Chapter Four: Charisa
The first thing I’m aware of when I wake up is that I feel no pain.
Oh, great; I’m dead.
Or my regenerating health is working its magic. That could be it too. There’s only on way to find out for sure…
I open my eyes and find myself lying on a hospital-style bed in a metallic room filled with scary-looking, sterile tools. I’m wearing a simple, sturdy white blouse and equally simple, sturdy white pants- both of which remind me of hospital gowns.
Well, this certainly isn’t heaven.
I sit up and climb out of bed, setting off an alarm in the process.
The sound pierces at my super-sensitive hearing, and I cover my ears and curl downward.
That’s when I notice a strange band around my ankle that I don’t remember putting on. It’s the kind that the people in nursing homes wear, and it’s no doubt the cause of the alarm.
The large, jailhouse-like door swings open and a tall, pale woman with wavy brown hair hurries in. She’s wearing scrubs.
I blink. “Where am I?”
“Among friends,” she assures, touching buttons on what looks like a very complicated watch. The siren mercifully stops. “You were rescued from a burning warehouse-”
I clutch the edge of my hospital bed. “And the other person I was with- was he rescued?”
The woman lowers her head solemnly. “We rescued him from the building, but his wounds were too severe. I’m sorry, but he’s-”
“No!” The word isn’t mine, though. Instead of breaking my heart, the word restarts it.
Suddenly, there is a clamor outside, and Kyle runs in, wearing an outfit identical to mine, and looking rather beat up.
The woman frowns. “Right there, apparently.”
I run past her to the boy I thought I’d never see again. “Kyle!”
“Chrissie!” he cries, picking me up and twirling me around. Then he winces and puts me back down. “They told me you were dead, but then I heard your voice.”
Reaching up, I cradle his face in my hands. “I thought you were dead too.”
We both turn toward the woman, but before either of us can do anything, another person steps into the room.
The man is only a little taller than I, with Chinese features, disheveled black hair, and an over-all unkempt appearance. He blinks at us a little nervously. “Welcome.” Then he turns to the woman. “Wanda, were you being dishonest to our guests?”
“They are more controllable when their spirits are broken,” Wanda points out. “Just look at our other girl.”
I inch closer to Kyle.
“And what would you have me do?” the man asks. “Keep them apart for the entire duration of their stay here? We don’t have time for such inefficiencies.” With that he turns to Kyle and me. “I’m Jin Yin, by the way.” He clears his throat. “Thanks for, uh, ‘rescuing’ me.”
Kyle narrows his eyes. “Where are we?” His voice is low; a warning.
“In an underground bunker,” Jin Yin answers. He clears his throat again. “It’s my, uh, lab.”
My mouth goes dry. “Your lab?”
Jin Yin nods. “I’d been developing a cure for cancer, and then I found a substance that could cure pretty much all diseases, and that could cure even weakness in general-”
I stare at him.
“Now don’t go thinking I’m Cure because of my crazy- er, crazy because of my Cure. You were empowered by a plant substance, were you not?”
“I was able to get a sample of the leaf that gave you your powers.” He gets a distant look in his eyes.
“You have a tea leaf?!” I cry. Courtney might get her tea yet…
“I put it through several tests to find the chemicals added to it to make it what it became. I didn’t find the exact solution, exactly. However, I did find something close.” He sighs deeply and rolls back on the balls of his feet. “Tragically, the leaf itself was exhausted in the process.”
He rolls back up. “Don’t worry, though- the Cure is almost ready. I just have to work out some kinks in it. Like the fact that testers with the Cure in their bloodstream have the strange urge to do the chicken dance when they smell popcorn. And, more importantly, this sonar frequency that causes testers with the Cure in their bloodstream’s bodies to shut down.”
Kyle and I glance at each other.
Jin Yin clears his throat again. “Anyway, that’s why you’re here. I needed more subject tests- er, test subjects.”
I clutch Kyle’s arm. “What?!”
“No,” Kyle hisses.
“It’s for the good common- er, common good,” Jin Yin assures. “And don’t worry; not a single tester has been lost in the making of the Cure. Of course, it helps that both of them have regenerating health…”
“Huh?” I say, but before I can dwell on it, I remember a very important fact: Kyle doesn’t have regenerating health.
“You have two other superhumans?” Kyle asks, his eyes scanning the room, as if they’re already here, hiding in the nonexistent woodwork.
Jin Yin nods. “I found one and made the other. The whole regenerating health thing is very convenient when dealing with strange new chemical mixtures. It’s also very helpful with figuring out how to develop on army of superhumans for Mother as a surprise.”
“Not another army!” I cry.
“Mother is different from Marcus Greene,” Jin Yin assures. “She’ll cure the world from weakness and bring peace to it.”
“While Marcus simply wanted to bring justice and peace to it,” I mutter.
Kyle narrows his eyes. Then he knocks me backwards while simultaneously jumping Jin Yin. “Run, Chrissie!”
Before I have a chance to react, my anklet suddenly emits an electric shock. I crumble to the ground, my body convulsing with continuous jolts of electricity. Skin burning. All my body aching-
Somehow, I turn my head enough to see Wanda standing in a corner, holding a remote.
I absolutely loathe remotes.
Wanda bites her lip. “Oops. Wrong button.”
“Stop it!” Kyle cries. “Whatever you’re doing to her, stop it! I surrender.” He raises his arms.
Wanda pushes a button on the remote and the shocks stop.
I take a raspy breath as my body repairs itself. Then I slowly sit up.
Jin Yin is also sitting up. He’s studying Kyle and me with a raised eyebrow. “Actually, Wanda, I believe you pushed the right button. From now on, if the girl steps out of line, shock the boy. And if the boy steps out of line again, shock the girl.”
“Yes, sir,” Wanda answers, her voice cool and clinical.
I eye Kyle’s ankle. He has an identical anklet to mine. If we can just get them off at the same time, we’re home free-
“And don’t even think about removing the anklets,” Jin Yin orders. “If you do, they’ll immediately set off an alarm that will bring an entire platoon armed with guns down on you. Special guns with bullets made of the substance that weakens you.”
I suck in my breath. “But… how?”
He clears his throat again. “I, uh, tried to convince Mr. Bagshaw to give me the information he gathered about super humans, but he refused. But when V.C. got a hold of Mr. Bagshaw’s equipment, I was able to convince one of his men to sell me a prototype gun and copies of the formula that makes your chemical weakness. I’ve long since made more such guns and decoded the formula. Though, I had to guess with the last part of the code. That’s why my version of the chemical’s version of gas bombs have a bad habit of, uh, releasing gas instead of exploding into a fiery inferno. Er, I mean exploding into a fiery inferno instead of releasing gas.”
He has possession of the secret of our weakness. I feel like I’m going to be sick- and that’s a feeling I haven’t had for a very long time.
“So, you didn’t try to blow us to smithereens on purpose?” Kyle asks through gritted teeth.
“No.” Jin Yin studies Kyle. “But I don’t understand why you haven’t healed yet…”
Neither Kyle nor I offer an explanation.
Jin Yin’s eyes widen and he licks his lips. “Unless… Unless you don’t have regenerating health. But you appear to have all the other superpowers… How interesting. Well, this complicates things. How interesting.” He jumps up and strolls over to us.
Then he gives Kyle a once-over before taking my chin (both like and unlike Marcus once did) and turning my face from side to side with a curious expression on his own face. “What other little surprises are you hiding?” He drops my chin and looks up at Wanda. “Cancel my plans to test the cure with One and Two. We’re taking Three and Four to the track instead.”
“Tell me,” Kyle says through still gritted teeth, “am I ‘Three’ or ‘Four’?”
I narrow my eyes. “I’m neither.”
Jin Yin ignores us. “This way, you two; or well, Three and Four. And remember- no misbehavior or the other one gets it. Er, the other Three or Four gets it.”
Gritting my teeth, I follow Jin and Kyle out of the room. Wanda follows me.
The hallway is entirely made up of metal and I finally believe the ‘underground bunker’ story. I try not to think about how far underground I really am. I have enough crushing weight on my shoulders as is.
Jin Yin leads us to a door another jailhouse-like door. As he removes a key card from his pocket, two buff men in security guard garb march past us. They don’t even glance at us, but I study them.
And see the guns on their backs. I shudder. They are the same shape as the ones that shoot the bullets that weaken us.
Jin Yin unlocks the door and pushes it open. He steps inside and gestures for us to follow.
The room is large- about the size of my school’s gym. It has a racetrack running through it, as well as several pieces of equipment against one wall. A single bleacher lines another wall.
Wanda takes a seat on the bleacher, and Jin Yin forces me onto it as well. Then he turns to Kyle.
“Show me how fast you can run, Three,” Jin Yin orders. “And don’t attempt escape, or Four will be electrocuted.”
Kyle glares at him before running around the racetrack. He goes faster than any regular human could ever go, but not as fast as I know he can go.
Jin Yin removes a tablet from his pocket and shakes his head at it. Then he turns to Wanda.
Wanda nods and pushes a button on the remote.
I brace myself for pain; however, I feel nothing. Instead, I hear a spark come from Kyle and see him go much faster.
The bench bends under my fingers. “You’re a monster.”
Jin Yin cringes. “He wasn’t cooperating.” Then he looks back down at the computer. “He’s going even faster than either One or Two have ever gone. Though, Two isn’t very fast since her solution was so diluted… That’s enough now, Three.”
Kyle halts and glares at our cruel captor.
Ignoring Kyle’s hostility, Jin Yin pats the bleacher beside him. “Now come have a seat.” He turns to me. “Four, you’re up.”
Biting my lip, I walk up to the racetrack. I try to tell myself that I’m just trying out for a team, but my fantasy can’t conceal the truth- or the shame behind it.
I run as fast as I can run. I almost hate myself for giving in to Jin Yin, but I don’t want to be electrocuted again. And I certainly don’t want Kyle to be electrocuted again.
After I’ve proved my speed, Jin Yin has both Kyle and me prove our strength and agility. He doesn’t, however, ask us to test our senses. Instead, he asks, “Can either of you surroundings into your morph? Er, turn invisible?”
I stare at him. “I didn’t even know that was possible.”
“One doesn’t have that ability, but Two does.” He frowns, considering something in the distance. “But she didn’t acquire her superpowers the same way the rest of you did...”
He snaps out of his daze and leans toward us, as if sharing a secret. “I gave them to her through a strained version of the leaf, and with some other chemicals besides, among other things. So, though she is weaker and slower than the rest of you in her other superpowers, she has an extra ‘superpower’ due to the conflicting chemicals.”
I grimace. Poor Two. I don’t even want to know all that Jin Yin did to her.
Jin Yin studies Kyle in a way I decidedly don’t like. “Now the question is, what extra power do you have in the place of regenerating health? All the others have it to a degree, so surely you have something else...”
Kyle doesn’t answer.
“I’m going to give you the doubt of benefit- the benefit of doubt- and pretend that you don’t know. But we shall both learn of it soon.” He clears his throat again. “Anyway, I have to call Mother. Wanda, take them back to the lab and take the blood samples. Then take them to meet their roommates.”
Wanda nods. “Yes, sir.” Then she leads Kyle and me out of the room.
As we walk back up the hallway, I study the remote in Wanda’s hand. If I could just knock it out…
A pair of armed guards walk by and I sigh. Even if I did destroy the remote, Kyle and I wouldn’t be able to find an exit before the guards shoot us. And I’ve already tasted Uncle Rivers’ bullets; I don’t want to suffer any hybrids.
Wanda leads us both back to the room I had awakened in.
“Sit,” Wanda orders.
Both Kyle and I do so. Wanda injects a needle into my arm and removes some of my blood. I heal the moment she removes the needle. Then Wanda does the same to Kyle, who doesn’t heal.
Wanda stares at his blood as it flows out for a long moment.
“Ahem,” I say. “He needs a bandage.”
She narrows her eyes at me. “Of course.”
After bandaging Kyle’s arm, Wanda waves in two guards. “Take him to One’s cell.”
I jump up. “Wait; you’re separating us?!” I
“Yes,” Wanda answers with a slight smile. “We need to keep you Un-impregnated in order for the tests to be completely effective. You’ll see each other in the morning- if you cooperate.”
Kyle maneuvers closer to me despite the guards. “Contact me after your roommate is asleep,” he whispers before getting yanked away.
Wanda turns to me. “Follow me to your cell.”
I obey, biting my tongue all the while. What would come out if I don’t restrain it, I don’t think either of us want to know..
Instead, I do my best to pay attention as she leads me to my cell, but everything seems the same. However, now I know that there are seven doorways between the room I woke up in and the room Wanda stops at- no doubt the room I’ll be waking up in tomorrow.
“Have fun with Two,” Wanda says before pushing me into the room. She shuts the jailhouse-like door behind me.
I straighten up and look around my new surroundings. The room is about half the size of my bedroom and is dimly lit. A set of bunk beds stands in one corner of the room and a crude restroom stands on the other side of the room. There is nothing else; not even my promised roommate.
“Great,” I mutter. “Just great.”
“What is great?” the wall asks.
I shriek and jump all the way up to the ceiling and onto the top bunk.
A part of the wall moves and, suddenly, I find myself looking down at a short, scrawny girl. Her stature makes me want to think she’s a child, but her eyes show a soul aged beyond her years. Between the two, I’d say she’s approximately my age.
The girl cocks her head at me. She’s of African heritage, with skin is darker than mine, but lighter hair with an almost caramel hue. Her eyes are large, brown saucers and she’s wearing an outfit identical to mine (including the anklet). And she’s strangely pretty in a haunting sort of way.
I blink. “Are you Two?”
The girl nods. Her face betrays no emotion.
“Well, that won’t do,” I say. “What’s your real name?”
“I do not remember,” the girl answers with a voice that seems far away.
“I chose to forget. It is easier that way.”
“Oh... Well my name is Chrissie.”
The girl says nothing.
“How long have you been here?” I finally ask.
The girl shrugs.
I lick my lips. “So, uh, what’s One like?”
The girl stares at me blankly for a moment. Then she says, “Oh, him. He’s kind to me. He forgot his name too, but not by choice.”
“Uh-huh...” Kyle and I have got to get out of here ASAP.
The girl turns away and walks towards the bunk bed. She clearly plans on sleeping on the bottom bunk- which means I get the top bunk.
Great. Just great.
“Wait,” I say.
The girl pauses. Following orders is apparently a second nature to her.
I lean forward, grabbing hold of the wall to keep from falling the terrible distance. “I don’t agree with this numbers for names business. It’s demeaning. So if you can’t remember your name, I’ll give you a new one.”
The girl turns around slowly to face me. Then she blinks at me.
“Faith,” I announce. “I dub you Faith.” Faith to remind me that I have something with me that’s true in this web of lies; that I will be true to it- no matter what.
Faith blinks at me and then climbs into her bed without another word.
“Good-night, Faith,” I say. Then I climb up into my bed and wedge myself as far away form the ladder as possible.
“Two. Four. Six. Eight,” I whisper. Then I wait.
In the distance, I hear Kyle whisper back, “Three. Five. Seven. Nine. How are you?” It’s not a nicety; it’s a sincere question.
“I’m fine,” I answer. “For now. I’ve been in worse messes before. Always survived those. Though, I’m thinking we ought to change the signaling code to something that doesn’t include numbers; numbers give me a bad taste in my mouth.”
“Agreed. But first, how’s your roommate?”
“She’s been zombified. We have to get out of here before we end up like her.”
“Also agreed. Though my roommate has been here even longer than yours, and he still seems fine. He’s an amnesic because of how he was kidnapped- he obviously wasn’t wearing a helmet like I was. Anyway, he’s a kindred spirit. We’ll all three get out of this together.”
“Four,” I correct. “We need to take Faith too.”
“Is Faith your roommate? Well, okay. The more the merrier.”
“So, what’s the first step in escaping?”
“Stay low. Be observant. Don’t try anything big yet. We need to get an idea of our surroundings and tools.”
“All right- but it goes the same for you.”
Kyle laughs. “If you insist. Well, get some sleep- whatever tomorrow holds, you’ll need your energy for it. Besides, my roommate’s looking at me like I’m crazy.”
“You are. Love you.”
“Love you too. Over and out.”
Kyle goes silent and I’m left alone with a zombie roommate and my thoughts.
We’re going to get out of this mess; all four of us. Then I’ll go home to- Oh, no! What must my family be thinking? They must be so worried…
Well, I’ll be seeing them soon. We’ll all break out of this place and away from crazy Jin Yin and horrid Wanda. Then I’ll be with my family again and go back to having the best summer ever.