Casey walked in with the confidence I knew him for. My heart skipped a beat.
“Got your message.” He said to the non-reader. “Hi Square!”
I always disliked the nickname but at this moment I truly abhorred it. It brought back memories of better times and choked my moral. It reminded me that, somehow, I lost the Casey I knew, and was left with a traitor who poisoned me and kicked my pregnant best friend in the stomach.
“I’m glad you could come so quickly.” The non-reader replied with a grin that foretold nothing good. “The partners have decided that it is your time.”
“You can’t be serious.” Wayne objected. My mind reeled to catch up with what I missed. Then it hit me.
The partners wanted me to kill Casey.
“She knows him!” Wayne continued. I prayed for his plea to work. “That’s too harsh a test.”
I was glad already sat on the floor because the situation robbed me of any muscular control. The only thing in my mind was the craziness of the ordeal. Some people wanted me to prove my allegiance by killing the man I loved. The man who betrayed me. And, if I trusted Casey’s smooth expression, he was going to willingly submit to his fate. Was it even possible to wrap my head around that?
“He betrayed her. I’d say that’s too soft a test.” The non-reader countered Wayne’s argument, echoing the turmoil in my mind. “The only valid point is that it’s a shame to lose one of our best programmed assets. You should be thankful the partners are ready to give him up for your girl.”
“That’s the worse attempt at convincing me I have ever heard.” Nevertheless, Wayne walked toward the kitchen in the back of the room and opened a drawer. Metallic clanking told me what he fumbled through. “You could have gone for something along the line of killing the competition.”
Throughout the conversation about the whys and why nots he should be killed, Casey didn’t flinch. He sat on the chair I had left and rested his arms where my old bound still dangled. He looked straight at Wayne and nodded in approbation when the psychopath returned with a large cleaver.
Nausea menaced to blow my lies wide open; Casey had no survival instinct whatsoever. How could telepaths annihilate such a primal impulse? The non-reader mentioned good programming. Casey never betrayed me; they broke him and forced him into the ultimate form of submission. It wasn’t like they just made him forget who he was or convinced him readers were evil. He actually didn’t care whether he lived or died. At all.
It suddenly struck me that being the only one sitting on the floor, with everyone towering above me, I gave away a pretty submissive vibe. Out of spite, I forced myself off the ground and slumped on Wayne’s chair. My movement lacked confidence but at least I wasn’t below everyone anymore. Casey smiled with the same warmth he always had when we worked together.
“I’m so glad to see you’ve come to your senses.” He moved to edge of his chair and rested his hands on my knees. “I wished you did sooner so I didn’t have to work you over so much but hey, the essential is that you’re fine now.”
Memories rushed back to me, freed from the glaze of the Ocean waving in and out of my consciousness. My bloodied spit in a snow bank by a stony façade. The cold wind freezing me to death while my torturer watched TV. Casey had been the dark figure of my nightmares, the worse of my plagues. My brain shut it out to help me through the ordeal. But I remembered now.
Before I knew it, my fist collided with Casey’s jaw. My body moved to hit him again but a part of my brain hovered on the fringe of the fury; they were winning. If I snapped, they won. I just snapped. Even if only for a moment, it was a moment too much. Their manipulation never stopped. This loyalty test was part of their chess game and had, in fact, very little to do with loyalty.
If I didn’t kill Casey, I was dead and my knowledge of the organization along with me. If I killed him to fake my loyalty, I earned yet another weak spot for them to apply pressure on. If I killed him out of anger for what he did, I effectively crossed a line and accepted that somehow, they broke me.
This was my unsolvable problem.
“You have to stop troubling yourself so much.” Casey said. He grabbed two apples from the bowl and threw one my way. “To die for my cause is good. To die by your hand is a blessing.”
He bit in his apple and juice trickled down his chin. I was famished and the bits of fruit I had earlier weren’t nearly enough to satiate me. However, no matter how tempting Casey made that apple look, I couldn’t take a bite in my own, even to keep up appearances.
I dropped the apple to the floor. No one moved to pick it up. In the corner, Wayne slowly sharpened the cleaver. The sound ground back and forth incessantly. No one talked. I supposed they wanted to let the horror sink in.
I looked around hoping to find even a small chance of escape. Catching my thought, Ryan growled. Casey clicked his tongue at me in disapprobation.
“I understand why you do it,” I said, thinking it with all my heart. “Please don’t force me to this now.” I pleaded to Wayne. He shrugged.
“Not my decision, honey.” Wayne kept sharpening the weapon. “We’re running out of time.”
“He’s right, you know.” Casey added. “We have a big operation soon. Either the partners trust you or you’re dead. I know they’re sick of trying to break you.”
I shivered. Wayne dropped the sharpener and joined me. He dropped the cleaver on the table and absentmindedly massaged my shoulder. I couldn’t move my eyes away from Casey who took a last bite of the apple.
“I want this, you know,” Casey said.
Wayne closed my hand around the cleaver.
Coming next Wednesday: IXa – A Trouble In Paradise >>