Robert Smith sighed heavily, smiling quietly to himself as he slid the papers across the table for Beth to sign. “Here you are. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to know you can't refuse.”
Beth returned his smile, shaking her head slowly. After interviewing Cory recently, Robert had to wonder if it was a difference between generations or if he truly was naïve.
“You are such a child, Mr. Smith. A child,” she hissed, glaring at the papers with more malice than Robert had ever witnessed previously. “As such you are quite ignorant to the delicate situation we have handled here for decades.”
“Oh, I am well aware of the finesse required for torture, Mrs. Lawson,” ground out Robert hatefully, all but slamming a pen down for her to use. He narrowed his eyes, refusing to display his shock that the old woman never flinched. “I am also aware of the laws that now protect that man from people like you.”
“Researchers? Scientists?” she questioned skeptically, her smile returning. “Or is it that you cannot even admit to yourself your raging curiosity?”
“Just say what you mean,” he snapped, irritated further. He did not know what this woman had done or allowed to happen to his patient, but he knew that it was enough trauma to have Cory refuse to remember.
Now Beth laughed. “You stupid child. We never tortured him because of what he is, don't you understand? We know what he is, inside and out, no pun intended. We poked, prodded and gutted to learn more about what we lack, to learn of humanity.”
Robert's glare hardened cruelly. “Now you're insulting.”
“No, I'm being honest, but I suppose you're too young to know the difference,” she sighed. “Regardless, we learned very little of what we are, or even what we are not. Although, I can say one thing for certain.”
“Would you like my professional opinion?” demanded Robert, prepared to spit daggers.
“If I would, I'd never ask,” she replied lazily. She shook her head slowly. “No, Mr. Smith, we learned something that perhaps poets have known and have been trying to teach us the entire time.”
Robert paused, confused. “What?”
“You see, in part we were assigned to Mr. Lawrence to dissect whatever he is, discover where he or his kind originates. Same planet as us, roughly the same time as well, but how they have remained hidden is beyond us. Regardless, that was only a—how shall I put this?—footnote of our purposes here,” she explained slowly, and Robert had the feeling of being a child receiving bad news. Why was Beth being so...gentle with this?
“And what was that?”
Beth sighed, her age apparent when Robert looked her in the eye. “This was a test, Mr. Smith.”
Horror was all that managed to climb up his throat, so thick he had to pause to keep from gagging. “Damn it, spit it out!”
“As a whole and as individuals, we are driven to discover what we are by finding what we are not, Mr. Smith,” she said sharply. “The last forty years, and even before that when Paul Ericson first reported Mr. Lawrence's existence to us, it has all been a test of the humanity we so desperately seek, Robert, in myths and legends.”
Robert choked a moment, uncertain of which emotions were reigning and tearing through him. “You mean...you've tested on him...his entire life?”
“That's the good news,” she told him, a strange look filling her eyes as she lifted the pen from the table and signed the paper with a flourish. “The rather horrible news is that this was our test, and we failed it.”