September 21, 2011:
Lament awoke with a start at the shifting at the door. He'd be thinking. Dreaming again. It wasn't good, but it was what it was. He raised the gun at the door, glancing at the spent cartridges so he'd know exactly how many he had in there in case he needed one for himself or a friend. The matte black uniform of one of the site security forces made him relax again for a moment.
"Is anyone alive in there?"
Lament debated answering, but chances were that they'd torch the room to be safe. 940 outbreaks were best answered with fire. Site-37 had been entirely immolated and rebuilt, but the infrastructure of 19 would mean that a room by room clearing would be necessary.
"Yo!" he called.
And ten minutes later, he was clear, better armed, and fed for the first time in two days. He was escorted from that wing of the site without incident, and as he sat in the infirmary, leaning against the wall while the genuine injuries were treated, he found himself wanting to stand up and walk off again. But he didn't. He curled up against the wall, closed his eyes, and slept.
Lament was woken by a hard shake to his shoulder, his hand immediately flying to his hip, reaching for his gun to shoot and kill immediately until he looked up and recognized the face. He let out a slow breath, slumping down against the wall. "Fuck, Dodridge."
"Get up, man. We're due for debriefing."
"To hell with that," Lament pushed himself up slowly and leaned against the wall. "This is why I hate active duty…" he complained, scratching his arm and nodding to Dodridge that he was ready, following him down the hall to the mess for coffee and another meal. The two of them ate quickly, barely talking.
"You still talking to the Erdrich girl at twenty-three?" Lament asked.
"Yeah," Dodridge said flatly.
Lament chewed his sandwich. "She hot?"
"Yeah, she's hot."
"You thinking of transferring back to security for a while?"
Dodridge shrugged. Lament nodded. And they finished the meal in silence.
The debriefing took maybe forty minutes. It was a regular discussion. When were you two alerted? How long did it take you to get to the site? Why did you split? Were you able to reach the site nuclear device, Agent? Were you able to successfully reseal the lock on the 682 wing, Agent? Were you, Agent? Did you, Agent? Why didn't you, Agent? Agent? Agent? Agent? Blah blah blah.
It wasn't until the end of the meeting that Lament realized that Djoric was one of the men on the panel. He waved at him. Djoric made eye contact for a moment, looked away, then left. It made him remember Sandy again, remember the times the two of them had sat together, laughing and bouncing ideas off of each other. Remember the look on 106's face as his friend was pulled into the blackness of the pipes. Remember how he always counted his bullets now.
Dodridge broke the silence. "You wanna get a beer, Lament?"
"Nah, man. I'm good."
"Suit yourself. I'm getting shit faced," Dodridge said.
Lament laughed. "Tell Alice I said hello when you talk to her."
"Yeah, whatever, asshole."
Lament smirked, Dodridge flipped him off, and he was gone. He stood in the hall for a minute, wondering if Sophie was still stationed here. They'd lost track of each other after he'd gone active, but that was just how the job was. It was why he knew Dodridge would go to Site-23 full time. And he'd end up… He didn't know what.
He sighed and turned down the hall, walking down it aimlessly, but unsurprised when he found himself again outside the office he'd hid in for two days. He pushed into it.
The cleaning crew had already been through, putting things back where they belonged. Gears' desk was back in position, as well as his old one. It feel eerily… the same. Too close. Too similar. It felt like four years ago.
He turned, looking over his shoulder as his hand dropped nervously to his sidearm, resting on it for a moment as the familiarity of the voice sank in.
He looked the same. Bald pate. Smooth, expressionless face. Clear, cold eyes.
"I understand you took refuge here during the outbreak."
"Yes, sir," Lament said.
Gears nodded to him, then walked past him to his desk, sitting down at it and opening a file. "If you have time, there's a mild, level two threat I would like to consult with you on."
"Am I cleared for that, sir?" Lament asked.
When Gears looked up at him, he imagined a smile. It was a habit he'd picked up. Implying the emotions that were never there.
"I can secure the clearance, if you wish, Agent."
Lament nodded. "Of course, Doctor."
"Very well. I can meet with you after lunch today."
Lament nodded, feeling the kind of familiarity that left a pit in your gut. He looked at the man, wondering if his new assistant had died in the attack. Killed themselves like Iceberg had. Run like him.
"Of course, Doctor. Maybe I can talk to my supervisors at Site14 and see about a temporary reassignment, if you're in need of assistance."
Gears didn't respond, but then, Lament hadn't expected him to. He turned, pushing through the door and into the hall, looking both ways and then walking toward the arboretum. Maybe Sophie was still stationed here…
Gears watched the agent leave, wishing he could have done… something. Anything at that moment. He was actually… glad to have him back. Thrilled, even. But it never touched his face. He never smiled. Never congratulated him.
He unlocked and opened his bottom, left drawer, the one that was nearly empty except for a few classified memos. It was his 'destroy' file, a place where he kept things that were sensitive and needed to be completely expunged. There was only one file there that had lasted longer than a week. He quietly reached into the drawer, pulling out a plastic bag. There was a piece of paper inside it, a splatter of blood across the faded letterhead. He looked down at it and read it again, as he had a hundred times before.
It happened. It finally happened. I was watching Agent Shelly walk down the hall, doing that one hip thing.
I just watched, then posted my work to Records. I didn't drool, or make a pass, or anything. I felt it, I felt it inside, the vague desire, but there was no reason to act on it. I'm not even upset about it, really, just…nothing.
They trust me with too much, mainly because nobody else will take it, or maybe that's been a part of it too. I looked into the files. I dug back and sent requests for the old hard copies. I know what happened, and what they want.
He's trapped, inside, he can feel, but not react to it. What could be a worse hell? And what could be better for them?
They know what they're doing. The personality type. The ones who are susceptible. His was an accident. I'm not letting it happen to me on purpose.
I know you'll be the one to find this. Tell them I'm sorry. Please? And if you've still got a soul in there, warn the next guy.
Gears stared at the note for a long moment, and for an instant, he was almost certain he felt the sensation of a tear rolling down his cheek, but when he raised his hand to it, it was dry. Bone dry.
He dropped the note back into the bottom drawer and stood. He looked over at the desk that had sat empty for the past four years. And he felt regret.
But it didn't show.