The first time the creature had opened its eyes, it had been floating weightlessly. Suspended by a cord attached to its chest in a sea of green while shadowy figures moved just beyond its view.
It had not been fully conscious, and the scene was dreamlike. No hunger or pain, no discomfort, no sensation beyond the soothing warmth of the fluid it floated in. It had stretched, it’s tiny digits flexing in the fluid- and the shadow-figures had moved quickly. Excited but indistinct voices were audible, just far enough away that they came through as nothing but dull echoes. The small amount of energy that had driven the creature to open its eyes now began to fade, returning again to the depths of darkness within the sea of green.
Dr. Adairia Phillipa had removed the creature from its vitrine once it reached 6 months under Dr. Airis’s watchful eye.
It had weighed a mere five pounds and had squirmed relentlessly when taken out of the vitrine. At first, they had been worried it would not know how to breathe properly based on the gasping, choking sound it had made as they siphoned the fluid out of it’s airways- but the large breath it took and the hiccupping cries it had taken moments later set those worries aside.
It’s small limbs had flailed as it whimpered in distress, now doubt a result of being forced to breath air after being supplied oxygen by the life support system in the vitrine its whole life.
The creature was so small, it could almost fit into one of Phillipa’s hands as she picked it up to examine the creature for deformities. The snowy white skin was free of blemishes or markings; all four limbs were fully formed, the eyes were responsive, the tail stayed curled against its body. Both of the mouths seemed to work just fine, even if they did lack teeth at the moment.
Declared fit for continued research in the Lazarus program, she had held the creature’s right arm still so Dr. Airis could retrieve the tools and tattoo it's identifying brand into its skin “L-8,” alongside the barcode they would encrypt the data of its development into.
Regrettably, this procedure had revealed that the creature’s nerves were fully functional as it had squealed horribly and thrashed in her grip to attempt to get away from the brand with its eyes wide with pain and confusion. It had even attempted to bite her in it’s desperation to get away, but the lack of teeth amounted to the bite being ineffectual.
Phillipa would have felt some amount of guilt for the creature’s pain, but they had already reached this point in their research four times before, and the previous incarnations of the creature they were building had reacted in much the same way.
Brand completed, the freshly tattooed skin was covered in a balm to protect the open wound, and the creature now designated L-8 was placed in an incubator cell- in which it had immediately curled into a tight ball once released from Phillipa’s arms, much like an armadillo with it’s tail covering its face. The creature had stayed there, trembling and hiccuping for several hours...until finally the exhaustion of the ordeal caught up with it paired with the warmth of the incubator, and it had fallen asleep.
Dr. Airis had designed these creatures with a form of accelerated growth for the sake of the program running in a timely manner, but assured Phillipa they would age more naturally once they reached adult size.
Two months later, and L-8 had nearly tripled in size. They had only needed to bottle feed the creature a blend of nutrient rich fluids for a few weeks before its teeth had started growing in, and they could wean it onto a solid diet with a focus on meats. Now, L-8 was 15 pounds by their last count, and reached Phillipa’s knee when it stood at it’s full height, though it seemed to prefer to remain crouched, relying on a semi-quadrupedal form of locomotion as this was easier on the digitigrade joints of its back legs, tail extending behind it when it moved in a bipedal fashion for balance.
Unlike L-6, which had been extremely aggressive during examinations from the scientists despite the corrective programming they had implemented early in its development, L-8 seemed closer in behavior to L-7, relatively docile without behavior modification, reacting only with curiosity during routine examinations and fear when they took it out of the incubator for blood samples or administering immune system boosts.
Phillipa could even safely put her fingers in L-8’s mouths without worry they would be bitten. This was a resounding success from their previous attempts, and further experiments for behavioral programming were proposed for later into L-8’s development. They wouldn't be able to safely install the neural port until it reached a year in age, after all.
It had been around this time, when they had weaned L-8, that they had introduced the distilled void strain to L-8’s bloodstream. An experiment that had been extremely hard to watch even for Dr. Airis if her expressions had been anything to go by.
After Phillipa had injected the strain into L-8’s scruff, the creature had gone rigid and collapsed into violent convulsions, eyes rolling back into its head as the immune system boosters did their job in assimilating the infection rather than being overtaken by it. L-8 had screamed during the process, a horrible, high pitched noise that had Phillipa dropping her clipboard to block out the awful sound.
The snowy skin of the creature rapidly darkened to a charcoal grey, and only after the whole body had changed color did the convulsions stop, L-8 having passed out from the stress of the experience. Dr. Airis had moved L-8 back to the incubator, and declared that further experiments would be delayed until it recovered from the experiment. They had achieved so much with this latest specimen, they did not want to risk an early termination resulting from stress.
Waking up with its skin permanently stained had been distressing, but not the strangest or worst experience of L-8’s life so far. The white-coats had been nicer after this, giving it plenty of the good-smelling-red blocks that were it’s favorite to eat, they had provided it with a bigger cell with things to climb on and swim in, and the white-coat with the blonde hair had even given it an odd, round blue object that squeaked when bitten to L-8’s utter delight.
Sure, they started the routines of having it stay still to measure it’s growth as it got bigger and stabbed it with the sharp-silver things soon after, but it couldn’t think of something worse than having the dark-stuff put into it again. That was of course, until it woke up with a steady, dull pain in the back of its skull.
The day before, the white-coat with the red hair had given L-8 a larger portion of the good-smelling-red block- oddly with a small wax stick stuck in it that had been on fire. She had blown it out before giving the food to L-8, but that hadn't stopped them from trying to eat the wax stick afterward. Turns out it didn't taste very good and L-8 ended up spitting it out of its belly mouth. It had gone to sleep that night feeling happy, comfortable and full.
L-8 had woken up feeling uncharacteristically bleary afterward, struggling to push itself onto all fours and nearly fainting when it raised its head off the floor of the cell. The throbbing, dull pain was a constant as it managed to prop itself up against the wall.
The sensation of tightness around it’s head and a few inquisitive touches confirmed that the white-coats had wrapped some sort of strip around it, which was damp on the spot where the pain was worst- the back of its head. Touching the damp spot stained it’s fingers green with blood when the spot was touched. Panic hammered in its chest at the sight of the blood. When had it been hurt? Did it do something wrong? Was this a punishment for eating the wax stick?
Curling up in the furthest corner from the glass wall of the cell, L-8 pulled into itself, trembling, hiccupping out of fear of what was to come if this was indeed a punishment.
Days later when the strip was removed during an examination, L-8 discovered that the pain had been centered around a hard, round shape that now protruded from the skin at the back of it’s head.
The skin around the shape was tender, but the texture of the shape was smooth, and reminded L-8 of the sharp-silver the white-coats used to take their blood- though it didn’t get to investigate further as it’s hands were moved away from the odd new addition, placed on the cold table it had been seated on to keep them out of the way as the white-coats had examined the new addition for themselves.
Whatever it was, it seemed to be a good thing based on how the white-coats were reacting? Not a punishment then. The panic dissipated, and L-8 started to daydream of the good-smelling-red block it had eaten the night before, wondering what the occasion had been for the larger portion.
The installation of the neural port and memory hardware had been a complete success. When they had attempted this surgery on L-4, the poor creature’s body had rejected the process and it had died within minutes upon waking up. L-8 on the other hand, seemed to be healing quickly, and regained normal behavior within a couple of days once the bandages had been removed, even starting to play with the ball that had been given to it as a means of enrichment. Dr. Airis had insisted that the port be allowed to heal completely before they attempted any behavioral programming, but they were free to start adjusting the preexisting code they hoped to introduce in the meantime.
Codes for an increase/decrease in aggression based on scent, additions of ‘berserker mode’ as Phillipa had named it based on the old video games she used to play where the pain receptors would shut down to redirect energy to the muscle groups used during attacks to make for a more effective killing machine, and even an activation method for the creature’s acidic blood were coded for introduction. These were all things that needed to be fine tuned if they wanted to test the creature’s productivity for its intended function, especially for the stress test.
Four weeks later, they were able to implement the new behavior programming. L-8 had been very calm when they maneuvered it into the examination chair in the lab, but had resisted the moment they had begun fixing the restraints around its arms, legs and head to keep it still. Now that L-8 was nearly the same size as the scientists, fighting against its strength had become increasingly difficult- though it had thankfully gone limp once they had plugged in the computer to the neural port, bringing the system online for the introduction of the new software.
Uploading the behavioral programming had gone smoothly, with none of the software facing rejection from L-8’s installed hardware, and they were able to complete the experiment without a hitch. After they unplugged L-8 from the system, it had been returned to its cell to recover, and Phillipa had been free to check in on the other living subjects for project lazarus while it rested. She hoped to be able to introduce L-8 to these subjects, if only to see if the behavioral programming worked as intended.
Experiments continued with tests on the new programming. Phillipa had sat down with Dr. Airis to observe progress on a new experiment to reinforce programmed data. L-8 was given a choice between two scented rags, one was scented with a normal human's scent, while the other was scented with an infected human's scent.
Each time it had gone to touch the normal rag, Dr. Airis had moved its hand away with an accompanying "No, that's healthy" while attempts to touch the infected scent rag were rewarded with chunks of meat and confirmation of "Yes, that one is sick."
The scent concentration was small enough not to trigger berserker mode, but it was enough that L-8 had not wanted to touch the infected rag at first, as if recognizing it as wrong- but once rewards were introduced, it gladly pointed at the infected rag each time it was prompted, even picking it up and biting it when it got especially excited. Auditory prompts were being quickly learned as well, at least it seemed to recognize the words 'Yes, no, healthy, and sick.'
The next step was surgeries to improve the internal structures L-8 possessed. Vivisections and biopsies to observe the internal organs of the creature more clearly, implantations of various styles to strengthen joints, improve sense if smell or improve mobility, and most importantly, a tracking chip in the creature’s left arm that Dr. Airis had insisted on installing.
In the worst case scenario, it would be best to be able to track down L-8 if it escaped. When the list of surgeries had been completed, L-8 had healed and it had reached 18 months in age, the decision was made for introductions to begin.
L-8 knew that something was different the day that the white-coats had led it to the large, white room. They had opened one of the walls to guide it inside as it toyed with the ball it had brought with it, then closed the wall behind it. No matter, it was more interested in investigating the new smells the room posed as it investigated, exploring the room and even climbing the walls with ease- after all, it had been getting plenty of practice climbing in its cell.
Eventually, it got bored with the room and sighed as it chewed on the ball with muted squeaks and looked around from its vantage point on the ceiling. That was when another wall had opened up, and it’s attention was grabbed instantly with the introduction of something new.
The wall closed behind the new arrival, and L-8 watched with fascination as the creature looked around the room. With an ecstatic feeling bubbling up in it’s chest, it reached a sudden realization: it looks like me! The new arrival shrunk back as L-8 dropped down from the ceiling to get closer, and she even hissed in alarm.
The creature was smaller than L-8 with a thinner tail, larger eyes, blotched charcoal and white skin and longer ears, but shared the same pale blue eye color in one eye, the other taking on a more purple hue. The new creature had small stubs of horns that barely protruded from her skull, which had it wondering if it was supposed to have horns too. Noting that she had a marking on her arm like L-8 did, it observed that the new creature had ‘L-7’ branded on her right arm. She was like L-8!
Excited, L-8 had stepped closer, vocalizing with an inquisitive chirp as it sniffed L-7 once close enough. L-7 had shrunk back upon his approach, almost as if she expected an attack, but paused in confusion when no harm came, sniffing L-8 in return. She seemed friendly enough once she realized he wasn’t going to hurt her!
L-8 had sat back on its haunches and extended the ball to L-7, squeezing the toy to demonstrate the squeaking capabilities. L-7 had cautiously accepted the ball, looking it over and glancing up at L-8 before tentatively squeezing the ball to produce the same squeaking sound. L-8 had chirped happily and clapped in encouragement as it had seen the white-coats do when it did something right, nodding to confirm that this was a good sound when L-7 had seemed confused. She looked back down and squeaked the ball a second time, producing what L-8 recognised as a smile in the other creature- which had L-8 beaming in return.
Introducing L-8 to L-7 had produced strange results that did not mesh with previous data. Not only had L-8 approached L-7 in a friendly manner, but it had even shared the ball it had been given with its sister without a second thought.
The two creatures had spent the rest of the time they were allowed in the observation room either batting the ball around together, or chasing each other in a non-hostile manner that could only be described as a form of play. When the scientists had opened the wall back up to bring L-8 back to its cell, the two had been laying next to each other, completely relaxed and beginning to doze off.
Clearly the two had started to bond, which they had not observed between test subjects in project Lazarus since L-5 had bonded to L-6 prior to the onset of the aggression of the latter (having to terminate L-5 after he sustained heavy injuries from L-6 was not a memory Phillipa liked to revisit). An interesting observation that warranted more study. Nevertheless, the two creatures were separated after the first meeting and returned to their cells so individual data could be collected once more.
Oddly, L-8 became excited when led out of its cell from this point moving forward, as if expecting another interaction with L-7. When the two were allowed to interact again, they maintained the same friendly behavior they had observed the first time they met, and could even be considered to be bonding more closely based on how L-7 had started allowing L-8 to groom her after the first excited greetings between them had been completed. It was decided that interactions between L-8 and L-7 would continue, as a sort of reward for both test subjects for good behavior.
They ate together, slept together, played together- the two were becoming quite inseparable.
L-8 continued to grow, and when it had reached 3 years in age, it’s horns had started to grow in fully like they had in previous test subjects. Based on the larger width of the horn buds, as well as the increase in testosterone they observed during blood tests- it was concluded that L-8 had begun presenting as male like L-6 and L-5 had. After that point, it no longer felt right to Phillipa to continue referring to L-8 as ‘it.’ He had too much personality for her to think of as a common machine anyways.
Soon after this discovery was when the decision was made by Dr. Airis for L-8 to be introduced to L-6. Phillipa couldn’t help but feel a twinge of nervousness and sympathy for the docile creature, knowing what awaited him. He had kindness in his heart...but that was not what they needed from him. She was able to bargain another year of development before the introduction would take place, but that was all they could do for the sake of the project.
L-8 had first learned of the others like him and L-7 when his sister had come into the big room with a bandaged, bleeding wound on the side of her face, looking fearful and hurt. Concerned, he had leapt over to check her over for more injuries, trilling and headbutting her softly in an attempt to comfort her when she whimpered and shrunk under him in response.
The wound smelled strongly of the stinging liquid the white-coats used on injuries, but another smell was present...one that was close to L-7’s scent, but different? He was curious, but pushed this away. L-7 needed him right now. He had curled tightly around his smaller sibling, hoping the action might bring her comfort as it did for him, and he had remained in that position, guarding her for the remainder of their time together that day.
It was only a few days later when the white-coats led him back to the big room. They never let him and L-7 play so soon after a previous interaction, but he wasn’t about to complain! He had rushed into the room when the wall opened, expecting to see L-7 on the opposite side- but what greeted him instead had his heart dropping to his stomach.
Instead of L-7, a large, pitch black creature waited on the opposite side of the room. It was pacing back and forth, whip-like tail lashing behind it as it’s long claws clicked against the cool floor of the room. This creature resembled more of a monster than anything else with long spiked horns and plates of thick skin running down its back. Full of fear, L-8 had attempted to back up through the wall he had been led through, only to find it closed behind him.
The thump of L-8’s back hitting the now closed wall drew the monster’s attention, violet eyes fixed on L-8 with a ferocious growl rumbling in it’s throat. L-8 barely had time to yelp and roll to the side to avoid the monster charging at him- it’s claws sinking into the wall where L-8’s head would have been mere moments earlier.
Scrambling to get away, L-8 barely managed to make it a few feet before he was stopped by teeth sinking into his tail. He screamed in pain as he was whipped back and thrown against the wall, his breath getting knocked out of him from the force of the impact, gasping as his body tried desperately to breathe with no air in his lungs.
The monster did not give L-8 a chance to recover as he lay prone, gashing his side open with its claws with a blow that splattered green gore onto the walls, floor, and even on the monster itself as L-8 slid helplessly across the floor from the force of the blow.
Numbly, L-8 heard the monster screech in pain as sense returned to him. He noted that the monster had been burned where L-8’s blood had landed on it, giving way to the green muscle beneath it’s black skin. Thankfully, this gave L-8 a moment to recover.
Heart hammering, L-8 struggled to his feet and took a series of deep breaths when he was able to breathe again. In that moment, the full scent of the monster hit him and his vision blurred. Something about the scent...it smelled sick like the rag the white-coats had him smell, but worse, it was wrong….wrong.
A threat...he had to destroy the threat!
L-8 roared as he snapped up and stood at his full height. The pain of the wounds faded in the haze and he charged the monster, jumping with his toe claws extended as he collided with the monster’s chest and shoulder, knocking it off balance. He viciously ripped at any inch of exposed flesh available with teeth and claws alike, not even conscious of the monster fighting back in his desperation to eliminate the threat.
He heard the monster roaring and screeching, but the sound was dull in his ears compared to the thurm of his own heartbeat. Biting down hard on the monster’s neck as he clawed its face out of the way, he grabbed hold of something in the flesh and ripped his head backward, spitting the chunk of flesh aside as a horrendous choking sound emanated from the monster, which reached for its throat with alarm in its eyes. The monster choked for a moment before it collapsed, bringing L-8 to the floor with it.
Only after landing and jumping to continue attacking the motionless monster did L-8 start to come back down from the vicious state. Throbbing pain in his side, his tail, even the side of his face brought him back to reality as he realized he was bleeding heavily, his blood no longer eating at his surroundings as he started to calm.
Reeling back in horror, he could now observe just what he had done to the monster. It’s throat had been torn out; severe burns, bites and gashes covered most of its upper body as it lay horribly twisted and unmoving on the floor, its blood pooling steadily around it. Now with the chaos and panic subsiding, he was able to fully recognize the branding on the monster’s right arm that had been out of sight from afar…’L-6.’
Stumbling back away from the corpse, L-8 covered his mouth with blood-soaked hands in horror at the realization that he had killed another like him, a brother! He hadn’t wanted to do this, he would never have attacked a sibling! Why had he lost control of his body like that- would this mean he would attack L-7 if he saw her again?? L-6 couldn’t be dead...he had to fix this!
In a fit of desperation, L-8 stumbled and jumped closer to the corpse, circling around it and pushing on it’s shoulder and side repeatedly in a desperate attempt to rouse the butchered creature. Hot tears steadily poured down his face as he continued in his attempts, wishing with all of his heart and soul that he could take the violence back.
Dimly, he was aware of the wall opening behind him as the white-coats came back in. He felt hands on his shoulders that tried to pull him away from L-6, but he shook off the grip and went back to trying to wake his brother. Another tug on his shoulders was resisted, then he felt a stab of discomfort in his shoulder. Grabbing at the spot, he pulled what looked like a sharp-silver out of his skin and out of the white-coat’s grip, L-8’s face furrowing in fear and confusion. The next thing he knew after removing the sharp-silver, his vision was quickly blurring and the floor rose to meet him. L-8 barely felt the thud of his own body making contact with the blood-stained floor, for his awareness had already rapidly faded to black.
Phillipa looked on as L-8 began to wake up in his cell after they had sedated him concluding his interaction with L-6. As expected, L-6 had been vicious when L-8 entered the chamber, but the programming they had implemented into L-8 worked like a dream. Berserker mode had triggered right on time, and L-8 had been able to take down an opponent several times his size with relative ease, utilizing his own acidic blood as a weapon, something previous test subjects had not been fitted with.
Dr. Airis and Mr. Schaffer had been very pleased with the results of the experiment, though on orders from higher ups had been required to place shackles for added security on L-8’s ankles and wrists following the demonstration, in case his programming triggered at the wrong time during tests in the lab. Both scientists knew that would never happen unless an infected somehow made its way into the lab, after all, they had given L-6 a megadose of the infection before sending L-8 in so the berserker mode would trigger properly.
Observing him now though, Phillipa felt a twinge of guilt as he attempted to stand, his movement limited by his patched wounds and the new restraints, which he regarded with confusion and fear as he attempted to get them off.
The creature had frozen and begun to sob when the memories of the previous day's interaction came crashing back. He had dragged himself to the corner best he could with the addition of the restraints, curling in on himself and trembling like he had done when he was an infant. This was a necessary evil in the fight against the infection...that’s what Mr. Schaffer had said, no sense in getting attached to what amounted to a living weapon. But here she was, horrified by the reaction and emotions that L-8 seemed to be capable of feeling when he realized he had fatally wounded a sibling.
Turning away from the cell, she swallowed the bitter feeling in her throat and wiped away tears that had started to form in her eyes. She had to stay impartial. She reminded herself that Mr. Schaffer had been pleased by the demonstration, and L-8 had been the best result from project Lazarus so far. L-5 had been too docile, L-6 was far too aggressive, and L-7 was too physically weak to be of real use in the project. With the data they had collected during his conditioning, they would be able to produce more Lazarus subjects like L-8 that might be able to protect the capital once and for all from threats of the infected. Even so...she wished that the creature did not have to suffer like this.
For days after the death of L-6, L-8 did not move from his corner. The white-coats had brought him food, but each time he had shoved it away and refused to uncurl. Eventually they stopped bringing the good-smelling-red blocks, and instead opted for stabbing him with the sharp-silvers and forcing a tube down his throat to feed him when he was too bleary to fight back.
He wanted to bite the horrid tube, to push them away- but he was too weak from denying meals to do more than weakly scratch at the fabric of their coats. He hated the heavy silver cuffs that had been fixed around his limbs, and took to chewing on them as often as he could- even if his teeth often slipped off the metal and sliced into his skin leaving heavy scars. Despite the pain from the self-inflicted wounds, L-8 could not bring himself to care. He needed them off, it was an awful reminder that the white-coats saw him as dangerous now, and of what he had done thanks to their meddling.
When the white-coats next took L-8 out of the cell and brought him back to the big room where he had been forced to kill his brother, L-8 had shrunk back in horror, and tried to scramble out before they could close the door behind him- but of course he was too slow and was left to claw uselessly at the white metal, whimpering as the panic rose.
When he heard the wall opposite where he sat slide open, he flinched and shrunk reflexively against the closed door he had been scratching at with his eyes tight shut. Was this another of his siblings they wanted him to kill? He refused to look, he didn’t want to hurt anyone again. It wasn’t until he felt the lick on his forehead that he dared open his eyes.
L-7 was sitting in front of him, a look of concern on her face as she regarded her brother with wide eyes. She gently placed her hands on his knee but quickly removed the contact after noting the flinch when she touched him. Instead, she sat back on her haunches to watch him, tilting her head and chirping sadly as she observed the cuffs and healing scars on his limbs. L-8 watched his sister with tears prickling in his eyes. He didn’t want to hurt her, he couldn’t! Any second now, the scent would hit him, he would have to hurt her…
But the scent never came.
Slowly but surely, L-8 began to uncurl, his ears moving forward from the pinned position they had been stuck in since he had been led to the room. His breathing evened, and he felt more and more at ease as he stole glances toward his sister and the urge never rose to hurt her.
L-7 had not moved the whole time, waiting patiently until L-8 had relaxed back to a calm state. Only then did she inch closer, and gently stretched up to headbutt against L-8, her tiny horns producing a muted click as they bumped against his own.
This gentle action broke a dam in L-8, and he let out a sob as he pulled her closer into his arms. Curling his tail around both of them, he let out the sorrow in silent tears as he buried his face in her shoulder. L-7 had held him tightly, gently stroking the back of his head and quietly purring to encourage her brother to let out the emotions he had been holding at bay, letting his sadness run its course while gently grooming the larger, wrecked creature.
The siblings had stayed like this, curled up tight to each other for the rest of the day. Unlike their previous allotted visiting time, the white-coats didn’t come to separate them after a short while as they had done before. When they finally did come, they strangely made no attempt to separate them and instead allowed L-7 to gently lead L-8 back to his cell under their supervision. When they reached the cell, L-8 had grabbed L-7’s hand tight and tugged her to follow him into the enclosure, eyes pleading with the white-coats to allow her to stay.
He didn’t want to be alone again.
The red haired white-coat had hesitated only a moment after observing the interaction before making a request to the blonde one. They debated for a few moments, seeming concerned before the blonde seemed to win over the red-haired one, and gave L-7 a gentle nudge toward the cell. Her words were nothing but odd sounds to the siblings, but her tone conveyed that L-8’s plea was okay. L-7 had not hesitated in following L-8 into the cell upon confirmation and a huge weight lifted from his heart as L-8 curled around her once more.
The cell door was shut behind them, and for the first time in days, L-8 felt calm. He could feel L-7’s breath as her chest rose and fell in this curled up position- alive and well, and a new urge to protect his small sibling rose in his chest- even stronger than the urge to maim that had risen when L-6’s diseased scent had reached him.
He wouldn’t let them use him to hurt her, or anyone for that matter. If they tried to make him hurt her, he resolved that he would fight with every fiber of his being- even if it meant turning on the people that had been the only true constant in his short life. He and L-7...they needed to get away from this place, and as he looked at the scars on his wrists around the cuffs, an idea for doing just that began to form in his head.
Dr. Airis had been the one to suggest to Phillipa that L-7 be allowed to stay with L-8. She made a good point that he had been such a wreck after killing L-6 that he would have been useless to the company for his intended purpose otherwise. At least now, he was eating normally again, and he had stopped biting his cuffs- though his demeanor toward the scientists had changed permanently from the friendly one he had kept before to a colder, more detached one.
Phillipa had heard of large animals like horses being allowed to keep smaller ones like goats with them during rest time to reduce anxiety, so why not keep the two together for this same purpose? She made a note in her research that if this problem persisted in newer models, they may have to raise the Lazarus subjects in bonded pairs to keep them calm- a larger aggressor paired with a smaller companion.
These were the thoughts that played in her head as she neared the lab for the day after recording some logs in her office, sipping her coffee and adjusting her bag on her shoulder. She and Dr. Airis would run some routine tests on the remaining dormant test subjects based on the notes they had collected on L-8, and they would ready their research for submission.
What she had not been prepared for was the lab alarm suddenly going off, flooding the halls with flashing red light.
Phillipa had dropped her mug instantly and broken into a run, making a beeline to the labs. Making her way inside to the wing containing the holding cells she arrived in the doorway just in time to see Dr. Airis duck for cover under one of the nearby desks as the examination table flew past her with a heavy clang as it struck her shelter, fear evident on her coworker’s face as she tucked her body as small as it would go.
Phillipa had been too slow to react, and froze as she was met with the sight that had caused Dr. Airis to run and hide- a large charcoal grey hand gripping around the doorframe. L-8 was free from his cell, reared back to his full height with a vicious snarl on his face. He was a good foot and half taller than both of the scientists now, and even though she knew he couldn’t fatally harm her thanks to his programming, fear shot through her like ice as he dwarfed her in stature- claws and teeth looking much sharper than usual.
Her frantic mind took in the details of the scene in an instant: The cuffs on his limbs had been melted off and lay behind him where the lock to the holding cell had been melted as well, and L-8 was bleeding heavily from wounds on his elbows and knees- the blood that dripped from the wounds hissing as it came into contact with the ground, triggered to its acidic form. L-7 was perched on his back; clinging on with her teeth buried in his shoulder and claws digging into his skin- both done without drawing blood. She glared at the scientist, her ears pinned back with an intensity in her gaze that Phillipa had never seen in the smaller creature. The actions clicked for her and a single thought had time to run through her mind before all hell broke loose-
She’s making sure his blood stays acidic.
L-8 roared without warning, an ear splitting sound that reverberated through Phillipa’s whole body and snapped her out of her frozen state. She was able to start to reach for her gun holstered to her hip before L-8 leapt forward and charged her, shoulder checking her out of his way as he dashed through the open door behind her and out into the hall- Phillipa screaming on the floor as thick drops of his blood splashed on her cheek when he passed her, burning deep into her flesh.
She was able to drag herself to her feet through the shock of being tossed aside like a doll, and saw Dr. Airis scrambling for the security feed as Phillipa stumbled to join her, clutching at the ruined flesh on her face. Dr. Airis brought up the tracking software for the chips they had implanted in both Lazarus subjects on her desk, alerting the security team of the capital of their subjects' escape as they watched them progress on the screens.
L-8 was designed to be fast and maneuver well around many enemies- something that worked against them now as he easily dodged squadrons of security teams; or burned them non-fatally with his blood, or simply knocked them aside like bowling pins. Even if they did manage to get a shot off at the fleeing creatures, the bullets seemed to have no effect on L-8 if they had indeed hit him besides bringing forth more acidic blood to aid their escape. None of the shots managed to hit L-7 on his back, she noted with a sinking feeling, as he would twist to avoid her sustaining injuries when encountering any hostile humans.
Dr. Airis was silent beside her as the doctor slammed her fist on the desk in frustration when L-8 doged past the 5th squadron sent to contain the escaped creatures. By now, L-8 had made it out of the labs, and was now jumping across the rooftops of the civilian homes, headed for the outer wall.
Phillipa held her breath as the creatures neared the towering structure- then watched in disbelief as he did not slow his charge, instead jumping the gap in a huge burst of energy and running vertically up the wall as he had done countless times in the lab. With a few side-steps as he climbed, L-8 avoided the turrets on the top of the wall sustaining only a few shots as collateral. With one last jump over the wall and a slide down the other side with his claws dug into the cement and metal to slow their descent- L-8 was making a mad dash into the wastes as shots rang out behind him.
As the test subjects disappeared from view, Phillipa looked now to the tracking chip data that remained on the screen- the tracker showed the siblings as overlapping dots on the map of the capital as they sped away further from their reach. Phillipa sat there helpless as they grew further away, her heart dropping when she saw both signals finally disappear one after the other- the chips having passed out of the range of their sensors.
They had lost all of their mature test subjects for the program in one fell swoop. Each creature represented a sizable investment on their own that Mr. Schaffer was not going to be happy about losing- but they were going to lose support from the company for sure if the remaining dormant test subjects were this hard to keep under control. They would be back to square one. All she could hope for now was that the reconnaissance teams would be able to extend the tracker range and find the siblings before it was too late.
It wasn’t until days later that reconnaissance teams were able to follow the signals into the wastes as they had finally stopped moving. Phillipa had been startled by how quickly Dr. Airis had wrenched her communicator out of it’s charger when the update finally came through. What she overheard from the call drained any hope of recovering the subjects that had begun to kindle in her mind- The team had followed the signal and found the source all right.
They had found the tracking chips laying in a dried puddle of green blood on the barren dirt, still laying where they had been discarded after being clawed out 5 miles from the capital.
L-8 didn’t know how long he had been running, but it felt like days. L-7 had thankfully stopped needing to bite him now that they were out of the huge human nest, and once they got the implants out of their arms he knew that they would not be able to find them.
The pain from the many small injuries he had sustained as they escaped throbbed with each movement as he ran, but he could not bring himself to care at the moment. They were free! His heart soared at the feeling and he couldn’t help but let out a triumphant roar as he galloped across the barren landscape, L-7 echoing the call with equal glee from her vantage point on his back. They had not seen a human for miles as they ran, and now L-8 could run at a much more leisurely pace.
He sighed in relief as he breathed in the air, feeling the warmth of the sun on his skin as he reared up to his hind legs, slowing to a walk as he enjoyed the feeling. They were safe from the humans, and now they could find their own way in this wide open world full of new things to discover and explore.
In the distance, he spotted a break in the barren landscape- strange structures like spinly hands reaching toward the sky...trees? He recalled something about trees deep in his programming, part of the information that had been implanted in his mind during their experiments on the disk at the back of his head. At any rate, he had a feeling this would be a good place to start looking for a place to stay, even if it was for just a little while.
He ran to the trees with less urgency than before and was taken aback by the cool shade the canopy above them provided, slowing to a walk again as his curiosity grew. The ground below his feet was softer than the hard, dry earth he had been running over, and his ears twitched as he picked up on the sounds of running water and small animals rustling in the reeds somewhere nearby. The scents of growth and life around them was intoxicating.
He was aware of L-7 playfully batting at the drooping branches above them with a happy chirp, and he carefully moved forward, exploring the new terrain and following the sound of the water further into what he now recognized in his programming as a marsh.
The ground grew moist below him as he pressed further, moving toward the center of the marsh as best he could. There did not seem to be any of the danger or monsters here that they had witnessed as they ran through the barren landscape, and having as much of the marsh between them and the harsh land seemed like the best bet. It took quite a while of walking, navigating between thick trunks of trees and having to swim through the more heavily flooded areas but finally he reached what he thought to be a good spot, chirping at L-7 over his shoulder to get her eyes on the sight before them.
They had reached a small clearing, at the center of which was a large rock formation surrounded by a shallow moat of water. A hollow was formed in the earth between the crags on the tiny island, and to L-8, it looked like the perfect spot for them to rest. A dry spot, shielded from the elements and surrounded by water that would alert them with sound to any approaching life forms? He honestly couldn’t believe their luck. A pat on his head from L-7 and a chirp of affirmation was all he needed, and he trotted forward to wade through the water.
They came to rest on the shore of the tiny island, L-8 shaking the water from his skin and kneeling to allow L-7 to climb down from his back without having to jump. With her leading the way to the hollow they had seen before, L-8 could finally relax. The larger creature flopped on his side the instant they reached the right spot, nestling into the sandy earth with L-7 following suit and curling up against his side, gently lapping at the wounds within her reach to clean them.
The exhaustion of the escape could now catch up to him without fear of compromising the venture, and L-8 found himself yawning as he curled up around L-7- a force of habit to protect the smaller creature as they rested. He didn’t know how long they would stay here in this strange marsh, but he was determined that they would stay together. He would do anything in his power to keep them safe and free, even if it meant fighting off the monsters that had kept them captive for a second time. They would never be captives again.