"What did you see?"
She stared at the light. It was harsh, hurt her eyes.
She stared all the same.
"What did you see?"
It was a question. She recognized it as a question. Barely.
"Ah?" she managed.
The voice is calm, even, despite having asked the question... was it twice? Maybe it was more. "What did you see?"
There is a silence, in which Treya briefly remembers her name, then looks in the light again.
She had blinked.
The light briefly became less harsh, less blinding. "What did you see?"
It became a little easier to think. "Two people, with."
That was what she'd seen. Two people. With.
"Two people with what?"
There was something that had drawn her attention. She had seen something. "Flashlights." Long flashlights, the length of their forearms, solid-black, held in their hands like clubs, all of which was summed up in that single word.
One of those flashlights was pointed at her eyes presently.
Treya blinked, and the light wasn't quite as harsh when she opened her eyes. Maybe she was adjusting to it. "Two people. With. Flashlights. Walked up to. Man. In a raincoat."
It had been dark. Not dark. Night. But not dark. Sky was dark. There were lights. Street lights. Flashlights.
Like the light that was in her eyes.
"What happened next?"
Treya blinked and momentarily remembered. "Flashlights came up. Man stopped. I could hear. Things."
"Words." She stared at the light. "His. Were words. And theirs. Yours. There were words."
She realized that her own words were not coming smoothly. There was some reason that was unusual.
"What were the words?"
"Yes. He said. And they. A question. Resistance."
When she opened her eyes again and stared at the light, it was less harsh still. It would still be hard to look at if it weren't—
"What were my words?"
The memory formed slowly, but it did form, and she realized that something was interfering with her memories forming.
"You asked if. He was in. The resistance."
"That seems to be about the optimal level for you. Are you in The Resistance?"
There was a long pause. Treya had to remember what 'you' meant, and connect 'you' to 'resistance,' a concept she knew as a quality, and not an organization. It occurred to her only then that if she did not know what 'The Resistance' was, it was very unlikely that she was a part of it.
There was another long pause. Then Treya started to understand that the single word was a question. There was a moment of confusion where she did not know if she should answer 'yes,' meaning yes, she was not in The Resistance, or 'no' to confirm what she had said before. She worked to form a clarifying statement.
"I am. Not in The Resistance."
The light hurt her eyes. Nothing happened for a while. How long a while, Treya could not know. She didn't mark the passing of time. She just stared at the light.
In that span, she could remember a little more. The light would not go away, but it was not as harsh as it once was, and she could piece together a recent series of events. She had been walking. As she often did at night. In well-lit, safe areas.
To avoid incidents like this, where three strangers met and weird shit went down.
The evening started to piece itself together. She had hid, because weird things are fascinating and also frightening. She wanted to know what was going on, but she also didn't want to be a part of it. Running away would probably attract attention to her anyway.
So, it turned out, would sneezing.
And then there was the light, and her memories broke for a while.
But they seemed to be coming back. So there was that.
"Come with me."
Right. There was another person behind that light. A man in a dark suit. With a flashlight. Or...
Well, it was hard to believe that it was just a flashlight.
The light went away, but Treya's eyes wouldn't adjust to the sudden darkness. She simply walked behind the dark figure, the only thing she could really make out in the blur. She was dimly aware that two others were walking in front of the dark figure that she was following, but they seemed irrelevant. One of them paused to open a door, and all four of them went through.
She knew this place. A movie theatre. Closed on Tuesdays, which meant that it must have been a Tuesday. She'd visited it more than once. The other two figures went past where she could see, while the one who'd spoken to her stayed in the lobby. He raised his flashlight.
She stared at the light. It was harsh, hurt her eyes.
She stared all the same.
Her memories had broken again, but not so quickly as before.
"Do you know anything about The Order?"
She knew from before that 'you' meant her. This time the question was simpler. "No."
"Then you really were out there coincidentally?"
It was too much for her to process. She found it hard to keep track of where 'out there' had been, or what the coincidence in question was. There was silence.
"Why were you outside?"
A simpler question, easier to parse.
"Taking a walk. I was."
He muttered something about that being impossible, but it wasn't directed to her, so she just stared at the light. It hurt her eyes.
"What do you think is happening?"
'Think' was a difficult concept.
"I. You. The light. Controlling. Him. Me."
"Come with me," he said again, and although the light was taken away from her eyes she followed him into one of the theatres. It was dark. Quiet.
And then it was bright.
Still quiet, though.
"When you saw what happened, what were you going to do?"
What had happened?
The man. The light. Lights. The words. That was what had happened.
"If I hadn't caught you, what would you have done?"
Speculation was near impossible. Still, the question was as much a direction as a request for information.
If Treya-before-the-light had seen something like this happen, what would she have said, and to whom? It was her only avenue to consider, since before she could form a reasonable idea of what to do, she had sneezed, and...
"Roommate. Police." Those seemed like good options.
The man holding the flashlight seemed to consider these responses.
"Do you have a partner?"
Did she? Memories came slowly, people she had dated, loved, slept with. Some of them were the same people. The relationships that had formed, and stagnated, or transformed, or failed entirely. There was a reason she was thinking of them, beyond the joy of reminiscence. A question.
"No." None of them were ever close enough to be a 'partner,' so far as she could remember.
Another new concept. Once she had figured out what 'family' was, and 'nearby,' she connected the two and realized that there weren't any people who met both criteria. "No."
"Is your roommate waiting for you to return?"
New ideas continued to flutter around her mind. 'Waiting' and 'return' this time. Treya had to find the memory of her roommate, then the memory that she had gone out for the evening and wouldn't be back until the early hours of the morning. No one was waiting for Treya's eventual arrival at home. "No."
The light grew stronger. Not brighter, but more... impactful. The voice behind it was speaking to her. She was nodding, slowly, as these new ideas started to form, to feel like old, familiar thoughts. She would leave quietly and resume her walk. She would not remember anything about The Order or The Resistance, not remember seeing a stranger in a raincoat approached by two men with flashlights. Anything about a bright light in her eyes would feel like a dream.
Certainly it felt... dreamy.
The light went away. She heard the man holding the light turn.
She paused. It was the first word she'd spoken of her own volition in... in some time. A time she wouldn't remember.
She didn't hear a second step from the man with the light.
"Is that all?"
There was silence for a moment.
It was the first time she'd hear his voice, without it echoing through her mind like a thought that would silence all other thoughts.
"Is that all?" Treya asked again. The forward momentum of her freed thoughts started to push her onward, causing ideas to tumble against one another and emerge from the overwhelmed floodgates all at once.
She heard the man turn again. She still couldn't see much, it was very dark and she'd just had a very bright light in her eyes.
"What do you mean?" he asked. His voice was soft, pleasant. He seemed more curious than concerned.
"Is your... is... the other man... does he need you?"
"No." The reply was even more curious.
"Then why..." Concepts pressed forward but she hesitated to voice them, now shy of the concsequences. "Why didn't... why aren't you... taking advantage of this moment?"
She could pick out a dark figure in the darkness now, and she imagined his eyebrows rising in surprise. "Take advantage how?"
"Well," she said with a nervous little laugh, "you obviously can control minds, and I'm obviously completely at your mercy, and I'm not going to remember anything about this..." Her hands played with the zipper on her windbreaker. She was pretty. She knew she was pretty, not in perfect shape but still... She swayed slightly in a way that she hoped showed off her chest.
He hesitated. "Would you like me," he began, slowly, "to use the light to find out just what you're asking me?"
"Please," she said before she'd thought about it, and before she could reconsider she was staring into the bright beam again.
It wasn't as bright this time, wasn't as harsh, but it had that same strength as before, pushing through the flood of thought to illuminate the wellspring at the base of her mind. Her memories didn't shatter, so she could answer his questions quickly and easily, but for some reason, perhaps something he'd said to her, she couldn't retain either the questions or the answers she gave to them. When the light faded, it was almost as if no time at all had passed.
Before she could regain her bearings, before she could say anything again of her own free will, he said two words: "I understand."
And she realized only as she was doing it that she was removing her windbreaker.
"Did... did I answer?" she asked, dropping the jacket to the ground.
"Very definitively," he replied, and the light was there, again, and time fell apart.
Her shirt was open. Unbuttoned. Pulled down off her shoulders, the sleeves pulled past her elbows. She was reaching behind herself for the clasp on her bra. She couldn't help herself; one, then two hooks came loose. Without any help, the undergarment fell lightly on her jacket. Her breasts were exposed, and she could feel that her nipples were stiff and erect.
She could feel glove-covered fingers playing with her right nipple. She gasped, flushed, and ...
There was light.
It was harsh, hurt her eyes.
She stared all the same.
"Remove your skirt."
It was a command. She recognized it as a command. Barely.
A more complex command than she could immediately comprehend. It involved several steps. After a moment, she started to unbuckle her belt. The muscle memory of her fingers was simply gone, and navigating such a complicated task was simply beyond her at that moment. She felt herself being pulled forward from her waist, but the light simply erased any implications of what that might mean, or any mechanism for that to have happened, and then she was simply standing closer to the light than before and there was nothing else to be concerned with.
"Hold this. Hold it steady."
Her hands were no longer working at her own skirt. Instead, they took hold of a long, hard shaft, held at her eye level. She could feel. There were touches. To localize them on her body was hardly within her capabilities. Her body itself felt disconnected from her mind, which was so focused on the light that it took an extreme effort to understand that she was holding the flashlight herself. And that effort gave her no means for understanding how to look away.
The light swung downward, into his hands, away from her eyes, bringing her an almost shocking awareness. She was still light-blind, but she was mobile, able to think, able to comprehend, able to remember. Unconsciously, her hands moved to cover her naked crotch, which she only remembered afterwards was something she ought to do.
Her blush was not entirely out of embarrassment. Her arousal wasn't entirely due to physical stimulation.
"Do you want more of this?" he asked. He sounded hurried, nervous.
The light wasn't in her eyes. She was naked, but she was free. She could tell. She could think about it. She could remember a lot of what she had been through.
Treya recognized the question. Took the time to think about the answer. She could feel tension coming from the other person in the room.
No sooner had she said it that the light came up again. She shuddered in anticipation as her memories went to pieces.
Treya's walk had been uneventful. Strange, that her eyes hurt. It felt like she'd been straining to see; maybe she needed glasses. It had taken longer than she thought, looking at the time; it was almost midnight already.
The apartment door was unlocked, which meant Simone was home, which meant something had gone wrong on her date. Sure enough, when Treya came in, there was her roommate, sitting on the couch in her underwear, looking grouchy, with a carton of ice cream in one hand and a spoon in the other. The TV was on just a little too loud.
"You're home late," Simone said.
"You're home early," Treya replied. "Something wrong?"
"Ditched me after dinner," she said, and offered no more explanation.
"Aw, sorry to hear that," Treya said, and meant it. Simone was a lovely person and deserved better. A memory came to her. "I got a date tonight, though?" She sounded uncertain even to her own ears.
"Uh huh, a guy I met while I was walking."
She shrugged. "Hard to tell, in this light. I'm going out with him tomorrow night. Really bright, anyway. Charming."
"Well, glad to hear it." Simone dug the spoon into the ice cream. "You heading to bed?"
Treya nodded. "Yep. Long day, need my rest. You're going to be up a bit?"
"Another hour or so, 'til I calm down."
"Okay, no sweat. I live for the Order."
"Hm?" Simone turned the volume down a notch. "What'd you say?"
Treya turned to head down the hall. "I said, 'I'll see you tomorrow.'"
"Yeah, of course. Another busy day, I bet."
Treya headed to her bedroom, and started to undress. She could have sworn she'd had a bra on when she went out. But then, her memory of the whole evening was a bit spotty.
When she looked at it, the bedside lamp felt like a dream.