Inside the musty warehouse are large metal shelves stacked tall with canned goods and medical supplies. The area is lit by large industrial lights hanging from the ceiling and casting a drab green light over the whole scene. I spy Naomi in the corner observing as several bulky men lift a square crate up onto a higher shelf. Standing next to her is a tall dark-skinned woman with dense curls pulled back from her face in a severe bun. She passes Naomi a clipboard, which Naomi signs and returns to her. The woman then salutes, turns on her heel and departs.
The guard grabs my arm and roughly marches me to her, his meaty fingers digging into my skin. I have to bite the inside of my cheek and clench my hands at my sides to resist clawing at him.
“The subject as requested, sir,” he says.
“Thank you, Darrow. Dismissed,” replies Naomi.
He salutes and progresses towards the door, curling his lip in disgust when we make eye contact. So glad to see I’m making friends here.
Naomi looks to me, her small mouth fixed grimly. I cross my arms in front of my chest.
“Are you feeling better?” she asks.
“Does it matter?” I reply shortly.
“It does if you’re to commence training our people.”
I bristle. “And what makes you think I’m going to do that? Or that I even have the background to do so?”
The corner of her mouth quirks up. “A feeling. I’ve been watching you. You enter a room and immediately make notes of the exits. The way your eyes dart back and forth always, checking your surroundings. Even now—look at the way you’re standing.”
An indignant noise gathers in the back of my throat as I register what she means. My feet are planted shoulder width apart, my hands are folded stiffly behind my back. I make myself adopt a more relaxed stance. It fools neither of us.
“It’s obvious, Eve, that despite what the process of Switching may have damaged, some things have become too internalized to be wiped from you completely. I know that, at the very least, that extends to your physical training. I have no indication of what the level of damage to your tactical thinking might have been.” She gives me a sidelong look, “Though your rank and the evidence we have gathered on your time with EXCERP would indicate your aptitude for military strategy was not insignificant. Do you have any idea how much of it you might have retained?”
“More than you would think.” I say, more to myself than to her.
“Good. If you have no objections, I would like to place you on a mission.”
“What?” I respond, astonished.
“We have it on fairly good authority that in two days a convoy of soldiers carrying supplies will be making its way down a highway not far from here. We would like to commandeer those supplies for our purposes.”
“An ambush.” I state. Naomi jerks her chin down in a short affirmation. “What kind of supplies?”
Her eyes shift forward as she looks out into the rows and rows in the warehouse. The shelves are brimming with stacks of crates and boxes, all neatly labeled and organized. It’s difficult to imagine this group could want for anything; with the correct rationing these provisions could supply the numbers outside for years.
“Let’s just say it’s something that could help turn the tide of this war in our favor. The People’s State has had us in a chokehold for too long.”
The People’s State. Something about the name rings with a slight signal of familiarity. It tickles at the dark edges of my consciousness like the frayed end of a piece of string. Maybe if I yanked on it hard enough I might be able bring the memory to light, but not without unraveling the tightly wound cords of my mind. I’m becoming increasingly concerned that if I push too hard to remember the things I lost, I might end up losing more than just a few memories. I could lose my sanity.
“Why do you think I would fight for you? What motivation do I have for going on this mission? As far as I am concerned you are responsible for the loss of my memories, you have stuck me with needles and scrambled my brains, you’re responsible for this,” I turn and lift the back of my shirt, exposing the red angry welts, “and so far the only things I know about myself are the things that you’ve told me. As far as I know they could all be lies. So even if I could help you, what reason do I have to?”
Anger flared behind her dark eyes. “We’ve told you nothing but the truth. You know what you were.”
Comprehension dawns on me slowly. She expects me to feel accountable for whatever black acts I may have committed under EXCERP’s control, not realizing how disparate I am from that person. She has the misplaced idea that, not only am I capable of feeling remorse for those actions, she thinks I feel a need to atone for my past transgressions. I don’t. I won’t. The disconnect between myself and sentiment is too pronounced. I’m unsure of what the extent of her knowledge of my condition is. Regardless, I don’t think that calling attention to my lack of guilt would do anything to assuage her fears that I am a risk to her entire operation.
“You didn’t answer my question.” I press.
She purses her lips making the skin stretch across her high cheekbones.
“We can find you information.” She finally says.
“What kind of information?” My curiosity pi ques.
“About who you were before you became Alpha 902. Your given name—your age? I’d have to guess around twenty, but wouldn’t you like to know for sure? Maybe with time we could find out if you had a family. Might even be able to find them.”
I hadn’t considered that a family might have existed. Obviously at some point I had to have had a mother, but I can’t picture anything beyond that. Have I known a family? Have they been looking for me? Beyond that, do I even care?
Regardless, the promise of any information about myself is a tempting offer. I consider my options. I could probably escape this compound fairly easily under the cover of darkness. Disarm my guard, take his weapon and eliminate him. After nightfall it would be fairly easy to conceal myself. Even so, I am wearing clothing that seems fairly uniform to the rest of the camp’s. I could wait until the gap in the patrol and scale the fence fairly easily. There were no indications of floodlights—probably too easy to be spotted from above— they wouldn’t know I had escaped until I was long gone out of their range.
But escaping would serve no purpose. I have nowhere to go. I can’t go back to EXCERP; after Whitaker’s operation I am broken as a soldier. Even if I knew where to find them they would never let me walk away still breathing. In any case, the amount of scar tissue covering my body provides motivation enough to stay away.
The promise of information is enticing.
“How do you know I won’t go AWOL, take information with me back to EXCERP?”
“I don’t. That’s why you won’t be given any more details on this operation until you’re well on your way to seeing it through.” She says snidely.
“This is a test,” I state.
She cocks her head to the side. “Think of it more like insurance. We can’t have you access higher security intel until the question of your loyalty has been settled.”
“Why do you still think I’ll help you? This isn’t my fight.”
“It could be,” she says quietly. “I’m hoping you’ll find some incentive to join us.”
“And if I don’t find the incentive?” I question.
“I suppose in that case you would find yourself prisoner,” she shrugs dismissively.
I weigh my options carefully before answering.
“My quarters aren’t nearly comfortable enough to be a permanent cell.”
She laughs a little at that. “No I suppose not. Don’t worry, that’s temporary, we’ll be on the move soon.”
I’m a little surprised at that. “You’re moving base?”
“This isn’t our base. It’s a satellite station used for supply storage. We temporarily relocated here to sequester you from the main branch.” She smiles her characteristic half-smile, “In case you decided to run back to EXCERP. We didn’t want you to have information that could be used against us.”
“Where is the main branch?” I ask.
“That’s the kind of thing you’ll have to be trusted to know.”
I breathe in sharply though my nose and exhale. “Okay.”
A reserved quiet stretches between us. She makes no move to speak or dismiss me. I think neither of us is really confident in what our roles are in relation to one another. Does this make her my commanding officer? Am I to salute her as well? Something about the concept of paying any kind of deference to a superior grates my bones.
“Should I wait for a guard to escort me back to my quarters?” I ask.
“No. I think you’ll be able to find it on your own, don’t you? Take it as a sign of good faith.”
I have nothing to say to that and merely nod. As I am about to turn towards the door she stops me with her voice. “I’d like it if you would meet me here tomorrow afternoon. I have some things I’d like for you to see.” She steps forward, closing the distance between us and juts out her hand. I take it in mine; she squeezes tightly, turning my hand over slightly in the process. The side of her mouth quirks, and I finally realize what’s been nagging me so much about the gesture. She has a smile that speaks of secrets the mouth will never utter. “Welcome to the New Order, Eve.”