I go by Elle Fairchild. I don’t know my real last name. My mother found me on the streets beside a dumpster where she used to sleep. That was twenty years ago.
Some old indie folk song is playing in the funeral parlor, a sad song about an aimless wanderer. That was my mom, alright. Whoever put together the playlist knew her well. I haven’t been paying attention to anything, not since I found her body on our living room couch.
Mom was a beautiful woman. She said when she saw me, it gave her the strength to get off drugs. She knew if she gave me over to Child Protective Services that I would be placed into the system. She knew too much about that. She said she felt like I was special and she wanted to protect me, so she claimed me as hers and sought help for her addiction. She rented an apartment, found a well paying job, then bought a house. She overcame her past.
But the past didn’t forget about her. Years of drug abuse damaged her heart and, one day, it just gave out.
“Elle?” a man says to me. It sounds like he’s said it before, because he says it with more directness than I think necessary.
I look up at the man. “Yes?”
He extends a hand. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” It sounds robotic, like he doesn’t really mean it, but maybe it’s just because I’ve heard it so many times already.
I take his hand, only realizing how strange a handshake is in this situation when his eyes flick to my arm.
Releasing his hand, I tuck my arm to my side.
“When did you get that tattoo?” he asks me.
“I’ve had it for awhile,” I say vaguely, self-conscious. “I’m sorry, but who are you?”
“You’ve had it since you were a baby, right?”
My eyes snap to his, shocked. His expression is serious and I feel a wave of apprehension crash over me. “Who are you?” I repeat.
“You’re adopted, aren’t you?” he asks, ignoring my questions.
I stand up, moving away from him. How did he know that? Nobody knew that! Mom forged a birth certificate, something she could have gotten into a lot of trouble over. We never spoke of it.
I can’t have this man tarnish her reputation. I move back in closer to him, almost growling the words. “You stop spreading rumors. She was my mother and now she is dead. This conversation is over. Leave.”
I turn to dramatically stomp off for effect, but he catches my elbow. I whirl on him, but before I can say a word, the world darkens.
When I open my eyes, I’m in a hospital room. Except there’s no heart monitors or other medical equipment. The hospital bed…is not the uncomfortable gurney I remember from when I broke my arm when I was eight. It’s a queen size memory foam mattress.
I throw off the comforter and squint under the siege of the florescent light bouncing off the white walls. “Hello?” I call, loudly. Actually, probably not a good idea. I think I’ve been kidnapped.
I scan the unbroken white walls. There is no window. There is no door. Maybe I’m dreaming.
“Number 3773, do not be alarmed,” a disembodied voice says, ironically startling me.
“People will miss me!” I yell at the ceiling, my eyes darting wildly about the room. “If you let me go – ”
“Do not be alarmed,” the voice interrupts. “We are not here to hurt you, 3773. We’re here to help you.”
“Why do you keep calling me that? I’m Elle! Elle Fairchild!”
“The tattoo on your arm marks you as one of our experiments,” the voice says again. Is it male or female? I can’t tell. “We will activate the dormant genes to prevent them from becoming volatile.”
“What are you talking about? Let me out of here!” I cry, desperate at this point. Was this some kind of government facility? Was I in trouble? They have to have mistaken me for someone else. “Please, I’m just a pre-med student – and a bad one at that. I’m flunking most of my classes. Just let me go.”
The room remains eerily silent, except for the buzz of the florescent lights.
I go back to the bed for lack of options. My tattoo caused this? I stare at it, at my name: ELLE. It’s in bold block print. My mom said she had no idea why someone would have tattooed the name on me as an infant. I always thought that maybe my real mom or dad wanted to make sure I was called Elle when someone found me.
My brow furrows. Elle. 3773. I held my forearm up, viewing the tattoo from the opposite angle. Upside down, the letters could be numbers. The numbers 3773.
This was all legitimate. The government did experiments on me as a baby and now I have some sort of weird genetic makeup or something. What was going to happen to me when they “activated” them? What was my life going to be like from this point on?
My eyes sting. Knowing they are probably watching me, I hide under the covers to hide my tears, not making a sound as I cry. I fall asleep, I guess, because the next thing I remember is someone’s hand on my shoulder. They’re shaking me awake.
“Elle,” the man from the funeral parlor says. He looks troubled, but he used my name. I can forgive him a little. “It’s time. Are you scared?”
“Terrified,” I admit. “What’s going to happen to me?”
“Maybe nothing,” he offers. “But if something does happen, it will be a good thing. You’ll be okay.”
“Do I have a choice?” I ask, glancing behind him and seeing two men in suits guarding a sudden opening in the wall. It’s about the size of a loading dock’s door.
“Unfortunately, no. If the genes activated while you were around civilians, it could result in a large loss of life.”
I follow him down a hallway just outside of the room and then stand in what appears to be an elevator. Alone. The man from earlier smiles at me and presses a button, closing the door. Mirrors line the walls. A screeching noise sounds and I wobble on my feet, falling against the glass. When the dizziness subsides, I look at my reflection.
My pupils are like cat’s eyes. The door opens and I see the man standing there, apprehensive. He comes into the elevator and helps me out into the hall. At his touch, I receive a vision. A vision of us on our planet, Xanthu.
When I look at him, Krisnik sees my recognition. Making sure the others don’t see, he flashes me his true eyes – slits like mine. He placed me in this body before my death twenty years ago and entered me into the humans’ experiment. Earth would pay for what they did to our planet. They thought I was their experiment, but they were mine and Krisnik’s the entire time.