Hello readers! Thank you for coming back to the next chapter in my science fiction work in progress. If you are new here, Paradise is a tale of one memory dealing with no memory and living in two realities. Last week, Roman had returned to the compound, though that shouldn’t have been possible after the surgery Max performed. This week, something new is discovered in the compound.
Please keep in mind, this is a first draft, and it is being shared as it is written. If you notice inconsistencies or glaring errors, please let me know. Thank you for joining me on this journey. Enjoy!
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The next morning, I again woke in the compound. It didn’t make sense that I should be back there, but I decided to make the best of it.
I was sure that the key to figuring out what was going on could be found in the reconditioning center. Whether the compound was real or not, that center was important to that reality.
It was clear I couldn’t immediately go back to watching the door to the center. They would be watching me. Likely, they had been watching me for some time.
However, they were playing the game differently this time. Not only had they let Peadar come visit me, even telling him I had been injured, but they also allowed us to continue talking. We were even able to sit together at mealtimes.
Peadar was not impressed at the new way I was devouring large amounts of food, but I didn’t care. Real or not, I wanted to enjoy every morsel for as long as I could.
For several days, a group of barn workers sat around Peadar and I. It wasn’t clear who among them was the spy or if they all were, but we took the hint and spoke only about things in the compound.
The group quickly grew bored with us and soon let us sit at one of the fringe tables by ourselves.
“What happened?” Peadar asked me one day.
“What do you mean?” There were strawberries on the menu that day, and I was enjoying eating them in small, blissful bites.
“In the center. I know you didn’t fall.”
“No, I’m sure I didn’t fall,” I told him. “But I can’t tell you what happened. The whole time I was gone, I was back in the bunker. I don’t know what happened here.”
“And I’m still not in the bunker?”
I paused from my strawberries for a moment to look at him.
“No, I’m sorry. You’re not there. You died protecting me in that reality.”
“So, if this isn’t real?” He wasn’t really looking for an answer, and I offered none.
He looked down mournfully at his plate. “And we’re sure this is the construct?”
He looked back up at me. “Yes, sir.”
“I can’t say unequivocally. I thought for sure the bunker was real. Max found bots in my head and removed them. Life felt normal there, although awful most of the time. The people in the bunker seem just as real as anyone here.”
“So, this might be reality?”
For a moment, I imaged Peadar as a young boy, and I was having to find a way to tell him that his favorite pet had died.
“Again, I can’t say. I don’t know how to figure it out.”
He didn’t say anything for some time.
“Well, then, sir,” he finally said. “Perhaps that should be our new mission.”
It was then that I noticed a girl walking our direction from the barracks. My mind didn’t register anything at first, but it did pick up a hint of familiarity, so I did a doubletake.
“Who’s that?” I asked Peadar, nodding my head in the girl’s direction.
“That’s Jasmine,” he told me.
“Jasmine? From the center?”
“Yes. You really don’t remember?”
I was confused. “Remember what?”
“The night we saw Gregg and Todd come out of the center, Gregg was carrying something.”
Yes, I remembered that. It had been too dark to see what it was.
“It was her,” Peadar went on. “They let her keep her name, Jasmine, but not much else. They really did a number on her.”
“What do you mean?”
Peadar paused for a minute like he wasn’t sure how to convey what he meant. “She’s not right,” he finally said. “Not upstairs. Something isn’t working right.”
“Still,” I replied, turning my head so no one would notice me paying attention to her, “she’s been in the center. That makes her our best ally.”
“Maybe.” Peadar did not sound as enthusiastic as I felt.
Jasmine didn’t have a work assignment. Instead, she seemed to be just wandering aimlessly around the compound. She didn’t wear the smile that most people did. In fact, she didn’t wear any expression at all.
I watched her much of the afternoon as I was working in the vineyard. There was no discernable pattern in where she walked or when, and I didn’t notice her interact with anyone.
When it was time for evening meal, I watched for her to come in to the dining area, but she never did. After feasting on corn, okra, and candied carrots, I set out to search for her. As luck would have it, I found her near the barn where Peadar worked, and no one else was around.
“Jasmine!” I called after her, but she continued walking at her slow pace.
“Jasmine,” I called out again softer as I got closer. Still, no response.
Finally, I caught up to her and grabbed her gently by the arm. She turned to look in my direction, but I got the clear impression that she wasn’t seeing me.
“Jasmine, it’s me.”
“Hello,” she said methodically, but her stare and expression remained unchanged.
I lowered my voice to a whisper. “It’s me, General Roman. I need your help.”
“Jasmine, you’re the only one that has been in the center. I know it’s the key to everything here. I need your help.”
“Hello,” she said again in her monotone way.
Peadar was right. This definitely wasn’t the girl I had talked to in the center.
Just then, Vann appeared from nowhere just behind us.
“Rick,” he said with the smile I wanted to rip from his face, “I see you’ve met Jasmine.”
I didn’t say anything.
“I’d prefer you let her go.” It was clear that Vann was giving me an order, though his smile remained unchanged.
“We were just talking,” I told him.
“Really?” His tone was sarcastic. “Jasmine doesn’t talk a lot, and not usually to people she’s just met.”
I wanted to confront Vann, but after my conditioning, I wasn’t supposed to remember Jasmine or the center. I also wasn’t sure what they had done to me in the two months I’d been in the bunker, so instead I stood there silently.
“Jasmine used to work in another part of the compound,” Vann started to inform me. It surprised me that he said that because everyone had always said there was nothing other than the part of compound we saw every day.
“She was a very good worker, but one act of carelessness, and she was unavoidably hurt. We’re doing what we can to help her, but I fear she may be forever altered.”
I let go of Jasmine’s arm. It shocked me what Vann was saying. He was giving me a warning. I had a choice to confront him or to pretend like I knew nothing. There was no doubt that Vann couldn’t be trusted, so I opted to remain silent.
Vann came closer and put his arm around Jasmine.
“Come on, young one,” he told her. “Let’s get you back to the barracks.”
“Wait,” I stopped them. I knew it was a mistake, but Jasmine was one of my people. She needed my help.
“Jasmine, has someone hurt you?”
Nothing changed in her pretty face. Her eyes stayed unfocused and fixed forward, looking right through me. After a moment of silence, she muttered another monotone, “Hello.”
Vann’s pleasant smile changed to more of a smirk. “I told you, something unfortunate happened to Jasmine. She’s a dear sweet girl, and we’ll do what we can to help her. In the meantime, she’s a good reminder for all of us as to why we need to follow the rules.”
If I had any doubt that I was being warned, that doubt was now erased. Vann may not have been sure if I remembered Jasmine from the center or not, but in either case, he was letting me know, if I failed to play nice, there would be serious consequences, to me and my people.
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