I haven’t been good about writing in you since…
It’s been six months since the last entry. I look back at the page and can barely remember feeling so happy about anything. I’ve been transferred from my posting watching a warehouse full of-
I’ve been attached to the Altered Research division so that they can study… me. I don’t think Dr Kimmel likes me very much since we’ve started testing. I don’t –
Sleeping has been hard since… that time. It’s hard to keep appointments, and I’m… I’m scared to do some of the tests. Every time I… It makes me think of all the things I remember. Dr Kimmel says that none of it’s real, but I still remember all of it. I don’t know if… I need to report for duty, or I’ll be late again. They’re going to try and get a blood sample again today I think.
Lieutenant Deanne Ritely sat impatiently in the small waiting area and tried to ignore the blatant stares from the occasional researcher that flitted past. It had taken long months of requests, favors, and outright begging to swing her current assignment. Never thought I’d be asking to work with that… man again. But that’s the price I pay for doing what I KNOW I need to do.
The door to the nearby office slammed abruptly open, and the blonde woman leapt to her feet to come to attention as she spotted the stars adorning the shoulders of the man angrily storming out of the office.
“You will deliver RESULTS, Bernard. You convinced the politicians to fund your insanity for now, but now you have to deal with ME, and I won’t accept your empty PROMISES for long!” The unfamiliar Brigadier General stomped past the young 2nd Lieutenant without pausing or acknowledging the woman, and quickly disappeared down the corridor.
“Ah, Nurse Ritely, a pleasure to see you again.” The voice from behind the young woman was thick with suppressed emotion, an attempt to conceal anger that was somewhat lost around the empath.
“Dr Kimmel, it’s good to see you again.” The blonde managed a sincere, cheerful tone even as she fought down the urge to flinch away from the proffered handshake. “I understand that you’ve been having difficulties with Sergeant Lawson?”
Bernard Kimmel responded with an angry shake of his head and a curt wave to follow him back into the office. Once the Lieutenant was inside and the door was closed the gangly scientist stalked over to his desk where he practically collapsed into the chair.
“Why are you here, Nurse Ritely? I was under the impression that our collaboration on Lawson’s Return was a coincidence, and you made no secret of your dislike for working with me.” Deanne was a little surprised to feel nothing but curiosity from the man as he posed his question, and a little shocked that he’d been more aware than she’d thought during their previous work.
“I’m here because…” The blonde woman weighed her options for a moment and decided not to underestimate Kimmel’s observational skills a second time. “I’ve never felt anything like what the Sergeant felt when she was in that room. She needed help, more help than I could give her in the short time until we had to declare her healthy. I… I NEED to do more, I’m not sure why.”
“So you’ve been studying up on Altereds since we last worked together.” Kimmel produced a file from somewhere behind the desk and dropped it on the surface in front of him. “Have you had time to familiarize yourself with Aron’s recent publications on a comprehensive pattern?”
The abrupt shift in conversation threw the blonde woman for a moment, though she tried not to show it outwardly. “Jean Aron, French statistician and social scientist, and an Altered himself who claims to be over a hundred years ol-…”
“A simple yes or no will suffice, Nurse Ritely. You’ve already been selected for the position, you don’t need to further impress me. Seeing as we will be working together extensively, may I call you Deanne? Feel free to call me Bernard.”
The blonde woman sighed but nodded her agreement. It really would get old quickly to refer to one another constantly by title after all.
“Excellent, now we’ll have to move quickly. Assuming Sergeant Lawson hasn’t overslept or forgotten again, she’s likely waiting for us in Lab 4.” A wry look crossed the man’s face. “We’ll be making our 27th attempt to get a blood sample from the good Sergeant. Have you ever operated an industrial drill-press?”
It took a great deal of effort for Deanne Ritely to follow Dr Kimmel into the medical lab the pair arrived at. The young empath could feel the cauldron of negative emotions waiting on the other side of the door, and she had to choke down the tremendous guilt she felt at having not done more, sooner, to alleviate the suffering that seemed unchanged after six months.
“Hello Dr Kimmel.”
The monotone greeting from the short brunette, already seated next to – Oh my god, he wasn’t joking – a very large drill-press, showed no signs that the woman even noticed the nurse’s presence.
“Hello again, Jessica! Do you remember me?” Deanne forced herself to smile brightly and project as much reassurance as she could muster.
Recognition flashed in the Sergeant’s eyes and she quickly stood to attention and saluted. “Hello again, Lieutenant Ritely.”
The taller blonde returned the salute quickly. “At ease, sergeant. We’ll be working together extensively I hope, so please feel free to call me Deanne.”
The offer of informality drew the tiniest hint of a smile, but any real emotion behind it was buried under depression and phobia. “I look forward to it, Lieu-… Deanne.”
“Just a final reminder before we begin, Sergeant, the extremes we’re working with are fully voluntary, and you ca-…”
“It’s fine, Dr Kimmel.” Jessica interrupted the speech with a soft shake of her head. “It’s the same as the last twenty times, I… I want to help, so I’m okay trying things like this.”
She wants to kill herself. The realization hit the empath like a brick as she watched the smaller woman resume her position with her arm underneath the drill. She wants to know what it will take, that’s why she’s agreeing to everything. Oh God, I have so much work ahead of me. Deanne struggled internally for a moment over whether or not she should try and stop the attempt.
Ultimately it was Bernard Kimmel’s resigned feeling that the current attempt was going to fail that decided the young Nurse on keeping silent for the present. I need to talk to this girl alone, soon. Decision made, Ritely quickly busied herself with assisting the gangly scientist in figuring out how to activate and adjust the industrial drill poised over the sergeant’s arm.
Even feeling Kimmel’s unshakeable belief that the drill was going to fail, Deanne felt her heart pound anxiously as the rapidly spinning bit approached the seemingly unprotected flesh of the young brunette. Several seconds of hard pressure later, that nervousness was dispelled as the press was pulled back to reveal that Sergeant Lawson’s arm remained unblemished, while the drill bit had been ground nearly to nothing.
Bernard sighed and offered a smile. “You continue to astound and confound science with your apparent invulnerability, Sergeant. Seeing this apparent utter failure, I don’t believe I have any other pressing tests until tomorrow.” The older scientist offered a prompting glance at the blonde woman behind him, then moved quickly to exit the room. “I’ll send someone by after breakfast with a detailed itinerary. Perhaps you could show Nurse Ritely around the facility.”
Deanne tried not to roll her eyes. The man has the subtlety of a hand grenade. “I would appreciate it, if you feel up to it, Jessica?”
The shorter brunette smiled slightly as she tugged her sleeve back down to fully cover the strange tattoos that she’d Returned with. “Can’t you tell if I’m feeling up to it, Deanne?”
The taller blonde responded by stepping forward and hugging the smaller woman close to her as the two were now alone in the room. The sergeant flinched and went rigid; and the empath felt a brief surge of panic from the woman, but held on tightly anyways.
“You don’t have to be afraid, Jessica. I know you won’t hurt me.” A hint of laughter crept into the taller woman’s voice. “And I’m pretty sure I CAN’T hurt you.
“Now please, talk to me. Tell me anything you want, I’m here to help you anyway I can.”
Jessica Lawson stood perfectly still for several long seconds before she relaxed the tiniest bit. It took nearly five minutes for her to start speaking.
“The… the first day I was… the place that’s not real. I… I had to fight a man. It was… I killed him. I killed so many of them.”
The first week at the research facility found Deanne taxed to her limits and beyond. From before dawn to well after midnight each day, the blonde woman rarely let her pace drop to a level below ‘frantic’ as she tried to balance her new professional responsibilities with the personal mission she had set for herself. But the exhausting schedule was showing signs of early promise.
“Why are you really here? Why are you around all the time?” The blunt questions came one morning as Deanne was examining the young Staff Sergeant after a grueling round of testing.
Grueling for the researchers anyways. She doesn’t look any more tired than she did when we started. Which, to be fair, is pretty exhausted… The blonde woman pulled her attention back to the present as she realized the shorter brunette was still waiting, impatiently, for answers. “I’m here because I wanted to help you. And I’m around because it’s tricky to do that if I’m not.”
Jessica shook her head slowly. “That doesn’t make any SENSE. You don’t know me at all! We met for less than a week. And I can do things like THAT!” An angrily pointed finger indicated the testing room where some once impressively massive equipment lay in very small pieces, having once again failed to contain or quantify whatever it was the Sergeant was doing.
“We ASKED you to do that, Jessica. We’re hardly going to be upset at you for doing what you were instructed to.”
“Then why are all the other staff afraid of me. Everyone except you and creepy Dr Kimmel.” The brunette flushed slightly as she realized what she’d just blurted out, and Deanne giggled.
“He is a little creepy sometimes. I think it comes across that way because he’s too focused on his work to learn how to behave properly.”
“And the others?”
Deanne shrugged. “Some of them are afraid, though more because they think you’re going to be mad at them for keeping you in here and prodding at you every day. Some of them are just shy, ESPECIALLY around women.” The blonde giggled again as she remembered some of the incidents from the mess hall that had occurred her first few days at the facility. “And some are like Dr Kimmel, they just don’t know how to separate the fact that you’re a person from the fact that you’re also their research subject.”
“Why aren’t you afraid of me?” Jessica vanished as she finished the half-sobbed question and reappeared directly behind the taller woman. “No one can even GUESS how I do that.” Another blink and she was back in the testing room standing in a pile of broken metal. “I DESTROY things. They haven’t found ANYTHING yet I can’t destroy. Why aren’t you afraid?” There were tears running down the brunette’s face as she finished, sinking to her knees in the pile of jagged scraps.
Deanne made her way over to the younger woman, stepping through the debris with a great deal more care for her much more vulnerable legs. Upon reaching the sobbing girl, the taller blonde bent slightly and wrapped the brunette in a hug. “I told you just after we first met. I can feel other people’s feelings. So that’s why I’m not afraid of you. I know that you’d never hurt me. And I’ll be here until you stop wanting to hurt yourself.”
The last statement caused the younger woman to stiffen, and a moment later Deanne found herself alone in the wreckage-strewn laboratory. Straightening carefully, the blonde woman made her own way out of the room and headed off in pursuit of her friend.
“What the hell is this?” Doctor Bernard Kimmel stared blankly at the massive requisition form that his newest assistant had just dropped on his desk. “Honestly Deanne, it is FAR too early in the morning for pranks.”
“It’s not a prank. It’s what we need to do, as a START, if we want to make any progress on getting Jessica Lawson back to something close to functional.”
“Security… a VAULT? I’m not sure you understand, young lady.” The depth of condescension from the scientist caused the blonde woman to grind her teeth angrily. “Sergeant Lawson is incredibly powerful. And if Aron’s theories, which you CLAIMED to be familiar with, are accurate, she could very well be truly invulnerable. Why would she want, or need, ANY of these things?”
“Have you talked to the sergeant about what she experienced during her Vanishing?”
“Absolutely not! Reinforce a delusion about years of torture and fighting? This sort of thi-…”
“It doesn’t MATTER if it was just a delusion or some kind of nightmare, doctor.” Deanne stood as she interrupted angrily. “To Jessica, it was REAL.”
Bernard glared angrily at his new assistant, and seemed about to say something, when the empath literally felt him force himself to go back over the forms she had dropped on his desk instead.
“This will help? She’ll be more functional and able to assist with the testing further? Think carefully before you answer, because if we do this and it doesn’t result in a noticeable, FAST, improvement…” The scientist left the obvious consequences unsaid, but the empath heard them clearly nonetheless.
“She needs to feel safer. She needs to get REAL sleep. She needs to feel like she’s NOT just a weapon. Then it’ll be POSSIBLE we’ll see her improve. Honestly she NEEDS a team of psychiatrists and years of therapy, but she gets one empath and whatever I can swing.” A wry smile crossed the blonde woman’s face. “Beyond that, I’m not sure if I can promise you better results than you were able to promise to the General.”
The skinny scientist stared for a long moment in shock, before bursting into laughter. “Point well made, point well made. Just remember, if the General returns to question why Staff Sergeant Lawson suddenly needs a… sleeping vault? You’ll get to explain it to him.”
It had taken nearly a month, but the new addition to the labs was finally finished and Deanne stood happily in the door as she introduced Sergeant Jessica Lawson to her new quarters.
“What… what is this?” The shorter brunette ran a hand along one of the massive steel walls and stared at the thickness of the door with wide eyes,
“This is your new room, Sergeant. You mentioned you’d developed a bit of a phobia about sleeping during your time away. I think this should reassure your subconscious that no one will be sneaking up on you in the dark.”
Jessica turned an incredulous look on the taller woman, who simply shrugged in response. “I’m the empath, trust me and give it a shot. You’ll have the best sleep you’ve had in months!” And maybe after this works, you’ll open up just a little more and we can make one more step of progress.
“We’re relocating?” Deanne responded to the news with a shocked expression. “Why would they possibly want to move us? We’ve been making such great progress!”
“Too much progress, but also not enough, I’m afraid.” Bernard sat behind his desk and sighed as he read through the thick packet of transfer orders that had been delivered that morning. “You’ve made a huge difference in the past year, Deanne, and I’ve made certain that you’ll remain attached to the Altered Research division. And you’ll still work with Sergeant Lawson, just not exclusively.”
“Do they actually understand how dangerous this could be?”
“A lot don’t even try to understand, and of those that do I don’t think most of them believe it, no matter how many times I’ve told them.” The skinny scientist leaned down to snag a bottle of brandy and a glass from the floor under his desk. “And Sergeant Lawson has progressed to the point where we can’t honestly claim she NEEDS the isolation for her own sake, nor has she made such incredible strides that we can show that moving her to work with other Altereds would stunt further development.”
“Dammit Bernard, we’ve all but proven that Aron’s scale provides an accurate estimate for Altered power level and type. She’s a SEVEN.”
“And that doesn’t mean anything to the brass, yet. And yes, I’ve shown them the scale, and the mountains of research that back it up. I’m sorry Deanne, but we’re relocating to the new NDRC facility and sharing space with the Navy for a while.” The scientist’s expression softened slightly as he sipped his drink. “Arrangements have been made for the Sergeant’s unusual sleeping space, and honestly I think you should be happy for this opportunity. Sergeant Lawson is unlikely the only Altered in the United States military that could benefit from an empathic examiner.”
“When do we leave?” Deanne’s expression had shifted to one of resignation, and she slumped into the chair across the desk from her boss.
“We get to fly out, if it’s any consolation. They’re having us catch a ride with one of the new cargo planes. Off to the Hawaiian Islands for the whole team, Friday at 0800.”
The blonde woman shook her head at the idea of flying, then reached down to snag the matching glass to the one Bernard was currently drinking from, motioning for him to fill hers as well. The brandy did nothing to quell the uneasy feeling in her stomach, and even less to stop the recitation in her head.
‘While the potential array of powers displayed by Altereds is truly staggering, the general trend clearly shows that the lower numbers exhibit greater overall potential power. This is exceptionally true in the extremely rare appearances of single digit Altered. Fully unleashed, they represent a force capable of biblical levels of destruction.’