“Scarlett, this way.”
A goggled and lab-coated version of my father appeared, taking a steely grip on my elbow as he guided me through the lab. We kept to the wall, dodging a few computers and other machines as we made our way into the main observation room. I fought to maintain a view of Malachi, but without much success. A few familiar faces floated about: Tristan, Dr. Elkaly, and one unexpected other surfaced in the crowd.
“Drew?” I whispered. The teenage lab assistant blanched after catching my eye, vainly attempting a shamed smile. It ended up more like a grimace.
“You wanted to know. So here you go.” My father twisted me back around, focused on a clear view of the hubbub at the center of the lab.
Malachi stood in the depths of it all. A guard was clamped onto each of his arms, his feet dragging against the ground. Blood dripped off his chin, a cut above his eye pulsing with the red liquid. I watched as the men forced him towards a pair of columns at the center of the room. They stood waist height, a jumbled contraption of tubes and wires sat at their tops, but the most pronounced characteristics were the manacles welded to each.
“Here you’ll get to see what that truly is.”
I barely heard my father—I was far too focused on Malachi. As the trio neared the columns Malachi started fighting back harder, managing to jab one in the gut with an elbow before they could get a wrist clamped in place.
“In some cultures they refer to it as a dream guardian. Of course, a more accurate term would be dream demon, but its other purpose is what interests us,” my father droned on.
Even from that distance, I could see the fire in Malachi’s eyes. His whole being seemed to pulse with rage, a storm the two guards could barely contain. They managed to force the other wrist into its manacle, but that only seemed to kindle the blaze, his arms jerking against the restraints.
Then his eyes finally met mine. The fire died in a moment, replaced with a stunned, frigid regret—a fierce regret of circumstances. The sudden change fell like a blanket on the room; the quiet was filled with shame and a deep, sated hatred. Malachi turned away, his body tense with tremors.
“Apply the receptors.” My father’s voice bounced around the room, startling the frenzy back into motion.
It took a third guard to wrestle Malachi’s arm into a position so that they could wrap some contraption around it. The mess of tubes and metal reminded me of a blood pressure cuff, the way it hugged Malachi’s arm, though no blood pressure cuff was so complicated. In another three minutes they had the second cuff in place.
“See, Scarlett, however it can be explain, this being holds an uncalculated amount of raw energy, which we can tap.”
“Why?” I squeaked.
“Because this can revolutionize energy production.”
“That’s not good enough,” I replied.
“This is our family legacy, Scarlett.”
“How do you think your grandfather died? It was this. I am just continuing his research.”
I had always hoped that our mutual loss of a parent during childhood would bring my father and me together. It’d never worked out that way.
I looked back up to find some scientists wheeling a tall cylinder into the center of the room. In its top sat a large gem, gleaming with its own light. Scurrying hands connected tubes and wires, hooking Malachi’s cuffs to the machine.
“We’re set, sir.” Drew stood in the door to the observation room, nervously rubbing his hands over each other.
“Then begin.” The scientists reappeared in my father, paying no heed to my presence.
When my eyes found Malachi’s I flinched. They were the color of milk, pupil-less and intense. A cold abandon, almost a wrathful eagerness had settled over his features. Like he was expecting a challenge, and ready to meet it. A blink later his eyes were the natural brown.
Tristan flipped a switch, and we waited.
“Sir?” Drew muttered, “We haven’t been able to design an involuntary extraction system—“
“Then make it volunteer.”
“Yes sir.” Drew turned and muttered something to Tristan, and his smug happiness at the words made me sick.
Tristan pulled a black rod from his belt, smacking it against his palm as he sauntered up to Malachi.
“Well then, I guess we get to have some fun, eh pal?” he mocked. “Unless you just wanna give up now.”
Malachi shook his head no, offering a taunting grin.
I didn’t look away in time to miss the blur as the club struck Malachi across the shoulder. The sound itself was enough to make me shudder, my stomach twisting in my gut. The crack of a second strike was followed by a third, and then a fourth.
“See, now it’s such a shame, stockholders get a little squeamish about blood.” Tristan’s voice floated to my ears. I chanced a glance up. Malachi still stood strong and steely, defiant. “Fine. We’ll just have to test out my new toy.”
I had no misconceptions that the “toy” was going to be fun. Except maybe for Tristan’s twisted soul.
He traded the club for a sort of wand, tipped in metal. He’d already pressed its tip into Malachi’s side and pressed the button before realization dawned. A squeak escaped from Malachi’s mouth before he clamped it shut, shaking as the electricity jolted through his body.
It seemed like years before Tristan pulled the cattle-prod-on-steroids away. Malachi was left panting, his resolved slipping.
I closed my eyes as Tristan continued. I stood blind, trying to separate myself from my surroundings, frantically telling myself that it was all a dream, that it wasn’t happening, that I had to be making it all up. That I was simply dozing off in front of my tutor, not in my father’s lab, a spectator to torture in the name of science.
My fantasy dissolved as a piece of paper was pressed into my hand. I jerked away fast, a small scrap of notebook paper coming with me. I opened my eyes in time to see Drew slipping out of the observation room, hunched shoulders shuddering.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
I crumpled the note in my hand. It seemed enough to ease my paralysis.
“Stop,” I whispered, repeating it more strongly, “Stop.”
“It’s its own choice to withhold the energy.”
“Stop. This isn’t right.”
“This is science.”
I cursed science to a tragic fate, not caring about the explicatives rolling off my tongue. I threw the paper at my father’s face and tore out of the observation room, heading straight for Malachi. He’d fallen to his knees, limbs shaking violently.
“Stop!” I screamed, not caring who I shoved out of the way. “Stop this madness!”
“Scarlett!” My father yelled from behind me.
“Can’t you all see that this is wrong?” I screeched. Somehow I made it to the center of the commotion. I used the momentary shock to smack the device out of Tristan’s hand and shove him away.
He didn’t move far. He easily had twice my muscle mass.
The room blurred as I turned back to Malachi, reaching towards him desperately. My fingertips barely brushed the skin of his cheek before two steely arms wrapped around my torso and dragged me back.
“Scarlett, so nice to have you,” a sinister voice whispered in my ear.
“Let me go, Tristan!” I struggled against his grasp, kicking out in any direction I could manage.
“See, it’s about time you really got yourself into the business,” he snickered. “Once you give it a try, I’m sure you’ll like it.”
I hated how powerless I was, trapped in Tristan’s arms.
Meeting Malachi’s gaze made me feel worse. I realized that screaming wasn’t helping, that making a scene wasn’t going to save him, that I was only causing pain. And I realized that he was being strong. That underneath the pain and shame was a soul struggling to stand. And that I had to be strong too.
I clamped my mouth shut, holding still despite the adrenaline.
“Now that’s better.” Tristan mocked.
I was acutely aware of his chest pressed against my back, and his hot breath sending shivers across my neck.
“I want to leave.” I hissed.
“Are you sure? The best part is yet to come.”
With a shrug Tristan released his hold, nodding at another guard. Someone handed Tristan back his toy as I was escorted out of the lab.
“Scarlett, this way.”