As requested I was at the headquarter at nine in the morning, arriving early to be sure. Kickback was there and she guided me to an office on the top floor of the entrance building where chairs had been lined outside in an impromptu waiting room. Kickback knocked on the door and a black woman in an impeccable suit opened it.
“Dr. Mahama, this is Shell, she’s been assigned here and the DDA has requested a psychological evaluation.”
“Of course. Shell, if you’d please come follow me in and take a seat.”
I entered her office, it was spartanly decorated and didn’t bear any kind of personal touch, made to be functional above all else, the closest to a decor was a shelf of psychiatry books and magazines.
“Would you like something to drink, Shell?”
“I’m good. You can call me Paige.”
“Alright, Paige.” She said sitting down in the chair in front of her desk. Rather than keep the desk in between us, she had placed a chair for me to the side, facing her. She took a pad and paper from her desk and turned toward me.
“I don’t really know what I’m supposed to say…” I admitted. “I’ve never seen a shrink before.”
“That’s alright. I want to know you personally, so why don’t you explain to me how you got here?”
“That’s kind of a long story…”
“Today, I have all the time we need just for you.”
“I guess this all started when I met Kenzie, she’s Ingot, even if I didn’t know at the time. She was like getting harrassed by this girl at school and I intervened. Then we kind of starting hanging out.” I started chewing my nails, this woman had final say on whether I’d go to jail or join the young guardians.
“Are you feeling anxious Paige?” It wasn’t really a question.
“Does it happen often?”
“All the time.”
“Is talking to me aggravating your anxiety?”
“Well, you kind of decide my future, If you find me crazy, I’ll be going to jail…”
“My job first and foremost is to help you, Paige. Although I will have to approve or reject you for the guardians program everything you say is confidential. As for being crazy, I can’t divulge the specifics but the majority of participants in the Guardians program suffer from mental illness, being neurotypical is not a requirement, I am here to evaluate if you are stable enough or can be made so for the program.” She calmly explained. “But for that, I need you to answer my questions honestly.”
“I can do that.”
“About your anxiety, have you ever experienced intense feelings of dread, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, shaking, hot or cold flashes, nausea, lightheadedness or felt detached from your surroundings? Not necessarily for any recognizable reason or maybe triggered by certain stimuli?”
“Definitely, sometimes when I feel stressed, especially after I make a mistake I just shut down and it’s like nothing is real anymore and I just buck up for minutes at a time not doing anything but panicking.”
“Alright, Now tell me; What made you commit an act of vigilantism?”
“I started hanging out with Kenzie and I discovered that she was actually Ingot, She was this badass hero and I was plain old unremarkable Paige, I was afraid that she’d get bored of me, realize I wasn’t up to her level and forget I existed. I heard that people could get drafted for doing that kind of stuff and I didn’t think twice about it, I wanted to impress her and join her team and my mom wouldn’t accept it.”
“I can’t help but notice that you put a lot of emphasis on your relationship with Kenzie. How do you honestly feel about her?”
“She’s so smart and cool, she knows what she wants and she’s everything I wanted to be… She’s my only friend… And I think I’m in love with her…”
“Are you sexually attracted to her or other girls?”
“Definitely…” I raised my knees to my chin.
“Are you attracted to boys?”
I shook my head. “Boys gross me out.”
“Alright.” There was no judgement in her voice. “Does Kenzie know about your feelings for her?”
“No.” The idea of telling Kenzie wasn’t one I wanted to entertain. “She doesn’t know I’m attracted to her and I don’t want to risk losing her because of that… Nobody can find out...”
“Let me reassure you that what you just told is protected under the aegis of doctor-patient confidentiality, your sexual orientation is not a factor in your eligibility and will not leave my office. Now to change the subject to more evaluation relevant criterias; Do you have problems concentrating at school, do you find school and household task unusually exhausting, Do you have any problems with eating regularly?”
It was a bit of an odd change of subject.
“Yes. Yes again. I skip a lot of meals, I just don’t feel like eating a lot of time.”
“How would you describe your relationship with food? Do you dislike eating, do you feel bad after eating? Have you ever purged, forced yourself to throw up?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never purged. It’s just I’m often not hungry and even when I feel hunger pangs I don’t have the strength to put food in my mouth.”
“How long has this been going on? Are you always like this or do you have strong periods of high energy?”
“I don’t know, a little after my trigger event, I think? This is basically constant, I never really have bouts of high, just sort of ‘okay’ days.”
“Have you ever thought about committing suicide?”
“Have you ever made plans or any attempt?”
“Yes… Plans, all the time. I just think of how easy it would be to take everything in the pharmacy or cut myself in a warm bath...” I hadn’t ever admitted it to anyone. But I had to be honest here if I wanted a chance. “I only tried once. I jumped down Knik arm last November… My ability protected me and I left before anyone found me. I was just lonely and tired. I haven’t tried anything since. I just went home and pretended it never happened, it was better for everyone that way… I never told my parents.”
“How is your relationship with your family?”
“I don’t really get along with my mom. We fight a lot, when we don’t, we just ignore each other, I think we just can’t communicate, one of us gets angry and that’s it... I love my dad and we get along rather well, but he works on the road and I don’t see him as much as I would like to. I haven’t seen my mother’s family since I triggered, they’re very conservative that way the last thing I remember about them was my cousin calling me a Neph by email. My dad’s adoptive dad used to live with us while growing up, but now he’s retired and now lives in florida, it’s better for his arthritis. I’ve never met his bio parents.”
“What about your peers at school?”
I shrugged. “I don’t really have anyone but Kenzie, I had friends in elementary schools but we drifted apart. After what happened at my trigger event, I didn’t have the strength to maintain friendly relationships, I just sort of withdrew.”
“Alright, I believe I have everything I need to made a diagnosis and give Kickback my evaluation.”
My heart sank. She opened her desk's’ drawer and took out a smaller pad, writing something before handing it to me and getting up, she walked to a large locked cabinet at the back of the room and opened it, taking something before coming back here.
“I’m prescribing you antidepressants and giving you samples for now. You’ll start at 35mg twice a day for the first two week and we will double the dose then. Take them with food in the morning and evening. At first, they may cause constipation, drowsiness, upset stomach, tiredness, weight gain, blurred vision, or dry mouth. If the symptom persist after a week, come and talk to me. You can refill your prescription at any drug store.”
“I don’t have insurance, there’s no way I can afford it.”
“Now you do. I’m green lighting you for the guardians program and starting now, you’re now a government employee. It should take a few days for the paperwork to be processed so the samples will help with that. But I have to warn you, the positive effects will take a while to start, antidepressants are not a miracle cure, they will not fix everything, but they will make you more functional in your everyday life and give the nudge you need to continue treatment.”
“I don’t know what to say…”
“Thank you would suffice.” She said. “You seem like a good person Paige and it’s pretty clear you’re suffering from your depression, a lack of self esteem and anxiety problems, and I believe the guardians program can help you with that, it will break your isolation and give you the tools you need to conquer your mental illness. You get a chance to be a part of something, be with your peers and get whipped back into physical shape. You’ll have to put a lot of efforts and it’s going to be hard, but it might be what you need to turn your life around.” As she spoke, she wrote a something and put it inside of an envelope. “Give that to Kickback. And remember to take your meds starting tomorrow morning.”
I took the letter. “I will.”
“I’m here weekly, normally on Fridays but today we flipped my schedule for you. If there’s an emergency or you have any questions, we can have a video session anytime.”
“Alright. Thanks Doctor.”
She escorted me to the door.
Kenzie was waiting for me along with Buzzkill and Bandersnatch. Buzzkill wasn’t wearing a costume, just a band tee and jeans. Unlike last time he was wearing a binder and his lower lip had a lone piercing and he had also dyed his hair turquoise. Bandersnatch was just like I’d last seen her; looking cuddly and wearing black shorts. She was one of those unlucky divergent who when they had obtained their powers, had transformed into monstrous forms. She was arguably luckier than most, looking cute rather than bizarre or scary.
“Paige? What are you doing here?” Buzzkill asked getting up, he seemed happy to see me.
“It's complicated but I kind of got accepted into the young guardians just now.”
“For real? We have to celebrate!” He wrapped an arm around me and I let out a small pained cry.
“Careful, Chuan.” Kenzie said. “She has broken ribs.”
“Sorry.” He said, breaking contact. “We should still celebrate, get a little something for the occasion.”
“And how do you propose we do that?” Kenzie asked.
“Is it going to involve jello-shots?” Bandersnatch questioned. “Because I don’t want to be sick like last time.”
“You shouldn’t drink alcohol Victoria, it’s really bad for you.”
“But I don’t want to be left out...” She moaned.
“I’ll think of something that includes everyone.” Chuan said. “Paige, please tell me you don’t have allergies, I don’t think my plans can survive anymore food restrictions.”
“I’m allergic to shellfish; crabs, shrimps and et cetera.”
“I can work with that.”
“You know, I should probably go see Kickback before we do anything, I’m supposed to be on probation…”
“You do that, I’ll handle the rest. B, you want to see the doc first? Kenzie, you want to escort Paige?” Chuan negotiated.
“Okay.” They both said.
Kenzie took my hand and guided me down to the elevator and toward the building with the guardian’s lounge. “KB’s got some stuff waiting for you Louise.”
Kickback, Molecular, Hekatonkheire along with a pair of other guys and a woman I didn’t know were waiting for us on the third floor of the building, the command center if I recalled. The command center seemed to take about a third of the floor with the rest being other rooms I couldn’t tell what they were.
I walked over to Kickback and gave her the letter from the doctor. Her eyes went to it, then to me and then to Kenzie, spending a moment on our hands. She read it quietly, I didn’t know what it said but she seemed pleased enough.
“Alright, starting tomorrow, you’ll be here everyday at three thirty o’clock in the afternoon for your daily training with me and your team, you’ll also attend school everyday. If you miss either without a valid reason, you’ll be breaking the terms of your parole. Is that understood?”
“Good we’ve prepared room B for your medical.” The woman I didn’t know said. “Come with me.” Kenzie took a step forward. “Alone, I’m sure Shell would like some privacy.” She let go of my hand and I felt a tad more vulnerable.
We walked into the room, some kind of clinic room. “Strip down to your underwear and then sit on the examination table.” She declared. I felt a pang of anxiety in my stomach, I hated being naked...
Regardless, I did as she said, keeping nothing but my bra and undies, using my hands to try to cover up some more. I wasn't sure if I was feeling more exposed that she could see everything or that she could see the lack of everything; I was nothing but bones.
“My name is Elixir, I’m one of two biomedical tinkerers working for the department of divergent affairs and the Guardians by extension. Kickback has asked me to help you in your recovery so that your training isn’t delayed. Luckily for you, I owed her a favor.” She explained, looking at some charts.
Tinkerers were those few of us who rather than get flashy powers could instinctively create technological wonders centuries ahead of what normal science could create.
As she prepared for the exam, I took a better look at her. She wasn’t very old, maybe in her early twenties, her blonde hair was arranged in a loose ponytail. She walked with a bit of a limp and from under her skirt I could see a cybernetic prosthesis that had replaced her right leg.
She did her examination; palping my bruises and the broken ribs, inspecting my shoulder, taking my pressure, calculating my heart beat, checking lymph nodes. She used two small devices that I presumed were scanners, but much more high tech than the hospital I’d been held at used. As she did, she asked me a ton of questions; if I smoked, if I had any medical allergies, if I’d ever been seriously ill, if my family had a history of genetic disease, if I took any drugs legal or illegal, if I had been sexually active.
When she was done, she went to a chariot with what looked like chemistry set and began tinkering away.
“Can I dress back up?” I asked.
“Be my guest but if you do, you’ll have to undress again in five minutes so the design team can take your measurement for your future costume.”
I grumbled something not very polite to myself, she didn’t seem to hear or at least care.
Finally she came back, holding a bottle of smelly brownish blue colored liquid.
“You’ll have to drink this. All of it.” There had to be over a liter of it.
I took it reluctantly and raised it to my lips. It tasted like a mix of perfume and nail polish. I forced myself to chug it down, despite the foul taste, I didn’t feel the need to hurl.
“That was horrid.” I muttered. “What was that for?”
“Sadly, taste is not factored into my talent. At least I can mix it with an anti-nausea agent. The primary agent will accelerate the your natural healing in the affected areas, secondary agent is a painkiller. Provided you don’t engage in strenuous activities, your ribs should be repaired by tomorrow afternoon, the bruises should dissipate within the hour.”
“Thanks, uhm, Elixir.”
“You’re very much welcome, Shell.”
The only thing left was the measurement; I was taken to an adjacent room where the two men examined, measured and touched my half naked body, while I was powerless to do anything. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t let myself, I bit my lip and drove my nails through my skin, the additional pain providing a distraction.