The Quandary 902

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Chapter 16

My thoughts are whirring, my brain can’t settle down. Every time I try to close my eyes and sink into the abyss of sleep, the landscape of the road bank pops up behind my eyelids and I’m forced to consider and reconsider all my options and eventually to settle with the reality that the plan before me is the best option. Not a good option, even. Just the only one available.

After several rounds of this I allow my mind to wander to other places. If I can’t still my thoughts at the very least I can redirect them. My promise to Ayana to make her strong, my promise to Naomi to fight for her cause, my promise to Evander to hide what is different about me. About us. I’ve made too many promises and sooner or later someone will come to collect.

I know I should steer clear from the constant torrent of violence that sings through my veins with every beat of my heart, but there’s something addictive about it. Something that makes me glad I allowed myself one moment of weakness when I snapped that soldier’s neck because maybe the next time I’ll be able to resist it. If I let myself have these little moments where I tap into the source of the rage, maybe that will keep me from breaking apart entirely. I know I can’t hide it indefinitely. The truth is I am different— I am set apart because of it, and eventually through some mistake of mine they’ll all know it. Truth is like the sun. As much as you think you can lock it away, it inevitably rises again.

I’m meditating on this point when it hits me that just because I’m different it doesn’t mean I’m bound to be alone. Evander has already done this. He’s escaped detection for months without a hitch. He’s the one who warned me to lock that rabid part of me away, and it’s him I should be asking about this. Not two seconds after this realization I am up, lacing my boots, pulling on the jacket I was issued and tiptoeing out the door of 1888 towards the hastily erected tent city.

I creep around each corner trying not to bring too much attention to myself. The last thing I need right now is another incident like the one with Darrow. In the dark it takes me a little longer to locate his tent, although when I finally spy it among the rows it’s difficult to believe I couldn’t pick it apart. The entrance is placed a little far back from the rest of the aisles and it’s strung up with a neatness and orderliness that makes the others look neglectful in comparison.

There’s not really any way to knock on the canvas, so I’m forced to settle for whisper-yelling. “Evander?” No response. I raise my voice slightly, “Evander!”

The tent flap is yanked aside and Evander appears, right eyebrow cocked in his only implication of surprise. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” He asks.

“Can’t,” I say, shrugging.

“Don’t see why you’re making that my problem,” he replies, moving his hand aside and crossing his arms. His dark hair is ruffled, but the lights were on— I doubt he was sleeping either. After a second he sighs and makes a gesture for me to enter. I meander over to his desk, scanning my eyes around the room. I see it in a different light now that I know to whom it belongs. I rest my hip against the desk as he flops down on his bed, crossing his ankles, the perfect picture of relaxation.

Just as I’m starting to think it was a mistake to come here, that truthfully I had no reason, that I was just curious about someone that was like me, he shuts down all those thoughts with a question.

“Nightmares?” he asks, simply.

“What?” I’m taken aback by the question. It’s a peculiar line of questioning.

“Nightmares. I was asking if you had them.” The mocking edge is back in his voice.

“No,” I reply. “I don’t even think I can dream.” He’s silent. “Do you get them?”

He hesitates before he answers, his eyes meet mine from his position across the room and I think he might be on the brink of lying before he talks again.

“I think so. It’s like…” he pauses. “It’s like all the things that nightmares are made of, only they’re real. I know they are. You don’t have those memories. I do.”

“Of the things you did under EXCERP?” I question.

“Yeah.” He’s silent again. He isn’t withholding, which is good, but he also isn’t being particularly forthcoming.

“Are they really nightmares if you can’t feel them?”

He chuckles a little bit at that. “You know I’m not really sure. It does feel a little off though. There’s something unnatural about dreaming of horrible things and feeling completely indifferent.”

“Unnatural?” I ask.

“Incomplete,” he replies.

“How do you hide it?” I wonder. “How do you make it so they can’t see the cracks?”

“I primarily did it by avoiding contact with anyone,” he eyes me, “I doubt you’ll be so lucky.” He looks back up at the canvas ceiling for a moment before uncrossing his ankles, swinging his legs over the cot and standing.

“These helped,” he says, picking up one of the less battered books. I shoot him a wearied look and he chuckles again. “No, no, I’m being serious, Eve. Think about it. It’s the closest you and I are going to get to a manual on how to replicate emotions.” He offers me one of the slim texts and I take the worn book in my hands. Brave New World. I’m about to hand it back to him when he stops me.

“Think of it as a welcoming gift.”

“I’m not a fast reader,” I say, surprised I even volunteer this information. Truth is it takes me a good while to skim over the words. Reading feels like a muscle that’s seized up with disuse. There’s nothing instinctual or innate about it, and even the concept of sitting still long enough to make my way through the text starts my legs aching with the desire to be moving.

“Nothing worth doing comes easily,” he states, the finger on his right hand twitching.

“Except killing,” I reply.

His mouth is taut across his face. “I think that’s something unique to us.”

“I killed a man tonight. With my hands,” I murmur. “I broke his neck.”

Evander doesn’t respond. He doesn’t appear shocked or disturbed, he doesn’t cry out in surprise or cower in fear. There’s no expression on his face.

“And?” he says. I don’t know why I’m telling him this. Maybe I just need to have one place where the entirety of my existence isn’t a fabrication.

“And it’s the only time since I’ve woken up that I felt like something wasn’t absent,” I answer.

His face darkens and he steps away. He looks to the door, the muscle in his jaw working. I wonder if he thinks I’ll go feral. That I’ll break into pieces and there won’t be anything left to stitch back together. I wonder if he’s right and I’m staring down a dark tunnel, knowing it’s going to cave in and daring myself to cross the threshold anyway, just because for that one minute it will be a thrill.

He doesn’t say any of those things though. He looks back to me, stone mask in place and simply says, “I think you should go now.”

That night I lie in my bed, hands wrapped around the cover of the book. Soon, my vision starts drifting in and out of focus and the last thing I’m aware of before the exhaustion overtakes me is my eyes scanning over a single paragraph again and again until a single sentence is seared into the forefront of my mind.

“...most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”

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