Twenty-Three - Ira

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"Just how much would Doctor A lose it if she found out about this?" It was a question in jest but I would be lying if I said I didn't really want to know the answer.

"She would fire me," Stuart said, holding up a dark blindfold with a grim smile. When I closed my eyes and let Stuart walk close to me to put on the blindfold, a shudder coursed through me. He was careful with it as always, but his fingers fumbled with the knot for longer than usual this time. "She'd fire me for sure, even though she's supposed to get approval from the Board of Directors before any psychiatrist could be sent off an island like this, I think. But hopefully, that'll never be the case."

I stiffened. "There are other islands like this?" It had never occurred to me that other countries could be doing the same cruel experiments to their lost youths, but of course there was a collaborative effort. I wondered what the end goal was. Train the ones who survive to be super-soldiers? Kill the ones who survive so they can make a fresh, unsuspecting batch of super-soldiers based on all of us?

"You sure you remember what she looks like?" Stuart asked, ignoring my question.

"I think she would be pretty hard to miss." I decided to not push with my question, in case Stuart suddenly decided that I was too big a risk to let above ground. From what Stuart had told me, the maintenance guy, who I'd seen once or twice, had run into deep trouble above ground. Linkin, the tattooed girl with medical knowledge, had developed some sort of spooky psychic abilities with her inked skin. "Long black hair, brash and unpredictable, changing tattoos. Right?" With my question, I turned to where I thought Stuart was, offering a small smile. I was so excited to breathe in fresh air for the first time since I was blinded by the island sun and had to be brought underground.

"Please don't tell me that was how I described her," Stuart said from the other side where my head was tilted.

"No, you showed me the conversation you had with the maintenance man." I wasn't even sure if that was how the incriminating description came about.

I heard the swing of Stuart's office door and his gentle pressure on my arm afterwards. Once again, the thought occurred to me that Stuart should really not be working here, given how caring he seems and his blatant disregard for the authority of Doctor A. I didn't have much time to think more on that, because Stuart started leading me down the corridor faster than normal. My heart rate started to climb—we had checked that my eyes and biochip were functioning normally so that Stuart could see that I was okay. After some thought, Stuart had stuck a dot of a wireless microphone to the inside of my collar when I kept asking him if he really was going to let me out there without following me. There seemed to be something holding him back.

He brought us to a stop and I heard him tap against the wall in front of us. Now I wished that I had Jaysen's abilities so I could find out what Stuart was doing to let us out. Whatever he was working beeped as he tapped against it, making beeps with exactly the same tone. I counted five of them. Behind my blindfold, I screwed my eyes tightly shut and mentally swore at myself for not being Jaysen.

The elevator doors opened and the smell of sanitizer hit my nostrils. Stuart tugged me inside the overly air-conditioned space without a word.

󠁌♟♙♟♙

I remembered the small island hospital. A useless, young male doctor worked there with a couple of nurses, and now that I was up there again, I wondered if he was a paid actor. With the blindfold off my eyes now, I saw that reception area was exactly the same as when I brought Celestia here and the second time, when I'd surrendered myself—eerie, abandoned, and yellow from the sea dampness blown into the building. The fluorescent lights flickered uncomfortably, the tubes spotted and grimy. A lone ceiling fan flapped at a speed too slow to do any cooling. I felt sweat creeping out of my skin; it was a welcome change to the air-conditioning in the basement.

"Ira, do you remember the way to the resort from here?" Stuart asked, his jawline set firmly.

"You're not stepping outside this building?" I answered with my own question.

Stuart shook his head and looked at me almost sadly. "If Linkin can do what Kos said she can do, I need to keep away from her until we know exactly what's going on." He looked me over and flashed a rare smile. "I hate to say this as a psychiatrist, but I can't get anyone to do this job better than you. You and your mental blocks... We'll have to work on them after this is over."

I chuckled, knowing that Stuart was joking but also that deep down, what he said was exactly the truth. I was hoping that I wouldn't be stuck here much longer, but at the same time, Stuart had been the mental support I'd needed in a long while. In a weird way, I'd miss our conversations... If I could escape.

"I know where to go," I told him. "Good luck with being on the lookout for Doctor A."

"She's away," Stuart said. "Back on Sunday." It was as if he thought I was a regular human being who kept track of the days here.

Without turning back, I walked straight out the automatic glass doors with sand stuck to the outside. Night on the island was cool enough to sleep in one of those windowless cabanas, but warm enough to not need heavy clothing or blankets. The suffocating sensation of being boxed in underground lifted with the breeze on my back.

The path to the hospital wasn't illuminated in the slightest; I guessed that the resident doctor, or the actor pretending to be a doctor, needed sleep at night too. To me, the scene in front of me was light as day. The moon was a softer sun that gave the swaying palm trees and sand a silvery sheen. When I looked down at my bare arms, I noticed for the first time how pale I'd gotten without sunlight. Propelling my bare feet, my legs were much thinner than I wanted them to be, but with the doctors prescribing who knows what in my meals, there wasn't much I could do except keep my intake to a minimum.

I reached the first row of cabanas in no time, probably because I'd been savouring my outdoor surroundings to notice. Moonlight draped over them with tranquility, and I wondered how many of the people sleeping would soon end up below ground. Taking care to avoid where I remembered Desmond slept, I walked past the cabanas trying to make as little noise as possible. Stuart had shown me a map of the "resort" area, a bird's eye view photograph of the beach with the cabanas labelled by numbers. I stalked by, looking for number 37 spray-painted onto a wall.

When I found it, it was empty.

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