The needle pierced through her skin. She could feel it slide in, could feel the slight sting from the spot on her wrist. Her eyes moved as far as they could to the right, staring at the man in the long white lab-coat as he took out the needle and held it up, eyes fixed on the blood inside.
"Let me go," she whimpered, knowing that despite her efforts it would be no use. They didn't care for her, didn't care if she was in pain or scared or just wanted to go home. All they cared for was what she could do.
The man's eyes fell, locking on her for just a few seconds. Without saying a word, he turned away and moved towards the edge of the room, most likely moving her blood into a vial to place with the others.
So many others.
Closing her eyes, she tried not to think of the large room she would be returned to. She tried not to remember the eyes of everyone else in there, the dead orbs of those who had been there for too long, who had been put through too much.
"You will be taken back to your cage," he muttered, finally, after minutes of silence. "We will approach you again soon, to run a few more tests."
"What sort of tests?" she hissed, as the door to the room opened and two black-clad guards stepped in. They moved towards her, as the doctor began to untie her bound wrists and legs.
"I am not at liberty to say," he said, as the guards grabbed her and dragged her to the door. She let them take her; the bruises and cuts across her body were enough of a reminder of what would happen if she didn't allow them to do what they wanted.
In the large, spacious room, they dragged her back to her cage before roughly pushing her inside. The door clanged shut and they locked it, before stalking between the rows of cages and back to the door. Stephanie lifted her head, her eyes locking on the shape of the boy opposite her.
"Hey," she hissed, "hey, Jeremy."
He looked up, eyes falling on her before he gave her a weak smile. "Hey, Steph. How did it go?" His voice was weak, quiet, drained. Even with the dim lighting, she noticed how pale his skin had grown, how the black bags under his eyes were growing larger.
"Fine," she replied, shrugging as if the injections and 'medicine' hadn't affected her as much as they had. "Do you know when you're..."
"Tomorrow," he muttered. He twisted his thin, frail body around, fingers wrapping around the bars of the cage and lifting himself up. "Got my medical checks tomorrow. They mention anything about what happens next?"
"More tests. That's all it's going to be, isn't it?" She was trying to sound like she didn't care, but her voice cracked, just a little, and with it the tears threatened to fall. Her eyes stung as she took a deep breath, forcing herself to smile. "It'll be all right, Jer. I promise."
"Yeah. Sure. You look knackered, maybe try to get some sleep?"
She moved back, deeper into the shadows, and lowered herself to the floor. The ground was hard, and she could feel small stones sticking into her where clothes didn't cover her skin. It had been surprising how used to it she was, by now. She could just about sleep on the cold, hard floor, though the sleep itself was never refreshing.
That night, she dreamt of needles.
X X X
When she woke, it was to see a pair of large men, dressed all in black, gripping Jeremy as they dragged him away from his cage and away from her. His eyes fell on her as she stirred, and both of them forced smiles onto their faces, trying to convince each other that it would all be okay.
From down the room, she could hear soft sobs. That end of the room contained the children – kids as young as four. The prisoners were arranged by age; children at one end, adults at the other, the oldest in their mid forties. She wondered what had happened to those older, if they had been able to escape or if they were kept in a separate room completely.
Steph was, roughly, in the middle of the room, surrounded by older teenagers and young adults. All of them were infected, undesirables, taken off the streets by Amaris and stuffed into the cells with promises of being cured. Some had gone willingly, at first. Others had been snatched from where they had been living after the blast, bundled into dark vans and driven off to a destiny they had no idea of.
The cures never came. Only endless tests – medical and otherwise. Steph had no idea how long they had been locked up, how long they had been stuck in there; she had tried to keep track of time using her sleep cycle, but soon she was sleeping whenever she was taken back from the labs. She had counted up to four days, before she lost track.
She wondered if anyone else knew.
There were no windows in the room, although they passed a couple when they were dragged out of the cells and through the hallways. There were some in the labs, too, although they were only useful for checking how long the scientists and doctors had been sticking needles in her or hooking her up to machines.
The voice came from the front of the cell and she lifted her head, staring at the tall bald man now in front of her. She had never seen him before, but something about the way he stood, the way he stared at her, made her wish she had gone her whole life without meeting him.
"Stephanie. How are you feeling today?"
"Crap," she hissed, surprised at the croakiness of her voice. "Why, how am I supposed to be feeling?"
"Well, isn't that a pity," he drawled, titling his head to one side as he studied her. She crouched on the ground, staring up at him from under her fringe, her breathing deep and heavy. Something about him just made her angry, made her want to shout and scream and hurt something. "Guards," he called, his voice strangely soft yet gruff. It made her cringe. From the shadows just out of her sight two men stepped forward, as the bald man lifted a set of keys and slid one into her lock.
"More medical tests?" she hissed, shoulders rising up and down, as the door opened and the guards reached forward. Each one grabbed an arm, yanking her roughly to her feet. The bald man stepped back, allowing them to move ahead of him as they pulled her towards the entrance of the room.
"No, my dear. It's time for you to take Test Number One."
X X X
Stephanie didn't really understand why they called it 'Test Number One' when she had done so many tests already. Then again, she guessed they weren't proper tests – the one she was being dragged to, the one she was being forced into, must be something different.
The corridor was light, sun beams streaming in through the windows and bouncing off the white walls. Everything in the place, everything she had seen, anyway, made it feel like a hospital. And she had never liked hospitals.
The bald man walked ahead, glancing over his shoulder every couple of seconds to look at her. Her hair was wild, knotted and her eyes wide as she glared at him. She was a mess, just like every other person in the cells.
"You ready for this, Stephanie?"
"For what?" she hissed, resisting the urge to spit on the back of his clean, black jacket. She knew what would happen if she did, knew it would result in more bruises and marks and aches.
He just laughed.
She wondered where Jeremy was, if he was okay, if they really were conducting medical tests on him or if he was going through something else, too. Was he okay? Was he scared and frightened and wishing, just wishing, like them all, that he could go home?
"As you are aware, Stephanie," the bald man drawled, as they turned a corner and stepped through a pair of doors. "You, like every other inmate, are infected."
"No shit, Sherlock."
One of the men who had a hold of her turned, throwing his fist against her face. She crumpled, the guards the only things stopping her from falling to the floor. She spat on the floor, staring at the small spot of blood that came from her. The bald man laughed.
"Still have a spark, I see, Stephanie." They carried on walking. "Shame, really, to see that go. Those who are infected...we still do not know everything about you, we are still largely unaware of what, exactly, you can do."
"Nothing if you keep drugging us," she muttered, wishing she had a pair of ruby slippers like the ones in the century old film her mother had shown her. She wished she could click her heels together and pray for home, opening her eyes to find her family standing around her with large smiles on their faces and concern for how long she had been asleep.
At the end of a long corridor, he stopped. From inside his jacket he took out a small, white card, swiping it on the box next to the door. It swung open and the guards pushed her inside. Behind, the door slammed shut.
She heard a click, a tell tale sign that the door had been locked. Turning away from it, she surveyed the room. It was white, every inch of it reflecting the light from the bulb that hung in the middle. It was the size of a hall, the kind she remembered seeing on films set in fantasy lands, where feasts and celebrations were held. She could just imagine tables stretching down the middle, the walls stone instead of white.
But it wasn't a hall, and she wasn't at a feast. Her eyes darted around, before she wrapped her arms around herself. Something didn't feel right; a shudder ran through her as she chewed her bottom lip, wondering what was going to happen next.
To her right, at the point where wall and ceiling met, was a camera. The red light on it flashed and she noticed, beside it, a speaker.
"Please move forward." The voice was crisp and clear, a woman's voice. She followed the instructions, the feeling inside growing, settling itself deep in her stomach and making her feel like she wanted to throw up.
The room dimmed, the light flickered. Before she could do or say anything, she was plunged into darkness. The only sound she could hear was her own breath, growing heavier with each passing second as she straightened her back, eyes darting around as she waited for them to adjust.
A crash came from the other end of the room.
She tried to remember the last time she had eaten. The food in the place was regular, though disgusting. If the inmates didn't eat it, it was shoved into their mouths. They all knew why, too. Whatever drugs they piled into the food kept them too weak to escape, too weak to use the powers inflicted by the blasts.
Her heart thumped, her breaths becoming shallow.
Food was given every five hours, without fail. By the end of the sixth hour, someone would come around, checking them had eaten it. Most of them slept between meals, and were woken up to eat it.
It had been seven hours since she had last been given something to eat.
As the thought hit her, she locked her eyes ahead, her hands at her sides, palms out as she began to shake.
Another crash echoed around the room, and she focused on the sound, trying to pinpoint its location. Heart thumping, palms sweating, she inched forward. Suddenly, through the darkness, she spotted a shape. It glowed, near the other end of the room. Whatever it was, its eyes turned to look at her, and all she saw were two bright pinpricks.
Her hands snapped up, fingers curving in to form a ball.
"Please," she whimpered, "please, please, please..."
She felt it.
Heat filled her, stretching across her skin, filling her body. In her stomach a fire grew, and within moments it was spreading outwards, until it rode up to her shoulders and down her arms.
Out of her palms, fire shot. Forming a line, it snaked towards the shape. Around it the room lit up, the white walls reflecting the light and causing her eyes to ache. The shape was hit. It fell, and disappeared.
Her hands dropped as the lights flickered back on.
"Good," a voice drawled. "Well done, Stephanie. See that door?"
Shivering as the heat left her, she stared at where the shape had been. She hadn't seen the door before, hadn't noticed it was there, but now she saw it. White, like the walls, with a green light above it.
She followed the order, wishing she had any other choice. Around her, she heard a low pitched hum, the sound putting her on edge as she reached out and grasped the handle. The door swung open easily and she slid through it.
Steph's hands snapped up immediately, shooting out at the dark figure not far in front of her. The room was dark, again, but this time she could feel the movement around her, could sense the hostility falling off those in there. The door slammed shut and she felt someone grab her from behind, felt their arm around her waist as they yanked her into them.
She didn't have to think twice.
Steph grabbed the arm, holding tight with her hands as she focused the heat. Under her hands, the skin burned, the smell of burning flesh filling her nostrils. The person, whoever they were, let go, and she moved quickly forward until she was in the middle of the room.
Eyes darting around, trying to pinpoint where the others were, she felt sweat rolling off her. Steph took a deep breath. She allowed the heat to fill her, to spread totally over her body. Each inch of skin felt like it was on fire, each inch burned. She spun around, facing the door she had come in from. There, in front of the door, was another shape.
She unleashed the fire.
It spread out through the room.
An alarm sounded and, suddenly, the room was engulfed in water. It sprinkled down from the roof, soon dowsing the fire. When it touched her skin, she realised it wasn't just water.
It was whatever drug they were pumping them with.
The fire, the heat drained out of her, leaving her feeling weak and exhausted. Steph fell to her knees, panting heavily as she glanced around.
She was the only one in the room.
"Thank you," a voice said. "You have completed the test. You will be taken back to your chamber."