I smirked at the guard as he dragged me by my elbow down the dark, musty hall.
“Glad that you’ll finally be getting rid of me?” I teased, tossing my head to one side and carefully watching his facial expression.
“Hardly. You’re the only psychopath in here that can hold up your end of a conversation.”
“Ah, really, my dear prison sentry, have we gone back to these derogatory titles again? I would never have believed you still thought of me as just another psycho in this hellhole.”
“Selena, it says on your file that you’re mentally unstable,” the guard reminded me.
“It’s not like I killed anyone.”
“Just because you didn’t commit murder doesn’t mean you’re not crazy,” he pointed out.
“Do you think I’m crazy, Adam?” I asked, raising my eyebrows at him.
“Maybe not, but you are a convicted criminal.”
“That was a misunderstanding,” I said dismissively.
“Really. Three charges of armed robbery and five of assault-not including all the crazies you’ve beat up in here. All misunderstandings?”
“I was framed for that first robbery charge, and nobody ever proved that the others were me,” I told him airily as we turned a corner. Adam laughed in sheer disbelief.
“They knew it was you, even if they couldn’t prove it. I can’t believe you still seem so sane to me after all this time, even though I know you’re a monster.”
“Hey, I’m not a monster, honey,” I informed him. “And... I think I’ll take it from here.”
I swept his legs out from underneath him, tearing off the cuffs that kept my hands behind my back and snapping one circle around his wrist, the other on the railing next to him. He felt inside his pockets for the key frantically as I backed away, giggling quietly.
“Ah-ah-ah,” I said mockingly, dangling the keyring between my fingers. “Don’t hurt yourself.”
“What--how did you--Selena!” Adam exclaimed, searching his pockets for the keys that were no longer there. I tossed the keyring across the hall. They slid across the floor, jingling as they hit the wall, far out of Adam’s reach.
“Thanks for keeping me company these four years,” I told him, stalking closer. “Maybe you’ll think I’m really crazy for saying this, but you’re the least boring person here. This prison was a bit more bearable with a conversationalist like you.” I twirled a piece of dark hair around my finger before leaning in, striking like a viper, and pulling back from the kiss before he could grab me.
“I’m sure they’ll let you know when I die,” I told him as I started down the long corridor. He groaned, looking slightly dazed.
“See you on the other side, crazy girl.” I smiled, my back turned to him. Honestly, I was glad that I’d met Adam. He’d kept me on my toes, helped me retain my intelligence and banter. And now, I guess I’d never see him again. Oh, well.
Some people said I was lucky, getting picked for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A nothing girl with no family, no life, headed on a mission to a newly discovered planet with four other lucky, lucky people.
We weren’t lucky.
It was a one-way trip, an experiment with expendable people who didn’t contribute to society in any way. Or insane people who had volunteered to take a rocket ride to a death trap. Not insane like me, but really insane.
A cold-blooded killer. A hot-headed sociopath. A sweet, kind-hearted volunteer. A failed, suicidal mastermind. And me. The psychopath. We were the Minerva program, created to discover whether the new planet, Minerva X, was inhabitable.
It was most likely not going to be.
We were the guinea pigs, the lab rats, brought out for the scientists to play with and for Minerva X to kill... if our teammates didn’t kill us first. We would have a murderer and a sociopath with us, after all.
I rounded the last corner, entering the door labeled MINERVA X. Inside were about ten people, eight or so of them probably nurses. The other two must be my teammates.
Everyone froze when I came in.
“Who are you?” A nurse asked, setting her clipboard down on a counter. I smiled beatifically at her.
“Selena Namori, at your service. Are these my fellow sacrifices?” I asked, indicating the two sitting to my right. One of them, a woman of about twenty, raised her eyebrows at me. A younger-looking dark-skinned man didn’t react, staring blankly into space.
“Namori...where is your escort? Why are your hands not secured?” she asked, taking a step backward. She was scared of me. Smart lady.
“He’s back there a ways,” I told her, pointing behind me. “No need to fire him. I could take out any of the guards here. And any of you. I’m here by choice... just so you know. The handcuffs mess with my style, so we’ll just trash those all together, m’kay?”
“I-I-I don’t think, um-I-” the nurse stuttered as I gave her another smile.
“Thanks, I appreciate it.” I sat down in one of the empty chairs, flipping my messy black hair over my shoulder.
“So, which ones are you? Murderer, sociopath, volunteer, or genius? I’m the psycho, by the way.” The girl hesitated.
“Um... I guess I’d be the volunteer? I’m not a genius. My name’s Eliza Bellon, Liz for short.” She had green eyes, a spray of freckles across her nose, a blonde bob, and a very nervous expression. Cute.
“Okay, Liz, which one’s him?” I pointed to the man, who had warm brown skin, fuzzy dark-brown hair, and a brooding expression.
“I think he’s the genius, actually,” Liz confided softly. “He doesn’t have handcuffs, and the nurses have gone pretty close to him without looking scared.” I nodded, running my tongue across my top teeth.
“So we’re only missing the killer and the other crazy.” Liz nodded slightly, avoiding my intense gaze. I modified it to appear friendlier so she’d be more willing to trust me.
“Psychopaths aren’t crazy.” The voice came from the door. “And neither am I.”
An exceptionally hot silver-haired young woman was standing just inside the room, piercing blue eyes fixed on me. I noticed that her hands were cuffed behind her back.
“I expect you’re our sociopath?” I asked, rising from my seat. She tilted her head to the left.
“I suppose so. Mia Menimocci. You know, we’re pretty rare, you and I.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Are we?”
“Two young-adult American females with antisocial personality disorder? I’d say we’re almost unique,” Mia said, walking up to me.
I looked her up and down.“What’d you do?” I asked, eyes glinting.
“I displayed violent tendencies and anger management issues,” she answered dully.
I waited, but she didn’t continue. “Not much of an origin story.”
“The world’s not a superhero comic.”
“Depends how you look at it,” I said, grinning. “As for me, the people who got me stuck here say they put me in for a few instances of armed robbery and assault. But they only ever tried me for the one robbery, and even then, the jury only had a majority of one. So no one will ever really know, will they?” I said the question like a statement and laughed quietly.
“What’s going on between you two?” We turned to Liz, who seemed a little freaked out.
“Just a conversation... one crazy girl to another,” Mia told her, giving me one last cold look and sitting down in the chair I’d gotten up from. Okay, so she was mean. That was the difference between her and me. Psychopaths and sociopaths.
Three years ago, a year after I’d arrived in jail, Adam had taken a sudden interest in understanding me at a ‘deeper level,’ as he put it. He’d bought a few books on psychopathy and asked me a million questions about myself to see if what the psychologists said was true.
“Have you ever... stabbed someone?” Adam was crouching on the other side of the bars of my cell, flipping through the pages of a particularly thick volume.
“If I told you that, you could testify against me in court.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Okay. What does it mean?” I asked in a sarcastically grandiose voice, rocking back and forth on the cold floor. He gave me a look and read from the page.
“‘Social isolation, loneliness, and associated emotional pain in psychopaths may precede violent criminal acts. They may also harm others simply to feel something themselves.’” He looked up at me. “Is that why you stabbed someone?”
“I allegedly stabbed someone because they allegedly turned me in for a crime I allegedly committed.”
“Fine. How about this- ‘The life histories of psychopaths are often characterized by a chaotic family life, lack of parental attention, parental substance abuse, poor relationships, divorce, and adverse neighborhoods.’ Didn’t your dad die from an overdose? And your mom abandoned you when you came out?”
“No, I had a wonderful childhood surrounded by people who cared for me and didn’t mind who I loved or what I did with my life because the world is sunshine and rainbows and lollipops,” I snarked. He pumped his fist in victory.
“Do you care?” I asked cooly.
Adam looked shocked and a little hurt. “Of course not! I don’t care if you’re straight or gay or bi or pan or ace. I told you my sibling is non-binary and polysexual, right?”
“You probably forgot.”
“I forget a lot of things,” I replied vaguely.
He grinned. “Okay, great. I mean—not great, but I get you.”
“You don’t get me.”
“I get my sibling,” Adam pointed out.
“They’re not a felon or a psychopath, are they?” I asked sarcastically. “Now, are you going to read that book or not?”
The ‘Minerva X’ door opened for the final time. A scarred white man a few years older than me entered the room, wearing a ferocious scowl.
“The killer arrives!” I announced. “The Minerva X team is together at last.” He growled, taking a seat next to the genius. I took it he didn’t appreciate being labeled as a killer.
“We didn’t get your names,” I said, leaning forward. The genius glanced at me, the first movement I’d seen from them.
“Teller Frayman,” he muttered almost incoherently. I looked at the killer pointedly, who sighed. I don’t think he liked me very much from that first impression. It didn’t matter. There wasn’t much of a need to manipulate my fellow crewmates. We’d probably all die regardless.
“You seem very outgoing for a psychopath,” Liz observed.
“For a psychopath? Darling, we’re all like this. What better way to mess with people than to be charismatic? At least, that’s what my favorite prison sentry who doubles as an unofficial psychologist says,” I told her, giving her my most innocent smile.
People tended to overlook me when I gave them that smile. Overlook me or become obsessed with my face. Years ago, Adam had taken away the thin piece of reflective metal that served as a mirror. I’d found out a way to break it so that I... anyway, I hadn’t seen my image too much since then, but I knew what I looked like.
Wavy black hair that hadn’t been cut since I’d first entered the prison system, enormous sparkly black eyes embellished by delicate eyebrows, tan skin covered in tiny scars. I’d given most of them to myself, though my parents had a hand in some. For a decade, I would slice at my body with anything, anytime, for no reason in particular.
As for the prison jumpsuits we had to wear, they weren’t ugly, not too baggy, and not orange like some institutions I’d visited. They were black, and I’d started to decorate mine with things I’d stolen after Adam was sure he’d talked me out of self-harming.
Little things, like silver coins, pieces of discarded metal, pins, beads. Scraps of trash too pretty to throw away. Nobody took the decorations away from me, mostly because I never tried to hurt anyone or myself with them. A lot of the guards called me Magpie because of that habit.
Adam scrabbled for the textbook, eyeing me nervously. “Yeah, I’ll read it, I’ll read it, calm down, Magpie. Uh, next... ‘Despite the outward arrogance of psychopaths, they feel inferior to others... psychopaths are at least periodically aware of the effects of their behavior on others and can be genuinely saddened by their inability to control it.’”
He stared at me with wide eyes. I rolled mine. “Sure. Boo-hoo, I’m not better than everyone else because I act cool all the time, but I’m actually a little ball of depression, and I hate that I can kick someone in the face and not feel bad about it because I’m nuts.”
“It’s not like that,” Adam said disapprovingly. “It’s like... it’s like you can’t feel emotions quite like the rest of us do, even though you can fake them if you want to. And you never really will feel them. Doesn’t that upset you, Maggie?”
“Not really. And stop calling me Magpie.”
“The book says psychopaths are good at lying, so I don’t believe you,” Adam told me with great self-importance.
I laughed. “You didn’t know I was a good liar before? I tell more lies than I do truths, dummy.”
“No one’s that much of a con artist.”
“Just because you’re a bad liar doesn’t mean the rest of us are.”
“Hey, you can’t talk to me like that. I can tranq you whenever I want.”
“You can try.”
“I swear, Selena, one of these days I’ll-”
“You’ll what? Taze me, beat me, handcuff me to a wall? Force-feed me literal animal crap and call it food? There’s nothing you can do to me that I haven’t already lived through,” I snapped, sardonic façade fading away. Adam paused and looked into my eyes.
“What if I just be your friend?”
“It’s time for your health checkups,” a short, plump nurse told us. Four other nurses came to escort each of us to different rooms. The first nurse took me to a room decorated with splotches of pink and green paint, gesturing to a bed that looked like an ironing board with her pen. I stood in the middle of the room with my arms crossed, refusing to sit on the bed.
“Now, if I could just confirm your name and date of birth?” she chirped.
“Selena Namori. November first,” I responded robotically.
“And the year you were born in?” she continued, smiling widely, looking like a toad.
“Perfect, perfect. Let’s just measure your height and weight.”
“Five nine, one hundred and twenty-five pounds,” I told her. The guards measured me every single day to keep up with the schedule I was on. Astronauts needed to be fit and healthy at all times. Ironically, they still chose to hardly feed me anything, which did not follow the recommended schedule. Their excuse was that they couldn’t afford it. Maybe they couldn’t, but they could at least ask NASA to spot them a few dollars for my lunch. Morons.
“Well, let’s check just in case,” the nurse said breathily. She measured me. I was five feet nine inches and one hundred and twenty-five pounds. “You’re underweight for your height,” she informed me. Yeah, I knew that. Were they going to do anything about it? Of course not.
“When are we going to Minerva X?”
“One week from today. We have to finalize your training, but it won’t take much time,” the nurse told me happily. I smiled.
“Great. So excited to die in a brand-new way,” I deadpanned.
“Now, now, don’t be like that,” the nurse scolded. “There’s plenty of evidence that Minerva X is inhabitable.”
“And plenty of evidence that it’s not,” I pointed out. The nurse didn’t respond, taking more measurements and jotting things down on her clipboard silently. I rolled my eyes. A few minutes and several painful shots later, I was done. Liz was already sitting in the waiting room, reading a fashion magazine.
“What’s trendy? I’ve been incarcerated for the past four years,” I said, reading over her shoulder. She set it down on her lap.
“Why do you seem so normal?” she asked, serious this time.
“Because I’m a psychopath.”
Liz paused, confused. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Neither does your question. Real psychopaths aren’t like the ones in movies. The crazy thing about us is that we act normal even though we’ve done awful, sanity-shattering things. Ooh, look, slitted dresses are in.”
Liz’s bewildered expression was truly priceless.
“You want to be my friend? Ha. Doesn’t it tell you in that little book of yours that psychos can never really have loved ones?” I asked darkly, hair falling in my face as I bowed my head to stare at the ground. “Even I know that, without having researched myself.”
“But nothing. I’ve never liked or cared about anyone I’ve ever met. Not my parents. Not my relatives. Not my classmates. Not my significant others. Especially. Not. You. You don’t know me, and even if you did, you’d hate me. We’re not friends. We’ll never be friends.”
“I wouldn’t hate you.”
“Even if I told you that I could kill you right now, and I wouldn’t feel a thing? Because it’s true. I’m a psychopath, Adam. I can’t be fixed, and I can’t be cured. I’m always going to be like this.”
“That’s sad.” Adam was still high and mighty on his horse, thinking he could fix and save everyone in this disgusting pit of a place his bosses called a reform center.
“I don’t care. Get that inside your head. You still have no idea how I work. I don’t care about anything,” I said, emphasizing each word so his little monkey brain could understand but putting no emotion behind them.
“I don’t believe you,” he told me simply.
I rolled my eyes. “Idiot. You should.”
I sliced a line across my wrist with a jagged fingernail, leaving a trail of blood that splattered on the stones below me. Adam jumped up and yelled for a medic. He began to run frantically towards the nurses’ station, leaving me bleeding alone in my frigid cell, laughing.
Six nurses walked into the waiting room. Mia Menimocci led the group, gazing in a vaguely cold manner at everyone surrounding her. I noticed that her silver mane was disheveled, and the pieces of hair dangling in front of her eyes had spots of red on them. Two of the nurses had black eyes, one had a bloody nose, two were limping, and the last just had an agonized expression on his face. I smirked.
“Anger management issues. I see it now.”
“He helped,” Mia said, gesturing at Anthony, who was walking behind the nurses with a slightly guilty expression. “But it turns out he only killed one person, the softie. And because we were so badly behaved, we don’t get our hands free for the rest of the day.”
Mia didn’t seem remorseful at all. Her eyes danced with enthusiasm as if she’d just stepped off a roller coaster at an amusement park.
That was something we had in common, according to Adam and his trove of psychology textbooks. No conscience. No empathy. It occurred to me how strangely self-aware of my condition I was. I supposed I was so used to hearing it described to me that I’d formed an outline around it in my mind. Not caging it, just studying and befriending it.
Teller walked out a few minutes later. I tossed down the fashion magazine I’d ‘borrowed’ from Liz. She immediately picked it up off of the floor and placed it carefully on the sturdy metal table in front of us.
“What now?” Mia asked. The short nurse came bustling over, holding three cards in her hands. She gave one to me, one to Liz, and one to Anthony.
“These are your room cards for the hotel. Miss Bellon will room with Mister Frayman, Miss Namori will share with Miss Menimocci, and Mister James will have a room to himself.” I grinned at Mia, mimicking the facial expressions of people who were capable of authentic emotion.
“Roommate bonding time.”
She rolled her eyes. The nurses probably thought it was a hilarious idea, putting the psychopath and the sociopath alone in a room together. I bet they expected at least one of us to be dead by morning. Neither of us would be. I’d make sure of that.
“Happy birthday, ’Lena!” Adam announced, approaching my cell with a metal can of chocolate frosting. I rolled off of the stiff, small bed I’d been lying on for the past few hours and stood up.
“It’s my birthday?” I asked, eying the unlit candle taped to the top of the can with suspicion.
“Yeah. November first, right? Don’t you keep track of the date here?”
“Nope. Never have. Give me the chocolate. It’s my birthday.”
I pointed at the frosting. Adam laughed and popped the tab, opening the can and pulling a salad spoon out of his pocket.
“Technically, I’m not allowed to give you the can. Sharp edges and whatnot. But I can give you a big spoon with a whole lot of frosting on it.”
“Ha. It’s more than my parents ever did while I was growing up,” I remarked as he struggled to scoop a large enough amount of chocolate out of the can.
“Which reminds me...” Adam handed me the frosting-covered spoon through the bars and set the can on the ground. “I brought you a present.”
“Okay,” I said, licking the spoon clean.
“Aren’t you curious about what it is?”
“Guess I should have expected that,” he said, an excited smile showing through his poker face. “Here.”
Adam passed me a tiny, wrapped lump. I took it, giving him back the spoon so he could get me more frosting.
I unwrapped the gift, tearing away the sparkly silver paper. Inside was a small black pin shaped like a scowling panther. Pretty. I undid the little gadget that kept the needle locked against the design and raised my eyebrows at Adam.
“You know, I could stab myself with this right now, and you couldn’t do a single thing about it.”
“But you won’t. I know you won’t.”
“I’m extremely tempted to do it just so I can prove you wrong.”
“If you stab yourself with it, I’m not going to give you any more frosting,” he told me, waving the once again chocolate-covered spoon tantalizingly in front of the cell.
“Fine,” I said, snatching the spoon out of his hand and attaching the panther pin to my jumpsuit.
Adam smiled. “Happy birthday.”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever.”
The hotel was beautiful. Much cleaner than anywhere I’d ever been to before. Mia had a blank expression on her face, but I could tell that she agreed. Liz admired the gold accents on the carpets. Even Anthony seemed amazed by the sheer magnificence of the enormous building. Teller didn’t seem to care, walking quickly past the decorations without glancing up.
“What is that?” Mia asked, pointing at a strange, thick set of doors with two buttons next to them. Liz looked at them and laughed incredulously.
“It’s the elevator. Have you never seen one before?”
Mia shook her head. “Yes, but it’s just... weird.”
“Very weird,” I agreed. “How exactly does it work?”
Liz explained the button system to me, pointing to the numbers beside each one. It gave me an odd, immense satisfaction to press the button for the third floor.
Adam said that sometimes, psychopaths could feel. Mostly feelings like anger, jealousy, and sadness, but occasionally joy. He got excited when he read that specific passage to me. Then he realized that the sentence after that was all about how we were pretty much only happy when we got a reward or when our plans worked out.
Night came all too quickly. Mia and I had spent the time testing out every amenity the hotel had to offer at least twice. Most of the time, we were silent, just walking from one incredibly fancy aspect of the room to another. Occasionally, I made a witty comment, and she’d snort or roll her eyes at me.
Mia wasn’t exactly friendly. She was actually very threatening, to be honest. And more than a touch hostile. But she wasn’t showing many sociopathic tendencies to me. Probably because she had no reason to. Mia had nothing to gain from manipulating or gaslighting me, and I felt the same way.
“Do you think you’re a mean person?” I asked as we laid in our separate king beds. It was the largest comfortable surface I’d ever slept on.
“I know I’m a mean person. Everyone tells me I’m terrible.”
“No one’s ever told me that,” I said, scanning through past conversations with people who considered themselves close to me.
Not even Adam, who probably knew me better than anyone else. But not because of his stupid books. They didn’t understand me at all. Just because I’d seen him daily for an extended time.
“Probably because you flirt with everyone.”
“It’s not my fault that everyone here is unfairly attractive,” I said truthfully.
“Does that include me?”
“You’re pretty, too,” Mia stated like a fact. “At least compared to the girls I’ve dated.”
“Do we have to stay here all week?”
“I think so.”
“I hate you,” she told me in a flat tone.
No response from Mia. She probably wasn’t awake anymore. Pity. I’d never met someone quite like her, even though I’d met-and had romantic relationships with-plenty of the women in my prison. But they were hard, since we each spent nearly all of our time in our cells, and plenty of the people were clinically insane or completely dissociated. Mia had a different feel about her-bossier and prouder and more confident. More... alive. Plus, she looked like some kind of moon goddess. And you could actually have a semi-conversation with her, during which she comprehended what you were saying. Well. If there was an afterlife, I could try and date her then.
I rolled over but didn’t fall asleep. For as long as I could remember, I’d had chronic insomnia. I hardly ever slept naturally. From the age of seven, I’d taken a specific type of sedative. I’d never been taken off of the sedative, not even during my years in prison. It wasn’t something I ever thought about anymore. Part of my routine, I guess.
Once, Adam had theorized that some of my more unpleasant traits, ones I often kept bottled up, were caused by the pills. I’d found it ridiculous. Psychopaths were born with their personality disorder. Not created by drugs to help with sleeping. Sociopaths were the ones whose brains were influenced by outside forces to become what they were, but even then, it wasn’t because of any medication.
Not to say that the sleeping pills didn’t have side effects. I’d experienced many over the years. Every few days, I woke up with a headache that didn’t go away until I took another pill before bed. Occasionally, I had spells of light-headedness or stomach pains. Most of the side effects went away after twelve or eighteen months of being on the drugs, and I was used to ones that hadn’t disappeared.
I pulled the container out of the bedside drawer I’d left it in. Our NASA supervisors hadn’t been pleased when they’d learned one of their star astronauts was addicted to sleeping pills, but my warden had assured them it wouldn’t be a problem. That I could go cold turkey at a moment’s notice. Which was most likely going to turn out to be a lie, but that was all right. Most things about me were the same way.
“Seleeeeeena,” Adam sang. “I have good news for you!”
“If I pretend to care, will you go away?”
“No, because I already know you don’t care, but it’s important.” When I didn’t respond, he continued. “You’re going to space!”
“I’m never going to understand how you’re incapable of reacting to that, but I’ll explain the situation anyway. The warden submitted applications to NASA for the prisoners in the best health. He thought it would be a good way to gain publicity if you were chosen for the mission. And you got picked!”
“NASA sends psychopathic felons to space now, then?”
“Haven’t you heard about the new planet?”
“I never hear about anything.”
“Well, they discovered a tenth planet, and they’re calling it Minerva X. They think that the atmosphere might be breathable, but they don’t know for sure. So... so they’re-they’re sending people who’re...” he trailed off, realizing that there was no flattering way to end the sentence.
“Expendable,” I finished for him. It made sense. If I didn’t do anything for the world, why should I even live? Or have the choice about whether I went or not. I didn’t care, but it might be a little bit of a human rights issue.
“...yes,” Adam continued uncomfortably. “You’re going with four other astronauts. We don’t know much about them yet. But we do know there’s going to be a murderer, a genius, a volunteer, and a sociopath.”
“Yay. New friends.”
“That’s the spir-oh, wait, never mind, you were being sarcastic. Anyway, you’re going to be doing a lot of exercising and a lot of probably boring astronaut training during the next few weeks. I just wanted you to be prepared. It’ll be work.”
“Nice change of scenery, though.”
“Yes, I suppose it will be. There aren’t any pictures of Minerva X yet, but I’m sure it-oh, you were being sarcastic again, weren’t you?”
“Of course I wasn’t,” I said as seriously as possible. “You’re the worst at figuring out my tone.”
“Yeah, I know,” Adam sighed. “But you’ll be rid of me for a long while since it’s a month-long trip.”
"That was sarcasm.”
I almost punched my stupid supervisor in the face that morning when he poked me awake with a yardstick. He tripped over backward with a yelp, dropping the wooden tool. I picked it up, broke it into four unequal sections, and threw the pieces forcefully at his chest.
“Not a morning person, I see,” Mia observed as she stood in front of the door, already wearing training gear.
“Only when I’m not stabbed awake by someone not even brave enough to go within three feet of me,” I snarled.
The supervisor tentatively got to his feet, picking up the broken yardstick and carefully putting the shards in a trash can, hands shaking. “I... uh, I-I just wanted to inform you that we’ll be doing special team-building exercises with the rest of the crew today, instead of independent training,” he stammered.
“Liz’ll love this,” I said, stomping over to the closet and opening it with a flourish. “Get out so I can change,” I told the supervisor. He nodded, gulped, and ushered Mia out as well.
Once I was changed, I opened the door, nearly smacking the supervisor in the nose with it. I’d planned to just stand in the middle of the hallway and yell: ‘I don’t know where to go’ until someone came to escort me. But this worked just as well. I usually preferred to never follow anyone anywhere but made an exception to be lead to my chauffeur.
The chauffeur drove me to a NASA training center, the first I’d been inside. NASA had allowed me to do the first parts of my training in the prison’s gym. Provided they could send the prison all of the equipment necessary. That way, my warden profited. And that was the only thing he wanted to get out of me going to space. Money. Wouldn’t anyone do the same?
The training center was huge, but a second supervisor led me to a small room a few hallways down from the entrance. There, the rest of the crew were sitting at a rectangular table, waiting for me. Except for Mia, they all looked very uncomfortable and like they’d been sitting there for a long time. In the middle of the table were a few sheets of paper that had been laminated and turned over so we couldn’t see what was written on them.
I sat down at the head of the table as the supervisor picked up the papers. She cleared her throat and, without any ado, began to read from them.
“This is the Moon Landing team-building exercise. You may have heard of it or played it before. The instructions are simple. You are a member of a space crew scheduled to rendezvous with a mother ship on the surface of the moon. Due to mechanical difficulties, your ship was forced to land two hundred miles from the rendezvous point.
“Much of the equipment aboard was damaged, and the most critical items available must be chosen for the two-hundred-mile trip. Fifteen items are undamaged. Your task is to rank them in terms of their importance to your crew. Place the number one by the most essential item and so on through to number fifteen for the least important.
“Rank them with the help and guidance of your teammates. You have ten minutes. Good luck.”
She handed us each a piece of laminated paper and a dry-erase marker. I figured they weren’t allowed to give me anything sharp, even sheets of printer paper. Smart. I scanned over the list. Matches, a compass, rope, parachutes, first aid kit...
Aha. Perfect. I scribbled a few numbers in and turned my paper over, finished. Liz and Anthony looked at me incredulously. I smiled at them. Teller studied the list and wrote notes in the margins. Mia turned her paper over. Liz and Anthony’s gazes turned to her.
“How did you two finish so fast?” Liz asked.
“By using simple logic,” I answered. “Now you have nine minutes. Better get to work.”
When we were all done, the supervisor opened the door. She looked unhappy. No doubt she’d been watching us through some sort of camera and was disappointed that we hadn’t discussed our answers with each other. She collected our papers and went through them, marking our scores.
Liz looked antsy and apprehensive, the rest nonchalant. I doubted the others would learn anything from this. I certainly hadn’t. The team-building aspect of it was nonexistent, considering the types of personalities each of us had. The supervisor handed the sheets back, looking a little disturbed. I looked down at my score.
“Does the 100% mean I failed or passed?”
“Failed. By a long shot,” the supervisor informed me.
“My logic is impeccable.”
“You didn’t provide a number ranking for two-thirds of the items.”
“That’s because I don’t need them.”
“You ranked the pistols first. They belong in eleventh place.”
“My reasoning is simple. I kill these doorknobs and take the oxygen, food, and water. Now I have about one hundred and fifty hours, not counting the air I already have, to find the mother ship,” I explained. The math was elementary.
“That isn’t the correct answer,” the supervisor said, sounding a bit scared.
“There isn’t necessarily a single correct answer,” Teller pointed out.
“You scored a perfect zero, Mister Frayman,” the supervisor told him. “There’s no reason to defend her.”
“Aren’t we supposed to be a team?” Anthony asked gruffly. “Isn’t this a team-building exercise?”
“Well... well yes, b-but-” the supervisor sputtered.
“A good way to become a team is to defend one of our own and bond over that shared experience, no?” Teller continued quietly.
“I-I suppose-” she was getting quite flustered now.
“Don’t you want us to become friends and crewmates?” Liz chimed in, seeming a little anxious at the prospect of challenging an authority figure.
“Fine, you can keep your logic!” The supervisor exploded. “I don’t care how messed up and morbid you are! At least you’re the ones going up there to die and not me!”
Everybody went silent.
Liz inhaled sharply, visibly hurt. The supervisor covered her mouth, shocked at herself.
“Can we go now?” Mia asked, bored.
The supervisor hesitated, then nodded, blushing furiously. I grinned and mimed shooting the poor woman with a finger gun, then walked back out to the entrance, where each of our personal chauffers waited.
The day of the launch was here at last. Reporters from all over the world had gathered several hundred yards away from the space shuttle, shouting questions at me and my fellow crewmates.
We’d be in space for thirty days, and the shuttle would take us there on its own. We wouldn’t even have to steer the thing, which saved a few dozen NASA instructors from having to deal with me. Mostly, we were taught about the procedures for the unlikely event that something failed. A support broke, an O-Ring malfunctioned, some poisonous gas leaked, et cetera. The supervisors didn’t trust us to have them all memorized, so they’d left us an enormous manual with answers to nearly any possible problem printed neatly inside.
All of us were in incredible shape thanks to the training program, but we had to wear these horrible, bulky spacesuits. They were absolutely disgusting. And I wasn’t allowed to put anything on them, no decorations. I’d take my chances without them if they weren’t one hundred percent mandatory. Like, our supervisors would zap us with a taser and put them on us themselves if we refused to wear them.
My teammates and I stood on a stage in front of the reporters. We’d been instructed to answer no questions. Of course, there was no way I was going to follow that rule.
I leaped down from the stage and snatched a microphone from a random reporter. The reporter yelped and jumped away. All of the cameras focused on me.
“I’d like to thank my mother for nurturing my psychosis and testifying against me in court to get me stuck in prison. I wouldn’t be here without you, Mom. I know you’re watching. Oh, and if anyone wants to interview her, just ask my warden for her name.”
I dropped the microphone on the ground and climbed the stairs back up to the stage. Behind me, I heard the reporter I’d taken it from groan when they realized the expensive-looking piece of technology had broken.
My crewmates were staring at me in awe, minus Mia, who, as always, didn’t seem to care. I waved to the crowd, grinning as we were ushered away by our furious directors and led to the shuttle. Once we were all strapped in, Anthony turned to me.
“I would have thanked the guy who crashed my car, stole my girlfriend, and got me expelled from college. He’s the reason I’m here.”
I assumed he was the person Anthony killed. There was a painful story there, I was sure. An entertaining one as well, most likely.
I smiled as the countdown started. This was going to be fun.
Upon setting foot inside the shuttle, Minerva I, that we’d be trapped in for a month, I had instantly seen that it was going to be a very long trip. It was so bulky, plain, boring, and white, not to mention it practically blinded all of us whenever we looked at the thing. The ship was tiny as well, so we’d be in close quarters. Great. Nothing I loved more than other people infringing on my personal space.
At least each of us had our own room, even though they were so plain and tight that they reminded me strongly of my old prison cell. Each of the hallways had a map of the shiny, futuristic, freakishly clean transport. The five triangle-shaped bedrooms were in the center. There was one bathroom near the front, or the north, of the ship. The east side of the shuttle housed the kitchen, filled with horrible freeze-dried things I refused to call food, as well as a lounge area. That area wasn’t too much fun to lounge around in since the second another person entered the room, I left.
The southmost part had a fitness room, where Anthony and I spent most of our time. Neither of us acknowledged each other on the rare occasion that we were in it at the same time. He hung around it during the day, and I tended to frequent it at night. I could always tell when he’d just been in it, though, because he never put the weights back on the rack. I respected that. Liz did not. I’d watched her fix them several times, though she never once mentioned it to Anthony.
The east wing was my personal favorite, a room we called Mission Control. It wasn’t much to look at, just a few buttons and switches with caution labels and warnings all around them. But it had the best view, along with what was, in my opinion, the best feature this dungheap of a ship had to offer: a video check-in system.
Every day, the Mission Control on Earth had put someone on camera to talk to one of us and make sure nothing was going wrong. I’d assured the others that I could handle the interactions, and it had become my passion project to see how fast I could get the person on the other end to hang up. I’d talk over them, insult them, or tell them that terrible things had happened aboard the shuttle until they got angry and ended the call. After a few check-ins, Mission Control informed us that they were unnecessary and would no longer continue. Too bad. I had to look elsewhere for boredom cures.
Dull, unexciting places are good for getting people to open up. And at least listening to the three humans who had empathy spill their itty bitty little insignificant hearts out made for good entertainment. They didn’t seem to mind that Mia and I had no understanding or sympathy for the emotions the three of them were reliving. Apparently, it was healthy to talk about your feelings. I wouldn’t know. I didn’t have them.
It was kind of funny to watch Anthony break down in tears after telling us about the man he killed. He’d loved his girlfriend, and the man had ‘turned her against him’ and ‘helped him crash Anthony’s brand-new Ferrari,’ blah blah blah. I had kept a straight face until Liz took Anthony to his room to cry, and Teller left after quietly telling me I was an unfeeling barbarian. Then Mia and I both burst out laughing.
I really tried when Liz told her own sob story. Hers was about being orphaned at eight and deciding to serve the public, people who had less than she did. I really did try.
No, I didn’t. But that’s what I insisted when the others asked me about it later. It was interesting to me that these pinheads still trusted me with personal information about themselves. Every time, I barely stopped myself from giggling through the stories that the others deemed significant. I couldn’t help it. Tension had always made me laugh for no reason. That was what I told them, anyway. Honestly, I didn’t even know if it was a lie.
Somehow, though, I was able to convince my crewmates—except for Mia—that I was making an attempt to be more empathetic. I had absolutely no interest in ‘improving’ myself ‘as a person,’ which was what Liz and Teller wanted me to do. According to Adam’s psychopathy books, I couldn’t change my nature. And I didn’t care enough—actually, I didn’t care at all—to prove it wrong.
But they didn’t know that. So the rest of the crew kept on foolishly informing me about the terribly tragic experiences they’d had. Mia and I always met up a few hours later to make fun of how stupid they were. The cycle went on, hurting no one; therefore, I didn’t need to stop. Although it would be much more fun to tease them to their faces... but then they’d stop giving Mia and me ammunition.
At first, Teller refused to tell the rest of us about his past. At least while Mia and I were in the room. Eventually, Liz got him to spill when he thought we weren’t listening. Teller was a genius but had never succeeded at anything in life. He’d dreamed of being a scientist or an inventor. To contribute to the world in some way. Unfortunately for him, he’d never quite found the right motivation and had fallen into a depression. He’d volunteered to go on the mission because he’d been in a dark place, wanting to end himself, and had decided not to drop out when he was accepted.
I considered it pathetic. It was easy enough to find the motivation to do anything, just think of something. Teller was supposed to have some sort of high intelligence. Couldn’t he use it? The psychologists and therapists I’d had over the years had always told me I had an above-average IQ, and I was sure that Teller had one higher than mine, genius as he was. But even a genius could be brainless. I was the only one here smarter than a half-eaten banana.
With less than half of the trip to go, Liz decided that since there were several board games hidden in cabinets and cupboards throughout the ship, we should have game nights every couple of days. I don’t know how she got the rest of us to go along with that ludicrous idea, but she did.
“Who’s going first?” Liz asked excitedly, holding her cards close to her chest and smiling.
“I am,” Mia and I said simultaneously, both putting a card down on the floor. She glared at me.
“Fine, you go,” I told her, snatching my card back up. Liz looked slightly worried. “Don’t worry, we’re not going to mess up your dumb game night.”
Teller went next, then Anthony, me, and Liz last. I’d never played the game before, but I was able to infer the rules based on what everyone else was doing. We played in silence. The only sounds were the small noises the cards made as we placed them on the ever-growing deck. Liz looked unhappy, though I didn’t understand why. We were doing what she wanted, after all.
“Pretty sure I win,” I said as I put down my last card. Anthony groaned.
“Yeah, you do. What was that strategy? I’ve never seen it before.”
“I don’t know. This is my first time playing this game.”
“A likely story,” Mia snorted.
“How long ago did the game come out?” I challenged. Liz checked the box.
“Three years ago.”
I turned to Mia. “I was in prison then, and we weren’t allowed to have stuff as sharp as these cards.”
I fingered the corner of the thin cardstock. It could easily cut through my skin.
“Uh, let’s try another one,” Liz said nervously, taking the lid off of another colorful box.
We played all night, and I won every single game. Teller said it was statistically impossible, Anthony stormed off, Mia refused to play another game with me ever again, and Liz was near tears. I couldn’t believe these dimwits cared so much about these simple games.
We never had another all-crew game night.
The days passed slowly. What was there to do aboard this stupid shuttle? The part of the crew that had emotions had already gone over their tragic backstories. The empathizing was over. Mia and I had no interest in doing the same. Fitness was fine, but I went to the gym at night, leaving plenty of time for me to need stimulus. And our board and card games were the limits of the ship’s physical entertainment.
Until we discovered the television.
Our briefers hadn’t told us much about anything fun on the shuttle. They just informed us about what every single little button and switch did, which wasn’t fun at all. And they blathered on and on about how ‘mental health is important’ and ‘screens are bad for your eyes, put away the phone we probably shouldn’t have let you have,’ et cetera. So nobody except Liz listened to them when they gave us a tour of the shuttle. Which was why we were all surprised when she offhandedly mentioned the television that folded out of the lounge wall. And it came with... whatever digital versatile discs were.
Of course, once we figured out how the strange disc program system worked, it became clear that all of us had different TV preferences. Teller was a nature documentary fan, Anthony wanted to watch romances, Mia was obsessed with horror, Liz enjoyed the kind of entertainment toddlers’ parents were grateful for, I was into true crime and serial killers. As usual, only Liz was willing to compromise. So we had to take turns.
That became messy, real quick. The television was loud. Very, very loud. And none of us could figure out a way to make the volume lower. According to Liz, the supervisors who’d informed us (Liz) about the TV didn’t bother to explain the remote. So whoever’s turn it was to watch their show or movie, everyone else was forced to listen to their pick as well.
Eventually, for the ‘good of our sanities,’ as I told him, Anthony and I (well, mostly me) schemed to fix the problem. He would pretend to get angry with Liz for watching something childish and stupid and break the TV. That way, no one would get to watch anything, and I wouldn’t have to listen to the idiotic programs the others seemed to like.
The procedure went just as planned. Liz loaded a DVD with some kind of eye-meltingly bright, cheesy kiddie movie into the TV. Anthony pretended to get mad about it and punched the television. It broke, Liz started crying and ran off to her room, and the dilemma was solved. Anthony seemed very upset with me for manipulating him into ‘hurting Liz’s feelings,’ but that didn’t matter to me. I’d gotten what I wanted, and so had he. Wasn’t that a good thing?
“You guys ready?” I asked as we all snapped our helmets into place. It had been two uneventful weeks since I’d gotten Anthony to smash the television, and the shuttle had landed on Minerva X. We were standing in front of the shuttle’s doors, about to step onto another planet.
“You know it,” Liz replied. She’d forgiven Anthony for what he’d done a few hours after she went to cry in her room. Now she smiled, fully recovered.
Mia smirked knowingly. Teller nodded with a tiny smile on his face, probably excited to set foot on the planet. Anthony took a deep breath, condensation fogging up his helmet as I pressed the button to open the door.
Outside, the sky was blue, like on Earth. Dirt, strange and unique plants, and spiky rocks were everywhere. A few ditches were half-full of water or some kind of water-like substance. It wasn’t pretty, but it was close to home. We were supposed to take a sample of the air back to the ship to test and see if it was breathable, but none of us wanted to do that. I looked over at Mia and nodded.
I didn’t care about anybody. Nobody cared about me. Not my family. Not my ‘friends,’ if I had any. Not the nurses. Not Adam. Definitely not the prisons. No one. On Earth or Minerva X, no one would care if I died. And neither did I.
In unison, half of us ripped off our oxygen helmets and smashed them on the rocky ground.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, aceofdiamondsWrite a Review