The Eye of the Beholder
by K. Kylyra Ameringer
Cameron awoke to the early morning bell. Grey light was flooding the sleeping room where she and another nineteen girls stayed. It was early dawn, and the room was still chilly.
She stretched, and the words "good morning" froze on her lips as she looked over to the bunk next to hers. Shawna was gone. The bed was empty, the covers crumpled evidence of someone having been there. They got her, Cameron thought. She lay still for a moment, listening to the furtive sounds of the other girls rising for the day.
Ordinarily, Cameron would have ignored this situation as the other girls did. An empty bed in the sleeping room was nothing new. Occasionally girls were taken in the night. Where they were taken, no one could say for sure. They always came back, usually swathed in bandages, but they never had a clear memory of where they'd been. When the bandages were removed, a new face would be revealed, or an altered torso or limb. The mutilations took place slowly over time, with a few girls seeming to get more than their fair share of the torture.
But Shawna was different. Shawna was the first person that Cameron had met in this place that had seemed real at all. The other eighteen girls in the sleeping room never questioned their existence. In fact, when some of them had come back from the mutilation process they were actually happy about it. They insisted the peelings and scrapings, subtractions and additions actually improved them. Cameron shuddered at the thought. She supposed their acceptance was some twisted psychological reaction to dealing with the situation. She herself had not been mutilated; not yet. She knew she'd been lucky so far. She didn't know how long that luck would hold out. Poor Shawna! Her luck hadn't been so good.
Cameron had seen it coming. She'd watched over the past six months as her young friend's facial features slowly began to settle into adulthood. Cameron had noticed the slight droop of the eyes. That alone was not a problem, but coupled with her friend's weak features and bland coloring, it put Shawna in danger of abduction and mutilation.
A soft voice spoke through the speakers hidden high in the ceiling of the sleeping room. "Morning stretch in five minutes," it said, "morning stretch in five minutes." Cameron rolled out of bed and hastily went to the washroom to ready herself.
Morning stretch. It was a rather sedate name given for such rigorous exercise. For two hours the girls stretched and ran, biked, and stretched again. The class stood out on the playing field in formation, their thin arms reaching up into the cold sky like dead marsh reeds. She had been a part of this particular group, this sleeping unit, for three years now; since she'd gotten here. Cameron listlessly moved her body around to the drone of the Instructor and thought back to the series of events that had brought her here.
She hadn't done well during her interviews. At that age, she had been withdrawn and introverted. She lacked the basics in social skills and graces. The Techs hadn't wanted her because her IQ was too low. The Blues didn't want her either; she didn't have the physical strength necessary. Interview after interview she was looked at coldly from across the room. And each time the Representative would walk out of the room, shaking his or her head.
Then the Agency Representative had come. That interview had gone differently, and for a moment Cameron had thought maybe, just maybe, she had a chance. The Agency Rep hadn't asked her questions about theory or spatial relations, he didn't poke or prod her looking for microbes or specific genetic patterning, nor did he bother to ask what interested her. He simply asked her to stand up, then turn around. "Any family?" he asked her gruffly. "No," Cameron said in a whisper, looking down towards the ground. The Rep stood up quickly and nodded. "You'll do," he said, and then he left the room. Cameron sank back into the chair. She didn't know what the Agency was, but that didn't matter. She had been accepted. Someone had found a place for her.
"Cameron, you're getting sloppy." The Instructor's voice broke in on her thoughts. "You have to push further," the Instructor said, "like this." The Instructor proceeded to bend Cameron's leg up three centimeters beyond her furthest reach. Cameron stifled a cry of pain. "See?" the Instructor said, "that's much better." Cameron eased the leg back down. She gently tested her weight on it to see if it would hold her. There was a sharp, flaming pain up the back side of her thigh, but her leg would hold her weight. "Alright, let's pack it in," said the Instructor. "Time for breakfast."
Cameron lined up outside the meal window with the other girls. She received her tray and sat down in the communal dining room. It was a Continental Chaser breakfast. It was always a Continental Chaser breakfast. At some point in her early years Cameron had looked up the word 'breakfast'. It meant quite literally, she had found, to break one's fast. She didn't know how anyone could call this a breakfast. A glass of juice, a piece of fruit, and the chaser part of the meal; a small plastic cup with three pills in it: one pink, one blue, and one clear coated capsule with tiny beads of varying colors inside. Cameron didn't know what the pills were for. None of the girls did. She had asked, once, when she had first arrived. "Vitamins," had been the terse reply and that had been the end of the matter. Cameron would have happily given up her vitamins for anything - anything - that would sate her hunger.
The Eye of the Beholder by K. Kylyra Ameringer