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Authors: Trish Moran

Waiting in the Shadows

BOOK: Waiting in the Shadows
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Waiting in the Shadows

Trish Moran

Amidst the excitement of the advances in stem cell research, little thought has been given to the human spare parts created at the world-famous Centre. But what happens when those spare parts are revealed to be a lot more than that – to be living, breathing replicas of human beings?

An orphaned teenage girl, Stella, abandoned by the family she has left, flees a life to be spent in the care of social services and takes to the wilderness, where reports of strange, wild people, the Ferals, are commonplace. Ferals are said to be dangerous, violent freaks, outcasts from society. But Stella encounters one of them while out shopping one day and he doesn't seem so very different from her …

Stella soon finds out that the Ferals are not simply the sinister criminals portrayed in the media. They are the product of the Centre's research, a secret race of replica human beings kept solely for their body parts – until some of them managed to escape. 

Together, Stella and the Labs, as they call themselves, fight for freedom, acceptance and a place in society – a society that, often, would rather not know what is going on …

Chapter One

Morgan whistled softly as he walked along the white corridor. When he reached the double glass doors, he checked the cameras above his head and gave a satisfied nod. All seemed quiet.

‘All OK on C block,' he spoke into a walkie-talkie.

‘Acknowledged,' came the reply.

Turning, he continued along another corridor until he reached the second pair of double doors. Once again, he nodded happily and spoke into his walkie-talkie.

‘Acknowledged,' came the voice again.

Morgan glanced at his watch; two hours until his first break. He yawned and turned into the third corridor.

Another guard was standing at the next set of doors.

‘All quiet here,' he said.

‘Double duty again tonight?' Morgan asked him.

‘Just the manager putting on a show! Must be some new subscribers upstairs!' the second guard replied. ‘I saw a stretch limo in the south car park arrive an hour ago.'

‘This place is worth a fortune.'

‘Yes,' the man said. ‘I wish a bit more of it came our way, though!'

He watched as Morgan continued along the corridor to the next set of double doors and breathed a sigh of relief as he disappeared around the corner.

‘Quickly!' he whispered to another man who was wheeling a stretcher through the door.

‘Is theatre three ready?' the man asked.

‘Yes, go straight through,' was the reply. ‘They're waiting.'

He looked out over the rows of capsules that gave off a dull orange glow in the long, low-ceilinged room, and glanced up as a woman pushed open a door and came towards him. She led him down one of the narrow aisles, and then stopped and indicated a sign above one of the capsules. He leaned forward and nodded. She turned a dial which released the lid of the capsule. They both stood there looking down at its sleeping occupant. Slowly the figure stirred and opened his eyes. He looked up at them drowsily.

The woman smiled and held out her hand.

‘Come now, Ron. Time to wake up,' she said gently.

Ron returned her smile and climbed out of the capsule. Slowly, he stretched his body and took a few steps along the aisle and back again, gazing around him.

The woman gave her partner a sharp glance as he began to make impatient murmurs.

‘He's just been awakened!'

‘Brain activity?' the senior surgeon asked as the medical staff rushed the stretcher into the operating theatre.

‘Fifty per cent … forty-five per cent, and falling fast!' one of the staff replied, reading a monitor at the head of the stretcher.

‘Is the SP in place?' the doctor looked around.

‘Yes, fully prepared, sir.' A nurse indicated the second bed on which a covered figure lay inert.

‘Get ready to start the download as soon as possible – while there still
is
something to download!' the surgeon ordered.

The staff silently moved around the theatre.

‘Download complete, sir,' a young doctor looked at the older surgeon. ‘Thirty-eight per cent.'

‘He'll have some catching up to do this time! Isolate the SP organ and ready the patient for surgery,' the surgeon continued as a nurse pulled on his gloves.

Once again the medical team worked quickly and efficiently together. It was several hours later when the surgeon pulled down his face mask and wiped the sweat off his forehead. He signalled to the younger surgeon. ‘You can finish this off, OK?'

‘Yes, sir. Same as last time. And the time before that!' He gave his superior a grin, ‘He's becoming a regular customer!'

‘Yes,' the older man nodded. ‘Have you reclassified the SP, sister?'

‘Yes, sir. Discard. The porters are here now,' she said looking up as the door opened.

The second bed was wheeled from the room.

‘Good,' said the surgeon. ‘I'd better go and see his father now. Well done everyone! Great teamwork again! Gilshaw, are you down for this afternoon's theatre?'

‘Yes, sir,' the younger doctor replied.

‘Speak to the parents straight afterwards, Gilshaw. Customer service, remember?'

‘Right, sir,' Gilshaw said.

Chapter Two

Stella looked out of the window. She watched as a robin hopped around the lawn, now and then putting its head to one side and pecking at the ground before it moved to a new spot.

‘So what do you think, Stella?' the teacher's voice broke through her reverie.

‘
Does
Stella think?' a girl whispered. Several others sniggered.

‘Is your book
open
, Stella?' the teacher sighed.

Stella opened it quickly glancing around to see if she could spot which page the others were looking at.

Delia, a rather large, ungainly girl mouthed, ‘Thirty-six,' from the other side of the room.

Stella gave her a quick grateful smile and flicked to the correct page.

‘We are looking at the arguments for and against animals being used in medical research,' the teacher repeated. ‘What's your opinion, Stella?'

‘I don't think it's right,' Stella said. ‘It's cruel.'

‘But many new medicines are tried out on animals first, then later they can be used on humans,' a girl suggested.

‘It's still cruel though, isn't it?' a third girl said.

‘If someone you loved very much was dying and the scientists had developed a medicine that could save their life by using animal research, wouldn't you be happy to use it?' the first girl said.

‘Oh, then I wouldn't think twice about it!' Stella nodded at her.

‘There are other ways to trial medicines without causing suffering to animals,' another girl said.

‘Yes, people who support animal research should try being guinea pigs themselves!' said another.

‘But …' as the next girl began the teacher put her hands up.

‘OK, I see we've all got plenty to say on this subject! Good! Because for your homework this week you are to write an essay either supporting or opposing the use of animals for medical research.'

The girls were still discussing the topic as they left the room.

‘Anyway, they don't need to use animals now, do they? They've got places like the Centre where they've developed stem cell research, so no animals need to suffer,' the animal supporter was saying.

‘Why don't they catch those ferals and experiment on them?' suggested one. ‘Stop them hurting ordinary people.'

‘Come on now, girls!' the teacher said as she passed them by, ‘You know the ferals don't really exist!'

‘My gran thinks they do. What do you think, Delia?' Stella said as they made their way to the canteen.

Her friend smiled, ‘I think they're a bit like the bogeymen you think are under your bed when you're a kid!'

They were carrying their trays to a corner table when a girl called out to them:

‘Hey, Stella! New trainers? Reebok or Nike?'

‘More like Charitybok!' another girl laughed.

‘And Delia must spend so much time deciding what to wear – the latest in tents! Do you buy all your clothes at Millets Camping, Del?' the first girl sniggered.

‘Just ignore them, Stella,' Delia muttered as they walked past.

Stella could see her friend was upset; two bright red spots lit up her cheeks.

‘You're right, they're not worth it!' she replied.

‘I don't know how you can bear to go to netball Monday evenings and put up with even more of their company,' Delia said.

‘I'll get a few more credits; make it easier to pass PE. God knows I need some help getting at least some exams!' Stella sighed. ‘And Gran said she won't hear of me leaving school until I've at least five passes so I can get a halfway decent job.'

‘I'll help you with English and Maths, Stella,' Delia offered.

‘Thanks, Del,' Stella smiled at her. ‘You're a real friend.'

My only friend, she thought.

That evening after netball practice Stella jumped off the bus and hurried up the road. It was starting to get dark and she felt a shiver go down her spine as she turned into the side road. She quickened her pace as she neared her house. Glancing around her she caught a glimpse of movement in the bushes and started to run towards her front door. The movement continued while she fumbled with her key in the lock. Then suddenly she burst out laughing as a sleek black cat wound itself around her legs.

‘Sooty!' She picked up the cat and hugged it as she opened the door. ‘Gran!' she called, ‘Guess who just scared the life out of me?'

She walked into the lounge to where her grandmother was seated on a reclining chair.

‘I thought it was one of the ferals after me!'

‘Naughty Sooty! The ferals don't usually come down this far, Stella,' her grandmother replied, stroking the cat Stella had placed on her lap, ‘But I'm glad you're home. I don't like you to be out so late on your own. Can't you ask one of the other girls' parents to drop you off?'

‘No one else lives this way, but it doesn't matter, I'm OK really. Did Margery come round today?' she continued.

‘Yes, she made me a lovely stew and left some for you to heat up. She did a bit extra too, it's in the freezer for the next few days,' Gran replied as Stella came in from the kitchen with a tray.

‘So she's not planning on calling round again this week then?' Stella's expression was stony.

‘She has her own family to look after, Stella, she can't spend all her time on me! Anyway, I was talking to her again about you, when I'm not here anymore …'

‘Oh, Gran! Don't talk like that! Charlie at the shop says you'll outlive all of us!' Stella interrupted.

‘Stella. You've got to face it. I'm not going to live for ever. Dr Gregory told me I'm already on borrowed time, with my heart!' Gran continued.

‘I'm nearly sixteen. I won't need to live with Margery and her family. They don't even like me!' Stella argued.

‘Of course they like you! They're our only family left now. They'll look after you until you're able to stand on your own two feet in the world,' Gran continued.

‘Did Margery say that?' Stella looked at the older woman's face.

‘Not exactly, but I know she won't let family down,' Gran picked up her knitting. ‘Well, tell me about your day. How did the match go after school?'

‘I played attack and scored two goals!' Stella beamed.

‘Well done! I bet all the girls want you in their team!' She smiled fondly at her granddaughter. ‘You know, you should go out with your friends some evenings, maybe at the weekend when you haven't so much schoolwork to do.'

‘Why would I want to spend my time listening to idle girl chat when I can sit here and have a grown-up conversation with you?' Stella quipped.

Gran shook her head, ‘Oh you always make me smile, Stella! I bet you have all your friends in stitches at school!'

Stella busied herself with her food. She'd never let her Gran know what life at school was really like. The constant taunts about her shabby appearance. Even the teachers felt they could do little with her; she daydreamed during lessons, making few worthwhile contributions. She was just passing time until the day when she could leave and find work so she could look after herself and Gran and not depend on the condescending help from Margery. A sigh escaped her lips.

‘A penny for them, Stella!' Gran said.

‘Just thinking I'll make us a cup of tea, then finish my homework before
Champions
starts. I wonder if Bill Blazer will win again?'

‘Of course he'll win!' Gran snorted. ‘The contest is rigged!'

‘It's not, Gran. It's filmed live!' Stella countered, smiling. They had the same argument every time they watched the television programme.

An hour later they were both watching the end of the news before
Champions
started.

‘The American president's son is making a remarkable recovery in hospital in London today after an accident that nearly cost him his life on the racetrack last night. His co-driver escaped with a fractured collar bone,' the announcer said. ‘Both men are lucky to be alive, a spokesperson from the hospital told our reporter.'

A photo appeared of the young man sitting up and smiling in a hospital bed. His head was bandaged and there were several cuts still visible on his face.

‘How many accidents has he survived?' Gran asked. ‘You'd think his parents would stop him taking part in such dangerous sports!'

‘Yes. He had three serious injuries last year and two this year!' said Stella. ‘His guardian angel must be looking after him!'

Stella pushed her nails into her tightly closed fists to try to stop herself from crying. She didn't want anyone else giving her a hug and telling her she must be brave, or it was all really for the best. How could it be for the best that she had lost her wonderful grandmother, the only one she really loved and the only one who really loved her? Despite her efforts, a tear slowly ran down her cheek as the vicar standing at the front of the church read out a solemn prayer for Brenda Wyatt, her gran.

The story replayed itself in her head:

It had started as a normal school day. She had got up as usual, had a shower, made her packed lunch, and a pot of tea and some toast for Gran. She had seemed fine when Stella had taken the tray into her bedroom. They had chatted for a few minutes before her grandmother had looked at the clock and told Stella not to miss the bus.

The morning past uneventfully until morning break.

Delia and Stella were sitting in the canteen. Luckily, they had managed to get to a corner table without encountering any of the other girls and their clever taunts.

As they sat together, Stella sipping a cup of coffee, Delia munching on a piece of toast, they chatted about the television programmes they had seen the previous night. The bell had sounded and the canteen was emptying when Stella felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Mrs Dunne from the office. She looked concerned.

‘Can you come with me for a minute, Stella?'

Stella felt a wave of panic rising up in her. It was Gran. It must be Gran! She hurried to the office and sat, barely taking in what the woman was telling her.

Mrs Gardiner, her neighbour had phoned the school. She had rung Gran's doorbell that morning and, getting no reply, had got the spare key from Margery. They had entered the house and found Gran slumped on the staircase. An ambulance had taken her to hospital.

Now William, Margery's husband, was here to pick her up and take her there. On the way he explained that Gran had suffered another massive heart attack. It was unlikely she would pull through this time. At the hospital the doctors were amazed that the old woman managed to hold on until Stella arrived.

‘Gran! You're going to be fine! I know it,' Stella had whispered to her, clutching her hand, but the old woman had shaken her head gently.

‘Not this time, Stella, love. Margery will look after you now, until you're a bit older. And I'll always be looking down on you, wherever I am,' her voice had trailed away at the end and slowly her eyes had closed.

Stella came back to the present as William patted her arm gently. It was time to go to the cemetery. She followed him and Margery outside the church. Their four boys were already there; one was laughing, but quickly composed himself with a look from his father.

The rest of the day went by in a haze. After the burial, a few friends and some distant relations that Stella didn't recognise had come back to Margery's house for tea, sandwiches, and cakes. The atmosphere was strained. Stella was thankful when she could finally crawl into bed and pull the blankets over her head. She felt exhausted, yet, lying in this strange bedroom, sleep was far from her. Finally she pulled back the bedclothes and got up. She was tiptoeing silently to the bathroom past the top of the stairs when she heard voices. Pulling her dressing gown around her, she padded down and sat on the bottom stair.

‘… Work it out for yourself, Will!' Margery was saying. ‘The old woman didn't even leave enough to cover her own funeral, and we're supposed to pick up the tab for bringing up her granddaughter! Just because I happen to be Brenda's niece doesn't mean I owe her anything. God knows I did enough for the pair of them when she was alive!'

‘But, Marge, she's just a kid. She has no one to look after her,' William replied.

‘How can we have her live here with our four boys?' Margery continued. ‘Anyway, she'd not even friendly; quite hostile I find her most of the time!'

‘She's just lost her grandmother, Marge. What do you expect her to be like?' her husband countered.

‘She never was friendly! It's no good, Will; she's not moving in here. A couple of nights, then Social Services will have to sort something out for her. They can foot the bill. I've done my bit!' Margery sounded firm.

William made a few more weak pleas in Stella's favour, but Margery refused to budge.

Stella could see her face reflected in the hall mirror: eyes huge, the despair visible in her ghostly image. She silently crept back up to her bed and lay awake for hours until she finally fell asleep and dreamt she was in a long queue of ragged children holding up bowls to receive a ladle of gruel.

The next morning Stella came downstairs after the boys had gone to school and William to work. She told Margery that she didn't feel like going into school.

Margery gave a tight smile, ‘I'm sure the teachers will understand, dear. I'm going into town. I've a bit of business to sort out.'

Social Services, thought Stella as the car drove off. She went to make herself a cup of tea, but found there was no milk in the fridge. She decided to walk to the nearby supermarket.

‘Stella! So how are you today, love?' Mrs Gardiner, her old neighbour, appeared beside her. ‘If you need any help, you know; sorting things out, in the old house, just let me know.'

Stella looked startled.

‘Love, I'm really sorry. I didn't want to upset you like this. I'm so sorry!' Mrs Gardiner looked flustered.

BOOK: Waiting in the Shadows
3.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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