The Nature of the Beast
Chapter One: Loosed From the Cage
She could feel the fear coursing through her body with every heart beat. The sting of sweat hit her eyes and she wiped at her face furiously knowing it wouldn’t do any good; she had twenty more miles before she reached the base and the sweat wasn’t going to miraculously disappear. What had she been thinking heading into town when she knew he was out there; it was like asking to die. She stopped to look over her shoulder, but he was like a chameleon the way he was able to merge with his surroundings. She prayed she would make it in time; the project was useless without her. She crouched, unmoving, for what seemed like hours waiting nervously for any sign of movement, any sign that he was waiting.
He had killed the other one like her; her handlers had made sure she knew every gruesome detail. They didn’t want her letting her guard down and getting killed; they were gonna be real damn happy when they found out about this little…incident. Course if I die I won’t have to deal with their angry accusations, she thought hysterically and almost whimpered. She shook her head and ordered herself to snap out of it; she couldn’t afford to lose it now, not when was so close. She either had to go now or stay here and most likely be killed. She made a decision and ran like hell.
He stood there in the shadows and watched her go. She was brave; he’d give her that. She had been on the verge of hysteria a moment ago and he could still smell the fear on her, but she hadn’t let it paralyze her. She had used that adrenaline coursing through her and taken flight. He admired that. It was just a matter of time before she ventured out again; the fear would fade and her curiosity would outweigh her sense of danger. She’d sneak away and he would get her. All that was left now was the waiting. He turned silently and disappeared into the dark night.
She snuck back onto the base easily and crept down to her room. She didn’t turn on any lights; she didn’t need to. She opened her door and backed in; watching the hall to make sure no one came out and saw her. She leaned her forehead against the door as it clicked shut and breathed a sigh of relief. That relief was short-lived however when she heard the lamp snap on; her whole body tensed.
“Welcome back, Riana. I trust your adventure was all you’d hoped.” She turned slowly to face the commander and found him gazing at her expectantly as he relaxed in her easy chair.
“I, uh, don’t know what you mean. I’ve only been out for a walk around the base, couldn’t sleep.” He rose swiftly to his feet, anger creeping into voice.
“Do not lie to me! Security cameras have you jumping the fence around your building and disabling the alarm on the back gate.”
“That’s impossible! Security cameras were down.” The commander smiled at her slip and she bit her lip sheepishly.
“You think we don’t notice if the cameras go down? We all know what you’re capable of; we keep you under very tight surveillance.”
“I just wanted to see what it was like outside; you have no right to keep me here against my will!” She was nearly shouting and suddenly he was in her face and he was furious. He shook her roughly as he raged at her,
“We have every right to keep you here! We made you; you belong to us. We keep you here for your protection. Do I have to remind you of the result of your sister’s curiosity? You’re not ready to face him; he would tear you apart limb from limb. Should I describe again what she looked like when he was through with her? The blood? The smell?” She shook her head violently, feeling ill.
“No. No, please, once was enough. I’m sorry I broke out, but I came back as soon as-” she broke off abruptly and the commander’s grip tightened as he narrowed his eyes.
“You saw him?” She stared back silently afraid to tell him. “Did he try to talk to you?”
“What?” she asked puzzled. “Why would he talk to me? You told me he was ‘vicious and without reason’ that I should run if I saw him because he would attack without provocation.”
“He is. He is. I just meant did he approach you or come after you?” The commander let her go and backed up a step.
“But you said talk. Why did you-?”
“That’s enough,” he interrupted. “I misspoke. Now did he attack you or not?”
“He approached and I ran, just like you told me to.”
“Good. It’s time you should be in bed I think. We’ll deal with punishment in the morning.” He headed towards the door and she turned to watch him go.
“Punishment?” He paused in the door and said,
“Of course. Did you think you could flagrantly break the rules and there’d be no repercussions? I thought we’d taught you better than that.” And with that he left, the soft click of the door sounding to her ears like the lock of a prison gate slamming home. She sank onto the bed knowing her punishment for her night of “freedom” would indeed be severe. She had better get some rest.
“What measures have been taken to ensure this is her first and last infraction?” Weiss demanded. The commander remained unshaken in the face of his superior’s anger.
“She was, of course, punished for her rebellion and her training and conditioning have intensified. She’s not allowed outside without an armed escort and we have a guard posted outside her room every night.” Weiss waved his hand dismissively as he took a puff off his cigar.
“You and I both know Riana could disarm and disable those men in a matter of seconds. You should be keeping her bolted in her room.”
“You honestly think that would stop her? I’m not sure if there are any safety measures we could take that would keep her in if she decided she wanted to leave.” He could see Weiss gearing up for another rant and forestalled his anger with an explanation. “Obedience has been ingrained in her psyche since she was conceived; that is what keeps her here. I’m surprised she was able to overcome it long enough to sneak off base. I can assure you it was merely an aberration; it won’t happen again.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Weiss scowled as he leaned forward and spat, “but if she gets loose again we may have to scrap the project. We can’t afford to have her running around causing trouble, and God forbid he gets a hold of her! Get her under control or she’s dead.”
Riana felt as though she had been locked inside for years rather than months. Although when she considered it she had to admit that she had been imprisoned in one way or another all her life. They were always keeping her hidden away like some dirty secret. The loneliness and isolation ate at her until she wanted to scream out in frustration, but something always kept her from giving in to the impulse. Something deep inside held her back from doing so many of the things she longed to do, and she didn’t understand why what was so simple for some seemed an impossibility for her.
At least before she’d been able to go outside; she’d had free run of the base. Now they locked her up like an animal in a cage. She sat on the bed, back to the wall, knees hugged tight against her chest, rocking back and forth as she stared at the door and thought. She thought about how she could open that door and take down her guard with one simple flick of her wrist. She thought about how she could scale the fence, disable the alarms, and be free forever. They had tried to tell her that the world outside was a horrible, scary, dangerous place yet they lived in it every day. How bad could it be? None of them had even half the defensive capability that she had, but they were trying to convince her that she needed their protection. She sat and she thought, but she did nothing and she didn’t understand why.
It was about four months after her first trip off base and they had started letting her outside more often. She’d thought the guards were a permanent measure, but apparently that had only been part of her punishment. Bastards! She was almost surprised by her vehement reaction. Although she didn’t enjoy her captivity, she had accepted it as necessary. She rarely had bad thoughts about her handlers. Sure, she occasionally thought of ways to escape this place, but deep down she knew they were helping her, protecting her. She knew they cared about her. She stopped walking and tilted her head, lost in thought. She did know that, right? Or was that what they made her believe? She shook her head in denial of her thoughts. No, they know what’s best; they care about me. She’d never doubted that before; why was she suddenly questioning her existence now. Strange. She started walking again and pushed her doubts aside.
“So do you think it will work?” the man asked glancing around nervously to be sure they weren’t overheard.
“I told you; I changed her drug treatment a couple weeks ago. Soon they won’t be able to control her and she can leave this place for good.”
“Do you think they’ll find out what we’ve done?”
“Honestly? I don’t give a damn. It’s worth any risk to get her away from those monsters. Are you worried about your involvement?”
“No, you’re right. Something had to be done; I just hope we did the right thing.”
She knew it was only a nightmare, but somehow that didn’t appease the terror she felt. It continued to burn in the pit of her stomach as she stood staring at the man she had been taught was her biggest enemy. He was tall, taller than the men on base; he towered over her own five foot four inch frame. He was broad-shouldered and his body radiated strength and power. He stepped toward her and she threw her hands up to ward him off, but he just grabbed her arms tightly and pulled her close to him. She looked into his eyes and fear shuddered through her at the intensity of his gaze. He leaned in and whispered in her ear,
“Leave them and come to me. I’m waiting for you.” His warm breath on the side of her neck caused a shiver of another kind to slide down her spine. She pulled away violently and then he was gone. Riana sat up in bed with a gasp, her hand going to her throat. She could still feel the warmth, as though he had actually been there and she hurried to turn on the light. She hugged her pillow tightly as she wondered what it meant. Every night he came to her in her dreams, whispering warnings, issuing commands. Sometimes, like tonight, she was frightened, but other times…other times she experienced a whole separate set of emotions when he confronted her.
One thing remained consistent though, no matter what she felt she never attempted to fight him. He was waiting for her; what the hell was that about? He was supposed to be her enemy, but she never got that feeling from him in her dreams; his manner was always seductive rather than menacing. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what the dreams meant. She pushed him from her thoughts and tried to get back to sleep, but as she drifted off she was bothered that although she had looked into his eyes she hadn’t been able to see his face.
The next few weeks her thoughts became increasingly odd and rebellious. She resented the way the commander and his men ordered her around and treated her like a child. She resented the way they kept her caged up and locked away, never allowing her to see or do anything remotely interesting. They said they knew what was best for her, but she wasn’t a child anymore and no matter what they thought, she belonged to no one. Her nights turned into restless tossing and turning whereas before she had always slept peacefully. She couldn’t take it anymore so she snuck out for a walk.
As soon as she stepped outside her nerves were soothed by the cool, gentle breeze that blew across the base. As she approached the fence around her building the feeling of being caged returned full force, and she was over it in an instant. On the other side she closed her eyes, breathing in the fresh air, and just…wandered. When she opened her eyes she found herself standing at the gate. She stood for what seemed like hours just gazing at the world beyond, wishing she could be a part of it. Wishing she was free to do what she wanted without being watched and followed. She stepped forward and took hold of the gate, and suddenly she was surrounded by guards.
“Step away from the gate.” She tightened her hold as she turned her head to look at the soldier who had spoken. “Riana. Step away from the gate! That’s an order.” She stepped back from the gate, keeping her gaze fixed on him. She stood completely still for a moment, her face expressionless as she explained tautly,
“I don’t take orders anymore.” She leapt into the air, bringing both legs up and kicking two of the soldiers in the face. She landed and dropped to a crouch, sweeping the legs of the other soldiers before rendering them unconscious and disarming them in a blur of motion. She set the rifles aside and kept two of the Glocks for herself as well as a couple knives. She ripped the wiring loose from the camera at the gate and scaled the fence. When she landed on the other side she smiled and took a deep breath, feeling free for the first time in her life, then she took off down the road.
“I thought you said this wouldn’t happen, Commander,” Weiss demanded pompously as he came into the office. The commander looked up in surprise.
“Oh, you didn’t hear? Your girl just took out ten of my best men, disabled a camera, and jumped the gate. She’s gone.”
“That’s impossible! There’s no way she could overcome her conditioning in such a way!”
“Obviously she has and with her special abilities, there’s no telling where she is or what she’s doing.” Weiss leaned onto the desk and spat, “I’m giving you twenty-four hours to find her and contain her before I report your ass to the committee.” Weiss turned towards the door, a smile on his lips. “In a way you’ve done me a favor; I’ll finally be able to get rid of you and end this project once and for all. Quite a day, quite a day!” The commander swore as Weiss slammed the door behind him. Now what was he going to do?
The base was a little off the beaten path, but close enough to town that she knew she’d make it long before morning. She stayed on the road for a long time before realizing she was an easy target this way. She slowed for a moment before veering off into the trees. Riana smiled to herself; she could hide more easily here and still get into town. The smile disappeared from her face as she remembered who else might be out here. She stopped suddenly; what the hell had she done? When she heard a twig snap she jumped and spun around, trying to see everywhere at once. She stumbled backwards for awhile and then heard another noise, closer this time. She turned around in a panic, prepared to run for it and slammed into a hard, immovable object. She bounced back and looked up quickly; her heart felt like it stopped beating and time slowed as she gazed up at her worst nightmare.
He was just as big as in her dream, his body nothing but hard muscle. He stepped closer as she cowered in fear and a beam of moonlight illuminated his face. Her breath caught in her throat. He’s beautiful, she thought as she stared at him in surprise. He had a strong, square jaw covered in dark stubble that almost, but not quite, constituted a beard. His features were sharply defined, almost harsh in their beauty, and his hair was as black as night, pulled back in a short ponytail with a loose strand falling forward onto his cheek.
“Hello, Riana.” The sound of his voice spurred her into action. He easily blocked her swing and when she threw another of her lightning quick blows he grabbed her arm using her momentum to gently twist her arm behind her back as he spun her into a headlock and imprisoned her tightly against his chest. She felt his laugh rumble against her back as he placed his mouth close to her ear in a move reminiscent of her dreams. “You think you can fight me? I’m the only reason you exist.” She began to struggle, not understanding his comment.
“Let me go,” she demanded imperiously.
“You think I will release you so you may try to attack me again?” He smiled against her cheek. “Let me ask you something, dearest Riana. Had any dreams lately?” He felt her struggles cease and knew that she had indeed received the messages he’d sent her. He moved the arm he held from behind her back, tangling their fingers together as he wound both her arm and his around her waist and lowered his voice to a whisper, “Is that why you’re here? Did curiosity finally get the better of you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Sure you do. Those dreams you keep having? The ones that started a couple months ago, about you and me? You couldn’t fight me then either.” She felt the familiar shiver from her dream chase over her skin, causing her knees to weaken and renewed her struggles.
“You’re wrong; I can fight you and I will.” She felt him shake his head and tighten his hold as he said softly,
“You can try, but it isn’t necessary. We need not be enemies.” She turned her head to look back over her shoulder at him.
“Are you suggesting I join you?”
“It’s not as ridiculous as you make it out to be. You’ve been lied to all your life; I’m not what you think.”
“You’re not a vicious killer?” He hesitated.
“Well, yes I am that, but…” She whipped her head backward suddenly, catching him off guard. His hold loosened enough for her to escape and she ran like hell. He wasn’t stunned for long though and he was able to catch her very quickly, knocking her to the ground. He turned her on her back as he straddled her holding her wrists above her head with one hand. As if by magic a syringe appeared in his hand; he pulled the cap off with his teeth and leaned toward her,
“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but if you insist…” Her eyes widened and she pleaded with him to let her go, but he just smiled. “This might sting a little.” She felt a slight pinch on her arm and then her vision grew hazy. He must have let go of her wrists once the shot kicked in because the last thing she remembered before losing consciousness was reaching out to caress his face as he pulled her off the ground. She thought he smiled, but she couldn’t be sure. Then everything went black.
He watched her as she slept. He tested the strength of her bonds again to make sure she wouldn’t get free, and smiled in anticipation of her reaction when she awoke. She would hate being restrained this way, but it was necessary; there was no way she’d listen to him otherwise. He brushed her hair back and gently caressed her cheek. Sweet Riana, she had no idea what she was, what she could become with his help. It was too bad about the other one, but Riana had always been the stronger of the two; he knew she would be able to handle the truth.
Riana woke slowly; she wasn’t sure what had happened. She didn’t remember going to bed, but she could tell that was where she was. She tried to roll over, but found that she was held in place and unable to move her arms and legs. Her eyes flew open as she looked around wildly and saw that she was chained to the bed. She tugged desperately at her restraints as memory came flooding back, but the chains seemed to be unbreakable. He must have made them special for me, she thought; she could have easily snapped regular chains. She heard a rustle of movement from the corner of the room and suddenly he was there standing over her.
“Good, you’re awake.”
“What are you going to do to me? What do you want?” She tried to look unafraid and angry, but she spoiled the effect by trembling. He watched her intently, his expression betraying nothing of his thoughts.
“What do I want? Now that is a good question.” He sat next to her on the bed, his hand reaching out to stroke her cheek. She wanted to draw away from him, but she felt incapable of movement as he leaned down and whispered, “I don’t think you’re ready for the answer to that particular question.” He stood abruptly, turning away from her. “What am I going to do to you? Enlighten you, inform you, instruct you; I will be your guide. I will set you on your true path. Not the path your captors had in store, that path leads to blind obedience and subjugation. No, my plan is to set you free.” Riana looked at him in confusion. Captors? What- he was her captor!
“You’ll set me free, huh? How about starting with these chains?” He smiled and shook his head.
“I can’t do that yet; this is the only way you’ll listen.” All at once she was angry.
“You’re insane! I know we’re not here so you can “set me free”. I know what you’re capable of; I know what you did to her! So why don’t we just get on with it because I gotta say – the suspense? It’s killin’ me!” He was so quick she was barely able to register that he was moving and then he was leaning over her, grasping her chin as he ground out,
“I know what you think I did, but I’m not what they’ve told you. They’ve filled your head with lies for so long I’m not even sure you’d recognize the truth if it was right in front of you.” He let go and shoved himself away from her, his voice bitter. “I’m not here to kill you, princess; I’m here to save you.” As she sputtered in disbelief he left the room, slamming the door behind him.
She leaned up to stare at the door he’d closed behind him. Yeah. Right. He was here to save her! That’s why he’d drugged her and strapped her to the bed. She collapsed back onto the pillows; she had to find a way to get out of here.