Twenty-Four - Ira

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It took some combing of the rows of cabanas until I finally found Linkin sitting by a rockpool. I could see small fish swimming past her feet, but the girl continued to stare past the waves, as if waiting for a boat in the distance. Her loose tank top flapped around her and I saw colourful tattoos across both arms. It was strange to think that they could change based on somebody's memory.

I stepped on a piece of dry seaweed to alert her to my presence. I was far enough away for her to only look up in surprise instead of hurting me with a mental invasion. She reached for something beside her that wasn't there.

"Hey," I said, the sporadic wind slapping my hair on both cheeks. After an awkward staring competition, I went with the most pressing question in my mind. "Do you know what day it is?"

"Tuesday..." Linkin's attempt at appearing composed was good, but not quite enough. When I tucked my hair behind my ears, her eyes widened and she ran her fingers over the waves inked on her arm. "You're..."

She knows your name, Ira, Stuart's voice echoed a memory. Seen what you looked like through Kos.

"I'm Ira," I said quietly, sitting on the other side of the rockpool. "You've seen me before. How?"

"I asked for Stuart," she muttered indignantly, "not another one of his friends." Linkin pulled her legs out of the rockpool with effort and started to stand up.

Was that who she thought I was? I was humoured by the idea of Stuart and I sitting by the beach and sharing conversations like real friends. "He's busy. He's one of the higher-up doctors and won't personally see new patients if someone else can take care of them."

"Bullshit." Linkin pushed herself off the sand. Her blue eyes captured frustration and panic. "He just doesn't want to be t— Wait, do you know who wrote down Jaysen's message? You know, 'cause he's blind."

"I did," I admitted.

Linkin did a 180 and squatted near me. Not close enough to appear friendly, but close enough for me to see what she was doing. She began to dip her finger in the sand.

"How is he?" she asked without looking up at me. I gave her a half-assed answer as I looked at what she continued to trace. Tiny letters in the moonlight.

Look on the inside.

My heart skipped a beat. I remembered crafting that warning note, and never thought that it'd reach anyone. I'd stolen a piece of paper from Desmond's drawer and wrote my message with the charred end of a stick. Looking up at Linkin, I wondered what to say to her, but I knew that I couldn't say it out loud because of the microphone that Stuart stuck to my t-shirt.

Before I could see it coming, Linkin snatched my arm in a tight grip. The memory of the letter disappeared with every sensation in my arm.

"So this is your trick." I looked at Linkin's tattoos and watched as the ink began to swirl. The numbness intensified and I felt like my arm was going to drop onto the dune. Stuart's concerned face began to materialize on Linkin's skin like an otherworldly animation. I blinked, and his face was gone. The numbness spread up to my shoulder and I wanted to lie down. The ocean breeze blew coldly in my face. My bed appeared on Linkin's arm, and then Celestia's face, and Jaysen's.

Then the pain hit; the pins and needles turned into knives. It took me back to the bullet in my arm when I tried to escape the human traffickers for the first time, the crude Russian men laughing and egging me on to remove the bullet, and how that same wound had throbbed when I plunged the screwdriver into Vitaly's neck. I saw the tattoos on Linkin's arm morph into the man in my nightmares, dying and sprouting blood like a fountain.

Linkin shrieked and took her hand off my upper arm and went to her own. I apprehended her with a renewed calmness as the pain faded, reminding myself that Vitaly was well and truly dead along with one of his henchmen. Linkin, on the other hand, backed away from me like I had the plague. "Who the fuck—" she breathed, finally realizing that I was not a doctor. She bolted away before I could even begin my story.

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"What the hell happened, Ira?" Stuart was waiting at the entrance to the hospital, eyes wide with bewilderment. My heart, already hammering from anxiety, sped up like a broken alarm. I'd felt fine, even amused, right after Linkin ran off. The more I thought about what had just happened, the more I panicked. What if I'd blown my chances? What if Stuart decided that he'd better take it from here now?

"I-I- She grabbed me, and it was so painful, and all I could think about was the pain, and the bullet, and the dead bodies..."

Stuart looked at me as if I'd become an alien. "Ira..."

"I'm sorry..." Blood rushed to my head. "I can try again, get her to talk—"

Until Stuart put a light jacket around my shoulders, I didn't realize I was trembling. "Let her simmer down a bit, then we'll try again. Come inside. You look like a ghost."

"Thanks for the pep talk," I muttered, letting out a big breath of relief.

"It's Monday," Stuart added, giving me a meaningful nod. "Good luck."

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Jaysen opened up his pupil-less, mismatched eyes when Stuart sent me back to the holding cell. He held up his arms in a questioning shrug when Stuart shut the door behind him.

We might have an ally above ground, I mouthed, but I didn't tell him about Stuart. Was it wishful thinking that he told me it was Monday because he knew I wanted to know how many days I had left until Doctor A would be back?

Jaysen propped himself up on his elbows and twisted his eyebrows overdramatically. His mouth opened in a wide O, Your Doctor Linkin, I told him, causing him to cast aside his sheets and run over to my bed.

"Seriously? How?" he whispered in my ear. I had to check that Celestia wasn't woken up by the sound.

I backed away so he could detect my face again. Something funny happening with her. Stuart sent me above ground to check—

The door burst open and the lights came to life without warning. "Celestia, I forgot—" Doctor Nita's voice drifted in.

I did the first thing that came to mind to lessen our suspiciousness. I pulled Jaysen's face close and only left a hair's distance between our lips.

"Shit," Jaysen said, pulling away when the doctor came into the room. His face was a mortified red and he avoided Celestia's shell-shocked stare as he went back to his bed. Celestia turned to glare at me, the skin around her gill-slits cracked and splitting.

I could never forget that look of betrayal.

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