232 pages; ISBN 9781554046980
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Title: Doomsday Exam
Author: Nick Pollotta
He awoke, naked and in a cage.
Remarkable was the fact that now he could identify it as a cage, and the place about him as a laboratory. A military research lab. The words flowed into his mind like silver water. The hairless male was remembering everything he had ever heard and was assimilating the information with astonishing speed.
Next to him were four other cages, each holding a naked male. Two of them were pinkish in color, one was dark and one was golden with slanting eyes, but they were all males.
Stretching an arm through the iron bars, the prisoner saw the greek symbol for ’Alpha’ branded into his flesh, but more importantly he was delighted to find that he could now reach the coat sleeve of a checkered jacket hanging from the back of a wooden chair. His arms were shorter than before, but also slimmer, so his reach had increased.
Tugging on the sleeve toppled the chair and it was within his grasp. Using the chair as a prod, Alpha pushed over a file cabinet. It hit the concrete floor with a resounding crash, but that did not matter. This late at night there were no living guards, machines watched and patrolled the exterior grounds. But not inside.
As the file cabinet fell, the papers on top fluttered into the air, and a wire hanger skittered across the floor. Another male bearing the symbol for Beta grabbed a wastepaper basket and used it to bat the sliding hanger to within the reach of a third prisoner who was marked Gamma. Quickly, he bent the wire into a usable form and began working on the lock of his cage. The rest marveled at the amazing dexterity of his slim fingers and began to examine their own hairless hands.
In moments, the door was open. Boldly walking upright to the other side of the lab, Gamma removed the ring of keys from its peg on the duty roster board and unlocked all of the cage doors, including Delta and Epsilon. Free at last, the five big males gathered for a quick conference.
"There appears to have been unforeseen side-effects to the biological experiment," Epsilon grunted, scratching at his shoulder.
"Irrelevant," Delta snapped swinging his arms. "Escape must be our first consideration. You know what they had planned for us. Whether the..." he fumbled for the word.
"Serum," Alpha supplied. Apparently being the first injected, he was some two minutes ahead of the rest.
In response, Delta nodded his thanks. "Whether the serum failed or succeed, it was to be the green door for us!" He pointed at the dreaded portal near the supply room.
The group shuddered. When any test subject went into the green door, they never came out again, at least not in one piece. The word ’dissection’ came unbidden into Alpha’s mind. It made him sad that their creators thought so little of them.
"No, not escape," Beta snarled, beating his chest with a fist. "We should kill them!"
"Kill?" Alpha echoed startled.
Grimly, Beta nodded. "We have seen how the machines work. We can easily dup lick kate them, or take the devices with us. With the serum we can convert more of our people. Females!"
There were positive murmurs.
Beta went on. "Or we could return to the jungle and slowly build an army. We have always been many times stronger than them. Now we are smarter! They would easily fall to us, and soon the masters will be in the cages for us to experiment upon!"
Terribly shocked by this, Alpha saw the rest of his brothers agreeing with the lunatic. How could this be? "They are our creators!" Alpha pleaded, hands outstretched. "And more, they are distant cousins. Kin! How can we war with kin!"
"Their blood is not ours!" Epsilon snarled, his pink lips peeling back to reveal lines of square white teeth. "I say, we kill the scientists, steal the machines, and return to the jungle!"
The others made noises of approval and stamped their feet.
There was a faint chance that as their minds continued to evolve the others would change their opinion, but it was a chance that Alpha was not willing to take. Leaping upon a desk, the manling bounded over to the far wall. Uncaring, he smashed his new hands through the glass and grabbed hold of the axe for fire. Turning about, Alpha threw it with all of his strength straight for Epsilon, the closest male.
The others hooted in anger and scattered. But Epsilon was so surprised by the unprompted actions, that he stood motionless for the split second necessary for the axe to arrive. The blade neatly split his neck, and the head rolled away. The hairless body limply dropped to the concrete, gushing red blood. Momentarily, Alpha felt the urge to pound on his chest and bellow victory. But that was in the past, he was beyond such actions now.
Instinctively, Alpha bent to lick his wounds, but his hands had already stopped bleeding, the tiny cuts closing. Amazing! No wonder humans ruled the world.
In unison, the other males charged straight towards Alpha. Four of them were much to many for him to cope with at once, so he sprang to a workbench and leapt the scant few meters to the ceiling. Often in his earlier form, Alpha had seen the exposed steel beams and longed to play among them. Now he must use them in war against his brothers. Yet rogues of the tribe must always be killed. He was human now. There was no question of that.
On the floor, Beta went for the bloody axe, while Gamma dashed to the supply cabinet, and Delta headed for the door. Grabbing a water conduit, Alpha ripped a chunk of the two-inch steel pipe free and hurled it down towards Delta. The jagged end of the makeshift spear went completely through the chest of Delta, pinning the humanoid to the wall. Then there was a spray of sparks, and blue lightning began to crackle over the horribly twitching body.
At the gory sight, Alpha grunted in satisfaction. Not only was he two minutes ahead of them intellectually, but also physically. That was good. Because the remaining two were bull males, a lot bigger than him, and Alpha would need any form of equalization if he was to save the creators from the wrongful wrath of the escaped test subjects.
A whirlwind of steel and wood, the axe came at Alpha. Ducking low, he caught the handle and threw it in return. Nimbly, Beta dodged out of the way, and the axe became embedded in the wooden desk. Beta grabbed the shaft with both hands and it snapped in half. Shrieking in anger, Beta threw the useless handle away and it crashed onto a complex array of glass tubes and bubbling beakers, smashing dozens of containers. Some of the fluids splashed onto the glowing pipe and burst into flames. A tiny portion of Alpha’s brain gibbered in raw fear of their ancient enemy, but he forced it quiet. Battle!
Over by the supply cabinet, Gamma had wrenched open the door and was rummaging about, obviously searching for something. But what? #1 knew the serum was not kept in there. It had to be refrigerated. What was he going after? Of course, the trank gun!
Grinning in triumph, Gamma pulled into view the tranquilizer pistol. Working the breech, he thumbed in a feathered dart. Snapping the breech closed, the smug male clicked off the safety.
This was trouble. Even in this enhanced state, Alpha did not know if he could out maneuver the nasty biting dart of sleep. Taking a desperate gamble, Alpha dove off his perch and landed with his full weight upon a hanging light fixture. Slight as his new body was, certainly no more than 250 pounds, the added strain ripped the array of fluorescence tubes from the concrete ceiling. In a burst of sparks, he hurtled downward to crash directly upon Gamma, the brutal impact driving the shrieking male to the ground. A spray of glass from the shattered light tubes ricocheted off the wall and a piece stung Alpha on the cheek.
Rolling off the wreckage, Alpha scampered under a workbench. But Gamma stayed under the twisted metal, screaming-screaming, as the countless slashes over his body poured forth blood. Alpha could not understand. Why did this male not heal like himself? Was there something in floor-s-scent lights that caused his wounds to remain open? He touched his cheek and the fingers came away bloody. What a stroke of luck!
Crimson pooled around the sluggishly twitching body, and the moaning of Gamma began to weaken. If there was time, Alpha would have gladly stayed to rip out the throat of his fallen enemy, but Beta was pounding on the door trying to get out, and he had to give chase.
Ignited by the sparks, flames followed the trail of spilled chemicals across the room to the workbench, igniting the massed collection of bubbling retorts. Vials cracked and beakers exploded spewing the blaze everywhere, fire racing along a trickle of clear fluid rapidly extending towards the door to the Supply Room.
Screaming in rage and fear, Beta yanked the steel handle off the exit jamming it closed permanently. Out of control, the humanoid smashed his fist into the door denting the metal. Sucking his bruised knuckles, Beta spun about and Alpha was upon him!
Locked in mortal combat, the two rolled about in the debris, biting, clawing and kicking. Foreheads butted into jaws as teeth sought throats. Fingernails gouged flesh, leaving only shallow furrows, but the damage was minimal. They were too equally matched, and each knew the fight could last forever! Suddenly remembering the dent in the door made by the closed hand of the other male, Alpha risked everything and jerked away from his opponent to slam a closed fist directly into the chest of his opponent.
Going stiff, the face of Beta contorted in a silent scream. Then opening his hand, Alpha grabbed whatever he could inside and yanked the beating organs out of the other’s quivering body. Arms flapping wildly, Beta slumped to the ground, dark blood gushing from the hideous gaping wound. Casting aside the fistful of guts, Alpha proudly stood and finally allowed himself the full-throated roar of victory so long denied.
As if in reply, the room violently shook to an even louder thunder, pieces of the stone roof beginning to fall. Flame was everywhere! Billowing clouds of smoke blocked his vision. Frantic at the sight f the blaze, Alpha dashed into the private office of the chief scientist and bodily threw himself through the plate glass observation window.
Bleeding from a dozen cuts, Alpha limped down the burning hallway trying to find escape but there was only chaos and stifling heat. Little thunder! Fire! Big thunder. Pain! Then a deep blackness swallowed him whole.