Day One Hundred and Eighty-nine: The Bad News
The desert lowland was full of cars, stacked on on top of the other. Some of the stacks were of only a few cars, others more. Their flaking paint and broken windows gleamed in the setting sun.
A disordered pile of cars shifted and lurched, and a late-model Tulay pickup lifted out of the mess and started to float over to a tall stack of cars nearby. This stack was fifteen cars high already, and swaying dangerously. Broken glass and metal littered the site around it, as well as cars that had been destroyed beyond recognition. The pickup floated slowly to the top of the stack, where it paused and then very gently settled down on top.
The great tower of cars swayed for a moment, and the faint groan of metal and crackle of glass filled the air. Its fall seemed inevitable, as if even the sunlight might push it over from the side.
But the stack didn’t fall. It swayed and then settled down. And then stopped.
In a tent set up some distance away, a girl with long, braided red hair collapsed into a folding chair to the applause of the men in suits gathered around her. One of them gave her a cup of water, which she swallowed immediately, and then gave her another. She was sweating and slouched in the chair taking deep, heaving breaths with her eyes closed, but under the exhaustion, there was a definitely look of accomplishment on her face. The man who gave her the water put a hand on her shoulder. “Great work, Carly,” he said. “I mean it. Really good.”
She opened her eyes and smiled up at him. “I didn’t think I was going to make that last one, Martin” she said. “I seriously thought the whole thing was going to come down. Again.”
“Well, you did a fine job. You should be proud.” He patted her on the shoulder again and then left to talk to some of the men in suits. They let her sit there for a while. She looked out at the sunset while she caught her breath and felt the warm glow of achievement. True, stacking cars wasn’t the most complicated thing she’d had to do, but they’d set her at it all day. Two cars, three cars, five… As many as she could. Martin had said this was a test that the facilities administrators had come up with, but he couldn’t exactly explain what it was they were testing. In the end, all she could do was shrug and stack the cars.
Maybe if she stacked them well enough, they’d let her go home.
She tried not to think of home too much, if she could. She had been training at this facility now for, what was it? Five years? Six? She knew why, too. They told her almost every day. It was vital that she be able to control her powers. That she not hurt anyone else ever again. That she not kill anyone else ever again.
That still got to her. She’d never meant to kill anyone. Not ever. But they told her that she did. And not just a few, either.
Over a hundred.
The number was enough to make her stomach clench and steel her resolve. She would train as hard has she had to, as long as she had to, as long as it meant that she wouldn’t be a danger to anyone. If that meant stacking cars in the desert all day, then so be it.
But still… she was starting to forget things from home. Her mother’s face. She wondered what her little brother was doing, if he was in high school yet. That reminded her that she would have graduated by now. Her friends were probably all in college. Some place she’d never go. Somehow, she thought “trained for five years in a government facility out in the desert” wouldn’t look good on her admissions paperwork.
They took down the tent and folded up the chairs and decided to leave the cars where they were for the moment. Carly figured that her next task would probably be taking them down again, and maybe taking them apart. Or crushing them into little balls. Or making sculptures out of them. She never knew what the next test would be, and Martin confided in her once that he didn’t know either. He just got the framework in his email every night and had until morning to make sure he knew what she was supposed to do.
After a short ride back to the facility, all Carly wanted to do was take a shower and go to bed. No matter how it looked, lifting cars with your mind all day was tough, tiring work. But it certainly was better than she could have done even a year ago, and that in itself was something to be proud of.
One of the staff, a young man in over-large glasses, met her when she got off the mini-bus. “Miss Siminsky?” he said. “Deputy Director Stassi would like to see you.”
She sighed. So much for shower and bed. “All right,” she said. She followed the young man. She’d only met the Deputy Director a few times, and she didn’t like him much. He talked to her like she was a bomb that was about to go off. A slightly stupid bomb, at that. But he was the connection to the outside world that she’d need to get out someday. He worked with the Secretary of National Security, and if anyone could get her home it would be him.
She closed the door of the office behind her, and Director Stassi stood up behind his desk. “Miss Siminsky,” he said with a broad smile on his face. His eyes darted to the corner of the office where a camera had been installed, and it ruined the attitude. “Thank you for coming. Please, have a seat.”
Carly fell into a chair and resisted to urge to put her arms on his desk and just fall asleep right there.
Director Stassi sat behind the desk. He was sweating slightly, but she took no notice of it. “Miss Siminsky,” he said, “I heard about your performance this afternoon. I must say that I’m very impressed, and I’m sure the Secretary will be just as thrilled as I was.” His smile had too many teeth in it.
“Thanks,” she said.
His smile slipped a little and he cleared his throat. “Um. I have just a one thing to go over with you and I’ll let you go. But, um. I’m afraid it’s a bit of bad news.”
That caught her attention, and she sat up straight. A dozen different scenarios unspooled in her head, each of them worse than the last. “What is it?” she said. She noticed the pictures on the wall behind the Director start to shake and she willed them to stop before he realized what was going on.
Director Stassi folded his hands in front of him. “Miss Siminsky, I know you’ve been asking about when you can… you can go home.” He ran a hand through his hair, and then tried to rub the sweat off on his jacket sleeve. If he was trying to look calm, he was failing utterly. “I hate to be the one to break it to you, Miss Siminsky, I really do. And I hope you understand that I’m just the messenger here…”
“What?” she asked. “What is it?” Her voice was small and she hated it.
“You… um…” He cleared his throat again, and his next sentence came out all in a rush. “You can’t go home.”
One of the pictures fell off the wall, and Stassi jumped. Carly tried to speak a few times before she said, “But… why?”
He loosened his tie. “Miss Siminsky, I hate to remind you what happened when you… when your powers emerged. You…”
“I hurt a lot of people,” she said. His habit of trying not to finish sentences was getting on her nerves. “Is that it?”
“You killed a lot of people, Miss Siminsky,” he said. “And you terrified a lot more.” He took a deep breath. “Including your mother.”
“My mother?” she said. She stood up, and the chair slid across the floor. “What about my mother?”
He stood up as well, and took a small black voice recorder out of his jacket pocket. “To be frank, Miss Siminsky, your mother is… afraid of what you might do if you come home. We tried to reassure her that you were getting better, that you were gaining control, but…” He put the voice recorder on the desk. “This is what she said to us.” He pressed play.
A voice came out, muffled by traveling along a phone signal, but unmistakably her mother’s voice. “My daughter is a monster,” she said, “and I hate to think what she could do if she was free. Keep her away from everyone. Keep her away from me and my family.”
Director Stassi’s hand shook as he picked up the voice recorder and it crumbled in his hand. He looked up sharply at Carly, and then slammed against the wall. “Carly!” he yelled in a strained voice. “Please, Carly let me -” His voice choked off and his eyes went wide as he pressed against the wall. His ribs popped and cracked and blood began to run out of his mouth and nose. Bruises blossomed on his skin as blood vessels burst, shards of bone began to jab out, slicking through his suit, and his whole body started to flatten out. His skull made a great cracking sound as it shattered, blood and brains bursting out around him.
Carly let him fall to the floor, and she turned slowly in the air in the middle of the room. The walls started to shake, and cracks burst open in the floor and the walls. The lights went out and sparks began to fly from broken electrical cables, and Carly raised her hands in front of her.
Her senses stretched out around her. She felt the walls and the floors of the facility, a labyrinthine structure that extended deep into the desert. She felt as though she was in every place at once, all the rooms and all the walls, and if she just clenched her fists then the place would crumble. Everyone in this viper’s nest would die, and then she would be free. If that was what it took, then -
The pump they’d implanted under her skin vibrated as it dumped sedative into her bloodstream. Carly screamed in rage and frustration as she felt the drug take hold, and the office walls exploded around her, splinters flying like lethal missiles. None of which touched her.
She dropped to the floor as the shaking stopped, and she wept. Her hands were clean against the filthy, broken floor, until a small rivulet of blood made its way to her littlest finger. She tried to pull her hand away, but she couldn’t find the energy. She heard shouting, but it was from so far away that she didn’t care anymore. All she could do was slump to the floor and cry.
Darkness took her moments later.
When Carly woke up, she was in her bed. In restraints. She still felt… fuzzy around the edges. The pump in her side vibrated once, and she closed her eyes again. When she did, the mangled body of Director Stassi was in front of her, slowly being crushed by a force he couldn’t see and couldn’t understand.
I did it again, she thought. She cried quietly.
A while later, Martin came into the room, and she tried to sit up. “No,” he said. “Don’t do that. The restraints won’t…” He grimaced. “Just relax.” He had the clipboard he always carried, but he didn’t look at it. He just stared at her for a while before he said, “How are you feeling?”
Carly shook her head, and it felt slow and unfocused. “I think I killed someone,” she said.
He nodded. “Yeah.” She squeezed her eyes shut and took a few deep breaths. “Don’t worry,” he said. “They understand you were… upset.”
“Is it true?” she asked. She opened her eyes and looked at him. “About my mom, I mean? Is it true?”
Martin sat in the chair by her bedside and took her hand. “Carly, I am so, so sorry. I can’t begin to imagine…”
He let her cry for a while.
When the sobs passed, she closed her eyes again and said, “What do I do now?”
This time he did look at his clipboard. “Well, we’re letting you have a break for a while. To, um. Process.” He flipped a sheet over. “You’ll have a counselor come to see you in about half an hour. Ms. Hilbert.” He looked over at her and smiled, but it didn’t have much effect. “She’s really nice. You’ll like her.”
“Whatever,” Carly whispered.
Martin looked at his printouts again. “And we’re going to set you to work on some more precision tasks later. When you’re… when you’re ready.”
Carly didn’t move. She didn’t nod. She didn’t say anything. After a minute or two, Martin excused himself and left the room, closing the door quietly.
There was an emptiness in her mind. A greyness. A dull hum that blocked out other sounds. She just stared at the wall across from her, and every time a thought came to her mind, she shoved it away. Finally, though, there was one thought that she couldn’t keep down. It ran through her head, a single loop over and over again.
I am a monster. I may as well be the best monster.
Training would start again soon. Carly was ready for it now.