The fluorescent lights cast a blinding haze.
Then the elevator dropped down, and its tinted glass walls showed only grey cement pierced by steel support beams, illuminated dully by small neon diodes. The lift’s occupants stared listlessly at the glowing screen counting down the floors as they plummeted further and further below the ground. A soldier snapped the chamber of his gun open, swapping out the bullet cartridge for a new one he withdrew from his armored vest. A vaguely nervous-looking man toyed with the cufflinks of his suit. A young woman in a lab coat wiped a miniscule speck of dust from the lenses of her glasses. For fifteen seconds, twenty, thirty, they continued downwards before halting.
The screen read “B-33”. Thirty-three floors below the military base-like offices of the aboveground law enforcement outpost they had boarded the elevator at. A light chime tone sounded and the ironclad doors slid open, revealing in full the terrifying grandeur of the room beyond.
They exited into the base level of a grey stone arena-like expanse of a place, levels of circular halls overlooking where they stood. Staircases encircled the perimeter, leading up towards the higher levels, which extended upwards for hundreds of meters. Set into the upper hallways were thick steel doors, and everywhere, there were soldiers. Pacing in squads, leaning against the walls in twos and threes, it seemed a small army inhabited the underground facility. All were heavily armored, and all carried imposing machine guns. Upon exiting into the room, the soldier who had been in the elevator with them stepped away, merging with a passing squadron. The suited man spoke.
“Welcome, doctor, to the Cliffs High-Security Detention Facility, home to some of society's most dangerous criminals.
“The Variants.” she stated flatly, casting a skeptical glance about the facility. “The ones that you were able to capture instead of kill. You’re sure your little underground prison is capable of holding them?” She smirked at the man, adjusting her glasses. He shifted uneasily.
“Absolutely certain. As the director of this facility, I have total confidence in my men and our control of the inmates. Also, it's built into the face of a ravine. Only way out is through the hovercraft docks.” he said, gesturing at the expansive facility. “After all, the Variants we have all generally possess minor degrees of the genetic alterations causing the manifestation of what appear to be superhuman abilities. One who generates weak seismic waves, another with a penchant for lighting things on fire with her bare hands… None of them pose real threats here.” He swallowed. “Except, of course… the energy one. Electricity control and flying with electromagnetic levitation, a real nasty power set on that one. The Variant you’re here to run diagnostics on. When we first brought her in, she wasn’t properly restrained. She damn near drained all the power in the building’s grid. Took out thirty-seven good men.” He sighed, running his hands through his thinning hair.
“She’s that powerful?” The doctor inquired, simultaneously checking her watch and adjusting the tie that held her dark hair back. The Director nodded.
“I’d say she’s the strongest I’ve ever seen since they first started appearing, other than a few here and there. Like that flame boy four years back… he was a feisty one. Rumor has it he’s her brother! Imagine that, two high-power Variants in one family… I pity the parents. Luckily for us, he’s safely secured at some military base off in the mountains. Can’t do much harm from there. Now, let’s go check on that monstrosity and get this over with.” He led the way across the base level to a door that was made not of steel, but of some black-grey armored material. He glanced at the doctor. “Insulated, so that in the event of an escape attempt, she can’t discharge energy through the door.” He touched the door, and a blue light scanned his eye as he typed in a long series of numbers on a touch screen that glowed on the door. The dark material slid into the stone wall, and vibrantly white floor lights illuminated the hall beyond.
At the end of the hall, surrounded by countless machines, monitors, and lab equipment, was a cylindrical tank filled with a pale blue liquid. Suspended in the liquid, wearing a breathing mask and hooked up to large twists of electrical wires and IV lines, was a small girl clothed in loose, grey garments. Her dark hair, streaked at the end by purple dye, drifted in the solution. Her eyes were closed, and, if not for the persistent beeping of a heart-rate monitor, it would be impossible to tell if she were dead or alive. Behind the tank, a large expanse of darkly tinted glass showed a picturesque view of the outside ravine that was considerably at odds with the cold functionality of the room.
“Nice view you have there.” said the doctor, gesturing at the impressive window. The director laughed.
“Not like she’ll ever be able to appreciate it, she's safely in nanofluid suspension. Don’t get too close to the glass, it’s energy field-protected.” He smiled, then stepped away to talk to a scientist who had appeared from behind a machine.
Ensuring that no one was watching, the doctor stepped up to the tank, pressing her fingers against the glass. Unexpectedly, the girl’s eyes snapped open, flitting rapidly around the room. Her shockingly purple irises held a look reminiscent of complete and utter panic. The doctor reeled back in surprise, and she heard a faint voice in her mind.
She was tired. So very sleepy, but she couldn’t remember why… Then she saw the woman in front of the tank. She was familiar, she would help her… The girl tried to focus, but she could feel herself already slipping away into the bliss of sleep and the accompanying memories.
She stood in their house’s living room, near where her twin brother was sprawled on the floor, reading. Suddenly, he startled, and the book burst into flames. With a faint shriek, he flung the novel at the wall, curling up on the floor and crying. Somewhere in the house, her older sister, now eighteen, was shouting with their parents.
“But if I leave, who will protect Nico? I know you both definitely won’t. In the blink of an eye, you’ll report him as a Variant and call the Enforcers, with no regard for the fact that he’s your son!” She stormed into the room, toting a small duffel bag and a suitcase. Their parents tailed her.
“The metro is here. Everything will be fine; soon, after you attend the Academy, we’ll have a doctor in the family!” Their mother smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Come on, children, say goodbye to your big sister!” The adoring girl ran to her older sister, followed closely by her brother.
“Bye, Reese!” they chorused. Reese hugged them tightly, tears streaming down her face.
“Both of you, remember, I’ll always help you, no matter how far away the Academy is.” Turning to her younger sister, she said, “Promise you’ll stay strong, no matter if anything happens, okay?” The small girl frowned.
“You mean if they take Nico away? I don’t know if I can do that. Stay tough, I mean. I don’t think I can.” she whispered, tears stinging her eyes. Reese hugged her tightly. Then she was dragged away by their parents and ushered out the door.
Spiraling flames encircled Nico’s hands as he cried.
Fifteen minutes later, the Enforcers arrived.
“Has she opened her eyes since being put in the induced coma?” the doctor asked, facing the Director where he conferred with the scientist.
“No, the system is flawless. The only way to wake her up would be to turn off the narcotics stream or administer a strong dose of adrenaline.” He tapped a few keys on a monitor, frowning in concentration. “An extreme spike was just registered in her brain activity. Did you notice anything abnormal within the past couple of minutes?”
“Nothing out of sorts. Maybe she’s dreaming.” the doctor said without pausing. “Who is she, exactly? Do you know how she developed the Variant traits?” The man sighed.
"Variation under nature. That's why they're called Variants, after all, and that's all we know about the power development so far; it's some freakish genetic mutation. Cosmic radiation, perhaps? But 'variation under nature', that's all the higher-ups say, like they're normal biological specimens, not monsters." A machine buzzed, and he rushed to tend to it.“She’s confirmed by social security as Violet Stone. Parents denied responsibility, she apparently ran away about four years ago, just before she appeared on our radar."
The doctor turned back to the girl. Amethyst eyes stared at her through the glass, then flickered closed.
She was sitting on the dining room floor, underneath the table. Nearby, her father was talking on the phone to her sister at the academy while her mother stood by, looking irritated.
“He left us no choice! To keep him in the house would pose a risk to all of us! What if he got overly upset and sent the whole house up in flames with us in it?” His voice was raised. From her hiding spot, she sobbed silently. Nico, her only brother, her twin, was gone, sold out to the Enforcers by his own parents. Almost a month had gone by, but the pain was still unbearable. “Reese, calm down, it was the right thing to do. Everyone is much safer now. Reese! Reese!!...” he shouted into the phone. Evidently, her sister had hung up.
Her body shaking with rage, Violet stood from her position. Noticing her, her father sighed. Her mother cringed.
“Violet, dear, everything’s okay, nothing to be worried about. Everything is going to be alright.” her mother said in a soothing but condescending voice. She moved as if to hug her, but Violet flinched away, trembling. She clenched her hands in rage, and the lights flickered.
“You sold him out. You were supposed to protect him, and instead you betrayed him. I hate you both. I’m done. I’m leaving. I can’t live with you, you MONSTERS anymore.” she shrieked, tears streaming down her face. Her father started forward, fury showing on his face.
“He was the monster! We were doing our civic duty to the Enforcers for the good of the country!”
“You can’t run away. You’re only twelve, and we’re your parents. Don’t you dare defy us!” her mother added. Violet laughed humorlessly.
“Neither of you are my parents anymore. I hate both of you. HATE YOU!” she shouted coldly. With that, she spun and ran from the house.
“By the time we were able to apprehend her eight months back, she had already taken down an estimated two hundred Enforcers. Terrible losses, all of them. We only caught her because of the trail of missing electricity she left and her penchant for petty thievery. She just happened to rob the wrong store, took a bit too much energy from the grid. Ran flat out of luck.” The Director grinned at the doctor. “Unlucky for her, lucky for us.” The doctor leaned with her hand on the glass wall of the tank.
“This is quite the tank you’ve got here.” she said calmly, hairline fractures spreading along the glass from under her splayed fingers.
She stood balanced on the edge of the skyscraper’s observation deck. Over seventy floors below, the city streets teemed with automobiles and metrobuses. A single tear dripped from her face, falling hundreds of meters down to hit somewhere on the distant ground. Above her, the stars shined like innumerable minuscule candles. She sighed. She had been living on the streets for almost two months, hiding and stealing to survive. Her sister was away. Her beloved brother was gone, as he had been for over three months. Her parents were terrible people, blind to the law enforcement and government’s manipulation. It was all over. She closed her eyes.
She let herself drop from the building’s edge.
Time seemed to slow down. As she approached her ultimate freedom, with the ground growing closer and closer, her thoughts drifted to her brother. Nico. Who would save him if she was gone? Her eyes snapped open.
She did not want to die, but it was too late.
Covering her face with her hands, she braced herself for the inevitable impact. To crash into the unforgiving cement of the street.
It never came.
Tentatively, she uncovered her face. She was no longer falling, but hovering high above the traffic below. Bizarrely, the veins that showed through the skin of her arms were glowing a shade of electric purple. Sparks of the same color encircled her hands, and as she focused on them, a nearby neon telescreen on a building popped and went out. A jolt passed through her, as if her energy had been completely renewed. She sought to replicate that feeling, and around her, lights popped and fizzed out. Darkness descended over the buildings. The only light emanated from her veins and the now blinding sparks. On replays of the incident, it would be revealed that her violet eyes were also aglow.
Far below, from a crowd of pedestrians gathered to watch, someone shouted.
“A new Variant!!”
“What was that?” the director asked, looking inquisitively at the doctor.
“I said, this is a nice tank.” She languidly dragged her fingers down the glass. “It would be a shame if someone were to… break it.”
The tank exploded.
Nanofluid spewed everywhere, though it quickly drained through grates in the floor. The scientist was flung against the wall, unconscious. The Director, despite not being too formidable in stature, managed to hold his ground.
“H-how?” he managed, gazing in awe at the doctor. She laughed.
“I believe you called it 'variation under nature'." The Director looked terrified, but not for long. An invisible force cast him against a wall and he slumped to the ground, unconscious. “You should’ve never messed with my siblings.” she hissed, then ran to her sister’s still comatose form.
“Vio, wake up. We have to go. Now.” She grabbed her sister’s arm. Immediately, Violet jerked up from her position on the ruined base of the tank, snarling and ripping out her IV lines and wires. Lights in the room flickered and popped, and a faint siren sound could be heard from outside the cell. The violent look in her eyes immediately softened when she recognized her sister.
“Reese!” she cried, flinging her arms around her sister. “You're here! What happened?!” Her sister grinned.
“What can I say? Looks like the Variant traits run in the family. Come one, get up; I’m getting you out of here to find Nico.” Violet’s eyes widened.
“What are you suggesting?” she asked, smiling for one of the first times in over half a year.
“No more hiding and being imprisoned for us or any other Variants. Fighting back for real.” Violet's eyes glowed in the dim light.
“Let’s go.” She stood upright, and, extending her arms, her veins began to glow. The lights and machinery in the room immediately blew out, and the edge of the window’s glass pane sparked brightly. “Nice view there, by the way.” The wail of sirens grew louder, and a sound of running boots echoed down the hallway. Her sister ran to the window, pressing her palms against it, and the glass exploded outwards into infinitesimal glittering shards. Wind howled through the newly-opened hole in the wall. Violet leaned out into the open air, her still-damp hair blown awry by the gust.
“Jump!” shouted Reese, running towards their gap to freedom. “Falling can’t hurt us!” She leaped out the window and hung in the open air, casting off her lab coat, which fluttered down towards the distant river at the base of the ravine, revealing what looked like fitted military-style body armor. The sounds of footfalls grew closer, cracks of guns beginning to pierce the hollow whistle of the wind, but still Violet hung back, cringing in fear.
“I’m too weak!” she cried, clinging to the edge of the gap. “I haven’t used my abilities in so long, I don't think-” She flinched instinctively as a bullet streaked past her head, not three inches away from hitting its mark. She knew she had to be strong, had to be brave; if not for herself, for her sister, Nico, and all the imprisoned Variants. Closing her eyes, she lunged forward into the open air, preparing to fall to her death.
For the second time in her life, that did not happen. Instead, defying gravity, she spiraled upwards into the sky, shooting out of the ravine and into freedom. Her sister followed close behind, grinning widely.
“Where to now?” asked Violet, surveying the vast expanse of twilit desert ground, marred only by the harsh slash of the ravine and distant prison base hunkering low to the edge of the cliff. Black specks of soldiers scattered across the red-orange terrain, akin to ants from this distance, almost certainly searching for their most prized prisoner. From inside the ravine, a swarm of darkly-colored hovercrafts surged into view, still thousands of meters away from their position, spotlights casting vibrantly bright beams beneath their hulls onto the quickly-darkening landscape. Even at this distance, the persistent shrieking of the siren could be heard. Reese pointed west, where the sun was glowing red behind distant mountain peaks.
“There, the mountains. That’s where they’ll be holding Nico.” She paused. “Sure you’re up for this, little sister?” Even in the near darkness, Violet could see her joking smirk. She grinned with an almost vicious ferocity, her eyes glowing and sparks dancing across her hands.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for four years.”
They headed into the crimson glow of the receding light.