BOOK 1 // EIGHT: Test Subject

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            There was only one place in the city with tighter security than KHA, and that was BioPlus HQ.

For a building so transparent on the outside, a huge glass structure, it was weirdly difficult to get a real look at what went on inside. Just getting through the first set of doors involved scrutiny from three security officers, whose efforts to conceal handguns under their clothing were not fooling anybody. The fact that I was one of the only people in the room not wearing a bulletproof vest made me feel uncomfortably vulnerable.

At the reception desk, the three of us were fingerprinted four times over, and I stared for so long into a retina scanner that both eyes started to water. When I offered the guard my hand, a plus sign was stamped onto my skin in dark blue ink – right over the lingering green tinge from the night before.

But this was only enough to get us out of the main lobby. Every set of doors we encountered from that point onward involved the swipe of a staff ID card, and the lift wouldn't move until all three of us had been retina scanned. By the time we made it to the waiting room on the seventh floor, I felt mentally exhausted.

The air between my parents and I was awkward, to say the least. Neither of them had said more than two consecutive words to me since last night, and my dad seemed constantly ready to restrain me again in case the need arose. Knowing this wasn't exactly working wonders for my nerves.

In the waiting room, I sat as still as possible, trying to ignore the eye my parents were keeping on me at all times. The entire room was white, and light from the huge glass window made it that much harsher on the eye. Whoever was in control of the thermostat obviously hadn't got the memo about it being the middle of winter: the air con unit was on full blast above us, and the constant cool flow made it hard not to shiver.

Eventually, a technician appeared around the corner, wearing a lab coat just as glaringly white as the surroundings. He read my name monotonously from a clipboard before beckoning me to follow him down the hall.

Nobody had told me explicitly what I was here for, but it didn't take long to become obvious: for the day, at least, I held little more power than a mouse in one of BioPlus' research labs. I was not here for my own wellbeing – at least not directly. This was in the name of science.

The first test involved a solitary room, though I could hear the tap of a keyboard from behind a two-way mirror, and the electric shocks on my neck were unmistakably in time with the strokes. The second was more intrusive: I was forced to lie down inside what looked like an MRI scanner, and the loud whirring of the machine came worryingly close to my head. For the third, I was strapped into a chair with six separate restraints, and the technician's assurance that "This will only sting a little" turned out to be entirely unfounded when the syringe sent a burning sensation right up my arm.

"Excuse me," I said, when he threw the needle into a biohazard bin, moving to retreat to a room set behind a glass screen. "What exactly is this for?"

But either he was ignoring me, or the screen was soundproof – I didn't even get a glance in my direction.

"This is really painful," I tried again, gesturing to my arm. Not only had its weight turned to lead, but it felt like fire was ripping through my veins, and having it creep further toward my torso did not seem like the best sign. "Is it supposed to be?"

Still nothing. I went to move, but the straps around my wrists were keeping them pinned to the arm of the chair, and struggling just made painful grooves in my skin.

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