I still didn’t know the name of the guy who was driving me through the desert, but I could see why my sister would have fallen all over him. He was exactly her type. She loved the tall, dark and handsome thing. I went more for the blond surfer type, but whatever.
We drove for seven hours. There was a clock in the car, and I had to stop myself from looking at it. It was nice to know the time for once. When we finally stopped, it was in the middle of the city, which had changed drastically in my three years of confinement.
Where there had once been run-down little businesses and apartment buildings there grew high-rise buildings and skyscrapers so tall it hurt my neck to look at them. I couldn’t hide my gasp as I took in the sleek, shiny surfaces and the endless landscape of glossy greys and black. It almost looked like a mass of crystals spiking into the sky.
“What happened to it?” I asked, not sure whether to love it or hate it. There was a sleek elegance to the new buildings, but there was also a hard, synthetic feel to the whole thing. There were no trees in sight.
“There was a breakthrough in several areas of science and technology, and so - ” He gestured around. “ I guess this is all very science-fiction-like to you. You’ll get used to it.”
“Why won’t you at least tell me your name? Holly was going to let you introduce yourself, and then - ” I choked on the rest of the sentence and watched him stiffen at the sound of her name.
“My name doesn’t matter.” He led me into the first story of one of the tallest buildings in the heart of the city. “Wait here, I’ll send someone to get you sorted out.” He left me standing in the vast and achingly empty lobby of the building.
The only thing to break up the grey, carpeted floors and the beige, disconnected walls were a set of airport-quality waiting-chairs and a tiny reception desk.
I sighed and settled myself down in one of the chairs, watching molecules of dust swirl around me, caught in a beam of golden light. It was heading for sunset and I wondered what time I had normally been getting up for my tests – or if I had a set pattern at all.
Someone was coming for me, someone who would decide my fate and where I would go from here, just like that police officer three years ago. There wasn’t a single thing I could do about it, right? Escape flashed across my mind, but if it was a test – and I wasn’t ruling it out just yet – I might win myself some more freedom by doing nothing, and if it wasn’t, then there was no reason to run. My trip across the desert didn’t change the fact that I still didn’t have anywhere to run to. I resigned myself to wait.
It wasn’t long before a woman came for me. She looked to be in her mid thirties, with flowing auburn hair and eyes that seemed to know everything. She beckoned for me to follow her and I did, ignoring her outstretched hand and slightly condescending, warm smile.
She was completely silent, not even her impossibly-high heels made a sound on the tiled floor as she took me through countless doors. I was really starting to get sick of mazes, they were getting old. If people didn’t want me to know where the hell I was then a bag over the head would suffice. I considered telling her as much.
“In there are several changes of clothes and everything you will need to get cleaned up. We anticipated more refugees, but I guess we were lucky to get the both of you as it is.” She said, “Wear whatever is comfortable and then come back outside. I will be waiting for you.”
“The both of us? There’s someone else?” I asked. “Who?”
“She is in there as well.” Was all she said before turning to study the wall like it was the most interesting thing on the planet. Her previously warm smile was gone and she was doing her best to ignore me.
I sighed and walked in the room, wondering who else I would find. I hadn’t really had the chance to get to know many people. Glancing upwards, I froze, shock freezing my body in place. It was her, Scale Girl.
“Good evening, long time no?” She said. She was completely undressed and hovering over a metal tub of steaming water.
There were more than just the two, but they were empty, it looked like I was supposed to have a bath. “I thought you were dead.” I said, brain spinning to try and figure out just what I was seeing.
“I was.” She said, blowing on the water. “It wasn’t very nice. Can you close the door? It’s letting in a bit of a breeze.”
I couldn’t feel any breeze, but I shut the door regardless. “Um, how are you alive if you’re dead?” I asked, looking over the piles of clothes littering the floor.
“Oooh, a riddle, I love riddles! However, this one is easy. I’m not dead.” She finally slipped into the bath and let out a content sigh. “They just didn’t want me back in the same room as you anymore. They thought we would talk and they didn’t want that. But now here we are anyway and we can talk as much as we want.”
“Uh, okay.” I wandered over to the bath and stuck a finger into the water. It was luxuriously warm and I hadn’t had a bath since they had put me into that sensory deprivation tank, and that so didn’t count.
I sucked in a breath and shed my flimsy gown, feeling a sense of freedom with the movement. It felt so good to be out of the damned white scrap of fabric that I had to stop myself from diving headfirst into the tub.
“Whoa, you’re braver than me; I thought it was way too hot at first.” She was scrubbing herself down with a thick-bristled brush and a bar of soap and I decided that that was probably a good idea and found my own scrubbing utensils on a little shelf.
“I thought I saw you with scales before.” I said, watching the water change colour slightly with all the filth that had built up in my hair.
“I still have them. They said that it was promising that they changed colour and didn’t cause any further mutation.” She said conversationally.
“They talked to you about what they did?” I asked.
“Of course not! I overheard them talking during testing.” She was smiling languidly up at the ceiling.
“You heard them? Through solid walls and the buzz of machinery and everything else.”
“Yeah, they don’t know I can do it though, so shhh.” She held a finger to her lips playfully.
“Can you hear what’s going on outside?”
“Yes. The lady that brought us here is very bored; she’s humming the Australian national anthem. I think we can trust these people, and if not, we can escape.”
“I hope so.” I muttered, melting further into the water.
I think I might have fallen asleep in the water because when I woke up, she was massaging my head with shampoo.
“Don’t expect this all the time.” She warned. “I just didn’t want you drowning on me, and I figured the best way to keep your head above the water was to shampoo your hair, it needs it anyway.”
“Thanks.” I could see the insides of her wrists and they did have scales. Tiny, delicate ones that seemed to shimmer with the exact silvery shade of her hair.
“Hey, your scales are really pretty.”
“Thanks. I think you need a haircut, it would be a bit of a shame though, your hair is amazing.”
“What sort of clothes have they got for us?”I asked, grasping for any topic I could away from the last three years.
I could feel her shrug, “Anything from formalwear to strip-club stuff.”
I started giggling; it was something Holly would have said and I just couldn’t help myself.
She joined in and soon we were talking about anything and everything. It seemed like no time at all before we were both standing stark naked in the middle of a pile of clothes mulling over what to wear. I should have been self-conscious, but there was something about her that just felt natural, and after so long on my own, it was just a relief to be talking – all those social rules didn’t seem to matter.
Chloe – she had told me her name – was the first to start digging through a pile. She threw something at me. “Here, underwear! You look like someone who likes black. I like white or yellow personally.”
I looked at the flimsy, lacy panties she had given me and tossed them aside. I was never wearing those.
Chloe was watching me with amusement. “Okay, here.” She threw me a set this time, a much more modest set and I put them on gratefully. She ended up choosing my whole wardrobe for me – a set of almost-business-class jeans, a serious-looking grey top and a sleek black jacket.
She dressed herself in a shimmering silver skin-tight clubbing number and managed to find some strappy heels to go with it.
I had to find some sunglasses just to look at her. The sunglasses were placed right next to a pair of boots that were made for me.
“Is she still outside?” I asked Chloe.
“Yep, she’s moved on to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star now.”
“Then we better not keep her waiting any longer.” I said, heading for the door. “God forbid she resort to nursery rhymes.”
Chloe walked like a supermodel and I tried not to be envious of the glittering sheen that her scales gave her. Before the attack she would have been celebrity material, now I don’t know. The world could be completely different and I wouldn’t have a clue.
“Finally.” Auburn breathed once we had rejoined her.
We gazed at her innocently and she swore under her breath, shaking her head and starting off down the corridor. Auburn took us to a conference room where about fifteen different people were waiting, the guy that had busted me out amongst them. He didn’t even look at me.
“Oh good, these would be the escapees.” I didn’t like the sound of the voice. It was slippery and too silky, inviting and warm, like The Robot’s voice.
“They would.” I said back, my voice laden with challenge. I wasn’t going to waste my new-found freedom letting someone else talk for me.
Chloe had my back, but she was the only one. I could feel the ice cold glare of fifteen pairs of eyes piercing into my soul. This was what my father would have called “interesting.”
“So who are you, why did you rescue us and what do you want from us now?” All the basics covered in five seconds, I didn’t mess around.
The guy with the silky voice raised one perfectly plucked eyebrow and looked very imposing in all of his middle-aged-and-wearing-a-suit glory. He was also the spokesperson of the group. “I imagine that you are both quite tired after your ordeal.” He crooned.
I heard Chloe laugh behind me, and before I could speak, she was ranting at them.
“Tired?” She scoffed. “You don’t know the meaning of the word. You sit up here and talk and talk while we were running, always running. They would zap us if we stopped you see. Great volumes of electricity right into our bodies until we would kick and scream and keep on running until we didn’t care about the pain any more.
“You don’t know anything about tired.” She choked. I could feel the tears in her words. “Over and over they played with us, like cats with a mouse. They took my mind and then they gave it back, all warped and tangled. Nothing is the same, nothing can ever be the same.” She was practically yelling.
I whirled around and caught her by the arms, holding her to me. She had been standing, leaning so far forward that I thought she would fall, shaking as she tried to stop herself from lunging at the leader of this little group. I let her sob into my shoulder, a few unbidden tears leaking down my own cheeks.
No-one spoke a word as I held her, easing her shaking body until she collapsed in a puddle on the floor, her sobs fading to silent tears.
I turned to face the rest of the congregation. “My questions still stand. Answer them or get nothing.” I demanded coldly.
“My dear, you have nothing to bargain with.” He said gently, like he was trying to break the news of a dead kitten to a five-year-old.
“Don’t I?” My voice was poisonous. “You pulled us out of there for a reason, whether it’s information, prisoners, bait – or something else entirely. I’m guessing that it would be inconvenient for you if we were to disappear. Or, say, jump out of this window.” I had been pulling Chloe with me as we circled the room, stopping outside of a window that had been opened slightly to let in a cool breeze – or possibly to let one out. The entire building had been nothing but cool.
“You wouldn’t.” He was very calm and confident about it.
“I would.” My voice didn’t shake, my posture didn’t change, and there was nothing that would say I was lying or insincere. If I was right, then he couldn’t afford to take the chance.
“I wouldn’t make assumptions about them just yet.” It was my rescuer.
Grateful as I was for more backup, I wanted solid answers and when I didn’t get them after a couple of tense minutes, I slammed the window the rest of the way up.
“Wow, that’s quite a way down.” I said to the people who had started to lunge forward. “Careful now.” I warned, stepping closer to the six-story drop. “I’m ‘tired’ and might trip.”
“Enough of this.” Suit said, “You’ll have your answers, come away from the window.”
“I quite like it here, there’s a nice breeze.”
Auburn was looking really bored, “Just tell the girl.” She said, rubbing her neck.
“Fine, what would you like to know?” Suit demanded.
“Who are you?”
“We are the Resistance, and despite our unimaginative name, we have agents everywhere.” He said stiffly.
“Why did you rescue us?”
“The facility that you were being held in was engineering weapons to be used in a coming war, we couldn’t let that happen, you were salvageable.”
“You blew up the warehouse then?” It was more of a statement, but Chloe sounded pleased to hear it, letting out a small, happy chirp when he nodded slightly.
“And finally, what do you want from us? You’re not keeping us around for nothing.” I leaned against the slight strip of wall next to the open window.
This is where he hesitated, and the room held its breath. I inclined my head at him and took a step sideways, all that was between me and empty air was the slight wall between the floor and the window sill.
“We want to study you, find out what they wanted from you. We believe that the two of you were the weapons they were trying to perfect.” He was unflinching and cold, but honest. Then again, He had been just that.
“So, what you’re telling me is that we have just traded one prison for another.” I said, raising my eyebrows.
“You will be given everything you could want, rooms, protection, comfort. In return we would like to run a series of tests to isolate the traits they were looking to cultivate.” He must be a politician; he could pass anything off as luxury.
My head fell to one side and I looked him up and down. “Would these privileges extend to being able to go outside?”
“You must understand,” He started, his first mistake. “Your importance to this whole affair hinges on our understanding of their research. If you were to be recaptured then the whole war would be lost. Everything you need will be provided for you here, you won’t need to go outside.”
“Well when you say it like that.” I said, spreading my arms and letting myself fall backwards, revelling in the feel of air caressing my body.