Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chapter Three

Take Me Home

Sevenah woke to a pounding headache and nausea.  Her body felt weak and drained.   She had experienced migraines before, but this intense throbbing behind her eyes was worse.  Darkness surrounded her again.  She made a feeble attempt to move her arms, but failed; they were tied down along with her legs.  From the hum of electronics, she assumed to be back in her original room.
Trying to bring to mind the latest events, she recalled her nightmare with the snakes.  If that bizarre memory was all she had given Dr. Mikiska, then surely they had found no promising answers.  What did snakes have to do with anything?  Perhaps the boy from her dream was a clue to the past, but she could never clearly envision his face.
A moan crossed her lips, and she listened to the sound bounce back from the ceiling—a morose echo in her ears.  The memory-recall procedure may not have killed her, but it certainly made her wonder if death wouldn’t have been preferable. 
You do not want to throw up, she thought to herself, swallowing in an attempt to heed her own warning.  With no one around to clean up the mess, the idea of lying in vomit for an indefinite period of time was unappealing.
She tried to relax her queasy stomach by breathing slowly in and out, concentrating on the steady whirr of machines.  Nothing was visible in the darkness except for strings of red numbers flashing over and over in a faint glow.
Lying there, feeling helpless and discouraged, her thoughts turned to Nurse Morroway.  She contemplated this stranger who had offered the only bit of hope she felt for a possible escape.  Leisha had said they would get her out of here.  But who were they?  And why the concern for her predicament?  Regardless, she prayed the nurse and her companions had a plausible rescue plan.  The way things were unraveling, she couldn’t imagine getting out alive without someone’s assistance. 
Her concern shifted to Ian as she dared to imagine returning home.  How was he coping with her absence?  Did he suspect foul play?  Was he looking for her?  Or had Dr. Braxton delivered a lie to explain away her disappearance?  Did Ian and her family believe she was dead?  The thought made her shudder, imagining the grief her parents must be suffering.  Sevenah agonized over what to do.
Deep in worry, she nearly missed the sound of a door cracking open.  Someone was coming.  She panicked, unsure of whether to attempt a glance or feign unconsciousness.  When the lights switched on, her eyes automatically closed.  Two arguing voices paralyzed her.
“I’m sorry, okay?  I’m sorry, already!  It’s been days; I’d think you could get past this.”
“You had no right to go behind my back, Stefanie.”
“Why are you still upset about a simple scan?  It wasn’t a major deal.  I’ve apologized every day since!  Can’t you see, I was simply trying to find the answers we’re looking for in a humane manner?  Quite frankly, it was worth a try because I did learn something.”
Sevenah felt her stomach turn.  Were they talking about the memory-recall procedure?  Was it true that days had already passed since then?  But how was it possible to feel so horribly sick after all that time?  What more had they done to her?
“You are purposefully sneaking behind my back and defying me!” Dr. Braxton roared.  Sevenah could hear him stomp across the room.  Something slammed down on the corner desk—most likely his clipboard.
“I am not defying…”
“You took it upon yourself to scan her memories, and now I come to find out you’re bothering Dr. Davis, seeking his support against my proposed course of action!”
There was a heavy, conceding sigh much closer than expected.  A presence brought with it the strong scent of vanilla.  “I just wish you would hold off for a while.  Just a short while.”
“I’m aware of your feelings, Stefanie.”
“And I maintain that this whole thing is unnecessary.  You have no idea how it will affect her.”
Sevenah felt a hand rest gently on her forehead.  She struggled to keep still, knowing this would be a bad time to be found wide awake.
“She’s a person, Dr. Braxton.  A young woman.  And as such, she has some God-given rights.”
“Well God can save her then.”
“Dr. Braxton!” Stefanie snapped. 
Tensions amplified as the hand on Sevenah’s forehead tightened.  It ran over her scalp a few times—four skinny fingers combing through her hair—before moving to rest on a shoulder.  It reminded Sevenah of her mother’s anxious and protective touch. 
“If this alien is really so important, why hasn’t one of her kind come to retrieve her?”
Dr. Mikiska answered from right above.  “Maybe she’s part of a dying race, one of the few remaining left.” 
“Good.  Then let them die.”
A gasp sounded so near her ear, Sevenah nearly flinched. 
“You can’t really mean that!”
“Oh, but I do.  What?  You would have them take over our world?”
“No, of course not, but I hardly think one teenage girl poses a serious threat.”
“That’s what they want you to think!”  Sevenah could hear the scoundrel draw near, closer to his associate at her bedside.  “They’re hoping you feel so confident and secure you won’t look any further and see the real danger.”
Dr. Mikiska groaned, clearly frustrated with the obstinate refusal of this man to see any other possibility.  “What if those memories of hers are what we’re looking for?  What if she’s already told us everything we need to know about her?”
“You don’t have concrete answers, Stefanie, you have theories.  Guesses.  It’s what you think you saw in some chaotic, nonsensical images.”
“No, no, it’s more than that,” she argued, her voice suddenly optimistic.
Dr. Braxton harshly disagreed.  “No, it’s not!  You saw a child’s ridiculous nightmare!  Images of running through some forest with a boy, the two of them overtaken by odd-looking snakes?  Then visions of her dead parents, miraculously resurrected!  Childhood memories of a forest, and then all of a sudden she’s on horseback, riding through the open desert.  You say she dreamt of walking through space.  Walking through space?  What is that?  I’ll tell you what it is—it’s impossible!  What you have is a bunch of meaningless images and nothing more.  You’ve learned nothing useful about her, Stefanie; that scan explains absolutely nothing.”
“They’re memories, Dr. Braxton, and they do mean something.  Just think about it for one minute.  Put the pieces together.  She was a young child, okay, living somewhere with lush, forested terrain.  Somehow she ends up in the woods with that boy, both of them obviously frightened.  They were running away, trying to escape some type of danger.  She calls out for her mother, but no one comes.  Maybe there was a tragedy and her parents……well, maybe they died.  Perhaps the snakes were to blame.  I don’t know, but it makes sense that a serious enough incident occurred to warrant her being taken from her home and relocated.  Her memory of walking through space obviously means she traveled on a spaceship, I’m guessing on her way to Earth.  We know she’s alien and she definitely came from another world, so it makes sense she was brought here from her planet.”
“Oh please,” Dr. Braxton groaned, but Dr. Mikiska ignored his irritated objection and continued.
“Her parents are different people when she sees them alive again because they’re human substitutes.  We know this to be true from the results of the Williams’ tests.  They’re both conclusively human beings.  Somehow, though, they believe that Sevenah is their real daughter, and she believes they are her real parents.  It must have been set up that way on purpose.  Her people must have wanted her to fit in here.  So now she lives on Earth with her new family in the desert.  It all makes sense.”  Dr. Mikiska held up her palms as if it were plain as day.  “That’s why she doesn’t know who she is.  That’s why she can’t remember anything before five years of age.  Whatever happened on her home world happened when she was very young, and it must have been traumatic.  Her people could have planted her here to keep her safe or to give her a second chance.  I honestly believe she has no idea where she came from.  She thinks she’s human, and I don’t see her as a threat to us or to Earth.”
Dr. Braxton laughed out loud and clapped his hands derisively, clearly amused.  “It’s a very creative story, Stefanie, but that’s all it is—a crazy, highly-imaginative story.  You’re playing connect the dots and who’s to say your picture’s right?  She could’ve been exiled here for all you know.  And if something did happen on her home world, there may be others like her hiding out as well.  Who knows?  She could be the start of a total world takeover!  You can’t guarantee your interpretation of her memories is correct.”
“We could try it again.  Please!”  Dr. Mikiska was begging—an unmistakable edge of desperation in her voice.  “We know this procedure is safe, and I’m sure we can unlock more suppressed memories.  You’ll see, we’ll find the answers.”  She was trying hard to convince her superior, but he had grown impatient.
“No.  The subject is closed.” 
“You can’t cut open her brain, Dr. Braxton!”
“I’m going to do exactly that, Stefanie, and I’ll be moving forward with the process today before you have the opportunity to attempt any more alien-saving schemes.  Then we’ll see who holds the real answers!”
Why?  The question came out in a shriek.  “There’s no reason for us to put her life in danger!  We have a viable explanation for why she’s here; give that to the bureaucrats in Washington.  It’s a solid, plausible theory and it very well may be the truth!  It would at least buy us time to learn more about her through humane methods.”
I will learn more about her—today.”  His tone was insistent.
Dr. Mikiska kept pleading, shocked by the horrible turn of events.  “Come on!  You don’t need to do this!  Not yet, not now!”
“As of this minute, you’re off the project.  Pack up and go home.” 
There was nothing but silence as the shock of his orders sank in.  Then Dr. Mikiska panicked.
“No!  No, you can’t dismiss me!”
“Pack up and go or I’ll have you escorted off the premises.  I will not be bothered by any further interference in this matter.  You’ve lost your perspective and hence you’re of no use to me.”
Having nothing else to lose, the woman turned hysterical.  “You don’t even care about this project!  It’s all about getting around the ethical guidelines for that stupid experiment of yours!  That’s what this is really about isn’t it?  Isn’t it!  You’ve found a way to test your invention on a technically non-human subject so you’re going to whether it’s really necessary or not!  You are so arrogant and selfish and contemptible and...”
“That is enough!  You will leave immediately!”
The sudden hush was frightening.  It was hard for Sevenah to keep her eyes closed; she fretted for herself and for Dr. Mikiska.  Then she heard a quick swipe and the door click open.  It slammed shut, the sound of heated protest lingering in a resonance.  With her lady advocate gone, Sevenah realized she was on her own, alone with the enemy. 
It was hard to breathe knowing time was up.  Something had to happen today or else….
She didn’t want to think of the possible consequences.  It couldn’t be true that the foggy memory of her last sunset would prove to be the final performance she ever witnessed.  It couldn’t be that the ones she loved were gone forever.
Her parents. 
She would never see any of them again—never look into their beautiful faces, or hear their kind voices, or feel their warm touch against her skin.  Her heart pounded wildly at these thoughts, but her body remained stiff and frozen, fearing to be found conscious—fearing that Dr. Braxton would put her to sleep a final time. 
His footsteps tapped across the floor as he moved from one spot to the next.  She wondered what he was up to yet lacked the courage to peek.  He might see.  The rustle of paperwork hit her ears, and she pictured him flipping through pages on his clipboard.  Then his voice carried across the room.
“Christopher, I want you to arrange a team for surgery.  Prep room eight-thirteen.  Call Dr. Fancher and Dr. Davis—let them know we’re moving forward today.  Yes, it’s a go.  At ten-hundred hours.  We’ll meet in the blue room first.  I want my equipment there and ready on schedule.” 
More footsteps echoed in the air.  Finally, the door clicked and fell shut.  Sevenah opened her eyes and exhaled in a quivering gust. 
“Oh crud, oh crud, this can’t be happening!” she panicked.  “What am I going to do?”  It seemed she would have to free herself.
She began fighting her restraints, desperately tugging, hoping for some give in the cuffs.  Perhaps by a miracle she could wriggle one hand free.  With adrenaline-enhanced strength she pulled and twisted, wrenching against the straps until the chafing action cut into her skin.  She didn’t care.  The sting would be worth it if just one arm broke loose.  She yanked and squirmed until her wrists were raw and burning.
No, No, No!” she finally cried.  Her effort was producing zero results.  She would have to face facts—the bands were too strong to break, too tight to slip through.  
Her mind raced, searching for another way, some other possibility of escape.  But with all her limbs so tightly secured, it seemed bleak. 
“Okay, okay,” she breathed.  A deep inhale was meant to calm the heightening anxiety.  “There’s got to be a way.  Think, think, think…”
A lurch in her stomach reminded her of its empty and sick condition.  She closed her eyes and allayed a wave of nausea.  Lying perfectly still, her mind worked on a plan—a scheme to potentially get her bands removed.  Then, at least she might stand a fighting chance.  Perhaps by offering them the truth—an actual lie—they would listen.  A creative enough story might satisfy Dr. Braxton and make him give up the brain surgery madness.
A click echoed across the room, and Sevenah froze.  Someone was coming.  She pretended to sleep again, fearing the return of Dr. Braxton.  A man called out but with a deeper and more authoritative tone than the snobbish one she had come to despise.  In a foreign language, he vocalized what sounded like direct orders. 
“Rhoen, loamma lan naash.  Co, loamma ee, meeah Sha Eena.  Marguay, ahntaa.” 
“Ruha, tanee,” replied a husky voice.
“Ruha,” repeated the lighter tone of a female close by.  This one sounded vaguely familiar.
She heard a fourth—another man.  “Ruha, cu ahntaa.”
Sevenah felt someone grab her upper arm.  Her eyes opened automatically.
“Leisha!” she exclaimed.  It was Nurse Morroway.  All at once there was hope.  She attempted to sit up in her excitement without success.
“Are you alright?” Leisha asked.
“Yes….I mean, no!  They’re planning something absolutely awful for me today!  You have to get me out of here!”
“We know.  It’s going to be okay.  We weren’t prepared to move you yet, but there appears to be no other option.  You’ll be going home today, but you must do everything we tell you, understand?  If you want to get out of here alive, you must follow orders.”
“Okay, I will, I will, I promise!”  The words were hurried and desperate. 
Sevenah yanked on the bands that held tight to her wrists, motioning for Leisha to release her.  Two accompanying men stepped in to help.  They had the restraints removed in seconds.  Sevenah felt an immediate desire to run with her freedom—a self-preserving impulse to flee—but curtailed the urge. 
She surveyed the strangers around her, dressed alike in white lab coats.  The men were large-statured and able-bodied.  One wore tinted glasses; he behaved like the person in charge, seeming more alert and edgier than the others.  Closest to Leisha stood a baldheaded man with a thick, five-o’clock shadow darkening his face.  His eyes were fixed unwaveringly on Sevenah, making her nervous.  The third man guarded the door.  He resembled a military soldier—stiffly postured and clean-cut, staring ahead while awaiting his next order.
“What now?” Sevenah asked.
“Lie down and don’t move,” Leisha told her.  “Don’t open your eyes.  Don’t do anything unless we tell you, no matter how tempting, understand?”
“Yes, I understand.”
Sevenah knew that these people were her only realistic chance at escape.  She had come up with nothing on her own.  Having no idea who they were or why they wished to help her, she determined to follow orders regardless.  It crossed her mind they might be rivals of her present captors, and once outside they might not allow her to go home either.  She would have to deal with that possibility afterwards.  Dr. Braxton seemed the worse threat at the moment, making her best option to get out now and face the unknown later.
Leisha helped Sevenah lie down.  They tossed a white sheet over her body, covering her up to the neck, but not before swabbing a cold, clear liquid over the crease of her arm.  It was the same stuff Leisha had applied to her skin before.  The migraine and queasiness disappeared almost instantaneously.  Sevenah whispered her gratitude.
“Thank you.”
“Don’t forget,” Leisha reminded her, “you must do as we say.  You cannot move or open your eyes until we give you the word—no matter what.”
Sevenah assured her rescuers she understood.
The tomboyish female then turned to her associates, addressing them in the same strange tongue they had used upon entering.
“Neerai cu.  Iee?”
“Iee,” they all replied.
Leisha turned to the man in sunglasses.  “Nahpai lan.” 
He nodded to the bald man with gritty whiskers who then swiped a badge through the scanner.  The soldier yanked on the metal door and held it wide open.
Sevenah could hear Leisha breathing above her while guiding the hospital bed through the doorway.  An echo of tapping footsteps seemed extra loud as they hurried down the hall.  The walk felt endless—traveling one long passageway, a right turn, down another hallway, a left turn, and so on.  Finally, they stopped.  The sound of automatic doors hit her ears. 
Sevenah sensed her bed being guided into an enclosed space.  An elevator.  One man stepped inside with the ladies while the other two stayed back and prevented the door from closing.  There was a short, foreign conversation, but even without an interpreter it was evident they were splitting up. 
It took a moment for the elevator to budge after the company parted ways.  No one spoke while the heavy sliding-cables whirred, dropping them a number of floors.  Sevenah wasn’t sure if a camera showed their every move to a viewer by monitor.  Whatever the case, she refused to stir until Leisha told her otherwise. 
When the elevator came to a stop, she was rolled down another long hallway.  The swipe of an I.D. badge preceded a brief click followed by the sound of an opening door.  Sevenah sensed being passed through the frame.  She felt the foot of the bed hit something yielding—swinging doors.  The air buzzed with the familiar sound of machines again, suggesting another medical room.  A shiver of dread traveled down her spine, but she cautioned herself to keep still.  She trusted Leisha.  These people had a plan, she was sure of it.  When the strict, insensitive voice of Dr. Braxton carried across the room, however, it delivered a cold sting of betrayal.  Just then a reassuring hand squeezed on her arm.
“You’re late,” Dr. Braxton complained, “and she isn’t even prepped.  Her head was supposed to be shaved.”
“I’m sorry, doctor,” Leisha said.  “There was some uncertainty as to whether…”
Dr. Braxton interrupted in a grumble.  “Stefanie.”  He assumed it was his associate’s interference that had caused this inconvenience.
“Yes, sir,” Leisha agreed.  “Dr. Mikiska’s orders were…”  Again she was cut off. 
“Dr. Mikiska is no longer involved in this project.  She has been dismissed, and you will take no further instructions from her.  Understood?”
“Yes, doctor.”
“Get her prepped.”
“Yes, doctor.”
During this conversation, Leisha’s companion slipped on a pair of latex gloves and made his way to the furthest end of the room where a short, white-haired surgeon stood busily skimming over medical charts.  Dr. Davis was preoccupied enough not to notice the man behind him with one hand hidden in a coat pocket.  Leisha, meanwhile, fumbled through a box of utensils searching for a razor.  Sevenah could hear the clunking stir of small items. 
The nurse purposefully positioned herself beside the third surgeon, Dr. Fancher.  He was also middle-aged with peppered hair combed perfectly into place.  He towered over his associates by at least a foot.  Leisha rummaged persistently through her supplies—stalling.
“Is this going to take all morning?” Dr. Braxton finally asked, his tone grouchy and impatient.
“No, doctor, I’m working on it.”
Leisha sighed, exposing a note of irritation.  She moved to the top of the bed and gathered up the patient’s lengths of hair.  Sevenah could feel a tug as the strands were bunched into a ponytail, nervous fingers brushing through the ends.  It was obvious Leisha was stressing, waiting for something.  Despite how petty, Sevenah genuinely feared losing her hair. 
Dr. Braxton’s intolerance seemed to build by the second until at last he slammed his clipboard against a silver tray.  His determined strides stamped against the floor, but before he growled a word, the swinging doors pushed inward to allow Leisha’s other associates inside.  They wheeled a bulky piece of equipment in front of them.
“Ah, here it is!” Dr. Braxton exclaimed.  He held his hands out wide, admiring his own invention.  As soon as the men entered, the soldierly figure approached Dr. Fancher.  Leisha was at that point closer to Dr. Braxton. 
Their leader belted out an order.  “Kahei!”
All at once the surgical staff was jabbed with tranquilizers.  Three white-coats fell to the floor, unconscious.
“Get up!  Get up!”  Leisha ordered Sevenah. 
Finally, permission to open her eyes!  She was off the bed and standing on the floor in a heartbeat. 
“You have no idea how hard that was.  I really thought you were going to shave my head!”
Leisha kept her focus.  “You need to change quickly.”
Sevenah grabbed the bundle of clothes handed her.  It was her favorite faded Levis, pink t-shirt, and discolored Nikes.  “I can’t believe you found these!”
She proceeded to dress beneath her hospital gown, thrilled to have something of her own again.  As soon as she finished, Leisha helped her slip into a lab coat.
“Put this surgical mask and cap on too.  You won’t be recognized so easily.  Lucky for us, your presence here is top secret, so few people know about you.”
She did as ordered, twisting her hair up under the cap.  “Okay, I’m ready.”
As the group turned to leave, the echo of footsteps traveled their way.  All three men quickly took position on either side of the swinging doors while Sevenah stepped behind Leisha and stared ahead.
They heard a female voice exclaim out loud, “Hurry, they’re in here!”
Sevenah recognized it was Dr. Mikiska.  But what was she doing?
As soon as the leading staff cleared the entrance, they were pounced upon and pricked with tranquilizers.  Dr. Mikiska stood frozen in her tracks, her mouth gaping at the sight of her colleagues passed out on the floor.  She looked up, questioning the scene, when a strong arm wrapped around her neck. 
Sevenah hollered before the doctor was put to sleep.  “No, wait! Wait!”
The man paused, but kept his hostage secure.
Dr. Mikiska addressed the only person she recognized.  “Sevenah, what is all this?  What’s happening?  Who are these people?” 
Sevenah removed her face mask.  “I’m going home.  Why are you here?  I thought you were kicked off the project.”
“You heard.”  The doctor frowned.  “I came to help you.  I found associates who agree with me, and I thought perhaps they could stop Dr. Braxton from going forward with this procedure today.  I didn’t want to see you get hurt.”
Sevenah smiled, a truly grateful expression.  “Thank you.  I take back what I said before; you’re nothing like that awful man.”
Dr. Mikiska pleaded for the girl to stay.  “Please don’t do this, don’t leave.  You don’t have to go.  There’s so much we haven’t learned about you, and you could learn from us in return.  Don’t forget, the mystery of your childhood.  Stay and we can figure it out together.  Please, Sevenah, don’t act so hastily.”
It was hard to watch her lady advocate beg.  “I can’t.  Even with your support I would still be in harm’s way.”
The doctor sighed ruefully.  “You’re right.  We should’ve treated you better.  We were wrong.  I’m sorry.”
“We need to go,” Leisha whispered.  “Time’s wasting.” 
Dr. Mikiska was knocked out and left unconscious on the floor. 
Sevenah and the others stepped around the bodies and rushed to the nearest elevator.  One last look behind brought a warm swell of appreciation for what Stefanie Mikiska had attempted to do.  She would never be forgotten. 
“Leisha, how long will they be out?”
“Only for a while.  We should be far gone by the time they come around.”
As all five fugitives disappeared behind sliding doors, Sevenah voiced her greatest desire.  “Take me home.”

Copyright 2012 Richelle E. Goodrich


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