When Ingrid awoke, the first thing she noticed was the warm light seeping from the window. The second she noticed was her Limiter, Leo, still asleep and kneeling at the edge of her bed. She reached out to stroke his hair, and noticed the third thing: Her body ached all over. Her outstretched hand fell to the sheets, halfway there, with only the strength to move a single muscle. Still, as she lay there in quiet contemplation, that single muscle she moved was the one letting her smile.
As her surroundings came into focus, she pushed that rare smile back down inwards. "That's right," she thought to herself. "This must be a hospital bed." Memories of last night's Nova incursion returned, so vivid they nearly overpowered the insubstantial whiteness of the hospital room. A room where everything seemed far-away, like the muffled roar that..
"Oh, wait. That's just some commotion in the hallway." Just as Ingrid thought that, the door flew open, letting that roar in.
"...you can't keep me anymore! I have a right to this!"
With great effort, Ingrid moved her head to look. A woman she'd never seen was charging into the room, followed by the Student Council President, Chiffon Fairchild.
"She's not any condition for an interview right now!...her wounds were especially severe, and she's still..."
"Yeah, sure. No time for the 'debriefing' yet, is it? Like hell I'll let some team of handlers get in the way of my..."
With even greater effort, Ingrid rose her hand. "I'm in acceptable condition to speak. Just please, be quiet."
The unknown woman's roving gaze finally fell on the Pandora. "...quiet?"
Ingrid twitched her fallen hand, and nodded to the side. "You'll wake up my Limiter."
The woman's look changed to one of confusion. She'd come here expecting lots of things, but not a tender scene like this. "Ah, yes, of course. Pardon my rudeness. Please, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Georgia Mills. I'm a representative from World Amnesty, serving as a sanctioned inspector of potential human rights abuses..."
The inspector stared at Ingrid expectantly. However, Ingrid's face remained impassively silent.
Chiffon, with a strained smile, broke that silence. "She would like to interview you in regards to potential human rights abuses at West Genetics. I am obliged to inform you that anything you say to her will be kept strictly confidential and not affect your academic standing. I am merely present in the role of a guide, and will leave the room whenever you ask."
"It's fine." Ingrid stiffly waved the formalities away. The inspector distrustfully glanced at Chiffon before continuing.
"In that case, I'll begin my interview. I have some questions about the school-wide ranking contests...those...what do you call them..."?"
"Carnivals," Chiffon added.
"Yes, those 'Carnivals.' While participating in one, have you ever been offered a pain blocking agent, such as a TRPV1-inhibitor?"
"No," Ingrid replied swiftly.
"Have you ever asked for one?"
"And why not?"
Ingrid fell silent again, for even longer than before. As the inspector uncomfortably turned to Chiffon, she offered up, as a guide, the textbook answer.
"It's school policy not to use pain blocking agents, to create conditions as close as possible to real combat situations."
"But aren't pain blockers ubiquitous in all modern militaries?"
"In most conventional forces, yes, but they're not used by Pandora."
"And why is that? Why must girls such as yourself live with such excruciating pain?" The inspector kept on trying to have a conversation with Ingrid. Althouugh only Chiffon answered her questions.
"The neuro-transmitters used by Pandora are incompatible with..."
"...I don't need the official boilerplate! I want to hear what this girl thinks herself!...It's completely inhumane to force such absurd pain on these girls, right?" The inspector gestured wildly, before remembering that Leo was still sleeping. "..well?" she added, quieter but pointedly.
Ingrid kept just as silent, her back turned to the two.
"Hmm. I suppose that's to be expected. Most definitely signs of PTSD."
"I wonder," Chiffon added politely. The inspector turned her head at this, having given up on Ingrid's cooperation. If the wounded Pandora wouldn't reaffirm her beliefs, she'd have to do so herself.
"Are all the girls like this?"
"We actually have a remarkably low rate of..."
"What is 'inhumane'?"
The inspector turned back with surprise. Having conducted her interview with the back of Ingrid's head, she had been spared the Pandora's piercing gaze. But now, those unflinching eyes met her dead on. She gulped and, smiling, began to speak her own boilerplate.
"Well, the treatment of Pandora clearly violates HR 2022/65. The Pandora system unfairly imposes disproportional suffering on a small population, which means that..."
The inspector continued on pressingly. Ingrid had meant to let the woman finish, but eventually realized she never would. "That sacrifice is a steep cost. But more than anything else, it carries a great reward. What else would you sacrifice? The lives of the innocents, lost to Nova incursion?" Ingrid caught herself before her voice rose any louder. Gently, she stroked Leo's hair. After all, his own parents lost their lives to...
"Well...certainly, I admit that. But you more than anyone else must realize how inhumane it is to let young girls do this!"
Ingrid cocked her head. "No matter what's "inhumane"...what does it mean to be 'human'? To sacrifice oneself for the benefit of many...our entire civilization is based on such principle of order. Is it not?"
"One of my closest comrades was killed by the Nova. But, as she lay in my arms dying, she was smiling. That smile..." Ingrid closed her eyes, and thought of words she'd once heard herself. That smile...was from having upheld the ideals of a Pandora. Ingrid returned her piercing gaze to the inspector, then let it drift downwards. "I'm no expert on what's inhumane. But I do know," she said while patting Leo's head, "that to me, the most inhumane thing would be keeping me off the front lines."
The inspector gaped in confusion. She shook her head and turned for the door, trying to hide that confusion away. "Well. I think that's enough for this interview." Chiffon cast a polite smile back, before following the huffing inspector out into the hallway. Ingrid caught her last fading words... "Bring me to that Ganessa girl...she'll be much more promising..."
Alone again with Leo, Ingrid watched as he stirred in his sleep. "Still sleeping through all that...you must have really worn yourself out with that final Wide-Range...ah?" Still sleeping, the boy had somehow nuzzled up to her side. She indulged herself in another rare smile, quietly muttering to the window...something about the "right to give."