The girl didn’t fight. She knew it was pointless. She watched the doctor prepare the needle, drawing up the Cv9 into the reservoir and inserting it directly into her vein.
Of course, there were more modern ways to inject sedatives but he preferred the tactile feel of the needle. The small popping sound it made as it penetrated the skin. The pressure of manually compelling the drug into the blood stream.
He could trust his own fingers.
He couldn’t say the same for much else.
“Don’t worry,” he told her. “This won’t hurt. And you won’t remember a thing.”
The serum worked fast. The dose was significant. As she drifted to sleep, she held one face in her mind. The face she longed to remember. And also longed to forget.
She would wake up chained. She would wake up changed.
She knew this.
The smile on her lips as her mind slipped into darkness was her last act of rebellion.
The doctor watched her vitals on a monitor. When she was fully under, he sent for the president.
The slender blond man entered the room ten minutes later, limping against a cane. It was a vast improvement over the mechanical chair that carried him only yesterday.
“She’s ready,” the doctor informed him.
The president walked unsteadily around the edge of the hovering metal slab which held the unconscious girl. Without uttering a word, he gazed down upon her. An ignorant bystander might even describe the look in his eyes as adoring, particularly as he reached down to brush a strand of golden brown hair from her face.
But the longer he watched her, the less innocuous his stare became. Hardening with each passing second. Until icy blue stones glared out from the sockets where his eyes had once been.
She had betrayed him for the last time. He would not make the same mistakes again.
“I have a Memory Coder standing by,” the doctor informed him. “I’ve ordered a full wipe to be initiated on your command.”
“No.” The president’s response was swift and stern.
The doctor was certain he had misunderstood. “No?”
“We’ve tried that before. Countless times. And it always leads us right back here.”
“But surely this time the Coders can—”
The president silenced him with a shaky raise of his hand. “She keeps her memories. All of them. Restore everything we have in the server bunker.”
“Guilt is a powerful weapon. Her memories will be a constant reminder of her disloyalty. Every time she thinks of him, I want her to feel that betrayal. Tell the Coder we’re going to implement the new procedure.”
The doctor squirmed. “Sir, with all due respect, that procedure hasn’t been fully tested and—”
“That will be all.”
The doctor stood in stunned silence until he finally managed to utter an acknowledgement of the order.
The president returned his gaze to the girl, reaching out to gently stroke her silken cheek. Then, so the doctor couldn’t hear, he bent down and whispered in her ear. “This time you won’t be given the luxury of forgetting.”
One year later…
The air is harsh and blistering, whipping around me as I cross the barren field. There are no buildings to thwart the desert wind, and today it seems angrier than most. I could outrun it. I’m certainly capable. But I keep my current pace.
I’m in no rush to get there.
The compound is almost unrecognizable out here. The landscaped pathways ended a half mile back. The sleek, reflective surfaces of the Aerospace Sector were the last signs of civilization.
Now it’s just…
But I feel reassured knowing the fortifications that mark the boundaries lie beyond the hill to my left.
There used to be a time when the walls of the compound kept me in—when I thought of them as prison walls and tried to escape. Now, it’s as though someone lifted a veil of deception from my eyes and I can finally see the truth.
The walls are there to keep others out.
Those who don’t understand me. Those who want to hurt me. Those who are unlike me.
Of course, there are plenty of people on this side of the wall who are unlike me, too, but they can be trusted. Their bodies and minds may not be as strong as mine, but they still think like me. They still serve the Objective.
The dry shrubs crunch beneath my feet as I approach the cottage. The ten-foot wall around the perimeter remains standing but the gate is no longer locked.
I run my fingertips along the warm unyielding surface of the concrete, feeling the rough edges prickle my skin.
He used to climb these walls.
The boy from my memories.
That’s how he got to me. How he broke into my world and corrupted my brain with impossible notions. Impossible dreams. Promises of a life outside these barriers.
As if I could ever live anywhere else.
This is where I belong. Where I’ve always belonged. And now that my memories have been restored and the truth has been revealed to me, my brain is stronger, my goals refortified. I am no longer susceptible to bewitching lies.
I am no longer swayable.
They fixed me. They introduced me to my true purpose. And I am grateful.
I push open the heavy steel gate of what was once the Restricted Sector and slip inside. The white cottage is smaller than I remember. As though it’s physically shrinking day by day, its importance diminishing in my mind. This is the first time I’ve visited in over a year. The first time I’ve been able to garner the strength to.
I’m hoping that today it will remind me of where I started. Who I was. How far I’ve come.
A fully-functioning member of the Objective.
Even if he were here, even if he found his way back, it wouldn’t matter. I would be able to resist him now. I will never fall prey to his charms again.
That stupid girl is gone.
I am the better version.
The grass surrounding the cottage is overgrown and burnt to a brown crisp by the desert sun. No one comes here anymore. There is no reason to. The Restricted Sector of the compound was originally built to shield me from the world. But ever since the announcement of the Unveiling three months ago, I no longer have to be shielded.
And the world knows.
Now the sector remains abandoned. All of my training, testing, and recreation takes place in the other sectors.
When I step through the front door of the house, I find the rooms barren. They must have emptied them, redistributing the furniture to other parts of the compound. What few possessions I had were undoubtedly thrown away. Which is for the best. That was the darkest time in my life. I don’t want mementos.
I walk from room to room, my legs wobbly and unreliable beneath me. I may collapse at any minute from the sheer heaviness of this place. But I push myself to keep going.
I stand in the middle of what used to be the living room and close my eyes. I can smell the scent of my own betrayal. My weakness is seeped into these walls. It makes me gag, but I force myself to breathe it in, allow it to settle in my lungs. The shame trickles through my body like a cold insect. I hate how ugly it feels inside of me but I don’t fight it. I don’t push it out. I only draw it in deeper. Letting it saturate me.
This is exactly what I need to make sure I stay strong. Focused. Committed. Tomorrow is an important day for the Objective. And I won’t allow myself to falter again.
Outside, the sun is already setting, the bright gold orb kissing the pink horizon. As I step onto the porch, my gaze is pulled toward a patch of indented grass on the far side of the lawn. I know from accessing the memories of my life before my rehabilitation that there used to be a white marble bench there.
The boy and I used to hide things under it before we escaped. It was our way of communicating with each other without the scientists knowing.
Another method of flagrant rebellion on my part.
A new onslaught of guilt punches me in the chest. I clench my fists and grit my teeth, soaking in the sensation, letting it fuel the fire of determination I keep lit inside me at all times.
The bench is long gone, but something is strangely drawing me to the spot where it once stood. Like a magnetic force field pulling me in, rendering me helpless in its grasp.
Could something still be buried there after all this time?
The thought enters my mind before I can stop it and I feel my feet drag as I approach, my mind and body at war.
A small object in the grass where the bench once stood catches my eye. I walk over and bend down, plucking the small blossom from the ground and holding it up. The white feathery orb sparkles as the vanishing sunlight shines through it.
“Dandelion,” I say, accessing the correct name from my mind.
I smile at how easily the word comes to me. The uploads I receive weekly provide me with more data than I’ll ever need. Now that I am trustworthy, I have been given full clearance to all the knowledge I desire. My access to data is no longer limited.
I search for more information, quickly discovering that dandelion is a weed that was eradicated thanks to advances made in Diotech’s Agricultural Sector.
But evidently they weren’t able to eliminate all of them.
“Weed,” I repeat curiously, rolling the thick, prickly stem between my thumb and forefinger.
The memory of the first time I saw one explodes into my mind. I was with him. The boy called Lyzender. The day we met. Right here in this yard.
He told me to wish on it.
He told me a lot of things.
“It’s more beautiful than other plants,” I remark, clutching the stem.
His eyes find mine. Endless brown eyes. “It most certainly is.”
I wrap my palm around the downy white flower and squeeze, crushing the soft fibers against my hand. When I unfurl my fingers, there’s nothing but a sickly grayish pulp left.
“I wish I had never fallen,” I announce to the empty yard, wiping my hand against my pant leg and dropping the barren stem to the ground. There’s a satisfying squishing sound as my shoe lands on top of it. “I wish we had never met.”
UNCHANGED (Unremembered #3)
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux Books for Young Readers
Hardcover (February 24, 2015)