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  “I don’t know,” she replied, her eyes darting everywhere but at his. “I… I think I’m… having trouble believing this is real. That this is really you…” she breathed in shakily, at the same time hating that she was crying in front of him.

  Brian pulled her into a hug, squeezing her so tight that it had to hurt on some level. “Honestly, I’ve felt the same way all day,” he replied, softly. “Seeing you in the coffee shop, and every insane moment after, I kept having to pinch myself to see if I was really awake. I’m actually kinda scared I’ll wake up tomorrow and you won’t be here.” He blinked back his own sudden onset of tears.

  Birdie’s arms snaked around Brian’s back and squeezed back, taking comfort in the solidity of it. “As long as we’re on the same page, here,” she let out a small laugh, and felt the slight shaking in Brian’s chest as he did the same. She pulled away after a few moments. “I feel like I need a shower, after today.”

  “Oh,” he shook his head as if to clear it. Birdie was a pro at putting things back on the shelf, even after they’d just toppled off of it, and he’d never met another woman able to do the same. He watched as she quickly dried the wetness from her face and squared her shoulders. “I’ll show you your room. It’s been a guest room, up until now. Even has it’s own bathroom,” he explained as he led her back out to the hallway, stooping to grab the fallen pajamas before they left his room.

  The lights flickered on in the same fashion once they entered Birdie’s room. This room was clearly different than Brian’s. It seemed cold; not in temperature, as that was perfectly controlled, but cold in personality. It was like a motel room; neutral and uncharacteristic. Clean, but unused. The bed was an adequate size and dressed in the same robin’s egg blue as her debriefing clothes. The window was hidden by copper-colored metallic blinds, and the dresser was the same as Brian’s; hand-crafted wood with brass pulls.

  “You’ve got a big closet over there,” he pointed to a closed set of pocket doors on the wall beside the bed. “Anything you need before we can get to the store, just ask me. I refuse to share underwear, however.”

  “I’m fine going commando, thank you very much,” she glared.

  “Ew,” he scrunched his face for a moment.

  “You expect me to wear the same ones I have, until then?”

  “No. But I don’t wanna know when you’re going commando.”

  “Easily obliged,” she replied.

  “Here’s the bathroom,” he pointed out, quickly changing the subject. The lights flickered on as he entered. “There are towels in here in the cabinet, and stuff to wash with already in the shower. Everything here is hand-made by people on the island, so whatever you used before, get used to doing without. This stuff is good, though. And there are different scents and stuff at the store, so if you don’t like those, you can get something else.”

  “Where’s the washer and dryer?”

  “We don’t have them,” he told her. “There’s a launderer downtown. We take everything there. They hand-wash everything.” Birdie looked a bit uncomfortable with that thought. “I wash some of my own things here. Like underwear, because I’ll be damned if anyone is touching my underwear besides me.”

  “And I’m sure they appreciate that,” she raised her brows, amused.

  “Hey, those people wash everyone’s underwear,” he retorted. “I just like some of my business to be my own.”

  “Yeah, I think I’ll go ahead and do my own, as well… Wait, everyone’s? No one has a washer or dryer?”

  “It’s inefficient to have them,” he told her. “There’s one area where everything is contained and done. Everyone needs a job on the island. It’s how we pay for everything else. There are people that rotate in and out of that place day and night.”

  “A twenty-four hour Laundromat? That sounds very convenient.”

  “Considering there are over two hundred and fifty people’s clothes to wash, it’s kinda necessary.”

  “How does money work here?” she asked, intrigued, as she walked to the shower and began inspecting the soaps.

  “It’s not really money, so much as credits,” he explained, leaning back against the wall and crossing his arms. “Whatever job you work, and however many hours, goes into a credit system. So it’s kinda like bartering, in a way. Your I.D is also your credit card, so to speak. Whatever profits I make off my books goes onto my credit. The actual money goes to the government sector that funds the island. My credits are worth as much, though. Pretty much everything I need or want is covered, and then some.”

  “Guess you’re books do well then,” she raised a brow.

  “Not too bad,” he smirked, revealing the dimple on his left cheek. “Plus, anything I want that’s not on the island, I can bribe and transfer credits to a hunting Observer.”

  “Hunting?” she questioned. “You mean when we go to fetch a Proprietor?”

  “That, or when they’ve located a Defector,” he told her. “It’s rare, but sometimes they find them on the grid. They’ve gotta go pick them up and try not to cause a scene in the meantime.”

  Birdie nodded in understanding. “So what kind of stuff do you usually ask them to get?”

  “Eh,” he let out a breath as he thought. “Books, magazines, games, movies… or stuff they don’t quite make the way I like, here. Wish I could convince them to let me have a car.”

  “Where would you drive it?” she looked at him incredulously. “There’s no where to drive and nothing to drive on. Not to mention gasoline.”

  “I just miss driving, I guess,” he got a reminiscent look on his face.

  “Maybe you can bribe one of us to take you on a hunt with us,” she smirked. “I’m guessing we have to drive when we’re out there.”

  “I’d have to do some serious bribing. Even at the right price, they’ve gotta clear it with the big boss. Or risk losing their job by sneaking me along. Though, it would be easier for me, since I don’t report to an outside job, and I spend most of my time at home. I’d have to bribe to barista not to mention they haven’t seen me at the shop,” he laughed.

  “I’m thinking this is totally doable,” she said, seriously.

  “Yeah?” he got a bit of an excited look on his face. “Well, that’d be awesome. But I’d hold off a while, at least. You’re new on the job, and I can’t imagine you having to serve coffee for a living if you get canned.” They shared a laugh at that.

  * * *

  After they each had a shower, Birdie convinced Brian to let her stay in his room for the night. She told him it was because her bedroom creeped her out a bit. But in reality, she just wanted to be near him. She wanted to be able to just look over, if she woke up in the night, and be reassured that he was still there. He didn’t even fight her about it, since he felt the same way.

  They laid there on their separate sides of the king-sized bed, Brian staring up at the ceiling, and Birdie on her side facing him. The lights were out, but the blue glowing numbers on the alarm clock beside the bed illuminated the room enough to see each other.

  “Do you remember dying?” Birdie asked, quietly, after several minutes of silence.

  Brian turned his head to glance at her for a moment, before looking up at the ceiling. “Do you?” he asked.

  “Yeah,” she replied, thinking back. “I remember it was cold. It was raining and I was lying in the street.”

  “How did you die?” he looked at her again.

  “I was shot,” she told him. “Chasing a suspect,” she elaborated. “He was scared. I don’t think he’d ever shot anyone before. I remember his face just before he ran away again. I felt sorry for him.”

  “He’d just shot you, and you felt sorry for him?”

  “I knew I was gonna die, but I felt sorry that he’d just basically ended his whole life with a split-second decision,” she explained. “He was so young.” She watched as Brian looked back up at the ceiling.

  “I remember talking to Mom,” he said.

  “She c
alled you to check in, she said.”

  “Yeah,” he let out a small, breathy laugh. “She wanted to know if I was any closer to finishing my book. I told her I didn’t have time for it, with work. I’d already had a hit in my system and was too far gone to continue the conversation. I told her I’d call her the next day.”

  “Then you ordered a pizza,” she added.

  “I did,” he looked over at her for a moment, then back to the ceiling. “And as soon as I hung up with them, I took another hit. It made me so floaty and tired, I laid my head back on the arm of the couch and passed out. That’s the last thing I remember, before waking up in debriefing.”

  There were a few moments of silence as they both thought. “Why did you do it?” she asked. “Was it because we saw Dad?”

  “Kind of,” he let out a breath. “I was so… pissed at myself for doing anything at all, that night. Seeing Dad hurt, and I didn’t wanna feel it. That, and what I made you promise me,” he looked over at her again. “I felt like I’d given you a burden you didn’t deserve to have to carry. Those things, coupled with the guilt of screwing up sobriety, made me do even more.” Birdie heard him swallow. “I am sorry, Birdie. I didn’t mean to die. I swear that much. And I’m sorry I screwed up. And I’m really sorry that you had to find me like that. If it’d been the other way around… Hell, Birdie, I wouldn’t have been able to keep going like you can.”


  “I’m serious. Hell, Dad isn’t even dead, and look how I handled that. I wasn’t even as close to him as I am to you. You’re… You’re stronger than me.”

  There was a silent moment between them as she let that absorb. “It doesn’t matter anymore,” she told him. “Everything’s different, now. Not just this place, or what we are. But you… You’re you, Brian. Not drugs. I can honestly say that I’m glad. I’m happy, even. I’m happy we’re here.” Even in the dim light, Brian could see her genuine smile. He returned it, in silent agreement.


  Birdie awoke to the false sunlight flowing around the edges of the blinds in Brian’s room. It lit up her brother’s silhouette, making him look angelic, and she laughed at the thought.

  She pushed herself up, being careful not to shake the bed and wake him, and made her way out into the kitchen to start coffee. The kitchen was clean, most likely because he never used it. The stainless steel coffee pot had a thin layer of dust on it, reminding her that his morning routine likely consisted of going to the coffee shop instead of actually brewing it himself.

  Brian awoke to the smell of coffee, maybe twenty minutes later. For a moment, he forgot where he was. But as soon as he came to his senses, he rushed out of bed and out into the hall, searching for proof that yesterday hadn’t just been a dream. There stood Birdie, stirring sugar into her cup of coffee. She glanced over at him.

  “The milk in the fridge looked questionable,” she said. “I figured I’d just go without. Good morning, by the way.”

  He smiled.

  * * *

  “You gonna bring your brother to work with you every day?” Agent Kale asked as they walked the tunnels toward R.R.

  Birdie glanced to Brian, who walked slightly behind them, then back to Kale. “Brian is currently having writer’s block,” she told her. “And I figured we could use a hand still. But if you’re opposed—”

  “It’s fine,” Kale cut her off. “I was merely asking out of curiosity. He’s a decent shot, or so he proved yesterday. Unless that was luck.”

  “Birdie taught me,” Brian told her. “I’m also not opposed to manual labor, if it’s needed. But don’t give me busy work. If you need to give me busy work, just send me home. I’m here to help; not out of boredom.”

  “Acceptable,” Kale replied after a moment of consideration. “So you’re good at training?” she glanced to Birdie.

  “I’m good at training what I know how to do,” she replied, straightening her uniform top. “But I’ve not even completed training here. Why do you ask?”

  Kale sighed as they approached the hatch to R.R. “We may have to start recruiting,” she told her. The three of them filed in through the hatch door, and Kale closed and secured it before walking across the small hallway to another one. This door had a console beside it, and Kale pulled her I.D card that hung on a retractable cord on her belt, and swiped it over the device. The red light above the door turned green, and there was a loud clicking sound behind the door. Kale then opened the hatch and made her way inside with the siblings.

  “Agent Kale,” Dr. Foster approached from the hall they were walking through.

  “Aaron,” she greeted. “Working a double shift?”

  “Just got in an hour ago,” he told her. “I was informed you’d be coming in.” He glanced over at Birdie and Brian. “Nice to see you again,” he told them, trying to be friendly, though it was clear by his demeanor that he had urgent news. “Do they have clearance?” he asked Kale.

  She arched an eyebrow. “Would they be with me, if they didn’t?”

  “Right,” he nodded. “We’ve discovered something,” he told her. “And we have a big problem.”

  “Other than the obvious?”

  “On top of it,” he replied. “Same problem; bigger consequences.”

  “Has something else happened?” she asked as they approached a set of sliding steel doors.

  “Eh… not exactly. It’s just that we’re only now realizing the extent of it,” he explained. The doors opened and Birdie realized that it was an elevator. She hesitantly followed them as they filed into it. “Everyone is in the conference room,” he told them. “We’ve just been waiting on you, to start.”


  “Maverick’s team, the R.R staff and myself. Well, I’m obviously not in there right now.”

  “Obviously,” Kale rose a brow again. Aaron pushed a button and the shaft began moving downward.

  Birdie looked at the button pad where Dr. Foster had punched level C1. She noted that there was a button for every letter in the alphabet, and decided that there must be other elevators if these were all followed by the number one. She recalled a building she’d visited during a case when she was with the DEA, that had a similar system.

  “I came over here this morning when I was asked to come confirm their findings,” Aaron told them. “I wish I could tell you all I know, but I think it’d be best to hear it all in one place.” The elevator stopped, and mere moments later the doors swished open. “After you,” the doctor moved away from the exit and allowed the others to leave the shaft. He then headed out, himself, and led them toward the conference room.

  This hallway was unlike anything else Birdie had seen on the island, and from the way Brian looked around, it was likely he’d never been here before, either. The entire walkway was black. The floor was an endless rubberized grate leading all the way to its end, and the walls on either side of them looked like marble. It was so smooth, Birdie could see her reflection as if it were a mirror. Overhead, were hundreds of small lights, no bigger than a dime around, each. Their placement made Birdie think of the night sky in Dagsboro. And though they were tiny, the hallway was lit very well.

  When they reached the end of the walkway, the sliding door at the end swished open, and they entered a large room, similar to the walkway as far as the walls and lighting went. There was nothing lining the walls, as far as pictures or decor. A large, oblong table sat in the middle of the room, and several people were seated around it. One of them, Birdie recognized. Emmett smiled at her once their eyes met. She returned the smile, shortly, before her nerves reminded her that they were here for an important reason that was still unknown to her.

  “Amber Farran,” a child’s voice came from the far end of the table. Birdie and Brian both looked over to see the young boy as he stood from his chair and walked toward her. He appeared no older than twelve, but the way he was dressed in a navy blue uniform similar to the black ones the Observers wore, the way his hair was styled, and the way
he carried himself, it was more likely that he was much older.

  “Do you know me?” Birdie asked.

  “I do,” he replied as he approached. “We’ve never met in person, but I know who you are.” Instinctively, she dropped to one knee so that she wasn’t towering over him, and extended her hand to greet him. He took it. “My name is Simon.”

  “I’m glad to meet you, Sir,” she told him.

  There was a small moment where his brow twitched, not having expected the immediate level of respect the woman gave him without knowing exactly who he was. “We’ve been waiting for you,” he told her. She looked into Simon’s eyes, somehow able to sense that there was a wisdom within him that surpassed anyone she’d ever known.

  Simon drew his hand away and turned toward the table. “Maverick,” he called, “Your report.”

  “Sir,” he nodded as he stood. Maverick looked a bit older than anyone else in the room. Definitely more gruff, as well. He was a head shorter than Dr. Foster, who was still standing a bit to the side of him. He had a beard and mustache that wasn’t altogether inappropriate, however not exactly professional enough to be working in that room. His hair was brown and peppered with gray hairs, and he was wearing civilian clothing, topped of with a baseball cap.

  “Agent Kale asked me to form a team to investigate into the Defectors’ confiscated weapons,” Maverick began. “What we found, was that there was a chemical compound in each round of ammunition,” he hit a button on the console in front of his chair on the table top, illuminating a large holographic screen in the center of the table for all to see. The image showed a picture of one of the unspent rounds dissected during the investigation. “Our resident chemists and medical experts haven’t been able to determine the compound,” he continued, “But did a series of trials that indicate its purpose.” He pressed another button on the console, and the screen showed a magnified simulation of Proprietor cells repairing themselves, then another simulation of the same cells exposed to the compound, which stopped the cells from repairing from their damaged state.

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