When Hendrik woke she struggled to break free of the fog of sleep. Her body wanted to rest more, not out of necessity but out of comfort…comfort. Hendrik forced herself awake in a painful jerking motion that brought her upright. She was back in the bed in her old room….there weren’t even any plushies. What?! She was an efficient adult, she did not and did not want ‘plushies’! Even the feeling of loss brought shame. The affini had not only humiliated her for an entire week but also clearly fucked with her mind.
Wait…a week? Had she been gone for a week? A cold sweat broke down her back. She quickly scanned the room, no red eyes in the dark, no hidden daggers waiting in the ceiling. At least for now…did she even have any power left? Hendrik began to shake…the affini would be her death and they didn’t even understand. She needed to do work, immediately. Perhaps she still had time, perhaps she could still fix this.
Why?.......... Why should she? What would it do for her? Survival was the obvious answer, but that was no longer enough. She had been forced to feel better and now the thought of just continuing into perpetuity like the creature she was felt wrong. Why could she not just be happy?
Because it wasn’t possible…not for a person like her. She had for a brief moment been a happy person and then…as soon as she was given control. The second she could, she destroyed that person….Why had she done that?
Because that is what she did, her mind had been molded into an engine of suppression for so long. When even the consideration of good-tasting food was suppressed with brutal force. What hope did legitimate happiness have?
A memory appeared in her mind, one of Mertha feeding her. there was still joy there, like a latent poison. She did not allow herself to feel it, if not she would destroy that too. Instead, she agreed that it was shameful and humiliating, a betrayal of what she was. Whatever she was…
The door opened “Cleo, how are you feeling? Do you need any help?” Mertha sounded concerned, like always. The name stung like a spear through her heart. Not only had she destroyed Cleo for herself, but the person Mertha cherished so much was also gone. Another soul destroyed by her mind.
Hendrik tried to keep her voice steady “don’t call me that.” She did not deserve it. the words came out harsher than she had intended. Part of her wanted to retreat into the sarcastic and defensive shell she had adopted here, but she had no energy for that.
Mertha stepped inside “I’m sorry….are you angry?” Mertha was afraid, it was clear as day. Hendrik wanted to be angry, wanted to berate Mertha for how she had treated her. The sorrow was all-encompassing, and the only anger she could feel was against herself.
Instead, all she could find in herself was regret “I’m sorry…I killed her.” Hendrik looked down at the bed, she could not look Mertha in the eyes. If she did…then Mertha would understand. That Cleo was dead and never coming back.
Mertha came closer “you have nothing to be sorry for…who are you talking about?” Hendrik would have to tell her. She didn’t want to, had she not hurt Mertha enough?
The words were choked “Cleo….the person you loved…I killed her…I’m all that’s left.” What a cruel joke, after all that Mertha had done, she was left with the ghost of a monster. The words continued “all the memories…all that happiness, I destroyed that too…” The tears began to roll, and she hated it.
Hendrik wanted to say more. Ask why they had trusted her to live without it. beg to be put back under that wonderful, horrible spell once more. But fear stopped her, she needed control. Even if it was just to suffer in her own mind.
A vine gently moved towards her “oh...Hendrik” Hendrik recoiled from the vine, she knew what it could bring. The comfort and the happiness, her mind screamed danger. The vine retracted like it had been struck. Mertha pulled back “is there anything I can do to help?” Mertha’s beautiful voice was shaking.
Hendrik could hardly speak coherently “let me be alone….please.” It felt so wrong, to tell her to leave. It was the only choice, at least then she could suffer alone. Mertha trying to help would only hurt them both. Suffering was fine for her, but she could not do that to Mertha any further.
Just before Mertha left, just before the door closed Hendrik looked at the affini. Mertha was looking away, but in a glimpse of a second Hendrik saw the flower she had given her in the park. It was like an iron dagger into her heart, it twisted around. Where had a person capable of such love and happiness come from? A person with so much compassion and hope... And now that person was gone, forever, because of her.
Hendrik was finally alone again like she had always been. She cried and cried, even when the tears went empty she didn’t stop. Finally, her body began to tire, and Hendrik embraced sleep like mercy.
The corridor was cold, dark, and empty. She knew where it led, she had walked it countless times. even from just the natural pattern in the marble, she knew where she was headed. Her legs carried her without any command from her mind until the large wooden doors were in front of her.
The doors opened and she stepped inside, the office was quiet but occupied. A person was sitting behind her desk, framed by the black void of the window behind. She stepped forward to see better, there was a chair on her side of the desk. Suddenly she was sitting in the chair, she tried to move but her arms and legs were restrained.
She looked up at was met with the figure's green, gray eyes, they were cold and determined. Hendrik, the President spoke, “you are beyond pathetic.” She felt afraid.
The President spoke again “not only have you allowed them to treat you like ‘that’ but now that you are free you don’t even have the dignity to do anything than cry. The fact that you even consider the loss of the infection that they forced upon you anything less than a victory is sickening!” She tried to recoil but was held in place.
She tried to speak “it just hurts…it hurts too much.” The President grinned.
A fist slammed into the table “Good! Pain keeps you alive, the problem is not the pain. It's you!” she tried to speak again but the President interrupted “you have become weak! Allowed yourself the comfort that you should never have accepted! A month ago, you ruled the sector! And now what have you become? Less than nothing.” She felt the tears begin to roll across her cheeks.
It felt hard to speak “I...I just want to be happy…can’t I have that?” the Presidents grin turned into a malicious frown.
The fist hit the table again “of course you can’t! After all this time tell me, how would you manage that?”
She tried to rebuke “I was happy, just before it was taken away. I can ask them, they can give it back. Mertha can hel-“
The voice was furious “that thing is not you! It was an abomination of drugs and manipulation! You think you can return to that?!” She knew he was right.
The voice turned cruel “Be glad it is dead. It was not you, it was theirs…Do you think Mertha can help? What would she find when she removes all the things in your mind that have kept you alive? A person? That naïve boy that you were an infinity ago? You know the answer.” The President sounded satisfied
She knew the answer “nothing…” There would be nothing left.
The president smiled “that’s right, there would be nothing but a gaping void. Cleo was just the latest, you killed Hendrik long ago.” He was right.
But she didn’t want him to be “perhaps…I can get better…I can rediscover….become a person again.”
The figure shifted, and the desk was covered in blood. Shivar looked at her “I saved your life, taught you how to survive, treated you like a son. And when the opportunity came you stabbed me in the back, you killed me.” No! she didn’t
That couldn’t be right “no…you did it-“ Shivar stood up with rage in his eyes.
She knew that look and braced herself “Yes you did! We are both functions, and when functions fail? They don’t get second chances, they don’t get to ‘get better. Once you become one you can never go back. I knew that and I knew what a function has to do when it fails, but you failed even that.”
The words hurt, and the guilt tore at her “I…I don’t believe you.”
Shivar frowned and smiled, it was cruel “in the end it does not matter much now, does it? you won't live long enough to figure it out. People saw you, humans saw you when you were in that pathetic state. Do you think people will fear you much longer?” The black pit of fear began to grow
It was all so wrong “I don’t want people to fear me!” Why did it feel so right and wrong at the same time?
Shivar curled his lips “yes, you do! It was one of the earliest lessons I taught you. For when people don’t fear you, they are led to other emotions.” The floor and chair disappeared.
She fell into the void until she landed, it was completely dark “anger, opportunity, revenge” The voice was still there. It began to fade “when people don’t fear you, you die.” There was a flash of red in the darkness.
Tow small red dots, eyes! They disappeared, she could not see them. She knew they were there, waiting. A slight shift of the air, the silent movement of enhanced legs. She scrambled up, her heartbeat was loud and fast. She ran as fast as she could, the void was quiet except for her frantic breathing.
The eyes were in front of her, she wasn’t quick enough! A pair of mechanical hands grabbed around her throat and lifted her up. She couldn’t breathe! She tried to get out of the grip, claw at the hand with hers but she wasn’t strong enough. She tried to scream for help, but no one answered.
The cold barrel of a gun was placed in front of her heart, NO! She tried to squirm, to beg, then the gun fired. She fell to the ground, where her heart had been there was only a hollow pain. She continued to fall past the floor in the void. She fell until she finally awoke.
“As always remember to be home by the curfew at 20:00 standard planetary time. In other news, there have been reports of limited criminal activity in the gallows district,…yes it is called that….you can rename it later….sorry about that. If you or anyone you know have any information that might help shed light on the situation, please inform your nearest garrison or xeno-outreach center. On behalf of the president and affini, we here at CPN wish you a good evening. Now the next song…” Hendrik turned off the radio and switched to the affini dictionary.
The fact that anyone could believe that she still held power on Centhia was a cruel joke, people would not even recognize her now. Interesting that the families were still alive and kicking, that was what they were good at tough. They were probably just barely holding on, just like her. Maybe they also regret-no!
Hendrik forced her mind from the topic and on to the language. It had been 2 days since she had woken up, the thoughts would not leave her alone. The only distraction was the language she was now compiling. She was close, every word and glyph led her closer to a full and fluid understanding. Her pronunciation was far from adequate to even hold a short conversation, but soon she could listen and understand. Work was a distraction and she needed it now more than ever.
There was a knock on the door “Hendrik? Vonzin is here to do a checkup, you don’t need to come out, but she is coming in now.” Mertha sounded even more despondent than usual. Fine, a ‘checkup’ was tolerable as long as they left her alone after this.
The door opened and Vonzin walked in <dirt.> The sight clearly unnerved the affini.
Hendrik laughed <dirt indeed!> “Now do your job, so you can leave me alone.” The affini sighed as the door closed behind them. They began to walk towards the corner where she was sitting. It was the least comforting place in the room.
Vonzin moved a few non-eaten meals from yesterday so she could sit down in front of her. The vet looked at her concerned “I would usually ask how you are doing, but that seems a bit redundant.” Hendrik did not find the attempt at humor very funny.
She looked down into the data pad “why are you here?” Vonzin’s sight could be felt upon her.
The affini tried to sound reassuring “I need to make sure that you are fine.” Hendrik looked up
Perhaps this wouldn’t take long “I’m not fine and I won’t ever be fine, is that enough? Can you leave now?” Vonzin looked irritated, perhaps even frustrated.
The vet took up a data pad “have you been sleeping enough? What about eating?” Hendrik gave a sideways glance at the plates still full of food and her belly grumbled loudly.
Vonzin stood up “then I’ll get you something to eat now, what do you want?”
Hendrik hated that her body had betrayed her “the thing I have been asking Mertha for since I woke; Nutrient bars.” Vonzin’s eyes grew even more irritated.
The affini’s words were strict “you are not eating any more of those disgusting, repulsive bars. They are tantamount to self-harm!” Hendrik looked back to the data pad.
Hendriks’s voice was flat “I guess I won’t be eating then.” Earlier that day she had been so hungry that she had tried some of the food. She hated herself for it, hated that she craved the comfort.
Vonzin sat down again “at least let me check your levels.” Hendrik growled and made her arm available.
A thorn-like vine pierced it and Mertha began to look at her pad “is there any pain in your side or hand?” The affini looked more and more irritated by the moment.
Hendrik felt bad but rejected the feeling “no pain here, doc. What’s with the face, not finding any happy numbers?” Vonzin looked up from the pad.
She looked deeply concerned “no, I don’t. Hendrik, you are backsliding hard!” Okay, Hendrik looked down at the dictionary again.
Vonzin sighed “Hendrik, if this continues we will have no choice but to domesticate you.” Hendrik looked up, was that a threat?
No matter “fine, you have planned to kill me from the beginning, why not do it now.” She would not be cowed by empty words.
Vonzin was frustrated now “domestication is not going to kill you, but if you continue like this you are going to die if we don’t do anything.” Hendrik would not accept lies.
Hendrik lowered the pad and stared into Vonzin’s eyes “yes. It. Is! There is nothing of ‘me’ that you will leave intact. Everything that I am is something you want to remove. Go ahead, do it! but it won’t be me when you are done.” Henrik pointed to her heart “as I have tried to explain to Mertha time and time again, there is nothing left for you to save. So, spare your breath, now leave me alone!” The conversation was over, she had work to do.
Vonzin smiled gently “I can call Ida over, would it be easier to talk to her?” Henrik’s heart stopped. No! That could not be allowed to happen. If she saw Ida then…she would be suspicious of her…mistrust her…and Ida would see her for the person she actually was.
The memories may be ruined but the glimmer of potential was all she had left “no, anything but that, I can’t become suspicious of her too….”
Vonzin smiled, her sadness was showing “I can give you some class-C-t, it will help you with that.”
Hendrik laughed at the suggestion “so you can try to trick me, make me trust you? No thanks!”
Vonzin sighed sadly “will you allow me to get you some food and then help you sleep?” Hendrik looked down at the data pad, the answer was too obvious to require words.
Vonzin readied a vine “you don’t get a choice in this, you will eat and sleep. If not, I will make you.” The vine shot forward towards her arm. Hendrik slapped it away with the data pad in her hand. The data pad broke in two and landed on the ground. No, no!
She scrambled forward, without the pad she couldn’t work! the two pieces were completely irreparable, but she had to find a way to make it work again! if not the thoughts would return and-
There was a sting in her neck, and she felt sleep force itself into her mind. The last day's sleep had only been allowed when exhaustion had been greater than her fear. The class-z did not care and swept her into darkness. Before she lost consciousness completely she felt vines pick her up.
Mertha was looking at the door, it opened and Vonzin came out with a sleeping Hendrik in her vines. Mertha deflated, her slight hope that the meeting would go well was dashed. Vonzin gave her the sleeping human “you should feed her something, she needs to eat. I gave her a rather large dose, I doubt she will wake in less than 10 hours.”
Mertha sighed and went over to the kitchen where she had naively prepared some pasta in the dire hope that Hendrik would have accepted to eat. She began to feed her ward, using her vines to make sure that Hendrik chewed and swallowed. The body reacted sluggishly to her taps, it made the sorrow sight a little bit easier.
Hendriks’s expression was pained and sad, Mertha felt her core filled with the discord and sorrow that had dominated it the last two days. She looked at Vonzin who was pacing slightly “how is she? Don’t worry, I’m not expecting any good news.” Vonzin stopped pacing and sat down next to her.
Vonzin entwined a few vines with her “it's not good, not at all. She is backsliding rapidly, her health is deteriorating faster than I anticipated. I can’t let this go on for much longer, not at all to be honest.” Mertha knew what the next words would be.
Vonzin looked down at Hendrik “I know that this is a mental problem, but it is harming her health as well. Has she even allowed Serla to visit?”
Mertha sighed “no. and when Serla did anyway she refused to talk to her at all. She even refuses to go out of the room. She just sits there looking at the data pad until she collapses. I have tried to talk to her, to figure out what is wrong…but she has just shut down completely. I...I don’t know what to do.” She had to help Hendrik, but she couldn’t even get close enough to figure out what was wrong.
Vonzin smiled softly “perhaps it’s time to reconvene the committee. You have done more than could ever be expected to maintain her independence. No one, and certainly not you, should blame you for it. I think it is the best option left for Hendrik, I honestly don’t see another way.” Mertha knew that Vonzin was right. It still felt like she had failed, once again…
She also knew Hendrik’s reaction “Hendrik believes domestication will kill her. She tries to put up a defiant front, but I can see that she is terrified. Can we do that to her?” Mertha also didn’t want to give up, she still had faith in Hendrik.
Vonzin’s gaze turned stricter “just because she is afraid does not mean that she is right. That girl is so dominated by fear that she can’t even eat regular food.”
One more attempt “Can you give me a bit more time?” it was out of desperation, but she needed every attempt she could get
Vonzin sighed “I will schedule a checkup in two days, I’ll invite Serla to do a mental evaluation as well. If she shows no signs of improvement then we will go forth with domestication. That is all I can do.” Mertha nodded, she had been given yet another chance. She would not fail.
After Vonzin had left she made sure that Hendrik was clean, had fresh new clothes, fed, and hydrated sufficiently. Then she put her to bed, she attached the restraints. If this was her last chance, she would have to push even if Hendrik wasn’t comfortable with it. Mertha prepared herself while Hendrik slept.
Hendrik woke in the bed feeling rested, well-fed, and comfortable. She tried to move but her arms and legs were restrained in the same manner as the first time she awoke in this bed. Hendrik looked around and saw Mertha sitting in a chair by the bed, the affini was looking at her.
Before Hendrik could speak, Mertha did “good morning Hendrik, we need to talk.” Hendrik struggled against the restraints, but they didn’t even budge. Hendrik did not want to talk, but she was trapped.
Mertha’s voice was strict, focused “I can’t continue to let you act in this way. You will tell me what is wrong, in every detail. Then you will allow me to help you. It’s either that or domestication, make your choice.” Hendrik wanted to choose the latter, but it terrified her more than she was willing to admit.
She conceded “I’ll do the first one, or at least try.” Hendrik doubted this would work at all.
Mertha gave a slight smile “that is very nice to hear. Now then, if you ever become too stressed or feel something that would make the conversation impossible I will administer xenodrugs.” Hendrik had to do a double-take on what she just heard. Mertha was never this ruthless.
Mertha’s voice was warm but still strict “now then, tell me why you are acting like this? or more specifically why you are acting differently than from before the class-j dose period?” Hendrik thought about it for a moment, what had changed?
After a few minutes, Hendrik came to her conclusion “because there is no point in trying anymore. Before I had a naïve idea that I could somehow learn to be happy, I know now that it is no longer possible for me.”
Mertha’s interest was piqued, underneath the façade, Hendrik could see the pain “I think you have the potential to be a very happy person. Why do you think that you can’t?” there were several answers to that question.
Perhaps she could make Mertha understand “you gave me happiness, not as myself, but it was still happiness. Then the second I had control over my own mind I rejected it like poison. My mind refuses for me to be happy…and it is stronger than me.” It was difficult to remain calm, she felt her voice begin to shake slightly.
Mertha looked thoughtful “why did your mind reject it? is it that you think you don’t deserve to be happy?” Mertha still didn’t understand.
she managed to remain calm, just don’t think about the words too much “that is another reason. The main one is that I have trained my mind for so long. To reject all those things that you want me to have. And I don’t have full control over that anymore. A part of me is desperate to be happy, but my mind won’t accept that.”
Mertha looked sad but hopeful “I see, and the guilt? How does it fit into this?” Mertha would never understand.
Hendrik felt the guilt begin to creep up her mind “I don’t want to talk about it.” Please leave it alone.
Mertha shook her head “but you have to. I know you can do this, now continue.” Hendrik began to cry softly.
Her voice was shaking “why should I….be happy…when I…I have hurt…so many people. I don’t believe in some divine justice….but it just is not fair. And even if you don’t care, I do! I can’t forget those I have hurt, and I can’t take it back. None of you know… the things I have done, if you knew you would agree with me.” She looked at Mertha with a faint hope that she would understand, of course not.
Mertha smiled now “Hendrik, you did what you had to do to survive. Would you blame a thief for ste-“
What utter bullshit! Hendriks sorrow turned to anger “don’t start that line with me! Do you think I don’t understand that people are pushed by systems to do bad things?! The problem is Mertha, that I was on top of the system. Hell, I controlled the system! All those people who are dead, traumatized, or did something horrible because of conditions they could not control? I controlled those conditions! You can pass the blame from Nora, from everyone else, but the blame has to end up somewhere. And that somewhere is at the top, with me!” Mertha looked at her in shock for a second before she regained composure.
The look told Hendrik that Mertha still did not understand “Hendrik, you can not convince me that you had as much control as you think you had. I understand that is hard to accept. If you want, I can make you forget all of it. I can also retrain your mind, remove the parts that are harming you.” The suggestion hang in the air, could she do that? Yes, she could, she had manipulated her mind before, and she could do so again.
A surge of fear was soon replaced with growing frustration. Why did she not understand? “Mertha that is all that I am. The guilt and the structure of my mind are all that remains, if you remove that there will be nothing left. I wish I could give you the satisfaction of saving me, but there is nothing left to save.” It was the last bit of calm she had left, please understand…
Mertha’s façade broke down, she looked compassionate and depressed “I don’t believe that Hendrik, I can’t believe that.” Hendrik got an idea, final conclusive proof.
Her voice was angry and harsh “you still have the encoded documents, I know you do. Give me 10 minutes and I can decode one for you. With that, you can decode the others. You told me in that cell that you didn’t believe I was just a person on a pointless quest for power. The documents will prove you wrong. No lies, no hidden meaning, just an endless number of statistics. Statistics that prove what I have tried to make you understand since you rescued me from Centhia.”
Mertha looked despondent “I still have the recorder but...” Of course, she still had it.
Hendriks’s voice turned into a low whisper, filled with frustration and anger “the fact that you are even here is evidence enough that you are too much of a coward to use it. That you still don’t know who I am! I’m not a person deserving or capable of being happy. If you can even call me a person at this point. I know you don’t trust what I say, perhaps you think it's guilt or doubt or any other creation of my mind. But I have empirical proof, I promise that it is accurate, and it is very conclusive. Until you read them we have nothing more to talk about. Leave.” She didn’t care what would happen now, she was done with this farce.
Mertha looked determined “very well then, we will talk more later. Now you need to sleep.” The sting hit before Hendrik could react. Her eyelids became heavy as iron and closed before she could utter a word in protest.