Daniela stopped focusing on the empty plastic cup she was holding and looked up. A peppy young woman with hair in a high ponytail and wearing far too much make up smiled pleasantly at her. This woman clearly didn’t know what was going on, either that or she’s sick and twisted.
“Your room’s ready for you now.” She said. “If you would like to follow me.”
Daniela did as she was told, as she had done since an unconscious Christiana had been carried out of the Bubble. She didn’t have the energy to do anything else. She had waited for all of the Walkers to kill any suffering people outside like she had been told. She had brought them all back and reset Stylo 1 like she had been told. She had sat at her beloved console and waited for further instructions like she had been told. She had come out to the main room to sit at the bar until someone came to take her to her room, like she had been told. And now she was going to her room to ‘get some well-earned rest’ like she had been told.
She was tired. No, she was exhausted. She would be beyond exhausted if she had a word for it. She had been running on adrenaline for the past two hours. She had been excited about using her machine, she had got caught up in the danger and excitement when all she could see was her beautiful Walkers and mindless beasts fighting each other. She had been so concerned about preserving her precious Danel that she hadn’t stopped to think about anything else. Including the lives that were out there, dying and crying for help. She hadn’t even noticed them. Or if she had, she had ignored them. And then in walked Christiana and she shone this massive floodlight on every single one of them. Men, women, children alike all crying out to be saved and she hadn’t batted an eyelid for over an hour.
Once she had noticed though, she couldn’t help but notice. She noticed the hell out of them. She sat and watched as her precious Walkers run each of them through. She knew it had been the humane thing to do. She knew that there was no way any of them could have survived the carnage that was still raging outside of these walls. But still… she hadn’t noticed. For so long.
Daniela’s guide stopped outside large oak double doors and handed her a key. Daniela glanced around, she hadn’t been paying attention to where she was or how she got here. She was in a long corridor, carpeted in a deep red and holding rich green plants. There were two sets of these oak doors on each side of the corridor, each about 30 feet apart.
“This is your suite.” The woman said. “If you need anything at all, just call room service.”
Room service? Suite? What the hell? The woman gave her another large smile and sauntered off down the corridor.
Daniela looked down at the key in her hand and glanced up at the door. She saw that her name had been engraved in slanted calligraphy deep into the wood. It hit her then, behind this door wasn’t just a room she’d be staying in. Behind this door was her new home. She briefly wondered what the correct emotion she should be feeling to react to this but decided that there was no correct emotion for any of this, there had been no research to back it up. Except for now, maybe this was the correct emotion, this 'void of nothing' that she was now feeling. Maybe this is the emotion that she would now feel for the rest of her life.
She put her new key into the lock and turned it easily. The door opened with a click and Daniela pushed it all the way. The room was dark but the moment she entered, sensor driven lights came on and Daniela caught sight of her new home.
In front of her was a large living area with cream carpet and black stencilled walls. A circular glass table stood in the middle holding the most magnificent arrangement of Silver Dollar flowers. They had always been her favourite. On the far wall of the living room hung a classic film poster of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ her favourite film. A plush and inviting three piece suite faced east around the glass table, on the wall in front of it was a television screen mounted on the wall and taking up almost the entire space. On the screen was a welcome message, waiting for Daniela’s entrance.
Welcome to Utopia. We hope you enjoy your stay.
There were three doors leading out of this room. Daniela walked to the first one and found a small walk in cupboard. It was fully stocked with coats, hats and shoes. On closer inspection Daniela noticed that they were all hers. She waited for an emotion in response to this revelation, pretty sure that she should be surprised or outraged that they had raided her stuff and brought it here. However, there was nothing. She closed the door and tried the next.
This door led to an open plan kitchen/dining area. She wondered in and let her fingers stroke the marble surface of the workspace as she walked around the kitchen area first. All the drawers were labelled with it’s contents. The first drawer she came to was labelled cutlery. She pushed it to open and it popped out, gliding open to reveal a fully stocked cutlery collection; knives, forks, spoons, can opener, bottle opener, potato peeler and so on. She closed the drawer and continued her inspection through each drawer and cupboard methodically. The kitchen was kitted with a dishwasher and fully stocked fridge and freezer. In the fridge were four bottles of champagne. She took one out and opened it. She briefly considered using one of the many champagne glasses she saw in her glass door cupboards but decided against it and drank from the bottle instead.
She continued her slow, lifeless inspection of the kitchen, reaching the fully stocked pantry and utility closet with washing machine and tumble dryer. She reached the dining area where a family sized oak table covered the majority of the space, another arrangement of Silver Dollar Flowers placed in the middle. On the wall above this table was a large screen projecting an image of a beautiful green garden, a virtual window for an underground bunker.
She passed it without a second thought and made her way back into the main living room. She headed straight to the third and final door. Inside was a large beautiful bedroom. The far wall was nothing but a screen, projecting another beautiful garden. This time she noticed that the main flower in this garden was again the Silver Dollar Flower. It appeared that whoever had designed this room had had one idea and decided to really overdo it.
In the middle of the room was a large king-size bed. Beautiful purple silk sheets covered it along with what looked like twenty pillows. What caught her attention however was a small object in the middle of the bed. A small stuffed elephant, old and dog-eared, stitched together in so many places that it was barely recognisable to the elephant it was when it was originally bought for her when she was a baby. It was at the sight of this elephant that something finally stirred inside her. She walked to the bed, sat crossed legged in the middle and nestled the elephant in her lap so that it’s faded face stared up at her expectantly. She took another swig of her champagne stared blankly back down at the animal. She searched for that stirring of emotion she had before but it had gone. Still she stared, still she waited.
Daniela didn’t know how long she had sat there alone staring at the elephant but she knew that she had just tried to drink out of an empty champagne bottle for the fifth time when another bottle was presented in front of her. She looked up to see Duncan standing there, two glasses in one hand, the offered champagne in the other.
“I’m not in the mood to talk about you right now.” She said, turning her attention back to her elephant.
“I’m not here to talk about that.” Duncan said, taking a seat on the bed next to Daniela and pouring the champagne into a glass, offering it to her.
Daniela looked at it for a moment and then reached for the new bottle instead. Duncan gave it over willingly and took a sip from his poured glass.
“I’m not in the mood to talk about what happened.” Daniela said.
“I’m not here to talk about that either.”
“Well then, why are you here?” She snapped.
“I figured you’d be having a hard time with what you had just seen.” He said. “I’m guessing you don’t have much experience of seeing death like that.”
Daniela didn’t say anything but took another gulp of champagne. She waited for him to continue but when it was clear that he wasn’t going to, she eventually spoke.
“So are you here to tell me that you’ve been through it all before and know how to teach me not to care?”
“Yes and no.” He said. “Yes, I have been through death and destruction before, no, I’m not going to teach you not to care. It’s not about not caring.” He took another chug of his glass. “The average human mind is this fragile thing that tends to like happy and content things and shut down when it sees things that it doesn’t like. It will tell you that it’s either completely freaked out and wants you to be as well, or it will tell you that it’s fine and let things fester until you crack and fall into a nervous breakdown.
“Yes, there are therapies and psychiatrists and counselling and stuff like that. Talking about it helps and doing all that ‘confront your demons’ crap but it doesn’t fix it completely. Ultimately, the moment it’s exposed to a trauma like what you just saw, it decides that sooner or later you’re screwed.”
“Is this supposed to be some kind of pep talk?” Daniela said. “Because, if you’re just here to make me feel crap and vulnerable so that I’ll sleep with you, you can either try making me feel worse now and I’ll beat the hell out of you, or you can sit with me in silence until I’ve finished this bottle of champagne and you’ll probably have a better chance.”
“As tempting as that sounds,” Duncan said. “That’s not why I’m here.”
Daniela went to take another swig but Duncan grabbed hold of the bottle and took it away from her.
“Look at me,” he said, taking her chin in his hand and forcing her face to his. “What I’m saying it, most brains can’t cope with the crap you just saw, but yours isn’t most brains. Your brain can kick everybody else’s brains arse.”
Duncan was holding Daniela’s gaze with such a deep intensity that she couldn’t help but listen and absorb every word.
“You see the world the way the rest of us can only dream Daniela Davids.” Duncan said. “You are stronger than anyone else here. Do not bottle up or push away anything you have seen today. Do not think that you can’t handle it. You can. Take it. Own it. And cry, goddamn it. Your brain can handle it. I know it can.”
Daniela felt it then. Emotion. Deep, deep down. Right in the recesses where she had stored everything she couldn’t handle. Her bottom lip quivered and one tear fell down her cheek. She started to panic, she didn’t want to start. She knew she wouldn’t be able to stop. She tried to pull her face away from Duncan, shaking her head in attempt to break free. Duncan wouldn’t let go of his hold though. She couldn’t hold on for much longer, the damn in her brain she had patched up since taking over Stylo 1 in the Bubble had started to leak again and she had nothing left in her to keep it at bay. She choked back a sob and with that one noise, suddenly everything fell apart. The damn broke free again and she broke down, her body convulsing into sob after sob.
Duncan finally let go of his hold of her chin, propped himself up on the pillows and pulled Daniela to him. She buried her face into his chest and cried like she had never cried before, every emotion flying through her one after the other and out in tears, wails and frustration. She clung to Duncan as if her life depended on it and felt the slow relief as the damn ran dry.