Author's Note: Sorry everyone that it took me so long to update. I had planned Empathy out completely but with the edits I made to Apathy I was forced to change some of the plot. Anyways, here's the next chapter. Hope you like it since I kept you all waiting for so long!
Six days ago . . . .
Currently Listening To: "Unknown Song" by Unknown Artist
"Do you remember anything?"
Those four words act like an alarm clock. I stir and lift my head upon a neck stiff with inactivity. My eyelids snap open and flutter uncontrollably as I adjust to the sudden change in lighting. A bright glow the color of amber fills my sight, blinding and burning white hot like a fire poker.
Pain greets me, triggered by my abrupt return to consciousness. My head throbs rhythmically, a pulsating metronome trapped inside of my skull along with music I think is playing inside my head. I mean, where is that music coming from exactly? It's faint but just loud enough to annoy me. My ears buzz with the sound of a million swarming mosquitoes, swelling steadily to an unbearable crescendo. Preoccupied, I barely hear the voice repeat its question, the tone suggesting nothing close to urgency, although it should.
I look up to find a woman swaying in and out of my field of vision. I squint against the stinging light, my head screaming in agony. I attempt to lift a hand to rub my temples only to find both of my arms shackled to the chair where I'm currently sitting. As panic seeps into my every pore, I stare down at the binding restraints.
"Silencing cuffs," the woman informs me. "They are used to negate the active electrical field of Empaths. You will wear them during this session. After the attack yesterday, we have been forced to take certain precautions."
I laugh bitterly, a horrible croaking noise escaping my lips. "You've got to be kidding me," I say, my voice raspy. "I'm not an Empath, whatever that is."
The woman stares at me, swimming in and out of focus as I glare at her.
"You're not very talkative," I comment groggily, my mouth thick with dry saliva. "So, let's try another question: Where am I?"
"Prison," the woman replies simply.
"Oh yeah. Right. How could I forget something like that?"
As my vision steadily clears, I can make out a tanned woman with alert, falcon-like brown eyes and long blond hair pulled up into a waterfall ponytail. She has somewhat of a kind face, despite the lack of emotions, so I don't suspect any immediate danger. However, my basic instinct to regain control of the situation, to essentially survive, kicks into high gear. With a jolt of something like adrenaline, I glance about the room frantically, confused as to how I ended up here. One moment, I was in my cell and then I remember something involving a three-prong needle. And now, I'm in this room with no recollection as to how I arrived. In fact, I can't remember anything.
The room is square and bare, plainly decorated and minimally furnished. One of the walls appears oddly pixelated and ever so often I spot flickering digital squares there. There's a table nearby, neat and tidy with a small stack of papers and a coffee mug smelling pleasantly of hazelnut and sugar. Two male guards stand sentinel on either side of the only exit, their heads fixed in my direction, watching me with narrowed eyes as if they expect me to attempt an escape. Both of them clutch assault rifles and they stand unusually stiff. They creep me out a little with their intense stares.
I'm briefly surprised at how attuned my senses are suddenly. As all blurriness fades, I can view everything clearly like a blind person given the ability to see again. Colors jump out at me in an assortment of bright hues ranging from the metallic golden sheen of the guards' uniforms to the pale blue dress of the woman standing before me. The hazelnut coffee tickles my sense of smell, as does a familiar pungent scent radiating from my arm. I look down and notice the thin gash carved into my forearm, caked with dried blood. Just above the cut are three tiny pinpricks where someone jammed me with whatever sedated me.
I swallow my saliva, tinged with salty perspiration, to wet the back of my throat. I lick my cracked lips and taste blood there. A rustling sound reaches my ears, as one of the guards shifts restlessly. Like a dog with perked up ears, I instantly turn my gaze back towards the men guarding the door. That's when I suddenly feel the strange sensation all around me. It happens out of nowhere and somehow finds its way inside of me. Nestling itself into my bloodstream, it courses throughout my body, warming me just as I notice that the room is unbearably cold. My arm hairs stand on end and I spot the source of the chilly air immediately—a giant ceiling fan whirring silently overhead.
Then, I start contemplating a method of escape. But my mind acts as if I have an attention disorder, so it's hard to focus my thoughts. I become easily distracted by every little sight and every little sound as my brain tries to work out some kind of a strategy. Is that a fly circling above the woman's head? If I can somehow free myself from the cuffs, I could incapacitate the woman before the guards knew what was going on. Gosh, my blood stinks. Why does blood smells like that? The woman is actually very pretty and she looks familiar, like someone from my past. Then, I can turn my attention to guards and strike while they're dazed and confused. No, that won't work. They'll shoot me before I can move a muscle. Where is that music coming from? Is it inside of my own head? How weird. Ooh coffee. I'm so thirsty . . . .
What is wrong with me? It's like I'm hopped up on twenty cans of soda. I regard the woman once more, desperate to remember her. A nameplate on her chest bears an insignia of a map and cross with bent edges, as well as the initial for her first name and her entire surname—A. Suarez. Suarez? Where have I seen that name before?
The woman known as Suarez approaches me after producing a second chair from behind the table. She drops the chair directly in front of her and the resulting sound echoes loudly in the silent room. She sits down and is about to speak when I beat her to the punch.
"What do you want from me?" I croak in a hoarse voice. "Why am I here and not in my cozy cell?"
She surveys me for a moment before speaking. I have the impression that she wishes she could probe my mind. "You don't remember anything?"
I shake my head solemnly, hoping that my sudden amnesia is only temporary. I feel vulnerable and weak since I can't remember a thing, not even my own name.
"I was afraid of this," Suarez states, sitting rigidly in her chair, although her posture remains more natural than that of the two guards. Again, I look at them. The way they stand doesn't seem very human-like. "I suspect that an Eraser was involved. If that's the case, then we may never know—"
"I'm sorry," I desperately interrupt her musings. "But what is going on here?"
Suarez hesitates. She looks as though she would rather jump off of a cliff than answer my question. Perhaps she's afraid of my reaction or that it will pain her to be the bearer of bad news since my memory has failed me somehow. Whatever the reason, Suarez's face drains of color slightly and she becomes as pale as ashes.
Something triggers inside of my mind, telling me that she shouldn't have reacted in that way. There's something about emotions and how they are illegal but I can't wrap my mind around all of it. All I know is that I'm in trouble already so it doesn't matter if I respond emotionally. But she shouldn't.
"I don't really know all of the details," she skates around the true answer. "I was hoping you would be able to tell me but—"
"—I can't, so tell me what you know!" I bark suddenly, my voice still resembling a bullfrog's. I hadn't sounded very menacing but Suarez complies anyways.
"You were on a mission for SAFE and was charged with delivering a package to Representative Noah Emerson," Suarez explains, confusing me. What's SAFE? And who's Noah Emerson? None of those words mean anything to me. The word "mission" captures my attention, however. If I was on a mission, then how did I end up in a prison?
"What is SAFE, other than how I don't feel at the moment?" I ask before I can stop myself, proposing the first question that pops into my head.
"Allow me to finish first," Suarez replies, growing weary of my interruptions. "It is imperative that I do so because you might be in grave danger."
That silences me like the cuffs binding me to the chair.
Suarez takes a deep breath, thinking. "You were accused of murdering Representative Emerson before you went on the run. We questioned your father and younger sister, taking the former to BioLife for thorough testing of his disease and the latter to World State Orphanage. Liam Cato, one of the brightest young White Agents, was assigned to track you down and bring you to justice. You continued to elude capture and somehow managed to infiltrate the orphanage where Agent Cato had set up a trap for you. At some point during all of this, Agent Cato's loyalties changed. We have reason to believe that the two of you discovered content hidden on a flash drive inside of the envelope that you were supposed to deliver to Emerson the day you killed him. This information was obtained somehow by Dr. Emilia Cato, Agent Cato's mother. We need to know everything that Dr. Cato unearthed and we need to know it now."
None of what she said makes any sense to me. I'm not a killer. There's no way that I murdered that Emerson guy. Or did I?
I also have a father and a sister. This doesn't shock me somehow. But my father has a disease. That's terrible. The name Liam Cato is very familiar to me. I rack my brain because I know somehow that he was an essential part of my life before whatever happened to me that destroyed my memory.
It's difficult to keep the sarcasm out of my voice when I speak again. "I lost my memory, remember?" I would have laughed at my pun if I wasn't strapped to a chair inside of a prison with no recollections.
"I know, but my superiors won't buy that," Suarez tells me. "They will think that you're making excuses to hide your betrayal. Of course—"
"Wait a second," I stop her yet again. "My betrayal?" I said the last word with a shrill gasp that caught the attention of the guards. One takes a step forward, ready to subdue me if necessary. But Suarez glances at him and waves him back to his previous position. Grudgingly, the guard returns to standing nearly as still as a stone pillar. "I wasn't the one who found out all of the crap you want. Blame that Dr. Cato woman."
Suarez nods, focusing her gaze on the pearly white linoleum floor. "We know that there were two digivids on the drive. We also know that you made a copy of drive. We obtained the original but not the duplicate and—"
"Well, there you are," I cut her off once again. "Why don't you review the digi-whatevers yourself? Why do you need me to tell you anything?"
"Because the original flash drive has turned up missing."
"Oh," I say thoughtfully. "Well that puts a damper on everything, doesn't it?" I smile in spite of myself. "And with my memory gone, I wish you good luck with trying to find out what Dr. Cato discovered." An idea comes to me suddenly. "Why don't you try her? She can help more than I can."
"Her memory has been tampered with as well," Suarez says sullenly. "It was destroyed the moment she was arrested, as was yours yesterday."
"But how did it happen?"
"We don't know. More than likely, it was a group of SAFE rebels. Somehow they came into the prison last night, swiped the flash drive, zapped your memory after sedating you, and disappeared without leaving behind a trace of evidence until we found you this morning." She pauses and eyes me closely. I look away when her gaze becomes too much. Even though she's pretty, Suarez reminds me oddly of a bird. Her beak-like nose doesn't help my impression of her either.
"Sounds like you guys have serious security issues," I tell her with a grin. I'm trying to act nonchalant and keep my rising panic at bay. On the surface, I may appear calm and collected but internally, I'm going insane. What has happened to me? Why has my memory been taken from me as though it was a priceless artifact? Apparently, I found out what Dr. Cato had discovered and that was definitely not a smart move on my part.
"The Core obviously doesn't want this information getting out to the public. Whatever Dr. Cato discovered can't be good and now that it's in the wrong hands, it can generate panic and disorder, two things that will surely destroy this nation." Suarez stares at me with an intensity I don't like. "If you can't reveal what you know, then you are going to be convicted of treason and sentenced to lifelong imprisonment here."
My eyes widen with shock and threaten to pop out of my skull. I tremble violently in my seat, wishing I can break free from the chains binding me. "I shouldn't be punished for something I can't recall!" I scream furiously.
The power or whatever is coursing inside of me grows stronger as my anger rises to boiling point. This all seems very unfair and as cruel as a bad joke. I strain to remember anything that has happened to me and several images flicker before my mind's eye within a few moments—
I see myself waking as a girl enters my cell. I sit up on my uncomfortable cot and peer at the newcomer through tired eyes. My head throbs and I feel heavily medicated.
The cell door slides shut behind the girl, who bears a tray of food. Nervously, the girl advances deeper into the shadowy cell, with simulated light shining through the bars of the door's window guiding her. The girl trembles and nearly drops the tray before placing it on top of a table fused with one of the walls. She's tall and bony with a narrow face and high cheekbones. Her brown eyes are sunken and her nose protrudes at an odd angle, as if previously broken. She wears prisoner's rags, her dark hair covered in grime.
As the girl turns to leave without uttering a single word, something peculiar happens.
An aura of pulsating yellow light encloses her suddenly, engulfing her like licking flames. From my perch on the cot I start, wondering if I should cry out for help. But the girl doesn't appear to be in any danger. The light that's so like fire doesn't burn her. In fact, she doesn't even notice anything out of the ordinary as she retreats towards the cell door that swings open for her.
Watching the girl disappear out of the cell, I experience a feeling of synesthesia as the dazzling aura around the stranger stimulates my senses other than sight. I can almost feel the heat radiating from the strange glow and I can almost hear it calling out to me, beckoning me forward to absorb the light for an unimaginable pleasure . . . .
The cell door clicks close again and—
I snap out of the vision without warning and return to the interrogation room. I plead silently for the memory to come back to me, even if I hadn't understood it. I crave more, believing that recalling one memory will lead to me recovering all of the others I've lost. What kind of a person, or entity for that matter, can destroy a person's ability to summon reminiscences from the depths of his or her mind?
Suarez is staring at me like I'm an interesting specimen. "Did you just remember something?" She questions me, a bit of urgency in her voice. "Your eyes were fluttering madly."
I nod. "I remember waking up in my cell and a girl bringing me food, although she looked as though she needed to eat it instead of me. When she was leaving I—" But then I stop, unsure if I want to reveal all that I witnessed to Suarez. I don't know if I should trust her.
It doesn't matter anyway because Suarez selects my moment of hesitation to inform me: "You remembered what happened after you arrived here. Your memory was from yesterday morning. When you were brought here, you were injected with three capsules that release a small amount of sedatives into your bloodstream when triggered remotely. Two doses have already been administered—one by us and the other by whomever stole your memories. A side effect of the sedative is hunger, hence the food that was brought to you the moment that you woke up."
"Is she a prisoner?" I ask Suarez, ignoring everything she just told me. "The girl who brought me food?"
Suarez nodded. "Yes, she is. Why do you ask?"
I make the sudden and conscious decision to tell her about the bizarre spectacle from my memory. I'm in deep trouble already so there's no point in hiding anything that might help prove that I can't remember anything.
"Before she left my cell, she started glowing," I tell Suarez, hoping I don't sound as if I belonged in an asylum. "A yellow light outlined her body and then I felt, I don't know, weird, like I was connected to her aura somehow." I shake my head and scoff. My words sounded so ridiculous out loud that I wish I had kept them to myself. I half-expected Suarez to laugh but she doesn't. On the contrary, she remains silent, sporting a passive expression. "I think I'm going crazy."
"You are definitely not crazy," Suarez corrects me. "The aura that you speak of occurred because—"
It wasn't I who silence Suarez this time. At that moment, another voice rings out, reverberating throughout the room. Generated by a loudspeaker, the voice drowns out all other sounds, making it impossible for me, even with my attuned senses, to have heard Suarez even if she had continued with what she was saying.
It's a woman's voice. Cool and pompous, she says: "You're out of time, Agent Suarez. Leave the prisoner and report back to the viewing room immediately."
Suarez climbs to her feet at once. "I will do everything that I can to help you and convince them that you can't remember anything. Perhaps they will show you some leniency but mercy is hard to come by these days." She turns to leave.
"Wait!" I cry out suddenly. If I was about to face the gallows then I at least wanted to know something first. I don't even know why it's important to me. After all, it doesn't really matter since my fate will be incarceration for the rest of my life. But for some reason, I need to know. I want to retain some form of my identity, even if I can't remember anything about my life.
Suarez pauses and looks back at me. She waits in silence.
"What's my name?" Those three words tumble out of my mouth.
Suarez stares at me blankly. "Your name is Charlotte Tatum."
I register my name and whisper it reflexively. "Charlotte Tatum." That's my name and when I say it aloud, I feel like I'm meeting myself for the first time.
"Thank you," I speak quietly, all croakiness absent from my voice now. My normal voice is steady, strong, and as smooth as silk.
The edges of Suarez's lips twitch into a very brief sympathetic smile. Then, she sweeps from the room, leaving me alone with nothing but my rampaging thoughts and the glaring men guarding my only path to freedom.
I use the silence to try to clear my head, to think and come up with a plan to get out of this mess. But having no memory has dampened my resolve and ability to focus. Negative thoughts swirl around inside of my head, trapped inside of a tornado beyond my control. Learning my name has activated a sleeping monster of suppressed emotions.
Anger, regret, hatred, misery—they all flare up inside me, devastating me with a full-on assault. I try to fight them off but my efforts are futile. I direct my rage towards whoever took my past away from me. If I ever escape the mess I'm in, I vow reclaim my life. I regret ever going on that fateful mission for SAFE that I can't remember, even though it's too late to take it all back now. I hope that Suarez will be able to convince those who imprisoned me that my memories were snatched away and that they would give me the opportunity to redeem myself. Lastly, I experience a wistful longing to remember my family, my friends if I had any, my home if I had one, anything . . . .
A single tear trickles down the side of my face and I squeeze my eyes shut to prevent more tears from falling. Pain that has nothing to do with my throbbing head compels me to sob but I won't allow it. I have to stay strong. I need to suppress my emotions and focus.
I open my eyes as my body purges all negative emotions at my silent command. I don't know how long I sat there, trying to formulate a plan. Time is suddenly irrelevant to me. All that matters is figuring out what to do next, made difficult by the fact that I have no clue about what's coming next. Suarez might return any moment now and inform me that I would not be spending the rest of my life in prison for treason. Or she could tell me that I had better get used to the inside of a cell. Whatever happens, I have to be ready for anything.
A sudden movement catches my attention. I look up and see that one of the guards has finally moved again. The one on the left has turned his back on me, shielding something from view. I stare at him and notice a flicker of light shining through a crack between his arm and torso. Then, he nods and says in a flat, monotone voice, "Okay. We'll deal with the girl."
The light vanishes and the guard wheels around, gripping his assault rifle tighter in his hands. He signals the second guard and the two of them advance on me slowly, something similar to glee playing on their faces. Their golden armor sparkles in the amber light.
I watch them draw nearer but I feel no fear. When they free me from my bonds I would strike, like a snake hidden beneath some underbrush. My fingers coil in anticipation. They won't suspect a thing. Maybe they believe I'm still heavily sedated. I would fight. They would not lead me back to my cell without difficulty.
But the guards don't free me; something else does.
As the guards halt and aim their weapons at me, I hear a clicking sound. The silencing cuffs have released me and the power I felt earlier surges through me strongly. I start glowing yellow, pulsing with electrical energy. I'm momentarily stunned and afraid, confused to why this was happening. I'm also reminded of the girl I had seen in the only memory I retained.
Without warning, one of the guard fire his rifle, releasing a bolt of harnessed lightning that streaks towards me with speed and intensity and—
Faster than a lightning streak myself, I leap out of my seat and evade the shot with ease, my body twisting gracefully through the air. I land cat-like on the floor, my knees bent and my arms extended by my side. I don't pause for too long though. My sudden danger sense sounds like a siren, telling me to move. NOW!
Both guards fire this time, their shots striking places where I had last occupied just moments before. I dart around the room, ducking or flipping over bullets that sear the walls, impressed with how fast I can move after being sedated. My body seems to recognize the right moments to perform certain actions and then executes them flawlessly.
I circle back towards the two guards and charge them. Energy bullets fly past me and over my head. One blast almost singes the top of my head but I drop into a roll in the nick of time. I hop back up to my feet and continue forward. The space between us narrows considerably. I unleash a growling yell. One of the guards steps forward to greet me. Big mistake.
I kick out hard and my foot connects with the butt of his rifle. The gun spins out of the guard's hands and into my own. I right the assault rifle and it feels cool to the touch. The temperature of the gun changes to warm, however, when I pull the trigger. Bolts rip repeatedly through the guard's armor and I surprised that they manage to penetrate his protective suit. He keels over sideways, his exposed innards crackling and sparking. Wait a second . . . crackling and sparking. People don't crackle and sparkle—they bleed. So who or what are these things?
Breathing hard, I spin around to destroy the second . . . whatever . . . but I receive an unexpected surprise. The assault rifle clicks but nothing else happened. The gun's clip is spent. Crap.
I move quickly, diving to the floor and behind the table. I disappeared out of sight for only a split-second because in the very next moment, the table goes flying past me, crashing into the chair that bound me earlier. I scramble to a standing position and drop the no longer useful assault rifle. It clatters to the floor in my wake as I avoid another barrage of bullets from the remaining . . . machine? I'm wondering if the non-human guard will ever run out of ammunition when shots pepper the pixelated wall I noticed earlier.
Only it isn't a wall. It's a one-way mirror. The digitalized picture of a solid wall is disrupted momentarily by inaccurate shots and I can see people standing behind the screen, watching me. Apparently, my release was for other's enjoyment. But why? I'm so confused.
The spectators disappear after the digital wall recovers from the damage inflicted upon it. Then, I realize something. The guard stopped firing and I hear him . . . it . . . rushing me from behind.
I wait until its close enough before I react. I jump up high into the air and the synthetic goes barreling past beneath me. I drop lithely to the floor and before I can move a muscle, unbearable pain floods my bloodstream.
It's like an explosion has taken place inside my body. I collapse in a heap, writhing in agony. The world around me fades from view, sucked away by the final capsule inside of me that released a concentrated blast of sedatives, forcing me to close my heavy eyelids. I obey, anything to make the pain go away. I hear the footfalls of the guard coming back for me, the sound like thunder since one of my ears is pressed against the floor. But I don't care.
With my eyes closed, I, Charlotte Tatum, sink into oblivion.