This is chapter 22 of my novel, Foreign. I publish a new chapter each Friday at noon. If you’d like to catch up on previous chapters, you can check out the archives here. To make sure you get each each right when it comes out, subscribe to my blog in the upper right corner of this page. That way you won’t miss out on any updates. If you like what you’re reading, spread the word. Enjoy!
Mark toyed with the idea of taking out the solitary guard, but he resisted the thought. This man obviously trusted the strength of his one guard to dismiss all the rest… or he trusted Mark and Justin.
Justin sat up next to Mark and yelled over the loud music, “I’m fine. Thanks for asking, by the way.”
“Sorry I didn’t stop to see how you were. In case you didn’t notice, we were being groped by a bunch of guards when they took off your helmet.”
The large man interrupted their bickering with a bellowing shout. Although they couldn’t understand what he said, he garnered their attention anyway. Then his second guard had returned. The man motioned from the guard to Mark and Justin, and the guard approached. He held a tiny device that looked like a hearing aid in each of his hands. He gave one to both Mark and Justin.
Without hesitation, Justin lifted his hand, as if he was going to throw the device away.
Mark reached over. “Stop! What are you doing, you idiot?”
“What are you talking about? Who knows what this thing is? I’m not gonna obey this fatass.”
“You’ll get us killed or something! This dude’s obviously powerful. Besides, I think these things go in our ears so we can understand what they say. Some of those guards we beat up when we got our suits had things like this in their ears.”
Justin wasn’t sure if he totally bought Mark’s argument, but the guard stood nearby with his weapon pointed straight at his face. That helped him decide. So he brought his hand down, and looked to the guard for further instructions.
The guard pantomimed putting the device up near his ear. Just as Mark had thought. Mark studied the device, and it didn’t appear to have any particular sides so he brought it up to his right ear and pushed it in, just like an earplug. Nothing dramatic happened as he looked over at Justin who followed suit. With their compliance the guard stepped back and lowered his weapon, slightly.
“Good. Now we can speak like civilized people, you off-world imbeciles.”
Mark and Justin exchanged looks.
How does he know we aren’t from here?
“My name is Hauzel. I’m the Imperial appointed magistrate of Lower Tielmetra, or as most people in the Empire lovingly put it – The Pit. I prefer to call it Old Tiellandra, myself, as it better represents our heritage than the egotistical bastards above us do, but that’s not important. Now tell me, where are you from?”
They hesitated. Where would they even begin? Would they talk about Earth or their exploits in Upper Tielmetra?
“You might find it helpful to know that I can have you killed at any moment if I think you’re feeding me a load of shit.”
Mark begin, “My name is Mark. And this is Justin.”
Hauzel interjected, “Thank you, Mark, for convincing your friend, Justin not to destroy my unicom. Those are extremely rare down here and I would have been more than angry if he had cost me that amount of money just to try to prove to me how strong he is. Please continue.”
“Uh yeah, sorry about that,” Mark elaborated. “So Justin and I live together in a place called Eugene, Oregon. We were in our apartment, when we suddenly saw a bright white light flash in front of us. The next thing I knew I was in a dark place where lots of terrible things happened. While there, I was held against my will by many people who wore dark suits similar to the ones your guards wear. They were too strong for me to fight, and they placed me in large environments with these creatures that looked like giant versions of insects from where we live. The bugs killed a whole bunch of people, and the guards made me watch as they were murdered. During one of the times when I was fighting against these bugs, I met up with Justin and we escaped from the area.”
Hauzel visibly reacted to Mark’s comment about escaping. “How did you escape?”
“Eh. Um. We found the place where the insects came out, and when the last one came out, we jumped in. It turned out to be like a cage or something, and then when they went to open it up, we got past the guy who was waiting for the cage to open.”
Hauzel pressed further, “But how did you know where the antlions were coming in, and how did you get past the cage attendant?”
Mark had difficulty providing a coherent answer.
Justin stepped in. “I had heard from some of the other people who were fighting with us that there was a chance to escape if you timed it right and dove through the bushes where the antlions entered. A few of us were going to try it that day, but I wanted to wait until I met up with Mark again. When I saw him that same day, I knew it was our time to leave. I decided to take a chance, and it paid off.”
“Now what about the attendants? How did you get past them?”
“Oh, that wasn’t too hard. I just kicked their asses.”
Mark spoke up, “Wait. How did you know there were multiple attendants? I had only mentioned one.”
Hauzel looked surprised, but amused. “I’ve heard parts of your story multiple times before, but more on that later. Continue with your story.”
Mark picked up where Justin had left off. “After getting out of the cage and finding our way past the attendants, we stumbled upon an amazing find. We found these suits and put them on. I don’t think we would have made it out alive without them. In fact, I know we wouldn’t have. I was already in pretty bad shape. My ankle was pretty jacked up and the suit like healed my ankle while we walked. There were a ton of other times where the suits saved us too.”
“How did you get out of the ECF?” Hauzel asked.
“ECF?” Mark was confused.
“The place where you had been held in captivity. It’s called the Extraterrestrial Containment Facility. But more on that later, too.”
How does this guy know so much?
“Well, our suits helped us a ton,” Mark continued. “We had to get past a few more guards as we wandered around, looking for a way out. Eventually, we were cornered, but we stumbled upon these transporters called… uh, what were they again?”
“Faster Than Light Transporters or something like that?” Justin suggested.
“Yeah. That was it. Faster Than Light Units. So anyway, our suits sort of talked to the unit and it teleported us outside by the Imperial Plaza. Through the navigation of our suits, we found some hall of records building to figure out where we were and where we could go. After seeing the layout of Tielmetra, we decided that our best chances of escaping the city would be getting to the bottom. So we’ve been trying to make our way down here.”
“Hah! Escape!” Hauzel chided. “Nobody has escaped from Tielmetra in the last twenty years.”
“You know of people escaping?” Justin blurted out.
“Of course. I helped them.”
Mark’s heart leapt at the thought. This is too good to be true. “Who did you help escape?”
“Hold on. I’m the one asking the questions here. But, if you must know, it was other people from Earth.”
“Bullshit.” Justin gave his unsolicited opinion.
“If you want to stay in the Pit, cleaning it for the rest of your life, then go ahead and think that. Or you can shut up and listen to me.”
Mark was quick to appease. “Sorry sir. Ignore my friend. But, I’m confused. You’re telling us that there have been people coming here from Earth for at least the last twenty years?”
“That, I’m not entirely sure about. I do know that twenty years ago, they were studying Earth. I figured they had either given up and moved on, or that maybe security had gotten tighter. Either way, we haven’t seen anybody like you in quite a while.”
“How many people like us have you seen?” Mark had to ask.
“Hm. If I had to guess, I would say… close to a hundred, through the years.”
Mark’s eyes grew wide. One hundred people who’ve escaped. “That must mean -“
“That must mean that I’m getting tired of asking you fools to shut up. I don’t have the patience I once did. If you want my help, which I’m feeling less and less inclined to offer, then let me figure things out.”
“Sorry,” Justin and Mark murmured.
“Don’t be sorry, be quiet! Answer my questions. So I’m curious, how did you get from the Imperial Plaza to here?
“Do you want the whole story? Justin asked.
“Yes, or I wouldn’t have asked you.” Hauzel replied, visibly frustrated.
In the following minutes, Mark and Justin told him about the help they got from their suits, their trips on the TMT, how they tried to change their appearance, the taxi accident, narrowly escaping the Tielmetran guards in the industrial district, finding the base of Upper Tielmetra, getting flushed out of the city with sewage, and finally landing in the fusion reactor.
Throughout the story, Hauzel interrupted them, asking for clarification. He took a surprising interest in certain parts of their story and was engaged throughout the whole time. Particularly, he marveled at their plan to jump into the deactivated tokamak, and their deduction that Zearythian gravity was lower than Earth’s.
After they finished the story, Hauzel, appeared to be deep in thought. Not sure what to do, Mark and Justin awkwardly waited for Hauzel to respond. When the response finally did come, his demeanor had completely changed from when they first met him.
“I’m going to assist you two. We have a lot to discuss still, but I am sure you are exhausted and starving…”
He whistled, and immediately one of the two ladies from earlier emerged from the curtain to his right.
“This is Deena,” Hauzel introduced her. She smiled. “She will see to it that your every need is provided for over the next few days. After you’ve slept, eaten, relaxed, and gained some of your strength, we will talk about what lies ahead for you. Until then, enjoy all that Old Tiellandra has to offer. It’s not much compared to what you probably saw up top, admittedly, but the girls here are real, and the drinks are strong enough to take you higher than the top of Tielmonta.”
Justin and Mark exchanged a look as the hot girl approached them. She could have been a supermodel, and she looked thrilled to meet the guys. She took their hands and led them away from Hauzel.
Mark tentatively glanced back at Hauzel for approval. He couldn’t believe what he had just been told. Hauzel dismissively waved them away. Mark turned around and followed the lead of the girl. He realized there was one girl and two of them, but he didn’t really care. It was nice, albeit odd, to actually have a female notice him and be excited about it.
Deena led them back down the stairs from the balcony and through a door to their right. The loud music sounded muffled behind them as the door closed and they made their way down a dimly lit corridor. It was eery how similar it was to the ECF where they had been so recently, yet the feelings Mark had were completely different.
As they entered into a small room that turned out to be a type of elevator, Mark noticed that Deena was walking barefooted. It struck him in a way he couldn’t describe. She appeared extremely comfortable in their environment. Comfort was a feeling Mark hadn’t experienced since the moment he arrived in Tielmetra.
While waiting in the lift, the girl introduced herself to them. The three of them exchanged introductions while they waited. It was an awkward experience. Mark was never good with small talk.
After a short while, they arrived on their floor. The door opened to a room with a glass wall opposing them. Like a hotel sweet, they saw a room with a common area, a dining area, a sort of kitchen, and then doors to other rooms. Outside the glass wall was an epic view of the Pit, or what would have been The Pit if it hadn’t been enshrouded with smog. They could see the whole complex they were in and the entry plaza that they had come through earlier, but nothing more. Still, what they could see was impressive.
“Welcome to Hauzel’s Lodge,” Deena said, proud. Mark wondered if the name sounded better in their language, because it didn’t have a great ring to it in English.
She continued, “Come in and enjoy yourselves. Let me take care of you while you are here. Tell me how I can be of service to you. You both look tired. Maybe you should rest. show you to your rooms.”
Deena told Mark to wait in the common area for a moment as she would show Justin inside the suite to his left. After a brief pause, she returned, ready to lead Mark to a room off to their right and closed the door behind her. It was a bedroom.
Mark had a feeling that he knew where the situation was going. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it. There was a part of him that couldn’t believe what he was experiencing. It seemed too easy. In an instant, his fate completely reversed.
“Let me help you undress and get into bed. You must be so anxious to get out of that dreadful jumpsuit.” Deena said as she approached him.
“Thanks, but I can actually manage myself.” He sat on the edge of the bed, amazed by it’s comfort and by how tired he was feeling.
Deena looked offended.
She must not be used to being rejected. Man! What am I doing? Why am I turning this down?
She tried a different tactic, “Your poor muscles must be sore. You’ve been through a lot. Let me help you feel better.” She stood near hear him, close enough to touch him.
As a matter of fact, Mark did feel sore all over.
She took his silence as permission to continue, softly placing her hands on his shoulders. Her touch shot waves of feeling down his back. He drew in a deep breath. She began to gently massage his shoulders. Mark closed his eyes, savoring the moment.
Without him realizing, she had sat down on the bed behind him, and had been giving him the best back rub he’d ever had. He was practically leaning in her lap, completely relaxed. She leaned down and kissed him on the lips.
The electrifying sensation snapped him out of his quasi trance.
Why does she want me so much?
He pulled his head away from hers, although he really didn’t want to. She looked down at him in surprise, her soft sandy brown hair dangling around her sleek face.
“Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but I am really tired. Can I just get some sleep?”
Hopefully that won’t make her suspicious.
“Of course. I’m sorry for presuming anything. I will leave you alone. If you need anything, use this to let me know.”
She slid away from him over to the edge of the bed where she grabbed a device that looked like a futuristic wristwatch. She wrapped it around Mark’s wrist.
“If you need anything, just speak into that communicator and I will hear it on mine. Anything, ok?”
“Ok. Thanks. I will,” Mark replied, lying on the bed, feeling exhaustion overtake him.
Deena slipped off the bed, leaned over Mark, kissed him on the forehead and said, “Have a great sleep. I will be here when you wake up and we can eat.”
With that, she walked to the door of the room, turned off the lights, and left.
The room was partially illuminated by the dim yellow glow of the city-lit smog coming in through the wall-sized window to his right.
Mark looked out the window and couldn’t believe his eyes. He was falling asleep on a bed in a hotel sweet of some kind of slum lord in a foreign city on another planet, and a cute girl just tried to score with him.
Is this really happening? It seems too good to be true. How long has it been since I’ve slept, anyway?
His eyes grew heavy as he tried to study the communication device on his left wrist. Wondering if it was really some kind of secret security or tracking device, his eyes closed before he could give it considerable thought.
For the first time in over thirty hours, Mark fell asleep.
For chapter 23, click here.