Stef didn’t move as they rolled her out of the box. Limbs. She still had limbs. That was becoming more and more unusual. The pain in her head was gone – and that was probably bad, considering pain had been replaced with numbness. Her left eye had opened back up though – just in time to be hit with the bright light of the psychopath’s gym.
She swallowed, and tried to ignore the taste of blood.
She heard movement, and a foot kicked her hard in the stomach, making her slide several feet across the floor, leaving a trail of blood. There was so much blood in a human body. Even in hers. She had so much blood, and most of it-
His foot came down on her hand, and she couldn’t muster the energy to scream.
Just as quickly, the weight was removed. She kept her hand in place, just in case he was raising it up to get a better stomp. Lie still, be quiet, don’t argue, do what they wanted, it hurt less.
A hand wrapped around her throat, but again, it was taken away before anything could really happen.
It was the Russian’s voice. Gregor. Something. He still hadn’t introduced himself yet. He’d helped Taylor rip out her spine and he hadn’t given her a name.
She heard Taylor grunting. Inhuman. Sub-Wolverine vocalisations.
Please just make him stop.
She’d stopped crying halfway through the first day. Tears made them hit harder. Tears made the mad magpie girl laugh. Tears meant you were focusing on what was happening. If she didn’t focus, she wasn’t there, if she wasn’t there, it didn’t hurt. And it still hurt. And it needed to stop. And it had to continue, as per the pieces of paper that controlled her life.
She let her mind float a little as voices far above argued.
She wished it hurt more. If it hurt more, she’d have a reason to complain, there was pain, but it was dull, distant, manageable. She had nothing to complain about. She had no basis for-
The hand wrapped around her throat again, and she was jerked into the air, her feet kicking on air – that she couldn’t stop, even when she tried to play dead, some instinct far beyond her control kept fighting, like they could help her fly, balance against the pressure building in her windpipe and help her live. There was no point to that.
As quickly as he’d lifted her though, she was dropped. ‘Lunch,’ Gregor ordered.
She tried to curl in on herself without moving. Breaks usually meant becoming the “one I prepared earlier” example.
She clenched her teeth and waited.
There was the fabric-on-fabric of someone squatting. ‘I said lunch,’ Gregor said.
She let herself focus a little. The voice was aimed at her. She slowly blinked and took in a bit of the detail. The blond agent was staring at her. ‘You there, Mimosa?’
She swallowed and managed a tiny whimpering noise.
He pulled an object from his pocket and dropped it on the ground beside her and into the blood. ‘There you go,’ he said, his voice chipper, ‘eat up.’
She steadied herself a little, feeling a rib mend and snap back into its right place. She grabbed at the object and looked at it – it looked like a wrinkled passionfruit.
‘It’s a fae apple,’ Gregor said, ‘I went to the market this morning.’ He pointed, and she turned her head slowly to look at Magnolia sitting on the bleachers, picking over a fruit bowl – fruit that looked far more colourful and appealing than the apple.
It was light, and felt squishy to the touch, like a half-deflated berry. It was probably rotten. Probably what had been hidden at the bottom of the fruit basket, or-
Unblinking, scarily intense eyes stared at her. ‘Taste it.’
Paranoia rose like vomit. It was a kind gesture, so she had to accept. Roll over and play dead, accept whatever they wanted to do. It was probably poison, probably a tricky way to try and kill her. Poison apple. She loved her god dearly, but Turing’s murder was one element of his life she didn’t want to copy.
She shook and looked back down at the blood-covered apple, tilted her hand sideways and let it fall back into the blood. ‘N- No thanks.’
Faster than she could follow, he’d snatched the apple back up and slammed it into her hand, his huge hand curling around hers. ‘You’re going to eat it.’
This was different. It wasn’t like everything else they’d done. They’d made no pretence before tearing her head off, before showering her with acid, before-
She scooted backwards, but ran into a wall. The wall moved and grunted, and she looked up to see it was Taylor’s legs. He reached down, grabbed her head and held her in place. She scrambled, trying to slide away, to use the blood on the floor to her advantage, but only succeeded in slipping further, losing stability, and with a comical screech of shoe rubber across polished floor, finished up on her back, staring up at the two agents.
She clamped her jaw shut, even as Gregor crushed her hand more. Taylor had knelt behind her, her head locked into place and pressed against the floor.
Gregor lifted her hand to her mouth. ‘Eat,’ he demanded.
She tried to shake her head, but Taylor’s grip was immoveable. Gregor reached in with his free hand, wrapped it around her jaw and popped her mouth open in one swift movement, then forced the fruit into her mouth.
The content of the fruit had spilt all over her hand, and had roughly the same consistency as passionfruit, sweet and nearly liquid, it started to slide down throat. Gregor wiped her palm across her open mouth, making her catch what had stuck to her hand, then moved his hand, his palm across her mouth, his thumb hooked under her chin, keeping it closed.
She fought to puke in her mouth, to keep it out of her system. She pressed at the contents with her tongue, and started to force them through the tiny corners of her mouth.
I don’t want to die!
Taylor shook her head from side to side, and she swallowed some of it.
Gregor massaged at her throat, like she was a cat refusing to take her medicine. ‘Just a little more,’ he said in an almost soothing voice. ‘Just swallow for me.’
The mad magpie girl. A tiny bit of hope flared – maybe she was finally sick of seeing two hulks beat up on her. Maybe the unfairness of the situation finally-
Taylor’s hand released, but Gregor’s hand stayed in place across her mouth. The magpie said more words, and Grigori hauled her back into a sitting position, his free hand wrapped around her, pinning her against him, keeping her in place.
Magnolia brandished a piece of paper, and bent down to her level. ‘Can you hear me, Recruit?’
Stop them, please!
Magnolia crouched, and held the piece of paper closer. ‘This is the final authority for these tests,’ the magpie said, ‘as signed by Director Ryan. Do you see his signature?’
She focused through blurring eyes at the blue ink, and she saw the flourished signature she recognised as Ryan’s, unable to give an answer, she met Magnolia’s gaze.
‘I’m going to take that as a yes,’ Magnolia said. ‘In short, as has been discussed, this signature makes everything we do to you legal, Mimosa. We can do whatever the fuck we want, if it’s in the best interest of the Agency.’ Magnolia smiled.
The piece of paper made it legal. Ryan had signed off on it. They were just trying to psyche her out. They were trying to frighten her. They were succeeding.
She slowly swallowed the contents of her mouth. Gregor slowly released his grip, and let her slide away. She choked a little, but it stayed down.
She couldn’t feel pain, she didn’t feel numb, she quickly counted to ten – her faculties were okay. It didn’t seem to be burning out her trachea.
Gregor smiled an entirely unwholesome smile, and she went back to staring at the floor. The floor was always the safest thing to look at, even if it was smeared with her blood.
There was a blast of cold air conditioning air, and she shivered.
They were still looking at her, she knew that without looking up. They were still watching her. Waiting for a reaction. Waiting to see what the apple did. It was poison. She was going to die. It was-
It got colder, and a few of the lights went out.
She flopped onto the floor, and the world spun.
It got darker, and everything stretched and skewed.
She tasted sweetness, and things went dark.