Quail winced. A bump had formed on her head. She forgot where she was for a moment. A steady stream of rain poured down, and the floor was white as porcelain. Then it became clear that she had slipped in the shower.
There was something dark underneath her fingernails. She picked and scraped her nails, but nothing came out, and her fingers were clean. The dried blood had washed away months ago, yet the memory lingered. Her hair was straight and black like her childhood doll, but, her hair was matted and velvet on that day of discovery.
She was done with the water. Her accident was caused by her shivering legs. After she dried and dressed herself, she laid back on the bed.
Even though Quail adapted to the abrupt wake-up calls, five times in one night was a new personal record. She wasn’t sure if it was nighttime whenever she went to bed. Her sense of time was dulled by the never-ending lights in the room.
The circles they fused into her body inflamed her skin and stiffened her muscles. They placed a burden on her body and mind. Regardless of what she did, it crippled all aspects of her life.
Although it seemed pointless, Quail shut her eyes and cycled through her sleeping positions. She found a spot to lie on and settled down. It reduced her irritation and allowed her to fall asleep.
“Hello, are you awake, T2?” said a feminine voice over the intercom.
It broke Quail’s solitude, and she tried to ignore the woman. She didn’t have to get out of bed. The guards could always carry her to the test room.
“My apologies, calling you T2 isn’t appropriate. What is your name?” said the woman.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Quail. “I’ve tried to be nice, and none of you cared. I’m sure you already know who I am.”
“But I’m not your enemy, and I don’t know your real name. We need to work together.”
This woman must’ve been an ignorant substitute for the elderly director. Quail spread her body across the bed and yawned. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but I’ll play along. My name is Quail. What’s your name?”
“My name is Maddy. The enemy calls me T1, the first test subject.” Then she described her plan for them to escape.
The words touched Quail’s hopes and weariness. She sat upright and stretched her toes. “So you have access to a computer, and you have a plan to escape? I need proof.”
“I have none,” said Maddy. “If you reveal our conversation to the enemy, then you will never hear from me again.”
The answer was unclear to Quail. It could’ve been her lack of sleep or their conversation, but it sounded like Maddy was torturing her with nonsense. “You’re messing with me, right? What are you, a robot or a human?”
“My body is mostly human.”
Silence had shut their mouths. It was a statement and a question about their humanity. Neither of them wanted to explore that subject.
“I understand your doubts. Think about it carefully and don’t tell the enemy. I will contact you later.” Maddy’s voice cut out, and the conversation ended.
It was unbelievable, Quail had talked with someone, yet their entire interaction seemed imaginary. The possibility of another prisoner was reasonable, but how could they hack the prison without anyone noticing? This place had mysterious guards, creepy scientists, and magic tattoos. Maybe Maddy was telling the truth.
She laid down and found a decent position on the bed. Even though she wanted to sleep, her thoughts were full of energy. The conversation was a mystery drug.
“Good morning,” said the director. He spoke over the intercom with his usual pleasantries. “Time for your tests.”
The guards came and took her to the test room.
Partway there, Quail decided to walk instead of being carried. She didn’t want them to brush against the tattoos on her arms.
Once the guards brought her to the room, they shoved her to the floor and stepped into the corners. Two more guards occupied the remaining corners with their stun guns ready to fire. A pile of tree logs, bricks, and steel pipes sat in the center of the room.
“T2, cut the materials we prepared for you,” said the director. “Activate your armor and begin.”
Quail clenched her fists and channeled her will into the tattoos. The circles glowed, the armor materialized on her body, and the sword forced itself into her grasp. She swung the sword over her head, chopped through a layer of wood, and sliced through another two logs by repeating the action.
There was no air conditioner in the armor, which burned her body with energy and rage. She sliced into another log, and it stuck to her sword. Her arms shook as she pulled the blade out. Then she shouted and attacked the wood until it was all chopped.
Her fingers lost their grip, and the sword slipped out of her hands. Quail fell on to her butt, and the armor disappeared before she landed. The circles were glowing yellow, and her hands were shaking.
“May I have some water?” said Quail.
“Once you’re done, you can have all the water you want,” said the director.
“I need something to soothe the burning.”
A guard kicked the tattoo between her shoulder blades. Quail screamed and jumped to her feet. The men pointed their stun guns, and she backed away.
She had one daunting solution. Quail activated her armor and sliced through the pipes with her sword. Although she wore and swung around a piece of metal, it wasn’t heavy. The tattoos, however, required most of her strength to move.
When Quail broke the last brick, the guards cautiously approached her. She was soaked in a puddle of sweat and tears. The body moisture prevented the glowing tattoos from setting her gown on fire. They strapped Quail to a rolling table and brought her to her room.
After they released her, she rushed into the shower. The water sputtered and steamed as it touched the tattoos. She didn’t leave the bathroom until she was sick of the cold.
“Are you all right?” said Maddy over the intercom.
“No, I’m ready to keel over.” Quail walked around her room. She searched for the cameras and speakers that were probably hidden above the ceiling lights. “We need to escape. Do you really think the two of us can do it?”
“I have recruited another. Allow me to patch her into our discussion.”
A buzzing noise passed, and a new feminine voice shouted, “Hey, can you hear me? Is this thing working? My name is Jumei. Who are you people?”
“I’m Quail. I’m twenty-one years old, I used to go to community college, and I worked at a library for three years.”
“Oh, you sound like a real person,” said Jumei. “Uh, I’m twenty. I was thinking about college and work, but a shitty accident sent me here.”
“Really?” said Quail, “I got lost in the mountains during—”
“I was abducted from a colleague’s party,” said Maddy. “I am twenty-three years old. I was a part-time college student, a community volunteer, and a—”
“Stop doing that!” said Jumei. “Look, I appreciate what you’re doing, but where’s your manners?”
Although they couldn’t see each other, Quail resisted the urge to raise her eyebrows and scratch her head. “Were you two discussing anything beforehand?”
“No,” said Maddy.
“Yes,” said Jumei, “I listened to your audio recording.”
“What recording?” said Quail.
“I needed proof to convince Jumei,” said Maddy, “so I played a recording from one of your tests.”
The sounds Quail made during the tests were pitiful and angry cries. It was insulting, though she didn’t want to sour their meeting.
“Hey,” said Jumei, “I didn’t ask for the sounds of torture.”
“I disagree. I informed you that we were test subjects, and I proved it with the recording,” said Maddy.
Quail raised her voice and said, “Arguing won’t get us out of here. Work together and fight the problem. Agreed?”