The next morning, we're given only a small breakfast, and the agents don't take us to the gym to stretch. Pairs of agents wander the halls. An occasional scream cuts through the force field, followed by silence.
Shivers prickle up my spine and down to my toes.
It's happening, Anitra tells us. She sits on the bench with her legs crossed, her eyes closed. They're taking us to something called the 'cleansing' rooms.
The rest of us exchange glances.
Sometime in the early morning before we were supposed to wake, Luuk snuck into our cell again. Anitra showed the others what she can do, and Luuk explained the gist of his plan before sneaking out again. As a result, we know a teensy bit more about what is going on, but not much. None of us actually know what the cleansing rooms are, other than some step in the "beast" process. Luuk warned us the cleansing would be painful. But if we can get through those rooms and that part of the process without revealing ourselves, he'll make sure we have a chance to escape between there and the tanks... whatever those are. He didn't go into much detail, and from how Anitra paled when Nia asked, we decided we would be better off not knowing.
For the next hour, we each practiced our powers in small ways. I tested control of water in the plumbing, making sure not to actually cause any issues. Nia pretended to be extra tired when, in reality, she did push-ups under the bench with the blanket draped over top for privacy. We occasionally heard a rare curse when she hit her head under the bench like I did.
As for Erin, she said she has something called "psychic tracking," an ability to read memories from objects that people have touched. She doesn't go into detail about the past inhabitants of this room, though. To be honest, I think she has the strangest power of any us, though it could prove useful if we need to read a code on a keypad or something.
Meanwhile, Anitra practiced controlling her communication by filling us in on what each other was thinking. Thankfully, none of the agents walking the halls are also telepathic, or at least, they aren't paying enough attention to check. We're relying on them thinking our powers are still blocked, and that they have no need to check for signs of insurrection.
But now that their next step in the "treatment" is starting, we have to be extra careful. If any of them can read our minds, now's the time they'll be watching us. Like reverse lifeguards, trying to make sure we drown.
We're all sitting around, staring at the hall when a pair of agents stop in front of our force field and type on the keypad. The blue field flickers out of existence. The agent on the left gestures for us to follow while the other flanks us from behind. They don't bother to speak as they lead us the opposite direction of the gym and our first arrival, past empty cells where janitors toss blankets into a large rolling basket and scrub the floors.
So many empty cells...
"Where are we going?" I ask, though I technically already know. If the agent can clarify that this is a misunderstanding, that we really are infected, that the cleansing rooms aren't harmful-
The agent says nothing, staring ahead through his black visor. He pulls the door open to the next room. Anitra-in front of me-staggers to a halt as muffled screams slide through. She backs into me, gasping for breath.
No... no... Her thoughts brim with panic and fear, threatening something I can't tell because she's trying her hardest not to show us. I grimace, hoping the only person who heard her was me.
They hurt so badly-
My skin burns as if I stuck my hand in scalding water. I pound my fists on the door, begging for someone to let me out, to please let me out-
I gasp. I'm standing in the hall again, my hairs on end. The air feels like ice after that brief flash of pain... Pain that came from Anitra's thoughts.
I let out my breath and glare at the agent. "What's going on in there?"
He merely shoves me and Anitra through the door. Nia and Erin follow with a nervous glance to each other, and a young woman in a long white coat closes the door behind us. The lock whirs into place. I swallow a gulp, my heart still pounding from the telepathic flash.
They don't want us going back.
Anitra bumps into me, shaking her head fiercely, her eyes wide with terror. Their skin burns... What are they doing to them?
But the doctor lady steps in front of us, oblivious to Anitra's feelings. Evidently the idea of going into a room with screams coming from the far walls can make anyone panic, so Anitra's reaction must not be that unusual.
"Strip your garments and then step into one of these rooms." The doctor lady gestures to a row of narrow rooms with steel doors lined up so close to each other there can't be space for more than one person in each. "The next step of the treatment requires that your skin be cleansed of impurities. This part of the process is uncomfortable, but necessary. Then you'll proceed to the next phase of treatment."
She's lying. Anitra's hand flies to her mouth. Oh Community, what's happening to them-
Patients stand inside tiny, cramped rooms, liquid burning their skin with some kind of acid. They're screaming... I'm screaming. It burns. Cleansing rooms. They burn away the germs and impurities. They hurt. I nearly drop to my knees in pain, managing instead to brace myself on Nia's shoulder, even though her face has gone as pale as the blue Community flag.
But the next step... the next step in the doctor's mind is tanks of green liquid. Burning, stinging liquid where naked inhabitants float helplessly, something about them changing-mutating-before finally...
I'm locked in a little room while their bones-my bones morph and crunch, and they-me change into something utterly inhuman-
Anitra screams, clawing at her head as the rest of us stagger away from her.
Mass panic. Pain where there shouldn't be pain. This is what it would have looked like, had it been real. But from the exchange of looks that goes through this room, from the way the doctor's cheeks turn white and her skin shines with sweat, from the way the Special Forces agents raise their rifles and point them at Anitra, because she's the telepath, she's the one broadcasting what the doctor saw and what the patients felt...
She really is a telepath, and everything she saw... that's going to happen to us unless we get out of here now. My heart drums in my ears, my fingers shaking so badly that I don't think I could hold a glass of water without sloshing the entire contents into my lap.
Whumph. A jet of air pulses past me.
Anitra stops screaming. Her head lolls. She touches the dart embedded below her collarbone. Her eyes roll back and she collapses gracelessly to the floor. My heart skips a beat. It's like the other patient they took away. She's unconscious. But what they're going to do to her, to us-
"Now!" I roar, fury rising in my throat. It's three of us against two agents-more agents likely to come-and the doctor. But I'm not giving in without a fight. I'm not giving in until I have a chance to keep my sister from ending up in a place like this. What these horrible people don't know-that we have our powers back-is going to cost them everything.
* * *
Thanks for reading! :-D
Come back next Monday for chapter thirteen, where Galina realizes she's actually not that great at close combat...
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Deceived by the government. Exposed by her powers. The Community concocted a lie to conceal the truth about her-and students like her. She's in their grasp. But she's not going to sit back and let them hurt her or her friends. Can she escape? Or wil...