Lance squints as he steps outside. After being in the dark of the prison for so long it seems as though the sunlight is cleansing the world with its starkness. Every little detail, even reflective glints bouncing off cars, seems magnificent. He gives a courteous nod and smile to the guard escorting him out, he thinks her name is Greta but isn’t sure. She gives him a half smile in return, accompanied by an inexplicable sadness haunting her eyes.
He thinks that sadness may be for him. It’s a bemusing idea; he barely knows her.
And it can’t be because of his situation. It was unfortunate certainly, a misplaced punch (causing far more damage than he’d intended) and he’d landed here. But he’s fully reformed and free now. Some dislike the notion of the reformation. But he understands that it’s a necessary adjustment, for the betterment of himself and society. Now he can go about his life secure in the knowledge that he won’t fly into a rage and cause harm to another.
He begins walking away, every step a step further towards re-joining the real world.
A button is pressed. The metal contraption around his head tightens, needle-limbs thrust deeper. Lance screams.
Hot lava burns along every nerve. His body writhes in live-wired agony. They’re only in his head, but that’s the only place they need to be.
The needle spikes probing his forehead remain. He’s sweating. There’s still a painful throbbing behind his left eye. He hurts all over, but the despair is worse.
She’s beautiful. That’s his first thought when she enters. He’s sure this must be a tactic of some kind; first the torture and then the soothing, lovely, woman showing kindness. He doesn’t understand, doesn’t even know why they are trying to interrogate him. All he did was get in a bar fight.
“I’m sorry.” Her words are soft, intent-laden and filled with sorrow so, so sincere. She must be one hell of a liar because he’s already convinced she isn’t one.
She presses a damp cloth to his head, he leans in; it feels heavenly and it’s not like he has anything to reveal, so there’s no point in fighting it.
Lance squints as the man steps inside. The dark cell has his eyes rebelling against the light flooding through the open door.
“Lance. An intriguing name. A name that’s deemed to belong to an innocent, straight-forward, harmless person. Yet, it’s the name of a weapon. Your name hides in plain sight, just like you do.”
The words are stated plainly and he carefully takes in his would-be interrogator. The man is short and stout with almost comically villainous facial hair, his expression steely and yet placid. Determined.
As expected the man attaches the ‘reformation’ device to Lance’s head. He concentrates as the machine takes hold, knows he’ll have to keep his mind in a perfectly focused state if he has any chance of resisting.
After an indeterminate amount of time the interrogator speaks again,
“Why must you resist so? Especially when your fellow citizens understand that these ways are for the betterment of mankind. A peaceful world, untainted by the vitriolic torments and hatred that once poisoned it.”
He’s exhausted. And he has to stop his mind filling with the names of all those who staunchly disagree, to stop from thinking of revolutionary movements and covert operations, to stop from giving anything away, so he speaks,
“The ‘reformation’ isn’t a peaceful thing, it throws away memories; it takes a mind and pulls it apart.”
“It discards only harmful memories and leaves the person happier, well-adjusted, what saviour are you! You who would have them suffer!”
“Because without those memories, they aren’t their real selves, you take away a vital part of who they are, and they aren’t themselves, they can never be themselves. Everyone who goes through a reformation is a shadow of a person living a shadow of a life!”
He knows that someone trying to coax his cooperation will come next, but he also knows that understanding a trap isn’t always enough to avoid falling into the maw of it. Yet his stomach still plummets when the woman steps into the room.
“Did you have to be here?” he asks, already resigned.
“It would seem a bit suspicious if I refused to help break the rebel movement’s leader,” Greta answers.
“Yeah, I know.”
“I’ll just hang around for a bit and then tell them it didn’t work.”
“Do you have a better plan?”
“You need to remove all my memories of the rebel movement,” Lance replies, tone dry and flat, curbing any bitterness, quashing any fear. This will be hard enough for the both of them already.
“What?! I didn’t think your brain would fry so easily!”
“You’re one of the best undercover operatives we’ve got; your cover has to remain intact.”
“You’re our freaking leader!”
“And there will be another leader to step into my place.”
Greta’s voice cracks out an impassioned plea, “This is everything we fight against! You despise reformation. You would be giving up your entire being, your real self. How could you be willing to do this, it’s too much, I can’t let you do this for the movement and definitely can’t let you do this for me.”
“Let me do this for me then. I know too much. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary. It’s the only option. I can’t do anything else. I can’t bear it. I care for you too much Greta. I can’t carry on spending every second terrified that I might let something about you slip.”
There’s an interminable pause, staring at the broken lines running across each other’s faces.
Eventually Greta switches the device on. Then she presses her lips to his and whispers solemnly, “Thank you.”