“Probed” is a science fiction concept with a Nigerian setting about five extraordinary children trying to live ordinary lives. Subsequent chapters will be released every Tuesday each week. I hope you enjoy reading the story as much as I love writing it!
A lot of things were foreign to the new additions to the Ogunbade family.
Clothes. They never wore any in their cell. They were given sterilized frocks to wear when they had to be in the lab, which was the only time they were allowed to bathe more than once a day.
Sunlight. Not within the four walls of their cell. The facility was far underground to expect such. The only light they knew were the bulbs in the lab and training rooms.
Names. They were numbered, but not named. They thought they had forgotten their names, but they only pretended to forget so they wouldn’t be made to.
There were lots more to point out. But none was as foreign as the fatality of unsolicited interaction. Daring to speak when not spoken to or voicingout your thoughts. Daring to share an idea or express any form of emotion.
You answer questions. You do as you are told. You do not resist.
Interaction required a freedom the children could not afford at the time, and now it was the prerequisite that ensured their survival.
The children conversed in whispers in their cells, but acted like they barely acknowledged each other in the presence of the workers in the facilities. They avoided showing genuine interest in each other, in case the staff started to fear the possibility of them scheming up an assault or a means of escape. The Professor had them wired; it was impossible to be audacious when your lifespan was literally determined by the click of a button.
But the workers knew better than to resort to the button at the slightest whim. The children were worth millions of dollars and endless research. The failsafe only existed for the possibility of the children being too hard to handle. Accidents happen, like Abiye learning to harness the features of any wild animal he turns into. He might swing his claws too sharp and slice a throat or two, and though he’d be subjected to torture sessions he was not to be killed. Muyiwa might kill a guy if asked to see how much damage he could make with his bare hands, but it was all for research— it couldn’t be held against him.
These priceless children were products of the “Reign-Human Project”, which aimed at creating superhumans in ways Hitler himself could only dream of. Millions of dollars had been invested in this project, carried out in an underground facility located in Cameroon. But these children were saved and had been given an opportunity to live a normal life.
A normal life.
This extended beyond having to adjust to wearing clothes, exposure to sunlight, and not cringing in fear whenever people other than themselves called their names. It encompassed adjusting to the little things, like sleeping separately in large bedrooms with big beds, eating way more than morsels of rich food more than once a day, sleeping in beds, bathing without the strong smell of bleach, toothpastes that tasted sweet, smiles that were neither sinister nor lustful. These little struggles were nothing compared to their greatest internal dispute: communication.
It took close to three months before the children could speak to the Ogunbades independently. They never asked questions, and only spoke when they were required to answer a question. There were a lot of things they were not familiar with, but they didn’t dare voice out their thoughts. The Ogunbades caught on pretty well, and quickly adjusted to them, picking up hints from their body language and curious stares to know that they should explain that they were to sleep on the beds, wear any of the clothes in the wardrobe of their rooms and eat as much as their shrunken stomachs could accommodate.
Nneka was the first to cave. Mrs. Ogunbade was a very fashionable woman with no children of her own. She welcomed the kids with open arms, shopping extensively for them, ensuring that their clothes and other basic needs were provided for. She had just spent the day showing an animated Nneka and a less enthusiastic Aisha how to coordinate their outfits when Nneka turned to her and muttered a shaky “thank you ma” after a moment of struggle. Mrs. Ogunbade impulsively wrapped her arms around the terrified teenager and held her close.
“Call me mummy… Please.”
Muyiwa stifled the chuckle trying to escape as he looked at his siblings. Everyone looked uncomfortable asides Nneka, who was reveling in how good she looked in her uniform. Mustapha tugged gently at the knotted tie around his neck and frowned. Aisha frowned at her pinafore. She secretly wished she had a blazer like Mustapha and Nneka. Abiye didn’t think he looked great in green. Why didn’t they wear dark blue like the secondary school students?
“I feel like I’m being strangled.” Mustapha muttered to no one in particular. “I hope I wouldn’t have to wear this blazer all day.”
“This outfit makes me look like a twelve year old.” Aisha sulked.
“You are twelve years old.” Nneka said, raising an eyebrow.
“I look at least fifteen.”
“No you don’t.” Abiye said, and she shoved him with her elbow angrily.
“I don’t act like a twelve year old at least.”
“You’re act like you’re forty.” Mustapha said with a smirk.
“Why am I being antagonized here?” Aisha cried angrily.
“Okay guys that’s enough.” Muyiwa said, putting an arm around Aisha in a bid to comfort her. “We all said we were going to try to fit in with the rest of the world. It will require doing some things we’re not comfortable with, but we’ll do them anyway. Why? Because what we’ve got here is a billion time better than where we were before. Let’s not ruin it by being petty.”
They greeted Fredrick (who was already in the front seat) and drove off to school in silence, their hearts beating faster in their chests as each minute passed. Even Nneka had lost her enthusiasm, and had begun to wring her hands, something she did only when she was really nervous. Mustapha noticed and held her hands in a bid to comfort her, but she could see that he was tapping his feet, which indicated he was as nervous she was. Aisha on the other hand kept her mind occupied with her Rubik cube, scrambling the puzzle as quickly as she got it right.
The children’s eyes widened as the car drove past a large school ground split in the middle by a large brick wall to form two separate compounds with identical structures— one for the elementary school and the larger for the secondary school. The car drove into an open space right next to the school ground, which served as the car park.
Fredrick led them into the school premises, stopping first at the secondary school. They made their way to the school administrator’s office, where they had a long talk before the kids were introduced and assigned to classes. Abiye bid his siblings farewell as Fredrick led him to the elementary school, while the Administrator’s secretary was asked to assist the others in finding their new classes.
“Everyone this is Mustapha Ogunbade.”
Mustapha gave his new classmates a once over and nodded curtly. His impassiveness helped conceal the furious beating of his heart in his chest. Though it appeared like he merely glanced at them with disinterest, he was actually avoiding making any eye contact with the curious children seated in front of him. He hadn’t seen this much children since the first time he was brought to the facility, before the initial screening that beat their number down to half. It was quite obvious that he was older than most, if not all of them, though by a year or two. He made his way to the vacant seat in the back and stared straight at the board, trying hard to ignore the students stealing a glance at the new student as the teacher continued the class.
Government. Why did he even pick Art class? He didn’t even know what he wanted to be later in life. It seemed like the simplest class though— and he sucked at calculations, which was a requirement both in the science and commercial classes. He had only missed a week of school apparently. It was still first term; he could catch up.
“Everyone meet Nneka Ogunbade.”
Nneka smiled shyly at her new class teacher, thankful that it was a woman. She stared at the wall opposite her to avert her attention from the ogling eyes all around her. Even some of the girls she managed to make eye contact with were giving her mean looks, like they didn’t like that she was gaining a lot of the attention she desired so much to avoid.
“Good day.” she said, flashing a small smile at her new classmates before making her way to the empty seat in the middle row. Fumbling in her backpack for a new notebook and a pen she hoped that no one else could hear how fast her anxious heart was beating. She didn’t mind that she was in SS2 with Mustapha even though she was a year older. Fredrick had told her that it was very rare for students to transfer to a new school in their last year, and she might find it overwhelming to prepare for the Senior School Certificate Exams (SSCE) without prior knowledge of the school system. Also Richard felt it would help if she got a little high school experience before she went to the university, especially with her extreme discomfort around males in general. She stared at the board and sighed.
Chemistry. Her abilities extended beyond healing herself to healing others to a fair extent. But did having that ability mean she had what it took to be a medical doctor?
“Class. This is your new classmate Aisha Ogunbade.”
Aisha smiled a little at her classmates, hoping her piercing stare wouldn’t repel them away from her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to do this before, but seeing so many children her age she was actually excited at the prospect of interacting with her peers. When she was brought to the facility there was no one the same age as she was amidst the large group of children brought in. She was either older or way younger than they were. That, coupled by the hardship and her advanced intellect proceeded to forge a being that was wiser than her years, and acted it too. She wasn’t even sure how real twelve year olds acted.
As she stared at the board she smiled to herself and answered every equation on the board in her mind in less than a minute. But as she looked at the perplexed faces of those around her, she knew she had to bring herself back by more than seventy percent if she wanted to fit in. Even ten percent didn’t guarantee her grades being less than exceptional — pretending to be normal didn’t mean she was going to settle for mediocrity.
“Muyiwa you’ve gotta learn to drive. Don’t be like your mother… you’re a man.” Richard said with a laugh, putting an arm around the nervous young man. “No son of mine will resort to public transport with all the cars parked in the house.”
Richard had taken the day off from work, with the mind of spending it with the kids, especially Muyiwa. Asides being the oldest, he had a way of getting the others to follow his lead, and Richard knew that if he could win his confidence, Mustapha and Aisha would warm up to him faster, just like Abiye and Nneka already did.
“Yes Sir.” Muyiwa said curtly as they strolled out of the house to the compound. Richard stopped in his tracks and looked at Muyiwa intently, a small smile playing on his lips.
“Are you ever going to call me dad?” he asked playfully, but didn’t wait for an answer, to Muyiwa’s relief. Lawyers were masters of the mind, and Muyiwa unconsciously found himself trying to pick at any possible mind games whenever his new guardian said or did anything.
The children learned new things are tremendously fast rates, and Richard had noticed it first when Fredrick started to teach them to use a computer. In a couple of hours Muyiwa was able to drive a considerable distance. When they were about to pull in the car jerked all of a sudden, and they almost hit the gate before Richard could use the remote to get it open.
Richard turned to check if Muyiwa was all right, only to be startled by the sight of him cowering in fear. He tried to touch the young man but he flinched.
“I didn’t mean to… please leave me alone!” Muyiwa said hurriedly, unable to look at his guardian. Richard eyes widened as the situation became clear to him.
“I’m not going to hurt you Muyiwa. I’m not those men in the facility.” Richard said, reaching out again to touch him. “I would never do such a thing.”
Muyiwa didn’t seem to hear him. His dark brown eyes darkened with fear and rage as he slapped Richard’s hand away with the back of his and forced his way out of the car, removing the entire car door in the process when he wasn’t in the right state of mind to realize that he had locked it.
Richard looked away from his hurting hand to the gaping hole where the car door initially was. As he opened his own side of the door he thanked God that it was his right hand and not his left that was injured. Being left handed it would have slowed him down.
What could they have been doing to these children at that facility that could make such a strong boy cower in fear at something unpremeditated?
“Lillian… thanks for insisting we use the Camry.” he murmured to himself.
When he got in Muyiwa was sitting at the doorstep, staring at his feet. He raised his head as soon as he heard Richard’s footsteps and got to his feet in one fluid motion.
“I’m really sorry sir… I don’t know what came over me.” Muyiwa pleaded, his eyes straying to Richard’s injured hand. A new wave of guilt washed over him.
Richard gave him an encouraging smile. “I understand. Let’s go inside.”
“How was school today?”
Lillian looked at the children expectantly as they all walked into the living room. Abiye launched into a fully detailed story of how his first day went; while everyone else listened with rapt attention before the others gave their one liner replies.
“Too many people staring.” Muyiwa said with a shrug.
“Way too many people staring.” Nneka said with a shudder.
“I can carry first position in my sleep.” Aisha said nonchalantly.
Richard chuckled. “So… only Abiye enjoyed his first day?”
“I enjoyed school despite the stares. All the— daddy what happened to your hand?!”
Nneka rushed to his side while the others looked on from a distance. Richard’s right hand was bandaged to support the fracture on his wrist. Muyiwa tried not to look guilty as he avoided looking at the hand. Richard didn’t even look at him as he answered,
“It’s just a little fracture. Minor accident.”
Nneka pouted and carefully picked up his hand, placing the wrist between both her palms and focusing on it for about a minute. After that she beamed at him.
“How does it feel now?”
Richard’s eyes widened in amazement as he gave his wrist a once over. He removed his bandage and moved the wrist around.
“Oh my goodness Lillian… my hand is as good as new!”
His wife rushed to his side to inspect it closely, and they both turned to Nneka gratefully.
“Thank you so much love.”
“Anytime dad. I’m just grateful that it was something within my capacity. There’s a limit to the damage I can restore in people.”
“Go and take a shower so you can come eat lunch” Lillian said, shooing them towards the staircase. As soon as she got into the kitchen Mustapha was by her side, smelling like soap and in a change of clothes.
“Anything I can help with?” he said in a small voice. Lillian chuckled and handed him the warmer filled with rice.
“You’re always in your best mood when there’s food.” She said with a laugh.
After lunch the family went out to inspect the damage. Abiye and Aisha stared wide-eyed at the space where the car door should have been.
“This won’t happen again— I promise.” Muyiwa said, hanging his head.
Muyiwa had narrated the whole story to his siblings at the table, though Richard tried to make him not to do so. He didn’t see any reason to hide it from them.
“Stop apologizing. I’m thinking of what to do with the car.”
“Darling this thing can be repaired.” Lillian insisted.
“It’s more feasible to toss it out than to repair it. Besides you know I had plans to toss the Camry initially” Richard said pensively. “But what do I tell the mechanic happened that a whole car door came off with the rest of the car still intact?”
Everyone fell into silence trying to come up with a perfect excuse.
“A few more dents would help, and maybe a scratch or two.” Lillian finally said before turning to Muyiwa. “Could you do that? Just a few minor dents here and there.”
Muyiwa nodded and went to the car, pressing his forearms on strategic parts of the car gently, and leaving dents when he raised them. On Richard’s instruction he pressed against them with his base of his palm till they looked wider and more realistic.
“Could I help? I promise to be careful.” Abiye said. When they agreed he implored them to stand back while he changed into a Rottweiler. Leaning against the car with his paws he gently scratched against them finely till it looked like the car had brushed against steel.
“Better than using an iron sponge, don’t you think?” He said with a laugh after he changed back to normal. Everyone laughed with him, even Muyiwa who suddenly didn’t feel so bad anymore.
It was evident that life would never be the same for the Ogunbades.