Chapter Fifty-Seven

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Em awoke on the floor. A furious kind of pain stabbed at her skull from the inside as she tried to sit. Her joints protested and muscles ached as though she had aged fifty years since she last opened her eyes.

Then again, perhaps she had.

Wherever she found herself now, it wasn't the room she had fallen asleep in. Everything around her was an aggressive white that reflected stark lighting back in on itself and right into her eyes. The floor was cold and stank of bleach. Her bed was absent, as was anything else that could qualify as furniture.

Gingerly, Em got to her feet. As she moved, she realized her hospital gown had been replaced by fresh, mint-colored scrubs. That, at least, was a relief. Running her hand over her hairless head, she discovered a series of small, coin-sized electrodes secured in a symmetrical constellation across her scalp. In doing so, she noticed more that had been placed on her arm, close to or directly on top of pulse points. A quick glance down the front of her scrubs revealed more still, including a couple that sat directly over her heart.

She turned in a slow circle, taking in the room as her eyes adjusted to the light. The space was a rectangle, equally tall as it was deep. Save for a single door on one end, the ceiling and three of the walls were covered in shimmering panels. Em walked toward the door and, against her better judgement, ran her fingertips across one at eye-level.

Nothing happened.

"It hasn't been turned on yet."

Em whirled around, nearly losing her balance in the process. The fourth wall—one of the two long sides of the rectangular room—wasn't a wall at all: it was a window. Thick triple-pane fiberglass ran from edge to edge, floor to ceiling. On the other side of it was a gallery of control panels that filled an equally sterile room. Researchers busied themselves at their individual stations; doing what, Em couldn't tell.

And there, directly on the other side of the window, was Wyndam. He was dressed as impeccably as always in a crisp, personally tailored suit. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his slacks, and the lackadaisical smile on his face gave him the air of a man who had never doubted himself once in his entire life.

The truth hit Em all at once — she wasn't in a room at all: she was in a cage.

"Today we move onto the exciting part of our program, Starborn. Are you ready?" Wyndam cocked his head, his expression smug.

Em didn't answer. She came to the window and scanned the room. Aside from Wyndam, not one person looked back. Her eyes slid back to the door to her chamber, sizing it up. Its edges were flush with the wall and it lacked any sort of discernible handle with which to open it

No in and out privileges here, I see, she thought.

She looked again into the control room and found one set of double doors against the back wall. It probably wouldn't be difficult to blast down the chamber door and soar over the heads of her captors out of the control room. But she was weak and had no idea where in the lab this room was, which would make finding an escape route tricky—possibly even deadly. Frowning, Em shuffled back into the middle of the chamber and sank down to sit cross-legged in the middle of the floor. With her elbow on one knee, she cradled her chin in her hand and blinked back at Wyndam with as much ambivalence as she could muster.

If her defiance troubled him, he didn't let on. Instead, he turned to the researchers and told them to begin. One of the researchers bent over their station and got to work. Within seconds, a mechanical sound on the other side of the wall roared to life before settling into a dull and constant hum. A quiet buzz emitted from the panels. Em kept her expression impassive, not wanting to give the Loyals any sense of satisfaction, but her mind was racing. She didn't know what was happening, but she didn't care to find out either.

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