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It's not easy being unusual.

Especially when you're twelve years old.

Especially when, due to you being unusual, the people in lab coats have you locked away in an empty metal room.

Stacy never considered herself to be different from others. A normal kid, developing even a little bit slower than her peers. The sickly, frail, yet unbelievably smiley girl was a joy to the world with all the attention she paid to it. Parents were fond of her, they spoiled her but weren't eager to let her near other people. "You will get ill for sure," they said. "It will hurt a lot and will be very boring."

Home schooling, a few pen pals whom Stacy would never have to hide from. They shared secrets, although her friends were envious of her - their parents weren't nearly as lenient.

On her twelfth birthday Stacy made a wish to visit the sea. Of course, her parents asked about what she wished for, and the girl wasn't able to keep her little wish secret. Her father frowned, her mother made a sad smile. Stacy spent quite some time watching their outlines from beyond her room's door, hugging her large stuffed penguin toy. Dad was flailing his arms around, Mom was trying to calm him down. Finally, her fair mane appeared through the ajar door.

Having heard their reply, Stacy couldn't help but cry. With joy of course. Her wish was granted.

It was by the sea when she realized why her parents were afraid to let her go anywhere.

It was beautiful - any new and unfamiliar place seems beautiful to a child. White sand with half-buried lumpy rocks, waves of dark water rolling against the shore, brightly-green algae and seashells - all of that made Stacy completely overjoyed.

They were living in a small house on a hill, rarely visited by anyone else. They had to walk to get to the sea, and every time these 'walks' brought the girl utter joy. Still, it was the sea she loved more than everything.

They always went there early in the morning or late at night, with no one around. Mom still adhered to her explanation about people carrying atrocious diseases around, and Stacy did not argue. Instead, she gathered sea shells and pretty glassy rocks - not as neat as the cabochons in her mother's stain glass displays, but that didn't make them less pretty. Stacy kept on swimming far away from the shore and going straight to the bottom - there was always something interesting lying there. A couple of times she encountered lazy medusae and obtuse fish, being wary of the unfamiliar creatures. But that didn't stop her from gathering.

And then, in one day, it all ended. Stacy had just emerged from the sea with her latest find in hands - this really huge conch only recently inhabited by a mollusk. Yet, instead of her mom and dad, a kind red-haired woman with weird glassy eyes came toward her. At first Stacy was deathly afraid - her parents always told her how dangerous people were - but the woman told her that her mom and dad were called off to discuss something important and work-related, and they were asked to give her a lift back home. Weird as it was, Stacy believed her.

They were riding in a big white car with this red-haired woman and a grim-looking man in a pretty-looking black outfit. Stacy liked soldiers and she liked to look at parades on the TV, but the operative paid her no heed and kept looking forward with a sullen look.

After they got there, the woman made a phone call which the girl did not understand. There were too many weird words that mom and dad never said.

"Already? That's wonderful. Tell recon the job is done. Yes, have Sakharov interview those two, pick their brains, amnesticize and let go. No, I'm being serious. Yeah, I'm aware of that. OK, have it under my responsibility. Yes, C… Third, programmable. Oh, and there's a coffee for all of you if you visit the neighbors too."

The red-haired woman turned towards Stacy with a frightened look that was quickly replaced by a kind smile. The girl was clueless as to what this "C" was and what "programmable" means, and she smiled back.

Stacy never got to see her parents again.

There were a lot of doctors. She was being sounded, tickled and examined. Stacy kicked back and refused to give in, but then they gave her this candy which made her sleep very quickly. Every time, she awoke to some tube in her arm or to a doctor listening to her heartbeat. And she was irritated.

Then there was a lot of talking. She was talked to by that red-haired woman, and later on - by a grumpy old stooping fellow with similar glassy eyes. At first the girl was taking offense and called for her parents, but soon… She just got used to it. She was getting as many cartoons as she wanted, and she adapted surprisingly fast. She liked it there.

But later came this very ominous man with glasses and told her there were "experiments" scheduled for today. Dad did say this word a couple of times, but Stacy never got the time to find out its meaning. The girl was asked to get into a pool, and the man's glassed stare was horrifying enough for her to comply. She felt safe in the water. Also there were her favorite seashells down there, which she liked to play with. She spent a lot of time in the pool and was eventually dragged back up. And they didn't show her any cartoons any more.

"So tell me, Stacy dear, when did you learn to remain underwater for that long?"

"I don't know, aunt Ann… Mom told me I always could. That everyone can do it."

"Is that so? How do you do that? Could you tell me?"

"I just hold my breath, that's all. There."

"And don't you ever feel like breathing in?"



"Aunt Ann, when will we go to watch cartoons?"

"Wait a bit. We'll finish with the pool and you'll get to see all the cartoons you want."

Later on, there was this empty room. They gave her a coloring book, told her to do as she always did in the water, and she complied. She was there long enough to cover the book completely. And she didn't draw a single breath - there was nothing to breathe with.

Then there was another empty room and she finally got the cartoons she was promised. Stacy was staring at the screen and didn't even notice when the air became oxygen-free. Anyway, it was not like she knew what "oxygen" is.

And it happened every day. Different rooms, different pools, different occupations and time spent.

"Tell me, did you ever try doing that to other people?"

"Well… I tried with my mom."

"Oh, is that so?"

"I took her hand and we were walking on the bottom. But she asked me never to let go of her hand, no matter what."

"So it is… How sweet. Thank you, dear Stacy."

"Thank you for what, aunt Ann?"

That was when they got her the Boy.

He was ten years or so older than her, but she called him Boy nonetheless. Stacy liked to spend time with him - he had this funny clothes, very comfy and of her favorite orange color. She kept yanking him by his shirt's hem.

They even seemed to become friends, although the Boy was looking at her warily. They started doing these "experiments" together, but the boy was always surfacing long before she did. Then they told her to take his hand and that made him stay. He kept gawking at Stacy, at his hand, and that made the girl laugh jovially underwater. In a few days they were comfortable sitting in the empty room or walking on the pool bottom.

"Will you stay to be my friend? You're so sweet…"

"Of course I will. Where else would I go?"

"D-1634-1, please refrain from talking for now."

But then they carried the Boy away.

He wasn't back in a day. In a week. Even in a month, though he promised.

"He promised we will always be friends! Why did he not come?"

"I'm sorry, Stacy. He will not visit you again."

They got her another boy in a week, but Stacy just wept and demanded her Friend back.

They didn't bring anyone else to her.

The next day Stacy stopped breathing out of spite. But the people in lab coats did not bring her friend back.

Not even in a month.

In two months she grew tired of that, which she stated explicitly. The people in lab coats nodded their heads and went about their business.

It's not easy being unusual.

Especially when you're twelve years old.

Especially when, because of you being unusual, even the people in lab coats have you locked away in an empty metal room. Locked away and forgotten.

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