As far as Ellen Foster could see, Subject A-6 looked like a girl of ten or eleven. Certainly she was the youngest of her kind at the Institute. A-6... Anna... had kicked off her shoes and settled down with paper and a box of crayons. Now and then she tugged impatiently at the overlong sleeves of her lime-green jumpsuit.
“Are you drawing, Anna?” Ellen asked, keeping her voice low. Anna glanced up, and Ellen followed her gaze to the window, overlooking downtown Boston. A sparrow perched on the sill. “Are you drawing that bird?”
Anna shook her head, and handed over the paper.
—Silly Bodies, sitting behind glass. Why don’t you come outside? It’s a perfect day for flying. That’s what that bird’s thinking.—
The words, in red crayon, straggled across the paper. Ellen read them carefully, to make sure she hadn’t misunderstood.
“You know what the bird’s thinking?”
Anna nodded, tangled curls bouncing. She turned the paper and scribbled some more:
—It’s alive. Living Ones know what everything alive thinks.—
“Anna, birds don’t talk.”
Anna smacked the table, looking indignant. The red crayon flew across the paper.
—Not with mouth—noise, like you. Living Ones don’t mouth-talk either. But we think. See that fly? It’s thinking you’ve got candy in your pocket. Chocolate candy. I like chocolate candy.—
“Is this a bribe?” Ellen handed over a chocolate drop.
While Anna gave herself up to wholesale chocolate bliss, Ellen made notes on her data-pad. pre-pubertal, possibly undernourished but no overt signs of illness. According to the charts, all seven of the Living Ones had had complete physicals, and were surprisingly healthy for people found living in an abandoned barn. And they were people—their DNA tested 100% human. Their EEGs and cranial scans—well, those had the Medical Wing buzzing. Ellen certainly couldn’t tell from looking at Anna what had shaken the doctors. Unusually large eyes, that was about it. No bizarre behavior—in fact, Anna appeared well-adjusted, aside from her lack of speech, and this insistence that she heard thoughts. She hadn’t cried or screamed when she was brought to the Institute. None of the “Living Ones” had.
Anna studied Ellen’s face, and reached for the crayon:
—Should I be crying?—
Ellen jumped. “No. Why?”
—You’re thinking I should, yes?—
This was uncanny! Anna must have picked up on her worries that such a young... child... might be lonesome or frightened. Better be careful.
“I don’t want you to be sad here, Anna.”
—Can’t you tell that my thoughts aren’t sad? Maybe it’s because all yours are. Why are they?—
Unnerved, Ellen ignored the question. “I can’t hear thoughts.”
Anna’s face radiated silent laughter. She scrawled: —That’s because you’re just a Body.—
“You have a body too, Anna.”
—No—you ARE a Body. You can’t hear thoughts, you yap like animals... do you have a soul?—
Shocked at such a question from this wild child, Ellen snapped. “Of course I do!”
—Then why do you put the Living Ones in cages?—
Ellen waved an arm at the neat white room, with its carpeted floor and soft, carefully chosen toys. “I’d hardly call this a cage!”
Anna marched to the window, and rattled it to show that it wouldn’t open. She tapped the mirror, and held up two fingers. Smiling at Ellen’s shocked look, she wrote:
—Yes, I hear them. Is that why I must wear nightclothes, because the Bodies behind the mirror watch me when I’m sleeping?—
Ellen had no answer to that.
* * *
“I’m only saying that she deserves a little privacy. At her age... ”
The Director, a perpetually harried woman, looked up from behind a teetering stack of paperwork.
“Miss Foster, listen to yourself! Privacy? Have you seen these—people—in their natural habitat? Barely clothed, no notion of personal space at all... ”
“All the more reason... ” Ellen began, but the Director waved her off.
“Miss Foster, Subject A-3’s surgery is scheduled for tomorrow morning. The paperwork is barely a quarter completed. I’ll schedule a meeting for Thursday.”
“Thursday, Miss Foster. In the meantime, I’m still waiting for that Receptive Language Evaluation on A-6. And Miss Foster?”
“Don’t get too attached.”
* * *
That woman! If it weren’t for Dad... Still fuming, Ellen stormed along the corridor connecting the Research Wing to the Residential Facility. The furniture was older here, the carpets faded. Here and there, a resident greeted Ellen with a smile or a wave. Others slumped in chairs, listless, oblivious.
Ellen stopped outside Room 206 to remove her Institute cap and straighten her coat. She tapped on the door, more from politeness than because she expected a response, took a deep breath, and wen -- [End of Preview.]