Logo for ToKyotchi series

ToKyotchi Chapter 34

The Planned Escape

Nikki had wanted to spend the entire day locked in her room, but now she found herself overcome with dread as she stood outside the dormitories. The sun was quickly setting, and the last rays of light cast a melancholy glow over her surroundings.

From the moment she’d spotted Yokan in the sky, that same disturbing feeling she’d had before was back, stronger than ever. It was the exact same feeling she’d had in Professor Avis’ class the other day, and it had been bothering her ever since.

For as long as she could remember, she’d been able to sense things that others couldn’t. That was when she came to discover her Mark, Clairvoyance.

Except, to Nikki, it was entirely useless. Whether she could sense something or not, it made no difference. She could never tell what it was no matter how hard she tried.

It was only mildly useful in battle when she could see her opponent’s strongest attack. That was how she’d learned Tyson had an attack called Sleep Beam. It must have been why he was so hesitant to talk about it the other day. Nikki chuckled to herself. Tyson could be so goofy sometimes.

She heard a familiar twinkling sound and looked down at her silver bracelet, watching as the breeze clicked the charms together. She’d been so certain before about her Mark, that she could use it to sense the future. She remembered just how certain she was when she tried to convince Bella and Kim that they should escape the lab.

She’d planned it carefully. Professor Eminal had taken great care to secure the lab, and she knew there was only one way out. He made them sleep in hibernating pods, where he could collect data on their physiology as they slept. It was also the only time they weren’t under constant surveillance.

One evening, Nikki found that she could wake up from her hibernation without alerting the guards. That was when she decided to plan their escape once and for all.

“I can wake us all up,” Nikki had explained to Kim and Bella. “I’ll take out the guard outside, and we’ll be able to make a run for the exit. We all know the door codes at this point. We’ve been watching everyone carefully.”

“Are you stupid?” Bella hissed, leaning forward as if Nikki had said it too loud. “We can’t beat anyone or get out of here, and if the professor…”

Her voice trailed off, but Nikki knew what she was implying. If they were found out, the experiments would only get worse. The professor barely viewed them as anything more than test subjects to begin with. Everyone was eventually expendable to him.

Besides, they’d seen how the others had turned out, orphaned children from the surrounding villages, most of them Neutral types. When Professor Eminal couldn’t find any use in any of them, they disappeared. Or, at least, that’s what he wanted the girls to think.

“We’ll be fine, and we’ll have plenty of time,” Nikki continued. “The professor doesn’t know I can sense his presence or that I can wake myself up in the hibernation pods.”

Kim chuckled. “That’s because you’re stubborn, Nikki. It’s not anything we can put to use.”

Nikki rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Do you want to get out of here or not?”

“We’ve never even been to that part of the lab before,” Bella was adamant, though her voice was trembling with anxiety.

“I know the layout,” Nikki reassured her. “We’ll be fine.”

The girls exchanged a glance and then nodded in agreement, and the rest of the day passed as normal. The professor administered combat simulations that the girls couldn’t get through no matter how hard they tried.

He then had them complete timed written tests to determine their intelligence levels. Nikki always got the lowest score out of all three of them, something Professor Eminal always made sure to point out.

“You continue to disappoint,” he’d sneered, though most of his face was hidden behind his glasses. “With such progress, I’m beginning to wonder if you’re even worth the investment anymore.”

Nikki felt the hairs on the back of her neck shoot up all at once. They couldn’t delay any longer. They had to escape tonight while the professor still deemed her mildly useful. If not…

“I expect better results tomorrow,” Professor Eminal’s eyes were hidden behind the glare of his glasses as the door to the hibernation chamber slid open. Nikki eyed the faceless guard carefully as the three girls entered.

She’d never seen his real face before, and his armor wasn’t like most Legaros soldiers. He wore a specialized suit with reinforced plating, while his helmet was completely black and featureless. Still, she couldn’t help but feel like he knew what was going on.

As the door slid closed behind them, Nikki glanced at the others. Bella regarded her with a mixture of fear and anticipation, while Kim looked both determined and nervous.

Nikki took a deep breath before quietly making her way to her hibernation pod. She heard Kim and Bella’s footsteps as they followed her lead. Once she was settled, Professor Eminal closed the pod doors remotely just like he did every night, and Nikki heard the familiar hissing of the gas used to put them to sleep.

She remembered feeling a tremendous presence before she closed her eyes, as if several voices were speaking in her head. She couldn’t make out what they were saying, but somehow she knew they were somewhere far away, not in the lab with her and the others.

Her Mark did strange things like that from time to time, letting her feel people who weren’t actually there. Normally, she’d allow herself to fall asleep and dream even if she knew how to wake herself out of hibernation, but not tonight. She had to count the seconds until she was certain Professor Eminal thought they were all asleep.

After she’d determined enough time had passed, Nikki opened her eyes. The other pods were still closed, and the lights had been dimmed just like the other times she’d woken up.

She took another deep breath before quickly scanning the inside of her pod. There was a wire she’d been eyeing for a while now, and she’d been careful to disconnect it from the mainframe, which would allow her to override the hibernation system.

She dug into the console underneath the wires, carefully pulling out the one she needed. She held it in her hand as the door to her pod slid open. She could feel her heart beating in her chest as she rushed to open Kim and Bella’s pods. As they regained consciousness, she quickly helped them to their feet as they made tiptoed across the room.

She looked back at Kim and Bella and brought a finger up to her lips. She then held out her free hand, a globe of fire appearing in it as she entered a code into the console next to the door. It slid open, and Nikki launched herself into the hallway, prepared to take out the guard by any means necessary.

Yet, no one was there.

Still, there was no time to waste. Nikki ushered Kim and Bella through the door and down a winding corridor that seemed to go on forever, even though they only ran for a few minutes.

Finally, they reached the part of the lab they’d never been to, where access was strictly forbidden. Nikki paused for a moment before entering the last code she’d memorized into the console.

Unlike the other doors that quietly slid open, this one all but roared as it slid upward, revealing a large, dark chamber filled with more pods. Nikki was certain the guards would be on their way soon. They had to reach the exit. This was their only chance.

“Run!” Nikki shouted.

They started running, and Nikki kept her gaze trained ahead as she rushed through the room. They had just passed a few pods when she heard Kim scream, the uncharacteristic sound of fear in her voice stopping her in her tracks.

Nikki stopped and watched as Kim backed away from one of the pods, a look of terror on her face. Nikki moved closer to investigate, only for a chill to run down her spine as she noticed the occupant of the pod: a small infant girl encased in some strange substance. Her eyes were still open, though her skin was a pale gray color.

“W-what is this?” Kim asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

Nikki quickly looked around the chamber, noting that every pod was filled with children, infants, and teenage girls. Some of them she recognized as former test subjects that Professor Eminal grew tired of. She felt her stomach lurch as the realization set in.

“Stop where you are!” Nikki turned to see the guard from earlier had arrived, his black helmet reflecting the light of the pods.

Nikki quickly formed a plan, readying a Fire Orb attack when she felt the presence from before again, as if several voices at once were speaking to her, all telling her the same thing. With each muscle she flexed, they grew louder, seemingly pleading with her to stop advancing toward the guard.

“Nikki, do something,” she heard Bella say.

As if they could hear Bella’s plea, the voices grew even louder, begging Nikki to stand down instead of trying to fight off the guard. The image of the infant girl flashed in her mind, and the globe of fire she’d summoned dissipated.

She couldn’t defeat him. It was all pointless.

“I knew you wouldn’t run,” the guard chuckled.

“Nikki, what are you doing?” Bella’s voice grew desperate. “You said you’d get us out!”

Kim was motionless, her head dipped in resignation. Nikki stopped and looked down, her heart feeling heavy as she realized the truth – there was no way out.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly, her voice cracking. “It’s over. I’m not strong enough to get us away.”

Professor Eminal appeared from behind the guard, who vanished from sight completely. All this time, he’d been merely an illusion. There were no guards at all; Eminal was a Mental type who could create illusions. The lifeless bodies in the pods were very real, whether they were trophies or simply discarded waste he was keeping for some other purpose.

None of the other girls they’d seen disappear had ever left. They’d been with them all along.

Nikki shook her head, groaning as she desperately tried to make the memory go away. If she didn’t make it inside soon, she’d miss curfew.

She wanted to believe it didn’t matter, that she could figure out a way to avoid getting caught tonight, but she knew it wasn’t true. She couldn’t avoid getting caught now, just like she couldn’t avoid getting caught back then.

But at least, before that evening, she hadn’t learned the truth yet.