Fork Road

Welcome to a world of conspiracy and psychological warfare as you've never seen it before.

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12. 12

TWELVE

 

It was a long ride Bradley. After Lisa had risen from unconsciousness, Amanda had allowed her to drive for a while. Driving always calmed Lisa. Amanda refused to offer any kind of explanation until she felt that Lisa was ready to hear about it. Lisa heard Amanda and Han murmuring and muttering about the incident behind her – not to mention, over a bagged corpse – but Lisa paid no attention to any of it. For once, she trusted Amanda’s judgment. She didn’t want to know. She didn’t care. At all. Not in the slightest.

Not yet.

Lisa parked up at a small eatery and demanded to be fed. When asked what she wanted to eat, she said: “Everything there is that’s dripping with oil.” Amanda nodded to her, scoffing under her breath, and then left the vehicle. Lisa fumed at her response. How dare she scoff at her like that? Especially after what she had done– Lisa shuddered. She folded her arms and smouldered in silence.

 

Han walked up her and sat in the passenger seat. He offered her a drink from his flask and she declined it with a quick shake of her head.

“Lisa?” Han said.

She snapped her head towards him, eyes wide with suspicion and something that looked like hunger.

Han furrowed a brow and said, “Calm down,” he waved a hand and looked away, “I’m not Amanda. You don’t have to look like that,” he chuckled.

“Sorry,” Lisa said, between gritted teeth, “My nerves are all shot, atm.”

Atm?” Han asked.

Lisa gave him a very demeaning side-glance, “I forgot. You’re a dad,” she muttered, “It means ‘at the moment’.”

“Ah,” Han replied, taking a sip out of his flask, “Do they have abbreviations for everything now?”

“Pretty much,” Lisa said.

“Do they have to be used in normal-people speak?” Han asked her.

Lisa frowned, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that it just seems… arbitrary to abbreviate commonly used terms.”

“Oh. So I suppose you say deoxyribonucleic acid instead of DNA then?” Lisa argued.

“Not quite the same as saying ‘at the moment’, Lisa,” Han laughed.

“I think that’s a matter of opinion,” Lisa hmphed.

“Right. Lol,” Han sipped again at his coffee.

“What?” Lisa scoffed.

“What?”

You can’t do it.”

“Why not?” Han objected.

“Because… you’re…”

“Lisa!” Han gasped, mocking everything there was to mock about the entire conversation, “Are you saying I’m too old?”

Lisa blushed, “Yes,” she said bluntly, “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

“Well…” Han chuckled, “I can’t argue with that.”

 

Lisa smiled. She didn’t think she’d ever had just a regular, normal conversation with Han. She wondered if that was due to Amanda’s sullied opinion of him.

“Amanda never told me you could be nice,” Lisa told him.

Han shrugged, “Amanda has her reasons,” he said, swirling the liquid in his flasks, “And I have my moments.”

“Why does she resent you?” Lisa asked him.

Han looked at his feet, “We met on poor terms,” he said, as simply as he could, and then looked at Lisa, “Amanda’s told you about Dann Fisher, I take it?”

“She rarely talks about him with me, and usually it’s a lot of moping,” Lisa replied, “He’s dead, right?”

Han raised a brow at Lisa’s bluntness, “He died not too long ago,” Han shrugged, “I fear that Amanda is still very much grieving. And it wasn’t long after that, that her life became this,” he gestured around him, “Picking up where Fisher left off. None of it was easy on her.”

“She always said Dann hated you.”

Han nodded, “We were rivals. Fisher was a show-pony – brawn enough to be in Team Alpha and… special enough to aid in Beta research as well. When he started showing poorly signs, well… it was hard not to drag his name in the dirt, even just a little,” he shuffled his feet, “And it wasn’t long after he died that Amanda showed up – twice the fighter he was. She beat me into the ground when I challenged her in training one time,” Han hesitated, as if Amanda might be listening, “I always wanted to be the best and even after Fisher was in the ground… I couldn’t shake his memory. It’s like he lives in her, the way that she is – unstable and unpredictable, striking when it’s least expected and yet… untraceable. The stealth that Fisher had and Amanda has – their foresight, their skill, their understanding of a world we’re incapable of comprehending at all – is unnerving… un-human.”

“Is that why you choose to disregard Beta Team’s advice?” Lisa asked him, “Because of what they give out?” she paused a moment, “You actually believe in what they have to say, don’t you?”

“Beta Team have had few occurrences in success,” Han told Lisa, abruptly, ever-guarding his pride, “But after Fisher and then Amanda and the mysterious disappearance of Subject 0005 and the serious implications of this disappearance…” Han shrugged, “Alpha had to be on top. Alpha had to run the programme, without constantly being in the shade of Beta successes. Briar rose in office after Amanda’s first seizure – things went very downhill for Beta from there, especially after Amanda went on and on about Valfreyja – and Briar… well, she separated us,” Han took a deep breath, “And I backed her.”

“Does Amanda know all this?”

“Probably,” Han said, “She’s had bigger things to worry about though,” he gestured to Lisa, “Clearly.”

Lisa scowled, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Han’s gaze lingered on Lisa for a moment, “What happened, Lisa?”

Lisa’s hairs stood on end, “How do you mean?”

“Tell me honestly,” Han said, “What happened between you and that corpse in the back?”

Lisa’s throat closed up and she coughed. The muscles in her face tensed and her teeth clamped together. She refused to speak. She couldn’t speak. She could almost feel the spasms of messages racing down her nervous system – making her shake, making her want to lie and deny everything she thought she had seen.

“Lisa?” Han prompted.

“Nothing,” Lisa managed to get out, hoarse and brittle, “Nothing happened.”

Han huffed, “I need to know.”

“Then get Amanda to tell you!” Lisa snapped.

Han raised a brow, “She won’t tell me,” he said, “She refuses to tell me until you calm down.”

“I’m perfectly calm,” Lisa replied, pursing her lips, “I’ve been perfectly calm since the incident.” Angry tears began to form at the corners of her eyes and she sobbed without meaning to. Her fists clenched – for all her defiance, her body refused to stay strong and gave in to the incredible amount of stress that the incident had caused her. She hated it. She hated everything about what she had seen and how she was feeling about it. Amanda had done this. Lisa hated her too.

 

“Until now, apparently,” Amanda said from behind them.

 

Speak of the Devil. Both Han and Lisa looked back at her – wary, as if they had been doing something they shouldn’t have been doing. Amanda stood with paper bags of oily, unhealthy food in her hands; the pungent aroma wafting through the relatively fresh air, and killing it. She looked at them both with piqued curiosity, and chewed her lips for a moment as they gazed at her in silence.

Amanda shut her eyes, “First thing’s first,” she said, raising her arms and gesturing for them to join her outside, “Food.”

Han rose first and then Lisa. She hadn’t realised how shaky she’d become because of the last part of that conversation. She hobbled out of the door and sat next to Han on the bench where Amanda laid the food. The air was chilly, the breeze rubbing its iced tendrils over their faces. Lisa thought to herself as to why they’d want to eat out here. It was freezing! Lisa dipped her hand into the oil-stained take-away bag and pulled out the piping hot fries inside. She was grateful for their warmth. She popped them in her mouth individually, savouring the flavour and the crisp crunch each chip made. Junk food was heaven. Forget ambrosia, French fries should be the food of the gods. It instantly made her feel better; it made her ignore the sour company she was with. She ate and ate. When she was nearly finished, she wanted to ask for more.

Amanda was watching Lisa when she looked up. Lisa’s mouth dropped open, but she couldn’t bring herself to speak – as if something was caught in her throat. She wanted to look away. Amanda crunched the food that was already in her mouth, thoughtful and unreadable. She passed some of her fries to Lisa and Lisa near-snatched them from her.

“Andy,” Amanda said, resting her chin on her knuckles, “Let me ask you something.” Lisa didn’t look up at her. Amanda continued, “Why do we enjoy food? Why does it make us feel better?”

“I don’t know,” Lisa said, mouth stuffed, “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t eat?”

Amanda scoffed, “You telling me you’d starve if there was no delicious food left?”

Lisa stopped a moment and looked at Amanda, “What’s your point?”

“We eat because we need to,” Amanda nodded, “But why does eating what we want make us feel good? Why do we enjoy it?” Amanda cleared some of the crumbs off the bench, “If it was simply a survival thing – we wouldn’t eat unhealthy food regardless of the taste, we wouldn’t eat if we didn’t like the taste. We would end up equally enjoying other things we do simply for survival. Like shitting when we need to.”

“I think there are a fair amount of people who enjoy that,” Lisa pointed out.

“Yes,” Amanda said, “But would they still do it, if they didn’t enjoy it?”

“I don’t think it’s much of a choice, Amanda,” Lisa replied. She didn’t know where Amanda was going with all this, and she was getting frustrated, “Why, Amanda? Why do people enjoy eating fatty, unhealthy food?”

“Half if it is in how we eat it,” Amanda replied.

Lisa furrowed her brows, “What?”

Amanda smiled, “Think about it,” she said, and stood up, put her hands in her pockets and walked to the van.

 

Lisa watched her walk away until she was into the van. She stared and stared, even though Amanda was no longer there.

“What is she talking about?” Lisa mumbled.

Han scoffed.

“You know,” Lisa said to him, “You know. Why didn’t you say anything?”

Han shrugged, “It’s Amanda’s game. I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“Game?”

“Eat up,” he said, patting her back and getting out of his seat.

“Wait,” Lisa stopped him before he wandered off, “What’s the answer?”

“Look at your hands,” he told her, “Look at your face.”

Lisa furrowed her brows again, “Because we can eat messy?”

“It engages more of our senses, to eat with our hands,” Han said, “It heightens our experience of the food. It processes through more than just through smell and taste. We can feel it,” he smiled, “It’s primitive – animalistic – and accepted in society.”

“What has that got to do with anything? Anything at all? Why does it matter?” Lisa said, becoming more and more frustrated.

Han shrugged, “I don’t know what Amanda’s overall point was, but that’s the answer to the question.”

“Fuck.”

“What?”

“She really is crazy, huh?” Lisa asked him.

“She’s playing the long game,” Han said, with a soft sigh, “She has a point. She always does. She just conveys it in small spurts,” he gestured to the van, “Pack up, you can eat inside. We should get going.”

Lisa watched him leave and took the leftovers and placed them in the takeaway bag. She took them into the van, shut the door behind her and sat in the back to finish eating. She heard the engine roar to life and they shifted as the van started moving. Amanda came towards her and sat opposite to her.

 

“Enjoying your food?” Amanda asked her.

“Mm hmm,” Lisa nodded, with chips in her mouth.

Amanda shook her head, “So much that you forgot something?” she uncovered the black cover that was between them and revealed the see-through plastic body bag that held the corpse.

Lisa stared and scrambled back, scattering her fries everywhere, “Are you insane?” she snapped, “Get it away from me! This isn’t funny!”

Amanda looked at her with all seriousness, “We’re going to talk this out like adults, you are going to get it all out and we can continue on this ridiculously terrible idea – like adults.”

“No!” Lisa said, tears running from her eyes, “Fuck, no!”

“Lisa,” Amanda said, keeping her tone calm, “Do you want to go home? It’s not too late to–”

 

The van stopped abruptly and Han stormed down from the driver’s seat.

 

“She can’t leave!” Han said, “You know she can’t leave!”

Amanda looked up at him, and said with same calm tone, “No one is asking you anything,” she looked over at the driver’s seat, “Did you seriously just park us in the middle of a road? Are you stupid?”

“Amanda–”

“Drive the car,” Amanda told him, “Drive the car and stick to driving the car.”

Han huffed – his face fuming with belligerence. He stood in his place with fists balled.

“Go and do your job – or I’ll drive us all back to the airport, and fly myself and Lisa back to Philadelphia,” Amanda told him, “and you can explain to Briar and Xavi why you allowed me to do that.”

Han stared at her, “You’re a real piece of work, Amanda.”

“I know,” Amanda replied.

“I really shouldn’t have brought you,” Han muttered, “Should have asked for someone–”

“With more experience? More obedience?”

Han snarled at her.

Amanda looked at him, “Then why didn’t you, Han? I’m hardly the cream of the crop. I’m not even Alpha,” and she added, “and also, if you remember correctly: I didn’t ask to come here.”

He stomped back without a moment’s pause. He kicked the engine into a roar again and they sped off.

 

Amanda returned her attention to Lisa.

“Well?” she prompted.

Lisa nodded slowly. Her nods quickened and she started crying. She started to cry like a small child that had lost its mother and hadn’t the slightest idea of how to find her, “I want to go home,” she wept quietly, her face in her hands.

“Look at me,” Amanda told her.

Lisa looked up, sniffing and blinking the tears out of her eyes.

“We aren’t going home, Andy,” Amanda told her, “None of us are going home,” she pointed at the corpse. The pale, sheet-white face with a bullet hole in its forehead – in the exact centre, “This is where we are. This is what we’re doing. And you’re going to get thrown to dogs and monsters. And you’re going to shoot them in the face,” Amanda lifted the plastic off of the corpses face, “You’re going to get hurt,” she said and then looked at Lisa, “You’re going to get fucked up,” Amanda stuck her fingers into the hole in the corpse’s head, “This is your life now.”

“No,” Lisa spat.

“Yeah,” Amanda said, feeling into the hole.

“No!” Lisa shouted, “This is not my life!”

“Yes,” Amanda replied with her eerie, annoying calm, “Yes, it is.”

“No! No, it’s not!” Lisa barked, “It’s my life.”

Amanda scoffed, pulling her fingers out and looking at how clean her fingers were; how clean the bullet was, “It was never your life, Pauline,” Amanda told her, “It stopped being yours when Alpha abducted you and took you to Briar’s office – because she suspected you were a NihilCorp activist, because she thought she could disarm me by putting a gun my hand to end your life,” Amanda looked intently at Lisa, “I shielded you from this,” she punched the dead face, making no mark, having not effect, “I kept you from it for as long as I could, but I can’t anymore, Pauline,” Amanda attacked the corpse’s face viciously.

Lisa sobbed, unable to control her tears, but her thoughts were returning to her. She could hear Amanda’s words and could ignore the thoughts that were screaming at the back of her mind. She even noticed the hollow sound the head of the corpse made every time Amanda hit it.

“Neither of us chose this life,” Amanda stated. Punch, punch, punch. “And yet,” punch, “here,” punch, “we,” punch, “ARE!” Amanda bunched her hands together and slammed them down on the forehead of the corpse. The skull cracked and fragmented – splintering away into shards, dust and bone like cracked glass or clay. Lisa stared at it and discovered – to her horrified amazement – that the head was bare of a brain, flesh. Of anything. It was like a casket of a person. A vessel.

“And this is the world we live in,” Amanda panted.

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