Life is insane. In a really good way. I’m on spring break right now, which means that I’m ditching homework for career-work. In the past few days I’ve gotten a ton done on Ch1Con 2014 (we’re finally getting semi-close to being ready to put up registration forms and all that!), worked quite a bit on writing-related stuff (revising and I are BFFs), and–less on a career-side and more on a fun-side–a few of my friends and I spent yesterday at the Detroit premiere of Divergent. Which was an incredible experience.
Go see Divergent when it comes out on March 21st. Do it. I’ll do a full review of the movie later, but for now, know that it’s way better than the trailers make it look and I wholeheartedly enjoyed it and I have already bought my tickets to see it opening night. (Also, while at the premiere, one of my friends and I got to have posters signed by Mekhi Phifer, aka Max, and the other two in our group got to do a little Torchwood freaking out with him, and it was all really cool.)
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a new chapter from my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, The End Where I Begin.
As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.
Read previous chapters:
The New Capital branch of the Clinic is a maze of hallways and elevators, and Dr. O’Brien leads me through enough of them that I no longer remember the way back to office suite 4581, let alone my way outside and to the subway station.
I don’t think I’m going to make it to school in time for lunch, as I promised Amelia and Eric I would. I hope they aren’t angry.
We pass a window overlooking the plaza I entered the Clinic’s building from and I stop, stare. We’re at least twenty floors from the ground, and I didn’t even realize it.
Sunlight reflects off the polished glass walls of the neighboring buildings surrounding the plaza. Businessmen and women hurry over the scrubbed pavement below.
Dr. O’Brien turns back. “Please do keep moving.”
“Sorry.” I hurry to catch up.
We ride another two elevators—one up, then a long one down—and step out into a lobby similar to the one I waited in before, only this one is not as nice. Instead of ergonomic chairs and a fish tank in the corner, they have metal folding chairs and a ceiling fan that turns slowly but surely overhead.
Dr. O’Brien walks to the secretary desk and tugs back the sleeve of his lab coat. The secretary scans his Identiband with a nod and no words, and the door beside the desk beeps open.
“Come along, Miss Dylan.”
I follow Dr. O’Brien down one hallway and another, around corners and through doors with locks that will open only with a prick of his thumb. We occasionally pass other employees of the Clinic, but none of them ask who I am or what I’m doing here. Instead they avert their eyes and bow their heads as we walk by, and I keep my eyes focused on the back of Dr. O’Brien’s head in an attempt to stop my mind from wandering.
Before Amelia befriended me, no one at New Capital High knew who I was. Most of them still just know me as that quieter girl, unmemorable, who Amelia Anderson hangs out with for kicks.
Before Amelia befriended me, Ramsey and I were so tightknit you couldn’t fit a pair of scissors between us to snip the thread.
Before Amelia befriended me, Eric spent a lot of his time with Ramsey as well. It was always the three of us, and occasionally a couple of the other kids in our year from Portsmouth. But the day after Ramsey hurt me and the two of us stopped talking, he stopped talking to her too. It wasn’t until Eric abandoned her for Amelia that Ramsey completely lost it.
But I shouldn’t think of all that, I shouldn’t sympathize with Ramsey, not when I’m about to see her and she won’t remember any of the things that I remember anyway.
Dr. O’Brien stops before a smooth black door without a knob and lets the scanner prick his thumb. The skin must be hard and calloused there, always sore, from the Clinic testing his blood to make sure he is who he says he is so often.
The door slides back into the wall. Behind it is a room even smaller than his office, made entirely of metal. A spigot dripping water sticks out of the wall in one corner with a drain beneath it, and a low metal table like the one I sat on before hangs from the wall opposite.
The only thing in the room otherwise is Ramsey.
She’s crouched in the very center, as far from the walls and table that must be her bed and drip, drip, drip of water as she can get. Her knees are pulled up to her face, forehead braced against them, arms wrapped around her head almost like a makeshift halo. Her school uniform is rumpled but clean—of course Ramsey would be the one girl at NCH who didn’t bother to change into nice clothes for the assembly. Her hair is pulled back in a frizzy, practical bun.
She doesn’t look up as we enter.
Ramsey. Her name is on my lips.
Not the Ram, but Ramsey, my friend. It’s hard to see the brutish bully she transformed into these past few months when she is so pathetic and quiet on the floor.
“Carp.” Dr. O’Brien barks it out. No more Miss Carp and poor girl, but just her last name used as a command to look up and recognize the girl he has brought with him.
I shrink into the doorway. Dr. O’Brien lays a hand gentler than his voice on my shoulder and prods me forward. He steps away, back into the hallway. The door slides shut between us, sealing me in with the girl who attacked me yesterday.
My heart thuds so hard it feels like my entire chest will cave in from the pressure. I press my back against the door and don’t take my eyes of Ramsey’s forehead, where acne has broken out across her skin.
What if this has all been a hoax, and they haven’t sent me in here to question Ramsey, but rather to lock me up as well? What if I never see my father, or Calvin, or Amelia, or Eric again?
Goodness, I’d even prefer see Stephanie Jones to the girl I do see before me, now.
Ramsey lifts her head and traces my shaking body with tired eyes. She chews her lip. “They send you in here to get me to apologize?”
Her voice is high, sweet. It doesn’t fit the words or her current appearance.
“We—we just want to know why you did it.” My voice trembles.
She laughs. “Did what exactly? You know me, Alexa. You know I’ve done a lot of things that could make the Clinic upset with me.”
You know me, Alexa. That isn’t right.
“They said you didn’t remember me.” I say it to myself, but the metal walls and ceiling and floor make everything echo a thousand times, so she hears me all the same.
Ramsey laughs again. “They’re right. I don’t remember you. I don’t know you. But you know me, Alexa.”
“So you know that we’ve been friends since year zero?”
“Right.” She nods. “That’s it. That’s how we know each other.”
This conversation isn’t going at all how I expected.
I’m grasping at air, all the thoughts and ideas of things I had to say dissipating like smoke. The door is frigid against the back of my hot neck.
“Why did you hit me?”
“And we’re finally there.” She twirls a single finger. “I hit you because it was a good idea.”
“Why was it a good idea?”
She shrugs, but her words are not at all nonchalant. “Because they were going to offer recruitment to you. And you were going to say yes. And that would not be a good idea.”
“You didn’t know they were going to recruit me.”
She arches an eyebrow. “Didn’t I?”
“Of course not. That would be an impossibility. No one ever knows if they’ll be recruited by the Clinic before it happens, and they almost never recruit year elevens anyway. You had no way of knowing.”
Plus, they recruited me early because of Ramsey.
My shoulders stiffen.
A deep, irrefutable problem exists within the Clinic’s logic.
Dr. O’Brien told me they recruited me because of Ramsey. He told me it was beneficial to them to recruit me now rather than later, because they needed help figuring out Ramsey.
But his partner called my name at the Recruitment Assembly before Ramsey even brought herself onto their radar by raising her fist.
Which means they recruited me early for some other reason, and Ramsey just happened to get in the way.
“I see you working out something, there.” The dark bags under her eyes make her look almost ghoulish. She grins.
“Doctor O’Brien?” I glance around the cell, but can’t find a security camera to speak to. I direct my words to the corner above the spigot. “Doctor O’Brien, I have a question.”
“Goodness, you’re like a little amnesic puppet now, aren’t you?”
I turn to Ramsey again, lightning-fast. “What did you call me?”
Her smile falls. She looks at her shoes. “Nothing. Of course not. Nothing.”
“Of course not what?”
She doesn’t reply.
“Doctor O’Brien,” I call to the ceiling.
“You said yes, didn’t you.” Ramsey still doesn’t look up. “You said yes to working with them.”
“Only because they need to figure out what’s wrong with you.”
“What’s wrong with me?” Ramsey picks at her nail. “Tell me, dear, sweet, naïve Alexa: What did you say right before your jaw bruised my fist.”
I cross my arms. “That’s an interesting way of approaching the fact that you hit me.”
Her eyes flick up to meet mine, and I’m so shocked by the firmness of the action, I don’t look away.
“I said yes.”
“Why? Did you want to say yes?”
My mouth is open, but no words come out. I lick my lips, then try again. “I guess so?”
“No, you did not. I can see it on your face. You didn’t want to. So why did you say it?”
I don’t know how to respond. I said yes because it was the right thing to say, didn’t I? Does it truly matter if I wanted it or not if it was the right thing to do?
Ramsey points a finger at me. Her arm shakes. “Exactly. And do you want to know why those other kids said no when they were recruited?”
I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know, but I can’t figure out how to shape my mouth, how to move my tongue, to push the words past my lips.
“They said no because the Clinic trained them to. You said yes because the Clinic trained you to. Why do you think no one ever stands there and deliberates over their answer before responding? Because it’s predetermined. It’s all predetermined. All of you robots just do what the Clinic tells you to and then hope for the best.”
“That’s not true.” I mean it, but my tone is weak.
She smirks. “Can you prove that?”
“No.” I force some of the confidence back into my voice. “But you also can’t prove that hitting me was a good idea, now can you?”
She throws her head back when she laughs this time, and some of her hair pulls free from the bun. It floats around her face, catches in the light. “Alexa, dear, it’s not my fault my plan didn’t work out. I was hoping knocking you out might also knock some sense back into your head, but maybe it truly is all gone.”
Goosebumps rise on my arms. “You’re insane.”
Her head snaps forward. Her stare locks onto mine. “Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s crazy.”
I stare at her. She stares back.
A sound comes from the other side of the door, and I spin to face it. I slam my hand against the black metal. “Let me out.” Footsteps approaching. “Let me out!”
From behind me comes the tinny clatter of shoes against metal; Ramsey standing.
I turn back to face her. “Don’t come near me.” She takes a step. “Stay away. I’m warning you, stay away!”
The door swishes open behind me and I stumble backward into the hallway. Dr. O’Brien is right there, something shiny in his hand—a gun?—and a woman wraps her arms around my middle, tries to pull me further from the cell.
Ramsey is too quick for them. Clammy fingers snake around my left wrist and pull me back towards her. Hot, moist breath presses the inside of my ear.
She whispers, “Tell me what color your Identiband is.”
I almost ask, How do you know that? How do you know it’s been changing color? But the words catch in my throat. I choke on them.
The woman is still pulling me away while Dr. O’Brien presses the gun to Ramsey’s temple and barks orders to get back in the cell, and if she were insane she would smile, but she doesn’t. Instead she looks sad.
I meet Ramsey’s eye, and something desperate reflects there. She is desperate for my answer.
My Identiband is flashing back and forth so quickly it could be a strobe light. I am dizzy just from the thought.
I squeeze out, “It’s green.”