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Lena. You need to listen to me! I'm the only way you could ever get out!
"I told you to leave me alone. I can't trust you. You can't prove that you're on my side."
A throbbing pulse beats in the back of my head. I groan and wince as the pounding increases. The last time my head hurt like this was when Tessa snatched my name from my thoughts. This time, the ache hurts more. It lingers in the corners behind my temples, untouchable.
"Stop that!" I yell. "Get out of my head!" The pain trickles away, leaving my heart beating furiously.
There is silence. Then –
You're dying, aren't you, Lena?
"That's ridiculous," I rasp, "I'm not dying."
But you will be soon. I can see where you are Lena. I can see how long you've been there. The scientists won't save you.
"Shut up! You don't know what you're talking about! They wouldn't let me die! They need me! They need my blood!"
We're not the only ones down here. There are others. Besides, they can collect your blood once you die.
"Why are you attacking me with this?"
I'm trying to help you. I can only do that if you believe that I'm the only solution left. YOU ARE GOING TO DIE WITHOUT ME.
What are you waiting for, Lena?
"I… I just – "
I suppose you could wait and try to talk to someone the way I'm talking to you. Then you could try to help them and they wouldn't let you and you'd be stuck. Then maybe you'd believe me, but there'd be nothing that I could do!
"How do I know that you exist? That you're not just a computer?"
Suddenly a spike of pain streaks across my head and pummels my eyes. Crackles of energy jab at all the corners of my skull and I scream. From the blob of heat in my brain where I hear Tessa's voice, a dark splotch grows and expands. I can feel a second set of thoughts growing and forming within my own, and I writhe in the dark.
Without warning, the dark spot pops open and images are all over my brain. There are pictures and voices sliding across my eyes and behind my ears and everywhere. I try to focus in on one, but they are all moving too fast…
A skinny girl with pale eyes is crouched in the corner of a white cell, fingering the delicate strands of her light hair… one of her fingers is missing…
The same girl, yelling at a smiling man in a white suit. The man says something and the girl runs at him – he pulls out a needle and pricks her in the arm. She collapses….
The girl is strapped to a laboratory table, with wires taped to her arms, chest, and heat. Her eyes are protected by a clear plastic sheet. Machines attached to the wires beep excitedly…
The girl is back in her cell, waiting. There are bandages over her torso. Suddenly, a tray slides into the room – nutrient juice! The juice is a dark, murky blue…
The girl sits in a huddle in the cell, her mouth open in a scream….
There is a different room now, one painted a sweet yellow. A small glass panel lines the ceiling on the wall opposite the door. The door opens and the girl steps in. She looks different now – she is smiling and bouncing. A scientist is guiding her by one hand. She sits on the floor and he tells something to her. She nods and smiles widely. The scientist leaves, and for a second anger flashes on her face, but then it is gone…
Observation rooms – lots of them. Cluttered with cameras and windows. Two men in dark coats watch intently as the girl jumps neatly on a stretchy black surface. The surface propels her high into the air and she laughs…
It is dark in the yellow room, but the girl is awake. She pulls up the leg of her suit and scratches it viciously. This is not the first time she has done this – the skin of her leg is scored with irritated scrapes…
A scientist leads her by hand from the yellow room into a hallway. Her eyes are wide as she takes in the hall. There are windows in the rooms, and she sees labs, lots of labs…
A map, lots of maps taped onto a wall. The girl tries to contain her excitement. There are people there, adults. They watch her closely…
Two people sit in chairs opposite each other in a large room. One is a woman with a notebook. The other is the girl, who talks softly…
The girl enters a lab and sees a boy strapped to a table in front of her, unconscious. She is shocked by this sight; the scientists hold her arms tightly as a precaution. A man comes out of another door and gestures to various wires attached to the boy, explaining something. Everyone turns to the girl expectantly. She laughs nervously and mumbles something…
The same people are back in this room, but this is later – the girl's hair is longer, and she looks tired. The same boy lies still on the counter. A scientist with dark hair drags the girl to the machines and yells something at her. She shakes her head fervently, saying something…
The laboratory is in chaos. The boy squirms on his table and the girl is running for the door, dodging scientists, and tripping on equipment. A man grabs her and she kicks him, screaming. She's in the hallway now, running…
A scientist steps in front of her and blocks her path. They scuffle and she tries to break free. He lunges after her and grabs her leg, the suit rips, and he can see the scratches and the redness…
More people, crowding around. The girl is drugged, and the scientists shake their heads in disappointment…
Back in the white cell, now. Alone, silent. People come in and out. They talk urgently to her. She acknowledges none of them. Her face is blank and cold. There are bandages tightly wrapped around her legs, and she cannot scratch…
The images retreat abruptly, and my head reels with the sudden emptiness where the information had been. Bright spots flash in my eyes. It is a while before I can speak. Tessa remains silent and allows me to collect myself.
"Was... was that you?" I pant once i have regained my breath. "That was you, wasn't it? The girl with light eyes. You're her."
I told you that I was a real person. Do you believe me now?
"I... what happened to you? After that? Are you still in that cell?"
It doesn't matter what happened to me. The point is that I'm alive. I can talk to you, and that's what counts. Lena, do you trust me now?
"I guess... I guess, but what if - "
Lena, I can't force you to believe me, but you know yourself that you have no choice.
This isn't true. I have a choice. But the other option results in certain death.
"Okay. I trust you."
I am still bursting with questions. What was it like to use the power? Where is she now? What have the scientists done to her?
I'll answer more of your questions later, Lena. Getting you out is the priority though, and for that I need to know everything that you can tell me about yourself. Where would be a good place to start?
"Um... I have pink nutrient juice. Orange too, sometimes. Yours is blue. Why?"
I suppose it's something about us that's different. We have different abilities with our power. The scientists think that different ingredients will help us use that power, so the juice comes out a different color.
"They told me that my power is unlimited."
Maybe your power is unlimited. Or maybe they have no clue what it is, so they just encourage you to try to do everything.
"What did they tell you? About your power?"
They said that I was special. That I had a special ability that I could use if I looked for it. All I needed was the right amount of focus, and I could unlock something extraordinary! I could only use it once, they said. I don't think they knew what mine was, but they didn't think it was unlimited. They had some idea.
"Why did you start pretending to go along with them? Did it hurt to scratch your legs like that?"
This is supposed to be about you right now, not me, Lena. I will explain all of this to you, but we might not have that much time left. Please help me with this. I have a theory, but unless I know more, I cannot back it up.
"I'm sorry. I'll try to stay on topic now. Let's see... well, I don't remember anything before this lab, but I think I've been somewhere outside. Do you - no, I won't ask. There are three scientists who come and talk to me; they smile weirdly and talk loudly, but they've never hurt me. The scientists stick me with a needle that makes me fall asleep before they take me to the lab. They take samples from me there. Mostly blood. Maybe some time you can tell where my blood comes from? Or maybe you don't know either. Where did you learn all of this stuff? No, never mind..."
I talk about everything that I can remember. Every detail of my life - the way I peel plaster in my cell, when the lights turn off, how I almost never talk to the scientists, all the doubts I've had, and the dreams that I can remember. My voice runs hoarse from overuse and dehydration, so I stop talking and continue thinking towards Tessa. All these thoughts that have been building up layer by layer inside my mind are suddenly loosening and floating towards the hot splotch that is Tessa. I feel strangely vulnerable, but the vulnerability is addictive. I keep telling things to Tessa, even when I can't think of anything else to say.
Occasionally Tessa tells me things too. She describes her smiling scientists, the way she was poked and prodded in the laboratory, and how sweet her nutrient juice was. For some reason, Tessa always uses the past tense for these descriptions. I wonder what her life is like now. Is she in a dark cement chamber just like me? Finally I work up the courage to ask her about her power.
"So... what was it like? Using the power? Finding it?"
Well... It was scary. I was so tired of everything; I just wanted something to happen. I just decided to try. I screwed up all of my concentration and just... pushed with my mind. It was like there were walls in my brain, and I could feel my ability sliding off of them... I thought of all sorts of pictures - things exploding, scientists letting me free, turning invisible... but then out of nowhere popped a thought of a person, another girl in the lab. I saw this image and directed all of my energy at it. It was like I had found a hole in a prison while groping in the dark. Suddenly there was this big rushing feeling, and I felt a strip of my consciousness stretch out towards something... and then I could sense your awareness surrounding mine.
"Is that what it will be like for me?"
I don't know. But I'm starting to have a theory about your power.
"Please tell me!" I pleaded.
I think the scientists are right that you have a magical power. And I believe that they're right that you can only use it once. But I think there's a loophole that they haven't told you.
"I don't understand."
If I'm right, then you're extremely powerful, Lena. Amazingly powerful. And maybe, if your power could be channeled, you could do anything you wanted to. Multiple times. You'd have so much potential. But something's blocking the full range of your power - only one hole is open for you. The scientists think that you are the thing stopping your power. Something about your consciousness, your mind. They want your mind to leave your body behind, so that they can try to control it, and unlock it.
"How... How could they - "
Your one hole, Lena. The one path that your power knows how to take. To switch bodies. The scientists want you to reach for your power and end up switching with one of them. Then they can test your body fully, and you will be out of their way.
"How could that work though? If it's my power, then how could switching bodies be of any help?"
The power isn't in your mind Lena. Who knows, you might not have been the first person in this body. The original owner might have switched with you. How can we tell? The point is that if I'm correct, the scientists believe that you don't own the power.
They think that it's stored in your blood. That's why you can only use it once.
It's your blood.