The smile on Anya’s face gave away her feelings as she lay on her back in Hitchin’s lab. Sherdan ran his hand over her exposed stomach. The sound in her ears was the heart beat of their little baby. Hitchin held the other end of the stethoscope against her stomach.
When she’d given Hitchin back the instrument, Sherdan was left alone with her. He went to kiss Anya but she pulled away; a sadness in her eyes he’d not seen before.
“I have something to tell you,” she whispered and looked away. Sherdan’s stomach churned. It wouldn’t be good news. “You’re not the father. I’m sorry Sherdan, Hitchin is.”
…Sherdan yelled into his pillow as he woke up. He groaned when realised it hadn’t been real. It had felt so vivid. He shivered and his breathing slowed back to normal. He didn’t dare close his eyes again, even though there were still several hours until he had to be awake.
He got up and went out into the hallway, up to Anya’s door. He stood outside aware that she’d have locked herself in. After a few seconds he heard her cry out. The door opened allowing him in.
She lay on the bed in the dim, lamp lit room. Her whole body poured with sweat. She’d kicked off the covers in while she had been thrashing and exposed a great deal of her skin in the over long t-shirt she wore. He tore his eyes from her body and focused on her face. It was screwed up in fear and pain, but her eyes were still closed.
Sherdan went to her while her eyelids flickered in the familiar movements of a dream. By the look on her face and the continued uncomfortable murmurings and movement, he figured she must have been having a nightmare too.
He reached out to stroke her cheek and called her name. She screamed and threw herself off the bed and, somehow, into his arms. She immediately burst into tears and fought against him, disorientated by both his presence and not being in her bed. He held her and hugged her to him.
“It’s okay Anya, you’re safe. It was a nightmare. It wasn’t real,” he whispered.
He repeated the same sentiments again until she calmed down and she sobbed gently against his chest. After a few moments she stopped and pulled away from him. Her embarrassment was evident as she covered herself back up with the duvet. He stayed by her bed, concerned.
“Are you all right?”
“I am now, thank you.”
“What was it?”
“Hitch… Nothing. Just a nightmare. I hardly remember it now.” Sherdan frowned. She’d almost said Hitchin’s name, he was sure of it. She leant back against the head board and closed her eyes. She was very weary.
“It’s not the first nightmare is it?” She laughed and looked at him.
“I was tortured for two days; of course it’s not the first.” Her words were harsh but there was only softness in her eyes.
“They will fade. Already I’m forgetting what happened.”
“It won’t ever happen again.”
“Perhaps not. Not to me anyway. Would you put others through it?” Sherdan couldn’t look at her.
“You expect a lot of people.”
“No more than I expect of myself.”
There was an awkward hush for a few moments. She reached out and stroked his arm.
“I had a nightmare too.”
“What scares you then?” she asked. Sherdan hesitated. He wasn’t sure why he’d even mentioned it and didn’t know if he wanted to tell her what it had been about.
“I was betrayed by someone I thought I could trust.” He didn’t look at her as he said this. He didn’t want her to see how much it had affected him.
“I’m not tired now. Would you like to play cards until morning?” she suggested. He nodded and smiled.
For the next three hours they sat together at her small table and played many different card games. It helped him relax and he filled her in on the recent developments in the world as well as his plan’s progress. She’d seen his latest TV interview.
“You flirted with the news reporter,” she told him. He laughed.
“Only a little.”
“You won’t be able to do that once you’re married.”
“Perhaps not, but I’m not even officially engaged yet, let alone married.”
When their early morning was up, Sherdan hesitated before leaving. The yellowing bruise on her face had haunted him the whole time he had been with her.
“I’m sorry for losing my temper and hitting you. I shouldn’t have done it.”
“You don’t agree with Hitchin that I should be beaten into submission then?”
“How do you know he advised that?”
“I didn’t leave the lab straight away that day.”
“I don’t agree with Hitchin, no. Violence is not always right, but I do think you’ll be my wife, one way or another.”
Sherdan felt only a little better as he went to try and sort out everything to do with Ellie. Her father’s anger needed to be handled delicately. He fired up his laptop in his study and sat down to compose an email to her father.
To Edward Johnson,
I hope I haven’t said anything which has led to the idea that I would keep Ellie from returning to you if that is her wish. I am merely trying to resolve this issue in a manner which has the best result for everyone involved. Your daughter came here of her own free will and even lied about her age to get past the security checks that we have in place to stop this exact situation from happening.
Your daughter has informed my staff that she still wishes to stay even though you don’t want her to. I would also like to point out that if her desire to be here was made up then she would not have left her home, so many miles from here, just to get here. However, I understand that as a parent you are concerned for the well being of your child and, in your worry, our assurances may not be enough.
I propose that this coming weekend you travel here and, over the course of the two days, let our staff show you around our facility and what Ellie is doing here. It will also give you and your daughter time to talk over her decision. At the end of the weekend, if you still wish to take your daughter home, we’ll refund all your travel expenses and allow you both to leave.
Seeing as Ellie will be eighteen in three months we’ll offer her a place on our course again when she is old enough as long as both of you stick to our non-disclosure agreement. I’ve attached the document. You’ll need to provide a signed copy to the guards on the way in as well as photo id. If you have any other queries my staff will deal with them for you.
Dr Sherdan Harper.
With that issue sorted Sherdan went into his office. He had a report waiting for him, accounting for all his residents whereabouts. None of them had made a complaint. He forwarded the information on to Jeremy.
His next order of business was assigning the new residents different tasks based on their abilities, and after that he needed to look over the plans for expansion. They would need more land if they were going to accept more people.
Applications were still coming in, especially after the recent interview. Different types though: military leavers, others that were fed up with their countries system, people who’d tried to get into things like politics and not been very successful, and a large number of artists, writers and musicians too. Normally they’d be the kinds of people he’d reject but he found himself considering the military applicants as well as the artists who seemed to be like Anya.
Around mid-morning Jeremy phoned. He’d managed to discredit two of the four complaints against Sherdan but the mayor had got wind that Jeremy was helping him and his hands were now tied. The mayor was playing dirty.
Sherdan couldn’t help but be impressed. He hadn’t expected the mayor to be intelligent enough to throw these kinds of things his way.
After setting up another interview for the following Wednesday, Sherdan finished off his work and went back to his house. Anya was sitting in his favourite chair in the study. He tried not to be annoyed.
“You were on the news again today,” she told him.
“Yes, a very tasteful piece about your desire to help people make their lives better.”
“Sounds fairly accurate.” She smirked. “You don’t think so?”
“With you, Sherdan, there is always more than meets the eye.”
“Likewise with you. For one, I am surprised you are still here. Are you not missing your friends and family?”
“There’s still something I’m meant to do here, something God wants me to do, though I know you don’t believe in my God.”
“What are you meant to be doing here?”
“I still don’t know yet.”
He did not know how to respond and let her carry on reading.
Sherdan checked his emails after dinner. Ellie’s father had accepted his request to come visit the following weekend. Anya continued to lounge in his study as if it was her own home. He found her highly distracting, as he tried to work.
“Are you going to work tomorrow as well?” she asked.
“I work every day,” he explained.
“I was thinking that it might be fun to do something together in the afternoon.”
“Do you have something in mind?”
“There’s a theatre show I’d like to see.”
“I’ve got an arrest warrant out on me.”
“That didn’t stop you appearing on the news.”
“True… okay, we can go to the theatre.” She smiled and kissed him on the cheek before leaving him to his work. He frowned. She had only shown affection because he had given her what she wanted. It did not make him feel any more confident in her willingness to cooperate.
The arranged outing, and the peace and quiet as a result, helped Sherdan be very productive for the rest of the evening. He filed more paperwork with the government in preparation for Wednesday’s announcement.