“We need to talk.”
The worst sentence in the english language. Okay, so maybe it’s not as bad as ‘your mom died,’ or ‘we dropped a bomb on Hiroshima,’ or ‘we ran out of cereal,’ but it’s pretty bad. I’d put it up there on the top five worst things to hear. Or say.
The problem with those four stupid words is that the ‘we’ isn’t a ‘we’. You’re not saying ‘we’ need to talk. You’re saying ‘I need to talk and I want you to listen and I’ve made up my mind so nothing you say will matter.’ They’re reductionist and self-serving.
He sat across from me in the nigh empty hall, a bewildered look on his face, as I tried my best not to avoid eye contact. Three people passed by, two of them girls in uniform, and they shook their heads at me. They’d heard the echo.
“I didn’t mean that,” I said, wrapping my arms around my knees. It was a defense mechanism against his growing anxiety. I knew it, he knew it, but I didn’t care.
He raised an eyebrow. “You’d rather not talk?”
I shook my head. Frowned. “I mean, I do want to talk to you, but not like the words sounded.”
He laughed. Sometimes, when a person laughs, their face lights up and they suddenly become the most brilliant version of themselves, an idealized other. And your brain remembers all the wonderful things about them and calls you stupid for ever thinking that they weren’t perfect.
He didn’t laugh like that.
I don’t think I can recall a moment in my life where he laughed like he meant it; out of simple mirth. The face he made was like something dark and grimy got stuck in his throat a century ago, and the excess goop dripped out of his eyes. They were always dark, his eyes, always stuck on some emotional dilemma. Brooding. Annoying.
Other students would look at us with envy, because he and I were so close, because we were in the council, because we were an attractive pair. Mostly, I think it was because some part of their subconscious knew we’d rip them in half given the opportunity.
People envy power.
“So?” He kicked my foot, bringing me back. “We breaking up?” The grin on his face was cruel enough that I knew he was joking, and I just rolled my eyes. Better to deflect than think about painful realities.
There would never be a break up for us. Whether we were friends, romantically inclined, or if we hated each other’s guts, it could never be. Actually, hating each other’s guts was practically impossible, given that the open channels of telepathy always caused such empathetic reactions in the subjects.
“They’re assigning me to Delta Prime,” I said. He furrowed his brows, and I projected a replay of the conversation for him. His wave of indignation, fear, and anger punched me in the gut, and I kept my palms flat on the cold tile to keep adverse side effects at bay. I didn’t want to go to the med division for the third time this month.
“This is because of the Chicago Project.”
“They didn’t say that,” I shrugged. I’d thought the same thing when the higher ups let me know of my relocation, up until they sent me the specs for Delta Prime. I’d kept that part out of his field of vision, if you could call our emotional link some sort of vision. I’d just showed him the main conversation, but his brain radiated disbelief.
You’d be surprised how many things in a human brain are actually emotionally driven and how many things we try to cover up with faulty logic. Though I wouldn’t really call us human anymore.
He felt my determination and the projection of regret. He widened his eyes. “I’m not invited.”
I nodded and he looked askance at his shoes. The mental link would be weaker on the other side of the space station. It would be as if we were two different people. Almost.
“I’m not the most charming sort,” he muttered. “But the separation will affect us.”
“Not in the same way,” I said. We couldn’t really go against what the higher ups told us to do – being their lab rats and all, but they tried to keep us together as often as possible. Side effects were worse when we were apart.
He was susceptible to bursts of aggression and paranoia. I, on the other hand, became a sociopathic killing machine. We’d separated once before. A whole colony on Yaelin was dead because of it. I’d come back on board and he’d acquired a few broken ribs, and once the emotional link got back up to speed, I’d developed PTSD. But I knew what he was asking.
Why did I agree with them?
“My brother is on Prime.”
The words rushed out faster than I meant them to, along with the emotional attachment and overwhelming sense of dread. I’d learned how to use emotions because of him; I was almost as good as he when it came to projecting them. I suspected they chose him for the telepathic experiment because of it. Better to have a sociopath on an emotional leash than in a cryo-pod – easier to control.
“They found him.” The half grin split his face in two, like I’d taken a jackhammer to a block of cement. He didn’t even try to shield the satisfied wave of vindication. I said nothing, waiting for the the other shoe to drop.
“No sudden remorse?” I asked after a while, tilting my head to the side. We’d have to finish our conversation soon, the last bell before his sociology course rang. The murmurs of incoming students grew louder.
“Not for him.”
I once had the choice of indentured servitude, a telepathic babysitter, and high school, or going back to earth to rot in solitary. They’d manipulated me into choosing people. I’m certain it was the most amoral of decisions, given their uses for me.
“You know what they’ll have me do,” I said.
“My psych says I’m letting your memories affect me too much,” he answered, trying to get his giddiness under control. “I was due for another round of clinical depression meds. This might even be good for me,” He checked his watch.
“We are breaking up,” I said, surprised. Another set of words people hate.
“Temporarily.” He stood, picking up his textbook from the ground.
“Good talk,” I said, nodding so he could leave. I didn’t tell him about the contingency plan in case my mission failed. Just as well, because he disappeared in the the crowd.