My hair was still wet when I got there. Clumped together in places, sticking out at odd angles. I tried to brush my fingers through it on the frantic jog to the elevator, with not much success. Vincent had made good on his threat of a three minute maximum, and had almost burst into the woman’s change room when I came dangerously close to passing that deadline.
We made it to the elevator on a rush, anxiety running up and down my spine as I waited for it to reach the level. The doors opened and Alan and I pushed inside forcefully, taking a spot to one very startled looking recruit.
I hadn’t gotten the chance to dry off properly, so my clothes stuck to me skin in places. “Fuck.” I muttered, trying again, in vain, to brush my hair back in one consistent direction.
“Cut it out, Waymire, you look fine. “ Alan said from beside me, not turning to look.
With a huff, and dropped my hands to my sides, and joined him in staring silently at the elevator doors.
At least it’s short, I thought to myself. The day after I’d finished the beep test, Alan noticed that I kept getting loose strands caught across my face during the tests. It was hard, because it was too short to secure properly and too long to just say in place, so he made me get a haircut. And by made me get a haircut, I mean he handed me a set of clippers and forced me into the bathroom, telling me not to come back out ‘until that mess is inline with Alliance regulations’.
I did better than I’d thought. Then again, there wasn’t that much to mess up. I’d just shaved the sides down to a prickly buzz and left the top long, cutting it down to an under cut. When I’d come out, minutes later, a towel wrapped around my neck to catch falling strands, Alan gave a vague huff of amusement.
The elevator coming to a stop pushed me out of my memories, and Alan’s strong hand on my back pushed me out into the corridor. “This floor is mainly offices.” He said, setting a brisk pace for me to keep up with. “Empty a lot of the time, so we offered Dr. Latchman a room. It...won’t be anything like your last eval, I don’t think.”
Lets hope not, I thought.
He steered me around a bend and slowed his pace, eventually dropping his arm and straightening out into a much more measured gait. He stopped suddenly, grabbing me around the arm. “Here we are.” He said, pointing left to a metal door. It was identical to every other one we’d passed. The slider, where the name plate would be placed, was empty, and only a number engraved next to the handle indicated that this door was any different from any of the others.
Alan have the door three hard knocks, and a light voice replied. “Come inside, the door’s open.”
I reached for the handle, but must’ve moved to slow, because Alan said . “You want me to go in with you, K? Need me to hold your hand?”
I rolled my eyes and grabbed the handle with exaggerated confidence. “See you later, Vincent.” I said, and pushed the door open.
Alan wasn’t lying. This was nothing like my previous evaluation. The room was bare to a vast extent, but somehow had a calm feeling to it. My previous experiences had involved well decorated rooms, with certificates and awards hung on walls. But for all the mahogany and paperweights and redundancy stacked book shelves I’d seen, all of those rooms had but me on edge.
Or, maybe, I thought, It has less to do with the room, and more with the person in it.
The woman, Dr. Latchman, was standing behind the desk; the largest and most extravagant piece of furniture in the room. There was something tense to the way she stood, eyes flicking over papers spread out on the desk, but she still seemed somehow demure in her posture.
Her eyes shot up when I clicked the door shut behind me. She shuffled the papers quickly into a messy pile and walked around the desk.
“Hi,” I said, walking forward and putting my hand out. “Nice to meet you, I’m-”
“Kalahan Waymire.” She finished, taking my hand to shake it. Soft palms. Not like mine. Small hands, with a structure so delicate it felt almost awkward to hold them in mine.
“I’m Dr. Latchman. You can call me Naomi.” She finished with a smile and dropped my hand, doing a quick turn on her heel and walking toward one of the two chairs in the center of the room. They were identical. Simple and black, with a glass table between them. There was a much too large mirror on the wall too my left, which I guessed from its positioning was probably two way glass.
“Don’t worry.” She said, having caught me looking at it. She was now seated on the chair with her legs neatly crossed. “There’s no-one in there. Contrary to popular belief, we can’t monitor or record the session in anyway unless you give consent. Doctor-patient confidentiality, and all that.”
She smiled at me again, an atomic grin that seemed almost tiring to produce. The muscles around my mouth twitched in sympathy, but the crinkles around her eyes indicated that she wasn’t just putting on for me. That’s what a lot of the last week had been, I guessed .Almost everyone I’d spoke to had been more kind than they needed to be. Even Patricia, believe it or not, wasn’t as hard as the last time I’d been in regular service.
I took the seat opposite her and shifted back, hands on either arm rest. I tried to look loose, comfortable, but it probably just looked awkward. I looked at my reflection in the two way mirror, before settling my gaze on Dr. Latchman.
She was pretty. Not in a way that stunned you, exactly. Not in an attention seeking way. Not in the way Anneka was, but still pretty. A lot different than I had expected. Better than I'd expected. A lot younger than I'd expected, too. She didn't look like she could be past thirty, but I guess she could've just had work done, so there wasn't a way to be sure without sounding incredibly rude.
“So, Kalahan…” she began, reaching over to the glass table. She picked up a notebook and pen that had been resting in its center, and brought them to her lap. “How are you today?”
I was surprised when she didn’t reach for her pen. In my past experience, it seemed as if the evaluator had written down nearly every word out of my mouth, but she just left her tools there. Book still shut, pen still capped.
“I’m fine.” I winced as soon as the words left my mouth. Bad answer. “And you?” I asked, quickly.
“I’m doing well.”
She gave me another soft smile, and suddenly my position in the chair didn’t seem quite as stiff.
“I take it you understand why you’re here?” she said.
“Yes.” I responded. “Psychological evaluation. Mandatory for joining a specialized subdivision task force.”
She nodded. “Normally these types of sessions run for about an hour, but it’s not uncommon to run a bit over time. I just need you to try and relax, and answer each question as honestly and fully as you can. Alright?”
“Alright.” I said, and nestled back in my chair. From experience, these things normally started off easy. I thought I’d have a little while before the questions got hard.
I was wrong.
“So, Kalahan, I’ve read through your file.” She shot a glance over at the papers still placed messily on her desk. “ One thing that stood out to me was the incident at the Liberty Monument. Can you tell me what happened?”
I tense in my chair and shifted forward to edge. With a huff, I said “If you read my file, you already know what happened.” My hands tightening on the leather arm rests. If this was how it started, I didn’t know where else the evaluation could go.
“I know what the first responders said happened. I know what the paramedics said happened. I know what your supervising officer and the media and your co workers said happened. Not what you say happened. That’s what matters most.”
I ran a hand around the back of my head, feeling the sharp prickly sensation of my new buzz. “I’m sure it’ll all be in there.” I said. I had the urge to snap at her, to raise my voice, but a show of aggression wasn’t the best way to make sure I passed. So I swallowed the choice words hanging at the back of my throat, and forced myself to recite the facts as best as I knew them.
“We got the call from a civilian. There had been an explosion near the base of the statue, and several gunshots. When we arrived, they had blocked the street and were keeping as many civilians as close to the monument as they could.”
“They?” she interrupted. I knew that she knew the answer, but I answered anyway.
She nodded, though mostly to herself, and flipped open her black notebook. “And how do you feel about the Brotherhood?” She waited for my answer, pen at the ready.
“How do I feel about them?”
“What kind of a question is that? They’re terrorists.” I crossed my arms.
“You don’t feel any…” she bit her lip slightly, looking around the room. “Sympathy, for their cause?”
“Sympathy?” I repeated, incredulous.
“Some would say that they’re fighting for equality.” She said.
“And others would say that they kill women and children.” I snapped. She wrote something down in her book, and continued on as if they exchange hadn’t happened.
“So, please continue. What happened after you arrived at the scene?”
I licked my lips and pressed on, forcing myself to remember. “It...it was awful. There were people still inside the monument, a tour group caught up in the crown. My team mate, Asher, he wanted to run inside. I stopped him. There were at least half a dozen gunmen before the entrance. He wouldn’t have survived.”
“This Asher. You cared about him?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, “An image flashed in my mind of the last exchange we’d have. Him, way too smug. Me, looking half dead. “ I care about all my team. He’s a dick sometimes, granted, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna let him kill himself.”
She nodded and scribbled another note.
“And then?” she pushed.
“There was another explosion. It turns out the first two more supposed to go off at the same time, but there was some sort of delay. The firefighters got there and told us they’d take care of it, that we should go deal with the hostage situation.”
“These hostages, they were tourists?”
I nodded. “Mostly. They were lined up against a wall at the statue's base. The last explosion had been really close and I could tell some of them got injured. Not close enough to get burned, but the shrapnel hit a few near the edges. I saw three gunmen right in front of them, and another three further away, stopping people from getting too close. There were more around the other sides, too, but I couldn’t see them. Patricia, my S.O, told us to stay there. Said there was too much risk for collateral for us to charge in. She made me, Asher and Axwell stay there, and sent Anneka, Joel and Sonny around the other side to see what was going on.”
“There people were all your teammates?”
“Yes, I worked with all of them.So we waitred there for a good while, and then things got really quiet. The police and firefighters had cleared out most of the civilians that weren’t being held hostage and had put them all on the bridge. We got word that SWAT were nearly there, and the gunmen were starting to look a little anxious from where I was watching, so I was feeling pretty good. Then, I heard a scream. The hostages looked to be all doing okay, and it sounded too close to be coming from the tour group way up in the crown, so I knew it had to be from her.”
“Her?” she asked.
“Anneka. I broke cover and ran the route Patricia had made her team take, a wide arch around the gun men, behind lots of trees.”
“But your S.O had ordered you to stay in one place, right? You disobeyed her command?”
I sighed, and spoke quickly. Frustrated. “Yes, but she was in danger. Jasper or Axwell would’ve done it too, I was just first. “
She scratched down another note. I closed my eyes tight and pinched the skin between my eyes. This was going to be a long hour.