Updated: Jun 22, 2020
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Chapter 21: They let Alex stay with her that night, sending him into the padded cell with a pile of blankets and locking the door back into place behind them.
Sabrina didn’t know why, and she didn’t ask. She was just happy to have the company after spending five grueling hours with Dr. Stewart, who had declared his intention to understand her.
She recognized it was mostly her fault it had taken so long. She’d broken down more than once, which hadn’t made the time go by any quicker. But realizing that he was documenting the whole thing – every emotional breakdown, every temper tantrum and failed attempt to take charge or keep herself together – was immensely disturbing.
By the time she was back with Alex, she felt too drained to provide any more details, despite the anxious questions he threw at her. All she would say was that she was tired, until he gave up trying to discern what had happened.
Sabrina didn’t object when Alex settled them both in a corner of the room. At his direction, she rested her head on his lap until she felt ready to speak again. He alternately stroked her hair and rubbed her back just below her wings, which were wrapped tightly around her torso. And though it took a while, she did relax under his touch.
“Yeah, Za?” He shifted slightly, though he continued to run his fingers through her hair, sliding them across her scalp in soothing repetition.
“Faeries aren’t all bad.”
He gave a weary laugh. “I know.”
“And I don’t hate humans.”
“I know that too.”
They lapsed into another silence, this one long enough for Sabrina to drift asleep. She woke up slightly when Alex shifted her head off his lap, recognizing in her semi-conscious state how nice it felt when he slipped under the covers beside her. His arm went around her waist and she slid her body backward into his warmth. Wrapped up like that on the padded floor, it didn’t take her long to drift off again.
She slept the sleep of the blameless that night. Either that or the exhausted. At least one of which Alex didn’t share. When she finally did stir, he was wide awake already, standing by the glass door and staring out into the hallway.
He was talking to someone outside the glass panel: a man, young and arrogant and dangerous. The visitor’s Scottish accent would have been attractive if not for those qualities.
“How’s our little princess,” he was asking.
With her eyes closed still, Sabrina did her best to keep her body relaxed and her breathing steady. Neither was easy when she could feel him studying her so closely.
“That’s none of your business,” Alex replied, the edge in his voice adding to the natural hostility of his words.
“See, that’s where you’re wrong,” the visitor retorted with a refined sneer. “She’s automatically my business since she’s HPAC property. Not to mention she’s a threat to the human race, and I happen to be human. Though I have to say: The apocalypse never came in a more shaggable package.”
Sabrina’s mind recoiled at every part of what he said. Her fists clenched in vehement disagreement beneath the blankets.
“Like I said.” Alex sounded like he was forcing the words out through clenched teeth. “That’s none of your business.”
“Not good with sharing, huh? Should have guessed you’d be a typical American, all take and no give. You guys really need to learn to divvy up every once in a while.”
“Stay away from her.”
He laughed, a sound that sent chills up and down Sabrina’s spine. She could only hope they wouldn’t ever leave her in a room alone with him. In fact, she hoped she didn’t have to have any contact with him at all.
“Are you lads misbehaving?” It was another voice she couldn’t put a face to, though she could guess he was a good decade or two older than his disgusting colleague.
“Of course not, Ben,” returned the pervert. “Just our bloke Alex here thinks he has special dibs on the faerie or something.”
“What he’s trying to say is that he wants to damage your precious lab mouse,” her ex returned bitterly.
Ben didn’t sound anywhere close to as stern as he should at that piece of information. “You know the rule is hands off without special clearance.”
Yet another statement she took series issue with. That kind of advanced authorization was something she and only she should be giving out. Nobody else had that right.
“Our chum here has it all wrong,” the younger man protested without a trace of defensiveness. Or remorse, for that matter. “I’d leave the faerie in better shape than she started.”
That pushed the cautious, levelheaded Alex over the edge so that he much more closely resembled Dallas. “If you hurt her, I swear I’ll kill you. I don’t care how I do it, but I will see you dead.” The venom in his voice was unmistakable.
“Enough, gentleman,” Ben interjected, his tone too friendly to be taken as actual reprimand. “Martin, how about you go and make yourself useful elsewhere. Right now, your particular form of scientific discovery isn’t needed.”
“Right then, chaps,” the letch replied, not the least bit deterred. “But I’m sure it could be a marvelous learning experience.”
His footsteps faded away, and Sabrina felt her body loosen just a bit. She tucked the name “Martin” away for future reference so that, if she heard anyone mention it, she’d know to run as fast as she possibly could in the opposite direction.
“You’re not going to let him come near her, right?” Alex asked anxiously.
“Calm down,” Ben replied. “He’s young, but he isn’t stupid. He knows the rules. Now see to it that you can say the same for yourself. I’ve been sent to fetch you.”
“What about Sabrina?”
“She’ll stay here.”
“Who has the access code to this room?”
“Not Martin, if that’s what you’re asking. She’ll be fine.”
The air was heavy with Alex’s hesitation, but he must have nodded or given some indication of his assent because the door whooshed open and then swished back shut again. She waited a minute before opening her eyes, bracing herself for the unpleasant possibility that she’d find someone peering at her through the glass. But a quick, panicked glance into the hallway showed no such sight, much to her relief.
That danger avoided, her thoughts skittered to more mundane issues like the fact that her breath reeked. It wasn’t the most pressing problem ever, only one more reminder that she was very, very far from home.
Another such sign was the team of four men and one woman who came around some unknown amount of time later in surgical green scrubs and flowing white lab coats with oversized pockets. Most of them were clutching sleek electronic tablets: white ones, of course. Right behind them came four guards in their normal attire minus the sunglasses.
Nervously, Sabrina stood up to meet them, not sure what to expect. But while she was regarded with hungry curiosity by the doctors and with obvious hostility by the security force, she thankfully didn’t notice anyone eyeing her the way she was certain Martin had been.
Probably in his forties, the oldest man in the group stepped forward to enter the appropriate combination to unlock the door. The panel slid open, and the guards fanned out, each drawing a weapon of some sort. Too boxy to be guns, she wasn’t sure if they were Tasers. Nor did she care to find out. When they told her to come with them, she did so meekly.
They made for an interesting procession, with Sabrina following two of the security men, and the other two directly behind her. It appeared that the scientists didn’t feel comfortable enough to walk near her. They stayed several yards further back like they were afraid she might tear them to pieces at any second.
Sabrina had no idea why that might be. Even if they had heard about what happened at the Orlando hotel, it wasn’t like she had any weapons on her now, makeshift or otherwise.
After a few twists and turns that hinted at how large the facility was, they ordered her into a room on the left side of the hall. On the plus-side, there were several sinks there, each stocked with basic toiletries: brushes, toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste and combs. They lined the wall to her right, with the same number of stall-less toilets across from them.
She eyed the sinks, not sure at first whether she’d be allowed to use them. For all she knew, this was the HPAC’s idea of psychological torture. Its members were certainly that demented.
“Do what you need to,” the oldest man directed. “But don’t take too long.”
She gave a quick glance at the toilets. There was no way she was going to use them in front of strangers, especially not mixed company. She instead turned to the toothbrushes. Maybe it was how she chose the red one instead of the black, or maybe it was that she had opted for a toothbrush at all; but the doctors began typing away on their tablets like she’d just done something incredibly interesting.
There were three different varieties of toothpaste she could choose from, and she picked the cinnamon one for no good reason. That resulted in further furious tapping, a vivid reminder that she was a study to them: a caged animal in a clinical setting.
Like she could forget.
Trying to ignore her audience of five, she finished with her teeth, then grabbed the hairbrush to run it through her tresses until all the tangles were out. She knew the result was less than amazing, but she didn’t want to look that good anyway.
Sabrina turned back to her captors, extremely self-conscious of what she was expected to say or do. “I’m done.”
“You’re done?” One of them asked with obvious surprise. He pushed his round glasses up his nose, making him look like even more of an insect than he already had.
A stick insect, she decided. That’s what he was. A tall, skinny stick insect with glasses and beady eyes that bugged out cartoon-like when magnified. He should really invest in newer, lightweight lenses. Nobody wore thick, coke bottles anymore.
“Unless you plan to clear out so I can go to the bathroom,” she replied, staring at him just to make him feel uncomfortable. “Unlike you humans, we faeries prefer privacy for that kind of thing.”
The snippy comment was extremely tame compared to the other things Sabrina could have said. While she was sure she wouldn’t earn any brownie points for her attitude, she didn’t think there was anything she could do to make them think favorably of her anyway.
The five lab-whores huddled together in a tight circle for a brief discussion and then separated again. Nodding at the guards, who looked less than thrilled at the direction, they all left the room with only one single warning to be quick. It appeared she was going to be timed.
It wasn’t the most relaxing parting statement, but she managed to be done with her business before they walked back in.
When they led her out again, it was to take her to a room marked by various pieces of exercise equipment and machines, all of which were spaced out neatly in the middle. A five-lane track ran a loop along the walls, while a folding wardrobe screen was set up in one corner beyond those lines. Standing beside it was an older man wearing a standard white lab coat over his professional peach shirt. Probably in his sixties and balding badly up top, he had a slight paunch, as if he enjoyed a few too many beers after work. Everything else about him, however, bespoke a quick mind and sharp eyes, the latter of which he turned on her as soon as she stepped through the doorway.
He was arrogant, she could tell, but it was a different kind of arrogance than Dr. Stewart’s had been the day before. Her assigned shrink had been all-around full of himself. This new guy was high on education and the pursuit of knowledge. And since she offered plenty of both, his scientific curiosity didn’t bode well for her.
Nodding at the makeshift changing room behind him, he instructed her to change into a light pink outfit that consisted of tight-fitting running shorts and a sports bra that fit her way too perfectly, even in the wings. It made her uneasy wondering how they knew her size down to a thread.
It also worried her how, when she reappeared, the gaggle of scientists taped various monitoring wires on her torso. And she wasn’t any more comfortable when they directed her over to one of the treadmills to fasten a harness around her waist and shoulders, effectively locking her into place.
The first fifteen minutes on the machine consisted of a gentle walk, which was apparently the most interesting thing since teeth brushing considering how the research team paced around her, watching and tapping away at their tablets. The same held true for when they upped the speed, forcing her into a gentle jog. Since she hadn’t worked out in quite a while, she wasn’t happy with the motion, but she managed to pace herself appropriately for the next twenty minutes.
Next, they sped it up so that she had to run to keep from sliding off the tread. It set her lungs burning, and it wasn’t too much longer before she developed a cramp in her side that grew increasingly worse with every motion she made. Gasping for air, Sabrina managed to shout out a request for them to stop.
They didn’t bother to say “no.” They just watched her struggle and took their notes.
The pain grew more extreme until she was desperately clawing at the harness that trapped her to the treadmill. The attempt to remove it threw off her gait though, and with a wrench of her left ankle, her legs shot out from under her. Since the bindings weren’t slack enough for her to land on her knees, her legs flailed out behind her while she scrambled to regain footing.
They stopped the machine quickly enough after that. Still, Sabrina had to clutch the guide rails in order to pull herself back into a standing position, being careful to keep weight off her left side altogether. The pain had subsided to a mere throb, but she didn’t want to take any risks.
While she was still getting a hold of herself, one of the doctors rushed forward, kneeling down to examine her foot. If Sabrina wasn’t so focused on trying to catch her breath, she might have at least considered kicking him in his long, aristocratic nose while he felt her up, ankle to calf.
It didn’t take him more than a moment to pronounce her leg “not in the slightest sprained” and give them permission to continue with their tests.
Sabrina didn’t agree with that judgment. They might not have succeeded in ripping her limbs off yet, but she didn’t think she could handle many more physical endurance tests.
That wasn’t her call to make, however. They made that very clear when they removed the harness and allowed her to step down from the treadmill. So she refrained from mentioning how her lower leg spasmed slightly while walking over to the next torture device they had in store for her: a weight machine. It was one of the large models featured in YMCAs and college gyms, complete with a pulley system and metal blocks that looked far too heavy for her to lift.
She stared at the picture with exhausted certainty that they would make her try anyway.
Healthy women were supposed to lift half of their body weight, which meant she should be able to handle sixty-two pounds. If she was in an acceptable physical condition. Which she most decidedly was not.
They strapped her into that seat too, raising the stakes by bringing over a metal box with another set of wires and two ominous black knobs. She didn’t know why the device disturbed her so badly when it was barely bigger than a two-slice toaster. Then again, kitchen appliances didn’t often come complete with thick, shiny manacles.
Sabrina ignored the new monitors the female scientist was taping onto her skin. “What’s that?”
“Something to ensure your full cooperation,” the older doctor replied.
She shrank back from the arm bands he picked up. “What do they do?”
“I’ll show you if you really want.” He smiled.
It wasn’t a nice smile.
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