The Quandary 902

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Chapter 2

My prison guard is a brutish man. Large, oversized, with meaty paws that suggest no aptitude for delicacy. He carries an impressive sidearm, and I catch myself mentally taking note of the make, model, the year. How many rounds it can carry. How many seconds it would take me to unarm him and put him down flat. I’m intrigued by how quickly my train of thought turns to violence, how passionately my body aches with the need to lash out in physical rebellion. It’s fascinating that despite the fact that I cannot recall a single detail about myself—my name, how old I am—that somehow in the complex pathways of my brain I understand the simple steps it would take for me to neutralize him. Maybe it’s more of a physical memory than anything else, although I’m at a loss for why that sensation feels so thoroughly grounded in me. My guard pivots, looking me up and down, clearly ill at ease with being left alone with me. His puffy eyes widen in alarm when he catches me staring back. It’s surprising that a man this large would fear a person over a foot shorter than him, though knowing what I do about how easy it would be for me to break him validates his fear. He’s obviously not professionally trained as military; if he were he would know not to have me walking behind him. Too easy to get the drop. I picture his meaty neck snapping. The image sends a pleasant shiver up my spine.

He halts in front of a squat metal door.

“These are your quarters. You have half an hour to shower, get dressed, tend to yourself, and be ready to go. Knock when you’re ready.” He says this gruffly as he opens the door and wearily eyes me walking through. I nod my understanding and he shuts it with a heavy slam.

I turn to observe my surroundings. The room is small. Little more than what were probably once a janitor’s quarters in this building. It’s dark and musty, and the entire room reeks with the dank scent of mothballs. There is a small cot, made up with towels folded on the foot of the bed. A dingy side table sits beside it. The coating on the table is chipped in places, revealing the silver metal beneath. In the corner is a white tile square with a clear plastic curtain around it, although the grout between the tiles is more green than white now. I look up to see that near the ceiling there is a small window, about sixteen inches high. Too small to fit through, even if I could find something tall enough to climb on top of to reach the window.

I strip off the paper-thin hospital gown and turn on the water. Entering the shower, I feel the rush of warmth streaming over me, running down my arms, observing the small beads of water drip like tears from my grimy fingers. I trace the pads of my calloused fingertips across the thick block lettering adorning my right bicep. A number blinks out at me. 902. The pale skin the tattoo is printed seems particularly delicate in comparison to the harsh black lettering of my numerical brand.

The only thing I have been provided with is a bar of soap, which I use to thoroughly scrub my skin raw. Upon exiting the shower I catch the reflective surface of a mirror mounted in the corner. Figuring it’s only been about ten minutes I take the time to observe my reflection.

I am roughly five foot four. No one would ever describe me as waifish. I am thick-set, strong, with toned muscles. My hair hangs damply down and touches the tops of my breasts, and I know that when it dries it will be slightly shorter, wavy, and light brown with occasional strips of blonde. I have green eyes. All those details are familiar to me. Some feel a bit foreign. I brush my fingers through my wet hair and feel that it should stop right where my hair hits my shoulder, but instead my fingers continue throughout the damp locks. It isn’t as if I had forgotten what I looked like, it just feels like there’s a disconnect between what I am looking at now and how I remember seeing myself. The hard set of my jaw and steel sheen of my eyes feel like details painted over my real features.

I am covered in scars, but they don’t feel like they belong to me. I have no memory of them. Still, the circumstances in which I received these wounds were most likely painful, and I feel these marks with a kind of solidarity. They are battle scars and I am marked by their presence. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I acknowledge that these scars, old and faded with time and years, are as fresh to me as if my skin had just split and the first inklings of blood drained from the cracks.

There is a gash along the right side of my face, about two inches in length, healed over and pale. A chipped tooth. Small bruises and welts cover my body, my nose shows signs of having been broken and healed. There are cut marks and scraps all over my arms and legs, many of them long and raised where the skin knitted together unevenly.

The worst is my back.

When I turn I can clearly see healed over gashes and welts covering my shoulder blades, a map of distortion and angry red mottled skin. Yet all that fails in comparison to the three large round scars running parallel down my back, the newest of which appears to be a freshly patched circle where my shoulder blades meet. There is white gauze taped to a little shaved patch at the base of my skull. The fabric is stained with blood and some off-white fluid, and it pulls at my tender skin when I rip it away.

I inhale sharply. At the base of my skull sits a small round piece of metal. I touch it to find it has almost completely merged with my skin. Although I can’t get a perfectly straight-on view of the implant, it appears to be engineered to open. Some stomach-churning memory of needles and electrocution lurks at the edges of my conscious, but I push it down for now. Some memories are better left untouched.

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