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The Quandary 902

By csadair All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Scifi

Chapter 1

The first thing I understand is pain. In between the clashing shapes and incomprehensible sounds, the hailstorm of fuzzy images and garbled language, I feel a dull ache that begins at the base of my head, growing, expanding until it becomes an all-encompassing agony that threatens to burn its way through my brain and out the backside of my skull. I beg that someone will bash a hole in my head so the rapidly mounting pressure has an escape route. The lights flash above me and I catch occasional glimpses of a gray ceiling, but that image lasts only a split second before it dissolves into a burst of imperceptible colors and shapes. Another shockwave of scorching pain shoots through my spine, up to my head, and everything fades to black.

  Although that flash of pain is finished in the same second it began, a newer, duller ache is spreading throughout my body as I wade my way to consciousness. True wakefulness comes slowly. The first thing I’m aware of is the feel of coarse fabric beneath my fingertips. Cracking my eyes open, I blink several times against the harsh white light shining down in my prone form. I’m reclining on a small rickety hospital bed stuck between a cluttered floor of bizarrely shaped machines making various churning noises. A heart monitor at my bedside continues in a steady rhythm of beeps. In between the volume of my labored breath and the persistent tone of the monitor I’m assured that, despite my pleas for death, I’ve lived after all.

  My bed, the only one of its kind in the otherwise barren room, creaks as I attempt to raise my body only to find my wrists belted to the metal railing by thick leather straps. I flop back down on the thin mattress, panting with the effort of moving even that small distance. Heavy eyelids beginning to close, I’m seconds away from drifting off when a harsh male voice startles me into wakefulness.

“Tom. It’s awake.”

Again I strain against the leather straps, feeling the protest of my weakened muscles and the heavy weight of my head. The cavernous space is submerged in darkness and only large industrial lights strung to various ceiling pipes illuminate the small area where I lie. My eyes dart around the room, searching for the source of the voice to no avail.

“She isn’t an it,” comes the quick reply of a second, softer voice. “Not now, anyway.”

  A snort, edged with blatant sarcasm, is the only reply the second voice receives before I hear a set of heavy footsteps tromping away, becoming fainter with each distant step. Though coherent ideas are beginning to take shape, I seem unable to form any distinct line of thought. As I raise my throbbing head to scan the room for the second time, I watch as a man takes a hesitant step forward into the light.

  He’s a tall man in his mid to late fifties with a stern, but not unkind, face. His appearance is devoid of many of the telltale signs of a man his age— the only indication of which are the perpetual streaks of gray that have worked their way throughout his thick hair. A small shadow of stubble about his chin gives me the impression that the man, who possesses the look of someone accustomed to good sleep, has a lack of it to blame for the weary look and drooping set of his shoulders. I only briefly consider why I would feel so confident in my knowledge the effects of sleep deprivation. When the man speaks the thought vanishes so quickly I hardly have time to acknowledge it was there at all.

  “My name is Doctor Thomas Whitaker. I am the head of the medical department here, and the one who has been responsible for supervising your rehabilitation.” His voice flows smoothly, accented with a light rhythmic lilt that stretches the vowels in a pleasant manner. “You may find it difficult to speak at first, but that’s completely normal. Your head should clear with time. Is it safe to say you’re still feeling a bit of an ache?” I don’t reply, staring at him blankly, noting that he had inched forward cautiously towards the bed. “Yes, yes right. I’m going to put you to sleep now. We’ll talk more once you wake.”

  Faster than I can time to jerk away, the doctor empties a syringe of clear substance into my IV, and all is black and soundless once more.

This time I wake, still restrained, to the sight of three unrecognizable faces staring at me from their seats across the end of the bed. Blinking several times, I feel the tiny pieces of gunk trapped in the corners of my eyes shifting with the movement. I shoot an irritated glance at the restraints digging into my wrists. No point in trying to rub my eyes then. I attempt to shake the craggy feeling from my head, and the motion agitates something adhered the base of my skull. Whatever it is feels foreign, like something that was never intended to be there. There is an aching dry pain in the area radiating outward from the object. Worse than the pain, it itches.

“Well its about goddamn time Thomas.” My attention immediately jolts to the large man in the middle. He’s broad shouldered, hairy. He’s obviously uncomfortable, crammed in his tiny seat between a woman with long, inky black hair and the second man, roughly in his twenties and horrifyingly unkempt. At my intent stare the man leans forward in his chair, curling his lip in an unfriendly gaze.

   Surprisingly the doctor steps forward and addresses, not the man with the overbearing presence, but rather the small woman to his right. “I apologize for the inconvenience,” the doctor says in a measured tone, “she’s smaller than the other subjects, naturally it would take her longer to wake from those drugs— I had forgotten.”

  The left side of the woman’s face twitches upwards in a way that would have, on anyone else, made an endearing expression appear. On her the gesture only seems to convey the most base amusement. She fixes a rapt stare on my figure, never once wavering, even as she addresses the doctor. “It’s all right, Thomas. She’s awake now.”

  Dr. Whitaker nods several times, fidgeting anxiously with the buttons on his pristine lab coat. “Yes, yes of course. However I recognize that time is not necessarily—”

  “Could we just get it on with and interview the damn thing?” interjects the slouching man in the leftmost chair. Almost immediately I recognize the hostile tone as the first voice I heard when I woke. Shifting my eyes towards him, I scrutinize him carefully. He has slightly tanned skin, and his unruly dark blond hair sticks out in several directions. Like the doctor he has a fine layer of scruff that peppers his square jawline. Unlike the doctor he carries it like a habit borne of a general inattention to his appearance.

  The woman bristles. “Sydney. You could at least feign some semblance of respect towards Dr. Whitaker. You’re the one who wished to be put on this project and it is his generosity, and not any indispensability on your part, that allows you to stay here.” Impossibly, at this slight chastisement the man manages to slouch even further in his chair, directing an imprudent scowl in my direction.

  “Yes, well with that in mind I think Sydney makes a point.” Says the doctor in a pointed undertone. At that, the other three redirect their gazes in my direction. I eye each person warily before that doctor speaks again.

  “You might recall we met before. My name is Dr. Whitaker and this is my associate Sydney Pryce,” says the doctor, waving a hand to indicate the disheveled man. “My superior Naomi and her second in command, Beckett Morris.” He pauses his introductions, as if waiting for some kind of response. I have none, and instead glare back. After a prolonged beat of silence the doctor adds, “Do you recall your name?” The question stirs something, some vague inclination of familiarity. A nagging feeling, like I walked into a room and forgot the reason I went there in the first place.

  “Your name, girl. What is it?” barks the gruff man in the center, resting his elbows on his knees and grimacing. The look does nothing to make his facial features seem anymore inviting. I get the distinct impression that Beckett Morris has experienced a long life of having his size do the job of intimidating others.

  “I am 902.” My mouth fills with a sharp metallic taste. The words are hoarse and familiarly mechanical as I manage to rip them from my throat. The answer does not pacify the four in front of me. The group shifts, as if drawing in a collective breath.

  “Can you not remember your own name?” spits the ragged young man in an incredulous tone.

  “I am A01902,” I repeat.

  The woman leans forward, captivated. “Yes we understand that, but can you not tell us your name?” The question only disorients me further. Shapes begin shifting in front of me and a harsh ringing has begun reverberating in my inner ear, growing louder and more prevalent with every shaky breath I take. I blink against the light, against the sounds, but it doesn’t help. My empty stomach churns and I strain against the belts, trying to make the pain an anchor to consciousness.

  “Classification, Alpha. Designated Sector 1, identification number 902.” I say, breathless with the effort of staying conscious. The world swims and through my hazy vision I watch as the large man, Beckett, vaults from his chair, gripping my bed’s metal frame.

  “What is your name?” He shouts.

  “Alpha 902!” I scream back.

  “Who are you?”

  “902, I am 902!”

  He snarls, pushing against the metal bars with a force that rocks my bedframe. He wipes a trail of spittle from his mouth and, turning to face Naomi he says in a dark undertone, “This is a waste of our time.”

  Naomi seems unperturbed by the man’s outburst. She leans forward, resting her chin in one milky white hand. No one says anything for several minutes and, as quickly as it came on, the ringing dissipates.

  A long whistle carries out from the shadows, beyond which I cannot see. The sharp noise splices the silence and a man’s voice, laden with mockery, follows.

  “Well, they managed to do a goddamned number on her, wouldn’t you say? I mean she’s been reset for three days now, at the very least she should know her own name. Took me what, two hours before I had it? All this trouble to get another, and an Alpha no less, and you manage to pick the one that’s brain dead!” Each phrase is punctuated by a step forward and soon our observer has emerged from the depths of the shadows enough that I can make out his figure.

  He’s fair skinned and muscular. He towers over the rest in a domineering manner and possesses thick dark hair that falls in loose waves around his ears. His gray, cruel eyes gleam like lights from his scarred face. I can’t recall ever seeing someone who speaks with so much laughter in his voice and so little joy in his expression.

  “Evander this is not particularly helpful,” says Dr. Whitaker in a reprimanding tone.

  “Yeah, well you’re the ones who asked me to be here. Something about ‘assisting the transition’. But I can’t really be any help to someone who’s brain dead, can I?” Evander strides forward to where I lie, still restrained. “Anybody in there?” he leans forward and raps me twice on the head with his fist. Mistake.

  I retaliate by jerking my head up and slamming it into his forehead, hard. Surprisingly, this does very little to alleviate the throbbing sensation that has taken up residence in my head. He reels back with a curse as Beckett and the woman jump up, their chairs scraping loudly across the cement floor, both training their guns on me. The scruffy boy remains seated, arms folded, expressions bored. After a few seconds of blinking, astonished, the dark haired boy recovers and begins chuckling. He touches his left hand to his forehead and draws it back, eyeing the smear of crimson blood gathered on the tips of his fingers. I must have opened up one of the wounds on his face.

  “Even better, she’s feral!” he gasps, before dissolving into a fit of laughter.

  “I am not feral,” I say to the group, my tone even and without temperament, “you were ill-advised to think these restraints would be effective. Also you,” I turn to the dark-haired boy, “should probably step away.”

  The boy puts his hands up in a show of compliance, completely at odds with the nasty sneer on his face. “There, happy?”

  The woman, Naomi, takes a cautious step forward, her gun still neatly aimed at my head. “I hope you’ll forgive us for the inhospitality,” she says, “but we have to ensure you aren’t a threat.”

  I nod in agreement. Her curt tone and abrupt manner settle me more than the earlier questions. Naomi, seeming pacified, lowers her gun slowly. The large man does the same, albeit reluctantly. He rests a burly hand on his holster, twitching at any sign of movement. Naomi observes me curiously when she returns to her seat. Her face is unreadable. You wouldn’t believe it could move at all until the moment it did, and only to ask with seeming indifference, “You do not then, have a name?”

  Beckett turns to her, astonished, his mouth gaping open and closed. Sydney bolts upright in his chair, and Evander falters for a moment, the ghost of a grin vanishing in an instant. Dr. Whitaker’s face lights up only briefly, almost cautiously. If some quiet pronouncement was just made, I am the only person who missed it entirely.

  “I told you. Classification Alpha—” I begin again, but am quickly interrupted by the dark-haired boy.

  “No, no. Not your rank. Your name. Identity,” says Evander in an insistent tone.

  “I… do not understand the question,” I say. With every word we exchange I am becoming more and more aware of the gaping holes in my consciousness. Name. Identity. Age. Everything is coming up empty and I’m left grasping for information that isn’t there.

  “Well, we can’t simply refer to you by your number,” says the doctor, his voice carrying from the corner he has long since retreated to. He seems almost excited, bouncing on his toes, overflowing with restless energy. “Perhaps a name is in order?” he asks in a bright tone.

  At this, the unkempt man rises from his seat, eyes locked on me with an intensity that belies a forceful distaste. He locks his jaw tightly, his mouth is set in a crooked line of disgust. “Female Subject 01. Why don’t you just call her Eve? She’s useless to us, and God knows you’ve damned us all by bringing her here,” he spits the words like an insult.

  I refuse to back down from his scrutiny. The longer our eyes remain interlocked the more I feel the growing violence inside me. I feel his hatred wash over me in zealous waves. Every ticking second I spend looking at this disheveled man intensifies the budding frenzy of rage. My hands clench tightly and I long to reach out and wrap them around his throat. Picturing it only makes the desire more forceful; my hands lift, straining against the thick leather straps. A growl gathers in the back of my throat, but before the sound can wrench free the man twists away, striding off into the senseless darkness. After a few tense seconds I hear the slam of a heavy metal door. I huff.

   Evander chuckles again, like he’s heard a fantastic joke without the benefit of one having been told. “Eve. I like it,” he looks to me with raised eyebrows, “I hope that makes me Adam.”

  The other three appear to have been made uncomfortable by Sydney’s abrupt departure. They shift on uneasy feet, giving each other surreptitious sideways looks. Naomi glances at the door, and her hard-set expression wavers for a brief moment before she turns to consider me in full.

  “Eve,” I say, softly, “I am Eve.”

  I try to ignore the bitter taste the name leaves on my tongue.

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