As promised, your story! (Not “A Friday Fairytale”, that one is back in the workshop.)
I am totally surprised and bowled over that one of my posts was elected by WordPress. And I’m glad it wasn’t one of my rants. (I would have had to pull it!) One doesn’t expect that sort of thing. And I know of a whole lot of blogs who would distinctly deserve this kind of highlight more. Here are a handful of them:
- There is Colonialist’s Blog, writing in “awful rhyme” about all sorts of delights. A treat to read, and usually so are the comments.
- There is Silver Threading, who does so much to promote authors and indies, and is herself a writer busy with her debut fantasy novel.
- A Violin Teacher’s Blog, one of my most constant reads, because she posts such a lot of great advice and stimulating thoughts about teaching violin – which is what I do, so I get a lot of crib notes there.
- Then there is kvennarad, well-recognized Scottish author and poet. She posts “pebbles”, probably too humble to call them “nuggets”.
- There is Arkenaten, a full-blooded atheist who rants, amuses, stirs, politicizes and also posts beautiful photography.
This is to name but a few; I could easily add ten more without even having to think. If you’re looking for inspiration, you’ll find it there!
Anyway, the story:
From “Vanya the Terrib”.
What happened before:
Vanya, high-ranking mutant agent, is briefed by head quarters to collect intel on a criminal human, Michayl Ran. Before she can even begin, she is abducted by higher-level agents and brought to the dreaded planet that serves as a Death Row prison for the most serious of criminals; the burnt-out and nuclear-poisoned Earth. And she finds herself in the company of the very criminal she is supposed to be investigating.
Vanya looked around in the room she had been assigned. A fairly bare room; uncluttered by such frills as carpet, wall paint or window blinds. The decor scheme was grey cement. A simple bed with a metal frame was posing as a place to sleep, furnished with a flattish mattress, a single pillow in a hospital-style white cover, and a grey woollen blanket over a crisp white sheet. Well, Vanya’s usual style wasn’t much more elaborate than that, so she accepted this prison cell with a shrug. It was clean, if somewhat cool. The absence of blinds worried her for a split second – in the City, you didn’t simply let everyone see what you were doing. But once she glanced through the not over-large window, the fear of being observed left her. Outside there was nothing. And nobody. Only sand and rock; and a bit further away, a green halo which might be some sort of vegetation.
It could be that she and that Mick Ran were the only humans alive on this planet. She hadn’t missed how fast the police shuttle had left again. It was probably the air. She felt horribly uneasy breathing this Earth air. It felt heavy and damp, full of gases. She could smell them. They didn’t have the usual chemical tang of the City’s air; they smelled older, somehow wilder. No less poisonous. She inhaled against resistance.
There was a knock on her door, and Michayl Ran’s voice.
“Is it a good time to speak to you, Agent V?”
A good time? What did it matter? Apart from studying her surrounds, she hadn’t even put down her handbag. If she didn’t find a way to escape Earth, she only had three weeks to live in this poisonous atmosphere. There was no ‘good’ time in any of that.
“Come in,” she invited. “It is your place.”
Mick Ran entered. Once more she saw just how huge the man was. Greying hair, incongruous with the vitality of the rest of him which dated him to perhaps, his mid-thirties. Probably the grey was a result of spending time on the toxic planet. Ageing was something humanity hadn’t been doing in centuries.
She touched his mind lightly, and blinked in surprise. The man was not a mutant in any way; yet she couldn’t gain any access to his thoughts. It was as though he were an automaton – their thoughts were inaccessible too, but that was because they were programs, not real thought. He was certainly fully human though, no artificial intelligence.
“I thought that would surprise you,” said Mick with a superior smile. “It baffles most mutants.”
Vanya’s momentary smile vanished. She didn’t like the superiority this human displayed towards a second-level mutant.
“You’ll have to resort to old-fashioned questioning,” said Mick with a condescending smile. His eyes were grey-blue; a murky, old-fashioned colour, not like the mutant range which went from infra-red to ultra-violet, through all the pure shades of the rainbow. “But I believe I have the first right to questions. So: Do you find your room adequate?”
Vanya cast a glance around. “I only miss a place where I can wash,” she observed.
Mick moved past her and opened another door. She hadn’t realized that it was supposed to be part of the prison cell. She had a look. A shower head stuck out of the wall; there was what could only be an old-fashioned flush toilet; and there was a serviceable hand basin. A white towel and a facecloth hung over a metal towel rail; on the basin, in a crude metal cup, sat a sealed toothbrush, still in its packaging, and a sealed packet of tooth powders.
“I apologize for the lack of – whatever it is,” said Mick with a shrug. “We don’t entertain guests too often.”
Guests? For crying out loud!
“I’m sorry, sir, but I’d actually like to find out what I’m doing here. Why was I arrested?”
“Abducted,” corrected Mick with a grin. “You shall find out in due course, agent Violet. It must be strange to be on the other side of your own coin.”
He moved over to the window and checked on the barren landscape outside. Vanya followed his gaze. The lowering sun lit up the sand in glorious reds and browns.
“How long do I have?” she asked.
He smiled. “Well, that depends, you see.”
Once again she tried to read his mind and found a wall. Not that he was blocking her at all; only that his mind was structured in such a foreign way that she couldn’t gain access. His low chuckle did its part to rile her.
“I think you must be quite hungry,” he added.
“I had a pasty, not too long ago,” said Vanya pointedly.
“Ha, yes,” laughed Mick. “That should keep you going for another three weeks. You mutants thrive on being minimalists.”
“It’s a point of pride,” she replied with dignity.
“Still, you won’t deny my hospitality,” he said. It was a command. Vanya compliantly inclined her head and followed him out of the bare room, through some more cement passages, back to the wonky elevator.
If trying to feed her fat was supposed to be some kind of torture… she smiled cynically. Mutants didn’t get fat, didn’t this human know that? They simply increased their metabolism by the correct number of notches to deal with the excess. Annoying, sure, but torture? Not really. But perhaps the program was to poison her, or drug her? To get her to reveal secrets. Yes, undoubtedly.
Mick turned to her with another amused smile. He seemed to find everything funny. She wondered how that tied in with the wanted criminal he was. Her security briefing by head office had been – too brief. Altogether insufficient. She knew nothing about him.
“No such sinister motives,” he said. “I don’t need to drug you to get behind your secrets.”
This was wrong! The hand-link chain and its electrodes had been removed from her hands before she had even left his office. So how could he read her mind, when he was the monster, the unimproved human, and she was the second-degree mutant?
“Monster indeed,” said Mick softly, to himself, for once not amused. “Monster, indeed!”
She had to be more careful now than ever before.
Mick led her to another room, which looked like a down-town canteen. Except that they were alone in it; those cheap gloss-veneered tables looked dusty, as though they hadn’t been used this century. Except for two. Behind a counter with no more glass there were empty pans that in their day must have held some kind of cooked food.
The place looked deserted; yet delicious, unfamiliar smells filled it. Some or other food. It did trigger her hunger.
“Do have a seat,” urged the human and motioned to one of the tables. “I should have laid a table cloth, but Nell is not here, and in honesty I have no idea where she keeps them.”
Ah! The mention of another. Vanya wondered about Nell as she sat down at the indicated table. Was Nell another inmate? Probably another poor City mutant, abducted by this Michayl Ran. Vanya scowled. Was that perhaps what he was wanted from – she stopped short. Halt! Caution! No thoughts at all of home. Perhaps the walls were laced with hypno-enhancers; she couldn’t imagine how else a human would be able to pick her brain like that.
Mick vanished behind a wall, and returned with two identical plates piled with strange-looking food. Vanya’s eyes stretched. He put the two plates down, one in front of her.
Vanya smiled. And switched the plates around.
Mick laughed. “How would you know that that’s not exactly what I predicted?”
She stared at him uncertainly, then switched the plates back.
Mick laughed even louder. “Come now, Agent V!” With great care, he took half of the food off the one plate and swapped it with half of the food on the other. He even cut the strange brown lumps of substance in half and exchanged their halves. “There is no poison in this food. No need.” He sat down and picked up his metal knife and fork. “Please, go ahead. I’m too hungry for manners, if you’ll excuse me. It’s been a long day, laying a trap for an agent of your level.” And he started in on his food.
Vanya cautiously picked up the knife and fork he had handed her, polished them with her shirt, pointedly ignoring the keen interest with which the human monster watched her, and tried a very small bite of the green stuff. It could be plain vegetables, if she were lucky.
It was. Though they tasted sweeter, and very appealing. Sensational. She had never experienced such great succulence in vegetables in the City. Their beans and peas, and sweet corn, all tasted the same. Of brine.
This was so nice, it could become addictive! Vanya savoured another forkful of the vegetables, then put her cutlery down to think.
“Enjoying your food?” asked Mick, his mouth full.
“Thank you,” she replied. “It is lovely.”
“Good!” He never allowed speech to slow him down between bites. This was mildly offputting; but she had too much training to take offence at anything a human did.
He was by now chewing on that brown, gummy lump, cutting large bites off and shoving them into his mouth. A consideration crossed Vanya’s mind, and this time she asked instead of trying to mind-fish it. A surprising concept, really.
“So… are you actually a prisoner too?”
The great jaws stood still as the grey eyes stared at her, baffled. Then Mick retook his chewing, while laughing around the food.
“Touché!” he said. “Eat, Agent V.”
“What is that substance?” she asked, pointing to the fibrous, gummy brown lump on her plate.
“Bush meat,” he said. “Fried for you on an open fire.”
She shook her head disbelievingly. Open fire? That was prohibited in the City, it was highly toxic. He had to be joking. Anyway, meat looked different! Meat was pink, never brown with a reddish centre! And it was smooth and tasted of nothing, and she didn’t particularly like it, it did nothing for her. But she didn’t particularly like food, to begin with. It was only energy to recharge her. A necessary evil until a more efficient way of refuelling was designed. Most mutants felt that way.
“It’s meat,” insisted Mick. “Earth meat. From an Earth animal. A sheep, if you need to know. Try it. You may have to use your teeth for once.”
Vanya cut a small piece of the lump off. It gave resistance. She put it warily into her mouth. It was delicious. But Mick was right: She had to chew. The stuff chewed back.
Mick was by now through most of his food. He eyed her strangely as she put her cutlery down and folded her hands.
“Have more,” he urged.
“It was enough, thank you,” she replied.
Mick shook his head. “Well, if you really don’t want it…” He reached over and took her plate, and finished her portion too. Then he sat back and stretched. “That was great!”
Vanya inclined her head and smiled. “Thank you,” she said again.
Mick jumped up. “I have just the thing!” He disappeared behind that partition again and re-emerged with two stemmed glasses, containing some red substance.
She was instantly back on guard. Stemmed glasses were only used for addictive and dangerous substances, such as the blue star daisy extract that made one see visions. And then, usually, there was only half a mil or so at the bottom of the glass; these two glasses were half full. What was in them? It was luckily too purple to be blood, she thought with a shudder. But you never knew.
“In case you worry,” said Mick and poured liquid from one glass into the other, and back, “no poison.” He handed her one of the two, then clicked his glass to hers. She watched, bewildered. And she followed suit, tasting. It could be berry juice.
Within a split second she knew the stuff was poison anyway. Her mouth spat it out before she could even think; and her stomach followed it up by upending the few bites she had eaten, and the bit of ring pasty, onto the floor. She stared at Mick with wild eyes, watching as he put his glass, which he had been sipping, down. He came over to her side of the table.
“Agent V, I’m sorry! I forgot that you are a mutant. You can’t take alcohol.”
“What is that substance?” she asked, tears of embarrassment and physical misery her eyes.
“Only port wine,” he told her. “A very nice vintage, too. I was saving it to share with a worthy person.”
Wine. She allowed him to lead her back to her room, and assured him that she was fine before waiting for him to leave so she could lie down. Her metabolism had just shut down; she needed sleep. Her high-level detoxing systems would start kicking in once she slept.
So the torturing had begun. She was being punished for being a mutant; the human was homing in on her rare physical vulnerabilities, such as the alcohol response. Who knew what was going to be done to her while she slept? But she didn’t have enough energy left to care.
She had to restore herself and not take in anything more until she managed to escape this planet; that was her last thought.