Chapter 2 – Earth, Two Years Ago
“Subject 4A is ready for testing.”
“Confirmed. Proceed with the test.”
The electric shock came, and Subject 4A wanted to scream. Perhaps she would have if she had a voice. Instead, she grabbed onto the buzzing sound of her torment. That was what it felt like: grabbing, as if she were reaching out with an invisible limb, curling non-physical fingers around the cords of noise. When she had a hold of the buzzing, she turned the volume up. And up. The buzzing became her scream, the raging tones of an electrical storm, shattering the pane of glass in front of her. But the pain didn’t stop. She knew what they wanted, and what choice did she have? She turned the volume up higher. Now the thicker pane of glass exploded. Good, but… they wanted more? The pain was still there. She wanted to curl up and cry, but that wouldn’t stop it. If only she could explain to them that she would gladly try this without the incentive of the pain… but she didn’t have a voice they could understand, and they seemed to think the pain helped her focus.
She turned the volume up, a notch higher than she ever had before. Pointed the waves of sound like a battering ram, then a bullet. The pain in her nerves was surpassed by the angry thudding in her brain.
The small wall of bricks cracked. The pain stopped. Subject 4A collapsed in her chair, breathing heavily, tears stinging her eyes.
“Well done, Subject 4A. We’ll end for the day. There will be extra dessert with your supper as a reward.”
She didn’t say anything. She wouldn’t have even if she’d had a voice. What was the point? And she did like dessert.
The guards escorted her back to her room, her long brown hair hanging loose to her waist. One of the few freedoms allowed the Subjects was the cut of their hair. She wouldn’t let them touch it. Subject 2A pressed up against the glass door of his room as she passed, his face contorted in worry. She plucked the sound of one of her footsteps from the air and sent it into the glass, creating a low, comforting thrum that would tell him she was okay. He nodded and stepped back, but kept watching until she was safely in her room.
The new girl was in the next room over, separated from Subject 4A by a thick glass wall. The female subjects had interconnecting quarters, but the toxic goop trailing uncontrollably down the new girl’s face and arms made her a danger. They would make her learn control before too long. Subject 4A walked shakily to her bunk, grateful to lie down. Grateful that the other Subjects were away at their own testing, then guilty that she was grateful. It was a constant war to keep apathy from stealing all her cares away.
The sound of crying reached her ears. Subject 4A looked sideways from her bunk at the new girl. Older than any of the other subjects, probably four or five years older than 4A’s eleven years, but she’d only been here a month; she hadn’t learned to handle her new home, the endless testing, the understanding that they were nothing but experiments to be studied. Subject 4A wondered what that was like. She couldn’t remember a time without them. The weeping hung in the air like sad spiderwebs: the low sobs were drifting cobwebs, the high-pitched keening taut strings fit to snap. Lyra rarely saw spiderwebs in her sterile home, but they were rare treasures when found.
With nothing better to do, and a sympathetic stirring in her chest, Subject 4A reached out and gently played the strings.
The new girl’s head shot up, her eyes looking around wildly for the source of the gentle, plucking musical notes that suddenly replaced her sobbing. When her eyes found Subject 4A through the glass, Subject 4A smiled slightly, waved her fingers. The new girl recoiled, face twisted in fear. That hurt. Subject 4A jerked her head away, releasing the spiderwebs to fade away like sound always did.
Subject 4A turned to look again. The girl, her white uniform streaked with silver and tears, stood with her hands to the glass, heedless of the smears she was leaving. Her silver eyes looked through at Subject 4A, pleading. “I’m sorry… Please don’t stop. I’m— I’m—” She rubbed a sleeve across her eyes, leaving another messy trail. “I’m not u-used to all of this,” she hiccupped. “I’m sorry…”
Subject 4A’s heart softened. She reached for the sounds again, but the girl wasn’t sobbing now. Subject 4A tapped a knuckle against the bedstand and grabbed those notes instead, morphing them into the same sweet tones. They filled the rooms with a simple melody of her own design.
The new girl smiled weakly, rubbing tears off her face. She looked calmer, at least a little. “That’s really pretty. What’s your name?”
Panic stirred in her chest as Subject 4A looked around urgently. But no one else was in the room; no one to answer for her. She pushed herself to a sitting position and tried to pantomime, but the girl didn’t understand her signs. The girl caught on quickly, though. “You’re mute?” Compassion in those words. Then a light in her eyes. “They call everyone here Subject something or other, don’t they?” Subject 4A nodded, relieved. If she could only perfect her control, perhaps she could give herself a voice someday… if they would let her. She held up four fingers, then made the shape of an “a.”
“Subject 4A.” The new girl leaned back against the wall next to the glass divider, her face scrunched in concentration. “I can’t call you Subject,” she muttered. “That’s awful.” There was new life in her voice that hadn’t been there the few times Subject 4A had heard her speak. The black-haired girl studied Subject 4A, pale fingers tapping the wall. “Do you know what a lyre is? The musical instrument?”
Subject 4A shook her head, but leaned forward, intrigued. There were other instruments besides the Director’s piano?
“It’s a stringed instrument that plays beautiful notes when you pluck it. Your music, it sounds kind of like that.” A wan smile flickered across the new girl’s face. “Do you mind if I call you Lyra?”
Lyra found that she liked that very much.
(A/N: These flashback chapters are mostly shorter than Barrenger’s chapters, but as we get closer to the end of Part 1 where the timelines align, they will start to be closer in length.
The idea of Mercury giving each of the Subjects their own names came later, when it was pointed out to me that my reader didn’t understand why the kids would be following Mercury like she was the leader in the prologue if she was one of the newest members of the group. That combined with the challenge of introducing Mercury’s group alongside Barrenger’s let to this back-and-forth combination. I like how it turned out, hopefully ya’ll will to!
Thanks for reading!