A guard opened the door behind Olivia. Dr. Ruskov turned to his computer, so Olivia took that as her cue to leave. She hunched over again to fit in the small corridor leading back to the main hallway. Her escort led her to a large elevator. They motioned for her to get in, not following themselves.
The lead guard said, “Interior controls have been deactivated. It’ll take you two levels up to the white coats’ offices. We’re taking a different elevator up and will be waiting for you at the top. Try to open the elevator in any way, even if it’s not a door, and bad things will happen.”
Olivia eyed the grey metal elevator with its welded patches on the walls and dim lighting. “Can I not go in?” asked Olivia.
“It’s the elevator or back to your cell,” he replied.
The idea of just throwing herself on her bed and ignoring everything else tempted her. Well, they’ve been honest with me so far. Let’s see how far this goes. And if they wanted to kill me they would have done that already.
She entered the elevator as another of the guards hit a button on the wall. The door closed behind her. Olivia stood in silence for a moment. Then another moment. Right as she thought something bad was about to happen, the elevator jerked to life, moving upwards.
It went up. And up. Oh, maybe I can go outside. I kind of miss flying already. All these rooms are too small. The elevator slowed to a halt, and the doors immediately opened. She blinked at the same four guards from before standing in wait for her.
“This way,” said the lead guard.
I recognize that smell. You smell exactly like two of the other guards behind you. The shock of new smells and sounds, the experience of which she’d found to be at least tolerable, had kept her from figuring out the sources of said smells and sounds the first time she’d exited her cell. Now she’d grown used to the new building, and knew full well that these guards had smelled radically different not five minutes ago. Olivia blinked again as something changed.
Wait, now they all smell like they did before. Ben and Rob are identical and they don’t smell the same. And now that I think about it, these guards are the same height and build, except for that one slightly taller guy with darker skin like Miya. And all four are wearing balaclavas for some reason. Hang on.
Olivia made no move to follow. “Um, are you all, you know, the same guy?” she asked, glancing to each one of the three identical guards in turn.
The one she addressed shot a tiny glance at the different guard. He grunted noncommittally, not looking at the glancing guard. “We need to get to Dr. Dabrowski’s office,” said the lead guard.
Olivia stood her ground. I’m not going anywhere until you answer my question. That was really weird. “Please answer me.”
“What do you think?” he responded. All the guards stood taller. Two readjusted their grips on their weapons, holding them tighter. She smelled adrenaline, then the sensation vanished. Again?
“You trust your senses too much.”
What’s that supposed to mean? “What?” asked Olivia.
The guard shrugged. I need to learn your name at some point. Can’t just call you guard. People have names. “Doesn’t matter. Are you coming with us or no?”
Fine. I still don’t want to get shot. Maybe there are windows here or something. “OK,” said Olivia.
Everything seemed normal. Actual normal white tile composed the floor, rather than dirty grey concrete. Normal lighting, instead of the harsh fluorescent lights from her level, lit up the normal sized hallway. Nice normal wooden doors. The only things that marred the scene were Olivia and the grenade launcher packing guards. Grenades explode, why would they be carrying them if we’re in such close quarters? Maybe they don’t shoot grenades, then.
Olivia’s group rounded a corner and found two people in guard uniforms by a door. The man held up a hand to stop them. “Boss is talking to the white coat,” said the woman next to him.
“I don’t think he’d like it if we just stood out here,” said Olivia’s guard.
“He knows. Told us to tell you to wait.”
Olivia’s guard grunted. One behind her leaned against a nearby wall, the others spread out a bit around her. If Olivia concentrated, she could make out some muffled talking in the room beyond over the tinnitus in her ears. Hey, I can hear properly again. Kind of.
An angry sounding man said, “… over my head like that.”
“You allowed her to see Dr. Ruskov,” responded an icy sounding woman.
“You do know the only reason I agreed to let her out in the first place is because of Clone and Ortega, yes?” Clone? What does that mean?
Olivia momentarily glanced around at the guards. The four that had accompanied her had spread out somewhat. At least two kept an eye on her, the others watching either way down the hallway. The two unarmed guards stood by the main door. Am I supposed to just stand here like this?
The woman beyond the door continued, “Yes, you have made me very much aware. They will be right outside, and I assume the same precautions that were taken in Dr. Ruskov’s office were taken here.”
“No. That’s a clinic we set up to use for smaller ferals, it has security measures that are not in your office. She’s not getting out of here, but here there might be bodies.”
A guard coughed. Olivia felt a subtle shift in the other three: darting eyes, faster breaths, and so on. The two unarmed guards remained unmoved. What’d I do?
“Still though, Dr. Ruskov didn’t report any trouble. He was face to face with her,” replied the woman.
“That doesn’t mean anything! Ivan’s insane!” Hey, I kind of liked him.
“I think you are overreacting, Mr. Walker.”
“My men are not prison guards. They’re not trained for that. You want us to keep people out and unintelligent ferals in, that’s fine. But they’re not trained for the psychological aspects of actual sentient beings that can plan. Steve makes them more nervous than Frogger or Slinky. With all due respect, I don’t think letting another Steve out of its cell longer than absolutely necessary is the right thing to do. There’s a reason my men are here and not the MHU or military,” replied the man. Olivia presumed that he oversaw the guards. What did she call him? Mr. Walker?
“She has complied so far. After her first few attempts at the entrance she has given us no trouble,” said the woman. Well, if they were taking me to someone called Dr. Dabrowski, and we’ve stopped here, she must be the doctor person. It probably took me longer than it should have to make that connection.
“Neither did Steve, but it turned out he was just learning and biding his time. I know she hasn’t been violent so far. I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt, but if you’re wrong, people will die.”
“Unlike Steve there’s no record of her hunting and eating people.”
Olivia shivered. Eating people. I’m so glad that’s not me. And who is this Steve guy? Or feral, whatever. He had just as much security stuff that I have at my cell.
“So? She still has the third highest body count here. We don’t know what will set her off.” Third highest?
“She could shed light on so many questions we’ve had since this institute was founded. If getting those answers requires an olive branch, so be it.”
The guards backed off.
“Maybe she takes your olive branch. Maybe she wants revenge. That room we talked to her from before, for instance. You could talk to her from there without testing her like this.” Silence reigned for a moment. “That’s… that’s not a good idea,” said Mr. Walker. What’s not a good idea? Is it something that they can see inside the room?
“Honest answers require trust. And even if this doesn’t work, there are other ways of gathering information.”
They both remained quiet for a moment. Eventually, Mr. Walker said, “If you are insinuating what I think you are, no. One, I will not order my men to torture anything. And two, that never works anyways.”
More silence. “You really believe I’d ask anyone to torture anything?” asked Dr. Dabrowski.
“I think you know the answer to that question.” Now I kind of get the feeling that I don’t want to go talk to this woman.
“Those tests were necessary to discover Slinky’s pain threshold. Dr. Grey agreed.”
“Of course Dr. Grey agreed. Have you spent any time with the man? He’s the kind of man who’d pull the wings off bugs to see how long they’d last.”
“What’s taking them so long?” asked one of the guards by the door, over the sound of the doctor’s response.
“Dunno. He looked pissed ‘bout something, though,” responded the other one.
The non-identical guard grunted just loud enough to be heard by the two by the door. The woman only glanced at him, but the man’s eyes widened marginally. Both ceased their conversation. What was that? I’d ask, but I’d rather not miss more of that conversation about me in the other room.
“… three separate incidents over the course of two months. Two months. Every other feral gets that many over the course of two or three days if they’re not captured or killed. Maybe four days for the herbivores. You yourself said that she should be given a chance,” said the doctor.
“Yeah, the chance and decision come before letting her up to this level.”
“Very well. I understand your concerns, Mr. Walker. After this interview I will not bring her or another feral up here without your approval. But think about it this way. This is obviously the lowest security area she’ll ever see here.”
Another, stronger cough from the non-duplicated guard.
“If she doesn’t try to escape here, I believe we can trust her, within reason, from here on out. And please trust I will do nothing to antagonize her.”
Olivia looked at one of the guards. He faced her, feet spread apart, grenade launcher pointed at her own feet. She jerked her head to either side, and saw all of her other guards in similar stances. Even the door guards had picked up on something, no longer lounging against the wall near the door. I’ve just been standing here. What did I do? No one said a word.
From inside, the man said, “Fine. I’ll get some extra guards on this level. If this goes wrong, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Noted.” The conversation ended as the door opened from the inside.
The same older, mustachioed man Olivia had seen earlier that day on the other side of the glass wall of her cell exited the room. He took in the scene and frowned.
“She given you any trouble?” he asked the guards, meeting Olivia’s gaze. The door guards fell in behind him.
“She overheard your conversation with the white coat, sir,” responded non-duplicate guard. Olivia blinked. What the… how? Some power? Is that what they were talking about with… what was it? ‘Clone and Ortega?’
“You mean Dr. Dabrowski?” asked Walker, turning his head towards the guard, his tone stern.
“Yes, sorry, sir.”
“So,” began Walker, turning back to Olivia. “Will you be giving us any trouble?” he asked, stepping into normal talking range.
I don’t know where to go to get out of here. I can’t smell any fresh air to point me in the right direction. You’ll probably shoot me a bunch, and the last time the MHU shot at me I actually bled. I’m not entirely sure I’d be willing to murder my way out unless there’s no other way. You’ve promised me answers, and so far you haven’t lied to me. So, right now, no.
“If, um…” What was it they said about torture? I’d like to avoid that. “If I don’t get, you know, tortured, sure,” she answered.
The corners of Walker’s mouth curled up slightly. “Fair enough. That won’t happen, don’t worry. Don’t cause trouble and there won’t be trouble.” He nodded. “I’ll leave you with the doctor.”
He left, his two guards trailing behind him. Olivia’s guards remained ready. The two in front backed up past the door Walker had left open behind him. One jerked his head towards it. Please calm down. Olivia entered the office.
Dr. Dabrowski, as the small plaque on her large L shaped desk and the multiple diplomas on the wall behind her attested to, looked up as Olivia walked in.
“Please. Come in, sit down,” said the doctor. She grabbed a thick book off of her desk and returned it to one of the shelves lining the entire wall to Olivia’s right as she greeted Olivia.
Olivia walked up to the chair. She sighed. Of course it has a backrest. Every chair I’ve seen has a backrest. I hate those things.
The doctor’s eyebrows knitted. “Is something wrong?”
Oh, right, I sighed out loud. “Oh, sorry, no,” said Olivia as she sat at the edge of the seat, with her tail curled beneath an armrest. Stupid backrests.
The doctor nodded. She tapped a few times at the keyboard of her computer with the screen facing away from Olivia. “We spoke earlier over the intercom. You do remember this, correct?”
Olivia blinked. “Yes. Of course. Um, why?” Why would you ask that?
“We’re not entirely confident how well your memory works. Also, in case no one has informed you yet, you are being recorded at all times.”
“I… don’t like that?” If that makes them change it, great. But it hasn’t affected me at all so far.
“Was that a question?”
“Kind of. I think.” I’m not quite sure what question I should be asking, honestly.
“Part of it is security, as Mr. Walker may have hinted at as he left. The other reason is research. Behavioral, mainly.”
Research. Wonderful. I’m a bug or something. “So, um, did you find out… anything?” Am I weirder than I thought I was?
“Dr. Sullivan, our psychologist here on staff, noted that you have been acting as any new solitary confinement inmate would. She also noted that solitary confinement is not ideal for mental well-being, and recommended that we open talks with you. I agreed.”
Like a bug. Just something to observe. Just… just move on. “Oh. Um, thank you.”
The doctor nodded. “Do you have any questions for me before we get started?”
You guys have been honest with me so… wait. I keep telling myself that, but have they? They could just not be telling me stuff. “Um, when you said answers for me, you meant, you know, who, um, who I was, right?”
“Yes. We are working towards discovering your previous identity. Your answers may help expedite that process. Usually there are substantial clues as to where ferals originated from, but you have none.” Oh, well, that’s a nice change of pace from getting shot by the authorities, or being threatened with getting shot.
“Yes, where you were originally sighted and the site of the trigger itself is a good indicator. From there we can work out who was where at the time. Eyewitnesses help as well. My expertise is not in forensics, mind you. I do not know exactly how they draw their conclusions, but law enforcement does eventually forward any medical records they can find to us and who they believe the feral was. In your case they don’t know.”
“Oh. Um, OK.” Olivia spoke up again, right as Dabrowski opened her mouth to speak. “Why- oh, sorry,” said Olivia as she realized she’d cut Dabrowski off.
“Why, um, why do the police care?”
The doctor tapped her desk for a moment. “There are several reasons. A feral trigger is technically a homicide. At least, that is my understanding, I’m no legal expert on the matter. If nothing else, they give closure to a community, and feral attacks are well publicized enough for them to not sweep it under the rug. As for your case, the fact that you appeared out of nowhere is ringing MHU alarms.”
“They… they didn’t seem to look for me too hard. When I was… with my friends.”
“I spoke with Cyrus when you first arrived; he was part of your escort. I believe he had hoped for more peaceful talks with you, on your own terms. He seemed strangely knowledgeable.”
“What… what do you mean?”
“There are many misconceptions about ferals among the general public, and even the scientific community outside of this facility. I got the impression that he knew more than he let on, which was surprising, to say the least. I assume he has a feral relative.” I saw that mantis feral, but it’s still annoying how everyone thinks I’m just going to go crazy and kill everything. “Do you have any other questions before we get started?”
“No,” replied Olivia. Let’s get this over with.
“I would like to talk about your earliest memories, if that is alright,” said Dabrowski.
“I… I don’t remember much.”
She nodded. “That’s fine. Now, obviously you are capable of speech, so the next question is whether you can read or write.”
“I… I asked for a book. You know, when you talked to me earlier.”
“A comic book, yes. We were fairly confident you could, but we needed to make sure.”
What followed were more and more inane questions. Time dragged on and on. Olivia felt her jaw clench. No, don’t get angry. I do stupid stuff when I’m angry. I’m here because I got angry.
“No, I don’t know how I know stuff. I… I remember random stuff. I don’t remember different random stuff,” said Olivia, suppressing yet another sigh. With any luck that blanket statement will make this stop.
Dr. Dabrowski blinked. “Very well, we’ll leave that topic for later.” Later. Wonderful. I miss my friends. I don’t think they ever wasted my time. “If you are comfortable with telling me, what is the very first thing you remember? Not a concept like we’ve been discussing, but the first thing you remember doing, as yourself.”
“I woke up.”
The silence hung in the air until the doctor asked, “Could you specify? Anything notable about your surroundings?”
“I… well… I was in this alleyway, I think. There was a dumpster between me and the street. It smelled pretty bad. That was… that was it, really.”
“No!” exclaimed Olivia as she shot fully upright in her chair. “Why do… No. I don’t like killing. I can barely remember when I do and I hate it. No blood. Just dirt. Some trash. Nothing else.”
The door opened behind Olivia. She didn’t bother to turn around. I don’t want to see the gun he’s probably pointing at my back right now. “Everything alright in here?” asked the guard.
“Yes, we’re fine,” said the doctor, waving him off. She waited until the door closed behind Olivia to speak again. “That is not what I was alluding to, I’m sorry. How much do you know of the actual, physical feral transformation?”
“I’m… I’m not… human anymore.” There, I said it. Happy?
“Yes, but I’m talking about the actual process. That brief span in time between pre and post trigger.”
“Um, I don’t know.” I haven’t really thought about it before, actually. I think I just kind of tried to ignore it.
“There is only one that has ever been captured on video, but there are many more eyewitness accounts of them for us to get an accurate picture. They are… brutal. Bloody. I will save you the description, unless you truly want it. But the point is you did not wake up at the site of your trigger. This has some unfortunate implications.”
The doctor stood up and reached for a white two inch binder labeled FOUND DECEASED IV on one of her shelves. “If I recall correctly, you have had a face to face encounter with another feral, yes?” She set the binder down and rifled through the tabbed sections. She stopped at the last one. “The mantis specimen? It was killed by a combination of claw wounds, gunshots, and a four story fall.”
He, not it. “Yeah. He was attacking us.”
“Indeed. It was caged, and probably mistreated. Many ferals do display some limited self-awareness, so it was no doubt near berserk. But that is common for ferals if they are not killed outright or if the government gets to them first. Exotic pets, fighting rings, unconventional weapons. This is their usual fate. What is unusual is that you appear to have no memory of how you got to that alley in the first place. I cannot fathom why someone would just put you there and leave. Was there anything on your person at the time?”
“Really? No note, no jewelry on you, no scrap of clothing?”
Olivia felt a small blush creep up her cheeks. No clothes out on that street. Eeeugh. “No,” she said, eyes fixed on the edge of the desk in front of her.
The doctor returned to her high backed office chair. “That is… very surprising. Are you absolutely certain?”
“Yeah.” Why would I lie?
Dabrowki steepled her fingers and pursed her lips, remaining quiet for a moment. I know, I’m weird. “I don’t believe something like this has happened before, to my knowledge. We’ll see what the Westward investigators make of this.”
The doctor spun in her chair towards her computer and began typing. Her eyes flickered, and she said, “Ah, Dr. Sullivan would like to meet with you.”
Olivia closed her eyes for a moment. No more talking. Please, no more talking. “Do I have to?”
The doctor turned her full attention to Olivia. “No, it’s completely up to you. She just wants to know what time would work for you.”
Let’s put the ‘I can choose’ theory to the test. “Tomorrow?”
“Morning, afternoon, or evening?”
“Um, afternoon?” I have no concept of what the current time is, so sure, afternoon, why not? I haven’t even seen the sky in a couple days, that’s depressing to think about.
“Very well, I’ll let her know.” She typed a few more sentenced, then pushed her chair away from the computer. “I have no more questions for you at this time. Do you have any questions for me?” she asked for the third time.
“Then I believe we are done here. Thank you for your cooperation. I believe the renovations to your cell are complete as well. Your guards will escort you back to the lower levels.” Renovations? The whole thing was solid concrete. How did they change it in less than a day? I want to see this.
The doors behind Olivia opened once again as she stood. Without a word, the guards escorted her back to the elevators. They descended in the same process as before. This time, they didn’t bother masking the smells, however they did that. They can manipulate my senses. I’d rather they not do that ever again. They parted ways at the cell. At this point the enormous, tripod mounted gun pointed at her back, so she was in no position to argue.
She re-entered her cell, and the first thing she noticed was an alcove carved into the side of the hall. She poked her head in. Three steps down she discovered a shower. A simple thing, all concrete with a drain at the bottom and the showerhead embedded in the ceiling, but a shower nonetheless.
I don’t have to crouch to fit in this thing! The one in Amanda’s house was so small compared to this one. She stood in the shower with a small smile on her face. I have no clue how they removed a good portion of my cell wall, but I don’t have to almost kneel down to get my head under the showerhead so I don’t care.
Olivia poked her head out again and saw a change of clothes, normal clothes, neatly folded. Thank god. They’re not bright orange. She enjoyed the shower with no one talking to her or aiming guns at her or prodding at her. Just silence and running water.
After getting out and cutting the requisite holes into her new shirt, she threw herself face first on her bed. Tired. It’s so quiet. Usually Amanda’s muttering to herself at about this time. Or Ben is harassing her. Or Miya is off cursing to herself out back. Or Rob and Ben are holding one of their arguments. Olivia fought back a tear. I’m going to get out of here. I don’t care how many showers they make.