I'm sitting in a filthy bathroom for a few minutes of dignified peace. It's the only place I can go, really. Any port in a storm. More accurately, any rock when the hawk hovers, if you excuse the bad metaphor.
There's a small, barred window above the toilet in this stall. For ventilation, I guess. It's not helping the smell much, and it doesn't help make the place any cooler. It faces south and lets the sun in. Seems to magnify it when it starts to go down. I scratch at my chest, and sweat scrapes off my skin and collects under my fingernails.
Across from me is the biggest moth I've ever seen, tangled in a spider's deadly net. Bits of it have been nibbled away. An antennae here, a mouthful of wing there. A bag of chips for some cowardly predator who has to restrain his victim before going to work. What a way to die. Not that I know anything about slow, miserable deaths. I slap myself in the middle of my grooming. The window lets the sun in, and also the mosquitoes.
The sharp echo fades and I hear slippered feet sweep down the hall, coming towards the washroom. They stop outside the door, and I tense up. A rabbit in the shadow of the hawk. Maybe that's not so cheesy after all. No, right this second, it's as accurate as all hell.
I catch murmurs from outside, and I'm sure I hear my name. I press my hands against the stall walls, and the wood is warm with the heat of the day. My palms start to pour sweat and slip down the sides, spearing me with tiny splinters.
The voices continue for a few seconds longer, and then I hear the hiss of medical slippers once more, fading, then gone down the hall on other business.
The relief is like a dip in a hot bath, something I can't recall having for a long time. I loosen up instantly, and then I feel like a tool for being scared in the first place. I'm usually not scared of the Staff - not anymore, anyway -- but I know that lately I've come pretty close to just losing it. They've been using me more than I'm used to, these past few weeks. I think they're on the brink of some breakthrough, but nobody tells me much. I'm supposed to shut up and take orders. I was a once a soldier, so I should be used to following the leader like a dog. But when I was a soldier, if I followed orders I'd spare myself a beat-down by my superiours. Here, if I follow orders, I end up in pain. If I resist, I end up in worse pain. When I first met Fox, he used to say that sometimes he didn't know whether to shit or go blind, and I learned very quickly what that means, exactly.
I really don't want to think about Fox.
I start to pick at the splinters in my palms, then use my teeth to pull them out when I get some headway. It's boring work, and when I get bored -- which is nearly all the time -- I can't help but think about him.
Voices came from across a starless void.
"Is he awake?"
A magnificent slap jostled the void and birthed stars. "Hey buddy, you awake?"
"Uhn." Gren opened his eyes and harsh white light disintegrated the void entirely. A new world formed slowly, and two male faces, one fat and the other lean, stared down at him.
"Adam and Eve," Gren murmured, shutting his eyes again.
"Now that's just fucked up," the fat voice remarked.
"It's not his fault," said the other. "God only knows what they shoot the new arrivals up with. Look, he's already got a tube in his arm. They've probably already started on him."
The new world withered behind Gren's closed eyes, and he floated back into the void.
They wasted no time putting the tube in me. It's still there, of course, twisting up my arm like a snake, the biting end fixed into my muscle permanently. It's pretty sore today. I think the heat does that.
There's graffiti scratched on the wall beside me, with what, I don't know because none of us are given sharp objects for obvious reasons. "Fuck Off." A nice, all-purpose rage against authority. I wonder how long it took before the prisoner who wrote this lost his will. I wonder if he's still alive.
Lying in his bunk, Gren could only muster up energy enough to explore his immediate surroundings with his fingertips. They brushed over his mattress, which was bare and, unfortunately, crusty. Around him were strange sounds and smells that he was powerless to identify. His upper left arm tormented him with pain and itching. Fighting magnificent fatigue, Gren turned his head very slowly. A length of plastic tubing started halfway down his arm and twined up to his shoulder, disappearing into the arm's muscle. He stared at it for a long time to make sure. Yes, it disappeared. The tube burrowed into his flesh. There was a fresh incision at the entry point, closed neatly with a couple of small stitches. The tube, whatever it was, was there to stay.
Gren felt detached from the world as he registered this information. This body was in pain, but it wasn't his body. Sure, he was dead. He remembered the explosion, the force that he never imagined possible even in a chaotic world that tossed his body like a doll, despite being weighed down by army gear.
Gren felt a little sorry for the owner of this battered body, whoever he was, but he was surprised at the forlorn feeling that stole up on him when tears started to slide down the cheeks.
"Don't let anybody see you crying. We all did it when we first came, but don't let anyone see it."
"I'm not crying," Gren responded in a slow voice. "It's not me."
"Here, look at me for a second." A pair of hands fell on the sides of his throbbing head and turned it over. Pain ripped through Gren's neck, and then he was looking at a lean face he remembered faintly from long ago.
"Almost, except when you try twisting my head off my neck," Gren said tonelessly. Even though he was lying down, Gren could see that his visitor was far shorter than him; almost boyish. He was also far skinner, which was impressive because Gren himself was like a twig. His head was shorn and his hands were bone covered with skin, but then he smiled and his teeth were like a saint's. "My name's Fox. I bunk above you." He pointed up at the obvious. "Don't worry, I don't piss in my sleep. Often."
"Very happy to hear it." Gren's body and brain were starting to talk to each other again, and memories were becoming less foggy. He couldn't associate this bald little thing with his blazing, fur-covered namesake. "Where are the others?"
"Others? Lots of people are here--"
"The platoon. Where is it?"
"Don't know what you're talking about." Fox put his arms behind his neck and cracked his elbows. The sound was like a gunshot, and he laughed. "It probably shouldn't sound like that, eh? Anyway, you were the only one they brought in today. Your friends might be around, but are probably being kept elsewhere."
"Not all of them were my friends," Gren said, but he suddenly felt lonely for anything familiar. "I just wanted to know. I don't even know where I am."
"At least you want to know. That's a good sign that you'll make it through the night," Fox said. "As for where we are, well, let me know if you ever get your ears on any specific names, because nobody has any. Best as we can all tell, we're in the middle of some sort of forest, maybe a jungle, so we're obviously part of some big secret."
"What kind of secret?"
"The kind that involves us being poked with a lot of needles and fed a lot of chemicals. If you're lucky. If you're not, you'll probably also end up with something stuck down your throat or up your ass before the week's out."
"I don't think I understand what I've done wrong," Gren said after a pause. "I was a good soldier. Mostly."
"Who said you did anything wrong?"
"Then why was I brought here?"
Fox grinned again. "Because people won't hesitate to bring you down if it'll gain them something."
Gren's violated arm throbbed and the pain made him nauseous and irritated. "I don't see what's so funny about the situation."
"Nothing's funny about it," Fox said more soberly. "You'll see, after a time. When you're here, you'll either learn how to laugh at the truth, or you'll bash your head against the floor to try and kill yourself. It never works, though. The Staff drags you away and then you'll kind of disappear." He glanced over his thin shoulder. "Shit, speaking of..."
Fox squirreled up to his bunk, and Gren was granted a clearer view of the room he was being held in. It was a large construction of red steel and grey concrete. A dark, low roof lay above an unfinished, skeletal ceiling of rafters. There were a number of other bunks against the walls, spaced evenly with three metres of space between them. Most of the beds were occupied by mousey, frail men who either shifted uneasily or lay completely still. Gren rapidly began to learn the ways of "Why," as Fox had predicted: Three unafraid people approached his bed. One was a male of average height whose long white coat swished around his shins as he walked. Following behind him were two individuals in blue scrubs, nondescript behind their facemasks, their eyes neither cold nor warm.
But the man in front -- presumably a doctor of some sort -- had a definite scent, figuratively and literally. He leaned over Gren and gripped his chin with strong fingertips that felt greasy. Gren hissed in pain when the doctor roughly turned his head, like Fox had done earlier. The doctor wordlessly felt his pulse and stared into his eyes, his heavy breath whistling slightly in and out of his nose. Gren stared back. Baking sunlight slid through the small windows near the roof and bounced off the doctor's glasses. Gren could see sweat beading on his captor's bald head and crinkled brow. He summoned his strength.
"Where the fuck am I--"
The doctor motioned to the techs behind him, and they ripped off Gren's covers. He protested as loudly as he could, especially when the shock of fresh air against his skin caused him to realise that he was naked. The doctor ignored him, feeling the circulation in one of his ankles with a cold hand. He shook his head.
"No good," he said in a stoic voice. "Get rid of him."
In an instant, one of the techs was beside him and yanked back his hair. Gren tried to object, but ended up with a syringe on the back of his tongue, gagging as his throat suddenly felt coated with liquid lead. He coughed and retched, but nothing came up. The wet heaviness spread to the walls of his body, and when he tried to raise his arm to push away the tech, it was like trying to lift a sack of bricks. Suddenly, it wasn't worth trying anymore. Gren's vision became foggy and he closed his eyes, no longer minding the bitterness of the venom on his tongue.
"You didn't have to do that!" he heard Fox call from the far end of a tunnel. "He's healthy! He--"
"Would you like to keep getting involved in affairs that aren't yours, 188? See what happens..."
What happened after that? I know that I was supposed to die. But I didn't die. I survived because I woke up with my mattress soaked in cold piss. I'm pretty sure I have Fox to thank for that, even if I don't remember much about that night, except for water. Cups and cups of scummy water forced down my throat. I started to choke at one point, and someone -- Fox, I guess -- shook me and told me not to choke. Don't let anything stop you from drinking, hear?
I wanted to puke, and I must've mumbled something to that effect.
Then puke all you want, Fox said. All the better. Puke it up or piss it out, but we gotta get the bad stuff out of you. They're wrong. You're strong enough to fight it.
I didn't want to fight. I wanted to go back to sleep. But Fox punched my cheekbone hard and I got mad enough to jerk up slightly from my bed to try and swipe back. He grabbed my hair like the tech had done earlier, and I really thrashed as some instinct kicked in, like a snared animal who had escaped the trap once and probably wouldn't be able to do it again.
You'll be okay now, Fox said and grinned. But more warm water slid down my throat.
I don't remember much after that.
"Got any family back where you came from, Gren?" Fox handed a cracked bowl full of some unidentifiable weak broth down to his bunkmate.
"No." Gren took the bowl. His hands shook and stirred up miniature tsunamis. The hand-shaking had started to happen yesterday. "Hey, what're you giving this to me for?"
"To jerk off into. What do you think, you idiot?"
"I'm not eating your dinner, Fox. I had mine, you need yours."
"Take it. I'm not hungry." Fox pulled himself back up to his bunk so that Gren couldn't change his mind. "Anyway," he called down, his voice faint, "After what you went through yesterday, you gotta keep your strength up."
Gren had been trying to block out what happened, without much success. He stared into the pale brown broth and saw the ghost of his face, gaunt as parchment stretched over poles. And, like a dream within a dream, he saw the memory of the white-coated doctor again, flanked always by his two techs, like parasitic fish stuck on the belly of a tiger shark. They asked patiently, at first, for Gren to follow them. Nobody had ever asked how he survived the cull. They grasped him under his arms at the first sign of resistance, and burning agony lanced through his upper arm when their hands carelessly closed round the tubed muscle and pulled him across the floor.
But it wasn't the pain that made Gren scream, and that's why he didn't want to remember the incident. He had been terrified. They dragged him out of the barracks, screaming like some demented child, because some inner dam had finally busted open and flooded him with black fear of this white-coated man who led the party at a brisk pace, taking no more notice of Gren's wails than a mechanic working in a garage pays attention to the sound of running motors. Gren's head rolled wildly and the barracks orbited around him -- pale shadows of men, some whom looked at him with quick, detached pity, some of whom glared resentfully at his outburst, and most of whom just lay on their sides and looked uncomfortably down at the floor.
It's funny that I made such an ass out of myself. I didn't even know what was going on when they came for me. For all I knew at the time, they were going to take me out to lunch, give me a bath, and put me on a plane home. And that doctor -- Fox used to just call him "Whitecoat" -- in any other circumstance, I would've kicked his bald ass across the world. He's a flabby dickheaded little fuck, no physical match for a soldier. But I was terrified of him. I learned long ago to be quiet about my fears and discomforts, though ... as Fox said, you had to look at the situation with black humour, or else you'd go plumb fucking crazy for want of a gun in your mouth. People don't like you if you cry.
Still, I try not to be too harsh on the new guys who come in. About three nights ago, they brought this one guy in and put him in the bunk next to mine. When they left him alone, I could hear him sniffling and breathing fast. I don't why, but I got out of bed and felt my way to his bunk -- it's as black as hell in the barracks at night, the Staff gets around with flashlights -- and I took his hand. It was so damn small. The newfish's whole body flopped on his mattress and really started to cry. I pulled him towards me and let him bury his face in my shoulder so that the other guys wouldn't hear him sob. He was going like crazy, grabbing me around the shoulders and digging his nails in and I'll be damned if he didn't say that he wanted his mama. When he calmed down, I put him back to bed. I overslept the next day because they'd injected me with some more nameless chemicals in another experiment, and the bunk next to me was empty when I woke up. I never saw that guy, but I swear he must've been a kid. And now he's probably dead.
The washroom's getting hotter and I really start to gush sweat. But I'm not ready to go back yet. I fiddle with the toilet paper beside me, unrolling it slowly and then rolling it back up, like I used to when I was a kid in the orphanage. Except now I'm leaving greasy grey streaks on the tissue and there's no Sisters to pound on the door and holler about how they knew exactly what I was doing in there, and I was a filthy little thing who was going to grope my way right to hell with blind eyes and gorilla palms. For a long time, I wondered why God would blind me for having a weak stomach.
Gren had screamed that one time when Whitecoat came for him, but he never did again.
He'd been dragged off to some windowless room somewhere, and was so surprised by the sudden presence of air conditioning that he'd stopped struggling. Then instinct turned his head, but it was too late; one silent tech was almost finished feeding him another syringe, but this time it was being injected straight into his arm-tube. Gren flopped to the ground helplessly.
Details were sketchy after that. Gren could remember lying on something hard, lights burning his eyes like a desert sun. Then time jumped forward suddenly and he saw stoic Whitecoat walking by his feet with one hell of a needle in his hands. The next time he opened his eyes, he saw the needle burrowed between his ribs, the syringe jumping a little with every beat of his heart. Then he fainted.
Gren sprawled on the floor where the techs had dumped him. He managed to lift his head long enough to violently expel another mouthful of thin vomit.
"Sick. Do that in the bathroom, not all over the barracks!"
"U-uh," was all Gren could manage. He closed his eyes.
"He's not gonna move, is he," one man said.
"Yes he bloody well is. His goddamn screaming woke me up this morning."
Gren cracked his eyes open just in time to see a thin shadow fall over his puke puddle, and then a swift foot caught him in his tender ribs. He opened his mouth in a huge fish-gasp, and was sick again.
"Joey, that isn't doing shit." someone called from across the room. "For Christ's sake, it's his first time."
"All right Fox, get your ass over here and grab your fag buddy, then." The shadow withdrew.
With his ear pressed against the cool concrete, Gren could feel the soft vibrations of bare feet approaching him. A ray of sanity touched his stormy mind with the realisation that he shouldn't have been able to feel such a minute sound, but his thoughts clouded over again immediately.
Gren moaned as Fox took his sore arm and pulled it up.
"C'mon, Gren. Help me out. I'm not strong."
There was a soft plea in the boyish man's voice. Gren managed to get up on his knees, then dropped down and supported himself with his free arm.
"That's it. Slowly now. We'll crawl, okay?"
"Guess he's not gonna have the strength to be on top today, eh Fox?" Gren's attacker jeered. "Maybe you should steal our water again and save his pale ass."
"Go fuck your dead mother, Joey," Fox grunted, squatting down to Gren's level and throwing his bunkmate's arm around his shoulder. He inched back a little, and Gren crawled instinctively, knees crunching softly against the floor, palm slapping against the concrete.
"Good. Now do it again."
The afternoon light crawled across the floor with the two as they inched their way to their bunk. Gren wept when he felt his forehead press against the iron bedstead, and Fox, along with someone he couldn't see or hear, helped him gently onto the bed. His bare mattress felt like a cloud in heaven.
Time passed. I guess it was a few weeks or so. I was taken away other times, and eventually I got used to it all enough that I was able to make my own way to my bed afterwards. Fox got taken away too, occasionally. He always returned easily, and I never had to help him.
I always felt a bit bad about Fox looking out for me. Any feeble attempts I made to help him were laughed off. I once asked him why he helped me so much.
"'cause you're a good guy," was the response from the top bunk.
The answer was quick and final, which wasn't really Fox's style. So I just existed from day to day, and didn't ask any more questions because I wasn't sure if I wanted to know the answers. I owed Fox my life, and that was enough for me.
Which is why I only felt a little bad on that day I turned him over to Whitecoat.
Gren pushed his broom down the grey corridor that linked the entrance to the barracks with the washrooms and continued down to the operation rooms. The thin pane-less windows that gashed the walls up near the ceiling let in the butter-thick humidity that steamed up from the storm outside. Rain clattered on the leaves and thunder roared in a world separate from Gren's, a world that he accepted he'd never see again. Only hear and smell.
The humidity made the floor sticky, and Gren braced his bare toes against the concrete, giving a harder push. The wetness in the air dampened the broom and left streaks of dirt when he swept.
"Shit," he muttered and looked up in time to see 50 centimetres of wet centipede squirm between the bars of the window above him and begin a frantic march down the wall. Gren smashed it with his broom, missing its bristly head and crunching its iridescent abdomen instead. The insect seized up like a snake with a broken back before it fell into two parts and resumed two separate marches. Gren finished it off and added innumerable legs to his dirt pile. He continued to push down the corridor.
Gren turned his head around and instantly locked eyes with Whitecoat, for once devoid of his techs. He gripped his broom tightly and kept his voice steady. "You referring to the bug, or me?"
Whitecoat didn't answer. His eyes slid down the wall like a tourist admiring the site of some famous general's last stand. He kept his hands in his pockets, and Gren eyed them with the caution of a beaten dog. He jerked back a little when the doctor withdrew one hand from his lab coat and held out a rectangular box to Gren.
The blue smell of shredded tobacco kissed Gren's senses and made his mouth water with longing. "Shove it up your ass," is what he said.
Whitecoat lit one for himself and inhaled. Gren watched for a second, then set his jaw and swept an area of the floor that he'd been over twice already.
"I'd like to talk to you for a minute, Gren," Whitecoat said around his cigarette.
"There's nothing to say--" Gren stopped in mid-sentence and looked up. "What did you call me?"
"Gren. It's your name, isn't it?"
"You've had me believing that it's 'Sample 203.' Or when I make you especially mad, any species of animal that lives in its own filth."
"That's strictly business talk. I'm coming to you now as a comrade."
Gren leaned on his broom. The storm-dimmed light outside wasn't strong enough to bounce off Whitecoat's glasses, and for once his glaring, opaque eyes were accessible and suggested the possibility of a soul.
"Won't you have a cigarette after all?"
The box was offered again. This time, Gren slowly took one and accepted the light that Whitecoat provided for him. The first drag was like ice water after a desert pilgrimage. He leaned back against the wet wall, exhaling a slow plume of smoke like a sleepy dragon.
"Jesus," he murmured before he could catch himself.
"Plenty more where that game from. If you like."
"Forget it," Gren said, but his voice wasn't as hostile as before. A social bond quickly formed between smokers that forbade hostility while the act was being performed.
"Well," the doctor continued after a pause, "I was just hoping that you'd help me with a small matter."
Gren's sucked the last life out of his cigarette. Whitecoat offered another, and Gren took it without hesitating. "What is it?"
"I like to converse with my subjects who appear to know what's good for them."
"And you don't strike me as being particularly stupid, Gren."
Gren coughed as his lungs remembered their old shell of tar.
"No. You're a watcher, a listener, but not a talker. No matter the circumstance, humans will form a hierarchy -- indeed, if conditions are dire, a pecking order is even more likely to develop. But you've managed to keep out of that in the barracks, haven't you?"
"I didn't join the Army to make friends. So I sure as fuck didn't allow myself to get kidnapped so I can climb on top of a pile of bodies and beat my chest."
"As I said." Whitecoat flicked his glowing stub down the hall, where it died slowly on the damp floor. "A step above."
"Well then, what do you want from me? A game of Scrabble?"
"I just want ... news."
"News." The bald doctor started to take out another cigarette, then changed his mind and put the half-empty carton back in his pocket. "The lower subjects we were just referring to, for example. I need to know more about them."
"You've already had your fingers all over them, you pervert."
"The study of their bodies is necessary for medical reasons," Whitecoat said mildly.
"All right then, you goddamn medical pervert," Gren conceded. "What else do you need to know?"
"Oh, well ... there's a bit of a virus going around." Whitecoat stuffed his hands back into his pockets. "It's probably something that got in from the Outside."
Gren peered. "Or it's something that spilled on the floor when some tech fucked up."
"Perhaps. Either way, we need to be vigilant. We're not sure of the nature of the contamination just yet, and we want to avoid panic--"
"Yes," the doctor smiled crookedly. "But the sickness is hard to diagnose, and the subjects have become quite canny in hiding any symptoms of sickness, for obvious reasons. They're certainly not going to tell us if they're feeling unwell. But they might tell a colleague."
The rain outside increased in intensity, rattling and ripping through the thick leaves. Gren closed his eyes and nodded slowly.
"So you understand what I'm asking you to do."
"Sure. You want me to be a rat."
"Don't think of it as that," Whitecoat frowned. "It's for everyone's safety. If we kill the ill individuals as soon as possible, the disease probably won't spread as quickly. It's a necessary precaution until we truly understand what we're up against. Your efforts won't go unrewarded."
Gren opened his eyes. "Oh?"
"You enjoyed those cigarettes, didn't you?"
"Sure," Gren said. "They're the first I've had since I got to this godforsaken pen."
"There are other things you miss, I'm sure," Whitecoat said. He lowered the pitch of his voice so he could be heard above the roar of the storm outside. He was sweating again. "A bath ... a nice meal, with meat ... a few drinks, a few more cigarettes ... and some time with a woman. How does that sound?"
A slow grin spread over Gren's gaunt face. "All the things I took for granted before I ended up in here, eh?"
"A woman, you say. Some prostitute?"
"No," said Whitecoat. "We have several female subjects who are kept on the other side of the compound. They're clean."
"Sure, just like the disease-ridden men you want me to root out."
"Will you be taking the job or not?"
Whitecoat is a clever bastard. He was good with the sweet-talk that day, trying to put me on a level above the gorillas that I roomed with. But he knew what I wanted. All he had to do was mention girls and take a quick look at the front of my pants to see that I was just another stallion downwind of a mare.
So I took the job.
And I gave him one name to start.
Gren opened his eyes, surfacing slowly from an afternoon nap to see Whitecoat and his two techs standing by the side of his bed.
"Are you going to come quietly?"
Yes. Yes, Gren certainly was. He sat up and swung his legs out of bed. The techs placed light hands on his bare shoulders and led him out of the barracks. It was quiet, with most of the men dozing like lizards through the hottest part of the day.
Gren was loaded onto an elevator. The cold steel numbed the bottoms of his bare feet, calloused though they were. He wriggled his toes and waited for the door to roll open again. One floor above the filth, disease and suffering, Gren was ushered into a sterile blue bathroom with complete facilities.
Supervised though he was, it was the best hot soak he could remember ever having. He could feel himself shedding caked-on layers. His tubed arm in particular lost its protective casing of dirt and dried blood, and the pink skin became tender again. Gren paid little attention as he plunged his head underwater and scrubbed his fingers rapidly through his greasy hair. The techs gave muffled shouts above him, and Gren bobbed up.
"I was just washing my hair. Christ."
The dinner was good, too. It was nothing much fancier than fresh bread, a nice stew, and some beer, but after months of thin broth, mouldy bread and bitter coffee, lifting up a spoon full of potatoes, meat and carrots was fascinating.
The more Gren ate, the hungrier he became. When he finished, he lit a cigarette and put his arm over the back of his chair, puffing away silently. One of his guards sensed his agitation.
"You ready to go?"
"Figure I have been for a while." Gren put out his half-smoked cigarette on the table.
Gren had been tightly guarded through his entire reward, and he thought for sure that it would be the same for his final ordeal. Well, a little voyeurism wasn't going to stop him. So he was surprised when his guard ushered him into a nondescript operating room, and exited before shutting the door.
The air conditioning was going full-blast, and the lights were even a little dim. That peckerhead Whitecoat had thought of everything.
Gren caught scent of his quarry.
She was cornered, shivering in the false cold. She was thin with unsubstantial curves and limp ginger hair that fell over a tall, freckled forehead. A nondescript tunic went down to her knees. She bowed her head and closed her eyes.
Gren stared. "What's your name?"
"Come here," Gren said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
The woman lifted her eyes a little from the ground, then dropped them again. She didn't move.
She gave her head one quick shake.
Gren strode angrily over to her corner and managed to grab control of himself just in time. The woman still gasped in fright when he gripped her arm tightly and pulled her towards him. He was about a head taller than her, and Gren settled a little when she was in his arms. She pressed against him, still shivering. Her hair was also fresh and damp. Gren kissed the top of her head and breathed her in. "Don't you have a name?" He murmured.
Silent tears suddenly smudged hot against his shoulder. Gren rested his face in the arch of her neck and slowly dragged his hands down her back, exploring what was available. She wasn't wearing anything underneath her tunic.
Months of repressed lust began to thaw in Gren's veins. The woman gave a small cry of fright, her heart thrashing below the breast that Gren cupped.
"It's all right," he breathed, slipping one end of the tunic off her shoulder. "I won't hurt you."
I hurt her. Raped her, to be straight about it; I don't deserve to dress up the truth. I've never been a Saint, but when I was on the Outside, I never hurt a woman. I never even dreamed of it. I won't say that I never got lonely and avoided sleeping with hookers when I was in the army, but I'm not proud of the fact that I ran down the woman they gave me like a rabbit.
My stomach also wasn't used to the rich food they'd fed me, and my bowels ended up in knots for the next two nights. I was knocked back down to Hell to enjoy it all. Karma, I guess.
Fox wasn't there to help me, either.
"Oh Jesus. Oh fuck."
Gren looked up from his ratty copy of Moby Dick Whitecoat had given him, and watched the bulge on the mattress bottom above him roll back and forth.
"Fuck," the agonized voice repeated. "Fuck!"
The bulge rolled a little too close to the edge and the mattress deposited a fat man over its side. Gren's new bunkmate fell to the ground with a meaty slap, eyes crinkled shut in agony as he grasped his stomach, a rope of drool splashed across one purple cheek.
Joey kneeled on his mattress to look at the dying man, and gave a small scream of distress. "What is this shit that's going on?"
Gren returned to his book.
"What is this shit?" Joey's voice became more hysterical as he put in his useless request for enlightenment over and over. His frantic cries stirred up the rest of the herd, and they started bawling along with him.
Gren knew he wasn't going to get any more reading done, so he put his book on his chest and closed his eyes. Funny how an organised and slow death was preferable to some invisible enemy that struck silently and quickly. Death on a lab table was at least explainable. Tangible.
The Staff roster had apparently been shifted a little. Current circumstances required that techs were able to drag people away while fighting off attacks from frenzied test subjects. If you're going to be a tech in a mad science lab, Gren decided as he watched one blue-clad staff member pry a man off his leg and throw him into a bedstead, you may as well go all the way.
When the virus sprang up, Whitecoat wasn't happy with the way I crapped out on our agreement.
"You only gave me one name," he said to me sometime after the fiasco was done. I was sweeping the floor of the corridor again when he approached me. I never did get sick, even when things were at their worst and I heard rumours about liquidation. The virus burned itself out first, though, taking about 30 subjects and 3 Staff members with it.
"Yep. I gave you a name."
"But you never gave me any others."
"No," I said. "I didn't."
For a bizarre second, Whitecoat looked like a kid whose friends had all run from him. It'd been a tough few weeks on him, I'm sure, with the virus wrecking who knows how many test subjects. "We had a deal."
"Sure we did. Give you the names of anyone who told me they weren't feeling well." I laughed a bit. "But nobody talks to me. They never have. I'm not exactly Mr Social. You noticed it yourself."
"Fox?" I offered.
"188 told you that he was feeling unusually ill, correct?"
"I don't know. I guess it's possible that he was. But I did what I had to do, since I owed him a debt."
Now Whitecoat was pissed. "What are you talking about?"
I looked into Whitecoat's eyes. "I'm talking about how I'd rather see someone like Fox die quickly instead of rotting away in some month-long experiment. You should tell your techs to keep their voices down when they're discussing things outside of the washroom door."
No, don't go discussing your plans for medical torture out in the open. After all, some of us have weak stomachs and spend a lot of time where we can hear you.
Especially if you've done funny shit to their bodies that just might've amplified their sense of hearing a wee bit.
You damn prick.
After thinking about all this again and putting it together, I'm pretty sure I understand now why I'm being subject to so many nasty procedures lately. You can't piss on a man's bed without expecting some sort of repercussions, can you?
The door to the washroom opens suddenly. After reliving the past, I'm ready for a vacation. I stand up.
"Here I am." I step out of the stall and the tech looks at me warily, like I might've wiped my ass with my hand. I do his job for him. "I'll come quietly."
"Good. We have a long treatment ahead of us."
We step out of the washroom and into the corridor. I stop for just a second to let the sunlight from the window bake my back. I know it's the last heat and light I'll be feeling for a while.