He was especially exhausted by the time Savannah disappeared into her room, even as early as she did. When he could safely follow, he was surprised to see her sitting on the edge of the bed, nervously kicking her feet, instead of laid back in her stiff sleeping position. He closed the door behind him and looked at with the silent mountain of questions, eyes slightly narrowed, lips pursed.
She opened her mouth several times to say something, but nothing came out. There was a long, unmoving silence. Somehow, he figured out she wasn’t concerned with the fact that he touched her. This was something else, something that was getting a her for days. He sat down next her and gave her a small smile, trying to tell her he wouldn’t push. With a frustrated sigh she flopped backwards on the bed, fancy feet still hanging off the bed. He slowly leaned back to lay next to her, hoping the silence would start to calm her.
He heard a shaky sigh. “The Academy is a cover for engineering super soldiers.”
He sat bolt upright for a second, in momentary disbelief of what she said. He leaned back a little, trying to remain calm. He looked at her and saw her eyes were red and glassy and her lips were trembling. She had spoken words she’d hoped never to admit. He wanted her to continue, but of course he couldn’t ask her in this state, but soon there was another fragile sigh.
“They search for the academically gifted, you know the kids that get the highest grades without ever cracking open a book. They approach the parents and sell them on this idea that going to the Academy will get them automatic admission into the best universities with full ride scholarships, and who wouldn’t say yes to that? Then you start going to school and for the most part it was like a military boarding school. There were your normal school classes but with an accelerated curriculum. Then almost half the classes were focused on war and combat strategies. Then there was gym, but it was different. It focused on combat. Then there was the lab. That was where things got interesting.” She sat up, like lying down was hurting her. Her hands were shaking. Part of him wanted to tell her should could stop, but she needed to say the words. “There was this bastardized dentist chair that you got strapped into, then needles and electrodes went everywhere. IVs pumped a cocktail into you: steroids, hallucinogens, and these experimental chemicals that mimicked neurotransmitters. The pseudo-neurotransmitters were designed to put you in incredible pain, so your body would eventually stop registering it.”
“That’s why when we spar, you never react when I hit you?”
She flinched. “Yeah.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. Can you…can you keep going?”
She shook her head, but not in denial, more like she was shaking something loose. “Yeah. So the hallucinogens were derived from the neurotransmitters of Vietnam vets with PTSD. Basically, they intentionally induce war-like hallucinations to desensitize you to those too…Preteens, adolescents, kids…experiencing war inside their own minds.” She stopped, rubbing her palms to her forehead vigorously and groaning. She started rocking back and forth.
“You don’t have to.”
“I’m fine. Of course the steroids were for building the body. That’s why they hunted sound minds instead of recruiting jocks. They worked under the premise that you could build a body infinitely easier than sharpening a mind.”
“So how did you end up running?” He hated himself as soon as the words escaped him, but she continued, without actually acknowledging him, almost like he wasn’t even there.
“We weren’t students, we were property. Armies from all over the world were buying us, before our ‘training’ was even finished. We were just kids being sent into wars we had nothing to do with. They told me my sister was showing similar signs of academic gifts like me, and they wanted to recruit her.” She got up and started pacing, still speaking as if Eliot wasn’t there. “She was my baby sister; I couldn’t let her be fooled into this world of war and endless pain, so I decided to steal the information they had on us, so they couldn’t come after her. Then I realized I couldn’t be the only one going through this, wanting out, wanting to protect my family. So instead of pulling just our files off their mainframe, I pulled everything. Student files, their research, and quite a bit of money.”
She was pacing faster and began talking through gritted teeth. “Savannah?” Eliot was getting worried that the animal from the first night was returning. She stopped and looked at him. She was still there, but barely.
“They knew if they went after my family, I’d release everything to the public, shutting them and all their clients down. But of course, if they got me, game over. They did interrogate my family, but it backfired when my parents found out they’d basically lost me. They gave my parents a settlement, and desperate to have a college fund for Sasha while having no resources to pursue action against the Academy, my family went on with their lives as best they could.”
There was a deranged smile on her face. “Savannah?” Eliot pressed again, this time reaching out and taking her arm. Instantly, she was back to normal, or as normal as she could be. Her chin was vibrating and tears finally escaping her glassy eyes. She gripped a fistful of his shirt. She was a teenager again, tormented by chemicals, visions, and the need to protect. “I’m sorry,” was the only thing that came out, but she seemed to accept it, and let him hug her. It was tight and long. Her lungs pulled in air spasmodically against his chest. Her heart thumped against his, slowly relaxing.
Silence enveloped them as she slipped out of his hold and sat back down on the bed next to him. He didn’t want to, but he knew there wasn’t going to be a good time, so it didn’t matter much. “Um, can I tell…”
“I expect you to,” she answered before he finished, wiping her eyes. “But can it wait…til morning?”
“Yeah, of course.” The silence was getting to him. All these weeks of working out with her, escorting her, gaining her trust; it had led up to this, and now that it was over he was kind of lost. Well, now it was time to make a plan to take down this Academy, but that had to wait until tomorrow. But then what happened after that? Would she leave? Where would she go? He fidgeted. “Hey, uh, you want something to eat?”
She put her hand over her face, and he thought he heard her stifle a laugh. “If the accent didn’t give you away, Spencer, that right there has ‘Southern’ written all over it.”
He rolled his eyes. “Do you wanna eat or not?”
“Sure.” She got up and smoothed herself over.
He unlocked the DNA coder on the door and opened it for her. “Anything in particular?”
She shook her head and brushed her hand across his arm. “Surprise me.”