The entity was there, he knew, in the darkness. He couldn’t immediately make out where it was, but then was a sudden movement; sudden, abrupt, gone. If he had blinked, he would have missed it; he was keeping his eyes carefully open, however, because he needed to make sure he saw everything. The being mustn’t escape.
I need to be able to react quickly. I need this.
Joseph felt a line of sweat trickle down his back; tonight was important. Months of planning and organising would finally be realised if he pulled this off, but the creature before him was a complex beast. He had seen them before, of course, he’d had no choice, they were everywhere, and it was unavoidable. He was constantly tensed and sickened whenever he left the house; they were everywhere.
Some people – most people – actually accepted them into their lives; it was considered entirely normal that they would be here amongst humanity. Joseph swallowed, his gorge rising; that was a betrayal. These beings – these screeching, animalistic beings – caused chaos wherever they went, and people just laughed, shrugged their shoulders, and made up excuses.
But they’re the invaders! Joseph wanted to bellow every time he saw this happening. He resisted the urge only because he didn’t want to draw any attention to himself. It was considered almost unusual to dislike them; people had become involved in some strange symbiotic relationship with these entities. It was like Stockholm Syndrome, where any mention of your innate distrust was considered abnormal and wrong. So Joseph had to pretend that he was at best neutral about them; that was tough, but he was a good actor.
And after today, I can prove that we don’t need them any more.
He stepped forward, edging a step closer across the dark room towards the slumbering creature. His breathing was slow, steady, and silent, and he had carefully taken his shoes off in the corridor outside, and he glided along the wooden floor in his stocking feet.
He froze. The being’s eyes were open; it was staring at him. How was that possible? He had not made a sound. The being – he thought it was a female, with its long hair and body shape – sat up slowly, her eyes fixed on him. Joseph’s eyes had adjusted to the dark, and he had to presume that the being’s eyes had as well. She had been in this darkened room a lot longer than him.
“You’re him, aren’t you?” the being said in a light, yet thoughtful tone. “The man from the news reports?”
Joseph blinked. Beings like her weren’t well-known for watching the news; they had their own concerns and interests, and it didn’t often coincide with the rest of society. But this entity was conversant with the reports that had identified him; well, he corrected, not him particularly. No-one had been able to identify who the person was, although the on-screen sympathisers had all described him the same way – as a man who was harming people, when he was actually doing the opposite. He was helping society by proving these beings weren’t necessary; once his own creation was finished – which could be a matter of days after this evening’s work – he would exonerate himself and be touted as a hero.
“Yes,” he said. He saw no reason to lie. “Yes, I’m him.”
He paused, waiting to see what this creature would do next. She cocked her head to one side and stared at him. Like all of her kind, she was seemingly unencumbered by the social mores. Her kind simply weren’t interested in learning them, except in the most basic way; why should they, after all? They weren’t required to; people excused them because of their status within all strata of society. It was incredibly depressing that they weren’t held in the same esteem as everyone else; it was one rule for people like him and special rules – relaxed, easier rules – for people like her.
“You’re here to hurt me, aren’t you?” the female said matter-of-factly. If she was feeling any fear, she was hiding it well. She was starting at him very intently and without mercy. “That’s what you do to people – hurt them.”
“That’s just propaganda,” he replied. “I work to free them.”
She frowned. “What does that mean?” she asked. “I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t. None of your kind do. You should all be ashamed of yourselves for what you continue to do to our world and our way of life.”
The female’s mouth hung open; she seemed to be processing what he had said. Joseph realised that he had overstepped her level of comprehension. To be fair, he had never learnt how to speak to them in their preferred method. If he was curt and abrupt, he usually escaped fairly quickly. They could often sense his discomfort somehow. That either made them go away very quickly, or attracted him to them like a bee to honey. There was no middle ground.
“You’re weird,” she said. “Why do you do it? Why do you do what you do?”
Joseph scowled. Was she actually asking him to justify himself to her? What made it worse was that he actually wanted to reply. For a moment, defiance ran through his head, but he shook it away; perhaps he could convince her that what he was doing was right.
“Because someone needs to,” he replied. “You’re dangerous. You can’t be trusted. I won’t let you and everyone like you destroy the world, consuming food and energy like they’re going out of fashion.”
Her forehead wrinkled; she was clearly trying to understand what he was talking about, but he didn’t hold out any hope that she actually would.
“But we’re here for a reason,” she said. “Why do you want to get rid of us? We’re not hurting anyone.”
“Yes you are!” Joseph protested. “You know you are – and if you don’t, then you’re more insane than I realised. All of you are. The planet is dying, and you … people are the cause. We can’t sustain the number of people we have, and your kind are consuming resources faster than the rest of us.”
“But won’t humans all die without us? That’s what I was told.”
“Who told you?”
The female shrugged. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “People. I can’t remember. I probably learnt it from the news or my teachers. Maybe. I can’t really remember.”
“Well, whoever told you is right,” Joseph replied. “We do need you to survive … right now. But I’m building something that will stop us relying on your kind any more.”
Her eyes widened. “How?” she asked in a small voice – a fragile voice, and with such weakness behind it that Joseph’s heart twisted in agony for a moment – No! his mind exclaimed. Don’t let her get into your mind!
“By relying on science rather than the messy business we currently use. I can build a species that doesn’t need your phase of life. I can use your kind to put it all together, force its growth, and make it like me – just unencumbered by your fraility and dominance.”
“You’ll just make it an adult, you mean?”
“Yes. How old are you?”
Perfect. “I need your hands.”
The female – the girl – lifted her arms and stared at her hands. They were smaller than his, of course, and surprisingly delicate. How could such perfectly-formed hands belong to such a dangerous creature? Joseph swallowed down the bile surging up his throat.
“Give them to me,” he croaked.
She dropped her hands onto her bed and looked at him again, her eyes wide and seemingly innocent.
“No,” she replied.
“Give them to me.”
“NO!” The response was firmer this time, and Joseph braced himself. This was just the start of the famous anger that could appear in the rage-soaked brain of an average entity like the one in front of him. But a thought then occurred …
“Why are you not shouting for your parents?” he asked. He shouldn’t be engaging in conversation, he knew, but a surge of curiosity was flowing through him. “Where are they?”
The female frowned. “Would you like me to shout for them?” she asked.
“Of course not. But that’s … normal for your kind. You show fear, of a sort. You are able to pretend you’re capable of normal human emotions.”
The female gaped. “Are you saying I should shout for my parents?”
“I don’t want you to, but you know why I’m here. Why haven’t you shouted for your parents?”
The female stared at him, her forehead creasing again. “Do you have any idea where you are?”
“What sort of question is that? You’ve connived your way into a home with adults who are forced to be your parents because of your emotional blackmail. You torment adults with your demands, and they are forced to submit because of their biological imperative. I can free them of this -“
“Oh do shut up.”
Joseph cleared his throat; had that actually come out of her mouth? The content wasn’t surprising – they could be disparaging and rude – but the tone was. It was weary and annoyed, in a very adult and tense way that didn’t usually come across in their voices.
The female rolled her eyes. Now that was much more like the creatures he knew; sarcastic, irritating, and dominating.
“I’m not going to shout for someone who’s not here.”
“You’re alone?” Joseph nodded approvingly; he couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was going to make this situation a lot easier; perhaps the easiest out of all the thefts he had conducted over the past three months to build his creation.
“No. Well, yes, I suppose. But no.”
“What?” Joseph tried to peer closer through the gloom. “What are you talking about? Either you are or you aren’t.”
The female sighed – a touch too dramatically for Joseph’s liking. “I am alone if you mean physically. Sure, there’s no-one else here.”
Victory was going to be his! Pride flushed Joseph’s cheeks, and his hands clenched into fists; this was perfect! There was no risk; he could easily take the girl’s hands, and no-one would know. At least not for a while, and then it wouldn’t matter because he would have long gone and already presented his new creation to the world. A new breed of human that could create more of itself, thus saving everyone the poor and messy form of having to carry them to term and then have them spend so many years growing and cruelly manipulating humans.
“Why do you hate us so much?”
The question was so unexpected; he had never been asked it before. In the months he had been doing this – after years of research and preparation – all the entities he had met had reacted with fear and anger and a range of emotions which Joseph had refused to accept. None of them had been able to have a coherent enough thought to ask such a question.
“Hate you?” Joseph licked his lips. “Because you rule over the rest of humanity. You control our time, our financial resources, and … well, everything. We have geared everything we are towards raising your kind. Imagine what we could do without you!”
“But imagine what we could all grow up to be!” the female burst out, finally standing up from her bed. “If you get rid of us – all of us – then you’re losing people who could do good. We could be doctors, scientists … I don’t know, whatever, and solves diseases or the biggest challenges in our entire civil … civil … society.”
“Or become another tyrant killing millions of people!” Joseph said. “What I’m doing will allow us to control who we introduce into society. You want a doctor who can cure cancer? Fine – I’ll build someone with such a mind and they can start work immediately. You want an engineer who can create a rocket ship to Mars? I can build that as well.”
The female shook her head. “So can nature. I’ve learnt all about evolution; you can’t make someone do everything you want. Maybe the beings you create will become a bad person too. You can’t promise they won’t. With children, their parents at least will help them see right from wrong before they’re allowed to start work. Your things … the things you build – will wake up and start working straight away. And they’ll be built out of stolen body parts.”
Joseph saw her shudder in the darkness of her room, but he was unmoved. She was disgusted, sure, but that was her choice; and it was entirely possible anyway that she was just covering her true feelings – whatever they were – with these false emotions. He couldn’t allow himself to change from his plans, and he wouldn’t just because this 11 year old was trying to manipulate him. She was clever, certainly – one of the cleverest he had met – but that wasn’t going to divert him from what he knew was right.
“Why are you alone?” he asked. “Are you defective? Tell me. I need to understand before I take your hands from you.”
“Defective? That means broken, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. Don’t they teach you anything at school?”
“I go to a school that teaches me lots. It’s a very special school. They obviously haven’t got to that word in English yet. We’ve been focusing on quantum mechanics and evolution right now.”
What? Quantum mechanics and evolution? Given her age, she would only just be in the first year of secondary school, and those subjects would surely be beyond her right now. Joseph didn’t pretend to know the intricacies of the current education system for these tyrants, but he could at least know that much.
“What school is it?” he asked. “A specialist science one?”
“No, just one for really clever students. We’ve all got gifts. I’ve been going there since I was eight. We’re taught that some people will probably be afraid of us, so we keep ourselves to ourselves. That’s why my parents aren’t here. This is a small compound where kids like me stay. Our school is about a mile away, and we board here – we’ve got cameras around the house so that they can keep an eye on us, but we’re given a lot of freedom.”
“All children are. Too much freedom.”
“No, we’re different. We’re treated differently because of who we are.”
Joseph scowled. He was actually having a conversation with this being, here in the middle of her bedroom; he was letting her distract him, and that was wrong It was time to get on with – wait, had she mentioned cameras? His eyes flicked around the room, but it was too dark to make out any shapes. The girl, however, seemed to have interpreted his meaning.
“You won’t see them,” she said. “But people can see you.”
Joseph’s eyes returned to the girl’s face.
“What powers do you have?” he demanded.
He saw, vaguely through the gloom, a smile flick across her face. There was something … eerie about her, more so than the usual level that he found – and hated – in every single evil being which controlled the planet.
“Took you long enough,” she said more quietly this time. “God, you’re slow. Not quite as bad as my physics teacher, who can’t seem to think of an answer to a joke in less than five minutes. I’m a mutant – someone with special powers.”
“Like in X-Men?” Joseph flushed immediately, and was grateful that the room was dark.
The female shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Turns out it was just a documentary. Want to know what my powers are? Put it this way – I could rip you apart in a heartbeat.”
Joseph took a step back, despite himself, and swallowed. He wouldn’t be at all surprised if these beings had strange and unusual powers; after all, he had long wondered if they could read minds or manipulate the emotions of otherwise clear-thinking adults. It wouldn’t be a huge leap of the imagination if they were able to do other things as well.
She was a scrap of a thing; he could easily overpower her in ordinary situations … but what if this wasn’t an ordinary situation? With the others, who he had taken apart to build his successor to the child pestilence, they hadn’t had time to react to his ministrations. But he had been talking to this one for far too long. He realised that he was doing himself a disservice by giving her the time of day; he clearly needed to beat a hasty retreat, in case she used her powers on him. Perhaps she already had done, by mentally convincing him to stay, and only now had he been able to resist her powers.
He then stiffened; what if she could read his mind? His eyes sought out hers, and she licked her lips; there was a menace beneath her lidded eyes that made him swallow hard. This was meant to have been easy, like all the others, but now things had changed. His hands were clammy, sweaty, and his face felt the same way. What if she was telling the truth? He couldn’t be discovered, he simply couldn’t be.
I need to save us! he thought. I need to! I can’t stay here!
Almost on auto-pilot, he turn and fled from the room – despite himself, trying to remain silent in case any of the cameras picked him up. He needed to hide himself; a few days at his hideaway, and he would try again.
Tamara breathed out and she slumped back onto the bed, flicking on the bedside lamp. She ran a hand through her shoulder-length blonde hair, and it came back wet; her hair was damp with sweat. As, she now realised, was the back of her pyjama top.
X-Men, she thought with a satisfied grin. Good job Dad made me watch those films over and over again.
She enjoyed the films, of course, but she wouldn’t ever give her dad the satisfaction of admitting that. I’ve got a status to live up too, after all. But she had wanted to act for as long as she could remember, and had even appeared in a couple of plays at school. Her parents and teachers had said she was good, so she had known she needed to try it now in order to survive.
Sure, she could have called for her parents, asleep just down the hall. But would she have survived the attempt? That freak – Mark Johns or something, wasn’t it? – had gained a reputation, for attacking three other children in their homes.
Her parents had tried to shield her from the news, but everyone was talking about it. How could she avoid it? It was freaky, of course it was, but she had held her nerve and given … what had Mrs Davies at school called her performance of Juliet? Oh, yeah, the performance of her life. That was the same as what had happened here; she had outperformed herself, but this time to survive.
“Tamara? Why’s your light on? What -“
Her dad stopped talking as he walking into her room, dressed as always just in his t-shirt and shorts. His mouth dropped open as he looked at her; she realised then what she must have looked like, drenched in sweat and perched on the end of her bed.
“What’s going on?” her dad managed to ask. “Did you have a bad dream?”
She shook her head just as her dad enveloped her in a bear hug. In a minute, she would have to tell him everything. Of course she would; there was no question that what she had seen might be able to help the police find this maniac. But that was in the future; right now, she was safe in her dad’s arms, and that was all that mattered.