A/N: It should be known that this is a prequel to 'Relative Perspective.' However, you do not have to read 'RP' to be able to understand and (hopefully) enjoy this. Both stories are separate entities and both can be read as such. They just both happen to exist within the same universe, is all.
Anywho...on with the tale.
She sat nervously in the corner of the stark, gray waiting room, fisting her fingers in the bottom of her oversized shirt. It was ragged, a hand-me-down, a reminder of why she was here in the first place. She had been raised in an environment that forced her to regard money as the most precious of commodities. It bordered on representing life itself, and god knew that she was in need of a new one. So was her mother, her frazzled, overworked mother who wasn't strong enough to stay away from the bottle, and the woman's failing health was what had finally prompted Kristina to turn to such measures as she was presently taking. She was studying at the community college on financial aid and a special scholarship awarded to low income students, and she knew that she had a chance to make things right for herself, but her mother was too far gone for that now. Her mother needed help, and this experiment was going to provide for that.
She looked around the room, taking in the other girls, wondering about their motives and their ages. It looked to her as if she, at nineteen, might be one of the oldest in attendance. It was a very probable reality; the ad had specified that the subjects be between the ages of 16 and 21. She highly doubted that the majority of the bright, young faces surrounding her belonged to drinking-age individuals. She couldn't decide whether to consider this a good or bad thing.
A door opened perpendicular to where she sat and there entered a professional-looking woman in a clean, white lab coat, bearing a clipboard and a granite expression of indifference. She scanned over the young women gathered before her, regarding them coldly; Kristina suddenly found herself feeling the equivalent of a disposable lab rat or guinea pig, and had to wonder why so many of her companions seemed so eager to get on with it, to jump right in.
There was something strange about this, something that Kristina couldn't quite place but which was becoming increasingly apparent. Until only recently, she had brushed aside the warning signs. The oath of secrecy she had to take, the convoluted contract she had to sign, the fact that what little information had been given to her about the experiment was vague and general. She knew that it was a medical experiment and that she would have to return to this facility for observational check-ups every few weeks for the next year; that was all. She had attempted inquiry into the particulars of the project, but had essentially been patted on the head and told that she need not concern herself with such things. That variety of treatment worried her, but her desire for the generous compensation that she had been promised overrode that.
The issue of money was another thing that bothered her. Her financial background had come under scrutiny, and they had seemed relieved, almost pleased when they learned of her poverty and single-parent household. She had reassured herself, inwardly insisting that such concern was the product of a desire to do some measure of good. What would a rich woman gain from this? Nothing. It was the poor who needed the money.
But now that she was here, in a building that seemed more shady and "black market" than professional and scientific, her stomach was once again churning with anxiety, and it was growing harder to rationalize her fears. She considered, however, that it was normal to feel nervous before something like this, and that soon, she'd find that there was nothing abnormal about it at all and she'd go on with her life, flush with the knowledge that in one year's time, she and her mother would be one step closer to climbing out of the proverbial ditch.
"All right, girls, listen up," the woman in the lab coat suddenly commanded. Kristina, having lost herself in her thoughts, started at the sound of the voice. "We're going to have to move you to a different facility. We're experiencing some...difficulties with the equipment in this building, and we don't want to take any chances with it. Trust me, your health over the next few months is our biggest concern."
Her tone was oddly sinister and Kristina shuddered.
"Now, you'll be taken there in three groups. The first group consists of..." She paused to look over her clipboard. "...Carolyn Ashford, Anita Benton, Sandra Cromley, Rena Davis, Lina Donovan, Carmen Ortiz, and Kristina Santos."
Kristina bristled at the call of her name and rose uncertainly when she and the others were instructed to come forward, to follow out the door whoever this woman happened to be. The seven of them were ushered out the door and straight into a vehicle that could only be described as armored transport. The men that accompanied them into the back of the very obviously military truck were decked out in standard BDUs and helmets, and brandished their fair share of hefty weaponry. The world began to spin into a surreal haze as the truck pulled away from the "facility," humming loudly as it carried Kristina and the others off to god knows where. The fears, the worries, the nervousness...they all could be denied no longer, not now, not when she was seated beside a soldier, an armed soldier, who looked more than ready to use his weapon should she or her fellows move the wrong way. There was no reason for military types to be involved in a medical experiment, so it was only natural to conclude that this was not your typical experiment, that whatever the seven of them now faced together was not as innocuous as it might first have seemed. She felt bile rising up through her stomach and into her throat as it dawned on her that it was too late, that there was no turning back now. Her fate was sealed and she wanted to curl up in a cold, dark corner and cry herself to sleep.
The women and soldiers lurched forward and crashed into each other when the truck finally came to an abrupt stop. In the space of an hour and a half, days had passed for Kristina and her companions, days of fear and uncertainty and the burgeoning awareness that they might not be going home, at least not for quite some time. The fact that they had at last arrived at their destination did nothing to quell their anxiety; instead, it only quickened their pulses and sent fresh waves of apprehensive adrenaline through their veins. It didn't help that they were now being blindfolded, their vision fading into blackness as their hands were bound. Soft, frightened whimpers could be heard all around but no one paid any mind, no one bothered to care. The hands that "prepared" them and shuffled them into the open were hard and callused and the voices that barked at them to move and to be silent were cold and rough. It felt as the dawning of a nightmare, heightened by the sensation of the cool winter air on their arms and faces.
There was concrete for a ways, and every now and then the sound and texture of crunching snow registered with them. Mostly, they just heard the sounds of their own breathing, resonating loudly in their ears, ragged and quick. Kristina wondered again why she hadn't paid attention to her instincts, why she had ignored that which should have tipped her off. There were other ways for her to get money. This was not worth it, not in the least. Besides, with the way they were treating she and the others, what was the likelihood that she would be getting any money out of this? These people were probably going to use up their young "volunteers" and then throw them back onto the streets, utterly empty-handed. No one would take seriously the ravings of a bunch of poor girls. No one would believe that this was what had happened to them. If the military were truly involved, they'd make certain of that.
The young women were ordered to be still for a moment and it quickly became apparent that their captors were opening some sort of door. A rush of warm air hit them and they were promptly ushered into the new "facility" of which the woman in the lab coat had spoken. The dead sound of concrete was replaced with the gentle tapping of tile, and even through her blindfold, Kristina could detect the change in lighting. It was relatively dark in here. It seemed much too dark to be the inside of a building, and there was something unsettling about that perception. But then, it might simply be the blindfold that was causing Kristina to register things in such a way. She hoped that she'd find out soon. The lack of vision only served to make the experience more frightening.
The group traveled a considerable distance through the maze of corridors that was this building. Down a flight of stairs or two, past sounds and shadows that worked their way down the spines of each of the girls and chilled them, made their stomachs tighten. There were voices, normal voices from people who were probably normal but there were also cries, and the humming of machinery that sounded like it could be of the standard medical variety but might be something more disturbing. Sometimes there was the faint pound of marching feet or the high-pitched wail of an infant. Imaginations ran wild and conjured up images of torture, of soldiers testing new warfare techniques on civilians, of mad scientists having their way with random victims, of the brand of monster that one leaves at the door of their childhood bedroom. A collective shudder ran through the "volunteers" every now and then and Kristina could feel the irritation of the soldiers who led them. These men were not used to fear. They were trained to repress it and to abhor its presence in others. 'If only I could be so strong,' Kristina thought wistfully.
At last they were told to be still once again, and all trembled at the noise of what sounded like the opening of cell doors. Anita Benton was yanked roughly from her companions and she sighed in relief when she felt her restraints being loosened. She wanted to retract that sigh, however, when said restraints were not fully removed; she was capable of more movement than she had been but it was still limited. Her blindfold was then removed and the others heard her gasp, heard the shock and despair in her erratic breathing, winced when she cried out and they heard her stumble and then there was the closing and locking of a heavy door and the words "no" and "please" were abruptly cut off.
Carmen Ortiz was next, and then Kristina got her turn, shaking, wanting to struggle but not possessing the strength or the courage. She knew what was coming; she knew that they were being locked up. It wasn't hard to figure it out. But what distressed her more than the knowledge of her impending fate was the knowledge that she was powerless to stop it, that there was absolutely nothing that she could do.
When her blindfold was removed, she blinded rapidly, having grown accustomed to the darkness of the cloth. She was quickly able to handle the dim light of the hallway and she peered around frantically, hating the fact that though she could now clearly see her surroundings, she still had no idea where she was. Wherever it happened to be, it resembled a basement that had been forgotten; cold, dark, the walls a steely gray. She could not make out any windows, which brought to her the prospect of being without sunlight and she wanted to cry over that. She took in the small cells that lined the hallway, just as dark and uninviting as where she now stood and along with crying she wanted to vomit. A choked sob escaped her and the stoned soldier who stood before her took that as his cue. He shoved her forcefully backwards, and she couldn't keep on her feet and soon found herself lying on her back in her new "home," pain passing through her and distorting her expression. She let out a single cry, and then the door was shut and she realized with dismay that she had left her hope on the other side of it.