The Interrogation

by Allen Stroud

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My phone alarm goes off at 0530 hours, like it always does. Another day in Fort Freiheit.

As usual, I’m already staring at the cracked screen. It says, “Wake up Alex.” That always makes me smile. Alex isn’t my name – my name is Irina – but I haven’t changed the display.

I can’t rely on my body clock to get me up on time, there’s always a hint in the back of my mind that it’ll let me down, but perversely, I seem to be awake ten minutes before any alarm I set, no matter what time I set it for.

My mobile phone is a treasured possession. People don’t have these anymore. I found it a year ago when we were excavating some of the old caves near Fairburn. Four hikers had set up camp out there and died decades ago. Must have been running from the first mist incursion I guess. They’d been there for weeks or months. There were signs of a pathetic struggle between them, probably over food and water, but all their equipment was pretty much intact.

I got the mobile phone. No-one else wanted it. The networks have been down for decades, but for me, it’s a little piece of the old days in my pocket. Long dead Alex had turned it off, so there was still some power left in the battery. Later, I found a charger I could use. The phone reminds me what we’re aiming for, what we’re trying to do. The list of numbers, the messages and everything on internal drive is a precious memory of a lost world. It’s important I don’t forget that place.  We all need these memories, so we know what all the sacrifices are for. These ones are far better for me than any reminder of my old life.

Whoever Alex was, I hope she found peace in the end.

I roll out of bed and over the mirror and washbasin. These duty dorm rooms are for specialists on call during a watch shift or called up for designated duties. We come in here with our stuff and stay overnight until the next rotation when we go back to our assigned homes.

In this case, I don’t get to leave until my task is complete.

My rank means I don’t have to share with anyone. I live out of a bag when I’m here in scuffed shoes, wrinkled combat dress and a battered ID card. Thankfully, uniform inspections aren’t something this army cares about.

I stare into the mirror. I look like I haven’t slept. Battered face to go with the battered ID it seems. Water and a little soap improves things a bit, but doesn’t banish my tired look or the bags under my eyes. Makeup might’ve fixed that, if I was alive twenty to thirty years ago, when we didn’t know about the virus. We’ve all seen pictures from that time, when lives were ignorant and disposable. Amazing what the end of the world can do for gender equality.

My handheld radio pops into life, making me turn around to where I left it last night on the floor. “Ops to Lieutenant Petyaeva?”

I pick it up and reply, “Petyaeva here, what’s the problem?”

“Your subject has been asking for you.”

“I’m due to chat to her in an hour and a half, she’ll have to wait.”

“She’s being pretty insistent.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not making any allowances today.”

“Understood.”

I sigh and rub my face, trying to focus. I expect this kind of behaviour from Amanda. It’s a tactic designed to unsettle me before we talk. Last time she did this, I rushed down there, expecting some kind of revelation or secret knowledge, but there was nothing. She greeted me with a little smile, pleased with how she’d been able to manipulate me into being there early and unprepared. I’m not going to fall for that again.

No, not Amanda – Subject 16. That’s another little way in which she’s got into my head.

I get dressed and walk across the hall to the bathroom. I wash slowly, using the time to ready myself mentally for our daily battle of wills. This task is difficult and dangerous. Every time I finish a meeting with this girl, I have to come back and take a shower. There’s something about what she says, the way in which she looks at me that makes me question everything we’re trying to do. That’s one of the reasons I keep the phone in my pocket – a reminder of the world we’re trying to get back to.

A world I’ll probably never live to see.

A world she’ll certainly never live to see.

Breakfast in the mess hall at this hour is a lonely business. There’s a couple of recruits sat at a table on the far side, a man and a woman. They look nervous and they’re talking to each other in low voices. The words don’t carry, and I don’t want to join them. If I walk over, they’ll have to stand up and salute. I get a coffee, a protein bar and some hot slop. The mess sergeant calls it porridge, but I’ve no idea whether he’s telling the truth.

As I eat, I stare into the bowl. I’m thinking about the girl. No, she isn’t a girl anymore. I need to remember she is a monster – the enemy. The minute the infection was discovered, she changed from being someone we protect to someone we will destroy. She looks human, she sounds human, but she isn’t human anymore. Eventually, the last vestiges of who she was will disappear and she’ll change. By then, she’ll have outlived her usefulness. At that point, in some ways, the whole situation becomes easier for me. Fighting monsters is what I signed up to do.

Interrogating and executing teenage girls wasn’t.

“Mind if I join you?”

I glance up. Colonel Harlson is standing over me. I’m getting up instinctively, but he lays his mechanised hand on my shoulder. “At ease, Lieutenant. Don’t let me disturb your breakfast any more than necessary.”

I nod and resettle myself in my seat. “You’re up early, sir. Something important?”

Harlson shrugs. He’s balding and in his late fifties, but there’s no sign of his military physique running to flab. He gestures around the room. “Some days, the weight of all this preys on your mind. This morning I was thinking about your guest.”

“Subject 16?”

“Yes, Subject 16.”

Harlson sits down. We’ve not spoken much and never talked one to one. There’s something damaged about the way he looks at me. Those watery blue eyes have seen their fair share of pain and loss. “How’s she holding up?” he asks. I know instantly who he means.

“She’s lasted longer than the last four subjects,” I reply. “The virus appears to have infected her lymph nodes and brain stem. My reports have been detailed and covered all of the—”

“Yes, I know I could read the reports, Lieutenant. I’m asking you about her.”

I swallow past the lump in my throat. “Apologies, Colonel, but Subject 16 is not a person.”

Harlson smiles and suddenly, those watery eyes harden into chips of ice. “Exactly, Lieutenant. She stopped being a person the moment she got infected.” He runs a hand through his thinning hair. “I saw your last conversation with her. Are you sure you’re up to getting what we need?”

I can feel my face getting red. “If you think someone else should be doing this, sir, I’ll let them. I didn’t sign up for this kind of work.”

Harlson leans forward, putting his elbows on the table. “Petyaeva, no-one signs up for this kind of work unless they’re psychotic and if they’re psychotic, I don’t want them here. I tasked you to do this job because I think you’re the best person for it. Just don’t get attached.”

“Understood sir.”

“Remember, once your report is complete, we’ll move into the dissection phase.”

“Yes, of course, sir, thank you.”

Harlson gets up. “Don’t mention it,” he says and walks away.

---

I finish breakfast without an appetite. The last thing I want is anyone commenting on a change in my diet or something else that gets me more undue attention.

The interrogation rooms are in the second floor below ground. I make my way down there. Subject 16 has a wing all to herself, she’s that important.

As I make my way down the steps, I’m going through my orders again. I remember the briefing material. Project Vulture is an important part of the war effort. Trusted officers across multiple settlements will be given specialist training to question infected subjects so as to best evaluate the mental processes an individual goes through when succumbing to the Pandoravirus. Base commanders will consider these assessments and forward them to the Jericho Defense Network (JDN). We believe there are some forms of communication link with certain infection types. These types are of particular interest to our research…

Specialist training? Yeah, right. They selected me because I took some psychology classes before I signed up for the military academy. I went to that briefing after I was recommended for the programme. Forty minutes of ‘situation simulation’ that listed all the techniques outlawed by the Geneva convention and then explained how to implement them, followed by a short video from our glorious leader, Tobias West telling me how important my project was to the war effort. He looked old in the video. I don’t know how long ago it was shot…

I reach the bottom of the stairs. It’s pretty dark down here, with intermittent lighting. Maintenance is not a priority. I can hear the electronic connections sizzling as the overhead strips flicker on and off.

Subject 16 is secured in the section to my right. I open the door. There’s a soldier sat in a chair in the messy office. He rises slowly as I approach and flips me a lazy salute.

“How’s the night been Thomson?”

“Pretty normal, Lieutenant. She slept until about five, then started shouting for you. I put through the call, but they said you’d be here at the usual time. After an hour, she gave up and sat down on the floor. She’s not moved since.”

“When is your shift change?”

“Another hour yet.”

“Okay.”

Corporal Thomson knows the drill. We’ve been out on assignment together before. He’s in his forties, a little older than me, and from Maryland, when Maryland still existed. He worked as a teaching assistant before joining up. He picks up a big batch of keys from the desk and unlocks the inner door, then opens it for me. I make my way inside.

Movement activates the lighting and more overhead LED strips burst into life, illuminating the thick glass room in the centre of the space. Subject 16 is sat in the centre of the confined area, behind those glass walls. She’s staring at the floor, her face hidden under a cloud of long brown hair. She’s wearing a one-piece overall, fastened with Velcro, and soft shoes. Her bed, toilet, table and chair are in there with her, along with an assortment of ‘safe’ entertainment. There’s a locked door into the room, but it won’t be opened until she’s dead. Meals are deposited through a hatch. When the infection takes hold, those meals will be withdrawn.

At that point, the last of her humanity will be gone.

“Good morning,” I say, trying to inject some energy into my voice that I definitely don’t feel. “Did you sleep well?”

She doesn’t answer, indicating that the game has begun.

I take my seat. It’s next to a small desk. I have a notepad and pencil that kept here so it’s available for all the interrogators who might be working with Subject 16.  I’m pretty sure that’s just me, but it never hurts to check. I always flip through the pages first, taking my time, using the silence just like she is using the silence – to gauge what response might come next, to plan a move ahead, shape and craft our tactics and strategy. In here, we have competing goals. We’re both playing to win. Subject 16 is my fifth interrogation candidate. I know what my objectives are, but I’m never quite sure who I’m playing this game against – a poor afflicted teenage girl or an intelligent predatory virus, determined to wipe out my species.

Next to the notepad is a file – her file. I don’t need to remind myself of its contents. A summary of her life before infection is all there, right up to the day we caught her in the random screenings. Her human life is irrelevant now, any consideration of it will be a distraction.

Cameras record everything in here. The posted guard reviews the footage, but isn’t permitted to enter the room unless there’s an emergency. The only time anyone comes in is when someone else can be sat at that desk watching the live feed.

I’ve no idea if anyone else can watch. I expect Harlson has access to the footage, either live or recorded. I could probably find out, if I wanted.

Today, I start with a mild threat. “If you didn’t sleep well, you need to let me know. It might be a sign of your condition worsening.” I turn and look at her, leaving the possibility in hanging in the air. She takes the bait, raises her head and smiles.

“So, if I say nothing about how I slept, nothing changes.”

“No, we’ll make an assessment from the bio-scanners in your body, and the camera feeds.”

“You’ll do that anyway. What I tell you won’t make a difference.”

She holds my eye. As usual, I’m the one to shrug and turn away first. She’s right of course, but it would have been nice to get her to open up. A narrative record of the process of decay from the subject is part of the point of this experiment.

“Okay then, how are you feeling now?”

“What do I gain from answering that question either?”

That answer makes me smile as I’m looking at blank pages in the notebook. As part of the briefing, I watched black and white films from the University of Yale. They experiment on rats as part of their motivation in learning study, looking at reward motivation and pain motivation, the latter was always more successful. Rats would do anything to avoid being electrocuted. Even murder one another. Will that work on the virus?

Subject 16 is not stupid. The two intelligences contained within her body have goals and agendas. She is using this line of questioning to frame our relationship, attempting to engage me as a rewarder, so she can establish, understand and exploit the rules of our meetings. She wants me to provide a reward system and see it as a means of progress. That will start us down a road towards ‘fairness’ and everything else that leads to redefining her as a rational and intelligent human being.

She is not a human being. I have to keep reminding myself. She lost that status some time ago.

I raise my head again and meet her glare. “Eventually, you know as well as I do, whatever infected you is going to take over. Why not do humanity a favour and tell us about what you’re experiencing? You can be a legacy to the survivors. Your name will be—”

“I don’t have a name anymore. You told me that.”

I sigh and scratch my head. “The point is, you’ll be remembered.”

“As a lab rat.”

“Well, that’s better than nothing.”

She scowls at me, her expression challenging as ever. She hasn’t given up, despite the data and the facts given to her. “There’s other settlements where people don’t act like this when someone gets ill. There’s people who survived as well.”

“Who told you that?”

“You hear the stories. That stuff about the woman in Greenville. Everyone knows.”

I shrug. “Those are just legends. Some settlements would have killed you the moment you were diagnosed. We didn’t do that.”

“You want a prize for being nice?” She stands up and walks towards the glass. “You think I should be grateful for living in a box?”

“We don’t get to choose our fate anymore,” I reply. “We all have to do our part.” I’m wondering how much of this is the virus talking? If it is sentient it might be concerned about being isolated. The motivations of both intelligences in Subject 16 are unified in wanting to be free. If I can demonstrate their separation as part of the interrogation, we might learn something new.

“Suppose we could cure you and release you. Would you want that?”

She frowns. Her anger transforming into distrust, right in front of my eyes. “You can’t offer me that,” she says.

“Maybe I can.” This feels wrong. It’s cruel giving what remains of this frightened little girl hope, but I have my orders. I need to stop thinking of her as a person. “The research team on base have just received a whole set of extra vaccines to try. Why do you think we’re keeping you alive?”

“Not because you want to save me.” She says the words to shut down the conversation, but I can see she wants me to continue. If there’s the slightest chance, part of her still wants to believe it.

“We need to test the vaccines,” I say. “However, if they prove successful, the next step will be trialling a reversal process.”

“I won’t live long enough for that.”

“Some subjects have survived a while after infection.” I tap the papers on the desk. “We need to know how you’re feeling, the way things change for you. If you let me help you, bring me in to give you advice on what you might do to stay in control.” I’m making an assumption here about who I’m talking to, but that’s okay. If the virus is aware, maybe it’ll believe I’ve let my guard down. That could be something to exploit.

She chews on her lip and looks thoughtful. “You want to know how I feel?”

“Yes, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to know.”

This is a crucial moment. I can see the proposal being evaluated. Slowly, Subject 16 turns and around and goes back to sit on her chair. There are two consciousnesses trying to work out the best way to approach this, attempting to manipulate me to their advantage.

“My name is Amanda,” she announces.

“Yes, that was your name. I know that from your file.”

“No. You don’t get it. My name is Amanda.”

Her insistence makes me flinch and look up at the camera recorder on the wall. I know what she’s trying to get me to accept. She wants me to call her by her name, so I’ll start seeing her as a human being again. That’s the path Harlson warned me against at breakfast. People are watching. I need to tread carefully. “I’m sorry, but until you’re no longer infected I can’t call you—”

“My name is Amanda, Amanda Salter. I grew up in Topeka, Kansas, just as the world went to crap. I’m fourteen years old and both my parents are dead. I’ve lived here in Fort Freiheit for the last two years. People know me, people remember me.”

She falls silent. “Are you finished?” I ask.

“Kinda. I need you to accept who I am.”

“I’m sorry. You aren’t human anymore. You need to accept that.”

Her face colours and she’s glaring at me again. “You’re asking me to hope, but then denying I exist?”

“If you recover from the infection, we can talk about this.”

She shakes her head and clenches her fists. “You want my cooperation, I’m naming my terms. You want me share my humanity, you have to acknowledge it exists.”

---

An hour later, I’m back upstairs in the mess hall, staring at a cup of coffee in a plastic cup and trying to think my way through this.

The situation is impossible. Harlson wants results, Subject 16 wants me to see her as a human being. If I do the latter, I break protocol and be disobeying orders, but I might get what Harlson is asking for.

The girl has a point. How can I encourage her to fight for her humanity if we don’t acknowledge that something inside her is still human? If we’re going to divide the intelligences, we have to give what’s left of Amanda a reason to resist.

I feel awful about lying to her, creating false hope by mentioning a cure that doesn’t exist.

I take out the phone from my pocket and stare at the cracked screen.  There’s the remains of a person in here, an Alex I will never know. Something I’ve kept as a memory of what we were. It’s the same as the part of Subject 16 that’s still Amanda, only she’s still here. She might still have a chance, for a little while at least.

In another life, she could have been my daughter.

No, I don’t want to remember my life. Instead, I think about the last few days those four hikers in Fairburn had. I can’t imagine what that last fight must have been like, knowing they were all going to die. That’s what Amanda’s facing.

Not Amanda – Subject 16

Damn this is hard!

I look around the hall. It’s got busy in the early afternoon. The ritual of lunchtime maintained over generations as these remnants of humanity seek companionship between work shifts. Soldiers, scientists, engineers, families doing whatever they can to help us all survive. The thriving community is a testimony to our resilience after years of defeat and death. Individuals are defined by the people they love, even when they die.

Right now, we’re still here.

Right now, Amanda is still here. In that body that we’re keeping locked up in the basement.

A small voice in my mind objects. We know the infection causes a growth in the brain. We’ve seen a cyst that develops, but we don’t know how it interacts with the human brain. We know ultimately, the virus intellect takes over, but in the meantime, we don’t know if the two voices manifest separately, there’s never been a study where some kind of multiple personality disorder can be clearly defined. We don’t know what bleed there is between the two.  

I’m way out of my depth here.

Corporal Thomson comes into the room. Looks like he’s finished his shift. He makes himself a coffee from the machine and takes a seat on the bench, smiling briefly at someone who says hi. Underneath that smile he has the same battered expression I saw in the mirror this morning. Looking after the girl must be wearing him down too, even though he didn’t mention it.

There’s no way I can be sure the conversations I’m having are solely with what was Amanda, but this is eating me up. So long as I’m safe, and I take precautions, I might be able to do something that helps make her last days a little better and gets Harlson what he wants.

Yeah… hopefully…

---

Being a tech is a lot like being a doctor I guess. We both fix machines. When I was a kid, I used to help my uncle in an old auto shop, after our family emigrated here from Omsk. That’s another reason why this whole Project Vulture thing doesn’t sit well with me. There’s no solve. At least with a truck, you can get it running, or a rifle, you can strip it down, clear the jam and put it back together.

Best place for me to start is with the machines. That’s work I know about.

After finishing my cold coffee, I make my way to the repair yard. We’ve got a hundred years or more of old kit lying around out here. When the virus first showed up, the first thing that ground to a halt was our reinvention of electronics. Consumer economies wasted millions and billions of dollars renewing and replacing perfectly good kit for more bandwidth or an extra pixel or two. After World War III, all anyone wanted was things that worked, so the trash piles and landfills were raided for stuff you could use. As things got worse, people stockpiled tech in the same way they stockpiled food.

Of course, Vanadium and Tobias West had a different approach. I guess the old man was a tin foil hat guy whose theories got proved right.  The only difference between him and those people who built bunkers in their backyards is in scale. West’s foresight meant by the time he launched New Jericho, he’d bought out hundreds of tech companies who had the best kit, lying around in warehouses. Vanadium didn’t care about turning a profit because Vanadium knew the world economy was doomed. That’s the only way I can explain it. . That’s the only way I can explain it. So much of our gear is shiny and remanufactured from whatever we can find. That look is all part of the sales pitch. We’re fighting for a new world.

Our camera surveillance system runs on an old CAT8 IP network with original specs designed in the last century. There’s some pretty cool programming done to work around the restrictions of the old equipment, but at its base, that’s what it is. Once you get past the encryption layer, feeds and recordings have individual signatures and addresses. Just a case of scheduling some maintenance and assigning a recorded feed address to a live feed.

The repair yard is pretty quiet. There’s two mission teams out, so the duty techs will have been given a downshift. Means when anyone gets back, the yard will be double staffed. I find a terminal in the corner and get to work, organising what I need.

If I get caught doing this, they’ll shoot me. Lieutenant authorisation gets me everywhere I need to go, but it also leaves a trail. Someone will check my account activity. My hope is that tangible results I get from Subject 16 will outweigh any desire of people to put a bullet in my head, or I can get some time to erase my tracks afterwards.

Unlikely.

While I’m hacking the network, I take a look at the access list for the interrogation wing. Just as I thought, Harlson has been viewing the recordings. There’s two other accounts as well. The first one is Samuels, E. She’s a member of the research team, the other one is a generic military account, which means it could be anyone of captain rank or higher. Probably someone prepping for the dissection phase.

Yeah… the more I think about that, the worse I feel.

---

5.28am and I’m back in my duty room, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. I haven’t slept. The first part of the plan is ready. Now I have to wait for the signal.

Ninety seconds later, I’m staring at the phone as the alarm goes off – “Wake up Alex” – I’m not smiling this time. I get out of bed and throw on my clothes, then make my way quickly out across the yard to the staircase and down into the holding area.

As soon as I’m in the outer room, I can see something is wrong. Thomson is stood up, leaning over the desk and the microphone in front of him. “Back away from the glass!” I hear him order in a loud authoritative voice. “This is your third and final warning, I—”

I reach the door and knock loudly. He turns around, seeing me there for the first time. He frowns walks over and opens it. “Lieutenant, I was just about to call you.”

“I guessed you might be, after yesterday,” I reply. I glance around the room. Everything is as it was before, apart from a tray of unappetising food sitting on the table. “That for Subject 16?”

“Yes, but she’s being difficult. I was about to ask for taser authorisation.”

“No need, I’ll take it from here.” I walk over to the tray and scoop it up, then pause in front of the locked entrance to the detention space. “It gets to all of us sometimes. Take a minute for yourself. Grab a coffee or something. The recorders are on, I’ll be fine.”

Thomson hesitates, giving me a confused look, but then he smiles. “Sure, okay, Lieutenant.” He picks up his keys and opens the door. I make my way through.

Behind the glass walls, Subject 16 is sitting on her chair, staring at me.

I walk to the table and put the tray down. I take out the mobile phone and gaze at the displayed time. When it flicks from 5.45am to 5.46am, I stand up and walk towards her. She does the same.

I place my hand on the glass. She copies me.

“Hello, Amanda,” I say.

“Hello, Irina,” she replies.

I take my hand away and point up at the cameras. “The recordings are deactivated for scheduled maintenance. This is the most common time for that to happen, but you already knew that. That’s why you tried to get me down here yesterday.”

“It was a signal,” Amanda admits. “I’ve had a lot of time to plan things.”

“I need to know if it’s really you,” I say. “I need to know what you can feel and sense of the virus.”

Amanda nods. “Okay, I’ll try to describe it for you as best I can.”

“Please, and do it quickly.” I walk back to the table and pick up the notepad and pen. “We don’t have much time.”

“Could we work and eat?” Amanda points at the tray. “Sorry, but I’m starving.”

“Just a few questions first,” I say. “What’s it like? Tell me.”

“Like someone’s watching you on the inside,” Amanda says. “Like there’s an itch in your mind, working away to its own agenda. It doesn’t sleep, which means I don’t want to sleep. I’m terrified of letting go and waking up to find its done all sorts of shit whilst I’ve been unconscious.”

“Can you control it?”

“I don’t know.” She’s blinking hard and starts to cry. “I’m terrified it’ll take over… I’ve been so alone. Every moment of weakness, every time I forget something, I wonder if…”

“Is it getting stronger?”

“I­–I can’t tell…”

She turns away from me, her body shaking as she sobs. A poor, confused little girl, caught up in a nightmare, powerless to do anything as another mind eats away at her soul.

“I’d really like some food…”

“Sure.” I pick up the tray and make my way to the slot. Amanda is the other side. She smiles at me again; thankful and grateful through the tears.

I hear the glass breaking and something wraps around my arm. Then there’s pain, like a dozen sharp teeth biting into my arm. I’m dragged forwards towards a child’s smile as it twists into a wide, hungry grin.

I scream and kick out. My foot catches the edge of the glass and I push off, tearing myself away from the girl. She looks the same as before, except for the tendrils extending from her wrist into mine. I can feel them digging in, burrowing into me. I cry out again and twist away. There’s a popping sound as I tear myself loose of her and fall in a heap on the floor.

“I’m sorry,” Amanda says. She’s still smiling at me through the tears. “I had no choice.”

Alarms echo around the room. I can see Thomson returning to the monitoring office and looking around in confusion. I scramble to my feet and charge towards him, forcing my way through the door before it seals automatically.

“What happened? Your arm is bleeding, did she—”

I don’t stop. My forearm smashes into his jaw and he goes down. Thomson has fifty or sixty pounds on me, so the only way I’m going to overpower him is to attack and attack and attack until he stops fighting.

I grab his hair and slam his head onto the concrete, once, twice, three times. His eyes go glassy and unfocused.

I let go and breathe in shame.  My life here is done. Don’t get attached, Harlson said. I failed, I got attached. I believed in her – Amanda or Subject 16. Either, it doesn’t matter.

The mobile phone in my pocket buzzes. I pull it out. There’s a message, I open it up. Coordinates? Who could be—

Voices outside disrupt my thoughts. I have a choice to make. Do I give myself up or try to escape?

I glance at Amanda. She’s still standing there in her glass room, staring at me. The tendrils from her arm have disappeared. Apart from the hole in the wall, it’s as if she’s just the same as before.

As if nothing happened…

I’m straddling Thomson, searching his pockets. I find his passcard, his keys and his sidearm. I take them all and start for the door, then stop. The alert will send the base into lockdown, soldiers will be mustering at every exit. An armed response team will be on their way down here. They’ll notice the issue with the camera feed and work out my actions were premeditated. As soon as I leave the room, I’ll be under surveillance. I’ll have to fight to get out, injuring others like Thomson, murdering people, maybe.

I can’t do this.

I turn around and walk back into the holding area. Amanda – Subject 16, whatever her name is, watches me approach.  “Don’t…” she says.

“I’m sorry,” I reply. “I have no choice. I can’t let you live like this.”

I raise the gun. The first shot cracks a pane of the glass. I rush forward and tear at it, ripping out slivers with my bloodied fingers, making a hole.

I take aim at Amanda. Her gaze doesn’t waver. Inside, I know she’s screaming. She’s been screaming all along to be released – to be free. I’ll remember her like that in my mind, for as long as live.

The alien part of her is screaming too, trying to contact its people. We can’t have that...

The gun roars and Subject 16 drops –  her head an exploded mess on the wall. Whatever she was; alien, human, or both, it’s over. Now, she can find a little peace in the dark.

There’s shouting nearby. Voices behind me. I drop the pistol and sink to my knees, placing my hands behind my head.  

Allen Stroudstory