By: Ryann Kerekes

The door swings open. It’s O’Donovan. “5491.”

I look at my wrist. 5491.

“Come with me,” he says.

I follow him from the room, glancing back at Willow, whose face is tight with worry.

“Where are you taking me?” I say to his back as I follow him down the hallway.

He glances back, surprised at my voice. It’s as if everyone else here just willingly accepts this fate. The strange thing is, they actually seem to.

“You’re resisting the drugs, huh?” A grim smile creeps over his face, only I know instantly that he’s not to be trusted. A cold chill runs down my spine. “This way.” He turns suddenly down a hall I’ve never been down before. The floor slants gradually under my feet. This place is like a maze, and I get the sense we’re moving deeper underground. “We’ll be doing some testing. There’s something different about you, Eve Sterling,” he says, as though weary of me, like I’m something dangerous, rather than the small, clueless girl I feel like.

I walk with him for a few minutes until we’ve crisscrossed through so many underground hallways and tunnels that I know we must be in a different building altogether. He stops and presses his finger to the sensor at the door and it clicks open. He pushes it open for me. It’s more brightly lit and open than the place I’m being kept.

We enter a lab with steel counters that hold bubbling vials of liquid. There’s a row of data terminals in the center of the room, along with a desk and two stools.

He sits on the edge of the stool and watches me climb up and plant myself on top of the other. Everything here is designed to make me feel small – from the oversized clothes they put me in, to the guards laughing at my underdeveloped body, to the tall stool my feet dangle from. I’m not sure why, but it infuriates me.

“How much do you know about this place?” he asks.

“Just that this is where Defects are kept.”

“Let’s have a talk.” He sits facing me, his eyes examining me from head to toe. “Tell me how you did it,” he says finally. I can see he’s trying hard to portray himself as calm and reasonable, but I can also tell if I don’t do what he wants, this front won’t last long.

“You mean fail the mindscan?”

He forces a fake smile and nods once.

“I really have no idea. It’s not … common?”

He waits, looking me over while my skins crawls. “This has only happened one other time in recent history. Your mother.”

“My mother? She was never here.” I’m sure of it.

“Oh, she was here. She was our first.” He grins, somehow amused that he knows something I didn’t. “Back before we really knew what to do with them. But you won’t get out that easily. You try to pull anything like she did – be advised – we’ll take care of the problem.”

His comment makes no sense. How and why was she released? Once you’re here, you don’t get out. Everyone knows that. And why doesn’t she have the tattoo?

His words break my concentration. “You’re wondering why she doesn’t have the tattoo, aren’t you?”

I swallow.

“As I said, she was our first. We did things … differently back then. We learned our lesson after her, though.”

Though I want to ask him endless questions about my mother and what it means to fail the mindscan, my mouth goes dry, my mind completely blank. My mother’s erratic behavior over the years, her distrust of the government, the mindscan process, her fear for me is suddenly justified. The only piece that doesn’t fit is why she’d warn me to protect my mind. Maybe she suspected I’d end up here no matter what I did, and her message was meant to remind me to be strong and not let them break me. God, I wish I could just talk to her one more time.

“So, what does this mean? What do you want with me?” My voice shakes, though I do my best to sound calm, strong. I have to.

“Instead of sitting in there to rot,” his head tips back toward the mental ward, “you’re going to become a side project of mine.”

I don’t know which is worse – laying in Ward A, drugged unconscious or being O’Donovan’s lab rat – but it’s not like I have a choice. Maybe I can find out what he knows about my mom.

He presses an intercom button on the data terminal. “Yeah, come in. We’re ready for you.”

The door pushes open, and a man with rectangular glasses and a white lab coat introduces himself as Dr. Nolan, followed by Will, who won’t meet my eyes.

“I want a full battery of tests, mental, intellectual,” O’Donovan says to Dr. Nolan. “Along with physical and endurance,” he says to Will who still won’t look directly at me. His eyes are focused on my hands that lie still in my lap, or more specifically, at my tattoo. The memory of him visiting me in the night floods my senses, and I blush involuntarily.