Hello! I'm sorry it took so long to get this up - when I was half way through, the website deleted about 600 words of my progress. That was very disheartening, so it took a while to get back on track. This chapter is a little longer - the longest chapter so far!
I really want to thank everyone who's followed and reviewed. I'm so glad you've enjoyed it!
I also really want to thank my friend for helping me set up a stronger backstory for my characters. That was really helpful, and I probably wouldn't have finished this chapter by now without you nagging me.
I now have a much deeper history for Tessa, and how that connects to Lena. All will be revealed eventually! Bits and pieces will be uncovered as the story progresses. Look forwards to it!
Anyways, thank you all for your support. Let me know if there's anything you think I could improve on!
It's your blood.
I feel a wave of heat drip down my brain, followed by a numbing cold. This is not Tessa's doing - the cold is a device of my own shock. My skin crawls. Why are you acting so dramatic? I ask myself. What has really changed? Nothing. I have a power. I can use it once. I am starving in a cement cell. My situation is nearly the same. And yet... I have a power in my blood. An unnatural ability is running through my veins.
My pulse races. I am overly conscious of the blood streaming through my body. For a long minute, I can only sit in the dark, adjusting to my new awareness. Unfortunately, it does not take long for doubt to creep in, as doubt often does.
"How in the world did you figure that out?" I murmur to Tessa. "I've lived in this body for years - I've had my blood drawn from me for years. How did you come to this conclusion before me?"
Tessa's voice is wary, almost exasperated.
Lena. Haven't we just gone through this? Didn't you just decide to trust me?
"That was before you announced that I had magical blood!" I retort. "You jumped this crazy idea on me and now I'm just supposed to accept that you pulled this information from thin air?"
I know things you don't. I've seen things you haven't. The scientists have shown me things that they haven't shown you. It's just a matter of experience. I'm better at drawing conclusions.
"That doesn't make sense. There's no way you could have 'drawn that conclusion' without some sort of information - information about me! What do you know that you haven't told me?"
The scientists haven't told me anything about you. I swear. I've just seen... patterns. I have noticed things in the labs before. Yes, I'll admit that I used information you don't know... but there's no time to explain all of that to you! I promise to tell you everything you need to know to get out of here - everything I can, at any rate. Do you believe me about your blood?
I think about my life in the lab. All the blood they've taken from me - samples of all kinds, really.
"I suppose I do. I said that I'd trust you now, didn't I?"
You did. You're doing the smart thing, Lena. I know that I can't make you trust me, but we both know this is your only choice.
I don't want to work with Tessa because it's my only choice. I want to work with her so that I can get out of this place.
Where is Tessa now? What did the scientists end up doing to her? I close my eyes, remembering visions of the girl with light hair talking to the scientists. They seemed to trust her. Perhaps they were just using her, but what did they expect from her? What did she refuse to do with that boy on the lab table?
Maybe other test subjects before Tessa had breen brought up this way, bred into scientists. They moved to the yellow room, and then on to higher levels of trust and freedom. I itch to ask Tessa about this, but I know that she won't tell me. Frustration rises in me, but I tuck it away from Tessa's view. I think of the other test subjects. If they had moved on to a yellow room like Tessa, were they all pretending? Has anyone else ended up in a cement block like me?
Lena, we have to focus! You must get out of that room.
"Is that your plan? How am I supposed to do that? There isn't even a door in this room - I've felt all the walls."
There is a door Lena. Feel the ceiling.
I reach up to the cement above me. The texture is smoother than the rough walls, but still gritty. My fingers run along the surface, searching. Suddenly, there is a bump in the ceiling, a ridge! I can feel a long tubular ridge of metal spanning the length of my palm. The metal falls away, but my hand is met with a crack that leads to a second metal tube.
"This is a door! You're right!"
Excellent. Open it.
"I can't OPEN it!"
Is there a latch? Even if it's locked, that would help.
"I'll look..." I trace my fingers along the crack, stumbling across the room. The door is big, covering almost the entire ceiling in one massive panel. The crease travels and even line along the cement, and no more metal appears.
"No latch. Not that I can find."
There must be some way to open it.
"Maybe you just can't from the inside. That's how it worked in my white room!"
Lena, you need to get through that door. Just find a crack big enough to slip in your fingers and PULL.
"There is no crack big enough! It's just this tiny little line!" Sweating with frustration, I jam my fingers as hard as I can at the little crack. I cry out in pain as the cement tears at my flesh. There is a crunching sensation in my fingers, and a ringing vibration travels down my arm.
"Agh!" I wail, swaying dizzily. "Agh, that was horrible!"
Lena. Your hand.
My hand has not fallen back to my side. I feel the way up my numbing arm and find the hand jammed inside a large crack in the cement. Dust rains down on me; I cough helplessly. My already over-dehydrated throat groans in protest, and tears stream involuntarily from my eyes.
Lena you did it! You found a crack. Can you find any latch mechanism up there?
Doing my best to ignore the waves of pain washing over me, I wiggle the hand, testing the movement of my fingers. They can move well enough. I try to slide my hand sideways; cement catches on my palm and rips at it.
"This is... so hard!" I gasp, feeling faint. "I need... nutrient juice... or something. Hungry..."
The nutrient juice is outside of this room, Lena. C'mon! Is there any metal there at all?
No. There isn't any metal, and I know that I'm not going to find any. I can't negotiate with this door. The realization weighs on me, and with a sudden surge of desperation, I pull my hand down hard.
There is a cloud of dust in my neck and clumps of debris on my feet, but all I care about is the pain in my hand. There is something wet and sticky trickling down my fingers, and suddenly my arm is very hot. My pulse slams down into my wrist, beating with intense energy as nerves sing in torment.
I am screaming with pain, not able to take a breath. My head swims and I fall to the ground, landing on the lumps of hard cement.
Shh, Lena. It's okay. It's okay. Don't let the pain overwhelm you. Pay attention. You can work past the pain. It's okay. You did so well, it's all fine now. Lena, can you hear me?
Gradually, Tessa's calm murmur works its way into my ears, and I mute my agony, still gasping for air.
Lena. Feel the ceiling. With your good hand.
I tentatively extend my other arm above me, feeling through the dusty air. There is cement above me, like before. Only now, there is a shallow, pitted crater blotching around the crease. Somehow I had removed chunks of solid cement from the ceiling.
"Oh my god," I say, dumbly. "Oh my god, I just did that. I just broke cement. Oh my god. How did that happen? Ow. Ow. Why - how did I manage to do that?"
I think you're more powerful than you realize, Lena.
"I... I - but no! I can't - oh my god. That wasn't my power, was it? Did I use it up? No! I would've felt it! I don't understand - you said that my power was - "
Lena. Calm down. There's more to you than just a power. I thought as much. The scientists wouldn't want you to know, would they?
"That's insanity! I've never been able to break through walls before!"
Have you tried?
"I - well, I - I mean, I've been peeling at the plaster for ages! If I have amazing strength, why didn't the wall collapse before now?"
I have two theories about that. One is that you weren't desperate enough to unlock your inner strength. The other is more simple - you were just peeling a wall. You don't need super strength to flake plaster, so nothing unusual happened.
I am quiet for moments before speaking.
"When were you going to tell me about this idea, Tessa? What else haven't you told me that you know? Tessa, I really think I should know what I'm capable of before I try to escape."
You'll find out when you need it. Didn't this just prove that?
"Well even if it did, it's of no use," I growled. "I might have broken off a little cement, but it's super thick, and anyways, my hand is a wreck. How does that make sense? What's the use of having super strength if it scraps my hands to shreds?"
Your hand will heal. I doubt that anything's broken. But Lena, you can't give up now. I thought you were thirsty?
Then work with me here. We need to get you out.
"I can't do that again. Even if I was willing too, it wouldn't be enough. The door is too thick for me."
I think I can help you. I'm here in your head right now. Perhaps I could give you a boost? My brain could send your arm a little encouragement. Maybe it would listen.
"No. No way. I trust you Tessa, I do, but this is ridiculous. I will break my hand on that door."
You can do this, Lena. Believe in yourself.
I feel an odd heat build in the back of my skull, and I realize what Tessa is about to do...
"NO!" I yell at her, "No, stop! I can't - "
There is a flash of white light behind my eyes, and I feel only an echo of the movement in my arm. There is a swooshing sound in my ears, and then I encounter cement. I'm hardly conscious of the cement being solid, hardly conscious of my hand striking it. My fist is abruptly surrounded with the dark material, already reaching upwards... My fingers meet something hard, cold, and smooth, and then my whole body plunges towards the floor. I land on the floor with a shriek and roll to the side as metal screeches overhead.
When I look up, my hand numb, I see a thick panel descend from the sky, tilting away from me. There are cool rays of light, barely visible. There is a door. It is open. It has fallen from one side, the cement ragged. For the first time in my memory, I have opened a door.
It is harder than I had expected. I don't know how the scientists got so good at it.
YES! cries Tessa, her presence retreating from my mind. YES! It worked! Quick Lena, go through the door!
I stare at the heavy trapdoor, intimidated. What if I get lost? What if I am caught?
Lena, water! You need water! Go up, now!
With the reminder of water, I spring to my feet.
I lean over the panel in a crouch, digging my fingertips into the pitted surface. My fingers are unhappy to encounter more cement, but they grudgingly find a steady purchase. Taking a deep breath, I lunge up the substitute ramp, scraping my bare feet against the panel. In a second lurch, I manage to seize the edge of the floor above me and heave myself upwards. The floor is slippery and smooth, and I almost slip. Just in time, I roll clumsily over the edge and lie there, panting.
My eyes close, waiting for the beating in my chest to relax. I let the icy coldness seep into my back and skull, soothing me. My hands lie flat against the cool tile. The floor is so soft, so comfortable to my aching body. I want to lie there forever… but a violent coughing fit revives the sense of urgency in me. I need water.
I prop my arms up at my sides and slowly raise to a standing position. The room is dark, with only a slight green glow surrounding little safety lights.
"What do I do?"
You need to turn on the lights. Reach around for a light switch!
"A light… what?"
You wouldn't have seen one before. It'll be a little thin stick poking out from the wall. If you move it, it should turn the lights on. Feel around on the walls for it!
Cautiously, I take baby steps into the darkness, making sure to avoid the dark pit in the floor. My arms wave tentatively in front of me. My fingers brush a hard, vertical object - the wall! I easy my body against the stiff wall - it feels like the plaster of my old room. Taking another deep breath, I inch to my right, swooping my arms in exaggerated pinwheels.
Keep going! Tessa urges me. Go faster!
I scoot in bigger steps, until suddenly a sharp corner collides with my hip. I muffle a shout and cringe with pain, my side one massive hurt.
There must be a counter there. Try to go around it - but keep touching the wall!
I slide around to the other side of the counter, leaning over in an awkward position to explore the wall. I have to stand on my tip toes and arch my back to reach.
"This feels very silly," I mutter to myself. "At least it's dark in here…" Suddenly, my fingers touch something new! There is a thin panel protruding slightly from the wall, made of some sort of plastic. Excitement giving me adrenaline, I hurriedly probe the panel with both hands. There is a short, narrow stick leaning at a downwards slant from the plastic. I grab it.
"Is this it? The light switch?"
Yes, yes, that's it! Pull it up!
I close my hand in a tight fist around the plastic and raise my arm, holding my breath. The switch slides easily in my grip, triggering a low hum to reach my ears. For a moment nothing changes; then a dim, yellow light flickers on above me, growing steadily brighter.
Tessa cheers loudly, and I resist the urge to join her - I can't make too much noise here. I allow myself a soft woop before taking in the room around me. It's a small chamber - not much wider than my old room, with a low ceiling. The walls are painted a dark green that matches the white-and-green alternating tiles on the floor. The room doesn't look like it has been cleaned for a long time - the floor is smudged and streaked, with dust collecting on the edges.
The counter I bumped into has a high black surface, with wooden cabinets below it and attached to the ceiling above it. There is nothing of much importance on the counter - just some thin black sticks that Tessa says are for writing (she calls them pens) and a flimsy box of floaty white material (called tissues).
On the wall opposite the counter is a tall, wooden door with a rubber frame. An odd metal rod sticks out of the wall, bent sideways. I look at the door, and then at myself. My hands are a mess - smeared with blood and scrapes. Are they broken? For some reason, they seem fully functional. How could my hands still work? I open my mouth to ask Tessa, but she interrupts me.
Darn. We need to find a room with a sink.
You've seen them before. They're these metal things where water comes out…
Tessa flashes me a picture of a slender metal rod arched over a deep tub built into the surrounding counter. A round nozzle is attached to the end of the rod, and little round things stick out from the edge of the tub. Tessa gives me a second image of water pouring from the round nozzle.
"Oh, I have seen those… In the labs."
Yes. Now, try to open the door!
I cross the room to the door, stepping around the trap door to my cement chamber.
"How do I open it?"
Just grab the knob - that metal thing, and pull. If it's unlocked, it should just open.
I slide my fingers around the cold knob and yank slightly. The door sticks tightly in its frame, and I stumble.
No, twist the knob down first…
I stare at the metal stick in my hand with confusion. How do I twist it? I lean to one side and crank my elbow sideways, squeezing my wrist at a sharp angle. The knob slides part way and then sticks on something. Is there something caught in the door? I try pulling, and nothing happens.
Darn. It is locked…
I stare at the lock in frustration. I'd just broken through a cement trapdoor. Why was this door denying me? Angry, I lift my arm and then thrust it down with all my might, lunging to my knees with effort. There is a grating sound, and then a loud crunch. The door knob flops loosely downwards and the door springs open in my face, knocking me to my feet.
I sit there on the floor, breathing heavily. I could see nothing but darkness outside the door.
Lena! That was amazing! You're really adapting quickly! I'm so proud of you.
"Thanks." I pant, returning to my feet. "I couldn't have gotten here at all without you. I guess I owe you a lot. I still wish you'd explain everything to me. Not now. But later? Do you promise to explain everything?
Of course I'll explain, Lena. You'll know everything, soon. Now, go into the hall.
I step into the long hallway and realize that it isn't completely dark. Tiny lights line the ceiling and the floors. I give my eyes some time to adjust to the dim setting.
"What exactly am I looking for? Will there be sinks in the hallway?"
No, but if there are any labs on this hallway, there's probably a sink in them. Do you see any doors?
I squint down the hall. I can see dark rectangles against the pale walls.
"Yes. I'll go look at them."
You have extraordinary eyesight, Lena. Your eyes adjusted really fast.
"Hmm. I guess I wouldn't know." I laughed slightly. "You remind me of the scientists, always complimenting me. Only you actually tell me things, you don't just call me amazing for no reason."
I was… around the scientists a lot. I guess I got good at noticing things.
"I suppose…" I agreed, absently. My footsteps echoed softly in the hallway. Was this hall anywhere near my old room? What about Tessa's? Has she ever been here? Before I can ask, I reach the first door. I touch it, and it feels like the same wood as the other door. This time, the door as a small window in the middle.
Look for a sink, Can you see anything through the window?
I can't see anything through the window. It's all dark. I tell Tessa this and she grumbles.
I guess we'll just have to take this one room at a time. Go ahead and open the door.
This time, I hold the knob with more confidence. Like the other door, it is reluctant to open - locked. Fortunately, like the other door, I can snap through the lock and push the door open. Tessa tells me that light switches are generally right next to the doors, and sure enough, I find another plastic panel with a switch. The lights buzz on, to reveal a laboratory.
My hands tense automatically at the sight of the lab tables and metal tools. I know that nothing bad is going to happen, but I cannot stop my heart from beating feverishly. This lab has walls painted yellow. I have never been inside a yellow lab before. I spin slowly, noticing the tray of clipboards, hooks supporting safety equipment, sleeping machines with broad screens, and...
I don't have time to think a conscious thought before I reach the sink. It isn't a question in my mind that I answer - "Should I go over to that sink? Oh yes, I guess I will." I am running before I even realize what I see in front of me. Something in my brain saw the shape of the sink and immediately shifted my legs into gear. One second I am by the door, the next, I am at the counter, shoving my face under the faucet and fumbling with the knobs.
I turn one knob sharply, and a jet of scalding water fell upon my face. I scream in pain, feeling my tongue burn and my skin sting, but have no hesitation before switching to the other knob and plunging back in. The water is cold now, lovely and cold. I can taste the clear tranquility of it. My throat, not having touched liquid in days, is not used to the feel of water. Pain streaks up my neck, and I choke. I ignore it all - my burnt tongue, my searing throat, the choking - and let the water flood my entire being. It streams across my cheeks and up my nose and into my hair, but I don't care.
I don't know how long I stand there, gorging myself on water. By the time I step away, my legs are deeply asleep, prickling whenever I move. Tessa has been silent all this time, seeming quietly pleased, but now she takes charge again.
Okay, Tessa. How do you feel now?
"Better," I croak, wiping my mouth with the sleeve of my suit. "But... tired. Really tired."
I'm not surprised! You've had quite a day. You need to find a safe place to sleep... how about the ceiling? Do you think you could get up there?
"The ceiling?" I look up and see an array of grey panels supported by a thin metal grid. "Um..." Swaying from exhaustion, I walk to a lab table in the center of the room. I brace my hands on the smooth counter and lift my body onto the table top. The room does not have a high ceiling, so from the table I can reach the grey panels. Standing on the tips of my toes, I push one panel askew, revealing a black chamber of pipes and cables.
I feel the metal strips that had supported the panel. Would they hold my weight? They seemed so fragile... Tessa seemed to read my thoughts.
I think you can make it. Just go quickly. You shouldn't be too heavy by now anyways.
I frown, unsure. I try to feel farther inside the ceiling area for something else to hold, but there is nothing near enough to grab onto. With a nervous sigh, I jump as hard as I can, pulling with my hands. I can feel the metal straining, but before the strips can break, I grab onto a thick red pipe. With a heave, I pull my whole body into the ceiling. Nothing is broken! Clinging to the pipe, I nearly cry with relief. Not daring to release my hold on the pipe, I kick the displaced panel back into its original position and swing upwards onto a network of crisscrossing tubes.
I cautiously shimmy down the red pipe until I reach a small circular section of ceiling surrounded by metal pipes and covered with a blanket of wires. The wires are pulled taught along the pipes, and I trust them to hold my weight. My eyes already closing, I lower my aching body onto the wires and curl into a ball.
Good job, Lena. Tomorrow, we can escape.
I mean to reply, but before I can say anything I am asleep.