It was quiet. That seemed almost strange now…she had grown used to having company. But, Clint had not yet been returned to the cell beside hers and she was alone.
She shifted on the bunk where she lay, and for the first time in days, the protest from her ribs was minimal. She had been taken to medical after her meeting with the Polkovnik, and the injury had been treated; her side was still cold from the ice pack they had given her, and the bandages wrapping her torso were snug beneath the fabric of her uniform. She had even been excused from further activities for the day and given a mandate to rest.
She might have been grateful for it, except that such measures were only to ensure that she would be fit for mission preparation tomorrow.
Her gaze drifted to the ceiling above her, the metal gleaming dully in the artificial light.
Light. There was always light when mission preparation took place. Light, and music…a melody that sometimes surfaced in her dreams, though she could never recall it when she woke. That was all she ever remembered of the procedure. As for the missions themselves…it varied. Some remained in glimpses, flashes, sensations. Others left her only with the vague knowledge that time had passed.
The assignments for which her mind had been her own…often, those memories grew hazy as well. She was never certain if that was an intended side-effect of mission preparation, or if such memories were simply a casualty of the process.
Almost against her will, her eyes found the vent adjoining Clint’s cell.
When she was…not herself, it would seem as though the last few days had never occurred. But later, she wondered, when her mission was complete and her mind was returned to her, would she remember Clint then?
It would be easier, she reflected, if she did not. She held no illusions about what most likely awaited him, and any memories she retained would only compromise her objectivity.
If she were wise, she would hope that she remembered nothing of their meeting.
She was not certain that she was wise.
The thought skittered through her mind unbidden, and she closed her eyes, forcing it away. Already, she was walking a dangerous line and it would take very little to place her under closer scrutiny.
She did not open her eyes again until the sounds of a scuffle carried down the corridor.
A shoe dragged along the floor outside, screeching loudly, and she sat up just in time to see Clint yanked forward as the guards passed in front of her cell. When the door to Clint’s cell was opened a moment later, he was shoved inside hard enough that he hit one of the metal walls with a grunt. He must have stayed on his feet because she didn’t hear him fall, but the delay was all the guards needed to close the door behind him.
The hallway grew quiet again as the guards left, and she waited, assuming that Clint would speak, but he didn’t. He simply paced over the concrete, his footsteps quick, the tension palpable even through the barrier between them.
“What is it?” she asked at last.
Clint stopped moving and exhaled sharply. “They finally said something to me that wasn’t in Russian.”
She kept her tone deliberately neutral. “Yet you sound angry.”
“Because what they said didn’t make any sense! They kept asking me these stupid questions! ‘Do you like arranging flowers?’ ‘Would you rather kill a dog or a monkey?’ That was it! They wouldn’t say anything else.” Clint must have struck at the wall closest to him because there was a sharp clang before he started pacing again.
Her gaze dropped to the simple blanket covering her bunk, the gray material rough beneath her palm.
The questions Clint spoke of were a psychological measure of sorts, one the doctors on base had always favored. She’d heard such questions a number of times herself, though how many, she could never be certain.
“You know something, don’t you?”
Clint’s voice was sharp, certain, and her gaze darted back to the wall in surprise. Had she tipped her hand so obviously already, or had he simply grown adept at reading her? She wasn’t sure which she preferred. But maybe she could use this to her advantage. Perhaps, if he knew what awaited him, she could finally convince him that his defiance was doing more harm than good.
“I know why they were asking you such things,” she said carefully. “I have heard them talking about you.”
Clint scoffed, though she could sense the unease he wished to hide. “Let me guess - they don’t like my attitude.”
“You’re not wrong.”
“Well, that’s too bad, ’cause it ain’t gonna change. I’m not doing what they want.”
“You won’t have a choice.”
There was a pause and she could imagine the look on his face, the way his eyes must have narrowed. “You always say that. Why?”
She hesitated, partly because she needed to draw this out to ensure his interest, but also because she was not sure how to describe the reality she had lived with for so long. She had never needed to explain it before.
“They can make you forget,” she said at last.
“Anything they choose.”
The silence this time was oppressive. She let it linger.
“That’s…that’s not possible,” Clint said finally.
“I don’t know how it works, only that it does.”
He must have heard something in her voice because he didn’t question the assertion this time, and when he spoke again, his own voice was quiet, strained.
“They’ve used it on you?”
“They’re planning to use it on me, aren’t they? That’s what you meant. Those questions they asked…”
“They’re assessing you. For the procedure.”
She heard a sharp intake of breath, and a few halting steps. Suddenly, though she could not see him, she could feel the intensity of his stare through the wall.
“Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
The words were terse, angry, bitten off. She knew somehow that he longed to strike out again, though this time, not at the wall.
She decided to offer him the truth, at least partly.
“I didn’t tell you because I knew you would fight harder.”
“And that’s a bad thing?”
His tone was so incredulous that she couldn’t help bristling herself.
“You haven’t listened to anything that I’ve told you,” she grit out. “You can’t win. Fighting them…you lose more than you gain.”
That was hardly the persuasive argument she needed, and she drew a deep breath, forcing her anger back down. If she were to succeed, she couldn’t allow him to affect her. This boy who had given her a name. This boy who had somehow made her vulnerable.
“You don’t understand what they’ll do,” she said, working to keep her voice even. “Perhaps they won’t kill you, but they’ll make you wish that they had.”
Clint didn’t answer.
Long minutes passed, and she considered that he may have decided to stop speaking to her entirely. An odd tightness appeared in her chest, but she ignored it, focusing on her objective instead. She could not persuade Clint of anything if he refused to interact with her. Perhaps an apology would be enough to-
“My dad was a drunk.”
The apology died on her lips, and she blinked, unsure why Clint was choosing to tell her such a thing now. But, at least he was speaking again. She would not interrupt him and risk having him change his mind.
“When he was drinking,” Clint snorted bitterly, “and sometimes when he wasn’t…he beat my mom. Beat Barney and me too. When I was six, he wrapped his truck around a tree. My mom was with him. My brother and me, we were sent to this home. The guy who ran it…he was a real piece of work. Almost made me miss my dad. But everything he did, we just took it, because we knew we’d only get it worse if we fought back. And you know what? I hated him. But I hated myself more because I let it happen. I’m not gonna do that again.”
She stared at the wall of her cell for a long moment, the confusion fading and something else taking its place, a look she would never have allowed had there been anyone to witness it, because part of her…part of her understood Clint’s sentiment.
But in the Red Room, sentiment could never survive. Clint would have to face that soon.
“I told you before, you won’t have a choice. You can’t fight them.”
“I can try.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes,” she said, sounding weary even to her own ears, “I do.”
She laid awake for hours that night.
It wasn’t until somewhere near the dawn that she had fallen asleep to the sound of Clint’s pacing. (He had ignored her advice that he try to rest, a response which had not truly surprised her.) She woke a short time later as the base lights flickered to life; Clint’s feet were once again scraping along the concrete as he walked back and forth.
She stared up at the ceiling for a moment, then stood to straighten her bunk, smoothing the sheets, the blanket, and pillow. When she was finished, she sat back down, pulled her legs up onto the bed, and leaned against the wall to wait.
No trays were delivered that morning, and she hadn’t expected that they would be - meals were never provided before mission preparation - but the emptiness in her stomach only seemed to add to the knot forming somewhere in her belly.
The change in routine did not go unnoticed by Clint, and his restlessness increased. Perhaps it was her own nerves, but the sound seemed grating in the light of day.
“You’re wasting your energy,” she snapped. “You wish to fight them? Stop moving.”
It wasn’t until after the words had passed her lips that she realized just what she had said - she was, in effect, advising an enemy of the Red Room. Such a thing could be considered treasonous.
But she did not take the words back.
Clint’s steps paused, and a moment later, she heard his bunk protest as his weight dropped down onto it. She released a silent breath and closed her eyes briefly - if she were visibly agitated before mission preparation, it wouldn’t escape their notice.
It hadn’t escaped Clint’s.
“They didn’t bring anything for you either. No tray.”
“No. They didn’t.”
There was a pause.
“They’re making you forget too, aren’t they?”
Her silence was answer enough.
“Is it because of me?”
She shook her head even though he couldn’t see it. “I’m being sent on a mission.”
“A mission to where?”
She wrapped her arms around her ribs which had begun to ache again over night. “You ask too many questions.”
Clint huffed, the sound bitter. “Why not answer them? In a few hours, I’m not gonna remember anything anyway.”
“It will be more than a few hours. The process takes time.”
That quieted him for a moment.
“I don’t know.” Her own memories of it were never clear. “Days. Perhaps a week.”
“Then there’s still a chance.” Clint’s voice grew in sudden intensity, a mix of desperation and determination. “We can fight them.”
Her eyes found the wall adjoining his cell.
“What have we got to lose?” Clint insisted. “They’ll take everything, no matter what we do. So why not fight?”
She stared at the wall for a long moment, something rising up within her, something she didn’t dare voice…couldn’t voice. The words simply wouldn’t form on her tongue.
Perhaps, given enough time, they might have.
But the sound of footsteps echoed suddenly down the corridor and her gaze darted to the hallway instead.
She waited until the guards had passed in front of her door, then slipped quietly from her bunk and made her way to the small window that looked out into the hallway, positioning herself so that she was unlikely to be seen.
Three guards waited in front of Clint’s cell while a fourth unlocked the door. They were clearly ready for resistance in some form, but when the door swung open, Clint gave them no chance to react. He ran into the corridor, tackling the nearest guard, bringing him to the floor, then jumped to his feet and threw a punch at the next guard who came at him.
The third guard was better prepared and swung hard at Clint’s stomach; Clint doubled over, but instead of falling, he flung himself forward again, aiming for the guard’s knees, taking him to the floor as well.
The guard Clint had punched suddenly lunged and grabbed Clint from behind, pinning his arms to his sides, and the fourth guard rushed forward before Clint could break free. But Clint swung his legs up and kicked out, sending the fourth guard back; the guard’s head struck the wall hard enough that she heard the impact.
Clint managed to wrench one arm free, and jammed an elbow into the side of the guard who held him. The guard grunted in pain and let go; Clint spun and threw another wild punch, knocking the guard off his feet.
For a moment, the guards weren’t a threat and Clint ran to door of his cell to retrieve the keys that had been left in the lock.
Then he started for her cell.
He was jumped again before he had even taken three steps.
The guard who’d recovered first was soon joined by the others, and Clint was pulled roughly to floor, the keys ripped from his grasp, his arms yanked quickly behind him, and his wrists bound in a set of handcuffs.
He was still fighting them, still struggling and cursing, but she knew, even as they dragged him back to his feet, that it was over.
The guard who’d been kicked into the wall snarled and hit Clint in the stomach - it was apparently the same place that the other guard had struck him because Clint folded inward, his shoulders hunched. The guards used his weakness to their advantage and forced him down the corridor.
The girl watched until they had faded into the distance, then quietly made her way back to her bunk and sat down, her eyes still locked on the door of her cell.
The door Clint had tried to open.
Half an hour later, they came for her.
Their numbers had been doubled - eight men instead of four, and she forced herself not to react to their presence, to question why the Polkovnik had felt such measures were necessary. She walked steadily down the corridor in their midst, her face impassive, her breathing as deep and as even as she could make it.
When they reached the gray room with a medical table at its center, she did as she was ordered and laid down on it, staring at the ceiling while the doctors buzzed around her in their white coats. The sound of a heart monitor filled the silence as various leads were attached to her chest, and thick leather straps were wrapped around her wrists and ankles. Another was wrapped around her forehead, keeping her head and neck immobile.
When the preparations were complete, the Polkovnik appeared at her side, his hands clasped behind his back, his glasses perched low on his nose as he looked down at her.
“Мальчик пытался вам,” he began without preamble. The boy tried to free you.
She was certain now why the Polkovnik had doubled the number of guards; the beeping of the heart monitor increased faintly.
“Он мне как союзника. Он исходит из того, что я хотел бы помочь ему скрыться.” He views me as an ally. He assumed I would help him escape.
“И если он преуспел в деле освобождения?” he challenged. “А что бы сделали вы?” And if he had succeeded in freeing you? What would you have done then?
There was only one possible answer she could give.
“Я хотел бы сделать все необходимое.” I would have done whatever was necessary.
The Polkovnik stared at her for a long moment, his gaze piercing. “По сути,” he said at last. “Но необходимые для кого?” Indeed. But necessary for whom?
Without giving her a chance to respond, he nodded at one of the doctors, and the lights above her grew brighter. A strange hum started behind her, spreading to her whole body until every nerve seemed to tingle with it.
Then, the world went white.