*This Featured Free Read is backstory to Gale Stanley’s latest book, Adam [Hybrids 1].*
By Gale Stanley
A new batch of future soldiers—seven-year-olds dressed in camouflage pants and T-shirts—marched into the academy gym with startling precision. They took their places in the center of the cavernous room, and the trainers walked around checking their posture.
At thirteen, I wasn’t much older, but I already had five years of military training behind me, and I was as critical of these babies as the trainers. The kids were trying, but boys will be boys, and some of them were already fidgeting. One boy, so small his gun was bigger than he was, snickered and made faces at the boy next to him.
“You think this is funny!” A trainer bent down till he was nose to nose with the mousy-haired youth. The trainer pulled the rifle from the boy’s hands, turned it around, and shoved the barrel into the youth’s chest. “That kind of behavior will get you killed.”
A thick cloud of unease filled the room, and we all averted our eyes, not wanting to be associated with the culprit. The trainers meant business. Every one of us wore the bruises to prove it. Long awkward minutes passed. Finally the trainer shoved the weapon back at the boy, almost knocking the kid off his feet. “You need to learn some respect, boy. Move it.” He pointed to a corner of the room. “Clean your weapon until it passes my inspection.”
Trembling in his sneakers, the boy straightened his shoulders and tried to keep his head up as he walked away.
Children playing soldier. Not me. I was a man, or almost a man. I itched to be out there on the floor. I’d show those babies how it was done. At thirteen, I was already six feet tall, strong and cunning, and I’d been practicing military maneuvers for five years. Playing war games suited me, but for some reason I’d been pulled aside. It pissed me off, but impatient as I was, I kept my cool and waited for further orders. I figured the trainers had something big in mind for me, like demonstrating some new military formation. I’d be more than glad to help out. Learning military maneuvers for warfare was my favorite class at the academy.
But we didn’t just learn to fight. Dr. Joseph Shepard, who ran the school, wanted us to be well rounded, so we were also taught math, history, biology…Computers, too, but no Internet access. I figured it had something to do with being underground. Still, the classwork was interesting because the teachers wove stories of war and conflict in with the lessons.
We learned all about the enemies of the government, those faceless assailants who had killed our parents. The academy existed because of them. The doctor created the school to provide housing and education for the sons of soldiers who’d been killed in battle. Daughters were housed separately—or so we were told.
I still remembered the day Dr. Shepard walked into one of my classes and revealed our true purpose. I was seven. We had just been shown slides of a battlefield littered with dead bodies, and I imaged my father’s remains among them. The desire for revenge grew stronger inside me.
Dr. Shepard looked at the photo and shook his head sadly. “The world outside has become overwhelmed by war. I’ve given you sanctuary here at the academy, now it’s time to give something back. Despite your misfortunes, you boys are the best and the brightest of today’s youth. You all deserve the chance to avenge your families and to make our world safer. I’m going to give you that chance. I think it’s time to begin your military training. What do you think?”
Every one of us let out a cheer. To me it felt like a privilege to be groomed to serve as the core of a new and better army. We were told we would not go into battle until eighteen, but I was ready now. I pictured myself in battle, risking my life for my country and the sweet taste of revenge. It felt good. It felt like my destiny. One day I’d be the perfect soldier, maybe even a general.
Dr. Shepard continued. “Study hard and work hard, and one day you will contribute to the safety of the population outside these walls. Each one of you is very important to the success of this endeavor. I know you’ll make me proud.”
I vowed to work and study harder than ever, because I really believed I had a special purpose in life. By becoming the best soldier and getting top marks in class, I would fulfill my destiny, and my parents would look down on me and smile proudly.
Not all the boys felt this way. We weren’t allowed to become too chummy, but we did talk among ourselves, and rumors spread quickly. Why did we go by numbers instead of names? And not one of had photos of our families. Some boys believed we’d been kidnapped and taken to this underground fortress to replenish a shrinking army. Still others thought we’d been created by the doctor in some freakish experimental research and would never see the light of day.
Unfuckingbelievable. They’re crazy—
A meaty hand came down on my shoulder and grabbed it roughly. “Follow me,” the trainer barked in my ear.
My head jerked in surprise, but I knew better than to question a trainer. I kept my expression unreadable and followed him through a maze of labyrinthine passageways. I’d never been in this part of the complex and I had no idea what to expect.
We turned a corner and entered a tunnel lined with doors on either side. Stopping in front of a wooden door with a small barred window, the trainer took a ring of keys from his pocket and inserted one in the lock. “Get in.”
A lump formed in my throat, but I couldn’t hold back. “Why?”
“No.” I balked. For the first time in my life I felt real fear.
Suddenly I was shoved inside and flattened against a stone wall, the trainer’s hands squeezing my throat. Just as my vision started to go dim, he released me, and I slid to the floor coughing and gasping for air. A few strides and he was gone, the heavy wooden door slamming shut behind him. I heard the click of the lock, and fury replaced my fear and confusion.
I stood and looked around. A narrow cot, toilet, and sink took up most of the space. There wasn’t much room to move around, but I couldn’t sit still. I racked my brain, trying to make sense of my situation. Did the doctor think I was sick? I did feel sick inside. My heart raced and my guts twisted, but it could all be due to nerves.
Hot and feverish, my hands curled into fists, and I pounded on the door. Pain made me inspect my palms. My nails had grown long enough to pierce the skin and draw blood. A cold sweat broke over my back as I watched a pelt of sandy hair spread over my arms. My body contorted with a hellish surge of pain. I tried to scream, but nothing came out. Instead, sharp fangs pierced my lip. Dropping to the floor, I heard my T-shirt rip and fall off my changing body.
When I looked up, I saw Dr. Shepard’s face at the window. He studied me as if I were a bug under a microscope. I threw myself against the door, but it was no use. There was no escape. Not from my prison, and not from myself.
Trapped in this hellish nightmare, a seed of hate grew inside me. Now my enemy had a face, and one day I would have my revenge.