The next day I was called in for “reconditioning” myself. My only hope was to see Robin again, but he was returned to his room as I was led to the colony Med Unit.
“Robin?” He looked at me blankly. It was as if he didn’t know who I was. “Robin? Do you know me?”
Then he looked at me with my escort and said, “Of course, you’re my classmate, Arienne Rystrom. We share the same pod.” He sounded like it was the stupidest question ever heard.
“But do you KNOW me?” My guard was beginning to drag me down the hall.
“I don’t understand the question,” he said and went into his room as I was escorted down the passageway.
“First, Miss Rystrom, you believe you have found out information from the Earth.” I nodded. I was sitting in a wooden chair with my wrists and ankles bound to the arms and legs of the chair. “This is simply untrue.” The woman speaking to me was stern. I smelled the sterile cotton of her standard lab coat, and heard the click of her regulation black shoes. I imagined a severe twist in her hair. I expected her to be tapping a ruler in her hand as she paced before me.
“Okay,” I said. “I can say I never heard it.”
“No,” she rephrased. “You won’t tell a lie. You simply didn’t hear it at all.” I felt a low voltage zap through a headpiece that lay metal against my skin across my forehead, over my ears and around my neck. I felt a buzzing energy begin at my temples and around to the back of my neck where my muscles clenched tightly. The shock hit my spinal column and my whole body went rigid and my head shook back and forth.
“What the? Are you shocking me?” I had heard of the use of electric current suggestion to reprogram the brain, but this was too much. “I want to go back to my room. I won’t say anything, I promise.”
“There is nothing to say,” she repeated. “You heard nothing about the earth or its plans.” I was naked under this hospital gown, all meant to demean me, I was sure, and it was starting to work. “You know nothing.” The charge was stronger this time. I gritted my teeth.
“Yes, I agree, I know nothing.”
“But you’ve found classified information about a possible world war three,” she went on.
“No I didn’t.” She zapped me again. “Hey! I don’t get it. I said what you wanted me to say. Why shock me?”
“The electronic stimulus makes your statement feel more real to you.”
“I felt it already,” I agreed. “I just want to-” Zaaap.
“Are you going to zap me every time I talk?” Tears formed in my eyes.
“This type of stimulus works well in reconditioning one’s memory. In essence, you will be “zapped” whenever I feel it necessary. And I do not like the disrespect in your tone.” ZZZZzzzzaaaaaap. This time the current made me pee...
I get it, I thought, the humiliation, stimulation, brainwashing. Did they do all this to poor Robin for two weeks? I began to really cry. I would not last two weeks. They gave me much more credit if they thought I had that kind of backbone. I’d say I was an alien myself if she’d just stop with this current. Unfortunately, I was shocked whether I agreed or disagreed. I began to become confused. So, this was brainwashing. Confuse a person beyond recognition and spoon feed them your truth. Later I lay curled up on my mattress, wishing for a blanket. The cold gown was wet from urine.
Things began to melt together. I didn’t know how long I sat in that chair and lay in my own filth. I was told to sleep, to awake, to sleep; and I don’t think the days were right, or the times. I ate the soup that they gave me, full of vegetables, and bread. I slept, I awoke, I sat in that god-awful chair. I felt nothing. I began to numb. I knew a few facts, but I had lost all the feelings I attached to them. They told me I was in love with a boy. They told me to focus on my teenage drama. They told me the Earth was at peace. They told me all about my life and I forgot everything else. I was so confused, it was so dark and I was so alone. I wanted to stop the pain. I began to believe anything. I began to really forget everything I had known. I grasped at their truth like a drug, something to keep my sanity. I just wanted to be back in the life they told me about, I wanted to escape the electricity. I wanted to escape my sin and adopt a new reality. I was finally ready.
They told me to be a good girl and do my studies and then they began to let me have a clean gown when I wet mine. I was bathed. They let me take a few classes over the teleprompter. I began to feel human again. I couldn’t wait to meet this boy, Robin, whom they said I loved. I didn’t remember him, but I missed him all the same. He became my world. I couldn’t wait to get out of here to see him. I felt so disconnected, but I remembered my room and one morning I was escorted back to my quarters. A tiny room, no books, nothing to touch. No need. A twin bed, a dresser and a desk with teleprompter all sat where I’d left them. I heard tapping on my wall when I was left alone but I didn’t understand it, so I sat cross-legged on my bed and felt the warmth of blankets and the cool cushiness of my pillow. I called out, “Come in,” to a knock on my door. The scent was familiar.
“It’s me. It’s Robin.”
“Oh Robin!” I jumped up and flung myself at him from across the room.
“I missed you!” we both said at the same time and dissolved into laughter. He buried his face in my hair and inhaled. I kissed his cheek and he stiffened.
He held me back from him. “What did they tell you about me?”
“That I love you,” I held him to me again. “Why?”
“Arienne. I have loved you for years, but we’re just friends.”
“No. No. They told me that we have a relationship. You love me. We belong together.” My voice cracked, “Don’t we?”
“We do. I mean, I’ve waited to hear you say you love me forever. But not because you’ve been brainwashed.” He held me by the shoulders. “It wouldn’t be fair to take advantage of you like this.” He held me away from him.
“But I’ve missed you so much. I need you. I love you,” I said.
“Oh Arienne.” Robin sat on my bed. “I didn’t think they could actually get through you.”
“I don’t understand.” I felt like crying. After all I’d been through, and I didn’t even remember it all, I was being rejected.
“I’m not sure it’s safe to talk in here,” he whispered. “Let’s take a walk.”
“Of course we can. Its Saturday, no classes or services. You have been gone for weeks, Arienne.” That made me think of something important, just beyond my reach. Something I should be remembering.
“Where have I been?” I asked, “Why can’t I remember anything?” we walked out into the hall and I reached for his hand but couldn’t find it. “Don’t you like me anymore?” I started to tear up.
“It’s not that. I just don’t feel right. You only love me because they want to distract you from the truth. This is so unlike you.”
“Oh baby, what have they done to you?” He stopped walking. I let a tear streak down my face without wiping it away. Robin grabbed my face and placed a gentle kiss on my lips. “Arienne, you have been reconditioned,” he said tightly. “There are things you have forgotten. Things that the warden went out of his way to MAKE you forget.”
“I’m so confused,” I cried.
“I know,” he said. “I’ll help you.” We walked down halls and halls together hand in hand. Robin showed me the way back to the gardens. “Maybe it’ll all come back to you here.”
Robin was right. The sensory overload of the gardens brought back some of the knowledge of what had happened, but the feelings didn’t follow. I still knew that I loved Robin, for example, even though I knew that’s what I’d been taught to believe. I had forgotten so much.
“I remember you coming back from conditioning,” I said. “You acted like you didn’t know me.”
“I thought it would be safer for you. I had to make sure they believed in my rehabilitation. I don’t rely on my senses the way you do. I don’t think I was as susceptible.”
“I think you’re just stronger than me.” I sat on the bench next to him and lay my head on his shoulder. “Could you pretend to love me?” I asked.
“I don’t have to,” he said, “But it isn’t fair to you. I don’t want to take advantage of you. It isn’t real,” he said sadly. “You were tortured into thinking you love me to stop you from focusing on remembering,” he whispered.
“Remembering what?” I asked slowly.
“That we found out information about the earth and that they are paying to use us as soldiers in a world war. I looked up even more information after you went to bed that night, but I never got to tell you. The America system wants to be the dominant power of the planet. They plan to wipe out the Tri-Countries system and be the only ones to get our fuel.”
“Are you serious?” I whispered furiously. “We’re all disabled children. We’ll all die instantly.”
“That solves so many problems for the world, one being our size of growth and two we are free labor. Who would miss most of us anyway? I’m sure they’ll accept special funding for those families wishing for their child to stay on the moon.”
“Certainly your family wouldn’t condone you going to war.”
“I’m sure if they could pay enough, the colony would ‘except’ me, but they don’t have that kind of money, so they will have no choice.” He added, “Since Mel’s the only child of a diplomat, I’m sure she’ll stay here.”
The name tugged at my mind. Mel, Mel, what should that mean to me? I had to find out. If I played it cool, maybe I’d be able to remember. “What do we do now?” I asked Robin. “You just told me everything they worked so hard to wipe out.” I tucked my head under his chin. “I do remember that we’re best friends.”
“But I still love you. It saved me from going insane.”
“I know what you mean,” he murmured.
“Should we keep up appearances?” I asked coyly.
“As long as you know I don’t expect anything from you,” he said.
I tilted my face up to let his lips meet mine again and felt a hot tingle in my stomach. “Oh Arienne,” he sighed, “You’ll be the death of me yet.”
As we left the gardens I heard a familiar windchime sound, but couldn’t remember why it should be so warm and welcoming.
“Let’s go eat,” I said and pulled Robin down the hall.