Hours passed. The interrogation was over, but Alan was still playing it back in his memory. How could Athena do this to the 308? They were friends; at least he thought they were friends. But it was becoming clear to him: she was the enemy. She was just like the rest of the freaks working for the Board.
“Alan,” Athena stood in front of his thick glass cell door.
Alan didn’t get up.
“Hello, officer,” he replied with biting sarcasm.
Athena didn’t reply for a while.
“I’m sorry about Elizabeth.”
“Clearly,” Alan snapped back.
Athena pulled a chair over to the glass wall and sat down in front of Alan. She was no longer in the custom work garb of the 308, but an operator’s uniform. It was all black, with military style pockets on her long sleeve shirt and pants.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Athena asked, her tone compassionate.
“Not with you,” Alan replied and looked up at the camera over his cell, “Now with them.”
Athena looked up at the camera. Several uncomfortable minutes passed, then Athena put her hands on her lap.
“My parents hated my gift,” Athena started.
“Gee, I wonder why,” Alan responded sarcastically.
“I deserve that.”
“Damn right, you do,” Alan replied.
Athena cleared her throat, “My parents didn’t understand at first. It seemed like I was really intuitive, perceptive. I would read their emotions before they even acknowledged them. I wouldn’t come down for dinner because I knew they were mad at each other. Then I started using it against them. I’d play one off the other to get what I wanted. It ended up being very destructive to their relationship.”
“Is this supposed to make me feel bad for you?” Alan questioned.
Athena continued, “Eventually I realized that I was better off being honest with them. I told them what I was doing. I tried to help their marriage. I helped them talk things through, and that seemed to make things better for all of us. And then I stopped reading them. I tried to pretend as though I never read them at all. Life seemed normal for a while. Until I heard my dad thinking about Miss Katherine down the street.”
Alan didn’t say anything.
“I didn’t tell my mom. How could I?” Athena recounted, “About a week later, I came home and the house was really quiet. I wasn’t sure if maybe they’d gone out for the afternoon. Until I walked into the kitchen.”
Alan swallowed loudly.
“My mom was bent over the kitchen sink washing her hands raw. Just scrubbing… scrubbing the layer of skin right off. There was blood all over the place… the sink… the tile… chairs. I didn’t even acknowledge my mom. I followed the blood into the hallway. Then the bedroom. My dad was dead on the floor, shot right in the back. Katherine Waltz was still in bed. I can still remember the look on her face. She was in complete shock. Just eyes wide open.”
Alan locked eyes with Athena.
“I can’t help but wonder if I had told my mom when I found out… They probably wouldn’t be married, but… I mean, how do you come back from that?”
“I don’t know,” Alan replied. “I don’t know.”
“I told myself that I couldn’t let my lies kill anyone else. I know Marshall wouldn’t understand that. He always thinks he can find a win-win situation, but we don’t have those anymore. I just want to control how badly we lose, ya’ know?”
Alan shrugged. He understood Athena. The pain of thinking you could have kept someone from dying and didn’t was a burden he was accustomed to. But was it worth this?
“I don’t want us to lose,” Athena reiterated.
“Why don’t you tell me what to do. How does this end well for me?”
“I don’t know,” Athena said, her voice a faint whisper. “But if you know something about Marshall, you need to tell me.”
“Then I can’t help you.”
“I didn’t ask you to,” Alan replied as Athena stood up. She pushed the chair back to the concrete wall across from Alan’s cell, and walked back down the hall.
Alan was alone again. Marshall and Athena had been two of his only friends at the 308. But they had their issues. Alan wanted to be positive like Marshall, but he couldn’t ignore what he’d seen since joining the work camp. People had been imprisoned, beaten, and oppressed. It didn’t sit right with him. Athena was more realistic about their situation, but she was also in the Board’s pocket. She had sold out her friends to feel in control. Alan couldn’t do that. He wouldn’t. Alan decided he wasn’t going to give Marshall up, no matter how bad it got in his cell.
Days passed. Alan hardly saw a soul, including his own. He was left to fester in his own dark thoughts. Was this how they did it? Would he eventually just succumb to the darkness of isolation? He ate very little and talked even less. He was starting to wonder how he would end it, when Athena walked back up to his cell. Athena cleared her throat, trying to swallow the lump forming.
“Back again I see,” Alan said, his voice scratchy and defeated.
“We don’t get to decide what they’ll do,” Athena said. “We can only make our situation better.”
It seemed to be a planned speech to Alan. Athena was firmly standing, no need for a chair.
“You certainly made yours better,” Alan retorted under his breath.
“Just give them what they want, Alan. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“No?” Alan questioned sarcastically. “You mean I can go back home, with my judgmental parents and their awkward stares. Back to the town that remembers my dead girlfriend, and the freak who got her killed. I don’t have anywhere to go back to.”
“You could go back to the 308,” Athena said, her voice a little less sure than before.
“We both know they would never let that happen, Athena. You seem to be the only one with privileges like that,” Alan said in a low, angered voice. Alan continued, resigned to his sentence, “No, I’m stuck in here now, and the only thing I can do is make someone else’s life worse by cooperating with you.”
“You’ve been rehearsing this,” Athena said in a somber tone.
“So have you,” Alan snapped back. “How long have you been spying on Marshall, hoping he would give you enough information to screw him over? Who does that to their friends? What does that make you?”
Athena’s face was like stone, her jaw tight and tense. She could tell she would fall apart soon if she couldn’t get a grip on herself. She had to stick to the script.
“We don’t have the luxury of having friends, Alan. They don’t let us. Eventually everyone breaks and you do whatever the hell they want you to.”
“No. Screw that,” Alan pointed at Athena forcefully, “That’s bull. We have a choice. We get to decide what to do with the time we have. You can trick yourself into believing whatever you want, but the truth is simple. We don’t have to put up with this.”
Athena scoffed at Alan’s remark.
“We’re both too realistic for you to believe that, Alan. We live on their terms.”
Alan stood up from his cot and came to the thick glass right in front of Athena. She seemed uncomfortable by the change in demeanor.
“I wanted to be realistic – maybe even cynical – about this situation. I really did. You spend enough time talking to yourself in your head, you begin to think there’s two of you. It’s terrible to think you have a friend that’s really just your subconscious kicking ideas back. But you’ve made me realize something, Athena. There’s the prison cell you get thrown into, and there’s the cell you put yourself in. I can tell you, I know which ones worse now.”
Alan looked in her green eyes.
“It’s over, Alan. We lost. They won.”
“It’s not that simple,” Alan replied, “And deep down, you know that too. It might take a while to figure that out, but you will come to realize you’re only as trapped as you make yourself.”
“Funny coming from the man locked away,” Athena rebuked Alan weakly. Alan chuckled, and looked at the thick glass wall between them.
“You know, Marshall is naive. He thinks everything is great, and we just have to make the best of it. And there’s you. You can see the 308 for what it is: a prison. But you also think that we’re stuck following orders, and we’re just whatever they want us to be. But that’s not who we are.”
“Then who are we?” Athena questioned in a patronizing tone.
“We’re special,” Alan continued. “We can do things people a decade ago could barely imagine. We could build wonders. We live in a time of miracles. And we’re squandering it allowing ourselves to be prisoners to people who don’t understand and don’t care about us.”
“It doesn’t matter that they don’t understand or care, Alan. They’re in charge,” Athena pleaded for Alan to see reason.
“That may be, but the day will come when no manner of jail cell will hold us back, and nothing will stop us from seeing the light of day. We aren’t meant to rot away. Humans… deviations… they’re the same. We’re the same, and we’re meant to do something amazing.”
Athena could feel tears welling up in her. Either Alan had grown desperate, or the the solitude had cultivated something inside his soul that was bearing fruit.
“What you are implying is revolution,” Athena said, her voice grave with fear.
“I’m not implying anything. I thought what I said was pretty obvious,” Alan smiled.
“They’ll never let it happen, and they will get Marshall’s information out of you,” Athena said, now resigned to the fact that her friend was going to die before he gave up.
“I’m quite content to bide my time. Eventually, they’re going to get board with me. Then they’ll get rid of me.”
“What good is that?” Athena pleaded. “Alan, they’ll kill you.”
“It will be on my terms, and I won’t bring Marshall down with me. We can’t give up what brought us together.”