In the Slammer!

Layout 1

Illustration by J. Andrew World

by James R. Stratton


Melanie sat rigid on the iron bench, panting as her gaze darted around the jail cell. She wore her best navy blue outfit, flattering but demure, the sort of thing you wear to visit your boyfriend’s parents or your grandmom, or to appear for trial in criminal court. Across from her, the security field sealing the entrance shimmered with a soft red glow, red for danger, red for no-go. Melanie had learned not to mess with the security field while still in high school.

But I’m not supposed to be in lockup. Sid guaranteed I’d get probation if I took the damn plea. Where the hell is he? She could hear her heart thumping as she panted. At least they didn’t put me in a cell with some pervert dyke. And then she shivered. At least, not yet.

The security field buzzed and shifted to a shade of sky blue. Melanie didn’t move, blue just meant the security field had polarized so someone could walk through from outside. A balding guy wearing a rumpled suit and carrying a battered briefcase strode down the hall and stepped through the opening without pausing. He was sweating and looked harried as the field flashed to red behind him.

“Okay Sydney, what’s going on? Why am I in lockup?” Melanie felt her heartbeat ramp up worse when Sydney sighed and didn’t look her in the eye. “Shit, Sydney, did you screw up?” His jaw clenched and he glared.

“No, Mel, I didn’t screw up. The deal was going just like we discussed, up until this morning. You’ve pled guilty to three felony counts out of ten bad check charges. The rest will be nolle prossed. And the prosecutor is locked into not making any recommendation on the sentence. This should’ve been a walk in the park. We go see Judge Jones, he gives you probation and you walk out. I got no idea why they grabbed you. An order came down this morning for you to be held until sentencing.” He paused and glared again. “In fact, I should be asking if you screwed up. You got some new charge I don’t know about? Not smart Mel, it’s guaranteed to piss off the judge.”

Melanie glared back and balled her fists. “No, goddamn it! You think I’m an idiot?”

She and her attorney argued back and forth until Melanie clenched her teeth and looked away. Well, somebody screwed up and it’s my tail in the ringer. Jesus!

The security field buzzed again and a tall man in a starched white shirt and pressed black suit stepped through the entrance gingerly, wincing with bald fear of it.

He straightened his tie, glanced from her to Sid, and grinned the kind of smile Melanie would expect a veterinarian to give a mutt just before he neutered it. “Sydney, my man! I wanted to be the first to tell you how thoroughly the shit has hit the fan. I take it you haven’t heard about Judge Jones?”

Her attorney plopped on the bench next to Melanie and ran his hand through his sparse hair. “Quit jerking us around, Jim. Spill it! We’re scheduled before Judge Jones in half an hour on Ms. McCarthy’s sentencing. Has it been continued?”

The prosecutor just flashed another smile that sent chills down Melanie’s spine. “No, no! We’re on for 10:30. But we’ll be before Judge Harkins, not Jones. Judge Jones’ father went into the hospital yesterday. He made arrangements for Judge Harkins to handle the calendar. So your little client here goes before Ironman Harkins instead. I gotta give the guy credit. Harkins was in his office before dawn reviewing files, and had detainers issued on a bunch of the cases.” The prosecutor paused to glance over to Melanie. “I don’t think he likes you, sweetheart. If he’s got you in lockup now, I can just guess what’s coming when we go upstairs.”

“Jesus, Jim! That isn’t fair!” Sydney jumped up and stood toe to toe with the prosecutor. “And we agreed, no jail. She’s only had a couple of juvenile convictions and a misdemeanor conviction last year. You need to tell Judge Harkins the deal was probation, not jail.”

Melanie shivered as the prosecutor’s smile just widened. He shook his head once, back then forth. “The deal was I would make no recommendation, and I won’t. And what the good judge does after that is entirely up to his honorable conscience. It’s the luck of the draw, Sid, you know that. But your client is a good-looking young lady, she has options.”

“Shut up!” He poked the prosecutor in the chest. “And get out! I haven’t discussed that with her, I didn’t think it was necessary. Now go, you’ve given us your news.”

The prosecutor chuckled and waved his electronic passcard in front of the security field. It flashed to green and he stepped through.

Sydney rubbed his forehead, then sat on the bench and patted her on the knee. “Okay, things aren’t happening the way we thought. Not my fault, not your fault, but that’s the way it is. You need to make some decisions before we go upstairs.”

“Can’t we just withdraw the plea?” Melanie fought tears and bit her lip. “I mean, this wasn’t the deal.”

“I can make the request, but I expect Judge Harkins will deny it. You’ve already entered the plea in open court, admitted guilt and agreed to all the terms. Nobody guaranteed you would get Judge Jones for the sentencing. And that’s not a basis to withdraw a plea. Now listen up, I need to explain some things.”

Melanie took a deep, shuddering breath and nodded. “Okay, how deep is the shit I’m in?”

“Pretty deep.” He grimaced, took a deep breath. “You got three options. First is jail.”

“Okay, I was in detention as a juvenile. I can do that.”

Sydney just shook his head. “Juvenile detention isn’t adult jail. The State has an obligation to rehabilitate juveniles. That means the State pays. But the Governor and the Legislature changed all that three elections back for adults. You remember the campaign, ‘Criminals should be responsible for their punishment.’ Jail costs the good citizens of this State over fifty grand a year per inmate. Nowadays, detainees are expected to reimburse the State, at least for a fat percentage. Anyone in your family got money?”

“Hell no! You think I’d be buying my date-night outfits with rubber checks if I did?”

Sydney grunted and continued. “Second option, public service in a needy community. I know you don’t have a college degree, but have you got any kind of job skills I can sell to the judge? The ghetto communities always need medical technicians, teachers, and drug counselors. Understand, if I sell this you’ll be signing away your life for the next five years. You got anything I can cobble into some sort of specialized skill?”

Melanie stared at the floor and shook her head. She dropped out of school in 11th grade. Never worked at anything but minimum wage jobs since.

Sydney grunted. “Too bad. Last option, what some call the meat option. You sign away your rights and agree to take part in an unskilled public service project.”

Melanie felt tears burning her eyes as she glanced up.

Her attorney continued. “You volunteer for medical experimentation. The government always needs subjects for testing new drugs and medical appliances. Ever since the passage of that animal rights act, testing on dumb animals isn’t allowed.”

“Yeah, but I’ve seen what can happen.” Melanie stood and paced the cell. “A guy on my street can’t hardly walk or talk after they tested a new drug on him. Nerve damage, they told him.”

Sydney just shrugged. “Of course there are risks, that’s why they need volunteers.”

He looked away and fidgeted with the handle of the briefcase. “And they’re always looking for licensed comfort liaisons for the military. The Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act of 2050 guarantees members of the military will have appropriate companions available when they’re off-duty. Most of the liaisons are licensed prostitutes hired out of Las Vegas and New York City.”

Melanie shivered. Dead meat or fresh meat was the way it’s described on the street.

“What if I just refuse, tell the judge to go to hell?”

Sydney chuckled. “I wouldn’t recommend it. The law is clear, the State can’t be burdened with the cost of your punishment. The good citizens voted that referendum in back when you were still in high school. The old prison system cost millions of dollars, produced nothing and rehabilitated nobody. People came out more dangerous and crazy than when they went in. Let the criminals pay for their own punishment the politicians used to say. Make them give something back. Anyway, you refuse to cooperate and the Ironman Harkins gets to pick.”

“Jesus, Sydney!” Melanie closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. “How the hell can I choose? This ain’t fair.”

“Neither is stealing from the merchants of our fair city, and you ripped them off for a bundle. But don’t sell the comfort liaison gig short. It’s Federal, which means good food, good housing, good medical, and decent working conditions. You work at the clubs on military bases.”

He glanced at his watch. “Think it over. We’ve got ten minutes.” The security field flashed blue and a burly guard stepped into the cell. Sydney stood and stepped aside as Melanie was cuffed and patted down. He waved his passcard at the security field and it flashed green. “See you upstairs.” He walked out.


Fourth Floor Monitor

EKGsmallby Mike Ripley


Elana sat in the crowded waiting room with her legs clamped tightly together, avoiding contact with the people in neighboring chairs. They were strangers, all of them, and even though their lives had collided in perfect unison with hers, she did not feel akin to them. She did not like their purpose. Therefore, she didn’t like her own.

The spartanly decorated room managed to accomplish several important tasks. First, it kept people that were basically well away from the ill while certain procedures were being performed. Elana had learned to appreciate this function, and welcomed the opportunity to leave her father’s side when the staff entered to change a calibration or realign an implant. Second, it allowed family and friends of the invalids to pass the time, and time had become the most important commodity. Finally, these attempts to pass time, to pass much of it, and have it all seem very worthwhile were always made under the pretense of waiting.

Elana rose slowly and quietly from her chair. She looked again at the picture of a city that had puzzled her since she first entered the room seven long weeks ago. The unknown city, at least unknown to Elana, beamed with vitality and action from the park near its center to the schools, office buildings, and roadways that made up its structure. The paint used for the picture shone of bright colors, and filled every inch of the canvas with vivid images of something that seemed so out of place here in this waiting room. Its shine created a perfect picture of life.

Efficiently and without notice or fanfare, Elana walked to the door, and entered the long hallway. This section of the hospital maintained a quiet that seemed to be marred only by shoes on the incredibly glowing waxed tile floor. Nurses shoes, those of rubber sole, orchestrated an ensemble of music that became the last to ever be heard by those dying at the far end of this very same hall. Elana followed the young nurse with blonde hair and baritone feet. She could see three more women staggered down the hall ahead of them, each with their own sound, their unique tone and strangely unified cadence. She followed in silence, so as to not interrupt the music that may be heard by someone beyond one of these doors for the final time.

At the last room on the left, before the double doors that lead away from this ward, those that lead finally away, she stopped and pushed the door only partway open. Room four hundred held her father, held he whom she had waited for, he who now passed precious time. She stood, hesitant, for what seemed like hours and continued to listen to the death march being orchestrated endlessly on the glazed tiles behind her, and tried to see what conditions lay ahead through the nearly open door. She braced herself, as always, slowly pushed on the heavy wooden door until it retreated into the room, and finally, she entered.

Standing next to her father’s bed, Elana found the familiar face that belonged to Alan Pendergrass, the lead prognosticator, the decision maker, the man with a plan. He turned to her as she walked into the room, and said, “Hello.”

The word “hello” sounds like it has been bellowed from a canyon when a person has heard no one speak in several hours. It shatters the frame of mind, and destroys the attempted artistry being displayed by otherwise talentless musicians with their shoes and the buffed floor in the nearby hall. It beacons to Elana a message, a hint, almost a requirement that she must in turn, speak.

“How is he doing?” She asks the question that she has asked a hundred times before, and avoids looking to the monitor by which she could ascertain her own answer.

“He has come down to his final ten,” Mr. Pendergrass answers while looking at his own shoes, leather shoes, expensive shoes.

“They will go fast then?” She asks of his remaining lot, not of his health.

“I’m afraid so. We will need to collect the instruments right away. Please pardon that I stay with you at his side.”

“Is there nothing I can do?” Elana asks.

“We have searched his records. I’m very sorry, but there is nothing any of us can do. Do not blame yourself. He has run out. You knew he would eventually.”

“Yes, but the doctors said that given enough time, he could heal, he would heal.”

“Time. If only time could be dealt out like water. I’m sorry. He just ran out.”

“Yes. I said I understand, but I don’t have to like it.”

“No. I mean, he really just ran out. The meter shows zero.”

Mr. Pendergrass began to disconnect his instruments, remove his company’s implants, and unplug the meter. The Longchamp Health Insurance Agency had other customers to assist. His services would be needed immediately down this very same hall.

“My God. Where is the doctor?” asked Elana.

“The doctor has nothing to do with this,” replied Pendergrass. “Your father’s insurance ran out, his money ran out. You know that.”

“I know, but this isn’t right.”

“I have the final say in these matters on this floor. The doctors would drag these things out. They would offer procedure after procedure to sell their wares.”

“Yes, but what if they did some good?”

“Who would pay?” Alan Pendergrass got in the final word, and left the room pushing his meter stand, and carrying the instruments that had monitored Elana’s father since his accident.

Elana sat in the light blue plastic-covered chair at the foot of her father’s bed. Her legs were clamped tightly together, and her feet were planted on the shining surface of the floor below to keep her from falling over. She could no longer hear her father’s faint breath, no longer see any movement of the sheets atop his torso, no longer sense his presence in the room. He was gone.


The Assaulters

by Mike Ripley


The screams still echo through the center of town as I look toward the sky. Day is about to break. I’m hidden amongst the trash that hasn’t been tended to for over a week, and my body is beginning to hurt. I’ve been in the middle of the smell for so long that it isn’t noticeable anymore. My wife, Anu, and second child, Mora, are still with me. Both are asleep at the moment. My name is Am. My world crumbled ten days ago.

With morning comes more soldiers, or whatever they consider themselves. They have had their way with us since they arrived. We can’t stand up to their weapons. We don’t know how to fight them. They subdue us within seconds with their chains, and kill many of us before we ever have a chance to see them. Our numbers decrease every day. Most of my friends have disappeared, and we have no idea where they’ve gone.

On Wednesday of last week, they entered my home. My oldest child, Toma, was outside when I heard him scream. He was fighting against these alien men, but to no avail. Before I knew what was going on, they carried him down the street, and we haven’t seen him since.

At first, I chased after Toma, and tried to free him from these super beings. They swatted me away, and swore they’d return for the rest of us. “Stop,” I yelled after them. I had found a pipe amid the debris to fight with, but their sharp instruments put a quick end to our battle. Anu found me bloodied, and unconscious. She dragged me out of the roadway, and thus began our days of living amongst the trash.

Tonight I plan to organize the few men I know are still at large in the area. I have seen both Benu and Angst in recent hours. They will know where the others are. They are the most creative men I know, and are surely up to something already. It is getting light, however, and we have to sleep. Tonight we’ll fight back.

Our town is small to mid-size. We are at the center of our county, about fifty miles from the nearest large city. Two weeks ago there were over two thousand people living here. Today the only ones left are those that hide as we do. I believe there might still be several hundred of us left. Fortunately, there are many hiding places.

I run the local medical supply house, or rather, did run it. I went there several nights ago, and found it totally looted by the bastards. They like my medicine, and there will be little left for our hospital. There’s probably no one alive there anyway. I’ll check that out tonight. I mentioned Benu and Angst. They are local artists of sorts. Benu has painted for almost everybody in town, and Angst designed the park our children play in. I did it again; played in.

I’ve lost a child. Everything else I try to think of is blotted out by that fact. I let him be ripped away. Every minute I want to scream, and it takes so much strength to hold insanity away. I try to sleep, but wake every ten seconds, knowing I’ve failed my family.

Mora tugs on my shirt. Hunger is a new type of pain for her, and it has been strong over the past couple of days. Night has fallen again, and Anu is ready to go with me to find a new place to hide, and seek other townspeople. I think Angst will stay close to Talbut Street, so the three of us will make our way there tonight. No sense in moving too fast, and taking unnecessary risks. Our goal is to find food, to get to Talbut Street. Nothing else is important.

“Are you ready?” I ask Anu.

“Yes, I know we must move. Come now Mora. Hold my hand.” Anu talks Mora into leaving. She doesn’t want to go out into the night.

“I want to eat, Mom. Can’t Dad just get us food again?”

“We’ll find food, but we have to move. It isn’t safe here any longer. We have to find friends.” Anu holds tight to Mora’s hand, as she leads her into the street. They follow me. They both believe I will keep them from harm. I have an overwhelming fear that harm is exactly where I’ll lead them. Toma’s screams still echo in my head.

There are alleyways behind many of the homes and buildings in our town. About three blocks from our trash-bin hiding place, I saw a familiar mark to the right side of the back door of a former eatery. This mark has appeared over the past few nights, and I’m not sure whether to trust my instincts.

“Anu, stay here and watch for me at that door.” I leave Anu and Mora between a large bush and a fence. They are in darkness, and I believe they will be safe. I focus on the door at the other side of the alleyway. I stare at the mark. It has no meaning in our language that I can decipher. I am, however, about to find out if I am right, that we can find others there, friendly others.

The door opens easily, and just inside, I see a glimmer of light. The last thing that I want to do is make noise, so I say nothing. Before going in, I look across toward the bush. I can’t see Anu or Mora, but I know they are there. They are safe.

“Come in quick.” The voice catches me as I’m looking outside. I’m startled and fall backwards into the alley. There is sound to my right. I’ve disturbed somebody, and now I can clearly make out footsteps. An arm reaches through the door, and pulls me inside. The light is gone. I am in darkness, and no longer have contact with whoever pulled me in. I know that I have left Anu and Mora outside, that there is danger in those footsteps. I try to get back to the door.

“Down… stay down,” the voice whispers. “They will pass. We are safe here.”

I hear the footsteps outside, but they don’t slow near the door. They’ve gone by us. I prepare for screams again from the only two loved ones I have left in the world. I hear only footsteps, much to my relief, and they eventually fade away into the somber quiet of the town.

“I’m not alone,” I tell my company. Then I realize I don’t know for sure if this company is friendly. “Who are you?”

“I have thought to ask you the same thing.” The words are spoken this time, no longer a whisper. “You were hiding, so I trust you are one of us. Who else is with you?”

“There are more men,” I lie.

“Where are they?”

“They are just outside, watching the door. I was elected to check this place out because we saw the markings. Do they mean what I think they mean?”

“If you’re asking if they were put there to attract townspeople, the answer is yes. My name is Masha. We have food and water here. This used to be an eatery, but the owners were taken away. The Assaulters must not have searched the place because they left the food and drink. Tell your men to come in and eat. We have work to do.”

“How do I know you are who you say? I need to be sure before I bring others in. Do you know Benu or Angst? If you belong here, you would know them. Tell me, do you know them?”

“Benu was here last night,” Masha replies. There is noticeable relief in her voice. “He ventured out to find others. He’s the one who devised the symbols to be put near the doorways. They have ten men on Talbut, and they are ready to stand.”

Masha’s mention of Talbut eases my mind. “I have to get my wife and child. I have no men with me. You have to understand that I couldn’t…”

“I understand.” Masha cuts me off.

The alleyway is empty again. I motion for Anu, and watch for movement elsewhere. Anu and Mora come into the light. They ease across the street, looking both ways, each step a little faster than the one before. Finally, they reach the door, and enter the safety of our new hiding place.

“Am, where are you?” cries Anu softly.

“I’m right here,” I say, taking her in my arms while I feel for Mora. I hold them both, forgetting for a moment that Masha is in the room.

“Anu, Masha is with us. They have food here.”

“Good,” I hear Mora say eagerly.

“Come with me.” Masha tries to lead us, but the darkness is total.

“I saw light when I first opened the door,” I say.

“That was from the center room,” replies Masha. “I opened it to come out to you. It has no windows, so we can use light, and we’ll be there soon. Beyond it, there is a room we use to observe the alleyway. I was there when I saw you approach. I went through the center room to come to you. Here, I’m at the door. Use the light.” Masha opens the door, and we see her for the first time.

“I know her, mama,” says Mora.

“Yes, you do,” responds Masha. “I am the teacher.”

We enter the center room and close the door. This room is well lit, and we see four other people that are sitting around a table. They are studying maps, and they all stop to greet us. Masha introduces us, and I join the men at the table. Anu and Mora follow Masha to the promised food.

“Look, we’re probably not nearly enough for any real resistance,” says a man named Jam, who appears to be the leader. “From my ventures the past few nights, I’d say there aren’t more than two hundred people left. My fear is that they are nearly finished, and about to leave. Then we’ll never know where they took everybody.”

“They have killed everybody,” says Ton.

“No, why would they do that?” asks Jam. “Some are dead. From what I saw, some of the strong ones are dead. Everybody else has been taken away. Open resistance was met with murder, but no one could stand up to the Assaulters.”

I jump in. “That’s the second time I’ve heard the term ‘Assaulters’. Do you know who they are?”

“No, no one knows. All we know is they have stormed our town, and the town of Chese as well. One man traveled from there two nights ago, and told us that the same thing had happened. They are stronger than we are, have better weapons than we do, and a vessel of some sort that the man from Chese has seen. He said that they were taking our people to the vessel.” Jam knows far more than I, but still has no idea how to fight them.

“I know my way around here very well,” I tell him. “I have lived here all my life.”

“We know,” says Jam. “You run the pharmacy.”

Anu appears with a tray of food. It is the best sight I’ve seen in days. “How’s Mora?” I ask.

“She’s eating everything. I’ll have to stop her.” Anu leaves the tray with me, and I start to eat after offering to share with the others.

“Where is this vessel?” I ask.

“Roughly two miles from here,” says Jam. “Tal was just looking at the map.”

“We think it’s here,” says Tal. He points to a location on the map I am familiar with.

“I can get there,” I say. “I played there as a kid, and it wouldn’t be the first time I had to sneak in and out of that area.”

“Eat up, then,” says Jam. “We’ll go together in fifteen minutes.”

Anu doesn’t want me to go. It will be the first time we’ve been apart for more than an hour since it all began. I have gone after food alone, but have not left them otherwise. “You will be with Masha,” I tell Anu. “Mora is comfortable here. She’ll be asleep soon, with her belly full. I’ll be all right. You know I know that area like the back of my hand. I have to go.”

“Don’t leave us, Am. I mean, go for now, but come back. Never leave us.”

I know what she means. I’ll never leave them. The fears I have, the echoes I hear, the screams; she hears them too.

Jam and I leave through the back door, and into the alleyway. We reach the edge of town within five minutes, and begin our journey through the countryside. There is a trampled path at least thirty feet across leading through the field. We stay clear of it. It is completely bare, like a road. It didn’t exist ten days ago.

We stay close to the edge of the new path. “Get down,” whispers Jam excitedly.

I lie flat on my stomach watching what appear to be four or five Assaulters as they drag two women away from town down the center of the path. I recognize one of the women as Anu’s sister, Rea. They both scream as the Assaulters pull them along. When they try to stand, they are knocked to the ground and pulled over stumps and ruts. Their clothes are being ripped, their bodies torn, and their spirits crushed. Jam and I listen as the screams turn to whimpers.

I have taken all I can stand. I rise, and step toward the path. Jam takes my legs out with a single blow below the knees. He is on top of me now, with his hand over my mouth; he issues a stern warning, “We cannot help them. If you go, you will be taken, and your wife and child will be left without you. Is that what you want? Those women are gone.”

“She’s Anu’s sister.”

“She is gone. I’m sorry, but you must let her go.”

I’m afraid of what I am becoming. It occurs to me that Rea is just one more scream added to the thunder that echoes in my head each second. I find that I can do what Jam says. I let her go.

It’s a two-hour journey to the area where we expect to find the vessel. It can be done in half that time when one isn’t concerned about being caught, but we don’t have that luxury tonight. I have started to hear new screams in my head. They are faint, but I’m sure I’ll never be rid of them. As we walk further, I realize the screams are getting louder. With each step, I’m more convinced the screams are not in my head. They are coming from the direction in which we are walking.

They are real.

Even though I am hidden by trees and the tall weeds between them, and could not be seen from any angle. I feel exposed. The sound of this many people screaming in unison can’t be compared to anything I’ve ever heard before. It is the sound of humanity coming to an end. It disorients, and exposes your soul. I feel the Assaulters know I am in the weeds, that I am hiding.

I fall over into the brush, and hold my ears. The wailing will not stop. I look at Jam. He is crying. He’s on his knees, looking at the ground. I move toward him and try to talk. “We’ve got to see.”

It’s no use. He can’t hear me, and I’m afraid to yell. I drop down next to him, and bury my head. Thirty minutes pass before we look at each other.

Jam touches my shoulder, and motions forward. I know we have to move. There is no getting used to the din caused by the echo of screams. As we move forward toward a small clearing by a lone willow tree, we suddenly see the vessel. It’s huge, large enough to hold all of our townspeople. From the sound, I’m afraid it already does.

We watch as the vessel pulls away. What we can see and hear indicates that our friends are stacked high within the belly of the vessel, and that they know they are leaving. The screams are not weakening. They are growing louder, even as the vessel gets further away. More people are being lead to the boarding area, as another vessel moves to let the first pass. When it docks it will load more victims.

We are heading back to town. It will be nearly daylight when we arrive at the shelter, but Jam tells me that, so far, it has been a safe place during the day. The Assaulters have entered the building in the past, but not the center room.

“What do you think we should do?” I ask.

“I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t think we can stop them. They’re apparently not here to kill us. They are here to collect us.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that they want us alive. I don’t think they want our town either.”

“What do they want from us?” I don’t know if Jam has an answer, but I ask anyway.

“I don’t know, maybe food,” he replies.

Jam and I avoid the real issue. As we walk, we both think about what action we should take. We left a group that thought we were forming a resistance. We are coming back with what is possibly a whole new approach. We will not resist.

I finally get the nerve to bring it up. “Look, I don’t want to get back there, and not have this worked out. I think we need to lay low. If we lay low, and survive long enough without getting caught, they may leave.”

“I know. I’ve thought of that too. How do we tell the others? We’ve all lost people. We have to tell them to let go, to forget about them, to move on.”

“Why does what you’re saying sound so possible to me? This is the same feeling I got back there, listening to the screams. I’m guilty of not fixing this, of not protecting my family, of not making it go away. I’ll always be guilty.”

Jam feels exactly the way I do, but he is trying to think of something to make it work. But he thinks of nothing. We have no control.

“You know they won’t bring them back,” Jam finally says. “We will never see our people again, and if we allow ourselves or the rest of our group to be caught, it will happen to us too. Whatever is happening is going to last forever. Our way of life is gone, or at least it’s changing. I don’t think they can really take that away. Our ways will survive.”

“I’m sure they’re not counting on that,” I add. “They had better kill every last one of us, or we will survive. Our kind will survive. Our ways will always exist.”

As we approach the edge of town, I begin to believe they do understand.

“They are killing everybody, Jam. Look out. Go down there.” I see an opening to a backyard, and push Jam through it. We were surely seen, but the commotion on the street has distracted the Assaulters. “Get down,” I yell.

There has been an uprising on the street. There must be a number of groups popping up, just like us. They don’t understand what is going on, but they’ve decided to fight. We are witnessing the results of that decision, and our inclination to stay low and survive appears to be the only way out. They are being slaughtered, without mercy. There is a one-sidedness to this battle akin to our stepping on ants that enter our homes. It is not a fight. It is just death.

Grown men scream now. That’s why the screams are so loud. They are coming not only from women and children. The men scream with the same fear, the same confusion, the same loss of control. I again cover my ears, and want only to get far from here. I grab Jam and move him away.

“Our options are in this order,” I say to Jam as we hurry away. “Best case, we survive until they leave, second we die, and last, they take us away.”

Our minds are made up. We must present the news to our group… our family. We head back, careful to take the exact route we left by. The alleyway is around the next corner. We have to face everybody soon now, and tell them what we saw.

We hear new screams coming from the street. We stick to the alleyway, and find the door that leads to our hideout. Jam goes first, and notices the door is ajar. We hurry inside, go to the center room, and find the door open. The room is empty. The screams in the street suddenly sound far too familiar. I hear Mora.

From a front window, I see our people being bound. One body is on the ground, and not moving. From the clothing, I can tell it belonged to Angst. Benu is alive and about to be taken away with the others. Jam has decided what to do, and I have grabbed a spear, and prepared myself to follow him. We will go into the street to save our families, to save our manhood, to die.

The Assaulters must have thought that the home was empty, because Jam has caught one of them by surprise. I can tell by the look on this Assaulter’s light skinned face that he has been startled. It’s the first look of fear I have seen from them. Jam shoves his spear into a stunned eye, and drives the Assaulter to the ground with a blood-curdling scream that let’s the world know he has defeated his enemy.

There is an explosion, and Jam’s body shatters. Nobody has touched him, but he is thrown ten feet through the air, and lies motionless on the ground, as though a mighty hand has struck him down. On the road, at the source of the explosion, a man stands pointing a long tube in our direction. I see Anu now, she is trying to reach for me, to warn me, but I see her struck by the one who’s been binding them. I hear somebody behind me, twirl around, and see the rod just before it strikes my head.

* * *

“Am, Am can you hear me?” I hear Anu faintly, as I realize I’m being pulled along the new path that Jam and I were on only an hour ago. Anu wants to know if I’m alive. I see her looking at me. Mora is walking ahead of her. Her arms, like those of the others, are tied behind her back, and she is wailing. I manage to make eye contact with Anu, and see her being struck again by an Assaulter. She falls to the ground. I struggle to stand, to end being dragged along; I try to get to her. I cannot. More than ever, I have no control, and can’t help my family.

I have been on this path, and know where we are going. The others have no idea. The wailing and screaming stops momentarily as the vessel comes into view and the others get their first look at the monstrous ship. The noise starts again as the realization hits that we will soon be aboard, and pulling away from our land.

Inside the ship, we are stacked on top of each other. I can’t find Anu or Mora, and yelling doesn’t help. Everybody is yelling, and you can’t hear the words leaving your own mouth. We are in hell. It has suddenly hit me that this must indeed be hell. I have heard of such things. It has happened.

I look up to see my sky for the last time.