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Overpowering, brutally stark, endless… Bright white light. Never gradual, it hit in a blinding suddenness, dulling the senses. Semi-naked, laid out on a hard examination table, unable to move, unable to resist, you couldn’t see properly, couldn’t hear properly, but you were wide awake, fully aware and petrified by fear. Ghostly shadows - vaguely human shapes - hovered close and backed away with never a word. They were responsible. They kept you awake. They wanted you conscious for the tests, and they caused the pain… there was always the pain.

And from the depths of this living hell came a single unheard scream.

Once again Penny Northern woke from the nightmare to the usual debilitating discomfort. As her eyes snapped open and focused onto the ugly dab-green ceiling she knew it hadn’t been a dream. With a groan of tired resignation, she pushed herself into a sitting position. As she had done many times before she removed the nasal tubes herself and switched off the oxygen flow at the wall, then brought her knees up and sat a moment riding out the now familiar stomach cramps. But the longer they kept her confined the longer it took to find a manageable level of pain control. Leaning forward onto the knees seemed to help. That, and slow, deep breaths.

After a time Penny looked across the spartan room to the second bed. Dana was unconscious still, her face creased in pain, body rigid and tense, hands clenched into white-knuckled fists; the usual residual affect of the procedures, and her heart went out to her.

Penny had seen for herself how they treated this young woman differently. It had been a good while now and they kept her heavily seated and therefore uncommunicative. Only after the tests were there fleeting moments of lucidity, soon stolen from her. For whatever reason the programme had been accelerated on Dana and it seemed almost in punishment for some unfathomable misdeed. Double the procedures, double the pain, and yet there was a quiet strength she exuded which Penny found herself drawing from.

She didn’t know much about her; her name and age. She was toned and tanned which suggested that she wasn’t a housewife or an office worker. She had an old, very fine almost imperceptible scar on her face under her left eye and another high on her forehead, and Penny had the impression that although small in stature she wouldn’t take a backward step to anyone. But the few conversations they’d had were always too brief and Penny was much too concerned about her condition to press for personal information. It was enough that she was here, with the rest of them. And like the rest of them she was dressed in a plain green loose-fitting hospital gown. No rings, watches, jewelry or other adornments. The only ID on her they had issued, but unlike the rest of them, Dana had borne the marks of healing injuries. She had been beaten.

It seemed so long ago now but when they first brought her in she had been bruised and bleeding, red welts around her ankles and wrists told the story that she had been forcibly abducted. There had been dark bruises all over her back and shoulders and her hands and feet were swollen. To Penny’s knowledge no one had ever been treated like that before or since.

Eventually Dana had regained consciousness, in a panic, arms all over the place as if she was fighting someone off, and Penny had to actually restrain her. Dana’s eyes had opened in alarm and she glared warily at her until it appeared she wasn’t a threat. "Who…?" Breathlessness and nausea had robbed her of the question. Understandably the newcomer had been bewildered and terribly frightened.

"I’m Penny Northern, Dana. It’s okay, you’re safe with me."

Dana grimaced as she wrestled to keep her eyes open and regain her breath. "You know my name?"

"It’s on your wristband."

"Wristband?" she glanced at the ceiling, trying to get a visual fix on the place. "Where am I, hospital?"

Penny couldn’t hide the harsh reminder of her own predicament from her face and she looked down momentarily. Hospital would have been a God send compared to this. She shook her head. "No, not hospital. I can’t tell you where exactly. I think they move us around."

"Us?" The question was distracted. A part of her wanted, needed the details, another didn’t care - the physical distress forced all concerns inwards.

"We were eleven before you came."

Dana blinked several times, her expression was pained but blank; she had to contend with a short attention span, and couldn’t comprehend. Penny had experienced the same thing herself. The mind refused to work properly; you felt drunk, intoxicated by whatever drug cocktail they administered.

It was calculated, deliberate. They wanted it that way. She touched the younger woman’s shoulder. "Just try and rest." Dana was about to speak but she became aware that her left arm was strapped to an IV board and turned to see the inverted bag suspended on a bracket above the control panel on the wall. She fingered the nasal tubes with her free hand, then frowned - clearly she was in a hospital bed. "I don’t understand," she said as she turned back.

Penny pursed her lips. "I’m not sure I do, either." It was difficult to even try to explain. Penny herself knew so little. Dana mumbled something inaudible and closed her eyes. Penny took her hand to reassure her but grip was weak and shaky, and while she sat with her it lost its strength entirely. The drugs had won again.

It was always like that.

The program never varied and twelve ordinary women languished without intercession. Outside the bright white place it may as well have been that nothing else existed. No one knew of their plight. No one cared. Twelve women, all without pre-existing conditions and all between the ages of 30 and 45. Whether that number or age group was significant Penny couldn’t tell. It really didn’t matter. Betsy, Edna, Lottie, Dianne, Kathy and the rest, innocent victims taken simply because they determined the requirements. Who were they ? What gave them the right?

It soon became apparent that Dana had been singled out for ‘special’ treatment. The first two session had left her in extremis, an abused shell of a body so weakened it seemed she was barely alive. They continued to keep her heavily sedated, and at times even on life support. Penny had done whatever she could to make her comfortable, see her through the early stages, but that’s all she could do. It was never enough, could never be enough. Whoever Dana was in the real world, it didn’t mean a damn here, her life had been reduced to this. Like the rest of them she was nothing more than a research tool and a test subject. A lab rat!

For Dana, it was worse. Between the closely scheduled sessions she suffered in silence, apparently tapping into a long accustomed self-reliance and dependency. But could she cope? Penny had come to realise that simple inner strength wasn’t enough, you needed someone to make the unbending, formalistic existence bearable, and she encouraged her fight her way out of the fog. The fog was real, and just as frightening - in the fog there were nightmares.

The program never varied. Their lives consisted of lengthy periods of oblivion, broken only by uncertainty, fear and pain. But amid the waves of light and dark there were fleeting, and precious, moments of companionship. These moments you seized and held onto fiercely.

Penny would speak to her softly, give her a direction to follow, somewhere to come to, a friendly, welcoming point of light in the blackness. Home.

But she was herself encumbered by a chronic lethargy and forever tired. She remembered she’d fallen asleep in the chair beside Dana’s bed, only to wake with a start to find Dana watching her intently. She was breathing hard and looked very pale, her face pinched and haggard.

"Much pain?" Penny asked in a low, concerned voice.

Dana’s reply was barely above a whisper. "I feel like a pin cushion." Penny admired her attempt to brave the pain with humour, but the pain was too strong… Dana turned her face away, determined not to cry, when she looked back there were tears in her eyes. "Why are they doing this to me?"

The inconceivable reasons for any of it made Penny’s expression sadden and she shook her head. "I don’t know, none of us do. All I know is that it’s medical. Some kind of tests."

Dana struggled to clear the haze and the headache that accompanied it. All those hokey tails of abduction couldn’t be true, could they? Fabrication! She regarded Penny steadily, for the moment her mind clear. "Who are they?"

"Men. We never see their faces. Doctors."

Dana frowned. She had a strong impression of blinding white light, and figures in full surgical dress standing over her. Their voices were muffled; she wasn’t even sure they were speaking English. Strange sounds, surgical instruments and needles, moments of excruciating pain. The fact that they were doctors horrified her. It was against the oath. A doctor wasn’t supposed to test on healthy patients. There were conventions, rules and moral responsibilities. "I can’t," she faltered, it was so hard to stay focused the pain was so overwhelming. Penny saw that Dana’s mind was beginning to wander as the fog rolled back, she heard her say with effort: "Procedures unfamiliar…" but the difficulty in trying to shake it off seemed too much. "Can’t concentrate," she confessed, but she managed one last time. "How long?" her voice was dry, husky, breathless.

"I’m not sure. A week or so maybe. Time doesn’t exist here. We’ve come to rely on the guesses, and each other."

Dana felt for Penny’s hand, and Penny took hers eagerly. Dana remained quiet, visibly trying to relax, buoyed by the touch and her eyes fixed on Penny’s until she finally relented and allowed herself to be taken by the drugs. Sleep was better than the pain. Penny stayed with her, lightly stroking the young woman’s forehead. Her face conveyed the compassion she felt, but Penny knew there was nothing more she could do.

Time couldn’t be measured. There was only the program, up until now an inviolable constant. Suddenly it varied and for Penny the worst experience of her life was about to begin. The moment she entered the place for the first time on her feet she actually baulked. The stainless-steel interior of the train car was austere and clinically clean, the odour of hospital-grade disinfectant hung heavily in the air. She was ushered through a set of double doors and realised for the first time that she was standing between the dark and the light. A laden trolley stood against the wall and Penny found that upon it Lottie was trying to stave off the unconsciousness. Beneath the oxygen mask she saw her smile and they clasped hands. Lottie’s face was stained by tears. What right did they have!

A second set of doors opened and Penny was led in to an appalling sight, a mobile operating theatre. In the centre, Dana was lying on the examination table and they were reviving her. One of the doctors guided Penny to a seat beside the head of the table and indicated that she should sit.

They weren’t known for their human kindness nor compassion and it concerned her. Penny was scared, scared for them both. She wanted so desperately to put a stop to it but her fragile condition made even the notion ridiculous, she couldn’t possibly fight them off. She couldn’t do anything and was forced to become a helpless witness to the horror.

Penny saw the drilling probe for what it really was and it terrified her. Immobilised, it was impossible to resist the probe’s incision. Dana saw it too, looming over her and knowing its affect she shook with fear. All she could do was watch it descend and her eyes grew wider. The probe penetrated her naval and she cried out. Penny grabbed her hand and the grip tightened so hard she thought her own hand would break. Why couldn’t they put us out completely!

"It’s okay, Dana. You’ll be okay."

The procedure was wretched and ugly. Dana gasped and moaned, her thrashing reduced to no more than jerky movements: she was wracked by pain. With a hiss of gas the abdomen was distended to pregnancy proportions and tubes were attached to the probe and to a pump which operated immediately on insertion. The doctors carried out other tests and the taking of samples that involved scrapings and multiple pinpoint injections. Then after some minutes, the pump was shut down, the tubes were removed and the abdomen deflated to normal after the probe was withdrawn leaving no apparent signs of stretching or other indications.

The experience was harrowing and traumatic leaving incredible pain. But the pain could be endured eventually, the worst of it was the invisible yet indelible scars… and the nightmares.

It was enough to break anyone and Penny had seen some of the women fold under the pressure, withdraw into themselves so deeply that she feared for their sanity. Was Dana one of these?

Relentless procedures, test after test with practically no let up and Dana was close to the edge. It almost seemed that they were trying to see how much she could take short of killing her. Penny could do nothing other than offer support, but she had to contend with the tests herself and was weakening. Would death give relief? She admonished herself for such thoughts, told herself not to think that way again. It was dangerous, fatal.

Penny forced herself out of her own bed and returned to the seat beside Dana’s. She looked at the young woman with a heavy sadness. Dana’s right hand twitched and her eyes moved beneath her closed lids. She was lost in the fog.

Heavy calibre shots had been fired and the reverberation still echoed in the darkened, thickly wooded forest. The dense fog made it difficult to see, that was the problem. Cautiously Scully crouched and looked about her. She held her breath and rose to take another step forward, her weapon held at the

ready. She felt the tingling, her palms were wet as she strained to hear or discern any kind of movement. Where the hell was Mulder?

Suddenly a loud retort and she was hit, flung off her feet and thrown heavily to the uneven, frozen ground. Her left shoulder felt like fire and blood streamed from the gash, but despite the pain she rolled over onto her side, managed to lever herself up with one hand and got onto her knees. WHERE THE HELL WAS MULDER!

Finally Scully hauled herself back onto her feet. Staying low she staggered on to where the log cabin offered protection, to the red wood-burning stove and safety. She didn’t make it. Another shot splintered the door jamb, and she spun to return fire. Her face froze in horror. Duanne Barry held a police shotgun in his hands. A flash of light, a loud, shattering bang! The impact picked her up and catapulted her through the open door where she crashed awkwardly onto the bare wooden floor. Partly paralysed, arms out wide, she dropped the gun. Her FBI jacket had been shredded, blood poured from the wound and pooled beneath her - her stomach was gone! Scully moaned loudly, clearly in agony. Someone was calling. She flailed out her right hand…

Penny took it and forced it down while encircling her fingers around her palm. At first there was no response, then the surge of life force made some difference. Dana latched on as her struggles began to cease. Her eyes opened in terror only to ease immediately on recognition. "Penny… oh, thank God…" A tiny smile, soon gone.

Penny placed her hand to the side of her Dana’s face. "Just relax. It’ll be okay." Dana’s reaction surprised her. She screwed her eyes tight and blurted a cry, angry and worked up, the strain was beginning to show. "No, not okay!" she shook her head vigorously, voice high-pitched and forced through laboured breaths. "Abduction against Federal law… felony… it’s a felony!" It seemed to Penny that she was rambling incoherently and not making much sense. Dana squeezed Penny’s hand and pulled it toward her. She wanted to make Penny understand; she didn’t get the chance. Suddenly she gasped and coughed several times, close to choking. Penny stood to get rid of the nasal tubes and to helped her sit with her knees up. "Breathe, Dana," she instructed. The younger woman complied without question. "That’s it, deep long breaths." She rubbed Dana’s lower back to try and ease the pain.

Eyes half closed and unfocused, Dana leaned heavily against her. Emotionally distraught and feeble, Penny knew that she was perilously close to surrender - they both were - and took her in her arms to support and comfort her. Dana eased considerably in the embrace.

"Will it ever end?" she asked in a quivering voice that hinted at the hopelessness.

Penny rested her chin on Dana’s head as a mother would do to a child. "It will for now," she replied softly and held her tighter.

"And then?" the question was full of emotion and fatigue.

Penny couldn’t lie to her. Dana deserved better than that. "Most of us have been taken many times." she felt the young woman stiffen. "Oh, no…" Dana turned her face into Penny’s shoulder. Far beyond distress, she started to cry, cried until there were no more tears to give, and until she finally fell asleep. Penny ignored the tears that streamed down her own face and rocked her friend gently. "Who are you, Dana? Why are you so important to them?"

Days, weeks, who knew how long?

Penny woke to the usual pain, then the sensation of softly brushing, so comforting. She became aware of the soothing motion of fingers across her brow; someone was holding her hand; she heard another’s breathing. Penny finally cut her way out of the fog and opened her eyes. Dana’s concern lightened a little and she smiled encouragement. For the first time their roles were reversed. Penny squeezed her hand gratefully but felt resigned to her fate. The heavy strain that Dana carried so bravely in her countenance remained a reflection of her own. She had seen the pictures of death camp survivors, their faces forever etched by the unimaginable horror and suffering. A mirror image; their destiny.

"I can’t take much more, Dana."

Dana nodded in understanding and continued to stroke her brow. "You’ve got to hang on, Penny. We need you." She seemed a little anxious and stammered over her next words. "I need you. I can’t face this alone."

Penny seemed to see some irony. "You don’t need me. You have courage enough for us all."

Dana regarded her steadily. "Then I got it from you."

Despite the pain Penny smiled and again squeezed her hand, held it insistently. "Who are you, Dana?"

A moment passed between them, frozen in time. It spoke of the ordeal, of the experience known only to those who had been through it together. The suffering, utter despair and the tears. Unstated, a confirmation that the greatest pain could be shared, even eliminated by the strong emotional links forged in adversity. In an unshakeable bond, trust, mutual respect and love could conquer all.

Dana closed her other hand over Penny’s and contemplated the question sincerely. Her reply, when it came, held a certain amount of pride: "I’m one of you."

Penny nodded. It was enough. She closed her eyes for a while, but then winced in reaction to a painful spasm. Dana leaned nearer to rest a hand on her shoulder. As a doctor she felt less than useless, her inability to relieve this woman’s suffering cut her to the bone.

Penny peered at her. "How can this be allowed to happen, Dana?"

Innocence no protection, an unfathomable enigma and a terrible, terrible crime. Dana shook her head. How could she possibly answer? Penny’s expression underlined her bewildered anger, she continued: "You know, we’re ignored. The Government ridicules us; sceptics call us crazy, or worse, liars." Dana pursed her lips and averted her eyes, struck by the inadvertent accusation. There was guilt by association, and the truth tasted unpalatable, doubly so.

"They even deny us medical insurance," Penny added with misery. "Nothing is done, and we continue to suffer." The anger surfaced. "How many have to suffer." She closed her eyes hard and banged her fist against the bed side. "We lose everything, family, friends, even our dignity."

Dana raised an eyebrow, surprised and concerned. It wasn’t true. "No, Penny, that you haven’t lost."

Penny turned back and searched Dana’s face as if appealing to her directly. "Someone has got to put a stop to it!" Dana knitted her brow, taken by the provocative, pleading tone of Penny’s voice, and she sat back a little.

From somewhere outside there was movement, and that could mean only one thing. The program, always the program. But a foreboding she couldn’t explain told Penny that this time things were different. She shook off her weariness and struggled to sit up. "Whatever happens, Dana, don’t let them rob you of your memories," she warned. "You’ve got to try and remember."

Dana didn’t quite understand, but automatically followed Penny’s lead. "Try and remember." Penny nodded and grabbed her quickly to hug her. Dana reciprocated.

Several of them came through the door. For once able to stand on her feet, Dana refused to be a passive participant. She got up, turned and put her arms out in what looked to Penny like a trained defensive move. Penny became frightened for her. "Dana, don’t fight them!" she pleaded, attempting to get out of bed. It only needed one of them to hold her down.

Dana tried to fight them off, she was too weak and paid the price. They quickly circled her, one took her from behind, an arm about her neck, and pulled her savagely backward to the floor.

"No!" Penny shouted.

Dana kicked out until they held their legs. She elbowed and punched but they seized her arms, rolled her onto her side and used knees to subdue her. Desperately Dana searched for Penny, determined to make eye contact, her face a mask of pain and anguish. Then Penny saw something else. Dana’s eyes narrowed, she set her jaw, there was an undeniable scowl of hatred and revenge and she somehow managed to convey to her that all this would stop. A sharp needle jab and it was the last thing Penny remembered.

It might have been hours, it could have been days. Penny tried to recover from the enforced sleep. When her senses returned she knew immediately that she was alone. She got herself up and looked for Dana. Gone. She pushed away the covers and managed to get to the other, still unmade bed. She placed her hand onto the sheets. Cold. The ID wristband lay on the floor, discarded, cut off and tossed away. Penny picked it up. "720-400-837. 02/23/64. 10/29/94. SCULLY, DANA K." Gone for good this time. Normally Penny would have been overjoyed that one of the group had been released.

At best Dana was being processed - the eye drops that stung mercilessly, the many injections, the implant insertion and the evidence destroying bath. Finally there was the mind wipe that resulted in a lengthy drug induced coma. All that would remain of the ordeal were shadow images and unexplained nightmares.

But everything about Dana had been different, and Penny couldn’t be certain what had happened to her. Suddenly she felt an overpowering sense of grief. No, she refused to believe the worst.

The door opened, the faceless men entered and took hold of her. Penny had long since learned not to resist. They wrenched Dana’s ID out of her hand, and escorted her from the room. Penny steeled herself for what was about to happen. They were going to take all trace of Dana Scully from her, wipe away all the memories and short times shared and treasured, make them strangers again, unaware of each other; she promised herself that she would try and remember.

Penny felt certain that if anyone could, Dana would be the one to see that justice was done, make sure that they were held accountable, make them pay for what they had done and finally, once and for all, bring about the destruction of the bright white place.

--end of file--

C L Goodwin 1998