Today’s episode of the Pill Project is brought to you by Frank (@franque_521 twitter). Enjoy.
The world is full of wonders. What I am about to share with you, many have lost their lives trying to keep buried.
During the War of The Regions fifteen years ago, a group of scientists led by a middle aged doctor, with the help of the military, snatched sixty-five young boys and girls. These children shared a rare genetic trait and were targeted for use in human trial stages of a revolutionary experiment designed to create an assembly of super soldiers and help win the war.
The project was ultra-classified. Very few knew the full details of it, and so, for the majority, The Pill Project never existed.
Most of the test subjects suffered a myriad of side effects and were subsequently put down. Those who showed promise never got weaponised because the war ended abruptly when the East surrendered. The project was shut down and the facilities presumed destroyed.
The lead scientist, a Dr. Kurt Vontgeist became a private government contractor. His company, Vontgeist Holdings, which I am sure you are familiar with, is the leading company in cutting edge science in the area of Biotechnology.
What most people don’t know is that there is an organisation within Vontgeist Holdings simply known as the Institution. The Institution is Dr. Kurt’s brainchild, secretly funded by the military.
The Pill Project has been resurrected.
The swivel chair gave a drawn-out creak as Morraine leaned back in her seat, the heels of both hands dug into her eye sockets. The chair creaked again when she leaned forward. She cracked her knuckles, wincing as pain shot up the digits of both middle fingers.
‘I should stop doing this,’ she said out loud, reaching for the thermos flask of coffee and emptying the dark contents into the plastic cap. ‘Maybe I’m becoming arthritic.’
She took a swallow of the tepid coffee.
‘What did I just read? Who the fuck is #WR47? And what the fuck is a Pill Project?’ She blew out her cheeks and massaged her temples.
Morraine graduated college top of her class at the prodigious age of thirteen with a degree in computer programming, before obtaining a Master’s degree in Cryptology. She was scouted by the government as well as some private companies looking to recruit her, but Morraine turned them all down. She had wanted to travel across the New United Regions before settling down to work, and she spent the next two years doing just that. It was during her travels, while attending a lecture at the International Conference Centre at the Great Centre, the Regions’ capital city, that the seventeen-year-old Morraine had met Jemimah.
Jemimah was one of the speakers and she had spoken so passionately about declassifying information. By the end of the lecture, Morraine was taken with her. During a tea break, she had walked up to where Jemimah stood surrounded by fawning attendees and waited till there was a gap in the circle around her. Morraine squeezed through and introduced herself. Jemimah took a liking to her and asked her to keep in touch. It was only a matter of time before she was introduced to Venom. Within six months she became an indispensable part of their operations.
It was painstaking work, but cryptology was her bread and peanut butter – Morraine was lactose intolerant. She relished the challenge of first culling ciphertext, authenticating the source and then developing the algorithms required to decrypt them. Once, she reverse engineered a bug, piggy-backed off the hack to penetrate the sender’s firewalls and instructed their systems to, well, commit suicide.
‘It’s a jungle out there,’ was her reply when Nick asked why she would do that. The members of her team grew a healthy respect for her after that. She didn’t kid herself that she was the only hacker – such a dirty word – working for Venom, but she liked to think she was in a league of her own.
Sitting in her cubicle, Morraine re-read the message on her monitor. The message was sent in plaintext directly to her inbox. The sender had broken through her network firewalls; Morraine was impressed. She had heard of Vontgeist Holdings – everyone had heard of them – the founder, Dr. Kurt, was a philanthropist much respected around the Regions. Some of his work had generated some controversy, and his history was shrouded in secrecy, but a military funded weapons project? This was something else.
Morraine swiped her thumb across her phone screen, waited a moment and heard the ringing in her earpiece. The call was picked on the third ring.
The bell above the door tinkled as a man in denim jacket pushed it open. It was raining outside, a rarity in these parts, and he was happy for the warmth and protection the café provided. He stood at the entrance a moment, attracting the attention of the girl behind the counter. He raised his hand and waved. She waved back with a smile. His hat was pulled down low over his brows, his face shadowed.
He shuffled in, making his way to the table in the far corner, and sat with the wall behind him. He tracked some of the mud from the streets in with his sneakers. They were well-worn and cracked in a few places, but god, they were comfortable.
He made an apologetic face and tipped his hat at the assistant going at the streaks of mud with a mop.
‘What would you like, sir?’
He hadn’t heard the waitress approaching, but he had anticipated her; everything was just as he had seen it.
‘I’d like a club sandwich please.’
‘Would you like a drink with that, sir?’ she asked.
‘Yes, Jumai. Horlicks, please.’
‘Do I know you, sir?’
‘Your name tag.’ he pointed to the shiny rectangle above her left breast.
‘Oh.’ She shrugged narrow shoulders and walked away.
The phone in his pocket vibrated, startling him. He pulled it out, flipped it and read the message.
Shitty weather to be out, eh?
He snapped the phone closed and set it on the table. It vibrated again as a message came in. He kept a wary eye on it. Another message came in and the phone moved another few inches.
‘Aren’t you going to get that?’ the waitress was back with a tray. She set a plate of sandwiches, a tall mug of steaming beverage and some paper napkins.
‘It’s an old acquaintance.’ He waved it away.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘If you want anything else…’
‘This will be all.’ He said. The phone vibrated again. With a sigh, he picked it.
Do you think she knows you’re not there by coincidence?
I’ll advice you don’t take your eyes off her.
Are you ignoring me?
You have company. There’s a grab team a block away, and I just hijacked their feed. Hurry!
In the alley behind the café, Jumai untied the check apron, unclipped the name tag dangling from her shirt and rolled them into a bundle which she tossed into the refuse bin beside her. It had stopped raining and the sun was out again. Run-off water sloshed about in the gutters. She braced herself against the wall and clenched her teeth as the quaking started; she would have to go on the run again and she wasn’t exactly relishing the thought.
Ever since she discovered her ability to morph, she had been on the run. She was not going to end up anybody’s guinea pig. Never again. Not the people who did this to her, and not the others, the men in black suits claiming they wanted to help her understand her ‘power’.
She understood it quite well.
All she had to do was to think of anybody – or anything – and focus on their feature and her body did the rest. It was quite simple really. The downside was that she could never hold the new shape for longer than two hours. The longer she stayed in that form, the more drained she was after. The other downside was that she could never morph more than twice a day – she tried to once and ended up in hospital where she was told she had been in a coma for two days.
She could not afford to be out for longer than a few hours. Daily she felt the shadow of her pursuers growing longer. Last Harmattan, she heard someone was rounding up the survivors of the Pill experiments, and she knew it was time to leave the Great City Centre. She moved about a lot until she got to the Outer Regions. She thought it was funny how she had come full circle – she was created somewhere in the deserts just beyond the short date trees and cracked mud houses lined like sentries, keeping the encroaching sands at bay. When she arrived she took a fairly common name in the region and found work at the café, desiring to live in anonymity.
And now, they had found her.
She could tell that this customer was no random caller. She knew most of the regulars, and he was not one of them. His denim top and running shoes were another set of giveaways. People around here just didn’t dress that way.
She felt movement behind her and started to turn as a body crashed into her, knocking the wind from her. She saw the cracked sneakers and knew immediately who it was.
‘What the…’ she was bent over, but heard the pings ricochet off the metal of the refuse bin.
Was someone shooting at her?
‘Stay down.’ Cracked Sneakers growled, he was on the move. She obeyed.
‘Where are you going?’ she started to ask, but he was gone. The next few minutes happened too fast for her to follow. She was still trying to grasp what happened when Cracked Sneakers reappeared beside her.
‘Follow me.’ He said, already darting down the alley.
‘Wait,’ she ran after him. ‘Did you just take out those two men with only your face cap?’
‘That was me showing off,’ did she detect a hint of mirth? ‘I could have taken them out with a menu card if I wanted.’
‘I saw what was going to happen before it did. I’m what people call a precog.’
They walked onto a busy street, his eyes darting left, then right before he turned left. His phone vibrated.
‘Not now,’ he muttered, but pulled the phone out.
She’s gone. I bet you didn’t see that coming.
He turned round, a warmth spreading up his neck. Jumai was gone.
In a dimly lit room across the way, the one who called himself #WR47 ran his tongue along toothless gums; a force of habit. He had already downloaded satellite signals and pinged around three cell towers till he got a lock on the metamorph. With a mere thought, he sent a message to her phone.
He walked to the window, careful not to touch anything, and looked down at the people milling about the crowded street.
‘Now we wait.’
Having introduced you all to the universe of the Pill project, we will have this series on Tuesdays from now on. Do you think you can write a sci-fi story based on any of the characters having the powers of the pills described below? Then let’s have it! Send your drafts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to tie the characters into any of those you’ve already read here. We wait.