Authors: Alianne Donnelly
by Alianne Donnelly
Copyright 2014 Alianne Donnelly
Editor: Kimberly Grenfell
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This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and
dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be
construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead,
is completely coincidental.
This book is dedicated to my friends. All of you. The end
of the world just wouldn’t be the same without you—and I mean that in the most
loving way possible. Here’s hoping we all make it long enough to hook up with
P.S. to Rebekah Lewis:
Sorry it took so long, but here you go, dearie.
Now write me Melancton!
We only have to look at ourselves
to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to
2015 Common Era, Chernobyl
“You can always tell the Wolfen children from the inerts.
Although the term is misleading, given the broad spectrum of animal traits
mixed in vitro, they truly do behave like a pack. The two oldest of this batch,
Alpha Seven and Beta Twelve, are growing like weeds, and their intelligence
quotients are off the charts.”
Dr. Leslie Gerome watched the two boys on screen, playing
quietly in one corner of the playroom, while the rest of the children chased
each other and fought for toys. Her smile ebbed. “It worries me sometimes. I
can see it in their eyes, they just…know.”
She set her voice recorder down, popped a piece of gum into
her mouth, then tossed the wrapper in the general direction of the trash bin.
Orderlies normally kept the lights on in the room, but Leslie preferred the
dark. It was more intimate, and it forced her to pay attention to the monitors
and nothing else. “Dr. Hallemann’s file said that during the last round of
tests, Alpha Seven noted a mistake in his serum formula. He’d pointed out that,
at those levels, the acid content would burn a hole in his arm when injected.”
Leslie chuckled to herself. “Hallemann’s recordings show him arguing proper
test administration techniques with a ten-year-old. The child turned out to be
Alpha Seven and Beta Twelve were brothers—the genetic
equivalent of fraternal twins, born three years apart, and the only instance in
which a particular cocktail of DNA fragments resulted in more than one viable
embryo. Now, they were Chernobyl den’s pride and joy, playing with construction
puzzles, building intricate towers and castles. Every so often, one of them
looked up to survey the playroom, his eyes catching the light like an animal’s.
Such serious children they were. They never smiled anymore,
not since the regeneration experiments had begun. And although Leslie knew them
to have vast vocabularies on par with college students, the brothers never
spoke, unless absolutely necessary, as in the case of the mistaken formula.
“The psych team has declared them at risk of being
compromised, but fit to continue being tested—with caution. They’re to be
monitored closely during interactions with other children, but they rarely play
with anyone else.”
Sometimes a younger child would approach them for help with
a puzzle, and they would help. But once the puzzle was solved, they’d turn
their backs and let the child wander away. “They’re deliberately setting
themselves apart,” Leslie said. “I’m sure they have a reason for it, but I
can’t for the life of me figure out what it is. It goes against their social
nature, and has to be hard on them…”
She trailed off when one of the inert boys pushed a Wolfen
girl, making her lose her balance and fall over a pile of hard wooden blocks.
When the girl broke into tears, the brothers paused and looked up at the same
time. The culprit faced them immediately, and as the brothers stared at him, he
stared right back.
None of the other children noticed the three holding
preternaturally still, but Leslie gaped, held her breath, and waited.
After a full sixty-seven seconds, the brothers exchanged a
speaking look, then ducked their heads back to their own game. Too easy. This
was in no way over.
Leslie frowned. “Their protector instinct is strong. They do
not tolerate dissent within the group, but pick their battles and only engage
when they can get away with it. Technical note: Move cameras in the play den.
They’ve found them again.”
The lights flicked on, blinding her for a moment. Leslie
rubbed her eyes and swiveled away from the monitors to give the intruder a
piece of her mind, but stopped short when she saw her colleague darkening the
Dr. Sallinger was a distinguished intellectual with a pair
of glasses on his nose and another on top of his head, overdressed in a starched
white lab coat. His real name was Dimitri Andreyevich Roskoff, but he liked to
pretend he was a man apart. Tablet in hand, he barely looked up when he
announced, “Sigma Nine is to start testing today. Have her prepped and ready in
It took Leslie’s mind a moment to redirect and catch up. “So
soon?” she asked. “She’s only just transitioning.”
There were certain biological thresholds which marked the
end of childhood in all things. In humans, it was puberty. In these children,
it was a little more complicated. Generally speaking, a conversion could be
considered a threshold to failure. Children who converted were the result of a
destructive combination of DNA flaws; they became more animal than human,
incapable of higher thought function. They were incredibly fast when they
wanted to be, yet had a lumbering gait that bespoke of an inner ear defect,
which also accounted for their poor hearing. Having observed several of these
for a number of years, Leslie recognized them for what they were. Monsters.
Another threshold distinguished Wolfen from inerts, and it
was determined by a measure of pheromones. A higher level in one or the other
usually predicted which way a child would develop.
Sigma Nine had only shown an imbalance of pheromones last
week. It was tentative at best, so they’d been holding off further testing
until she’d matured a little more.
“Apparently there’s some confusion in her blood tests,”
Sallinger said. “We need to know where she falls.”
“Why?” she demanded, mentally preparing for an argument. She
couldn’t help it. Sigma Nine was only four years old.
“Don’t know, don’t care.” Sallinger lowered the tablet with
a put-upon sigh, and deigned to look at her. “Will you do it, or shall I call
Leslie frowned. “Michito is here?”
“Tick tock, comrade.” Sallinger made a face and tapped his
wrist. He didn’t close the door behind him when he left, a signature Roskoff
passive-aggressive jibe to get her moving.
The voice recorder was still on. With a sigh, Leslie spoke
into the mic. “I’ve just been informed that Sigma Nine’s timeline has been
expedited, so… I guess I better get going.” She was reaching for the stop
button, when the Wolfen brothers caught her eye. Jonah had stepped out on
break, and the brothers were putting their puzzles aside, watching the inert
boy who’d hurt the Wolfen girl.
An odd thought occurred to Leslie. “Observer commentary: A
few months back, we received a message that the Fukushima den was having
issues. I know the protocol is to limit contact, but we haven’t had any updates
or progress reports since then. Now one of the Japanese team leaders is here,
and this thing with Sigma Nine…” She rubbed her brow. “I don’t know, maybe I’m
being paranoid, but something just doesn’t feel right. My gut tells me Michito
wouldn’t be here unless something was wrong.” She chuckled at herself. “Listen
to me. A seasoned geneticist having
. Ignore that last remark.
It’s apparently been a longer day than I realized.”
Leslie turned off the voice recorder as Alpha Seven and Beta
Twelve closed in on the inert boy. The others instinctively moved out of the
danger zone. Fights like this occurred regularly among the subjects, and they
were allowed, considered as an integral part of development. Unless blood
flowed, the orderlies did not interfere.
But this was different. When the first blow came, it wasn’t
the childish slap Leslie would have expected. Alpha Seven drew back a fist,
fingers tucked in like a champion boxer, and drove it into the boy’s
midsection. The inert boy went down, curling in on himself, and already the
brothers were easing away.
It should have ended there.
But instead of staying down and accepting defeat, the inert
boy pulled himself up and faced off with Alpha Seven, a mean gleam to his eye.
Beta Twelve cocked his head and leaned in to sniff the inert
boy. He met eyes with his brother and both nodded.
Leslie frowned. Had she missed something?
She was about to page Jonah to get back into the playroom,
when Beta Twelve curled his fingers into claws and slashed them across the
inert boy’s neck. Quick as a snap; one swipe, and blood sprayed, sending the
other children into a screaming panic. Leslie gaped. She couldn’t have just
witnessed a seven-year-old commit cold, calculated murder against another.
She zoomed in on the inert boy gurgling blood on the floor.
The pool spreading around him was too bright to be healthy. Pressing a shaky
hand to her mouth, Leslie sat back. He’d converted. And the Wolfen boys had
smelled it on him.
But he’d tested safe!
Children weren’t allowed into social units until doctors
determined them either safely inert or Wolfen. How could he have converted so
By the time Jonah came back, the brothers had wiped off the
convert’s blood and returned to their game. Though still visibly shaken, the
other children seemed to sense the threat had been eliminated, and following
the brothers’ example, quieted as well. They went back to their smaller groups,
giving the now-dead boy a wide berth. Inert or Wolfen, they all trusted the apparent
alphas of the pack, instinctively adhering to the subconscious social
Jonah herded the children out of the room and away from the
corpse. He looked uneasy, as well he should. None of the children moved until
the brothers did, recognizing their authority over them as greater than
Leslie was still pondering this as she walked down the Green
corridor to the nursery. The hallway was quiet. This level didn’t usually see
much activity, what with nothing here but the guts of the facility—control
rooms, nurseries, and incubation chambers. A horizontal green line ran its
length as a directional. At the next intersection, a red line ran down another
hallway that led to the convert testing rooms and loading/unloading docks.
Leslie glanced sideways at it as she passed, and waved to an
orderly jogging to get somewhere. He didn’t see her. She shrugged, and kept
going to the nursery. This chamber was separated into halves, with the far side
walled off for newborns and an antechamber that served as the sleeping quarters
and playroom for the one- to five-year-olds. It had gray walls and black
floors; a deliberately bland environment to encourage imagination and mental
development, while curbing overt excitement.
Sigma Nine sat at one of the plastic tables, coloring with
crayons. Her brown curls fell over her forehead and she kept blowing them back
with frustrated huffs. The cutest little angel. She still had her chubby
cheeks, but Leslie could tell it wouldn’t be long before Sigma Nine hit her
growth spurt, and when she did, the girl would be a show stopper.
“Hey, Sinna,” she said.
Sigma Nine looked up and gave her a ten million megawatt
smile. “Hi, Gerry! Are you here to play with me?”
Oh honey, how I wish I could.
Leslie struggled to maintain
her own smile. “Not today, sweetie. I need to take you to do some tests. Is
Sigma Nine pouted. “Will it hurt?”
“Maybe a little.”
“Do I have to?”
Sigma Nine bowed her head, put down the crayon, and came
forward, holding out her hand for Leslie to take. She kept her gaze on the
floor, but didn’t drag her feet, as docile as a trusting little lamb despite
her apprehension, and it broke Leslie’s heart.
When they reached the lab, Leslie lifted Sigma Nine onto the
exam table and performed a quick routine physical, noting the results on her
She was just finishing up with the initials when Dr.
Sallinger arrived. He checked the chart, scrubbed up, and held his hands out
for gloves. His face mask, as always, hung around his neck, ready to be donned
in a hurry. He pulled it up, saying, “You may begin, Dr. Gerome.”
Leslie stared at him. “Me?”
“Did I not make myself clear?”
Leslie swallowed hard. Sigma Nine was watching her with an
eerie calm. She couldn’t make herself move.
“Are you unfamiliar with the procedure?”
Leslie shook herself. “No. I mean, I know what to do.”
“Then what are you waiting for?”
She stepped up to the table and pulled the instrument tray
“Secure the arm,” Sallinger instructed, and she did, hating
that he felt the need to talk her through this. “Now, disinfect the area.
That’s right. You’ll want a number eighteen scalpel. Make a six-centimeter
incision parallel to the ulna, beginning one centimeter from the styloid
Leslie’s head snapped up. “Six centimeters?”
“Need I remind you we have two hundred and forty-seven other
children to see to? I do not have time for this. Now, make the incision. Six
centimeters parallel to the ulna, beginning one centimeter from the styloid
Again, Leslie swallowed hard, and tried not to look at Sigma
Nine’s face when she pressed the blade tip to the inside of the girl’s arm. She
made the cut smooth, but not fast enough to spare the girl pain, and Sigma Nine
gasped and moaned. She started crying, but like all of the children, she was
trained not to move during testing. With a scalpel so close to her delicate
skin, a sudden twitch could kill her.
“Starting timer,” Sallinger said, as blood began to flow.
“Five seconds… Ten seconds…”
Leslie frowned. “She’s not healing.”
“Give her time. Fifteen seconds…”
Sigma Nine sobbed, her heart rate rising with her distress.
And she kept on bleeding.
Leslie shook her head. “Enough of this.” She grabbed a bunch
of gauze and pressed it to the wound.
“What are you doing? I did not tell you to arrest the—”
“She’s not healing! I am not letting her bleed out on the
Sallinger tore off his mask and gloves. “You have just
contaminated the test and wasted my time, and you have achieved nothing except
to ensure the test will need to be repeated.”