“Number four hundred and ninety-two.”
Reyna stared down at the crisp piece of paper she had been clutching the last eight hours. She blinked in surprise and recognition: 4-9-2.
“That’s me,” she called. She raised her hand in the air to get the administrator’s attention. It was about time. She hadn’t expected to be waiting here all day.
The administrator walked through the stark white hospital ward. Her heels clicked rhythmically against the tiled floor as she approached Reyna from the front of the room. Her blond hair was straight to her shoulders, and she had on a white uniform that matched her surroundings. The only bit of color was the blood-red symbol on the pocket of her shirt.
The largest company in the world. It employed more people than anyone else in recorded history. Visage primarily specialized in what they called body employment services. Reyna had always thought that was a fancy term for blood escorts. Whatever people wanted to call them—blood escort or bodily employment—they were just depressing terms for people desperate to get by in this terrible economy. And she was about to become one of them.
But she couldn’t think about that right now. Even just to herself, she couldn’t joke about it. Not while she was sitting in this stale white room waiting for her own turn for testing.
Her own turn to become the thing she feared the most.
“Four-nine-two?” the woman asked.
“Yes,” Reyna said. She was embarrassed that her voice shook when she answered.
She stood stiffly, stretching out her sore muscles. Sitting in a crappy white chair for eight hours wasn’t exactly conducive to being active. Her hands shook, and she tucked them into the pockets of her worn-out jeans to try to hide them. She still couldn’t believe this was her life, that she was about to do this. Brian and Drew were going to kill her.
The woman ignored her discomfort.
“Right this way, four-nine-two.” Her voice was flat and lifeless, and she droned out the number printed on Reyna’s card with barely concealed boredom.
“It’s Reyna,” she told the lady curtly.
She had a name. She wasn’t just some number.
The woman nodded minutely. Her big brown eyes stared through Reyna. She clearly didn’t care what Reyna’s name was. This was a job, and she was following orders. No more. No less. It was as much as Reyna had come to expect from everyone in this godforsaken place.
“Follow me,” the woman said.
Reyna sighed and did as instructed. There was no point in fighting it. She had made up her mind to go through with the Visage testing. She was here of her own free will. If poverty and near-starvation could be considered part of her free will.
Not that that mattered to the administrator. Or likely to anyone at Visage. They didn’t care who she was. She was just another subject in the system.
Dozens of people had gone through this before her just today. Thousands had gone through testing in the last ten years since Visage had unveiled its plan to employ humans as blood donors for vampires. It had been a most fortuitous circumstance for them at least. Millions of people out of jobs in one fell swoop, and then out of the gloom and doom came a knight on a white horse to save them all.
An end to the fear of what lurked in the darkness.
An end to being hunted for their blood.
An end to the economic struggles entirely—so long as you gave up the very thing they had hunted humans for.
Ten years later and not much had really changed. The majority of people still lived below the poverty line, and now the populace was more tied to Visage than ever. But Reyna couldn’t change that any more than she could quell the fear building in her stomach at the thought of becoming another mindless drone for the conglomerate.
Reyna wondered if any of the people who had come before her had been nervous about their decision. At this point, the only choice was between Visage and dying of starvation. She didn’t exactly prefer the latter option when she could do something to put food on the table for her brothers. That was all this was about anyway. She couldn’t stand the sight of them wasting their lives away toiling in the factories, when she could be doing something, anything to help their situation.
Reyna fidgeted at the sight of the big white door looming ahead. The door that sealed her fate to Visage. Can I really do this? Do I even have a choice?
Unaware of or at least unconcerned with Reyna’s fear, the administrator turned the doorknob. It didn’t make a sound as it slid open before her.
Reyna swallowed hard.
“Right this way,” the administrator instructed.
Reyna could just make out the long stark white corridor beyond the door. She started to sweat.
Once she was through that door, there was no turning back. The testing would commence. Reyna’s arm itched at the very thought. When she had been approved to complete her application earlier that week, Visage had given her a packet explaining what was to come.