Four - Ira

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I leapt off my bed when the nurses Celestia back on a wheelchair. Knowing the space better than they did, I linked my arm with hers and helped her hobble back to the bed. The nurses didn't object. I may have been the one to cause the most noise, but they knew that I would never try anything funny with Celestia around.

"Ira," she croaked.

"Hey, you feeling alright?" I patted her arm lightly as I helped her to the bed. Even through her clothing, I could feel the dryness underneath. "Water?"

Celestia's problems had worsened. What began as daily checkups on her rare condition turned into frequent trips to the infirmary, where she stayed for days on end. A nurse told me to make sure that Celestia gets a regular dose of water - a liter an hour, wake her up if I have to. I began to fill up the jug on Celestia's nightstand as soon as the nurse began talking.

I waited for the nurses to close the door to our cell before turning back to Celestia. "I hope your time out of this pitch-black room was refreshing," I half-joked. It must be good to be able to spend some time in the light, even if the light was from a lab. Celestia gave up the light in her old cell to see that I was okay, just like I had checked myself into hospital when my eyes began to act up, instead of looking for a way out. I still remembered when she was trying to map out her new room, her flaky hands trembling in the dark.

Celestia shook her head, her dark matted hair flicking side to side with a dash of violence. "I feel horrible," she whimpered. "Don't you?"

I'm alright now, I wanted to confess, but bit my tongue. "Yeah, but we'll get through this, Celestia." I settled at that.

"Someone died in the infirmary this morning."

I knew what she was thinking. She was always wondering where her place in the queue to die was. Admittedly, I sometimes wondered the same thing for myself.

"I'm sorry," I said, but didn't know what else I could offer. One of my first memories was watching people suffer and die, and my life was the consolation prize. Even though Celestia came from an abusive family, death wasn't something that crossed her mind until now. "You're not going to die, Celestia," I said, shifting my weight on the edge of her bed.

She only grimaced. Celestia pressed her fingers against her eyelids - a bizarre action in place of rubbing her eyes raw. "Easy for you to say, Ira. You're the only one the doctors don't drug up to the point where you can't walk."

"How do you know?" Then again, I did know that I was one of the rare test subjects they kept completely lucid. Once, Celestia had mentioned that Stuart had something to do with that, but didn't say more when I pressed.

Celestia let out a tired sigh. "You have some sort of superhuman willpower. Drugs have no hold over you. You killed two people and escaped human trafficking when you were nine, for god's sake."

I let that sit in the air, rubbing my face clear of that memory. It was something that Celestia clearly admired about me, despite being told repeatedly that survival was ugly. Sometimes I had trouble deciding the worse experience: here or my childhood in stark-white Siberia.

"Sorry," Celestia said.

"Remember your water." I patted her shoulder and walked over to my cot. There was a faint stream of light casting shadows only I could see, and that light was about as much as my pupils could tolerate. Stuart had told me that this wouldn't change unless I started cooperating during my checkups. That probably meant no poison in my food until they could figure out how to manipulate my DNA to make my pupils flexible again.

I almost didn't hear Celestia mutter, "They took me to the surface." I thought she'd fallen asleep. Maybe she was telling me in a dream. Her mind was a prison at times.

"Where? How?" I was already a million times more alert.

I could hear Celestia's breathing getting heavier. It might almost be time for her liter of water. "The ocean. They let me out into the ocean, like a real fish. I swam close to the surface, but got dehydrated real fast. A diver had to bring me back."

"Saltwater," I muttered, settling into bed. It squeaked a little.

Celestia sighed. "Yeah. They told me my osmoregulation isn't adaptable enough."

"That's why they keep us, Celestia," I said, "because we're not enough. Imperfect. Science doesn't accept imperfect."

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"Celestia is worried she'll die," I confessed to Stuart.

"Don't worry," he said, "she's already told Doctor Nita. We are doing everything we can to improve her condition, believe me. If Doctor Nita thinks it's necessary, she will refer Celestia for more regular therapy."

I only huffed and stared at Stuart's tape recorder. Without the blinking light, there was no way of knowing whether or not he bothered with the protocol. When days blended into each other, I wondered if Stuart came to see me more than he needed to. He seemed to enjoy digging into my psyche, especially when I said things that stumped him.

"And what about you, Ira? Do you notice how you keep bringing our conversation back to Celestia? What are you feeling right now?"

I was very well aware of it and for good reason. However, I did scan my body for sensations, as Stuart often asked of me.

"I feel nothing," I said slowly. It was not a lie.

Stuart smiled to himself and shook his head. "No, Ira, that's your anxiety speaking. It doesn't want you to feel. Do you want to never feel anything?"

I shrugged, then rolled my eyes. I always seemed to forget that he couldn't see me. "I don't know."

"We want you to process whatever it is your body doesn't want to feel so you can get better, right?"

"Better?" I threw back at him. "I think I might be better if you'll leave me alone. You and the rest of the doctors."

Stuart pursed his lips and looked genuinely sad. "You know I want to help you, Ira."

"I honestly can't tell you if I know that for sure."

"You know, I've been telling the head doctor to hold off more testing, that you need more therapy." He straightened up in his chair. Stuart frowned as his phone started buzzing in his pocket, but I knew that he wanted to finish our conversation before he went to attend to whatever it was. "I really am trying my best. I need you to understand that. There's not much more I can do."

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