Heart pounding violently against her chest, fists clenched so hard her fingernails were cutting into her palms, the subject grit her teeth and breathed through her nose, air coming in and out short and fast.
The metal clamped around her wrists were lined with silver, burning hot against her raw skin.
"Just relax, dearie." Though the words on their own were supposed to be comforting, the tone was almost mocking. The head scientist's smile hovered over her face and it looked almost predatory.
Rough palms pressed against her cheek and the woman tried to turn her head away but the collar around her neck left her with little room for movement. The only choice was to clench her jaw and screw her eyes shut as his hands caressed her damp face before running fingers through her unwashed hair.
He brushed her hair back then grabbed a fistful in his hand, forcing her to tilt her head up and pulling just enough to signal for her to open her eyes and look at him.
"You know dearie," the scientist practically purred the words in a slimy voice that still made her cringe. "It would be so much more convenient." Pinpricks of pain ran through her scalp as he pulled just a little harder. "If we just got rid of this."
A snarl rumbled in her throat as she tried to jerk her head away from his hand, only for the collar to burn against her neck. She coughed as the metal pressed against her throat when she tried to shake her head free.
His grip tightened and he yanked her head back down. She gasped as the back of her skull hit the metal table she was strapped to.
"Now there's no need for that." The scientist spoke to her like she was either a small child or a misbehaving dog. "We'll keep that mane of yours then."
Brushing her hair back again, he started putting in the scanners and wires she'd almost gotten used to having all over her skull. "For now."
Excitement bubbled through Belle as she set aside her notebooks, tablet, pens, books and forms. She'd already packed up her bag several times the night before but here she was again, doing it for… well, she'd lost count by now how many times she'd packed and repacked her things.
This was the opportunity of a lifetime and she couldn't stand the thought of not being appropriately prepared with all the items she needed.
The paperwork was probably the most important part. The acceptance letter, the bio data, some additional 1x1 ID pictures. Those things, if left behind would be the most humiliating disaster.
But maybe she needed some other things too? Some of her reference books perhaps? Or her notes and research? Or the thesis papers that helped get her accepted? Would they need that? Was she overthinking?
"BELLE!" Her father called from the living room. "You'd better get moving or you're going to be late for your first day! What's the hold up?"
"C-coming!" Belle scurried from one end of her room to the other then back to her bag, deciding at the last minute to leave her thesis files and just go basic with the forms, a notebook and some pens. She hesitated for a moment before deciding to bring her tablet as well since that at least had a softcopy of her thesis.
Her father was already waiting at the front door by the time Belle finally went out of her room, bag at her shoulder. She took her keys from him, gave him a goodbye kiss and headed for her car. The drive to the facility was longer than usual and even if Belle had already been there once at Dr. Gold's invitation to apply, it was hard to remember the route because of her excitement. Thank the universe for waze.
By the time she arrived, parked, signed in, Belle felt just about ready to explode with anticipation. She was joined by a few other people also accepted into the internship. They were told to wait in a lounge with cushioned black seats and white walls.
Nobody was interested in making conversation. Two of the others took to studying their forms and getting things in other, another scrolled through her phone.
Belle obsessively counted the seconds and minutes that passed. One thousand three hundred fifty-six. Fifty-seven. Fifty-eight. Fifty nine seconds. One thousand three hundred and sixty seconds.
The door opened. Belle fidgeted in her seat as a small, scrawny man strode in. His hair was slicked back and his labcoat was neatly pressed. An aura of power and authority was enough to counteract what he lacked in height.
"Good morning, dearies." With a twinkle in his eye, he smiled at them all. A few gold teeth caught in the light. "As you know, I am Doctor Robert Gold and the four of you alone were accepted into this program. However, only one of you," Dr. Gold made eye contact with Belle and she fidgeted wth her phone in her hands. "…will be chosen to work with our staff fulltime at the end of the program."
One of the other girls eyed everyone else with an expression somewhere between challenging and suspicious. Belle wondered if there was a lot at stake for her.
"Now," Dr. Gold pulled a remote out of his pocket and pushed a button.
The screen behind him lit up and a photo of a young woman came onscreen, looking to be roughly Belle's age, with a scar on her lip and wavy, shoulder-length hair.
"This," Pushing another button to activate the lazer pointer, Dr. Gold encircled the picture. "Is Subject 201, Regina Mills."
The next slide showed Regina's file.
Name: Regina Mills
Distinguishing Features: Scar across lip
Abilities: Telekinesis, underdeveloped biokinesis and pyrokinesis, potential ESP, one recorded instance of levitation; has shown ability to accelerate healing and regeneration.
Other notes: May have undiagnosed mental illness, prone to temper tantrums. Highly intelligent. Student leader in high school and elementary.
Dr. Gold allowed them time to read through the file for a minute or two, then he stepped in front of the screen. "Off the record, we suspect there may also be abuse of some sort, though it's difficult to say since she refuses to discuss her home situation."
A push of the button showed another face onscreen. "This is her mother, Cora Mills. We have limited records of her that are up to date, but a few decades ago, in her adolescent years she was tested for similar abilities and paid a small allowance by the facility. She refuses now to be tested, but has offered her daughter for testing in exchange for a stipend."
The girl who was suspiciously eyeing everyone a moment ago raised her hand. Dr. Gold nodded to her. "So are you saying that you think the mom is just using her kid for money?"
Scratching at his stubbly chin, Dr. Gold paused a moment before shrugging. "We're not psychologists, but, off the record, yes, dearie. I believe that may be the case."
"If that may be the case," Belle found herself thinking out loud, "Do you think she could be at risk of losing control of her abilities if her emotional stability is questionable?"
She wrung her hands together, recalling her research on correlations between emotion and psychic abilities. "You mentioned in your notes that she may have undiagnosed mental illness and said yourself that abuse in her household is possible."
Gesturing dismissively, almost feeling like her thought might not be valid, "I mean this is hypothetical of course, but if her household and her emotional state are unstable, as you suspect, would you say there's a correlation between the prominence of her abilities now and her heightened emotional state?"
Dr. Gold nodded and his smile made the gold in his teeth gleam. "Yes, dearie, exactly! There has been a peak in her abilities of late, and the recorded instance of levitation is very recent. The pyrokinesis? It's always when she's being particularly snippy towards our staff."
"So," The other girl toyed with her pen while side-eyeing Belle, "If she may be approaching a breakdown, we want to see if that triggers a peak in her abilities and therefore have that peak on record?"
"Exactly, Tamara, dearie." Dr. Gold put his hands in his pockets and shrugged, "Not that we want someone to suffer an emotional breakdown, of course. But this case we're studying now has the potential to lead to some breakthroughs."
Something about the situation rubbed Belle the wrong way. It felt… wrong to be hoping for a person to have an emotional breakdown just so they could see if it would trigger a surge in supernatural abilities. Wasn't that unethical?
Belle squirmed in her seat and bit her lip before racing her hand.
The giddiness she got at hearing her name on Dr. Gold's lips was stupid and Belle tried to swallow that feeling down so she could speak, "Should we be… worried about her though?"
"We…" Dr. Gold shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Well, we are concerned. But like I said, we're scientists studying her abilities, not psychologists. It's not our place to counsel her, really. Just study her."
Belle nodded, torn between her discomfort with the ethical implications and her own juvenile eagerness to please the prestigious scientist.
"Moving on," Dr. Gold shut off the screen. "There's another subject I'll be allowing you to study later on, but for now, who wants to meet Subject 201?"