Short Story: Project Hope

I

In all of the sixteen years of blissful life I have had, I never imagined that there would ever come a time when I would see my own mother and father robbed of all dignity and respect. To think that the events of a single day would be enough to shatter my entire world to small, irreparable fragments was really beyond me. The metal trigger brushed against the tip of my unsteady finger and only one question occupied my mind.

Am I any better than they are?  

***

My name is Hope Mirari, or as my parents would say, ‘hoping for a miracle.’ Apparently I was given this name even before I found refuge in my mom’s tummy which, I will admit, is really sweet on their part. Though, as much as I love them for blessing me with an inspiring name, I have come to realize that it carries a lot of weight, weight which ultimately have to bear. You see, my parents are two contemporary scientists working on genetics who have managed to make a significant mark upon the world with their research. From their work on ‘cell intelligence’  to the unbelievable breakthroughs they have achieved regarding the regeneration of lost bone and muscle tissue, mom and dad have single handedly (or double handedly?) augmented our understanding of the scientific realm to an unimaginable degree. Unsurprisingly, this has led to the world raising them high above the clouds, which in turn bears little good news for me. Let’s face it: I am walking in the shadows of two of the most brilliant minds on the planet. When your parents are near gods in the eyes of the whole world, you can no longer be expected to walk the plane which the common man walks.

On a slightly different (or maybe similar) note, it is quite interesting to see just how little the common man actually knows. Being the daughter of a couple who are not quite common, I will confess that I have been blessed with the knowledge of what is possibly their utmost greatest creation. Knowledge concerning the existence of this project was so concealed, that I had been made to swear to secrecy regarding it. One gets the impression of just how complicated this whole ordeal is but just what exactly was so important about it? Why did it have to be buried beneath so many degrees of concealment? In the bluntest way possible, the research was the key to solving half the world’s problems. As it turns out, it was a serum that would erase any and all diseases from the human body, be it the common cold or HIV infections. Was it unbelievable? Yes, it truly was. Was it reality? Yes, it truly was.

Interestingly, this phenomenal concoction of chemicals was not just sitting idle in fancy vials located in a high tech secret laboratory. No, according to my parents, human testing had already begun decades before. I had no reason not to believe them of course. Why?

Because I was the first test subject; the miracle cure has been flowing through my veins ever since I was born.

***

‘Wake up Hope. It’s Sunday. You know the drill.’

My semi-conscious brain decided the drill would have to wait. Thus, in the span of the next few seconds I heard an amused sigh dissolved within the crackling of blinds being undrawn. Moments later, a million photons of sunlight unleashed their collective fury upon me.

I groaned at the unfair behaviour and accidentally rolled off my bed and onto the floor, making a mental note of thanking whoever decided to carpet my room.

‘Now now, no complaining,’ came the all too familiar voice of my father, ‘you need your daily dose of Vitamin D.’

‘Yeah, yeah…’ I replied half-heartedly followed by a terribly unaesthetic yawn, ‘Good morning to you too dad.’

I got to my feet and stretched, watching dad fiddle around with a syringe and some of the other instruments he had brought into my room. He put his surgical mask on and pulled out a small bottle filled with a transparent liquid.

‘Looks like you stayed up all night again,’ he said, keeping his attention fixed upon the apparatus, ‘All set for today’s test? Or is your head stuck in that sketchbook of yours?’

‘I’ll be fine dad,’ I snapped, feeling a bit defensive, ‘I studied this chapter a thousand times.’

‘I’ll take your word for it then,’ he responded happily. The syringe in his hand now looked much healthier than it did a few seconds ago. ‘Just try not scoring less than eighty percent this time, alright?’

‘Yes dad,’ I said, rolling my eyes.

‘Good girl. Now hurry up and get your arm ready. School starts in forty minutes and you need to fill up your tummy before that!’

I could not help but grin. Dad could actually be adorable when he wanted to be.

***

Perhaps I could not comprehend the gravity of my actions; maybe I had simply forgotten how to understand emotions, how to mourn,how to grieve. Did it really matter though? Dad’s pleading had finally ceased and I could only watch silently as a dull shade of red gently began to intertwine with the brown ropes which bound him.

‘Hope,’ mom uttered softly through her gentle sobs, ‘What have you done?’

The gun in my hand quivered ever so slightly.

***

‘All ready for your test?’

‘Good morning to you too mom,’ I answered, flopping down opposite to her at the breakfast table. Breakfast itself always seemed unappealing. As enticing as its appearance may be first thing in the morning, a sleep deprived person actually requires more sleep than nourishment (if it was not obvious enough). As a result, I decorated my plate with as little food as I could possibly take. Unfortunately for my negligible want of nutrients, my mother existed.

‘Ahem.’ As expected, there was the blatant, unrealistic throat clearing. ‘Take more.’

‘Mom, I have absolutely no appetite at the moment,’ I said calmly, ‘If I get hungry later on, I can always buy something from the school cafeteria.’

I was about to proceed digging in when two entire pancakes materialized in front of me.

Mom, I can’t have all that!’ I retorted angrily.

‘Yes you can,’ she replied impatiently, ‘When you’ll reach a certain age, you will be thanking me for raising you as a healthy person instead of suffering from backaches and muscle soreness.

I stuffed half a pancake into my mouth and embraced the sudden burst of maple syrup.

‘You and dad will probably come up with some age reversing potion by then,’ I said, granted the words coming out of my mouth were not distinctively clear, considering the predicament of the poor pancake that had entered it a few seconds ago.

‘You make it sound so easy, Hope,’ said my mom, clearly entertained, ‘maybe you would like to give it a go instead?’

‘It’s not my fault you and dad make it look so easy,’ I replied, waving my fork at her, ‘and please, with the burden of studies that I have to deal with right now, I’ll be dead by the time I’ll reach university.’

For some reason, the pancakes appeared to be exceptionally good that morning. I stuffed the other half into my mouth with less hesitancy, earning a chuckle of approval from mom.

‘Look at you eating,’ she said, beaming, ‘So much for not being able to have all that, huh?’

I attacked my mouth with another piece, albeit a bit sheepishly this time. I always hated it when my parents were right (which they were about a hundred per cent of the time). Sometimes even I forgot that they were a pair of walking computers. Then again, they did have emotions, so I forgave them.

‘Did your father administer the medicine?’ she asked after some time.

I nodded to show agreement, my mouth filled to the brim. By this time, there was only one pancake left and I plunged my fork into it ruefully.

‘Good, good,’ she continued, her expression relaxing a bit.

Speaking of which, good things never last and the same could be said about my breakfast. I was halfway through the act of putting down my fork and knife on my empty plate, when a whole new pancake halted me from doing so. Mom was smiling at me from across the table. I looked at her plate and found it devoid of the piece that was there before.

‘Mother knows best,’ she smiled.

I could only smile back as I proceeded to stuff my face again.

‘I whuv yhou mohm!’ I exclaimed happily with bulging cheeks. Who needed table manners anyways?

‘I love you too, dear,’ she replied happily.

***

I pulled the trigger again.

And again.

And again.

By the end of it, my wrists must have become severely damaged, but surely not more so than any further chance of a normal life. I dropped the abused, empty gun by my feet and fell to my knees. The greatest minds on the planet: now a pair of shattered, bloody corpses. They were no gods. They were not fit to be called humans either. Yet they still raised me and took care of me all of these years. They were still my parents, the only family I had.

Family.

My stomach contorted in agony, in grief. Every part of my being wanted to scream, but I just did not have it left within me to do so. The feeling of emptiness that had slowly poisoned me throughout the night was overwhelming. In some twisted way…it was even comforting. Exhausted, I looked around for the other person in the room but was greeted with the barrel of a gun instead. Behind it, those cold dead eyes looked at me with an unusual glint in them.

***

II

Wind was kissing my face with an intense passion. To be able to rush through the city on my bicycle was one of the greatest joys in my life. It was that one activity which I never got used to. People, vehicles, buildings and everything in between all coalesced into wide strokes of blur as I sped along on the streets of my city. So far my day was progressing gloriously and I could not wait to let mom and dad know how I did on the test. Home was still about a quarter of an hour away though and thus I had quite a bit of distance left to cover.

What was not fine though, were the police cars and fire trucks that had begun to pass by. So much for a glorious day. The unmistakable sirens were audible from a mile away and my mind had already begun to form cock and bull theories as to what tragedy might have taken place. Unfortunately, each theory was more ridiculous than the last and I decided to let the matter rest for the time being. The evening news would have the responsibility of enlightening me. In due time, the incessant wailing had faded away to the edge of the city and I had almost reached my destination. At the end of a busy day, watching your home draw nearer to you is a feeling that words cannot do justice to. It felt so terribly right.

I smiled at the thought of how I would finally be able to catch up on my lost hours of sleep. After coming to a halt, I set out to store my bicycle in the garage and then made my way inside through the main door. How odd: everything was shrouded in darkness. Not a hint of light or any activity in sight. Perplexed by this lack of inhabitancy, I hit some random switches nearby, illuminating the empty room.

‘Mom? Dad?’ I called out, hoping to hear some sort of reply.

Silence.

A mixture of annoyance and worry jolted through my body. It was not like them to retire to the research facility without letting me know. I took out my mobile phone hurriedly and hit mom’s number.

A few seconds of nothing…

And then…

Tring ring ring ring ring. Tring ring ring ring ring.

‘What in the world…?’

The ringing was coming from somewhere within the house.

Tring ring ring ring ring. Tring ring ring ring ring.

‘Mom?’ I called out again.

No response. Had she left her phone and gone outside? Or had she fallen asleep? And where was dad? The ringing did not seem to come from her room and I instinctively began to follow the source. A few seconds of searching brought me to the door of my room, of all places. I absentmindedly pressed the ‘end call’ feature, terminating the ringing.

Silence.

I will admit I was getting increasingly nervous concerning the puzzling scenario but I had to find my parents. I took a deep breath and let it slowly flow out.

‘Ok Hope, calm down.’ I said to myself, slowly turning the door handle, ‘you’re just thinking too much. Mom and dad are obviously alrig-…what the hell…’

As the door slowly swung open, light from the hallway crept past me and into my room, revealing the contents that resided within. Furniture, books and my bed eerily came to view but at that singular instant in time, there was but only one sight that stole my attention.

‘Mom…? Dad…?’ I mouthed almost wordlessly.

I don’t know why it took me so long to move my limbs. My brain just could not process what I was seeing.

My parents sat motionless on two chairs in the middle of my room. Heavy ropes bound their unmoving forms to each other. Terribly bruised- no. They were bloated. They looked grotesque. Whatever blood had been smeared across them had dried up; murky, dull, red.

It took me a few good seconds to get over the initial shock; a few more to move myself forward into the room; and a few more to remember out how to speak.

‘Mom…mom, dad wake up.’

I couldn’t look at their battered forms. It was overwhelming. It made me nauseous. I started to feel my heart beat against my chest more rapidly with each second. Time had stood still then but now, it was accelerating. I had only begun to feel the gravity of the situation.

My parents were dead.

‘NO! MOM! DAD! PLEASE WAKE UP! DON”T DIE! PLEASE WAKE UP!’

My cheeks were burning with tears that had suddenly gushed forth and my legs gave way. I fell to my knees and brought up my palms to cradle my face. I could not accept it. I would not accept it. My parents were gods. They wouldn’t die like this. They couldn’t die like this.

‘Hello, Hope.’

Time came to a halt once more. The voice had emanated from a source behind me and bit by bit, I turned my head. What I saw made my heart come to a forceful stop.

She was a girl in her teenage years, garbed in black pants and shirt. Short, raven hair nested comfortably atop her head and her blue eyes scanned me intensely. I had never seen her prior to that moment. And yet I had seen her for sixteen years of my life.

She was a mirror image of me.

‘They aren’t dead,’ she said lightly, ‘not yet, at least. Don’t worry though. Their time draws near.’

She procured a gun somewhere from the shadows behind her and pointed it at me.

‘And you’ll be the one to kill them. For now though…’

She walked past me and looked out the windows of my room.

‘Let me tell you a story.’

 

***

III

On January 1, 2008, a highly classified research project was given the green light. It consisted of a group of some of the most capable scientists to walk upon God’s hideous, human infested, earth. And when I say capable, I mean coldblooded individuals who would not think twice before jamming a knife through your skin.

I was not affectionately given a name after my ‘birth’. I had no mother, I had no father and the closest things I had to parents were a group of men and women clad in white lab coats. For the past sixteen years my eyes only saw walls; walls, glass and metal. I had no friends. I had no one to hold my hand. All I knew was that their word was law. Comprehension dawned on me much later but for more than a decade I had to endure terrible, traumatizing ordeals. All alone.

Project Hope was led by two scientists. They believed that they had the capability of creating medicine that would be universal in its effects; an incredible dream. Why wouldn’t it be a good idea? Just work on some diseases and chemicals in a laboratory and it would be done, right? Wrong. What surfaced from the depths of their twisted minds were designs for something so bizarre, it was like playing God in one of the most grotesque manners possible. The two had begun to generate new life via unnatural means. Tens and hundreds of fertilized ova in glass vials haunted an entire chamber within the research facility. Every single one of them were manipulated and experimented on at a genetic level, each different from the other. Project Hope was not about finding the perfect cure. It was about creating a perfect human, a human whose genetic makeup would not allow any illness to cultivate and thrive within. All the eggs were allowed to grow into full-fledged infants and after they hit the designated one year mark did the nightmare truly begin.

One by one, the babies were injected with a certain disease, starting with simple ones. Their progress was monitored critically. Any child who would end up contracting the given illness would be written off as a failure and then terminated. Those who showed no symptoms of illness passed only the preliminary test. The process just repeated itself with insertions of different infections. Once again, contraction meant failure; failure meant execution. There would be countless deaths before they found what they were looking for. After months of trials and the passing of over a hundred innocent beings, one baby girl had achieved the impossible. Her immune system was able to retaliate even the most potent HIV infections; it was no miracle or act of God. It was a scientific victory. Afterwards, they analyzed her blood and replicated her DNA, recreating a mirror image of what they deemed as ‘perfection’. Success had already been achieved, so there was no more need for the remaining infants. They were killed.

Things took an unusual turn from this point onwards. The original product of the research was sent off to actually live with the head scientists, to be raised under the guise of a normal child. She would be weekly injected with non-lethal strains of viruses to see whether her blood lost its magic or not. She would be told under secrecy that it was part of a secret project of her parents’, a project to help humanity. How peculiar; fifteen years later, humanity still has no clue about any of it, when a vaccine made from her blood could easily have been given out to the masses within the first few months.

What happened to the clone though? My story begins here. Agonizing acts of torment were headed my way, though not before my genes would be tampered with even further.

***

I looked on at the scene that had unfolded in front of me. I had a bit of trouble believing she had actually done the deed. From the looks of it, Hope’s mental state was undoubtedly beyond repair at this point. Then again, after everything I have been through and after everything I have done, it was not my place to talk about sanity. A crumpled mess on the floor, she turned to look back at me. Whether it was by instinct or not, I felt myself react by pointing the gun directly at her.

A few seconds of nothing followed. She did not react. She had no reason to anymore. Her mother and father lay dead near her and she was all alone; alone with their blood on her hands.

My grip on the gun handle tightened in indecision.

***

‘No, please…don’t- ARGH!!!’

I wouldn’t hear any of it. His arm came off and flesh and bone protruded distortedly from one end. I proceeded to throw it aside among the pile of corpses. What a mess.

‘You killed me,’ I said softly, ‘over and over and over again. You don’t know what kind of hell you put me through every day that I have lived.’

The rooms were littered with the bodies of dead scientists and security personnel. In my opinion, they looked much better as carcasses. There were only three left to kill and one of them had just lost an arm. Yet he was still attempting to flee. If nothing else, the human desire to survive is a fascinating trait. I leapt across the chamber and with one swift motion, came crashing down upon him, possibly breaking his spine in the process. No matter though; he would not need it momentarily.

‘Remember all the needles and all the scalpels and all the amusing tests you used to run on me?’ I told him.

From the looks of it though, whimpering was the only answer he was capable of giving at that point. As a result, I took off a few of his fingers.

‘Playing God’, I said, ignoring his screaming, ‘really not something I would approve of. I’m even surprised you people even took it upon yourself to educate me about this subject. No matter though; you gave me the best thing yet.’

I pointed one of his dismembered fingers at my temple.

‘A brain. You turned my blood into a cure for every disease. You tampered with my body to give me the ability to sprout out new limbs and organs. You messed with my cells and re-structured the whole way in which they use energy to give me complete control of how much I can focus my strength. First of all, wow. You guys definitely deserve something for this; you gave me abilities beyond human comprehension. Even so, I would never have dreamt of being able to do…any of this’ I indicated the carcasses that lay nearby, ‘I always thought of this life as something I had to live, you know? Resigning oneself to fate and all that? Well, fate had something different in mind for me. Just what were you all thinking when you decided to tamper with my brain functions? Intelligence is the reason humans are even separated from animals to begin with. Give an IQ of over three hundred to someone you tortured and you are asking for misfortune. I really wonder what your end game was and I’d love to find out but I lack the time.’

I picked him up by the hair on his head and smiled at him.

‘I need you to give me the address of a certain pair of people. You very well know who I am referring to. Even if you don’t, I can still find out, so it’s best not to waste my time. After I’m done killing you, I am going to burn this entire facility to the ground. No one needs to find out anything that went on in here. Don’t worry though’ I crushed his forearm, ‘I have scanned your research quite thoroughly. I can carry out your horrid experiments should I ever get a fit of doing so. But, I won’t do so, because unlike you, I’m not human. I’m no monster.’

***

I broke the silence at last.

‘Forgive me for taking away your family from you, and forgive me for taking the lives of so many.’

Hope’s empty look had not altered one bit. There would be no way of helping her after all this. Even if she regained her mental strength, she would have to spend the rest of her life on the run or be taken to another secret research facility and tortured. I knew what I had to do.

‘Forgive me for everything I have done to you,’ I said, ‘but in a world like this’ I pressed the barrel of the gun against her forehead, ‘there shouldn’t be any hope left.’

 

***

 

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