“Maybe you could show us to the living quarters, Dr. Marcus,” Mrs. Stewart said.
“Of course. Right this way.”
The doctor led the class through another set of doors. All the changes of scenery were jarring. From office, to medical lab, and now a cozy apartment. Carpet covered the floor, something Ryan’s family didn’t even have. The walls had paintings on them, filled with bright colors. It took Ryan a moment to figure out what they were supposed to be.
Green, blue, and yellow dominated each canvas. They were paintings of the surface, from before the aliens came. Now everything was grey and brown, but back then plants hadn’t just clung to life, they’d thrived.
Speaking of plants, there were a few fake ones scattered around the room. You could tell because of the artificial sheen on the leaves. Also, nothing that green grew underground unless it was under grow lights twenty hours a day.
Interspersed among the plants were people. They stood around, or sat on chairs and couches. Most wore normal clothes like Ryan and Theo and the rest of the class had on. Those were the patients. A few were wearing scrubs or lab coats. Those were the doctors.
“These are some of our less recent arrivals,” Dr. Marcus said. “It takes several months to recover from the effects of the genetic reversion. The process also wipes out most short-term and long-term memories. No one remembers their old human lives, or being an alien.”
Ryan thought back to the half-human girl in the other room.
“Are you sure none of them remember anything?” he asked.
“In the middle of the process there still might be some memories, but once it’s complete, there’s nothing.”
“Thank you Dr. Marcus,” Mrs. Stewart said. “If you have any more questions, please see one of the doctors. Everyone not asking a question should say hello to someone. You don’t know, you might be talking to someone older than your great-grandparents, even if they look your age.”
Theo was the first student to break away from the knotted clump by the door. He went over to an older man with long, white hair and started chatting. One by one, other students circled through the room. Some avoided everyone, and others struck up conversations. Ryan was left alone with Dr. Marcus.
“Is it normal for one of your patients to be out of the tank, Dr. Marcus?” he asked.
“Not this soon, but the chemicals and machinery are very delicate. Each patient needs a careful balance, and sometimes finding the right levels takes a little bit of trial and error. If you don’t want to talk to anyone in here, you could help me back in the lab.”
“Okay,” Ryan said. “I can do that.”
Ryan and Dr. Marcus left the class behind and returned to the reddish glow of the treatment lab. The doctor explained what the machines were for, but there were so many Ryan couldn’t keep them straight. The human half of the girl’s face looked peaceful, but the alien half was twitching. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright and spoke.
“It’s calling to me. I can feel it scratching.”
Dr. Marcus kept working, Ryan got the sense that he was used to strange babbling.
“Do you hear it?” the girl asked. “It answers the call. It’s coming.”
The girl repeating her last two sentences over and over, each time more urgent than the last.