Dayna scrambled through the escape pod hatch and into the cool morning air. Standing on the side of the pod, she looked back along the furrow it had scored through the forest when it landed. She slipped down the side of the pod, and when her bare feet hit the ground they sank into the soft, damp soil and she savoured the feeling. It had been so long since she'd been outside and felt dirt beneath her feet or a soft breeze against her cheeks.
Three months ago she'd been imprisoned for killing her employer, Professor Morrison.
Her thin shoulders slumped in her tattered, grimy prison clothes. From what she remembered from her trial she'd had an explosive argument with Professor Morrison and was found standing over his body with a bloody knife in her hand.
“Don’t remember,” she muttered, pulling at the only ringlet of red hair the prison guards hadn't hacked off with a knife. “Why don’t I remember?” She didn't even remember being taken away by the police.
She balled her right hand into a fist and pressed it to her temple. Ever since the murder she had been plagued with headaches that were steadily getting worse.
Dayna scrambled up the side the furrow and found herself standing in a dense rain forest. High above her, birds called to each other as they jumped from branch to branch in a complex game only they knew, while at ground level squeaking, grunting and chirping sounds surrounded her.
The crunching of leaves to her right made her jump. She turned expecting to find a prison guard standing there with a blaster levelled at her. Instead, a furry brown creature with a long snout snuffled through the dirt and leaves looking for fat grubs to eat. It paused and blinked up at her with moist, black eyes before moving on.
Her heart thudded in her ears and she let out the breath she had been holding with a gusty sigh. The prison ship had been on its way to Belaz, a penal planet in the Alpha sector. There, the prisoners were to be executed for the murders they'd been convicted. They‘d been a day out from Belaz when the ship came under attack in an attempt to rescue one of its prisoners. It sent the entire ship into chaos.
Dayna woke from the nightmare she was having when the ship lurched sideways, sending her crashing to the metal floor with a dull thud. The klaxon rang out and a red emergency light flashed on the ceiling. For a moment she was disorientated. Then she remembered where she was. Using the bars of her small cell, she pulled herself to her feet and looked out into the cavernous belly of the massive ship.
Past the metre wide walkway running in front of the cells, the ship dropped away into a black nothingness that seemed to go on forever. She gripped the bars tighter and when the ship lurched again. A cheer went up from the other prisoners that grew louder with every hit the ship received until Dayna thought the noise would tear her head apart.
The lights went out with the next hit and the noise stopped. A heartbeat later the lights flickered back to life. The cell door gave a soft click and swung open when she pushed it.
That was all she remembered of the escape. It frustrated her that she kept losing blocks of memory. She had no idea how she got into the pod, or if there was anyone else in it with her, or how long ago the pod had landed here. However, the blinking red light on top of the pod told her that the locator beacon had activated.
“Must run,” she said, gazing up through the canopy above her. “They’ll be coming. Can’t be here when they come. Must run.”
She ran but didn't know if she was running towards the danger, or away from it. Her head filled with images of Professor Morrison’s battered blood-stained face she'd been shown at her trial. They told her he'd been her employer for the last twenty years. Surely she should have remembered that at least.
After three months of inactivity her lungs burned in protest with every breath she drew and her muscles screamed at her to stop. She didn't hear the whining of engines above her wheezing breath, until they were above her. She skidded to a halt and pressed herself flat against the rough bark of a tree. She watched a shuttle from the prison ship pass overhead.
“Must run,” she said. “They’ve found me. Must run far away.” But she remained where she was, rooted to the spot in fear until the engines faded into silence. She waited and listened for any sound that told her the guards were closing in, but she couldn't hear anything over the pounding of her heart in her ears. Her headache was getting worse and she rubbed her temple trying to ease the pressure.
She stumbled away from the tree and fell to her knees. The palm of her hand landed on a sharp piece of wood on the ground cutting it, but she ignored the pain and set off once again. It was only a few minutes later when she found herself standing at the edge of the forest, looking at a row of houses.
“Need to change clothes. Prison clothes noticeable. Dirty and ripped.” The authorities would have been informed of the escape and would be extra vigilant. “Must blend in and become invisible.” She pulled at her lock of hair again and scanned the immediate vicinity. She saw no-one. She gathered her courage and moved towards the closest house. She was half way across the hundred metre clearing when the back door of the house on her left opened. She froze.
“Can’t be seen, can’t be seen.” Dayna squeezed her eyes closed and covered them with her fists. “Hiding in the dark. No-one here, all gone.”
The man pulled the door closed behind him, but was so preoccupied with the datapad in his hand that he moved out of the yard, turned to his right, and marched off without even looking up.
“All gone, all gone, all gone.” Dayna dropped her hands and looked around and saw the man disappear down the path between two houses. She moved in the opposite direction until she reached the low gate of the next house. Stepping over the gate she moved up to the closest window and saw a dining table surrounded by six high backed wooden chairs. On the center of the table was a vase of yellow flowers.
The back door was a few meters to her left. She checked to see if she was being watched. Seeing nothing Dayna moved to the door and turned the handle. It gave a soft click and opened into the laundry. On the bench was a basket of clothes. She pushed the door open and rummaged through the basket until she found a pair of black slacks and a white shirt. On the shelf above the basket was a sun hat. Taking it down she tucked what little hair she had left under it and pulled it on tight.
She left the house the way she’d come and hurried to the footpath the man had used earlier. It took her out into the street. At this time of the morning the street was empty. The only thing moving were the ships ascending and descending from the spaceport in the distance. She took a sudden breath and grinned. It was common knowledge that the, not so respectable, cargo ship captains hired crew members with no questions asked. If she could get onto a ship and off the planet, she'd have time to work out what to do next.
She half ran, and half walked down the street towards the spaceport. The closer she got, the more people there were in the street. Cars hovered slowly along, and no-one seemed to be in any great hurry. She slowed her pace so as not to draw attention to herself.
“Blending in. One of the locals.”
The people around her smiled and nodded to her as she passed the sidewalk cafes and restaurants. The smell of food filled the air and made her aware of how hungry she was.
It was such a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the metropolis Dayna was accustomed to. This was the kind of place her husband, Rian, had been trying to talk her into moving to so that she could get away from her hectic job. Dayna tried to remember what this hectic job was, but there was just nothing there. Anything to do with her life outside her home was a black void in her mind.
From the alley to her left two prison guards, Jolan and Stroud appeared and Dayna’s heart leapt into her throat. Turning away from them, she moved to the curb where she fought every instinct she had to run. From the corner of her eye she watched them walk off in the opposite direction.
Dayna went to cross the street to put some distance between her and the prison guards, but stopped when a snippet of their conversation reached her.
“… she killed that Professor Morrison person,” said Jolan.
“Ain’t he the one she worked for?” asked Stroud.
“Yeah, I hear tell she was part of some experiment.”
Dayna drew a sharp breath.
“How’d you find that out?” asked Stroud.
“I was told when she was brought on the ship; she had some sort of…” Jolan paused to think of the word, “…neural implant in her head, but it’s broke and makes her violent.”
“Go on,” said Stroud, shocked.
“True as I’m standin’ here,” Jolan assured him. “That’s what you get for tryin’ to play God...”
The rest of the conversation was drowned out by the noise in the street. Dayna’s knees went week and she held onto the lamp post next to her to stop herself from sinking to the ground. Some of the passers-by were concerned at the stricken look on her face and came to see if she needed any help. Dayna shook her head and pushed their hands away, trying to push past them.
Images filled her head of places and people she didn't know, and a blinding headache hit her without warning. She stumbled into the gathering crowd.
When she fell to her knees, her hat fell onto the ground. Someone close by started to scream. After a moment she realised it was her. She grasped what was left of her hair and began to pull at it. She had to stop screaming or the guards would hear her and drag her back to the ship.
Dayna jumped to her feet and ran. There was a flash of light and something thumped into her chest knocking her a few paces backward. She stopped screaming and looked down at the smoking hole in her shirt front. Finally, her brain registered what had happened and a wave of pain washed over her. She looked up and saw Jolon a few meters away, his laser held at arm’s length in front of him.
Her mind became clear and she remembered every terrible detail about what had happened.
“This isn’t a good idea, Dayna,” said Professor Morrison. “Once you’ve had the implant inserted you’re not going to be able to take it out.”
“The Government representatives that are coming to the lab and want to see a test subject. This is our only chance to prove the work we’ve been doing for the last ten years hasn’t been for nothing. I believe the neural implant we’ve designed will help control the behaviour in those who have violent and mental disorders.”
The day came where they could prove their neural implant worked. Three Government representatives stood in front of them and eyed her and Morrison expectantly. She and Morrison had been testing the device she’d had implanted for the last month and were confident they could prove it worked as designed.
While the representatives watched, Dayna picked up the knife that lay on the bench. Then, without warning she ran at Morrison with the knife held high, ready to stab him. She was a meter away from him when she froze mid stride. It didn't matter how much she willed herself to move, she couldn’t.
“As you can see,” said Morrison, “the neural implant stops the subject before any harm to another person can be carried out, and they will remain like this until a medical unit comes and resets the implant.”
“And what happens when the implant is reset?” asked Mrs Jennings, a tall thin, hard faced woman whom Dayna hadn't like from the moment she'd met her.
Morrison picked up a round metal disk. On the back was a keypad. “This is held over the site of the implant and with the correct code punched in can erase the memories of what the subject was about to do. Once the memory is erased the feelings associated with that memory are also neutralised, which means they no longer have the desire to kill.”
“What’s this one – 1948?” asked the plump, jovial looking Mr Hastings.
“For those with deeper, uncontrollable physiological issues this code can be used to give them verbal responses that must be obeyed.”
Dayna and Morrison exchanged glances. They knew out of all the codes they’d created, this would be the most controversial of them all. It was the one area that would stop them from getting any further funding.
“Please show us,” said Hasting.
Morrison activated the code and ordered Dayna to do a couple of things around the lab, such as move a pen from one bench to another, and to walk to the door and back again.
“My I be permitted to give a command?” asked Mrs Jennings.
“Certainly,” nodded Morrison.
“Kill Professor Morrison.”
Morrison’s eyes widened in alarm. “No!” But it was too late. The neural implant had already processed the commanded. Dayna picked up the knife and lunged at him and stabbed him over and over again in a frenzied attack.
Dayna’s mind had screamed at her to stop, but her body moved of its own accord. Blood splashed her clothes, arms and face. The knife became so saturated it nearly slipped from her hand. Then she stopped, got to her feet and stood over the body, and came face to face with the horrified looks on the faces of the representatives.
“I...I assumed the chip would stop her,” said Mrs Jennings. “I assumed it would work as it had before.”
Mr Hastings’ rosy cheeks had lost their colour as he snatched up the control disk and moved over to Dayna.
“No-one can know what happened here,” he said. Turning to Mr Yenan, he said, “Call security while I wipe her memory. No matter what we’re asked, we’ll say the two of them argued and she went crazy and killed him.”
The other two nodded. Mr Yenan moved to the control panel near the door and called security.
Dayna collapsed to her knees, and then fell onto her right side. She starred down the street at Jolan and Stroud who moved towards her with their weapons still raised.
“Everyone get back,” said Jolan. “She’s a dangerous prisoner.”
Jolan stopped in front of her and, with the toe of his boot, pushed her onto her back. He knelt down next to her and placed his fingers on her throat. Behind him a sea of faces stared down at her with a mixture of mild concern and gross fascination.
Dayna tried to take a breath, but couldn’t fill her lungs. All she could manage were short, sharp breaths.
“She ain’t long for this life,” he said.
The jury had found her guilty of murder in less than an hour. They ordered her execution and she was taken from the courtroom, straight to the prison ship. The edges of her vision blurred. A sob escaped her. Rian, her family and friends would never know the truth now. To them she would now always be a murderer.
It even grieved Dayna to know even Jolan, who had hit her and treated her like dirt beneath his feet, would never know the truth.