My eyes open and slowly the world begins to swim into focus, but instead of seeing what I had expected to, everything is different. I am lying on a thin foam mattress in a small room with no windows. White painted walls, white-washed ceiling, white tiled floor. I clamber unsteadily to my feet and make my way over to the only thing that interrupts the white painted walls, the white painted door. Three-quarters of the way up is a small opening, the size of a letterbox. I am fifteen-years-old, but small compared with other boys my age, and I have to stand on my tiptoes to peer out. On the other side of the door is a corridor, which is also white, with numerous other doors identical to my own leading off it. Where am I?
The effort of standing makes me feel faint and I hear the blood rushing in my ears. Flopping back onto the bed I try to remember how I got here, but my memory feels fogged and my mind sluggish. Nothing. The last thing that I remember was being in the institution but what help is that, I’ve always been in the institution. I was born and I grew up there, along with other boys and girls. Maybe I’m in another part of the institution or perhaps this is where you go afterwards. Come to think of it I never knew anyone that was sixteen in the institution. Where did they all go?
A clink from the corridor outside calls me back from my thoughts and I launch myself towards the door again. Leaning heavily against it for stability I peer out of the slot and see two older men wearing lab coats marching swiftly down the corridor towards me. One of the men holds a clipboard in his right hand which he repeatedly jabs at as he talks animatedly to the other man.
I call out to them as they pass. “Excuse me. Where am I?”
They glance in my direction but don’t break their stride or make any effort to respond.
“Hello?” I call again, more desperately.
I watch helplessly as the men disappear through a set of white double doors at the end of the corridor. My fingers curl into a fist and I punch the door as hard as I can, releasing all of my confusion, fear and anger. The pain radiates from my knuckles as they connect with the metal door.
“WHERE AM I?” I scream at the top of my lungs even though I know that the men have already gone.
“The lab,” a weak voice replies from the cell next to mine.
I press my face hard against the slot again although I know that I won’t be able to see the person talking. “Who said that?”
“I’m you in a few months time,” the voice replies so quietly that it is barely audible.
“I don’t understand,” I snap angrily, my confusion and frustration bubbling to the surface again. “Just tell me where I am.”
“You have now entered the research laboratory where you will take part in medical experiments to further scientific knowledge about a specific illness and its treatments.”
“What? Why? Are we being punished for something?”
“You were born to do this. We were all bred using specific ‘stock’ and raised in a controlled environment.”
“You mean the institution?” I ask, making my first tangible link since I awoke.
“Yes. You are a lab rat. Some of us have been engineered with knock-out genes that make us susceptible to particular illnesses like cancer. Pray that you are not one of those.”
I feel the panic rising inside of me, but with nothing to do with it I grip my head tightly in my hands and fight the urge to cry and give into my despair. This can’t be true, this is a misunderstanding.
“Where am I?” cries a terrified boy in the cell on the other side of me.
The voice, the words and the emotions all sound so similar that it could have been a recording of me from half an hour earlier played back to me now. I know that it’s selfish as I think it, but I also find it comforting to know that someone else is going through what I am. I wait for the first voice to respond, but he doesn’t. “Hello,” I call back. “I think that we are in some kind of laboratory.”
“What? I want to get out,” the panicked voice shouts back. I hear him rattling the door. “Somebody help me.”
I cover my ears as I he kicks and screams just like I did until eventually he falls silent except for the sound of his breaths coming in uneven gasps as he cries.
“What is your name?” I ask trying to comfort him, or as comforting as you can be through two locked doors.
“James,” he sniffs
“Oh will you shut up?” an angry female voice calls from the other side of the corridor.
I follow the sound until I see another pair of eyes glaring through one of the cell doors.
“What’s a matter with you? I ask.
“You can cry and protest all you want but they won’t let you out. You might as well just shut up so the rest of us don’t have to hear your misery and we can get back to swallowing in our own,” she replies and then disappears from sight.
“Leave the poor boys alone Kerri,” the first boy says in a breathy voice. He sounds exhausted.
“ME LEAVE THEM ALONE? I’M NOT DOING THIS TO THEM,” she screams back returning to the slot again. She looks me dead in the eyes. They are brown like mine, but so dark that they almost look black . “If you want to provide anyone with moral support then why don’t you talk to Lacy?”
“Who?” I ask and almost immediately regret it.
“MY TEST-MATCH YOU IDIOT. She hasn’t spoken in three days now, and when she dies, I die.” She disappears from the slot again and I hear her banging her door with what I imagine is her head.
“I don’t understand,” I whisper, not sure whether I want her to hear me.
Thankfully the boy replies before she does. “Everybody is matched with a control subject that is genetically identical to you. They only test on one person so that the effects can be compared against the control, but when the test subject dies the control subject no longer has a function and is killed also.”
I draw in a long slow breath through my nose, trying to focus instead on the details and not let myself process the meaning behind what he has just said. “Genetically identical?”
I hear Kerri bang loudly again. “Yes your fucking twin is sat blubbing in the cell next to you.”
I have a twin? “Then why have I never seen him before?”
“Oh didn’t I mention, he’s invisible?”
“Give it a rest Kerri” the first boy says.
“Go to Hell Damon” she replies slowly and carefully.
The corridor falls silent for the first time since I awoke and it is almost deafening. The urge to break the silence is overwhelming and I pace the cell back and forth. “Damon, how long have you been here?” I ask without feeling that I made the conscious decision to do so.
“Eight months, two weeks and six days,” he replies matter-of-factly without elaborating.
I don’t ask how he knows the number so precisely. I suppose when there is nothing to help pass the time, the passage of time itself becomes a prominent feature in your life. I hear the doors open again and rush over to the slot. The same men that I saw before walk back through but instead of ignoring me they look directly into my eyes and walk swiftly towards my door. I back up quickly but hit the bed in my haste which makes me sit down.
“I need you to stand up and place both hands on the far wall so that we can see them,” one of the men says in a gruff but not unpleasant voice.
I do as they instruct, but look back over my shoulder to see what they are doing. They approach me cautiously despite both having stun-guns and batons hanging from their belts under their lab coats. The man wearing small round spectacles touches my right wrist with something cold, handcuffs, and pulls it down behind my back. He holds it in place whilst he brings my other arm down and secures them together. I’m being treated like a criminal but I haven’t done anything wrong! I try not to struggle or resist but my heart is racing, flooding my blood with adrenaline that makes me want to both run and collapse at the same time.
The man with the gruff voice takes hold of my arm firmly, but not so tight that it hurts. “Follow me,” he growls. As we disappear though the double doors I glance back over my shoulder and see the man with round glasses opening James’ cell door. I am led into a large white tiled room that reeks of antiseptic with two parallel examination tables in the middle. The man points to one of the tables so I climb up the best that I can with my hands restrained but don’t lie down even though I feel dizzy and light headed.
After a several long minutes the man with glasses enters the room followed by a boy about fifteen-years-old. He is short with dark brown scruffy hair and enormous watery brown eyes. My mirror, my double, my twin.
The boy is lead over to the examination table that runs parallel to the one I am sitting on. The man that lead me into the room reaches behind my back and unlocks one of the handcuffs, freeing my left arm, but promptly refastens it to the metal framework of the examination table. He places a hand firmly into my chest forcing me down. I tense my stomach muscles in resistance for a moment but soon relent and lie down flat since I am already shackled to the table. As the other man unlocks one of James’s handcuffs he reaches out a desperate hand towards me and I collapse it tightly, hoping that he doesn’t feel the tremor in my own.
“Lie down,” the man says in a calm dangerous voice, but James doesn’t heed his warning instead climbing off the table completely.
I see the man move his hand in a familiar movement towards his belt and remove a black item. I hear the crackle of electricity followed by intense pain that shoots up my arm. James’s body contorts and collapses to the floor, almost pulling him with me. He looks up at me with wild confused eyes and I realise that he must have been tasered and because I had hold of his hand, the electricity also passed into me.
“Now get up and lie down on the table,” the man says again. James cowers away from him but does what he says and lies on the table shaking. “Now all we are going to do today is an initial assessment so you don’t have anything to be scared of.”
“Please sir, when do we get to go home?” James asks between sobs that rack his entire body.
“When we are finished, so you need to be a good boy and cooperate with us,” the man with little round spectacles says almost in a friendly voice which makes me think that he is lying, but it seems to comfort James.
The other man walks towards me again and over the next hour he inspects and records details about my dentistry, vision and hearing. He also measures my blood pressure, checks my reactions and listens to my chest. The two men huddle close together speaking in hushed tones and compare notes. I strain my ears to try and make out what they are saying but the sound of the conditioning unit drowns out their words. After the physical examination we are given a range of puzzles and problems to solve which I suspect are used to measure our cognitive capacities.
“Well the good news is that you both appear to be very healthy,” the man in the spectacles says. Yeah for now, I think to myself. “There’s only one thing that’s left to do and that’s tattoo you for our own records.” He grins but it’s a cruel smile, one that makes my heart race again.
“Couldn’t you just put a note next to our names in your system?” I ask, although I already know the answer.
“Sorry it’s a government requirement, and look on the bright side most lads your age are paying for tattoos.”
They come towards me first, the larger of the two men pins me facedown by my shoulders and I hear the high-pitched whir of the tattoo gun as it approaches me. I jump as I feel it touch the skin on the back of my neck but it stings only for a minute or two before the noise stops and I am released. Next they approach James but I can’t see what they are tattooing or what is on my own neck.
The experimenter pushes his glasses back up onto the bridge of his nose. “Okay you’re finished, just drink this for us,” he says passing me a small paper cup with clear fluid at the bottom.
“What is it?” I ask suspiciously.
“Vitamins, to help keep you strong,” he replies.
Liar, there’s nothing good in here.
“I’m okay, I don’t need any,” I say setting the cup back down.
A calm serenity descends over him again, like the calm before the storm or the pause before a cheater exploded into motion. “This is not optional.”
I stand motionless for long moments thinking about James on the floor before snatching the cup and downing the contents. It tastes bitter like vinegar. James has already taken his and as he turns to leave the room I see what they have tattooed on the back of his neck. #0340. A number. We are no longer people with names, just experimental subjects that are referred to by numbers.
The back of my neck stings as I lie in bed, but I try not to think about the newly tattooed number there. My name is Riley; I am not a number. I think that it’s probably early morning, but the room−my cell−always looks the same without any natural light source. I wonder whether my body clock will go completely out of sync without any external input to tell me when I should be awake and when I should go to sleep. What am I talking about? There are three points at which I can gage the time perfectly−three meals, delivered at: 7am, 12:30pm and 6pm.
I hate the mornings here, I mean none of it has been great but I hate the mornings most. There is nothing to do but just lie in silence, trying to think about nothing but it never works. I think about where I came from, were all the close familial bonds that I had with the care staff just a lie? The image of my favourite carer carrying me in her rams to the nurse when I sprained my ankle flashes behind my eyes. I try and tell myself that they didn’t know what we were being raised for, but something tells me that this isn’t true. They looked after our health too well. There’s certainly some irony in that now that I’m counting the days till I die, I think to myself with a laugh, but there’s no humour in it.
I hear the distant clank of locks and doors being opened, becoming louder as they get nearer. Staring at my cell door I try to think of something that I could say which would make them open the door, rather than just push the food tray through the slot at the bottom. Perhaps I could tell them that I am feeling ill since they seem so concerned with my health. But I know that it wouldn’t work because even if I did escape my cell, where would I run to? The researchers lock every door behind them, and I have no idea how many locked doors are between freedom and me.
The flap at the bottom of the door flips up, and a tray is slid through in silence. The food is the same as yesterday, and every day since I arrived. I’m starting to think that it will remain the same until the day that I die, and even after that. I think about that a lot in the mornings too, I think about dying. Every night before I go to sleep I take an inventory of my body, trying to detect any changes that will help me work out whether I am the test subject or the experimental control. In truth it doesn’t really matter, mine and James’ fates are woven so tightly together that when one dies, the other will be killed as a comparison. But I am scared of being in pain and I hope that when we do die, it will be painless and swift. If we die; I’m not ready to give up yet, I tell myself. I have to stop thinking like this, and instead dedicate my cognitive powers towards working how to get us out of here.
Picking up the plastic spoon, I begin to scoop the thin milky broth into my mouth. It tastes like watered down porridge, but there is something else in it too, a metallic twang that I can’t put my finger on. In the other three sections is an apple, a glass of water and a slice of dry brown toast. I have been taking careful note of how much of each I am given each morning because Damon told me that some people are put on a restricted diet and they slowly reduce your body weight down to 85% of what it is normally. However, this doesn’t scare me as much as water-restriction. Yesterday as James and I were being led back to our cells, I saw a boy about our age that was water-restricted. It’s supposed to provide him with motivation to take part in the researcher’s tasks, but he looked half-crazed to me, like a rabid dog.
I hear a cry of pain from the cell next to mine. “Argh.”
“Damon?” I ask. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he replies weakly.
“Are you okay? Shall I tell one of the researchers?”
“Are you crazy?” Kerri snaps at me. “Now shut up, they’re coming back.”
The researchers walk past again on their way back to the door, peering into our rooms as they pass. I pick up my water and take a sip, trying to act normal, but when they are gone I press my face against the window in my door. I see Kerri doing the same with an expression that is somewhere between thoughtful and a grimace.
“Is it infected?” she asks, looking at Damon.
“I think so. The area is very tender and I feel awful,” Damon replies.
“Is what infected?” James’ voice calls from the other side of me.
“Nothing,” Kerri snaps, and walks away from her window.
The door at the end of the corridor opens again and two researchers walk in, either side of a girl that I haven’t seen before. She is tall and solidly built, with long mousey blonde hair and a concerned expression across her otherwise pretty face.
As she passes my cell she calls out. “Damon?”
“Isabella?” Damon calls back, and I hear him stagger to his feet. But by the time he reaches his door she has already exited though a pair of heavy double doors at the other end of the corridor. “ISABELLA,” he shouts in a hoarse voice after her.”
The sound of Damon shouting seems to make the silence that follows even quieter. I finish the rest of my breakfast and push the tray back through the door.
“Who was that girl?” I finally ask.
“She’s my twin,” Damon replies.
“Your match is a girl?”
“Yes, a sweet girl that I would do anything to protect.”
“Then try staying alive,” Kerri says from the other side of the corridor.
I wonder whether she has always been this harsh and cold, or if that’s just what this place does to people. We are all just a product of our environment after all.
A female in her early twenties pushes a trolley around, collecting the discarded breakfast trays from outside people’s doors. I don’t think that she is one of the experimenters, probably just an intern or a research assistant. This must seem like the opportunity of a lifetime to her, it certainly is for us. Kerri’s face is pressed up hard against the glass looking at the cell next to her as the woman collects the tray outside. The tray is untouched.
Kerri’s eyes lock with mine for just a second, they are wide with terror. “LACY?” she cries out, but there is no reply.
I have spent more time than usual at the small window in my cell door, looking at door next to Kerri’s. Kerri has asked me probably more than ten times already this morning whether I have seen Lacy but I haven’t seen anything. I assume that Lacy probably looks identical to Kerri but I’ve never actually seen her. I wonder whether she has the same fiery temperament but I haven’t even seen that in Kerri today, instead she looks defeated but Lacy must still be alive otherwise they would have taken her body away and probably Kerri not long after. I look at the cell wall that separates me and James. How can two people’s lives be so fundamentally entwined when I have only seen him once?
Shortly after lunch a researcher wearing round spectacles takes James out of his cell and through the double doors at the end of the corridor. They return around half an hour later and James is locked back in his cell before my door is unlocked.
“Out,” the researcher says as he opens the door.
“Why do you get me and James out separately now?” I ask as we walk down the corridor.
He remains stony faced at first but then to my surprise he answers. “We only get you out together for the initial assessment to see how similar you are. You’re not really supposed to ever see each other again which is why you’re in cells next to each other and not opposite. We used to house twins on separate wards but we’re a little overcrowded right now and running low on space.
I’m shocked by this revelation, even though I knew that Damon’s twin was kept somewhere else in the facility, I thought that was all of us. “How many of us are there?” I ask, looking at him as we walk but he doesn’t reply. Just before I turn away I notice something pinned to his white lab coat that I haven’t seen before, a security pass; it reads ‘Dr Howard’.
With a jar I realise that I have never known his name, and that he has never called me by mine. I wonder whether we are all just numbers on a spreadsheet to him which he updates at the end of the day before going home to his wife and children. That’s an opportunity that I will never have, locked in isolation like a dangerous prisoner for a crime that I haven’t committed. I think that I should probably hate him, moreover I should probably hate everyone that works here, but I don’t. I have so little to fill my days and to keep me from introverted reflection that I can’t help feeling a bit excited when anyone approaches me, regardless of the reason.
Dr Howard pushes open the door to a small side room with two identical chairs and a small trolly in between them with a clipboard on. I take a seat on the chair that is fractionally closer to the door. I don’t know why I do this but it gives me a small feeling of control over the situation. Dr Howard either doesn’t notice or concedes me my nano-victory and sits on the other chair.
“Today I need to perform a few tests and ask you a few questions before giving you a quick injection, okay?” Dr Howard says.
I don’t think that he means it as a real question but I nod anyway. What am I supposed to say? No, I’d like to opt out of this summer vacation scheme. Please send me home.
He picks up the clipboard from the trolly, revealing a prepared injection underneath it resting on the metallic surface. “How have you been sleeping since you arrived?”
“Fine,” I reply automatically.
“Can you give me any more detail?”
What like the thought of my impending death causes sleep to evade me into the small hours of the morning? And even when I do manage to fall asleep it haunts my dreams till they wake me and I realise that I am still here and the nightmare begins again? “It’s getting better with time,” I rely.
“And what about your appetite?”
What about it? The food is the same everyday but eating does temporarily relieve the boredom. I’m just glad that the amount doesn’t seem to be reducing. “Normal.”
How can I be fatigued, I don’t do anything! “Not that I’ve noticed.”
“Any other changes in your body that you’d like to report?
“Nothing.” Perhaps I’m in the control group after all, poor James.
I don’t think I’ve realised until now how much I care for James. I know that he is technically my clone but he feels more like a brother to me and therefore the only family that I have ever had. Despite being genetically identical to me there are also differences between our personalities which make us individuals. I think that James is much more sensitive than me. I wouldn’t say that I’m thick skinned but I’m able to deal with things by adapting to them quickly. In some ways I hope that I am in the experimental condition to spare James the ordeal.
After testing my reflexes and recording my vital signs, as promised Dr Howard administers a painless injection. I don’t even bother asking what it is because I know that he won’t tell me or else tell me a lie. As we walk back towards my cell I mindlessly rub my arm where the injection pierced my skin wondering what it could be. A carcinogen or perhaps a virus? My arm doesn’t even ache and again I find myself thinking that it could have been a placebo and nothing more than saline solution. Even if I was in the control group the researchers would want to do the same to both of us so that there were no environmental differences between me and James.
Walking back down the hallway towards my cell I realise that I am on the other side of Dr Howard compared to how we walked out. When I pass Lacy’s door I take a large step to the left and quickly peer in through her window. Dr Howard turns sharply towards me with a scowl on his face but he can’t take back what I have seen. I saw a girl who looks identical to Kerri, except for fragile, lying on her bed. An angry red bulge clung to the front of her neck, but smiled at me when she saw me looking.
Lacy is still alive.
“Did you see anything?” Kerri whispers urgently as soon as Dr Howard has locked my door and turned away.
I smile and nod slowly.
“WHAT?” she shouts unable to wait for him to exit the ward.
“She’s alive. She looks weak but she’s conscious and I think she can hear you.”
“Lacy,” Kerri calls out. “Are you okay?” She pauses to listen for only a few seconds. “Speak for crying out loud!”
“There’s something wrong with her throat,” I interrupt even though I’m not sure if I’m right.
“What?” Kerri demands.
“I don’t know.”
“Well what did you see?”
“Shhh,” Damon says suddenly. “Listen.”
We fall silent, listening.
Clank clank clank.
It sounds like metal struck on metal.
Clank clank clank.
“Lacy is that you?” Damon calls you. “Knock once for no and twice for yes.”
“Oh Lacy,” Kerri calls. “Are you okay?”
“What is it? Is it your throat?”
The door onto the corridor swooshes open, held by the now seemingly familiar face of Dr Howard as the other researcher pushes a wheelchair through. They are followed by an old man with a white beard and moustache that I haven’t seen before, dressed in a sharp pinstripe suit. Without acknowledging any of the faces peering at them, the men stride up to Lacy’s door and unlock it. I can feel Kerri’s questioning stare “What’s happening?” but there’s an unwritten rule that we don’t talk when the researchers are present.
The men and the wheelchair disappear for several minutes before reappearing with what looks like a ragdoll slumped in the seat. Lacy tries to hold her head up as they pass but it lolls at an unnatural angle. Kerri’s eyes are wide with fear as they disappear through the heavy double doors.
“Oh my god, she’s dying,” Kerri gasps. “I thought you said she was okay!” she spits at me.
“I said that she was alive.”
“Well not for much longer!”
“Tell me Kerri,”Damon starts in a weary voice. “Are you worried about Lacy or yourself?”
“Oh say what you want about Isabella but the truth is that you fates are entwined. If you really want to save her then you should have escaped whilst you had the strength, but it sounds like it’s too late for that now.”
The remark is hurtful even for Kerri and Damon doesn’t respond, I just hear him flop down on the bed heavily. After several minutes I try to break the tension. “Has anyone ever done that, escape I mean.”
“Isabella says that it’s happened on her wing,”Damon replies.
“NONSENSE,” Kerri yells. “Everyone dies. You’ve got a few months, six tops.”
“If she says that it happened then it DID,” Damon says forcefully. “She said that it had become clear that he was in the placebo group and that his twin didn’t have long left to live, so during a treatment he knocked out one of the researchers, grabbed his pass and escaped.”
Kerri scoffs. “What and they just let him get away and infiltrate society. Do tell me, what job did he do because I don’t think we’re qualified for anything other than lab rat!”
“Oh you know what Kerri, at least I still have hope.”
“Fat lot of good it’s done you.”
The conversation comes to an end and lie down on my bed to digest what I’ve just heard. Someone escaped. I think about all the amazing things I’d do on the outside and decide that first thing would be to learn to drive. One of the carers who raised me told me that to get to work she had to drive through the countryside and over a bridge to cross the river. Naturally I assumed that when I was older I’d get the do that to.
“Riley,” a small voice calls me back from my daydream. It’s strange how your name, no matter how quietly it’s spoken will always breakthough.
“Have you noticed any changes yet, from that injection they have us?”
He’s trying to work out whether he’s in the experimental group or the control group and I have to confess that I’ve been trying to do the same. It’s hard not to with all the talk about Lacy.
I haven’t noticed anything noteworthy but I try not to worry him. “It’s hard to say James, there have just been so many changes in such a short space of time.”
“I have a pain in my stomach. I think they gave me the bad medicine.”
“You don’t know that. It’s probably just stomach ache from all the worry and anxiety.”
“I’m going to die.”
“You’re not James. We’re going to escape.”
It’s too dark to actually see anything in the ward and they won’t switch the lights on until breakfast, but I’m not looking anyway, I’m thinking. Thinking about the enormous promise that I made James yesterday, we’re going to escape.
It’s a week now since I was yanked from my old life and thrown head first into hell, and that’s still as much as I know really. From what the others have told me it seems that we’re in some sort of medical research facility. Why use mice when you can use children? But I have no idea where we are, both in terms of our location within the building and the building’s position in the country. Screwing my eyes up tightly I try to remember how I got here but there’s nothing, just a black void.
The image of my favourite career drifts into my mind univited. Not long ago the thought of her fiery hair would’ve brought me some comfort, but not now. I feel betrayed. Did she knowing lead me like a lamb to the slaughter? I can’t bear the thought, but if…when…I get out of here I will find her because I need to know.
To even stand a chance of escaping I’ll need to learn everyone’s routine and map all the corridors. Then there’s the small matter of how to get out of the cells. The doors look like something you’d find in a prison, but I guess that’s what this is. They’re thick steel with small windows reinforced with wire mesh, tough but not unbreakable. I remember back at the home when I was around 10-years-old, one of the boys smashed the window in the office door with a cricket ball and ran leaving me looking at the headmistress though a circular hole with cracks radiating from it. Even so, smashing the window won’t be enough because I doubt I can fit though it, and can’t realse the latch on the other side because the door’s still going to be locked. I need a key.
The lights flicker with a clicking sound before becoming stable. Peering down the corridor I see the familiar outline of the food cart being wheeled by the young woman. She passes Lacy’s door first but doesn’t stop because Lacy didn’t return yesterday. Next she pushes a plate under Kerri’s door before finally working her way round to mine.
“Thanks,” I call.
Startled she looks up. “You’re welcome.”
I hear plates sliding across the floor but nobody says anything until she leaves the ward.
“Why did you say thanks?” Jame’s asks sounding perplexed.
“It doesn’t hurt to be pleasant, and god knows that we need all the friends we can get right now,” I reply.
“She doesn’t have a key,” Damon interjects.
“Look I’m just saying that there’s no harm,” I snap, annoyed at their integration. I was about to add that I’d clearly been brought up to have better manners but none of us were raised, we were grown.
I pace in clockwise circles like a zoo animal before standing at the window again, leaving my breakfast untouched. The knot in put of my stomach tightens as I stare though Kerri’s cell door looking for movement. I don’t think I’ve ever known her be quite for this long before. Lacy never returned yesterday and Kerri knows better than me what that means.
“So how are we going to escape?” James says as quietly as he can and still have me hear him.
“I’m not sure yet but I think the plan is going to involve us getting hold of a key.”
“How?” James asks, raising his voice.
“I’ll figure it out. Also, we need to get a better idea about the layout of this place. Damon have you ever been anywhere else?”
“Once,” he replies sounding groggy and his in voice varies in pitch. “When I was taken to Isabella’s wing for comparison checking we walked through a sort of central hub before going down another wing almost identical to ours. I think there were two other wards as well, making a cross shape.”
“Did you see the way out?” James asks urgently.
“No, all the doors were closed and presumably locked like our corridor.”
“Do you think that means there’s four wards of kids?”
I do some quick maths in my head. “That makes capacity around thirty.”
“Poor bastards.” I hear Damon hiss though clenched teeth like he’s in pain.
I glare with contempt at the plate on the floor, would it kill them to give us a bit of variety? Sighing I reach down to pick it up, if I’m going to get out of here then I need to keep my strength up. Suddenly feeling dizzy my legs buckle at the knees and I stagger to the wall. Holding myself steady with my hands I try to regain my composure but my left leg feels numb.
I stagger the short distance to the bed and flop down heavily. Rubbing my leg, the numbness is replaced by a tingling sensation as the feeling starts to come back.
It’s not really surprising, couped up in here all day with no excersise or fresh air. I thought they wanted to keep us healthy.
Looking down at the plate I’m gripped by a new sense of resolve. So I grab it and robotically swallow every mouthful. Then stand up and start running on the spot. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to run on a full stomach but I figure that doing something is better than doing nothing.
Movement to my left startles me and I realise that my cell door has been opened and standing in the doorway is Dr Howard. He looks a cross between angry and bemused.
“Put your hands on the back wall”, he growls, before going off on a tangent. “What were you doing?”
“To keep fit, and healthy”, I reply.
He seems to understand and doesn’t press me further. Waking over he removes the handcuffs from his belt inside his lab coat, and momentarily I glimpse his stun gun.
Perhaps that’s the way out. To get the researchers so comfortable in my presence that they never even see it coming.
“If I’d known you were coming I’d have made a bit of an effort”, I joke, trying to push my hair back with my handcuffed hand but instead Dr Howard looks alarmed by my movement and jerks my hand back down. This is going to be difficult.
He leads me out of my room and down the now familiar corridor to the room that me and James were first examined in, but there’s only me now.
“How are you feeling in yourself?” Dr Howard asks.
Great, really optimistic about the future. In fact, I’ve opened a savings account so I’m prepared for my old age.
“No bodily sensations?”
I wanna jab my fist in your face.
“Any low mood?”
“Just what’s to be expected under the circumstances.”
“Yes. Well is there anything that you need to make your stay more enjoyable? We’re not trying to make you miserable.”
Oh I don’t know, to live?
“I wish I could go outside and excersise. The cells are so cramped and there’s no air”, I reply.
“The rooms are adequately ventilated up to EU standards, but I’ll have a word on your behalf and see what we can do. Now just take these tablets and you’re done.”
Being led back to my cell I start to wonder whether there’s a way to avoid taking the pills I’m given using some clever slight of hand, but I doubt even the best magian could do it handcuffed.
Dr Howard opens the cell door for me, takes off my handcuffs and the locks the door behind me.
“Same time, same place, tomorrow?” I joke but he still doesn’t smile.
I watch through the small window in the door as he moves to the cell next to mine and unlocks James’s door. Slowly James shuffles out of his cell, looking anxiously around. He looks okay, but I can’t decide how to feel about that because if he doesn’t get sick then I will!
Perhaps if I can’t avoid taking the tablets then I can get rid of them once I’ve swallowed them because I have no idea what’s in them or how damaging it is. Luckily there isn’t CCTV in my room. Reaching my fingers down my throat I start to gag. My eyes water and it takes several attempts but eventually I vomit enough to retrieve the four tablets I took –almost whole. The problem is what I do with the rest of the mess and it is extra calories after all.
A man that I haven’t seen before, dressed in something that looks like a white boiler suit, pushes open the double doors and walks with purpose towards Kerri.
“Who are you? she challenges. “This isn’t my normal time, where’s Dr Graham?”
The man mumbles something I can’t hear, unlocks her door, walks in and closes it behind him.
“Get off me!”
Kerri kicks the door open and runs out into the corridor followed by the man rubbing his arm like she’d just bitten it or something. Instead of following her as she runs towards the double doors, he darts over and hits a button on the wall. A siren wails as she throws herself at the doors, but they don’t give.
Other staff members pour into the ward from every direction as if they were able to walk through walls. Kerri runs towards them, ranting incoherently but she falls back when they produce stun guns and slides down the wall slowly into a sobbing ball on the ground. One of the men in white (they looks like clones to me) aims a dart gun at her and fires a needle that she doesn’t even bother to pull out. It may as well been a real gun because we all know what’s going to happen next.
We all watch on silence as they haul Kerri’s limp body into a trolly and wheel her out of the very doors she was trying to get through.