October 9th, 2016 | 9:56 PM
"It's twenty-two hundred. Quiet d-" Officer Rance Roberts is interrupted mid-sentence by his coworker. He turns around, scowling. "What? Are the clocks off again?"
The man in front of him is Joy. Joy Rice. Rance always found that name peculiar, especially for a 250-pound prison guard who hadn't smiled in at least four days. Hell, the man had always had this characteristic facial expression insinuating he didn't even feel joy, so to have it as a legal first name was always even more perplexing.
"No, the clocks aren't off," Joy says quietly, leading Rance out of the hall doorway and back into the security office. "You're just not doing that anymore, remember?"
Rance bites his tongue. "Last I checked, I had two weeks left."
"That's a courtesy, to allow you to transfer sites and get rehired if you want. You're effectively on probation."
"…What? Why didn't anyone tell me that means I can't do anything?"
Joy sighs and takes Rance by the arm, guiding him over to the lesser-used end of the security feed desk. "You can still monitor the feeds as normal. Just don't interact with the D-classes."
Rance feels his pulse quickening with frustration. "Do you guys realize that you never actually told me why you fired me? Or why I'm being treated like-"
"Shh, shh. We already gave you your report, Roberts; you know that."
"'Take some time to yourself due to emotional stress factors', was it?" he hisses, lowing his voice and leaning toward the younger man. "Joy, I don't want to be unprofessional with you as my supervisor, but you can't fire someone because their life got a little worse in a few places! I'm pretty sure that's not even within the rules!"
Joy's eyes narrow. "Roberts, so help me God, you know I am on your side in this," he says, barely audibly. "The demotion is what it is. And you're not fucking fired, so stop over-dramatizing. We told you multiple times — and it was clear in your paperwork, or so I thought — that this isn't a punishment. You need some time to get your head together, get your finances together, get yourself feeling better."
Rance puts his head in his hands and sniffs, clearing his throat. "Alright, look."
"Put your hands down. Don't get stressed."
"Then don't condescend me." His mouth forms a straight line as he inhales sharply. "Just listen to me. I am going to be completely blunt with you in that I think last month's false allegations are affecting the other staff's reasoning in this."
"Oh for fuck's sake, Roberts. Don't do this to yourself."
"How about you don't do it to me?" he snaps. "I have all the fucking counter-evidence, which the Ethics Committee so helpfully neglected to even read until twenty days after they became aware of the case. I've got someone running around the entire site telling people I'm a rapist with no evidence except one mouthy D-class blatantly lying, and you fucks respond by demoting me for 'health reasons'? Do you think I'm a fucking idiot? Do you think I can't put two and two together? You're getting rid of me because it's the fucking easy option!"
"Lower your voice immediately, unless you want to clock out early and hand me your badge."
Rance pauses and grits his teeth. "Very well," he mutters after several seconds.
Joy leans forward. "Seriously, Rance, go home. I know you're better than this. Come back tomorrow, finish your two weeks, and then move to another site and move on."
"Joy, I don't want to go home. I want to feel stable again. I want my job back. I never did any of those things."
"That's not why you were laid off, and if you won't believe me on that, then I don't know what to tell you."
"Fine. Yeah, yeah, I get it."
"Now get out of here for the night. Sleep on a normal person's schedule for once."
Rance nods. "Alright, alright. I'm going." He stands up and unclips his access card from his shirt collar. "So… you need this?" He knows his tone sounded hostile. He doesn't care.
"No. Get out. Go vent to your girlfriend."
"Oh, that's a professional thing to add," he spits. He slams the door behind him, leaving Joy no time to retort.
When he's finished pacing by the door to his quarters, he opens the door.
"Oh. You scared me."
Rance grins. "Hey Jane."
She smiles, but looks downward and sinks further into the bed as he closes the door behind him. "I'm so sorry I haven't been spending the night," she says, her soft voice muffled by her fingers.
"It's okay. I know why. Or, at least, I think I know why."
She sighs as he sets his briefcase on the table and unzips his vest. "I know. And I should have talked to you sooner. About it."
"Or in general." It's his attempt at humor.
"So you're a lesbian and I'm a man instead of a butch now. I get it."
She laughs lowly, but it's hollow. "It's… not the same as when we met, no."
"I understand. I'm always going to love you and want you, but- oh, fuck."
"That- that sounded manipulative. Saying I love you."
"No it didn't. You can be honest. Don't beat yourself up, I- I hate it when you do that to yourself."
He nods and takes a breath, slowly sitting on the edge of the bed. "It's been three years, you and I. And I'm not what- I'm not who I was when you and I fell in love. You like girls. And that's fine. I mean, hell, it's actually better that you don't still see me as a girl and thus aren't attracted to me anymore. Means it's working." He smiles halfheartedly and leans back on the bed. "I understand."
"It's not only that. Not only you." She tanks his hand in hers. "I'm not happy here."
He winces internally, if only because he knows he's not in an emotional state to deal with someone else's problems. He can't give her what she deserves. "What do you mean by that? Here at this site? Or my room, I mean- I can clean the room-"
"The Foundation, Rance. I don't like it here."
"Do you want to transfer departments?"
"No, I want to leave. I want to be normal again. I want a nine-to-five desk job that won't get me killed or amnesticized. I want to be a stable human being again. I want my life back." She's crying, ever-so-slightly. Rance sits up and puts an arm around her while she takes a breath to continue. "I don't like what we do. I don't like thinking about- it."
"About what, honey?"
That makes her pull away a little. "About us. I don't like thinking about locking anomalous people up. I don't like thinking about the things the Ethics Committee approves. I don't like thinking about the fact that the person I'm dating gets paid to guard human test subjects. I don't like it. I want to be a good person again."
"No." He swallows. "You are a good person. We are good people."
She looks into his eyes for only a second before turning away again. "I'm not going to argue. We're just- we're too different. We're different people. I can't stay here." She sniffs and takes a tissue off the bedside table. "I actually only came here to say goodbye."
"I quit. I told the directors that I quit. I'm leaving tomorrow."
His heart thumps in his chest. "But- don't you know-"
"I know, Rance."
"They amnesticize you. You're not going to remember anything."
"They implant false memories. It was expensive, that option, but I don't care."
"Jane, you won't remember anything. The site, living here, anything you've ever worked on or with or for… it's all going to be gone."
"Me. You met me here."
She sobs again. "I know."
"You're going to forget me. We- we met each other here." He swallows. It tastes like bile.
"I have to, Rance. I'm so sorry."
"All because of- because of what, some guidelines of- what, fucking- arbitrary moral boundaries?"
"Oh God, please don't fight with me over it-"
"I'm not- fuck, fuck." He's angry. He feels it rising up his spine. "I have a lot to say. And I won't." He picks up his bag and vest again. He doesn't know where he's going. "I won't. Just, uh… Let yourself out. The door re-locks on its own."
"Please, I don't want it to be like this-"
"I'm just being awful." His eyes are watering. His hands are shaking. "You don't deserve to be around me when I'm like this, and I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
She wails. "God, please God, please don't leave- I didn't want this to happen…"
"In twenty-four hours you won't remember me, Jane. It doesn't matter. I love you. I always will. Goodbye." He closes the door. The hallway light is blinding, and even moreso refracted through his tears.
Rance sits down at his old desk and lowers his briefcase onto the table. He hasn't been here since at least three months ago, and it's already dusty. He's never been quite sure why he left it, come to think of it; they wanted him to cut his paperwork hours and increase his guard hours, but it's not like they took his computer access in here away until the very end. Just the other day, actually, all thanks to his 'removal'. But he knew he could still get in. They didn't actually do anything. They just told him not to use the computer, and trusted he'd obey them.
He starts by turning off the lights. He only wants the glow of the monitor. He doesn't want to see the placard by the door; he doesn't want to see the picture of him and his coworkers on the right-side wall; he doesn't want to look at himself in the left corner's mirror. He doesn't want to be aware.
He boots up the computer, the Windows startup screen casting a cold blue glow on his reddened face. He sighs and opens his bag. His laptop. His change of clothes. Four unused hypodermic needles. A spray-can of Class-As, which he had anyway. Four bottles of Type III Class-C, which he took from the cell block's medical wing. That was what they used on the D-classes. That was the type that was capable of wiping away a month of memories. A month, back to early September. September, a few days before it all started. Before D-9241 got in a fight with him. Before Safety Officer Laurel Gailey watched them on the feeds. Before 9241 lied. Before Gailey pretended it was sex. Before Gailey went snooping in his home life and using everything she could find against him. Before any of it.
But first, he wants to look again. He doesn't want to look again, but it's there. It's been there for weeks. He wants to know. He has to know if he got anything wrong. And as he readies the bottles and syringes, he opens a folder on the hard drive.
He wipes his arm with a pad of rubbing alcohol and rubber-bands it. He's nervous. He puts the capped syringe and bottle back down on the table. He wants to calm down. He needs to calm down. He reaches for the spray-can of Class-As. He's never taken amnestics before. He doesn't know if it'll smell bad, or how close to his face he has to spray for it to work. The can is just a plain steel one with the typical compressed substance explosion and fire warning on the side. He exhales deeply, shakes it, extends his arm its full length away from his face, closes his eyes, and presses the nozzle. He can feel a thin mist hit his face. He takes as deep a breath in as he can; it's salty, almost. Salty and cold and artificial. It stings on his tongue and in his nostrils and down into his lungs where it burns.
He lies down on the couch, can in hand. How does it work? What is he supposed to forget? When will he forget? Of all the times he'd done this to other people during interrogations and security work, he still had no idea what it would do to him.
His mind wanders to thoughts of Jane. When he was young, only early 20s. When they'd both just been hired and had both just moved on-site. Site-42, where he might be now, but he can't quite recall. When he was happy and energetic and in love; when he took her to cheesy dinner dates in the cafeteria and drank hard cider with her every other night, when their sex was lively and using handcuffs was fun instead of a reminder of restraining people on the cell block, and wearing a strap-on felt like two lesbians enjoying each other instead of a man trying to have a penis he didn't have. When he felt normal. Before he was unhappy. Before he hated his job. Before he got slandered. Before he got fired.
He extends his arm again, sprays, and inhales. This time he tries to focus on how it feels: that subtle sensation of the chemical landing in freezing droplets on the interior surface of his lungs, the slight blurring of his vision, the heaviness of his head, the tingling of his skin.
When he realizes he doesn't know why he's in his office, he stumbles up and prepares the syringe and bottle again. When the needle pierces his vein, he doesn't wince. He just smiles. It's the only pleasure he's felt in weeks.
Anywhere from ten to thirty minutes later, he realizes his pager is buzzing. It's on the floor, in his pants pocket. He tries to stand, but he's met with a fuzzy, absent sensation in his legs. He can move his toes, but he can't get up. He can't swing his legs over the edge of the couch. He's freezing-cold, and his clothes are off. He knows that he's probably the one who took them off, but he doesn't know why they're off. He must have fallen asleep in his office.
12:00 midnight. That's what the wall clock says: 00:00. How long has he been asleep? He tries to lean over and grab his pager out of his pants, but as he bends his arm, he's met with a dull ache, and realizes there's a rubber band around his bicep and a puncture mark on his vein. His pulse thumps in his chest. He takes a deep breath and reaches for his pants, wincing. His vision is blurry, and he feels like he's about to vomit.
Twelve minutes later, there's a knock on his door.
"I- I can't get up," he calls out in a rasping voice. "I'm sick-"
The door handle jiggles for several seconds before it gives way and opens. Rance doesn't respond. It's two doctors and a man he doesn't recognize. "I'm disappointed," the man says, much to his confusion. The other two shush him in hushed tones, and he leaves the room with a grumble.
"What- what happened? What's wrong?" Rance asks, eyes wide and looking for the man. "Why did he say-"
"Don't talk. Just keep your head down and your heart rate down. That's what we need to do here, okay?" one of the doctors says. Rance nods and winces as they move him to a stretcher.
The journey down into the medical wing is obscured by the piece of cloth one of the doctors put over his face. He assumes it's to protect his eyes from the brightness, but it just makes him feel scared and confused. When they take it off, it feels like it's been hours, and he winces at the sterile white lighting of the room. To his surprise, there's someone in his room. It's the same man from earlier.
"Hey," Joy says, glowering.
Rance wraps the bed covers around himself instinctively. "W-why are you here? Who are you? Do you know what happened?"
Joy scoffs. "If I told you what happened, it would burst your bubble. And you already forgot me. Impressive. I'm a little offended, I must say."
"W-what is that supposed to mean-"
They're interrupted by someone at the door. "Mr. Rice, please do not converse with him if he doesn't want it right now. We can explain everything later. Health needs to come first."
Rance looks over at the nurse. "Wait, can you- can you explain what's wrong? Why don't I remember anything?"
The nurse sits down in one of the chairs by his bed, clipboard in hand. "You self-amnesticized, and rather dangerously at that. To tell you any further would go against your own wishes, but please note that theft and unlawful ingestion of amnestics is prosecuted as a drug use charge in this organization. Were you aware of that, Mr. Roberts?"
"H- how- where's the proof?"
"The proof is in your symptoms and the presence of the substances at the scene of your retrieval."
He stares blankly, not daring to shoot a glance over at Joy. "I- who the hell told you, then?"
"We received a call from Adam Leeward indicating that you had paged him about being dangerously sick. You didn't object to medical attendance."
"Adam told you? Wait, I- if I did that, then how do you all know?"
"I don't follow-"
Joy interrupts her. "Rance here was unhappy about some things going on in his life."
"I wouldn't have done that. I don't just try to-" He laughs. "…Forget my problems. I'm sure I wouldn't. This had to be foul play."
The nurse bites her lip and writes on the clipboard.
Rance feels anger rising in him as he stares blankly ahead. "Who-" He clenches his fists. "Was it you?" He looks over at Joy. "I don't know you, you know, and you were snapping at me for no reason earlier in the office. Don't think I'm dumb, I see the way you look at me-"
"Oh Christ," Joy says, standing out of his chair. He looks at the nurse and clears his throat. "Uh, I'll be in the hallway. If I'm needed."
She nods and keeps writing. "You'll be briefed on what this means for your position and status in several hours. For now, rest. Sleep if you can. Ring the bell if you need one of the personnel to attend to you." She turns the lights off.
"…So you're just gonna keep me here? What the hell is this about?"
"I'm just saying I don't understand anything that's going on here. You're costing me my job because of- what, me being sick?"
"Sir, the evidence in your office was quite clear." The doctor sighs lowly and takes a seat. "If you just cooperate, this will be easier."
Rance sits upright in bed. There's something about that phrasing that makes him shudder.
"You're really better-off resting. I'm just here to monitor your readings."
"I don't need 'monitoring'. I'm not a skip."
"You are a patient, and you're in danger until the amnestics fully leave your body. You're on testosterone and antidepressants, correct?"
"…I'm on testosterone?"
The doctor looks at his clipboard concernedly. "You started hormone therapy in this site's medical wing on September 12th, 2016. Do you not recall this?"
He looks down at his body. It looks almost the same, if a little flatter. He hasn't looked at his face yet. "I mean, I- I don't remember."
"What's your name, then?"
"There's your problem," the doctor says under his breath. "Listen to me. Are you comfortable talking about this right now?"
His heart rate increases, and he sees it on the monitor by the bed. He swallows nervously. "I guess."
"You amnesticized yourself with an extremely dangerous and potent experimental amnestic. There is a reason that only D-classes are permitted to use Type Three Class C. It takes a month off your memory, and a month is the safest we can go back with just one bottle of one substance. Does that make sense? If we wanted to take a month off your memory, the safe way would be a four-step two-day process with total medical supervision and sedation. But you did it by sticking a needle in your arm."
He stares blankly.
"Does this make sense to you?"
"So I- I forgot a month."
"There's stuff that happened in a month… and I forgot it all."
"You did it to yourself. This is proven in both communication records and situational evidence."
The doctor adjusts himself in his chair and sets his clipboard down. "We don't know. But if you did it, you must have had a good reason."
"Something must've happened that I wanted to forget," he mutters. "Do you know what it is?"
"That's the question, Mr. Roberts. The situation proves that you didn't want yourself to know what it was."
He touches his stomach and arms under the covers. He's hairy. He must not have shaved recently. "So during this month- I started hormone therapy?"
"You cited your desire to transition to male, yes."
"And my name- is still Alice?" He winces.
"No, it's Rance. You had your name legally changed to Rance Roberts on September 17th, 2016."
"Fuck. Why would I have wanted to forget that? Why would I have-"
"I'm not insinuating nor attempting to insinuate that your gender transition period is the event you were trying to forget. Clearly it's a positive thing for you. Unfortunately, it was in the time period that you decided to wipe out. We offer counseling for accidental erasure of memories-"
"I don't care about counseling. I just need to think." He puts his head in his hands, desperate to know why he would have done this to himself.
"I can monitor your vitals remotely if you're more comfortable with that. You need to sleep, frankly."
"Sure," Rance mutters, gripping the bedsheets with white knuckles. His stomach is churning. His head is pounding. Every breath feels like an electric shock.
The doctor leaves, closing the door and turning the lights off again. He knows that, when he wakes, people he can't remember will be trying to fire him for theft of amnestics.
Rance falls into a dreamless, angry sleep; as he closes his eyes, he realizes achingly that he wouldn't be opposed to never opening them again.
And more than anything, he wishes he could remember.