I’m lying in my hospital bed when I hear the flip of a switch and I am plunged into fluorescent light. When my eyes finally adjust to the intense brightness I realize that my hospital bed is sitting in a circle of medical equipment in a small warehouse storage room. Dr. Whittaker clears his throat and steps forward. I sit up more fully and eye him unenthusiastically. I know that in the past few days it has been the doctor and his insufferable assistant jabbing me with needles and ripping apart my body. Still, in the back of my mind I identify that the doctor is not a threat. Physically I am very much aware of my ability to overpower him, and his frank, yet self-conscious manner makes it next to impossible to not like him. Even so, I am not particularly overwhelmed with joy at being once again under his care. He smiles at me softly. Like a man who used to be much more accustomed to the gesture before something beat the habit from him.
“I don’t think the spotlight and all that was quite necessary, do you? Although I’ve never really had Beckett’s flare for the dramatic.” I grunt as a response. He scrutinizes me before walking away and coming back wheeling a hospital table with a plastic tray of food and a jug of water on it. He presents the food to me and I take it hesitatingly before scarfing it down. It hadn’t registered how famished I was. Only when I am satisfied that the meager meal of potatoes and meat will stay down do I address the doctor.
“Are you playing the good cop, now?” I ask, chewing a piece of rubbery meat.
He smiles again, “No. I’m intended to be your medical practitioner. Naomi thought—thinks we tried to present too much information to you at once and has commissioned me with the task of acting as your guide.”
“You’ll answer my questions?” I pour the water from the jug and take a grateful gulp.
“I will answer the questions pertinent to your medical history and release what information Naomi has specified I may. So, perhaps not all of them but I will answer what I can.” He says, never losing his slight soft smile.
Taking another large sip of water, I consider the myriad of questions swirling around in my brain before I decide on one.
“I was a soldier.” Okay, maybe that was less of a question than a statement.
“Yes.” He says. “You remember when we first woke you yesterday morning? When we asked what your name was you said—”
“Alpha, designated Sector 1, Identification Number—” I choke a bit on that last word as the realization dawns on me, “It’s my military rank, isn’t it? Its my—I’m a leader.”
“Yes, you were. That’s why we worked so hard to get you. Any common foot solider can be Switched, and most likely with significantly more ease than a higher ranking officer. The hope was that you would have unfettered access to information—to people—we need to get to. Evander or Beckett would be better at explaining the ranking system. Military speak is not exactly my forte.”
“What do you mean, more ease?” I ask.
“Well, we’ve proven the science behind EXERP isn’t invulnerable.” I blink at him and he rubs the bridge of his nose in a stiff, stressed gesture. “Look at it this way; some people are more prone to suggestion than others. It’s in their nature to be malleable. Others are more rigid in structure. For some the process of, for lack of a better term, un-programming and re-programming them with the EXERP agenda took only a few hours. With others it can take days, or weeks. For conditioning to work the brain had to be broken down even further and built back up, and breaking down those barriers leaves damage. So, for the people that were more naturally difficult to condition it made them unreliable as soldiers and inadmissible as leaders. The only subjects permissible for any position of authority were those with a higher IQ, more apt to suggestion, and that had the pure physical presence to stay in command. Those who met the qualifications could earn Alpha command status.”
I let this information sink in. “You said the people who switched me in the first place were responsible for two of the holes in my back. Who is responsible for the third?”
At this, his face darkens and he purses his lips.
“We are. The third scar in your back is where we created a fissure through which we could recreate chemically what EXCERP took from you. It isn’t a perfect science, though. We still need to have you come regularly in to monitor and adjust your dosages.”
“What if I don’t come in? What happens then?” I challenge.
“Nothing good, I promise you.” He says quietly, folding his weathered hands in front of him.
“Does that mean I’m supposed to feel emotions like other people?”
He looks at me, grimly. “That’s the idea. I take it you do not feel…anything?”
I consider the question thoroughly. “I feel…curiosity. I want to know more about the things I lost. I want my memories back, I want to understand what you people Switched me for. Other than that? Nothing.”
“It might take time. Evander regained the majority of his memories within days, although when he first woke he did have the presence of mind to inform us of his name. He had access to basic details about himself within minutes. I’m not sure why you appear to be different; perhaps it has something to do with the length of time under the influence of EXERP. I’m not entirely sure, I can only hypothesize at this point.”
“So if I don’t regain my memories, I’m useless?” I question vacantly.
“Not necessarily.” I wait for him to say more, but he volunteers nothing and begins fidgeting with his ID badge. “Our only successful subj—” he pauses, mid word, “Switches, have been you and Evander. Give time to regain the connection to the emotions. Evander still hasn’t gained a full range but his progress has been promising We have only his development over the past year to guide us in what might be foreseeable with you.”
I hone in on his careful phrasing. “Only two?”
“What was that?” His hands still their motion.
“It’s been a year and you’ve only…rehabilitated two soldiers?” I press.
He turns his back to me and begins fiddling with the various machines next to my bed. “The process isn’t yet perfected. Our method for distinguishing promising candidates is flawed and the process of resetting someone is still… there is work to be done. Multiple experiments—well. Evander and yourself have been the only successful Switches so far.”
“But there have been other subjects, haven’t there?” I probe. His back tenses.
“No. Just the two of you.” He turns to face me and smiles. I have a feeling that’s the last words he’ll have on that topic, so I decide to change the subject.
“Why did Sydney say I damned you?” The doctor rears his head back in a startled gesture before settling down. He dons a pair of rubber gloves and rolls another small medical table over.
“Sydney…” starts Dr. Whitaker before inhaling deeply, clearly considering his thoughts before speaking, “Sydney above all things considers himself a scholar. For whatever personal reasons his emotions appear to have manifested in him an intense hatred of, forgive me for this, your kind, as he would put it. So by extension, you.”
“What does that have to do with the name Eve?”
Dr. Whittaker begins to answer, cracking a smile before speaking again. “For someone so new to the world you ask quite contrived questions.”
“That’s not an answer, Doctor.” I state evenly, looking down at him from my perch on the exam table. He picks up a syringe from the table and motions for me to extend my arm. “May I?” I nod, and he sticks the needle in my arm, slowly drawing blood. “Are you familiar with the concept of the God of the Old Faiths?” he asks, his face devoid of the scientific curiosity with which he previously examined me, replaced instead by an excited expression that betrays his love of all erudite subjects. I shake my head no.
“God was, or rather is, I suppose, depending how you look at it, the concept of an all-encompassing spiritual force. The thing that drives us and surrounds us, omnipotent and omnipresent. Existing despite all of the impossibilities of his existence.”
I scoff. “That’s idiotic. If by definition it’s impossible it can’t exist.”
He smiles widely, and I can tell by the gleam in his eye that I have given him exactly the answer he desires. “The idea of religion runs on the idea of believing something so strongly that despite every piece of you that clings to the logical, to the things your brain is capable of processing, faith is like flinging yourself head first into a cataclysm knowing you might never make your way back. Faith is that which is beyond reason or logic.” The almost manic glee on his face subsides slightly when I fail to engage again, and he continues. “But I digress. Eve, theologically speaking, was the first human woman. In the Bible,” he pauses at my blank, uncomprehending stare. “That is, in the theological text of the Christian religion—incredibly influential to the history of societal development—in the text, Eve was mother to the race of humans to follow, it is from her we are descended. She was made to watch over all creatures in the Garden of Eden, where God placed her and her partner, Adam.” Suddenly Evander’s mocking tone when he asked me to ‘think of him as Adam’ makes significantly more sense. “It was Eve who was responsible for the fall of mankind into sin and mortality. She betrayed the human race when she took the fruit of the tree of knowledge and gave it to Adam, and for this crime she and Adam were expelled from paradise.”
I look to him, finally comprehending the intent of an insult in Sydney’s words.
“So this is the Garden? This is mankind’s Eden?”
Dr. Whitaker shrugs noncommittally. “I suppose in a way. Though it’s a far cry from paradise.”
“Am I really going to cause your destruction?”
The doctor fixes me with an uncharacteristically hard stare. “That, I think, is entirely up to you.” He continues the remainder of his tests wordlessly as the weight of silence hangs heavily between us.