In the morning I wake to a bright light spilling through the small window, creating a gold square patch of sunlight that reflects off my scratchy green blanket. The excessive warmth of the sun proves too much for me and I throw aside the blanket, standing and stretching my arms out. I have no indication of what time it is or when someone will come fetch me. The hunger pangs in my stomach suggest it has been a while since the dinner that was brought to me last night. Left without any other form of occupation I decide to exercise to keep the churning thoughts at bay. Dr. Whittaker will be interviewing me later to see if any progress has been made towards regaining my memories. I think the vision of the battered blond boy is something best kept to myself.
I’m curious about the implications of the memory. Although the memory itself seems insignificant in nature the possibility that I could regain that information without the assistance of the New Order is promising. If I can recollect enough to help me survive without their assistance, I would be free to go. I drop to the floor and pick up a routine of pushups and crunches. The door creaks and I halt my movements, picking myself up off the ground and dusting my dirty hands on my pants. A new guard stands in my doorway. I recognize her immediately as the tall, dark-skinned woman from the day before. Her face is a mask of disinterest. Unlike the others who have come in contact with me she does not appear to be outwardly disgusted my presence.
“Hello.” I say.
Her eyebrows shoot up in surprise— like she’s fascinated that I am capable of speech.
“Hello.” She replies, awkwardly shifting her feet. “I’m Ayana. I’ve been sent to tell you that the doctor wants to see you in an hour.” Her obvious suspicion of me is barely masked in her dark eyes, but her stance is proud.
I nod and she exits, eying me warily as she draws the door shut.
Once in the shower, the net keeping my thoughts at bay dissolves and they all swarm, buzzing around and inside my head like gnats. I decide the only way to keep my head from imploding is to organize my thoughts into clear objectives. I have only two days to prepare a team for combat. I have no idea what we are retrieving and I will not be privy to that kind of information until I prove that I am capable of leading a mission and being entrusted with sensitive intel. I have to ingratiate myself with the higher commanders in order to have access, while simultaneously hiding the fact that I am incapable of experiencing emotion, thus eliminating my existence as a threat to their operation. I grind my teeth. Simple.
“How are you feeling today, Eve?” Dr. Whittaker asks.
“Other than the overwhelming desire to stick broken glass under my fingernails? I’m fine,” I retort.
The doctor makes a note on his clipboard. Out of the corner of my eye I spot the word irritable written in his perfect scrawl. Irritable counts as an emotion, I think. It’s a good start.
“So physically? Are you still experiencing pain?” He asks, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“Yes,” I say.
“Could you tell me where?”
I raise my right eyebrow and lean forward on the examination table. “I’ll give you one guess.”
He coughs awkwardly. I think it’s some kind of nervous twitch. The doctor coughs, Evander’s finger spasms. What a fidgety group of people.
“Any change in your memories? Anything coming back to you?”
“No.” I feel the lie as it rolls off my tongue easily. As natural as breathing.
His eyes dart over me quickly and I know what’s coming before he even forms the words. “I think we should talk about yesterday.”
I brace myself. “What do you want to know?”
“You attacked that man,” he states.
“He threw the first punch. It isn’t my fault he can’t fight.” I respond, cracking my bruised knuckles. Dr. Whittaker winces at the sharp sound.
“But you kept going beyond what was a reasonable response. You almost killed him, Eve.”
He was weak. He did not deserve to live, I think. But that isn’t a normal response. I am expected to feel ashamed or guilty for my actions. Not trusting my ability to effectively fake that emotion, I settle for a half-truth.
“The others were eager to attack me, they didn’t stop him. If I had let him win they would have come for me later. I did it to warn them to stay away.”
The doctor looks perturbed. He chews his lip and taps his fingers against the examination table for a minute before he answers in a hollow tone. “From the reports we have from Evander this kind of infighting is typical for newly transitioned EXCERP soldiers. We have information that suggests that in the case of the Alphas, the demonstration of physical supremacy in front of a crowd enabled them to maintain dominance. It’s a very Darwinian response.”
I might not understand exactly what he means by a Darwinian response, but his meaning comes through as clearly as if he had screamed the words. It was the wrong response.
The rest of my day passes without incident. My meals are brought to my room and I eat them with nothing but the silence of solitude to keep me company. In truth I’m left with nothing but my thoughts, and the reality that your mind is the one place you can’t hide from yourself.
The sun is low by the time I hear a knock on the door. Ayana saunters through the doorway, the gun holstered to her hip serving as a constant reminder that I am always perceived as a volatile danger. She jerks her head in a short gesture to indicate I should move.
“Time to go?” I ask.
“Time to go,” she replies.
Unlike the other two escorts I had been awarded, Ayana seems to have no qualms about walking next to me. Out the corner of my eye I notice a pale scar that traces across the left side of her face. It marks a peculiar contrast with the darkness of her skin. Spotting my close scrutiny of the scar she shoots me a look of sardonic distain and tilts her face in an attempt to camouflage the mark.
“I saw you earlier, at the fight.” I say. She stiffens and says nothing. I decide to keep fishing for conversation. Standard people converse casually. “You kept that other guy from breaking it up. Can I ask why?”
“You can ask.” Is Ayana’s only response. So far my efforts to make friends has failed on multiple counts. We’re almost to the exit when she crinkles her nose, leaning down towards me and mock-whispers. “I’m not exactly Charles Darrow’s biggest fan.” She smiles slightly; it’s a pleasant gesture that stretches across her face to reveal a row of pristine white teeth. “To be honest it was pretty good to see the asshole get what was coming to him.”
“Fair enough.” I say, and then force myself to chuckle. She glances at me from the corner of her eye and her grin drops from her face almost immediately. I scold myself internally. I think it might be beneficial to devote some time to practicing the right expressions in the mirror. My tone is off and my facial expressions occur unnaturally. Even I can see that Evander’s emotions are fabricated, but he’s still marginally more successful at replicating them. Flawed as his charade might be, at least it appears to have placated everyone here. Maybe I should ask for tips.