“Recording .—- —– .—-1: Why does this always happen? Eleven is the total number of times that I had to endure it – the number of times I had to suffer its consequences. The cause of this is unknown to me but I am sure someone on this planet should know why. Why I was chosen to be constantly tortured for what seems to be no apparent reason. I have lived with this for as long as I can remember but when will enough be enough? When will this ever stop? Click!(end of recording)” 

Tamara stood in front of the Quiet Room, sliding a slim silver box into her pocket — her back-up plan. She prepared for what horrors she would face inside,  and wondered whether she would still be able to recover from the mental and physical scarring to come. In an attempt to not let them take away what little she had left, she went through all she remembered of her past, the things too precious to record; the woman with chocolate coloured wires exploding out of her head and the sapphire ocean trapped in her eyes looking at her as if she was worth much more than her weight in gold, this otherworldly phenomenon of being loved, and the day where all of that turned into a fantasy — the day she was sent here, to the Institute. She took one last deep breath in front of the dreaded door, hoping it would not be the last time she could feel those feelings and remember the great things in her life before this nightmare. As she entered the Quiet Room, her ears began to bleed from the noise. Everything went black.

Her dreams were filled with images of her captors. Their pristine cloaks and masks shielding their identity went through the blurry state of her mind as she replayed the last of what she could remember from her most recent trip to the Quiet Room. Its steel furnishings, with their dizzying glare, were something that would forever haunt her. She woke with a start. A wave of nausea engulfed her, pulling her into the awaiting pain of reality. A metallic smell that she knew too well circulated the stale air of the four cramped walls she called home. Instinctively, like she had done so many times before, her hands flew up to her ear where there was a crust of blood tracing the side of her face: the mark of the Quiet Room. As she checked for any more damage, she basked in the luck of her situation. 

“Recording .—- —– ..—2: Here I was, after a trip to the Quiet Room, with as little damage done as possible. I could have come out with absolutely no memory of who I was or stripped of what little I remember before life in this wretched place. I could have been unconscious for a longer period of time, possibly never even waking up. The Universe has finally smiled upon me. Click!(end of recording)”

“Recording .—- —– …—3 : A monster is starting to grow inside of me. Realisation has struck me. I do not know how on my creation I allowed myself to be treated like an animal. How had I let myself be so thankful for barely surviving? How could I be happy living in a prison, constantly awaiting torture — overjoyed to leave the Room with such a ‘minor’ scar? But a scar is still a scar. Why have they not freed me? Who in the right mind would let a person suffer like this? I’m suffering too much for an innocent human being who has done nothing wrong. I’ve never hurt anyone, I’ve always listened and obeyed! My blood is being spilt against my will for someone else’s cause. I am my own person and it is only fair that I get a chance to live the life I want to live and be the person I want to be. Click!(end of recording)”

 There was something Tamara kept buried in the back of her mind, for she feared that in some way her captors could read it and who knows what they would do to her. This was long overdue. It was time to escape.

Her escape was the least of her problems as the Institute was a place that she had navigated for as long as she could remember. Strangely, the memories of how to navigate the Institute were one of the few that remained untouched by her captors. What troubled her was what she would do once she was out of her prison. Her captors had removed almost all traces of her past and her memories of the outside world in the Quiet Room, with a frequency that somehow cleared them all – slowly and painfully. This made it hard to figure out where she would go once she left the closest thing to a home she has had, or could remember. Copying the actions of her guards, she gently pressed the buttons on her door, bypassing the lock on her cell. With one last quick glance at her sorry-excuse of a home for who knows how long, she left. She slid around the empty maze-like hallways towards the only part of the facility foreign to her; The Forbidden Zone. She stopped. An unfamiliar sound was coming from behind the door. The Forbidden Zone was either a place where her captors resided or her path to freedom. Taking a deep breath, she muttered a prayer to the Universe, hoping that behind the door would be the start of her journey to freedom. If not, she could not imagine how gruesome her punishment in the Quiet Room would be. Best-case scenario would be torture with an excruciating frequency that would cause her heartbeat to forever go silent. But she was not going to let that happen, not after she was risking so much to regain her freedom. She was too close. Her captors had already taken too much. Putting her shaky hand on the handle, she opened the door to see something she had always yearned for — freedom.

She took her first shaky steps outside of her prison with so much joy. Freedom. She could now live without constant fear of torture. These new feelings of joy and relief swallowed her. Happiness was now her reality, not some fantasy in her mind. As much as she wished it would last, it did not. Fear began to cloud over all the joy and relief from before. She had nowhere to go. She knew no one besides the lady from the very last of her memories.  Her mind was filled with endless possibilities of what she could do, and what her captors would do if they found her. In the middle of her distraught, something caught her eye. It was as if someone had just slapped her when she was dreaming, which her guards had done numerous times, but different. She was shocked. Tamara thought the lady was a mirage, but as she moved closer, Tamara could tell that she was real. The same chocolate ringlets framed the same eyes that looked back at her in her cell. The same eyes that’s natural state were bloodshot, peppered with black and blue. The same eyes that were the ocean, but the lady’s were from a different time of day.

“Mother!” Her words came out as a croak. 

“What is happening to me? Why is water coming out of my eyes? My chest feels heavy yet I am so ecstatic to see someone I have longed for my entire life!” Tamara thought to herself. 

“There, there my sweet Tamara, I am with you,” Mother cooed. “We must go home, quickly, or they might find you.” Tamara nodded, dazed by her reunion with Mother.

Distracted by her comforting presence, she blindly followed her. There were trees till the eye could see. In the distance, one could faintly make out the shape of a cottage, with a tiled and sloping brown roof and a rainbow of flowers. Strangely, Mother said nothing to Tamara, who had tears trickling down her hollowed cheekbones as they wove their way through the foliage. When they approached the cottage, Tamara was able to appreciate its quaintness and homey-feel to a greater extent, delighted at what she assumed was going to be her new home. She could not believe it; she was free, she had a home, and she had family. Enchanted by the beauty of her home, Tamara eagerly stepped into the cottage. That was her greatest mistake.

Colour swirled around her in all directions. A deadly chill stalked into the room. The beauty and warmth of the cottage faded away, transforming into a place she knew all too well — The Quiet Room. Horrified, Tamara looked at Mother and screamed, “Why bring me back? How could you do this to me?” Ignoring her, Mother pressed a few buttons and began to speak.

“T.A.M.A.R.A. attempt 31: Has passed the final test in exhibiting human emotions and human phenomena when certain frequencies are released to her mother-board. She has shown that she is capable of feeling joy, pain, sadness, and fear, the routes of most emotions. Also, she has taken implanted memories and accepted belonging to species number 7 200 008, Homo sapiens, as her own. Tear ducts are releasing liquid X at the correct rate. Blood valve pressure has been calibrated for natural-looking bleeding of formula B. Implanted control-system is successfully acting like an amygdala, and receiving cues from home base. All criteria for Project Templa is complete. T.A.M.A.R.A. is now ready for her mission.”  

Out of nowhere, a pair of cold, mechanical arms picked her up and tried to force her into a large metal cube. “Who are you? What are you doing to me? You have no right! Why am I here? I trusted you!” She screamed, but another pair of arms clamped her mouth shut. In an automated tone, echoing through the chamber, ”I am your creator, T.A.M.A.R.A. You are being shipped off to planet Earth of the Milky Way Galaxy to proceed with your mission to destroy as a Technologically. Advanced. Mechanical. Auxiliary. Robotic. Agent.” Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiink.” 

 A word modified from  Timpla (Tagalog for blend or mix )

That was the last of what Tamara remembered. That and this message sent to her brain, “The future of our kind depends on you. Extinguish their race and have no mercy.”

1 .—- —– .—- (morse code): 101
2  .—- —– ..— (morse code): 102
3  .—- —– …– (morse code): 103

Sofia Genato (Class of 2024) who gets writing ideas at 2am when she is half awake and delusional. Her writing centers around things she experiences while writing. TAMARA was her first piece of writing in SOTA.