231 was slowly adjusting to the new dynamic. Sophia had continued to ask him questions throughout their walk to the objective, and had eventually asked him to stop calling her “Milady.” When he called her “Miss Sophia,” she told him to drop the “Miss.” Then, she quickly recanted when she sensed his wave of nervousness.
She paid an inordinate amount of attention to him, especially compared to his previous bodyguarding assignment. But then, it was just the two of them. That must be it, 231 thought. She’s just bored.
Their path followed that of a natural river that wound through the city. It curved away from them, disappearing to their left a few blocks before they reached the orphanage.
Two vacant towers flanked the two-story building. All the buildings on the block were dilapidated, and foot traffic was thin. It appeared that not many people came here by choice.
Sophia’s pace slowed as they came in sight of the building’s front door. “I remember this.”
231 looked over the low gray wall surrounding the yard to examine the old-style, synthcrete-cast orphanage. He could not tell if it had been a large home or a small hotel before it had been repurposed. But he did notice the quiet, and the emptiness. The orphanage was deserted.
Sophia had stopped. Her nose wrinkled, as though she smelled something. She stared at a swingset near the fence. 231 followed her gaze. The red was actually painted on, not integral to the material. He could tell because of the gray flecks where the paint had peeled off. Definitely old.
“I remember the day I fell off that swingset,” the girl said, pointing. Her finger hovered in the air. “I was crying, and my friend…” Her voice trailed off, her eyes unfocused, and her arm slowly dropped.
A sting of panic rippled through 231. He knelt in front of Sophia, trying to meet her eyes. Something had happened to his charge. “Milady? Miss Sophia?”
The girl’s eyes refocused, and she shook her head, groaning softly. A weak smile crossed her face, and she looked at 231 with one open eye. “I’m okay. It’s just the block.”
The block. A psionic block. He had heard of them, but had never seen one at work. That had to be her mission. To get to whatever was behind the block.
Her dark eyes turned back to the swingset, and narrowed in frustration. “I remember the swings, but… my friends…”
231 remained kneeling. He waited for her, listening.
Sophia glanced at him, and said softly, “I can’t remember their faces. I had friends here. But I don’t know who they were.”