Return to The Prisoner Chapter Six

The Prisoner

Author: ringwaldoeuvre
Rating: R
Disclaimer: Neither Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel or The Prisoner are my property. They belong to Fox, Mutant Enemy, The WB, UPN, ITC Inc., A&E, etc. I am just borrowing them.

The blonde regretted pulling away from the redhead. Her hands cupped the other woman's face as she said, "I hate to say it, but I have to go."

"I hate for you to say it, too. But I suppose it would be suspicious if we were both missing for an entire day, especially after the events of the latest experiment. Have I mentioned how disturbing that was, with that Judge guy, and your name being Tara, and the falling in love and the violent death, and the Kid... what I wouldn't give for five minutes alone in a room with him."

Number 14 teased, "Should I be jealous?" At the redhead's dilated pupils she laughed and affirmed, "It was hard for both of us. But it helped you trust me, so it can't have been all bad."

The redhead grumbled, "I suppose not. I'm going to meditate and exercise in a clearing I found in the forest." She leaned forward and pecked Number 14's lips again, "Have a good day, beautiful."

Number 6 stood back and admired her handiwork. The obstacle course spanned the length of the clearing, and she decided her makeshift exercise equipment would be better than the facilities of the Village. She could also have a place to meditate and relax, despite the ever-present gaze of camera lenses.

Two women, one tall and one short, came into sight between a row of trees, and the redhead paused her regimen when the taller woman asked, "Why not use the Village gymnasium?"

The redhead's hands caught the twirling punching bag and answered, "I prefer my privacy."

"Now, that could be taken to be antisocial. The Committee certainly wouldn't like that. No, they wouldn't," the short woman replied. She continued, "Why don't you come with us, and we'll show you what we mean?"

Number 6 deflected the hands of the women and skirted around the parallel bars she had erected not twenty minutes ago. They clamored, "Come now, you wouldn't want to be seen as disharmonious, would you? You'd better come with us." One grabbed the redhead's arms while the other threw a punch at her face. Her neck twisted around and she released a groan before she used the leverage of one of her captors to deliver a swift kick in the stomach of the shorter woman.

Free from their grasp, she assumed the position to defend and fight, if it came to that. She reasoned, "I hardly think you ladies are in a position to tell me how I should behave. Why don't you lead by example and give this up before someone gets hurt."

The tall woman glared, "Too late for that, I'm afraid. You could definitely benefit from a little more community involvement, Number 6. Or maybe you'd rather listen to my fist?"

A speaker blared, "Number 6, please report to the Town Hall immediately. Committee business. Thank you." The redhead grimaced, brushed off her coat, and headed toward the Town Hall. The women threw her an angry glare as they disappeared into the forest.

Number 6 had almost finished counting the bricks on the opposite wall when a deep voice sounded through a speaker, "Good afternoon, citizens. We hope the Committee will provide solutions to all your problems. Number 207 is well on the way to rehabilitation. There are already signs of disharmony in Number 6's behavior, and we want to do something with Number 17. He is clearly in a state of depression. Crying all the time, reciting nonsensical poetry."

The redhead noticed the blonde man sitting in the corner, arms hugging his shoulders and repeating the words, "beauty effulgent." He burst out, "No! You can't go in there. You need a special slip with a stamp. Ah, no, I should hide my face. Bad man, I'm a bad man." He curled up in his seat and shielded his face with his hands.

A door opened and the deep voice spoke again, "Number 207, please step to the podium for confession. We will tell you what to say." A tall bearded man entered through a white door and walked behind the podium. The voice ordered, "Repeat after me: 'They're right, of course.'"

The man looked to each person in the room and earnestly stated, "They're right, of course."

The deep voice said, "Quite right."

"Quite right," he repeated.

"I'm inadequate."

The bearded man squeezed his hands and said, "I'm inadequate, inadequate!"

"Disharmonious," the voice continued.

"Disharmonious!" the man repeated.

"I'm truly grateful."

He shook his hands and said, "I'm truly grateful."

The voice declared, "Believe me."

"Believe me! Believe me!"

The bearded man and the speaker chanted a chorus, "Believe me! Believe me! Believe me!" He returned to a seat as the voice ordered, "Number 6, enter through the white door, please."

The redhead rose from her seat and walked past a poster of a man with a square jaw and the words, "The Community Needs You!" She descended a flight of stairs to a large circular room with walls that rose to a barely visible ceiling. There was a panel of men sitting around a circular desk. They wore black and white striped shirts and bowler hats. The butler came into sight to pull one segment out and gestured for her to sit down in the center of the group.

The bang of the gavel echoed through the room. The butler replaced the segment of the round table as the redhead took the seat in the center of the table. "Welcome Number 6. I trust that you've had a chance to complete the written questionnaire of confession?"

"Of course," the redhead said as she tore the paper into shreds, "naturally." She threw the shreds into the air like confetti and spun her chair around to look at the members of the committee.

The chairman commanded, "Order, Number 6! Please do not be hostile to the committee."

"Ah, yes. Well, I take it you've checked my file, regarding hostility?"

"Number 2 handles your file, it is not our concern. It is the duty of this committee to deal with complaints," the chairman insisted.

"Complaints, really? I have several," the redhead responded with interest.

"You realize a serious charge has been leveled against you, Number 6. We deplore your spirit of disharmony. You would be well advised to cooperate."

The deep voice suddenly boomed from a speaker in the corner, "You are not called before this committee to defend yourself. All we ask is for your complete confession."

The chairman banged the gavel and announced, "Perhaps we will return to this matter at a later juncture, when the citizen has had time to understand these proceedings. Time for a tea break."

Number 6 clapped her hands together at irregular intervals and the members of the panel left the room. The butler pulled out a segment of the table and the redhead walked out.

Number 6's pale skin shone in the sun as she left the committee. She walked down a narrow path to the lawn and bowed her head to acknowledge the rook from so many weeks ago, "Beautiful day, Number 58." The brooding man ducked behind an oncoming taxicab and rushed in the other direction.

The woman shook her head and could hardly comprehend what had just happened before her. She walked along a road and noticed citizens shifting to the other side of the street as the approached. She staggered to the newsstand and purchased a Tally Ho newspaper from a stern boy, the headline reading, "Number 6 For Further Investigation." She threw the paper to the ground and went back to her apartment.

The door opened to reveal a patient Number 2 sitting at her kitchen table. His black attire was offset by his brown hair and firm demeanor. He stood up and exclaimed, "There's our girl! I was wondering when you were going to turn up, sweet pea. There's a saying, 'He who is the slowest mule is closest to the whip.'"

The redhead eyed the tall man before her. She replied, "There is another saying: 'He who digs a pit is destined to lie in it.'"

"Ha! Why, you're just burning with righteousness!" He brought his hands together in front of his face and said, "I assure you, no matter what your significance is to me, to the people of this Village, you are merely citizen Number 6, who has to be tolerated, and ... if necessary ... shaped to fit."

"Public Enemy Number 6, huh? You don't scare me."

He shrugged and replied, "Truth is like a sword, girl. It cuts deep. If they rule against you, I'll be powerless to help. This... is out of my jurisdiction."

Number 6 pointed to the door and responded, "Don't you have someone else to manipulate? Surely there must be dozens of political and magical operatives waiting for your expertise."

"You're quite right, so I've selected someone to aid in your case. She has valuable experience with the committee. Number 86?"

A girl, medium height with wavy dark hair and brown eyes, walked into the redhead's apartment with a clipboard and one of so many brightly colored capes that she had seen around the Village. She walked over to the pair and extended her hand, "Hello, Number 6. How do you do?"

The redhead accepted the girl's hand into her palm and shook. She responded, "Hello, nice to meet you. What is this about?"

Number 2 grasped both women by the shoulder and said, "Number 86 will explain everything. I do believe I should take my leave. Number 6, don't hesitate to come to me with any issues you may have."

Number 6 shouted after him, "How about this demented hybrid of 'Midnight Cowboy' and 'Bladerunner' you call the Village?!"

The man was out the door before she could spit her feelings at him. Number 86 regained the redhead's attention and advised, "First. Your attitude towards the committee. Most disagreeable. You've got to learn to work with others."

Number 6 stood akimbo and answered, "Like you seem to be doing? Sorry, you've got to earn my trust."

"I am trying to help you, Number 6. Believe me, this is no joking matter. Your file says that you used to practice magic, is that correct?"

"If that's what my file says, why are you asking me?"

"It just sounds new-agey, and given that tendency, you could join the Village Yoga. You would be well advised to participate in Village activities, which is my second bit of advice. People see you as isolated, and a little interaction would dispel this image," the brunette stated.

"Maybe I like my image? These days it seems that people don't appreciate a good loner when they see one. Besides, what have I to lose, other than the homecoming queen election?"

"Being declared 'unmutual' would make your life very uncomfortable, even more so than it already is. It would be shame for you to learn that lesson the hard way. If you are amiable to the committee and you invest yourself in the Village community, I think you can avoid that fate," Number 86 concluded.

The brunette suggested, "Why don't you come with me to a meeting for Number 17. You'll get a better sense of what we're talking about." She guided Number 6 through the door, brought her to the gathering, and left the redhead with her thoughts.

Number 2 slammed his glass onto his desk as he watched the exchange from his chamber. "Females! If she makes one mistake, we'll lose Number 6. Do you understand?" he said with a stomp of his foot and a finger to his forehead, "Lose her. Girls shouldn't be involved in this mess."

Number 6 stood by as citizens debated Number 17's rehabilitation. One citizen opined, "It is clear that Number 17 is suffering from acute paranoia and hallucinates about his past. We must give him all our support to help him back on the path to a stable mind."

The redhead withheld the laughter that threatened to erupt after she contemplated what they meant by "stable." She began to clap her hands, first to a beat, then at random moments. The citizens turned their heads to her noise and Number 17 declared, "You're trying to disrupt my rehabilitation, you bloody wanker!"

The citizens clamored, "Reactionary! Rebel! Disharmonious! The committee will certainly hear about this!" The group dissolved, clearly annoyed, and citizens went their separate ways.

Two men approached Number 6 in a car. They stepped out and she noticed that they wore lab coats. One said, "Won't you come with us, Number 6? We would like to conduct a physical examination as part of your assessment by the committee."

The redhead hopped into the car and they sped off toward the hospital. After they tested her vision, hearing, and reflexes the doctor released her. "Off you go, Number 6. Would you like a lollipop?"

"Is it drugged?"

"How suspicious you are of all of us! I say, Number 6. You may want to consider giving some of us a chance. Be seeing you!"

Number 6 left the doctor in the examination room and wandered down the hall. She walked past the room with dozens of people, dressed in straightjackets, sitting along the wall of a long corridor. She wandered past a door that read "Aversion Therapy," and she poked her head by the window.

The sight troubled her. A man sat in a chair, his feet and hands strapped down, his head bound with nodules. He faced a screen as images of the rover and Number 2 flashed before him. The word "unmutual" popped up, and he became hysterical. Sweat poured down his brow, and the chair scarcely restrained his jitters. His scream was the last thing the redhead heard as she walked away.

As she exited the hospital, she noticed a placid Number 17 sitting on a bench. His expression was remarkably content, given the stress of his situation. She sat down next to him, noticed a circular scar on his forehead, and said, "Hello, Number 17. Feeling better?"

His glazed eyes wandered to the redhead's "Number 6" pin as his head turned to face her. He replied, "Suppose. Don't know what was happening before. I don't understand it, I mean, this sort of thing's never happened to me before. I felt alright when we started, and after a while things got so mixed up. All better now," he reached up and touched the scar on his forehead, "All better."

The redhead warily replied, "Okay then. Good to hear you're feeling better. I'd better get going if I want to keep making trouble around here." The man nodded his head and began to rock back and forth on the bench. She rose to return to her apartment, deciding that she better leave her light in the window of her apartment if she wanted to get any help, and any kisses, from Number 14.

Her mind turned to the woman. There was no question that she was beautiful, and she could not help but trust her. Something just clicked when they were together, like they were two pieces of a puzzle. She had to remain vigilant, lest the people in charge use their relationship to manipulate her. Her head told her it was a mistake, but her gut told her that only good would come of their attraction, and she shuddered when she thought of her new feelings for the blonde.

Number 6 rounded the corner of the clock tower and bought a copy of the Tally Ho. As her eyes grazed the headline, "Number 6 Declared Unmutual," the speaker system sounded. "May I have your attention please. The following citizens have been declared unmutual: Number 6." After a long pause, the voice continued, "Citizens are to refrain from interaction with Number 6, and may report any disharmonious behavior to the appeals subcommittee. That is all."

Number 6 threw the newspaper to the ground in disgust. 'What is the meaning of this? They can't just ignore me,' she thought. She walked across the lawn and felt odd as every citizen immediately turned on their heel when they saw her. She glimpsed the beautiful hair of Number 14, and decided to at least try an attempt at normal interaction. Her chest tightened when the blonde turned around and walked in the opposite direction of the redhead.

She felt defeated as she finally crossed the threshold to her apartment. It was naive to think that the blonde was not obligated to act like everybody else in public, but she could not shake the awful feeling in her stomach. She picked up the telephone, but found that her line was dead.

Number 2 watched the events with a wide smile. He patted Number 86 on the back and said, "There now. Let's see how our loner withstands real loneliness. Connect the direct line."

The doorbell rang, and the redhead decided that if someone were actually waiting, it would be wise to answer. She opened the door to find four citizens, including Number 17, standing outside. One announced, "Good afternoon, Number 6. We represent the appeals subcommittee. I am Number 158."

The redhead examined her guests. They seemed genuine, though she was surprised to see Number 17. "Glad to see you're on the road to recovery, Number 17. So, what is it you want from me? My best impression of a mindless drone, wearing what everybody else wears, doing what others do? Apparently it's what all the kids are doing nowadays."

"Sling all the little barbs you want, Number 6. Number 17 has worked very hard to be here. It requires great moral courage to volunteer for work of this nature. And, I know it must seem weird, talking to a stranger about stuff, but you will soon realize that you need our help. It is clear that we came prematurely. Be seeing you, Number 6."

The group walked away, leaving a befuddled redhead to ponder her next step. Suddenly, her telephone began to ring. 'I thought it didn't work,' she thought as she moved to pick up the receiver.

She pressed the button to answer and heard Number 2's twangy voice come though, "I told you that the committee was nothing to take lightly. So, how are you getting along, Number 6?"

"Peachy. It would almost work if it wasn't obvious you need a scapegoat. 'Citizens unite to denounce this menace!' and all that," the redhead replied.

"A scape goat? Girlie, is that what you think it is? I assure you, after instant social conversion, you just won't care what it is. You simply won't care. Why, you'll have something better: lasting piece of mind. Right now, your head's so filled with filth, there's no room for the truth."

Number 6 paused, considering the information just relayed to her. "Conversion, huh. So, you'll use drugs? That won't last."

Number 2 grinned, "Ah, girl, but what would be lasting is isolation of the aggressive frontal lobe. Of the brain, of course. I assure you, it's quite thorough. I've sent Number 86 over to assist the process, and I suggest you cooperate. We wouldn't want to have to play rough."

Almost as soon as the line went dead, the redhead's doorbell sounded. She opened the door to find Number 86 in a different outfit. A white lab coat replaced her colorful cape. The brunette walked into Number 6's apartment and cut to the chase, "I hope you realize that being declared unmutual is no longer just a game. These are socially conscious citizens, rejecting the presence of a disharmonious element of their community."

The redhead muttered, "They are sheep."

"Your feelings at this juncture are irrelevant. There remains but one course open to us." Number 6 followed Number 86 outside only to be confronted with a mob of Village citizens. She heard the loudspeaker announce, "Attention staff psychologists: all wishing to watch the closed circuit conversion of Number 6 should report to the second floor observation room in the hospital. That is all."

The redhead made a break for the lawn, hoping that she could make it for the beach and escape the mob. Their strength proved insurmountable, and she soon fell unconscious after a sharp blow to the head.

Number 6 began to wake as she was wheeled into Number 515's laboratory. The dark-haired man stood by to supervise as Number 86 injected a sedative and strapped the redhead to a table. The room featured a vast array of equipment and devices. The brunette turned to the rows of staff and announced, "We are using standard equipment. A unit containing quartz crystal is activated by a variable electromagnetic field from these high-voltage condensers. The crystal emits ultrasonic sound waves, which are bounced off the parabolic reflector," she pointed to a concave dish, "here. The focal point of the reflector can be seen here," she held her hand a few feet away from the reflector, "by use of light waves. I will now demonstrate the molecular turbulence at the focal point."

An assistant approached the reflector with a piece of styrofoam and placed it in the area of the focal point. Within seconds, the bright dot on the styrofoam began to sizzle and abruptly burst into flames. The assistant pulled the styrofoam away and extinguished the fire.

"As you can see, the focal point of the beam is very powerful. The ultrasonic beam is capable of penetrating, whereas the light is not. We turn to a low voltage," the brunette turned a knob to 'minimum, "and move the subject closer to the focal point." The assistant rolled Number 6 next to the device. With a grin, Number 86 announced, "we will now locate the point of the motor area."

The brunette strapped on a pair of goggles and took her place next to the sedate Number 6. She ordered, "Apply the protective lotion, to reduce tissue damage." The assistant rubbed a glob of transparent gel onto the focal point that now hit the redhead's temple. She turned her focus to a screen with a scan of the redhead's brain. She barked, "Move 0.45 centimeters left, 0.17 centimeters up. Hold horizontal!" She turned to the crowd, "The ultrasonic beam is now focused precisely on the subject's frontal lobe. We inject a relaxant to preclude muscular reaction. Now... to increase the strength of the beam."

She slowly turned the knob to 'maximum,' and the strength of the beam increased. She noticed sweat had collected on Number 6's brow, yet she made no movements to resist her restraints as the redhead's temple slowly to sizzle.

Number 6 opened her eyes, and immediately thought, 'Am I in a hospital examination room or the alien sister of a hospital examination room? I've really got to stop waking up in strange places.' The perky doctor approached her bed and noted, "You went to sleep, Number 6! Just at the most interesting part you went to sleep. How are you feeling?"

"Uh, fine... considering I seem to keep waking up in different beds. What happened?"

"Your instant social conversion, of course. You'll want to take it easy for the next few days, Number 6. Now, your clothes are in a pile on that chair." The doctor dismissed the redhead, and she walked out into the Village. Merry citizens and a marching band greeted her, and the confusion was plain on her face.

Number 6 staggered into her apartment, and again found Number 2 sitting at her kitchen table. He stood and greeted the redhead, "The sheep returns to the flock, eh? How are you feeling? No more of that pesky committee to deal with, Number 6. Why don't you sit down, you should take it easy. Number 86 here will make you a soothing cup of tea. I'll be back later, and we can have our little chat."

Number 86 laid the redhead on a reclining chair and soothed her hair, "There now, you should relax." The brunette approached the stove and removed a cup from the shelf. After the water came to a boil, she spooned the tea into the pot and poured the liquid into the cup. The redhead stole a glance of Number 86 as she removed a pill from her breast pocket and quickly dissolved it into the tea. She carried the cup to the table beside the redhead and asked, "Is there anything you need?"

"Cold," the redhead muttered.

"Shall I get you a blanket? Where do you keep them?"

"Closet, bedroom," Number 6 mumbled.

The brunette turned her back and made her way to the bedroom, and the redhead took the opportunity to pour the liquid into a nearby vase. She tipped the cup against her lips to persuade Number 86 that she had ingested the tea, and let her eyes glaze over as the brunette returned with a red blanket.

Number 86 spread the blanket across the legs of the reclined redhead, took the empty cup, and said, "Be sure to stay relaxed." She stroked the woman's red locks and exited the apartment.

Number 6 looked to the ceiling and replayed the series of events in her head. She did not feel very different, and it was clear that they were trying to keep her drugged on something. She had felt groggy after the procedure, but attributed that to the sedative. She heard the door open, and saw the figure of Number 2 draw closer to her chair.

"Time for our little chat, Number 6. Now that all your firebrand anxieties have been expunged, I know you feel free to speak. Especially about that little thing that's been causing you great distress. Namely, your resignation," the man stated.

Number 6 directed her eyes from the ceiling to the wall, and back to the ceiling. She decided to say nothing and act confused, in the hope that he would give up.

"Why?" he persisted, "You had a bright future, why leave prematurely?"

The redhead continued to stare at the ceiling and her lips remained still. The man shrugged, "We'll talk later, when you've had time to collect your thoughts."

Number 2 frowned and left the apartment. Alone at last, Number 6 threw the blanket to the ground and hopped to the bathroom. Poised before the mirror, she removed the bandage on her forehead to reveal a circular scar. Her finger ran across the red mark, satisfied that they definitely did something physical to her. She hurried back into the kitchen.

Number 2 and Number 86 watched the redhead's agitation. The brunette remarked, "Strange, very strange, already she suspects."

"The scar is genuine, that should make her think it's real," Number 2 supplied.

The brunette furrowed her brow, "I gave her 8 grams of mitol. Suspicion, doubt - those are all aggressive tendencies. The drug should preclude such reactions. I don't understand."

The tall man paced the chamber. "She's seen what she thought was the operation, she should be convinced. She should feel different, so there is certainly no reason for her to suspect that it never actually occurred. Therefore, we must maintain the illusion. We cannot afford to let her fall back on bad habits. Go to her now, and give her another dose."

Number 86 shook her head, "No, 8 grams of the drug is plenty, and 16 could be dangerous."

"More dangerous than your failure?" At the brunette's blanched face, he replied, "Oh, I'm just funnin' ya. Run along now."

She threw her cape over her shoulders and headed toward the Number 6's apartment.

The redhead turned her head at the noise of the open door and saw Number 86 standing in the threshold. She asked, "Do you like my dress?"

Number 6 regarded the woman before her. The brunette seemed a bit anxious, so she casually replied, "More feminine than slacks, but I cannot tolerate a woman that cannot make a decent cup of tea. Let me show you."

She walked to the kitchen and stated, "Rinse the pot, boil your water, then be sure to warm the pot and add the tea." She opened the canister of tea and began to spoon the flakes, "One for me, one for thee, one for the pot, and one for luck. Will you pour the milk while I get the sugar?"

The redhead walked to the cupboard and glimpsed the brunette slipping a droplet into her cup. She poured the tea and asked, "Number 86, will you get two spoons from the drawer?"

Number 86 turned away, and the redhead switched the cups of tea on the counter. The brunette returned to stir the liquid, and the women lifted their cups to their mouths.

Number 2 observed the events and remarked, "All charmingly domestic. Ain't that just like a woman? I think I'd like a cup of tea!" The butler bowed and moved to the tray. The man turned back to the screen to see a very altered Number 86. She twirled her hair, turned her cup upside-down on the counter. She grinned at her pale companion and bit her lower lip as she sat down and motioned for Number 6 to join her on the couch.

"Stupid woman! She drank the wrong cup!" Number 2 picked up the phone and commanded, "Number 86, report to Number 2 immediately."

The brunette's ears perked as the speaker boomed. She groaned, "Mmm... don't feel like it. Would you like to go for a walk? I hear the woods are lovely."

Number 6 considered her options. Whatever the girl drank, she certainly seemed like she would tell her anything. In an effort to get somewhere out of the gaze of the cameras, she nodded and motioned to the door, "After you."

The pair emerged into the bright afternoon air and they made their way to a secluded edge of the forest. The redhead sat them down behind some brush, and the brunette snuggled closer.

"Hey, have I mentioned that you're sexy when you pout? Your pert attributes, and your freckles... mmm, lickable. I'd love to tether you down, like a kite! Oh, that's a terrible metaphor. It's just," she stroked the redhead's arm, "have you seen you?"

Number 6 did not think she could feel more tense. She decided to get to the point, "Uh, thanks. So, I'm feeling much better. This instant social conversion is very... effective. I feel much more comfy in the Village... I, uh," the redhead searched for words, "don't know why I was being so difficult."

Number 86 cocked her head, befuddled at the redhead's statement. "That's funny, because you look a little uncomfortable. Besides, nothing actually happened. Oh, sure, you got a nice scar on your forehead, but we didn't actually do anything to that pretty head of yours."

"Huh," the redhead stammered, "that's... huh. So, what did happen?"

The brunette smirked, "We created the illusion of a full ultrasonic dislocation of the frontal lobes of the brain, using just sound, not waves. You were kept heavily drugged, to make you more likely to spill your secrets... but enough of that. Let's talk about you, Number 6. What's your story?"

"There's, uh, not much to tell," Number 6 replied. She shuddered as she extended her arm around Number 86. She ventured, "I do have an idea, though. Would you like to help me?"

"Absolutely," the brunette ran her hand over the redhead's thigh, "just put me where you want me."

Number 6 masked her grimace as she instructed, "Well, go to the clock tower, and when the bell strikes 4 o' clock..."

The redhead glanced at the clock tower and realized she had almost two hours until her confrontation with Number 2. Number 86 wandered toward Number 2's green dome, and she decided that meditation would best prepare her for the task ahead. As she approached the space she caught sight of the beach spread out below her. She saw a flash of blonde hair as Number 14 dashed between rocks and ducked into their cave. She followed and listened as the woman began to speak.

"Mama, I want you to hear me. You've always heard me, even when we were apart. But lately... I worry. Where are you? You feel so far away. I just wish you were near me, so that I could collapse in your arms and this nightmare would end."

The redhead crept into the cave and offered, "I wouldn't say 'nightmare,' so much as 'phase.' Don't you think we'll get out of this?"

The blonde turned to the redhead, "Oh, it's you! I didn't expect you!"

"Well I didn't expect me either, seems to be a common sentiment, actually. But here I am, hoping that there's something I can do for you."

Number 14's features softened, "Would it be terribly selfish of me to ask you to hold me?"

Number 6 opened her arms and replied, "I wouldn't have it any other way." The blonde curled into her neck and wrapped her arms around the redhead. Number 6 moved her hands to cradle the blonde's head and closed her eyes, relishing the feeling of closeness with another human being.

The blonde pushed herself away, "Wait, why do you remember me? I thought you were, er, I mean, you underwent... instant social conversion?"

"Ah, yes, that. Rubbish, really. Complete hoax, their attempt to sedate me into revealing why I resigned. Seriously, will they ever give up using the drugs? What's next, the electric Kool-Aid acid test? Have they flown in the Grateful Dead, complete with resurrected Jerry Garcia? Because honestly, I wouldn't put it past these weirdoes. I just don't get-"

The blonde silenced the redhead with her lips, her fingers woven into her hair. She pushed away briefly to add, "If I had known it wasn't real, I never would have avoided you. Village rules be damned." She pulled Number 6 closer and her hands resumed their place in the other woman's hair.

Number 6 smiled into their kiss, lost in the sensation of the blonde's fingertips massaging her neck. She slowly gained the upper hand, edging Number 14 down to the carpet that lay before the altar. She lost track of time, gripping Number 14's hips, desperate to feel close to the blonde. She looked the other woman in the eye and gasped, "I'm so glad I found you. I don't feel quite so lost when you're in my arms."

Number 14 leaned forward, letting their foreheads touch. "I wish we didn't have to hide, I wish we could be free, I wish for so many things, really. Oh god, were you followed? I'm sure they're watching you carefully. Of course, I would love to watch you carefully," she flirted.

The redhead grinned, "There are a lot of things I would like you to do, but I don't really have the time. I have an appointment with Number 2, and I would hate to be late. You should hang out on the lawn, watch the show."

The blonde's forehead creased, "What are you going to do?"

"I don't want to spoil the surprise, but it will certainly dispatch this latest Number 2. They've really got to stop hiring monkeys," the redhead joked.

"Be careful, I'd hate to l-lose you now. They don't tell me much, but they have unlimited resources. Don't forget that," Number 14 warned.

Number 6 "Hey, I just found you, and we're going to work together and figure this out. Don't worry, I'm a geek-"

"A cute geek," the blonde interrupted with a grin.

The redhead rolled her eyes, "If you say so. Look, I do this stuff all the time. We just have to be patient and watch each other's back. I, for one, would love to watch your back all day, if I didn't have to focus on getting out of this place. Speaking of which," the woman moved to stand up, "I really should get going. Kiss for good luck?"

Number 14 stood, "How about three kisses?"

"Ooh! That way, I'll be extra lucky! I like the way you think," Number 6 leaned in to collect her luck from the blonde's lips. The women began to lose count as their mouths continued to crash together. Hands wandered and stroked as they reveled in the sensations.

The blonde pushed herself away and breathed, "Not that this isn't wonderful, but don't you have somewhere to be?"

The redhead sighed and nodded, "Yeah... I really should get going. Remember, the lawn - 4 o'clock?"

"I wouldn't miss it, Number 14 replied.

Number 6 left the cave and walked to the green dome. She entered Number 2's chamber and cleared her throat to announce her presence. The man spun around and she said, "I hoped we might continue that chat we were having. And to think... I resisted for so long. There's something that I want to tell everyone, on the lawn. You must have others that have information you want. But if I was to speak out publicly, I might, uh-"

"Ah, inspire others to speak out," Number 2 interjected.

"Yes, exactly," the redhead affirmed.

"And what could be more natural! Now come, and no over-excitement, please, we don't want you to get too liberated." Number 2 picked up a receiver and announced to the Village, "Attention please. May I have your attention please. Number 6 has a very important announcement to make. Citizens, please report to the great lawn immediately!"

Number 2 led the redhead to a balcony above the grass. Citizens slowly assembled as the butler handed a megaphone to Number 6.

The redhead began, "Fellow citizens, you are cheering me, when it is really Number 2 you should applaud. Until he brought about social conversion, I was a rebel. A slave to my free will. But, as they say, 'the butcher with the sharpest knife has the warmest heart.' Some of you have withheld information that is invaluable to Number 2. Now I want to tell you something that will inspire you all-"

The sound of the tolling bell rang through the air. Number 86 shouted from the clock tower, "I have just received vital information! Number 2 is unmutual!"

Number 6 continued, "You are still individuals, you still have the right to free thought and your own will. Number 2, with his devious plotting, is operating contrary to the community. He is... an 'unmutual!'"

The crowd gasped and began to shout for social conversion as Number 2 staggered down a flight of stairs to escape the mob. The citizens chanted "unmutual" as they chased Number 2 to the green dome.

The blonde's smile was plainly visible from the far corner of the lawn. The redhead felt she could see the waves of happiness wash over the other woman. Their eyes said everything as the women went their separate ways.

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