Highly Commended Story - Junior Category
“The City Underground” by Cate Marissa Verghese, CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace, Singapore, is the Highly Commended story in the junior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2020.
Cate is an avid reader and is often found burying her nose in a book. Preferring dragons to princesses, Cate's two favorite genres are Fantasy and Sci-fi, and counts Star Wars and all Marvel movies as her favorite movies. Cate also loves spending time outdoors and is often seen cycling in the parks and playing netball for a club.
The City Underground
“Your Eminence, the new specimens have arrived, currently held captive in the glass chamber, just as you have commanded,” my raccoon butler informed me, its head bowed so low I could see the ugly bald spot on the back of its neck.
Ah yes, finally some light at the end of the tunnel, I thought gleefully. My faithful servants know that I have been planning to eliminate humankind for years; it was what prompted me to build an underground city with state-of-the-art technology, specially designed to keep us all hidden until the perfect formula – Project Green Viper, was created. At last, after months of research, the serum was ready for the final test.
“How many are there?”
“Four, Your Eminence,” my butler replied.
“Four! Only four?!” I screeched as my butler cowered in fear. "Who is the new ‘lead’ in charge of Human Resources?"
Almost instantaneously, a cream-coloured canine slunk into the room, asking, “Y-yes, Master Shadow?” Jaime asked timidly, eyes cast down. Jaime, the newly ordained head of Human Resources, stammered. I revelled in her fear. Fear is good. Fear leads to obedience. The last canine in her position was too cheeky for her own good. She dared question my authority and paid dearly for it.
“Why are there only FOUR?”
“But… but p-people are s-starting to be suspicious. We h-have been kidnapping children for months and their parents are now on 'high-alert'. It’s getting harder…almost impossible…to kidnap humans without getting s-shot. We lost three rottweilers in last week's mission. They were taken by big men and put into awful big nets and injected with something horrible. We… we never saw them again.” Jaime explained, with her ears tucked back and a tremor in her voice.
This good-for nothing, insolent thing better be telling me the truth or else! Seething with anger, I waved my paw to dismiss her. Arching my back, I hopped out of my chair and glided out of the room to head to my lab. It was time to conduct my final experiment.
Sauntering along the streets of my underground city, I admired its peace and serenity. Animals that saw me lowered their heads respectfully, eyes carefully trained on the ground as I towered over them. Known for my speed and accuracy of my kills, as the only panther in the city, I had returned from the brink of death when I escaped from a treacherous fate with a performing circus years ago.
Never again will I trust humans, I thought bitterly, looking at the scars on my paws. As I neared my lab, the guards hastily flung open the doors. Padding through the doorway, I examined the walkway that was lined with hundreds of glass tanks filled with failed experiments over the months. Some of them had human torsos and animal ears, while others had human heads with animal torsos. Their limp limbs were pushed around by the bubbles from the chemical solution inside the glass tank and an eternal look of pain was etched onto their lifeless faces.
The four newly captured human specimens huddled in the corner of a glass chamber. They pointed to the glass tanks, murmuring to each other in confusion and fear. It was time for Project Green Viper.
I gave a nod to a lieutenant at the control centre. Immediately, the serum was placed in a canister and slowly lowered into a capsule with tubes connected to it. Green gas started to permeate and fill up the glass chamber. Shrieks and howls were deafening as the humans’ bones started contorting and snapping to form animal skeletons. Thick fur sprouted from their skin and claws started taking form, forcing out their fingernails. They had their heads held at an awkward angle as their jaws elongated unnaturally to accommodate the long canine teeth.
Waiting in anticipation, I tapped my paws impatiently. When the gas cleared up, I could see fully formed animals! The formula worked and created perfect animals! I thought excitedly.
The “humans” looked at their bodies in shock. One of them asked another in confusion, “What happened to you? Why are you a cat?” The other specimen meowed in response, “And you’re a dog!”
“Welcome to my underground city, your new home!” I purred condescendingly as I stretched to my full height, delighted with my creations.
The next few days flashed by in a blur. With the success of the serum, I sent out messages to my operatives in the world above, instructing them to place serum-filled aerosol cans all around the human settlements.
Finally, the day had arrived. The day when we would invade and dominate the world above. Two hours later, the operatives finished their mission and I padded out of my quarters, to address my followers.
“For too long, animals have been under the rule and control of mankind! With this latest achievement in science, we are now able to turn humans into dogs and cats! Never again will humans dominate! Never again will they be allowed to cast their pets aside, cruelly abandoning them! Never again will we be forced to be a circus puppet or treated as livestock; bred and fattened to satisfy humanity’s terrible appetite!” I spat into the microphone on a podium.
“Never again will we be used as lab rats! I promise you this and more! Right now, we are preparing to release Project Green Viper in human settlements! Soon, humans will crumble, forced to kneel before us and beg for their survival!” I screeched. Some subjects clapped joyfully, while others smirked maliciously.
Bile rose up and coated my tongue as I slashed my paw across the podium, leaving deep gouges in the wooden panel screaming, “DEATH TO THE HUMANS!”
Instantaneously, the hall broke into loud applause, reverberating with the same phrase, chanted repetitively. At a precise hour, in the world above, the green gas was released. Within minutes, the air resounded with shrieks and howls. Then, silence.
Death to the humans.