Chapter Fifty-Five

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By the end of Em's first day in captivity, she knew her situation was far worse than expected.

When Audrey had been subjected to the battery of testing inflicted by the Loyal researchers, there had at least been an element of humanity to the ordeal. She was given a modicum of privacy, for starters, and handled only when a procedure called for it. Sure, the procedures themselves weren't pleasant, but at least she was treated like a patient.

Em, by comparison, was being treated like the prisoner she was.

There was no paper curtain to draw around her when the nurses stripped her of her clothes and forced her into a standard hospital gown. Teeth gritted and head held high, Em did what she could to maintain her dignity throughout the indelicate physical examination that followed. She considered sinking her teeth into every hand or arm that passed too close to her face, but always thought better of it in the end.

She was given no warning when they shaved her head. Eyes locked resolutely on a scuff mark on the floor left by someone's shoe, Em didn't make a sound. Not that they would have heard a stray sigh or whimper over the angry buzz of the electric razor. She watched, unblinking as clumps of her beautiful silver hair fluttered downward and carpeted the floor, eventually obscuring the scuff mark completely. A fistful was collected as a sample for testing while the rest was swept up and thrown out like trash.

Hands bound at all times, Em was handled with unnecessary roughness. Rarely was she asked to stand or follow—instead, she was shoved or yanked or jostled into position. She knew her pain threshold was being tested, but that didn't make the injections or incisions made without localized anesthetic any easier to bear.

At some point, through the rising haze of fresh drugs that had been introduced to her system, Em found herself wondering if anyone in the team of researchers working on her even knew her name. They only ever referred to her as "Starborn". It was dehumanizing, but then again, perhaps that was the point.

"I have a name, you know," she slurred at the trio monitoring her vitals and taking notes on the effects of the chemical they'd injected into her bloodstream.

The researchers blinked at one another but said nothing.

Em grunted. She could feel her insides reeling.

"I'll bet you people are smart," she said. "It's a shame you've decided to dedicate those big brains of yours to this shit."

And then, as if to punctuate her disgust, Em vomited right onto the closest researcher's impossibly pristine scrubs.

Without windows and nothing but the same endlessly buzzing fluorescents overhead, it was difficult to tell how much time had passed in the lab. Still, when Em found herself hoisted back onto her hospital bed—she was already too weak from the day's abuse to drag herself into it on her own—strapped down and left alone, she assumed the day must be over. Even shady researchers with ambiguous morals had to get their beauty sleep.

Though the room swam slightly whenever Em blinked, her mind was just clear enough for her to understand the gravity of her situation.

The plan had been to lay low for as long as possible, but she was quickly realizing that timeline might be much shorter than anticipated. Em closed her eyes against the dull throb of a budding headache and sighed.

The first opportunity I see, I'm out of here, she thought.

And whatever that opportunity looked like, she'd have to take it. At the rate things were going, she might not survive long enough to get a second chance.

***

"You would not believe the things I can smell in this room."

"I am begging you not to enlighten us."

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