“Thank you for being so cooperative.” The nice redheaded lady behind the desk smiles, checks a few boxes on the form in front of her, and closes her notebook. Her pen clips neatly into the pocket on her lab coat. She stands up and leads you down the hall. “Just one more thing and you’ll be on your way.” She walks briskly, her sneakers occasionally squeaking against the linoleum when she turns a corner. She turns a lot of corners. Left, right, right, left, left, left, left, shouldn’t that have put you back where you started, right, U-turn, and into an elevator.
It’s a long elevator ride. She doesn’t say anything, and neither do you. Instead of buttons or displaying a floor number, the elevator itself moves up and down apparently at random and the door simply opens and closes when it pleases. She sticks an arm out and shakes her head no when you look like you’re going to get off. This happens about five times with no other people in sight before she steps off and motions for you to follow.
Another left, right, right, and left down the hallway, and she holds the third door on the left open for you so you can’t see the sign on the other side. You enter, she follows, and about five distinct latches click, whir, and thud shut. “Have a seat.” She smiles. Were her teeth always that… sharp? The chair is a big old metal thing, welded and bolted together and to the ground. You sit and notice the cuffs on the arms and legs. All four legs. And around the neck.
On your left is a big, beige microfiche-esque machine about the size of a refrigerator. Giant incandescent bulb pointing right at your ear. On your right is like if they made disco balls in the same way they make Erlenmeyer flasks, propped up on a stand by your other ear.
The lights turn off. The restraints snap across your arms, legs, and neck. They’re cold. The machine whirs to life. “Give it a minute.” She says. “This old thing takes a while to come on.” You hear belts turning, gears churning, fans spinning up, and you can see, in the corner of your eye, the giant bulb slowly gaining strength. She gives the flask a little spin, and you can hear it occasionally tinking against the stand. As the light gains in strength, every surface in the room lights up with yellow incandescent light behind off-center black type. Like a sloppily photocopied transparency on an overhead projector, except there’s hundreds of them overlapping, spread all over the room, and slowly scrolling along the walls.
She walks behind the machine and takes something out of a pencil cup on top. She walks in front of you, holding what looks like a big, black permanent marker. “I had time booked on the newer model for you, but Mx. ███████’s session ran long.” She says, dragging the marker across a choice part of the projection.
“Oh, where are my manners?” She notices your shock and laughs. “See, you saw some stuff you’re not supposed to. Like the issue of ████████ Quarterly on the desk, or your encounter with ███████.” She takes slow, measured steps to keep pace with the panning pages. As soon as she says the words, they appear in the page by her pen and she expertly blacks them out from your brain. When one fills up, it takes her a second to spot the new one, stride across the room to it, and continue her work. “So, as soon as we’re done here, you’ll be back home and absolutely no threat to ██ ███ security. Just get comfy and we’ll done soon.”
You struggle against your restraints, as anyone would do. She’s in the middle of redacting a sentence about the North American █████████ when she notices. Long strides, lots of eye contact, and a marker against your chin. She cranes your neck upwards, forcing your neck to press against the cool iron collar. “Careful.” She smiles from ear to ear. Her teeth look even sharper in this light. “I’ve been awfully restrained so far. I was going to leave you a few interesting stories to tell your friends. Nothing anyone would believe, of course. But if you keep this up, well, there’s no telling what a slip of the pen might do.” She slowly drags the wide chisel tip up and off your chin. The cool ink absorbs into your skin as a reminder. She returns to where she left off, redacting a few choice names and locations.
You shout every awful thing you can think to say, throwing your entire weight back and forth against the restraints. Some of the older joints creak against your weight, but the seat doesn’t budge. She sighs and stops in place. “Don’t waste your energy. That chair has held beings twice your size, four times your weight, eight times your number of limbs, and sixteen times your ███████ potential.” She didn’t even have to look to black that one out.
A projection comes around that looks like your photocopied driver’s license, birth certificate, and a handful of doctor’s reports. She stifles your next outburst with a simple line across your mouth. Your lips vanish. Just a smooth lower half of your face, just like the ink she drew on your chin earlier. “Much better. If you let me work in peace, I might even give it back after.”
“MMmmMmMmmmph! MmMMMMmmMMmm!” You… don’t really say it, but that is the noise that comes from your former mouth area. You find out that if you throw your weight at a 45 degree angle to the chair, you can get a pretty obnoxious clanging going.
She sighs. “You don’t know when to stop, do you? You didn’t at the ████ ████, and you sure haven’t learned since. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She laughs to herself. “I’m kidding. We both know you can’t say anything. And soon, you won’t do much else.”
She takes the marker to your driver’s license and birth certificate and scribbles out your name. You can feel the ink dripping through the creases and folds in your brain. “Whoops! Guess we’ll just have to call you HBR-87224 now.” She writes that over the line in big, block letters to destroy as much extra information as possible. “You didn’t think you were the first one to try something like this, were you?” She chuckles, obliterating your birthday in two expert strokes.
She makes eye contact, lets you get one last look at her, and blanks out your eyes with a practiced black line. You’re blind. Same cool ink soaking into your face. There goes your nose with the same squeak of a marker one would use to make a yard sale sign. A few more seconds and she’s scribbled out your whole face. One ear vanishes. And right before the other goes, you hear: