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PERFECTION

by

J.L. SPELBRING

To my mom & kat who taught me the meaning of perseverance.

1

Ellyssa, a.k.a. Subject 62, sprinted through the dark alley with a black messenger bag slapping against her thigh. The sirens that had pierced the night an hour earlier had finally faded, but she still wasn’t safe.

Her mind raced as it flipped through the map she’d memorized. Turn right here, left there. She had to reach the train that would take her away from Chicago. There she might find safety…or her death.

She slipped behind a metal dumpster and backed up against the brick wall, blending into the shadows, breaths coming in gasps. Panic edged her nerves, and she released the reins.

For a few blissful moments, Ellyssa allowed herself to bathe in the physiological effects of panic. She felt her heart slam against her ribs and blood rush through her veins. But not for long. Panic brought less desirable traits —uncertainty and paranoia. She understood why her father would find the emotion useless, hindering the goals of a soldier and, therefore, had worked to eradicate it.

Regardless, it was an emotion, and she relished the feeling before she closed her eyes and slowed her breathing and heart rate, reining in the panic and tucking it away. Ellyssa opened her eyes, her face now a blank slate, completely unreadable.

She looked out from behind her cover and peered into the alley. Dark shadows wavered, but nothing solid moved. She reached with her mind, searching for any presence. Silence greeted her.

Pulling into the shadows, Ellyssa settled back against the wall and looked at the lightening sky. Soon morning would bring the shift change.

She unbuttoned the white lab coat, the uniform she’d been required to wear at The Center for Genetic Research and Eugenics, revealing a white blouse and tan skirt she’d stolen from the laundry. A couple of dark marks soiled the hem of the skirt, but the stains were small and unnoticeable. She shoved the hated lab coat into the dumpster, along with her old life. Kansas City was her new destination. She didn’t know why, but that was what the dark-haired prisoner had put into her head.

Pinks and purples crept across the night sky, extinguishing the stars. Afterward, the muffled steps of the workers reached her ears from the street. With her bag tucked under her arm, she pulled her shoulders back and strolled into the sea of blond-haired, blue-eyed people on N. Michigan Avenue.

Hitler’s vision of purity realized.

Everyone was dressed according to their jobs: the tan bottoms and white shirts of the business industry; the light blue coveralls of the city workers; the yellow smocks of the service industries; the dark blue and black authoritative colors of Schutzpolizei and the Gestapo, Swastika bands wrapped around their biceps.

The regular citizens all carried similar genetic makeups. Hair colors were variations of blond, shades of blue dominated the eyes, and both men and women had thin gymnast physiques. Even with all their similar attributes, not one ordinary citizen shared the ensemble of characteristics Ellyssa and her siblings possessed, including their intelligence…or their genetically-enhanced abilities.

The workers walked with their backs straight and heads held high as they maneuvered through the crowded streets, each to their assigned destinations. Much to Ellyssa’s dismay, several dark blue uniforms and black coats walked amongst the pedestrians or stood to the side watching as the shift change occurred. She had to keep a low profile.

A female dressed in business attire, with a sharp nose and thin lips, stopped and stared at Ellyssa. Although her boyishly-styled hair was platinum like Ellyssa’s and her siblings’, her beady eyes were not the pure azure color, but more teal.

Ellyssa slipped a smile on her face with ease. Although happiness is pointless and weakens you, her father would say, a smile deceives the ones beneath you and can be used to your advantage. “Sorry, I dropped a paper and it blew into the alley,” she said as a light breeze lifted her pale hair.

The woman raised an eyebrow, causing Ellyssa’s smooth calm to falter. The woman looked familiar, and Ellyssa didn’t like the way she was staring. She wondered if the female questioned her Germanic accent, even though it was slight. She knew most citizens spoke English, just as the Americans had before The War. Certainly, though, accents were not a thing of the past.

Glancing at the nearest male in a black coat, she dug into her front pocket and pulled out a yellowed sheet. “Important notes.” Nerves fluttered in her chest and a bead of perspiration formed on her forehead. Lingering anxiety. She pulled the reins on her feelings.

The businesswoman scrutinized her for a moment longer, then nodded and allowed Ellyssa in front of her with a customary pleasant smile.

“Thank you,” Ellyssa said politely, as all citizens spoke. She took the offered space and, when facing away from the stranger, quietly exhaled pent-up air before falling into cadence alongside the others.

As Ellyssa walked, she kept her expression void while awe worked wonders on her brain. Besides field- training exercises far away from civilization, she’d never been outside of The Center’s walls and, although approved learning books had provided illustrations, seeing the actual architecture was fascinating. Workers melted into the brown and red brick factories and warehouses built along the street.

A bit further, other workers departed to enter different types of service stores with huge glass fronts displaying generic store names like “groceries” or “computers.”

Ellyssa would’ve liked walking inside one of the stores to browse, but her newfound freedom wouldn’t allow for such trivial pursuits. If she didn’t make it to the train, she’d be eradicated as easily as the prohibited emotions she felt.

By the time she reached the bridge crossing the Chicago River, most of the crowd had dwindled down. Family homes nestled in neighborhoods popped up along the street. The windows were dark, and Ellyssa knew for the most part the houses lay empty, kids in school and parents performing assigned tasks.

She wondered what it’d be like to return home from work and watch a movie on a television set or listen to music or even to lounge on a couch; things she had encountered in her approved readings but never experienced within the confines of the sterile white walls of The Center. Of course, she had been bred to be superior to ordinary citizens, and her father held views of such inconsequential clutter restricting the mind.

“When cattle are happily grazing, they never raise their heads to know their surroundings,” her father had preached.

Now, being on the run, she doubted she would ever experience such things.

Ellyssa forced her eyes back toward the road. According to her calculations, Himmler was less than sixteen hundred meters away. At Himmler, she would turn right and walk another eight hundred meters to South Canal Street, where she would make a left toward Union Station. Once there, she’d show her forged papers and board the train to Kansas City, the place the dark-haired Renegade had told her to go a few days ago.

Ellyssa had just stepped out of a training room as the guards dragged the Renegade toward interrogation. Although the Renegade’s arms and legs were bound and tape held his mouth shut, he’d struggled against the muscular men. Mussed black hair had been clotted with dirt, and his cheek was green from an old bruise. As if the prisoner knew she was watching, his head craned over his shoulder and his chestnut brown eyes, wide and scared, locked on hers.

She’d started to open her mind to his thoughts, but she hadn’t needed to. The Renegade had forced himself in. Kansas City screamed into her mind. Ellyssa had reeled at the strength of his words. No one had ever done that. She snagged people’s words and feelings. Startled, she’d thrown up her psychic wall,

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