It was a boy, a youth, surely no older than twenty. In the farthest corner, he was curled up, his knees to his chest and his eyes closed, a hard expression marring his sharp features. He was pale, perhaps the palest person Rowan had ever seen in Northern California, and his dark hair hung to his jaw-line, stringy with grease and grime. A thin robe covered his navy hospital scrubs, but even with the layers, she could tell he was thin, too thin. Underfed. She would have assumed him dead if she hadn’t seen him flexing the fingers of his hand into a brief fist, knuckles spiking out from his taut skin.
Breathless, Rowan stared, wide and unabashed into the room as confused and anxious chatter started among the doctors around her. She felt sick, and the tension in the air made it worse. She wasn’t the only one to feel the sudden regret. She turned to Phelps, and he refused to look at her, his brow fighting a frown. He already knew, but that didn’t seem to make the reveal any less disturbing for him either.
There was another human being locked up in a room across from them. They were not studying an alien or some other, strange creature they’d never seen before. It wasn’t just a body. They were studying a living person. A boy younger than herself. And somehow, that was more unbelievable than Cameron's prospect of an extraterrestrial.
Rowan’s insides twisted in disgust as the bits fell together. This was the secret that needed protection. The contract insisted discretion because they didn’t want awareness. She wondered if this was even legal, or if she had just agreed to take part in poking and prodding information out of an innocent victim.
Presumably, anything was “legal” as long as no one knew about it.
Miller came forward to settle the growing conflict, gathering everyone’s attention before they grew any more restless. “Please, do not be put off by the appearance of our subject. I understand your apprehensions, but know first, what you see on the other side of this glass is not human like you and I.”
She had a way with words, and Rowan’s curiosity crept back. Her eyes jumped between Miller and the youth. When she gazed at the boy, she saw a human, she saw a victim, but Miller was suggesting otherwise.
“At about two a.m., the morning of Friday, August twenty-third, our unconscious subject was admitted to the emergency department of a small town’s hospital about a hundred miles from here. The doctor’s write up suggested he suffered from a severe case of anaemia, but blood test results conflicted, reading very high iron levels. When our subject was about to receive treatment, he woke up and became hostile. Within moments he attacked and killed the attending nurse and doctor.”
Miller paused briefly for a reaction, but the room held a chilled silence, and Rowan felt cold chills crawl up her spine.
“The laboratory technician who handled the subject’s blood work attempted to sedate him with a high dosage of morphine. The subject retaliated and killed the lab tech, as well as another nurse who came to investigate, and a wandering patient, before the morphine set in.”
The room stayed completely silent. Rowan’s eyes wandered back to the boy in the room, her mind racing with questions. It seemed impossible for this obviously unhealthy teen to murder five people with his bare hands, let alone with a dose of morphine in his bloodstream. He looked near death, and likely couldn’t even hold his own weight up, but Miller expected them to believe he was capable of a rampage?
A young man who sat at one of the desks closest to the exit broke the silence. “A human wouldn’t be able to do the things you’re claiming. Doctor, are you saying that this subject is not human?” A certain tone of sympathy lightened his voice, as if he was also unable to see past the boy’s helpless appearance.
“He’s right, Doctor. I apologize, but I can’t quite understand how that, managed to do what you’re claiming.” Another member of the group piped up as well, trying her best to keep her doubtfulness polite, but unable to completely hide her disgust. The room murmured a quiet agreement, all turning to Miller for an explanation.
“I know about as little as all of you do, but I can confidently say, this subject is definitely not like you or me. At the very least, we have a dangerous killer, who perhaps has a serious mental or physical illness causing him to act out in violent, powerful fits of aggression.” The room filled with growing whispers again, but Miller continued despite the chatter, talking over them. “But, of course, I understand a number of you require some sort of proof for the grand claims I’m making. We’re prepared to provide this for you.”
These words silenced everyone yet again, the air around Rowan growing thick as their interest piqued. She wasn’t the only one holding her breath now.
“When the subject came into our custody, we were desperate to find a secure holding place for him, considering the situation he was taken from. Dr. Phelps’ facility was offered to us last minute. Though it is a wonderful place for research, it is unfortunately not equipped for what we need. As you can imagine, few laboratories would be. This means we will limit our interactions with the subject, without putting lives in danger, of course. We have no permanent ways of restraining or sedating the subject, and at the moment, the only interaction possible is verbal, which has proven less than effective. We had security cameras, but he has since destroyed them. We have only audio recordings now.
“There is one tool at our disposal though, which will, at the very least, do a wonderful job at showing you all exactly what we’re dealing with.”
Stopping to assess the room, the warmth previously on Miller’s face when they shook hands was now completely stone. Along with Rowan, a number of the others’ initial disgust morphed slowly into consideration. She wondered how Miller would prove this boy was more than the underfed, wraith he currently was. Rowan’s stomach churned though, sickened by her own curiosity.
“You should all see a cuff on his ankle. This device, on our command, delivers an immobilizing electric shock. We’ve applied this cuff primarily as a safety measure, to have an external power in case we ever need to disable him in some way. But it’s proven to be an effective antagonizing mechanism, also.”
Miller didn’t continue this time, choosing instead to let the proof speak for itself, and gave another glance to the technician at the computer. Reaching for a tiny remote when acknowledged, he pressed a button the size of his thumb after Miller gave another tilt of her head.
Rowan’s eyes flashed back into the room where the boy stiffened in his spot. His thin arm flew up, and his hand flattened firmly on the wall to brace himself against the pain, but it didn’t help. He shook uncontrollably, and as the shock became unbearable, a howl of sheer agony broke through his attempts at resisting, his head stretched back until she saw the veins in his neck pulsing against his transparent skin.
Her heart swelled to a painful pound in her head, keeping count of the long seconds. Two, three, four...
“Stop! For God’s sake!”
The words escaped without her consent, like vomit, to accompany the horror and disgust knotting her throat. Miller’s previously kind eyes flashed something dark at Rowan’s interruption, but she signalled to the other man, and Rowan stared as the boy’s muscles slacked, the electricity stopping. He writhed in the afterpain until he crumbled, his face pressed against the floor, recuperating with deep, labored breaths. The ridges of his spine jutted through his layers of clothes, and his skin under the cuff flared raw and red, suggesting this wasn’t the first bout of pain he’d endured.
Rowan’s chest tightened, and her hand gripped the back of a chair to keep herself standing, feeling suddenly faint. She had just taken part in the torture of a sick and innocent youth. They could have killed him. He could die. Right there in front of them, he could die, and it would be her fault for not stopping it sooner. She found herself staring at the boy, willing him to rise from his spot on the floor, to show her he was alright. Her breath shuddered further with every passing moment, her heart still pounding away, hard in her throat.
Finally, a movement, and the entire group of doctors flinched simultaneously. At an unnatural speed, the boy shot out his arm and grabbed the bed’s metal foot rail, using it to support his weight as he rose to his feet. Rowan blinked a few times, making sure her eyes were working correctly after what she’d just seen.
She was not the only one to noticed the speed of his movement, either. Shock etched on the faces around her, some twisting to their close colleagues to confirm they were not crazy, a stunned buzz enveloping the room.
The boy stood, more feeble than ever, a bony hand clenching the thick, aluminum bed frame. His sharp shoulders rose and fell with each deep, controlled breath. Rowan, who had been holding her own from nerves, sighed quietly to herself, thankful that he was alright. And, as if he heard, he glanced up from the floor through his stringy fringe, right at her, and her previously relieved breath was snatched from her lungs.
The reveal of his piercing, unnaturally blue eyes surprised everyone. He wasn’t looking at any of them, though. He looked right at her, gaze furious.