Trepidation crawled like icy spiders in my blood. I squeezed Brax’s hand as intuition sat up, ringing a loud warning gong. I was a firm believer in listening to my gut—it saved me more than once. Brax?
But there was nothing frightening about Clancy’s mind. His memories were bright and crisp, full of blooming images and colors. It felt like he had taken my hand there, too, and was guiding me down a long hallway of windows into his past. We only stopped long enough for me to glance inside each of them.The office was plain, stuffed full of gunmetal gray filing cabinets, but little else. It could have been anywhere; the white paint was fresh enough that it bubbled on the wall. But I recognized the beginnings of crescent-shaped machine in the back corner and the man staring me down from across the card table serving as his desk. He was plump and balding at his hairline—and a permanent fixture in the Infirmary. I watched his lips move in a soundless explanation, my eyes drifting down to the crisp stack of papers on the desk in front of him. My eyes kept drifting down to his hand resting against the table, weighing down a sheet of once-folded paper that was trying to curl back in on itself. There at the top of it—the White House emblem. The words went into crystal focus, and I felt my eyes jump over them, drinking them in with disbelief. Dear Sirs, You may have my permission to run tests and experimental treatments on my son, Clancy James Beaumont Gray, provided these do not leave visible scars.
The lights in the office grew brighter and brighter, bleaching out the memory. When they faded again, I was in a much different room in the Infirmary, this one all blue tiles and beeping monitors. No! I thought, trying to jerk free of the Velcro restraints that held me down against the metal table. I knew what this place was.The overhead lights were drawn down closer to my face by a gloved hand. At the corner of my vision, I saw the scientists and doctors in their white scrubs, setting up machines and computers around me. My jaw was clenched shut around the leather muzzle they had strapped to the back of my head, and hands kept my head still as wires and monitors were hooked up. I struggled again, twisting my neck far enough to catch sight of a table lined with scalpels and small drills; I saw my reflection in the nearby observation windows—young, pale with terror, a mirror image of the portraits that would later hang across the camp.The harsh light from above grew and swelled, eating the scene. When it faded, the memory had changed again. My eyes fell first on the hand I was shaking, then slid up to the unfocused eyes of the same scientist I had seen before. The men hovering around us all had that murky quality to their expressions—blank smiles, blanker eyes. I squared my shoulders, a small thrill of victory working its way through my center as I moved through the main gate to the waiting black car. The man in the suit that welcomed me in with a perfunctory pat on the shoulder wasn’t the president, but he appeared in nearly every memory that fired by next, ushering me onto stages in school auditoriums, outside domed state-capital buildings, in front of cameras at the centers of small towns. Each time, I would be handed the same set of note cards to read, be faced with the same expressions of hope and deep grief from the crowd. Always, my lips began to form the same words: My name is Clancy Gray, and I am here to tell you how the camp rehabilitation program saved my life.
Another light, this time from a camera’s flash. When the shock of it faded, I was looking up into a face that was an older, weathered version of my own. The photographer flipped the monitor around for us to see the portrait, and I was no longer seeing myself as a boy, but a young man—fifteen, maybe even sixteen. As the photographer set up his equipment again, this time across the room, I put a hand on the president’s back, guiding him around the couches, to the great dark wood desk. The rosebushes were scratching intently at the windows, but I directed his focus to the sheet of paper waiting there for him, and compelled him to pick up the pen. When he finished signing, he turned to me with an unfocused gaze and a numb, unknowing smile.Weeks must have passed, months, maybe even years—I felt the exhaustion creep through me, wrapping itself like a heavy chain around my center. It was dark now; I couldn’t place the time of night, though I saw that it was a hotel room, and not a particularly good one. I was staring up at the ceiling, half buried under the covers, when a figure seemed to peel itself out from the shadows of the closet. It was fast, almost too much for me to keep up with. A man in a black mask, the metallic gleam of a gun—I threw my covers off of me and kicked my leg out, sending the attacker stumbling back. The shot went off from his gun with a combustion of light and little sound. The smell of it scorched my nostrils.
I was flipped onto my back, one of the man’s forearms braced against my neck, crushing the fragile rings of cartilage. My hands lashed out, hitting the rough carpet, the nightstand, and, finally his face. Not even the terror pulsing through every inch of me kept me from crashing into his mind.
STOP! I felt my lips form the word, but I couldn’t hear myself. STOP!Lazlo smirked, and in a falsetto, he said, I don’t like SPAM, and then went back to his normal voice. Like from the Monty Python sketch, right?
What’s Monty Python? Harlow asked, and I rolled my eyes.Do you mind if I get some food? Blue asked, looking to me for confirmation.
Yeah, sure, I shrugged. Just leave some for us.I didn’t have a claim to it any more than they did, but I needed to make sure we were fed. Ripley had been eating some of the zombies, so at least she wasn’t hungry.