This is the fourth finalist in Young Post’s Summer 2016 Short Story Competition, which offers the grand prize of a Samsung Gear VR headset and a 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7! Each week, we’ll publish one of the finalists’ stories, with the winning entry appearing in Young Post on August 27.
The boy, aged 17, walked slowly across the shiny white surface of the pod, his oversized feet plodding with soft, almost rhythmic thuds. He curled
his long, snake-like arm around a metal bar and, in one swift movement, snapped the bar like hardened clay. The bar fell to
Ebony, they called him.
* * *
Anson was the average 13-year-old King George V School student. Well, not really that average, given the countless detentions and suspensions. He felt that he would never be like the rest of them. He could see them – The Perfects, he called them. The smart ones. The A-stars. The one-hundred-per-cents. Whatever nickname Anson had for them, they were all ... just perfect. And he didn’t like them.
And there he was. At the back of the class. Oh, look. His maths teacher was saying something, pointing at the holoscreen – was that a cylinder? Yes, they must be studying volume. Volume! So hugely important in life! Not.
The bell rang, signalling the end of school. He knew what his teacher would say if she saw that he hadn’t achieved anything in the past hour. Luckily, the teacher, also worn out by another hectic week, dismissed them without a moment’s hesitation. This rare, blunt dismissal caught the class off guard, but before they could celebrate, Anson was already outside.
* * *
Ebony was mad. And when he got mad, he got really mad.
The pod was running out of power.
“Sam,” he hissed, in a slurred, gravelly voice. Where was that creep?
Minutes passed before Sam part-trudged, part-hobbled into the room, weak as a kitten, growing more and more infirm.
“Yes?” said Sam.
“Come here, you little dolt.”
Sam moved forward, obediently but involuntarily, as if driven by a telekinetic force. As Sam came closer, Ebony gleefully noticed that he was shaking with fear. He laughed: a soft, short laugh. Ebony raised his whip-hand and brought it down with such force that Sam screamed out loud; a blood-curdling scream which would have sent shivers down the spine of any normal person. But Ebony was not a normal person. He raised his whip-hand once more. He brought it down with a swift flick of the wrist and caught Sam in the neck. Another scream of pain. Writhing in agony, Sam attempted to scramble away. His neck was bleeding, and his shirt, soaked in blood, was now dark crimson. Ebony flashed a satisfied grin and walked away, a part of his mind seething, telling him it was wrong, it wasn’t right, it was torture.
Finally, Sam was gone. His life, over. It had been easy, thought Ebony; just like that it was done.
Ebony had work to do. He walked, relatively calmly, to the cockpit door and placed his good hand on the door to be scanned.
“Welcome, Mr Shroud,” said the artificial intelligence in a tranquil, monotone. Ebony had always liked that woman. She never argued. She just did what she was told. Everyone should be more like her. He sat on the chair, which rose, revealing the pod controls. Of course, normally the AI would fly, but this time, he wanted to. Just as a snake sheds its skin, he lifted his whip-hand from its casing, and the now-independent tentacle contracted and landed in a motionless heap on the floor, revealing a black, charred hand. He liked his mutation. Silently, he thanked the dead scientists – the scientists he had killed, he thought happily – for giving him his gift.
* * *
Anson flopped on the sofa. His parents were out of town for the weekend, so he was alone. Two whole days to himself! The things he could achieve! But first, a nap. He closed his eyes. Moments later, Anson fell to the floor, hyperventilating. Robotic help was at hand, of course, but he could get up by himself, thank you very much.
Like a hideous, black liquid contaminating a clear pool, Anson’s mind flooded with dim memories about his past. He attempted to push them out. Memories of being in the lab, with that monster, Ebony. The name had always made him feel uneasy. It was a girl’s name; but the scientists hadn’t known Ebony’s gender when they created him. Funny, he thought, after carefully manufacturing so much else about him, the scientists seemed to think his gender was too insignificant to bother with. But that only added to his odd behaviour. Or, maybe, thought Anson darkly, his odd behaviour was because Ebony wasn’t really human? Ebony, Anson mused, was the reason for all of his nightmares, personality quirks and problems. He was a loser in school because of Ebony. He was friendless because of Ebony. He despised Ebony. The good scientists had died because of Ebony. Anson spat on the floor and lifted himself up, shivering.
* * *
Ebony was getting closer to Anson’s apartment. He could feel it. He grew up around here. Shame he would have to destroy the whole area of Ho Man Tin.
The craft shuddered as it slowed down from supersonic speed. The friendly AI alerted Ebony and tried to make him sit down, fasten his seat belt and prepare for landing, but he overrode her to take control. The pod reached cruising speed, before gradually slowing and hovering next to a seemingly empty expanse of land – the King George V School field.
“Open sesame,” whispered Ebony, and a part of the deserted field split open. The pod sank underground and picked up speed as it flew past the rest of the vehicles lined up in the bunker.
Suddenly, it stopped with a jolt, sending Sam’s dead body flying, and turned into a parking spot. Wheels cushioned the craft’s landing as it touched down. The door popped open with a sibilant whisper and Ebony climbed out, a new whip-hand growing.
* * *
Anson was in the kitchen, binge eating. Turns out that those lime-flavoured tortilla chips tasted pretty good with ice cream.
Anson knew that Ebony was going to come after him. He knew, because he had escaped Ebony’s mad rage years ago in the lab, and this was the reason for their mutual hatred.
They had both been part of the mutation programme. Scientists had wanted to know if they could tweak genes to alter or even wipe out specific traits – from physical disabilities to emotional traits like fear, pain, sympathy, anger.
But the experiment had gone horribly wrong. The surgery and subsequent explosion had given Anson basic teleportation abilities, but he had lost his ability to panic or worry.
But Ebony had been disfigured. As well as a huge scar on his face, he had also been left with a charred stump in place of a hand; a stump that evolved on command into a regrowable, tentacle-like whip-hand.
On top of his physical changes, Ebony had also lost all feelings of sympathy, empathy, and love, with a heightened sense of anger.
Upon seeing the changes, Ebony had released his pent-up rage on the scientists, killing them all.
Determined to eliminate everyone involved, Ebony had also tried to kill Anson, who had fought back before eventually teleporting to safety and going into hiding. That was 13 years ago.
Ebony was coming, and when he did, Anson was under no illusions about the lengths to which Ebony would go to kill him.
* * *
Ebony heard a sound from the depths of the bunker, in the giant cavern that formed most of the parking spaces for large vehicles. He rose from the floor and snuck stealthily along the wall.
He knew he had to stay hidden here until it was time to attack. And he knew just how to lure Anson out into the open.
* * *
Anson was ready for the inevitable, imminent face-off. He had been ready since the age of six, when he was adopted by the Tang family. They were nice enough, Anson concluded.
His “father” was in the jewellery business. His “mother” was head of – well, something; Anson didn’t really know.
He had figured that they would buy some of the equipment needed to keep Ebony at bay. Anson had been right.
In Anson’s room was a door that led to a specially constructed store room. Inside lay dozens of CapsuleGuns, along with liquid nitrogen capsules, explosive nitroglycerin capsules, gravity-cancelling equipment, tasers, mutant sensors, and box loads of other weapons and gadgets. So, yes, Anson thought, he was prepared.
Anson forced himself to put the packet of tortilla chips away, forgetting the ice cream, and sat down on the sofa to watch a movie.
* * *
The pod was ready. Ebony was ready. The craft left the bunker behind. The nice AI woman helpfully took control of the pod and flew Ebony, slowly, towards Perth Street Sports Ground. Lost in thought, Ebony had to be shaken by the AI to bring him back into reality.
Today, he knew, was sports day for some of the local schools. The pod landed and, as Ebony stepped out, disappeared.
Ebony stood rigidly in complete silence as the children and teachers looked on in awe; an awe that quickly turned to fear as Ebony demanded that everyone get inside a pen he had created with a magnetic force field.
When they didn’t immediately react, he plucked a teacher from the crowd nearest him and slashed his throat with his whip-hand. As the crowd screamed, he repeated his demands, this time with much more immediate success.
* * *
Anson woke up at 10am. He found himself in bed. He must have fallen asleep on the sofa, he thought, and teleported to his bedroom in his sleep.
The watch on Anson’s wrist started to vibrate irritatingly. The watch that was linked to the mutant sensor. The watch that warned him of potential doom. The watch that meant probable disaster. Cursing, he pulled out his tablet, an EyePad, and located an unaware Ebony on Googol Urth: Perth Street Sports Ground.
Puzzled, Anson wondered why Ebony would be at the sports ground. Then he remembered. Sports day. His heart sank as he realised what was happening.
He had to do something. He had to warn someone. He called the scientists who had helped him after the accident. But they would take too long. He had defeated Ebony once. Then he had been strong. But now he would be even stronger. Anson closed his eyes and went back to when he was four. What had he done to be able to beat Ebony then?
Time seemed to stop as Anson remembered. Explosions. He had dark memories of his mutation surgery. But after the accident, once Ebony had gone on the run, Anson had worked with other scientists to try and assess what had happened. They found that the mutation had side-effects – side-effects that Ebony surely wouldn’t be aware of. Ebony wouldn’t react to liquid nitrogen in the same way as normal people. Even the smallest drop on his skin would cause his entire body to freeze.
Anson put on his armoured suit, readying himself for the encounter with Ebony.
Anson tore across the city and found Ebony pacing around his cowering hostages. It was agonising standing there; watching hatred triumph over fear. Anson thought he saw just a slight hint of a smile on Ebony’s face. Their eyes locked, and all Anson wanted to do was strangle Ebony with his bare hands.
* * *
Ebony smirked and drew himself up to his full height, his whip-hand ready. He pulled out his laser gun, but Anson was faster.
Ebony wailed in anguish and disbelief as Anson launched a liquid nitrogen capsule from his CapsuleGun, hitting Ebony on the chest. Ebony laughed, but as the chemical dripped onto his arm, his smile contorted as his body froze.
Not pausing for a moment, Anson loaded his CapsuleGun with a nitroglycerin capsule, and fired, ending 12 years of hatred, fear and uncertainty.
Finally, he was free.