Arriving at East Gate around sundown Marvelina had observed the way Outsiders shuffled quickly past, avoiding eye contact with the eight STs who swung open the massive wrought iron gates. It took eight men, two together to open each gate, and two pairs to guard their backs on each side. Eight giant machines with massive mowing apparatus riding high on rubber tires ten feet in diameter, entered through Outer Wall and parked in the garages across East Tenth Street. It was suddenly quiet when similar machines around the perimeter of the city shut down their engines as darkness fell.
When Marvelina heard STs harassing Outsiders for information not ten feet behind her back, she headed south along East Tenth Street, looking down and keeping her makeshift scarf pulled down tight over her head. Spotting a dark hole in Outer Wall where crumbled brick was lying on the ground she knelt down and sidled sideways to fit herself inside it. Settling herself in she wondered if a truck might have backed into the ten-foot thick wall. The area was cordoned off with construction tape. A hand-written sign with an arrow pointing to the ground was hanging on the tape. Deeposit Replasemint Bricks Heer. Crouched inside the damaged wall she was obscured by the shadow of the glass pyramid enclosing Inside. The two STs she had heard behind her passed by a few moments later. "How could one red haired bitch be so much more important than any other bitch?" she had heard the muffled comment from one to the other through the speakers inside their visored helmets.
"They're keeping it classified, who she is, but I heard she's a bitch with a soul."
"Doesn't the Princess have red hair?"
"I don't know. All them Aristocrats, they're always changing their wigs. She'll probably wind up like Shavana and her ghost slaves," the other man replied.
Marvelina shuddered at the thought of becoming a ghost slave. Her mother had told her that Shavana was a witch, and her army of ghost slaves hated Aristocrats because they couldn't stand the light of their souls. But Marvelina still wanted to get beyond Outer Wall.
Drifting in and out of sleep in the real dark of night had been frightening. She shivered in the night chill, unaccustomed to anything but the balmy controlled temperature of Headquarters -- always seventy-two degrees. Smoke from cooking stoves in the tenements across the street rose continually from the chimney pipes and came drifting out of the windows too. It hung heavy over the streets, trapped between Inner Wall and Outer Wall, without a breeze to blow it away. Her eyes were red and dry. She leaned back into the shadow of East Outer Wall and groped around the contents of a silk bag hidden beneath her Outsider skirt, now dirty. The emerald necklace, a wedding gift from her husband, was still inside the zipper pocket. She was relieved to realize that she had only lost the necklace in her dream. "What a strange thing a dream is," she said softly to herself. She pulled out a blank paper notebook. Extracting her pen from the bag, she opened the little book to the first page.
He tells her:
You're a woman now.
She wants to know.
What power have I got?
She wrote awkwardly in the dim, early morning light. She'd been taught how to write by hand, but never had any reason to before now. She used to keep a digital diary but stopped writing and deleted all of it after her father sold her. She rubbed absent-mindedly at the piercing in her wrist where her watch had been embedded. Now, huddled inside a mere dent in East Outer Wall, she considered her absurd predicament: the supposed head of Duke Scombslic's household, hiding inside Outer Wall trying to escape Square City altogether. "If I had power, I would buy some shoes," she spoke to herself again, while looking down at her bruised bare feet.
She stood up to gaze again at the massive brick structure. She understood now that Outsiders were trapped in this crowded and smoky in-between place, just as she had been trapped inside Headquarters. She tried to visualize WilderWood, just beyond Outer Wall. She had watched deer munching on berries from bushes in the nature scenes on her bedroom walls, and vaguely imagined that she could survive on berries too. She knew that the Landing Field was miles outside Square City. She had listened to her mother's descriptions and asked questions about the limousine ride, begging to go along with her to the beach, but never to any avail. Her mother had described the scary darkness of WilderWood on either side of the Great Highway and the sounds of wild animals. She had protested at the danger, saying that Shavana and her ghost slaves might set an ambush, that there were people who would like to kidnap Marvelina.
A squirrel appeared at the top of Outer Wall, sliding nimbly beneath the barbed wire and scrambling down right in front of Marvelina, finding niches that she couldn't even see. "I might be crazy," she said to the squirrel, "but I'm going to get out. I'm going to get to WilderWood, then the Landing Field and then all the way to the United Western Front." She stamped a sore right foot on the ground and winced. She had evaded STs and the dreaded SSF (her husband's personal militia) so far, but Marvelina was sure she would see more troops turn the corner at any moment.
He struggled to slow his heavy breathing. His heart was thumping in his ears as he opened his eyes and hesitantly looking around. The familiar cavern walls were comforting to behold. The sound of running water soothed his swirling emotions. But he couldn't shake the vivid dream that had excited him. In his dream he started on his usual run for supplies but couldn't leave because when he got to his secret exit there was an ST there with his hand around a girl's neck. He wanted to help the girl but an invisible barrier held him back. It had seemed so real. It still did, even with his eyes now open.
He sat up. A spider dropped from the ceiling of his quiet refuge below the swarming streets of the city, stopping right in front of his face and looking at him with eight eyes. "It's happening," he said to the spider. "Soon I will have friends, and everything will change." The spider swung to the wall behind him and then to the ceiling, leaving a silken trail. He lay back down to watch her work and began reciting from the point he last remembered before falling asleep.
" Once and in the future, what was before will be again..."
Outsider women and girls were exiting single file from the tenements, walking somberly toward Inside for their shifts. Their numbers swelled as more joined the line at each intersection. Marvelina hugged Outer Wall to avoid the cameras as she turned right onto South Tenth Street. She looked down to hide her face. The smoke in the air got even thicker, and the aroma of sizzling bacon and eggs drifted from the tenement windows. By the time she reached South Gate the irksome unfamiliar growling of her stomach was so loud and insistent that she worried that Outsiders would notice, or the cameras might even pick up the sound.
Eight STs stood sentry at South Gate. There were four to a side, helmets raised, and machine guns cradled in their arms. Four more were standing on a wooden platform spanning the gap in Outer Wall atop the great iron doors, watching attentively in both directions when the eight men below got into formation to open them. The gates clanged loudly against the brick wall and the STs broke into two groups of four, facing each other across the starting point of the Great Highway. Marvelina could see dense forest beyond the mowed lawn. Giant mowers drowned out all other sounds. They were lined up, ready to leave South Gate and keep up the constant maintenance of the lawn. Marvelina was so tantalizingly close to WilderWood that for a wild moment she considered making a run for it. But looking up at the snipers atop the gate was enough to make her lose her nerve. Everyone inside and outside the gate waited for the mowers to rumble out the gate first and turn both right and left to spend the rest of the day traversing the outside perimeter of the city.
Ten trucks belching loud puffs of black exhaust from their tail pipes rolled inside the gate. She counted sixteen wheels on the first truck and wondered what was contained within those padlocked doors on the back. Next came flat-bed trucks, with Butcher printed on the cab doors. Large pink mammals with short fur and odd skinny tails were making loud squealing objections from their cages.
Trudging along behind the doomed animals were people, separated into groups of men, women and children chained together at the ankles. They were uniformly exhausted and dusty from their arduous journey to reach Square City. Their bare dirty feet were bloody from the rubbing of iron rings around their ankles. They were wearing paper gowns stamped in bold black letters with the words: Pre-Sorted, Exclusive Property of King Square. No bids taken before Auction. They were fitted with iron collars around their necks, which were also linked together by an iron chain. She looked directly into the eyes of a girl perhaps thirteen. Her long blond hair was hanging matted and tangled around her scratched face, framing her defeated expression. Her paper gown was torn up the front, exposing her mud-splashed nakedness as it flapped up in the gust of a breeze. She looked dully back at Marvelina as she marched past in unison with the other girls in her row. Marvelina shuddered to think that the girls who had been fodder for her husband's nightly entertainment might have also been brought to HQ like this.
YOU ARE READING
Running from a sordid marriage Princess Marvelina seeks freedom but feels powerless. After escaping Square Headquarters she roams the streets and discovers that everyone is trapped within the walls of Square City, except Aristocrats like herself. A...