The Aftermath Academy - CH19 (Pyrrha)

“This was a real kill, yet you found it easier,” Samantha says. “Why was that?”

“The last one was a real kill,” I say. “To me at least. You said as much yourself.”

“For all intents and purposes,” she agrees. “But many still have difficulties accepting that. Kiru-coy wouldn't let them continue existing once the class ended. These people would have. Was it easier this time because your kill wasn't a child?”

“It was easier because he was a monster,” I tell her. “I could feel that he was a monster.” Samantha looks contemplative.

“Did this one feel...good?” she asks slowly. I shake my head.

“It felt just,” I say. “Knowing what he was. What he'd done. He didn’t even feel any guilt over it.” Samantha appraises me.

“Your powers present a bit of a unique challenge. It means you have the potential to be a truly great hunter, but pose a high risk on a containment mission. You might have been better off joining the military. Hunter style missions are an important secondary function of the executioners but it isn't our main focus.”

“It would not be emotionally healthy for hunter style missions to be my main focus,” I say. “Nor would it be ideal for assisting with annexation efforts to be an important secondary function. The executioner role presents a much better balance.”

“You're concerned about picking up too many new powers?” Samantha asks.

“More so the personalities that come with. Dealing with the Barber's shade can be difficult enough. I may not want to kill someone who is just out of control, but once I have the part of them that lives on in me…would be less likely to be problematic than someone on a hunter mission,” I say, thinking through my reply carefully.

“It's a good point. But because of your power resistance I also cannot easily tweak anything about your emotional state to help you recover or cope better.” “I apologize for being burdensome,” I tell her honestly.

“But you also won't let your guard down for me unless it's expressly for team simulation,” Samantha said.

“I was quite clear about that in my application. I was accepted anyways,” I say. “I'll learn to deal with what needs to be done.”

“Is your hesitation to allow me in your head because you are concerned about what I would do there? Or are you worried that we might terminate you while you're under?”

“I think I just have enough people in my head, don't you?” I ask her. “Though that is when you would terminate someone who failed the psyche evaluations badly enough, isn't it? You conduct all your other therapy sessions in a simulation, don't you?”

“You're right,” Samantha replies. “But there's only been one subject since I've been here that was beyond saving. It is...preferable that subjects be under when evaluated. My predecessor learned that the hard way, along with most of the staff and class. It left the executioners especially shorthanded that year and we lost two cities because of it.”

“I can appreciate the risk you're taking. I apologize again,” I say with a smile. The smile is only slightly forced but I do not leave Professor Grimes much avenue to continue this line of discussion.

“Going back to the people in your head. Your empathy, can you ever turn it off?”

“Never,” I tell her.

“This has negatively impacted you, has it not? No personal life, few close friends.”

“Arguably plenty of personal life, public persona aside,” I retort. “Most of my life has been very personal.” She snorts a laugh in response to my jibe.

“Poor word choice duly noted,” she says. “Romantic life then.”

“You're right, my powers have made it...difficult,” I say. “It's hard to draw lines sometimes, if I spend enough time with someone. What am I thinking, versus what they're thinking. What is someone's harmless taboo fantasy versus a dangerous desire? What is a fleeting thought of fidelity versus a real desire to cheat? Are the thoughts really theirs, a projection of my subconscious on them, a shade of mine acting out? When there are no boundaries from the very beginning and I can see all of them, all of who they are or have been or want to be, it just all becomes a giant mess very quickly that I want no part of. And it doesn't really help that most people think they know me, because they've seen me on tv or in magazines. They admire me, but they don't bother trying to really understand.”

“So you have difficulties with a feedback loop,” Samantha says. “You feel strongly about who you are but other people's image and expectations of that conflict and start to cause you confusion, undermining your identity.”

“If I'm lucky and people don't just start off being invasive and gross or lying all the time,” I tell her.

“It puts you in a tough position generally, but it could be even more so here,” Samantha says. “If I can't help you deal using my powers then the support system becomes even more important.”

“That's one of the most important reasons I'm here,” I say. “It takes some getting used to, but there are people here who can hide their thoughts, or have resistance or at least share similar goals and dreams and might actually try to understand me as a person and not just as some teen model or sports star.”

“How is that going so far?” she asks. I think of Genevieve.

“There have been a few hiccups... But I think they'll sort themselves out. Most of my team have been great. I look forward to working with them more in the coming months.”

“I'm afraid that will mostly consist of study sessions for a couple of weeks. Tomorrow your class has the day off to sort through whether you really want to be here. After that we'll be working on kill times the rest of the week. Then the next two weeks will be largely familiarizing yourselves with the Rules of Engagement, major parties you may have to associate with, history of the organization, etc.

You may find it quite boring or even redundant if you studied up before coming here.”

“After that we'll begin sims right?” I ask.

“Yes, the last week of the month we'll introduce you to mental simulation training and the combat ranks will be reassessed. I think you'll all find it quite....informative.”