“Over the last several months, you’ve trained hard, and you’ve learned how to kill.” Commander Imogen Diver paused while the would-be operatives elbowed each other and snickered with self-satisfaction. “This week, you’re going to learn how to die.”
That shut them up.
She stood in the shifting light of the projector, watching cold fear wax across the faces of recruits who thought themselves battle ready. “You may recall the blood and tissue samples we took on the day you arrived. The injections. The nightly brain scans. These were not what they appeared to be.”
Commander Diver walked down the center aisle that divided two sets of cold metal folding chairs like a hastily arranged congregation. As she walked, as calm and fluid as ever, she said, “Recruit Salderson here will demonstrate.” Before anyone had even processed what she’d said, Diver had already slipped around Salderson’s chair, cupped his chin and his crown in her palms, and twisted them clockwise with a sound like the snapping of carrots. The recruit spilled to the floor as if his bones had suddenly turned to paste.
She raised her voice over the gathering murmurs. “Backup copies. We’ve made backup copies of all of you, with memories preserved up to the point of your last scan.”
“Bullshit!” Winkler yelled. It was always Winkler.
“Really?” she asked. “Tell that to him.” She pointed to the normally opaque observation window at the back of the room. Standing stone faced behind the glass was Salderson, alive and well. He nodded and waved, his face giving away nothing. The glass went solid again, and Commander Diver continued.
“In fact, this is actually the third day of your final week. You’ve practiced variants of this exercise twice before, but your memories have been reverted to a previous brain scan. You aren’t even you.” She lowered her voice in the stunned silence. “You are the backup copies.”
While they mulled that over, she had them empty the room. The chairs, the projector, power cords—everything that wasn’t bolted down was put into a storage closet and locked away. She left them in the barren room and gave their assignment over the intercom from the control room.
“Today’s exercise simulates the event that you’re about to be captured while you have knowledge of critical intelligence. You have no weapons, no objects of any kind, only an empty room. In five minutes, anyone who is still alive will be considered captured. This is a mission failure, and you will be cut from the program. Every recruit must work alone.”
She watched the clock on the wall. Two. One.