This is chapter 6 of my novel, Foreign. I add a new chapter each Friday. If you need to catch up on previous chapters, click here.
“Do you have a minute, sir?”
“Make it quick. Is it serious?”
“The probability quotient is has slipped to 89.1% in the past hour.”
“Damn. We’ll need to move faster than planned. Proceed to the next phase.”
“Already? Are you sure that’s prudent? Sir?”
“Immediately, sir. Forgive me, sir.”
-From the office of the Secadoma
Mark woke up in his plain metallic cell, on his cot, in darkness, just like the last time. Only now he was getting accustomed to his new normal. He was expecting the lights to come on as he placed his feet upon the floor like the last time. He finally felt like he could clearly see his room in detail – not that there was much to see.
Not only could he see more clearly, but his stomach hurt like never before. He needed food.
He made his way over to the cube chair and sat down. The tofu cube from before had somehow disappeared, so he pressed the button on the wall again. The hunger was so intense that Mark didn’t care about risk. He instantly snatched the little squishy cube and inhaled it. He waited for his body to have a negative reaction.
So he pressed the button on the wall again. Another cube was deposited. A little more slowly this time, Mark took a bite of the cube. As he chewed the mystery cube, it reminded him of a hard boiled egg. He finished the second cube and decided to wait a while before eating another.
Time passed and Mark still felt ok after eating the cubes. Believe it or not, he almost felt full. Since his body still ached all over, he decided to give the shower (he hoped it was a shower) a try.
He found the controls to be intuitive, and he was surprised to discover that the shower actually had warm water. It felt heavenly on his bare skin. Almost too good. As he thought about it, he couldn’t think of a shower that had ever felt like this.
His improved vision reminded him why. There was no hair anywhere on his body. Not on his head, his eyebrows, his legs. Nowhere. There was a bit of stubble everywhere, though. It all appeared to be growing back. A quick rub on his scalp and he guessed it had been about a day or so since he lost his hair. If nothing else, this could help him keep track of time. And then a thought struck him.
That crazy guy who’d been screaming in the hallways had a full head of hair! If he experienced what I did, he must have been here for months!
This was not an encouraging thought. The pain on his left arm wasn’t encouraging either. He had removed the bandage before getting in the shower and the wound looked like somebody had carved part of his skin out and burned it back on. On the plus side, it didn’t look infected.
After the shower and the meal, Mark didn’t feel quite as hopeless as before. Although, he still had no idea where he was and why.
There wasn’t too much time to consider these questions because the side of his wall burst open again. The same hellish red glow poured in the room like before and the the same black figures stood at the door, silent and indifferent. There was no point in putting up a fight this time. He might as well save his energy for whatever peril he was about to face.
I’ve got to check out that wall where the door is the next time I’m in here… If I ever come back.
The guards took him down the same corridor as last time. His pulse quickened with each step they took. They didn’t stop at the fateful junction where he saw the screaming man last time. Rather, they turned to the left and walked in the direction from where the man had come. Maybe they were taking him to see other people.
After what felt like an eternity of walking, the trio stopped and turned to the right. Wall doors slid open and he was led into another crimson room. As they entered, he looked to his left and saw four people dressed in white jumpsuits just like him, sitting stiffly in chairs. Each had a steel cable connected to their left arm, near the shoulder.
Thousands of questions ran through his mind. Why isn’t anybody saying anything? Who are these people? How did they get here? What’s going to happen to them?
The guards led him past all four of them. No one said a word to him. Nobody moved. But their eyes followed his every movement.
“Hey guys. What’s going on?” Mark asked.
No response. Just penetrating stares.
Are these people mutes? Have they been tortured into silence?
“Guys, seriously. What is this place?”
“Can you guys hear me? Nod or something if you can.”
Fear swelled within him as the guards reached the end of the room and an empty chair. They sat Mark in it, and before he could squirm, steel bars extended around his neck, arms, torso, and legs, holding him in place. The guards released their grip. Mark glared at them while they walked away. Out of nowhere, a severe pain flared in his left arm. A steel cable had descended from the ceiling and somehow jammed itself into is his arm.
The guards left the room. For a brief moment it was silent.
“Don’t spea – aaaaaarrghh!”
A man with a grey scraggly beard to Mark’s right yelled out, writhing in pain.
In mid sentence Mark’s arm felt like it had acid flowing through his veins and immediately he understood why they couldn’t speak. As he looked, nobody else in the room was bald. They all had hair. These people had been here a while and they had learned to survive.
An intense feeling of gratitude came over Mark as he realized what the man next to him endured so that he might not have to.
I’m such a fool! I spoke even when he told me not to. I made him get shocked for nothing, like an idiot.
The man gave him a sympathetic look, making Mark wonder how many new people were at this facility.
The pain in his arm gradually faded but it also spread to his heart and then the rest of his body. It must be something in his bloodstream.
Right about the time the pain became imperceptible, the wall in front of the group lowered. Revealing a bright horizontal bar of light that steadily thickened downward. After his eyes adjusted, Mark registered what he was seeing. Directly in front him in the distance was a group of mangrove tries. To their right was open space, then another cluster of mangroves, followed by a stream. Somehow he was sitting right above where the bamboo shoots were, looking down on the jungle where he fought the giant bug earlier.
Holy crap! Did this mean that people could see me yesterday when I was in here? Why couldn’t I see this place yesterday? Can whatever’s out there see us, or come to us?
Mark turned over to the man next to him, looking or any form of reassurance. The man stared ahead with a blank expression.
In the jungle, right next to the bank of the stream, Mark saw a crimson vertical line materialize out of thin air and steadily grow.
Oh no. No. It can’t be. Please tell me they aren’t gonna bring more people in here to face another one of those things.
The door was completely open and two guards entered with a young woman. She looked almost as bald as Mark, but a little blonde hair was coming in. She hadn’t been here long. Long enough to know she should be terrified, though. Once she and the guards were completely in the jungle, they threw her to the ground and promptly left through the closing door behind them. The girl was left alone, with only the sound of the stream water running near her.
Fully upright, she began running toward the group of trees that Mark had climbed so recently. She ran right up the same roots and leapt for the same branch. Mark was so intently watching her climb the tree that he hadn’t noticed the large mantis creature approaching the tree from behind her. The residual pain in his arm was the only thing that stopped him from crying out when he saw it.
This bug was the size of an adult horse. Its features were the same as what he had faced, but it was significantly bigger, and this girl was significantly more screwed.
The creature casually sauntered toward the tree, confident in its ability to catch a meal. The hapless girl hadn’t yet noticed the creature approaching because she was still trying to maintain her balance on the tree branch.
Look up! It’s coming right for you! You’ve got to climb higher!
She finally looked around after getting situated, but by then it was too late. The oversized insect was already upon her. It effortlessly plucked her from the tree branch with one of its front claws. She shrieked while the swordlike claw impaled her thigh. With a flick of its wrist, it retracted the claw and flung her body toward itself. As she fell toward it, the other claw pierced her shoulder. Her shrieks gave way to deeper, more guttural screams. Holding her body right in front of its open mouth, the inner pincers jutted forward. Her screams hiccuped as her airflow was cut off by the pincers that split her chest open, clasping for her vital organs. Her eyes bulged and her limbs spasmed. The pincers abruptly pulled back inside the creature’s mouth, taking a sizable chunk of the girl with them. Her body went limp as the bug made that awful clicking sound, contentedly chewing on its meal.
Mark felt like he could throw up the cubes he had eaten earlier.
What kind of people would do this? This is so sick! I can’t watch.
He closed his eyes while the insect finished its meal. Even with his eyes closed, the sounds of the animal slowly ripping the girl’s carcass to pieces made him ill. His system couldn’t take much more of this.
Time crept by and eventually the bug wandered away. To his dismay, Mark soon discovered that this was only the beginning. Before long there were two more guards with an older looking man with long red hair. He looked as prepared as anybody might be in this situation, though. After the guards released him, instead of running for the trees, he went straight toward the bamboo, straight toward the group sitting in the room.
Can he see us?
Mark wanted to say something, but thought better of it. The man stopped when he was near the bamboo. He found a smaller shoot and wrestled it free from the ground. It made a perfect blunt object. Wielding it like a baseball bat, he confidently walked toward the clearing between the two groups of trees. A lone bug came out, smaller than the first, about the size of the one that had faced Mark. It saw the man, screeched, and started to charge. The man took his stance, waiting for the perfect moment to swing. Mark was filled with anxiety as he watched the impending collision. Which one would win the joust? Would the creature dodge the swing?
The mantis turned out to be dumber than the one Mark faced earlier, because this one ran straight into the man’s strike zone. He swung at the perfect time and immediately bashed its head in.
“Is that all you bastards got?” the man cried. He spit on the body and turned back toward the creak. Nothing happened. The whole room was silent. So the man sat on a rock near the water and let the bamboo rest on the ground next to him. A few more minutes passed.
Still nothing happened.
It’s too quiet. Why aren’t they taking him out like they did for me?
The man began to sing a country song while he waited.
I’d always had my eye on her.
But she never noticed me.
I plotted and I planned.
What would make her see?
Mark thought he had maybe heard the song before, but he couldn’t remember who played it. At any rate, the man was so carried away in his song, that he didn’t hear the rumble of multiple footsteps down the path. At first, nobody did. But then Mark saw a herd of the smaller bugs running toward the man. He couldn’t tell how many there were in the fray – enough that it didn’t look good.
I turned to my friend, maybe she’d help me out.
She tried to tell me I was wrong.
I’d been looking in all the worst places.
True love was by my side all along.
The man never had time to grab his bamboo. Before he could finish his second verse, the creatures swarmed over him, driving his body to the ground. The stream turned as red as the corridors outside while the man was torn limb from limb.
Mark was boiling with anger by this point.
This is such a waste! What purpose does any of this serve?
But when he thought he could never be more angry in his life, the doors opened another time.
Two more guards stepped through the doorway and Mark was in complete shock. Though there was none of her distinctive dark hair any more, he was absolutely positive it was her.
Heidi Alvarez had just been thrown into the jungle.
For chapter 7, click here.