Neverwake

THE LAST EIGHT HOURS HAVE BEEN A LIVING nightmare.

Early this morning, I witnessed seven teenagers simultaneously fall into a coma. Shortly after, one of them, a nineteen-year-old girl, died of a heart attack. Then, just moments ago, an eighteen-year-old boy almost died the same way . . . would have died if I hadn’t used a defibrillator on him. It was an insane move, one I’m not sure I would have made if I’d had time to think it through, especially considering I’d only ever practiced on a plastic dummy.

Now here I am, standing in the darkened laboratory of the Pasithea sleep research facility, heart pounding like a speed-metal drum solo as I watch the six survivors on their hospital beds. They’re fanned out like spokes on a wheel around the blinking, beeping column they are linked to by a jungle of wires and tubes.

There is a gap in the wheel now—one empty bed that held Beta subject three, BethAnn, before her body was carted away.

Dr. Zhu and Dr. Vesper have reconnected the IV tube that Fergus, the boy I just saved, ripped out as he flailed on his bed. Vesper is mopping up the puddle of feeding solution that spilled onto the floor. The way he crouches as he swabs the liquid makes him look even more vulturelike than usual. “We should give him a beta-blocker,” he says.

Zhu nods and, going to her phone, calls someone to deliver the drug. They’re acting so normal, while I’m trying to slow my pulse to a speed that won’t give me a stroke. But I know that underneath their studiedly calm demeanor they’re as scared as I am. I can read it in the sweat gleaming on Vesper’s brow and the tentative way Zhu hovers over her keyboard instead of her regular speed-typing. She glances up, catching my eye, and I quickly look back at my monitor.

“You saved that boy’s life,” she had told me. But we both know that it could easily have gone wrong. Her shadowed expression suggests that she is torn between praising me and kicking me out: I might be too much of a loose cannon to keep in such a precarious situation.

If she makes me leave, it will be the end of all my dreams. If she writes me up for what I did, I’ll never get into medical school. Forget about winning a scholarship. I can pretty much kiss that career good-bye.

Then what would I have left? Would it be back to the streets of Detroit? Or would I be able to find an office job, like my mom did? My mom, who is way too smart to be answering the phone and getting someone’s coffee.

I have to win back Zhu’s and Vesper’s confidence. My future depends on it.

Their boss, Mr. Osterman, made it clear that he wanted me to stay. I’m the only witness—besides the doctors themselves—to the derailing of this cutting-edge insomnia treatment that not only threw the subjects into comas, but ended up killing one. I’m the only one who can stand up to say that it wasn’t the researchers’ fault. It was that freak earthquake, and they’ve done everything they can to keep the subjects stable while they try to find a solution. I’m a necessary evil. They can’t get rid of me now.

Or can they? Maybe their boss was overreacting and they’ll be fine without my testimony. Or maybe they won’t even listen to him. I will have to be careful either way.

My eyes flit across the seven windows on my screen, and I focus on the one labeled “subject two”: Fergus. I think back to the moment he opened his eyes. He looked directly at me and asked a question that confirmed my wildest theory about what was really going on—a theory I hadn’t dared believe. “Did BethAnn make it?”

Those four words proved beyond a doubt that the seven teenagers are somehow connected, even though they appear to be comatose. How else could Fergus know something had happened to BethAnn—a girl he most likely had never met? In her last breath, she had spoken about being shot by soldiers in Africa. When I finally dared mention it to Vesper, he said it was the delirious rambling of a dying girl’s subconscious. That it didn’t mean a thing.

But subject five, Remi, had lived through a genocide in Africa. His family had been killed by soldiers.

Fergus knew BethAnn was in danger. BethAnn knew about Remi’s past. The subjects must somehow have access to one another’s thoughts. Perhaps even be in a place where they are able to communicate. It sounds crazy. Impossible. But there’s no other explanation.

When I told Fergus that BethAnn had died, he said, “It’s the dreams. They’re killing us.”

According to the feedback monitors, their brain waves are so low that dreaming shouldn’t be possible. But I began to think . . . and now I’m sure . . . that the monitors are wrong.

I wonder if they were damaged by the earthquake. Or maybe the subjects are experiencing a state of awareness that doesn’t show up on regular brain-wave monitoring. A state that the makers of brain-wave monitors would never think of trying to measure. A shared consciousness in a subconscious state. Shared dreams.

But before Fergus fell into cardiac arrest, I told him what had happened and that the doctors were working on how to wake them up. More important, I warned him to be careful. That I had discovered one of the other teenagers trapped in there with him was dangerous. A psychopath.

I didn’t have a chance to tell him who. Or that subject four was linked to the recent deaths of three other teenagers, and that his psychiatrist suspected he was responsible. If my suspicions are true, and they’re all in there together, will Sinclair be capable of hurting the others? What kind of motivation would he need to kill them too?

I don’t know much about psychopaths besides their trademark use of manipulation and lack of empathy. I don’t know what it would take to set one off on a murder spree. But I can’t imagine that being stuck inside shared nightmares would bring out the best in someone potentially dangerous and mentally unstable. I fear it could be enough to trigger even the most carefully hidden psychosis.