turned into a battlefield.
Her watch started to vibrate. Quarter to eight, time for work. The projection collapsed, revealing a tiny room with bare white walls. Sighing she pushed herself off the bed, tucked her white sheath dress in place, grabbed her headset and her tablet from the nightstand, and headed towards her unusual protégées who spend their nights in the adjoining chamber. With the help of her tablet, she deactivated the seven capsules that were mounted to the wall. They opened, each puffing out a thick cloud of steam before seven small bodies came into view. Every child was dressed in a light blue shirt and trousers of the same color. The children opened their eyes in unison and stepped out of their capsules, their gazes locked on their warden. Although she had most of them in her care ever since their birth, she knew she would never get used to their sight: The radiant irises in the most striking shades of the rainbow, those icy features devoid of any emotion and this almost aerial way of moving. They truly were extraordinary creatures, those Destructors. Breathtakingly beautiful – and absolutely lethal. But something was wrong today. Six. There were only six of them. Nausea roiled in her stomach. Rain was missing.
She quickly accessed the profile-overview of the group on her tablet. Rains status was set on Evaluation instead of Morning exercise. Her blood chilled. If Rain was evaluated it meant they were considering sending him out into the field, but the boy ranged among the age group of five- to ten. She knew their situation had gotten considerably worse over the last months, knew that the number of their forces was rapidly spiraling downwards, but sending a freaking child out there … One of her children …
“Good morning, Jenni”, a familiar female voice suddenly yanked her out of her thoughts.
“Oh, ’morning Manu”, she greeted her colleague who had a small group of children neatly lined up behind her as well. “Wait a sec!”
Manu halted and so did the seven children behind her.
“Could you do me a favor and take my group to the gym with you?”
The other woman blinked in surprise before she nodded.
“Yeah, sure. Is everything alright?”, Manu wondered.
“I think there is a problem with one of the capsules. I just want to make sure it’s taken care of as soon as possible”, she lied. Should someone suspect her of actually caring for her children she could kiss her job as caretaker goodbye. Destructors were created to fight. They were conscienceless beings, unable to feel or empathize, a weapon in the body of a human, and that’s how they were supposed to be treated.
Since the group was taken care of, she headed down to the thirteenth floor where the Destructors were being fine-tuned for fieldwork. She had never been down there herself, but she had heard countless bone-chilling stories of the place.
“They let ’em fight until one of them loses consciousness to analyze their abilities and improve ’em. Heard that can take hours ’cause those Destructors are tough bastards. Smaller wounds heal almost immediately and I’ve heard even severed limbs grow back in mere days”, one of her colleagues had told her once. What had been scarier than his words however was how casually, almost bored he had sounded. Blood, torture, corpses, … Nowadays, people talked about those awful things as casually as they talked about what they had for breakfast. The war took it's gruesome toll on everyone, and even down here in the bunker, there was no escaping the horrors and suffering of a world ruled by violence, a world where benevolence had long become an alien concept.
The sad truth was no one dared to hope for a peaceful outcome anymore. At this point, it was all about killing or being killed. Yet her stomach twisted at the thought of that little, silver-haired boy with eyes of a gorgeous ocean blue who was about to be sent into certain death before ever having the chance to live.
Rain is strong, she tried to calm herself. If somebody can make it, it’s him!
The moment she stepped out of the elevator two soldiers approached her, their gazes wary and skeptical.
“Can I help you?”, the one standing closest to her boomed, arms tightly crossed over his bully chest.
“I am Jennifer Schwarz, one of the caretakers from floor five”, she introduced herself, trying to sound confident. “Last night one of my Destructors was taken without prior notice. According to his file, he was pulled in for Evaluation. I came to make sure the status update is valid. We wouldn’t want one of those …”, she hesitated for a second, struggling to bring herself to say the word that was laying on the tip of her tongue, “… monsters roaming about the corridors without oversight, do we?”
The expression of the soldier softened as he gave her a sympathetic nod.
“I apologize for the default of my colleagues. Work is pilling up and a lot of us are doing double shifts.”
“It’s a challenging time for all of us”, she agreed, her voice thick with sadness.
“As far as I know, only three Evaluations were being conducted tonight, all in section B. Just follow this corridor and turn left on the second corner”, the soldier instructed.
Although it was early morning the hallways were bustling with soldiers in military green or black uniforms and scientists with fluttering white robes. To avoid attracting unpleasant attention again she tried to create the impression of being in a hurry just like everyone else. It also gave those who rushed past her less time to get suspicious. She ended up in front of a wall with a giant iron double door that had the words Sector B imprinted on them in black letters. The arenas had to be on the other side.
Luckily, she was given no time to wonder about her next steps because the doors swung open just seconds after her arrival, revealing a squad of high-ranking soldiers accompanied by a handful of scientists – a blood-drenched Rain in their midst. Her pulse hammered until she realized he seemed uninjured; his expression unperturbed as always. Still, she had to fight the urge to run up to the little boy, to make sure beyond doubt he was as well as he appeared to be.
“… make all the necessary arrangements! I want the Destructor on the battlefield before lunch!”, barked the commander in charge before his dark eyes suddenly settled on her.
“I am the caretaker of the Destructor”, she hurried to introduce herself, followed by a nervous gulp. What if she really got fired and send back to the surface? Unfortunately, it was too late for such qualms now. “I wasn’t informed of the Evaluation.”
The commander flashed her a sardonic grin that made the tiny hairs on her arms stand up. He approached her until only a mere step separated them.
“Don’t worry, darling, won’t happen again. Starting today the Destructor is under my supervision.”
“He … he passed?”, she pressed even if the answer was obvious. She just couldn't help herself.
The cold gaze of the soldier bored into her.
“Don't tell me you worry about that little mutant!”, he spat, voice full of despise.
“About as much as I worry for the sole of my shoe”, she tried to play it cool while silently apologizing to the small boy she had known all his life. “I just find it hard to imagine we will impress anyone by sending a six-year-old out there. We might as well sign our capitulation while we are at it.”
The commander answered with a deep, thunderous chuckle.
“You have guts, gotta give you that. But don’t trouble your pretty little head with matters that don’t concern you.” He gave her shoulder a fatherly pat. “I’ve never come across such a fine exemplar and I have no doubt the Destructor will serve us well despite his young age.”
As if to undermine his statement two medics stormed out of the doors with a stretcher that held a big, bloody chunk of flesh. Only after taking a closer look did she realize what she was looking at was actually a human body. Bile rose in her throat. What on earth was going on behind those doors?
“Fantastic, isn’t it?”
The eyes of the commander sparkled with excitement. Yeah, not exactly the word she would have used …
“His two previous opponents were in the same state when he was fished with them, and all three were matured exemplars.”
“Remarkable”, she forced herself to agree.
She took a deep breath as she returned her gaze to the little Rain and forced a smile on her lips.
“I always knew he was a special one.”
Their eyes met and she hoped he understood the underlying meaning of that sentence.
Goodbye. Forgive me.
Just when she had turned around ready to leave, a deafening ringing echoed through the hallways and all emergency lights flashed red.
“Don’t move, Destructor, or we shoot!”, the soldiers behind her barked, accompanied by the sound of safety catches being released. A canon of shocked gasps and terrified screams followed, and by the time she had turned back again, it was already over. The whole squad of highly-ranked and strongly armed soldiers who had surrounded Rain just a second ago was now on the floor, blood and intestines covered the motionless bodies and the white walls of the corridor.
A strange calmness took possession of her as she looked down into eyes of a blue so clear and bright and hauntingly beautiful it was impossible to describe, knowing it was the last thing she would ever see.