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Prisoners of Genius
Elizaveta, nicknamed Eva by her cell mates, scratched the back of her head as she yawned. She wore the orange prison garment provided for her on day one and worn but sturdy combat boots. Her short and badly cut hair was brown and slightly matted from neglect. Her brown eyes scanned the line of people standing before her, eagerly awaiting their lunch meals.
She watched as the prisoners before her picked up steel trays and trudged forward, weary from endless routine and studying.
When people think of prison, they think of grey walls and white tiled floors and dark cells. They picture rowdy prisoners always trying to beat each other up and escape. Fluorescent lights and security guards, screams of torture and the stench of blood and vomit.
Most of that was true. But this prison was slightly different.
The prisoners were not guilty of any crimes. They weren’t the rebellious bunch you’d expect to see. These people were smart, clever.
Elizaveta was only ten years old when her home was invaded by men with laser guns and electronic grenades. They dragged her away from her parents and dumped her in this prison. She could still remember the scene clearly in her mind. It was the one memory that refused to leave her conscience alone. She remembered the scene like a movie, a story that she wished wasn’t hers.
Little Eva sat across from a rather large man wearing glasses and a white lab coat. He scribbled away on a piece of paper clipped to a writing pad in his hand. Occasionally, he glanced up at her and nodded his head. Eva sat patiently, fearless.
“Well, miss Elizaveta, it seems you have done exceptionally well in school. You’ve skipped how many grades?” he said.
“Two, sir,” She replied.
The man smiled. It made Eva shudder.
“You are a genius. Did you know that?” he asked.
Eva folded her arms and tried not to grin. “Yes, I did.” She said.
The man’s smile melted into a frown. Eva thought it suited him better. He cleared his throat and spoke in a loud voice.
“You have been chosen amongst thousands of other children. You are the most intelligent of your age and gender and race. We need your brain for a very important project we are working on. We need you to cooperate and obey every command we give, understood?”
Eva challenged the man, trying his patience. She could tell just by looking at him that his temper was short and hot.
The man sighed, frustrated. Eva suppressed the triumph rising in her chest.
“You are too young to know and it would take me hours to explain it. Just know that is it for a good cause.” He stood up and adjusted the three pens in his coat pocket. “I must be on my way now. Someone will be here to escort you to your...new room. Sit here and don’t move.”
Before he left through the steel door on the far side of the room, he rasped over his shoulder. Eva barely heard him.
“You should know something very important about us.” He said. “We will never hesitate to…remove you from the system if you cause trouble. Don’t think we’re fooling around. We mean it.”
Eva crossed her legs and held her chin up.
“Is that a threat?” she asked, her voice full of arrogance.
As the man closed the door, he smirked. “No, Elizaveta. It’s a promise.”
As the line moved slowly forward, she grabbed a steel tray and held it out to the burly man standing slouched behind a wall of glass. The bottom section of the wall had been cut away, leaving a gap large enough to thrust the tray into.
The man grunted, slapping some strange mush onto her tray. They used to have plates but the authorities said it was “wasteful”.
She nodded her thanks although the man didn’t see the rare gesture and scampered off to the next food station.
With her tray full of grotesque but edible food, she trotted to a small table in the furthest corner of the cafeteria. She sat down and scanned the crowd again.
Two young girls, identical twins, sat down at the table next to hers. They didn’t ever speak. But somehow they managed to communicate in ways words never could. She respected them and they respected her so she didn’t feel threatened. They were very pretty. Both girls had blonde hair and lovely blue eyes.
At another table, a young man hunched over his meal. His eyes averted to his tray, he twitched silently. He had black hair and dull, milky eyes. His olive skin stretched over his angular bones. He didn’t look like much but Eva knew he was dangerous. He had ways of messing with your mind, making you believe that you had done things you hadn’t and hadn’t done things you should have. He would bend your will to his pleasure.
Several other prisoners bustled about, chatting and laughing. Some were huddled in the corners, some seemed to be on a very sugary diet and others looked normal enough. They all wore the same prison garments and they all had the same, calculating, piercing stare. All of them seemed to be analyzing something or the other, always tense and ready to jump.
A boy with orange hair and green eyes walked beside a younger girl with white hair and red eyes. Her skin was pale and you could see the blood pulsing through her veins underneath her skin. She was a rare human albino. She was proud of her lack of pigment, calling herself unique.
But in the prison no one was unique, no one was special. Everyone was needed for the same reason:
Mind power. Intelligence.
The pair sat down beside Eva and flashed her winning smiles.
“Hello, Eva,” said the boy. His voice carried a thick English accent. “You look ecstatic, as always.” With that, he began digging into his meal.
In the prison, when you were given food, you ate it. You never knew when you would get to eat next. It was a mind game the authorities liked to play. They changed the timings on meals every day. Some days they might let you eat at the normal timings: breakfast in the morning, lunch at noon and dinner at night. But other days they would mess with your internal body clock. They would give you lunch at 10:00 am, breakfast at 6:00 pm and then let you go to bed without dinner. It was always changing.
The cells changed too. Yesterday, Eva spent the night with a pair of siblings who were constantly fighting over silly little things. She didn’t get much sleep. She didn’t look forward to who her cell mates would be tonight. Her motto was “Low expectations equals no disappointments”.
“Aren’t you going to eat, Eva?” the girl, Sofi, asked. She was from Switzerland, the land of beautiful scenery and cheese.
Eva was from Russia. She loved her country and never tried to disguise her heavy accent.
She smiled and began eating. They didn’t get breakfast that day and she was starving.
The boy, James, spoke through a mouthful of food. “Rumor has it they aren’t going to give us dinner so eat up.”
Despite being forced into everything, James and Sofi seemed so calm and happy. They made the best of everything which Eva couldn’t do although she’d tried.
Something inside her snapped.
She stared at each of her two only friends in turn. They were such innocent, kind people. How could some guy in a lab coat just order them to be dragged here? And then keep them in stinking cells and feed them this disgusting mush? All day, every day, all night, every night, they’re made to study. Study what? Useless numbers and codes and equations to theories that haven’t even been tested yet. Some of them were used as worthless lab rats. They would come out of the testing rooms with scars and burns. Some of them went insane and were simply killed because the authorities didn’t want them spilling any secrets.
She couldn’t tolerate this any longer.
She threw her plastic fork on the ground and stood up.
“Eva,” Sofi said. “What are you doing? You have to eat. If we’re not getting dinner, we’ll starve.”
Eva grabbed Sofi by the hand and led her towards the control booth above the cafeteria. They could fight their way through the guards. If any prisoners wanted to join their rebellion, they were most welcome. There had been several failed attempts at escaping this wretched prison. All of them ended in failure. But not this one. Not this time.
“James, come. We’re going to get out of here.” Eva said, pulling along a compliant Sofi.
James groaned before shoving a mouthful of food down his gullet. Running after them, he whined.
“But today’s lunch is potatoes!”