Part 5

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Onward!

As lithely as you can manage on legs that are still a little shaky, you follow the group of strange men and their metal carriage as they move south west.  The day is bright and warm, a strange juxtaposition against the eeriness that permeates everything.  You slow, finding cover behind a small hillock as the group ahead of you stops.

Peeking out over the top of the mound, you note that you are just across the muddy, gas-covered field that lay outside of the chamber you awoke in.  You see now that it is a large, round earthen mound of some kind.  The group seems on edge, having come to the mound.  You notice their posture change, becoming tense and more alert.  They hold their strange sticks up to their shoulders, scanning the surrounds with them.

Several of them take a knee around the metal carriage, forming a protective barrier into which crawl the metal arachnids.  The rest move out in pairs, exploring the surrounds of the mound in a fashion that looks well-practised and precise.  You find yourself fascinated by how well they move, and how they seem to know precisely what to do and when to do it without prompt.

After a thorough sweep of the area in and around the mound, the men return to their usual formation and resume their walk south west.

The sun beats down on you, stronger and warmer than should be possible.  You can feel sweat trickle out from anywhere your skin is creased.  You wrinkle your nose at the discomfort and, trying hard to ignore the heat, creep after the group.

For half a day you follow.  When the groups halts, you scramble to find something to hide behind.  A medium sized exposed rock is all you can manage, but you duck down regardless.

The group seems to have settled down for something to eat.  You watch as they pull out pouches from the packs they carry.  They put the pouches into something for a moment, then pull them out, open them and, to your surprise, begin eating the contents.  It is then that you realise that you have not eaten at all today.  Your stomach cramps, demanding food.

Looking around you, you notice that there appears to be no available food.  The grass is dead and grey.  There are no insects to disturb the air.  As for any sign of birds or other animals, there simply isn't any.  Even the lichens on the rocks are bleached and dead.  How on earth could anyone find food in such a dead land?

The smell of the food drifts over to you.  Your stomach cramps become painful as you savour the scents, salivating.  Despite the ache of your hunger, you remain hidden.  The strange masked men and their stranger machines terrify you.

After an hour, the group rises and once again resumes their journey.

Feeling relieved at being able to move again, you push yourself up...

And feel something cool and hard press against your skull.

"Don't move," a muffled voice says sharply.  You freeze in place, halfway off the ground.  Glancing as best you can without turning your head, you see a pair of black boots that lace up to about halfway up the shin, where dark green trousers are tucked in.

"Got 'em," the muffled voice says - to whom you have no idea.  Then, definitely to you, the voice says, "Lie down, and put your hands on the back of your head."

Relieved to no longer having to hold yourself halfway off the ground, you comply.  Your ears pick up more boots approaching.

"That's them?" another muffled voice asks.

"Yeppers."

"They're naked."

"Oh, you noticed that did you?"

"Watch your cheek."

"Sir, yes sir."

"I mean it Anderson."

I never occurred to you before that you were naked.  Perhaps it was the heat, or perhaps naked was normal for whatever life you had before now, but it escaped notice until it was mentioned just now.

"Alright, up."  Someone grabs you by the arm and hauls you up.  You scramble to your feet and come face to face with a masked man.  The mask's eyes are dark, so you can only barely make out the lines of his eyes.

"Arms and legs out," the man demands, mimicking his own instructions.  You obey immediately, not wanting to bear the brunt of whatever magic those sticks of theirs possesses.

"Doctor," the man in the mask says, stepping aside.

Another masked man comes forward.  He checks you over, running a blue hand over your limbs and down the sides of your torso.  Then he walks around you, running his fingers over your various scars.

"He's clean," the doctor says, walking back around to your front, pulling off the blue from his hands.  Gloves.  They were some kind of elastic blue gloves.

"Very good," one of the masked men replies.  "Westley Station is the nearest to our location.  Someone send out a message.  We're making an unexpected stop."

One of the masked men walks up to the speaker and claps him on his shoulder.  "Won't be long.  We'll be back out looking for her before you know it."

"Every delay could cost her," the man giving the orders replies.

The other cannot find anything comforting to say, so he simply nods.

"Alright," the man giving the orders says, shaking the melancholy from his shoulders like so many water droplets from a duck's back.  "Let's move."

"Alright you," the man pointed the stick at you says.  "This way."

You walk quietly in the middle of the masked men, careful not to look any of them in the eye.  You walk for half a day before the group slows.  Looking up, you find yourself staring at the ruins of a small village.  The foundations of many of the houses are rectangular; an odd choice, you think, and are barley visible, buried now in tufts of thin, hardy-looking grasses.  With a start, you note that these grasses are green.

You aren't given much time to gawp as you are shoved roughly forward, through the metal gate in the tall wire fence that encloses the once-village.  Still, the sight of green grass heartens you some.  You are led to the centre of the village, which houses a number of tents and lean-tos.  Of the old buildings, only one stone structure stands.  That, you suspect is the centre of operations for this place.

One of the masked men walks into the stone building, then reemerges with a lean, severe-looking man in tow.  They stop in front of you, and the lean man, who is not wearing a mask, looks you over briefly.

"And they're clean?" the man asks.

"Yes," the doctor replies.  "Checked them over myself."

The man grunts.  Take them to the interrogation chamber."

The world goes black as someone pulls a cloth back over your head.

"Easy now," you hear someone call.  "They're not resisting."

You're taking away, dragged by your elbow.  You can not tell where you're taken, as you seem to descend and then ascend a number of flights of stairs, and lose your orientation as you're dragged from one way then another.

Finally, you are thrown into a room, and the sack is removed from your head.  You look up to find two men in brown uniforms sitting at a table.  Before that table is a tattered-looking seat.

"Please," one of the men said.  "Sit down."

Hesitatingly, you take the seat.  The room is cold after the heat of the sun, and it feels to you as if the heat radiates from you as it does from a fire.  It makes you cold and your skin prickles.

"We'll start with the basics," the man says.  "What is your name?"

What do you do?

a) Tell the truth
b) Lie.
c) Say nothing.


Skara BraensRead this story for FREE!