I woke screaming from a nightmare that vanished the second my eyes opened.
My heart pounded and sweat poured off me. My muscles hurt and my vision blurred.
I fought to remember exactly where I was. Nicole held me close and stroked her thumb along my cheekbone. Mom had done the same when we were sick or unable to sleep; it usually helped.
I tried to relax, to drown myself in the blissful fog of happy dreams.
I was so close—swimming through that strange world between waking and sleep—when my cuffs sprang together. It jolted me straight back to reality. Nicole whimpered in pain.
I couldn’t face moving. I didn’t even open my eyes when Nicole rolled away. My entire body hurt like I’d been run over by a steamroller. Nicole crawled into my bed on the top bunk, but other than that the room remained still. Briana would be awake, but she knew the drill.
The electrical lock beeped and the hinges in the door scraped. They spilled into the room, weapons pointed at each of us. I let my eyes close.
Someone else hastened across the concrete on soft-soled shoes. Even through the haze I could still differentiate between those and the guards’ boots. Gentle hands moved along my side. They pulled me onto my back.
I pried my eyes open—it was the blond lab tech from earlier—then squeezed them shut again. The light burned into my skull. She placed her cool palm to my forehead and pressed the disc of her stethoscope against my skin.
“Sorry.” Her voice was so quiet there was no way the guards would have heard her. She separated my eyelids with her fingers. She'd shifted to block the majority of the light from the bare bulb on the ceiling, but the brightness still seared my eyes. She smoothed the hair back from my face and allowed my eyes to close again.
She stepped away didn’t leave. Something buzzed as she spoke. “Could you please send Doctor Foulds or one of the others to the girls’ room?”
The crackle sounded again. Another voice confirmed the woman had been sent for. Was anyone in this place asleep?
When she arrived, the doctor spoke loudly, not bothering to lower her voice so Briana and Nicole could sleep. I faded in and out of their conversation, but I caught several phrases.
“Her body can’t handle it…”
“Give it time…”
“Temperature has skyrocketed.”
Their footsteps carried them away, but the guards remained.
“What’s this?” one of them barked. He stomped across the room to Briana’s bed.
I braced myself against the pain and cracked my eye open. He held Briana’s magazine. She glared at him, fury obvious on her face. He tore it in half then half again and tossed the pieces into the air. The shreds of paper fluttered to the ground.
Three male techs wheeled a stretcher between the guards. They positioned it directly beside my bed and lifted me onto it; one gripped my shoulders, another held my legs. My head lolled back, my neck not strong enough to hold it straight. The sudden movement sent the world spinning. They arranged me on the thin padding of the stretcher and wheeled me from the room.
The lights on the ceiling blurred, their outlines seeped into whiteness. Huge stars, so close I could almost touch them drifted overhead. I didn’t realize I actually tried to do so until one of the techs pushed my hands back down.
When we reached our destination, they lifted me one more time. Again the dizziness attacked.
The pain shrouding my body ebbed into nothingness and the shadows engulfed me.