Ayiana knew the look, Byrne with his glasses pulled down to the tip of his nose. He leaned against his cane and wheezed with each breath from a hard life. His jaw stood firm as another man spoke but she kept her eyes on his. Neither of the two paid much attention to the others in the room. She imagined they were the eyes of a father; he was the closest thing she ever had to compare. They kept their silence and posture until the gathering dispersed leaving only the two of them. “I am sorry I failed you.”
Byrne smiled his sideways smile, “It was a long shot flower. We always knew that and you cannot beat yourself up over it. You did all you could.”
“You nearly died trying to complete your assignment, nothing else could be asked.”
“”We lost the advantage…she knows I am out here now.”
“And no doubt has already assigned a Hound or two to track you.” Byrne turned to look at the map on the wall, “Others have suggested to exile you…some have even said to use you as a decoy while we attempt another shot at taking the Hive down.”
Ayiana stood slowly, walking toward him as she favored her side with each step. It had been weeks since the attack on the Hive but she still felt the wound on her side with each step. “I will do whatever the council wishes.”
Byrne laughed as he glanced to the young woman now at his side, “A loyal soldier through and through.”
“If not for you, I would have been ash ages ago. I owe you.”
“You have paid your dues to me kid, ten times over,” Byrne turned placing his hand under her chin raising her eyes to meet his own. “You are your own person and your fate is in your hands. You owe no soul a sacrifice, not me or anyone else. You only owe it to yourself to live.”
Neither of the two had seen Lewis, a calmly, quiet young man with hollow eyes as he stopped in the doorway. He looked away from the two of them when they noticed him and with a frown said, “Ayiana, Collins wants to see you.”
Ayiana gave Byrne a look of thanks and forced smile as she walked away. She would seek the old man out later to finish their conversation.
The office was dark when she entered, the exception of a blinking display from the radio on the barren desk. “Hello?”
Ayiana had spoken to Collins twice before, days after she came to be a part of the unit. The second time was two days before the Hive assignment, and she found the nerves build in her stomach as she shut the door. She had heard others say Owen Collins was a politician before the collapse she did not know exactly what that meant. She just knew more people looked at the man with fear rather than respect.
“You wanted to see me?”
“You don’t belong here.” Collins was older than Byrne though he didn’t look it; he stepped from the shadows with a glass in his hand half filled with something dark. “But then you don’t really belong anywhere. That has to be the loneliest of feelings does it not? No family, friends, no past and possibly no future.”
“I am sorry sir…”
“You are a clone; tell me have you ever been in love? Can you feel love?”
Ayiana’s lips parted to answer but nothing escaped…
“Then most people don’t know what true love is, we were a society that went through our lives using people. Going from person to person thinking of mostly only what we could achieve. What was in it for us without much thought about anyone else…”
Collins walked the distance of the room and pushed the slender glass into her hand. “I see it in your eyes.” His hand went down the side of her face to the tip of her chin, “You haven’t. I believe it is likely even rarer for you… You were raised in a canister to an age; the process sped up to meet a goal. And then mostly nothing but slaves, you age slower, you heal faster and most are never given anything resembling affection. But then most…of us never knew true affection either.”
“You...wanted to see me sir…” Ayiana stuttered she glanced down to the glass and then back to him as he walked away.
“It is all about the eyes; it gives answers even when you have no idea how to utter the words. It tells the other whether you are in love which is almost always automatic when asked the question. Your lips smile, but there is a wonderment, a kind of ecstasy in the eyes when a person is in love. It is easier to see a person who has been in love and lost it…the eyes are broken. The soul is broken because when they can’t have that person in their lives and that never truly goes away. In your eyes…I saw nothing. Blankness of something you have never experienced.”
“What is this about sir?”
“I am sending you away Ayiana…”