To Rock the Cradle

Dr. Aaron Fluer was fresh off a plane and a surprisingly short briefing. He sized up his patient and the room that contained her. She had tossed brown hair that floated above a weak brow. A smirk contorted half of her face as her green eyes frolicked around the room. There wasn’t much for her to look at besides Aaron. The stark room was a deep black just as the halls outside were. Still she took little notice of him.

“Well, where should we start?” asked Aaron.

His patient’s apathetic gaze reached him.

“We can start by introducing ourselves,” he continued. “My name is–”

“Ah ah ah, did you forget where you are already?” his patient asked pointing to the number 21322 on her shirt. “No names in the black, only IDs.” She eyed the Doctor’s ID tag. “Nice to meet you A-275. They give you a letter to keep you different from us you know. They don’t want you forgetting, and they especially don’t want us forgetting.”

The Doctor had been issued an LCD name tag upon arrival that displayed his name. He looked down at it now and saw that it was black. “Okay perhaps not your name, but how about a name?” Aaron stretched his tight neck from side to side. He was still sore from the C-130.

“21322 suits me just fine. What would you like me to call you? A-275?”

“Normally I do not like to build formal barriers when orienting these relationships,” The Doctor said as he fought back a yawn, “but for now Doctor will suffice.”

“Does that excite you?” 21322 asked as she sat back deeper in her chair.

“Of what precisely are you inquiring?” The Doctor crossed his hands in front of his face causing his fingers to cast bar-like shadows over his features.

“The entitlement that you are trying to wear like a crown,” 21322 laughed. “Is that it? You think you’re better than me?”

The Doctor’s lips twitched slightly. He looked into 21322’s eyes trying to understand the girl. She couldn’t be much older than nineteen. Young people seemed to be common here, but not this young. The girl was also smart. The Doctor came in knowing that he was at a disadvantage, but so did the girl, and the Doctor was already running scared. He said, “I’m sorry. I–”

21322 cut him off, “You don’t know why you’re here do you?” She made a predatorial sucking sound with her mouth. “Psychologist I bet. Probably one of the best in your field, certainly the best in the military, but they just threw you in a room with me and asked you to figure it out, didn’t they?”

The Doctor knew she wasn’t wrong. “I’m sorry,” he said with eyebrows raised in a genuine look of apology. “I got here less than an hour ago. They never hesitate to throw you to the wolves.” The Doctor splayed his palms upwards in a request for mercy from 21322. “I haven’t even had a chance to look at your case file.”

“Nor will you ever. That isn’t how this place works. They haven’t even given you my case file. My case file says I exist and for all intents and purposes I don’t anymore. Neither do you chief. Not while you’re here.”

The Doctor forced a smile. “Let’s not worry so much about me. Let’s focus on you and why you are here with me.”

“I am here because I will not cooperate. That is also why you are here. Right now we can’t talk about me without talking about you. We are linked in more ways than you know,” her voice carried hints of laughter.

The Doctor fumbled through his satchel looking for the pen and notepad that should have been there. “And how do you suppose that?”

“I don’t suppose,” She said with disgust. “I understand, I interpret, I intuit, but I don’t suppose. They didn’t give me this number because I suppose.”

“Let’s talk about that. How did it make you feel when they took away your name?” With his pen and pad absent he resigned himself to committing his notes to memory.

“Now you’re trying to ask the real question aren’t you? You want to know why I am here. This isn’t my first dance with your kind. The first one, a psychiatrist, said I was schizophrenic. He said a six year old girl was a schizophrenic. He put me on enough drugs to fuck up a horse, sent my head spinning and flying in fifty directions and didn’t wait for me to land.”

She didn’t sound nineteen. “You were a diagnosed schizophrenic when you were six? And you were prescribed medications?” he asked with equal parts curiosity and anger.

“Yes sir. I know, I know, later I found out that the guy was more of a nut job than he thought I was.”

The Doctor’s lips narrowed. “How many visits did you have with him before he made his diagnosis?” His eyes were as big as saucers and his face was tense and fierce.

“Would you believe I only had two? My mother was impressed with his quick results.” 21322 rolled her eyes before returning her gaze sharply to the Doctor. “She probably even slept with him to knock a few hundred off the bill. I stopped the medication after a month, those pills didn’t help anyway. All they did was make me stupid. I never took the shit they prescribed when I was eleven either. I just started to keep my mouth shut and flushed one or two or twelve down the toilet every morning.”

“Another psychiatrist?”

“Yeah, this one actually knew what he was doing.” 21322’s right hand began to move and fiddle in the air. “This one actually took the time to come up with his bullshit diagnosis. I kind of liked him, but that doesn’t change the fact that when it came to me, he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.”

“What about your father?” the Doctor asked.

“You don’t worry about my father.”

The Doctor started chewing on a fingernail and fidgeting awkwardly in his chair. Patients didn’t normally make him nervous. This wasn’t the first time he had encountered a double diagnosed schizophrenic who didn’t believe their diagnoses. But there was something about the way 21322 carried herself and an odd certainty in her eyes. It cut a hole right through him. The Doctor didn’t enjoy the lack of information either. He needed the other side of the story. Where did they go wrong? What mistakes could he avoid? He didn’t even know her name. The Doctor could feel a weight on his chest like claustrophobia. He needed to get out.

“You okay Doc?” she asked raising an eyebrow.

His face had gone pale. “Yeah, sorry, but I think this is where we will conclude the preliminary examination.” He began to get up shakily. “I can’t take notes without pen and paper.” The room was turning hostile. “I need my notes.”

She had the look of someone who had just won and won big. Her grin was manic and unflinching.

“It was nice meeting you,” the Doctor’s voice trembled. “You’ll see me again soon.” He could barely make it out of the room.

21322 called out after the Doctor, “What’s the matter? Could you feel it?” she laughed. “You could, couldn’t you?” The door slammed shut.

Aaron almost managed to compose himself in the black-walled halls before he fell to the ground. Was it a panic attack? He had never had one before, but it felt like he knew one should. He gathered up the pieces of his shattered thoughts and stood himself up. He had to see Donnelly. He had to know more about 21322.

#

Donnelly was his point of contact on the base. Aaron only shook hands with him briefly upon arrival before he was shuffled off to his appointment, but he was the only person Aaron knew here. He was the only person to go to.

The base was divided into white and dark, the keepers and the secrets. There were names here on the white side and this door was marked Lieutenant Colonel Frank Donnelly. Aaron’s knock was not polite. The door buzzed open quickly. Donnelly sat half crooked over a stale cup of coffee. He was a barrel chested man in his late thirties. His nose was hooked giving him a sinister appearance, but Fluer already knew him to be a housecat that could never live up to the ferocity of his rank.

“How did you like our little patient?” Donnelly asked levelly.

“Permission to speak freely sir?” Fluer asked with only a small hint of formality in his voice.

Donnelly’s brow furrowed. “Of course, is everything okay?”

Fluer had swooped into Donnelly’s office and was now leaning forward on his desk. “No, quite frankly it is not okay. Throw me to the wolves, that’s fine I expect as much, but don’t throw me into that.”

Donnelly would have had to crane up to look at him, and instead relinquished his coffee and stood up in retreat. “That bad huh?”

“I don’t know,” his words were venom that had to be spit out, “you tell me?”

“I told you what I could. This is how we do things down here.” He paced behind his desk avoiding contact with Fluer. The space was neat, and it contained very few artifacts of life, just a few stacks of paper, several books and manuals, and a couple dozen filing cabinet drawers. There were no windows. There were never any windows in this place. The only oddity was a lone Newton’s cradle on the corner of his desk. It shook lightly with the pulse of Fluer’s hands. “Everyone on the black side is a security risk,” Donnelly elaborated, “no exceptions.”

Fluer’s eyes followed Donnelly around the office. “So I have to walk into every patient’s room blind?”

“No, not exactly,” Donnelly said in haste.

“So what makes her so special?”

“She is your patient.” Donnelly finally met Fluer’s eyes. “Your only patient.”

Fluer deflated backward into a leather lounging chair. “Did you know she has a history?”

“All I know is what she has told me.” Donnelly picked up his coffee cup but remained standing. He leaned against the back wall and crossed his feet.

“Do you even know her name?”

“Sierra,” Donnelly said over the brim of his coffee, “or at least that’s what she said it was.”

“Isn’t that a security risk?” Fluer leaned forward. “That knowledge, why can you know that, but I can’t see her record?”

“We can’t stop her from talking, but no paper trails, no records, and no notes.”

“This isn’t right. This isn’t how you do this.” Fluer forced his thumb and forefinger against his forehead. “Going into that room, she has all the power. She can say whatever she wants.” He winced. “No notes?” he said mostly to himself. “How can I understand her without notes?”

“Look, I don’t like it either, but that girl… That girl is important.”

“How?” Fluer asked doubtfully.

“As far as I can tell we picked her up when she was thirteen. Every once in a while the government will throw out problems, difficult problems. Math, physics, code, biology, you name it. I’ve heard it called fishing. It’s how they fill their think-tanks. That’s how the girl was caught.”

Aaron snorted. “So Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind?” he said with a smirk.

“No, she doesn’t just think differently, she sees differently. If the girl is to be believed the problem they threw out had been deemed unsolvable by the scientific community. It was a quantum physics problem and she solved it using some kind of fourth dimensional math. That math is changing the way we look at the universe.”

“I thought time was the fourth dimension,” Fluer said as he began fiddling with the Newton’s Cradle.

“I don’t know, I’m no expert,” Donnelly said. He set down his cup of coffee, and took a seat back at his desk. “Ask her about it sometime. What I do know is that whatever she sees or knows is important, and lately she’s been bottling it up. That’s why you’re here. Whatever she needs to work through, work her through it.”

Fluer let one ball of the Newton’s Cradle go and watched as another flew up in return on the opposite side. “Without notes?” he asked distantly.

“Without notes,” Donnelly assured Fluer as he watched him curiously.

Fluer exhaled heavily. “I’ll see what I can do,” he sighed.

“Good, that’s all I ask. You’ll meet with her every day at 1400 hours. This should have been covered in your briefing, but any books or journals that you can’t already access on your computer you can request from our page service and you will receive them electronically. Meals will be delivered to you in your room. We discourage communication between personnel for security reasons, but if you need to talk to anybody my door is always open. In a manner of speaking,” He laughed shyly. “Try to message me next time before bursting in. I do like to know what’s coming.”

Aaron spent the rest of the day in his room, unpacking and tottering about. He composed a few e-mails to friends and colleagues back home, and danced around the idea of leaving little notes for the unnamed military personnel that were going to dig through each email looking for classified details to censor, redact, and report. In the end he settled on simply appending Thanks for reading to each one. He sent them, then he became bored. His supper was served to him in his room that night just as his breakfast was the following morning. The food was terrible, his mattress was hard, and he was beginning to wonder how much worse life in the black could be.

#

“Maybe we got off on the wrong foot during our last visit,” the Doctor said easily. “For that I apologize. Do you mind if we start over?”

“I don’t want to start over.” She stared at a Newton’s cradle sitting on the table. The Doctor noticed it too. Had it been there before? He couldn’t remember. It was the same room that they met in previously, but it felt different. It felt like being outside. “I don’t want to pretend,” she continued. “I have already spent too much of my young life pretending. We cannot take back anything that did happen. So let’s not pretend it didn’t. Instead let’s ask why it did.”

The Doctor slumped back in his chair. “I don’t quite see where you are going with this,” he said in annoyance.

“All that is important is that we are all going somewhere. Predictability is the trick.” The cradle was still the center of her attention. Her face was empty and her eyes were like still water. “That’s what your job is, isn’t it? I mean you diagnose people, but aren’t you also trying to predict future behavior?”

“I guess you could look at it that way.” The Doctor’s eyes paced back and forth between the girl and the cradle. “The cradle isn’t going to rock itself. I can predict that much.”

She glared back at him. “I think you’re right. It doesn’t need to.” She breathed in and reset herself. Her hard eyes softened, and a subtle smile worked itself into her expression. “After you ran out of here yesterday, I predicted that you would begin asking some questions. What did they tell you about me?” She brushed her hair up and let it spill back down onto her shoulders.

The Doctor looked down at the notes that were not there. “I don’t know,” he replied. He caught her gaze again. 21322’s hands were interlocked atop crossed knees, and her foot was idly kicking to some secret beat. “They said you were a genius of some sort,” he confessed, “They said you look at the world differently and that you’re helping them a lot.”

“Was,” she retorted.

The Doctor made a small sound of inquiry.

“I was helping them. Then I became less helpful. And now they sent you,” she replied playfully. “What else did they tell you?”

“Not much.” The Doctor said after a moment’s hesitation.

“Well I feel I should clear the air a little. I am not schizophrenic, I can assure you that. What they may see as an illness now is merely the result of my imprisonment and sadly for them any traces of Stockholm syndrome has worn off.”

“Do you see yourself as a genius?”

“No, I am not a genius. You said it before I see the world differently, hence my diagnoses.”

The doctor felt like he was being baited but he didn’t care. “How do you see the world differently?”

“I see what is elusive. I see what was thought not to exist. I see the fourth spatial dimension.”

The Doctor plucked at a finger nail. “And what does the fourth dimension look like?”

Her foot stopped its beat as her legs uncrossed. Any hints of kindness leapt off of her face. Her eyes returned to the cradle.

The Doctor dropped his head and rubbed the back of his neck. He heard a click followed quickly by a clack. He sighed and looked up at her. She was still sitting back in her seat, but the cradle was moving. Not only was it moving, it was rapidly changing patterns. One ball would fall and two would skip out the other side. Two would fall and the same two would skip back up. Balls swapped placed with little regard for one another, and moved back just the same. The patterns grew in complexity and unpredictability as the Doctor just watched, gape mouthed.

“How are you…? Is it…?” the words barely managed their way out of the Doctor’s mouth, “Telekinesis?”

“No, good Doctor, I see things differently.” Her right hand was flitting slightly in the air. “Tele implies distance. But where you see distance, I do not. I am touching the cradle. Maybe if you had known that you would have used a different prefix such as Para for beyond or perhaps hyper for over or excessive. However kinesis correctly implies movement, kinetic energy. All energy is bound by certain laws, laws that I assure you I am not breaking. So the term that would be most applicable is simply kinesis, simply movement.” Her hand stopped.

The Doctor watched as the cradle slowed to a stop. It now appeared to be obeying the laws of physics, or at least the laws he was used to. “I don’t understand.”

“Neither do they,” she retorted, “and believe me, they are trying.”

“If that’s what the fourth dimension can do…” he said staring through the now dormant cradle.

“No wonder they are keeping me? You would lock me up too given the chance? You don’t even want to know that I exist? I can read it plain on your face. You think just like they do.” She crossed her arms and blew at a strand of stray hair in irritation. “I’m done talking for today.”

#

His room felt so small. The thoughts in his head were frantic and eager to come out. “She needs to be kept in a cage,” he thought. “She can cause too much damage out there. I should talk to Donnelly. I need to talk to Donnelly.” His thoughts almost turned to words but he stopped himself. “Anyone could be listening, even her… if it even works like that. I’m out of my depth, out of my league, and out of idioms. I’m going to talk to Donnelly.” He paced towards the door, but something pulled him back.

“Whose side are you on?” The voice was him and then again it wasn’t. “She is a person, a human being,” the voice urged, “She is your patient.”

He turned and sat down at his computer staring blankly at the logon screen. “Who the hell is Donnelly anyway?” he thought. “Donnelly doesn’t care about her. Donnelly doesn’t even care about me. Imagine Sierra all alone in the world. A confused little girl at the age of six being told that what she saw was wrong. How many others saw what she sees and were thrown away and discarded?”

He logged onto his computer, and for the first time in years he buried himself in case studies. He was piecing together a world that he thought had been his. No notes, no writing, he was internalizing every bit of data he could find. Correlating it when he could, committing the page number and text to memory when he couldn’t. It was near enough to 0400 hours when he fell asleep.

He awoke two hours later in a panic. Once he calmed himself he started looking in a different direction. He studied the fourth dimension, but he could find little more than abstract papers and thought experiments. He had seen it at work, he had seen the manipulation of it, but he didn’t understand it.

At 1100 hours he fell asleep again. This time he was roused by an alarm. His patient was waiting.

#

“You look like hell.” She had been poised like a snake, but his appearance disarmed her.

“Yeah?” The Doctor replied as he inspected himself. His hair was scattered across his head, bags bulged out beneath bloodshot eyes, and he became suddenly aware of a slight odor that surrounded him.

“Seriously,” she said leaning closer, “Are you okay? Cause you don’t look okay.”

“I’ll be fine,” he assured her. “I’m sorry. I’m just running a little light on sleep.”

“I hope that’s not on account of me and my little trick.” She pointed at the cradle.

“No, well not exactly,” he answered in a yawn. “Let’s just say I was studying.”

“Studying me?” She replied playfully.

“I wonder can you help me understand some things? I’m a little in the dark here.” His eyes glanced around at the dark walls.

“Sure, first lesson: Do not use puns,” She said with a wry smirk. “They really are in poor taste.”

“Sorry,” he said wiping the last remnants of sleep from his eyes. “My tired brain finds humor too easily.”

“Well what should your next lesson be?”

He began slowly, “I want to help you, in order to do that I need to understand you. I need to understand who you are. I can’t even grasp what it’s like to be you. I’m not looking for the answers that those scientists are after, to hell with them. I’m looking for something deeper, for something more profound and important. I’m looking for who you are.” He paused for breath. His words were racing now and his patient looked startled. “Look, you know we are not the same. That’s why I need you to explain what you see and what you do. I need to understand the fourth dimension, not from a scientific perspective or a mathematical perspective, but from yours.”

The patient’s mouth parted slightly, but stopped short of words.

“I am not looking for the secret to the universe or some profound revelation,” he continued, “all I am looking for is a primer, a Rosetta stone, something.”

“My life isn’t some fairytale,” she said bitterly, “and I am not some alien for you to conquer and understand.”

“Everyone wants to be understood,” he implored.

She rolled her eyes. “The world isn’t so black and white.”

“You are right. It is gray, through and through. But you can see the whole thing in color. I am blind, help me to see!”

“It’s more of a feeling than it is seeing. It’s not in the eyes it’s in the mind. When I close my eyes I can still see it all. I’ve told them that. Yet they keep studying my damn eyes.”

“Is it distracting?” he asked.

“It can be, especially when I’m trying to sleep. Sometimes it’s like there is a movie playing in another room, and I can’t help but pick up bits and pieces of it. Other times it feels like the ocean rushing over me.”

She had never actually felt an ocean before. She had never even been in a pool deeper than her naval. In time they discussed all of that and more. Much of psychology is listening and guiding the patient to where they need to go, and Aaron Fluer was good at what he did. He almost always knew what to say and how to maneuver the dialog. Aaron had had his missteps with her, but he never needed to push again. She didn’t hesitate to go where he wanted her to go, and quite often she seemed to do so preemptively.

Their sessions always ran the full hour. Perhaps she was happy for the break. She told him every thought that she could, even if she didn’t think he could understand. At night he studied. His sleep habits improved but they did not return to normal. Every moment of his free time he spent tied to his computer. He was building something, creating, and his patient was his muse.

#

“How long have you been working with her now?” Donnelly asked as he stirred his coffee.

“Three months sir,” Fluer replied.

“You can cut the sir business,” Donnelly snapped back as he pointed at the door. “When that door is closed I don’t need formalities clouding up perspective. What I do need is answers and I have yet to see any.”

“Do you want a report?” Fluer said with a raised eyebrow.

“Funny,” Donnelly said unamused. “No, What I want is for my scientists to say that they are happy with their progress. If they tell me they are happy, then my superiors will be happy. How about we make everybody happy,” his voice didn’t make it a question.

“It’s always about the superiors isn’t it?” Fluer mumbled.

“Yes, soldier, it is.” Donnelly took a long sip from his coffee and locked eyes with Fluer.

Fluer gritted his teeth in discomfort as he struggled for words.

Donnelly lowered his coffee away from his lips. “What exactly is the problem?”

“Exactly? You want to know exactly?” Fluer’s face burned red. “The problem is that there is no problem. You want me to help a girl who was born unique, born different, and despite your best efforts she turned out to be normal and well-adjusted. Her problem is that she is in a prison with nothing to repent for. Give her a little empathy and you might start to wonder why she has helped you at all.”

“I asked you to get her to work with us, not to become her friend.” Donnelly was blankly staring at the corner of his desk, coffee still hovering in his hand.

Fluer stood up. “Do you know what is amazing? What is simply unbelievable?” He didn’t wait for an answer, “That you were even able to find her. Did you ever stop to think that she may not be the only one that was born with this… this… sight, this power?”

Donnelly raised an eyebrow. “It is not your job to ask that question.”

“I have poured over literally thousands of case files and found dozens that have reported similar symptoms. They never mastered it or understood it like she did, but they were all labeled as crazy, and most likely drugged into oblivion, as she nearly was. You and your superiors see her as a revolution for science. I see her as a revolution for humanity. Of course it helps that I see her as human, unlike the cage prodders that you subject her to.”

“What kind of files have you been looking at?”

“Anything I could find.”

“Parents?”

“The mother, but she was a dead end.”

“What about the father?”

“You’re not listening to me. We are going about her case completely wrong.”

“We have to understand her. We have to figure out what she is.”

“Have you tried asking?” Fluer quipped.

“Asking about what? The fourth dimension? How could I ever understand how it works? Do you?”

“No, not exactly, but…” Fluer sat back in his seat. “She once described it to me like this. Imagine a game of air hockey. Air hockey itself has a long list of rules. Rules which we are all compelled to follow. When the rules are broken certain procedures must occur to allow play to resume. If the universe were a game of air hockey then we would always be playing by the rules. In fact we wouldn’t even be aware of a space outside of the rules. We would just use the rules as guides for expected behavior. The puck never leaves the play surface so we should not expect it to. If the rules got broken we wouldn’t know what to do because we live inside them. In fact we would just tell ourselves that the rules were never actually broken, that what we witnessed didn’t actually happen.

“She on the other hand can break them at will. She is aware of the space outside the rules and outside the play surface. The rules break themselves all of the time and we just ignore the little breaks as spurious data. As a result when she simply flicks her wrist just right and sends the puck whizzing past your ear, you just sit there scratching your head. The question you are asking yourself in that moment for some reason isn’t How did she do that? but instead How did that happen at all? Maybe you should start asking the right questions.”

“Does that help you sleep at night?”

Fluer looked down at his shaky hands. “Not really,” he said.

Donnelly cracked a smile. “Why air hockey?”

Fluer’s eyes returned to Donnelly. “Because you’ve got a kid in there,” he said. “A kid using kid games to justify her existence.”

“Just fix it. Work with me. The only way this gets easier for her is if she works with us.”

Fluer flung himself out of his chair and went for the door. “Because it has worked so well for her in the past,” he shouted as he stormed off into the hallway.

#

Aaron packed all of his things in his room. His toothbrush, his shaver, his clothes, it all went in his pack. He was quick and efficient. He had done this before. He sat down on his bed facing away from the door and waited to be relieved.

But the door only opened for supper. Then night came. He no longer felt drawn to his computer. His creation would wait. He let his eyes close. He awoke to breakfast nearly ten hours later. Sleep hadn’t come this easy since before he saw a cradle dance. Soon his patient’s appointment was upon him. He picked his pack up and began to head out the door before reconsidering and leaving his belongings behind.

His patient was waiting for him, right where she always was. She wore a corkscrew smile that he had grown fond of. “I’m surprised to see you here,” the Doctor said as he flopped down in the chair across from her.

“Well what did you expect?” she asked. Her smile slowly receded and was replaced by concern.

“I don’t know. I guess I was expecting to be escorted out of here and off of this base.”

“That sounds nice.” She lowered her head a little and whispered, “You think they’d let me go too?”

“Are you sure you even want to leave?” he entreated. “I mean out there who knows where you’ll stand.”

“Out there I will stand on green grass… barefoot,” the patient said her voice simple and sweet. She furrowed her brow. “Outside these walls I can live my life. What is there to be afraid of?”

“What isn’t there? In here everything is tended to. If you played ball here there wouldn’t be anything you couldn’t ask for or have. Out there you have to feed yourself. You have to handle the bitch that is real life. On top of that, with abilities like yours, people will want to exploit you, and they may not be so friendly. In here you have nothing to be afraid of.”

“Every day I don’t know whether to be afraid of my door opening or of it not opening at all. I just want to lie on a hill with tall uncut grass cradling my body and nothing to do but watch the blue sky slowly shift into star-scape. No more math, no more theories. I have done enough. I’d like to try my hand at living.”

A grin of amusement grew on the Doctor’s face. “I fell asleep once underneath the stars in Colorado,” he said carelessly. “There was a rock in my back the size of my foot and the grass was still damp from a summer storm. It wasn’t much of a cradle, but even so I think it was the best night’s sleep I ever had.”

“See! You could be there with me, and we could talk the night away.”

“We are talking now.”

“I mean without agendas. Talk like people,” the patient said seriously as she began to chew her thumbnail delicately.

“You quickly threw any agenda I ever had out the window.”

She blushed slightly. “A window would be nice.”

The Doctor leaned toward her. He picked up her hand and clasped it in both of his. “Trust me when I say I want nothing more than for you to be out of here, but I can’t do that. I can’t help you.”

She looked into his shimmering eyes. “But you are helping me.”

“Just promise me that you will take care of yourself. Stay safe. I don’t think they are going to put up with me anymore.”

“If this is goodbye then it feels wrong not knowing each other’s names.”

“I do know your name, remember? You are 21322,” he said with a wink.

“Yeah and you’re kind of a jerk.”

“My patients call me Dr. Jerk,” he laughed, “but you can call me Aaron.”

“Nice to meet you Dr. Jerk.” She feigned a curtsy where she sat. “My name is Sierra Henway.”

#

Aaron awoke to the lights being flicked on. He had been sleeping on his pack waiting for the other shoe to drop. He whipped his head around and looked to the doorway but there was no one there. He tried the light switch, but they wouldn’t turn off. He tried the door, but it wouldn’t open.

His computer was powered down. His phone was disabled. He was cut off in a prison of white. He stayed quiet and paced the floor. Aaron passed time in boredom and contemplation. His appointment with Sierra came and went. Eventually he slept again but this time he awoke to darkness.

“Lights out finally?” he said through a sleepy haze. He tried to drift off again, but something about the world was too different. His pack was gone, everything was gone, and the walls looked too dark. He was on a thin mattress in a dimly lit black room. He looked at his badge and was more than half surprised to see the letter still present in his identification number. He didn’t need to look at his LCD name tag to know that it had gone as black as the room.

He could guess what would come next. He just didn’t know if the message would be shape up or ship out or simply ship out. He was sure they would bring in someone else to replace him, someone less capable. He didn’t see a bright light at the end of Sierra’s tunnel. He saw only darkness.

Then the lights came on with cruel intensity. A man came in. A-275 could only see a dark outline through the glare. At first he assumed it to be Donnelly, but it wasn’t Donnelly. The outline was too thin and small. The walk was all wrong too. His steps were strict and precise lacking Donnelly’s casual stride.

“What did you say to her?” the man asked. His voice reverberated through A-275’s mind.

“What did I say to whom?” A-275 asked with some measure of confidence.

The man made an irritated click with his mouth. “Answer the question.”

“And if I don’t want to?”

The man’s voice grew rough around the edges like a radio turned up too high, “Trust me when I tell you that one way or another I will learn what I want to know.”

“And you want to know what I said to Sierra?”

He looked over to what appeared to be a window in the wall. Although there was nothing to see through its black glass, A-275 knew that they were being watched. The man looked back at A-275 and nodded revealing a portion of his face to the light, his frown was curled into a smile and his eyes were too young for the military.

“We talked about nothing,” A-275 replied slowly, “nothing important anyway.”

“I’ll decide what’s important.”

“We just talked about–” he was cut off by the man’s voice.

“After that. I don’t need to hear about your fairytale friendship. I have dealt with this one before. I assure you that she isn’t capable.”

“But we didn’t talk about anything else. We were just–”
A-275’s eyes settled on the corner of his bed.

“No think deeper. I need you to focus long and hard on that conversation. I need to know how she got out.”

“I didn’t–”

“Interesting… You didn’t help but…” The man paused in contemplation. “She had you looking for her father. I should have seen this coming.”

“We never talked about–”

“You talked. You talked plenty. I know you don’t remember. Just let me remember for you.”

“What, no. I…” A-275 still stared un-blinking at the corner of his bed.

“She must be headed for her father. Where is he?” the man’s voice sounded almost playful.

“The father…” the words bubbled out as if spoken from a dream.

The man nodded. “Thank you for your cooperation,” he said sarcastically. “That’s all I needed.” He got up and moved towards the door.

“But I didn’t–”

“Yes, you did.”

“Is she really gone?” A-275 asked.

“Yeah, I guess her abilities are more powerful than I assumed. She was in her room one moment, and gone the next.”

A-275 briefly looked up from the bed corner. “I swear we never talked about her father.”

“Luckily I have something far more reliable than your words.” The man reached out and tapped A-275 on the temple. A-275 flinched at the man’s touch.

“What will happen to her?”

“She is government property, bought and paid for, just like me, and she will be returned to our care.”

“What about me? You’re not going to just keep me here are you? You don’t need me anymore,” A-275’s voice was trailing off with each sentence.

“You are bought and paid for too, and we will do what we will.”

“Can you at least make it stop?” A-275’s words fumbled over each other.

The man cocked his head pushing some of his features once again out of the shadows. “Make what stop?” for the first time his voice seemed uncertain.

“The cradle, I don’t want it to rock anymore.”

The man looked at the corner of the bed where A-275 had been staring. “There is no cradle,” the man said apologetically, “I doubt there ever was.”

The man departed, but A-275 took little notice. He just sat there staring. He couldn’t understand it. He heard the man’s words, but he couldn’t listen to them. The clacking gnawed at his consciousness and haunted his soul. He asked it to stop. He screamed for it to stop. He even begged for it to stop, but in his mind Sierra’s cradle still rocked.

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