Venus struggled to wake numerous times. Each instance brought with it pain, a pressure of some kind, and an overwhelming sadness, which sent her back into the blackness. No dreaming, only emptiness. She had no idea how long they kept her in such a state. But she wasn’t dead. 

I still have time

When she finally did come out of the darkness, it was to a horrible realization. She’d been taken. And the captors were Michael and his father. It hurt to think Michael had been part of her capture. She needed to escape. Prospects didn’t look good. If she’d been immortal, she wouldn’t have been in this predicament.

But she hadn’t gone through the change yet, which made this planet very harmful. All of her organs were shutting down. She had no power, no hope. Her life rested, like a broken baby bird, in the hands of those who despised her. 

When she opened her eyes, Venus immediately looked around for Michael. She wanted to reason with him or his father. If they could see they had nothing to fear from her, perhaps they’d let her go.

The room looked like a place where operations were performed. She’d been strapped to a table. Machines of different sizes and shapes surrounded her. The walls were a brilliant white, except one portion across from her, which looked like a blacked out window. A large round light hung over her head. It glared so intensely she prayed to the Gods it wouldn’t burn her corneas.

To the right sat three blinking, beeping machines. Clear tubes attached her to them. One looked to be taking fluid out of her and the other seemed to be putting a substance into her. Another appeared to be monitoring her heart rate. Still another machine looked to be monitoring her pulse. Or was it her other heart?

They know. Frightened, she struggledagainst the restraints. It didn’t do any good. The plastic manacles around her upper and lower arms were too tight. She could twist her wrist. Clench and unclench her hands, but she couldn’t break free. Her feet had been bound too . . . which meant . . .

“Cret,” she swore, raising her head, wriggling her bare toes. They’d figured out how to remove her boots. How? They were only supposed to come off at her command after she’d finished her journey. Venus felt frantic. Without her boots, the effects of this planet’s atmosphere would break down her body at a much quicker rate. She guessed that’s why they were able to remove her boots; her life force wasn’t strong enough to hold them to her anymore.

A tear escaped. She’d never felt so alone.

Near her head, she heard a door open. Shifting, she saw four people, all dressed in the same shiny white suits being sprayed with a misty air. It hit them in all directions. The top, sides, and bottom. A clear, plastic shield covered their faces, making it difficult to tell whether they were male or female. When the machine stopped, they stood there a few moments. She guessed they were waiting for the air to clear. The thick, hazy air reminded her of the Manshum Mountains. There, the thick fog never dissipated and remained cloaked in mystical mist. The air did clear in the room, though. A glass door slid open and the people came out.

Venus debated whether or not to talk to them. Now that they were close, she could see their eyes, distinguish their faces. Two men and two women. She watched them move around. They had to know she was awake, but they ignored her. Instead they checked the restraints, flipped on new machines and raised her gurney. When one of them stuck a needle into the back of her hand, Venus spoke. 

“What are you doing?” She’d meant the question to come out a yell. Instead the words came out scratchy.

Venus waited, but no one responded.

“Why am I here?” she whispered again after clearing her throat.

She tried to catch a set of eyes.

“What do you want from me?” Still no response. The questions seemed perfectly appropriate. But they wouldn’t talk to her. She felt like a braying calf about to be slaughtered. Her eyes pricked with tears. Fear overwhelmed her. For the first time she decided to be thankful for the fact that Zaren and Dervinias could read her thoughts—if they were close enough. She had no idea where they’d taken her, but she decided to try.

Dervinias. Zaren. I’m being held captive. Michael and his father took me. I’m in a room full of strange machines. Please, help me. She repeated that over and over until a female started wheeling her into another section of the large room. The female disconnected whatever fluid flowed into her arm through the I.V. and, with the help of the other woman, lifted her onto a table. Finally one of them spoke to her. “This is an x-ray machine and body scanner. We’re going to put your whole body inside the large tube here so we can take pictures. If you hold still it’ll go a lot faster,” she said, seething with menace.

Why would she want to hold still then? She didn’t want to make anything easier on them.

The woman seemed to read her expression. “Trust me. You don’t want to remain in there very long. It’s full of radiation. Who knows what overexposure will do to your . . . body.” She shrugged like it didn’t matter to her one way or another.

“Tell me what you want—what you’re going to do to me,” Venus challenged. If she were going to be good, the woman ought to at least answer her questions.

The woman glanced hastily around the room and then lowered her body, so they were face to face. Her hot breath reeked of dead animal. Venus made a face, struggling to hold back the need to gag. After a moment, she whispered, “We want to know what you look like on the inside. If nothing is revealed through the scan, we’ll cut you open. That’s what I’m hoping for—the opportunity to dig around inside your disgusting alien carcass.” She stood, her hazel eyes searching Venus’s. “You’re going to die. No doubt about it. And I want it to be sooner rather than later.” She laughed, hard and mean. “After some of our more invasive tests, you may wish you were dead.”

“Cassandra. Why are you talking to it?” a man asked.

“Advising it to hold still, sir.” She walked to the foot of the table. Venus heard a click and the table started to suck her into a long, white tube. 

Once inside, a bunch of lights came on. The machine began to hum and the round cylinder started to spin. Venus remained still, the space too confining. She wanted out. Some minutes later, the bed started to move, removing her from the tube.

The mean woman returned. “Did you enjoy that? I hope so. It’s the only test that won’t hurt.”

Venus shrank away.

Another woman helped lift Venus back onto the gurney.

“Helen, let’s begin the first series of tests,” Cassandra said. Venus watched her hook the solution back into the I.V. sticking out of her hand. Immediately, a cold liquid entered her body. “You feel that?” Venus turned away and saw the other woman had a large needle in her hand.

Venus felt her eyes grow large. Scared, she shook her head back and forth. “No. What’s that for?”

“Sadly,” she hissed, “you’ll be asleep for most of it.” The needle sunk deep into her chest and Venus watched the red liquid make its way through the plastic, reach the needle and enter her.

As the liquid packed her veins, a scream filled her throat. When the sound hit the ears, she didn’t recognize it. The pain, unbearable. It felt as though liquid fire had been shoved into her heart and with each beat, the flames built, burning her alive.  

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