In the not-too-distant future, a drug is invented that induces growth in every organic thing that absorbs it - except human males. This is a story of a man living roughly one hundred years later - when the male gender has become nothing more than a myth, and women stand over 250 feet tall.
Categories: New World Order
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April 01 2006 Updated:
April 01 2006
1. Prologue: The Next Big Thing by NFalc
2. 1: The Survivor by NFalc
3. 2: Kyra by NFalc
4. 3: The Guest by NFalc
5. 4: The Hunt by NFalc
6. 5: The Plant by NFalc
7. 6: Raymond by NFalc
8. 7: The Overseer by NFalc
9. 8: A Deal by NFalc
10. 9: Spies by NFalc
11. 10: Proving Grounds by NFalc
12. 11: Personal by NFalc
13. 12: The Prison by NFalc
14. 13: Truthseekers by NFalc
15. 14: Mary by NFalc
16. 15: Retribution by NFalc
17. 16: Calm Before The Storm by NFalc
18. 17: Sins by NFalc
19. 18: Dawn by NFalc
Prologue: The Next Big Thing by NFalc
The prologue originally appeared as a separate short story with the same title.
A Man Of His Time
The Next Big Thing
Source: The Syringe
July 20, 20##
Title: "P-141 Authorized"
...use of the artificial hormone named P-141 has been approved by the FDA for use in limited doses for the purpose of encouraging teenage growth in subjects with slowed growth cycles. P-141 has already been licensed for use by several leading pharmaceutical companies, including AstralZenergy and Pfisor, who plan to begin production immediately on drugs incorporating the new hormone. AstralZenergy recently copyrighted the name "GroMax", and Pfisor has copyrighted "Excor", leading to speculation over what these new pharmaceuticals will be named.
It has been rumored that both AZ and Pfisor are lobbying to approve P-141 for more lenient, recreational use, although it is unlikely such a product would become available to the general market.
P-141 produces a growth response in its subject which causes said subject to expand proportionately across the entire body, thus removing risk of damage to interior organs. It is notable that the drug has only been approved in extremely low doses, as higher levels of treatment may produce unpredictable results. P-141 has also shown to be markedly less effective in males as opposed to females.
November 8, 20##
Title: "Growth Drugs Latest Pharmaceutical Craze?"
Competition has been heating up between AstralZenergy and Pfisor over their new growth-related drugs, which have proved immensely popular among teenage girls looking to gain height. GroMax and Excor's entry into the field was accompanied by a marketing blitz even greater than that of the erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs of the early 00's, and the major success of the drugs, which retail at over $5,000 per treatment, have eliminated virtually all other pharmaceutical competition.
Most buyers of the drug have expressed satisfaction with the results, saying they experience a 10% growth, not just in height, but in every dimension. As of late, there have been several recent sightings of girls who seem to be on either Excor or GroMax, who have supermodel stature and Amazonian proportions. The G-girls, as they have come to be called, also have noticeably clearer skin and more womanly figures.
Both companies have expressed interest in creating recreational versions with possible higher doses of P-141, the active ingredient in the drug. The FDA is currently in the approval process for these requests, and is expected to come to a decision within the next month.
Source: Reader's Compendium
December 2, 20##
Title: "I Dated A G-Girl"
...Alyssa was actually larger than most G-Girls at 6'5", which made it very intimidating to introduce myself to her. Still, after having a couple of drinks at a party, I felt comfortable enough to try and talk with her. Now, I'm no slouch in the looks department, but Alyssa was downright gorgeous, with multi-tonal dark hair and full lips, as well as an excellent figure. All of the above explain why I fumbled for words at first. Fortunately, Alyssa was very confident and did a lot of the talking, and I found out we had a lot in common.
Alyssa actually led me into a room, pulling me forcefully in with her. It might have been the extra eight inches she had on me, but Alyssa was boisterous, assured and more than willing to take the initiative. Our first kiss was something different than anything I had experienced before, more erotic than anything before it. She knew what she was doing, and almost overpowered me. It was a very unique sensation...
...everyday after school I'd meet with Alyssa. Sometimes we would go to a movie, or hang with some of her friends, but more often than not, it was just me and her at her house. She said she liked to have me all to herself...
...my friends staged an intervention at one point, claiming that they hadn't seen me for months, all I had done was see Alyssa. I denied it then, defended myself by saying that I was truly in love and they should just accept that I had found someone. Still, the doubt had been placed in me, and soon after the thought began to nag at me. Was Alyssa controlling me? It was the beginning of the end...
...I finally got up the nerve to confront Alyssa about her dominating position in our relationship. It felt partially like a way to take back my life, but it also seemed a way of reclaiming my manhood. Honestly, I felt emasculated.
Alyssa, however, refused to hear my plea, or even understand where I was coming from. She instantly grew livid with rage, then grabbed me forcefully and flung me to the floor. I received the beating of my life at her giant hands. She always had been stronger that me, but now she was showing it, violently. I was to be black and blue in several areas by the next day.
She then helped me to my feet, and hugged me, her arms completely enveloping me. It was a complete mood swing, from angry and terrifying to warm and comforting. I didn't know what to think. But Alyssa told me exactly what she expected of me.
"Now don't go doing anything foolish like that again," she said in the same, comforting tone, almost motherly. "Or else I'd have to get physical again, and maybe in a public place."
The thought of the humiliation quickly made me obedient...
...their discovery came after three months of mental torture, nervousness and worry over what Alyssa could or would do to me if I messed up. My parents, however, are both lawyers, and they quickly found a good solution. They went to court, which implemented a twenty-five yard restraining order, with severe legal penalties on Alyssa if she broke it. I saw her crying after the trial, and I knew her feelings had been hurt. But this was the only way for me to break free...
...P-141 needs to be outlawed. I think it was responsible for Alyssa's strange temperament, not to mention how it changes the balance of equality between genders. Please, believe me, P-141 may cause great harm to our society. I know, I experienced its effects myself.
Source: Present Magazine
Date: January 4, 20#%
Title: "Recreational Growth Drugs Approved"
In a controversial and delayed decision, the FDA approved the use of P-141, the growth agent, in drugs labeled for "Recreational Use By Prescription". The recreational versions of these drugs have actually been allowed to utilize greater quantities of P-141 than the original growth drugs, GroMax and Excor contained. This has been taken to mean that GroMax and Excor are permitted to use the new, increased dosage in their products.
Both of the companies behind those products announced today that they would be creating new product lines featuring a variant strain of P-141 that will produce the same effects as GroMax and Excor, but with higher levels of growth over a temporary span of time. In an interesting move, this new strain has already been pre-approved by the FDA.
P-141 is known to create clearer skin and trimmer figures for users, side-effects which have reportedly increased with higher dosage.
Stars Lauren Bellestre and Megan Garnette, the latter best known for her position as frontwoman for the band "The Gems", have both expressed interest in using the new temporary drugs. Ms. Garnette even went so far as to suggest that she might use it during concerts. "It would make it so everyone could see me, not just the people in the front row. And think about how many people in the audience I could high-five at once!" said the enthusiastic singer.
Source: Muse Radio
Date: March 21, 20#%
Title: "Oscar Pre-Show"
S: "Well John, it's a fabulous night for the red carpet, with lots of fabulous celebrities and great outfits. One 'growing' trend tonight has been the greater number of G-celebrities, the tallest we've seen so far being seven foot six! Here comes Jade Cathstone, she looks like she's about seven foot even... and she's brought some great arm candy with her, actor Michael Tate, who's five eight. He's short, but such a hottie. [giggle] He only comes up to her chest, barely... Wait, there's some big cheers coming from the crowd, someone's coming down the carpet..."
[Ten second pause]
J: "Shannon? Shannon, are you still with us? Who's just arrived?"
[Five second pause]
S: "Ohmigod, John, you're not going to believe this... It's Lauren Bellestre, star of "Cathawk", with her beau Tom Woodman. But - she's twenty-five feet tall!"
J: "Wait, Shannon, did I hear you correctly, she's - twenty-five feet tall?!"
[sound of huge footsteps]
S: "Yes, John. It is sooo cute, Tom can barely keep up, he's only up to her mid-thigh... And he looks kind of nervous. Then again, her feet ARE three feet long, so it would probably hurt if she stepped on him. Here she comes - LAUREN! LAUREN, DOWN HERE. MUSE RADIO! CAN I GET AN INTERVIEW?"
L: "Hello Muse Radio. This is Lauren Bellestre, and I'm currently crouching just to speak into your tiny microphone."
S: "Lauren, can you tell us how you got so big?"
L: "It's a little shot called Proheight, and it'll be available this summer to the general public. For one hundred thou. But it's worth it, this stuff is even better than Botox. I've never felt so confident, so beautiful. Now, sugar, I've got to get back to making my big entrance. I hope I fit in the theater..."
[huge footsteps walking away]
S: "Wait, Tom, can you tell us what it's like to be around Lauren when she's so huge?"
T: "Well, it's a little intimidating, but Lauren is even more beautiful at this size than before. She's big, and I like it."
S: "You heard it here first, ladies and gents! Proheight will make you twenty-five feet tall, and Tom Woodman likes big girls! This is Shannon Stace, back to you John."
Source: Arena Magazine
Date: July 19, 20#%
Title: "The Gems, Live and Gigantic"
Megan Garnette, lead singer of the Gems, had stage presence even before she started using RightSize. Now, she positively dominates the massive arenas her band is playing on their summer tour. At fifty feet, she practically fills the playing field.
Garnette's sheer size poses problems for those in the front rows, who are only able to see up to her breasts, even when they crane their necks. When looking forward, it's easiest to see Garnette's five-foot-long sandaled feet, which are sure to create some new fetishistic fans for the Gems' music.
What would usually be cliche stage antics turn thrilling when performed by the giant Megan. When she steps off stage to wade into the mosh pit, people frantically scurry aside to make room, although she does seem to be careful about where she steps. It's worth noting that all people who enter the mosh pit area have to sign a release saying that they won't sue the concert managers, band or venue.
Garnette often crouches and leans forward until she's almost lying down, so she can sing her lyrics into the crowd. This sends huge blasts of sound and breath over the audience, who get a close-up view of her mouth. This is both awe-inspiring and somewhat terrifying, particularly on some of the angrier numbers played. Garnette's hair often drapes around her head around this moment, causing her hair to fall onto the crowd. Some more adventurous fans tried to hold onto the hair as it lifted away, one or two being actually successful. Megan quickly discovered these, however, placed them in her palm and dropped them carefully into the mosh pit.
Most amazing, however, is when Garnette gives the crowd high-fives. She passes her hand fairly quickly just over the audience's heads, giving everyone enough time to slap, and causing this reviewer to sit down in fear for his own safety.
Truly, the added size makes the concert more exciting, although it does take some attention away from the music...
Source: Natural Life Magazine
Date: August 29, 20#%
Title: "P-141 In Nature?"
Trace amounts of the growth agent P-141, used in products such as GroMax, Proheight, RightSize and Excor, have been found in the Hudson River and surrounding environs. Investigations have confirmed that there were no leaks of the drug into the river, as neither AstralZenergy nor Pfisor have plants along or near the river.
Both plant and animal life among the areas seem to be unharmed, except for a small spike in average size...
Source: Farmer's Magazine
Date: September 19, 20#%
Title: "New Wave For Plant Growth"
...new products such as Giplant allow farmers to grow plants up to five times larger than their typical size. Giplant has proven effective on nearly every type of food crop, and plans are already being set in motion to use the giant plants for relief efforts, as well as general sale.
There has been some protest from certain farmers, particularly those who own organic farms, as to the use of Giplant, which they argue creates unfair competition, as well as unsafe produce...
Date: October 2, 20#%
Title: "Singer's Growth Found Permanent"
...had been taking RightSize throughout the tour, usually every week. Garnette was using two doses of the medicine, in order to grow to fifty feet as opposed to thirty-five, which she deemed "too average."
Two weeks have passed since the end of the tour, twice the time that it is supposed to take RightSize to filter out of the body. However, as opposed to returning to her normal size, Garnette found herself still growing, until she stabilized at sixty-two feet.
Garnette seemed sobered by the experience. "I don't know if I'll ever be normal-sized again. It looks like now I'll just have to wait, and adjust."
Pfisor insisted that since Garnette had misused the drug, she could not sue, nor were the results equivalent to that of most RightSize users. "This was a freak incident," assured a Pfisor representative. "Users who follow the directions for use will have satisfactory results with RightSize. We are currently working on aiding Ms. Garnette, and hold out hope for her condition either finishing or being cured."
Garnette is currently building a home to her new scale, to house her and her fiance Mark Stratsum of The Semis...
Source: Scientist Magazine
Date: November 11, 20#%
Title: "P-141 Transmissible Through Bodily Fluids"
...many of the studies produced results that showed surprisingly high levels of transfer via any bodily fluid, including saliva. P-141 bonds tightly to the R-19 receptor on b-Protein 119. This protein is found in most organic life, except in certain species. Male humans have b-Protein 119, but their model for the R-19 receptor is different, making P-141 unable to bind to them...
...more distressing is the discovery that P-141 has a half-life of 1249 years, and is able to easily contaminate soil and water. If P-141 continues to spread, the result could be greatly increased growth in any number of species, including our own...
Source: Diversion Magazine
Date: February 22, 20#&
Title: "Lauren Bellestre Pregnant"
...rumors had been spreading after a large Motherwear truck was seen pulling into the sixty-seven foot starlet's home in Beverly Hills. Husband Barry Afford kept quiet when questioned about Lauren's possible pregnancy, but today Bellestre's agent confirmed that she was indeed carrying a child, and had been for four months.
"Lauren will just be avoiding work for the next few months, in order to ensure the child's safety," the agent stated. There has been much speculation about the size of the child she's carrying, and whether it will take after the mother or father.
Source: Associated Media
Date: April 8, 20#&
Title: "Garnette Trial Set For October"
...infamous case involving the smothering of husband Mark Stratsum, who died of oxygen loss. Garnette claimed it was an accident, tearfully saying, "Mark and I were just engaging in normal - activities, when I realized he wasn't moving. I immediately checked for breathing, and did everything I could to try and save him... It just didn't work..."
Garnette is expected to be charged with manslaughter in the third degree.
Date: July 15, 20#&
Title: "Bellestre Baby Born"
...the infant is said to weigh 208 pounds, about normal given its height of 8' 2". It has been confirmed to be a baby girl, named Amy.
Asked about the difficult prospect of raising such a child, father Afford said, "We've hired a team of trained handlers to take care of Amy, and her mother will also be very involved with her."...
Source: The Syringe
Date: September 15, 20#&
Title: "Op-Ed: Stop P-141"
P-141, the so-called "growth agent" has been used in everything now from beauty products to growth formulas, and is even present in much of our food stock. Despite much evidence pointing to the potential negative results of such large amounts of P-141 present all around us, the government has continued to allow it to spread unchecked.
This dangerous chemical has the potential to spread like wildfire through our ecosystem, permanently altering any species it encounters. P-141 has proven to be transmissible from mother to child, and babies born to height-enhanced mothers are statistically more likely to be female. Already, the median height of human females has skyrocketed. Two years ago it was 5'7", today it is 10'5". Numerous celebrities are far larger than that. If growth like this continues unchecked, not only will it severely affect our way of life, it will also permanently alter reproduction patterns. Giant plant and animal species will take over the ecosystem, and begin to pose major threats to normal-sized humans.
Our entire existence is at risk, yet no one seems to acknowledge it. The time to act is now, before the damage becomes any worse. P-141 must be stopped, before it destroys us all.
A Man Of His Time
You are the last of your kind out here.
Thoughts like these will sneak up behind you, whisper in your ear, strangle you with the incessant, irreconcilable knowledge of the truth. You'll be scavenging your next meal somewhere, or checking the safety of tonight's shelter, when this thought blindsides you, swiftly knocking the wind out of you like a punch to the stomach.
You are alone.
These thoughts will overwhelm you unless you find something to distract you. That's where survival comes in. It's hard to reflect on loneliness when you've got an empty stomach. Searching for food, shelter, water: this is how you hold off the pain.
It gets really difficult when night falls. There I am, lying under my lean-to of fallen sheetrock, and suddenly there are no distractions. I come face to face with the horror of my existence; an insect living day to day, scrounging for my necessities, with no companions. Night after night, I break down again. The sobs claw their way out of me, no matter how hard I try to keep them down. The horrible thoughts run round my head in circles, until there's no more sense in living.
Every night, I am so close to the edge. The thoughts drag me further and further towards it. You are alone. You are pathetic. You are going to die. You might as well end it now.
The only comfort I have is that exhaustion will eventually bring me to sleep. But that's really no comfort at all.
I hear loud, hoarse cries. Above me, the constant pounding of running feet. The people up there are panicking, rushing for the city exits. The screams continue, insistent and unending.
I take my head out of my hands, look at the dusty basement around me. There's a small horizontal window at the top of one wall. I push a chair against it and climb up. People are rushing past, although all I can see of them are their legs. Some are holding the hands of young boys, not much older than I.
One man is running in the opposite direction.
I run up the basement stairs, feeling guilt and dread. "Stay here, Adam," he said. But I can't, I won't...
Then I'm there, in the street, the crowds jostling past me. I look for the man but he's gone, vanished into the mass of running people. I look up.
There, suspended in the sky, over the small houses and buildings, is something huge. I've never seen anything like it before. Not this close. It's not allowed past the border...
A red leather sole as thick as a billboard is high. Five huge, pale monsters on top of it, their heads painted a deep scarlet. An ankle that is reminiscent of buildings, curved and carved out of ivory. There is some unearthly deity hanging above us all, and it is about to fall.
The foot lowers, smashing through the buildings below it, with unstoppable force. A cloud of dust rises instantly from the point of impact. It's racing towards me, and I know it will destroy anything in its path.
I sit up quickly, hand on my forehead, wiping the sweat off my brow. I feel cold, and the sweat has made the rags I sleep on damp. Every one of my muscles is sore. My joints feel stiff. This is how I wake up every day.
There's the familiar growl of my stomach as I get up. I quickly bundle up my makeshift bedding, tying into a knapsack which I can sling over my shoulder and carry things in. Then I take a quick glance outside the shelter to make sure nothing's waiting for me when I leave, and finding the coast clear, head out.
I've come from the south of here, and the east and west look familiar, so I'll be heading north today. I'm not sure if there's something I'm looking for, or if I'm just wandering aimlessly. Either way, I don't like seeing the same scenery twice.
I keep my wits about me as I walk along the plains of compressed rubble and garbage. The world that I live in is one massive graveyard for a different way of life. Every building that once stood here has collapsed, and eroded into becoming part of the ground, or is simply a metal skeleton, the hollow remains of what once was. It's no wonder I'm so morbid, when there's constant evidence of death around me.
As I descend into a small valley, I hear a noise, and stop dead in my tracks. Remain still and silent. It's probably nothing, but it never hurts to be sure. I'm not alone in this place, not in the strictest sense of the word. There are insects that feed on the rotting food supplies still present after all these years. There are larger creatures that feed on the insects. Then there are the giant ones, who come looking for artifacts or documents. The only thing we have in common is that we're all scavengers.
A minute has passed and there's no further sound. I don't see any movement when I look around. Nothing's there. I continue on my way, walking at a slightly faster pace. I overestimated my ability to go without food, and as such I'm starting to get very hungry. There's a noticeable shake in my step, but I ignore it. No choices available, all there is to do is press on.
After about an hour or so of traveling, I feel like I'll keel over if I don't get some food. There's a town to my left, and I stumble blindly towards it. It's good luck that there's a food mart right at the edge of the place. I summon the last of my strength and break down the rotting back door. Clawing my way over to the shelves, I tear open some of the packages and cram food into my mouth, before I fall to the floor, malnourished and exhausted.
It takes me a few minutes to get back on my feet. My blood sugar starts surging back up, and I slowly begin to feel better. There's still a gnawing hunger, but it's calmed enough to allow me to keep traveling. I grab a few more sealed packs of food and shove them in my knapsack. It never hurts to have some supplies to fall back on. Then I leave the shop through the front door.
What I see brings up several emotions, none of them pleasant.
First: Disbelief. This can't be. Second: Incomprehension. How is this happening? Third: Anger. I swore I'd never come back here. Fourth: Bitterness. How ironic.
Ten years I traveled, and it must have been in one big circle.
It's all there in front of me, the landmarks I need to reconstruct it in my mind. Main Street standing whole again before me. The theater. The library. My old school building. All rubble now. The visions are so clear.
This was once a living, breathing place. This was my home. Now it's just rusted steel frames and crumbling concrete. Dead, like everything else I see. I no longer have any home at all.
Some part of me wants to go over the place with a fine-tooth comb. Check every little crevice. Maybe I was wrong. Logic tells me it's unrealistic. If there were survivors, they would have left this place long ago. The dead will only have left bones, perhaps even less. But I want to do it anyway. Another part of me wants to run as fast as my legs can carry me. North, east, west, south, wherever as long as it's away from here. Take me away to nowhere.
I sit on a long metal girder and let the conflict grow inside of me. No thought, just a great bubble of confusion growing inside of me. Then it evaporates, leaving nothing but a hollow space.
I pick up a shard of glass on the ground, and put it to my neck. It's cold and sharp. I feel a slight prickling sensation where it touches the skin. Your whole existence is suffering, the thoughts whisper. You have no reason to live. You have no purpose. End it. End it now.
Then I hear the rumbling.
I drop the glass and run, feet flying under me, adrenaline coursing through my veins. When I feel I've gotten a safe distance, I dive behind a fallen sheet of metal siding. It's a suitable hiding place.
I peer out from behind the metal and look at the giantess just beyond. She's about half a mile away by my estimate, but coming towards me. Her steps are careful, calculated, those of a skilled Recoverer. They have to be careful where they step, or they could accidentally crush a priceless artifact.
It takes me a moment to realize that she's beautiful. Her curves are very full, although her waist is slim. She has smooth tan skin which seems to have some sort of inner light shining just below the surface. Her eyes are hazel. She looks like she could be my age.
I feel the inconvenient stiffness occurring in me again, like it has before. It makes it difficult to run, although it does feel pleasant. She's peering down now, her shoulder-length black hair falling about her face. For a second, I've forgotten about safety, about survival, about guilt. She's all I focus on.
There's another giant behind her. She moves up slowly as well. This one is somewhat older, although her skin is the same natural tan. Her eyes are dark as opposed to hazel, her complexion darker as well. But overall, they look somewhat similar. Siblings, or mother and daughter. I couldn't tell which.
They take out huge metal appliances, carefully sifting over the wreckage of the city. For a second, I consider running out into the open, flailing my arms, shouting at the top of my voice. But I control myself. What if they're hostile? Think I'm an insect? Crush me without another thought? The thought of the younger one's foot coming down on me, the red sandal pressing down, my bones snapping, my organs exploding...
Something suddenly causes my brain to shift gears entirely. Red sandals. Her shoes are red. I had a flash of an image: a red shoe poised above me, ready to destroy the city...
This wasn't her. The foot in the dream was pale, not tan. But a rapid chain of thoughts set off in my head.
A woman had destroyed my city. I didn't know if she had any particular reason for it, or what she looked like beyond her foot, or anything about her. All I knew was she had destroyed my home and killed everyone I knew. I had to find her.
The idea was more than a little crazy. I'd have to find a way to get into the land of the giants (wherever that was), stay alive, avoid capture, find out who the woman was, and make my way to her. None of these would be particularly easy, given that I was the equivalent of under two inches tall to them.
But I had a purpose now. A reason to live. The whispers were gone. I wondered why I hadn't thought of this before. My life had become one endless pattern, surviving during the day, enduring nightmares every night, find food, shelter, water, day in and day out. It was a spiraling path towards self-destruction. The only way I would ever be able to escape these thoughts would be to find my enemy.
I already know what the first step is. Before my better judgment can kick in, I'm running, dashing between cover, towards the giantesses. I'm keeping myself fairly low and pretty well hidden, but I still am feeling waves of fear and nausea. They're so omnipresent, so damn huge. Like towering skyscrapers in the middle of the plains. You can't not look at them.
I'm getting close now, almost in the shadow of the younger woman. I've never been so near to them. It's awe-inspiring. I get ready to break for my next cover -
Her gigantic tan foot lifts off the ground, the red foam sandal dangling slightly just beneath her toes. It's heading straight towards me. It's going to smash right into me. I'm going to die.
The red foam passes just a foot over my head. I hear the colossal booming as she places her foot gently on the ground. Then I crouch beneath my cover and come very close to tears. She nearly killed me. Without even knowing it, she nearly killed me! I turn and look over my shoulder at the calves towering over me, up past her thighs until I'm looking directly upwards at her crotch. If she was wearing a dress, I'd be able to see straight into - well, I didn't know quite what into. Some part of me is hungering to find out what's between those well-toned thighs. Despite the near-death incident I just had, I'm suddenly rock hard.
Bad timing. The other foot is on the rise, and passing just above the ground again, although thankfully far away from me. Then I realize that while I was staring at her, I was slowly wasting my chance at getting out of the junkyard.
I dash towards her foot, then stop suddenly. Think logically, Adam. How are you going to hitch a ride on a sandal without her noticing? I looked over to my right and saw the slightly older one not too far from me. My eyes gravitated towards her huge high heels. They were an odd sort, with an extra sole flat on the ground, the shoe bed suspended above it. I figured I could stand on the ground sole and keep myself below the shoe bed, and get an easy ride out.
I set off again, bobbing and weaving between cover as I go. So far so good. They haven't noticed me. Then I hear a tremendous sound. It's so loud that it takes me a moment to recognize what it is - a voice.
"Sable," the young one says, her voice two hundred feet above me and yet ringing loud and clear through my ears. "I thought I just saw something move." Please don't let it be me, please don't let it be me...
"Kyra," says the slightly older, "I really don't need you bothering me about a bug right now."
"It wasn't a bug!" says Kyra somewhat petulantly. "It looked more like... like a human. A very little one.
I stare up at Sable, craning my neck and trying to gauge her reaction. Far above me, she lifts an eyebrow. "A man?"
"Yeah," Kyra answers in an almost guilty tone of voice.
"Don't be silly," Sable scoffs. "You know there aren't any men left. The last of them were wiped out five years ago." My blood runs cold. It can't be true. I couldn't be the last one...
"Well, you never know, there have been sightings..."
"Just get back to work," says Sable dismissively.
I breathe a sigh of relief that the suspicion was gone. Kyra turns and resumes her half-crouch, gazing intently at the ground below her. I file what I'd just heard away for thinking later. I can't focus on it now, I've got a task at hand.
Sable's black high heels are just a few hundred yards away. I idly wonder if I could dash straight across - I don't want to waste any more time, for if she moves on I would be stranded. The distance is a little too far to sprint, so I decide to simply weave my way around cover again, but faster than before. Kyra's back is turned, so she has no chance of spotting me. And Sable seems to be scanning a different patch of ground. So I run for it.
I'm twenty feet from the sole when a shadow falls over me. A very large one. There's a great intake of air above. I slowly turn, dreading what I may see.
It's her hand, each gracefully splayed finger the size and girth of a tree trunk, the back of it twice my height and even wider than that. It terrifies me, but not as much as what I could've seen. I dash straight under the shoe, peeking out just a little to see what's going on.
"See something, Sable?" Kyra taunts.
"Probably just an insect or rodent." It's fortunate for me that she says that, but it still hurts my pride.
I quickly adjust my position. The thick plastic sole of the shoe is below me (along with the designer label), and just inches above my head is the leather of the foot bed. I find it oddly arousing to think that there's just a few inches of material between me and the sole of her foot. I know it's also highly dangerous - if she puts her foot down too hard she'll hit my head and then I'll be both severely injured and most likely discovered. I comfort myself with the knowledge that this traveling arrangement is just for the trip to the city, nothing more.
Then suddenly the plastic is lifting up beneath me, and I find myself heaved upwards into the air. It feels almost like zero gravity, the motion is so fast and extreme. I clutch at the label beneath me, struggling to stay on top of the sole. Then I'm falling back down to earth, to land almost gently amidst a pile of debris.
I'm shaken, but all right. This shoe travel will take some getting used to, but I'll manage.
Sable observes a while longer, then calls out to Kyra. "Let's get going, it's getting late."
The motion starts again, this time somewhat faster than before. I'm thrown about like a pebble in, well, a shoe, but I hold my grip. I hope it isn't too far to their vehicle.
There's several more steps, and I lose count of all the near-falls and horrifying drops. Suddenly, however, I see not the usual ground beneath me, but several huge hairs, curled and knotted. The shoe raises a little as Sable's foot leans back and I see that it's a carpet. The floor of a vehicle. I'm safe, for now. I've made it.
I leap off the shoe and onto the carpet, which cushions the impact. When I stand, the carpet fibers come up to my shins.
I'd forgotten what carpet looked like. It had been so long since I'd seen anything like this. Ten years in the wilderness, and I'd grown accustomed to seeing rubble and death, but now the smallest hints of luxury shocked and amazed. The minor miracles of civilization.
And there was still so much more to see.
A Man of His Time
The vehicle seems to be slowing, and finally stopping. The hum beneath my feet has cut out. I breathe a sigh of relief. Although I'd maintained a grip on the carpet, the motion of the vehicle had still buffeted me about quite a bit. It was good that the ride was over.
Doors opened and light flooded into the vehicle. As one of Sable's feet begins to rise I realize that I'll be trapped inside if I don't get onto her shoe quickly. I clamber onto the plastic sole and grasp the label firmly, waiting for the rush upwards. It comes quickly, and even more nauseatingly high into the air than before. She has to bend her leg in order to get out of the vehicle, and I fiund myself spinning, almost horizontal. I have to claw at the fabric of the label to keep from falling out.
Then I'm crashing towards the ground again, seeing the pavement in excruciating detail for a millisecond, then springing back into the air. Now that she was out of the junkyard, Sable walked at full speed, which meant about a hundred feet for each step she took. I have absolutely no idea how I managed to hang on, only that I did.
Then I was staring at a floor of shiny brown, with odd streaks running through it. A wooden floor. Looking up, I saw Sable's other high heel slam down next to me, and her foot slide out of it. Suddenly, the foot bed above me depressed, almost coming down on my head. I managed to duck and avoid it just in time. Sable walked off down a hallway, every step she took resonating like a thunderclap. Kyra followed her down. I could hear their voices in the distance, although I couldn't hear what they said.
I stay in the shoe for a short while, just to calm myself down and figure out just what was going on. After ten years of surviving, my life has just radically changed in the space of an hour. Some part of me doesn't quite believe it. Here I am in the house of two giant ones, possibly the last man alive on Earth. It needs some time to sink in.
Eventually I crawl out. I can still hear Kyra and Sable faintly down the hallway. Out of sheer curiosity, and again completely disregarding any inherent danger, I creep down to where they are talking. The door is open a little, and I'm able to peer in. The two of them are seated at a table, from what I can tell. All I can see are the legs of the chairs and table, and their feet. Looking around, I see tile beneath me, and what looks like an oven as well as a refrigerator, so I assume this is their kitchen/dining room.
I sneak closer, keeping myself in a crouched position and moving slowly. There's a possibility that they'll see me out of their peripheral vision if I move too fast. Running along the wall to my left is a piece of trim a little taller than I am. There's a small crack in it which I figure could work as a hiding place.
I dash over to it and crawl inside. The inside of the crack is dark and dank, but has just enough room to provide a good hiding place. I lie on my stomach and crawl out until I'm able to hear what's going on outside, as well as get a limited view of my surroundings.
Kyra's talking. "...but how can you really be sure? Maybe they're just - um, hiding."
"Really. Why would they want to hide from us?"
"We're so much bigger than they are. Wouldn't you be afraid of things if you were their size?"
Sable sighs. "Just face facts, Kyra. There aren't any of them left. Some were crushed by accident, others killed by animals, others died of natural causes. We did everything we could, but they're gone."
There's a hollow feeling in my stomach, and something is scratching at my throat. A voice is whispering faintly in the back of my head.
"But how can you be so -"
"This conversation's going in circles. I'm sick of talking about this."
"Fine." I can hear the petulance in her voice.
"You clear the table," says Sable. I can hear the scraping noises of her chair being pushed aside and then the booms of her high heels, which cross my line of sight a hundred yards in front of me.
The sounds of Kyra moving about the table and grumbling about the argument echo around the room. I'd like to run out to her and get her attention. I'm real, I do exist. There are men left. Or, there's one man left.
Could I really be the last of my kind? I find it hard to believe man would be so easily, and so completely wiped out. Surely there must have been some who escaped destruction, hidden away like me. If I'd survived, why hadn't anyone else? What made me special?
Why, actually, did I survive anyway? It would've been so easy to just give up. It had been pointless all along, just as it was pointless now -
You're going back to that place, that dark place towards the edge. Stop thinking about it. Think about anything else. Find something else to think about.
Kyra, I could think about Kyra. I tried to form a mental image of her based on the glimpses I'd gotten. Tan skin. Beautiful, long feet, with really cute toes. Light blue nail polish, which seemed like an odd choice to me, but it somehow worked.
And that was it. That was it? All I could remember of her was her feet? Pathetic. But I had only seen her face once, and I was somewhat distracted when I first saw her. Wait, she's right outside, cleaning up dinner! Go out and look at her now! I suddenly had to see her again.
I dashed out of my hole and looked around. She was gone, the kitchen was empty. It was a good thing, too, I quickly realized: If she'd been around she would surely have seen me. Despite my fleeting idea of revealing myself, I wasn't eager to be caught.
I took one final check of my surroundings. No one here, no audible sounds. They must be in other areas of the house. I've got a strong urge to find Kyra, but thankfully intelligence wins over instinct. Self-preservation is key right now, I've got to stay sharp; if I went looking for her now I could blunder into a room and be spotted. So instead, I clamber back into my hole and take a food packet from my knapsack.
As I tear open the meal I wonder, do I really have to find the red-shoed woman right away? Surely I could linger for a while here, and find out more about these strange giants, how they live and what they are like. My lower parts definitely like the idea, I stiffen just thinking about it. Living with Kyra and Sable. It'll work, for now.
I'm on a large, open green field, covered in the kind of grass I saw in storybooks as a child. The field stretches out to eternity before me. I look behind me, and I see just ten feet away a hundred men, and I know them. They're the people I grew up with. The inhabitants of my city, stretched out on the grass behind me. Every one of them is staring at me.
I turn back, to avoid their eyes. And when I turn, there she is, just a few hundred feet away from me. Kyra. And she?s my size. I can see her now, in detail: smooth tan skin, lovely hazel eyes. She has delicate, curving lips and somewhat prominent cheekbones. Her expression is serene.
And I don't think it's the dream-logic that tells me she's beautiful.
I start walking towards her, but as I continue forward, something goes off. I don't seem to be getting any closer, and as I walk she starts to loom over me, until I have to look up to meet her eyes. I look over my shoulder to see the men behind me shaking their heads. They've begun to dwindle in height.
Still I keep walking. I'll make it to Kyra, I know I can. But she's growing, larger and larger, and now my eyes are level with her waist, passing over her gorgeous curves. I feel as if I'm no nearer to her than I was before. My pace increases, and as I look down at my feet I realize that with each footfall, there's something welling up under my feet. With my next step, I watch carefully and see the liquid rise. My shoe comes away stained with red.
I look up, and now Kyra is towering high above me, I'm level with her ankles. I stop walking, but she continues to grow, higher and higher above me. Now my eyes are on her huge, cute toes, whose nails are about to be higher than my head. "Adam?" Kyra's voice calls from above. "Adam, where are you? Do you really exist?"
I turn to see that the men are all my height again, but we are all pathetically small, smaller than ants. I look up and see a huge red sole hovering high above us all. It's dropping...
...And I'm awake to find that I'm shaking. I'm terrified, more than I usually am after a nightmare. I realize that subconsciously, I expected traveling to the giants' world to solve all my personal problems. Now here they are again, just a step behind me as always.
I crawl slowly out of my shelter, but there's no need to be careful; I already know that neither Kyra or Sable are around. The house is completely silent. Sunlight streams down on me from skylights above. I stare up at the furniture above me. No matter how many giants I've seen, I've never really gotten used to their scale, and the house around me simply reinforces how large they are.
I remember one of the key rules for survival - always know the territory you're traveling in. If I'm going to stay with Kyra and Sable for a while, it'll help to know the layout of their house. So I spend the day exploring, finding out which rooms are where and the best hiding spots in each of them. The next time I'm alone like this, I think to myself, I'll hide food around in case I get trapped in a room. It's another thing you learn about survival - plan ahead. As I look around the house, I find myself constantly looking over my shoulder, expecting to see one of the women staring at me.
They don't come home, however, until much later. It happens when I'm exploring what seems to be Kyra's room. It's 4:30, by her digital clock. I hear the noise of them entering and immediately dash behind a large photo frame on her nightstand. Then the door opens, and in she comes. She's as stunning as in my dream, and there's a smile on her face, I don't know why. Then, as I gaze from just behind the frame, she begins to strip.
She peels off her t-shirt, tossing the massive garment aside. It makes a loud whooshing noise as it goes past me. I continue to stare, enraptured, as she unstraps some sort of undergarment. She looks sculpted, not made by normal means. My eyes travel up her torso, past her flat, smooth stomach, to the ribs that are just barely visible, on up to those two magnificent breasts with taut, erect nipples. She tosses her head, and shiny jet black hair swings about her face.
Then she pulls off her jeans. I don't even have the faculties to describe what I see. All I know is that it's wonderful, and I desperately long to be closer to it. She lies down on the bed, her movements making a huge depression in the mattress. Then she closes her eyes and pulls the sheets over her. She sleeps naked. I may or may not be the last man alive, but I am certainly the luckiest.
I pause a moment to look at her as her chest gently rises and falls. Then, before I know what I'm doing, I hurl myself over the edge of the nightstand, and grab onto the electric cord of her reading lamp. Kicking off from the nightstand, I swing back and forth to gain momentum. My actions are causing the lamp to shake a little, but I don't think my weight's enough to knock it over.
I swing back and forth, turning my head so I can see behind me. You've got to time it right, get more momentum... you're almost there, just, that's it, jump! I leap through the air, limbs flying, to fall with a smacking sound onto the side of the bed. I just manage to get a hold of the wooden edge of the bedside, and pull myself up. Kyra's breathing becomes more shallow, and there's huge noise and motion above me as she rolls over, but then her breathing becomes regular again. I thought for a second she'd found me.
My ribs are really sore from the impact, but the knowledge of what lies just above me numbs the pain. I stand, and finding myself shorter than the mattress, proceed to work my way around. Logic's taking over again, and I realize the stupidity of what I'm trying to do, but also a marginally more intelligent way of going about it. I can't crawl over her head, neck, torso or legs without her waking up, but if I start from her feet and work my way downwards, I've got a chance of success.
I look at her face once more. She looks sound asleep. I take a deep breath, then lift the thick blanket and sheets and crawl under. It's dark and warm underneath them, although the weight of the multiple coverings presses down on me. I can barely see where I'm going, but I forge on ahead anyway. Soon the blanket is no longer pressing down on my back, and I can smell Kyra in the air around me. I figure I'm somewhere around her feet. As long as she keeps her legs spread, this will be easy.
I continue moving up, and the warmth around me grows more intense. I stop, and, tentatively, ever so gently, put out a hand to my right. Her skin feels warm and soft, amazingly delicate for her size. I lightly rub my hand against it. I've never known feelings like this before. I never knew this existed. I lean my head gently against her thigh, and can feel and hear her heartbeat.
I know instinctively that I'm not finished here, and crawl a little further down. There's a strong smell around me, and I know that it's a woman's smell. I'm close to her, very close. Once more, I reach out. What I feel is slick and warm, and reacts to my touch. I push against it slightly, and it trembles. I run my hand down it, and I hear a moan of pleasure. I wonder if Kyra is still asleep, and figure that she must be, or she'd certainly have done something by now.
I figure that if I'm going to let my instinct guide me, I may as well completely give in. I thrust my head forward, completely inside the warmth and wetness. I rub my head along her insides, savoring the moment. This is what happiness feels like. I withdraw for a second to catch my breath. Above me, the moaning has gotten louder. She must be enjoying this too. I put myself in up to my shoulders, reaching deep inside her, feeling for what's there. And although I don't even know what I'm doing, my hand crosses a small lump that feels harder than the rest. When I brush across it, the moaning gets still louder. I push against it, pumping my hand on it, and force myself still deeper, until my head is next to it, and I start to lick. Far above, Kyra is no longer moaning, but shouting.
Shouting? People don't shout in their sleep. I quickly slide myself out of her. "Yes!" Kyra shouts, her voice terrifyingly loud. "Don't stop!"
I turn and begin scuttling away as fast as I can, adrenaline pushing me onwards. I can't get caught. That would be the end of everything. I can feel motion around me, and I pray that Kyra isn't getting off the bed. The bedspread in front of me starts to lift, and blinding light floods into the space under the covers. I run forward until I can see again, and I'm just passing her feet. She didn't get off the bed. I turn to my right, desperately looking for an exit. There's a sheet that drops down to the floor, and I fling myself over the edge.
As I fall, I see a hand grabbing at the place where I just was. Timing is everything. I manage to get a hold on the sheet and begin to slide, stopping myself just before I hit the floor. Then I jump down, only to see a massive pair of female feet land right next to me. I dash under the bed, but realize right away that not only is it not dark enough to conceal me, but that this is the first place she'll look. Panicking, I look desperately around, trying to find a hiding place. And, thank goodness, there is one. There's a crack in the siding, similar to the one I saw in the kitchen. I slide into it like a baseball player into third base, and turn to see Kyra in front of me..
She looms enormous before me, her head fifty of my feet away. She's still naked, and is propped up on her elbows under the bed. Her breasts are in full view. I'm already getting turned on again. Her lips are in a sexy pout. "Come out, little man," she says, pleadingly. "I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to see you."
I lie frozen in my refuge, unable to go out. She doesn't know I'm here, I know that much. Her eyes are focused on a different area. I'm still petrified.
"Won't you come out and talk to me?" she asks. I want to, I really do, but I can't. I have a mission, I remind myself, and I can't allow anything to endanger it. Even if she's as kind as she looks, there's the possibility she'll keep me from what needs to be done. I can't go out. "Okay, if you want to stay hidden, I won't force you out. I won't tell anyone either." She pauses. "Thank you. It was short, but wonderful." Then her head is going backwards, away from me. She stands up, and I'm left with a glance at her feet before she's gone. Creaking noises above tell me that she's lying back on the mattress.
I crawl back into my hole, and lean against the wall, drained and happy. It's almost difficult to believe what I just did. It seems like another person went to her, someone with more courage than I, and did what I did. But it was me. I gaze at the wall and think of what Kyra said, then close my eyes, my face flushed from my tiny victory.
A Man of His Time
"Adam?" Someone's calling me. I look around, trying to find out who it is.
"Adam!" I can't see through the throngs of people. Then, the voice starts booming. I can tell it's the woman above, the one whose red shoe hangs over us, preparing to wipe us all out. I can't hear what she says, her voice is so loud and there's so much screaming. I suddenly feel oddly detached, and numb. All the drama is gone from the situation. I'm just there, in the middle of it all, waiting.
A little voice in the back of my head is yelling at me to do something.
"ADAM!" A man battles his way out of the crowds to my right, and I turn serenely to look at him. "Adam, you can't be out here! You have to get away -" He continues talking but I can't hear what he says. The woman is talking again, her voice loud and angry. She drowns everything else out.
I stand and stare, mezmerized. "You're in shock," says the man to my right.
The man grabs my hand and forces me to start running. I don't follow him so much as I am dragged by him, not moving but not resisting either. I can tell he's running out of energy as we push through the crowds. The voice in the back of my head is worried about this, but I am calm, and passive. I watch the people move around us in their useless attempt to escape. It doesn't matter. We're all doomed, and it just doesn't matter.
The man's finally stopped dragging me, and I can tell we're right near the basement where I was left before, but there are people pushing all around us and he can't get through. The crowds force their way around us, then through us, and I lose his hand. We're no longer connected, and I'm still in shock. The flood of people sweeps me away, and I find myself near the basement. "Get in there!" the man who helped me yells over the noise. "He wanted you to be in there!"
Now I recover my wits, and head back into the entrance way. I turn and watch my savior's progress. The man is battling through the mob, but he seems to be losing the struggle. He's too tired. But he tries to force his way through anyway. He's getting closer, just a few feet away...
There's a sound like a bomb exploding, and all the screams stop at once. Everyone stops running and watches, and the dust cloud spills over them and the shockwaves knock me down and I can't see anymore.
Awake again. The dreams are, if anything, more vivid now than they were when I was in the junkyard.
I put them out of my mind however. There are noises coming from outside my makeshift bedroom. Cautiously, I creep out. I remember now that I fell asleep in the crack under Kyra's bed. About a hundred feet away from the bed are Kyra's feet. I'm guessing they're what caused the noise that woke me up.
She looks like she's standing up, so I figure that if I find a good hiding spot, I'll be able to spy on her without her seeing me. As I crawl over to one of the bed's legs, I think about how creepy what I just thought sounds, even to myself. Spying on her. I feel vaguely ashamed, even though I know it's for safety's sake.
She's in front of the nightstand, her back to me.. I run my eyes over her, starting with her pretty feet and moving up over her strong legs, the glorious curves of her butt, up through the trim waist and back. She's working with something in her hands, then she crouches down. She turns a little, and I can see that she's writing something with a pencil on a piece of paper. Then she snaps off the end of the pencil, and uses long, light blue fingernails to tear a chunk out of the eraser. She places both on the nightstand, then looks about the room, like she knows I'm watching her.
And it occurs to me that she does. This whole charade was for my benefit. She's written something on the paper, and the pencil stub and eraser are for me to write her back.
"I'll be back in five minutes," Kyra says to the middle of the room. Then she stands up and walks out, her footsteps echoing behind her. As soon as she's gone, I start running towards the lamp then abruptly stop. What if this is just a trap? I'll climb up to her nightstand, start writing, and she'll burst in and catch me unawares. Is this really worth risking my freedom for? But if she really is just trying to communicate, and I don't respond, she'll think I was just some strange dream. I remember her last night, saying that she wouldn't force me to come out. She didn't sound like the kind of person who would trap me.
The choice is simple: either be a coward and be assured of your safety and anonymity, or be brash and declare your existence. I can't stand the first one, so my choice is already made. I'll simply have to put my trust in Kyra.
I run out to the nightstand, and am glad to find that the lamp cord still hangs loose enough to drag on the floor. I clamber up, and walk over to the paper Kyra had written on. There, in letters the size of my hand, is her note.
"Dear Little One,
"I hope you can read this. I regret scaring you last night. I'd like to learn about you, even if you don't want us to meet face to face. Please write me back on this paper, so I know you're out there.
I trace the word 'love' with a finger, and wonder if she meant it. Then I think a while about how to respond. Finally, I pick up the piece of graphite she left for me, and write carefully, in letters as large as I can manage: "I'm here, and I'm listening." It seemed to be the best thing to write, brief and reassuring, without seeming overly creepy.
I'm startled by a huge booming sound. A single knock on the door. In a flash of realization, I know it's Kyra's signal that she's coming back into the room. I quickly slide back down the lamp cord, and dash back over to my spot behind the bed. The door swings open, and Kyra walks in, biting her lip, her eyes closed. It's so she doesn't accidentally spot me and scare me, but as I watch those immense feet cross the floor I think it could be very dangerous for me as well. If I'd left the nightstand just a minute later, I'd be in serious trouble right now.
She picks up the paper, then turns as she's reading it so she's facing me. When she's finished, she folds the paper up neatly. There's a big, bright smile on her face, and it makes me happy just to see it. "I'll write you again tomorrow," she says, putting the paper back on the nightstand.
I silently rejoice as she climbs onto the bed above me and lies down. She knows me! Even though she doesn't even know my name, she knows I'm here! And I've got a way of talking with her, without any way of being caught. It all works so well, and I'm grateful to her for thinking of it. She's so considerate...
There's a series of knocks on the door, and Kyra swings upright in bed, one of her bare feet coming down with a great pounding sound as she sits at the edge of the bed. "Come in," I hear her say.
Sable walks in, dressed in a somewhat formal black dress and stiletto high heels. There's a necklace made of bright gems around her graceful neck. I wonder what she's so dressed up for. "Well, are you getting ready?" she asks impatiently.
"Ready for what?" Kyra replies.
Sable lets out an exasperated sigh. "I swear, you forget anything that isn't centered around you. My boss is coming over for lunch. You need to wear NICE clothes, as opposed to that stuff you have on."
Kyra gasps, plucking at the simple yet beautifully form-fitting white t-shirt and jeans she's wearing . "This isn't nice?"
"Okay, calm down, I was only joking," Sable says quickly , cracking a small smile. "You know, you've got to wear formal clothes."
"Ugh," says Kyra simply.
"I know, it's a drag, but we've got to. I really want to make a good impression on her."
"Okay, okay, I'll get changed." Now that was something everyone could be happy about.
Sable closes the door behind her, and Kyra quickly tugs off her clothes. Watching her change is as amazing as the first time, if less unexpected. She then slips into what is sort of like fancified office attire, with a clean, white, collared shirt and a short black dress. She looks gorgeous in it, but then again she looks gorgeous in pretty much anything.
She's starting to head out the door when I realize that it could be useful to know other giants than my two housemates. This guest could be a useful ride out of the house when I'm ready to leave. I quickly scurry out from my hiding spot and follow her out of the room. She closes the door behind me, the noise probably small to her but huge and frightening to me.
I follow Kyra to the stairs, not really worrying about keeping up. I know there's no chance of my keeping pace with her, and it's less easy for her to spot me if I lag behind. She's out of sight by the time I reach the stairs.
Luckily, the stairs in this house are carpeted, making it easier for me to make my way down. It still takes a bit of effort, as I have to make my way over the small ledge on every step, then grab handfuls of carpet fibers and slowly, carefully make my way down. My muscles are burning by the time I get to the bottom, and I figure it's taken me a good half hour to get all the way down.
I hear the tremendous noise of the door opening behind me. Turning, I see a pair of business-like high heels, colored a deep scarlet. They don't resemble the shoes that have haunted me, those were a far brighter red. There are some very nice feet within these, though, by the looks of the instep. I look up to find a woman wearing well-cut office attire. Her clothing suggests wealth and power, and I now know why Sable was so anxious to make a good impression. I can't see much of her face from where I stand, but I can see that she has long red hair.
I run to an area next to the banister as she walks towards me, Sable right behind her. Sable never struck me as being short, but she's dwarfed by her boss. I get the feeling that even if our heights were proportionate, this woman would still be taller than me. She walks forward confidently, heels clicking on the wood floor. "Lovely place you have, Sable," she says idly. Her tone is different from what I'm used to, arrogant but not without warmth. It's hard to place, but it sounds unmistakably like the voice of a person who is used to commanding a situation.
"Thanks," Sable replies nervously. She gestures about the apartment, and says, "It's our home."
I suddenly hear a noise from behind me, and turn to see Kyra walking right down the hallway I'm hiding in. I crouch and shield myself with my hands, worried that she'll spot me, but her high heels pass right by.
"Kyra, this is my boss, Cheryl," says Sable. Kyra politely introduces herself and offers her hand, which Cheryl gives a brief shake. Then the three of them walk towards the kitchen. I follow at a distance.
The three women have already sat down by the time I'm there. They're all chatting at once, and their voices are so loud that it's hard to make out who's saying what. I figure I'll have to get a better vantage point in order to eavesdrop on their conversation. Something's telling me that I need to hear what they have to say.
I choose the table leg closest to me as my entrance. It also happens to be the one directly next to Cheryl. I quickly grab onto the large, round pole and begin to shimmy up. I'm lucky this table has thin legs. Cheryl, however, does not. As I climb by her pantyhosed calves I see that they're well formed but large and somewhat muscular, befitting a woman of her stature. I continue upwards and the noise of the conversation gets louder. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll understand anything they say, whether I see their faces or not.
With a bit of tricky maneuvering, I manage to swing myself up onto the ledge of the tabletop. I almost slip and fall, nearly frightening myself to death, but manage to just pull myself over. And there they are. Three women surrounding me, their sheer size completely overwhelming. I stay prone, hoping it makes me fairly well hidden. As long as I don't move too much, they shouldn't see me, but I'm nervous as all hell. It feels like they're all right on top of me, their eyes boring into me right behind my back.
Directly at my right is Cheryl's enormous pale hand, the nails painted a deep scarlet that catches my eye. The hand looks like it's a foot or so wider than I am tall, and much longer than that. With a casual swat it could wipe out my existence. I look up to see that she has a face that has a sort of detached, aristocratic beauty. Her eyes are a piercing green. I force myself to stop looking at her and start watching their conversation.
"...heard about the recent surge in Truthseeker attacks?" Sable was saying.
"Heard? I've been working on cleanup and prevention," Cheryl replies. She made a small gesture with her hand which scared the living daylights out of me. "It's terrible. These extremists don't think it's enough to spread lies and propaganda. They have to directly attack us as well. Two civilians were killed in that attack."
"That's horrible," says Kyra, her tone not sympathetic but simply bored.
"I hope we crush them," says Cheryl, in a tone of quiet but concentrated rage. It sounds like she wants to behead each of these Truthseekers this very minute. "They stand against everything modern women have created. Those fools, they even believe men still exist." My heart leaps at this. If some women still believed, then there was a chance...
Sable laughed loudly at that, but the laughter rang false. I turned slowly to look at Kyra, and saw a sullen expression on her face. "Right, men still exist," chortles Sable.
"What if they do?" mutters Kyra.
There's a long, awkward silence. Sable glares at Kyra, and Kyra glares back. Cheryl finally breaks the silence to say, "Dear, there's no way there are any left. We'd know. We did place tracking devices on them, towards the ending."
"What if they broke?" Kyra questions fiercely. "What if there were some who never got traced? You don't know there aren't any left." I admire the glare in her eyes, the belief in her voice. It's almost like Kyra's fighting for my right to exist.
"I understand that you'd like to believe -"
"You can't prove anything!" Kyra says loudly.
Sable, who up until this point had been sitting in shocked silence, says sharply, "Be quiet, Kyra."
"If she wants to argue, let her," Cheryl says calmly. "Words don't change the truth."
"What do you know about the truth? I know who you are, you're part of the Establishment!" Kyra hurled this last remark with such venom that I wondered what, exactly, the Establishment was.
"So, you've been listening to the propaganda," says Cheryl coldly. "Well, those lunatics do tend to be wrong. There is no Establishment. It is all a lie made up to try and bring down what is an orderly system." Cheryl's voice stays perfectly level as she says this.
"An orderly system of oppression!" shouts Kyra, and startles me by getting up out of her seat. If she's looking from above, she'll be able to see me...
I quickly try to move to the left, to hide near Cheryl's water glass. I look straight up to Cheryl's hand on the glass, but it is quickly removed.
Then I look to my right and see Cheryl's green eyes locked on mine. And there's a lot less surprise in them than I would have expected.
A Man of His Time
I slam my back to the wall, sweat running in rivulets down my forehead. Outside, I hear a muffled commotion; it sounds like Kyra's shouting. I'm guessing Sable is restraining her.
I slump down, grateful for the hiding spot. As I sit and try to catch my breath, I quickly go over what just happened in my mind. I can hardly believe I escaped. I remember Cheryl's eyes on me, then her tremendous hand was moving towards me, and everything slowed down. Then I turned and ran, jumping off the table to land, very painfully, on the arm of an unoccupied dining room chair. Looking back on it now, I'm surprised I didn't break any bones. I slid down the chair as fast as possible, the noise of the women getting out of their seats all around me. They were on their feet by the time I hit the floor, and I ran for my life, just making it to the hole as Sable's hand clamped over it.
I don't think Kyra chased me. I'm grateful for that. It feels good to have an ally for once.
It's been a good five minutes now, and things have quieted down a bit. I take the chance to take a peek outside my hole. I see Cheryl walk out to the middle of the room. She looks like she's staring right at me, although I know she's just looking at the crack. She can't see that I'm here, or she'd be trying to get me. Wouldn't she?
"Very well. You've had your fun, and you got away. But I know you're still in this room. I've been watching all the exits.
"And what that means is this: I will get you. I've got you cornered. It's only a matter of time. I have several people who can help me do it, and it can be done either easily or with greater difficulty.
"We'd prefer to avoid killing you, if at all possible. But if you insist on giving us a hard time, we will eliminate you. We can't afford you being seen. So I leave it up to you. Come out willingly, or face the consequences."
The tone of her voice chilled me to the bone. It showed a complete indifference as to whether I lived or died, as long as the job was done. I knew she'd stop at nothing.
But if she wasn't pulling any punches, neither was I. I could not afford to be captured by this woman, not without a fight. If Kyra was a potential threat to my freedom, Cheryl was a definite one. And I would not go easy. No way.
Cheryl pauses a moment, as if expecting an answer. "Very well," she says, then turns and calls, "Sable, put Kyra in her room. We'll talk to her about this later. When you're done, come back down here."
There are clumping noises as Sable drags Kyra off, along with muted shrieks. They come into view as Sable brings Kyra up the stairs. Her hand is over Kyra's mouth. Kyra looks as if she's caught between screaming and crying. I feel somewhat guilty, knowing that this is all my fault. If I hadn't been so damned curious, I would never have gotten caught, and none of this would have happened. Once again, I've found a way to mess everything up.
There's the sound of a door upstairs slamming, then Sable comes back downstairs. "Take a seat," says Cheryl. "We wait here until he comes out."
Sable whispers something to Cheryl, and Cheryl whispers back. I'm too far away to hear anything, and I know they're planning something.
I look desperately around my hiding spot. There's a limited amount of space back here, only six feet on either side, and there's about two feet between the outer and inner walls. If they try to pull me out, I can probably hide to either side of the hole, and they won't be able to grab me. For once, my smaller size is my advantage.
I check my knapsack, and find three meal packs still inside. If they want a siege, I'll give them one. I can last a day or two on these meals, and I figure I can survive ably two more without food. Let's see them sit there for four days straight! One of them will have to move at some point.
I watch them now, sitting down calmly, eyes directed at the hole. Waiting. Let them wait. I can handle waiting. I can handle anything they throw at me.
Upstairs, there's a huge crashing sound. Then a scream.
"Kyra!" shouts Sable, and begins running up the stairs. Cheryl follows after her, yelling protests.
And this is my chance. I dash out of my hole, tearing across the vast plain of wooden floor. My feet pound across the slick, ridged surface. My heart thumps wildly in my chest.
I reach the passage way that leads to the entrance. The front door is closed. Damn! No escape that way. You've got to get out. Think, think!
A window. There's an open window in the living room -. No, I've got no way of getting up there. One in the kitchen. Yes, that will do. I can try to get out through there.
I start running back towards the dining room, but I'm already starting to feel tired. My muscles clench, and I have to force them to keep moving. The adrenalin's already starting to fade with the impossibility of my situation. There's no way I'll make it back to the kitchen in time.
I make it back to the middle of the dining room by the time I hear them coming back down the stairs. Then it's a race back to my hiding place. I won't be able to get out of the window, but I think I can make it to cover.
And I do make it, sliding back into position just in time to see them enter the room and sit down again.
"I can't believe she'd do something like that. Kyra's never acted like this before." Sable says, concerned.
"There's a reason behind it," Cheryl says calmly. "This kind of behavior doesn't happen automatically. Most people would assume they'd seen a mouse, or an insect. She knew right away what it was. Just like we did."
"But she didn't know that I knew," says Sable, a note of sadness in her voice.
"You never told her?" asks Cheryl, visibly shocked for the first time today. "No wonder she's been reading Truthseeker pamphlets. And here I was thinking this was just standard teenage rebellion."
"Kyra's twenty. And I'm her sister, not her mother." Sable's eyes are turned downwards. I think what Cheryl just said embarrassed her.
"Well, yes, but you're the mother figure," Cheryl goes on, not understanding the embarrassment she had caused. "It must have been hard for you, caring for her."
The minutes pass, each one feeling like hours. There are whispers running round my head again, but this time in a new voice. Trapped, they say. You're trapped. There's a certain desperation that comes with being cornered by two enemies far more powerful than you, and it is coursing through my veins. There is no way out. I begin to feel claustrophobic.
I sit up abruptly, trying to clear my head. Instead, I scrape it on the ceiling, causing particles of yellow gunk to fall to the ground around me. I look up. The 'ceiling' isn't a ceiling. It isn't even solid. There's a layer of glue holding what must be insulation in place just above me, and if I work my way past that, I should be able to climb out, and exit to another room.
Kyra's room is just above me. Do I dare to do this? If I fall, I'll undoubtedly kill myself. Once I get to a certain point, there won't be any way to turn back. It's so much safer just to wait it out here... But it isn't, really. I'm slowly going insane from being in this position. If I don't get out, I'll do something irrational.
I slowly start to claw at the glue, removing chunks of it. What seemed like a thin layer looks like it's really about one of their inches thick. The stuff is a little translucent, which made it seem less thick. It's going to take me a while to get through, but at least this gives me something to do other than bemoan my situation.
Then, suddenly, I hear a loud noise. A doorbell. Cheryl said she had people who could help her. If I wasn't screwed already, I felt sure I would be now. Whoever this was would probably have equipment that would make my life that much harder. I begin tearing away at the glue with renewed urgency.
Sable gets up to open the door, and returns with a blonde woman and a brunette, both in trim black suits. The blonde, about average height with a slim figure visible even with the suit, carries a briefcase. Cheryl gets up to greet her.
"Audrey Dashel, and my associate Jane." says the blond woman somewhat stiffly. Her face reminds me slightly of Cheryl's; it has a similar cold detachment.
"I know, dear," says Cheryl, taking her hand. "I asked for you personally. We've got a situation M-12."
"So, I've heard," Audrey says as she lays her briefcase on the floor. It's turned slightly towards me, but even though I crane my head I can't get a glimpse of its contents. I fear the worst. She's going to blow me up, she's going to poison me, she'll catch me and then cut me up...
"We'll need someone to calm my sister down," says Sable, concernedly.
"Jane's good with people," says Audrey, although her tone does nothing to reassure me.
"Tell her we've found a rare, dangerous lifeform in the house, with the potential to kill us all. Tell her we're containing it," says Cheryl, sounding like she's making it up off the top of her head.
Sable mutters something about doubting that this will work.
Jane goes upstairs, and Audrey starts asking questions. Where's the man hiding? What measures are we allowed to take in getting him? How much property damage are we willing to risk? The questions send shivers down my spine. This woman is going to catch me, and she'll do as much as she's allowed to. Thankfully, Sable answers most of the questions in ways that seem beneficial to me.
The suited woman takes a small apparatus out of her briefcase. It looks like a long, thin coil, with a small hole at the end. Then I realize: it's a camera. She's going to thread it into the hole, and then she'll know my exact position.
I quickly begin tearing away chunks of the glue above me. If I can just get enough of it away...
There are huge footsteps outside the crack. Almost got enough...
The light suddenly goes out. Audrey must be lying down in order to thread the cable. There's a sizable hole now, and I leap upwards, clawing at the edges of the remaining glue to hoist myself up. I scramble upwards and manage to grab onto the foam.
I see the cable slither right beneath my feet. Good timing. They'll think I've gotten away, and leave the hole alone. When they go somewhere else, I can make a run for it.
"I'm not seeing anything." Audrey's voice is muted by the wall between us.
"He's got to be in there, keep trying," says Cheryl.
"Did he ever have any chance to get away?" asks Audrey.
Cheryl starts to say "No", but Sable interrupts her: "We were gone for a minute or so."
"That isn't enough time for the target to escape," says Audrey. My heart drops into my stomach. "He wouldn't be able to cover that much ground. He must have found a hiding place within the crack."
"So, what do we do?" asks Sable.
"We smoke him out," Audrey answers. "With the gas."
All of the sudden, I'm fairly alarmed.
I begin racing up the insulation, climbing as fast as I can, grasping the thick, spongy material and propelling myself up it. Behind me, I can hear noises as Audrey sets up the gas. No time to lose. Climb, and climb fast.
There's a hissing noise below me, and I can see a pale gray fog starting to fill the space below. I can faintly make out a sharp sense, and my eyes itch a little. This isn't good.
I keep moving, trying desperately to get as much distance between myself and the gas as possible. But no matter how fast I think I'm going, the gas seems to be rising faster. My eyes begin to water. The smell gets stronger.
The exertion of climbing up the foam is starting to make me feel weak. But as I look up, I see that I'm nearing the junction between wall and ceiling. I'll be able to run as opposed to climb, which should help. I'll find something that'll get between me and the gas, that'll let me escape.
But for how long? I think as I climb. I'd just keep running, and they'd just keep chasing me...
Suddenly, I feel a tug. I'm stuck. I pull against it as hard as I can. The gas is just ten feet below me. I've got to move! I use all my body weight against it, and feel fabric tear. My knapsack, and the meals in it, fall down, disappearing in the gas below.
Now I have no hope of outlasting them. Maybe it would be best to surrender. Maybe they wouldn't kill me. Maybe they'd help me. But I realize that I'm just wishing for an impossibility. You can't trust in anything, unless it's something you really, completely know. Otherwise you lose things.
I've reached the junction. I pull myself up to the gap, and then hear a huge booming sound above me. That's when I remember: Kyra's room is right above me. I leap back out and start climbing the insulation again, until I find myself opposite the crack in her wall.
And she's right there.
Kyra's lying down directly in front of the hole. All at once my mouth goes desert dry, my throat constricts, I almost lose my grip on the insulation. Her face is only thirty feet or so from mine. It fills the crack, even though she isn't pressed to it.
"So you really are what they're after," she says quickly, her voice incredibly loud despite the fact that she's whispering. "That bitch told me some stupid story about an infected rat. I can't believe the way they're lying to me..."
Her eyes drift a little upwards, as if the answer would come from above. I still am too shocked to say anything at all. This is the first time we've been face to face. I look down and see the gas is rising.
Kyra's nostrils perk slightly. "What's that smell?" The gas is now starting to seep up through the crack a little. My eyes are flooding so much I can barely see. The gas's acrid smell is overwhelming. "Oh my god," Kyra whispers. "They're trying to gas you. Quick, come out! I can hide you."
With one hand, I wipe my eyes. I look into her face. And I realize, no matter how much she wants this, or I want this, it can't happen. I don't know her well enough to trust. "I'm sorry," I say as loudly as I can, then slide back down the insulation.
I try to stop at the junction between wall and ceiling, but my sight is clouded by the tremendous amount of gas around me. I can't see well enough to judge the distance, but I leap for the roof anyway, and find my self falling.
I land hard on a bit of tube sticking out of the wall. This is what my knapsack got stuck on. I try to get a grip on it, but slide off, and fall once more. My descent's been slowed, however, and I manage to just catch the insulation. I think I'm near the bottom.
I hang on for dear life. But I don't really know what I'm going to do now. They're still pumping gas into the walls. I'm still trapped. I can't climb up again. Now, now I'm really cornered.
Slowly, the gas begins to make me woozy. Lack of air. Everything's spinning. I'm trying to keep my grip, but it looks like it just isn't in the cards. Odd. Despite the stinging in my eyes, and my nose and throat, I feel calm. Everything's okay. Just let go.
Then I fall, for the last time, harder and deeper than before, straight into black.
A Man of His Time: Chapter Five
I'm at the bottom, my vision blurry, my head aching. There's something wet on the corner of my head. Everything feels off.
I get to my feet and hold myself against the wall until the staircase in front of me stops moving. Then I climb back up it, and stand in the doorway.
The street is covered in dust. Rubble is everywhere. Portions of the street are stained with red. And in the middle of it, something is moving.
I recognize him. It's the man who saved me. But why is he crawling? He's in danger but he's moving so slowly...
Then I see: the bottoms of his legs are bent at odd angles. They're completely shattered. He can't walk. I want to go out and help him. But something holds me back. Then I look up and see that above us, the sky has gone bright red. She's not finished yet.
Oh God. I close my eyes, and wait for the blast...
...but when I open them, all I see is white. Heaven? I did take quite a fall. But something tells me that if this were the afterlife, I wouldn't have such a painful headache. It feels like my skull is splitting open at the temples.
I look around. White. Everywhere. There is no detail around me, just this shapeless, endless white. I look down at myself, and am somehow relieved to see that I'm still here. I have, however, lost all of my ragged clothing. I'm completely naked. I'm suddenly glad it's not cold in here.
In front of me, I begin to make out a faint outline. When I look closer - yes, there is something else here. A small pile of white clothing. I pull it on, and it all seems to fit, although it's far from exact. There's something rough about this clothing: the seams are huge, and it hasn't been cut too well.
I try to get to my feet, but my leg feels like it's splintering, then exploding into sparks, so I quickly sit back down.
So what now? I can't see any detail, I can't move anywhere. What do I do?
I wait. Wait, and stew over my dreams. I don't think I've ever gone that far in the dream before. Usually, it's just the first two parts over and over again. He puts me in the basement, I disobey and head back up, only to see the sole of the woman's shoe. End night one. The man in the crowd finds me in shock, brings me back, the foot falls, I black out. End night two. Wash, rinse, repeat. But something's broken the cycle.
As I think about it, I realize that I don't even remember the names of the people in my dream. Don't know who they are. And yet I remember knowing everyone in my town. Maybe I'm just forgetful. Hell, when did it happen? Was I eight? Ten? Twelve? I don't know. It all goes fuzzy. Just focus on the face of the man in the crowd. Maybe it'll help you remember. Concentrate, focus on his face...
Then a hole opens in the ceiling. It's a small, square hole, about a foot long on each side. A large needle descends from it, on what looks like a robotic arm. It swiftly, precisely, jabs me in the leg.
It hurts like hell, but the leg quickly goes pins and needles. A mechanical voice speaks from somewhere in the room. "Welcome," it says, this soft female voice that sounds more fake than anything I've ever heard in my life. "We are sorry to have kept you waiting. Now that you have received care, you should be able to walk. Please step outside, and join the others." The others?
A slot opens in what I now know to be a wall, and I get up carefully, and walk towards it, and out.
When I saw the look in Cheryl's eyes, I knew I wasn't the last man on Earth. There was too much recognition; she didn't look surprised to see me, not at all. The question was, then, where were my fellow men? And how many of us were left?
The answers are: here, and hundreds, in that order.
My room exits out onto a small hill above the settlement; from my view I see small, squat buildings made out of concrete. And milling around them are tons of men, on my scale, walking and talking and breathing. My gender is alive and well.
As I start down the hill, trying not to go too hard on my numbed leg, a siren sounds. All of the men instantly perk up, at exactly the same time. A mechanical voice, the same one that spoke to me in the white room, is talking. I can't tell where it's coming from: it seems to be from all directions. "Everyone please proceed to the meeting grounds, for announcements of new arrivals, and today's training assignments."
As one, every man begins to walk forward, in the same direction. I follow, hobbling off with them, trying my best to keep pace. Suddenly, there's an arm on my shoulder.
"New arrival?" The man who grabbed me is fairly short, his face round and his hair slick. "I'm Jude. I'm part of the Welcome staff. Follow me, I'll get you where you need to go."
He tugs me off in a direction that's slightly different from everyone else. I wonder how he singled me out, then I realize that I'm the only one in a white uniform, everyone else's is gray. Jude pulls me along for a while, until we come to a large building made out of dull gray metal, with a large opening cut into the side.
"Go on in there," says Jude, shoving me forward. "The rest of the new arrivals should be waiting."
I walk in. The building is oddly silent. A few other white-uniformed men are standing inside. They all seem much younger than me, around eight to ten years old. They're all completely silent.
"Hey," I say to one on my left. "You a new arrival too?"
He stares straight forward, his eyes not meeting mine. He shows no sign of even seeing me. Thinking that this is probably what we're supposed to be doing, I mimic them, standing straight and staring forward.
I realize that what we're staring at is a set of large metal double doors. The doors slowly slide open, making a grating noise as they do so. The others begin to walk forwards, so I follow their lead. As I walk out into the light I'm reminded of a gladiator's arena, the kind I read about as a kid. There are men filling the stands that circle the flat, open stage. Unlike a Roman arena, however, they aren't cheering. They sit grim and silent, and staring, all of them staring.
We walk out into the middle, and I hear the mechanical voice again, this time from all around us. "Welcome to Plant 27B," says the voice. "In order to gain full acceptance into the Plant, new arrivals must survive an initial test. Prepare yourselves." The atmosphere in the room gets much more tense. Some of my fellow arrivals are gritting their teeth. Most of them look nervous.
"The test will begin in five...four...three..."
I realize that I have absolutely no idea what this test even is. 'Survive'... We have to survive it?
"...two...one... The test begins now." A shrill alarm peals, and suddenly, a hole opens in the sky above us. There's something coming down it... And I run, just like instinct tells me to. There's a tremendous smacking sound behind me, and I turn to see a giant female hand, planted in the middle of the arena. It has sharp nails, painted a sparkling pink but stained with red, and if it wasn't for the circumstances I would think it attractive. When it lifts back off the ground, there's blood soaking into the dirt.
Then, without warning, a pink and red nail is coming straight towards me. I duck, and the nail slams into the side of the arena, skittering up the stands. It comes back down, and I see that there's a man impaled on it. He's still screaming and thrashing, but the finger scrapes along the ground, wiping the bloody mess of a person off.
Around the arena, the other fingers are also doing their share of damage, burrowing into the ground and burying kids under dirt, stabbing at others, some flying through the air to land with a pounding sound on top of a hapless new arrival. I simply run around, ducking and weaving, trying to avoid becoming a part of the massacre.
After five minutes, I can only count six of us left. The arena is strewn with carnage, some recognizably human, some not. I look at the hand, following its long, elegant edge up to the arm, and the hole in the sky. I realize the obvious; while I've been running around senselessly, I've been blowing my chance at escape.
The hand flattens once more, crushing one unlucky arrival who was hiding under the palm. Now's my opening. I rush forward, leaping up onto the back of the hand. It bucks upwards sharply, but I'm ready for this and have already grabbed two handfuls of soft skin. As the hand continues to buck and twist, I start climbing like a madman. I race up the side of the arm, going vertical, struggling to keep my grip on the skin. I'm almost to the top -
The arm shakes violently, and I fall, skidding back down the skin and onto the top of the hand, which has ceased moving. The hand tilts so that I slide off, and I find myself lying on the dusty, bloody ground. The mechanical voice speaks. "Four of you have passed the test. You four will now be separated into the established groups. Stand and prepare to hear your designation."
"704, designated group Alpha. 709, designated group Gamma, 714..." I panicked a little, wondering where exactly they were getting these numbers from. Then I looked down at my shirt. Stamped in big, bold lettering, was the number 718. "718, designated group Beta. That is all."
The men begin to file silently out of the stands. One pushes through the crowds towards me. For a split second, I remember my savior from my dreams. But it's only Jude. "Hey, you're in my group. Follow me, I'll show you to your room."
I follow behind him as we weave through the crowds, coming to one of the nondescript buildings that litter the area. "The big 'B' is for 'Beta'," Jude explains, pointing to the top of the building. "Pick a room that doesn't have any clothes in it, and remember to come outside whenever the bell rings. You're gonna love it here." He bounds off in another direction. There's something odd about his perkiness.
I look through the rooms. They're all plain white cubicles, with a small cot in one end. The occupied ones have stacks of clothes against one wall. So that's what Jude meant. I find an empty one, and, not knowing how to claim it, take off my socks and lay them in front of the bed. As far as I know, I was the only new arrival in Beta, so it's not like anyone will take the room anyway.
As soon as I sit down on the cot, hoping to get some rest, the alarm bells ring. I walk outside to find everyone else in the building running for the exits. I wonder what's so urgent.
When I get outside, all the men are lined up in even, perfectly straight lines. I join the one that looks like it's missing a few, and stand straight like everyone else. I still feel like I stick out, like I'm the clueless one that isn't getting with the program. It makes me uncomfortable.
The now all-too-familiar mechanical voice is starting up again. "We will now give out Assignments. Alpha is assigned to climbing practice in the climbing zone." A few of the lines break off, and begin marching away from the rest of the group.
"Beta is assigned pedicure practice, in the arena." A few other lines moved away. Mine wasn't one of them. I moved away and started following the Beta people. There was a weird feeling on the back of my neck, and I turned to see everyone looking at me out of the corners of their eyes. Like I was crazy. Like I didn't belong.
I walked anyway, then jogged, caught up with the rest of the Betas. They lined up in the middle of the arena, straight and even as usual. Some of the men trade nervous looks. Jude says loudly to another man, "This will be so exciting! I can't wait!"
The mechanical voice says, "Today's lesson will be in the proper way to perform a pedicure, one of the tasks required of men by their owners. Paint and brushes are available in the first row behind you. Trimming equipment is available in the row behind that. Those who cannot perform this task to the required level of ability will be placed in the isolation room."
"I heard there's a madman in there," whispers one of the men next to me to another, so quiet it can barely be heard.
"THERE WILL BE NO TALKING DURING THIS EXERCISE," says the mechanical voice, much more sharply and loudly than its previous tone. It then returns to its usual, flat drone. "The exercise will begin in five, four, three, two..."
I tense and prepare to run. If this exercise is anything like the initiation test, I'll need to be ready for anything. The men behind me are all filing into the first row, grabbing paint buckets and brushes. I realize that I should be getting utensils as well, but by the time I get there, all the paint equipment is gone. I'm one of the three who go up to row two, to get trimming equipment. We each take a huge pair of shears, and return back down.
Then the sky opens, and a massive foot comes down.
It shakes the ground as it hits, sending a tremor through my bones. Despite the fact that the nails are unpolished and somewhat longer than normal, it's a very nice foot: long toes, smooth skin, gently sloping instep. It smells fairly strongly, and I find it very odd that this is sort of alluring.
"Cutters, take position." says the mechanical voice. The other two step forward, and after a moment I do the same. "Ready, go."
The other two quickly take the smallest toe and the middle toe. I understand that I've been given the big toe. I quickly rush forward and start using the huge trimmers I've been given. Luckily, they slice through the thick nail without much effort. I concentrate on trimming round the nail, getting a nice shape out of it. Before I feel I've completely perfected my job, the mechanical voice speaks again. "Cutters, time is up. Analyzing performance..." There's a slight pause, and a small whirring noise in the air. I turn to see a small camera placed on the arena wall on the far right. "Performance from all was satisfactory. Please step back and watch painters."
The three of us retreated to the arena wall, and watched as the other men set about dipping their brushes in thick red lacquer, which they carefully daubed onto the nail. I noticed one at the end was having trouble handling his brush, and accidentally spilled a bit of the red liquid on the ground.
"Time's up. All men stand back while performance is analyzed." Again there was that whirring noise. Then the fake voice spoke once more. "Number 698, please step forward."
The one at the end, who had been having trouble, began to tremble and shake. "Nooo," he moaned softly. "Please no." He doesn't move forward. It looks like he can't. Someone else gives him a shove, and he stumbles, falling onto the ground in front of the titanic foot.
"You think he'd have more dignity," Jude says. He's standing in line a few spots away from me.
698 is in tears now, his face red. He wails silently, like a baby put on mute. "Resident number 698," the mechanical voice says stiffly. "You have been found inadequate, and will be terminated."
The foot rises off the ground, balancing on its heel. Everyone is able to see the massive wall of wrinkled flesh that is this woman's sole. Then, swiftly, it comes down, covering 698. It twists slightly in the ground, grinding his remains into the dirt. Then it withdraws, back out of the hole it came from.
"The rest of you may leave," the mechanical voice says.
The other men head back towards the buildings. I hear one of them say, "They don't usually do it like that, usually they take them somewhere else..."
I sit down on the arena steps, and I think. This place is so confusing, so many rules and patterns that I don't know. And so much death, and misery, and pain. Yet the men seem indifferent to it all. There's something wrong here, I can feel it deep within me. There's something I don't know yet.
I stare into the blue sky above. Fake, undoubtedly. I wonder what's really beyond the roof of this place. Then I see it.
There's the outline of something in the sky. Very faint, but I can just make it out. It looks like a giant pair of eyes, superimposed on the clouds and blue.
I stand up, and the eyes vanish.
There's someone watching over me. For some reason, this thought isn't chilling, but comforting. The eyes looked warm, and kind. They looked like they belonged to someone who cared, and sympathized.
But how would I know? I only saw them for a moment.
I turn and walk back towards the buildings.
A Man of His Time
I'm in a vast open space, completely flat and empty except for a small playground in front of me. Three kids are sitting on the swings. They are bawling. Their screams echo around the emptiness.
There's a thunderous sound from above. I look up to see the sky opening. I want to run, but my feet have become magnetized, stuck to the ground, and I cannot remove them. The children's cries have become shrieking, animalistic, inhuman.
I look up to see the gigantic sole of a bare foot. The same foot that crushed the failure. What was his number? I can't remember. The sole is lowering...
I look around wildly, trying to find someone, anyone, who can save me. Then I see a group of men, standing a few hundred yards away. They stare, silently, pointing at us. Me and the kids. Who are going to die.
I call out to them, shout and rant, but they do nothing. The vast foot descends on us, blocking out the light. There's panic running through my every nerve, and I know that this is the end...
But it's been the end before, and just before she finally crushes me, I sit up. The coarse blanket and scratchy sheets are bunched at the end of the cot. My heart is pounding like it wants to escape my chest. I swing my legs over the side of the cot, and sit there, waiting for myself to calm down. More than ever, I want to have a good, solid night of sleep. I tossed and turned for what seemed like hours before I fell into the nightmare. And now I'm awake. Looking out the small, grubby window cut into the featureless wall, I can see that it's still dark outside.
I get up anyway, and pull on my uniform. Looking outside, I look around the corridor. Four rooms, bare walls, plain white floor. At the back of the hall there's a large black panel. I wonder what it's for. I try my best to be silent as I sneak through the corridor, hearing the snores of some of my fellow groupmates. A board creaks beneath my foot as I pass by Jude's room. I make it the rest of the way soundlessly, and step out into the darkness.
Night here feels wrong. The air should be crisp, not stale, the temperature chill, not lukewarm. The only thing that's a little like the real outdoors is the sky, and even that has stars that are larger than life, which actually twinkle. Real stars don't twinkle. I stand outside, and feel a growing unease at where I've found myself. I'm trying to find a way out - that's my goal here, I have to stay focused - but what if I never escape? Stuck here for an eternity, until I'm wiped out by one of their sadistic training exercises. The thought chills me.
I hear a noise behind me, and turn quickly to see Jude behind me. "Hey, 718," he says casually. There's still something odd about his friendliness. Maybe it's the fact that no one else here has it.
"Hey," I respond, then pause. Suddenly, I think of a good question to ask. "Jude, why don't you have a number?"
"I do," Jude answers slowly. "I'm 231. But Jude's been my nickname for a couple of years now. You get old enough, maybe you'll get a name too."
"If I survive," I say cautiously.
"If you survive," he replies amiably. "It's not that hard to do, once you learn the ropes. You're already on your way - the first day's the hardest."
"Tell me about it," I say. "I didn't even know that was going to happen - at the entrance test, I mean - I really wasn't prepared. All of that death..."
Jude chuckles, and I stare at him. "Hey, no need to look at me funny," he says indignantly. "Those deaths are necessary. Part of the culling process. They wouldn't have survived in the long run anyway. If they ever got an owner, they'd be dead in a day, and would have been totally worthless. Besides, what does one death matter, when they can simply create more to replace him?"
I was almost going to ask him what he meant by "owners", or "creating more" but I stop myself. I don't trust Jude, not at all, and because of that I can't trust his answers. I'll have to find another way of discovering the truth.
There's the sound of pealing horns all around. "Well, that's revile," says Jude. "Better get a move on, so we can get to the assembly area on time."
"Today is individual assignment day," the fake female voice says. "All individual assignments will be displayed on the screens in the back of each group housing. Please proceed to your house to find your assignment."
We troop back to our bunk, and I find that the black panel in the hallway was the "screen" the voice was talking about. I look down the list to find my number. At the very bottom, it says: "718: Observation." I wondered who would be observing who.
"Lucky," says Jude, giving me a nudge. "First day observation. This means you just have to look around and see what the rest of us are doing. It's their way of giving you the day off." Or spying on me, I added mentally.
The men leave the cabin gradually. I look down the list of things they have to do. It's very basic for the most part, stuff like "scrub mess hall" or "wash Group Alpha housing windows". A couple strike me as somewhat more ominous, ones like "behavior readjustment" or "submissiveness training". I wonder why the men accept the system, and then it suddenly strikes me that I'm not sure I want to know. Let the horrors stay beneath the surface, and keep your mind at ease.
I wander outside, idly watching the men do their chores, which admittedly aren't terribly entertaining. I'd much rather be watching Kyra as she went about her business. I understand though, that it was never meant for me to stay with her: either I would have been caught by her or Sable, or I would have struck off on my own. I did have a mission.
My mission. I could put this "observation" time I had right now to good use, and look for an escape route. I'd have to get out of here at some point, and I'd rather it be sooner instead of later. But how could I escape? There had to be some system in place behind the scenes, supplying food and water and air. I could use that to my advantage... sewers or vent shafts, I'd find some way to get out.
I decided to start my search in the mess hall, where I'd seen several vent grilles in the ceiling. If I could find a way of getting one open without being spotted, I could make my way out. But I'd worry about the details later. Now I'd just have to see if they could be opened at all.
I'm almost to the mess hall when I see a large group of men clustered around a very small building. The mechanical voice is droning about breaking up and getting back to work, but it is clear that for once, nobody is paying much mind. The building they are staring at is about the size of an elevator, and its door is open, although the only thing visible inside is darkness.
Suddenly, something runs, screaming, out of the hole. I get a glimpse of twisted features and a bloody gash before the thing runs by me yelling, and into the crowd, who catch it and lift it back up.
It's Jude. He has a huge slash down the side of his face, and it is bleeding all over his white clothes. His expression is full of rage and horror. "That madman - I can't - he's crazy - I can't do it!" he sputters. Then he whirls and points at me. "You. Newbie. 718. You handle this." He stalks off, gingerly poking his wound.
The others nudge me forward, into the darkness. I have no choice in the matter. They push me in, and shut the door behind me.
I am alone. In the dark. With a man who is violent and probably insane. This is just great.
I walk uncertainly into the blackness, my hands out in front of me in case I slam into something. I feel like I'm walking down a pretty steep slope, but I can't see anything. The ground below me levels off. Then, there ahead of me, piercing the darkness, is a single spotlight of white.
There's a face in it, pointed upwards directly into the light. There's a smile that is somehow slanted to the wrong angle, pasted on the face. The man's eyes are bulging. He has a ragged beard, and thinning hair. He keeps staring into the light.
Then he looks down, directly at me, and laughs. A horrible, spine-tingling laugh. "Stay away!" he shouts hoarsely. "You won't touch me! Stay away!"
I walk slowly towards him. "I'm not going to touch you. I just want to talk," I say, putting my hands in the air in front of me, and keeping the same measured pace.
"Get away!" he snarls, waving his hands in the air around him like he's having a seizure. His nails are long and sharp, and I figure I know what gave Jude his gash. "I know what you want!"
"I only want to talk," I repeat, still walking. You can't let him scare you off. Just keep walking. "Trust me."
I'm only a few feet away. The man begins to howl, fierce animal cries, like something wounded. The same noises the cats made when I fought them off, back in the junkyard. As I move towards him he seems to collapse inwards, the cries descending into whimpers. Then I am right in front of him. He stares up at me, in wonderment. "Is it... Is it you?"
"I am me," I reply. "But I don't think I'm the one you mean."
"No," he says, crumpling slightly, but a light in his eyes. "But at least you aren't like the others."
It takes some minutes for him to speak, but finally he does. "My name is Raymond Phillips," the man says, extending his gnarled hand.
"Adam," I say, shaking it. "I don't remember my last name."
"Doesn't matter. You have a name. That means you're not Plant-born. You know the outside. You think independently."
"I was just put in here yesterday," I reply. "Before that, I lived on the outside. But I've come here..." I was almost ready to talk about my mission, but not quite. Better he not know yet. I had to be sure I knew him.
"See, no wonder you're not like the others. Not like that traitor Jude. You know who he works for, right?" He cocks his thumb at the ceiling. "The ones up there."
"I knew something was wrong about him." I say, then pause. "You seem like you know more about this place than I do."
"Yes," he says, rubbing his head. "I've been in this - this isolation chamber for two weeks now, and I was in the plant for a week before that. And before that..." He trails off. I notice how gaunt he looks, and hungry. There's this lost look in his eyes, the look of a man who's seen suffering. "...But my story is a long one, and I wouldn't force you to hear it."
"We have time," I say calmly. "Start at the beginning. Maybe it'll help you. Make you feel better."
"That I doubt." He says. "But if you want to hear it, I'll tell it."
I used to live out in the settlements, just like you did. My settlement, however, was... destroyed. Many of them were, by natural causes or otherwise. I'm guessing yours was too. They all wound up that way eventually. But I digress.
They moved me into another town, closer to their city. They were consolidating them, the last survivors, into more concentrated areas. Then, one day, three giant women came at once, and told us to assemble outside. We all went out to the central area, and there they were, the three of them, towering above us. They put this huge container in front of us, filled with seats, and they told us to get on.
Some of us did it right away, unquestioningly. Others, like myself, waited, hesitant. Then the one in the middle, this young girl with blond hair, she slipped off her shoe. She held her bare foot in the air above us, let us smell her sweat. Then she said, very calmly, that if we didn't get on, she and her associates would crush us all under their bare feet.
We had no choice. We got on, and the blond girl picked us up. Our whole town, there in her arms. She nodded to her friends, and as we watched, they destroyed our city. First they stomped on it, their boots destroying the buildings, then they pummeled it with their fists, and then finally they lay on top of it, until there was nothing but wreckage left. All this, while we watched. They looked like they enjoyed it.
The blond girl carried us back to their vehicle, and put us down. Then she covered the exit of the box with one hand, and with the other, she misted us with some strange-smelling stuff. Next thing I knew, I was unconscious.
When I woke up, I was in a completely strange place. I immediately realized that my legs felt different: they had been injured badly when my first settlement was destroyed, but it appeared they had been fixed, somewhat. Now I was able to walk, although with a limp.
I looked to my left only to see a giant face next to mine. It was a young, pretty one: that of a twelve year old girl. Her name was Amy, I soon found out. Her mother, Lauren, was my owner. They were clearly very rich: their house had all the finest styles, the most expensive furniture, the swankiest surroundings. It was the most luxurious prison I'd ever seen. I suspected that their wealth was why I had been given to them.
The day would go like this: I would be woken in the morning by Lauren, who I slept with more often than not, although occasionally she would leave me to spend the night with her daughter. As she brushed her teeth, I would do her nails, or she would place me on her shoulder and instruct me to do her perfume.
On one particularly terrifying occasion, she placed me on top of her head and told me to arrange her hair. I slipped and nearly fell to my death, grabbing onto her hair and pulling it in the process. She immediately grasped me so hard my ribs hurt and I lost my breath, held me directly in front of her face, and proceeded to furiously shout at me, the sound deafening, the wind blowing like a mighty storm. There's nothing quite like being yelled at by a giant member of the opposite sex to make you subservient.
But even that incident pales in comparison to what would happen to me during the day. Then, I was left alone with her daughter Amy. This child appeared to be cute, and sweet, and innocent. Cute she was, but when left alone she was inhumanly sadistic. She appeared not to understand that I was an intelligent, living being, and thus felt free to play with me any way she pleased, poking and prodding, once even lightly stepping on me. Day in, day out, I did what I could to try and survive her ferocious play, knowing that if I so much as gave her a scratch, she or her mother could kill me.
Worst were the nights I was forced to sleep with Amy. She held me to her chest all night, smothering me against her. I could hear her monstrous breathing and heartbeat behind me, and I constantly worried that she would roll over and crush me beneath her massive body weight. I never got any sleep when I was with her, and the next day I would be incompetent, causing Lauren to get upset with me.
Finally, one day I had had enough. I snuck out of the house along with Lauren, carefully placing myself in her handbag. When I judged the time was right, I leapt out of the handbag, only to be seen instantly by a member of the Establishment. She quickly swept me up and used a strange gas on me. Once again, I was knocked out.
I woke up here, in the Plant. This was back when the first Plant-born were being produced. There were a number who I suspected were like me, born outside the system, but they behaved as sluggishly as those around them. I resolved to try and find out what was making them behave this way.
I had my answer that first day at the mess hall. I took two bites of the food I was given, and waited. All of a sudden, I began to feel lethargic, slow, stupid. I was able to self-diagnose as being in an almost hypnotically drowsy state, easily suggestible. From that day forward I didn't eat anything I was served, always trading with someone I knew had been in the system for a while. You see, after the first week of being served the drugged meals, the body begins to naturally synthesize the doping chemicals. The person is permanently affected, whether they eat the treated food or not.
I kept below the radar for three days, trading my meals with others to avoid being afflicted. Then, they caught on. They assigned that bastard Jude to watch over me, making sure I ate my own food, and that no one traded with me. So I starved myself instead. I began to act out publicly, refusing to go along with their "training exercises" or "individual assignments". I was hoping that they'd punish me, make me an example. Frankly, I was sick of living as a slave. I couldn't take it, I was too independent.
Instead of killing me, however, they simply shoved me in here. Solitary confinement. Sensory deprivation. These were all terms I was familiar with, as a student of experimental psychology back in the days where there were still universities for our kind. Instead of breaking, like they expected me to, I decided to adapt.
I formed an identity for myself, as a deranged, out of control lunatic. I would attack anyone they sent to try and persuade me. I refused any food they offered me. I said I would drink water only if they gave it to me in sealed, purified bottles, the exact same brand that they gave us in the settlements. When they tried to give me fakes, I would refuse them. I drank only what I knew was authentic, and what I needed to survive.
Their visits became less and less frequent. And gradually, that identity I made for myself was no longer a lie. The mask I wore became my true face. I went truly insane, here in the darkness. I heard voices. I muttered to myself, and I began to have paranoid delusions. The worst thing was that even as I decayed, some separate part of me was always watching my own downfall, analyzing my descent into madness. Then you arrived, and I began, slowly, to remember...
"...And that brings me to the present." Raymond finishes, looking worn and exhausted.
I stayed silent for a minute, looking at the man. I thought I had suffered. Yet here was a living example of a man who had endured much worse than I had. "Thank you for telling me," I say solemnly. "I know it must've been hard for you."
"It was," Raymond says through gritted teeth. "But it really did help. I think the madness is leaving me. It helps greatly to have someone to actually talk to."
"You're telling me," I reply. "I was starting to lose it myself. Everyone else is silent except Jude, and then he's even worse..."
"That pig," says Raymond with casual malice. "I'm betting he gets it easy for the job he does for them. Probably has an agreement to keep them from hurting him."
We fall silent then for a minute or two, then I get an idea.
"You know, maybe you should give living topside another shot," I say. His look is full of disgust, so I quickly continue, "Maybe you'd be able to keep your sanity if we talked to each other. We could help each other survive. I could smuggle you food. We could plan an escape. The two of us."
Raymond stares at me for a second, then lowers his eyes, slowly shaking his head. "It'd never work. We'd be too obvious. It's better for me to remain here."
I look at him with disbelief. "You know, you really seemed strong, for a second there. But you're really going to allow them to crush your spirit? You're just going to give up?"
He looks up at me, and there's this strange look in his eyes, almost pleading. "Just leave me here. Go on your own. It's better this way."
Instead, I take his hand. "Together, we can make it out of here."
I firmly tug at him, dragging him along for a foot or two. Then he slowly comes to a standing position. "Well, what the hell. If I die out there... Well then, at least I'll have tried."
I let go of his hand, and we walk back out into the light.
A Man of His Time
We emerge from the isolation chamber, and I find the crowds have dispersed. Maybe the mechanical voice was finally able to convince them to get back to work.
Raymond and I head quickly back to the housing area. If I can hide him before anyone else gets back, he'll be able to remain in hiding without the system knowing about him. That is, if there aren't already microphones in my room and cameras hidden under the bed.
I take him back and show him to my room. "Just like I remember it," whispers Raymond with a dry chuckle. "That good old minimalist Plant style."
"I'll try to smuggle you some food at lunch," I say.
"Bread and water's all I need. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's all my stomach will be able to take right now, I've been starving for so long..."
I nod and close the door on him, then head to lunch.
The rest of my groupmates are already seated and eating by the time I arrive, so I'm able to go down the food line quickly. More importantly, I'm able to go down it twice. I wonder what I'll do on an ordinary day when I need to smuggle for Raymond. I figure it's all the more reason for us to escape soon.
I sit back down to find Jude across from me. "Hey 718," he says, laying the fake charm on thick. "How was your luck with the crazy?"
I don't have a lie prepared, so I simply stay silent, and stare at the vent grille above me. An idea starts coming to me.
"You don't look like you saw him. No scars!" He laughs, and it sounds cheap and hollow. I try to avoid staring at the huge, swollen gash on his face. "Don't tell me you chickened out."
I clear my throat. "I didn't. He didn't hurt me, but I couldn't get him to come up."
Jude stares at me in disbelief. "You talked to him? Without him trying to kill you? Wow newbie, I'm impressed." I get a glimpse of a calculating look in his eyes; maybe I'm just imagining things.
I finish quickly, and leave before anyone else has a chance to ask questions. I don't want to lie to them, and I can't take the risk of Raymond being exposed.
I return to the housing, hand Raymond his bread. Instead of stuffing himself with it, like any ordinary starving man would, he looks at it curiously. "I wonder why your food isn't drugged, like mine was."
"Maybe it is," I reply. "But I don't think so. I've been thinking clearly since I got here."
Raymond slowly lifts it to his mouth and takes a small bite. He waits a few seconds before taking a bigger one. "I don't feel anything," he says. "Either they've improved the drugs to the point where I can't self-diagnose, or your food is clean."
"That makes no sense," I say, confused. "I've been as rebellious as you, maybe even more. Hell, I tried to climb out when they did the initiation exercise."
Raymond looks at me, eyes twinkling. "You tried to climb out! Man, you really are braver than I thought. Although that bravery could easily be confused for stupidity."
I punch him lightly on the arm, and we laugh. Then I quickly get serious again. "I was trying to get out when I did that. Now, I think I have a real plan. A better one. Still brave, but much less stupid."
"Well then," says Raymond. "I'm all ears."
It's evening, and the call for dinner is sounded. I quickly jog ahead, and manage to be first in line for dinner. I get not one, not two, but three meals. As I sit at the dinner table, same position as always, I hide all the bread in my shirt. We'll need provisions for the long run.
Slowly, the other people in my group sit down around me. Soon, everyone is eating. The table is unusually quiet tonight. It feels like all eyes are on me, like everyone knows what we're planning. I focus on my food, and try to enjoy it. This may be the last time I eat for a while.
Everyone is sitting and eating when the doors suddenly swing wide open, and in walks Raymond. He walks in like he owns the place, and he's certainly got everyone's attention. Jude is sitting a few spaces away from me, and his mouth is hanging open about as wide as it can go without his jaw falling off.
Raymond quickly strides over to a group two tables over, grabs a food tray and holds it high over his head. "All of you, look at me!" he shouts in a commanding voice. "This food you are eating has been poisoned!" He throws the tray down, splattering food everywhere. "It is designed to let them control your mind!"
Jude stands up, stuttering, "H-hey, you c-c-can't do that..."
Raymond grabs another tray, and throws it farther, so that it lands in the middle of the room. "You mustn't eat this! You have to rebel!"
The two people whose trays he's thrown are glaring at him. When Raymond picks up a third, and tosses it, it hits someone in the head. That person throws it right back at him, but misses. And in no time, we have a combination of a food fight and a riot.
Right in the thick of it, I stand up on the table, unnoticed by anyone in the commotion. I quickly grasp the ventilation grille above me, and tug on it with all my might. It moves maybe half an inch. I tug again, harder. Still just half an inch of movement. This isn't going fast enough, I'm not going to have enough time...
I tug once more, and this time the vent grille abruptly gives out. I look behind me to see Raymond with the grille in his hands. "Let's move!" he shouts.
He hoists me up, and I crawl into the vent shaft, then dangle my arms out of it. Raymond grabs my hands, and I pull him up to the point where he can make it on his own. "Which way?" asks Raymond.
"No idea," I respond. "Let's try left!" I begin crawling down the vent shaft.
We make it about three feet down the vent shaft before the ground beneath us suddenly gives way, and we're tumbling through space, crashing to the ground. My head bangs against metal, and I feel myself sliding out of consciousness...
I'm being pulled along, and the crowds haven't started running or panicking yet, they're just standing right now, looking up. I look along with them, as I'm pulled along, and I see big red shoes, high heels, filled with perfect pale white feet, and strong ankles, but I can't see any higher than that. I can't see her face, or her chest, or even the tops of her legs. The giant one is shouting something, but I can't understand what she's saying, although I'm sure she's mad, that's all I know.
But there's a sharp yank on my arm, and I'm being pulled down into a basement (the basement. this is it. back to the beginning again). The man stops pulling me, and drops my hand, and then he squats down in front of me, and puts his arms around me. He seems serious, and out of breath, and nervous.
"You have to stay down here," he says. "Even if I don't come back. You have to stay here until she's gone. That way you'll be safe. Promise me you won't leave."
I stare at him. What is wrong? I don't say anything.
"Do you promise?" he asks, giving me a little shake.
"I promise," I say (because you wanted to be a good little boy. stupid kid. why the hell didn't you try and stop him).
"I love you," he says. "Be good." Then he turns and begins to walk up the steps (stop him! don't just stand there! stop him).
It's only two minutes after he closes the door that I realize he's my father.
I don't scream when I wake up from the first part of the dream. I just wake up filled with feelings I can't explain, feelings of guilt and sadness. That's how I wake up now.
The feelings fade away quickly, however, when I see my surroundings.
I'm out. Outside the Plant. Around me, I see a jumble of technical equipment, wires and monitors. Everything seems absurdly far below me, then I realize that I'm standing on a desktop. I turn and look down, and there in front of me is a massive dome, its outer shell transparent. I can see right into it, down to the buildings below. You can see in from the outside, but from the inside you can't see out. Very, very clever.
I look around for Raymond, but he's nowhere in sight. There's no obvious way off of the desktop. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see her.
Her humongous face is just twenty feet from mine. She has long, lustrous brown hair, which falls in gentle curls. Her skin is very fair, her eyes blue, her lips redder than apples. She is closer to me than any of the giants have ever been before. She is very, very beautiful. She completely terrifies me.
I turn and run, trying to find something on the fairly bare desk to hide behind.
"Don't be scared," she says, putting her huge hands up in front of her. This is only more frightening - they remind me of the last time I saw a giant hand. When she puts them down on the desk, however, I see that she has clear, unstained nail polish on. I don't think she's the one who did the initiation.
"What do you want from me?" I yell out, hoping that she can hear what I'm saying, as opposed to the quaver in my voice. I wasn't always this skittish. The Plant must have gotten to me.
"I just want to talk," she says. "My name's Mary."
It slowly dawns on me that I've seen her before. "You were the one I saw. The sky - it went transparent -"
"Yes," she whispers. "That was me."
I realize that I've been crouching, acting like an animal at bay. I stand up awkwardly, and try to seem more relaxed. I'd been completely intimidated, for no reason. "Why were you looking at me?" I ask.
She pauses. It looks like she's thinking of a good answer. "It's my job to watch over you men. I keep everything running in order. It's what I do."
"You work for them?" I ask. I don't even know who 'them' is, exactly. Cripes, what are you doing, asking questions of her? Show some respect...
She bites her lip and nods. "It's a living."
"Funny. You didn't seem like you were their type." Stupid. That could sound insulting.
"I'm exactly their type. I do pretty much everything," she says, a little defensively. "I control food, water, all the background stuff. Everything except the programs." I get the feeling that by 'programs' she means the things they did to us.
"So, wait then," I say, with sudden understanding, "Are you the reason my food wasn't drugged?" She blushes. "You've been watching over me." I finish.
She turns away a little, almost avoiding my eyes. I wish there was some good way of showing my thanks, but I can't think of anything off the top of my head. "It was the next best thing..."
"To having one of my own." She says very quietly, her voice breaking a little. I hope she isn't going to cry. To my relief, she doesn't.
"So, that's why we're here..." I say. "I thought that's what it was. You're training us to be given to the Establishment."
"Only the most important people get them," she says. "They have to meet a certain set of characteristics. The people who run the Plants, the people behind the scenes, we don't qualify. We get paid to do our work and keep quiet about it..." She trails off. "I have no idea why I'm telling you all this. Maybe I just need to get it off my chest."
She seems conflicted about something, but continues.
"But I wanted to talk to one of you. I've never actually met one of you before. I've only seen you from above. From far away. I watch you men all day, and yet you never hear my voice, and only you, little man, have seen my face."
"So, are you... lonely?" I venture.
She stares down at her lap. "Yes. I'm not allowed to talk to anyone without a security clearance about this job. And if I ever tried to chat with one of my superiors, I don't think I'd get very far."
"You can talk to me," I say honestly. "Anytime you want. I'll be there. I'll listen."
"No," she says, sadly. "You can't. They want you dead."
I stare at her, feeling my insides go cold. "They want to kill me."
"Yes," she says. "And that's why you have to escape."
"But how am I going to -"
She puts a finger to those lovely lips. "I'm going to show you a way. You have to promise me something though."
"Anything," I say.
"When you're on the outside, you have to find the Truthseekers. If they know you exist, they can spread the word. With proof of man's existence, they could bring the entire Establishment down. But you have to be brave enough to do it."
I suddenly have tremendous doubts. The Truthseekers, although they seemed to be good, were giants. If I turned myself in, they could hold me captive just like the Establishment did. After all, I was their 'proof'. Why would they run the risk of me running away? They'd probably keep me in a cage, until they finished using me for whatever they wanted. Then, abruptly, my thoughts changed. What if what they wanted was sex? The idea of acting as a sex slave for a group of giants was both arousing and horrifying at the same time.
But I didn't know anything about the Truthseekers. They could be slave drivers, or they could be kind, I had no way of being sure. I'd made my promise, and that was the end of it. I'd find them.
"When I made the escape attempt, there was someone else with me," I begin.
"I have him. He's on the counter in the corner, still unconscious. Let me go get him."
She walks off, allowing me a full view of her body, which is a very nice view indeed. Her butt sways a little as she walks. She goes over to the counter, and then returns, carefully placing her massive hand on the desk. Her nails click against the wood as they touch the tabletop. There, in the middle of her hand, looking surprisingly small and weak, is curled Raymond. She gently tilts her hand so he slides off, and he wakes up as soon as he hits ground.
"Huh?" he says sitting up, then whirls around to see Mary. He immediately stands up, fists at the ready. "Stay back! I'm warning you..." he says. It's impressive to see his bravery, no matter how pathetic his defensive position looks when compared to the huge woman before him.
"She's not going to hurt us," I call out to him. "She's going to show us the way out."
He looks over at me, and I nod, trying to convince him to stop making a fool of himself. Slowly, he puts down his fists. "If you're going to show us the way out, woman, you'd best do it now." He growls.
"The two of you should step onto my palm." She lays her hand flat, and we walk towards it.
"Are you really sure we can trust her?" Raymond whispers to me.
"I think so," I say. "And believe me, I'm not the most trusting person."
We both climb onto her palm, which is soft and warm beneath us, and smells faintly of lotion. We cross to the center and sit down, and her hand cups around us. We rise into the air, the trip upwards throwing me off my balance as I see the world tilting crazily. Then there are some moments of chaotic motion which I take to be her walking towards our exit, and suddenly her palm is flat and still once again.
We're in front of a huge, ruffled metallic tube, which has a small hole cut in its side. Mary slides us off her palm, and then stands to her full, tremendous height. I crane my neck to look up at her.
"There were some other men who used this to escape. I know they made it out. I caught a glimpse of one of them. You can get out the same way they did."
I make an exaggerated waving motion, and shout up, "Goodbye! Thank you for your help!"
She turns away from us and mumbles something which sounds like, "I'll miss you."
I stare at her, and continue watching as she goes back to her console and begins typing in commands, working once more at providing for the men who will never see her face, whom she can never touch.
Raymond puts a hand on my shoulder, gently steering me towards the opening in the duct. There's a roar of rushing air inside of it. "You think we should do it?" Raymond asks. "For all we know, it leads straight to the incinerator."
I take a deep breath. "I trust her," I say. "I don't know why, but I do."
"Well then, you go in first," says Raymond.
I nod, and approach the gap. The sound of high winds gets stronger. I can't see anything in the hole but featureless black. Once more into the unknown. I grasp the sides of the hole, and pull myself in.
A Man of His Time
I hurtle through dark space, wind rushing around me, making the sense of speed even more intense. I have no idea how fast I'm going, where I am in the tube, or how close I am to the end. All I know is that I want it to stop.
And then, suddenly, it does. Painfully. I hit the ground clumsily, not quite on my feet and not quite on my ass. The sunlight is blinding. There is noise all around me. The difference is a shock.
I quickly stumble out of the way as I hear Raymond tumbling down the pipe, screaming and cursing on his way down. He lands in a crumpled heap at the bottom.
I help him to his feet, and then look at our surroundings while I try to catch my breath. It looks like we're at the end of an alleyway, which stretches up miles above my head. Then, directly ahead of us, is a sight that makes me dizzy.
Feet. Hundreds of them. Flip flops, high heels, boots, every kind of foot imaginable, and all kinds of legs attached to them, all of them suspiciously good looking. And all of them moving. And all of them the size of skyscrapers. I don't know whether to be aroused, frightened or just confused. I certainly feel very, very small.
Raymond watches with me. "Just how the hell are we supposed to get past that?" He asks, sounding hopeless.
"I don't know," I reply. "I don't even know where we're going. All I was told was that we have to find the Truthseekers."
Raymond looks appalled. "What? Are you crazy?"
"It's what Mary told me to do," I murmur, suddenly less confident. I worry that my worst fears will be confirmed.
"The Truthseekers are against the Establishment," Raymond says, "But that doesn't mean they're pro-man. If we go to them, there's a huge chance that they'll kill us."
"Why? How do you know this?"
"Because, psychotics breed psychotics. You think it was only nature that killed off mankind? These women, they were killing us as soon as they were twice our size."
"But then how did they survive, without us? How are there so many of them?"
"The same reason that there are so many men now. Soon after the crisis point was reached, when the male population dipped lower than two hundred thousand, all scientific research was directed towards longevity vaccines and cloning methods.
"It only took them a year to hit upon a successful method of cloning both women and men by using stored genetic data. Hell, they were even able to emulate reproduction, by mixing and matching genes. And that's how humanity survived. How unfortunate." Raymond was working himself up into a bit of a frenzy. "You would know this too, if it weren't for the fact that historical materials weren't even available to any third generation post-crisis males. Slowly, as more of them ruled the world, things became more and more corrupt, we had less and less rights. And now, I bet I'm one of the only ones who even know the whole sad story."
I stand there, stunned. I have learned, in a just a few minutes, more secrets than I had ever known in my life. Raymond stares at the ground, shaking his head.
"We can't go to the Truthseekers. They were born and bred into a society that has treated us as less than human. They will treat us the same way. We can't trust them."
"Well, then," I say despairingly, "Where do we go?"
Raymond takes a moment before answering. "There's a legend," he begins. "Of a man who was born in the Plants. One of the first Plant-born. This was before they started using drugs. Back then, they thought they'd be able to manage it with simple behavior therapy. And it worked, for most of the men.
"But this one man, he reacted negatively to the behavioral training. Instead of becoming obedient and submissive, he became rebellious. After many tries, this man finally managed to escape into the world at large.
"At first he was very hands-on, planting the seeds of rebellion wherever he could, in any way possible. He refused to be called by his number, giving himself the name of Jot Orem. Soon enough, he was infamous.
"He, together with some of the disenfranchised from the settlements, were the ones that created the Underground."
"The Underground?" The name sounds vaguely familiar. A whisper heard in the street. A name written on a scrap of paper. A secret.
"A collection of men, spread out all over the world, designed to free other men and provide safety for those who've escaped. If the Establishment ever was dismantled, they'd be the ones to do it."
I don't know how to answer him. I'm not sure which choice is right. "I made a promise to Mary," I say. "I have to honor it."
Raymond sighs. "I was afraid you'd say that. You seem like the honorable type."
"Well," I say hesitantly. "Are you coming?"
"We don't stand a chance alone, either of us. I'm old, gray and weak, and you're young, foolish and idealistic. So, yes, I'm coming."
"How are we going to travel?" I ask.
"Well, we don't have any other mode of transportation, so..."
"Oh, I know we're walking. I mean, how are we going to avoid -" I jerk a thumb at the huge legs and feet moving rapidly behind us.
"Yeah, I know, splat." He smiles grimly. "Well, I guess we just stick to the sides of the sidewalk, and hope no one decides to walk near the edges."
We walk slowly towards the crowded masses of women moving down the street. Their huge feet move amazingly fast, and the sound as they hit pavement is loud and hard. I shudder at the thought of being crushed under the high heel of a less-than-careful giantess. Some movement at the corner of my eye makes me turn, but I can't see anything. I'm getting too jumpy. My nerves are at an all-time high...
Raymond takes a deep breath and then exhales dramatically. "Well then, let's do this." Without another word, he dives into the forest of massive legs.
I quickly follow him in, trying to follow his movements. He fluidly ducks and dodges around the feet flying around us. Every time a foot hits the ground it causes everything to shake a little, throwing me off, but it doesn't even seem to faze him. I'm tempted to yell out and ask him if he's done this before, but I worry about the chance that someone hear this and spot me.
Raymond veers to the left ahead through a clear patch, and I try to follow him, only to have a gigantic black leather high heel stomp down just inches away from me. I stumble backwards, and find myself staring upwards at a pink and white sneaker coming straight towards me.
I run blindly, not knowing if I'm about to be crushed. The sneaker hits the ground behind me somewhere, and the shockwave throws me to the ground. I look around and see if Raymond is anywhere. He's nowhere in sight. When I last saw him, he was running off to the left. He must be on the left edge of the sidewalk.
I start running again, looking over my shoulder to see a huge boot falling just where I was. I head forward, throwing caution to the winds. A blue flip flop with a very pretty tan foot inside of it sails just over my head, so close that I can touch the foam.
I keep running forward, only to find myself directly in front of a high heeled sandal, the kind that has a very thin sole. Five huge toes with sparkly green nail polish stare me in the face, and I stand transfixed as they begin to rise and move forward. Suddenly the toes are level with my waist, then my shoulders. And they're just a foot or two away. All I can think is that I'm going to die. Those toes will hit me like a car accident, and I will be no more.
Then, something does hit me. But instead of coming head on, it smashes into me from the side, not hitting my head but my torso. And suddenly, I've gone horizontal. Everything is moving slowly. Dreamlike. Above me, the sole of the sandal drifts lazily by, and I can see every detail of grime on the plastic.
I hit the ground hard, and whoever tackled me rolls off and starts dragging me off the sidewalk. It's only by the time we've reached the side of the walkway, near the wall, where no one is walking, that I'm able to stand up. Raymond is running towards me, but he came from a long way off. Right in front of me is a short, bald man, with a large ginger moustache. He says gruffly, "You lucky bastard."
Raymond finally arrives, panting. "I assumed you were following me, didn't look back until I got to the end, then I saw you weren't there..."
"It's okay," I say. "This man saved me."
"Aye, that I did," says the man. "And you're lucky I was there for it. Otherwise, you would've been -"
"Splat," I finish for him. "I know. Thank you. Very much."
Raymond's staring at him. "Hold up. If you're a man on the outside, you must be part of -"
The man holds up a hand. "Best not to say the name. But yeah. We've got men stationed outside of every known Plant, and this is one of 'em. Me an' my partner, we're trained to help stupid sots like you two get off the streets and to safety."
Another man drops down from above, then disconnects himself from a large rope. This one is thin, with jet black hair and large bangs that sweep down either side of his forehead. "Hey, we got some new escapees. What're their names, Earl?"
"I'm Adam," I say. "And this is Raymond." I put out my hand, and Raymond his.
Both men shake our hands, in turn. "I'm Antoine," says the tall one. "And I just told you that he's Earl."
"Thanks," says Earl grumpily. "I don't even get to introduce myself 'round here no more."
"It's not safe to travel the streets," says Antoine quickly, before Earl can say more. "Not here or anywhere else. You'll have to use the Underground to get where you want to go."
"Could you take us to the nearest Hub?" Raymond asks.
"Certainly. But that nearest Hub is the Main Hub, natch?" says Antoine.
"And no one gets in there except those Jot approves," Earl adds.
Antoine looks us over. His eyes are piercing gray, and I feel like they could see right through me if he wished them to. "I think you might be able to make it past. Not like you got any other choice. Now that we've found you, it's our responsibility to take you there."
I almost start to protest, knowing that I've got to see the Truthseekers, not the Underground. I could just say I have a promise to keep, and almost do, but Raymond quickly puts a finger to his lips. "Please, take us there with all haste," Raymond answers.
Antoine hands us all ropes. I tug on mine and discover it's dangling from a small ledge high above us. All four of us climb up slowly, trying to avoid catching the eye of any passerby. Soon we reach the ledge, and I see that there's a hole about a foot wide carved out of the building's brick.
"This'll take us straight into our tunnel system. We'll have you at the Main Hub in no time."
I follow the two Underground members into the hole, and we begin to crawl.
I lose track of time as we crawl through cramped tunnels made of hastily packed clay. I worry that the walls will suddenly fall in, and we'll be trapped down here, running out of oxygen. But we move through, slowly and carefully. And soon enough, Antoine raises his hand in a gesture for us to stop. He prods the roof of the tunnel, and something shifts above us. Then he puts his palms flat against the roof and pushes upwards, and light floods the dark tube.
Antoine and Raymond climb out first, and I follow just afterwards. I emerge out into a small, dank chamber made out of stone and built to men's proportions. Earl comes out from behind us. Antoine signals us to follow him, and we all remain silent. It's like some weird, almost religious quiet has descended on us all, and we're afraid to break its spell.
Antoine leads us into a small cell with a bench at one end. It reminds me of what I've seen of prison, on TV shows, back when we still had TV. We're spending a year in the slammer.
There aren't any bars in front of us, however; nothing's locked down. We're free to go at any time. Earl bends down and whispers, "You can leave if you want, but I wouldn't recommend it. You might make us think you're spies, and trust me when I say you wouldn't want that."
An hour passes, and neither Raymond or I speak a word. I almost can't get up the courage to say anything. It feels like any sound would be crushed, flattened by our surroundings.
Antoine returns just as things are beginning to get really dull. "He'll see you now," he says, and leads us down a hallway at a brisk pace. Finally, we stop in front of a large, circular metal door, which almost looks like a hatch. Antoine stops just in front of the door, turns to us. "Remember, don't lie. He may not be well-read, but he can sure as hell read people." And with that, he opens the door.
We enter into a space that seems cavernous when compared to our cramped surroundings over the past two hours. The walls are bare stone. The sound of our footsteps echoes. And, from the back of the room, a voice calls out. "Come forward."
Seated upon a huge stone chair, hands clasped in front of him, is the largest man I've ever seen. He must be taller than six foot six, I think to myself in awe. He is clearly older than most, but still looks intimidatingly strong. Raymond walks forward, and nervously, I follow. Raymond kneels before him, and as I prepare to the same, the man chuckles. "Please. You act like I'm a king. I'm just a leader. Stand and face me like men." His voice is deep and warm, with a hint of roughness.
We stand, and I get a proper view of his face. It's a broad, good-natured face, despite the wrinkles and scars. "Sir," says Raymond. "We are two men who were brought up on the outside, and managed to escape from the Plant."
The man waves a hand. "I don't want to hear. Just look at me." He looks deeply at us, sizing us up. I'm afraid to look away, and match his gaze, trying to figure out what he's thinking. He nods slightly, and then breaks eye contact. "I trust you," he says. "You can join us."
"That is a great honor, Sir," I say. "But we're actually looking for the Truthseekers."
Raymond puts his hand to his forehead. Jot looks intrigued. It takes me a second to realize that what I just said was probably really, really stupid.
"You are looking for the Truthseekers?"
"I promised I would. I was told they were the only way we could overthrow the Establishment." I know that this is only continuing down the path of idiocy, but I'm powerless to stop myself.
Jot shakes his head. "I do not think this is true," he says. "But if you want to find them, then you can go. But you must not travel the streets. You would be killed, like this," he says, snapping his fingers. "So, we will take you there. But in exchange, you must work for us."
I begin to interrupt, but he motions me to be silent, and for once I hold my tongue.
"Not for long. Just something we need to have done. You will do it. Then we will help you."
"We agree, Sir," says Raymond quickly, before I can make myself look more of a fool. "What would you have us do?"
"Antoine!" Jot yells, voice echoing around the chamber. The dark-haired man comes in, and Jot whispers rapidly into his ear. Then Antoine turns to us.
"We have discovered the location of a certain high-ranking Establishment official," Antoine explains. "We believe that listening in on her conversations will be able to provide us with a wealth of information. In short, we need a team of agents to infiltrate this woman's 'collection', as it were. They will wear wires, portable microphones, and report back as much information as they can."
"Sounds great," I say, "But where do we come in."
Antoine raises his eyebrows. "You? Why, you are the team. You two will pose as slaves, and spy on the Establishment for us."
A Man of His Time
I emerge from the tunnel into a space between an inner and outer wall of an apartment, or so I have been told. It looks a little like the space between Kyra's walls, but there are slight differences here and there, like how the insulation is pink instead of yellow.
Raymond and Antoine hop out behind me. Earl isn't along for this one. Antoine takes a second to catch his breath, and then gives us our final briefing.
"Okay, so you guys have been wired. Wear your wires at all times; they work even when you're asleep, and many times we've picked up vital conversations when a giant one thought no one else could hear. You also each have three sticky mikes. Place these in strategic locations around the apartment. That way, we'll be able to listen in on places where you aren't."
"Remember, you are just two new arrivals. This woman has so many men that she probably won't notice you, but you have to keep your heads down and your mouths shut. You can't pull any of that individualist heroic crap here, you'll be found out. But, provided you guys roll with the punches, things shouldn't be that hard."
Raymond snickers under his breath.
"I'll choose to ignore that," says Antoine without breaking the flow of his conversation. "Now, extraction. We'll extract you guys in one week's time. By then we'll expect you to have the sticky mikes planted. You meet back here, any hour on D-Day, and there'll be a team waiting to take you back. Remember where you came from, and keep track of the days. It's not that complicated. Any questions?"
Raymond and I raise our hands. Antoine rolls his eyes and points at Raymond.
"How do we keep in contact with you?" asks Raymond.
"You don't," says Antoine shortly. "Unless you talk into a sticky mike, we have no way of what's going on with you. We simply trust that you stay alive. If you don't make it out on extraction day, we assume you've been killed. It's simple as that."
"And what if she happens to have seen one of us before?" I ask.
"Keep a low profile," Antoine replies. "And it's unlikely she'll even see your face." He shoulders his pack.
"So, that's it?" I ask.
"That's it," he confirms. "You're on your own."
With that, climbs back into the tunnel, vanishing into the darkness. Raymond turns to me. "So," he says. "Think we should meet our new mistress?"
We climb out of the wall, and I look around. An ordinary but elegant living room. The furniture is clearly expensive. I guess I really shouldn't be surprised: this is the home of a member of the Establishment, and that means wealth and power.
I look around, trying to see where all the other men might be. Raymond grabs my arm, and uses it to point to an area behind me. There, just a few hundred feet from us, is a massive box missing its front and ceiling. "That must be where she keeps them," Raymond whispers.
We walk towards the box cautiously, making sure there aren't any giants in the area. Lucky for us, the coast stays clear.
The box is even larger up close than it seemed from afar; about two stories high and a good square mile of space within that. "There must be at least three hundred men in there," I say breathlessly.
Raymond nods grimly. "Let's go make friends with the natives," he says.
I climb up over the box's ledge, and quickly dash into the crowd. I have to blend in, look like I always have been here. There are so many of us that I doubt this giant will notice, but if someone tells her I snuck in...
I look around, and see that Raymond has successfully found his way over to the other side of the container without being spotted.
There's a muted buzz of conversation around the area, although most of the men are silent. Probably the training they were given in the Plant system. Those that do talk do so in whispers. There's a sense of danger in the air, and it makes me nervous.
I lean against one of the walls, and try to calm down. I try to tune out my surroundings. I close my eyes, I let the droning conversations melt into the background. I ignore the rumbling beneath my feet... The rumbling...
My eyes snap open. There, moving toward us, are two huge, fair calves, sloping down into amazingly large, smooth bare feet. There's a familiar shade of scarlet on the toenails. The conversations all instantly come to a halt.
The woman stands over us, blocking out the light, and I can't see her face. She bends over, looming over us, beautiful and threatening. Waves of ginger hair fall about us, hanging over some of the men's heads. It feels like her green eyes are locked on me. I feel like I could collapse, the bones inside me crumbling, leaving me in a puddle on the floor. She puts her purse down on the floor besides the box.
"Hello, little darlings," she says, her voice soft and purring, but with a hint of the commanding tone it's capable of hiding just beneath the surface.
"I hope you've had a nice rest," she says. "That meeting took ages." She yawns as she says the word 'ages', stretching out the 'a' sound. "It was so boring, I'm so glad to be back."
On my right, there's a man who looks to be a few years younger than I am. He sits curled, almost like he wants to fold in on himself and disappear. He mumbles to himself, saying the same thing over and over. It sounds like a prayer.
Cheryl stops crouching over us, and instead shifts into a position where she's half-lying next to us. "You know, boys, my daughter won't be home for another few hours." She says breathily. The intent in her voice is clear.
"Please no, please no pleaseno," murmurs the boy next to me.
"I was thinking that a few of you might like to... entertain me." She grins, showing off massive white teeth that are slick and shiny.
"Like we have any choice," mutters another man who is on my left.
Cheryl's voice becomes commanding, turning into the voice I heard at Kyra's house. "Everyone stand up."
All the men come to a rigid, straight standing position. They all have perfect posture. I struggle to stand up as straight as I can.
Somewhere above, a voice cries out. "It's not our turn!" The man howls. Cheryl looks surprised, and displeased. "The bedroomers are supposed to go today. We went just yesterday. You can't do this! You can't!"
There's a collective gasp from all the men, without anyone intending it. Even I, an outsider, know what he just said was unforgivable. "Who said that?" says Cheryl, her voice cold as steel. "Bring him to the front."
I crane my neck, trying to see what's happening on the second story. There's a lot of commotion, people moving about. Then one man is shoved to the front. He's short, pale, and looks as if he'd rather be anywhere but here right now. His cheeks are flushed, and suddenly his eyes blaze with anger.
"Yeah, I said it!" he yells, suddenly finding new confidence. "What are you going to do about it?"
"Poor suicidal bastard," the man to my left mutters. The boy on the right has stopped praying, and now stares ahead with morbid interest.
Cheryl reaches forwards with one tremendous pale hand and plucks the man off the floor, quickly spinning him head over heels until she's holding him upside down by his feet. I hear a cracking sound, and realize she's probably broken his ankles. She brings him close to her face.
"You impudent little jerk," Cheryl says. "You know full well the punishment for questioning me. You have to die. Slowly and painfully."
The short man seems like he's about to say something, then abruptly spits in her face.
Cheryl doesn't even wipe the tiny amount of spit off her face, simply sneers, then opens her mouth terribly wide, tilting it so all of us can see. Then, slowly, she begins to lower the short man in. He doesn't scream, but simply yells, cursing and screaming with anger. Shouting into the abyss of her throat. I wonder why he isn't terrified at the idea of the journey towards her stomach he's about to take. Then I understand. "He wants this," I say under my breath.
Just as the man's feet are about to disappear from view, Cheryl abruptly removes him from her mouth. He stops yelling. "On second thought," Cheryl says with subtle cruelty, "I don't think I'll swallow you."
The man looks panicked. Things are no longer going to plan.
"No," Cheryl sighs. "I think I'll just give you to Toni."
The kid on my right groans. "Poor bastard," repeats the guy on my left. "I don't envy him. That daughter of hers is a nightmare."
Cheryl drops the man, who is now screaming from fright, into her purse. I can still hear him, barely, as though he's coming from a great distance away. Cheryl turns back to us. "Now, which one of you wants to volunteer?" she asks, her voice clearly more hostile than before.
No one raises their hand. Cheryl's piercing green eyes pass over us in turn. She focuses hard on one spot in the group, then says, "You, the one in blue. Step forward." A man in a blue T-shirt steps out of the crowd. She carefully plucks him out of the group, places him in her palm, then continues to search the crowd.
Her eyes come towards my section. I close my eyes, still standing straight. Don't notice me. I'm not here. I'm no one. You don't remember me.
"You!" She says. My blood freezes. I open my eyes. She's looking right at me. Don't move. Maybe it isn't you (Of course it's you. Who else would it be?). "You aren't standing up."
I allow my eyes to shift sideways, to where the boy was sitting. Sure enough, he's still curled up on the ground.
Cheryl leans in closer, until I can feel her hot breath rustling my clothes. She stays there for a moment, looking at the kid next to me, and when she speaks next it's in a different tone. "Don't be scared," Cheryl says, and it's weird, but she sounds honest. "I'm not angry with you. I'm not going to hurt you. I just want you..." Her voice, that warm voice that peeked through, is becoming throatier. "I want you. Stand up, little man. You have a job to do."
And crazy as it is, the boy stands up. He holds his head higher. He looks Cheryl in the eyes.
"Yes, you know what you have to do," Cheryl says softly, seductively. "Will you do it for me?"
I want to yell out at him not to, it's not safe, she's fooling you! But after a moment's hesitation he nods, quietly. He's accepted it. She holds out her hand, before us all, and the young man steps forward and sits crosslegged in her palm. The man on my left shakes his head slowly. And I know why the young man goes. He can't resist. I'm not sure I could either.
Cheryl picks one more man, from a group further down. This one goes quietly as well.
Then, with obviously practiced steadiness, she lifts them into the air, coming to a standing position as she does so. With the men in her left hand, she unzips herself with her right. Slips out of the business-like dress, the starched white blouse, pink silk underwear. And, in full view of all of us, that pale hand slips down her curves, between her legs, and Cheryl begins to please herself.
I watch, with a horrible fascination (I can't look away) as she begins to make little noises of arousal. With fluid motions, she begins to sit down on the sofa, right hand still working away, left still creating a level plane for the three men. Then she's lying down, and she's spread her legs, and she moves her left hand slowly down, over herself, to drop them right before her gaping pussy.
"I want you, all three of you, inside of me, now."
Some of the men continue to watch, but I can't stand it. I turn my head, and look away.
After Cheryl is finished with the men, the last of her moans and yells fading, she leaves without another word, leaving her clothes in a heap on the floor. Instantly, the tension in the room dissolves. The men begin talking again, still quietly but much less gloomily. I walk over to the man who was on my left before, but who's now talking with someone else.
"Hey, are the ones she took ever coming back?" I ask.
"Oh, you mean the ones who, uh, entertained her?" He asks.
"Probably not," the man confirms, and I feel a sinking sensation in my gut. "Usually one or two of 'em die in there. Either they're crushed inside, or they suffocate. The ones that survive, she takes 'em somewhere else. My idea is, they've passed a test, and they become her personal sex toys."
I struggle to hide the horror on my face as I thank the man and turn away, diving into the crowd. I've got to find Raymond. We've got to do our job, and then figure out some way of getting out of here. I won't last the full week. I move through the crowd, and for a second I see a glimpse of a half-familiar face which quickly blends back in with the rest of the people.
Finally, I see Raymond. He's leaning against the wall, talking to a man who's about average height, blond and slim. Raymond waves to me as I approach. I take a place between him and the person he's talking to.
"...horrible, can't believe she does things like that. Oh, Dustin, this is my friend Adam. Adam, meet Dustin." Raymond says.
Dustin holds out his hand for me to shake, and I meet it. His grip is fairly strong, and his eyes meet mine. I look deep into them and see that he seems honest. I can probably interact with him safely, if not fully trust him. "Nice to meet you," he says. "Welcome to the club, we're all in this mess together."
Suddenly, someone taps me on the back. I turn to see a tall, gaunt man with dark hair and gray eyes. "You two. I haven't seen you around here before. She didn't drop you in."
Raymond motions to me, and I nod. Together, we each take one of the tall man's shoulders and pin him to the wall. Raymond covers the man's mouth with his hand. "You don't know anything about it," Raymond says.
The man tries to struggle, but he's thin and lightweight, and seems to lack the muscle to shake us off. He tries to say something, and Raymond moves his hand so he can speak. "Hey, hey, I wasn't trying to be hostile. I just wanted to show you somebody who could help you out, get you the lay of the land..."
Raymond looks at me, doubt in his eyes. I nod, to show him that we should follow. "The information could help us," I whisper.
Raymond flips him around. "Lead the way."
The thin man leads us out of the box and around it, to a small rope ladder leading up to a high desk. He climbs, and we follow him up.
Finally, we reach the top of the desk. Below us, the living room floor is spread out like a bird's eye view of a city. I can see into the box, see all of the inhabitants on the second floor, like looking down into an ant farm or a dollhouse.
"Well, where is this guy?" I ask.
The thin man turns around and smiles.
Suddenly, I feel a great blow to the back of my head, and I see sparks. I look to my right as I hit the ground, and see Raymond falling next to me.
My head hurts like hell. That's the first thing I think as I open my eyes. My hands and feet hurt too. They're bound tightly to one another, with what feels like torn strips of clothing. I tug against them, but they hold fast. I'm lying flat on my stomach. Still on the desk, way up high. Somebody's standing in front of me.
I look up, and curse. "Second familiar face I've seen today," I mutter.
"Nice to see you too, 718," Jude replies.
"You're looking a little worse for the wear, buddy," Raymond says. It's true; Jude's face, once round and fleshy, is looking haggard and sagging. His rictus of a smile has been replaced by a sneer.
"Shut up," Jude says curtly. "You two, you've been causing me a lot of trouble. They sent me after you. I had to follow you. Across the sidewalks. Through those stinking tunnels. I waited for THREE DAYS, without food, near those headquarters of yours. Then I followed you all the way here. Carefully. Without you spotting me.
"But boy, was it worth it. You see, I have so many things I can tell them now. I'll say to them, 'You want to know the location of the Underground Headquarters? I've got it. All you have to do is do me a few favors...'"
"You bastard. You traitor." I spit.
"Mind your manners, 718," Jude says chidingly. "And let me finish. Because before I even get to that, there's the matter of you two. I know exactly what to do with you. You see, Cheryl knows me. We're on close terms. You might call us friends.
"And when she sees me, with you two spies, she'll be overjoyed. She'll want to reward me for what I've done. She'll want me back."
"You're turning us in just so you can do her?!" Raymond shouts, outraged. "That bitch is so oversexed she'd probably screw you as soon as look at you."
"No, no," Jude shakes his head like he would at a child. "I don't just want the sex. I want her to want me. And she will. Oh, she will." Jude turns his back to us, looking out at the living room. "Any minute now, she'll come walking in."
Just as Jude is beginning to turn to face us once more, something comes out of nowhere to his left. Another man collides with Jude, knocking him to the table, surprising him. They scuffle soundlessly, just out of my range of sight.
Then, suddenly, I hear a sickening smack. It sounds like someone's skull hitting the polished wood. I wonder whose it is.
My question's answered when I feel my bonds loosening, then slipping away. I stand up, rubbing my wrists. Then I turn to face the man who saved me.
Dustin rubs his knuckles, two of which are bleeding. "I saw you two slipping away with that guy. His name's Rick. I don't trust him."
"Well, neither do we any longer," says Raymond.
"What are we going to do with the body?" Dustin asks.
Just as he says this, Jude suddenly staggers to his feet. Under my feet, I feel tremors. Cheryl's entering the room once more. "You!" Jude snarls.
Before I know what I'm doing, I lunge at Jude. He doesn't expect this. I make contact, and he slips. He loses his balance. And then, suddenly, he's gone.
I look over the edge, and see him tumbling to the carpet below. He lands without a sound, a puddle of red slowly seeping into the carpet fibers around him.
"Quickly!" Raymond shouts. "Down the ladder, she's coming!"
We race back down, and manage to make it back in time as Cheryl comes around. She doesn't even pause at the box, merely gathers her clothes up and returns to her room. I don't even want to think about what she could be doing there.
That night, I lie awake, my stomach queasy. Thoughts of guilt and disgust run through my head. I don't know how I'll be able to live in this place.
Raymond is lying a few spaces away from me. He turns over, and whispers, "Can't sleep?"
I nod. "I just don't understand it all," I say.
"Why do they all act like this? Why do they kill us without a thought? And Cheryl, one minute she's a vengeful bitch, the next she's comforting a man. It doesn't make sense."
"Cheryl is different," Raymond says. "I think deep down she probably has some sense of what is right. But she seems like the kind of girl that was brought up in the Establishment. They view us as property, Adam. They can do what they like with us. And if one of us is disobedient, the rest have to know there will be hell to pay. Otherwise we'd all rebel."
I nod, and lie thinking about this for some time. I still can't sleep. Raymond eventually turns to me again. "I remember you saying at one point that you had some sort of mission," he says. "You never told me what it was."
"Yeah," I say, "I guess I didn't." And then suddenly, without prompting, my history comes pouring out. What I see in my dreams. My search for the woman with the red shoes. And I realize how far I've strayed from my path.
When I finish, Raymond lies silent for a moment. Then he speaks again. "It's what I thought," he says.
"What?" I ask, confused by his tone.
"Your city and my city... They're the same. We were there at the same time."
I gasp. "No way."
"There's more," Raymond continues slowly. "You see, I know you. You remember back when you found me, in the Plant? I recognized you?"
"I mistook you for your father. I didn't really know it was you. But I know who you are. You're Adam Baker. Mitch Baker's boy."
I lie back, my heart stopping. Yes, that's my last name. I have a name again. It feels like coming back from the dead.
"Adam," Raymond says, his voice filled with seriousness. "The man in your dreams, the one that led you away? The one that saved you? It was me."
10: Proving Grounds by NFalc
A Man of His Time
"I used to be your tutor, back when the city was still standing," Raymond continues. "You always were one of my better students. That explains why you're not completely illiterate and ill-spoken."
"I did do some reading, back when I was in the ruins," I reply. "When I found a book and the time, I'd do my best to struggle through it. Took my mind off other things."
Raymond talks on, seemingly unaware I've spoken. I get the feeling he's lost in his memories. "When I felt the tremors, I knew something was going to happen. Knowing your father, I was sure he'd be going to face her, and you'd need someone to rescue you. So I ran as quickly as I could to your apartment building...
"By then, I knew there wasn't much chance of us getting out alive, especially when I saw the state you were in. So I hid you, and then tried my best to run. Then her shoe came down the first time. The debris from the blast hit my kneecaps, shattering them and leaving me unable to walk.
"The second stomp was right on top of me, but through a stroke of luck, I wound up in the space between her heel and sole. The impact gave me a concussion and knocked me unconscious, but I survived. When I woke up, you were nowhere to be found. I figured you were dead, along with the rest of them. For a week I crawled around the ruins of the town, scrounging for food. Then, a search party found me, and carried me back to their town, where I was given a wheelchair..."
"I can't believe I didn't find you," I say, awestruck at the story I had heard.
"It's understandable, you were so young, and the psychological impact of the tragedy must have forced you to move. It wasn't so bad for me. Hell, they found me. I imagine you must have had a devil of a time surviving on your own."
I nod. "There's one thing I don't understand though. You said you knew my father would face the woman. Why?"
"Well, your father... He was the heroic type. I don't think I can really say more. It was just a hunch."
I wonder if he's hiding something, but decide I can't force him to tell me. Maybe he'll say it another day. "We should probably try and get some sleep." I say.
"Yeah. Tomorrow, we've got to get planting those bugs around the house."
I roll over on my side, and let sleep take me.
My father has just left. This time, I run up the stairs straight after him, without pause, charging through the door and out into the crowded streets. I look everywhere for him, but he's completely vanished. No one around me looks anything like him. He's gone, again.
"Why?" I shout upwards, to no one. "Why did you leave me?"
"Because he was the heroic type," says the woman's voice from above, booming as usual, but now I can understand it, and I hear its mocking tone. What's more, it sounds familiar... But I can't pinpoint it.
I run backwards, moving through the crowds, trying to get a view of the giant woman's face. If I can just find out who she is, I can get revenge. You murdered my father. You destroyed my town. You killed everyone I knew, you bitch.
"She didn't kill me." Raymond's hand on my shoulder. "Now you have to run. Stop playing these silly games. You know she'll kill you."
I struggle with him. "Just let me see her face! I have to know - I have to!"
"You can't," he says. "Just go, hide!"
He pulls me backwards, away from her, towards safety. But I don't want to be safe. This is only a dream. I won't die. But I have to know. I must know who she is!
Then, without the foot even coming down, there's a colossal crash...
I sit straight up in the darkness, and struggle to open my bleary eyes. However long I've been asleep, it definitely hasn't been enough. Then, suddenly, a bright light fills the room, blinding me. I rub my eyes, struggle to see.
There's another huge noise, this one sounding more like a massive weight hitting the ground. Gradually, I'm able to see again. Still in Cheryl's living room. But the woman in it isn't Cheryl.
She has long hair, a very light brown, dyed with blond streaks. A wide mouth with full lips painted with sparkly pink lipstick. A fairy-tale nose. Her beauty is almost unrealistic.
She sets her purse down on the sofa, slips out of white flip flops and sits down with a sigh of pleasure. "That," says Raymond, who has come to a sitting position behind me, "Must be Toni."
The giant girl quickly stands up again, then walks over to us, her bare feet padding against the floor but shaking the room. She lies down before us, huge limbs moving together to bring her into position. I can see right into her white tank top. "I love the feeling when you're able to take your shoes off and just relax. Don't you guys?" She giggles. "Oh, that's right, you don't have shoes."
"She must think she's so clever," whispers a man lying off to my right.
"You know," she says teasingly, "My feet feel kind of tired. Who wants to give me a good foot massage?"
Nobody moves. Weirdly, I feel an urge to put up my hand, but I control the suicidal instinct.
"Come on, lemme see some hands." Her mood is playful, but it seems to be turning. Still, no one is willing to sacrifice themselves. I can't really blame them.
She pouts, corners of those full lips turning, then stands up, towering above us, leaving us with a view of her two gorgeous feet. Her nail polish matches the lipstick. I don't know whether to feel turned on or sick.
One foot raises from its position, up above our heads, until it lingers directly above us. I can smell the sweat. "You know," she says quietly, still in the same cutesy tone of voice, "All of you are replaceable. My mom can go out at any time and get more of you. She doesn't care whether you live or die. I can just say that the lights were out, and I accidentally stumbled in the dark. Unfortunately, none of the little men survived..."
"Please no," gasps the man on my right, as quietly as possible. I pray that Toni hasn't heard him. If we give just an inch, she'll continue. She's enjoying this.
"Now, I've had a long day out with my friends, and if someone won't give me a foot massage, I suppose I'll just have to use all of you to massage it myself. Or maybe I should invite all my friends over, and have all of you entertain us?"
One man, to the far right side of the enclosure, stands up. "I'll do it," he yells. The men around him stare at him like he's crazy. I wish they'd at least thank him for what he's doing.
Toni lowers her foot back down to the ground in front of me, and I suddenly see a small blot of dried blood on the nail polish of her right middle toe. Now I know I've seen the nail polish before. The Plant. I feel like I want to retch.
Toni plucks the man off the ground with two pink fingernails, and hoists him into the air. His limbs thrash wildly, and I realize that she's holding him by his shirt, several hundred feet into the air, with no protection below him in case he falls. "Idiot," Raymond mutters. "Why the hell did he do it?"
"Maybe it was bravery," I whisper back.
Raymond sets his jaw and doesn't respond, staring straight ahead.
She sets the little man down on the coffee table, and places her feet in front of him. They're each the height of a house. The coffee table is positioned right before us, and all of us can see everything that happens. He stares up at those immense toes. I can only imagine what he's thinking.
"Well, get to it!" Toni calls to him.
He begins to work his hands over her sole, grasping at the sweaty flesh, occasionally pummeling it with his fists or chopping at a certain area with the side of his hand. As he works, she talks to him, saying things which I think are meant to be encouraging, such as, "Do a good job and I may even let you do the other foot."
In the end, the man does do both feet, despite the fact that he's obviously tired after just the first. Still, she lets him continue, peering over her own toes to watch his progress. Finally, she says to him, "Okay, that's good." He immediately steps back.
She leaves one foot propped against the table as she comes to a standing position, towering above him. Then she bends over, so she can look him in the eyes. "Good job, little man. Now, I have a question for you." She pauses, letting him wonder what she'll ask. "Do you like my feet?"
"Yes," the man answers quickly. "They're beautiful."
She smiles broadly, showing rows of straight white teeth each as long as a forearm. "Great," she says, her tone playful again. "I know the perfect way to reward you." Something in her tone of voice makes my heart sink in my chest.
The man stands frozen to the spot as she lifts her foot slightly, and brings it down upon him. He falls to the table as she continues to step down on him. There's the sound of crunching bone. I desperately want to look away, but I can't. I'm as frozen as he was in his last moments.
She twists her foot, grinding him into the coffee table. A voice calls down from the floor above. "Toni, sweetie, is that you?"
"Yeah mom, I'm just down here, playing with the little guys a bit!"
"Go to sleep, honey. You need your rest, and the little men need theirs too." At this moment, I'm ready to thank the stars for Cheryl's being awake.
Toni looks slightly miffed, but quickly grabs a tissue from the box on the table and wipes away the gory mess, from both the table and her foot. "I'll see the rest of you later," she says as she walks up the stairs, turning off the light as she leaves.
There's a moment of silence, and everyone's breathing is harsh. We all saw it. None of us can get over it, not even the most hardened, not right away.
After a minute or two, Raymond taps me on the shoulder. "We should place one or two of those microphones around this living room," he whispers in my ear. "She may move us later, and there's no better time to do it than now."
Placing the bugs takes us almost the rest of the night. We manage to put one on a lamp on the coffee table, and another on top of the table where we had fought Jude. The entire time we're there, I keep thinking of Jude's face as he was falling. A look of shock, bordering on betrayal. I'm constantly remembering that I'm the one who murdered him.
Even when we return to the enclosure, I can't sleep. We've spent less than a day here, and already I've seen too much. I don't want to be here another day. But I have no choice. Thoughts like these keep running through my head all night, arguing with each other, going in circles, keeping me awake.
By the time Cheryl comes downstairs the next morning, heavy footfalls waking the other men, I am seriously sleep deprived.
She's wearing a red silk gown which ends about mid-thigh. I catch a glimpse of the pink underwear beneath her top. She yawns as she walks over to us, bare feet hitting the carpet, coming to a stop right before us. I stare at them, knowing that even if I looked up, I wouldn't be able to see her face. She just woke up. Maybe she'll be in a peaceful mood.
"Okay, everyone up," she says in her commanding tone. "We're short a few in the bathroom. There will be rewards for those who volunteer. Stand up those who will take the position."
"We should stand up," I whisper to Raymond. "We'll be able to plant a few more in her bathroom."
"Okay," he says. We both get to our feet.
"Hmm," Cheryl's voice booms down from above. "You two on the bottom floor. Come forward."
I suddenly realize how risky this will be. We're putting ourselves completely at Cheryl's mercy. I step forward anyway. Brave, you have to be brave.
She bends downwards, her face zooming towards me until she's there, just a few feet away, and I get a true sense of just how truly big she is. I close my eyes as she stares at me, looking me over. I pray she doesn't recognize me, although I don't know how she would. She'd never actually seen me up close, not to my knowledge.
"Yes," she says, her breath washing over me. "You two will do. Climb onto my palm."
I obey, stepping into her palm and nestling myself between its lines. I'm slightly worried about falling out. Raymond follows just after me, and then we fly up into the air, jarring around as Cheryl carries us up the stairs and to her bathroom.
There's a whirl of doors and walls, and then we're in a room lined with marble tile, white and shimmery. Cheryl turns towards a large mirror cabinet, which she opens. I gasp when I see what's inside.
Men are lining the three cabinet shelves, amidst bars of soap the size of mattresses, tubes of toothpaste like school buses and lipsticks that tower over their heads. It's a strangely terrifying sight, all these men in such a tiny space, looking up at Cheryl, waiting for their orders.
"Feeding time," says Cheryl, keeping us level while reaching with her other hand into a robe pocket. She produces a small brown rectangle, tears it up into four pieces and places one on each shelf of the cabinet. It reminds me of the protein bars we ate while exercising, back in the Plant.
Cheryl places the last shred before us, the massive hunk of food far too large for just the two of us. "Eat up, boys," she says, with a slight smile. "This is your reward."
Despite how unappetizing the food looks, I realize I haven't eaten since I left the Underground's Headquarters. I tear off a large chunk, and begin to chew on it. It tastes grainy, with a good dose of fake sugar, but right now I just want something to fill my stomach.
Once Raymond and I are both chewing, Cheryl places us next to the bottom shelf, where her makeup is. I jump off, landing on my feet next to a huge bottle of nail polish. Raymond lands beside me, and brushes himself off. "Hope you remember what they taught us in manicure lessons, kid," he says, "Because it looks like we've been assigned to nail duty."
A small, hunched man walks over to us, scowling. His eyes are bright with hunger. "Give us that!" He says in a pinched voice. "Give us that, and we'll let yeh take trim instead of paint!"
Raymond takes the piece of food and draws it closer to him protectively.
"Fine then, suit yerself. It's paint for you, and no one'll let yeh get away wit' anything otherwise!" The hunched man scuttles off grouchily.
"Why'd you do that?" I ask. "You know painting's the harder job, and he looked like he needed the food."
"We'll need it soon enough as well," Raymond growls. "I get the feeling she doesn't feed her men much. It's just as well, if she was trying to fatten us up she'd probably be an eater. Anyways, the point is that you can't have too much food here."
At that moment I realize that Cheryl still hasn't left. I worry that she may have heard what we said, but know that it would be near impossible for her to hear us from that height. No, she's here for a different reason.
"Is everyone done with their food?" She asks, not unkindly. "Because I'm ready for my manicure."
The men on our level instantly spring up, each one grabbing a pair of scissors the size of pruning shears. It's left to Raymond and I to wrestle with the two huge bottles of scarlet polish. When I finally do get mine uncapped, I have to struggle to lift the brush out of the bottle top. I just manage to get it out without spilling any polish, although I notice Raymond spill a few drops on the floor, hastily rubbing it off with his shirt.
Cheryl places her fingers on the shelf, which to us is the floor. It's time to get working. I start on the right hand while Raymond does the left. All ten of the men living on this shelf are cutting, trimming, filing or painting. I carefully daub the polish onto the nail, getting in all the cracks and not putting any on the skin.
In just ten minutes, Cheryl's hands look close to perfect. I'm fairly happy with the job I've done, but I know how the giant ones can be, and she may deem it a failure. I cross my fingers and hope my work will be acceptable.
Cheryl holds her hands up to her face, palms toward us. She carefully looks over the nails. Then she says the words I've been dreading. "Who did the painting on the right hand?"
Might as well stand up and take it. If I'm going to die, I'll do it bravely. I feel curiously neutral about my possible death, bordering on not caring at all. "I did, m'am."
Cheryl peers down at me. "The new guy. You did well. Very well."
Raymond slaps me on the back cheerfully, while the hunched man from earlier shoots me a look of hatred.
Cheryl leans in closer to me. "You seem to be very... talented. A delicate touch, and an eye for detail. I like both of those things." Don't let the compliments get to you. "Plus, you're not too bad-looking, either. How about you come with me up to my room for a little chat?"
I take one quick glance away from her, to Raymond. He gives me a single, slow nod. It's a chance I can't pass up. I'll be able to plant a bug in her bedroom, and scope out the area further. I just hope I don't die in the process. I look back to her, and say, "Yes."
She holds out her palm, and again I climb on. The journey is easier this time, as the bathroom is right next to Cheryl's bedroom. Cheryl places me on the countertop, and I take a deep breath, and get my bearings.
Her room is elegant, the furniture expensive, and it does seem to match her style fairly closely. She probably designed it herself. She kneels next to the counter top before me, so I'm level with her chin.
"What's your name?" she asks.
"James," I answer steadily, trying to make my voice as flat and neutral as possible. "James Dunn." I'd feel guilty about lying, but if I told the truth, she might be able to check some kind of record, and discover who I am.
"I like your style, James," Cheryl says. "You don't seem scared of me, yet you're also respectful. A very winning combination." She smiles, showing those terrifying huge teeth.
"I think that's the proper attitude to have," I say, not knowing what she's getting at.
"I could use someone like you," Cheryl continues. "You seem to have your priorities straight. What if I gave you a special position among the men?"
"A special position?" I ask, dazed and proud despite myself.
"Yes, you'd be a foreman of sorts, leader of a small team of little ones. You'd attend to whatever I asked of you, things that are more personal and important to me."
"How many people should I bring on this team?"
"Two should do it, I think," Cheryl says. "You'd get better treatment than the rest, it goes without saying. You'd be my favorites."
"I accept," I say without hesitating. This is probably the best thing that's happened to me since I arrived here. "The two people I'd like to bring are in the bathroom and back at the enclosure. How can I get to them?"
"I'll bring you down to them myself, so you can tell them personally," Cheryl says, and I'm still surprised by how nice she's being. "That is, after you give me a quick kiss to seal the deal."
Before I know what's happening, I'm surrounded by cherry red. Her lips are warm and soft, and completely cover me. Her breath smells strongly of spearmint. The kiss is forceful, and I have no choice but to kiss back. It's violence and passion combined into a strange blend I've never felt before. I hate Cheryl, for what she did to the man the other day and for who she is, but I can't help but be in love with her as well.
She places her hand on the table once more, and for the third time today I climb upon it. I can't help but feel slightly guilty that I'm taking this position. It feels almost like aiding the enemy. I have no choice, however. If I want the mission to be a success, I'll have to do everything possible to make it so.
A Man of His Time
"I'd forgotten what meat tasted like," Raymond says as he picks up the hunk of turkey he'd carved for himself. He takes a small bite of it, chewing slowly, as if trying to analyze whether or not it's real. "Back when we still lived in villages, they'd give us cans of beef or turkey, smothered in preservatives. This, however... This has to be the best thing I've ever eaten."
"I've actually never had meat before," Dustin says. Raymond looks at him with renewed interest. "I'm Plant-born, one of the earlier models," Dustin explains. "Raised on synthetics."
"Garbage," Raymond says. "You were raised on garbage. Eat up, man. This is the best moment of your life so far."
"No," He says very seriously. "The best moment was meeting you two."
"Come on," I say. "Don't say that, that's just sad."
"I mean it. If you hadn't picked me for the team, Adam, I'd still be another face in the crowd, constantly worrying about being singled out by Cheryl or Toni. You did a great thing for me."
"And you saved our lives," I reply. "I had to pay you back somehow."
Raymond put a finger to his lips, and nodded his head outwards. There were clicking sounds booming around the room.
A few days ago, I would have been terrified at the idea of a woman entering the room I was in. It would have meant certain doom. Now that I was in Cheryl's care, I was more relaxed, almost to the point of not caring. Who did I have to be afraid of?
As if in answer to my question, Toni entered the kitchen. She walked in, swinging her purse, and sat down at the table. I felt myself shiver, remembering the last time I'd seen her up close. Now she was simply picking at her nails, not looking at us, acting like she didn't notice us. I half-hoped that she didn't.
Then she looked up, and made direct eye contact with me. I kept my eyes wide open, willing myself not to flinch. She leaned over, her huge frame pushing the table slightly as she did so. The three of us were sitting, and weren't knocked down, but the effect was still terrifying.
"Hello there," she said in that cutesy voice of hers, the voice I'd come to hate whenever I heard it around the house. "What are you little guys doing?"
To my surprise, Dustin stands up. "Leave us alone, Toni," he says. "Your mom wants us alive."
Toni's lips curl into a pout once more. The spoiled brat. I'm both happy Dustin said what he did and terrified of what will happen because of it.
"Who said anything about killing?" Toni asks after a moment of thought. "I just want to play." And with that, she reaches forward and wraps her massive hand around Dustin.
She lifts him forty feet into the air, until he's dangling right before her enormous face. "Let's see, what shall we play?" she says tauntingly, as she waves him side to side.
Dustin kicks and thrashes, but can't get out of her grip. I realize that's a good thing, though, as the fall from that height would surely kill him.
"I've got it," Toni says. "We'll play hide and go seek. I'll hide you, and your friends will seek you!"
She turns away from us, thumb positioned over his mouth to smother his cries, and moves her hands over her body, hiding him away somewhere around her. I shudder at the thought of what was happening to him, and then guiltily realize that the shudder wasn't entirely out of fear.
"Okay, boys, move out of the way," She says, spreading her hands and pushing us each to a different side of the table. Her palm slams into me like a truck with a mattress strapped to its front. Once we are separated, she turns and lies down on the table, her massive form causing the table to creak and shake beneath us. It is an awe-inspiring sight.
"Time to seek," She says, her voice containing the barest hint of a threat.
"Young lady," booms a voice from above. "What are you doing spread-eagled on my kitchen table?" Cheryl. Thank God. This isn't the first time I've been grateful to hear her voice.
"Sorry mom," Toni says quickly in a voice she must think sounds innocent. She fumbles at her breasts as if she were doing it unconsciously, but I realize that she must be trying to get Dustin out before her mother sees what she's done.
Cheryl, however, is looking straight at the table. "Where's the third one?" she asks. "There were three on the table."
Toni stops fumbling and puts her hands at her sides. "I don't know," she lies boldly. "It's not like I'm responsible for them."
Cheryl merely extends her hand. Toni stares back at her, and in her eyes there's a sudden, smoldering rage. She's even more dangerous than I thought she was.
A minute passes before Toni reaches into her blouse, plucks Dustin out and places him none too gently in her mother's palm. "Keep your hands off these three," Cheryl says evenly, "Or you will be in more trouble than you've ever seen in your life."
Toni stalks off without saying a word. Cheryl lowers Dustin back down to the table. "I'm sorry, guys," she says, leaning down to speak with us more intimately. "She doesn't know how to control herself."
"It's okay," Dustin shouts back up at her, as he steps back onto the table. "No harm done." And amazingly, none has. Dustin looks fine, with no visible cuts or bruises. He's even smiling.
Cheryl returns the smile. "Great. Enjoying the food? Eat up, because you have a busy day today. You three are going to be coordinating some projects I've had in mind for a while..."
"I can't help but feel like I'm working for the enemy," Raymond says as he watches ten men heaving a piece of plywood.
"These are things that would have happened if we were here or not," I reply. "We're just getting the benefits from putting them into motion. Plus, think of all the things we've done for the Underground. There's a bug in each room in this house, all of them well-placed. They'll be able to track everything the Establishment does."
Raymond nods thoughtfully. "I guess. Maybe I just have some sort of guilt complex." He turns to a straggler who is sitting on a pile of plywood. "You, over there! Go help the others get that third wall in place. You're going to live in this building, it's up to you to make sure it looks good."
Dustin finishes placing a segment of the floor, then walks over to us, wiping sweat from his brow. "This thing is starting to come together," he says.
"Yeah," I reply. "If every job is as easy as this, we'll be living comfortably until it's time for the Underground to pick us up."
"About that," Raymond asks. "How, exactly, do we plan to make our escape now that Cheryl knows who we are, and watches us closely?"
I hadn't thought about that. Too focused on the present, not enough on the future. It reminded me of how I was ignoring my other plans as well. "We'll get to it when the time comes," I say, trying to sound sure of myself. "We'll find a way."
Dustin looks slightly nervous. "Um, about that escape..."
"Don't worry, Dustin, you're coming with us." Raymond says. "After all we've done together, it would be cruel of us not to bring you along. And we leave the cruelty to the girls."
I get a sudden feeling I'm being watched, and turn to see Cheryl's enormous bare feet behind me, her dark red nails polished to perfection as always. I wonder how much of our conversation she heard. "This looks like it's moving along nicely, boys," she says from her position high above our heads.
I can't see her face, couldn't even if I craned my head. As I look up, however, I notice she's changed outfits. She's wearing a tight black top, and well-cut jeans.
"We should have some men living in the kitchen in no time. I'm sure I'll be able to find endless uses for them there."
"Happy to help," I call up. What was that? Am I trying to curry favor? We already are her favorites. Surely, I couldn't have meant what I said...
"There are other jobs we need to work on though. Hop on," she says as she kneels and lowers her hand, palm up, to the ground. We do as we're told. Her palm is even softer than normal, and smells like lotion. She carries us to the bathroom, opens up the mirror cabinet filled with men. She speaks to the crowd. "Today, you little ones are going to learn a new skill, one which may be taught in the Plants. Raymond and Dustin, here, will show you how to do it safely."
She brings us level with her face, and whispers, "You remember that little seminar I gave you two on oral hygiene?" Raymond and Dustin nod. "Tell it to them, and make sure you tell it well. If they screw up, they'll die, and I lose more men that way. The guilt would fall on your heads, not mine."
Raymond nods. "Don't worry, m'am, we remember. We'll teach it to them."
She whispers, "James, you stay with me. I've got another task for you." Then the hand is lowering down to level with the bottom shelf. Raymond and Dustin skillfully jump off, landing neatly on the shelf. Then I'm rising up away from them, and we turn away, and Cheryl walks to a room I'm completely unfamiliar with.
There are no men in this room. The walls are covered in dark red wallpaper. The bed is a four-poster made from dark wood, the sheets are black. There's some odd quality to it, that makes it look like nothing I've ever seen before. Cheryl places me on the bed. I wonder what it is she wants me to do.
"I come here when I want a little privacy," Cheryl says. "Everywhere else in my house, people are free to roam. But only I have the key to this room. Not even Toni knows about it. These are my truly private quarters."
I look around, and realize that the room has no other furniture than the bed and a dim lamp in the corner.
Cheryl walks around to the front of the bed, then arches her back, stretching and sighing. "It's been a long time since I've come in here. Now that Toni's out of the house so often, I can do whatever I want, even in the living room, without fear of her seeing it. But, every so often, it's nice to just have one of you, and me, in a room together. By ourselves."
Why hadn't I realized it sooner? It should have been obvious from the minute we entered. This room was designed for just one thing. And it was clear who she would be doing it with today.
Cheryl slowly, teasingly eases out of her She then climbs onto the bed, going onto all fours. She still looms high above me as she crawls over the black satin sheets, her eyes locked on me. "Did anyone ever tell you how cute you are, James?" Cheryl purrs, coming slowly closer. "Because you are cute. Even handsome. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise."
She comes closer. I don't know what to do, don't know what I'm doing, what I'm getting myself into. She begins to shrug herself out of her jeans, revealing firm thighs and red silk bikini underwear. "You have an eye for detail, James, you know how to get the job done. What if your job was to make love to me? Could you do it as well?"
She doesn't even know my real name. She's evil, she's one of them, a member of the Establishment. Hundreds, maybe thousands of men have died at those pretty hands. It doesn't work. I'm still stiff, fixated on her, almost bursting out of my pants. As if in a trance, I slip out of my clothes, and lay them beside me.
Still, she comes closer, her huge breasts barely contained by the bikini top as they pass over my head, larger than life. Then I'm staring up at her flat, smooth stomach, and finally at her silk-covered crotch. Her massive hands stroll down her chest and over her belly, until they find their way to the silk straps and tug them out of place, revealing her. Trimmed but not shaven. She's a natural redhead.
Thighs the size of buildings lower, and I can feel the warmth from her pussy above me as it comes nearer. I'm completely surrounded by her, she overpowers me. I have no choice but to surrender to her.
A soft hand slides under me, and carries me upwards, into her. If I squirm, it is not out of resistance, but pleasure. She enjoys it, too, as I climb or burrow into her, up or down no longer matter. Sensations bleed into one another. Sweet, warm, wet. I have never lost myself like this before.
Given in to her, I feel my self become meaningless. I'm a part of her, this enormous, stronger, more beautiful being. If this is what surrender feels like, if this is what it feels like then...
falling downwards into soft warm nothingness and i'm lying inside of her but next to her and who am I next to?
It's Kyra. Or is it Mary? The faces blur, shift from one to the other, but the body remains the same, and the body is my size, normal size. She's no longer huge. We lie next to each other, and it's with dream clarity that I know: we've just made love (but not to her).
Then there is a rumbling beneath my feet, and we no longer lie in nothingness, but in the middle of a street, main street. My old city once again. We returned here to live together and be happy forever after (but who's we? and how can you be happy?).
Then I stand up and see the crowds behind me, pushing and shoving away from us, struggling to get away. A man pushes through them, then he's there right with us, Raymond. "We have to go," he says. "It's time to leave." He takes my arm, his grip like steel, and pulls, but I have to take Kyra/Mary, and she isn't moving, she won't come.
It's too late anyway. The shadow is rising over us, covering us. The foot, but it's different. Bare, and so many times larger than before. Each toe rises up into the heavens, tall as a skyscraper. Her big toe moves over us, and it covers the city, blocking out all sunlight. Still, her toes pass over us, down to those soft soles that spread vast above us like the sky.
When they come down, there is nothing left. Raymond didn't survive. Neither did I. Your life afterwards is just a dream. A dream...
And I'm floating back towards consciousness, lying on satin sheets, sticky and feeling the afterglow die away. I lie between Cheryl's thighs, and think about how we made love. It feels like years ago.
I let Cheryl's hand slide under me once more, let it carry me over her and bring me to her lips, and press me against them. "It's been an hour since you fell asleep. They'll wonder where you are. We have to get going."
She slowly comes to an upright position at the side of the bed, then puts me down on the tableside, where I notice a small bottle of water. "We have to get you cleaned up. Are you ready?" I nod, and she pours a small stream down from the bottle, which slides over me, cleaning off the traces of our time together. They puddle at my feet. I take a minute to let myself dry, then pull my clothes back on, and step back onto Cheryl's waiting palm.
"I have one more task for you three today," she says, once we're clustered in her palm and she's walking. "My shoes need polishing. I trust you know how to do this?"
Raymond and Dustin nod, and although I've never polished shoes in my life, I nod as well. She thinks I'm so capable, why spoil that thought? She loves me because I do my job well, and I can't let her think otherwise.
She sets us down and opens the door to a closet. Inside, I see thirty or so pairs of shoes lining the floor. "With the three of you working together, this should take you, let's say... two hours? I'll come back then and check on your progress."
She sets us on the ground and walks away, closing the door to the closet behind us. The shoes stretch out for a mile in each direction, so many of them, each of them the size of a bus.
"Better get to work," I say.
I watch Raymond and Dustin as they go about polishing, try to imitate what they do. It seems to work, as the surface of the shoe gleams after I finish with my first. It's only when I finish that I notice that Raymond is on his fourth, and Dustin his fifth. I'll have to speed up.
This is no easy task, especially when it comes to the high heels, which require me to shimmy up the heel in order to hang one-handed from the lip of the shoe, polishing as I carefully shift my weight along.
Luckily, Dustin seems fairly expert at polishing, as he's completed half of them by himself after an hour and a half. I jump down off the high heel I'm working on, somersaulting to the floor. I call out, "Guys, let's meet in the front!"
They join me at the edge of the closet, rags draped over their shoulders. They look tired and are greasy with polish, but look pleased with themselves for a job well done.
"How much have we finished?" I ask.
"I did everything to the left of those flats, except a couple in the back" says Dustin.
"I did all the ones to the right," Raymond replies.
"So that leaves a few in the back left," I finish. "I'll take those, you two wait here 'till I'm done." I'll prove to her that I can get the job done.
I wander through the towering pairs of shoes, admiring the curves and thinking of how Cheryl's feet will look in them. They all look polished, neat and shining. I envy Dustin's skills. He works both fast and well.
By the time I'm getting towards the back, I still haven't seen any shoes that need polishing, and I start to wonder if Dustin was making it up. It's only when I get all the way to the corner that I see them.
The shock hits me in waves, first leaving me completely unable to move, unable to think. This can't be. My brain comes to a grinding halt. Then as it begins to start up again, I stumble towards one, putting a hand out to feel the leather. It's real. It's here. These are the ones. There can be no doubt.
I resist the urge to scream, to yell myself hoarse. I feel like I want to explode. I feel like I'm going to collapse.
I sink to the carpeted ground, going limp with the realization of everything this means. Then I get to my feet and run, run as fast as my legs can carry me, back to Raymond.
A Man of His Time
"It's her!" I yell as Raymond comes into view. "Raymond, she's the one. Cheryl. She's the one who destroyed our city!"
Raymond grabs me by the shoulders, and turns me roughly to the right.
She's standing right in front of us.
I must not have heard the door open.
In one swift movement, her arm flies downwards as she crouches, sweeping us all into her hand, which she quickly closes, trapping us all inside her fist. She doesn't crush us, but her grip is tight enough that there is no chance of escape.
Her fist flies around as she rummages in the shoe closet, without bothering to keep her hand level. The motion is so fast and constant that everything becomes a sickening blur. I close my eyes, I try to calm down. The blood is pounding in my ears. You bitch, you bitch, you bitch. There's a voice in my head screaming this at me, urging me to bite, scratch, punch, do anything in my power to hurt this woman. The sad fact that I am powerless does nothing to help.
Finally, Cheryl finds what she's looking for. A shoebox. She lifts the lid, and then I'm flying through space, landing hard on cardboard which drops, falling to the ground, bashing us around. "I'll deal with you later," she says, and I hear the pounding of her footsteps as she walks away.
I need a moment to clear my head.
There's a strange ache in my knuckles, and I realize that I've been punching the cardboard walls, hitting them so hard my fists are bleeding. My throat hurts. Someone is screaming. Me. I've completely lost it.
"You're in shock," says Raymond from behind me. An echo from my past. A reminder of how I've betrayed my city, my friends, myself. You slept with her, the evil bitch. You fucking slept with her. "You have to calm down. I know it's hard, but you have to."
It takes a lot of effort for me to unclench my fist. I put my hand to the rough cardboard wall, and I lean my head against it, and tears, silent tears well in my eyes. I am not crying. These are tears of rage.
Most of the space in our prison is occupied by two large, black patent leather pumps. Still, there is plenty of room for those our size, even if it's uncomfortable, and smells strongly of leather and female sweat. I wonder, dimly, if she has others trapped in shoeboxes like we are, or if we're just special. I always wanted to be her special one, her favorite. It reminds me of Jude, before he died, and the thought of him makes me sick.
Our prison is dark: there is a single hole poked through the roof to allow air, and a small amount of light. The hole is only a foot wide, and it is positioned over the flat part of the pump. There is no way we can use it to escape. The lack of light makes it difficult to see my friends. We haven't talked much, since we were captured. I think my outburst frightened them.
Dustin simply sits crosslegged, lost in his own thoughts. Raymond leans against a wall, hands balled into fists, jaw clenched tightly into a frown. I can tell he's thinking about her.
The silence begins to feel like it's closing in on me, tightening it's grip. I have to say something, anything. So I do. "I'm sorry." My voice is hoarse. It hurts a little to talk. My knuckles hurt also, I hurt all over. I welcome the pain. It reminds me.
Raymond looks at me coolly. "Sorry for what?"
I feel my eyes stinging again. "I don't know. I'm just... sorry."
Raymond pauses a minute, gazing up into the gloom. "I don't think I would have done anything differently from you."
"I lost my head," I admit, "I didn't think. I just had to tell you... I didn't know what to do. I didn't think."
"Don't beat yourself up about it." I look down at my bloody knuckles. Dustin laughs dryly, and even I smile.
"I think I already have."
There's a strange pause. I want to talk about something, but I don't know what to say.
"There's something I have to tell you, Adam," Raymond says. "There's something you need to know about..."
He trails off, as there's a sudden scraping sound all around us. Light floods into the box, hurting my eyes, which had just become adjusted to the dark. She's back again. I grit my teeth, and struggle to control myself.
Cheryl simply looks at us, those huge green eyes piercing, frightening. I'm reminded once more of the sheer physical power she possesses, which she can use at a moment's notice. But if she wanted us dead, she would have killed us right away.
"I always knew who you were, from the moment I saw you," She begins, and I know she's speaking only to me. "Even if you did not recognize me. And I began to realize, that if you were anything like your father, you would not be afraid. You wouldn't leave it alone. You would come after me, carrying out some simple-minded quest for vengeance, and do it until you died.
"That would have been such an utter nuisance. So, I thought up ways to stop you. The most obvious one, of course, was to kill you. Don't think I didn't try. But I couldn't do it out in the open. Some of the other ranking members of the Establishment put a high value on the men raised in the wild. So I tried subtlety. I assigned Toni to give the entrance test at the Plant, knowing she would be merciless. I had one of my workers assigned to kill you.
"Yet, you somehow avoided them all, only to come, stupidly, stubbornly out here. And I realized that you still didn't know who I was. So I used you. I tried to put you on my side."
I realize that everything, my special tasks, my good treatment, even the sex, were all designed simply to win me over to her side. I shake my head, disgusted with her, and with myself for falling for it.
"And now you've found out. It was the shoes, wasn't it? I should have realized, that must have been all that you remembered of it. Your kind are so puny compared to us, that you could only have seen up to my ankles."
"Why are you telling me all this?" I ask.
Cheryl's confidence breaks slightly for a second, a slight frown shows through her even expression. "I suppose it's refreshing to be honest," she says. "Yes, now we both know the score. I suppose I'm just playing fair."
"This is no game. You destroyed my city, Cheryl. You killed everyone I knew or loved. I can never forgive you for this." I say, struggling to keep my voice level.
"I never asked for your forgiveness. I don't regret anything I've done. I suppose it's too bad it will have to end this way."
"You're going to kill us, then?" shouts Raymond from behind me. "Just like that? You can't be through with us that easily!"
She presses her scarlet lips together thoughtfully. "No, I won't kill you just like that. You've caused me too much trouble, you can't get off so easily. And besides, fair is fair. No, I know just what to do with you." She stands up, stretching high into the sky, until from where I stand I can only see the tops of her ankles. Then the cover comes over us again, and we are plunged into darkness.
The motion of the box is rocky as Cheryl carries us around. It's when we've come to a stop that I believe we've reached our destination, and get to my feet. The box wobbles slightly, and I realize she's simply standing still.
Her voice is muted through the cardboard, but I can still make out the words. "You've been good lately, dear, and I thought I'd give you a little token of my appreciation."
"Mom, I told you already, I don't want any of your stupid shoes, I have enough of my own." Not that voice. She's not giving us to her...
"Toni, stop being a spoiled brat for once, and at least open your gift." There's a sudden jolt as we're shoved forward, and I lose my balance.
The lid opens up, and her face is there before us like a movie screen, filling our vision. Her cute blue eyes, with their silent promise of cruelty, light up when they land on us. "Are they mine?"
"All yours, honey. Do whatever you want with them."
A slow, frightening smile spreads across those pink lips. "Thanks, Mom. You're the best."
Then the cover is replaced, and we're in darkness once more.
The cover comes off, and I get my first glance at Toni's room.
It is, quite simply, a mess. There are stockings and bras littered everywhere, a T-shirt draped over a lamp, shoes cluttered around. It was easy to forget that Toni was merely a teenager, probably a year or two younger than me. Her sheer size overwhelmed any concept of age differences.
Toni tilts the box until we're dumped out onto soft white carpet, the fibers cushioning my fall. Then she turns and walks away from us, bare feet both thudding and slapping against the floor. She picks up a phone next to her bed, dials a number, then flops down on the ground a good distance away from us, as if she's completely forgotten our existence. Within seconds, she's chatting on the phone with some friend, as if we're not even there.
She wears a thin-strapped white top, and a pink miniskirt that shows off her tanned thighs. Once again, I'm struck by how little she resembles her mother. She's certainly as good-looking, though, if not even a little more so. Seeing her spread out on the floor before me makes my head spin slightly against my will.
Raymond taps me on the shoulder. "Now's the time," he whispers. "While she's distracted we find a hiding place, then wait until she leaves the room and make a break for it."
I nod, and we set off across her room, searching for a good place to hide. There are several hiding spots, given the clothes scattered all over, but we need a place that is both well-hidden and near the door. The three of us wade through the heavy carpet, making our way towards a white lacy bra that is lying to the right of the doorway.
We're getting close, so close, when I hear Toni's voice get louder. "Yeah, my mom just gave me three of them. Your mom hasn't gotten you any? Ohhh..." Her feet are thudding once more across the carpet. I struggle to move faster, the thick fibers stopping my progress. "Well then, come over and play with mine! It's not like I don't share."
Those tan feet land on either side of us. I gaze upwards, and find that Toni isn't wearing any underwear beneath the pink skirt. "Okay, get here quick though, or they might be all gone." She booms from above.
Then she crouches down above us, her pussy bearing down on us from above, and for a second I wonder if she plans to crush us all beneath her right then and there. But it stops, just fifty feet above us, and I feel a gigantic droplet fall on my head. Oversexed. Like mother, like daughter, even if they are of no genetic relation.
She steps backwards slightly, peering down on us, a terrifying smile on her face. It feels like I can see every one of those huge, straight white teeth. "I know you three. You're the ones who talked back to me. Thinking my mom would protect you. But she doesn't care about you now..."
A hand sweeps down and closes around Dustin, who flails uselessly against those tapered fingers with their pink nails. Once more, she brings him to her face. "You need to learn some manners," she says. "You really should remember, if you get mouthy with a girl, she might get mouthy with you."
And without any hesitation, she throws him into her vast, pink mouth. I silently pray for her not to chew. She couldn't swallow him alive, he's too big for that... Could she? No, she simply rolls him back and forth inside her jaws, pushing him around from cheek to cheek. I watch, horrified, knowing that there is nothing I can do.
Eventually, she spits him out. He is covered in her saliva. His hair is tousled. For the first time I see fear, real fear in his eyes. He knows how close he's come to death.
"Now, what was it I was doing with you three when my mom interrupted? Oh, I remember, we were playing hide and go seek... So who's going to hide this time?"
None of us move. We stare at her, wondering what she's going to do next. She's out of her mind. She could do anything... we're just toys for her.
She bends down low, until her face is right in front of us, and then extends a finger. "Eeeny, meenie..." she chants, the pink fingernail stabbing the air in front of us in turn. "Miny, moe. Catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers, let him go. My mother... well screw my mother, you're it." The fingernail is pointing right at me.
I go limp as her fingers close around me, soft pads pressing tight against my chest. I'm hoisted into the air. She turns around, calling downwards, "No peeking!" Then, without warning, I find myself hurtling down her neckline, under the top, towards her bra. Her colossal fingers shove me into place, and I feel something wrap around my waist. An elastic band. Toni has managed to rig her bra so that I'm held right next to the firm, yet yielding flesh of her breast. If I try to move, I'll fall. When I struggle, she simply giggles.
I realize that Toni is either not terribly intelligent or not very original. This is the same place she held Dustin. I can see why he was smiling when she let him out. If I was in any other situation, this would be amazing. As it is, it's terrifying.
"Okay," she says, and I can both hear her words and feel them vibrate through me. "Time for you to seek!"
I feel myself tilting wildly backwards, and I know she must be lying down. Now there's no danger of falling. I try to wriggle out of the elastic, but she's wound it tight. Expertly. I wonder how many others she's put in here.
I feel her giggle, and her the flesh behind me bounces. "Finding it hard to get up?" She asks my friends. "Let me give you a hand."
I can see nothing more than the white of her top in front of me, and her tan skin everywhere else. I pray that Raymond and Dustin manage to find me.
"That's right," she says, her voice becoming slightly deeper. "Explore. I can feel you walking over me. It feels so good." Her breath is heavier, her chest expanding further under me. No wonder she put me in the same spot as Dustin. These little games are how she gets her kicks.
I can hear footsteps, and I know that Raymond and Dustin aren't dumb: this must be the first place they're looking for me. Too bad for Toni, the fun will be over too soon. I see their shadows through the white top, then there's some muffled speech. I whistle softly, trying to let them know my position without getting Toni's attention.
It works. Seconds later, Dustin lowers himself carefully down her shirt. He loses his grip however, and falls - right onto her breast. Suddenly, I'm pushed upwards as Toni arches her back, with a huge gasp of pleasure. Dustin slides down into the crevice between her huge boobs, managing to grab onto the string of her bra. I'm shoved to the right as she puts pressure on herself, shoving her breasts together, trapping Dustin between them.
He claws his way upwards between those two soft mountains, fighting for air. I watch with a sick fascination. She's crushing him between them. She must be able to feel every one of his movements.
Raymond dives in from above, landing somewhere above me on her heaving breast. He skillfully slides down the slope of her curves, grabbing onto the elastic next to me. He pulls at the elastic, giving me just enough freedom to slide down out of her bra, and slide down her chest onto her flat stomach. A moment later, and I see Dustin sliding down behind me, with Raymond just after him.
Distantly, I hear a knock on the door.
Everything that was horizontal begins to turn vertical. I find myself sliding further down Toni's body as she stands up. I try in vain to grasp her belly button as it flies by, and find myself hurtling downwards, straight towards her pussy. I have no choice. If I fall, I will die. I grab on to one of the blond hairs before me, and hold on for my life.
"Hey Christie," I hear Toni say from somewhere above us.
Raymond and Dustin have grabbed hold above me. I press myself against her, and try not to move. If we stay close enough, there's a chance she won't feel us down here. Maybe she'll think we're still stuck in her breasts.
"Hey girl," I hear a deeper voice answer. "What's going on?"
"Nothing much. Just playing with my new toys."
"Ooh, you mean the ones you talked about on the phone? Can I see?"
"Sure," Toni says, and I know that a hundred feet above, she's fishing around in her shirt for us. "Now where'd they get to... I know I put them in here..."
"They probably figured out some way of getting out. We should look on the ground for them."
"Yeah," says Toni, and I want to jump for joy. Instead, I focus on staying absolutely still as she moves into a crouched position. Her thighs spread out in front of us, and I realize that if I slide down just right, I can use her thigh to get to the ground safely. I look up at Raymond. He nods. It's a plan.
I close my eyes, and let go. Feel her skin as I slide down it. Press my body into her thigh as I plummet. The angle is just right.
I hit the carpet fairly gently. It could not have worked out better. Raymond and Dustin fall behind me. Raymond waves his hand onwards. This is our chance to escape.
As the girls search for us in the corners of the room, under the scattered clothing, we make our way out of the room as quickly as possible. Maybe it's a miracle, but neither of them have noticed us by the time we're out the door.
Raymond signals us over to the space near the hallway's running board. We lean against the wall, and catch our breath.
"Where do we go now?" I ask.
Raymond grimaces. "We need to find somewhere safe, where we can wait until the Underground arrives."
"It's only been four days since we got here," I reply. "Antoine said they'd be back in a week."
"We've eaten well, we've drank our fill," Raymond responds. "We can survive for three days in hiding. This is the only way we can be sure we get out alive."
"Then where can we wait?" Dustin asks.
"The mouse hole in the living room. The one we came in through. We can wait it out there. Toni's bedroom is on the ground floor, so we won't have to worry about stairs. All we have to do is make a careful run for it."
So we move down the hallway, trying to stay hidden in the shadows, listening for the slightest noise of a woman approaching.
It takes us a tense half an hour to make it to the living room. We follow Raymond's lead then, as he ducks behind furniture, crawling along, making sure that we won't be seen.
Then we run into a problem.
There is a large space in the living room that has no furniture, nothing to hide behind, nothing but open carpet. It's about three hundred of our feet long, and it stands directly between us and our goal.
"Fuck," Raymond mutters. "This is it. We're screwed."
"There has to be some way -" Dustin starts.
"No, there's no way. We can't afford to be caught. If she so much as catches a glimpse of us, she'll stop at nothing to find us again. Cheryl is... methodical."
An image of the red shoes comes fleeting across my mind. How many times did she bring those shoes down upon my city? It wasn't enough for her. She had to make sure every last soul was dead. But she missed us. The last two survivors.
Raymond suddenly points at the hole. There's someone in it.
There, waving us forward, is Antoine.
It's a mirage. It's a miracle. It's sheer dumb good luck. If we're able to get out immediately, it won't matter if she spots us or not. We all break into a run, galloping across the polished wood floor. My heart is pounding in my ears again, with joy this time instead of rage.
I don't hear the footsteps. It's only when I look up that I see Antoine, frantically waving his hands at us to stop.
It's too late.
It's not the thud I hear, as Cheryl's foot comes down on the floor. It's the sickening crack of bone, the horrible crunching sound. I turn my head, still running, unable to stop.
It's Raymond. Half of his body is under her foot. His face is twisted in surprise and pain.
I turn and begin running back towards him, and I am no longer thinking, I am no longer here. I have lost the ability to think. Dustin shouts somewhere in the distance behind me, and he no longer matters. Raymond is my best friend.
I didn't see Antoine step out from his hiding place. I only heard later of how he took just a split second to aim and fire the harpoon, how he nailed the shot from three hundred feet away, a near impossible feat. He saved my life. None of it mattered.
Her foot lifts away as she cries out in sudden pain, stumbling backwards. As the sole lifts off of him, I see that everything below Raymond's waist has been crushed into a bloody mess. He is missing half his torso, his intestines spilling out into the gore behind him. He screams, a scream of pure fear and pain, like an animal.
I don't think as I hoist his remains onto my shoulder. I don't think about the pathetic remains of his lower body that hang limply behind us as I run. I don't think about what could happen to him. We have to make it to the mouse hole. Thinking isn't necessary.
Antoine and Dustin each take one of Raymond's arms when we make it in, and then we keep running, running until we're back in the tunnel which leads to the Underground headquarters.
It's only then that we lay him down, his blood staining our clothes, his face ashen. His breath comes in ragged gasps. I grip his hand tightly, and realize that it's cold.
"I have - to tell you..." he says, struggling to form the words.
"Don't talk," Antoine says. "You're exerting yourself, making the blood flow faster..."
"You have - to know," Raymond gasps, his eyes locked on mine. "You have to - remember..."
I hold his hand, and look into his eyes, and I don't realize that this is the last time I will ever be able to speak to him. I just nod silently.
"The sins... of the father... do not... pass on..."
There's a rush of air, as if he is deflating. His eyes roll up backwards into his head as he goes limp. It's Antoine who gently closes his eyelids. My own eyes are too blurry from tears.
13: Truthseekers by NFalc
A Man of His Time
"...It was when Raymond was crushed that Adam turned around, prompting me to fire the tranquilizer gun at range. The harpoon hit Cheryl at Point D5X, the right side of the lower leg, and embedded in her muscle, taking instant effect. Adam recovered what was left of Raymond's body."
"And what was left?" Jot Orem asked.
I keep my head down as Orem asks his questions and Antoine answers mechanically, going through the details of our escape. My thoughts run in the same circles over and over again, from Cheryl to Raymond, from his last words to my father, from my father to our city, from our city to Cheryl... The thoughts whirl around, and none of them lead to any conclusions, they just repeat and repeat until they no longer make sense.
My attention gradually comes back to Antoine. "...he did have time, however, to impart some last words to young Adam."
"What were they?"
"I believe they were, 'The sins of the father do not pass on.' I'm not sure if there was more or if he was finished. He didn't have time to say more."
Orem raised an eyebrow. "Do we know what it means?"
"It's a possible inversion of a common saying derived from the Judeo-Christian Bible, that the sins of the father are visited upon their sons. Raymond seemed to be indicating that this is not the case. I believe its meaning was intended to apply to Adam personally."
Jot Orem rises out of his chair now, standing to his full, immense height. His movements are slow and ponderous, each of them seeming to have weight and purpose. His scarred face is set into a solemn frown. "Thank you for the debriefing, Antoine, you're dismissed."
Antoine bows slightly, then leaves the room. Jot approaches me, and I feel the sudden intensity of his gaze. I realize that this is what draws people to him, this amazing intensity in everything he does. It's slightly frightening, but it inspires confidence in him.
He lays a heavy hand on my shoulder, and speaks softly. "Do you have any idea what Raymond meant, Adam?"
I shake my head, still staring at the floor. "He hinted that he wanted to tell me something, back when we were still in Cheryl's possession, but he never did. I think it might have had something to do with that, but I can't say for sure. I don't know what he meant. I just... don't know."
Orem nods understandingly. "I am sorry for your loss," he says gravely, then lets go of my shoulder, and returns to his seat. "We are indebted to you, Adam, but before further measures are discussed, you need your rest. Go find Earl, I had him prepare your quarters for you. Dismissed."
I bow as well, slightly, then leave the room, anxious to be alone. I need time to think. I need time to grieve.
Earl is waiting outside the door. "I'll show you your room, lad," he says, then walks ahead of me, guiding me down a set of mazelike corridors carved into the earth. We walk in total silence, and I prefer it that way.
By the time we approach a dead end corridor, my feet are dragging and my eyes are straining to close. Earl points to a small entrance covered by a thin piece of wood that looks like it was chipped off a larger chunk. "Here's your room. I'll come wake you in two hours for dinner."
He looks like he wants to say more, but I'm sick of people saying they're sorry. I nod and push aside the wooden "door", to find a small chamber with barely enough room for the cot it contains. I recognize the look of the bed from the Plant, and figure the Underground must have stole it from there. I don't care. It's a place to rest, and it's scaled to my size.
I fall onto the bed, and sleep takes me almost immediately.
The world that is before me is all one big blur of color, which slowly comes into focus. The color red. Her shoes. (oh god, please don't let me dream of her, anyone but her, i can't) But the image clears and it isn't Cheryl. It's a pair of red lips right in front of me, filling my vision. They part, and a woman's voice says in a deafening whisper, "Adam."
I try to respond, but I find myself completely unable to speak (this is a dream. why else would you be unable to speak? you're in another dream).
"Adam, do you remember me?"
And I do, now. The voice and the lips are enough to remember her. The woman who saved me from the Plant. Mary, her name was Mary.
"You promised me, Adam," she says, although she doesn't sound angry or hurt. "You promised when I let you go..."
I sense something behind me, and there he is, Raymond, alive and well as ever (damn dreams. damn the false hope). "Are you really sure you trust her?" he asks.
I turn back to her, and now her face has pulled back so it's all in view, and I look into those blue eyes, the ones I first saw through the false sky of the Plant. So full of trust, full of compassion. "You have to find the Truth," she says. "You promised me you'd find the Truth."
I turn back to ask Raymond what he thinks, but he's gone, replaced by another huge face. This one I recognize immediately. The tan skin and hazel eyes all say Kyra. She looks at me with something, love or lust in her eyes. "Trust yourself," she says. "Not her or me or anyone else." (that was odd even for a dream..she would never say that)
Then there's a rumbling and up, up high above us all stand the two things I dread thinking about, those two red high heels. I tilt my head back as far as it will go, but I still can't see, even though I know it's her.
"You're so puny you can't even see beyond my ankles," Cheryl booms down like a goddess from above, and one of those pale feet, their size so huge as to be incomprehensible, lifts off the ground. The red sole hovers over us, filling the sky (and in that moment i never want to dream again, i pray that the shoe really comes down and kills us all, i don't want this anymore, i'm tired of being alone and untrusting and afraid and i just want out let me out....
My dreams dissolve into a muddled sense of fear and unhappiness, and a man's voice is calling me.
"Adam," Dustin says, and he's kneeling right next to my bed. "You were crying out in your sleep. They gave me the room next to yours, I could hear it through the wall..."
My throat is dry, and my head hurts. My muscles are sore. I want to go back to bed, but I'm afraid of where that would take me. So I sit up, and I lie. "I'm okay," I tell Dustin. "Don't worry."
"I know what he meant to you," Dustin says, and the stinging behind my eyes is coming back again. "And it's okay to feel. I'd have nightmares too." His sympathy is genuine, but it doesn't help. Nothing can help.
"I need to get through this on my own," I tell him. "Just give me a little time."
He nods. "I'm right next door if you need me. I'm still here for you."
He walks out, and I try to remember the details of the dream. Even if it made me miserable, there was something important in there. What was it Mary had said? The truth, she wanted me to find the truth... But that made no sense, what was she talking about? She had made me promise her something at the Plant.
It all snaps quickly into place within my mind, and I know what I must do. The next ten minutes I spend working out a plan. By the time Earl arrives, and tells me Jot Orem has called all the Underground members in for a meeting, I know what I must do.
"The audio we recorded from the bugs placed in Cheryl's apartment has been crucial to our understanding of the structure of the Establishment," Earl says to the assembled Underground. There are sixty or so of us, in this large stone chamber at the center of headquarters. Earl, Antoine, Dustin and I are in the middle of the chamber, surrounded by the others and facing Jot Orem.
"Get to the point, Earl. Was there any useful information?" Orem asks.
Earl rubs the side of his bald head, and hesitates before giving an answer. "Yes. We've discovered that the Establishment has an almost pyramidal infrastructure, with one woman retaining most of its power at the top. There are three women directly below her who, together, could overthrow her, and nine more below them, and so on. The crucial news is that we've found out who the top woman is."
He pauses here, and I see sweat standing out from his head. He's nervous about something. There are murmurs from the audience.
"Well, who is it?" someone calls out. Orem waves a hand and the crowd falls silent. He nods to Earl.
The crowds immediately get to their feet, and everyone begins calling out at once. I simply sit there, quietly stunned. Not only did she destroy my city, murder my best friend and use me, she's also the head of the organization that has subdued and enslaved my race. And to think that I wanted her love and admiration. She is perhaps the greatest enemy I could ever have.
Jot Orem has gotten to his feet as well, and is speaking now, loudly. Everyone in the crowd falls silent. "...quiet, you fools! I did not organize you to behave thus. We must talk in turn, and decide rationally our course of action."
Antoine stands, and says, "It is our belief, sir, that removing Cheryl from power would prove solely a temporary stumbling block to the Establishment, but if it were organized in conjunction with a larger coup..." he trails off.
"We could overthrow them," Dustin says quietly to my left.
"This is all well and good," Orem says. "But we have no method of creating such a coup, and it will be almost impossible to kill Cheryl without at least half of us dying as well. While this information has been useful, it serves no purpose to us now -"
"Excuse me, sir," I say, getting to my feet. I can hardly believe what I'm about to do. "I think I know how we could accomplish this."
The room goes very quiet. I get the sense that everyone's staring at me. I want to sit back down, but know that I can't. Now that I've started this, there'll be no stopping it.
"Please, explain," Jot prompts.
"We need more manpower than we have, both for killing Cheryl and creating a coup. We can't do it on our own, there's too few of us, and we're too small." I take a deep breath before saying it. "We have to go to the Truthseekers."
The room erupts in noise again, louder than before. The crowd doesn't sound happy. Antoine looks at me like I've suddenly sprouted an extra eye. Jot himself is scowling when he holds up a hand, signaling the others to be silent. "Adam, do you know what you are proposing? If we reveal ourselves to the Truthseekers, we could all be captured or killed. If we are wrong, it could mean the end of the resistance."
"When have the Truthseekers ever said they were against us?" I reply, and I still can't believe I'm actually saying these things. "If you think about it, we're both aiming for the same thing, the downfall of the Establishment. If we worked together, we'd be able to expose the Establishment and all of our problems would be solved."
Jot shakes his head slowly. "The risk is too great," he says. "I refuse to take the chance."
"If we never take chances, we'll never move forward. We have to trust them!" And as soon as the words are out of my mouth, I think about the last time I saw Kyra. I didn't trust her. I'm telling others to do things I cannot do myself.
Jot is no longer saying anything. The crowds are whispering amongst themselves, but they don't sound as angry as before. If I'm going to persuade them at all, I need to do it now.
"You owe me, Jot. You said yourself you were in my debt for what we did, bugging her house. The information we got, that Raymond lost his life for, will be useless if we don't act on it."
Jot had been hanging his head in thought. When I finish, he looks up slowly, and I see in his eyes true unhappiness. He's that worried about what might happen. For a moment, I feel a twinge of guilt.
He nods and gets to his feet, causing everyone else in the room to stand with him. "Very well. Fireteam leaders assemble, we'll need to draw up entrance plans. Someone find copies of the blueprints for Truthseeker HQ. Antoine, I need you to create a loudspeaker..."
The crowds swarm out of the room, following Jot down the hall. I stand there, stunned, and eventually alone. Now that I've said my piece, I no longer take center stage. I wonder if my part in all this is finally over.
Just six hours later and I'm woken at dawn. We're dressed from head to toe in black. We leave headquarters in silence. All of us. Jot said that if we fall, we fall as one.
There's a long, complicated series of tunnels leading to the Truthseeker headquarters. There are cobwebs growing in the corners of every bend, and rust covering the walls. These tunnels have probably only been used once, and then were forgotten, because who in their right minds would follow them to their destination?
We come to a vaulted door, and Jot stops and turns around. He signals us to move quietly, then opens the door. Beyond it is dim darkness which stretches for what seems like miles. We must be in the roofing of the Truthseeker headquarters.
We take up positions, four to a fireteam. Antoine, Dustin and I are the odd team out, with only three members, but we've proven that we're capable of handling it by ourselves. I'm glad I'm working with them: I wouldn't trust anyone else to do the job right.
Antoine removes a small lump of what looks like clay from his pack, places it on the floor between us, then sets about inserting wires into it. He finishes just before Jot comes to check on us, in time to stand up and give him the signal for all-clear.
It's another few tense minutes before Jot returns to the center of the area. He waits until all eyes are on him. Then he raises his hand, and lowers it in a swift chopping motion. Go.
Everyone takes two steps back, then each lump of plastic explosive goes off, creating twenty small holes in the ceiling of the Truthseekers' central area. They'll have heard the explosions. They'll come running.
I quickly hand my belay line to Dustin, who gets a grip on it then nods. Without a second thought, I jump out of the hole.
There's a few seconds of freefall, where I wonder if Dustin has the rope under control. Then my line bounces, and I'm suspended six of their feet above the floor, clutching a rifle and looking wildly around the room.
Many of us are hanging now, although some have dropped to the floor. Below us is a table, and at the table sit women, and from this angle they could almost be of normal size. They are all looking up at us. As I glance from face to face, I catch a sudden glimpse of hazel eyes, and I'm reminded of Kyra. I look up to see more of them are bursting through the doors, having heard the noise. It's okay. This is how we planned it.
Somewhere not too far from me, I hear the crackle of a loudspeaker, and Jot's voice. "Stay seated. We mean you no harm. We would parley with you."
Huge mouths are gaping. They do what we have asked and stay still, and for that I'm grateful. So far, my plan has worked. They don't want to hurt us, I keep thinking, praying, I hope they don't want to hurt us.
I spot Jot about fifty feet in front of me. He is dangling near the head of the table. In front of him, there is a blond woman with a firm chin and a smile on her face. Her green eyes sparkle, with delight or malice, I can't tell. She puts her hands up, palms facing us, then slowly begins to stand. I hear countless metallic sounds as men turn off the safeties on their rifles. They all point them at her. With the twenty or so automatic weapons between us, we wouldn't stand a chance against all of them, but we'd be able to take at least one with us.
The woman is now standing full upright, and she's just over six feet tall, putting her face-to-face with Jot. I'm viewing him from an angle that lets me see his face, and it's impressive: he doesn't back down at all, or even change expression, remaining totally neutral. I've never seen anything so truly brave.
"We Truthseekers have long waited for this day," the blond woman, obviously the leader, says. The wind from her breath is strong enough to cause a few of the ropes before her to swing slightly back and forth. "The day when we would finally be united with the men as one."
I look around and see that all the women are smiling, some even have tears in their eyes. For them, I realize, this is a major event, something they've waited for all their lives. In some way, I made this happen. For the first time in my life, I'm proud of what I've done.
"We accept your offer to parley, and hope that this is the beginnings of renewed cooperation between man and woman, who have been opposed for too long."
The men lower their rifles, and begin to fiddle with the carabiners holding their ropes. I quickly lower myself down to the level of the table, then tug on the rope, signaling Antoine and Dustin that it's safe to follow.
The blonde begins addressing orders to other women, setting up places for us to sleep and people to take care of us. Jot, meanwhile, sits cross-legged before her, staring up at her face. His expression has only changed slightly, but I can see something different in his eyes. It looks like he's relieved.
After about twenty minutes, a series of women are assigned to take us to a place we can stay while Jot discusses matters with the Truthseeker leader. A kind-looking, dark-skinned woman lowers her hand to the table in front of us, and Dustin and I clamber onto it.
She carries us away, with movements fluid and graceful, making the ride smooth and easy. She doesn't say anything to us. All the while, however, I can feel her gaze on me, staring with wonder like we are incredible, beyond belief. Perhaps to some we are.
The woman lowers us onto a cupboard. In front of us is a house that seems built to a scale only slightly larger than ours, an ancient model home. She bends slightly to get a closer look at us, eyes bright with wonder.
"Thank you!" I call up to her.
She smiles, then leans in slightly closer, as if she's going to kiss me. But she changes her mind, and quickly leaves the room.
An hour passes, which Dustin and I spend exploring the house. It doesn't have running water or electricity, but other than that it feels closer to a normal home than anything I've lived in since the city... Don't think about that now, you know what it will lead to. I've resorted to putting him out of my mind until I have time to really think upon it.
I'm sitting on the porch of the house when the door opens. A woman enters the room. She walks over to the house, calling quietly, "Hello? I'm supposed to pick up Adam."
I quickly get off the porch, and run outwards, waving my arms. The woman looks down and notices me. She stares for a second, then gasps. "Oh my god," says Kyra. "It's you."
She quickly crouches so that her face is level with the top of the bureau. "I wondered if you were among them, I was hoping even if I didn't think you would be, and I didn't know if I would find you if you were, and I've been so worried..." she blurts out.
I smile and look at her, drinking in the sight of her. Somewhere in my mind I'd given up hope of ever seeing her again, although I'd desperately wanted to. She was my first, and still my best, and I regretted not getting to know her well enough.
"You gave me such a scare when you turned back," she says. "I thought they were going to kill you, I swear I've never felt worse in my life and just -" Then she lunges forward and kisses me.
It isn't a long kiss - she draws back quickly once she realizes what she's doing - but in the two or three seconds it happens, I'm drawn almost entirely into her mouth. It is, in a word, wonderful. She pulls back though, looking alarmed. "Oh, now I've gone and started rushing things again..."
"No," I say. "That was amazing. And remember, we've already gone even further than that already."
She gives me a grin. "How could I forget? Now, give me a second to clean you off." She positions a finger behind me, then carefully uses her sweatshirt to dab away some of her saliva. It's a little bit like getting slammed into by a ton's worth of towels, but it does dry me off a little. "Okay, now we'd better get going. Hop on my hand."
She lays her palm flat, and I get on. She carries me back down the corridors and into the meeting room.
I expected the blonde, Jot and their advisors to be in conversation. Instead, they're clustered around a woman who is kneeling on the floor, her arms held by two others. There's a small blot of blood staining the corner of her red lips. Her black hair is slightly tousled.
"She works for the Establishment," the blonde begins.
"She's much worse than that," Orem continues.
"What should we do with her?" The blonde asks.
I step onto the table, and walk forward, just to make sure. She locks eyes with me.
"Hear me out," says Mary.
A Man of His Time
"I don't need to hear another word," Jot Orem says in a flat, emotionless tone. There's something in his manner that tells me he is struggling to control himself. "I know who you are. I know what you've done. Leave before I kill you."
My mind is reeling. What is he talking about?
"No," the Truthseeker leader says, "She might be able to tell us more about the Establishment. We keep her alive, and retrieve information."
"We know enough about the Establishment to get by," Orem says through gritted teeth. "I will kill her if I get the chance."
"Please give me a chance to explain!" Mary says again, tears welling in her eyes. She keeps staring at me, waiting for me to step in.
"Let's listen to her," I say. "We need to hear both sides of the story."
The blonde considers this for a moment. "There is no need to rush to judgment," she finally says. "We may as well listen to her."
Jot gives the briefest of nods, then stares directly at the polished surface of the table under his feet.
"I worked for the Establishment, that much is true," Mary says, "And I regret doing it. But it was a job, and I was good at it, and it provided well. In the end, I realized that what I did was wrong, and I tried to change my ways. I was the one who kept Adam from being drugged, who saved his life, and who told him to come to you..."
Jot glances at me, as if to confirm that this is true, and I nod. He looks a little shocked.
"All the same, I would never have come here myself, if it wasn't for what I'd heard..." And now she begins to cry in earnest.
"What? What was it?" The blonde demands.
"She told me that I'd disobeyed orders, but that it didn't matter in the end... She said they'd killed the one I'd let go... I thought Adam was dead." She sounds truly miserable.
The blonde relaxes, although she looks slightly disappointed. "Is that all?"
Mary continues as if she hadn't heard her. "They fired me, and I needed someone to help. I had to save you somehow, and I couldn't do it alone... I figured I'd tell the Truthseekers about the existence of men, and they'd be so grateful that they'd help me get you back..." She wipes her eyes with her hand.
There's a moment of silence. Everyone seems to be thinking. I know I am.
Jot speaks first. "I don't believe her. She is telling us this as an excuse. The Establishment has sent her in to spy on this meeting. If we do not kill her or restrain her, she poses a threat to us all."
The Truthseeker leader looks to me. "What do you think, Adam?"
I take a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Yes, what I'm about to say is true. "I believe her," I say. "She is the one that set me free. She's the one who told me to come to you."
Jot turns to me, his eyes blazing. "Adam, you don't know what she's done. I've seen what she's capable of. She could kill us all without any mercy or regret." I look into his eyes, and know he's also telling the truth. But their statements are opposites of one another - it doesn't make any sense...
Mary is looking at Jot now, and there's desperation in those huge, beautiful blue eyes. "I've changed since then. You have to believe me. I was following orders then, and I can't anymore. I never enjoyed it, and every day I regret it..."
"Regretting it isn't enough!" Jot has turned, and he is yelling now, raising his voice louder than I've ever heard it before. He is consumed with rage. "How many of us did you kill for them? How many died at your hands, because you were told we had to be eliminated? And all you can say is that you were following orders! Do you have no mind? No conscience?"
Jot's hands are balled into tight fists. His face is twisted with anger. Mary's face is as white as a sheet. All I'm left with is a fading sense of confusion and a gnawing feeling growing in my stomach. Say it isn't so. Don't say that it's true.
"I was there when you killed them," he says. "You would have killed me too, but I got lucky. I was the first one to ever escape. But the only reason no one had gotten out before was because you were there, ready to murder anyone who tried! You killed them all!"
I see light glint off his cheek, and I'm astonished to recognize tears in his eyes. He isn't lying. But it can't be true... Her lower lip is trembling. Please no.
I have to ask. "Is this true, Mary?"
There's a second of hope before she says, "Yes." Then the world crashes down around me as my shoulders slump and my knees feel weak. I want to melt into the ground. I want to die. It's true.
"Why?" I ask, struggling to say the single word.
It comes out in a teary, stuttering rush of words. "They told us that you were animals, who didn't think or feel. They made it seem like we were so much better, so much more advanced, that we had the right to do it. So I did it without thinking much about it, it was just one more of my duties which I tried to hide from myself, pretending everything was all right.
"Then you came, and I watched and saw that you were different, and I knew that you were from the wild, and I started wondering. I wondered if maybe, the men weren't what they seemed. Maybe what I was doing was - was making them that way. So I didn't drug you. I wanted to see what would happen. And when you didn't change - that's when I knew - and all those years I'd done these things - I'd been murdering real people, living people just like me all along. Crippling their minds with drugs, then killing them if they rebelled.
"It was before I even talked to you that I knew I would never kill for them again. But then they told me to take you out of the Plant, and they told me that you were a rebel, and that they expected me to... To do you in as well. And I couldn't. Because I loved you... I love you."
Her words dissolve into sobs. I hang my head, and I try to understand the mess we've all been thrown into. It was Mary who brought the men and the Truthseekers together. But she is a murderer of my species. In her actions, she is no different than Cheryl. But she regrets what she's done, and wants to change. She loves me. But can I ever forgive her for the crimes she's committed against my kind?
The blonde waits for a few minutes before speaking. "You will be placed in a holding cell for the next two days," she says. "In that time, I expect you to write a full report on anything, and I mean ANYTHING that could be considered valuable information on the Establishment, as well as detailing your role in their actions to this point. I expect the report to be a long one. Once the results we receive are considered satisfactory, you can go free."
"Go free?" Mary asks. "I can't leave here, they'd kill me for telling you all this. And besides, I want to help bring them down."
The blonde looks at her coolly. "We'll see," she says, then signals two female guards to take her away.
She looks back at me as they escort her out of the room, each holding an arm lightly. "I love you," she whispers one more time.
I'm ashamed to think that I love her back.
"Are you seriously going to keep her here, Ashley?" Jot asks the blond. He is no longer raging, but I can still hear the anger in his voice.
The blonde leans down towards him so that she can look him in the eye. "You know better than to call me that, Jot," she says. "My full name sounds too girly, call me Ash."
"Ash," Jot says. "Why are you keeping her alive? Why are you keeping her here?"
The blonde's lips fall into a slight pout as she thinks. "I agree with Adam. I believe her. I think she wants to change. And any grudges you have against her will just have to wait until we can deal with her fairly. For now, we have more pressing matters to discuss."
Jot bites his lip and nods, then turns to me. "Adam, you were the one who brought us together. You seemed to have a plan as to how we could defeat the Establishment. As such, we thought it only right that you were given an opportunity to help us plan the attack. Do you have any thoughts?"
My head whirls. I never really thought of any exact tactics - I simply assumed that the women could provide the brute force, while we men... But there was the basis of an idea there.
"The key," I say, "Is to make sure the Establishment is distracted when we strike. They're in complete control right now, and if we attacked they'd beat us easily. We need to get them worried about something else, something so important they'd be completely unprepared when we entered the picture."
"I see your logic," Ash says, "And I agree with it. But what could provide enough of a distraction to throw them off-balance?"
I grin. "That's simple. We can."
The flashbulb goes off, leaving traces of weirdly colored light inside my eyelids. "Are we done yet?" I ask.
The woman nods, and hands the camera off to another. Ash lowers her hand to the table, and I slide off of her soft palm. She looks down at me and smiles. "You were a great model."
"Thanks," I say. "You think this'll work? That people will believe?"
"There will be a few doubters, as always," she says. "But I know a few people who said that if we found hard evidence, they'd get it moving through the right channels. These pictures will be on the cover of every legit newspaper hitting the stands tomorrow. People will know they aren't fake. With any luck, we could have a full scale riot on our hands." She giggles.
"One other thing that's been bothering me," I ask. "Do you and Jot, um, know each other?"
At this, Ash's face falls into a cross between a grimace and a smirk. It would be invisible to anyone her size, but since her face is the size of a small building I can tell that she's blushing. "Oh... Yes, we do know each other. Very well."
"You don't have to answer if it's personal," I say quickly.
"Oh, it's all right. There are just some memories involved." she says. She waves the photographers out of the room, leaving me and her alone, before continuing. "To put it simply, after Jot escaped, I was the first one to find him. I was just eighteen years old. Ever since I was little, I'd always wanted to see a man. Even when I was young, men were semi-mythical creatures.
"I spotted him trying to run down a street. I caught him, persuaded him to come home with me. It took time, but eventually I got him to become friends with me. We made love.
"The morning afterwards, he was gone. I didn't know whether I had scared him or he had simply decided to leave. But I knew that he was real, and I knew there were others like him. That's when I began the Truthseekers, to search for him and other little men, and protest against the Establishment, who kept them hidden from us.
"But that was years ago," she says, and she suddenly sounds tired. "Seven years, to be precise. And now I meet up with him again..." A faint smile plays around her lips.
"I see," I say. I don't know how to reply.
"Jot and I have to go work out the logistics of our battle plan," Ash says, getting up. "There will be someone coming along to get you soon."
I wave farewell as Ash leaves the room, then sit, immersed in thought. In a way, Jot's story resembles mine. Found by a caring woman whom he loved and left, then was reunited with. He escaped from the Plant through a combination of wits and luck. And his friends have all been murdered. I find myself sympathizing with both Jot and Mary at once. Neither have any choice but to hate and fear one another, although neither wanted it to work out the way it did...
The door opens softly behind me, disturbing my thoughts, and I feel the cushion sink as someone sits down behind me.
"Hey little guy," Kyra says. I turn to find myself staring straight into the swells at the back of her jeans. "How'd the photo shoot go?"
"Okay," I reply in as normal a voice as possible. "I just hope the plan works."
"I'm sure it will," she says, and lifts a huge finger to tousle my hair. "Did I tell you that I joined the Truthseekers after seeing you?"
I shake my head.
"Left Sable and everything. Once I knew you were real, I knew I had to be a Truthseeker."
"I guess that was a good decision," I say. "Because now you can see me any time."
"You know, I got Ash to make me your personal caretaker. I'm going to be with you wherever you go." She smiles, and there's a slightly naughty edge to it. "We'll have lots of quality time to spend together." She winks.
I smile and play along like I'm interested, and when she kisses me I kiss her back, and it's still great, but I have other things on my mind. After she's fussed with me, I ask her to take me to Mary.
She looks shocked at this, and a little hurt. I want to tell her that she shouldn't be jealous, but that would be a lie. Both Kyra and Mary love me, but I can't come close to figuring out who to choose.
Kyra places a hand out for me to ride in, and I climb on. But instead of beginning to walk, she lifts me up to her chest, then I feel myself begin to slide to the left as she tilts her hand. I turn and try in vain to grab at the edge of her hand and pull myself up, but she just giggles and tilts it further. "This isn't funny, Kyra!" I yell up as she tilts it vertical, then continues to move her hand, so that I'm leaning upside down. Then I lose my grip and plummet downwards, only to land on her soft, warm flesh.
I slip right down her and into the valley between her breasts, eventually coming to rest somewhere between them. I can feel her laughter reverberating through her ribcage, causing me to vibrate. I'm torn between kicking and screaming and laughing right along with her. I know she didn't mean any harm, and if I wasn't in such a weird mood, I would be really enjoying it. As it is, I can't complain too much about the view.
"Comfortable?" I hear her say behind me. Then the world goes into motion as she begins to walk. I get jostled around, slamming into the walls of female flesh that surround me, but I only hit hard enough to feel their resistance, which simply turns me on. By the time she stops walking, I'm hard and craving to be with her. But though my body wants her now, my mind is still somewhere else.
Two fingers squeeze me gently on either side, and she fishes me out of her breasts, then holds me in front of her face. "Tell me that wasn't fun," she says with a grin.
"It was," I say. "But we can't do it right now. I've got to talk to Mary."
Kyra's eyes narrow, and her smile falls flat. "Is there something you're not telling me about her?" she asks.
Yes! I want to scream. Yes, we're in love, she and I, but I'm in love with you too, and I don't know what to do. Instead I simply shake my head, and say, "I need to make sure I know all the facts, that's all."
Kyra's lips curl slightly into a frown, but she lowers me down onto a table in front of Mary's cell, then taps on the glass. "Someone here to see you," she says, then turns and heads for the door.
Mary comes to the window, standing at her full, impossible height, and looks around. When she sees no one, she looks down, spots me, and quickly drops to my height, so we're eye to eye. "I'm so glad you came," she says. "I was worried that you would just forsake me -"
I hold up a hand for silence, and she bites her lip. For a second, I think she might cry again. "I never said that I approved of what you did," I say, and I know I'm being cruel but this is how it has to be. "Or that there's anything between us."
Her face shows so much hurt that it breaks my heart, but I could never forgive myself if I let her think that it was all okay. It was anything but all okay.
She says, "You know I didn't want to do it, I didn't know what I was doing and I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..."
"I know," I say, and allow a little kindness to enter my voice. "But that doesn't change the past. How come you never told me about this?"
"How could I? Was I just going to say, 'Hi, my name's Mary, I usually kill your kind, but I like you?'"
"I know it wasn't going to be easy, but to make me... to make me feel this way, without knowing..."
"Feel what way?" She asks, immediately seizing on the part of the sentence I'd left unclear.
"I love you, Mary," I say. "Is that what you wanted to hear? Yes, I love you. And it makes me sick when I think about that, and then think about what you've done."
There was a light in her eyes that sparked when I said 'I love you," but it dies as soon as my sentence ends. "You were the one that changed me. If it wasn't for you, I would never have known... I wouldn't have tried to find out. But then I saw you... And I was yours."
I sigh. "I don't know how I can forgive -"
My speech is drowned out by an alarm that suddenly rings loudly all around the Truthseeker base. "What's going on?" Mary asks.
"I don't know!" I yell back at her.
Suddenly, the ground beneath me shakes violently, almost throwing me off the desk I stand on. The door bursts open, and Kyra rushes in. She quickly sweeps me off the table, then tucks me in her shirt pocket. "Get ready to move!" she says to me, then begins to run.
We plunge into the hallway, which is quickly filling with a very familiar pale gray fog. "I didn't know they used the gas on women!" I call up.
"Neither did I," she mutters down to me, "But it obviously means we have to move quickly before it gets to our level."
I catch glimpses of Truthseekers fighting giants in gas masks, I see men climbing along the walls using lines, and many more of them passed out on the ground. If the Truthseekers don't win this battle, we'll all be captured. It will mean the end of the Underground.
"We're getting close to the exit," Kyra says as she rounds the corner, then she suddenly lurches violently forward. I see a giantess in a gas mask lifting a huge metal bat behind her.
Kyra begins falling straight towards the ground. In the seconds before she hits it, I realize that being in her shirt pocket won't be exactly safe, and grab the material and swing myself over the edge, falling straight downwards. A strand of hair passes by and I latch onto it, swinging up and over, to land on top of her head.
I know I don't have much time before the gas gets to me, so I quickly slide down her hair, hitting the ground in time to see the giant woman in the gas mask teeter, then fall. A harpoon is sticking out of her neck.
Antoine runs up to me, toting his gun. He throws me a black rubber object, which I recognize to be a gas mask, then pulls a gas mask of his own over his head. I quickly tie the mask on, and breathe deeply in relief. Antoine gives me the hand signal to move.
We dash down the hallways as fast as we can, but they were built to the women's size, and it's tough going as a result. I'm not even sure where we're headed to, or where we could go. Still, Antoine always seems to know how to avoid the clusters of Truthseekers and Establishment that are fighting around the base. If I wasn't following him, I'd probably be crushed underneath some woman's foot.
We're running down another hallway when I suddenly feel something slam into my back, knocking me head over heels. A huge leather boot bears down on me, and I see Antoine rushing forwards, trying to get me out of the way. Instead the boot crashes into him, hurling him out of my vision.
I feel a burning sensation in my eyes as the gas-mask clad woman kneels down. The kick must've knocked my own mask off. I try to back away, but my muscles feel weak and useless. It might have been the kick, or maybe the gas, but I'm not going anywhere.
I watch helplessly as she bends down, swiping up Antoine, then moving her hand towards me...
A Man of His Time
Where's Antoine? He's supposed to push me away from the foot because otherwise it will crush me, and I will feel my bones crack and my organs explode and my skin turn to mush. Did that happen? It feels like it, everything hurts stabbing pain in my arms in my legs in my skull. Broken bones and bruises and cuts and scrapes. Steel clamping into my wrists. Feet hanging in air, ankles bound by chains. Don't move.
Deep breath. Your thoughts are wandering. First things first. Where are you and how did you get here?
Open your eyes. No ground beneath you, no it's hundreds of feet away. I'm going to fall and die. No, the chains, the chains are keeping you up. Deep breath. Deep breaths damnit.
They help. In a few minutes I'm thinking clearly again, and I have my answers. Where am I? The walls are dirty cement and there's a single light hanging in the room. I'm in a torture chamber. How did I get here? I was captured by the Establishment.
I still don't know where Antoine is, but as a door at the end of the room opens, I get a bad feeling that I'm about to find out.
I've almost grown used to seeing familiar faces in strange situations. But it still knocks the wind out of me when Sable enters the room. She's wearing a tight black shirt and shorts, and black leather boots below that. For a second, I wonder if she's the one that caught me, then quickly dismiss that thought. There's a look of hatred in her eyes which tells me she would have stamped me out of existence then and there.
As she approaches, I realize that I'm strung up on level with the neckline of her shirt. Far enough below eye level to be humiliating, but high enough above the ground to be frightening. They have their methods worked out well, and I wonder how many others they've used them on.
Sable stops right in front of me, close enough that I can see the stitches in the top of her shirt. Then she stoops over until I'm gazing right into those dark eyes, each the size of my head. I wonder why she looks so angry.
"I know who you are." she says. "You're the same one who entered my house. You humiliated me in front of Cheryl. You made me look incompetent. You see, it's my job to catch little jerks like you, so you can be kept safe from yourselves. If you could have known how worried I was that I was going to lose my job..."
"Is that all? Is that the only reason that you're angry at me?" I ask.
"No," she says softly. "No, that's only the surface."
I follow her hand as she reaches down to her waist, and pulls out something that glints in the harsh light. She holds it up before me, dividing my vision in half. A long, thin blade of metal. A knife.
"I'm angry at you for taking Kyra away from me," she whispers as she brings the blade towards me.
I close my eyes, and prepare for the pain.
Cold fire dissolves into a small ball of light before me, lighting a field that I'm standing in. It looks eerily familiar. I turn to my left to see Kyra before me, my size once more. "You love me, don't you?" she asks.
"Don't be silly, he loves me," Mary says to my left. She too is standing at my scale.
"We were together first, Adam," Kyra says, and when I turn to her she's suddenly two feet taller than me.
"But I'm so much more interesting," says Mary, and now I'm only as high as her chest.
"Think of those moments we've shared," Kyra says, and she's truly beginning to loom over me.
"I'd do anything for you," Mary says, spurting upwards until I'm level with her thighs.
They argue back and forth, each one growing larger with every sentence, until suddenly they're truly gigantic, even larger than they are normally, to the point where even their toes tower over me.
Kyra takes a huge, earth-shaking step, her left foot slamming into the ground a hundred feet away from me. "He's mine," she says.
I jump and wave my arms around, trying to show them that I'm still there, right between them, but I'm too small for them to notice me.
"No, he's mine," Mary replies, stepping forward with her right, her foot landing a hundred feet to the other side.
Then Kyra lifts her right foot and Mary her left, and they each bring them down on top of me...
And I'm awake again, my entire body aching, my hands and feet asleep. My chest burns, but it doesn't feel wet. The blood must have dried. I wonder how long I've been out for.
The door opens again, and in walks the last person I want to see. Cheryl walks up to me, cool, controlled, business-like. I don't have the strength to lift my head, but I do it anyway. I meet her stare. All I have left to work with is my rage.
"You're awake, I see," she says.
"Kill me, you bitch," I spit back.
"Now, why would I want to go and do a thing like that?"
"You're going to do it anyway. You have no reason to keep me alive. You don't need to torture me, I have no information that you haven't already gotten from Mary."
She stifles a laugh, long red fingernails over her lips. "You think she was working for us? No, she was quite unaware that we were following her. Such a simple trick, making her think you were dead. She led us straight to you."
I take a moment to absorb all this. I had assumed from the moment I was captured that Mary was probably their spy. The fact that she wasn't gave me some grim satisfaction. I quickly turned back to the argument. Talking was the only way to prevent her from acting. "You'd still be able to get the information from others. You have no reason to keep me alive. And you have no reason to torture me."
"The torture is merely proactive punishment," Cheryl says with a wave of her hand. She leans in closer. "You need to know, deep in your bones, that you cannot go after me. That it will be foolish to try again. What you don't understand is, by torturing you I'm saving your life. Because now you won't try to attack me, which means I won't have to kill you."
"You can punish me as much as you please," I reply, struggling to remain calm. Think of Jot. He's good at remaining calm in situations like this. "I will not rest until I see you defeated."
Cheryl suddenly looks very tired. She runs a hand through her scarlet hair and sighs. "Have you ever thought about why you're doing this?"
"Your little mission of revenge. On what grounds are you fighting me?"
"It should be obvious," I reply, astonished at her. How dare she question me, after all she's done?
"Is it your city? You hardly remember it. Your friend that I squashed? You barely knew him. It could be out of pure selfishness, but you're too self-righteous for that. So tell me, why?"
She's trying to trick you. You need an answer, one that she can't twist to her own ends. "I'm doing it for my father," I say. "I'm doing it to avenge his death."
She gives me a look of disbelief, coupled with a truly frightening smile, a combination of hatred, bloodlust and anger pressed into an expression usually meant to show happiness. "Your father? You're trying to get revenge for your father?"
"What's wrong with that?" I challenge her. "How are you going to twist my words now?"
"You don't know, do you?" she asks, shaking her head slightly. "I suppose you must have been young at the time."
"What are you talking about?" I ask. "What do you mean?"
"No," she says, "I think I'll spare you that. Just as I'm sparing your life."
As she walks away, I twist and turn in my chains, screaming after her. I can feel the wound in my chest tearing open as I move, coming unstuck from my shirt. I grit my teeth and try to fight off the pain, but it floods through me, wiping away all thought.
I see my father before me, hands on my shoulders, and I know exactly where we are. We're in the basement again, right before he runs off to die. "Promise me you won't leave," he says.
But this time I don't nod soundlessly. The people around me are always dying, and I'm never able to say anything, never able to do anything before they go. "What did you do, Dad? How does she know you?" I ask.
"The sins of the father," he answers. "Do not pass on..."
"Pass on to what?" I demand. "What are you talking about? What do you mean?"
"I think I'll spare you that," says Raymond, before he shudders and dies.
Suddenly, the entire window is filled with Cheryl's face. "As long as you keep fighting, the people you love will continue to die," she says, her voice shaking the walls. The front door blows off of its hinges, and I suddenly realize I have to escape. I begin to run towards the door, but my feet move in slow motion, trapped in time.
I feel the ground move beneath me as she wrenches the entire house out of the ground, lifting it up to her face, which is now growing, she's growing, bigger and bigger until her face alone is the size of a small city. I can see every tiny detail as she lifts the house between two fingers, positioning it directly above her mouth, which opens wide. Her tongue sticks out, a massive pink monster the size of a whale. Her teeth shimmer with her saliva. I can see down her throat, leading down hundreds of feet before fading into darkness.
Her fingers part, and the entire house, with me frozen in its doorway, begins to tumble end over end down into her mouth...
Once again, I wake to hear the door opening. I realize that I've been lowered further to the ground, and wonder what they have planned for me now.
Next in the line of horrors from my past is Toni. She has a plain white tank top on, and nothing on her bottom. Her blond bush is exposed to the world, and I can see that it is moist. The oversexed bitch. What will she do to me?
"Hello little guy," she coos. "So nice to see you again."
I keep my mouth shut. I can't reason with Toni. Anything I say will just egg her on to do worse.
"Mom said I should come in here, and show you something," she says, stepping up to me, and I realize now that I've been lowered so that I'm exactly level with her womanhood.
"You know your little friend, the one we found you with? The one that hurt Mom?" She asks, and doesn't wait for me to answer. "Guess where he is."
She wiggles her hips, her blond hair moving back and forth in front of me. It slowly dawns on me what she means. No, no they couldn't have.
"If you put your little head in there an hour ago, you would have heard him screaming. He moved around like nothing else." Her voice becomes sultry as she thinks about it. "He hit all the good spots, although I'm not sure that's what he had in mind. But a little while ago, he stopped moving." She pouts.
Let him be unconscious. Let him be playing dead. I can't have it happen again...
"Soon enough, I'll get Mom to be serious about you," she says. "When the time comes to get rid of you, they'll come back to me. And then you'll follow your friend down here." She says, pointing to herself and giggling.
Then suddenly she stops laughing, and slaps at her neck. She frowns, then cries out in pain. Toni drops to the ground, shaking the walls slightly as she lands, then begins to squirm on the ground, crying and yelling in agony.
I'm so busy watching her that I don't even notice Dustin glide down from the ceiling until he's right in front of me, strapped into a harness and holding a huge harpoon gun. "You okay?" he asks.
"No," I say. "And let's leave it at that. Is that a tranquilizer gun?"
He shakes his head and grins. "We've busted out the big guns. Each of these harpoons is lined with some kind of poison - I think they called it a neurotoxin or something. You hit one of them with it, anywhere on their body, and they go down, completely out of their heads with pain."
Toni seizes twice, then lies still. "Is she dead?" I ask.
Dustin looks down at her. "Probably."
I can't say I feel sorry for her, no matter how weak she looks sprawled across the cement floor. She was a cruel, heartless girl who had killed several of my kind, and I'm not sure if she deserved to die, but I'll be damned if I feel sorry for her.
Dustin takes the gun and straps it to his back, then pulls out a large pair of clamps. He talks as he works through the chains holding my legs. "You know, we all thought you were dead. Kyra, she was devastated. So was that other girl - the one with the dark hair. The Truthseekers thought she was the one that caused the attack, and they've got her in cuffs somewhere around here. I don't think she did it though. She looked too upset to have done that to us."
He finishes with the leg chains, then proceeds to my right hand. "Right after the Establishment retreated, and we were finished sorting out the injured and dead, word got to us that the newspapers with the pictures were on the stands. It's working out just like they thought it would. People are rebelling. Rioting in the streets. So Ash figured it was the perfect time for a counterattack. She's brilliant, as well as lovely," he says, and I notice a dreamy look come into his eyes.
"So, when's the counterattack?" I ask, trying to get his attention back before he accidentally clamps off my hand.
He smiles and shakes his head. "You don't get it? We're doing it right now. Me and Earl, we were sent in to scope out the place, figure out where guards were placed and the like. We saw you in here, and figured we might as well come to the rescue."
"Will yeh hurry it up?" I hear Earl call down. "My arms are killin' me!"
I suddenly realize that I'm hanging by just two chains, one from each arm. The chains could snap, and I'd fall and die. I'm completely terrified.
"Take my hand with your left," Dustin says firmly. I do as he says, and he takes the clamps and cuts the chain on my left arm. The right one snaps from the weight, leaving me dangling by my left hand. I cry out, and Dustin quickly grabs my other hand, then looks up at Earl. We rise up into the air, and I shut my eyes.
It's only when I'm on the solid ground of the ceiling that I feel ready to open them. It's one thing to be safely dangling from a harness and cord, and another to be held by two unstable chains so much higher above the ground, much less holding on to someone else as you're pulled up.
But now we're inside the ceiling of the room, and I can open my eyes. "How long was I there for?" I ask.
"Three days," Dustin answers. He looks over at Earl. "You have any medical supplies on you?"
Earl rummages about in a sack next to him, then produces a small white case. "Some basics in 'ere. Alcohol, bandages, and so on."
"Toss me a bandage," I say, then begin gingerly peeling the shirt away from the wound. It stings badly, but I pull through. As I finish applying the bandage, the muted sounds of battle begin to filter through the floor.
"Bloody hell," Earl mutters. "They went and started without us."
"We've got to find Cheryl," I say, tying up the bandage and wincing at the pain. "If we bring her down, the entire Establishment will go down with her."
"Are you ready to move?" Dustin asks.
"No," I say. I just remembered. "Antoine is down there. Inside Toni. We have to get him out."
"Did you hear what she said, lad?" Earl asks, his face set into a solemn frown.
"He'd been in her for an hour," Dustin says. "And she was wet, you saw it. He must have drowned."
"But there has to be some chance..." I say, and they sadly shake their heads. I put a hand to my forehead. I can't think about this now. Damn her and damn them all for putting me through this.
"We don't have time," Earl murmurs. "To be mournin' him now."
"Take a gun," Dustin says, tossing me one of the harpoon launchers. It's heavy in my hands. "Don't shoot unless you're sure you're shooting at the Establishment. Those things can kill with one hit."
I nod. "Let's move."
We travel as far as we can through the vent shafts of the Establishment building, huge tunnels of steel that extend far beyond the range of our flashlights. Finally, we come to a drop straight down. Earl wordlessly takes out a long length of rope, and drives a spike into the edge of the floor. Then he ties the rope onto the spike. Dustin hands me a harness, and we tie on, then begin climbing down the rope towards the bottom.
I can here the sounds of battle outside before we even hit the floor. Guns firing, women shouting. Some are screaming. I hope they're not on our side.
Once Earl manages to climb down after us and retrieve the rope, we squeeze through the bars in the vent grille, to emerge out into a corridor. I look left and right - no one there, the coast is clear. Distantly, I hear the sounds of pounding footsteps.
"Shit," Earl says. "Someone's heading this way."
"Hide!" Dustin shouts, and the two of them clamber up into the vent grille. I try to follow, but I'm too weak, and as I scramble to get over the edge, I feel the cut across my chest tearing open again. I can't help it. I let go, and fall back onto the floor.
"He's not gonna make it," Earl says to Dustin.
"Take this," Dustin calls down. He tosses a grappling gun through the bars, and I manage to catch it. "You can hide on the ceiling."
I quickly get a grip on the gun, then fire upwards. The hook lodges in the ceiling tiles, and pulls me upwards. I hook the line into my harness, and hang there, praying that the women on their way are on my side.
It's just one woman, I see as she rounds the corner, and my heart sinks to see that she's wearing an Establishment uniform. But then she pulls off the gas mask, and it's Kyra underneath. She looks around, then up, her eyes falling directly on me.
"Adam! You're alive!" She says. "I really thought you were gone. I'm so happy to see you -"
"Why are you wearing that uniform?" I ask. Is she a traitor?
"I'm undercover, genius," She says, looking a little hurt. "They sent me in here with one of the uniforms they found on the bodies, and had me deactivate security before they came in -"
The sound of a giant running comes down the hall.
"That must be one of them," Kyra says. "They'll notice you easily up there, you won't have time to shoot. You've got to let me hide you." She holds out her hand beneath me.
I hesitate. Can I believe that she's still on my side? Can I give up my independence to her? I remember leaving her before, and I remember my speech to the Underground, and I can't be a hypocrite any longer. I toggle the grappling gun, and drop gently into her palm, which quickly folds around me. Her hand closes around me, surrounding me with warmth and closing off the light as she lowers me to her side, pulling the gas mask down.
"Did you see anyone come through here?" A woman's voice asks.
"No," I hear Kyra say.
"Okay, we've got to get back to the battle," The woman responds. "Follow me."
"I don't think so," Kyra says, and I hear two muted gunshots.
"Good shot," I hear another voice say, as quiet footsteps cross the floor. "I taught you well."
Kyra lifts the hand with me in it, quickly depositing me on her shoulder before tearing her mask off. It's just as I feared - Sable is right across from us.
She looks slightly shocked seeing me on Kyra's shoulder. "You got him out, huh? Now do the smart thing and hand him over."
Kyra shakes her head, causing her shoulder beneath me to wobble slightly. I drop into a crouch to keep my balance, lightly clutching her shoulder. "Not on your life, sis."
Sable frowns. "First you join the Truthseekers, then you stand between me and my job. God, Kyra, I was training you to follow in my footsteps. Can't you stop this idiocy and come to your senses?"
"If you love me, really love me," Kyra says, "You'll let this go. You can go back to the Establishment, I don't care. But don't stand between me and Adam."
"Give him to me," Sable says simply, holding out her hand. For a second, I'm afraid Kyra will actually do it. But I'm going to be trusting, I have to learn to be more trusting.
"Come and take him." It isn't a challenge, it's a promise: she will not let her have me.
Sable responds by swinging a fist straight at Kyra's cheek. It connects, and as she falls backwards I tumble off of her shoulder, falling out into open air, just catching myself on a buckle of the uniform.
Kyra glances downwards and sees me hanging, giving Sable enough time to aim another blow with her other hand, throwing her in the opposite direction. It also throws me off the buckle, and I find myself skidding wildly down her leg, trying to stop myself from falling straight to the ground.
Sable then kicks out straight at Kyra's chest, slamming her backwards into the wall behind us. I jump down off of her, skidding into a landing on the concrete floor, the roughness of the surface tearing up my hands.
Kyra slides down the wall behind me, dazed from the hits she's taken. I can't shake the feeling that it's my fault - if she hadn't been worrying about me, she could have dealt with her sister.
I watch, stunned, as Sable begins to pound mercilessly at her sister, punch after punch. "How could you leave me like that?" She yells. "To run off to the fucking Truthseekers, for God's sake! I'm your sister!"
Kyra has her hands up to protect her face, but her sister is mostly beating her around the chest and neck. She shakes with each blow. I don't know what to do. I'm deadly afraid that Sable is killing her.
Sable stops for a moment, breathing heavily. Kyra tries to get up, and Sable knocks her back down. "You're not going to quit," she says. "I can't let you have him. It's my job." She reaches down into her belt, and pulls out a pistol.
I don't even think, I just raise the gun and fire. The harpoon sails through the air, lodging itself firmly in Sable's thigh.
The effect happens instantly - Sable stumbles backwards, twitching and shaking. She begins to collapse directly above me, and I run out of the way, just making it out of the way before she falls with an earth-shaking boom.
She twitches for a few minutes more before going slack. All this time, Kyra has remained where she was, sitting against the wall, perfectly still. Everything is silent.
Kyra slowly stands up off the wall, and walks over to her sister's body. She stands there, staring silently. Her face shows nothing, but I can see that her hands are trembling.
She stands that way for a long time.
16: Calm Before The Storm by NFalc
A Man of His Time
Calm Before The Storm
"You did it to save my life," Kyra says finally as we head towards the rendezvous point, passing the bodies of fallen Establishment guards as we walk.
"I thought she was going to kill you," I say again, willing it to be true. I can't even be sure of my own motives anymore. It seemed like she was going to...
"Let's just not talk about it," Kyra says, and I hate her icy tone. I can't blame her, though. When I think about what I've done, I can't believe she doesn't hate me.
There are Truthseekers milling around, exchanging high-fives and handshakes, winks and smiles. We did it. No one thought we could, but we did. From my perch on Kyra's neck, I can almost feel like one of them. Certainly, I can share in their joy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. At least I hope that's how it works.
Kyra picks her way around the rubble, until we come to the area where most of the Underground has set up. A few Truthseekers are discussing strategy with a group of guys, who seem quite interested - in the strategy or the girls, I can't tell. Overall the mood is still upbeat ("except you killed her sister!" a small voice shouts in the back of my head).
She puts me on the tabletop, and says, "I think I need a little time alone," and turns away. I cross my fingers and hope she comes back feeling a little more upbeat.
"Hey," I hear a voice behind me, and turn to see Jot Orem standing to his full imposing height. His grim expression breaks into a small smile. "I'm glad you're alive," he says. "We're meeting to discuss further plans. Follow me."
We move along to a more isolated desktop, where Ash is waiting. She smiles, showing off huge straight white teeth, upon seeing me. "Are we all here?" she asks.
"Those of us who need to be, are." Jot replies.
"What exactly are we meeting about?" I interrupt. "We defeated them. The people know, and we've killed off most of the Establishment's army. They're finished."
"Not quite," Ash says. "Make no mistake, this was a major blow to their power. However, with an organization like the Establishment, there's always a backup plan. We broke into a few of their data systems, and found out that all their crucial personnel have been moved to a hidden base not too far from here."
"The next question," Jot continues, "Is why we have to continue after them. The answer is that until we are sure they are gone, completely finished, we will not be able to create a new government without the threat of the Establishment returning."
"So you see," Ash says. "This can't be finished until every important member of the Establishment is either dead or under control. Only then can we plan the new society."
I take a moment and think about what they told me. She's going to die. There's no way we'd be able to control her. She has to be killed. And I have to be the one to do it. It fills me with a mix of anticipation and dread.
"When do we move out?"
I have six hours to kill before I can finally finish what I've started. I realize now that this is what I've been heading towards all along. Leaving the ruins, I'd been seeking the woman who destroyed my city, and even if I never thought of it, the only possible end to my quest would be to destroy her in turn.
I try to keep my mind off other things. The friends who have died. Those that I've killed. Wouldn't it have happened anyway, if I hadn't been there? Maybe, but definitely not as quickly. Murderer, the voice says, you're a murderer. Their blood is on your hands. Not just Sable and Judas, but Antoine and Raymond too... As long as I keep fighting, those I love will continue to die...
I dig my fingers into the sides of my head, dig in hard, and press down. It doesn't do anything but cause me pain. I need some distraction. I get up and walk.
My first thought is to go talk to Ash, review our battle plans, maybe chat. But when I find her, she's already engaged in whispered conversation with someone. I use my zipline to climb up to a countertop. There, on the couch next to her, is Dustin. He stares at her, completely absorbed in watching her talk.
Even after everything else I've been through, I can't help but smile.
Walking onwards, I find a TV set turned to the local news channel. On a screen bigger than any I've ever seen in my life, I watch women marching through the streets, leaving burning government buildings and overturned police cars behind them.
Jot sits on the couch in front of the TV, completely dwarfed by the sofa around him. It's almost ridiculous, it looks so different from the awe-inspiring image of him upon his throne. But he still has dignity, even among these immense objects - it's only the contrast that's funny.
"The riot's really kicking up now." I say. "Is it really us that caused this?"
"The photographs are what is fueling the fire," Jot says, nodding slowly. "Without them, these riots would end quickly. People would return to their homes quietly, but now that they know of us, they won't stop until there is change. But they are too unorganized to create that change. The Establishment is foolish: if we fail in our mission, they will still lose power, the only difference is that the city will tear itself apart."
"What do you think we'll happen when they're gone? To us, I mean."
He takes a long look at me. "They could make us equals, or they could treat us worse than the Establishment did. Only time will tell."
I leave him to his news reports, and continue on.
It's only after I've walked for fifteen minutes away from him that I remember Mary. Dustin had said something about her being put in chains... I run up to the nearest Truthseeker, a slender woman with skin the color of coffee dosed with large amounts of milk. She reminds me of storybooks I'd read as a kid, about a land that existed long ago, known as India.
Her smooth brown feet are bare, and I tap gently on the side of her arch. She starts at this, her feet springing upwards slightly, which startles me as well, but she quickly spins round, her dress whirling in the air above me. She crouches down, and seeing me, her big, exotic eyes light up.
"Do you know where they are holding the prisoners?"
"Sure," she says, smiling. She's really very pretty, but I'm already in love, with two different women no less. I quickly accept her offer to ride on her shoulder, and she gracefully carries me down to the makeshift prison.
I quickly realize it to be an Establishment cell block - bare cement rooms with bars over the small windows. "I'm looking for a woman - she has brown hair about this long, and blue eyes..."
The Indian woman nods, causing me to grip her shoulder tightly to make sure I don't fall off. She points to a cell door, then calls over a nearby guard.
"The woman in that cell is innocent. She needs to be set free. If you need authorization, you can ask Ash, tell her that Adam said she was not guilty..."
The guard nods and opens up the cell. She leads Mary out, and undoes her handcuffs. Mary's beautiful brown hair is tousled, but she has somehow managed to remain beautiful despite her capture and the huge amounts of stress she must have been under. She looks at me lovingly as the guard undoes her handcuffs.
I whisper in my carrier's ear, and she sets me down on a small ledge near the bench where Mary's sitting. We can see almost eye-to-eye. I thank the woman and the guard, and they leave.
"I'm sorry for doubting you," I begin. "I almost thought that you led them to us on purpose."
"So did everyone else, apparently," she says with a roll of her eyes. "I suppose it's just another form of payback. Karma. I don't doubt that I deserve it."
I shake my head. "I don't want to hear about that. You don't need it, and neither do I. Let's not talk about the past."
"What's done is done," she agrees. "I'm so glad you're okay, I'd heard you were captured..."
"Yeah," I say. "Let's not talk about that either."
"Maybe we shouldn't talk at all," she says with a smile, and tilts towards me. Her lips find me, and I bury my head between them, her warm mouth dampening my hair. Let me dissolve.
I feel her hand come behind me, gently cradling me, as we continue to kiss. She lowers me gently, moving her head downwards to continue the kiss as I drop. Let me not think.
She holds me to her as she walks out of the cell block, towards a small lounge area down a corridor. She closes the door behind her, turns the latch, then slides onto the couch, keeping me close to her chest all the while. I can feel her racing heart through her soft breast. Let me forget.
She slides me over her, and I feel myself go hard. Her hand guides me over her stomach, down all the way to her crotch. With her other hand, she unzips, not speaking a word. She reveals herself to me. Then I leave her grasp, straining forward to enter her. Unity. Let me be lost.
We make love, desperately, each needing the other. I dive into her, deeper and deeper, as if I'm trying to reach her core. I hear her shout above me, and I feel like shouting too, losing myself in the physical, forgetting all my senses except the pure pleasure. Let me be erased.
The pleasure slowly fades, and I let her muscles push me gently outwards, back towards the surface. I'm fading away too, and I want so badly to stop thinking that for a moment I almost manage to. But as I go off to sleep, a single, terrible thought remains. I know why I went to Mary, why I wanted this. She and I are two wrongs trying to make something right. We're both murderers.
Murderer, murderer they call. Blood on my hands. The blood of everyone in my town. Murder, murder is a sin. The sins of the father. What sins?
The ground is blood too, hard, shiny and slick. Not blood, leather. Red leather of a shoe. I'm standing atop the shoe that destroyed my town. Killed everyone I knew except Raymond.
"Polish it," a voice from above booms, and I find a rag in my hand and I begin to polish, rubbing it until it shines. I'm so eager to please. Cheryl's looking down from above, full lips curled into a smile. "Did anyone ever tell you how cute you are?"
And just like that, I'm as guilty as she is. I murdered the town along with her - look who's polishing her shoes. Look who slept with her! Look who could've saved his father if he'd only spoken up. Look who could've saved his best friend if he'd only been more cautious. I was guilty even before I murdered Judas, even before I left the junkyard.
Then the shoe is lifted high in the air, and I see Kyra's face before me, tremendous, even larger than Cheryl's. "You killed my sister," she says. "I love you, but I have to kill you too." Then her hand shakes the shoe, and I tumble downwards, falling all the way down. But the blood has soaked into the ground, and it cushions my fall.
Her foot is raised high above me. I can see the sole of her foot, those cute toes, every little detail as it comes crashing down upon me.
I wake up. She carries me to the bathroom, and gently rinses me off in the sink, beaming at me all the while. "I love you so much," she says.
"I love you too," I tell her back, and I do mean it. I may have used her just now, but I do love her. But I love Kyra too, and I know that I can't have them both, I know that I will break at least one of their hearts.
It's Mary who takes me back to the makeshift headquarters. As soon as Jot, standing on the countertop, turns to see us, he cries out. "How the hell -" he begins to say.
"She didn't start the attack, Jot," I say. "She led them to us, but without knowing it. Cheryl used her, just like she used me. Cheryl told me herself."
"I wouldn't question your honesty, Adam," Ash says. "But are you absolutely sure about this?"
"Completely," I respond. "It's not like I'm making things up, this is what I was told, and she had no reason to lie."
"Very well then," Ash says. "Do you have the report I asked of you, Mary?"
Mary fishes a small, folded scrap of paper from her pocket. "As promised."
From my vantage point on Mary's shoulder, I can see Kyra. She looks suspicious. If she finds out I was with Mary... After killing her sister... I'm such an idiot! How could I have done this? I can never let her find out.
"Then you're officially on our side," Ash tells Mary. "I must say you have excellent timing. You see, tonight, one way or another, the Establishment will fall."
A Man of His Time
In what may well be the last hour of my life, my senses have come alive. I can feel the vibrations of the vehicle beneath me, the heavy steel of the weapon on my lap, the blood rushing through the vessels of Mary's leg beneath me, the air entering my lungs.
I've become more aware than I have ever been, perhaps more than I will ever be again. It's do or die - I kill Cheryl or she kills me. And I'm ready and waiting, holding my breath. The vehicle comes to a stop, the vibrations cease. We've arrived.
Fifteen minutes earlier, we'd gone over the final battle plans. "The majority of our strength will be directed towards a frontal assault," Ash had explained, Dustin perched upon her shoulder. "This will involve all women except those specifically selected for other tasks. A large number of the men will assist from the ceilings, using their zipcords and harpoons. The battle won't be easy, but we do have an ace in the hole.
"Adam, Jot, Mary and Dustin will use a hidden entrance that was depicted on our schematics. Entering from the rear, they will run a seek-and-destroy mission to hit the leaders of the Establishment while we provide a distraction. At this juncture, leaders such as Cheryl are directly controlling the Establishment forces - without them, the Establishment will crumble from the inside.
"This will not be easy for any of us. There will be losses. Some of you will die. But if you want to see a new day, free of the Establishment, a day where the people really have control of the government, fight. If you want to see a day where men and women will be equals once more, fight. If you give a damn about anything we stand for, fight. Fight with everything you have. We may yet end this before everything falls apart."
We leap out of the car, followed by Mary, who carefully comes to a standing position with her feet spread on either side of us.
"Remember," Jot says. "We have to get into the command area first. You're getting us in," he calls up to Mary.
"I know," Mary says. "I'm the only one who can crack their systems."
"From there, we have three targets to hit: Cheryl and her two subordinates. Adam, Dustin and I will split up, each taking one of the targets. Hit them wherever you can, just be damn sure you're accurate. It doesn't matter whether we survive, so long as we accomplish this goal, and do it fast, so the frontal assault can take advantage of the chaos."
Dustin and I both nod. We both knew the risks, and we still had volunteered. I'm not completely sure why Dustin was so set on coming along, but I know my own reasons, and that's enough.
The rear entrance is through an old tunnel, covered by a large, rusting red door. Mary shoves at it, but it doesn't open. "The lock's jammed." She calls down.
"We expected that might be the case," Jot tells Dustin and I. "Two of us need to go up there and blow it open. Dustin, come with me. We need to get up there," he calls up to Mary.
She lowers her hand, and Dustin and Jot climb on. I decide to get on as well, but when they jump out onto the lock, I clamber along Mary's arm to her shoulder. "How are you doing?" I ask.
"I'm okay," she answers. "A little nervous, but I'd be stupid if I wasn't."
"Are you totally sure you want to do this?"
She turns slightly to me, so I can see her in profile. She has never looked more beautiful than now, seeing her in profile, the moonlight shining down on us. "If it wasn't for them, I might never have killed anyone. I might have lived a normal life, and eventually found you out of sheer good luck. We might have lived happily and peacefully ever after. But that didn't happen. They took away our chance, and the only way to get it back is to destroy them."
There's a tiny noise below us, and I see Jot and Dustin waiting at the lock, which has a wisp of black smoke coming out of it. Mary takes them onto her hand, and I slide back down to join them.
"Okay, you should be able to kick it in, now." Jot calls up.
Mary carefully steadies us, then raises her huge leg and with one swift motion knocks the door down. Dustin, Jot and I struggle to remain on her hand as she rushes into the building, running down the tunnel.
At the end is another door - but it doesn't look like we can kick it down.
"The door is made of reinforced steel," Jot says. "The only way in is through that keypad." He points to a small panel on the door's left side. "Mary, we need you to put us down. At this point we need to have the ability to move independently."
She nods, lip curled as she studies the keypad. She kneels and lowers us to the floor. After we hop off, she takes a few tools out of a small knapsack, then sets to work on the keypad.
Jot motions me over to the side of the corridor, where he and Dustin are standing. There, built into the wall is a small iron grate, which looks just tall enough for us to fit into if we crouched. "You two, help me move this."
"Why are we opening the grate?" I ask. I've got a strange feeling in my stomach, like I'm missing something, something important.
"We need to have an escape route, in case something goes wrong. I'm just planning ahead." Jot says.
I help them move the grate out of the way. It's better to have a backup plan; Jot's just being smart.
"I think I'm almost done, guys." Mary says.
"We should get into position to cover her," Dustin says.
"We're in position," Jot says. There's something weird about the expression on his face.
"Got it!" Mary says.
The door slides open.
It happens so fast, I can't even see it. I just hear the gunshots, louder than anything else in my life, and feel the ground shake. I look up, and Mary's lying on the floor, hair fanned out behind her, eyes wide open. There's a small trickle of blood flowing from the side of her mouth.
A small red pool forming around her.
I cry out without words, ripping my throat, reaching outwards, stumbling towards her. This can't be. I have lost so much already, and now Mary... She can't leave me now.
In the distance are heavy footsteps, guns reloading. A hand grasps the back of my shirt and pulls me backwards forcefully, as I keep reaching out to her. I need to be with her. If she's going to go, I have to say something... For once I need to say something. Tell her I love her. Tell her I'm sorry. Tell her something. Oh God.
I'm pulled into the safety of the grate opening, and though I fight and claw to be free, I'm held firm. "It's not safe, Adam," Dustin says. "I know you want to, but you can't." I hear almost as much anguish from him as I feel in my own heart.
I look out helplessly, as the Establishment troops cluster around her. She turns her head, and looks at me, and (God help me) she smiles. She mouths words, although she can't speak them. It takes a second for them to rearrange themselves in my mind. "I did it for you." She said, "I did it for you."
And now I weep, truly and honestly, sobbing, although no sound comes out. Why did it have to be this way? Why?
Dustin puts a hand on my shoulder, and it doesn't help, but I'm glad he does it.
"We need to hurry," Jot says. "They'll only be distracted for so long."
The tears dry quickly, the sadness in my heart hardens, replaced by cold awareness. "You knew this was going to happen," I say.
He looks at me, and does not deny it. "It was necessary." He says.
"You planned it this way. You bastard! You killed her!" I rip free of Dustin's grasp on my shoulder and leap towards Jot, pinning him to the wall. "You motherfucker! How could you take her from me?" I'm going to strangle him, I'm going to rip his throat out, I'm going to tear his filthy heart out of his chest.
"Adam," Dustin says urgently. "Adam, I know what you feel. I know what you want to do. But you can't. We have a mission. Do you want her to have died for nothing?"
The anger leaves me as quickly as it came, and all I'm left with is a deep feeling of being tired, tired of everything. I don't know how much more I can take. My hand goes slack, and I turn away from Jot.
"You have your own mission," he says. "Your own revenge. In time, you will understand that what I did was no different from what you are about to do."
My fist clenches, but I say nothing.
"We've got to get moving," Dustin says. "You can kill him later, Adam, for all I care, but right now we've got to finish this."
I turn to him and nod briefly. "I think it's time for us to split up."
It takes five minutes for me to climb swiftly through the ducts, moving towards the room we're guessing Cheryl's staying in. All the while, I struggle not to think about her. Or anyone. Keep my mind on the mission. You came here to do something, and you have to see it through.
I look through the small grilles in the vent system. Empty room. Room filled with guards. Another empty room. Still no sign of Cheryl. I keep moving.
I can hear a great battle going on beneath me by the time I reach the next grate. Guns going off, women shouting. I peer through the slats and look down at the skirmish below. There, behind a small barricade of barrels, Kyra is yelling orders to her fellow Truthseekers while blasting away at the Establishment grouped across from her. They've got her in a corner - she'll be safe for now, but not much longer.
I have to finish this. If for no other reason, then for Kyra. I can't allow anyone else to die. I move quickly onwards, climbing over the slats and upwards into another section of the vent shaft.
At the next grate, I see her. She's standing right beneath me, talking into a handset, probably giving instructions to the Establishment troops. I carefully, quietly pry open the vent grille. She doesn't hear me. Too focused on what she's doing.
I take out my zipline and plunge the hook into the metal of the vent shaft, hoping it will hold. If I screw up the landing, all will be lost.
I take a deep breath. Then, one hand on my line, the other firmly wrapped around the harpoon gun, I dive out of the vent shaft. I plummet downwards, but the rope catches. I'm floating right above her white shoulders, and she still hasn't noticed me. I quietly exhale. Everything is going to plan.
I slowly let out enough line, positioning myself just right to land on her shoulder. I feel my feet touch soft, yielding flesh, and quickly press the barb of my harpoon against the pale skin of her neck. "Don't move," I say.
She sucks in a surprised breath, and tenses, but doesn't move. "This is one of your lethal guns, pressed against my throat, isn't it? I found one of the barbs in my best lieutenant. Neurotoxins. I'll admit I underestimated you little ones."
I don't say anything. I'm waiting for it to sink in. That I'm not going to have any mercy. That she can't talk her way out of this. She's got to know before I kill her, know and understand how she got here.
"You think yourself the moral crusader, don't you?" She sneers. "If only you examined the situation a little further, maybe you'd realize that everything's not so black and white."
She's trying to throw you off guard. Shut her up, then do it. "You murdered an entire town in cold blood, Cheryl, then crushed one of the two survivors under your feet ten years later." I see Raymond's bloody, mangled body before me. This is the one who did it, the one who was responsible. Do it, do it now.
"In cold blood? What makes you think I did it in cold blood?"
"What?" I ask, and all of a sudden I'm thrown off my guard.
"Destroying your town wasn't something I planned on doing," Cheryl says, and I'm astonished to hear real remorse in her voice, "And it was something I regretted my entire life afterwards. The fact is, Adam, that I have only killed twice in my life, and I never took joy in it. What you don't understand is that there are some things in life that have to be done, whether you want to do them or not. It's too bad that both of those killings involved people you loved, but there was nothing I could do."
"Bullshit," I say. "You could've controlled yourself, both times. There was no need to murder anyone. There's never any need to murder anyone."
"Such talk from someone who has killed one of his own kind! I found Judas' body. At least I've never killed one of my own."
"Don't you dare bring that up!" I shout (and see his face as he fell backwards, that look of betrayal). "You don't know... You couldn't know what it was like!"
"I know more about it than you ever will," she says, and her voice trembles with emotion. Something glints in the light, and I realize that there are tears falling down her cheeks. "You've never killed someone you loved."
I pause, hearing the tone of her voice. God, do I really want to know? I have to. I have to ask, or it will torment me the rest of my life.
"What do you mean?" I ask quietly.
She raises her left hand, the one facing away from me, to blot the tears, and then she talks, her voice carefully controlled. "I first met your father thirteen years ago. I'd been assigned to study the men's communities, see how well they were functioning, what needed to be changed. I thought that one of the ways to go about my research would be to interview the men themselves, and learn their thoughts on the matter.
"At the time, I was a supporter of equality regardless of size. My feelings of superiority were deeply buried. I was so naive that I actually believed men and women could live together as equals, no matter what our differences. I saw your father as an equal - a sensitive intellectual, a man with strong values. The kind of man I could spend my life with. Values, I thought he had values."
I can't believe what I'm hearing. This doesn't make sense...
"We began seeing one another. We had a schedule of days when we'd meet. He'd wait outside the town limits, and I would take him in my hand and carry him back to my apartment at the edge of the city. We'd talk, and kiss, and make love. Then after a few hours I'd bring him back to the town, and think about him until the next time I could pick him up."
No, no this can't be true... I've slept with her, but in the past she'd been with my father... And something tells me that this is not the worst of what she has to say.
"I couldn't help but get curious. He refused to see me outside of the scheduled times, refused to allow more days into the schedule. I wanted him all to myself, and yet he stubbornly refused to be mine. And gradually, I began to wonder what was keeping him away from me...
"So I looked him up, ran him through the government databases. Mitchell Baker, age thirty-one. Married."
I grab her neck to keep myself from falling off. I'm dizzy, I'm going to throw up. It's true, something deep inside me tells me that it's true. I hear her voice harden as she continues.
"He had a son. Damn it all, he had a son that he never told me about. With the other woman! He had lied to me, and like a fool I'd let myself believe him. You could never understand the rage I felt. This... this insect had deceived me, fooled me into loving him. I had been the pawn of a being that was forty times smaller than me!
"I went to confront him, screamed out his name and his crime for everyone in your town to hear. They all knew about it, they'd known about it all along, but kept quiet. They were all as guilty as he was. He came to talk to me, to try to reason with me. I was not going to be reasoned with. I had only one thought in my mind, and that was to do what needed to be done. He'd made a fool of me, and there was no other option - he had to pay. I crushed him in the palm of my hand. I could feel him squirming, thrashing about in his death throes. I watched the blood leak out between my fingers. Then, still furious, I raised my foot and began to stomp."
It was because of him. My father was the reason my town was destroyed. He is guilty, and so am I... The sins of the father...
"I lost myself; I wasn't thinking. I didn't understand that there were others in those buildings. Innocents. Elderly. Children. I thought I'd killed them all, and when I realized this I stopped and wept. I dried my tears, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. Something small, stumbling around the remains. A child."
Oh my God. Stop, I want her to stop, I can't listen to this, this changes everything. But I don't say a word. I keep listening.
"I watched you walk around the ruins, knowing it was impossible for you not to see me there. I almost fooled myself into thinking you'd forgiven me. Then I looked more closely, and realized you were still in shock.
"Think about it, Adam. If I was the cold-blooded killer you think me to be, I would have murdered you then and there. But I had come back to my senses. I left you there, alive, knowing that you could come back to haunt me one day, seeking revenge. But I swore that no matter what, I would not kill you as well. This was the price I would pay for the deaths I had senselessly caused."
A few seconds have passed, and I realize that she's stopped, her speech is over. "It's not true," I say. "My father was a good man, a hero. You're lying. You're doing this to throw me off my guard." But deep down, I don't even believe myself. I have to at least try and deny it. This is just too much to accept.
"Do you need proof?" She asks. "Upstairs there is a large database. Within it are the records of every government action since the Establishment began. There were microphones hidden in every one of the men's communities. There will be a recording. I can take you there."
I take a deep breath. I'm still trying to sort through this, understand it. I press the harpoon slightly harder against her throat. "You move slowly, hands at your sides, no sudden movements, or I'll kill you."
"Okay," she says, and begins to move slowly up a set of stairs on our left. She keeps her hands at her sides. I keep the gun at her throat.
She takes me to a room filled with huge cabinets, buzzing with the sound of computers at work. A small terminal is at the room's front. "I need to type," she says.
"Do it," I reply.
There's the sound of fingers moving across the keys, tapping out the letters. After a few seconds, sound begins to play.
I remember it as booming, so loud I could not even understand the words. But I recognize it now, the voice that rang throughout my city that morning, as the people fled and my father stepped forward to face his fate. "You lied to me about everything," Cheryl says.
The reply is soft, muted by the camera's distance. But someone must have gone back over the clip and amplified the audio, because I can just make out my father's reply. "Yes, I did, Cheryl. I regret doing it, and I apologize."
"That isn't good enough," she says, her voice rising, her anger searing. "You made a fool of me, in front of everyone else you know. And now you and everyone else will pay."
"Cheryl, I can understand your wish to kill me," my father says almost pleadingly, "But if you do so, leave the others out of it. You're not being reasonable -"
"I'm tired of being reasonable, Mitch. I'm tired of being toyed with and taken advantage of. But most of all, I'm tired of you."
The next thing I hear are the sounds of my father's screams. Then the clip ends.
Cheryl slumps slightly, her head hanging a little. My hands grip the harpoon barrel so tightly that they feel numb. I keep it pressed against her throat.
"So, Adam," she says. "Do you still wish to kill me?"
Over the past few minutes everything I know has been destroyed, replaced with the harsh knowledge of a horrible truth. I no longer know what to think. I can no longer see who is wrong or who is right, or if anyone's to blame. Can I kill her, based on what I know? Can I ever think it right to kill anyone, again?
I feel the weapon slipping slightly in my hands. I'm losing my grip on the harpoon. No, I can't do it. Blood only leads to more blood. If I kill her now I only extend the cycle, onwards until everything is destroyed.
There's a sudden noise behind us, and I turn my head to see the doors behind us burst open, two women in gas masks standing in the doorway. I turn back to see five huge pale fingers moving straight towards me.
Without thought, without emotion, I move to my left, throwing my weight against the harpoon to use it as leverage, boosting myself away from her reach and out towards empty space. The Establishment women run forward as we fall, she and I, rushing towards the steel floor. I manage to grab a strap on her uniform and clutch to it briefly before flying off, skidding against her leg and grasping wildly at the material of her pants. I lose my grip and hurtle to the ground.
The fall is surprisingly short, only ten feet, but I hear something snap as I land, and pain shoots up my leg. The heavy footfalls of the Establishment women are right behind me, their shadows falling over me, when I hear two loud gunshots. The guards fall forward, coming to rest directly before me, dead.
Ash and Kyra stand in the doorway, towering above me. They slowly lower their pistols, then begin to move forward to stand beside me, comfort me. Without speaking I raise a hand and they stop.
I turn back to where Cheryl lies, twitching on the ground, the harpoon buried in her neck up to the hilt. I watch her tremble, then go slack, with a sound like a sigh. I look at her and no longer feel any lust or any hate, just see her lying still on the cold steel.
"I forgive you," I whisper quietly, then turn away from her, head in my hands, waiting for Kyra and Ash to come to me.
A Man of His Time
The true battle, the one to destroy the Establishment, had ended by the time Ash and Kyra arrived. After discussing the matter, Ash, Kyra and I assumed that the two guards came to Cheryl in order to attempt another escape, hiding her away in order to preserve a small chance of the Establishment returning once more. It's ironic that by entering the room, they triggered the chain of events that led to Cheryl's death.
Dustin found his target soon after we split up, and killed her two minutes later with a single shot. He then joined up with Ash, and after five minutes of not seeing or hearing from me, convinced her to try and find me. Kyra had a similar idea, and the two women set off in search of me, eventually following the Establishment guards to the archives room, allowing them to save me just in time.
We found Jot's target with a single harpoon in her neck. Jot himself was nowhere to be found. Both of his duties were finished - he had killed the woman who had murdered his friends, and seen the end of the Establishment. I don't know if he is still alive, and I don't intend to find out.
There were many deaths that resulted from the battle, both Establishment and Truthseeker, male and female. The remaining Establishment women are still in holding, while the Truthseekers attempt to re-educate them. Ash had originally planned to execute the captured women, but I convinced her to do otherwise. It was my way of trying to break the cycle. So far it seems to be working, even if not all of the women we're holding are cooperative.
The Truthseekers, however, have other things to attend to than the former members of the Establishment. They're currently hard at work at setting up elections for the new government. The Truthseekers themselves are running as a party, with Ash as their presidential candidate, and her new husband Dustin as running-mate. According to the polls, they're currently favored to win by 70 percent of the vote. Whether they win or not, the couple are certain to be happy together. I don't think I've seen them apart since the battle ended.
I've also found a way to occupy myself. A few days after the battle ended, one of the Truthseeker technicians found a way to hack into the Establishment archives. Two days after that, she discovered a secret folder filled with text, images and sound. The oldest file we've discovered so far dates all the way back to the beginning of the Great Inequality, as it is now being called.
I've taken it upon myself to look through these files, and try to absorb as much of the history as I can. Certain aspects of it are meaningless to me; particularly the articles relating to specific celebrities, and a number of words which are anachronisms from another time (a quick side note - reading these history files has greatly improved my vocabulary). Still, I have begun to understand the rise of P-141, and how it led to the growth of flora and fauna which permanently changed our world.
I do have a life beyond poring over these old files. Kyra and I were wed nine months ago. I am still completely in love with her - sometimes I feel she may be the one person who understands me best. There is only one secret I have kept from her - that of my relationship with Mary. I think she already knows and understands it on some level, and bringing it up would probably just hurt her feelings, as well as damage our relationship. Some things are meant to be kept secret. I still think of Mary often, and what might have been. I still mourn her loss, even as I focus much of my life around Kyra.
Among the files I uncovered in the Archive was one detailing the Establishment methods for cloning humans. I decided to show it to an expert in genetics who was now working at the reproduction clinics. She discovered that with a little bit of tweaking, the method could be adjusted to simulate a genetic cross between a male and a female, with one crucial difference - it would have a small chance of creating a boy who could absorb small amounts of P-141.
I told Kyra about it, and she agreed that we should try it. In a way, it's having a child in the most normal way possible for us - Kyra has even insisted upon carrying the baby herself. We had the procedure done three months ago, and many people are watching it with interest. If we do get a boy who can absorb P-141, many say that it will be the first step towards making the genders physically equal once more. But boy or girl, I'm just excited to be having a baby, although I'm slightly intimidated at the idea of parenting a child who will be much larger than me.
Now I wake from a deep slumber, one restful and without dreams, and sit up to see my woman spread like a landscape before me, her belly just beginning to swell. Behind her, the first rays of sunlight are beginning to creep over the buildings, to slowly find their way to our window.
Can I truly forget everything that has come before? The horror and strife are my memories, they are part of me. I cannot let them go. But I can accept them. I can forgive, if not forget. I know I cannot linger on my past any longer. Dawn is breaking. I have a new life to lead.
I turn and face the day.
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