Naomi noticed my pause. “Are you alright, Kalahan?”
I forced my hand down to my side again and, sighed. “Yeah. Anway. I got there, and one of the terrorists had a gun to Anneka’s head. She was on her knees, Joel and Sonny too. One of the terrorists holding each of them, and two keeping watch. I saw five in total. He yanked her up to her feet, and his accomplices did the same to Joel and Sonny.”
“And where’d you see this from?”
“I was still behind the treeline, in cover. They couldn’t see me. But I saw him jab his gun in Anneka’s back and force her forward. They pushed them into the base of the statue, through a maintenance door.”
“But the base of the statue was burning from the bomb?”
“Yeah, but just the West side. They went in through the East entrance. They slammed the door behind them, locking them inside. The terrorists waited outside for half a minute, then sort of dispersed and walked around the building again.”
“They thought they were dead?”
I nodded. “I think so. They didn’t make any noise and the fire was spreading up the statue.”
“So what did you do?”
“I waited to make sure they were gone, then ran for the door. The fire had made the frame a lot weaker so I broke it down, and got inside.”
“But wasn’t there too much fire?”
“Not in the middle. It was more on the edges, the walls, and it was spreading up. A lot of the base had already been burned out. I heard another scream, somewhere above me.”
“It was Anneka again?”
I replayed the sound in my mind. A type of shriek that you couldn’t fake. A depth, a twisted pain to the sound that you could only get through true agony.
“Yes. It was her.”
She nodded, all remnants of her previous smiles wiped clean away. “What did you do?”
“I called out to her. She shouted back, and I ran up the steps. I stayed toward the interior side of them, and went fast. Metal carries heat really well, and even through my boots it got way too hot if I stayed on one step too long.”
“Weren’t you getting burned?” she asked.
“A little bit. I didn’t really feel it then. You know, that adrenaline rush thing or whatever. Plus I was in Alliance combat armour. Even though it’s not made for running into fires, the material’s flame resistant. You know the Alliance, never skimp on anything.”
Naomi nodded thoughtfully, brushing a stray lock of soft dirty-blonde hair from her forehead.
“So I kept on going up, until it reached the next landing. I saw them. Joel was closer to me, gripping onto the railing, but Anneka was in the middle of the landing. Just on the metal, nothing to hold onto. The fire wasn’t up that high yet, but the smoke was coming up from the base and hitting the metal from the bottom. They saw me, and I shouted that the terrorists were gone. That we could run back down and out if we were quick enough. I stepped forward a but, trying to reach for her To pull her too me. And then-” I stopped, words dying on my tongue.
“And then?” she pressed, voice soft. She had read the file. She knew what I was about to say.
“And then, the third bomb went off.”
I licked my lips, trying to inject some moisture. Already, I could feel the burn at the back of my eyes. I knew what she was going to ask. I knew she needed more, but when I tried to open my mouth all that come out was croaking air.
To her credit, she looked almost sorry for asking. “And then?”
I blinked my eyes tight, trying to stop myself from crying, but it had the opposite effect. My lids collected all the moisture in one sweep and forced it into the corner, where it began to roll down. Fuck, I really had thought I was done crying.
“And then Anneka died.”
I bit my lips and forced the rest of the tears back, resolving to get angry rather than sad. I cleared my throat and shifted forcefully in my chair, head held a bit too high. Naomi gave me a few seconds of staring eye contact, before looking back down at her notebook and awkwardly scribbling another line down. She dropped her pen in the center, letting it fall into the dip between two open pages, and look at me again.
“I’m very sorry.” She said.
I locked my jaw, and said nothing back, staring intently at the grooves where the ceiling plates interlocked. I could feels eyes on my throat, before she continued.
“Anneka, I see in your file that you had the same last name. Waymire. You were sisters?”
I nearly laughed at that, but it came out sarcastic and biting. “No, no. We were, uh, we were together.”
“Oh?” she leaned forward, a flash of interest in her eyes. “You were...married, then? I didn’t see that in your file.” Her voice tapered off, eyes darting again to the documents on her desk, a vague look of confusion on her face.
“Uhh, no.” I said, getting her attention . “I, um, well, you’d know that I grew up in an orphanage.”
“Well, see, no-one knows who my parents were, so I didn’t really have a last name. I mean, I did, for legal purposes, but it was weird. German, I think. I hated it. When I was sixteen, I got the chance to change it, and I took Anneka’s.”
She nodded in understanding.
“You were a couple at sixteen?” She asked.
“I guess.” I said. “If you can call two kids making out behind the mess hall ‘a couple.” I finished with a shrug, and hoped it didn’t sound as fake it was. I was trying to minimize it, but yeah, we were a couple then. I knew that, to Naomi, it’d probably seem like obsessive behaviour, but I’d loved her since I was about six. And been in love with her since fourteen.
“So you were together for….?”
“About ten years.” I said, softly. She raised her eyebrows incredulously. “On and off.” I added, uncomfortable with her reaction. That was a lie, too. I couldn’t speak for Anneka, but there had never been a time when I had wanted to take ‘ a break’. With Anneka, it was good. It was easy. There wasn’t any of the weird issues about jealousy, or playing hard to get, because we’d gotten together before either of us even learned that love could be that complicated.
“A-alright.” She hurriedly wrote in her book, not looking up to stop her writing. “ Have you dated anyone else?”
I rubbed the back of my head in a nervous gesture. “No.”
The angle of her face hid most of her face, but I could still register the incredulous expression there.
“Okay.” she finally put her pen down. “I think that’s the hardest part done. You mentioned before the resentment you hold for Abraham’s Brotherhood. How do you feel about synthetics in general?”
That caught me off guard. “Uhh, I-I’m.” I look again at the two way mirror. “I mean, you know, I’m not like a robophobeor anything, I mean, I have some friends who are synths,” A lie. I’d maybe met a couple dozen in my life, and none of them I considered much more than acquaintances. “I just, I mean, I’m fine with them. Of course I am, I work with A.I.R for godsake, I just, I don’t know.” I huffed and interlocked my hands. “I don’t know why they make such a huge dealout of being synthetic. I mean, like, if they want to be like the rest of us, they should just stop acting so different, ya know.”
I could see something in Naomi’s face twitch, and I was hit with the uncomfortable wash of sensation that I had said the wrong thing.
“Do you personally feel like you are prejudiced against synthetics?”
“What? No, no. Not at all. I don’t have a problem with them. Not as a group. “
She quirked an eyebrow. “But you said.” She ran her pen along her notebook, stopping as her eyes landed on place. “Quote: if they want to be like the rest of us, they should just stop acting so different. You applied that statement to the whole group.”
“Well, yeah, cause they all do it.” I sucked in air. I knew how that sounded. “Not that it’s, I mean, it’s not really bad. Just annoying, more.”
“So, synthetics ‘annoy’ you?” She said, pen poised.
“I- That’s not what I said.”
“Isn’t it, Kalahan?” She gripped her pen tighter.
“I- I don’t have a problem with synthetics. It’s just, they’re not- They’re not natural. I mean, it’s literally in the definition.”
She was clearly trying to be professional, but I saw a flash of something across her face. Not what I’d expected, though. Not resentment, or judgement, or anger. Maybe, the opposite?
“As a child, did you have many friends?” Her demeanor changed, and I could sense she was back on the professional track.
“Not really. I wasn’t really around many kids my age. I mean, I got on alright with some people. Most just because we got into trouble together.”
“What sort of trouble?” She pressed.
I regretted my words immediately. “You know, just kid stuff. Breaking curfew, things like that. It was really strict at the group home, so there were a lot of rules to break.”
She nodded in understanding. “So no, illegal, activity?”
I was tempted to lie, but something about gave me the impression that she’d know if I wasn’t being honest. “I mean, ya know, we were kids. Shoplifting, maybe. Like, a packet of chips or something. Getting older kids to buy as beers. Never anything that hurt people, though.”
“I see. You mentioned getting other people to buy alcohol. Have you ever had problems with substance abuse? Of either alcohol, prescription, or illicit drugs.”
I tensed. An image of a dark hand, blue pills in the middle. coughing, sweating, a night of sickness.
She couldn’t know. She’s seen the test results, and they were clear.
“No.” I answered as simply as she could. For her part, she didn’t linger too long before moving on.
“Would you describe yourself as outgoing, or a loner?”
I chucked. “Am I signing up for dating site, or what?”
There was a brief moment of amusement on her features. “Answer the question, please.”
“I don’t know. I guess it depends on the people. I mean, I go to a lot of parties and stuff, but I don’t really like them so I don’t know if that counts.”
She scribbled down another note.
The interview continued on for a while like that. Simple questions, about my personality, my friendships, by childhood. Most of the time, I got away with simple answers.
There was nothing else particularly painful brought up for the rest of the hour, but there were a few moments that came dangerously close.
Still, Naomi put me at ease somewhat. The evaluation wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it could certainly have been a lot worse.
And when Naomi snapped her little black book closed, and announced that the session was over, my feet even felt a little heavy as I walked out of her office.