The Eye of the Beholder
by K. Kylyra Ameringer
Three years at the Agency. Three years of hunger. And Cameron wasn't the only one. She looked around at the other girls. They were all underfed. In the communal showers you could sometimes get to three digits by counting the number of visible ribs on the girls. But this was Agency life. It was perfectly legal. The documents had all been signed, stamped, and filed properly.
It wasn't until mid-afternoon that Cameron had a chance to return to the sleeping room. She had gone in for optic conditioning, a procedure all the girls underwent. It was a two step treatment; the first step involved a thin gel-like substance painted over the eye that absorbed slowly through the optic membrane, giving it a slight shielding. The second part of the process was to bombast the optic nerve with quick bursts of bright light. The procedure had the temporary effect of impairing vision, sometimes to the point of near blindness, especially in the early stages of treatment. As a consequence, Cameron was relieved from the rest of the day's activities and allowed to rest in the sleeping room.
When she returned she found she wasn't the only girl there. Shawna's bed was occupied. Cameron couldn't see well, but that didn't really matter. Whatever they had done to her, Shawna wasn't going to look the same.
Shawna heard Cameron's movements in the room. "Who's there?" she asked in a thin voice.
"It's me, Shawna. I'm here," Cameron replied.
"Cam," Shawna called out, holding her hand out blindly above her bed. "They did it to me. They did it to me! They cut me! Cam, they cut me!"
Cameron came over and took Shawna's outstretched hand. She held it, not knowing what to say. "It'll be alright," she finally managed lamely.
"I didn't want them to do it, Cam," Shawna said. "I didn't even know. I just woke up, and I couldn't see anything." Shawna's voice was rising and threatened to break. "They were telling me that...that they'd done it. That it was over with." She broke off a sob and her body shook as she held back her tears. "There was nothing I could do," she added miserably.
Cameron patted Shawna's hand. "It'll be alright," she repeated. There was an awkward moment of silence. "Hey, I saw Serena today in Movement," Cameron said.
"Yeah?" asked Shawna, a tremble still in her voice. Then she cleared her throat. "What was she up to? That bitch," she added.
Cameron chuckled. "You would have loved it, Shawna. They have her on the razors right now. She can't do it! They've got her in this suit, up on the razors, and trying to move like the Director wants her to. She fell twice and looked like a cow struggling in the mud the rest of the time. You would have loved it!" She repeated.
Shawna laughed. "Sorry to have missed it," she said. The conversation turned to small tidbits about the day to day routine that the girls had grown accustomed to. They remained safely away from the topic of Shawna's recent mutilation. Shawna would heal. The bandages would come off, the bruises would fade, and eventually she'd return to her normal daily routine.
"No, no, no, no, no!" the Director screamed. He threw his clipboard down and ran over to the platform. "Think about what you're doing!" he shouted. "Keep your movements fluid! Watch your balance!"
Serena's face was twisted in concentration. But try as she might, she just couldn't master the razors. The heels were too high for her, and threw her natural balance off. She tried to pivot and teetered precariously. "Not like that!" the Director screamed at her. Serena lost the last of her concentration and fell backwards, squarely on her rump.
"This will never do! This will never do!" the Director ranted. He was a small, pudgy man with a bald head and clipped facial hair. At the moment he was tearing up and down the room, screaming and flailing his arms about, scaring wide-eyed assistants out of his way and generally causing as big a scene as he could manage.
"I must have a new girl," he said to no one in particular. "I simply must. This one will never do," he said gesturing to Serena, who still sat on the platform, a small and forlorn figure. "Anyone would do better," the Director said. "Anyone." He cast his eyes around the room. Cameron was part of a small group of girls observing the process.
"You!" the Director said, as he locked eyes with her. "Come here!" Cameron glanced nervously side to side at the girls around her. The small group backed away like scared animals, leaving Cameron alone in the open, easy prey for the Director. "You!" the Director said again, as he stepped up to Cameron. "What is your name?"
"C-Cameron," she replied.
The Eye of the Beholder by K. Kylyra Ameringer