Akany sits on the edge of an overstuffed chair, legs crossed and her hands resting on her knee. She sits as still as she can, only her eyes shift back and forth, taking in the small, empty office. Her spine stiffens more when she hears the door open to admit Victoria.
Victoria is relaxed and open, her face unsmiling but not unkind, and she lowers herself into a chair across from Akany after removing her blazer. This time, no desk separates them, and Victoria folds her hands into her lap. There is no tablet, no pad of paper, no pen.
“Hello, Lieutenant. How are you doing this morning?” She’s soft-spoken and her cadence is similar to soothing a scared animal.
Akany raises what should have been an eyebrow but is currently just a thin patchy strip of peach fuzz above her blue eye, ringed by red around the pupil. She gages her response carefully. “I’m fine…I suppose. How are you?” Her tattoos are mangled and as blotchy as her hair. The elegant scroll work and pretty butterfly patterns no longer recognizable. The natural beauty of the Nazaddi no longer visible in the young woman.
Her body language is on the defensive. Like she is wanting to be anywhere but here. She runs her hand over the patchy peach fuzz on the top of her head and sighs, seeming to resign herself to this session.
“I’m well. Is it acceptable if I call you Akany for the next three days, or would you prefer I stick to Lieutenant for now?”
“Akany is fine.” She stops looking around the room to focus on her therapist…shrink…head doctor…”What should I call you?”
Victoria’s lips ease into a half-smile, and her posture hasn’t changed. She leans back in the chair, “Victoria, I should think.”
“I was wondering if you had a first name…” The woman is frank to the point of being crass. No tact at all.
“Well, we at OIS like to retain our air of mystery.” …She may have just made a joke, and the expression on her face doesn’t twitch to indicate otherwise.
“Good plan…so…how do you want to do this? Do you ask about my childhood or if my parents are to blame for my life problems? Or do you hold my hand and give me a doll asking me to point to where the bad man touched me?”
“Do you want me to do any of those things?” Victoria looks amused.
“Well, since I never knew my parents, my childhood lead me to the NEG and a bad man never touched me that I’m aware of, not sure how any of it would be helpful.” she smirks. “So, that’s about all I know about the shrink side of things…Your turn.”
Victoria’s fingers interlock in her lap and she crosses one leg over the other. “We’re here for several reasons, the first of which is the case of Dream Intrusion you’ve been suffering. Which has probably helped lead to the second reason, a more severe case of PTSD and a rage disorder. Sound accurate to you?”
Akany laughs, a rare sound more like a bark than anything. “You sound like you memorized that.”
“Well, I did help diagnose you. Perhaps I did. Would it bother you that I had memorized your file in order to help you as much as I could?” Victoria’s expression is more fluid now than it was in China. There’s no smile again, simply curiosity.
The other woman shrugs. “Not really, just would be easier to talk to a human than a medical file. Wouldn’t you say?”
Victoria’s lips twitch and the corners of her eyes crease for a moment before smoothing out. “Maybe it’ll make you feel better if I tell you that’s simply the way I speak. It’s unimportant. I’m neither a walking medical file encyclopedia nor a robot. Though, you still haven’t answered my question.” Victoria’s gestures are minute in her lap, spreading her fingers as if inviting an answer. “Do you feel that you are suffering from the disorders I’ve indicated? Do you consider it an accurate diagnosis?”
Akany clicks her tongue. “Under your skin already Doctor? I would say that if you say I have these things then I might have these things. Rage disorder? I wouldn’t call it a disorder. I would call it a response but again, that’s what you’re paid to do. Not me.”
At first, the twitch happens again and it soon becomes clear that Victoria is actually concealing a smile for her difficult patient. “Tell me about your responses then. Is there something that usually triggers a response involving anger?”
Akany leans forward, her NEG issued cotton shift riding a little higher on her thighs. “Yeah….when people poke me. I don’t like being poked.”
Victoria does not move, and nods. “I’ll assume you mean more than physically, for purposes of moving this along. Do you think your anger responses are entirely in-line and reasonable for every situation in which they occur?”
Akany thinks a moment, then shakes her head. “Probably not, but everyone has a breaking point. Mine just happens to be a lot smaller than most.”
“Has it been this way for as long as you remember? Or is this a more recent development?” Victoria’s head tilts as she speaks, as though sizing her up, but her eyes remain soft and without judgement.
“It’s been pretty recent.” Akany rubs her hand across her head, seeming to be a nervous reaction. She sighs, remembering again that her hair isn’t there and lets her hands fall back into her lap. “I used to be pretty tough to crack. I’m not sure why I just can’t hold it together anymore. When Reza called me Cut-Throat, it was because I could and not bat an eyelash…” she trails off a moment, a half smile tugging at her mouth at the memory. “That was when I first joined up with the Stepchildren.”
“Tell me that story, about why you were called Cut-Throat. And, if you can, I want you to remember what it felt like to have that control or be that tough nut.”
“Well, it’s not all that long of a story. My first simulation with the Stepchildren, I stepped on a grub. Just put the boot of my Eclipse right through the damned thing while I was running and took out another. Reza and I were in the simulator together. Eventually one of the fucking things killed us but we’re pretty sure that someone hacked the system to beef the damned thing up. No Grub is that good.” She smirked a little as she picked at the hem of her shift.
“As to what it felt like to be that tough…I don’t know. Honestly I don’t think I really was to begin with. I started giving a shit about the pilots next to me. Then it all started falling apart. One by one they all started dying around me. Reza has pretty much kept me steady. First real friend I’ve ever really made…” her voice gets quiet and she still doesn’t meet Victoria’s eyes.
“I’m glad you’ve had people looking out for you. A support system. They’re hard to find in this line of work. Many are too afraid that the next day, their chosen support system won’t be alive anymore.” Victoria pauses. “Do you remember the first time you felt like you were no longer in total control?” Victoria leans back, getting comfortable. “Or perhaps, when you felt like Cut-Throat perhaps was no longer fully accurate?”
“I think that’s what makes us…the Stepchildren…unique. All of us are each other’s support system. Reza’s the oldest brother, our rock and leader, Chapel is the oldest sister, our strength, tried and true, Hopscotch is our youngest sister, a ray of sunshine…was…our ray of sunshine, Babysitter is our middle brother, the watcher and protector, Viking is the big brother out to rescue any of his siblings at the drop of a hat and Wash-out is our “respectable” brother, our face if you will.” she paused for a moment. “And I’m the hot mess of a little sister, always getting into trouble and needing big brother to bail me out because I feel I have something to prove…” She sighs and rethinks over what she just said. “Ugh, that sounds stupid but it’s the best that I have. We’re like a family. No one else wanted us so they lumped us together.”
“The first time I didn’t feel in control…now…that’s a question. I’m not sure that I ever REALLY felt in control. I know the first time I lost it was after that stupid Gug. I saw things that I never wanted to see again…and I’m pretty sure I botched that mission. I can’t even tell you all the details anymore. I drank most of that away. I don’t have a problem…I just…HAD a problem. If that makes sense. Reza whipped my ass back into shape, then there was that thing that attacked, in the middle of the night. Mauler and I were bunked together and something woke me up…and from there it was all a blur. They would have killed us all but I was able to wake up enough people that no one was killed that night…Well, except for almost me. I have this thing for near death experiences. Almost like an adrenalin junky…except that I don’t WANT to die! It just seems to keep finding me. That was the first time I went to the Voodoo specialists. An experience I had hoped to never repeat again. Then the dreams started. Then I almost killed Viking and I had no clue. I woke up and was restrained…then the attack happened and I lost over half of my new found family. Hú Xiàn, Harp, Mauler, all gone in a flash. And I heard Harp screaming over the com…I saw Hú Xiàn’s mech hit the ground…” She swallowed and shook her head. “And I couldn’t do anything about it. I just had to group and follow Reza. We got everyone out we could…”
She hung her head. “I wasn’t strong enough then. I let stupid little dreams get the better of me, which got me disarmed, which kept us all off guard for the attack.” She looked up, once again on the defensive. “But, I’ve been doing my best since then. Reza saw fit to make me XO and I won’t let him down. I may be green around the gills but I can do it. I’d do anything for my squad.”
Victoria leans forward, bracing her elbows on her knees. She doesn’t say anything for a moment and then:
“Thank you, Akany. I know this is hard for you. Your loyalty to your squad is commendable, to say the least.” She spreads her hands open. “I want to help you no longer be green around the gills. These aren’t just stupid little dreams: it’s a coordinated attack on your psyche.” She sits up straight again. "Something has taken root, and it’s compromising your ability to protect your squad, and to complete your duties as they’ve been given to you. All those… voodoo specialists did was bury it deeper, so its effects became far more subtle. Dreams.
“I’m going to help you, Akany. We have three days to do it in.” There’s a flash of emotion that crosses her face, a twitch of determination. “How do you feel about taking a break? Smoking a cigarette? And then we can keep going.”
She looks up and smirks. “Got a drink to go with that smoke? I have a feeling we’re both going to need it before the end of this.”
Victoria stands up and tucks her hands into the pockets of her pants. “Come on. Stretch your legs. I’ll see what I can do.”
End video log.