Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Ashton, VA, February 2010

SSA Stephen Reyes, Ph.D., takes off his wristwatch. He removes his cufflinks, tie-tack, necktie. He leaves each one neatly in the nonmetallic tray provided. It's black lacquer with gold and crimson dragons, not institutional plastic, and so he knows Lau brought it. The view out of the containment room is dismal enough; all of Hafidha's loved ones have been trying to brighten it.

Hafidha watches behind her insulated enclosure as Reyes divests himself of pens, keys, cellphone, PDA, wallet, Idlewood visitor badge with the RFID chip in it. Velasquez watches as the trainee, Partridge--a young woman with red hair, freckles, and the brittle businesslike hypercompetence of an ACOA--wands Reyes for any forgotten bits of metal. He's wearing his father's ring with the spinel masquerading as a ruby in it, the one pawned and redeemed a half-dozen times that Reyes knows of. The ultra-sensitive detector chirps and that, too, goes in the tray.

With every item he sheds, Hafidha gets a little taller, stretches her neck a little more. He thinks of a small dog behind a gate and hates himself. Hates himself more: Reyes' trips to Idlewood are not generally conducive to a sense of calm serenity.

He pauses at the airlock. "May I come in?"

She steps back from the plastic, leaving palm-prints behind. "Do I have a choice?"

He smiles. "Sure. You can say no, and I'll turn around, put all this crap back in my pockets, and go home until next week. Or you can say yes, and we can sit down for a while and drink tea out of lousy paper cups and talk face to face like old friends."

He sees the struggle in her face. She wants him there, she doesn't want anyone to see her here. The thing in her head wants them both to suffer, but maybe if he stays, it can hurt them both more--

Don't personify it, Stephen.

Institutionalization is bad for people. The more their autonomy is curtailed, the more they become manipulative and secretive. Like grad students, Reyes thinks, and keeps the amusement out of his face. Hafidha would think it was for her, and it isn't.

Institutionalization is bad for people, and so Hafidha--and the other Idlewood inmates--get all the self-determination they can handle.

She steps away from the wall. "Tea?" she says brightly. "I don't suppose that comes with a scone?"

Reyes smiles and turns to Partridge. But Velasquez is already standing in the doorway to the observation room, the bakery bag in his hand, a paper tray with four large cups balanced on the other. Reyes left them in the hall until Hafidha engaged him. Velasquez, an Idlewood staff lifer, had picked up the cue without being asked.

At the moment, Reyes likes the pockfaced, stocky deputy head of security a lot.

"Three kinds," he answers. He accepts the food, balances the tray on the same side to keep his left hand free, and enters the airlock.

The door behind him locks. The door in front swings open, and Reyes moves into Hafidha's containment room.

When the Faraday cage seals him in, he feels nothing. He tries to imagine what it's like for Hafidha--as if blinded or deafened, senses muffled, missing half the world. Limbs severed, eyes put out.

Before he can stop himself, he dry-swallows.

You're in a room with a gamma, his endocrine system says. A highly combat-trained gamma, younger than he is, with longer reach. There is very little in Hafidha's room that could be used as a weapon, but she will always have her feet and teeth and fists. His heart squeezes hard in his chest, informing him that this is a terrible idea.

Carefully, he sets the tea and the bag of pastry on the small table which doubles as a desk. She only has one straight-backed chair, but she's already dragging her rocking chair around to the opposite side, eagerness in every motion.

He won't relax. But this is Hafidha today, and he will treat her as he always would have--as a quirky, resilient genius who was never the least little bit impressed with his shit.

They sit beside the window. There are plants on the ledge between the casement and the containment room, smug and lush in what amounts to a tiny greenhouse. Someone must care for them from outside, but the smell of chlorophyll filters in through the ventilation holes. As Hafidha sits in her plastic rocking chair--she's padded and obscured it with tablet-woven cushions, and he imagines she spun the yarn herself--she's framed against the wall behind her. She's prevailed upon somebody to push a five-foot-square Ikea bookcase up to the outside of the Faraday cage. Inside the cubes, Reyes can see a riot of yarn and fibers, all the brilliant colors she's ever loved, and the tools of her art.

She can't have the fiber, the crochet hooks, the spindles and bobbins, inside her cage except for when she's supervised and working on them. You could braid a rope with yarn and hang yourself; you could put the sharp end of a spindle into your eye.

"Do you like my burrow?" she asks brightly, over the crinkle of paper as she investigates the contents of the bag.

Reyes pushes a cup of tea towards her. It's more warm than piping now, but tea takes chilling better than coffee does and this isn't hot enough to hurt anyone. "I liked your old one better."

She pulls out a chocolate chip scone and a cinnamon sticky bun and squares them on the paper napkins before her. "Stephen Reyes, honesty?"

He shrugs. He uncovers and sips his tea.

She mirrors him--or seems about to, and stops with the cup at her lips. Just as full as ever, but naked-looking without lipstick. As naked-looking as her long, articulate hands without their gaud of rings and polish. "You should have let me die."

"And Chaz too? You know it wasn't an either-or choice, Hafidha."

The rocking chair moves under her weight as she looks down. Reyes puts a hand on the pastry bag and spins it. The smell of sugar and cheese Danish fills the room as he makes his selection. "Besides," he says, "I don't believe in monsters. I believe that you are ill. I also believe that you beat cancer, and you can beat this."

She's about to snort dismissal until that last line. Instead, she stuffs an overlarge bite of sticky bun into her mouth.

Reyes keeps talking, and he doesn't show the chill he feels as the shadow of poor dead Hope Mitchell, his torturer, falls across him. "I don't believe in monsters. I believe the anomaly is knowable, containable, and treatable. I believe you can get better."

She swallows what's in her mouth with a grimace and washes it down with a gulp of tea. "That's your mythology, Stephen."

What he wouldn't give to hear her call him El Generalissimo now.

"It is," he says, and takes another bite of Danish.

She smiles.

He smiles back. He gestures to the wall of color behind her. "So what are you making now?"

"Socks," she answers, extending her narrow foot to demonstrate. Inside the embroidered phoenix slipper, her ankle is encased in a lacy confection of brilliant greens. "Turns out you can crochet them. There's a special stitch to make them stretchy. You want a pair?"

"Only if I can have them in purple."

"Baby," she says. "You're on."

I'd lay down my body I'd lay down my arms
I never once in my sweet short life meant anybody harm.

     --Garbage, "Happy Home"