This is chapter 23 of my novel, Foreign. I post a new chapter each Friday. If you’ve missed any previous chapters, you can check out the archives here. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so you can get every new chapter delivered right to your inbox each week. And spread the word if you like what you read.
“Dude! Wake up!”
Mark awoke to Justin’s voice in the same dim yellow light he remembered the night before. It was an eery feeling. He had no idea what time of day it was. The Pit’s lack of sunlight was already messing with his internal clock after sleeping just one time.
“How long was I out?” Mark asked, sitting up in the bed.
“No idea. But I do know that last night was great, wasn’t it?”
Mark replied, “Yeah. I slept like a rock.”
“Really? I didn’t get much sleep at all… if you catch my drift.”
Weird. She went straight from my room into his!
“I’m not an idiot. But you might be.” Mark lowered his voice, “We don’t know if we can trust these people. Even if we can, you have no idea where this girl’s from.”
“Ask her yourself. She’s hanging out in the other room, ready to make us anything we want to eat.”
“Ok. Gimmie a sec. I’ll be out in a minute.”
Mark heard Justin say something to the girl in the other room as he left Mark alone. Still sitting in bed, Mark studied his room. The bed was surprisingly firm, but he didn’t remember feeling uncomfortable during his sleep. To the left of the bed he saw a bathroom that resembled one he might see in a hotel. Overall, the nondescript room didn’t look too opulent, but it looked much nicer than what he saw outside the glass wall to his right.
He climbed out of his bed and approached the transparent wall. A wide swath of the Pit spanned before him. The room was a few hundred feet above the plaza he had entered through earlier. There was still a buzz of activity near the entrance like there had been before. The colored lights from higher up on this building illuminated the plaza and some of the surrounding buildings.
Beyond the closest group of buildings, though, the air maintained a dark amber color. The combination of smog, building lights, and darkness formed a murky brownish yellow. Overall, the scene was expansive, yet drab. Everything had an industrial, crowded, and dirty feel about it.
Hauzel’s building (if indeed it was his) looked to be the nicest building around. Something nicer could have been elsewhere, but Mark had no way of knowing because of the smog.
After a failed attempt at freshening himself up in the bathroom, Mark decided to see what awaited him in the main room. To his surprise, he smelled a sweet aroma coming from the kitchen area where the girl appeared to be hard at work, and wearing more clothes than before. She wore dark, form-fitting clothes, almost like spandex. Justin couldn’t have looked more comfortable, wearing a flowing plain-colored robe, lounging on a couch in the adjoining living room.
“Why don’t you change your clothes, man?” Justin asked when he noticed Mark.
Deena looked up from her work. “Hi! Happy third!” she said, “We are almost done with breakfast.” It was if their awkward interaction last night had never even taken place.
Mark gave her a confused look. “Happy third?”
“Yeah,” she added. “The third shift began just twenty minutes ago.” She pointed across the room to a screen that was on the transparent wall. It looked like a news program was on. There wasn’t any sound coming from it, though.
Mark must have still looked confused so she continued. “The daily reports always come on at the beginning of the third shift.”
Deena could tell that Mark had no idea what she was talking about. “Come sit down and eat some food while I help you understand. Justin leapt up and led Mark over to a metal table. They sat down while Deena came over and brought two plates of food.
Mark tried to be polite, but couldn’t contain his bewilderment at what she had placed in front of him. She sat down across the table from them. Mark had to ask, “What is this?” as he motioned to the three inch cube on his plate.
“I made you my favorite food,” Deena said. “I’ve only had that twice in my life, but it was the best nadelle I’ve ever had.”
“Nadelle?” Mark looked skeptical.
“Yeah. Try it. I promise you’ll love it.
Mark didn’t share her confidence. “How do I eat it?”
She laughed. “What do you mean ‘how do you eat it?’ You pick it up and put it in your mouth, silly.”
Mark looked over at Justin, who already had his nadelle in his hands, and was about to bite into it. Mark touched his and it felt warm, and soft, yet it kept its cubic form. He grabbed it with both hands and brought it toward his face, Deena watching all the while. Mark couldn’t quite describe how it smelled, but it was enjoyable, almost like the floral scent of a perfume.
Going for it, Mark bit into a big chunk of the nadelle. The texture was like a spongecake. And it was delicious. It flooded his whole palate with a soft, mildly sweet, wild, flavor that he had never tasted anything like. He took another bite. Deena smiled.
With good food in his body, Mark felt more relaxed. “So what’s the deal with these shifts?” he asked.
Deena was glad to answer. She seemed happy that Mark was engaging her. “We have three equal shifts every day. Shift one is for work, shift two is for sleep, and three is for relaxing and free time. It’s how we divide up our days. But not everybody completely follows the shift schedules.”
“What do you mean?” Justin asked while chewing on nadelle.
She said, “Well, take me, for example. I work whenever Hauzel needs me to. So I don’t have strict working hours. Sometimes my busiest time is during the second and third shifts.”
“What exactly is your job?” Mark asked.
Deena answered, “I do whatever Hauzel asks me to do.”
“Anything?” Justin asked.
“Of course. He’s my boss.”
“Really?” Mark was incredulous. “That sounds awful. It’s like you’re are a slave.”
“What’s a slave?” Deena asked.
“Kind of like what you are. A slave has to do whatever their master wants. They are a person who’s owned by somebody else,” Mark explained.
“Oh, I’m not like that,” she said.
“So you choose to have a boss who can do anything he wants to you?” Mark couldn’t figure it out.
“Why wouldn’t I? I get to eat real food, live in the nicest living quarters of all Old Tiellandra, and meet the most interesting people around, like you. If I quit, not that I ever would, there would be a thousand girls waiting to take my place.”
“This is the nicest place in all of the Pit?” Justin gasped.
Mark looked around the room and noticed how plain everything looked. The floor was covered with a dark type of carpet, the furniture appeared plain and didn’t feel overly comfortable. There wasn’t any art or other type of decorations. Nothing looked dirty or in disrepair, but it certainly wasn’t a posh living space.
And this is the absolute best among everybody in all of the Pit? No wonder they call it that…
“It’s Old Tiellandra. Only those prissy topsiders call it the Pit. You’ll offend anybody you meet down here if you call our home that.” Deena tried to conceal her frustration, but Mark still noticed.
He gained a new respect for this girl. “So how long have you worked for Hauzel?”
“Four years. Since I was fourteen,” Deena answered, nonchalant.
Mark nearly choked on his nadelle.
Hauzel hires fourteen year olds to be his personal slaves? What a pervert!
“So how did Hauzel get so powerful? What does he do?” Mark asked, hoping to figure out if he could trust the man.
“I don’t know. He’s been the regent of Old Tiellandra for as long as I’ve been alive.”
That made Mark curious, “Is Hauzel a good boss to you? Does he treat you well?”
Deena dropped her gaze for a moment. “He has the authority to do anything he wants. He provides for me and doesn’t hurt me… unless I’m disobedient. He doesn’t speak to me all that much, really.“
Sounds more and more like a winner…
Deena suddenly jumped, and developed a blank stare, as if she were in a daydream. A few seconds later, her attention returned.
“Hauzel wants to meet with you two in an hour. I need to get you cleaned up before you meet him. I’ll show you how to use your cleaning units.”
“How did you find that out?” Justin asked.
“My unicom. Hauzel can speak to me at any time, wherever I am, through it. You both are wearing one, too. They’re the reason we can talk to each other. It translates any language into your language in real time. They can also be programed to be a radio communication device, too.”
She continued, “Come on. We have to hurry. I need to get you ready for your meeting with Hauzel. But be sure to finish your nadelle, though. Can’t let it go to waste.”
After an awkward experience with Deena showing Mark how to use the alien shower and insisting upon dressing him in Hauzel-approved clothing, he was waiting in the common area as Deena repeated the procedure with Justin. He’s probably inviting her in the shower with him.
What’s been happening to him lately? It’s like all he thinks about is getting another piece of ass. Didn’t Heidi mean anything to him?
Man, that already feels like a different life.
“Ok, we’re ready!” Deena announced as she and Justin came out of his room. He was wearing a dark jumpsuit just like Mark’s. The clothes looked utilitarian and felt it, too. Deena had also changed out her jumpsuit, back into something more revealing. Must also be part of Hauzel’s dress code. I wonder if Justin helped her change.
Deena led them out of their suite, back to the elevator. The wait while traveling wasn’t quite as awkward as before. They had something to discuss as Deena gave them instructions about how to address Hauzel.
Apparently, Hauzel was very particular in the way he wanted people to speak with him. Speak only when spoken to. That sort of thing. Mark struggled to figure out how Deena could feel so comfortable living and working for such a scoundrel.
Their elevator opened to a room that looked very different from the last place Hauzel had met them. There was no loud music. The room was blandly lit, functionally furnished, and had a general feeling of austerity.
Hauzel must have known what his guests were thinking. Rising from his chair at the other end of the room, he greeted them, “I know, I know, this is nothing like our grand room. In fact, there is nothing in all the rest of Old Tiellandra like our grand room. That place is the pinnacle of our city. You won’t find anywhere else down here that comes close. This room, as plain as it might look, is still one of the finest around. So please try to make yourself comfortable as we talk.”
Mark, and Justin were baffled at the way Hauzel spoke with such candor and warmth. It was almost as if he were a different person. His large body didn’t look quite as large when it was stuffed inside an official uniform. His hair looked freshly manicured, and his demeanor was much more congenial. Even Deena seemed shocked by his transformation.
“Deena, don’t be worried. Everything’s alright. In fact, it’s great. You don’t have to leave us. I want you to hear what we discuss. These boys will need your help.”
She looked at him, dumfounded.
“Come on. All of you. Come sit at my table.”
The three of them approached a large table in the center of the room. As they drew near, Mark noticed a large map sprawled across the table. The map showed a foreign land, supplemented with unreadable characters.
“This is Zearyth. As you know, you’re in the lower portion of a city called Tielmetra. You’re in the capitol city of Tiellandra.”
Hauzel pointed to a dot in roughly the center of the third biggest land mass on the map.
“To my knowledge, there’s only one other functioning city in Tiellandra, and it’s called Tielseca, over to the West.”
He pointed to another dot on Tiellandra, near the northern coast of a western peninsula, by a river delta.
“I have no idea what that place is like, though. Since Zoan finished construction of Tielmetra and sealed the Upper and Lower cities, we’ve had no real contact with the outside world.”
“How long ago was that?” Mark asked.
“338 years. Back in 8862.”
Justin blurted out, “So you’ve never seen anything other than the Pit?”
“Correct. And neither has anybody else down here. And stop calling Old Tiellandra the Pit. Topsiders are the only ones who say that. And topsiders don’t survive down here.” Hauzel gave a sharp look to both the boys.
“However, Tiellandra used to look very different.”
“How do you know if you’ve never left here before?” Justin seemed to have forgotten he was talking to the same man who could have killed him just hours earlier.
“My descendants lived in the Old Tiellandran capital city, before Tielmetra was finished. Back then, Tiellandra was like the rest of the world. We had cities spread all over our country. However, as you can see, Tiellandra isn’t the only nation on Zearyth. There’s Midulm to the South, and Prathis to the East. They’ve been at war with one another for centuries and they would occasionally draw us into their skirmishes.”
“At first, Tiellandra was able to remain outside of the conflict, especially when both Midulm and Prathis had primitive weaponry compared to us. They had been fighting for so long that neither society prospered. But we should have known that it was only a matter of time before their war would envelope the entire planet. Their technology finally caught up with their hatred. The situation became so volatile that massive destruction was a constant threat. We needed to protect ourselves.”
“So Emperor Zoan managed to unify our nation and devote all of our resources to the construction of the supreme city, the capitol of the supreme nation – Tielmetra.”
“This city was to have impregnable defenses, and it, combined with Tielseca, would be large enough to house our entire nation. The two cities would keep us safe from the ever-growing harsh realities of war on the outside.”
“And nobody from Tielmetra has been outside to this day,” he paused, seeing if anyone had any questions.
Mark asked, “I’m still confused, though. What does all this have to do with the other people you mentioned?”
“That’s where I was eventually going. As I said the other day, you two are not the first people from Earth to come through here.”
Deena’s eyes grew wide when she heard this. “How come I haven’t seen any other boys like this?”
“You were not alive the last time somebody came through,” Hauzel continued. “And they have not always been boys like this. Some have looked very different from you two. Some with different colored skin, or with different facial features. I have seen people of all ages, even a small child with her mother and father. They were some of the last people who came here.”
“I was amazed, that even after close to twenty years, the way both of you ended up here was so similar to how people escaped in the past. But when they stopped coming, I figured that the dumb topsiders either finally realized they had people escaping and fixed the breach, or that they were finished studying your race.”
“So other people came in through the fusion reactors?” Mark ventured.
“That’s the only way to cross the barrier between Upper and Lower Tielmetra to my knowledge. About twenty-five years ago, we had to stop one of our Tokamaks due to contamination almost once a month. Granted, not every person made it out alive. They didn’t all have suits like you did. Some people had some more primitive versions of your suits, which must have been what ECF guards used back then. Only about fifty percent of those who came without suits made it here alive, and even the survivors invariably sustained significant injuries.”
“As more and more of them came, I was able to construct an idea of what the Containment Facility was trying to accomplish. One survivor who had stolen a Tielsuit would hear something from a guard they snuck past, or another escapist might have done some research in Upper Tielmetra before making their way down here.”
“It sounds like people were coming through here for quite a long time, then?” Mark estimated.
Which led Justin to ask, “How old are you, anyway?”
“That’s none of your damn business,” Hauzel snapped. “But I’m old enough to have worked with numerous people from your planet.”
“Back to what I was explaining. As your people kept coming through, it became clear that the topsiders have been studying you. I think they have been planning to attack you. From what they have been doing to you, they appear to be studying your race to discover how you fight, how you defend yourself, what weaknesses you might have, and whether you could be subjugated effectively.”
“Where are their armies?” Mark asked, and Justin added, “Yeah! We didn’t see any invasion forces anywhere.”
“And how much of Tielmetra did you see in your journey here? I’ll save you breath. Less than one percent. There’s a lot of volume in this city, and I would not be surprised if those topsiders had enough military firepower to destroy both Prathis and Midulm together. And if that’s the case, you two and your planet would not stand a chance.”
“But why would they want to invade Earth?” Justin was incredulous.
“That is what I’ve been trying to solve for the last thirty years. Well, not quite. During the last ten years or so…” Hauzel trailed off.
“What do you mean?” Mark inquired.
Hauzel stared down toward the ground. “I had a bit of a, uh, lapse in judgment. When your people had been dropping down here with such frequency, I had hopes that we could work together to end our bondage to the topsiders. Naturally, the humans wanted to fight against those who had captured them. So I used to help each of them. But then they just stopped coming.”
“At first I thought it was just a slower time, which we sometimes would have. But then a year passed by without anybody showing up. And then five years. And by around the tenth year or so, I just gave up hope, I suppose. I stopped plotting for ways we could fight back.”
“That was over ten years ago, now. In the meantime, I think I simply tried to enjoy life as much as possible down here, which, admittedly, is easier for me that everybody else.”
“Your presence has changed things, though,” he said with an air of proclamation.
“How so?” Justin was confused.
“Your presence can either mean one of two things,” Hauzel elaborated. “Either the security is once again lighter than it has been, and more people will be able to escape, or -”
Interrupting, Justin said, “I can tell you right now, the security wasn’t light. We barely made it out alive.”
“Or the other option is that there’s something special about both of you.”
Mark looked over at Justin and then at himself. “Got any other ideas?”
“Only time will tell. But for now, I’m going to assume it’s the second option.”
“Well, uh, thanks?” Mark said.
Hauzel didn’t skip a beat. “You can show me your gratitude by helping me find the rest of your people.”
For chapter 24, click here.