The girl's room was cold, quiet, and bare. She was flipping through a book when Korse entered, turning the pages slowly and rhythmically, without seeming to see anything on them.
"I'm not going to work for you," she said without looking up.
"Of course you're not," Korse agreed, stooping to kneel by her side. "We're not the ones who draft children into service for us."
She bristled. "I wasn't drafted," she said coldly. "I'm a volunteer."
"And do you have any idea what you've volunteered for?"
Her robot sat by her side, and she reached for it, making a show of tilting it this way and that. Only then did she look up to meet Korse's eyes. "Do you have any paint?" she asked.
He blinked. "I'm sorry?"
The robot tipped towards him so he could see the color stripping off its face. "He's peeling," she explained.
"I'm sorry, no," he said. "We don't."
She exhaled loudly. "Should've known." She held the robot to her chest and looked Korse full in the face. "Is there something I can help you with, or are you just here to stare?"
"I wanted to know if there was anything I could help you with," Korse told her. He stood and stretched his legs, pacing a circle around the room. "We're not the enemy, you know," he said. "In time, you'll figure that out."
"No," she agreed. "We're the enemy."
He didn't let her see him flinch. "There's a button by the door," he said instead. "Press it if you need anything."
"I need some paint," she told him.
"Anything else." He walked to the door and waited to see if she said anything else. When she didn't, he walked out and closed the door behind him. Seconds later, the light above it flashed and a buzzer sounded. He opened it again. "Yes?"
She was standing there on the other side of it, robot clutched against her side. Her face was troubled, strained with the effort of keeping calm. "I need to know where they are," she said flatly.
"I'm afraid that's not possible," Korse told her.
"I thought nothing was impossible with BLI," she said. "That's what the ads used to say."
"There are no ads anymore."
"No," she agreed. "No need to advertise when you already own everything." She returned to her chair and settled her robot on her lap. "You're not going to give me any answers, are you?" she asked Korse.
"I can give you answers about nearly anything you ask," he told her. "More answers than you even have questions to. But about your friends? No. I'm not."
"Friends?" she asked, like the word was foreign to her. "They're not my friends, they're my family."
"Families don't use each other," Korse told her.
She laughed, harsher and more bitter than someone her age should have been capable of. "Clearly you don't know many families," she said. "And clearly you don't know them."
"You have us confused, little lady," Korse said, "I'm afraid it's you who don't know them at all."
"No?" she asked. "Then tell me."
"Someday," Korse promised.
She mulled that over for a few moments, picking at the paint chipping off of her robot. She nodded carefully. "How about a glass of water, then?"
"Of course," he agreed, relieved for the change of subject.
"How about three?"
She looked at him without blinking. "I'm thirsty."
"I'll have someone bring them right in." He looked around the room, at the small bed, the shelf full of books, the blank walls. "Is there anything else?"
"No," she said. She set down the robot and replaced it with the book, returning to flipping the pages steadily and without apparent interest. "Nothing."
He left her there, the shuffling of the pages keeping a steady beat as he walked out of the room.
"Boss?" The knock on his door was soft, hesitant.
He didn't lift his head from where it rested in his hands. "What is it, Magda?"
"You need to see this."
He sighed and followed her to the control room, his body aching. As he stood in front of the monitors, every ounce of exhaustion drained from his body. "Who's done this?" he demanded.
"The girl, sir," Magda told him.
"What do you mean, the girl? She has no - " he cut himself off, leaning in. "Oh," he said, "oh, she is good."
The walls of her room were stained with color, a haphazard mural of masks and faces, rayguns and cars, a gas station in flames, and beneath it all, curled up peacefully in the bed, sleeping with sheets clutched in her stained fingers, was the girl. Scrawled over her, in fading red, were the words ART IS THE WEAPON.
On her table sat a brightly colored robot surrounded by cups of tinted water, scraps of paper from her books soggy and dissolving inside.
"What do we do?" Magda asked from over his shoulder.
"Do?" Korse watched the girl sleep for a moment. "We do nothing. She's not the first to try to change things from the inside, and won't be the last." His reflection in the screen twisted into an ugly expression. "Try is always the operative word."
Same hallway, different year, Korse's bones aching just a little less, his face lacking just a few of its lines.
"I hear you left behind a career," he said, leaning against the doorway and sizing up the boy seated at the conference room table. The boy looked up, dark hair flopping down into his eyes, face pale and soft like he hadn't seen the sun in months.
"That's right," he agreed. He waited for Korse to say more, and when he didn't, he returned to his paperwork, worrying his lip between his teeth as he wrote.
"Hear you want to save lives."
The boy didn't look up this time, just nodded and said, "Yeah, that's me," with the faintest hint of a self-depricating smile pulling at his lips.
"Well, then, you've come to the right place," Korse said. He leaned into the boy's space and tapped the header of the sheet he was writing on. "Does what it says on the tin," Korse told him. He turned for the door. "Better Living," he said, his smile twisting bitterly, and he walked out of the room with the boy's eyes still on him.