The boy with the terrible arm is in pain.

He doesn't notice.

Or rather, he notices the pain the way he notices when he breathes air. The way a fish notices water. If you had asked him if he were in pain, he would give you a momentary look of confusion, a longer look of derision, and a terse, no. If you were to cut open his chest with a knife-- an activity he is intimately familiar with-- he would say that he barely felt a difference. It would be a true statement; the background noise of his suffering tends to drown out all but the worst agonies.

If the pain ever stopped, if he ever had a moment free of it, he would fall to his knees weeping euphoric tears of relief. He would scream thanks and praises to a god he knows for certain does not exist. Or he might die. If the pain ever stopped, the shock of it might kill him.

But it has not, and so he has not.

The boy with the terrible arm, the terrible skin, the terrible pain, rubs his eyes and tries to ignore the buzzing in his head. There is always buzzing in his head, a thousand imaginary flies humming between his ears, but lately it has gotten worse. Through the incessant buzz, he tries to listen.

"--lost him," his father was saying.

The boy stiffens. He knows that tone in Brandenburg's voice.

"It wasn't my fault, sir," he says, trying to keep his voice and features passive. Displaying any emotion in these kinds of conversation was an immediate loss. An immediate denouncement as being unreasonable, over-excited, over-stimulated, deserving of a trip to the Cool Down room.

He hates the Cool Down room.

"You weren't supposed to be there to begin with," Brandenburg says. "What did you think you were doing?"

"I sensed the presence of void products," the boy lies smoothly. "Fischer's etheric signature mimics that of Campbell. I knew he'd be attacked, so I went to intervene."

"Without informing anyone," Brandenburg says, his voice mostly flat, with the faintest coloring of annoyance. He leans back in his office chair and looks at the boy across the expansive desk between them.

“I attempted to contact you upon arrival,” the boy says. Another lie. “The ambient etheric energies of the void product must have interfered with the signal.”

Father doesn’t believe him. It is written in the lines on his face, but he says nothing, only looks directly into the boy’s eyes. Both keep their expressions neutral, revealing nothing.

Sometimes, the boy was afraid Simon could see into his head. Sometimes at night, he is terrified of thinking too loudly, lest Simon hear his mutinous thoughts from across the facility. During those times, and during times like now, he tries to keep his mind as blank and as empty as his face.

Go ahead and look, he would have thought if he were not keeping blank. There’s nothing here.

Brandenburg sighs, and the silent battle is over.

“The scouts will find Fischer eventually,” he says. “The chip in his head is still functional, and he doesn’t have the dog with him to hide. We'll find him, eventually."

The boy nods once.

Brandenburg eyes him for a moment, then says, "You've dirtied your clothes."

The boy stiffens, but says nothing. If he argues, or tries to explain, it'll be taken as a sign of being uncooperative.

"Make yourself presentable," Brandenburg says, almost carelessly. "Change your clothes. Then stay in your room until you're called down for dinner."

Yippee, the boy thinks with disgust. Nutritional paste and void goop. But he doesn't say it aloud, and lets no sign of his feeling show on his face.

"Yes, sir."

Brandenburg has already turned back to the paperwork on his desk. "Dismissed."

The boy turns to go.

"Oh, Elan?" says Brandenburg, not looking up. "Comb your hair."

The boy says nothing and exits the room.

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