by Andrew J. Müller
The grass crunched brittly under their feet as they made their way as discreetly as possible across the big lawn from the cover of the fir trees that edged the estate. Lawrence inwardly cursed the bright moonlit night again, sparkling stars wheeled overhead, but the lack of cloud cover made for an unusually light night and his little group of three felt horrible exposed as they raced across the manicured lawn. He relaxed slightly when the drew up by the high wire-link fence which surrounded the house and its garden. He cast an architects eye over the building. It looked Jacobean, but it was too big and clunky so it was almost certainly a nineteenth century copy with all the usual subtlety of the Victorian age. Big dark shadows hugged the central part of the house between the two protruding wings. From their position at the fence they would have to run up a slight slope to a patio area, around an ornamental pond and then into the shadows around the house.
"Are you sure the dogs are all out of commission?"
Lawrence looked over at the freckly, worried face of "Red" Reg. Reg was one of those people who could worry about the simplest things, so going on this kind of covert operation was giving his mind plenty of ammunition to keep him in a constant state of stress. Why was it, Lawrence wondered, that so often the indispensible people were the ones you least wanted along. Reg was a coward, something he readily admitted, but was superb at breaking and entering.
"Yes, Dole will have drugged them. I think we can trust him, the dogs would have heard us by now if they were up and about."
Reg didnt look particularly reassured, but then he seldom did. "Okay, well, if youre sure."
Reg took the pack off his back and extracted some wire cutters. "I dont really like dogs, you know. Not when theyre making for my vitals, like." He began to cut the wire-link fence. Each breaking link seemed to crack like gunfire in the quiet of the night.
After a while a hole big enough for a person to squeeze through was made and Lawrence ducked through it. Reg followed him, and Sharia brought up the rear. The trio hurried up the slope to the patio, digging their heels in to avoid slipping on the frosty grass. The passed the fountain and gratefully merged into the shadows by the house. Faint light spilt out from one of the windows on the west wing, but it was dim, implying its source was somewhere deeper inside the house.
A small red light blinked repeatedly. A hand reached out and switched a switch beneath the light causing it to go dark. Then the hand flicked another switch and a TV screen flickered into light, it showed an infrared view of the front lawn of the house. Three scurrying figures made their way past the fountain of Neptune and out of the bottom of the picture. The hand pressed a button and a computer keypad emerged from the desktop. A second hand joined the first and tapped a code into the keypad. The picture on the TV screen switched to an interior view of a wood panelled corridor.
"Hurry up cant you?" Sharia was leaning against the crumbling brickwork of the house squinting into the darkness around her.
Reg was working by a window, gently prising at its frame with a small tool of some kind.
"Im working as hard as I can, if you dont like it you can try yourself." Reg replied tersely, still on a knifes edge.
Just then the window sprang open lightly with a gentle click.
"At last." Sharia said going to open it fully.
"Hang on, woah, woah, woah " Reg waved her away. From his rucksack he removed a length of wire. He wrapped one end around the window stop and attached the other to the interior handle of the window. Once it was secure he pulled the window open.
"Okay, in you go, but dont dislodge the wire, right?"
Carefully Sharia slipped under Regs wire and pulled herself into the building. Then she turned and helped Reg in, before Lawrence nimbly climbed in himself. Carefully Reg shut the window and latched it down.
"Right, Ive done my bit, lead on MacDuff."
From her pocket Sharia produced a piece of paper, she shone the light from her flashlight onto it, illuminating a plan of a building. Then she clicked the light off again and moved off to the right. Lawrence and Reg followed.
On the TV screen the empty corridor was suddenly filled as Sharia and then the other two turned into the corridor at its far end. Slowly the moved down the corridor stopping at each door to check the name plate.
The fingers moved over the keyboard nimbly and as the trio passed under the camera the picture swivelled around to follow them. Now they were inside movement sensors could track them. The watcher leant back from the keypad and watched the TV screen with interest.
Sharia stopped and flicked her flashlight onto the plan again. "This is it." She shone her light onto the name plate on the door in front of her.
Laboratory 24 - Authorised Personnel Only the sign declared.
Lawrence stepped forward, removing a plastic card from his pocket as he did so. He ran this through the card reader by the side of the door and a small LED turned from red to green. Tentatively he opened the door. No alarms sounded, no lights flashed on, no guards appeared. They were in.
The watcher leant forward eagerly, cradling their chin in their hands. A figure in the shadows behind made to move, but the watcher raised a hand and the figure stopped.
Lawrence opened the door and bright white light flooded into the darkness from within. The three squinted as their eyes desparately tried to compensate for the sudden brightness. After a couple of moments they walked through the door and into a large room.
For a while they stood inside the door and stared around them in shock. The room was large and open plan. Seven rows of benches were ranged across the room and on each of these stood several cages. Along the sides of the room were more benches fitted with scientific equipment, cupboards and sinks. At the very front of the room was what looked very much like an operating table, complete with a hole in its centre to act as a sluice.
In each of the cages there was at least one animal. Some sat or lay in silence without moving, others were pacing back and forth making agitated noises, growling, squealing or hissing. Sharia moved over to the closest cage, sitting in the corner cowering was a cat, a grey tabby. It was hunched up recoiling from the human form approaching it. As Sharia got closer it turned its head to face her and it was her turn to recoil. A metal box about two inches wide and three high was grafted onto the top of the cats head. Two wires led from the box into a metal plate on the side of the cats head which closed its right eye. Its left eye was open wide and stared balefully at Sharia, who swallowed back bile. They had been expecting experiments, but this was more obscene than she was really prepared for. When the cat had decided she wasnt interested in it it turned away, a small light in the box on its head flickering slightly.
Reg ran a hand through his ginger hair and stared aghast at the sight before them. In the cage next to the cat a rabbit was moving backwards and forwards painfully, where its back legs should be were metal limbs, clumsily attached to its haunches. With each obviously painful hop the rabbit stumbled slightly and then righted itself.
Reg backed away and stood with Sharia and Lawrence in the doorway. They had arrived with the usual plan of setting the animals free. But it was all too obvious that these animals were in no fit state to be freed. All three were coming to the same agonised conclusion. If the animals couldnt physically be let free, then there was only one thing they could possibly do to help them.
Once they had regained their composure the three moved further into the room. The back wall of the room was a row of thick metal bars behind which was total darkness. Lawrence turned his flashlight on and shone it into the darkness behind the bars. There was a stark, empty room behind with a dirty stained floor and a chipped tiling wall. Nothing living showed in the beam of his light. He turned it to the right and then the left, something pale flashed into view and came crashing up against the bars howling wildly. Lawrence dropped his flashlight in shock and scrambled away from the bars, loosing his footing and falling onto his backside.
Sharia and Reg, who had been further away from the bars when the thing had crashed against them, turned their flashlights on and shone them at the caged room. Standing against the bars, gripping them with grimy hands was a human being.
The watcher flicked off the TV screen and stood up. A flick of a well-manicured hand indicated to the person standing in the shadows that it was time for action. They both left the room.
The human being behind the bars was a man, painfully thin and filthy dirty. His hair was long and matted and his beard straggly and full of the remains of meals. One eye was milky-white and staring, the other wild and dark. One of his hands was metallic, apart from the thumb which was still flesh, it scraped against the bars as the man rattled them. A smell of stale urine and excrement wafted out from the cage. In the dinge behind him another figure could be made out, sitting hunched against the far wall, the figure looked female, but a row of metal spurs emerged from her back like perverted vertebrae. She too was covered in her own filth.
The man made choking, growling sounds and the trio realised that his mouth was little more than an empty open gash, no teeth or tongue were there to make coherent sounds.
"Oh Jesus Christ," whispered Lawrence getting to his feet and backing away towards the doorway at the other end of the room, "We have to tell people about this." He turned to leave and stopped dead.
Standing in the doorway was a woman and behind her loomed a large man in a uniform. She was dressed in a lab coat.
"I dont think so," she said quietly, "I really dont think you are going to tell anyone about this." The pair moved into the room.
Lawrence took this as his cue and rushed at the pair. Taken by surprise they let him get past them and out into the corridor where he ran as fast as he could.
The woman looked at her companion and nodded. The nod was returned and the big man left the room.
Reg started to approach the woman but halted when she pulled a gun out of her pocket. Without pausing for a moment the woman pulled the trigger. A small hypodermic dart thudded into Regs shoulder. He looked at it in surprise for a moment, having expected a bullet hole to appear. Then he sank to his knees and fell forwards onto his face. The woman reloaded and turned to face Sharia.
"I trust you arent going to be stupid as well?"
Sharia shook her head.
"Good. Now, let me tell you whats going to happen next. You and your friend here are going to perform a very valuable function. Our gene pool is getting a little strained and you and your friends, Im afraid, have fallen completely for our little trap."
"Yes, of course. What did you know about this place?"
"That something bad was going down here."
"Something bad? How easy it is to create these vague rumours. Well, now you get to see just how bad things can really get."
Sharia stood to her full height and tried to sound confident, "When Lawrence gets outside youll be shut down. You wont get away with this."
The woman smiled, a cold and entirely un-smiling smile, "I dont see why we shouldnt this time, we have before and anyway Im very much afraid your friend Lawrence will be dead very soon indeed."
The man in the uniform entered a small darkened room some distance from Lab 24. From inside the room there was the sound of stentorian breathing and a strong animal odour. The man flicked on his torchlight and played it around the room, there was a caged room with heavy bars at one end of the room, above which was a walkway and a control console. Hastily he walked across the room and climbed the stairs to the walkway, locking off a metal gate behind him. He then went to the controls and turned a switch. Below him the cage rattled noisily aside on infrequently used hinges. Inside the room something stirred and what looked very like a glowing red eye flamed into life. On the walkway the man sat down very quietly and stayed as still as possible, he would remain like this until he was sure it was well away from him.
Lawrence had briefly got lost on his flight from the Lab, but now he had finally found the door outside. Gratefully he pulled it open and ran out into the grounds. A faint predawn glow lit his way around the side of the house and over to the slope leading down to the fence. He was standing at the top of the slope when he heard a sound behind him. Slowly he turned.
Facing him was what was at least partially a dog, a large dog the size of an Alsatian, but more heavily built and almost black in colour. But that was where the similarity to a normal dog finished. One entire side of its head was gleaming metal with a red LED eye which glinted brightly in the gloom. Its lower jaw was also entirely metallic and Lawrence could make out jagged teeth inside the mouth. One front leg was also mechanical and instead of a backbone there was a series of pneumatic devices. Its one dog eye stared angrily at the man in front of it.
Then from a standing start it leapt at Lawrence and bore him to the ground. The dog and the man rolled down the slope and came to a halt on the grass at the bottom. Panic had now kicked in and Lawrence was on his feet immediately and running towards the perimeter fence. He hadnt got very far when something heavy crashed into his legs sending him sprawling onto his face. He turned onto his back but the creature was upon him immediately, the metal front leg digging into his chest. Instinctively Lawrence put his arm up to protect his face and the dogs jaws crunched down onto his forearm. Lawrence screamed in pain and then terror as, with an unpleasant cracking, the metal teeth cut through his bone and the front part of his arm dropped onto the ground.
Lawrences pain didnt last much longer.
Inside Lab 24 Sharia and the woman in the lab coat both heard Lawrence screaming.
"You see, nothing to worry about." The woman slotted another dart into her tranquiliser gun. "Now Im afraid its time to take you and your friend down to the operating theatre." She raised the gun and fired the dart into Sharia who stood for a few moments before dropping to the floor in a heap.
The man in uniform returned to the room, pushing a wheelchair, onto which he loaded Sharia and left again. The woman looked around the room with a slight smile on her face and then followed, leaving Regs unconscious body lying on the floor for collection later.
Outside the first streaks of sunlight were spilling over the crest of the Downs, lighting up the river valley which the big old house overlooked.
The cyborg dog wandered around the grounds, the computerised part of its brain telling it to seek out anymore humans who might be around. As it trotted along the perimeter fence it suddenly stopped and the dog part of its brain saw the hole in the fence which the intruders had made hours earlier. For a few brief seconds the computer and dog fought a battle, and then the dog part won and it ran through the gap in the fence and out into the trees and freedom.
For a different 'take' on animal experimentation - see Roy's story "Escape From Lab 15".
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