"You are ruthless, Morel. I think I get the nickname now."
"Am not. No more than anyone else. I'm just doing my job." Odette shrugs and slings the strap on her rifle off her shoulder to change in the locker. Dropping her scope back in its case she looks up at her new squadmate and lifts an eyebrow. "What did you expect?"
"I dunno." He shakes his head and drops into his seat, pulling the straps over his chest to buckle in. "Just not used to you guys getting so close to the action." He shrugs and nods in Omega's direction. "Most of you don't get up close and personal with the xrays."
Odette laughs. "Hey that fucking xray got in my face first. I just returned the favor."
"And then some. I think you blasted it clean apart." He looks down at the stain on his uniform. "Taking more than just a little bit of it back to base with me."
She chuckles and plops down in her seat across the bay from him. "Yeah, sorry about that. That was a bit of a surprise."
"Not much left for the docs now."
"Doesn't seem to be a shortage of opportunities at the moment to get more." She reached for the straps and buckled them down, adjusting them over her uniform so it's not bunched up on her neck.
"That's the truth." He sighs, "Well, shit. I'm ready for a shower." He laughs and leans his head back as the plane shudders and lifts off.
Odette takes a long look at the patch on her suit. 'Vampire': the moniker an old squaddie had given her before a Thin Man had taken him out. Maybe Viking is right. Maybe she is ruthless. If she has to drain every xray of blood in order to get her country back, she plans on it.
"We'll start now, Odette, if you're ready."
"Fine, let's get this done." She's irritated, unhappy about all of this, but Central had made this a command and she didn't have a choice. The shrink checks his watch and hits the button on his recorder.
His voice is bland. She hates it already.
"Session Number One. Sixteen hundred hours. 12 July 2016."
She sighs, sitting down in the chair he's provided for her. It leans back but just enough to make her back ache when she falls back with it. While he talks, she readjusts. Shoulders squared, feet flat, she's poised just on the edge of the chair. Ready to leave as soon as he flicks that recorder off at the end of their session.
"Subject: Morel, Odette. Number two two four nine six six zero one."
There's sunlight trailing through the fog outside making everything hazy but through it she can still see the ADVENT structure under construction. She frowns and turns away.
"Odette, I'm going to ask you a series of questions about your time since the end of the war. Please answer as truthfully as you can. These answers will be presented to Central as part of the evaluation regarding your request."
She nods. Already a picture of Central is forming in her head. She can see him flipping through the pages of the transcription from this session and tossing it down on his desk. He'll frown but he'll let her go. She reminds herself that this is merely a formality.
Central had said it had to sound authentic, she had to be thorough. They couldn't afford to lose her otherwise. She'd be stuck there, working for them.
Trouble had been easy to find. Now she just had to see it through.
The doctor sat across from her, pen poised over his notepad, ready to write… she couldn't guess what he'd write that the recording couldn't give them, but she kept her eye on it regardless.
"Corporal, since the war ended, have you been in a violent situation?"
"Were you the perpetrator in any of these situations?"
"Was anyone killed?"
"Who was killed, and how were they killed?"
"Viking." She swallows. Viking's angular features twisted with surprise, brown eyes gone wide as he stared at her and then fell back over the wall. "I shot him."
"This was Rookie Vincent Skellen? Codename Viking?"
"Yes." The doctor is looking at her now. She nods and hopes she looks as empty as she feels.
"How do you feel about killing?"
"It may be a necessary action to maintain order."
"Do you feel differently about killing aliens, Odette? Does killing them maintain order?"
"And killing Rookie Skellen? Did it maintain order?""No."
"Do you dream, Odette?"
"Yes." Her eyes unfocus and she looks down at her hands. They're just as vivid now as they were when she shot them down every day.
"What are your nightmares made of, Odette?"
"Dying on a cold table. Black eyes in deep gray sockets. They cut me open while I watch."
"What would you die for?"
There's a long pause as he scribbles something down for the first time. She waits for it, but he doesn't ask the question she feels coming. The question anyone else would ask. ADVENT doesn't represent freedom. Maybe he knows that already. Maybe he's on their side. It's too risky to ask, to break, to change anything now. So she sits and waits until he's finished writing and his gaze returns to her.
"Alright, that's enough questions for now. We'll take a break." He stands and she's out of her chair as soon as the click sounds. The recording is off and she lets out a strained breath.
Voice Record delivered to Central.
I thought it was the weather, Central. The winter out here was rough. It was difficult to get into the city when it snowed and so I was out here days at a time on my own. You sent Skellen to keep an eye on me, which I appreciate, but we got on each other's nerves after the first few days. I suppose not everyone likes pretending to be dead. After we found arrangements that allowed him to stay elsewhere, the place was empty.
At first, it could've just been the countryside. Or maybe it was different before winter hit. Honestly, I can't remember.
But it's warming up out there, Central. And one expects certain sounds when you step outside in the country. One expects sounds of any kind. I'm sure I gave someone quite a scare when I blipped on the radar. But I had to make sure it wasn't a dream. I think you'd understand if you were out here.
The animals are gone, Central. I don't know what ADVENT is doing, but something is happening around here that has to be related.
You know I was there the day the tower fell, Central. I was there when Paris burned. And now I can see the top of it from my kitchen window. It's distant and hazy -- you have to know what you're looking for to know what it is -- but it's there. The put it back up piece by piece in the last few months and now it stands there good as new. Better than new, I'm sure, according to them. And yet I find its presence less disturbing than I do the quiet.
There's something unnatural at work here. I had been putting off this message, hoping that I might notice come across something of use, or some kind of explanation. I haven't. So I’m going offline for a few days, Central. Don't send anyone else out. Skellen might not like it, but I trust the Viking to keep watch.
"We're xray free, Commander."
There's a screeching sound on the tracks, then a loud clatter and finally, rattle she can feel all the way down to the soles of her feet. Everyone in the squad turns, looking for the source. Most of them are rooted to the spot, but Morel's feet are already moving.
"Belay previous. We are not clear, Commander. It's--"
The sound of the explosion richocets throghout the tunnel. She's knocked back onto her ass and scrambles for her radio again.
"Sound off!" She screams moving behind the closest barrier -- "They've got the switch!"
In her ear she hears the squad counting off. Viking's voice cracks, but he counts himself, as xrays pile into the tunnel just beyond range.
Voice Record delivered to Central.
You didn't tell me about the square, Central. It caught Skellen off-guard too, though he tried not to show it. Big man like him needs a better poker face -- the terror in his face was enough to tell me that we'd both been left in the cold.
The memorial statue was too much for us both.
The doctor would probably be happy knowing I can acknowledge that.
There's images everywhere once you're inside the center proper. Have you seen them? Who am I kidding, of course you have. But then, you weren't there that day, were you, Central? Now, everywhere you look it's advertisements, posters, people moving around without a care for what's being shown to them at every second. I'd ask to see the numbers on retention rates right now, but I think the percentage would just scare me, so I won't. I hate this sterilized history.
I'll tell you what I remember, Central, and it wasn't this isolated, colorless image of that morning. For one, it was a whole hell of a lot louder that day. The walls seem to echo with the sound of the train as it exploded. It was so loud that when the shooting started again, it was hard to tell where anything was coming from unless it was right in front of your face. They used that to their advantage. Like everything, they know too much about us.
The doctor would probably be interested in knowing that too. He seems a little preoccupied with the audial memories specifically. I think I know why now.
I fought for this.
It's a mantra. It plays on a constant loop as she wipes up the floor of her kitchen on her hands and knees. The linoleum is peeling away at the corners, just like the wallpaper and the paint and the carpet and everything else from the building's original construction. It's quiet while she works, and all she has left to keep her company are those four words. Over and over and over she reminds herself that she fought for this. Once, this had been exactly what she wanted.
Central checks on her from time to time, asks her to report in, but he let her go and at the time, she'd been happy about that. Happy isn't really the word she'd use these days, but she knew privilege when she had it. This was freedom. It was more than most people had these days.
It was worse at night. This house had never been so quiet before. In the late, dark hours of the night the silence swallows her up like a tomb. It is almost maddening. But she'd fought for this too, this silence. This simplicity. This… freedom.
I fought for this.
She's fought for her own dark set eyes, to keep the wrinkles at their corners and the lines curving around her mouth. She doesn't have guests but Central sends a few members her way from time to time. They're always looking for a way out, or a way in. (Isn't everyone?) Odette is happy to how them the path back to the landing point when they go pale an hour after meeting her. They don't like this place, the smell, the texture, the striking difference from the city's center. It's easier to send them running back to Central.
It's been so long since they've made real progress. Had she not been there through to the end could almost acknowledge their curiosity. What it might be like to take ADVENT up on their offer. How bad could it be, they ask.
She takes them to the center, where homogenous, smoothed features are found on every face they pass. Slim figures who all cut their hair in similar styles, and have adapted the clean, simply structured garments of the new ADVENT world.
Her jeans feel better than tailored and impeccably cut jumpsuit. Her grungy button-up tops are falling apart at the seams and she has t-shirts now with holes in them bigger than her neckline, but she'll wear them until she can't anymore. She'll wear them until they fall off of her.
At least she's not hiding behind gene-therapies and living in clean, white economically sound cubicles. The quiet is almost worth the difference.
After all. Wasn't this what they fought for? What they kept fighting for? Why the search continued after 20 years? She fought for this and she'll suffer her freedom, this uncomfortable frustrating peace, until something changes.
Until Central calls her back to active duty.
Until they can find the Commander.
Until there's something else to fight for.