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Rock Hard Place

Don Redwood lives in Glasgow, Scotland. This is his third story to appear in Daily Science Fiction. Find him on twitter @rondedwood or his website donredwood.com Story notes: For obvious reasons, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is very common in asylum seekers. This can hinder the asylum process as traumatic memories can be extremely difficult or even impossible to talk about coherently. Effective treatment is limited as long as re-traumatization remains possible, which often means until asylum is granted. I wanted to use a science fiction scenario to portray this horrible catch-22, and show how the process can really compound any psychological difficulties.

"They found inconsistencies in your memories, Harmony. Even more than last time."
Her lawyer's words wound Harmony's throat and squeezed. It wasn't just the hint her asylum appeal had failed, putting her one step closer to being sent back to Earth. It was the conjured image of immigration officials scraping through her brain with a fine toothcomb; tutting, smirking and taking damning notes.
"They think they were fabricated. At least, they can't exclude that."
Harmony shook her head. Even she couldn't exclude that. She could no longer tell what was real from what wasn't; where she was from where she'd been; where she'd been from where she'd been made to believe she'd been. "Of course they were fabricated. That's what they did to me on Earth. They--"
Her lips quivered silently around a rabbit hole of horrors. And all of a sudden, she was back there, in the shrinking eye of a tornado of flying cockroaches; then elsewhere, stumbling through a desert after an ever-retreating oasis; then elsewhere again, on a conveyor belt winding through a series of metal contraptions, each more elaborately brutal than the last.
"Stay with me, Harmony."
Harmony focused on her surroundings: the soft glare of the LED window; the slight sheen of the white plastic walls; her lawyer's eyes, gently fixed on her own.
"I know what you went through, Harmony. But they're finding glitches in your memories of your captivity and the simulation procedures themselves. Mostly visual oddities, some continuity errors.... They say the whole thing could have been simulated. They think you've done it all to yourself."
Harmony snorted. No one who'd glimpsed the nightmares she'd lived through could seriously believe they'd been self-inflicted. "What about you? Is that what you think?"
Harmony regretted the accusation right away. She was glad her lawyer didn't dignify it with a response.
"What about the scenarios they ran? Where they simulated sending me back?"
"Your fear was authentic, they accepted that. But they say even with false memories, your fear would be real, as long as you believed it."
Harmony felt the futile rage she always felt when faced with callous, untouchable power. The same rage that got her into this mess--by flagging her as a probable dissident back on Earth. "So why in God's name did they put me through that shit?"
How hard it had been to lie there, MRI scanner clunking and crashing around her; to sit while they shaved her scalp, syncing her EEG with their electromagnetic field; all the while fighting flashbacks to those times she'd been strapped down for the same procedures. How hard it had been to go back, to really believe she was being sent back to Earth to face the same nightmares all over again. And for what? To taste her fear, proclaim it real then dismiss it as proving nothing?
Her lawyer shrugged with a grim smile, but Harmony knew the answer. To make her life difficult. To make her give up.
She filled her lungs deep, until twinges of pain flared between her ribs, then sighed. "So what's my next move?"
Her lawyer blinked, slowly. When her eyes reopened, they were shining tears.
"I think this is the end of the road, Harmony. There's one further avenue of appeal, but honestly, I can't advise pursuing it. The success rate is negligible, and this process is traumatizing you all over again. Your memories are just getting more fragmented. I've seen this before. They've probably already got you wondering if you actually did fabricate everything and wipe the evidence. They'll see those doubts. They'll hold them against you."
Her lawyer was right--Harmony was doubting herself, but not like that. She was wondering whether she might still be on Earth; whether this was all another illusory misery. After all, toying with her capacity for disgust, pain, and hunger hadn't been the worst of their manipulations. It was the more subtle tortures. The family they made her believe she had, only to write them back out of existence. The time she came round in a forested psych facility, to be told by a reassuring doctor it had all been a bad psychotic episode, finally over. And she'd believed it--until the son she'd never had arrived to pick her up.
The resulting swirl of confused devastation was as raw as ever, and now it span round her. She wanted to speak her son's name, relive moments, mourn his memory, false as it was. She clenched her fist and curled her toes, but still her face crumpled with a long, dry sob.
"It's for the best Harmony. They can wipe your traumatic memories before transport. And I know a charity that offers new IDs, face and fingerprints included. You'll be safe. You'll feel safe. You'll be happy."
Harmony considered this proposed blissful ignorance. Even dwelling on it calmed the turmoil of her memories. A solution was within reach. It felt inevitable.
But really, was it any different to what she'd fled? Hadn't her torturers promised a life free from pain, as long as she let them rip from her the roots that fed her rage?
She summoned those memories now--her mother's arrest at a peaceful climate protest; the long, protracted trial that cleared her of terrorism; their bittersweet reunion after two years of separation. Painful as they were, Harmony cherished these memories. They made her who she was.
She narrowed her eyes, studying her lawyer for some hint of duplicity, but her face was unflinching, unchanging, except for her eyes which shone wetter than ever.
In the end, it didn't matter whether her lawyer was friend or foe; whether this was reality or more virtual torture. The answer was the same. Her doubt only strengthened her resolve.
"Lodge the appeal. I'll show them what's real. I won't break."
Her lawyer smiled, a tear finally spilling onto the swell of her cheek. "No, you won't." The smile stayed just a moment too long. "Will you?"
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 4th, 2022


Author Comments

Don Redwood lives in Glasgow, Scotland. This is his third story to appear in Daily Science Fiction. Find him on twitter @rondedwood or his website donredwood.com Story notes: For obvious reasons, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is very common in asylum seekers. This can hinder the asylum process as traumatic memories can be extremely difficult or even impossible to talk about coherently. Effective treatment is limited as long as re-traumatization remains possible, which often means until asylum is granted. I wanted to use a science fiction scenario to portray this horrible catch-22, and show how the process can really compound any psychological difficulties.

- Don Redwood
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