This is chapter 21 of my novel, Foreign. I publish a new chapter each Friday at noon. To read previous chapters, go to the archives here. If you want to stay up to date, you can subscribe to my blog and you’ll get every new chapter right in your inbox. Spread the word about Mark and Justin’s adventure as they try to escape from Tielmetra.
Mark wasn’t sure whether they would fight or run. The only thing about running was that they had nowhere to go, but they hadn’t challenged four people wearing Tielsuits before. A third option came to him as everything on his suit was shutting down, and all the flashing lights displayed in his visor disappeared.
Maybe we should surrender?
He looked to Justin for some indication. Justin was still on the ground by the panel they had kicked in. He wasn’t moving. His Tielsuit had lost all its finish and some parts looked like the metal had lost its original shape.
The four guards surrounded them. Standing a few feet away, the guards spoke with unintelligible words. “Qut uk nu? Qit nu uk ut then?”
My suit is toast!
Paralyzed with indecision, Mark stared back at the guards.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand you.”
The guards looked at each other. One on the end gave a nod, and they closed in on Mark. One took hold of each of his arms. The one that seemed in charge made a motion with his arm for Mark to follow him. The fourth grabbed Justin by his legs. Justin didn’t respond.
Seeing the futility of fighting, Mark went along with the guards. Their suits looked slightly different from his own Tielsuit. Maybe these people were different from those who had tortured and detained them higher up in the city? Mark could only hope.
The group led them through the opening in the side of the reactor, and they came onto a type of runway that led perpendicularly away from the ring, toward the middle of the city. In the dim lighting, Mark could see they were walking on one of many runways that lead to the center of the ring-shaped reactor like spokes on a wheel. It was an impressive sight to see, as the ring spanned the entire circumference of the city. There must have been over thirty runways pointing toward the center of the reactor, each spaced about a mile apart from each other. The spokes were interconnected by other catwalks that formed a series of concentric circles. This web of walkways gave access to scores of large, square, unidentifiable shapes.
There were other workers in suits dotted all throughout the reactor. The head guard spoke into a radio on his suit. Before long, another squad of four guards was accompanying them. Three of them assisted the last guard as he was carrying Justin.
Throughout the entire interior of the ring, there were flashing red lights accompanied by an awful sounding alarm. A multitude of people in suits came to the hatch they had just entered with various pieces of equipment. They rapidly exited through the opening back into the ring of the reactor. Mark guessed that they were going to fix the damage he had just created.
While he was being escorted, Mark’s mind raced.
Are these people from The Pit, or are they a different type of Tielguard from Upper Tiellandra? If they’re from The Pit, what are they going to do with us? Will we just get sent right back to that horrible place we left?
Mark had more than enough time to ponder his fate, but he didn’t receive any answers. After walking until the outer wall looked distant behind them, they stopped. They were all standing in a junction of two catwalks and the lead guard said something aloud again. Within seconds, there was the familiar white flash that Mark had grown to recognize.
At the next instant the group was standing in a simple, featureless room. A voice spoke more gibberish. While the voice continued to drone, high pressure jets sprayed them all. The room quickly filled with steam as the hot water doused their suits. Mark thought he could tell that the monotonous voice had begun to repeat. It must have been some description or warning about what they were all doing. Maybe this was a type of decontamination?
It didn’t take long before the spray stopped and hot air blew on them, drying everybody off and blowing all the water into a drain at the edge of the room. After this procedure finished, there was another flash of white and they were gone again.
They appeared at the end of a large control room filled with people sitting in front of consoles while others walked around. Nobody wore a suit but the group as they arrived. A short fat man with a terrible complexion and thinning hair approached the group, his face in a snarl. He walked straight for the head guard and started to yell in his face, even though he had to look up to do so. His arms gesticulated wildly as he spoke, often pointing toward Mark and Justin while his voice would get more shrill. The man was in such a rage that minuscule drops of saliva splashed against the guard’s helmet while he spoke. Meanwhile, the guard stood motionless, and took the verbal abuse.
After the tirade, the guard calmly (as well as Mark could tell without understanding a word) spoke in defense or explanation, Mark assumed.
The fat man scratched his bulbous chin for a moment while he thought. He growled something that Mark was sure was a swear word. Then he looked up at the guard and spewed out another few sentences of orders while the guard nodded his head in agreement. Mark marveled at how ugly their language sounded. Most of the words seemed more like grunts than anything else.
The guard pointed to Justin and said something else to the fat man. With a dismissive wave of his hand, the boss said a few more words and walked away. Mark heard the guard mutter the same word the boss had sworn just moments ago.
The group of guards grumbled amongst themselves at their current state of affairs while the head guard brought up another flash of white light.
The shock was intense. The group was standing in a grungy, muggy, smelly room. It smelled as if somebody had microwaved a bunch of dirty diapers. The smell assaulted Mark through his suit. It was still completely powered down so the filtration system must not have been working either. The smelly room was large, open, and loud. There were multiple transport vehicles coming and going. They were much louder and looked more shoddy than the simple elegance of the TMT from Upper Tielmetra. The group led Mark and Justin to the nearest transport vehicle. While boarding the vehicle, the whir of the engines was almost deafening. Inside, there was standing room only, save for Justin, who was laid on a bench seat, the pilot, and the head guard. Once everybody was settled in the dingy vehicle, the door slammed closed, and the vehicle dropped out of the transport hub.
Their decent was not graceful like the vehicles Mark had been used to. It seemed as though the ground beneath had instantly been removed. Not ready for the sudden drop, Mark felt like he could vomit. Everybody else seemed totally unaffected by the movements of the vehicle. They continued to hold him steady, ensuring that he wouldn’t be able to do anything unexpected. Then without any warning or indication, the pilot switched on some thrusters and the descent slowed as they began to move laterally.
Mark felt so sick from the smell of the atmosphere and the erratic motion that he was barely able to look out the front windshield at Lower Tielmetra, or The Pit, as the Upper Tielmetrans had called it.
As the flight became slightly less turbulent, Mark gained a little more composure and snuck a glance out the front windshield. If he thought the depths of Upper Tielmetra looked dreary, then this could have been outer darkness. Though he remembered its size from the picture in the Hall of Records, The Pit did not look expansive in any way; the visibility was terrible. There obviously was no natural light since the top of the city was the base of Upper Tielmetra. The darkness was augmented by a dense smog that sat everywhere. Mark wasn’t sure if he even wanted to know what chemicals were comprising the cloud of smog.
Buildings appeared out of nowhere, frequently close enough that one improper movement would certainly have meant death for the whole group. Mark was surprised to see that the pilot was barely looking out the windshield. Instead he had his gaze fixed upon an instrument in the dashboard that looked like a type of navigation tool. Maybe that was how he was able to dodge the buildings and traffic in spite of the poor visibility.
There was a substantial amount of air traffic like in the city above, but Mark couldn’t see the full extent of it because of the poor visibility. He could only see that they were in a lane of traffic with cars above, in front, and to the side of them. However, he was only able to see two or three cars away.
Mark wasn’t going to find any clues of their destination by looking out the window. He spent the rest of the trip holding in his bile and guessing what was in store for them. He couldn’t make up his mind if being in The Pit was a positive or negative development. Only time would tell.
After a short flight, the pilot left the traffic pattern and began to slow their vehicle. Through the smog ahead, Mark thought he could make out some stationary bright lights. The aircraft looked as if it were on a collision course with them. Mark also noticed that they weren’t the only vehicle going to or leaving the lit area. There was a steady flow of cars entering and leaving the area.
With each passing moment, the lights became more clear and other lights became visible as the amount of smog impairing their view decreased. With the newfound detail, Mark decided he was looking at something that resembled a large casino. The bright lights he had originally seen looked like words in a language he couldn’t decipher. He was really beginning to miss the functionality of his Tielsuit. Along with the words, there were searchlights swaying through the smog and hundreds of multicolored lasers. The smog gave the lights a much more dramatic effect.
Their car descended into a queue of vehicles steadily approaching the entrance as they picked up or dropped off their passengers. It wasn’t very long until they reached the entry plaza and they exited onto the platform. The smell was just as putrid as it was in the hangar bay where they had left. Standing at the foot of the casino, it looked much larger than it had when they were in their vehicle. The car door slid closed behind them and flew off with the other cars. Mark noticed that as bad as their aircraft had looked, many others in the vicinity looked even worse. Everything seemed like a cheaper, grimier emulation of the glamour of Upper Tielmetra.
The guards lead Mark and carried Justin to the entrance of he building, which was at the other end of the landing platform. Mark also noticed that the people looked much more subdued in their fashion than those he had seen in Upper Tielmetra. He didn’t see any weird hair colors or styles. People wore plain clothes, many of which were filthy.
To the anger of those who had been waiting in line, the guards walked right to the front and spoke with the doormen. The head guard spoke with the door guard. Although Mark couldn’t understand a word they were saying, it was clear that the man at the door held much more authority than any of guards who had come with him.
A short dialogue ensued where they frequently looked back at the rest of the group, patiently waiting for the verdict of the door guard. Gradually the look of skepticism faded on the doorman. The guard finally decided to let the group in, but he called another security guard to escort them.
Once inside the main entrance, the group stood in front of a large staircase. To his relief, the smell of The Pit was muted – not dissipated, but muted. It was as if everybody were wearing perfume to cover up their intense body odor. There were enough stairs that Mark couldn’t see what awaited them at the top, but he saw a kaleidoscope of colors flashing to the beat of loud music that sounded synthesized. People were scattered around the staircase, hanging out while others were coming and going.
The building guard led the group up the stairs without saying much. Once they crested the top of the stairs, a cavernous room came into view. With easily a few thousand people dancing, eating, drinking, gambling, and enjoying more carnal pleasures; the room was filled with activity. Mark wasn’t sure why a place like this would be so heavily guarded. It didn’t appear that anything was being regulated. Mark noted that the guards who had brought them here did not look any more relaxed after coming inside, at least from what their body language suggested. Something about this place filled them with anxiety.
The group broke through the riot of debauchery like a steady steam roller, unhindered by the crowd. People spilled their drinks and collided with one another as the group walked through the enormous room, but everybody was having such a good time or was so drugged up that nobody cared too much. Nobody found it odd that a group of men in suits was carrying an unconscious person in a Tielsuit and escorting another person through the crowd of pleasure seekers.
Mark could even feel the beat of the music through his Tielsuit. Every once in a while, the music had words, but he couldn’t understand any of them. It sounded just like all the grating words he had heard. None of it fit with the ethereal mood of the music, but nobody else in the room shared his opinion.
The group eventually made its way through the bulk of the crowd and near a stage, then walked to their right up another stair case. Half way up the stairs two more guards halted them. Their escort spoke to the guards and they were allowed to proceed up the rest of the stairs. At the other end of the balcony, Mark saw a man so obese that Mark actually noticed the man before he noticed the two scantily clad female attendants dancing around him.
The large man reclined in a chase lounge, adorned in hardly more than a sheet which did not conceal as much of his body as Mark would have liked. There were two armed guards who stood idly behind the scene while the women tried their best to entertain a bored man. As the group neared the man, his grey eyes looked up through greasy brown bangs at the visitors. The rest of his body remained stationary while the women continued dancing around him. Mark noticed one of the guards in his group trembling while they stood before this enormous man.
One of the man’s guards stepped forward and spoke in words Mark couldn’t understand. The escort responded and motioned to the head guard of their group to explain their presence.
What on earth are they saying, and who is this guy?
The head guard of the original group spoke nervously and pointed to Mark and Justin. At first the man barely seemed awake, let alone attentive to the conversation, but suddenly his expression changed. Life came into his face and he actually appeared engaged in the conversation. He still didn’t move his massive body, but he interrupted the head guard in mid sentence. This man obviously held significant authority. As he spoke, one of his armed guards left through a curtain on the side wall, the dancing girls departed, and the guards who had carried Justin propped him up.
Mark’s heart pounded in his chest as he tried to figure out what was happening around him. Two of the other guards came to Mark and each took a hold of one of Mark’s arms. With their remaining hands they reached around behind his helmet and pulled on the release lever behind Mark’s helmet.
The booming sounds of the room blasted into his ears as the helmet disconnected from the rest of his Tielsuit. Mark felt defenseless without the protection of the suit he had become so accustomed to.
The guards didn’t stop with releasing his helmet. They continued to take the rest of his suit off, revealing his white jumpsuit he still wore from when he was in captivity.
“Let go of me, you shitheads!’ Justin yelled from behind Mark. The guards must have taken his suit off as well. Despite the circumstances, Mark was relieved to hear Justin’s voice. Ever since the reactor incident, he hadn’t seen or heard Justin at all. With all the commotion, Mark wasn’t sure where to place his attention.
Though it took a massive amount of effort, the massive man sat up the second he saw Mark and Justin under their suits. He barked an order at the group of guards that had escorted them from the fusion reactor. The guards stopped what they were doing, and with a stunned look, they released their grip on Mark and Justin. They glanced at each other, confused.
The fat man shouted something to the guards. They scrambled away from Mark and Justin and walked toward the staircase. As they left, the leader kept looking over his shoulder, back at the large man, hoping to see or hear something else, but the large man just stared back, resolute.
Before long, Mark sat on the carpeted floor of the balcony alone with Justin, the large man, his female dancers, and his one remaining bodyguard.
For chapter 22, click here.