It had been seven years, three months, and three days since Elo first met Tomas, and the same span plus 45 minutes since he learned the nature of their relationship. Tomas never met Elo, never knew Elo, never knew anything, really, except for misery. While Elo consistently worked every single day of the week, his eight-hour shift was anything but consistent: evenings, mornings, afternoons, the unsettling darkness between evening and morning. He entered the control room and followed the task list set to the minute, sometimes waves of blood-curdling screams, sometimes showers of freezing water, sometimes mechanoids designed to replicate the movement of small insects descending on the blindfolded and bound Tomas. Elo wasn’t able to rest for more than 45 minutes until five years into the assignment, and it took another year and a half to sleep any length without jerking awake in terror; he understood that this was necessary for the sake of his community, the lone civilization within a country besieged by war and famine and unspeakable horrors, but more than once a week he wondered if he was the victim who must suffer for peace, rather than the child who had never known anything other than pain and suffering.
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