|janecarnall (janecarnall) wrote,|
@ 2008-11-09 13:04:00
|Entry tags:||keptverse, players|
The Players: Adam
This is part four of the second section (seven parts) of the story (part one, part two, part three) that began with The Games (six parts) and continued with The Network (one part).
The story may be regarded as fanfic set in poisontaster's Keptverse. It is being written as part of wrimowrimo.
The Players: Adam
This time when Adam opened his eyes, there was daylight in the room: wet cold grey daylight. Dana was asleep next to him: she still looked exhausted.
Silently, Adam got up, showered, dressed without waking her, and went out of the room. Gerard’s door was firmly closed: he was probably asleep too.
Or fucking Richard.
Adam stopped by the holding cell door and unlocked it. Richard was sitting on the mattress, knees up against his chest, head back against the wall. He was wearing a set of Gerard’s sweats, as he had yesterday. He was staring at Adam, or at the open door.
After a moment, Richard moved, as if he was remembering what he was supposed to do: he shifted from a seated position to a kneeling one. He opened his mouth, swallowed twice, and said very carefully, “Do you think I could have some water?”
“You can have a shower and breakfast if you want,” Adam said. He smiled briefly, amused. “Or even if you don’t want. Come on.”
No one was in the other bedroom, though the overnight bags dumped on the bed were probably Benton’s and Ray’s. Adam gave Richard a toothglass full of water, and turned him into the shower.
Richard was handsome, skinny, and not scarred. Benton and Willow were the only two who’d seen him bare-ass, and neither of them had mentioned it: but for anyone who’d seen arena slaves before, for a man who had supposedly just spent three years fighting for his life, he didn’t have nearly enough scars. No matter how good he was, and no one was that good. The convict collar was real, though.
Richard came out of the shower. He had a day or so growth of stubble on his face. He rubbed at it, glanced at Adam, and looked away again.
“You want a razor?”
“Sam let me use one,” Richard said. He sounded uncertain, as if he were expecting Adam to wake Gerard to find out.
There were disposable safeties in the guest bathrooms. Adam handed Richard one, and watched him get rid of the stubble.
“I thought you looked good in a beard.”
Richard’s hand stilled. He swallowed, hard, and his hand still did not move. He had been staring in the mirror with the agonised male squint of achieving a close shave, and Adam, watching, saw his eyes close.
After a moment, Richard’s hands went down to the sink’s edge, and clutched at it. His head bowed. After another moment, his legs shifted, a fraction wider apart. Then he did not move.
To apologise would probably have the effect of confusing Richard further: besides, if he were honest – though he had no plans to be – Adam had expected some kind of reaction to a comment on Richard’s looks, whether flirtatious, shy, defensive, frightened, resentful – any would be normal slave reactions: anger under all, to be expected. But not this silent, frozen acquiscience. This was the reaction of a haeftling.
The useful thing to do would be to walk away: but Adam did not care to think of Gerard’s reaction if he had left Richard alone in a bathroom full of potential suicide hazards and lost him. Adam dropped the lid of the toilet stool, sat down on it, reached for a set of nail clippers Willow had left behind last time she slept here, and began to trim his fingernails with finicky precision. “If you’re going to shave, get on with it,” he said, mildly enough. “I want my breakfast, if you don’t.”
Willow was in the kitchen: she looked as tired as Dana. “Giles and George are in the lounge, they’re doing Commerce reports and contact checking,” she said, when Adam came in with Richard, without any other greeting.
“Hello,” Adam said, amused. Willow often seemed on edge around virtually everyone except Dana and Gerard himself: and Giles, of course. “Sam said it was you and me today. Did he explain?”
“Sort of,” Willow said. She glanced at Richard.
“Yeah, it can wait till after I’ve had breakfast. And Richard. Where did Giles take you out for dinner last night?”
George and Giles both had taken her out: to a restaurant that specialised in “English” food. “They kept saying it wasn’t authentic,” Willow said. “But I thought it was lovely – real British décor, and they had British songs playing all evening, classics like the Beatles and Elton John. They said the shepherd’s pie had beef in it. What should it have?”
“Shepherds,” Adam said, and laughed. “Mutton.” He knew the restaurant – it survived by being exclusive and expensive, senior Commerce staff were said to eat there – and wondered if Willow had noticed what had undoubtedly been assumed, of a young woman dining with two men old enough to be her father and grandfather. Willow’s relationship with Giles was strange enough, though Dana would get sarcastic if Adam said so.
It was odd to have a slave in the kitchen and do the work yourself, but Adam had noticed that all the working knives had been put away out of sight, into locations that required at least a moment’s thought before they could be used. Gerard evidently didn’t intend Richard to become familiar with where to find them. Adam made scrambled eggs and toast for himself and Richard, poured them each a mug of coffee, and let Willow tell him all about the Beatles. Here and now he passed as not much older than her, and Willow did know a fair amount of trivia.
“Okay working here?” Adam asked, and Willow shrugged, pulling her laptop out of her bag. His own was upstairs: it would be easier to let Willow use hers.
“Richard, why don’t you go find out if they need anything in the lounge?” Adam said. “If they don’t, don’t rush back.”
Richard nodded, got to his feet, and left the room. Willow glanced after him.
“He gives me the creeps,” she said.
“In what way?” Adam was briefly interested.
“In a creepy way,” Willow said, as if that explained everything. “He never talks and he’s always so quiet. Do you think…” She looked at Adam. “Is Sam, you know… is he Sam’s bodyslave?”
“Who knows?” Adam shrugged. “Can you seriously imagine Sam with one of those gilded pets swanning around after him, naked except for maybe a couple of decorative gold chains?”
Willow looked as if she were imagining it, and abruptly, quite unexpectedly, she giggled. Adam got the image in his mind’s eye – Sam Gerard, as he’d looked last night, dressed and armed and armoured, with a slim shaven blond pouring decoratively over him – the expression on Gerard’s face was pure grim distaste. He snorted a laugh himself.
“We’ve got these five people,” he told Willow, “and Sam wants us to give Commerce a lot of information about them.”
“I’ve never done an interrogation,” Willow said. She had stopped giggling. “I know that’s how I’m listed, but that’s just – ”
“Steady on. We’re not doing an interrogation. We can’t, anyway, two of them are dead and the rest won’t be able to talk. It’s safe to give away as much as we can tell, these five were just a random breakout. No connections – they were born company slaves.”
“I’d like to talk to Sam,” Willow said.
“When he wakes up,” Adam said. “I’ve got the case files.” He produced the memory stick. “We’ve got till Friday – Sam said Commerce would expect them all to be dead by then.”
All morning, it rained. The dull grey windows in the kitchen lashed with water. Richard appeared three times to make and deliver coffee: as Willow had noticed, he didn’t say anything. Haeftling was a name for his condition, not an explanation.
About eleven, Gerard appeared, barefoot, wearing faded jeans and grey t-shirt. “Adam, why the hell didn’t you wake me?”
“Couldn’t find your Glock to stick in your ear,” Adam retorted, coming up from a sea of data. He caught Willow looking away and down with a small smile, and lifted his eyebrows. “Also, you have an alarm clock.”
“Forgot to re-set it,” Gerard said. “Where’s Richard?”
“In the lounge.”
“No, he’s not.”
“Then he’s probably taking a leak.”
Richard appeared in the doorway behind Gerard, and an instant later Gerard turned his head. He reached out and caught at Richard’s wrist, moving back and turning sideways, till they were facing each other.
They had about worked through a first pass on Casey, and got an idea of what shape the report ought to be. Adam lifted his head to watch.
“Who let you out?”
Richard probably tried to gesture something, but Gerard said “It’s fine. Who?”
“Adam did,” Richard said.
“Good, good.” Gerard let go of Richard’s wrist. “Get me some coffee, OK?” He disappeared, probably heading upstairs.
Willow looked up. “Richard.”
Richard stopped in his tracks. He looked at Adam, almost as if for rescue, and back at Willow. He said nothing.
“How come you’ll talk to Sam, and not to us?”
Richard shook his head. He poured coffee into a mug. In the doorway, he turned, holding the mug carefully, and looked at Willow.
“He owns me,” he said, and left.
Willow stared after him. She looked startled and a little annoyed. “What did he mean?”
“Sam forces him to respond,” Adam said. “Hadn’t you noticed? Richard’s a haeftling.”
“What? German for… labourer?”
“Literally. German for factory worker – company slave. A piece, an item, a tool. A slave who acts like a tool.”
“But he was a doctor,” Willow said.
“Was,” Adam interrupted. “He’s nothing. Dana thinks he’s still a doctor, but she’s wrong – he’s just… nothing.”
“Nobody’s nothing. He’d be insane if he just thought he was nothing.”
Willow stared at the doorway, where Richard wasn’t, and gave Adam a long curious look. She went back to work.
Dana didn’t come downstairs. Adam found when he went looking for her, when he and Willow had decided to take a break between Elliot and the first John, that she had gone directly to the clinic.
Ray was asleep on the examination couch: he’d been watching over the three survivors since he and Benton arrived, Dana said. Benton was still awake, but beginning to flag.
“You go to sleep,” Dana said. “I’ll need you later.”
“I can’t stay long,” Adam said.
“I’m perfectly fine,” Benton said.
“Go to sleep,” Dana said again. Benton glanced at Ray, and went out into the hall: there was an old sofa shoved against the wall for moments like these.
“Did you have anything to eat?” Adam asked.
“Sam brought me over a sandwich.”
“Good, good,” Adam said, imitating Gerard. “Did you actually eat it?”
“Yes,” Dana said, in a tone of voice indicating she didn’t intend to find him funny.
The three survivors were still unconscious, but their breathing was easier than last night. Their naked bodies were disfigured and bruised, but had been cleaned and raw patches taped over. “How are they doing?”
“They’ll live, I think,” Dana said, but not as if she was sure of it, and added more quickly. “How’s Willow?”
“She’s fine,” Adam said, surprised. “She looked like she’d been crying half the night this morning, but she’s doing fine now. We’ve got an outline for four out of five.”
“Did you find out about the … John and the other John?”
“What about them? They just give them these names because they’re easier than ‘hey you’.” Adam waited a moment: Dana was still staring at him. “It was coincidence. They were in different work gangs.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Are you staying here tonight?”
“I have to. You don’t…”
“Oh, I’ll stay.” Adam moved closer. Dana looked up at him. She looked focussed, intent, and busy.
Adam put his hands on her shoulders. “Hug?”
He had always, all his life, been a complete pushover for fragile-looking tough women who could look up at him with enormous eyes. Dana put her arms round him, hugged him: stepped back from him. “Thank you.” Her attention was already returning to the prisoners who lay half-living and not quite dying.
He had always, all his life, been a complete sucker for focussed idealists. “My pleasure,” he said, but Dana wasn’t listening.
On the way back to the kitchen, Gerard intercepted him. “Have you got five minutes?”
There was a carton sitting in the delivery shelter: it needed to be picked up and brought in. Normally deliveries arrived Thursday with the cleaning crew just to avoid this problem. Adam shrugged his coat back on and followed Gerard down to the gate.
It was bulky, not heavy. “What is it?”
“Clothes for Richard,” Gerard said, quite seriously.
Adam looked up, amused, and then looked up again: “You’re dressing him?”
“It’s that or he borrows all my spare sweats.”
They scanned the package, checked the delivery note, and picked the carton up between them.
“Richard didn’t spend three years in the arena,” Adam said. “He doesn’t have enough scars. Any scars, really.”
“And you know this how?” Gerard wasn’t looking at him, and he wasn’t shouting. His voice was all but accentless.
“Benton saw him bare-ass in the shower. So did Willow, more or less. They both say he doesn’t have any real scars. Also, he doesn’t…” Adam hesitated, waved his free hand. “…he doesn’t look like that kind of fighter.”
“No.” Gerard’s accent had slid back. His voice sounded more human. “He spent three years in a room just outside the arena’s big doors. The survivors of each game get triaged. When the arena bought him, they put him in the body-sorting gang. When they’d done sorting survivors, he’d work in the clinic fixing the ones who could be fixed, the rest of the time. Eight hours on, eight hours off, for three years. That’s why he has no scars. He never fought in the arena.”
They were at the house. If he didn’t say something now, he wouldn’t. “He’s a haeftling,” Adam said.
Gerard gave him a look. They shouldered into the house, and Gerard yelled “Richard!”
Richard ran downstairs. Gerard pointed at the carton. “Got your clothes. Go put them away in your room, I’ll come by and let you out again in half an hour. Go. Adam.” Gerard pointed at the main door. “Let’s go.”
“Just around the house,” Gerard said. “Let’s talk.”
Gerard knew what a haeftling was. They’d talked about it when he’d recruited Adam.
“First of all I want to tell you something, and I don’t want you to punch me,” Adam said.
“Okay.” Adam shot him a cautious look, not trusting the equable tone. Gerard looked back at him expressionlessly. “Be a waste of time, in your case, wouldn’t it?”
“I let Richard take a shower and have a shave this morning.”
“I noticed somebody had.”
“I told him he looked good,” Adam said. “And he just… presented.”
“He made himself available for me to screw,” Adam said, coldly, but stepped back from Gerard’s stare.
“I said, no fucking with his head! Didn’t you hear me?”
“He didn’t react like a human being. He reacted like someone who thinks he’s a thing. Like he thought he was nothing. But a human being is not nothing. What else are we doing this for? The haeftlings will not be nothing forever. Push them, compress them, pack them like they’re nothing – and watch them explode. Isn’t that what we’re doing here?”
Gerard gave him a long, sober look.
“You’re taking an explosion into your house – if not your bed,” Adam said. “What makes you think you have the right to do that?”
Gerard’s swift grin, unamused, made him look like a gargoyle. “Everyone seems to think they know better than me,” he said. “Leave Richard the fuck alone.”
Dana didn’t come to bed that night. Adam went to bed early, and lay awake, reading a book from Sam’s collection of trashed novels. He was listening for Sam and Richard coming up the stairs. He was curious to know if he’d hear what Richard said, if he said the same thing again that made Gerard accuse him of lying.
He didn’t hear it: only the holding cell door closing, and Gerard going on to his bedroom alone.
to Part 5