Alan wondered what Elizabeth would say seeing him in his current predicament. She was the optimist of the relationship. And while he had considered himself the cynic, the events of the past few weeks were now starting to nudge him in another direction. Without darkness, light would have no meaning, but darkness was just as invisible without light. The genetic deviations – as the Department called them – were living in dark times, that much could be seen. But there was a sliver of light beaming underneath the doorway. Alan wondered what was on the other side.
Alan hadn’t seen Athena since their last conversation. He wasn’t sure how much of what he said to her had been what she needed to hear or just desperate bargaining for her to see the light that Alan was starting to get glimpses of. Alan mused that it all bordered on insanity. He was in a no-win situation; a prisoner in a top-secret government installation. But as much as Athena wanted to persuade Alan that he was stuck, that his life was not his own, Alan felt a sense of freedom in his cell.
In solitude, Alan had found a new sense of himself. There was something in him that nothing on the outside world could hope to affect. He felt untouchable in his new center. And if he couldn’t be touched, he didn’t have to fall apart at the thought of prison or torture or death. There was a little light in the crack of the doorway, and that meant that darkness would never fully win. But it also meant something more than that. He had to keep the light from going out.
“I’m going to try one last time,” Athena was standing in front of Alan’s cell, a look of agonizing desperation in her face. She was overwhelmed with the option in front of her. “I’m running out of options here, Alan.”
“I thought you were in control,” Alan said sarcastically, not in a mean tone but levity.
“I thought I was too,” Athena replied, exhausted. “Maybe you were right about me.”
“That would be a first,” Alan smiled. “I don’t even know if I’m right about me.”
“They told me this is my last try,” Athena started again. “Then they’ll start Phase 2.”
“Oh? Phase 2,” Alan joked, “Sounds terrifying.”
“It is,” Athena replied, her eyes on the concrete floor. “It is, and I don’t want you to go through it, Alan. You can’t.”
“That’s not really up to me, Athena,” Alan remarked.
“It is,” Athena pleaded, tears starting to well up in her eyes. “It is up to you. If you tell them what you know, they won’t have to do it.”
“Then they’ll kill me, and they’ll kill Marshall and everyone close to him. This is how you make people disappear. It’s the easiest way. You don’t incarcerate them forever. You don’t re-assign them to another camp. When they’ve lost their value, you kill them. Once I give them what they want, I have nothing left to offer.”
“Not nothing,” Athena replied, pain written on her face.
“It’s good to see they haven’t completely bought you,” Alan replied, his head resting up against the concrete wall next to his cot. “Maybe one day that will start something that ends this whole mess.”
Alan lifted his hand. Athena’s shirt collar pulled upward and wiped the tears from her eyes. Alan put his hand down, and the collar rolled back down.
“I’m not a martyr. I’m just tired of not caring, and this seems the only way to start,” Alan explained. “You’re not going to get any information out of me, Athena. I don’t hold you responsible for what happens next, but I do hope you’ll see now: you won’t have control until you admit you don’t.”
Athena gave Alan a quizzical look, but it soon faded to sadness. Alan was essentially accepting Phase 2.
Alan looked up and Athena was gone.
“Put this on,” Athena said, as she threw a black uniform onto Alan’s cot.
Alan cleared his throat.
“Oh, right,” Athena replied, a red hue of blush forming around her cheeks.
Athena turned away while Alan took off his prison garb and slipped on the black uniform.
“So: Phase 2?” Alan asked. Athena nodded solemnly.
“We can still stop this, Alan. You don’t have to go through with it if you just cooperate with them,” Athena pleaded as she took Alan out of the cell.
“I can’t, Athena,” Alan said.
Athena’s hands shook as the carbon-fiber shackles were locked to Alan’s hands. He looked into her eyes and saw her anguish. Athena couldn’t handle the eye contact and looked away. She put a hand on Alan’s shoulder and led him down the hall.
Athena’s skin felt flush as they got closer to C block, the experimental wing of the installation. At first, her heart was racing as her anxiety grew. But there came a tipping point, where she felt her emotions fall over the side of a wall; from anxiety to anger. How dare they make her choose this path?
Athena felt the remote in her pocket pulsing. Alan’s words were echoing in her brain. The first step to taking back control was admitting you were out of control. They stood at a three-pronged juncture in the hallway. Forward would take them to the interrogation rooms Alan had been in before. On the right was the hallway that led to the exit. And the left. The left would take them to the experimental wing.
Athena cleared her throat, and pushed the button on the remote. The fluorescent lights overhead shut down, leaving a trim of red lights on the ground to barely illuminate the few inches in front of their faces. Alan felt himself pushed to his right, into a side room. He could barely see Athena’s outline, but he could hear her frantic breathing.
“Listen, we don’t have much time. I’m getting you out of here before the normals scramble your brain, okay?” Athena said quickly, as if the answer wasn’t insane and suicidal.
“This is crazy, you know that, right?” Alan replied. Athena regained some sense of vision in the little closet they had rushed into. She pulled bits of cloth off of Alan’s black uniform revealing an Operator’s disguise.
“This is crazy.”
“Yeah, you keep saying that,” Athena said, her voice a little annoyed. “Did you think I was going to let them scramble you?”
“I didn’t know what to think,” Alan said.
Athena shoved a tactical helmet on Alan’s head. She tapped it playfully, then pulled Alan close to her face.
“Don’t make me regret this, Alan.”
“We need to get Castor and Nick,” Alan replied.
Athena shook her head, “Are you crazy? I didn’t bust you out so you could go back to the detention block. There’s no way. Just take this hall down to the exit, tell them your number, and they’ll send you wherever you want to go. Just get as far away from here as possible. Run and hide. Don’t let them find you, okay? I’m going to be really pissed off if I hear they caught you.”
“I can’t leave you. I can’t leave them. I can’t leave Marshall.”
“Oh my god, I’m starting to hate this self-righteous, martyr bullshit. Just let me save you. Go have a long and uneventful life somewhere in the boonies, and forget all this crap we’ve been through. Don’t waste this.”
“You know I can’t.”
Athena rolled her eyes, pulled Alan to her lips and kissed him like they’d never meet again. Athena pushed him back, Alan’s eyes wide in confused wonder.
“If you tell Marshall I kissed you, I’ll kill you myself.”
Alan stumbled out of the closet and walked as fast as he could down the hall. Athena walked out of the closet, the light still dim, as the system started coming back online. Alan looked back at her. Athena shook her head no. She wasn’t coming along for the ride.
“I can’t,” she mouthed, and she turned away toward the C block hall.
Alan realized the minute the lights came back on in his hallway, the cameras would be back on him. The disguise wouldn’t last forever. He walked as swiftly as possible without feeling conspicuous. The wall opened up to reveal another circular room with an Operator standing in the center.
“Where to -?”
“Number 227,” Alan replied to her. “I’m reporting to precinct 308.”
The woman nodded, and held her hand out between them. A blue pool opened, and Alan stepped through.
Pulled apart, scrunched together, then spit out onto the cool, wet grass of the 308’s courtyard. He’d never get the hang of teleportation. The pool closed up in a flash of blue light, the air swirling around him in a small vortex. A cold fog remained like a blanket around him.
“What in the hell is going on out here?” Alan heard Finch’s voice call out from the lobby.
The fog cleared and Finch found himself looking down at Alan, both them looking at each other with terrified stares.
“Well, this isn’t good.”