I press my fingers against the cool glass, and peer through, but see only my reflection. My grey eyes glare back at me, filled with anger and fear. A long, dark pink scar curls from bellow my left eye, down my left cheek to my collarbone, twisting my mouth into an everlasting snarl. I flinch and look away. Nobody wants to see that. I run my hand along my arm in a feeble attempt to warm myself. They’ve begun the daily decontamination.
I pace back and forth, until it is time for my breakfast, which is delivered in a small orange and black box. These are the colours of our nation. I open them slowly, cautiously. I never know what effect it will have on me. Their attempts to break my resolve are never-ending. Mostly, -the food is okay, though. I take out a long, slimy green strip of some kind of sea creature. A thin, watery sea-weed soup. All standard. I take my breakfast over to the corner and sit down. I stare at the camera, high above my reach, blinking its little red light.
The soup is salty and seems to have some kind of vegetable in it, which is a rarity. I wonder what the occasion is. Perhaps it’s our Fuhrer’s birthday.
Once I have finished, I place the boxes on a tray which takes them down the chute to the incinerator. Last year, a recent arrival, a young Irish girl with thick, curly red hair and bright green eyes made the mistake of trying to escape down the chute. The others tried to warn her, but she wouldn’t listen. She wasn’t the first. The children that are born here are usually okay. This is the only life they’ve ever known. But those of us, the ones who have been on the outside… well, few of us maintain our sanity.
After an hour or so, the door opens. Die gnädige Frau herself steps through the door. I shudder.
‘Kind!’ She shrieks. Child!
‘Guten morgen, gnädige frau.‘ Goodmorning, your ladyship.
Romilda Harringson is a tall woman with ruler-straight hair cut severely just below her ear. Her lips are sculpted and cherry red, and her eyelashes extend farther than anyone I’ve ever seen. Ironically, she’s one of the most beautiful people I remember ever seeing. Her sharp voice cut through my thoughts.
‘Komm jetzt, mein kind.’ Come now, my child.
I pick myself up from the floor, and look her directly in the eye. She grabs me sharply by the wrist, her long red fingernails digging into my flesh.
‘Can’t we speak English?’ I ask, as she pulls me out of the room and into the corridor. She is silent for a while, then sighs and concedes. ‘As you wish.’
The corridor is painted a pale white-cream colour, and as we walk along I notice that the mirror facing out into the hallway is actually a one-sided mirror. As I look in, I see that most of the rooms are empty, though they show signs of recent habitation.
As I look up at Frau Romilda, and I ponder how her name is so perfectly suited to her. In English, her name translates to ‘glorious battle maiden.’ The only sound audible is the click-clack of her heels against the smooth floor.
After a few minutes of walking down the corridor, we arrive at an elevator. She presses her hand against a dark blue panel, and I watch as it slowly comes to life, scanning the patterns in her hand. A mechanical, female voice tells her to look into a camera, before the doors swing open silently.
‘Where are we going?’ I ask.
‘You don’t remember?’ She speaks with a thick accent, and a bemused expression alights on her face. She presses the button on the elevator, and instantly we are shot up hundreds of metres. The door opens to a small room, and as I step out, my feet sink into the thick, soft plush carpet. We are in something of an administration office. ‘Today is interview day.’ Well, I guess that explains the soup.
A sense of dread threatens to swallow me, but I focus on the bright, inappropriately cheerful painting hanging in the lobby. Frau Romilda hands me over to a young servant lady, with a white, nurse like uniform. She introduces herself as Bruna.
Firstly, I am taken to a huge bathing room with rows of showers extending from the wall. I wince as the ice cold water pounds against my back. A thick, light blue fluid drips from a faucet in the wall, and she tells me to rub it into my skin, like soap. As I put my hand beneath the constant drip, my hand begins to sting. I looked at her, but she wouldn’t meet my eye. I quickly washed it off, but it doesn’t help. I’m not sure what that was about.
Afterwards, Bruna blow-dries my hair and curls it. She smears a cold paste onto my face and paints my lips and cheeks a lovely rose colour. She then takes me to a clothing room, and I am fitted with a modest, long-sleeved grey cotton shirt that feels irresistibly soft and a pair of slacks. After I am deemed acceptable for presentation to the board, I am led down another poorly lit corridor.
The room I enter is the first recognisable thing I have encountered. The room is an ominous dark-bluish grey- the colour of an impending rainstorm. It's the kind that wipes out whole cities and creates valleys and moves mountains. I bow my head as I walk in, thinking it might gain me favours with the board. Although they’ve never been anything but ruthless in the past. I walk into the room and sit in the seat selected for me- a sign is placed on the back of the seat. ‘This seat is reserved for Adelgiese Henrietta Yvenest.’ I doubt this is the name I was born with, but I haven’t got anything else to call myself. The name means ‘noble hostage’ which I think is a little bit of wishful thinking on their part.
I look at the setup before me. A long table runs around three sides of the room, and fluorescent lights fill the room with a sterile, impersonal brilliance. Around the table in which I am about to be seated, bright lights shine. Shiny, black video-cameras are already focused on where I will be seated. Large screens display the feed from the cameras.
As I sit in my seat, I prepare myself for what I am about to endure. I make sure I am the first to speak.
‘Guten Tag, meine Damen und Herren.’ Good day, ladies and gentlemen. My voice echoes throughout the hall-like room.
Greenburg Himself is here to greet me. He is our founder, and the leader of Our Nation. I wonder what I could have done for him to grace us with his presence. Usually he’d just send a representative of some sort. Walter H. Greenburg is a tall, well-built middle aged man with dark, smartly-cut hair, greying handsomely at the temples. His teeth are perfectly straight and brilliantly white. His eyes are ashen black, cold and calculating. He smiles at me.
‘Halo, Adelgiese. Shall we speak in English? I have been informed you prefer it.'
‘Indeed, that is true.’ I see my face projected onto a huge screen. The sight is disconcerting, and I falter. He leaps at my weakness, and begins to speak.
‘Let us get down to business. I have come here to ask one thing of you. Though first, I wish for you to be released from the restrictions under which I have put you. This was for your safety, of which I am sure you have no doubt. In return, I have a request of you.’ He pauses, scanning the room. ‘This is reasonable, no?’
I lift my chin defiantly. ‘That depends.’ I say, tapping my fingers loudly against the table.
He continues on as if I haven’t spoken. ‘I need you to sign the citizen’s agreement, and to fill out the forms and complete the test that certifies that you are indeed a member of Our Nation. You will also be fitted with a microchip’
‘Like some kind of animal?’
‘Once this is complete, you will be trained in the arts of many things. Some of these are suggestion, mentalism, weaponry and distraction to name a few. Basically, you will be trained to do everything within your power to serve our nation. We do need you to go into this willingly, as we would all be resting our hopes for one nation on you, and a few others’
In the moment when he pauses, I look directly into the camera and utter one word.
A look of confusion passes across Greenburg’s face, but it is fleeting, and is soon replaced by anger. He is not a man who is used to being denied what he wants. He masks it with a dazzling smile.
‘No? Come now. I’m sure we can come to some kind of agreement. Isn’t there anything you’d like? Anything at all? Nothing at all.'
I know that I shouldn’t have replied, shouldn’t have taken the bait, but the words leapt out of my mouth, seemingly of their own accord. ‘Let me go.’
‘Well, now. You know I can’t give you that.’ Suddenly, all emotion left his voice. He looks down at me, lazily, like I’m no longer worthy of his attention.
He speaks with determination, and a sense of finality is evident in his words. ‘I’m sure you’ll change your mind. My men can be very persuasive. Take her away.’
I look over to near where Greenburg is sitting, at Romilda, and cast a pleading glance in her direction, but she remains oblivious. It was a long shot, I know, but I had to try.
As soon as I leave the room, I am blindfolded. I am shackled and held tightly by both of my forearms. I hear the blow before I feel it, a deafening boom that vibrates throughout my skull. Then the pain registers, and my head seems to have a heartbeat of its own. It radiates from just above my ear, down my neck and along my spine. I feel a slimy, dripping sensation, snaking its way down my back, almost in sync with the pain, and I shudder. I wonder if it is sweat or blood. I am guided through passageways and down stairs. I stumble often, but am picked up each time I fall. At one time, I feel a cool draft blowing against my face, and taste salt, but it happens so quickly I’m not sure if it was real, or just my imagination.
I realise, now, why I was so isolated. The others, they have families and friends and things they care about. If they left, the things most precious to them would be harmed. So they were granted freedom, within this wing of the facility. The most important things to me, though, are my memories. And they can’t take them away from me.
After what seems like hours of endless walking, I am led into yet another room, and as I do, I am hit by a wall of heat, then bitter cold, than what feels like a moist, warm, tropical environment. I am seated in a large, squishy chair and my blindfold is removed. As my eyes readjust to the light, I start to take in my surroundings. A thin, unmemorable man sits in the corner opposite me. He has pale, unhealthy looking skin, but that is not an abnormality here. His beady, squinted eyes are framed by thin wire glasses, and his thin lips are pressed together in a determined grimace. His nametag identifies him as Dr. Stephan P. Percy and when he speaks; his voice is monotone and sounds American.
On the walls are quotes from Greenberg and the other leaders before him, and other so-called inspirational people. One that stands out is a quote from Greenberg’s father, Harold Greenberg. It is large print and written in bold capitals. It states ‘EVERY PERSON HAS A WEAKNESS. ONCE THE KNOWLEDGE IS IN YOU POSSESION, YOU WILL HAVE COMPLETE CONTROL OVER THEM.’ Or something to that effect. Some of the words don’t really have English meanings, as since Our nation left the motherland, our language has changed greatly.
He begins to speak to me, but I have trained myself to block out sounds I don’t wish to hear. I watch his thin lips moving, but I don’t hear the sound, so he looks rather like a fish. The thought amuses me, and a peal of laughter threatens to break through my mask of indifference, but my subconscious tells me that it probably won’t help the situation.
After I don’t respond to his bribes and threats, he attempts to hypnotise me. He starts by talking to me in a soothing voice, looking deep into my eyes, telling me nonsense tales of the outside. I doubt any of them are true. He tells me I can leave; I just have to listen, be a good girl, and do what I’m told. I hear this, but my mind tells me not to believe it.
After hours of relentless persuasion, he calls a guard and over, who guides me to a laboratory filled with all kinds of appliances and gadgets. Here, I am placed in a shallow tub filled with warm water. I wriggle my toes and watch the ripples expanding, until they reach the tub. A metal disc is placed on my head, and metal clips are fastened to each of my fingers. After Dr. Percy makes a few adjustments, a strong electric pulse begins to tingle through my body. As he pulls a lever, the charge increases, and I feel my body convulse madly, see my arm thrashing above my head, feel my neck twitching uncontrollably. I then feel my body become rigid, and I lose consciousness for a minute. All this happens, but in my mind, I am calm. I hear Dr. Percy comment that he’s surprised my heart is holding out. Greenberg growls ‘Es wäre besser.’ It’s better. And I wonder why me? Why would he care if I live? The thought is lost as again I lose consciousness.
I wake up hours later in something similar to a hospital bed. Underneath the white sheet is plastic, and whenever I move I am rewarded by a crinkly sound. An elderly nurse with deep wrinkles and powdery skin is tending to a burn I sustained, and multiple tubes protrude from my arm.
I ask the nurse, ‘Warum hat er mich leben lassen?’ Why did he let me live?
The nurse shakes her head, almost pityingly. ‘Sie weiß wirklich nicht, oder?’ You really don’t know, do you? The nurse than walks out, shaking her head. I suddenly get the urge to hit something, but the restraints surrounding my wrists prevent me from moving at all. A few minutes later I am pulled back into the dreamless, thoughtless sleep morphine brings on.
Dr. Percy came to visit me in the burns department. I avoided looking him in the eye, but he sat by me, holding my hand, telling me everything was going to be okay. Was this really the same man who gleefully watched as my insides were fried and charred? What kind of operation are they running here? Perhaps it is a technique they use.
Now, I am lying in my bed staring at the pristine white roof. I am being given cups of warm soup, rejuvenation medication and clean, cool water routinely. Just as I think things couldn’t possibly be more absurd, a guard who was standing outside the room checks no-one is watching, then slips silently in. He walks up to the bed where I am lying, and whispers something in my ear. I am so heavily sedated that I may have heard it wrong, but it sounded like ‘stark sein’. Be strong.
The next time I am conscious, I am taken from my bed. Dr. Percy takes me to his therapy room, and when he talks, I listen. First, he tells me how, decades ago the last of the delegates of the ‘Glory days’ migrated to an undisclosed location, decided that they should continue the work of Fuhrer. They were to create a perfect race, the Aryans. They then set about collecting young, talented people to continue this work. He tells me only perfect specimens will be allowed to enter. ‘You are very lucky.’ He smiles.
This makes me want to hit something again, and this time, I am unrestrained. I lunge forward, pushing my fist into the squishy part under his ribcage. He doesn’t even flinch, but his eyes bulge slightly.
After a few minutes, he calls in a security guard, and to my surprise, it is the one from the hospital bed. He picks me up in his arms, like a child would a doll. Dr. Percy trails behind us, directing him through little alleyways and hallways, down stairs and through warehouses. I never imagined the facility was this big. I must have fallen asleep, because when I open my eyes, I am in another room similar to the ‘shock treatment’ room. The walls are clean and white, and the room is decorated to look homely and safe. There is a chair, padded and comfortable looking, a dark, shiny, olive green colour. A table with a lamp, some books, and vase full of flowers. Then, surprisingly, I am left alone. I know better to sit on the chair, so I sit in the corner opposite on the smooth stone floor. The marble floor cools me, so I splay my limbs out, pressing my cheek against the stone.
I think that this is probably another one of their mind games, but after an hour or so, nothing unusual has happened. As I sit, my long, wavy dark brown hair wrapping around me protectively like a blanket, I am hit, almost violently, by a memory. I am almost knocked backward as vivid images flash before my eyes. A young woman with long blond hair smiles down at me. She flashes perfect, straight white teeth, and her lips are framed by two little commas. Her eyes crinkle at the edges, and the smile goes all the way to her eyes. When I look at them, it is like looking into my own. They are grey-blue and sparkle with happiness. She opens her mouth to speak. With a jolt, I am brought back to reality.
The cold, dimly lit room suddenly seems so much more spacious, and I feel lonelier than ever. I feel my eyes begin to become heavier and heavier, and I fight to maintain my consciousness. Just as I am about to slip into blissful ignorance, a high-pitched shriek is released into the silence. I lift my eyes slowly, scanning the room, searching for the source of the interruption, before I remember that here; seemingly mindless, meaningless things are carefully calculated and thought out. Nothing seems to have changed, so I try to get back to my sleep, but am unable to do so. A sense of unease settles over me, clinging to me like a bad smell. An involuntary shiver runs down the length of me, from my head to the soles of my feet. The wall behind me seems to come alive, pulsing and moving. As I lean against it, it gives way slightly, and I feel myself begin to fall into it. I feel something stroke my arm, and as I look through the now-translucent walls, a hand pushes against the thin membrane of the wall, reaching out, trying to pull me in. I stifle a scream, and as I watch on in morbid fascination, another little hand along with the first, claws at the wall, trying to get out. Then a small, childlike face presses itself against the wall, and I see her eyes wide with fear. Suddenly, instead of trying to escape from their clutches, I’m the one clawing to break through. The wall is made out of something impenetrable, but I know that I can’t give up on the little girl. I see a glass vase on a table next to the chair, and I smash it against the floor. I dig the broken beaker into the wall, scraping away layers of the membrane. Slowly, a small amount of liquid breaks through. This gives me the extra strength I need to reach them. I sink my teeth into the wall, tearing it like rice paper. The room fills with a thick, pale green liquid, and the little girl, the first hand I saw- attached to a girl a little older than myself, and a boy that looked about nine years old all slide into the room.
Relief washes over me. I reach for the littlest girl, lifting her out of the water and onto the green chair. The others are stumbling around, gasping for breath. The boy is quite little, with big blue eyes and tight lips pressed together in a grimace. The older girl has with dark brown eyes, almost black, and big, puffy lips. The little girl, though, once I glance upon her, I can’t avert my eyes. She is unconscious, and her breathing is shallow. She has pale blond hair, almost white, and long eyelashes.
Suddenly, I realise that the oldest girl had black skin. I wonder what was wrong with her.
‘You okay?’ I ask, looking at her. She nods, and then goes over to the little boy, lifting him out of the quickly-hardening liquid. I guess exposure to oxygen must have hardened it.
‘Do you have a name?’ I ask.
‘Rani.’ Her voice is lilted with an accent I haven’t heard before.
I point to myself, ‘Adelgiese.’
I scream out to Dr. Percy, who I am sure is listening. ‘What kind of monster are you?!?’
I know the answer, of course. He’s a frightened one. I’m sure that if he doesn’t break me soon, he’ll be the one in the electrocution room. He’s getting desperate now, though.
Rani says that we should all climb on the chair while the liquid hardens, and I agree. We all manage to pile on, perching precariously, while we wait. The absurdity of the situation suddenly hits me, and I feel a laugh forming in my stomach. It slowly bubbles up until I’m laughing huge belly laughs. The others look at me strangely, assuming I’ve gone insane. But I don’t care. I’ve just saved their lives. An added bonus is that I’m irritating Dr. Percy.
After a few minutes, the liquid seems to have hardened, so we all step off carefully, untrusting. The little girl is still unconscious. I point to her and ask Rani her name. She just shrugs. She says that the boy’s name is Peter. I wave to him, but he scowls in response.
And suddenly, I don’t feel quite so alone anymore.