This story was inspired by the idea of taking a fairytale and messing with it. It was great fun to write and although not perfect, it satisfied my on-going desire to inject superheroes into every known genre.
The card slipped easily through the keypad. Rebecca held her breath as the red light flashed once, twice, then turned green. The air exploded from her lungs as the door swung open and she stepped through. She was in.
She was in. She pinched herself and blinked a bit, but she was still here. She’d waited longer than she could remember for this moment, and now every fear in the world assailed her. They’d know she was here. Any moment guards would come swarming and grab her. Gas would come pumping into the room and knock her out. Security lasers would cut her down before she’d taken another step.
But nothing happened. The door closed and clicked, and then there was nowhere to go but forwards. She’d memorised the map, and when she closed her eyes, she could see it in perfect detail. The map calmed her and brought her back to her senses. She didn’t have long, despite the silence that greeted her arrival. And she had a long way to go.
She set off into the compound, dashing through the rooms. It broke her heart not stopping and exploring. Every chamber she passed through was filled floor to ceiling with computers and vast banks of medical equipment. There was stuff in here the public wouldn’t see for twenty years. There was stuff in here the public would never see. But Rebecca put her head down and ran.
There was only one thing she needed. And she was getting closer. She checked her watch. According to her source, she had another half hour. Not long, but long enough.
She slowed as she neared the room. She still couldn’t believe she was this close. Another three doors and she’d be there. Then it was two doors. Then it was one and she stood outside one of the most secure locations in the world.
She pulled out the card and stared at it. Getting the card had taken three years and everything she owned. It had taken everything quite a lot of other people had owned as well, but they wouldn’t have minded, if they’d known how much it mattered.
She screwed her nose up. She wasn’t thinking about that. Rebecca was here for selfish reasons and there was no getting around it. Months of theft had got her to this point, and trying to pretend her victims didn’t matter was ludicrous. But now it was all worth it.
She slid the card through the reader and the door hissed peacefully open. Rebecca stepped into the dim red of the Storage Room and took a deep breath. Had she not been expecting it, the sight before her might have filled her with dismay. Three vast steel cases hung from the wall, each the size of a large refrigerator, and covered in lights. In the centre of each was a digital readout covered in figures she didn’t understand. Not that it mattered.
She approached the first and passed the card beneath a scanner. The cabinet made a sound like a bus lowering to let on a wheelchair, and from just beneath the screen, a hatch opened. From within came the only thing stored inside the massive device.
A vial the size of her index finger was held tight in two clamps. She pulled the phone from her pocket, flicked open the app, and scanned the barcode on the vial. The app took all of two seconds to tell her it was the wrong one. Too strong, far too strong. She swallowed down the burst of disappointment and moved on.
She headed to the next machine and repeated the process. The vial emerged and she scanned the code. Wrong again. This one was some kind of counter serum, though the app was sparing with the details. She could only hope it was accurate. The designer had worked for the Company for twenty years and he’d seemed confident. But then, she’d been handing him a million bucks at the time, so he’d probably have looked however she wanted him to.
Rebecca moved onto the third. This would be right. It had to be right. Her hands shook as she scanned her card. What if it wasn’t right? What if they’d moved the original serum? What if the third machine was empty? Everything she’d worked for would be a waste.
She nearly turned and ran. She checked her watch. She had time. Just.
The third machine opened and the vial seemed to emerge in slow motion. She hopped from foot to foot until the barcode came in view. She scanned it.
Orig. SS Serum. Post trial.
This was it. The thing she’d spent her whole life searching for was in her hands. Emiting a choked squeal, she tugged it from the device and held it up. The vial was half full of a sluggish, faintly golden liquid. This was the secret. This was what allowed the Company to run the world. And she was holding it. She giggled, then ducked and looked guiltily around.
She checked her watch. Not enough time. Not for everything. So it was now or never. She knelt on the floor and pulled the needle case from inside her jacket. A few seconds later she held it in one shaking hand, staring at the liquid within.
This was for Dad.
This was for everyone the Company had screwed over.
And this was for herself. For plain old Rebecca.
She slid the needle into her arm and fed a lifetime’s supply of Super Serum into her veins.
At first, she felt nothing. She stared at her watch, waiting. Time was running faster than her heartbeat, racing away from her. What would it feel like? Would she know when it started? Why hadn’t she asked herself these questions before she did it?
Her heart sped past the numbers on her watch and kept increasing until she thought her head would explode. She rested her hand on her chest. Her heartbeat felt like Shanice’s, her sister’s kid. But she was six months old. Something stabbed her just below the left breast and she doubled up, grunting with the pain.
The stabbing kept coming, like the knife was being withdrawn then shoved back in, over and over again. She was on her knees, though she couldn’t remember getting there. She opened her eyes, not realising she’d closed them, and gasped. The room spun like she’d downed a bottle of whisky, but the colours had changed as well. The dark concrete floor was pale blue and the computers around her were red and bleeding. What was she seeing?
She squeezed her eyes closed, trying to ignore the tears. What had she done? Her mouth hung open like a dog, panting wildly as she tried to draw breath and stop the sweat that ran down her body.
Rebecca struggled to one knee, then to her feet, and collapsed against the wall. She had to get out of here. She looked at her watch, but the screen was a dull red colour and the numbers meant nothing. She closed her eyes, it was easier that way, and groped along the wall until she reached the door.
The handle resisted her efforts until she realised she was turning it the wrong way. She staggered through the door into the room beyond and dropped again to her knees. The stabbing had faded to a dull ache, but her head felt ready to explode.
She needed a scan. She had to scan and find out what the serum was doing. She opened her eyes, gasping as the colours crowded in. The machines all looked the same, but she would know once she started using them. She laughed and started at the sound of her own voice. She sounded raspy and broken, as though she’d been crying for days.
She rested her hand against the first machine and a harsh howlign klaxon started up. She leapt backwards and tripped over to land on her ass. Her face heated up as she realised the alarm had nothing to do with the machine.
Time was up.
She grabbed the machine and pulled herself to her feet. To her changed eyes, the circuitry looked like it was covered in blood, every light flaring out like a blown photograph. But she remembered enough from the blueprints she’d examined before coming here, and she could see the control banks and the screen at the top. It would need blood.
She pawed the controls with fingers that felt as thick as sausages. Something clicked and something else beeped and her finger found its way onto a spike. She hissed and yanked it back, then stopped, frozen. It didn’t hurt. At all. She’d felt it, but it hadn’t hurt, as though the part of her brain that should register the pain wasn’t working properly.
The machine made a low whirring noise and she opened her eyes. The bleed was still there, so she stared at the screen until her eyes ached. It became marginally clearer until she could make out words etched in white, flashing letters.
She groaned and moved to the next device. The same process, the same painless stab in her finger, and another wait. The alarm had faded into the background, but that was dangerous. They were coming now. It could take a minute or an hour, but they would come and she would still be here. And it wasn’t going to take them an hour.
The device whirred.
She winced and side stepped to the next machine.
This had to work. She had no time left. She pressed the controls, spiked her finger, and waited. Her breathing had slowed enough for her to think the change was coming to an end. But other things were happening, things that made it clear it wasn’t anywhere near over.
Her arms were shifting, the muscles creeping beneath her skin. It was as though she had creatures inside her, crawling through her blood vessels on their way to escape. She shuddered and the machine beeped.
Hyper Strength and Stamina, level 7
High Speed, Level 6
Possibility of collapse, medium
Predicted life span, 9 years.
She snarled and thumped the machine. The solid steel cracked beneath her blow and smoke billowed up. She gasped, stepping away as sparks flashed out and scattered across the floor. Each looked like a blood red lightning bolt, shot through with veins of orange and white. She took a step back, staring through the smoke at the screen that still flashed its terrible message.
Her mouth hung open. She didn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe it, but these things didn’t make mistakes. They couldn’t make mistakes.
She’d been prepared for a low collapse possibility, at the worst. But medium meant the nine years life span was a joke. If she made it that long it would be a miracle.
But she had the strength and the speed. She was invincible now, or pretty damn close. She lurched away from the machine, the colours still shifting back and forth. She was close to losing her lunch when she found another door and staggered through.
The change was ending, quick, and the comedown felt like nothing on Earth. It made sense, in a weird sort of way, that a super powered comedown would come complete with a super powered headache. She could barely hold her head up, let alone walk, but somehow she found her way through another room and another.
The next she reached was empty save for three bunks. She launched herself at the nearest, rolled over, and fell into sleep.
As she slept, Rebecca dreamed. She saw a table, low to the ground like people would be reclining at it. But there were chairs, instead, tiny chairs. She’d just counted seven when she heard a sound.
In her dream, the sound appeared, but somehow she knew it had been there all along. She drifted over the table and looked in the corner of the room. A young woman, maybe a year or so younger than her, crouched against the wall, sobbing. She wore rags, but her beauty was obvious even so. Rebecca knew her, though she didn’t know why. She thought, perhaps, she was supposed to save her. This was why she had got her powers.
One hand was chained to the wall by iron wrapped around her wrist. Rebecca scowled as the woman saw something past her and shrank back, trying to burrow into the wall. She turned, saw the door opening, and woke up.
She was surrounded. Seven men in armour stood around the bed, guns pointing straight at her. The guns were the sort she’d seen used against the Hulk. There was no chance of escaping this. But they wouldn’t know about her speed, not yet.
She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, earning jerky, nervous movements from the soldiers, before two of them stood aside. A dark haired man walked between them, a wry grin on his handsome face.
She nodded and looked around. ‘Is this the part where I’m supposed to run?’
‘Nope. This is the part where we offer you a job.’