|janecarnall (janecarnall) wrote,|
@ 2010-02-16 19:48:00
In The Mouth Of The Wolf: Part 9
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 Cripple (one part), The Pieces (seven parts), and End-Game (5 parts).
There are parts one two, three, four,five, six,seven and eight of "In the Mouth of the Wolf", which is the seventh and final section of this story.
The story may be regarded as fanfic set in poisontaster's Keptverse. There is a species of cast list here.
The floor felt hard and smooth through the thin mattress. There was a blanket over him. He was fully dressed, all but his shoes. Richard opened his eyes and stared into a jumble of shadows.
He could not understand what he was looking at: a ceiling lined with moving shadows and yellow light, not sunlight: above him, beside him, a wall that wasn't a wall, that ended in an edge of broken darkness that moved, that stared at him with a gargoyle face that might almost be human.
He was lying on a mat beside Sam’s bed.
He was in one of the small rooms junior doctors slept in, assigned to cover the emergency room, at Chicago Memorial Hospital.
Richard sat up, his hands going to his throat, feeling new scabs formed over new wounds, rough to the touch, tender under his fingers. He was staring at Sam, his mouth open, his eyes gaping.
He had seen the Commerce building of Chicago smoke and dust on the wind. He had removed – last night? It felt in his memory like hours of night – hundreds of chips from slaves, each chip removed a crime for which he could be condemned to the collar, for which a collared slave would be killed.
He wasn't collared. Sam's hands were burned.
“Sam,” he said out loud, and got up to his knees, his hands on the edge of the bed. He swallowed, his voice sounding strange in his own ears. “Sam.”
The door behind him opened: the light overhead came on. Sam's face looked white. His mouth was set in a familiar, humourless grin. “Richard. You're wanted.”
Richard turned: it seemed to take hours, years, as he stared at the man who came in and sat down in the only chair, to know who this was: a slave in his work-issue clothing; Doctor Wilson's bodyslave; Greg from the lab with the holding cages; Doctor House.
Greg had been carrying a tray one-handed. There were two cereal bars on it and a single cup of coffee. He handed it to Richard. “That's the best we can do for breakfast, right now. We're negotiating for supplies.”
Richard put the tray down, opened one packet, broke the bar in pieces, and offered one piece to Sam's gargoyle mouth: he ate another piece himself, held the cup of coffee to Sam's mouth to let him take a gulp, and lifted it to his own mouth. The dark taste burned. He heard, almost as if Sam had said it aloud, though he was hand-feeding Sam another piece of cereal bar, I’m always in a fucking bad mood till I’ve had coffee.
“I didn't kill my wife,” he said out loud.
“No one cares,” Greg said. “I've got medical staff who were slaves all over Chicago coming in to work here because they want you to take their chip out. Soon as you can stand up, you need to start dealing with the queue.”
Richard stared down at his hands, opening the second wrapped bar. He glanced up, and met Sam's eyes. For hours, for days, for years, he had handled people who were in pain and knew they were going to die, for whom he could do nothing. He had not been allowed to speak to them as if they were human. But their eyes had looked at him, as Sam's eyes did now.
“How long was I asleep?”
“About fourteen hours,” Greg said.
“How are your hands, Sam?” His voice sounded strange and strained.
Sam swallowed. Richard stared in fascination. “Itching,” he said finally. “Hurts when I try to move them.”
Richard held the cup to Sam's mouth, letting him drink from it, but looked at Greg. “Who else is here from the burns unit?”
Greg was watching them both, intently. He didn't respond at first, but his voice when he did was dry and even. “You want someone to see to his hands?”
“Yes,” Richard said, after a moment, and then, more definitely, “Yes.”
“Okay,” Greg said. “Anything else you want?”
Richard glanced back at Sam. He broke the last piece of cereal bar in two, and fed the smaller piece to Sam. He did not want to know the answer, but he asked “Who's winning?”
“CNN said Commerce was in rebellion yesterday. Says the same thing today. The governor made a speech.” Greg leaned back in the chair, and his eyes went to one and then the other of them. “What do you want, Doctor Kimble?”
Yesterday, there had been soldiers without USNA insignia on their uniforms. Yesterday, there had been burned bodies in cages. Yesterday, he and Sam had let girls out of the cells. Yesterday, he had woken knowing that Chuck had killed Helen.
“Where's Chuck? Doctor Nichols,” he added, explaining, and Greg's eyes widened as if silently saying, Idiot.
After a moment, Richard said “They took all the doctors,” He had wondered if that part was true.
“To be precise,” Greg said, “they took every member of staff who was at a salary level requiring ownership of at least one slave. They didn't take a few members of staff who can own slaves because they married money, and they took a few people who should own slaves and don't because they're stupid – ” He grated to a halt, his rough quick voice stopping like a face hitting a wall. He looked at Richard. “They're probably all dead.”
Of course they were. Richard looked at Sam. He looked at him for what felt like a long time. Chuck was dead. Kath was dead. Helen was dead. Everyone he had sorted to the doors or to the tables in the white room, everyone he had known who wore a collar was dead. He could feel the itching of the scabs in his skin. The supervisor who had hit him and handed him over to Sam could be dead. Probably everyone Richard had ever known was dead. Except for Sam.
“Welcome to the revolution,” he said, and was hardly aware he had said it out loud.
“What do you want, Doctor Kimble?” Greg asked again.
Richard went on staring at Sam. He might have said – he heard himself thinking it, as if something separate from himself: I want my life back. Helen alive. David alive.
They would have bought a child like Tam or Bo for David, to be his first body slave. In eighteen years he and Helen had bought and sold seven or eight body slaves: they had an agreement to be monogamous, but Helen came from a wealthy family: she had never been to a social occasion without a body slave to follow her. He couldn't remember how many she had bought –
That they had bought. If he had found himself in the home they had shared, Helen alive, David alive, their household intact –
The slaves. Their household had disintegrated, their possessions sold: slaves and books and furniture, the piano and the long comfortable sofa, the crystal glass of chilled white wine that a silent quiet-footed slave would hand him when he came home from work, the cook who turned out perfect omelettes, all of their human possessions –
If he saw himself back there, he could not see their faces: he could not remember what they looked like. He would not know who they were if he saw them again. They would know him.
Everyone he knew was dead.
“Richard,” Sam said.
His face hurt: it felt as if he had been burned on the skin with hot liquid. He could not see.
“Richard,” Sam said, again.
“Don't die,” Richard said. He turned: his hands were gripping Sam's forearms. His vision was returning, blurred. “Don't die.”
“It's out of my hands,” Sam said.
“Don't die!” he shouted, his voice so loud it scared him, and the door behind him clattered open and voices from outside were asking questions, using his name. He could not see their faces.
Greg was speaking. After a while they went away again.
“I told them you'd start taking chips out in about an hour, but you'd want to shower and change.”
Richard glanced down at himself. He was wearing the clothes Sam had given him. He nodded.
“Can you get his chip out?” Sam sasked.
Richard let go of Sam and his hand slid round to his back. He could not reach the site between his shoulderblades where the chip had been placed, after his trial, years ago. He stared at Sam.
“Is that what you want, Doctor Kimble?”
“Don't call me that,” Richard said.
Greg acknowledged that with a nod. “Stupid question.” Richard saw him shrug a little. “I can't stand up for long enough to do what you were doing. But I can probably get yours out. Hey, Deputy. Is his chip going to explode if it's taken out?” He grinned a little. “Before you answer that question, you're going to be in the room when it happens. And maybe we'll have you eat the chip.” He sounded like he meant it.
“Only if you want to track my crap,” Sam said.
It was funny. Richard felt his throat jerk and his jaws give way and heard himself make a noise like a sob: he wasn't sure if he was crying out or laughing, but it was funny. “I scared the crap out of you,” he told Sam, and then he knew he was laughing. He put his face into his hands and laughed into his hands, trying to push it back, shaking with the effort to stop.
“Richard,” Sam was saying. He had been saying it for a while before Richard looked up and nodded and could take his hands away. He was swallowing and biting his lips, but he had stopped laughing.
“No,” Sam said. “A convict chip doesn't explode. When it's removed it'll send a signal to Commerce, but right now... you don't need to worry about that.”
“Okay,” Greg said. “Before you get back to work, Richard, I'll take your chip out. Okay?”
Richard nodded. “Are we winning?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because if Commerce was gone, we wouldn't need to be afraid of taking each other's chips out.”
“Deputy Gerard says we are,” Greg said. He glanced up at Sam. “CNN says we are. But … we're getting patients in from all over Chicago. The big owners – the companies that run on slave labour – they're not just giving in. The Commerce building is gone. I think the governor's dead. I think the President's dead. We haven't actually seen the President or the Vice President on TV since this happened. Maybe they're in a Secret Service basement somewhere or maybe they're dead – ” He stopped and looked at Sam. “You grinned. When I said 'Secret Service basement'. You grinned. Why do you think that's funny?”
Sam hadn't grinned: a twitch of his mouth. Richard fought back through the fog to the day before the long night. “Because the Secret Service was part of it,” he said. “To overthrow Commerce and free all the slaves,” he quoted. “The Secret Service and the US Marshals services. They were both in on it.”
Greg stared at Richard for a long moment. “You knew?”
“He told me yesterday... day before yesterday. When he told me I was free to go.”
“On our side,” Sam said, “we have the Secret Service, the US Marshals, the abolitionist networks, and most of the lower echelons of the US army and marines. I don't know about the air force, and no one knows about the navy. The coastguard's Commerce all the way. On their side, they have all of the biggest, richest, most powerful corporations in the USNA, a majority in Congress, all the judges they can buy, and everyone who's never woken up the morning wondering how they can keep their family safe from being sold. You see why we wanted to get CNN to declare their side rebels. Have there been any bombing raids?”
“Not that I heard of.”
“Then the lower echelons in the air force probably managed to keep the planes on the ground, at least in Illinois. If the Secret Service had to keep going down through the line of succession to the Secretary of Agriculture, they found someone willing to sign the executive order that freed all the slaves.”
There was a short silence.
“And killing the slave owners?” Greg said. “That was part of this plan?”
“No,” Sam said. “That's... something they must have come up with right here.” He spoke reluctantly. “We knew it wouldn't be clean. We didn't want to waste time with massacres, no matter what they'd done. But we knew some people on our side would want to kill all the bastards, like we knew Commerce was going to burn all the convict collars and some people on the other side are going to want to kill all the slaves. But we figured there was a good chance it wouldn't happen in most places.” He glanced at Greg, at Richard. “We did it,” Sam said, as if one of them had asked, “because it seemed to us that no matter what happened in the revolution, or after, it had to be better than Commerce. I'm not sorry we did it. I'm only sorry it took so long.”
There was another, longer silence.
“Doctor Kimble,” Greg said abruptly. “Richard. You were part of the administration of this hospital when Doctor Wilson was fired for buying body slaves with research money.”
Richard nodded, groping, startled. He turned round from where he was kneeling and looked at Greg. “He – that was when we set up the system to make sure research subjects couldn't be diverted from the labs?”
“That was after. Before. When you discussed how to deal with him. Was he sold for debt or condemned for theft?”
It had been years ago – six, seven? A messy, embarrassing situation. Doctor Wilson had bought dying body slaves, usually one or two at a time, claimed he was using them for some kind of clinical trial for end-of-life care, but it became clear eventually that the body slaves were just being used for sex, though they'd been bought with research funds. Wilson had misappropriated funds belonging to the hospital, and could have been prosecuted for theft, or could have been asked to repay the money and been sold for debt. Richard understood what Greg was asking – but it was so far back, so long ago – and it hadn't seemed to matter, either way Wilson and everything he owned was for sale. He could hardly remember what it had been like to believe it didn't matter. He shook his head: “I don't remember...”
“You've got to,” Greg said, sharply, urgently. “You've got to. What happened? Theft or debt?”
Richard shook his head, scrambling to his feet. As the blood pulled away from his head, in the moment of greyed out vision: Sam's head tilted, looking up at him: Greg seemed to flinch and sit still.
Sam said, sounding angry, “What the hell do you care? Your owner – ”
“He was my friend,” Greg said. “Till he bought me. He wanted to keep me safe. We lived together for eight years. We weren't friends any more. Maybe we never were, if he could do that to me. He saved my life, buying me. But I hated him for owning me, he hated me for resenting him, and I still hate him, but I want to know if he burned to death two days ago.”
Richard could only shake his head. He was swallowing tears, thick in his throat, but when he could speak past them, he could only say, “Hospital records – ”
“Locked and encrypted and probably all the key holders dead by now,” Greg said. “None of the slaves knew. No one on the committee talked about it. None of the records were open. Did you sell him for the debt or prosecute him for theft?” Greg's voice was sharp and hard.
Sam's voice, when he spoke, was slow and thick-accented, rolling like cream. Richard looked up warily, but all Sam said was: “Even if he was prosecuted for theft, there's a good chance he wasn't convicted to the collar. Non-violent crime against property. If the Commerce database is still active, you can find out once this is over. We meant to try to keep at least one mirror open to let slaves trace their families. If they want to.” He added, sounding genuinely reluctant, “Or... I have a login that could still be active. Even if the Illinois server is gone.”
Greg was staring at Sam, eyes pale and intent. “Are you just saying that so I have a reason to keep you alive?”
Sam lifted his hands a little. “I can't use a keyboard,” he said. “I can give you the login codes.”
Greg stood up. “I'll see you in thirty minutes,” he told Richard. “In the room you were using. I'll get your chip out.” He looked at Sam. “I'll bring a laptop. Voice-operated.”
Richard stared at Sam as the door closed, and in another moment of pure confusion, could not remember what Sam was doing here at Chicago Memorial, or why they were in an intern's room. “Sam,” he said out loud, because the name was all he was sure of.
“I didn't want to be a complete piece of shit,” Sam said at last, the smoothness in his voice all gone. “But pretty much everything I said to you, the whole time I had you, was a fucking lie. If you're going to kill me – just do it.”
Richard turned on the bed, looking at Sam. A stocky, grey-looking man with dark hair rough with sweat and stubble marking his face.“I didn't kill anyone." He shook his head. “I didn't kill ... anyone.”
“I know that,” Sam said. He lifted his eyes to Richard's. “I know it.”
Sam's mouth moved in a brief curl of amusement. “Right.”
He was no more sure who he was or who Sam was: but he didn't think Sam knew any more than he did. Only that the games had ended.
This story is a work of fiction: any resemblance to real life events is purely coincidental and unintentional. All the characters in it are fictional, and any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, is also purely coincidental and unintentional. All of the situations that take place in this story are invented: the writer is fully aware there is no such practice in the Chicago Arena or any other arena of allowing convicted murderers to escape death in the arena by working in the arena’s clinic, and is likewise aware that is is an urban myth that a convict must be freed from the arena if he survives for three years (see www.snopes.com/slavery/freedom/arena.asp). Above all, though of course the United States Marshals service exists, there are no deputy marshals in Illinois or anywhere else in the United States of North America who in any way resemble the ones described in this story: the loyalty of the US Marshals to the government which they serve has never been doubted. Nor should this story be regarded as casting any aspersions on the real loyalty of the Secret Service. It is a work of fiction only.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
If this shadow has offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream.
And, as I am an honest fan,
we know our attention span;
the next new crack zooms along
And, I swear by venom tongue,
This will be forgot ere long;
Else this fan a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.