The overhead clock ticks as the minutes passed by. In the Head’s office, all conversation has fallen silent rather prematurely. The office is filled from foot to ceiling with old, battered books and the lamp flickers on and off. Dust lays thick over the cupboard and the window sill. The Head seems to be having trouble choosing where to start. He holds his clenched fists tightly wedged together with his chin set on top, muttering to himself, eyes fixed on me. My hood has fallen to reveal a young face, one that had long ago given up hope of finding what I seek. That’s what his understanding and empathetic composure shows me.
‘Miles’, he says at last, holding out his hand to me, ‘I make decisions in this house’.
‘Taden’, I reply, ‘I’m looking for shelter’.
Long seconds pass at the term of which Miles bellows for Cullen to assist him.
The man stumbls in, a sly smile fixed upon his lips.
‘There’s no point looking at me like that; no one’s come in a while and you know it’.
‘Well go along now, interrogate her, persecute her, do as you please. You have free reign.’ Miles adds, a smirk on his lips too.
‘Knew you’d come to your senses, Sir.
‘I give you one hour, Mister Holmes.
Cullen ignores him and walks around the desk, settling comfortably into the chief’s seat. Miles backs into the corner of the room, leaning onto a turn of the century grand piano, attentive.
‘We can never be sure with newcomers,’ Cullen starts, stops.
‘Be sure of what?’ I prod.
‘Whether they are… human.’ He stops again, runs his fingers unconsciously through his bristles of a beard, sighing. ‘How can we know whether a fellow being is truly one of us or not? Science has evloved at a quicker rate than any of us could have ever anticipated, and they can recreate us perfectly.’ Cullen’s words flow as he admits the worries that have taken hold of him. ‘Not only that, but the population – the citizens – even they can mimic us until we believe their lives. Enough “foreign” military has infiltrated and decimated us, now they want their wives and children to do that too! What a world, what a f-‘ he takes a deep breath for concentration, ‘we can never be too careful’ he says to me.
‘What’s your name?’ he shoots.
‘Taden’. I reply with equal vigour.
‘Humph’. Leaning in, so I can’t escape his gaze, he carries on, eyes intent on my face, which betrayes no emotion.
‘Do you know us?’
That stuns the old man. ‘Truthful’ he says, eyes wide. He knows the insurgents would have answered positively to develop a link; anything to justify how they had managed to find a seemingly abandoned building, through unforgiving territory, at the summit of a cliff for out of reach, in the middle of nowhere. Coming in without an explanation is highly unusual, implausible, and doubtful.
‘Don’t get side-tracked, we can’t afford it’ throws in Miles. Cullen focuses his attention back on me.
‘How did you know people live here?’
‘I didn’t. This is the first house I’ve seen in days, as I said, I needed shelter. Cullen looks to Miles for confirmation. ‘Possible’, the latter answers.