Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chapter Two

Friends or Foes

The room was cold and dark when Sevenah awoke. It was most likely her mother’s fault for leaving a window cracked open in the house again. The nights were getting too chilly to do that anymore. Her head felt heavy trying to raise up. She let it fall back, swirling with muddled thoughts indicative of oversleeping. It was a strange sensation, like emerging from a ghostly pit of disconnected dreams. She was eager to shake it off and head outside to exercise Paka. Then, after a quick breakfast, Ian would meet her at the front gate for school.
As the grogginess started to dissipate, strange and frightful images took clearer shape in the forefront of her mind. “What a nightmare,” she yawned, assuming it could be nothing more.
Her hand went to brush stray hairs from her eyes, but failed. It seemed oddly unwilling, as if weighed down with numbness from lack of circulation during the night. No, no, that wasn’t right. She tried again, able to wiggle her elbow, but her wrist remained fixed. Panic set in as she struggled unsuccessfully to lift either arm—something snug and abrasive held her wrists firmly beside her. She tugged defiantly against the restraints, discovering both ankles secured as well. Her legs fought fiercely, tugging and yanking, unable to break free. This didn’t make any sense, unless….
The nightmare was real.
An avalanche of events rushed back to her memory: Dr. Tracy’s betrayal, the lying x-rays, the frightful abduction, Dr. Braxton’s implausible claims, the unmarked jet….
She couldn’t recall getting on the plane or how she had ended up wherever she was now. Her final memory played out as a moment of terror—a strong hand pressed over her nose and mouth, smothering her. They must have knocked her out with something. A drug or chemical fumes.
Her body shivered uncomfortably in the dark. There was little she hated more than the cold, and it was goose-bump chilly in this place. Silence permeated the room, excepting a low and steady mechanical hum that murmured in the blackness. A dim light flashed tiny, red numbers, blinking on and off and on in a constant rhythm. More than one line flashed its scarlet readings on the wall, their faint glow providing the only source of light.
Sevenah continued to fight her restraints, desperate to slip free. Friction marked her skin where it rubbed repeatedly against abrasive bands, and soon both wrists stung as if chafed by rug burns. She gave up, deterred by the pain. Despair wet her cheeks in the form of tears.
“I can’t even scratch my stupid nose!” she bawled into the darkness. “Where are you Ian? Where are you?” Why had he not come to meet up with her at the clinic? He was always with her—always! Why not this time?
Moisture streamed along her temples, damping her hair and the cushion beneath. She couldn’t wipe her eyes and thus had to suffer the swamping moisture. Each shallow gasp that escaped her throat echoed off the surrounding walls, every sob sounding forlorn and miserable. No one responded to the weeping. Perhaps she had been abandoned. Perhaps her misery was simply being ignored. Eventually, the grieving waned and she slipped back into calm unconsciousness.
It was impossible to tell the duration of her sleep when murmuring voices woke her. This time the restraints and the darkness came as no shock. Crying had done some good, easing earlier feelings of distress and despair. Such devastating emotions were now replaced by determination to escape her situation. She was her father’s girl, and he had never been one to give up without a fight. Neither would she.
The buzz of conversation grew increasingly louder outside the room. It was easy to pick out two distinct tones in the dialogue. One was female, loud and prominent with a troubled quality about it. The other she recognized as Dr. Braxton’s smug responses. Bits of the conversation were audible from Sevenah’s location, and she strained to hear what they were saying.
“You have no idea what effect……’re not being reasonable….”
Too much competing noise from humming machines drowned out every lowly-spoken word. Sevenah strained harder to listen as the discussion drew progressively closer. It seemed to stop and linger just beyond the door.
“I know they want answers; I’m aware of their pressure tactics. But to take unnecessary risks simply to appease a self-serving mob of paranoid politicians is foolish! The procedure you’re proposing has never been tolerably tested, not to mention the fact that we don’t know enough about her biology to safely attempt this.”
It was Dr. Braxton’s voice to contend. “We’ve performed sufficient examinations and gathered analyses that suggests it’s worth the relatively minor risks.”
“Minor!” exclaimed the female.
“We have six highly-competent doctors on staff ready to jump in at the slightest sign of a problem, Stefanie, and I have full confidence…”
“What if you kill her? Tell me, what good will her death do our research?”
This last comment hit Sevenah hard. Intuitively, she understood their argument was about her. Mention of some risky procedure conjured up awful imagery; still, Dr. Braxton’s next remark was even more terrifying.
“Quite frankly, an autopsy might prove enlightening.”
“I cannot believe you just said that!”
Sevenah felt the blood drain from her face as she sided whole-heartedly with the woman.
“She’s not human, Stefanie. Keep your perspective here.”
“She’s no lab rat either.”
The door swung open and Sevenah twisted her neck to stare into the blue eyes of her lady advocate. Dr. Braxton appeared from behind. The two were identically dressed in white lab coats with identification badges clipped to their front pockets. They stopped and gawked at the young woman as though shocked to find her awake. Sevenah wondered exactly how long she had been unconscious. Apparently, long enough for some extensive exams to take place. Luckily, her body still seemed to be in one piece.
The woman approached, and Sevenah read the badge on her jacket: Dr. Stefanie Mikiska, M.D. The lady smiled—a genuinely warm gesture. She was tall and as thin as a twig, with long dark hair clipped in a loose bun behind her head. Her blue eyes were the color of forget-me-nots framed by rectangular glasses that slipped gradually down her gently-sloped nose. An index finger pushed the frames back into place every so often. Olive-toned features were naturally highlighted with very little makeup. Sevenah caught the subtle scent of vanilla perfume. It was enough to stir her empty stomach.
Dr. Mikiska greeted her patient with a cheerful “Good morning.”
“Morning,” Sevenah rasped. It was shocking how weak her voice sounded. She swallowed at the rawness in her throat.
“I’m actually glad to find you awake. I’ve been anxious to talk to you.” The doctor pulled up a metal stool and retrieved a pen and a small notebook from the inside pocket of her lab coat.
“I’m thirsty,” Sevenah complained. She tried to clear her throat, but the dryness burned. “I’m hungry too.”
Dr. Mikiska smiled pleasantly, resituating her glasses. “I understand you’re hungry, and I promise you’ll get something to eat and drink soon. But first, I want to ask you a few questions, okay?”
Sevenah gave a whispered consent. It was impossible not to like this woman; her presence was naturally pacifying. Perhaps it was her gentle voice, or the warm and friendly smile, or possibly the sweet smell of vanilla that lingered in her presence. Or maybe it was just the fact that she had acted so protectively while contending with Dr. Braxton.
“Good, good. Alright, let’s begin. Will you tell me why you’re here?”
“Because you won’t let me go.” The obvious reply was less sarcastic than honest.
“No, no, I mean, why are you here on our planet? Are there others living among us like you?”
Sevenah screwed up her face, confused by the question.
The doctor tried again. “How did you get here? Did you come to Earth alone? Are you the last of your kind?”
“I was born here. I’m the same as you—only I’m starving.” She swallowed again, wishing for something to soothe her irritated throat.
The lady doctor pursed her lips. “Look, Sevenah, we know you’re not like the rest of us. You do realize your anatomy differs from that of any human being.” Dr. Mikiska raised one eyebrow and held her palm open as if everyone in the world understood this.
“I was born here,” Sevenah insisted. “Ask Dr. Tracy, he knows.” She was still clinging to the reasonable conclusion this was a dreadful mistake. How could she possibly be what they were suggesting without being aware of it herself?
“Okay, okay. Let’s try something else.” The tip of a pen tapped against the doctor’s lips as she stared out over the rim of her glasses, thinking. “Alright, Sevenah. What is the earliest thing you can recall from childhood? Think hard. How far back do you remember?”
That was easy. She was often haunted by a frightening incident from her youth. It was a recurring nightmare that seemed to evolve over the years.
“I was little,” Sevenah started. “I remember sitting on the ground, in the dirt. There were trees all around…..and snakes.”
“Um-hm.” She cleared her throat before continuing. “I was scared of the snakes. They covered the ground. I don’t know where they came from, but I couldn’t get away from them. I called for my mom, but she never….” Her eyebrows pulled tight, straining to bring the past to mind. “I don’t know why my mother never came. I can’t remember anything else.” Then she quickly added, “No, no, wait—there was a boy. He was young, but older than me. I think he was with me, trying to help me.”
The doctor’s face tangled up uncertainly. “Are you sure this is a memory?”
Sevenah nodded.
“Could it have been a dream? Or a story you heard as a child?”
She shook her head. “I’m sure it happened; I know it did.”
“Huh. Can you recall how old you were?”
“I think I was five or six.”
“Okay, then. Try to remember something before that. Can you recall an event when you were four? Or even three?”
Sevenah sighed heavily, “No.”
The interrogation was getting annoying. What did memories have to do with anything? “I can’t. I was a baby, I don’t remember that.”
“You can at least try. People recall events as far back as two years of age, sometimes even earlier. I remember the songs my mother use to sing to me when I was a toddler. I have fond recollections of a yellow blanket I took naps with when I was two, three, four years old. It’s common to have simple memories of younger experiences. Now think. Concentrate. Can you recall anything at all? Even a trivial piece of information—like a color? A familiar smell? A favorite toy?”
“No, nothing! Why are you doing this to me? Why won’t you let me go home?” She was through with the pointless questioning. Her stomach felt knotted and queasy and tight with anxiety.
Silence took over for a long moment.
“I’m so thirsty,” the girl whispered.
The ink pen went back to resting on Dr. Mikiska’s lips, her blue eyes lost in thought. Sevenah wondered what the woman was thinking.
A glance in the background found Dr. Braxton planted at a corner desk ignoring the interrogation. A writing utensil in his stubby fingers bobbed back and forth, scribbling on the clipboard that seemed his constant companion. Sevenah felt a sickly stir of hatred towards the man. She wished for a fat venomous rattler from her nightmare to slither over and sink its fangs into his calf.
Dr. Mikiska finally gave in. “I’ll go get you some breakfast. Please, concentrate on your childhood while I’m gone. Maybe you’ll remember something more. I’ll be right back.”
“Thank you.”
Sevenah watched the woman leave, observing how her I.D. badge was swiped through a scanner beside the exit before the lock released. It appeared the badges were literal keys to getting around the facility. Most likely it was the same procedure coming and going. She noticed how the door never completely closed but pushed open again, allowing another white coat to enter the room. This one was worn by a short, wiry female carting a box of medical supplies. The woman stopped at a table to rummage through the contents of the box. It made Sevenah nervous.
“I’ve got to get out of here soon,” she worried.
Her attention returned to Dr. Braxton who continued to pay her no mind. And why would he when in his opinion she ranked lower than the animals? Sevenah took note of how he disregarded the new attendant, not even casting a glance in her direction. It crossed Sevenah’s mind that if by some fantastical chance she was actually……not human……then at least she wouldn’t be related to that rude, heartless excuse for a person. Thank goodness for Dr. Mikiska and her civility.
Recollecting Dr. Braxton’s earlier remarks sparked a sense of urgency for Sevenah to find a way out of her predicament. Her parents and Ian were probably worried sick, having no idea what had happened—why a simple trip to the clinic had resulted in her complete disappearance. Unless………unless Dr. Braxton had fed them some convincing lie, like a horror story of her demise.
Oh crud! If such was the case, then no one would be looking for her!
She needed to call home; there had to be a way. If her parents were to hear her voice over the phone for even a second they would know the truth, that she was alive and in trouble. Then they would search for her!
Twisting her neck to look over her shoulder, Sevenah scanned what was visible within the room. No windows divided the walls, and nothing resembling a telephone stood out. Large cardboard boxes, canisters of medical instruments, plastic containers marked with supplies, and a collection of cylindrical tanks stacked the shelves behind her. White, printed labels were too small to read clearly. Nothing but noisy electronics lined the adjacent wall.
Preoccupied with her task, Sevenah didn’t notice when the new visitor approached her bedside. It was startling sensing a looming presence. With wide eyes Sevenah gasped, but the lady calmly shushed her.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m just here to check your vitals.”
Sevenah exhaled raggedly, and her jarred pulse settled. She didn’t resist a blood pressure cuff tucked beneath her arm. Glancing at a pocket badge, she read the printed name: Leisha Morroway, LPN. The woman was a nurse. That explained Dr. Braxton ignoring her presence. He was the kind of conceited jerk who wouldn’t give anyone the time of day unless he considered the person an equal.
The nurse went about her task, swabbing a cold, clear liquid over the natural crease in her patient’s arm. Short, black waves fringed her high cheekbones, framing brown eyes that sparkled with unfitting enthusiasm. Her tomboy mannerisms had been evident upon entering the room, but those rough and confident gestures didn’t diminish her natural beauty in the least.
Sevenah envisioned the woman as a Roman warrior with strong, pronounced facial features and an athletic body. She wasn’t as tall as Dr. Mikiska, but stood sturdy and confident nonetheless. It seemed a sure bet that Nurse Morroway could hold her own with any condescending doctor.
A hushed question interrupted Sevenah’s thoughts. “Are you feeling alright?”
Noticing how the nurse had her back turned to Dr. Braxton, the girl whispered a reply in case they weren’t supposed to be talking.
“I feel weak. My throat hurts.”
“I know. I’m so sorry.” Leisha’s brown eyes expressed their own apology as she moved in a little closer to Sevenah’s ear. “This wasn’t supposed to happen to you. I promise you won’t be here much longer. We’ll have you out soon.” She winked, and that sparkle of enthusiasm flashed again.
Sevenah was stunned by both the nurse’s behavior and her words. Had she heard correctly? Her heart pounded a little faster, hopeful yet puzzled.
“Who are you?”
Leisha smiled, a sign of reassurance. “Don’t worry, we’re taking you home. You’ll be fine, and you’ll feel better soon.” Then she grabbed her gear and headed for the door.
“Wait!” Sevenah called out wanting to know more.
This outburst caused Dr. Braxton to finally look up from his paperwork. He watched the nurse step toward the exit. Then his beady gaze shifted to Sevenah.
Thinking quickly, she announced aloud, “No one listens to me.”
Dr. Braxton returned to his work without a hint of concern.
Sevenah let her head fall back as thoughts of the whispered conversation consumed her. Was this too good to hope for? Someone was actually on her side and plotting to help her escape! There was nothing she wanted more than to shed the immobilizing bands—to be free and headed home. Her pulse thundered at the prospect of evading the arrogant and pitiless Dr. Braxton who couldn’t care less if she lived or died.
As hope swelled in her heart despite no known motive, it occurred to her she was already experiencing renewed vigor—a substantial wave of strength and well-being that was more than the result of good news. Nurse Morroway had never taken her blood pressure, having left the cuff on the bed, unused, as a cold liquid was rubbed on Sevenah’s inner arm. This had all transpired during their brief verbal exchange. Whatever drug the liquid consisted of, it was working wonders on her aches and nausea.
Breakfast arrived moments later with Dr. Mikiska. A warm serving tray was set on Sevenah’s lap before the constrictive wrist bands were unlatched. It was hard to decide which was better, the chance to feed her griping stomach or the simple opportunity to freely move her arms once again.
The food smelled heavenly: eggs, toast, bacon, a small carton of milk, and a cup of water. She went for the paper cup first, discarding the provided straw to gulp down every last drop of soothing liquid. Under her present circumstances she had expected a meager offering of bread and water—rations for which she would have been grateful.
“Thank you,” she uttered at the end of what seemed like the tastiest meal of her life.
“You’re welcome,” Dr. Mikiska replied. The woman had patiently sat by, watching every crumb disappear.
Sevenah brought both hands up to her cold nose and cheeks, taking advantage of the chance to warm her face. It was humbling to feel gratitude for such a small thing.
“Would you like to take a walk, Sevenah?” The question received an immediate answer.
“Yes! Yes, please!”
Dr. Mikiska stood up from her stool, grinning at such eagerness. “Well then, let me get your legs down. One……and two… and here we go.” Repositioning her glasses, Dr. Mikiska moved toward the door, gesturing for her patient to follow.
This irregularity in protocol grabbed Dr. Braxton’s full attention. The man with no real expression other than sheer disgust appeared baffled for the first time.
“What in the world do you think you’re doing, Stefanie?” he asked.
“Don’t worry, we won’t go far. It’s healthy to get a little exercise—keeps the muscles from wasting away.” With perked eyebrows she extended her colleague an invitation. “Feel free to accompany us if you’re concerned.”
Dr. Braxton’s features contorted with skepticism. “You ought to have her on a tight leash.” He shook his stubby finger in warning. “If it were anyone else, I’d never allow this.”
“Well then, shall we?” Dr. Mikiska swung open the door and waited for her patient to step outside. She flashed a big grin at Dr. Braxton before exiting.
It seemed unwise to attempt an escape without a plan. Chances of success were minimal, and any consequences might prove disastrous. It was a blessing in and of itself to simply be on her feet, free to maneuver. Sevenah decided to concentrate on scoping out the place, or at least every inch she could observe on this impromptu stroll.
The hallway was nothing much—rectangular and bare and seemingly endless in length. Dim lighting fell from above in a florescent blue that turned their skin and the white walls a dingy gray. It didn’t feel as if the halls were heated.
Keeping in step with her guide, Sevenah’s thoughts naturally returned to the curious encounter with Nurse Morroway. It seemed possible that Dr. Mikiska might be a collaborator with the nurse. She did come across as a caring enough person. Sevenah dared imagine the possibility, but wouldn’t mention it at the risk of giving away a potential rescuer. With the tomboy nurse dominating her thoughts, she asked a vague enough question.
“Do you know everyone who works at this place?”
The doctor shook her head. “No. I’m familiar with a number of people here, mostly physicians. But too many others come and go.”
“What about the nursing staff? Are you acquainted with them?”
The doctor shrugged. “Only a handful.”
Sevenah tempted her with a name. “Leisha Morroway?”
Dr. Mikiska looked sideways at the young enquirer. Her blue eyes squinted as she considered the name. “No, I don’t believe I’ve met a Ms. Morroway. Why do you ask?”
“No reason.” Sevenah tried to dismiss the matter, but the doctor pressed for a better answer.
“Where did you pick up that name?”
“Oh….the nurse took my vitals earlier. She reminded me of you…..very kind. And she smelled good.”
Dr. Mikiska appeared flattered.
Sevenah quickly asked a personal question to change the subject. “How did you end up here—working in a place like this?”
“Oh…..well, I suppose you could say it was my reward for years of hard study and persistence. I was actually a student of Dr. Braxton’s for several years. As a graduate student, he challenged me with a variety of difficult and strange medical puzzles to solve. I spent a great deal of time assisting him, but never made much sense of the things we were doing. Of course I asked questions; he didn’t readily offer information. I was intrigued with the work, though, so I struggled to solve the mysteries he presented to me. Finally, one day, my hard work paid off. Dr. Braxton brought me here.” Dr. Mikiska held up her hand gesturing at the facility they were in. “I was astounded by the things accomplished here—incredible breakthroughs in science, technology, and medicine. It’s remarkable the advancements that have come to light in this place. Wonders I never dreamt I’d see. Few people are aware of this facility and what goes on inside these walls. It’s highly confidential and tightly monitored. I’m fortunate to be a part of it all.”
“It sounds like you and Dr. Braxton spend a lot of time together.” Sevenah dared a very personal question. “Are you a couple?”
“Oh dear, no!” the doctor chuckled. Her cheeks flushed a rosy shade of red. “No, no, we’re just colleagues. We’ve worked together for years, yes, but there could never be anything between us.” She smiled at an amusing thought. “I’d hate to have to compete with that precious clipboard of his. I don’t think I’d win.”
Sevenah grinned at that. “What exactly do you do?”
“I can’t tell you—top secret, you know.” The doctor looked over the rim of her glasses, a slight smirk on her lips. “I will say that you are the most interesting subject I’ve yet encountered. I sure wish I knew your purpose for being here.”
Sevenah dropped her gaze to the floor. What good would it do to repeat the same answers? No one believed her.
The appearance of larger vents caught her attention while looking downward, and she wondered if a smaller person might manage to squeeze through an opening. The complete absence of windows was also noted, leaving no means to glimpse at the outdoors, not that there was any sign the world outside even existed. An eerie absence of familiar sounds—no patter of raindrops, no whistling wind, no chirping birds, not even the hum of traffic or the roar of passing planes—made the silence palpable. She wondered how far from civilization they were or if the facility was buried underground.
The hallway remained empty as their footfall tapped lightly against shiny, gray tiles arranged like crossword puzzles. Periodically, a fire extinguisher appeared at waist height, hung behind glass. These red canisters provided the only color. Every metal door was positioned yards away from the next and had a matching I.D. scanner mounted beside it. Sevenah suspected no room ever remained unlocked.
Eventually, their path came to a ‘T’ and Dr. Mikiska turned left. A set of stairs led further down another dreary hallway.
“How big is this place?” Sevenah asked.
“Oh, it’s sizable. You’d get lost rather quickly if you didn’t know your way around. Every hallway resembles the next one.”
Sevenah frowned at this news. Curious about their distance from civilization, she asked, “Do you live here or do you go home every night?”
“I stay for weeks, if not months, at a time. Usually, I’m so preoccupied with a project there’s really no sense in leaving. Besides, I haven’t much to go home to anyway.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I enjoy my work immensely. You can’t imagine the things I’ve seen or the brilliant people I’ve been privileged to work with. I’m spoiled actually. I’ve had access to the greatest technologies and the most interesting projects you could dream of.”
The slightly condescending manner in which Dr. Mikiska spoke caused Sevenah to glance up, catching a hint of defensiveness in the doctor’s eyes. She wondered if the woman considered her anything more than an interesting project.
Their walk came to a halt beside a gray door that looked exactly like a dozen other metal doors they had passed. Dr. Mikiska swiped her I.D. badge through the scanner. As the latch gave, Sevenah took an anxious step backwards. Her instincts warned against placing much trust in anyone, despite a show of kindness. Entering another locked room just seemed like a bad idea.
“Why have we stopped? What’s in there? I thought we were just going for a walk.”
Dr. Mikiska continued to hold open the door, smiling pleasantly enough. She motioned for her patient to step inside. “It’s fine. Go on in; we won’t be staying long.”
Believing she had no choice, Sevenah followed the doctor’s orders and entered. What she found inside made her want to turn and run, but the click of a locked door resounded behind her, declaring it was too late.
“What’s going on? What are they doing here?”
Sevenah pointed a nervous finger at the same two thugs who had not-so-gently carted her out of Dr. Tracy’s office at the onset of what was now her living nightmare. She backed away from everyone, keeping a close eye on the men positioned against the far wall.
This new room was half the size of the other. Cupboards lined one end, mounted above a double sink. A computer, a large flat-screen monitor, and a variety of plastic boxes were scattered across a low counter. The longest wall held the same kind of machines that hummed in the previous room, only fewer. Center floor stood a medical chair, a stool, and a silver sliding table that supported a handful of instruments. Sevenah noticed an item in particular—a needle. The sight of it made her shudder. Whatever they had planned, she would not cooperate.
Dr. Mikiska didn’t act surprised by the observed reaction. “I suppose you could call these fellows my ‘tight leash.’”
The frightened girl narrowed her eyes. “You’re no better than Dr. Braxton. I should never have thought otherwise.”
“Now, now, Sevenah. You may not believe me, but I’m doing this for your benefit.”
A nervous laugh echoed in the room. “Forgive me if I don’t appear grateful!”
The doctor acted earnest as she tried to explain. “Listen to me. Dr. Braxton has far worse plans in store for you. What I’m attempting to do is prove that those other measures aren’t necessary. I’m doing this for you.”
“None of this is for me! If you want to help me, let me go home!” Sevenah made her desires known keeping as far from everyone as possible. “I want to go back to my parents and my friends! I want my normal, regular, human life again! Let me go home! Please, just let me go home!”
“You know I can’t do that. I’m sorry, but there’s no way to be certain you’re not a threat to humanity.”
The girl’s eyes widened with disbelief. She pointed down at herself as though visual proof should suffice. “Do you honestly believe I could be any sort of threat?”
“Are you?” the doctor asked, poising her eyebrows in question.
“No!” Sevenah shrieked.
Dr. Mikiska looked like she wanted to believe the girl, but faith alone wasn’t enough.
A pair of latex gloves slid easily over the doctor’s thin fingers before she picked up a syringe filled with clear liquid. Sevenah stared at the tip of a needle, terrified.
“What is it you people think I’m going to do?” she asked. Her voice shook with fear, growing increasingly defensive. “I’ve lived here for seventeen years! I haven’t caused any problems—not one! If I were a real threat to humanity, don’t you think I would have done something by now?” Her whole being wanted to explode—to shake someone until they believed she was telling the truth.
Fueled by a desire for self-preservation, she made a desperate attempt at escape. In one swift move, she lunged at Dr. Mikiska and ripped the badge from her front pocket. The needle fell to the floor. Sevenah hit the scanner, swiped the badge, and jerked the metal door open. Ducking through the opening, her skinny body was yanked back in, arms grasped by the men who had reacted as quickly as she had. Once again, her feet were lifted off the floor as they carried her to an empty, waiting chair.
Nooooo!” Sevenah screamed. “Let me go! Don’t do this! LET ME GO!”
She kicked and fought with every ounce of strength, but her captors were too powerful. The baldheaded man grabbed her by the waist, slamming her down in the chair. The other man kept a secure hold on her arms, attempting to prevent any scratching. Her limbs were secured within a couple minutes, but not before she dug a heel into someone. She noticed how the bald man rubbed at his hip when he backed away.
Sevenah twisted her wrists, tugging against cuffs she knew were impossible to escape. Her only option now was to plead.
“Stefanie, please, please don’t do this to me, please!”
“That’s Dr. Mikiska to you,” the woman huffed, pushing her rectangular frames back into place. “You’ve left me no choice, Sevenah. Our government wants answers that you haven’t provided. They want to know who you are, where you came from, if there are more like you roaming about our world. They want to know what kind of threat your race poses. You’ve told us nothing. And, if you are a threat to humanity I would expect you to tell us nothing.”
“I’ve told you the truth, I swear! I’ve always lived here just like everyone else! I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Then apparently, you need these answers as much as we do, which is all the more reason to continue. I can help you remember who you are.”
“There’s nothing to remember!” Sevenah insisted.
“On the contrary, there are five early years you don’t seem to recall, aside from one unclear, nightmarish incident. Whatever we can dig up before that might give us the answers we’re all seeking.”
Sevenah eyed the syringe being tapped by the doctor’s finger. “And how are you planning to do this?”
“It’s painless, I assure you. I’ll put you to sleep with a light sedative and then…”
“No!” Sevenah objected. “No needles; I hate needles. Can’t I stay awake?”
“The process works much better if you’re asleep. You’ll be fine. Do you see the screen over there to your left?”
Sevenah turned her head. There was a flat-screen monitor powered up, but the display showed only pepper and fuzz.
Dr. Mikiska went into an explanation. “I’ll be using a memory marker to unbury subconscious memories.” She held up a C-shaped metallic device and turned it over. “This is an amazingly useful apparatus. I’ll place it over your ear and it will adhere to the side of your head. A few thin needles extend from this device and slowly push their way through to the brain where a chemical is released that stimulates memories. These memories as you see them will be displayed on that monitor, transferred from this device to the computer. Basically, we see what you picture in your mind’s eye. It’s absolutely incredible. The only difficult part is piecing the random images together to make reasonable sense of them. But despite the drawbacks, we’ve been able to attain a great deal of useful information using this procedure on a few other individuals.”
“But you claim I’m not like you. How do you know this will work on me?”
“It’s true your chemistry is somewhat different, but so far the tests we’ve performed show that you have a high tolerance for our medicines. I’m ninety-nine percent sure this will be a walk in the park for you.”
“What if you’re wrong? What if something bad happens? What then?”
“Listen, Sevenah. The procedure Dr. Braxton has proposed is much riskier, and it’s still in its theoretical stages—never having been tested on a living subject. He plans to perform open-brain surgery, probing for information using electric shock and chemical treatment to rouse your memories. You’ll be conscious for the entire operation. He believes he can activate the parts of your brain that will force truthfulness. Plus, the memories will show up on his monitor, transferred by the device he’ll be probing with. Basically, he’ll steal your memories, and under his influence you’ll answer his questions with complete and total honesty. He believes this process will guarantee the answers we seek.”
“I swear I’ve told you the truth,” Sevenah whined, desperate for someone to believe her.
“Perhaps,” the doctor sighed, “but Dr. Braxton doesn’t think so. He’s determined to go through with this. I personally feel he wants to test his procedure on you specifically for a couple of reasons. First, to find his answers without having to decipher memory images, and secondly, he knows that since you aren’t human, you have no legal rights. Using you as a test subject won’t interfere with ethical guidelines. If it doesn’t work, he’s lost nothing. But you, on the other hand, will be awake for the whole painful operation. If something goes awry, you run the risk of suffering brain damage or worse……death. Not to mention the fact that you’ll lose all your pretty red hair. I’ve tried to tell him it’s risky and unnecessary, but I can’t get him to listen to me.”
Sevenah felt cold and numb. The weight of utter helplessness pressed on her chest as she realized how dire her situation was. Her eyes fell closed wishing the nightmare would end and her world would return to normal. All she wanted was to sit beneath her willow tree and watch the sunset with Paka and Ian again. She had never asked for any of this. She had never wished to be different.
“Sevenah. I’m honestly trying to help you, please believe me. If I can piece together how you came here, why you’re here, then perhaps I can convince the rest of the board that further, riskier procedures aren’t necessary.”
Sevenah lifted her lids and stared into Dr. Mikiska’s blue eyes. She nodded as if her permission were required. Maybe, she thought, there were memories she had forgotten. Maybe this would work. Exhaling nervously, she tried to relax.
“You’ll feel a little sting, but that should be all you feel. Now count with me……ten, nine, eight….”
Sevenah let her head fall back. Her eyelids dropped. She was out by seven.

She was dreaming again. It was the same nightmare she had suffered all her life. Sometimes it altered slightly, but it always started out the same.
She was five. Her reddish-brown hair was long for a five-year-old, braided and secured with a pink ribbon. A spirit of dread accompanied the dream, looming over her childish form. Naturally, she wished for her mother, but she wasn’t alone. Someone else was with her, an unclear personage off to the side. He was a boy; she was certain of that. A young boy, maybe ten or eleven. She couldn’t make out his face but accepted him as a friend. He had been with her entering the forest. Yes, that’s right—the boy had brought her with him.
They were running and had already traveled deep into the woods, sprinting long and hard. The little girl began to drag her feet, wishing to rest. The boy allowed it. She sat on the forest floor while he backtracked to check on something. In his absence, a circle of crooked trees appeared to hunch over, huddling around the girl, darkening an already gloomy environment. It was eerie the way their limbs reached, some dropping low to the ground, disturbed by every gust. The wind flitted the spindliest twigs, giving the illusion of grabbing fingers.
That’s when the snakes came. From every direction they pushed up through the soil, slithering and writhing as they made their way toward the girl. She cried out for help.
“Mommy! Mommy!”
The snakes slid across her skin, wrapping around her arms, around her legs. They were too strong to deter.
“Mommy! Mommy!” she cried. But her mother didn’t come. Only the boy responded. She reached for him, and his fingers grasped tightly around hers, tugging against the pull of coiled snakes.
She screamed as the creatures ripped her fingers from the boy.
That’s when she blacked out.

Copyright 2012 Richelle E. Goodrich



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