Chapter One

8th October 2207

Vessel: The Alcatraz 2. Prison Ship

Destination: N/A

Cargo: N/A

Crew: N/A

Droids: Unknown

 

Jinn didn’t know how long she’d been out for. It could have been a matter of minutes; it could have been days, or even weeks. She awoke to darkness, to a silence that was unfamiliar and yet somehow not, to a smell that she couldn’t quite place, a chemical tang that left a strange taste in the back of her throat.  

            But at least she awoke.

            Opening her eyes, she tried to take in her surroundings and tried not to panic when she realised that she was in a hospital. The white walls and the smell and the equipment that dotted the room all told her that. Two deep breaths, then she tried to get off the bed. But she couldn’t move. Her arms, legs and torso were bound with crisscrossing ties made out of rubbery white material that flexed when panic finally took hold and she fought against them. Her movements set a series of lights flashing and an alarm sounded, a hideous wail that seemed to scratch at her head from the inside out.

            Jinn twisted in the bed as the alarm continued to scream. A droid moved closer. She felt the sharp sting of a needle and then there was nothing.

            When she woke again, she knew better than to move. Cautiously, she turned her head, the only part of her that wasn’t strapped down. There were other beds, lots of them, and the men in them were all strapped down too, just as she was. When she saw them, Jinn knew where she was.

            She was back on board the A2.

            A small smile curved her mouth and she relaxed back into the bed. Excellent. The plan had worked. She hadn’t been sure that it would. She kept as still as she could, focussing on her breathing and the weight of Tellurium in her forearms. Come on, she willed it. Come on. Work.

            At first there was nothing, then she felt the all too familiar rush of heat into her hands. She lifted her head, trying to see, but the straps that bound her to the bed tightened immediately, pulling hard across her thighs, her chest, to the point where it became difficult to breathe. The room began to spin. She had no choice but to stop, though she gritted her teeth in frustration as the alarms sounded again, no doubt summoning more of the droids with their drugs and oblivion.

            If she was going to get free, she was going to have to think. She was going to have to outsmart whoever had designed this prison. The droids came, and so did the drugs and the darkness, and this time she dreamed. She was in her mother’s apartment in the Dome. Ferona was there, dressed in pale blue truesilk, looking exactly as Jinn remembered her. Her mouth was moving but Jinn couldn’t hear the words.

            And then there was pain, so much pain, and she touched her hands to her stomach, and when she lifted them, her palms were wet with blood, and Ferona was laughing, laughing, laughing.

            Jinn woke with a gasp, her heart thundering.

            Only a dream, she told herself. It was only a dream. She’d gone to her mother’s apartment. That was how she’d ended up here. But the rest of it wasn’t real.

            She willed the Tellurium out of her system again. She willed it to travel down, in thin seeking wires that forced their way through the medibed and into the computer system that controlled it.

            Her body jolted as she became part of the circuit, but the straps that held her down didn’t respond. Jinn moved a little against them. Nothing. She let out a shaky breath, her heart still racing from the shock, then she redirected the Tellurium. But she must have triggered a warning system in the bed somewhere.

            A medical droid that had been working on the other side of the room rushed towards her. Shit. She wouldn’t let it drug her again. She wouldn’t. The bed shocked her as she struggled against the straps, making her scream out with pain and frustration. The droid moved closer, hand  raised, needle ready.

            And then it was flying back across the room. It disappeared into the darkness. A man moved towards her. He was half naked and filthy, and when he spoke, his voice was a low, rough whisper. ‘I’ll get you out of here,’ he said. ‘But try anything stupid and I’ll break your neck.’

            He dropped to one knee at the side of the bed, and a moment later, the straps that held her down slid away. Jinn scrambled off the bed and into a crouch at the side opposite to the man. Blades out, she looked him over. Dark hair hung knotted and tangled down his back. His face had sharp, elegant lines, his eyes yellow green. He was familiar under the dirt. ‘I know you,’ she said. ‘You were here before. You’re Jozeph Li.’ She remembered watching him chase after the Deviant as it raced out of the docking bay, remembered leaving him behind when she’d first escaped from this place. It seemed so very long ago.

            ‘Talk later,’ he said. His gaze met hers, and then he leapt straight up and disappeared. Where in the void had he gone? Jinn followed his path up into the darkness. At first, she saw nothing, then her eyes gradually adjusted.

            There was a hole in the ceiling where one of the plastex tiles had been removed. It wasn’t big. But it was big enough. She scrambled up on to the bunk, but the hole was still a good two metres above the top of her head.

            ‘Jump!’ Li called down to her. ‘Hurry!’

            Jinn took a deep breath. She bent her knees. She closed her eyes. The muscles in her legs, which had at first seemed heavy, shocked her with a sudden explosion of power. She flew up, up, and then strong hands were on her waist, pulling her forward. She stumbled, collapsing onto her hands and knees inside a dimly lit, poky space.

            Something was different.

            She’d been modified. She knew it all at once, just as she’d known where she was. She’d been too busy trying to get away from the droids to notice before. She felt it now, though. The sensation was all too familiar.

            ‘Am I green?’ she asked as Li scrambled to put the roof tile back in position.

            ‘What?’

            ‘Am I green?!’

            ‘No,’ he said. ‘You’re whiter than a bloody snowflake.’

            Jinn pressed her hands to her face, then sat back. Her legs felt strange. In fact, her entire body felt strange. But she wasn’t Type Two. She wasn’t toxic. She wasn’t Type Three, either. She couldn’t hear anything but the thundering of her heart and the hoarse rush of her breathing.

            She’d been able to jump a height that should have been impossible. She willed out her blades, willed them back in again. The Tellurium reacted with a speed she’d never been able to generate before. It was as if her entire body had been upgraded, and suddenly she knew.

            She knew.

            There was only one thing that could have done this. ‘I’m Type One,’ she said. She scrambled back, away from Li. Type Ones had increased strength and incredible healing. They were also highly aggressive, and that was not something she ever wanted to be.

             ‘You’re an incomplete Type One,’ Li said.

            ‘What do you mean?’

            ‘You only went through the first stage of the process. They don’t administer the final dose of serum until you’re in one of the cages down in the hold. Too dangerous.’

            ‘So I’m not aggressive.’

            ‘Not unless you choose to be.’

            Jinn dropped her head to her knees and rested it there for a moment. The first time she’d been here, she’d seen the people being held in those electrified holding cells. One of them had nearly killed her. But that was what you got when you spliced Sittan DNA into human cells; something different. Something that wasn’t human any more.

            She wasn’t that. She didn’t really know what she was yet, but she wasn’t that. Looking around, Jinn quickly took in her surroundings. They were in a maintenance tunnel a couple of metres wide and about the same high. When she got to her feet, her body felt different. She hadn’t noticed it before but she was noticeably taller. The lack of light hardly bothered her at all.

            It felt very odd.

            But it didn’t matter. There would be time to think about it later. Right now she had a job to do.

            ‘I need to get to the control deck,’ she said.

            ‘What for?’

            ‘I’ve got to take the ship offline,’ she said. That was why she was here. That was the plan. Go to Earth, get sent back to the A2, stop the government from sending the people on board to Sittan. Stop more people from signing up to the programme that would see them genetically modified and traded as slaves to their alien neighbours. ‘Once I’ve got control of the freighter, Dax and the others...’

            ‘Dax is gone.’

            ‘What do you mean, he’s gone?’

            ‘He was here,’ Li said. ‘They checked him over, gave him the final dose of serum and then they loaded him on a transporter. He’s gone.’

            ‘No,’ Jinn said. He couldn’t be. ‘He’s on the Mutant, not here.’

             But the memory came flooding back. It hadn’t been a dream. She had gone to Earth. She had been arrested and taken to her mother’s apartment in the London Dome. Then Dax had come after her, and Ferona had ordered a droid to shoot her right in the gut, a potentially fatal wound. And so Dax had surrendered. He had done it for Jinn, to keep her alive, because Ferona had told him Jinn would be left to die if he did not. ‘Why didn’t you help him?’ she asked Li, desperately.

            ‘And risk getting caught?’

            ‘You helped me!’

            ‘You didn’t have 4 security droids standing over you 24/7. Look. You escaped from this place before, which means you can escape from it again. You want to help Dax? Get those friends of yours to come and get us.’

            ‘I need to get a message out.’

            ‘That might be a little difficult,’ Li said. His shoulders slumped.

            ‘Why?’

            ‘All the terminals have been removed.’

            ‘They must have left the central unit to keep the life support running,’ Jinn said. ‘I should be able to hack in to it. It’s on the control deck.’

             It took them about thirty minutes to reach the control deck, which was located three floors up. But when they got there the central computer had been removed. Two smaller units had been fitted instead, and she couldn’t access either of them. She tried anyway. Beside her, Li said something rude. She knew how he felt.

            Think, Jinn, think.

            Cut the power. Reboot the system. Bypass the seals on these two units.

            She wasn’t outdone. Merely delayed.

            The easiest place to cut the power would be down in the cargo bay where the main generator was housed. There were other places but they would be difficult to reach and time was of the essence now.

            So she forced open the doors of the control deck and trekked along the passageways that led down to the bottom of the ship. Although the control deck had been changed, nothing else had. There were still trails of bilehore slime crossing the walls and the ceiling. Still the tucked away corners where prisoners who had once occupied this ship had built the closest thing they could to a home.

            The vast chamber was just as she remembered. It was still too hot and it still stank, though at least this time she didn’t have to deal with the shock of what it contained. But somehow with that element missing, the details of it hit her that much harder. The vivid yellow of the arcs of electric charge that ran the length of the cages. The smell of sweat and burning flesh. The noise.

             Lowering herself on to her stomach, Jinn edged her way along the walkway. The air was stifling, filled with the smell of hot metal and human filth. At the end of the walkway was the familiar spiralling stairway that led down to the lower floor. She crawled to it, then slowly made her way down the stairs.

            The generator would be down on the deck where the droids could easily reach it, to ensure that it was maintained. She pushed up in to a crouch and watched their movement for a moment until she spotted a repair droid. It scuttled around the cages then over to the wall where several flashing control panels were housed. Pipes ran away from them, each one as thick as her arm.

            There. That had to be it. Keeping her low position, Jinn moved to the bottom of the stairs as quickly as she dared. It was even hotter down here. The challenge now was to reach those controls without getting too close to the cages. Wiping away the sweat that ran into her eyes, Jinn pressed her back against the wall and carefully made her way across. The droids ignored her for the most part, busy with the men inside the cages.

            She edged further round the edge of the space until eventually she reached the intersection of power cables on the wall. She reached out, touched them, whipping her hand away as the heat of the metal scorched her bare flesh. She could hear the power crackling inside the metal pipe that ran floor to ceiling, and knew she’d found the sweet spot. All she had to do now was inflict enough damage on it to take it out. The system would compensate for the damage and reboot, picking a pathway that avoided the broken pipe, and in so doing, would reset the main unit on the control deck. But she’d have to make it quick. Sooner or later, the droids were going to notice what she was doing, and she very much doubted they would like it.

             Jinn set her blade to the pipe, counted to three, and sliced clean through it. Electricity sang through her body as she severed the wires inside. For a moment there was nothing but blackness and a terrifying sensation of numbness. Her body quickly recovered. She could feel it healing from the inside out, a rush of warmth and sudden drop in energy. She leaned back against the wall and breathed deeply as the heat subsided and the exhaustion fled as quickly as it had appeared.

            And it was a good thing that it did. The instant she’d severed those wires, the electro cages had switched off. Darkness filled the space now together with the sound of scrambling footsteps. There was yelling and screaming. Droids clattered around in the darkness.

            Then the emergency lighting switched on.          

            ‘Bloody supernova,’ Jinn shrieked, pressing back against the wall. The prisoners were tearing each other apart. She had never seen such violence, such eager brutality. Screams of rage and pain filled the air, together with the unmistakeable tang of blood.

            At the bottom of the stairs, she saw Jozeph Li snap the neck of a man who had his teeth in his arm. He threw the body aside, a look of distaste on his face. Jinn sprinted towards him. ‘Let’s go,’ he said.

            Jinn didn’t need to be told twice. They made it out of the cargo bay, just, and made it back to the control deck in record time. Jinn pressed her hands to the ports on the now unsealed units. The Tellurium pushed out of her fingertips and connected with the computer. She searched, found the channel she was looking for. It took several seconds too many to make the connection, time in which her heart threatened to stop and her stomach threatened to empty.

            When Theon’s face filled the screen, Jinn didn’t know whether she wanted to laugh or cry. ‘Theon,’ she said. ‘He’s gone.’

            ‘Yes,’ Theon said. ‘I know. I take it you’re in need of rescue.’

            ‘Like never before. How quickly can you get here?’

            ‘How quickly can you get the docking bay doors open?’

            Jinn instructed the system to open the doors. ‘It’s done.’

            ‘Be ready for us,’ Theon told her.

            She turned to Li. ‘I won’t leave you behind this time,’ she said.

            ‘I’m counting on it.’

            She disconnected from the computer and willed out her blades. ‘I’m ready.’

            ‘What are those?’ Li asked her.

            ‘Another time,’ she told him.

            ‘I’ll hold you to that,’ he said, and they sprinted out in to the bay, knowing that this was their only chance of escape. At the far end, the airlock hissed open, and the nose of a small white transporter slid in to view, but it was so far away, too far away.

            And between them and the transporter, a group of security droids were tangling with some of the Type One males. It was hard to tell which side was winning. Blaster fire peppered the hold, bouncing off the walls, ricocheting in all directions, sparking small fires all over the place. ‘Run!’ Li shouted. They ran faster, faster, until they hit the wall and kept on moving, up the side of the cargo bay and onto the ceiling, just as she had done with Dax once before, only this time she wasn’t being carried.

            The speed was all hers. There was no time to try and understand it now, because they were close to the transporter, so close. But not close enough. A huge male darted in front of them, knocking Jinn to the floor. His eyes were wild, his pupils little more than narrow slits. A blaster shot caught him in the shoulder and he roared, but didn’t get out of her way.

            Jinn flipped on to her stomach, scrambling away from him. A strong hand hauled her to her feet. ‘Theon!’ she gasped.

            ‘Get to the transporter,’ he said. ‘Go. I’ll keep them back.’

            She opened her mouth to argue with him, but he was already gone, spinning away from her, tackling another Type One before he could grab her.

            Jinn didn’t need to be told twice. She broke into a sprint, flinging herself at the half lowered ramp. Jozeph Li wasn’t far behind, his booted feet hitting the ramp and making it shake. He grabbed Jinn by the back of her shirt and hauled her further up the ramp, further still, until she was on the floor inside the belly of the transporter.

            She stayed there for a moment, trying to catch her breath. ‘Theon!’ she screamed. ‘Come on!’

            But he was too deep into the fray. And above the noise of the men, she heard something else. An alarm. A very distinctive alarm, that sent a shiver of fear down her back. It was a sound that anyone who had undergone pilot training knew only too well. The self-destruct had been activated. How, she didn’t know, until she saw a couple of the Type Ones attacking the scuttling valves in the hull.

            Jinn scrambled to her feet, dashed through to the empty pilot’s seat of the small ship and dropped in to it. She plugged in. Her retinal screen came on almost instantly, and she fired up the drive. If they stayed, they died. All of them. Theon...she saw Theon on the screen, fighting his way through the crowd of men and droids, trying to get to the transporter. They grabbed his arms, his legs.

            And then they tore him apart.

            ‘No!’

            But he was gone.

            And the alarm had changed, warning all on board that they were in to the final count. Through a haze of tears, Jinn connected with the onboard computer. How she managed to fly them out of there, she wasn’t sure, but she did. She flew onwards, onwards. The Mutant was just ahead. She docked with it quickly, leaving the little transporter and sprinting to the control deck where Eve and Alistair were waiting.

            ‘He’s gone,’ she said. She could barely believe it. ‘Theon’s gone.’

            ‘We know,’ Eve said. ‘We heard.’

            ‘They activated the self-destruct,’ Jinn told them. ‘It’s...’

            The force of the explosion rocked the ship. The brightness of it filled the viewscreen, a flash of pure white light that was just as quickly swallowed by darkness.

            They sat there in silence, in stillness. Jinn was too shocked to speak. She had escaped it by seconds. She had escaped it because Theon had sacrificed himself, giving his life in place of hers. All of the men on board were dead, killed by their own actions. They had been completely out of control. Her plan hadn’t been a plan at all, it had been a disaster waiting to happen.

             ‘So where to now?’ asked Li, as the final traces of the explosion faded away.

            ‘Dax has been taken to Sittan,’ Jinn said. ‘And we’re going to go and get him.’ She walked to the pilot’s chair and sat in it. ‘I won’t leave him to die on that planet. He deserves better than that.’

            And so had Theon, and the men on board the A2. She had let them down. She had let them all down.

            She wouldn’t do that to Dax.

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