|janecarnall (janecarnall) wrote,|
@ 2009-05-26 00:18:00
In The Mouth Of The Wolf: Part 4
(This was the eighth part of "End Game", and then had the Author's Note: "Part 8 (and Part 7) are neither of them from Kimble's point of view. I am sure you would notice and not be confused, but as we're all friends here, I just thought I'd mention it. Part 9 is from Kimble's POV, and I think the story should wrap up inside 3 parts. Sorry to be muddled about this. I'd known these characters were going to show up, I just hadn't realised they'd want their own POV-sections, and am finding myself feeling horridly confused about what this has done to the structure of the story. ("Whee?")" Well, I am no longer horridly confused. Hope that you are not too much so either.)
If you prefer to read a warning before you read the story, there is a warning associated with this story.
The previous stories in this series (my Keptverse) began with The Games (six parts) and continued with The Network (one part), The Players (seven parts), The Gambler (seven parts), The Pieces (seven parts), and End-Game (5 parts).
There are parts one two, three and four of "In the Mouth of the Wolf", the sixth and final section of this story. Part five is written and will be posted after review: parts six and seven are still under development, but I do not *touch wood* perceive any MORE course-changes.
The story may be regarded as fanfic set in poisontaster's Keptverse. There is a species of cast list here.
“They say there's going to be a massacre,” one of the other slaves whispered. Ashka or Mason, Greg didn't pay attention to their names till they'd been here at least six months and they were probably going to stay.
“I heard,” someone else whispered. “Out at the big pharmaceutical plant.”
“I heard two thousand.”
“Ten thousand,” someone else said.
“They wouldn't do that, would they? I mean, slaves are worth something.” That was someone very new. Not just new to the hospital. New to being a slave.
Six years ago, when Greg was new to sleeping in the slave dorm at Chicago Memorial – new, really, to being a slave – he would have sat up and told the last voice, “Yes, they would and they will. They can do anything they like to any of us or all of us, and if you don't shut up with the Internet gossip, you'll find out what that means.”
But that had been six years ago, and Greg was still alive. He pulled his blanket over his head to shut out the voices, and let the stuffy air and his own utter weariness take him to sleep. True or not, he couldn't think of a reason why he should care.
Eleven-thirty in the morning was Greg's first scheduled meal. The alarms jangled his nerves, but he kept walking, hoping the next thing would be a voice declaring this to be a random test of the system. Or at least that they wouldn't get around to evacuating the building till he'd grabbed some food.
When he saw five security guards running down the corridor, he reacted: head down, keep moving, don't look like you're walking fast, don't –
The taser-blow to his shoulder was mild: they were herding, not punishing.
After six years of being a slave – fourteen, if he counted the years wit h Wilson – he ought to know how to handle himself better. When the alarms went off, all the slaves with quicker reflexes had scuttled for cover, leaving a handful of the slow, the old, and the stupid in plain view.
Kneeling in the main hall, hands on the back of his head, there was plenty of time to think about that. Other slaves got herded in – by threes and fours and dozens – so it didn't look like being fast and smart about the alarms had done them any good.
There were ways of passing on a message slave-to-slave, without the free people present noticing: but no one was taking that risk now, today. The hall wasn't silent: the ambiant noise reminded Greg of the Commerce centre that trained new slaves for sale. He had known Doctor Wilson was going to buy him at the end of it. Day after day, week after week, miserable and weary and bored to breaking point, crowded with dozens of people who smelled of misery and pain: even understanding what they were doing to him,even knowing at the end of it he would be going home with Wilson, hadn't helped him resist it. They knelt with their heads up and their hands on the back of their heads, sore and shocked and hungry, separated out in tidy rows that the guards could walk between, the hall filled with the sound of horribly scared people trying not to breathe too noisily –
Someone had smuggled something in, or someone had done something slaves weren't allowed to do. Chicago Memorial owned a couple of hundred slaves, and the senior consultants all had slave assistants and bodyslaves who were theirs personally, and it looked like all of them were being herded into this one room.
Someone had done something to make the hospital administration really pissed. This wasn't a difficult diagnosis: this conclusion was running through the room even without words.
The slaves had all been arranged so that they were facing away from the clock above the main door: but even so, Greg estimated it took about an hour to herd all the slaves in the hospital in. He heard the guards before he saw them: they were talking, not loudly, to each other. They had been told to pick out some slaves from the group. The slaves they chose were being herded towards the exit, away from the clock, further into the hospital.
When they stopped behind Greg, one of them roughly pulled his collar round till the tag was available, and tugged it out, pulling the collar against Greg's throat, to be handier for a reader. Greg stared ahead. They hadn't stopped by every slave. Impossible to tell, really, whether it would be good or bad to be chosen. All of the slaves chosen so far had been older than average – none from the personally-owned slaves. Probably bad. There was probably nothing about any of this that would be good. His belly felt cold and heavy, his chest was tight, and his knees hurt, and if he stayed kneeling too much longer he'd start leaning over to the right, involuntarily and untidily. In any ordinary situation, he could deflect this by going down on to his face and kissing the floor, or someone's feet – anyone's feet – but he didn't think that was going to work this time.
When he felt the man's grip shift on the tag of his collar, he knew what was going to happen. He knew better now than to obey an order before it was given, but he was ready to move when he felt the first taser-touch that was meant to impel him to his feet. There was time for a moment's glance around the hall, and it didn't look good. He hadn't known the hospital had this many security guards, and they were carrying guns, not the usual tasers.
Head bowed, hands on the back of his head, Greg was almost at the exit from the hall before he remembered last night's Internet rumour; the massacre of slaves said to be planned for today.
Here? Greg stumbled, but caught himself, and checked out the guns again. Most of them were handguns, nothing worse. But if he had seen right, two at least of the guards, standing where they had a long view of the hall, were carrying machine guns.
He was almost the last of the slaves pulled out of the hall. The hospital administrator and one of the department heads – both of them had bodyslaves who were both in the hall, in the front row – were checking items off a list on a clipboard that the department head was holding in his actual hands; slave labour, that Greg didn't suppose either of them had ever performed before.
“Chem lab two,” the department head said. The slave just ahead of Greg was June, a lab technician: that made sense.
“Fine. This one?”
Greg kept himself perfectly still, head down. He had come to the conclusion that being chosen was preferable to being left in that hall under the eyes of the guards and their guns. Whether they planned to kill all the slaves in the hall or only some, Greg certainly wanted to be somewhere else when it happened.
There was a pause. It seemed long: there was time for Greg to count his heartbeats, to tell himself to be calm.
“He's got research lab experience,” the department head said.
“Fine. Research lab one.”
No one in Greg's hearing had called the room by its formal name before: but he knew where he was going. It was probably still better than staying in the hall, but he wasn't sure by how much.
The door was unmarked. If you didn't know what it was, you had no business there. The guards pushed him through the first door; he heard it lock behind him. The second door opened on a switch from outside. The smell came through the second door to meet him like an unwelcome friend, and Greg almost thought of staying where he was.
But there were cameras, and there was the risk of being taken back to the hall, and the certainty of punishment. Greg stepped forward into the warmth and smell of the cage lab.
Eight cages: six occupants. The first thing the other slaves warned you about, before you were put to work in the cage lab, was never to look the occupants of the cages in the eye: never to speak to them: to ignore them if they spoke to you. They were slaves on Final contracts, who had agreed to be sold knowing they were going to be killed: the researchers who were making use of them might talk to them and question them as if they were still human, but the slaves who were put into the cage lab to keep an eye on the automated feeding and watering mechanisms must remember they were no different from the other lab machinery: they didn't talk to the inmates of the cages, and they didn't respond if the inmates spoke to them.
Eight cages: six occupants. Greg walked slowly up to the end of the lab, glancing into each cage – not at the occupant, he knew not to do that, not when they had eyes that would look back at him, mouths that would open, as if they wanted to speak – there was no one new to the cages, no one who would speak out loud, but they would stare and open and close their mouths –
Four of them were on a normal diet, though given the chemicals they were being dosed with, they probably didn't have much appetite for it. One was on liquid food every six hours: at least one feed this shift, then. One was on a special test diet on which she would die from malnutrition in about three weeks –
Greg cut that thought off, with some difficulty. The results of the diet were not his concern. The standard food supply worked pretty well: inmates being fed a test diet required checking because it sometimes didn't work properly in the automated machines.
There would be nothing to do for three hours, providing nothing went wrong. Greg went back down the lab to the square of floor under the security camera at that end of the room, and let himself down on to the floor. The wall was hard against his back. There was no point in wondering what was going to happen to the other slaves in the hall. There was no point in thinking about the inmates of the cages.
There was no point in thinking. Everything he had to do was better done without thinking about it.
There was a large flat thud. Greg moved as if impelled, away from the wall – he had felt it more than heard it. He crouched on the floor, waiting for it to happen again, wondering if this was why the hospital administration had rounded up the slaves –
He looked up and saw all of the six inmates were pressing against the front of each cage, all staring at him. For an instant, before he looked away again, he saw their faces.
The cameras were always on, and recording. Greg looked down at his hands and began, with great concentration and never lifting his eyes, to get up on to his feet. He knew better than to talk out loud, pretending he was talking to himself. There was a panic button: it could be used if anything were going wrong with one of the inmates. The slave on shift wasn't expected to know what could or should go wrong.
The telltales were on and shining green in all the cage panels. There was no other indication that anything was wrong, anything that justified pressing the panic button. Something was wrong – that had been an explosion, a big one, outside the hospital perhaps but not far away – but here in this room, there was nothing wrong. Greg went back to the place under the security camera, and sat down, and rested his face in his hands: he could hear the inmates moving in their cages now, hear them breathing, and they had seen him look at them. He couldn't take any more risks. He couldn't look at them. He wasn't supposed to hide his eyes: he was supposed to pay attention.
He took his hands away from his eyes, and looked up the room. The security camera at the far end recorded his movements. He sat still, staring up the room, not looking at the cages. He could wait like this forever. He knew he could.
“Hot,” one of the inmates said. It came out as a gasp: it took Greg a moment to realise it was a word, and in that moment, the other inmates – three of them – all of them – screamed.
They were dancing in the cages, Greg thought: dancing and screaming. He couldn't help looking at them: it was a long moment of bewilderment before he knew there was something wrong. There were deep red marks where their collars touched their throats, forming and growing – they were struggling with the collars, one had her hands jammed between the collar and her neck, and the red marks were growing on her hands, too. They were jerking and howling. Greg was on his feet: he hit the panic button and ran to the first cage, lurching and falling –
There was a fire extinguisher against the wall by the door: he struggled to his feet and scrambled towards it, jerking it from the wall and stumbling back to the cages. One of them – two of them – were lying on the floor of their cages, twitching, not screaming –
Three of them. The fourth stumbled and slid down against the wire and landed on her face as he reached her cage: the fifth and sixth were still somehow more or less upright, their throats roasted red wounds, their voices gone –
“I'm sorry,” Greg said, out loud. He knew he had spoken out loud when one of them looked at him, her eyes wide, her mouth open in a scream she could not voice. She must have been dead when she fell: but she was looking at him when she died. The sixth had fallen over on to his side and lay twitching: somehow he had jammed his hand between the front of his throat and the collar, and his hand and throat looked fused. He had bled from the neck as he died. Greg dropped the fire extinguisher and stood still. His heart felt as if it was going to pound out of his chest. “I'm sorry,” he said again. He sat down on the floor by the cage and leaned forward to press his hands between the wires: he couldn't reach her where she'd died. He couldn't have reached any of them. The fire extinguisher was designed for electrical fires: to save the cages, not the inmates.
After a while it became clear that no one was coming in response to the panic button, or the death of all six inmates, or the disobedient behaviour of the slave put in to take care of them. From the smell, the collars on their throats were still hot, still burning their flesh.
Their collars had burned them. Greg put his hands to his own throat and felt the cool link-metal of his own collar. The hospital had decided they didn't need these bodies in the cages, and they'd used their collars to kill them all. They wouldn't send help: they'd send a clean-up crew. He was going to die here.
Greg stood up. He walked down the row of cages, this time looking at each one. He was going to die here. Halfway down the row it occurred to him that he had felt a second thud, larger than the first, while he was watching these people die.
The walls of the cage room were soundproofed. Outside, the hospital could be deserted, or the lab staff could be watching and having a party, and Greg wouldn't know it. But the large flat thud he had heard and felt through the floor and walls had been something large and close-by blowing up. Something outside was happening: outside the hospital, because there had been no vibration in the structure, no indication of internal damage.
It was the worst job in the hospital, cleaning out one of the cages after the occupant had finally died. There would be a lot of bad cleanup jobs after this. Greg leaned against the last cage, looking at the man who had died fastest: he had fallen on to his back, and the collar had burned through his windpipe. There wasn't very much blood, because the collar had cauterised the wound, but there was some: his carotid artery had been burned through. He was in his twenties, and had fair hair: the slaves in the cages were shaved every two weeks if they still grew hair, and the stubble on this one was barely visible.
“I'm sorry,” Greg said again, to this man in particular, to all six of the dead. He had tried to stay alive and unharmed for six years – kept trying, with all his tenacity and intelligence, to remain visibly useful, to appear obedient and submissive – and there had been no particular point to it: all of that trying had led him to this room, to standing before these cages, knowing he was going to die, if he survived long enough to see the door open again. There was no access to food or water except from inside the cages, and there was no opening the cages. He could have done something more useful the first time he had been pushed inside the cage room: he would have been dead by now if he had.
Walking up and down the room passed time: walk for ten, sit for ten. After a while it became harder to get to his feet, and after a while, Greg gave up: he sat, staring at the cages, the fire extinguisher resting between his knees, listening for the sounds of the outer door being opened.
He was done.
to part 5
The warning associated with this story: Gruesome death. Six gruesome deaths.