There are more scientists this time. She can hear them almost, if she closes her eyes and strains, their whispering movement behind three walls of mirrored glass. She leans back against the whitewashed wall, feels it dig into the knobbly bones of her back, wraps her hands around her knees and watches The Nose line the empty, shining bottles into perfect rows.
She knows better than to click her fingers while he’s still lining them up. She’d tried that, before, after she’d gotten over her disorientation and learned what it was they wanted from her (the smaller, obvious part, not the big picture), before she’d lost the energy for such things, and they’d turned the lights on full blast for three straight days (or what passes for days, three meals, anyway) before turning them all off for a long time. There hadn’t been meals during that time, but she’s pretty sure it’d been more than a day.
And she – likes The Nose, or at least, feels vaguely neutral towards him. He’s the only one that doesn’t try to intimidate her, the only one that kneels down to talk to her, the only one that talks to her. She doesn’t want to hurt him. That’d be sending the wrong message.
“Right,” says The Nose, rocking back on his heels and cracking his back as he stands, “There you are, Amy.” He rubs his rather large nose a bit, opens and then closes his mouth but doesn’t apologize like he used to. He’d disappeared for a bit after the last time he’d apologised to her, and she supposes he’s not really supposed to do that.
She nods, instead of talking, because sometimes she can pretend that not talking is a successful act of defiance.
“Right,” says The Nose again, sort of half-smiling, with his hands half-raised but still mostly below his waist. Half-defensive, really, she thinks would be the best word for it.
He half-falls, half-skips down the stairs like he always does, like his legs are suddenly a bit longer than he’s used to and he’s tripping and bouncing to keep his balance, and she catches a glimpse of one of the peope outside staring into the enlosure, a man with circlular glasses and floppy hair and a really – chinnish – chin.
The lights flash, once, and she’s plunged into darkness, just as always. And just like always, stupidly, because she’s been here for what seems like years, but just like always her breath gulps and catches in her throat and she has to dig her fingernails into her palms because sometimes pain helps her fight against the fear.
And then the lights go on, with a growling whoosh and she’s blinded but she still knows where the bottles are, can still sense them, the only thing in her enclosure other than her and her clothes.
She’d tried to close her eyes before, when she did it, tried to withold data from the scientists, but that hadn’t worked, the power never worked unless whatever she was exploding was in her field of vision. She didn’t have to be focused on it, just had to be able to see it or sense the material of whatever they were made of.
And the people on the other side of the glass have gone silent, her entire world is blindingly bright and she can’t hear anything except her slow breath and her pulse drumming in her ears.
She clicks her fingers.
The bottles implode, spraying her and the walls of the enclosure with shards of glass that crack and tinkle against the glass, caught like stars in midair by the dimming lights.
She curls herself against the whitewashed wall and closes her eyes and covers her face with her arm and listens to the glass settle to the ground and the room outside her enclosure empty and silence.
When she opens her eyes again, she has to press her hands to her eyes to make sure they’re open. Her fingers brush against eyelashes and stutter against her eyelids. Open, then. That means they’re done with her, means they won’t need her – don’t want her – to perform for a while. So she puts her hands back down at her sides and closes her eyes again.
She falls asleep, she must have done, because the next time she opens her eyes, squinting because the door to her enclosure is open – the enclosure door is open – and someone’s shaking her shoulder and whispering, “Hey, Amy. Amy?”
She recognizes The Nose by his voice – he has a distinctive rolling, dragging sort of speech that carries over to his whispers. She jerks away out of habit though, and his footsteps shuffle backwards until his figure is blocking the light from her eyes and she can see that his hands are raised all the way in apology, and he whispers, “Sorry.”
She tries to say, “What’s happening?” but her voice rasps and cracks when she tries to speak and it come out as, “What.”
The Nose doesn’t seem to take any offense to her tone. “We’re breaking you out,” he says, and his voice is lighter, giddy, almost. “Can you walk?” He pauses a moment, then asks, more gently, with a tone to his voice like he’s almost afraid, “Do you want to come with us?”
She can and she does, she nods to let him know that, and she gets up stiffly, her knees cracking and her ankles popping when she takes a step. She shakes off The Nose’s offer of help and limps to the edge of the enclosure, trips down the stairs like The Nose always does, and emerges into the light.
It’s not really very bright, just a hallway that’s sparsely lit with flickering, stuttering lamps, but compared to the total blackout in the enclosure, it’s momentarily blinding.
“Hello, Amy,” says the man holding the door open, and she jerks around and squints at him and recognizes him as the man from earlier who’d been standing by the door before her performance – standing by the door waiting for The Nose, she realizes. He’s the one with the glasses and the chin. He’s not smiling, but she can still hear that he is, in his whisper. She trusts him, almost instantly.
She nods at him by way of a hello.
The Nose moves away from her elbow where he’d been tailing her and goes to greet the man, who bumps shoulders companionably with The Nose before pressing the enclosure door closed until it clicks with grey-gloved hands. The Nose locks the door and steps back and the man takes The Nose by the back of his head and presses a kiss to his forehead before stepping back and grinning.
“Right,” says The Nose, again, trying to hide a smile but failing. “This way.”
The man – The Chin, she decides – falls into step behind her like he’s used to protecting her or someone else. It’s comforting, she thinks, as they duck through shadowed corridors that eventually become dustless, elegant hallways that don’t seem to be lit from anywhere in particular but are lit anyway.
“These are the sterilization rooms,” says The Nose, quietly, when they pass through a series of hallways lined with wide sets of double doors. He says this glancing quickly at her and then away, like he’s not sure if she wants to know, never stopping the fast tep-tep-tep of his footsteps on the tiled floor as he does.
She appreciates it, she thinks. It’s good to finally learn about the place she’s been in for as long as her recent memory knows.
“You were the last one,” explains The Chin, once they’d gotten out of the building and snuck out across a rubble-y parking lot and gotten into a tall, dark car without clear windows. His hands are flying all over the place, taking up all the space, and Amy’s ducking away a little bit instinctively, even though she’s in the front seat of the car next to The Nose and The Chin is in the backseat.
“Ah, sorry about that,” says The Chin, noticing. He wedges his hands underneath his legs and continues, “We couldn’t get into your enclosure earlier, when we got the others.”
“That was two weeks ago,” adds The Nose, as an explanation, eyes fixed on the road ahead.
“Thanks,” says The Chin, grinning. He always seems to be grinning. “Anyway, Rory here,” here he jerks his chin towards The Nose, “got shuffled into your shift again, and it was all good after that. You know –”
“Shush,” says The Nose, suddenly, his voice tight and strained. He flicks out a badge from a pocket that Amy hadn’t noticed before and presses it to the machine that has suddenly loomed out of the darkness to their left.
Two lights flash, a green one and then a lighter green one, and The Nose and The Chin both let their breaths go in a mingling whoosh.
“That was the ID checker thing,” says The Chin, once they’ve pulled through the gates that creaked open after the whoosh of relief. “I usually love an ID checker thing, but not that one.”
The car falls silent after this statement, and they drive through a series of winding streets edged with buildings that spiral into the night sky, until they pull past a sign with letters that passes too quickly for Amy to read and -
“We’re out,” says The Nose, making a left.
“Finally,” mutters The Chin from the backseat.
“Out,” repeats Amy in her crackled wisp of a voice, and she smiles.