Darkness enveloped her, held her warm, secure, the rest of the world having faded away to nothingness. Distantly, she heard the water, likes waves captured in a seashell, and beyond even that, faint whispers, barely reaching her in this place.
She clung to the darkness, floating there. She allowed herself to breathe a sigh of relief.
If only she didn’t have to go back.
The darkness lit up with flashes of white and blue, arching overhead…
… shooting through her body.
It didn’t hurt – it never did – but it was enough to jolt her eyes open and for her breath to catch.
She was floating still, but it was in a saline solution, equal parts salt and… and…
The electricity arched through her small body once more, flashing vivid spots of red within her field of vision. Something was ordered sharply in German, and the current stopped. Her body dipped beneath the surface of the water, and she gasped softly for air as she let her lids drift closed once more.
She reached for oblivion, but it was just out of her grasp.
“She’s had enough.” They didn’t know that she could understand them – they had been speaking about her like this since she had arrived, no one speaking directly to her in that time.
“Did you see the readings? She’s not feeling any actual pain…”
“She hasn’t slept in the three days since she came here. She’s had enough.”
“We won’t know how much she can take until-”
“She’s a little girl.”
“The triplets are younger,” the woman snapped. “I don’t see you stopping the testing on them.”
“You aren’t electrocuting them.”
“She doesn’t feel-”
“She’s. Had. Enough.”
Cassie recognized that tone. That was a dad voice, one which broached no argument – her grandfather had used it whenever he had been home, commanding all to his whim. It worked then as it did now. The voices lowered, and she caught snippets of faint conversation, but not enough to draw any real meaning. She couldn’t reach that darkness, yet she wasn’t able to open her eyes, either.
She was bone-weary, her throat parched despite having been in the water for what felt like forever. Her limbs felt heavy, and she wasn’t sure she would be able to lift any of them. The hospital gown pulled at her body, an attempt at modesty by her doctors…
… her doctors. Wasn’t that a joke? Her mother and grandparents had sent her to this facility, hoping they would help her, but instead…
Gears could be heard, grinding to life, and her body was lifted from the shallow pool. She couldn’t repress the groan as cool air touched her skin. Her breath was still ragged, too shallow and too fast, but she was breathing. Wires were disconnected from her temples, shoulders, chest, arms, and legs, and another monitor was removed from her index finger. It all happened with hurried, uncaring hands.
They were practiced movements, done a hundreds of times on dozens of different subjects.
Those same hands roughly transferred her to a gurney. She melted into the firmness, another small moan escaping on a scant breath. “Send her next door for an MRI.” It was the same woman who was insistent that the tests continue. Her tone was clipped, professional, and coming from just over head. Cassie still couldn’t open her eyes, though she fought to do so, to get a glimpse of her tormentor’s visage. “Then downstairs. I want her on an EEG and heart monitor while she’s sleeping. Give her three hours, then I want her back here-”
Something broke inside of Cassie, and she screamed wordlessly. She could feel the electricity arching from her body. No, that wasn’t right. It was arching to her body and then out again. She could feel it in the walls, in the lights overhead, even in the thick cables which ran beneath the floor. As she screamed, she pulled.
When she was done, she teetered again on that edge to blessed nothingness.
Silence followed, all but the creak of the swaying chains overhead.
Footsteps drew closer, crunching over glass. “I told you she had had enough…” The voice came from a distance, as if spoken at the end of a long hall. “Take her to her bunk.” The man’s hand warmed over her shorn head. “That’s enough, little one. You can rest now,” he murmured, shifting to rough Danish as if her native tongue would offer her some peace.
And it did.
Her eyes cracked open, trying to focus on the man. There were flickering lights framing him as he leaned over her, and the only thing she could see was a silver chain hanging about a dark throat, and a silver disk with the impression of a face.
“Take the rest of these to the infirmary,” he added, reverting to German as he straightened, and her eyes fluttered closed once more. “And someone clean up this mess.”
The darkness pulled her under, and she let it, sigh slipped from her lips. She could breathe again, drifting in the blessed half-sleep. The rest of the world faded away to nothingness. She pulled the edges about herself, cocooning herself within its folds.
A few soft notes could be heard, reaching her but at a distant. A lullaby, just as warm and comforting as the black.
How long had she been in there now? All of them – and there were well over a dozen others there with her – kept to different schedules. There were no windows to be seen, and their sleep schedules were erratic, holding to the whim of whichever scientist was currently on duty, as was there meals, exercise, ‘free time.’ She could only guess based on the limited sleep cycles she had, and everyone had those at different times and varying length.
So far, they had allowed her eight since the ‘incident,’ as they were all referring to it in whispered tones. As a direct result, no doubt, those very same scientists were giving her a wide berth at this point.
She was curled in the corner of the couch in what would pass as the rec room. It was all white and sterile, as would be expected of a hospital or research facility. No decorations on the walls to brighten the atmosphere.
She felt more alone than she ever had before. At least in the village she had been raised, there were people who would speak to her. Her mother was there, would hold her hand and wipe away the tears when she was called names. Her grandmother would give her soft bread and stroke her hair.
Gifted. It’s what her mother called her.
A gift from the heavens, brought into her life to make her whole. Everything that made her special it was all ‘gift.’
But when her latest ‘gift’ had manifested the year before, they were beside themselves.
Dr. Jenna Higgins had stepped forward to help, appearing on their rickety doorstep. An American doctor, she claimed her specialty was ‘with the special.’ It wasn’t that her family had been afraid of her…
… but they were. It was why they turned her over so readily.
So here she was at a research facility which she could only assume was deep underground, but then, that could be the American TV leaking through once more. There were rounded pieces of black glass set upon the ceiling – cameras to record their every moment – and each room held large mirrors, whole slabs to perhaps make those rooms look larger.
But Cassie knew there were people sitting behind those mirrored walls, watching them. She could feel their eyes upon her, but that could be simple paranoia. More, she could feel the faint electricity held within each body as well as the equipment stored there.
The others had to have known this as well, at least those old enough to comprehend it – no one was so desperate to have that many mirrors in every single room.
As a one, their heads had been shaved to leave only stubble, and bags hung heavily beneath the eyes. Those who had been there longest were deathly pale from the lack of sun. No smiles were to be had, the dour expressions to be part of the uniform. Each wore the same hospital gown with a code stained upon the shoulder.
After her incident at the shallow pool, her code had changed, and she did not recognize the insignia, but the numbers behind it were 687. Before it had been significantly higher in count – 389468.
Both numbers worried her.
“You shouldn’t look so sad, Nancy.”
The words pulled her from her introspection as a hand smoothed over her buzzed head, and Cassie fought not to jerk away from the touch. She slanted a dark look sideways, a scowl etched over her features. She hadn’t seen or heard the woman’s approach, but she was sprawled on the couch at her side, arms slung along the back with her one hand settled comfortably atop the girl’s head as if she’d been there all along. The woman had to be in her early twenties, and was no doubt pretty, and even the shaved head did not detract from that. Her eyes were a vivid green, standing out from the dusky skin in greater contrast. She wore the same hospital gown as everyone else, and her insignia matched Cassie’s own though she was numbered 649. She stared out over the room, one leg crossed over the other, entirely at ease with the situation.
And clearly crazy.
“My name is Cassandra,” she corrected in Italian, choosing the same language the woman had made her assertion in. It seemed everyone spoke a different language in this place.
“Nah, you look like a Nancy,” as if that answered it all.
It gave her pause, making her wonder what, precisely, a ‘Nancy’ looked like and whether or not she should take offense at that…
“Oh, calm down,” the woman chuckled, shaking her head. She was perhaps the most laid back person in the place by a long shot. Cassie arched a brow at her, canting her head to one side.
It also served to pull away from that touch.
The woman allowed it, letting her hand fall away, but didn’t pull her arm back nor give her any additional breathing room. “You’re what? Eight? Nine?”
“Eleven,” Cassie answered, sitting up straighter as if that would make her seem older.
“Alright, eleven.” The woman didn’t sound as if she believed it. “You’re young, Nancy. Try relaxing a bit. You’re going to be here for a while.”
What exactly did she mean by that? “What are they doing to all of us?”
One shoulder rolled in a negligent shrug, and she flipped hands. “Dunno. Watching. Studying. Maybe they’re filming some kind of documentary,” she offered with a nod towards one of the cameras. “Or some kind of sick reality TV. Does it matter?”
Cassie wasn’t sure why she expected anything more specific than that. “How long have you been here?”
Those green eyes lit up, and the smile that curved the woman’s lips suggested that was precisely the right question. “Dunno,” she answered again. “Since I was ’round your age, I guess. So might as well start getting used to it. The sooner you accept it, the better off you’ll be.”
“And how old are you now?” The woman shrugged as if that were unimportant. “Are you going to at least tell me your name?”
“To teach you a lesson.”
“And what’s that?”
“You can’t trust nobody.”
And in the blink of an eye, she was simply gone.
Sitting quietly for several long moment, Cassie stared at the seat vacated by 649. She hadn’t even caught the woman’s name.
Perhaps she should make one up for her…
She leaned closer to the empty seat, and brushed her hand through the space, just to make sure the woman was actually gone and wasn’t simply invisible.
Those were words she never would have imagined together just a few weeks before. And now, she apparently had how much longer to look forward to? At least ten years, if what 649 said was true.
That number was equally as disturbing. If she had been there for at least ten years, and she was 649…
Did that mean there had been 40 more people between her arriving and now? She frowned to herself, still staring at that empty seat. That number was definitely more frightening, especially considering she had seen maybe a dozen others.
So what happened to all the rest?
Thirty-four sleep cycles since she had arrived, and now they were trying something new.
The darkness was real this time, a special room constructed just for her. Thick concrete walls surrounded her, and she sat in the middle of the floor amidst all of it. It was more like the wardrobe in the room she had shared with her mother – small and cozy – than a real ‘room,’ per se.
She closed her eyes against the black, fiddling with the lightbulb they had left for her. They wanted to see if she could light it while cut off from all other power – if it pulled from her or from everything around her.
But she found she rather liked this room. It provided her a degree of comfort she had yet to feel in any other part of the facility.
Perhaps it was due to that very lack of electricity that had her on edge everywhere else.
No, it was those scientists, and the one that had come up with the idea of this place, the one who watched her from the shadows, it was the only one she had found here who seemed to care. They never learned the names of those watching, but she called him Dr. Vedhaeng.
“Try to light it,” the man’s words came from the shadows. He had a small camera with him – the faint green light coming from the only point of visibility – but everything else had been left behind.
She could feel the faint pulse of electricity coming from the thing, an even large source coming from the man himself, but all other lines were blocked because of the concrete. It would be a good test indeed, not only for them…
Eyes opened, and she stared down at the delicate glass she held just as it began to glow faintly. She had long since learned to only send a faint trickle of energy, otherwise the glass would go flying everywhere as it exploded, and she did not want to risk harming the only person she felt was on her side.
“Very good, Cassie,” he murmured, stepping forward with the camera still focused upon her success. “This is amazing…” He filmed for several long moments, stepping around her to catch the display from all angles.
The minutes ticked by, and the bulb showed no sign of flickering or dying. She wasn’t sure how much time passed before he stepped away towards the door, rapping upon it in a stuttered pattern. “We’re good for today,” he called in German.
“The light is still on,” came the woman’s muffled return. Dr. Angry-lady. Not the most original name, but accurate nonetheless.
“It’s been two hours, and there’s no sign of fading.” He turned the camera as if to prove his point.
And was ignored, the woman shooting daggers at her. “Then we should wait and see-”
“We’ve proven the point of this exercise,” Dr. Vedhaeng cut her off.
The door cracked open, and the pale face of Dr. Angry-lady appeared. Cassie allowed the bulb to brighten, just enough to light the room, and the woman flinched back, hiding the scarred half of her face.
Scars she now wore because of Cassie.
“Then we should see how long-”
“No,” Dr. Vedhaeng cut her off. “She hasn’t pulled any battery life from the camera, and she’s doing it on her own. That’s proof that surrounding currents only help – she doesn’t need anything to use her powers.”
“The human body does not have carry enough electrical currents for what we have seen her do.”
“Then perhaps we should look at a more esoteric reasoning for her abilities,” he suggested, turning off the camera.
“It’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility.” His tone was even, steady, as if he were giving a lecture at a university rather than standing in the basement of a secret, underground facility. “There have been documented cases throughout history.”
Dr. Angry-lady turned to look at him, her smirk even colder due to the scars covering half her features. Electrical burns. “We’re scientists,” she corrected, her tone shrill. “Not frightened clergymen from the fourteenth century.”
“There are beings-”
It was his turn to be interrupted. “That doesn’t make them magical in origin. Everything we have seen can be explained through science, Doctor. Cold, hard science. Please try to remember what you are here for.” She turned away. “Lights!” she bellowed down the hall, and Cassie could feel the surge of electricity as life was returned to the cabling just outside the room and lights flooded the hall.
She withdrew her attention from the bulb, setting it aside as she heard the steps of the orderlies approaching and the whine of the squeaky wheel of the gurney that brought her down here.
Dr. Vedhaeng stepped back, the camera held at his side as the orderlies filed into the room. His free hand lifted, clutching at his pendant as he turned to watch Cassie prepared to be taken away, silent, though his rough features hardened, almost sad.
The world had dissolved into blessed nothingness. She floated there, locked in oblivion, grateful for the peace it afforded her. Here, she was safe, reality fading away to nothingness. The darkness held her in its warm embrace as she bordered on that edge between consciousness and full sleep.
There was something more out there, and Cassie stretched within her cocoon. The ocean was a whisper of a memory in this place, like something on the very tip of her tongue, but just out of reach…
Eighty-six sleep cycles.
They had been doing new tests, and she was exhausted. Cassie picked at her food, her eyes heavily lidded as she did so, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to eat. A familiar hand ruffled the stubble atop her head before someone dropped into the seat at her side. “You look beat, Nancy,” intoned 649, though the woman’s tone was as cheerful as it ever was.
At the moment, she found that even more frustrating than usual.
She pointedly ignored the woman, continuing to pick at the slop on her tray. In theory, it was all nutritious, intended to build strength with the least amount of flavor possible.
“If you’d just do what they want-”
Cassie dropped her fork, lifting her gaze to study the woman silently. “I thought that was what I was doing,” she rasped, her throat raw. Her eyes narrowed as 649 picked at the edges of her tray, popping a something – was that a raisin? Maybe that was supposed to be bread pudding – into her mouth and chewing thoughtfully. “I don’t ever see you bothering anyone else like this,” she said at last.
“Bother?” 649 choked. “Bother,” she repeated, spitting the raisin onto the floor and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand as if to rid herself of the taste. “It’s just ’cause you’re so young. Gotta watch out for you.”
Something about that didn’t ring true.
“What about the triplets?” Cassie jerked her chin in the direction of the trio. “They’re younger than me.”
“Them?” 649 shuddered, shaking her head. “Nah, they give me the creeps.”
Two girls and a boy, all right at eight, maybe nine years old. The three were always clasping hands, moving silently through the rooms. The few times she had tried to speak to them…
No, that was fair enough.
“Beatty and Phillip are younger than you.”
649 smiled slowly, sitting back in her seat. “But they don’t have the same kind of ump that you do,” she pointed out. “You ever think of just, I don’t know… getting outta here?”
Maybe her Italian wasn’t as good as she thought it was. Cassie frowned at 649, mulling over the words. No, she understood that properly. “They’re here to help us.”
A dark brow arched high, and the woman looked faintly amused. “Clearly, you’re not ready yet.”
And then she was gone. With Cassie’s tray.
Cassie’s head was seriously starting to hurt.
She could almost smell the sea, the air itself was charged as if standing the precipice of a storm which could break at any moment. But it was safe and warm within the folds of the darkness, and she pulled the corners more tightly about her. Here, she could forget, at least for a few blessed moments.
Distantly, she could hear the doctors whispering amongst themselves, another heated debate, all in German – they never spoke Danish, only Dr. Vedhaeng and even then, only when he was speaking directly to her.
They wanted to wake her up, run even more tests, see how long…
She whimpered faintly, the noise felt as much as it was heard, but something… Something moved within the darkness, and there, that noise – it did not come from her. She moved further from the voices, drifting in that darkness, searching blindly for anyone else who might be there. A hand brushed her own-
The sparks of electricity shot off all around her, jolting her awake.
Her face broke the surface of the water, and she gasped for air, flailing, fighting against the lines which held her as lightening arched through the room. There were shouts of alarm coming from the scientists and orderlies, commands bellowed in German as everyone scattered.
One-hundred and twelve sleep cycles, and no one – not a single living thing – had made its way into her dreams. Not her mother, not her grandmother, not anyone from her village, not even her grandfather.
She had been alone, and safe, but now…
… something had touched her.
“Shh, shh, it’s alright, Cassandra,” came Dr. Vedhaeng’s broken Danish. “No one’s going to hurt you.”
A puff of air, the sting of a bite, and just as she was gaining some grasp on reality, oblivion pulled her under once more…
“What the hell was that? A nightmare?” she heard Dr. Angry-Lady demand.
“It would appear so.”
One-hundred and thirteen sleep cycles…