Prologue – Earth
“We’re almost there! Run!” The light on the lock switched from red to green as Doctor Thomas swiped his keycard and slammed the door wide open.
Mercury raced past him, dragging little Jenny in one hand and preteen Brock in the other. The other kids ran just a step behind as red lights flashed and alarms blared – she couldn’t believe they’d made it this far before their escape was discovered, but terror drowned any relief. Fourteen bare feet slapped a panicked staccato on the cold tiles.
The room beyond appeared to be a normal reception area, all comfortable chairs and pretty glass doors. What a sadistic farce, Mercury thought with clenched teeth. She let go of Brock long enough to point at the heavy sheet of metal sliding across the glass doors, closing them in. “Shannon! Stop it!”
A glowing white flash streaked past her, and then a red-haired girl stood at the door, jamming a heavy wooden chair into the narrowing space. The door ground to a halt just in time for Brock to spring through the gap and take the small blonde girl from Mercury’s hands. A tantalizing rush of outside air tugged at her, but she couldn’t let herself be distracted. Mikey was pulling long-braided Lyra by the hand, dark-haired Dirk and the doctor just a step behind as the chair screamed and cracked under the pressure.
With bile in her throat, Mercury stripped the gloves off her hands and held her palms towards the door. Silver ooze poured from her pale skin and slithered through the air. She struggled for control, willing the hateful liquid metal to solidify into something that could hold the doors apart.
“Go! Go!” Doctor Thomas reached the door and practically threw the remaining kids through the space that was narrowing jolt by creaking jolt. When the other six were out, he turned to her, blue eyes wild beneath straggly blonde hair. “Now you, get out of here!”
“You first!” she shrieked, all her efforts trained on keeping the doors open. Every slip of her concentration sent alien ripples through the thin metal pole she’d grown between door and frame, threatening to dissolve it back into its liquid state.
“That’s not the plan!” he roared, and Mercury yelped as the man grabbed her up by the waist and shoved her forcibly through the gap. Her lungs constricted in panic as her elbows and hip scraped in the narrow space, and then Mercury was stumbling out onto the walkway, into open night air. Freshly mown grass and distant hints of diesel fuel had never smelled so desperately wonderful.
The others halted in a staggered semicircle and stared back like frightened rabbits, waiting for her but desperate to run. But she couldn’t— “You can’t stay!” Mercury screamed at the doctor, knowing it was futile; the gap had narrowed too much for a full-grown man. Behind her, Jenny broke into a wail, trying to reach around Mercury and through the door.
The scientist on the other side met her eyes. His face was drawn and haggard, older than his years – but somehow he managed a weak smile. “It’s okay. You were right. Get them out of here.” His eyes shifted to little Jenny. “They’ll take care of you, sweetheart.” Then he turned and ran back towards the hallway quickly filling with guards. The last of the chair splintered and exploded, and the one good thing in that evil place disappeared behind slamming metal.
Mercury grabbed screaming Jenny in her arms, choking on tears that glinted unnaturally in the glow of the outdoor light poles. “I’m sorry—” she sobbed, and then she ran, the others forming a rough V shape behind her. My fault, it’s my fault, please not again… With an angry swipe, she banished the tears and the haunting thoughts and raced towards the fence, rocks and twigs pricking her feet. She couldn’t, she wouldn’t let his sacrifice go to waste.
Compared to the noise inside, the lawn in front of Perelax Advanced Research Labs seemed almost peaceful; crickets chirped, and the red flashing lights were faint blips through the windows. The sky was a plain gray canvas, moon and stars blocked by thick clouds, just as they’d hoped. Dr. Thomas had been right – no guard towers sat along the fence aside from one small shack by the gate. No obvious exterior signs that the building that had trapped her for two years was anything more than a private research facility in the backwoods of the American Midwest. They didn’t want to appear too noticeable, for fear of drawing outside attention.
But the kids weren’t free yet. Mercury clutched Jenny tighter as the sound of running boots reached her ears from the corner of the building. “Brock, get ready—,” she started, and then something whizzed past her head and dug a furrow in the dirt: a tranquilizer dart.
Jenny screamed, and a shiny pink creature slithered instinctively over her arm. Shannon zoomed by in a white flash, snatching another two darts out of the air as a host of guards poured into view, yelling and waving tranq rifles. More guards raced to intercept Brock before he could reach the electrified fence. Lyra snatched her arm from Mikey’s grip, turned, and clapped her hands at three oncoming men; the thundersnap that followed made Mercury’s head pound even as it sent the guards crumpling to their knees. Just twenty more yards, but could they make it?
She could stop them. Mercury swallowed hard, suddenly so, so aware of the very real mercury lurking beneath her skin. Silver sweat poured down her temples, slicking her short black hair against her chin. They had taught her how to use it, and wouldn’t it be poetic justice if she—
Please, I don’t want to kill anyone. Help us, somebody help us! Mercury screamed the prayer in her head as she put on an extra burst of speed. Ten yards. Shannon abruptly stumbled and fell against Mikey, the speedster’s leg pierced by a wildly lucky shot. Dirk was roaring, obsidian shards of energy flying from his hands like daggers of broken glass; but he lacked control, and most dissolved harmlessly wherever they made contact. Brock reached out desperately for the fence mere feet away.
Tears dripped from Mercury’s face, but they weren’t falling now. The reflective drops drifted through the air, sucked into the rapidly growing spiral of razor-sharp metal swirling up and out of Mercury’s right hand. She hardened her jaw, trying to shut out the ten-ton weight in her stomach. I’ll do what I have to to keep them safe.
And then a blazing light broke the night sky overhead, and the world froze.
Alright, we’re going to give this a go. I shall be posting Part 1 of my book Outcasts & Runaways over the next 14 weeks. If enough people are interested, I may continue on to posting chapters of Part 2, which is currently still in progress. I will add links to next and previous chapters as they are posted.
Comments and thoughts are very much encouraged! This is still a work in progress, so if you don’t understand something (or, even better, if you really like something), I would love to hear it! And if you are interested in becoming a beta reader, please let me know!