Just Before Sunrise
The Major always came just before sunrise. Some of the prisoners had trouble sleeping and some woke easily to light, but by those dead hours of early morning most had been spirited away towards something akin to sleep.
Unwashed for weeks and trembling with cold and hunger, Anna paced her cell, sleep blurring the edges of her vision but escaping her regardless. She tried to focus on the songs that the waking birds outside were singing but all around her thrummed the pulsing heartbeat of the radio tower.
Over the loudspeaker of the women’s barracks the signal broadcasted without end. Anna crushed her hands against her ears, rocking on her heels, drowning in the darkness, holding her breath, hoping the burning in her lungs would distract her attention.
The door to the barracks slammed open and light spilled in from the hallway, severing the hold the buzzing held on her. The Major marched in to the center of the room, two pairs of soldiers flanking him. He let his eyes linger on each woman in turn, purposely drawing out the silence as thin as he could.
When finally he spoke his voice was thunder. “Bartrev, Tatyana. Cell fourteen.”
Two soldiers went with batons at ready for the woman. She went without a struggle. Anna had always had trouble seeing her as a killer. All the prisoners were murderers living out life sentences, but Tatyana had always seemed too gentle to kill.
Instead of following his men out as usual, the Major lingered, waiting many long minutes before speaking again.
“Salamov, Anna. Cell twelve.”
Every synapse in Anna’s brain grinded to a halt. No, she thought, they already took someone. I’m safe. It was not until the guards were unlocking the door that her refusal boiled over.
“No!” she screamed, twisted away from them. She lashed out and tried to pry the baton from one guard but he slammed it down on her arm, smashed it against her head, and hammered her bloody until she was barely conscious. The guards dragged her out by the shoulders. Encroaching darkness filled her full, dulling her senses. She barely heard the Major speak, “That is all for today.”
Anna awoke to metal scraping metal. From somewhere beyond her peripheral vision infrared lights breathed fire into the otherwise dim room. A man nearby hovered at the edge of her vision. No, not a man, she realized. No man had black for eyes, transparent skin, quicksilver for blood.
“Hello Anna,” he said. He briefly reached away and when he returned he took her wrist. His hands were smooth and cold like silicone. “We’re running a few tests today.” She tried to move but the effort sent a shock through her nerves. Above her the doctor wore the patient smile a tired parent might give their whining child.
“You should be honored to have been chosen as an ambassador for your race. But instead, you seem afraid.” Defiance tried to fight to the surface of her mind but was bated back. “Fear not. If the symbiosis is good, you will have your freedom.” She saw the needle intrude but felt no pain. The doctor continued to speak but his words were whispers guiding the last of her freewill into the furthest corner of her mind. Her instincts at last went spinning down and away and the world passed in shapeless blurs all about her.
Anna came to in the back seat of a car. The alien Morse code droned through the speakers. Slowly, Anna realized she could understand it. ”–there they will issue you orders and new identities. You will follow these orders precisely, or be terminated. When the project concludes in ten years you will receive a large government grant and your freedom if the results are good. If the results are bad, you will be terminated. To prevent further criminal activity or otherwise disruptive behavior, the implants shall remain indefinitely.” A hushed voice in the back of her mind told her to fight, to cry out and refuse, but a thin web of numbness spread across her thoughts and the herald quieted.
The buzzing paused, and the doctor’s voice cut in: “Anna. Nikolai. Ivan. Tatyana. Roman.” Then the instance of silence ended and the buzzing continued, indefinitely.