If you've read Deprogrammed, then please, feel free to proceed.
If you've yet to do so, it is probably best you stop reading here. ;)
This is chapter twenty-five of Deprogrammed in Tommy's POV!
25 THE PATH HOME
I was confused. No. More than that. I was hurt, scared, and unsure of everything.
It felt as though the world had collapsed around me, and I had been left to clean up the mess – to find my way out of the rumble, to overcome the pain. But there was no overcoming how I felt.
I was dead. So was Emile. And hell, so was Grant.
It was hard to wrap my head around the truth. I mean, I’d always been a fan of zombie Fiction growing up, but I never thought there’d be a time when I’d become one of them – a functioning one at that. But that was life, wasn’t it? Just when you thought you knew what to expect, it came and knocked you on your ass.
In a way, I understood why my father refused to see us, but that didn’t make the pain any easier to deal with. In fact, I almost wish that they – the people at Vesta Corp – hadn’t reinstalled my human identity, as Emile had called it. I would’ve preferred not to feel if this was the life I was going to be stuck with.
I once thought I’d die of a broken heart shortly after Emile’s death, and as screwed up as it was, dying of a broken heart seemed like a better option than the death sentence I’d received instead.
I could feel the electricity shooting throughout my body, making its way through my core, and I wanted to scream. But I didn’t. What good would screaming have done? It wouldn’t have changed a thing.
I would have still been this – a living machine, a walking corpse.
Grant pulled the car into a gas station parking lot, parking near the edge of the lot.
“Who’s coming?” he said, yanking off his seat belt.
“Me,” Tina said, opening the passenger side door. “My legs are starting to fall asleep. I need to walk around a bit.”
“Sure,” Colton called out, shrugging. “I’m in need of some food.”
“Do you have money for said food?” Emile asked him.
She punched him in the arm playfully and the two of them walked toward the front door, sticking close to Tina.
“How does she do it?” I said aloud, not realizing Grant was still lingering in the front seat, the door open, and his legs hanging outside of the car.
“You learn to cope eventually.” Grant slid the car keys inside of his pant pockets. “It isn’t that hard really. Coping is a part of life, even for us – the partially living.”
“How do you cope with this?” I said, looking down at the bar code imprinted on my inner wrist. “How do you cope with being a monster? A freak creation?”
Grant sat silent for a moment, his eyes focusing on the passerby cars.
It felt like hours when he finally spoke, though I knew it couldn’t have been more than minutes. “This isn’t a life any of us would have picked, you have to understand that, Tommy. The pain. The loss. The longing. You feel like a shell of who you used to be. Everything you knew, everything you loved - all of it? It’s gone, and chances are you will never get it back. And that sucks, it really does, but do you know what is worse than losing everything, Tommy?”
“What could be worse than losing everything?” I asked, my words laced with pain.
He shook his head, fighting a smile. “Worse than losing everything is throwing away a chance to do something good, to start over; to use your pain for something good. Like Emile. This isn’t just about her. This isn’t only about her life. This is also about stopping Charles McVeigh, about giving others a chance at a life she was robbed of. She is using her pain for a greater good. She has found something worth fighting for. Now you need to do the same.”
He slipped out of the driver seat, shutting the door behind him.
I watched as he strolled towards the gas station, debating if I should follow.
There was still far too much I didn’t know.
I needed to know more about Emile’s accident. What exactly had happened after? How did they manage to find me, and how did they go about bringing me in? But what I needed to know most of all was why I had killed my mother. What could have driven me to have done something so terrible?
I closed my eyes and reached for the door handle, easing myself out of the backseat.
I had to find Emile. I needed to know the truth. All of it.
When I walked inside of the gas station, I found her leaning against the counter, her hands crossed over her chest. “Hey,” she said when she saw me. “How are you doing?”
I knew that she was trying her best to be friendly, to ease the tension between us, but I failed to find comfort in her words.
It was hard to be around her now. Not because I blamed her for what I had become. I knew that it wasn’t her fault. It was hard to be around her now because she felt like a stranger, and because she felt the need to edit her words when she spoke to me.
And maybe I shouldn’t have been upset by that, after all, I knew she was only trying to protect me, but I needed her to be completely honest with me like she used to be, before all of this.
“You haven’t told me everything,” I stated, my voice harsher than I’d intended for it to be.
She closed her eyes briefly before answering. “There are some things best left unsaid, Tommy. I told you what you needed to know.”
“I want to know the entire truth, Emile. I deserve to know the truth.”
Looking at her brought flashbacks of our past lives; images that would forever haunt me. Standing beside her now, those images felt like a lifetime ago – a time when our lives were full of hope, of a possible future, of a forever.
But the hope of our forever died with Emile.
We were nothing more than lingering shadows – memories of who we used to be – forever tied together by our pasts.
“I can’t,” she said, shaking her head. “There are some things I just can’t tell you, Tommy.”
I went to speak but she stopped me. “I have spent the past few months fighting off a computer program that wants to overpower me, and in the process of trying to reclaim my body, I have had to make choices – choices that not only affected me but those that I care about the most. You have to understand, I’m trying to right my wrongs now, Tommy. I can’t go back there.” She paused for a moment, and looked up at me, her green eyes full of both pain and understanding. “You may need to know the whole truth, but that is just something I cannot give to you right now.”
And with that, she walked towards the door without another word.
It wasn’t the answer that I came for. Although I understood her reasoning, I found myself unable to agree with her rationalization.
My Emile would have told me everything, I thought, we had no secrets.
But she wasn’t my Emile anymore, nor was I longer her Tommy.
“Aren’t you going to go after her?” a woman asked.
I turned to find Tina standing beside me, a bottle of water within her grasp. I shook my head, and went to move away, but her hand grabbed a hold of mine, stopping me in my tracks. “You don’t know what you’re asking of her. I know you want to know the truth, and I understand that, I do, but you have to realize, this is all much bigger than you know.”
“Well, maybe I’d know what was going on if someone actually took the time out to tell me,” I said, doing my best to keep my voice low.
“Oh how I’m going to regret this.” Tina let out a soft sigh and placed the water bottle on the counter. I listened patiently as she went over everything. How McVeigh had been tracking Emile for quite some time before the supposed accident, and how he’d logged my daily schedule, so it wasn’t hard for him to locate me shortly after he brought her in.
“But why did he need me?” I asked.
“Because he wanted to break Emile. He wanted to regain control of Thirteen, to overpower Emile’s human identity, and he couldn’t do that until she was weak. She was, and is, far more powerful than he ever expected her to be.”
“My mother,” I tried not to picture her face as I allowed myself to ask the one question that had been bothering me the most. “Why did I do it?”
Tina lowered her hand, taking a moment to select her words carefully. “Programs are created to be controlled by McVeigh. Their thoughts, their actions, everything is programmed by him and his team of White Coats. Before he enabled your human identity, you were acting solely off of your programmed responses.”
“Surely I would’ve recognized my own mother. I should have been able to stop myself, I should have been able to fend off my programming,” I said.
She shook her head no. “Without your human identity to fight back against your Program, you lacked any sort of control over your actions. Charles McVeigh had complete and utter control over you that day – your thoughts, your actions, everything. You had been programmed to believe that she was a threat that you had to take out. You had no choice in the matter.”
The truth could be a bitch, I thought.
They came after me because I had fallen in love with their target. And under their control, I had been forced to target those that I had loved.
“Is there any end to this cycle?”
Tina grabbed a few other items from around the store, placing them on the counter beside me. “I wish I could tell you yes, but the truth of the matter is that I can’t promise you much of anything.”
I glanced out of the gas station window, my eyes going straight towards the sedan and Emile. “I just want to be okay, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be okay again.”
“The only person stopping you from being okay is yourself, Tommy.”
I waited for her to pay the clerk. She reached for the bag, holding it in her right hand, and pulled me closer towards her with her left. “Come, before they send Colton in after us,” she smirked. “He’s already used up a good amount of what little money Hayden had left aside for us on beef jerky. The last thing I need is for him to clear out the chip section, too.”
There are more short stories to come (they'll be free, no worries) that are all set within the same time-frame of Deprogrammed. There will be shorts featuring: Tommy, Tina, Grant, Dr. Rydan, and Program Twelve (in her Purged state).
Expect those at some point next month. Standby, which is told in Hayden's POV, will be live in a matter of days, I just wanted to get this up first.