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Infiltrate retribution, p.6

Infiltrate_Retribution, page 6

 part  #2 of  Exposed Series



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  Raven, what do you have?”

  “The guy, Ryan, was sixteen and captain

  of the senior boys’ basketball team,” I said.

  “I talked to a few kids, and the general

  consensus was that he was a decent

  guy, good student, liked to party but

  wasn’t a dick about it, and he lived for

  sports. College scouts have been sniffing

  around, and it seemed like the world

  was his for the taking. The guys on the

  team said he was getting pressure from

  his dad to up his game to secure the best

  scholarship possible.”

  Jace nodded. “Pressure like that can

  mess with your head.”

  Jo tossed her apple core into the shiny

  silver garbage can. “Enough for a visit to

  the school counselor?”

  “Maybe.” I bit my lip, frustrated.

  “There’s got to be a way to stop this.”

  “We have to,” Jace said sternly. He

  glanced at his brother. “We know what it’s


  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  like to have someone play Frankenstein

  with your life.”

  Bentley’s eyes hardened. “What our

  father did was wrong. And so is this. But

  he wasn’t invincible, and neither are these


  I was glad to see the brothers working

  together again.

  “Here’s what I’ve collected so far.”

  Bentley spun his laptop to face us and

  clicked through a bunch of websites and

  saved documents. “The pharmaceutical

  industry and the minds behind it have

  been conducting illegal drug trials since

  the early 1900s. They've always found ways

  to rush their product through the system.

  Legally, trial subjects must give what they

  call informed consent. They’re supposed

  to sign a contract that outlines potential

  risks, but all of those details are also

  supposed to be explained verbally too so

  there’s no confusion. And pharmaceutical

  companies need to outline the study in full


  i n f i l t r a t e

  and obtain permission beforehand from

  organizations like Health Canada or the

  Federal Drug Administration. In addition

  to all of that, minors need parental consent

  to participate, and trials usually follow a set

  pattern. Testing begins with animals, then

  human adults and finally children. They’re

  super cautious about anything involving


  “So when I get inside—”

  “When you infiltrate the facility…”

  I smiled. Bent and his spy talk again.

  “Right. When I infiltrate this thing, they

  should be asking me for a referral from a

  medical doctor and insisting on getting

  my parents to sign forms, and they should

  have a sit-down to explain the details.”

  “If they’re legit, sure. All of that

  and probably more. But I can’t find

  any indication that a trial is currently

  underway, either on animals or humans.

  Which means if they’re running one,

  it’s off the books. And another thing.


  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  I did some digging, and the doctor in

  charge of the study recently presented a

  session on teen anxiety at an educators’

  conference. I’m betting your school isn’t

  the only one sending kids her way.”

  “What’s her name?”

  “Dr. Serena Millie.”

  Figured. It was the same doctor who’d

  done the entrance interview with me.

  I’d officially met the head of the snake.

  Now it was time to cut it off.

  “Let’s get this show on the road.”



  “And Raven makes our sixth participant.”

  Dr. Millie waved me into the room.

  “Everyone, meet Raven.” A circle of faces

  stared back at me. “Raven, this is Katie,

  Moira, Vince, Cameron and Joel. There

  will be plenty of time to get acquainted

  once the trial officially begins. But first,

  there are a few housekeeping issues we

  need to take care of.” She hitched her hip

  onto the corner of her desk and crossed

  her arms. “Thank you all for submitting

  to our various physical-requirement

  tests. The tongue swabs can tell us so


  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  much about your general health. Did you

  know pale gums are a sign of immune

  deficiencies or anemia?”

  Oh, she was full of fun facts. When

  none of us reacted with awe at her

  revelations, she continued, “Each of you

  is here of your own volition, with your

  own challenges you need to overcome.

  We’re going to do everything within our

  power to help you succeed…”

  I tuned out her very prepared speech,

  speculating on how many other kids must

  have heard the same thing. Stood right

  where I was standing, only to end up

  inside a body bag.

  My phone buzzed. Shifting my body

  slightly, I checked out the text. Bentley,


  Are you still in contact with Dr. Millie?

  I sent a thumbs-up.

  We think her daughter goes to our


  That figured. Jace and Bentley attended

  the most elite private school in the city.


  i n f i l t r a t e

  That the lead doctor working for a major

  pharmaceutical company sent her kid

  there wasn’t a stretch.

  Jace and Jo have a plan.

  And that would be…?

  I waited for a reply, but the doctor was

  watching me. I turned my phone off and

  stuffed it in my pocket.

  Millie was still in full monologue

  mode. “…and all we ask is that you don’t

  fight the process.”

  As if on cue, a man stepped into the

  doorway. His shoulders filled the frame.

  His smile held more than its share of

  bite. “Their bags have been loaded.

  The transport is ready when you are, Dr.


  “Thanks, Simon. I’ll send them along


  Transport? My pulse quickened.

  Damn, I should have realized…they were

  taking us off-site.

  One of the girls held up a hand.

  Millie smiled kindly. “Yes, Katie?”


  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  “We’re not staying here?”

  “Not unless you want to sleep on the

  floor.” The doctor laughed. “I’m sure we

  went over accommodations in our initial

  meetings.” She ignored the confused

  glances we were all shooting each other.

  “Our office isn’t equipped for overnight

  stays. Trust me, you’ll be much more

  comfortable at the house. It’s more of a

  small hotel, really. You’ll have your own

  rooms, tvs, and we’ve even upgraded

sp; our video-game consoles. The latest and

  greatest. While you won’t have Internet

  access, you won’t be sentenced to a

  technology-free wasteland.” She laughed

  again, sharing a patronizing look with

  the muscle guy, Simon. “We know how

  important tech is to you young people.”

  Millie opened the closest desk

  drawer. “That said, we do require your

  full attention and focus during the trial.

  Cell phones, please.” Her smile was

  sickeningly sweet. “I promise they will


  i n f i l t r a t e

  be returned to you on Monday morning

  before checkout.”

  Under Simon’s watchful gaze we

  took turns dropping our phones into the

  drawer. I kept my expression carefully

  blank as I let mine fall, thankful Bentley

  had installed heavy-duty encryption.

  Even if they cracked my password and

  skimmed through my messages, they

  wouldn’t be able to decode my texts.

  I wasn’t worried about being

  incommunicado. Jo had insisted I take

  a backup burner, and I hadn’t argued.

  We were both used to taking care of

  ourselves, and as much as I knew Jace

  and Bentley had our backs, neither of us

  trusted Team Retribution 100 percent.

  The burner was tucked inside the

  backpack that I’d taken for the two nights

  I’d be away. It was stuffed inside my

  rolled-up socks along with a change of

  clothes, a bottle of two-in-one shampoo-

  conditioner and my toothbrush.


  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  The doctor kept droning on. “Don’t

  think for a second we don’t understand

  how difficult it can be to surrender yourself

  to the unknown. Each and every one of

  you is so very brave in taking this step.” In a

  dramatic move, she placed a hand over her

  heart. “This is the day your lives change

  for the better.” She gestured to the hallway.

  “Now how about we get started?”

  We followed Simon to the back

  exit, where a twelve-passenger bus was

  waiting, engine running. Simon had

  stacked our bags on the last few seats, and

  we climbed in and sat at the front.

  The bus pulled away from the curb.

  Keen to see where they were taking us,

  I cranked my head left and right.

  But the windows had been completely

  blacked out with spray paint.



  It was dark when the bus finally came to a

  stop. Simon guided us off, handing us our

  bags as we exited. A cold wind kicked dust

  around our feet. We stood in a shivering

  line, taking in what Millie called “the


  If Millie was selling it as some sort of

  mini-resort, where was she used to laying

  her head? The Bates Motel?

  The house was tall, dark and dingy,

  something out of a Hitchcock film.

  I didn’t have much time to take in

  our surroundings other than to establish

  we’d been brought to an older section


  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  of the city. I had tried to memorize the

  journey, but after ten minutes of twisting

  and turning, I could no longer tell if we

  were going north or south, east or west.

  Bentley would not be impressed.

  * * *

  I guessed this wasn’t so bad. Even the food

  was above the usual hospital fare. Dinner

  was boxes of takeout pizza, spread out

  over the folding cafeteria-style tables in

  the converted office space they called the

  dining hall. It wasn’t exactly a healthy

  offering, but it sure beat bland chicken

  and plastic containers filled with stale

  butterscotch pudding.

  That was pretty much all I remembered

  from my one and only hospital stay,

  back when I’d first started climbing and

  botched an attempt to scale my first three-

  story building. I’d fallen hard and ended

  up with a broken collarbone. Diesel had

  made quick work of getting me out of the


  i n f i l t r a t e

  hospital. If he hadn’t, I’d have ended up

  in the foster care system for sure. He’d

  been pleased to know I’d made a speedy

  recovery, even splurged and bought

  me some fast food on the way to the

  warehouse. I’d never been so happy to eat

  greasy burgers and fries.

  “So what’s your deal?” a guy asked me

  through a mouthful of ham and pineapple.

  Up to this point there hadn’t been

  much conversation flowing. More like

  the awkward silence of kids traumatized

  by the absence of their smartphones.

  We had no screens to hide behind.

  The concept of face-to-face time, without

  the actual use of FaceTime, was as

  unfamiliar as it was uncomfortable.

  I shot a quick look around the room.

  In addition to the kids who’d arrived with

  me, there were already several others

  hanging out.

  The guy persisted. “Yeah, I’m talking

  to you, girl. You got a name?” He studied

  my face, then spoke to the guy sitting


  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  beside him. “What do you think, Scott?

  I say she looks like a Moonbeam, or a Sky,

  or something all-natural-granola, right?

  That pale skin, that dark hair. Those eyes.”

  He didn’t wait for Scott’s answer, turning

  to me again. “So what is it? Starchild?”

  My lips twisted as I anticipated his

  reaction. “Raven.”

  “Ha! I knew it.” He bumped shoulders

  with his friend. “Girl’s named after a bird.

  Did I call that or what?”

  “You called it, Milo,” Scott said.

  “Now that we’ve been formally

  introduced”—Milo smiled through

  residual bits of melted cheese stuck in

  his teeth—“I’ll ask you one more time,

  Raven, what’s your deal? General anxiety?

  Social anxiety? You don’t seem like the

  agoraphobia type. Those ones are never

  so calm, usually screaming their heads off

  by now.”

  “You seem to know how this goes

  down.” I struggled for a tone of casual

  interest. It wouldn’t be smart to start


  i n f i l t r a t e

  asking a million pointed questions.

  “Have you been part of this trial before?

  They don’t let you do that, do they?

  Repeat the same one over and over?”

  Scott answered this time. “Sure they do.

  Why would they turn away the likes of us?

  We’re textbook subjects. Plus the payout

  is too good to not come back. Free room.

  Netflix. A nice bit of cash on your way out

  the door. A warning though. You can’t

  book another visit to the good doctor until

you’ve been out of the trial for at least a

  week. Drugs gotta leave your system. They

  like clean slates. You might want to think

  on that if you’re planning another stay.”

  While Milo filled me in on the

  benefits of participating multiple times

  in this obviously illegal drug trial,

  I scouted the place like I would any

  other target location. At either end of the

  hall stood men in lab coats, their arms

  crossed. I supposed they were aiming

  for the “official medical staff” look, but

  the bulging muscles threatening to rip


  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  those lab coats at the seams, and their

  carefully blank expressions, pretty much

  screamed “security detail.” There weren’t

  any windows.

  “What you thinking, girl? You

  changed your mind and want to head

  home?” Milo shook his head. “Not going

  to happen. Once you sign on the dotted

  line, there’s only one way out. In three

  days. When the trial’s over.” He shot

  Scott an amused grin. “Maybe she’s one

  of those claustrophobes.” He eyed me.

  “Walls closing in yet, Raven? Getting

  hard to breathe? Wishing you could fly

  on out of here?”

  As he spoke, I felt a distinctly

  physical reaction. The walls did seem to

  be pressing in on me. I had to work at

  bringing air into my lungs. What the hell?

  Was Milo some sort of hypnotist?

  I gripped the edge of my chair, my

  stomach churning.

  A featherlight touch on my arm

  had me spinning like I’d been grabbed


  i n f i l t r a t e

  and whirled around. “What the hell do

  you want?” I glared at the younger girl

  who’d come to stand beside me. She

  didn’t say anything, just tugged on my

  sleeve, insistent. And it ticked me off.

  “Quit pawing at me.” I stood, towering

  over her much-shorter frame. “You want

  something, kid? Use your words before I

  dig them out of your throat for you.”

  She held her hands up in surrender.

  Milo and Scott laughed.

  “Telling the mute to use your words,”

  Milo echoed. “That’s priceless.”

  I sucked in a breath, studied the girl’s

  face, noticed the panic and concern. Rats.

  She’d only been trying to help me get

  away from the two goons, and I’d scared

  the crap out of her. Plus—apparently she

  couldn’t speak.

  “Sorry, kid.” I spoke louder than

  normal and shoved my chair back under

  the table. I held out my hands and moved

  them to my chest, faking an attempt at

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