He couldn’t eat.
They brought him food. Some of them had even gone to the trouble of putting together some sort of attempt at Bacarri cuisine, and even though it smelled like home, he wouldn’t bother with it. They tried sweets, too, hoping that his youth would cave to the allure of a sugar rush, but those attempts only failed. His stomach growled and gurgled, but he did not long for food.
He couldn’t sleep.
The first night, he laid in bed, staring up at the ceiling through tear-blurred vision. He would close his eyes, thinking that perhaps sleep would bring some comfort. But no comfort could come when sleep refused to arrive. His mind ached for memories of his father, and they were there, but reaching out to them was like juggling a razor, and he would withdraw, hating his weakness, yet loathing the agony more.
The second and third nights were carbon copies of the first.
Dr. Crow would come. At first, he came in quietly, asking questions and understanding why he was getting only nonverbal responses. He would reach out, trying to explain to him his own experiences with loss, but Nathaniel would shove him away mentally, and with enough force to startle the doctor.
After a time, Crow came with a sternness, trying tough love to break Nathaniel out of his fugue. He would chastise him for not being able to move forward. He would berate him for his standoffishness. His mind, however, was an open book to Nathaniel, and he could see that the doctor hated himself for trying to be hard on a young patient.
Defeated, Crow only came to monitor any progress with Nathaniel’s vitals. He would always say “Hello,” and would always look troubled when Nathaniel wouldn’t respond.
Adam also called out to him. His projections came as soft, apologetic words, and Nathaniel pushed them from his mind before he had a chance to think them. Adam tried harder to break through, but hadn’t expected Nathaniel to be as determined as he was. In time, Adam stopped trying altogether, and Nathaniel was thankful. He didn’t want a new friend anymore, anyway.
“You’re due to be released today,” Crow told him during his morning cycle, and while he tried smiling to show Nathaniel that this was a good thing, he knew well in advance that Nathaniel wouldn’t find any sort of joy in the news. Still, Crow pressed on. “One of the advisors will show you to your new room. Some of the others have already been released and are acclimating to the new environment. It will be a nice change for you.”
Nathaniel said nothing.
Dr. Crow frowned. His eyes behind his glasses went narrow, and he looked away in disgust. “I get that you don’t want to talk to anyone, Nathaniel, and in your position, I suppose I might do the same thing. But I do want you to know that despite what you’re going through, how you are handling it is disastrous. You can’t hold everything in forever. And you can’t keep pushing food away, either, unless you like being fed through a tube. I can’t make you talk to me, but if you don’t stop with this hunger strike, you’re going to get very sick.” When Nathaniel wouldn’t even look at him, Dr. Crow shook his head bitterly. “Think about how that would make your father feel.”
Nathaniel’s amber eyes flashed, and his lips pulled back from his teeth. “What do you know of my father?” he spat. “You didn’t know him at all. You had to call and find out about him. Probably couldn’t have even spelled his name correctly. Don’t lecture me about what my father would have said like you know how he thinks, how he feels.” He leaned forward. “Don’t mention him at all.”
“Oh, it does speak,” Crow said wryly, placing on hand on his hip and sliding the clipboard behind his back with the other. “For a while I was beginning to wonder if you’d simply snapped and lost a functioning part of your mind. Now that you’re finished with your first speech in a few days, let me let you in on something: It is my job to make sure that you are healthy, and that goes beyond just the physical, Nathaniel. I will do whatever I need to do to make sure that you are in the right frame of body and mind, and spirit, for that matter. If mentioning Shadrach Trader is the only way to wake you up from the dark hole you’ve tunneled out for yourself, I will do it.”
“Why did you people have to take me away from my home?” Nathaniel hissed, tears welling in his eyes, and hands clenched into fists. “I had a mother and a father on Bacarri. I had a family and a life and you people came and took me away from my mother, and your faulty equipment kept my father from surviving the trip here. Why was it so important to take me away from all that I ever knew? Why?”
Crow took a deep breath. With a slight shake of his head, he answered. “I don’t know.”
“Useless answers.” Nathaniel wept. “I was taken from everything, and all I am offered is useless answers.”
“Wars seldom make sense when we look back upon them, Nathaniel,” Crow answered. “I don’t know what caused the peace to dissolve. I don’t know why things crumbled when everything looked to be so perfect.” He sat next to Nathaniel, and took him by the shoulders, looking into the boy’s eyes with fervent honesty. “But it did. Too often, questions that start with the word ‘why’ never have a good enough explanation for the person asking. Even if I had a reason to give you, the answer might be useful…but would it be enough to accept all the things that you’ve lost?”
Nathaniel’s face trembled, and then went crimson, and a rush of tears surged forward, and he buried his face into the chest of the doctor and wept, his cries muffled. Crow held him tightly, not telling him to hush or offering any words of comfort. He simply held him and allowed the misery to drain slowly from Nathaniel like too much water in a tub.
Nathaniel saw the images of his parents, reliving moments of joy, of frustration, of peace, of happiness. With each image, it felt like pieces of his heart were being torn from him. He cried out again and again and wished so badly that he could tether himself to those memories and go back to them, to relive them and relish them for what they were worth. He cried out his mother’s name, and cried for his father, and as the sorrow broke free from the levees holding it back, sleep took him, and he was blessed to sleep without dreams.
When he woke, Dr. Crow was gone. There was a tray of food sitting beside his bed, and a small note with the words “Time to Live” written upon it in what he knew was the doctor’s handwriting. When he sat up, he was surprised to see that someone was indeed sitting in the room, and for once it wasn’t a doctor or a nurse.
He was a boy in his late teens, perhaps only a couple of years older than Nathaniel himself, and he was looking at him with stark blue eyes and a sense of wonder. His skin was pale, though more silvery than sickly, and his hair was pale blond, and fashioned into a spiky hairstyle. He was wearing some sort of jumpsuit. When he realized that Nathaniel was awake, his face split into a wide grin, and he stood up from the seat and looked at Nathaniel with even greater marvel.
“Hello,” the boy said, and the familiar tone in his voice was evident. His smile dissipated slightly. “I’m really sorry about your father. I just wish that maybe–”
Nathaniel cut him off. “There’s nothing that you could have done, anyway. Why are you here?”
The boy shrugged. “Doc Crow said you were being released, so I asked around and got permission to show you the ropes. Seemed like the least that I could do.” He winked. “Not too many people get the grand tour of this place from a legend like myself.”
“Oho, a legend?” Nathaniel replied, laughing. “I thought you said they revoked your privileges.”
“They did, newbie.” The boy said laughing. “You should know by now. The privilege is yours, that you get to be escorted by Adam Prime.”