I realized in horror that what I was breathing was Syper gas. My body collapsed and promptly began convulsing, but I was far from concerned with that.
The pain was unbearable. More than unbearable. It was the kind of pain that was unimaginable. My insides seemed to tear themselves apart again and again, and I was hardly aware of the fact that I'd bitten my tongue so hard that my mouth was filling with blood.
It was only when I'd gagged that Mercy pulled the mask off, kicking me over so that the blood poured out of my mouth.
"That was pure oxygen." she explained, "With a trace quantity of Syper residue. Less than 0.01%."
With that she walked out, leaving me a twisted mess on the floor. When a shred of strength returned to me I managed to pull myself up to vomit.
If I said anything I would probably get laughed at. Mercy torturing me. It almost did seem ridiculous, considering it probably was common knowledge around these parts what I had done to her.
But it had happened. That was one thing I couldn't forget even if I wanted to.
It didn't help that I had a fat lip, or that I was limping. Hadn't revenge gotten outdated with telephones?
Mercy wanted more than revenge, I knew that. She wanted...retribution.
Or something stupid along those lines.
All I knew was that I had to get sent back as soon as possible so that I could fix what little of my psyche she hadn't shattered.
"Mr. Smith, are you alright?"
I jumped and almost impaled my eye on a twig, only to look up and see Celeste.
Why, right then I wanted to tell her, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
A wave of loathing washed over me, loathing for what had happened, loathing for myself!
Instead I started crying.
To my surprise Celeste gave me a hug, patting my back reassuringly.
"The Verisat are good people. Just do as you're told, and soon enough you'll go back free."
If only she knew.
"Could I get some painkillers?" I hiccuped, wiping my face off.
She pulled a silver pill from a pocket and handed it to me.
"Sher made these. It's actually a capsule for nanobots that near-instantly heal damaged tissue and numb pain receptors."
I had already swallowed it by the end of her explanation and wasn't paying much attention either.
Celeste patted my shoulder with a smile.
"You're very welcome. Don't be afraid of Mercy-she means well."
At that statement I almost burst out laughing bitterly.
"Of course." I managed instead.
There was a moment of silence before I changed the subject.
"How did you and Mercy..?"
"Become involved?" Celeste offered, "It's a long story."
"I have time." I said honestly, sitting down on a boulder.
"Well, then." she hummed, sitting down herself across from me, "It all started when a religious riot group I was a part of before the Verisat was raiding a clone plant. We freed all of the clones that were about to be recycled-"
"-Recycled?" I interjected, shocked.
"-Yes, it's an industry secret that saves a lot of money. If a clone's still got some wear and tear in them they're just reprogrammed, cleaned off and sent out again. When they're beyond hope they get sold for parts. Anyways, we had just freed a troop of clones and were about to run before the security cracked down on us when I saw Mercy on an operating table, about to be cut open. I got into the room, carried her out and just managed to escape.
After she woke up she didn't speak at all. I had convinced the others in the group to let her stay, but none of them really trusted her. She didn't trust any of them either, except for me.
It was about a year into her stay that I started to realize I had somehow managed to fall in love with her. Even though she never said anything. I think now it was because of her demeanor-harsh and cruel on the outside, but deep and feeling on the inside.
It was Government's Day when I first kissed her. We were on the rooftop of an abandoned family business about to be bulldozed in a week, and fireworks were lighting up the sky as far as the eye could see. She said her first word to me then.
She said 'love'.
When the rest of the group found out about us, they said our love was unholy. They demanded that I repent, that I purge myself of the evil.
Instead Mercy and I left and found solace among the Verisat, and we've been here ever since."
She smiled in her reminiscence and looked down at her hands.
"I know it's silly, but I want to ask her to marry me. I want to spend the rest of my life with her, no matter how short or long it is."
I felt my throat tighten and I coughed awkwardly.
"I know what you did to her, Mr. Smith," she said earnestly, "And I'm not saying that any of it was right, but what I am saying is that...if you never 'ordered' her, I would never have had the opportunity to find such happiness."
"What religious sector do you belong to?" I asked, looking at my shoes.
Celeste laughed and shook her head.
"I don't choose to categorize my faith, Mr. Smith. I don't claim to know for certain what will always be uncertain. But I believe that something bigger than all of us binds us together, and I believe that it is love."
I couldn't help but be speechless for a minute.
"That's an interesting theory." I said at last, standing up, "But I have to go see if any more huts need building."
I stood and walked back to the village as quickly as I could.