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The next time her soldier came, he set the food down right in front of her. Emma had been drowsing, or hallucinating. Possibly some combination of the two. His presence hadn’t even registered until he brushed her hair behind her ear where she lay.

“You’ve been pretty out of it,” he said. “Do you think you can eat something?”

Emma sat up, rubbing her eyes. “What time is it?”

It was a reflexive question. To her surprise, he answered. “It’s late. I’ve been here three times, but you were sleeping. Didn’t want to wake you.” Boy, she had to look like hell for him to give half a damn.

A cool glass pressed into her palm. Holding it with both hands, she rested it against her burning forehead. “Have you been ordered to cease hostilities?” she slurred out. Memories came and went; time moved in unpredictable patterns. Didn’t take a genius to realize her brain was starting to fragment.

The soldier was still crouched in front of her. “How do you feel?” If this was a hallucination, it wasn’t very convincing. As if soldier boy would ever stoop to talking to her. Pfft.

But, since it wasn’t going away… Might as well go along with it. “How do I look?” Her clothes felt clammy and disgusting. She must have attempted to wash again earlier. At least, she hoped that’s what happened. The alternative wasn’t something she wanted to contemplate. Emma had no recollection of having taken her clothes off. Or put them back on, for that matter. But she remembered being naked. And she remembered being clothed.

The soldier pushed to his feet, backed up almost to the door. “If you don’t cooperate, we have no choice but to keep you here.” Was he telling her, or himself? “You might consider things from our point of view.”

She gaped. “Is that a joke?

“Just think about it,” he said, warming to the subject, so concerned with convincing her. “Anything’s gotta be better than this, right? And you’d be doing good works in the end. You could help stop wars, prevent them from happening.”

Okay, now she knew she was dreaming. “Won’t that put you out of a job, soldier boy?”

He took a swift step toward her, and Emma flinched, expecting him to kick. He didn’t. “My name,” he said so quietly she almost missed it, “is John.”

The name bounced around inside her mind like an out of control pinball and for a while she wasn’t aware of anything else. By the time she’d shaken herself out of it, she was alone in her cell again, the food tray still there.

He’d left her.

Not that she blamed him. She was beginning to think of these little get-togethers as dates. Twisted as the idea was, there were always just the two of them, and food.

The idea sent her into a fit of giggles.

He came back. “You haven’t eaten,” he observed.

“Lost my appetite. Guess you’ll just have to shove me into the oven, skinny as I am.” And she was. She’d lost a lot of weight, despite them feeding her semi-regularly. Or were they? For all she knew, soldier boy didn’t come here more than once a week.

And he never called.

Yep, just like a date.

He lowered into a crouch in front of her. “Nobody’s shoving you into an oven, Emma. We’re warriors not—”

“You’re soldiers,” she snapped, somehow offended. It gave her something to grasp on to, and for once she felt almost… lucid. “Don’t flatter yourself. It’s not very attractive.”

“Warriors, soldiers. I don’t see the difference.”

Emma pushed away the forkful of food that suddenly hovered in front of her mouth and squinted instead at the soldier’s face. John, was it? She remembered something about him being a John. He looked like a John. No different than millions of other guys named John.

What were they talking about? Oh yeah. “It’s the difference between a staircase and an elevator,” she explained.

“If you say so,” he murmured, bringing the fork forward a second time.

Emma pushed it away. “No, I do say so. An elevator goes up and down. People push buttons and you stop wherever they want to, whether you like it or not. Staircase, a lot more work, but you choose which floor to go to and you don’t go anywhere else.”

There was that damn fork again! Frustrated with her own convoluted thought process as much as with him, she knocked the fork out of his grip, then slapped her hands to his face to make him pay attention. “Listen to me! Soldiers follow orders without question.” She looked him dead in the eye. “A warrior thinks for himself.”

I won’t be one of them. I won’t! This room would kill her. She could feel it coming, brain cells separating, dying one by one, turning her gray matter to mush until nothing was left of her. Still better than voluntarily killing them all at once. Emma would rather die than become a zombie.

John the soldier gently grasped her wrists, pulled her hands away, and placed them into her lap. Then he pushed to his feet and walked out.

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