Fifty Miles Out of Bajada
18 Hours Later
Step. Step. Step. Step.
The woman keeps to a steady speed, but her gait is weak, and she is shaking. The man in the black suit keeps pace with her. The sun is down, and the wrecked car with all the blood and gore spread for several yards around it is a half mile behind.
The woman continues to walk forward with slow steps. Her arms are covered in blood, and she holds them out, as if she is afraid to touch any other part of her body with them.
This never gets easier. The man in the black suit has dealt with similar situations before, though never with this frequency. He recognizes that to the people he meets, even his coworkers, it seems that he is somehow callous and uncaring, but he is human, after all, and a sight like this has its impact. But he is trained for it. He knows how to redirect his gut reaction so that it passes around him, doing its work but not interfering with his.
“M’am, can I ask you to stop walking for a second?”
The woman, young, attractive, with blonde-brown hair, stops walking. She is missing one of her eyes. It looks like it was cut out of her. He does not believe that she was responsible for the carnage back by the car. But it spared her, for some reason.
“Do you have some identification?”
She holds out her hands, still caked with red.
“May I check your pocket?” he says. She lifts her hands in response, which seems to be affirmative. He reaches into her pocket and extracts a thin wallet. There is a photo ID that identifies her as Eris Oceans. Narcian name, but a local license.
“Can you speak?” asks the man in the black suit. Eris vocalizes only slightly, making an infantile sound.
He sighs. He steps away and scratches his temple. He really doesn’t want this one to end up the way he thinks it will, but right now it looks like he’s going to have to designate her as a high risk factor.
He’s been cleared. He’s gone through intense psychological screening. Whatever other talents he might have, the most important one is an unflappable mind. Not everyone possesses such a talent. This Eris is an example of one that does not.
Containment of the subject remains an ongoing operation.
This woman is classified as a secondary containment element. There are clear protocols to follow. It rests with him to make the determination. He is trained. He will be able to make his decision and close the matter, but he has not yet done so. Were it not for his training, he would allow this ambiguity to give him a shred of hope, to plant a seed from which visions of a rehabilitated Eris Oceans, recovered and certainly traumatized, but on the path back to a somewhat normal life, might spring. But because of his training, he knows to accept ambiguity for what it is. Such a future is a possibility, but it is only that at this point. Until he makes his determination.
Cursory examination identified the remains on the vehicle were human and canine. The technician, a younger man, with black skin and a white lab coat, cautiously approaches the man in the black suit. The man in the black suit raises his hand, slowing the technician’s advance.
“Eris, can you hear me?”
She grunts, again, with a high pitch, infantile sound.
“Eris, I need you to speak to me. Can you speak? Just say yes if you can.”
Until now, she has been avoiding eye contact, but now, shakily, she looks up with her remaining eye directly at the man in the black suit.
“Yes,” she says.
The man in the black suit sinks a little. Despite everything, some subconscious part of him had allowed his hopes to get up for this one. He is still not entirely finished with his determinations, but he already knows how it will turn out.
“Do you remember what happened?”
She nods. “The dog kept dying. And then Ivan… Ivan… he kept dying. Is he dead yet? Please tell me he’s dead. Please tell me he’s not still dying.”
The man in the black suit looks back at the technician. The technician should really not be here for this. He has been screened to witness the aftermath, but when there are survivors, it’s not aftermath; it is a situation in progress.
The woman in the black suit sees this and pulls the technician away, sending him back to do his work by the car.
“Yes, Eris, he is dead.”
She takes this news well.
“Eris, I need you to listen to me,” says the man in the black suit. “Can you listen to me?”
She nods. Her voice has once again retreated back into her.
“Eris, I want you to turn ninety degrees to your right.” She does so. “Now, when I leave, I want you to start walking. Start walking east and don’t stop. Can you do that for me?”
She nods. The man in the black suit walks away. Eris begins to walk out into the desert.
The man in the black suit takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. This is how he was trained, and it has served him for many years.
The woman in the black suit is younger, less experienced. “Was that strictly necessary?” she asks him as he walks past her on the way back to the car.
“Yes, it was,” he replies.
(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2015)