A Spy in the City
"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way,"-Viktor Frankl
Another Day in Paradise-
It was my choking that brought me out of the darkness of unconsciousness and back into the light greenish hue of reality. I sat up, rolled to my side, and then to my hands and knees as I dry heaved. The uncontrolled spasms pummeled me in the gut and sapped my strength, causing me to go to the floor. I could barely breathe! I tried taking a deep breath, but instead of oxygen I inhaled the acrid fumes of the air of the city. It dawned on me: The filters of my mask were failing! I must change them quickly before the poisonous air of the masters fully breached the filters and choked me to death!
I stood up on wobbly knees and made my way toward my domicile. I did a quick scan of the dwelling and saw that I was alone. My Master must have left me after he had administered his beating. I reached the door to my room and entered. Between the Master's room and my small space was a smaller room that I had been told by my Master was an airlock. One had to wait in here until the door to whatever room one had come from had closed. As soon as I was safely inside I tore off my mask and took a deep gulp of stale, yet refreshing air. I leaned against the wall and allowed my knees to buckle under me as I slowly slid down to the floor. I sat there for a few minutes with my head hanging down as I worked to regain my breath and calm myself. I then looked up at the wall and saw that according to the clock-like device of the Masters' that it was now between three-ninths and four-ninths. That roughly corresponded to about 9 o'clock in the morning in human terms of time. The day/time scale of the Masters was divided into ninths which, after doing the arithmetic in my head, worked out to roughly 2.6 hours. My Master left for the day right before three-ninths and returned from wherever in the city he worked shortly after six-ninths.
I slowly stood and walked to the small area of my already small enough living quarters that contained a basin, toilet, and a small tub with a device with a metal tube that connected to the wall and a water spout on the other end that one could hold and use to spray water over one's body. Instead of spraying myself down for comfort, I instead stood at the basin and looked at the mirror.
I winced at the sight before me: A thin, sallow-faced boy with limp blond hair stared back at me with weary eyes that belied his age. It was the face of a person who had endured years of hardship and struggles and yet it belonged to a mere boy, one that hadn't quite reached fifteen years. The boy's face wasn't the only part of him that looked bad: Slaves in the city were outfitted in shorts, footwear, and masks, there were no shirts for us, it was too hot to wear them, and so our physical condition was made all the more noticeable, as was my weight loss; I had once been heavier and more muscular but now I had thinned to the point where my muscles had largely withered away and my ribs shown through my skin. I turned around and looked over my shoulder to see the reflection of my back. Angry welts and bruises; some old and some brand new, marked my bare back, signs of my Master's displeasure. Sighing, I turned back around to face the mirror.
"Another day in paradise," I said to the tired boy in the mirror.
I turned away from my reflection and went into the rest of my living area, which is a small and nearly featureless room that has a chair and table, a chest with two drawers, a cupboard for food storage, a ladder that led to a hard, flat bed, and the already described toilet section. I went straight to the ladder and climbed up to my bunk. I lay back on the bed and its small, thin pillow, and shut my eyes.
What this Place will do to You-
Judging by my looks one would think that I had been living in the city for a few years but the truth is that I have been here less than four months. This should show you just how bad the conditions here in the city are on the human body. It isn't just the presence of a poisonous atmosphere that is in the city, it gets worse…much worse. This place is extremely humid and this in turns drains the strength and energy from us slaves. We constantly sweat and thus need to drink water many times during the day. Unfortunately the water never gets below slightly warm here. The food provided to us is meager and virtually tasteless and there is never any variety. The medical facilities that are staffed by fellow slaves are sparsely furnished with beds and have little in the way of any medicines. Basically it is a place where one can lay down and feel miserable. However, there are two major reasons as to why this place is so terrible…as if the air here weren't bad enough that is. There is an oppressive weight that seems to be pressing down upon all of us here. It seems as though the gravity here isn't Earth's, rather I think that this is how it is on the home world of our keepers. They have recreated their world here in the city including their heavy gravity.
There is one other aspect to this place that makes being here so much more terrible. It is my Master. The three-eyed, three-tentacled beast takes an obscene pleasure in beating your humble narrator. He comes down harsh on me for the slightest infraction. His tentacles lift me up and he lashes me with them all the while berating me for being a stupid boy. He has this switch which he uses to strike my body. His favorite targets are my back and ribs. He once whipped my feet but he was displeased by the results as I could not walk for two days which did him no good. He had to drag me into my room. Thankfully he never whipped my feet again. Another thing he (or it, I am not sure if they even have males and females among them) does is shake me as he is talking down to me and more than once he has thrown me to the ground. That is how I had been knocked unconscious. The worst part about all of this is that the vast majority of his beatings are for no reason. At first he would punish me for messing things up like spilling his food or being slow to come at his behest. Mainly he beats me because he is a merciless and sadistic monster that apparently has nothing better to do with his life then terrorize his slave. I hate him.
Sadly I don't think I have the worse Master. A freckle-faced slave who works at the infirmary told me that the day before I had gone in for my second visit there; there had been another slave that had been beaten so bad that he had died of his wounds. If that wasn't bad enough I was told that another slave had been beaten down so much that he felt as if his Master deserved better and so was heading to the Place of Happy Release. What that is, is quite simply a place where worn out slaves go to die. The same slave who told me of this assisted, along with another infirmary slave, the worn out slave in getting there. He told me that the slave entered a room and was hit with a flash of light which caused him to drop dead. Then the floor opened up and his body fell into a furnace. I was told by the slave who witnessed this that the dead slave had smiled right before he died, apparently he was happy to have given his Master his all. I understand why the Masters named this killing room the Place of Happy Release; they have a sick and twisted sense of humor.
What kind of life is this where someone who is beaten so badly that he feels he has failed his beater, and that his beater deserves better, would happily go to his own death?
If this giant, overheated torture chamber isn't Hell than its pretty damn close.
How I got here (Why I chose to subject myself to life in misery)-
When I was twelve I ran away from my home in Bavaria. I had just witnessed my older sister being capped and was terrified at how much she had changed. She had been a tough and independent girl who had openly questioned the role of the Tripods in life and had resisted her capping. After she had been brought back by the Tripod she was a different person. Gone was the self-reliant Kerstin and here was a wild vagrant. Whatever had happened to her in the Tripod had destroyed her mind and reduced her to a babbling madwoman. She had been turned over by my parents to the town's vagrant house where she was to be cared for. After this my family refused to speak of her. Even my brother Jan, who is four years younger than I and overly inquisitive, learned to keep his mouth shut about our sister.
After weeks of wandering aimlessly on my own, I was found by a pair of men who, I would later find out, were wearing false caps and were on a mission to spy on the Tripods. They took me to a stronghold high in the mountains of the Swiss where I became a member of the Freemen. They explained to me that they were dedicated to overthrowing the Tripods and freeing Humanity. This was all I needed to hear. I immediately asked to join them and told them that I would do everything in my power to help in freeing the world.
I didn't do much for my first year as a freeman except help out the older people in the stronghold but after I had spent some time in their company I had been selected to be a part of a raiding party. We would go down to the lowlands and steal food and supplies from the capped and on occasion we would recruit new members. It was well known that children nearing capping age are more apt to talk to younger capped strangers than older ones. Of course this meant having your head shaved and getting a false cap placed on it. Because of this I had briefly worn a cap prior to setting out to the Games.
It was the Games that provided me with the opportunity to enter the Tripods' domain so I could perform my role as a spy in the city of the Masters. I had trained up as a sprinter and had been selected with two others, a French boy named Jean-Paul Deliet, who went by the nickname 'Beanpole', and an English lad named Will Parker. These two, along with Will's cousin Henry Parker, had traveled together to the White Mountains. Beanpole is an extremely intelligent, and extremely near-sighted, individual who lost out in the high jump event and was thus not able to enter the city. Will, on the other hand, is a small but deceptively strong boy who won the lightweight boxing event. He is also the only person I know of who has destroyed a Tripod. I was at first skeptical about this as I thought that no one would be able to single-handedly destroy a Tripod but my skepticism was later rebuffed when our scouts had come across the remains to the Tripod. As for Will's cousin, I am under the impression that he doesn't especially like me seeing as I was chosen over him for this mission. He did however wish me good luck in what I feel was a genuine manner. I feel that both Beanpole and Will resent me somewhat for this. I apparently have broken up their trio but the fact is that I was chosen based on my skills and not on my popularity.
I may not be especially well-liked by everyone, including the boys with whom I had trained up with, but I feel no reason to change my personality to suit them or anyone. I am by nature a quiet person and I prefer to keep my own company than to spend much time with others. I am a solitary person and I suppose that makes me shy. I have never been much of a talker and I do sometimes feel uncomfortable and even a bit awkward around large groups of people. Anything more than three or four people is a large group to me. I guess that I choose to be quiet and act mature as a way to make up for my social awkwardness but that is something that I have no desire to share with anyone.
Henry may be sore that I was chosen over him and the rest of his trio may have gripped about my inclusion on the team but at least he isn't here. If I am suffering here then I know he would be too, so he is fortunate. My strength and speed are no match for the humid oppressiveness of the city and the angry lashings of my Master. I wouldn't wish this place on my worst enemy. However I had made the choice to come here for one reason: revenge. I wanted revenge on these monsters for what happened to Kerstin. Liberating the world from them was only an added bonus.
"You stupid, lazy boy!" sneered my Master as he glowered down at me, "I desire my food now and yet you take your time!"
"I'm sorry Master," I said as I bowed my head reverently in the manner that all slaves are to show to their Masters when making an apology, "I thought you were going to dine at your table, I didn't…"
He didn't let me finish. He instead poked me hard in the chest with his central tentacle and said, "You thought! You insolent boy if you can think then why didn't you think to check the pool!"
It was true, I should have checked but he rarely eats in the pool so I did not look to set his food there and now I must pay.
His tentacle snaked across my midriff and lifted me off the floor. He spun me upside down and shook me hard enough to where I hit the top of my head on the floor. I cried out in pain.
"I'M SORRY MASTER!"
"I'm sorry Master," he said mockingly, "You're always sorry boy, you and all of your kind. You're always messing things up!"
He lashed my back wish his switch and I screamed in pain.
"That's right boy, scream!" he said as he made a noise that I had learned passed for laughter in his kind, "Scream!"
The towering green beast glared at me with anger in his three eyes. He is truly hideous. The Masters are large, reptilian creatures with rough skin. Aside from there three tentacles and three eyes they have three legs and two orifices below their eyes, one of which is for eating and the other for breathing. All together he is a vision from a nightmare, but this nightmare is all too real.
Afterward I lay in the small tub and soaked in the warm water. My back had been bleeding and it hurt but I gritted my teeth as I lay there on it. The beating wasn't anywhere as bad as most of his beatings and I think the reason why is because he wanted to eat. Thankfully he was now asleep and would be until he got up to leave in the morning. I hope that he'd have an accident at work or wherever it is that he goes and that he will not be coming back…ever. Of course then I would be expected to go to the Place of Happy Release which was never going to be an option as far as I was concerned.
I had started to fall asleep but was alerted by the buzzing of a device on the wall. My Master needed me.
"Yes Master?" I asked respectfully to him as he lay in what I suppose was his bed.
"Bring me a gas bubble."
"Yes Master," I said as I fetched the transparent container that held the gas.
My Master took it and inhaled it and then sighed. Apparently the gas had some sort of affect of the Masters as did alcohol on humans.
"Boy, tomorrow I will be away for most of the day…if this place is in anyway messy I will throttle you until you beg me to take you to the Place of Happy Release."
"Yes Master," I said. I read between the lines and decided that I will spend the morning making his home as clean as I possibly could. It was never messy but I knew that he insisted on fresh plants for his pool and I had noticed that his pantry was running a bit low. Tomorrow, bright and early, I would get up and clean out the old greens for him and hopefully show him that I was doing my job. Then when he was gone I'd go and get new plants for the pool as well as his food. I'd be sure to take my time and notice if I could find any information out that would be useful to report on. Maybe I'd see Will too.
"For once you have done something smart boy," my Master said approvingly as he walked up to the pool.
I was standing in the hot water and finishing the removal of the older plants. The hot water was barely bearable on my skin. The uncomfortableness caused from the hot water was almost as bad as the pain I felt from my newly inflicted wounds.
"I am going to go and get you some new plants as soon as I finish with these Master," I said in a cheerful voice.
"Good," he said and then placed a tentacle on the side of his face as if in thought, "Make sure you get the purple-tinged ones too."
After he left, I took the old plants outside to the enormous hallway that was in front of my Master's home. At the end of the hallway opposite the lift was a room in which waste could be disposed. Once I had got rid of the waste I left the building and set about my errands. On my wrist I wore a strap on which was a small device that was given to me by my Master. It was through this that he could summon me from anywhere in the city. If I was summoned the device would make a sound like the buzzing of bees to let me know to return. This was the one good thing about my Master, he allowed me to venture from the pyramid, but only on errands.
I left 71 Pyramid 43 which was a squat four-sided building that was by my guess 250 feet tall. From there I took road 46 to bridge 11 to a large complex that served as a warehouse for items that the Master's needed. The building was staffed with slaves that were overseen by a triad of Masters who worked somewhere in the back and oversaw the entire operation.
"Hello, what can I do for you today?" asked an exhausted looking slave with limp brown hair as I approached the counter that he stood behind.
"I need a week's worth of food delivered to 71 Pyramid 43 8th floor Room 4," I said and continued, "Plus I need a couple of bushels of plants for my Master's pool."
"A week's worth of food and a couple of bushels of plants," repeated the clerk as he jotted down my order on a piece of paper, "Do you need any gas bubbles?"
"Glad you reminded me," I said, "I had forgotten. Yes, I need a container of them please…Oh! I almost forgot…About the plants…I need some of the purple-tinged ones too."
"Make them a quarter of the total plants."
"Alright, we will have your order ready shortly," said the clerk who handed the order to another slave who set off to pick up my goods.
I took a seat on a bench and waited along with two other errand runners while my order was gathered. Presently two slaves, one, tall and skeletally thin, the other ginger haired came up to me with a wheeled platform on which was my order.
"We have your order," said the thin one, "You can lead us to your Master's home."
The three of us loaded into a specially built pyramidal-shaped carriage that was larger than most carriages in that it was designed to transport goods. The carriages were designed to fit both Masters and slaves and were able to be piloted by both. The ginger took the controls and sped us along our way to my Master's pyramid. The roads here wind along and take several turns and ups and downs. The Master's design for this city was so haphazard and unorganized that it seemed as if either a total genius or a complete moron had come up with the layout.
As we exited the lift on my floor we were greeted by a Master and his nervous-looking slave. We quickly got out of their way, bowing to the Master and greeting him as we did so. His slave was then smacked in the back by his Master who said to him, "See that boy? One of your primary duties will be to bring me food and other things once a week or whenever else I desire."
"Y-yes Master," said the boy in a timid voice.
"And for goodness sake speak like a man and not a scared child!"
"Good," said the Master in an imperious voice.
As soon as the door to the lift closed the thin slave looked at me and his companion and said, "Must be a new arrival."
"He'll learn his place soon enough," replied the ginger.
Oh yeah, he'll definitely learn his place, I thought to myself, Poor kid.
A talk with Will-
"So found out anything new Fritz?" Will asked quietly.
The two of us sat at a table in a crowded communal room that was part of a pyramid that served as communal baths for the Masters. As we talked we drank water and sucked on salt sticks that were provided to all visiting slaves.
"I overheard another slave saying that he had been part of a group of slaves that had been taken to deliver some stuff for the Masters to the city's power source."
"So slaves can go there," said Will with a bit of wonder in his voice, "This is something that can help us if we ever decided to sabotage it."
The city was powered by some sort of energy that, I had gathered from my eavesdropping, was a pool of burning heat that was located underneath the city's center.
"Yes, but you and I can't do it."
"I know, it'd be too risky, but Julius and the council will need to know this."
"Maybe we can somehow 'get lost' while on errands for our Masters and find it for ourselves."
"We could but we'd have to be careful," said Will who added, "I've been taking down notes about what I've learned."
"Good idea Will, that's something I haven't done."
"Well you seemed like you were ahead of me in finding out information so I guess I had to do something smart," Will said with a smile.
"As long as we both continue to pool or information," I added.
Will went on to say that his Master had been sick a few days before with something called the Curse of Skloodzi and asked if my Master had ever gotten this sickness. I answered no but we both decided that this was important information to know. Perhaps our scientists, that are what the smarter members of the resistance called themselves, could do something with this information.
"Maybe our scientists can find a way to make them all sick," Will ventured.
"It's a possibility," I said and then added an important piece of information that I had saved for last, "I came across a globe on the way over here."
I had passed the large globe as I had gone to the supply pyramid. I had discovered it when I had decided to take a meandering route to the complex instead of my usual straight to the point route. Along this winding route was a pyramid that had a series of moveable pictures on the wall that showed the night sky, complete with stars and planets.
"I imagine it is of our world," said Will questioningly.
"Yes, it is at a place where one can see the stars and planets. I saw constellations that don't look anything like our own."
"It must be how the stars look from their home planet," said Will, "Did you happen to recognize any of our constellations there?"
"Yes, there were some panels on one wall but the important thing is the globe of our world," I paused and saw that Will was waiting intently for me to go on, "I saw some things that looked familiar to me: I saw what I am certain are the White Mountains as well as the sea that you and Henry crossed."
"You did?" Will asked, "What about this place?"
"It is represented by a golden button."
"Alright," Will said as he considered what I was telling him.
"But there's more: There are two others."
Will's ears pricked up, "Two more cities?"
"Yes, one is on the edge of the great continent east of us and the other is right on a narrow point where two continents meet in the west."
"If they have cities there," Will paused and looked around to make sure that no one was paying us any attention. As far as we could see no one was. "Then that means that there is a good chance that there are more of us out there."
I nodded. This was something that I had thought a lot about. There was no way that the freemen of the White Mountains were alone in the world, there had to be more like us and the fact that the Masters were spread out around the world gave me hope that they were spread out so much because there was a threat to them elsewhere in the world.
We chatted on about nothing in particular for a while longer until Will's wrist device buzzed to let him know that his Master required his presence.
"I've got to go," Will said, "I'll try to find you in a few days."
"I'll be looking for you," I said, "Take care Will."
"You too Fritz."
A little gratitude and another beating-
My Master hadn't beaten me for a whole week and that is a record. Usually I get throttled at least three times a week. I think the lack of beatings was due to his pleasure with the work I had done with the pool. I had completely cleaned it out, drained it, refilled it, and had added in the new plants. As soon as he had arrived I had greeted him and pointed out the pool. He made a guttural noise of happiness (I think its happiness anyway) and proceeded to enter the pool. He splashed around for about an hour and had me bring his food to him.
"You have actually done something good for once boy," he said as he soaked in the scalding water.
He actually sounded like he was grateful for my work!
"You deserve only the best Master."
Like I said, seven days without a beating was a record, on the eight day after I had fixed up the pool he beat me.
He had no reason to beat me, I hadn't done anything wrong, he just beat me because he enjoys it. He had just dusted off his sixth gas bubble and had been going on about something to himself in his own language when he beckoned me closer. As soon as I had reached him he wrapped a tentacle around my waist and squeezed so hard that I thought my eyes would pop out of my skull. He shook me again and again and then whipped me so hard that I passed out. Unfortunately for me he dunked my head in the pool which caused me to come to my senses. He then lifted my up upside down and whipped me more. Finally when he was done he threw me across the floor as if he was discarding trash. He then repeated his beatings for three days in a row.
I had collapsed right in the middle of preparing my Master's table. He had beaten my less than twenty minutes before, this being the fourth straight day of beatings, and I could take it no more. My knees buckled and I went to the floor. He yelled at me and then kicked me with one of his three legs.
I struggled to get up and managed to make it to my knees before they gave out and I went back to the floor. He said something in his voice and then ordered me to go on an errand for him. I found the strength to get up and leave the building and had managed to make it halfway to my destination when my knees buckled once more and I collapsed. I lay in the middle of the street and was almost stepped on by a Master who, in a rare moment of compassion, had flagged down two slaves and instructed one to take me to the hospital and the other to find out where I lived and inform my Master of my whereabouts. Both had gladly complied.
The hospital is located in a very large pyramid that also houses more supplies. It is sparsely furnished, like everything for slaves, and is filled with beds. There are a few slaves who are assigned to tend to patients and they do their best with whatever meager supplies that they have, sponges, cloth for wrapping injuries, water, and the like. At least I can lie in a bed and not worry about being beaten. I shut my eyes and fell asleep.
I awoke to the gentle nudging from one of the hospital attendants whose hand was on my shoulder.
"Your friend is here to see you," the freckle-faced slave, who I had met before, said and pointed to the opening on the ward that I was in and then went back to his duties.
I looked and saw Will coming up to my bed. He looked at me with concern in his eyes, and something else, and then he asked me how I was.
I patted the bed to motion to him to sit. As soon as he sat, I told him what had happened to me. He looked at me with a grim expression as I had recounted my Master's beating. There was something in his eyes though... something was bothering him.
"I am going back to the Master tomorrow," I said and added that my Master may have taken a new slave as a new batch was due in.
"Then you will go into the general pool? It may be better."
The general pool is all of the slaves who were not assigned to Masters.
"No, only the new ones who are unclaimed do that."
"Then…" Will said as he considered the alternative.
"The Place of Happy Release."
"They can't make you do that!" he said in a quiet yet horrified tone.
I reminded him that going to the Place of Happy Release was expected of worn out slaves and that we must do what is expected of us. I told him this with a cynical smile.
"We must do more about finding a way out of the city. Then, if something like that did happen to one of us, he could escape."
We discussed the possibility of commandeering a tripod and attempting to leave the city in it but the realization that it wasn't designed for human use ended that idea.
Will then explained to me that his Master had made him his 'friend' and as a sign of friendship had taken him on a tour of the city. Most of what he saw was of no importance to our mission though. He did mention seeing a room filled with strange bubbles moving around in cylinders and another with a bunch of flashing lights.
He had some interesting news for me though: His Master had told him of the conquest of Earth. How mankind had an advanced civilization with machines that could fly, devices where one could see what was going on from around the world, and weapons that could destroy an entire city in a single strike. He told me of how the Masters had manipulated the minds of men and used them to help take over the world. What the Masters would be hard-pressed to do on their own was made possible by human slaves. The Masters defeated armed resistance and then killed off a large portion of the population in order to avoid the chance of rebellion. With their conquest complete human civilization was forced to backslide by several centuries until the glories of man's history faded from memory.
He spoke of how he was told that a Tripod was destroyed less than a year earlier and its crew of four killed (his, Henry, and Beanpole's handiwork, but mainly his) and then he mentioned something about a place called the Pyramid of Beauty but then he stopped. His voice wavered a bit and then he looked away to the front of the hospital and stared for a few moments. Something troubled him.
"Will…what is it?" I asked in a quiet voice, "What's wrong."
Will turned to me and for a moment he looked like he had lost all hope. He is the same age as I, fourteen, but is smaller than I and more youthful looking but right now he looked old and weary. The city aged one fast but the tears in his eyes spoke of something else, something that he did not want anyone to know.
"I'm alright," he said in a sad, far-off sounding voice, "Everything will be alright."
He smiled at me, but it was a sad smile. He then wished me well and left.
As I watched him go, I couldn't help but feel a sense of camaraderie with him. Will and I had never gotten on well in the past as we had not usually associated with one another, but now it was different. Being the only two people in the city who were not truly capped had forged a bond between us. Our shared mission and experiences had brought us together and made us appreciate the other in ways that would more than likely have been impossible any other way. We had become friends…or perhaps more…brothers.
We were officially living on borrowed time. Not just Will and I but the entire Earth. The two of us sat in the communal place of my pyramid when Will broke the news to me. What he told me chilled me to the bone in spite of the humid heat of the city.
I sat in stunned silence for a few moments as I absorbed what I had been told. A ship from the Master's homeworld was on its way to Earth and once it arrived it would deploy thousands of machines that would then turn our atmosphere into the poisonous air of the Masters. The new atmosphere would choke the life out of all of Earth's life. I tried to envision it: Hideous machines spewing forth the noxious green air of the Masters. The poison bringing down men and beasts alike; I saw bodies littering the streets and animals dropping dead in their pastures. I imagined men and women falling to their knees, grasping their throats, as the life was being choked out of them. I saw the blue sky turn a sickly green and the bright sun become a faint orange disk on the horizon. White clouds would turn dark and a filthy, sticky rain would fall from them. In four short years our world would become theirs. We had to do something. One of us at least had to escape to warn the resistance and stop this hellish vision from coming true.
"Then one of us must get away," I said.
Will nodded solemnly.
We discussed our options for a few minutes and then an idea occurred to me…"I have thought of one thing."
"What is it?" Will asked.
I explained to him that the river entered the city and was purified as soon as it came in so it would be potable for the Masters. Some of it was also processed for us slaves. I reminded Will that we had seen the water flowing out from the city as we had approached the city's entrance. It was there that we could escape.
"It is worth trying," said Will, "Anything is worth trying."
"As soon as we find a way out, one must go."
"Alright, so you weren't joking," I said as I stood in Will's Master's home and stared at the lifeless body of the Master.
"If I was joking then this would be funny," quipped Will.
I stroked my chin in thought and went over the situation in my head: Will's Master was lying on the floor dead after receiving a blow to the sensitive spot between the orifices and the eyes. The Master had entered Will's room while he was out and had discovered his notes on the Masters and the City. It had waited until he had come home and then had snatched him up and questioned him about it. Then it had examined Will's cap and found that it wasn't bonded to his head; that was when Will struck. The Master was due back at work tomorrow at second period so we had some time on our side. Will had to get out.
"I think I have a plan," I said, "You told me he uses the gas bubbles?"
I explained to Will that whenever my Master used the gas bubbles, he acted confused and his movements became jerky, and one time he had fallen into his pool. I suggested that this is what could have happened to his Master.
Will understood what I had implied, as his Master acted the same way after having a few gas bubbles, and now the two of us were pushing and pulling the deceased Master toward his pool. The creature was heavy and I had to use all of my strength to help Will get it into the water. I would have struggled even if I had been in my normal physical condition but eventually Will and I managed to get the creature into the pool, although we had had to get into the water to do it.
Now we stared down at the corpse as it floated in the steaming water, one of its eyes stared sightlessly out at the ceiling. Now we had to make this scene look like an accident.
"The gas bubbles," I said to Will.
We opened up half a dozen of the bubbles and tossed them onto the floor around the pool. I even climbed back into the water and attached one of the bubbles to the Master to make it look even more like an accident. Afterward we retreated into Will's quarters where we cleaned ourselves up, replaced our filters, and then discussed our next move.
"I'm going to go back to my pyramid now," I told Will, "It almost night. Meet me at my communal place in two hours and then we'll go and find the river."
"Alright, I'll meet you then," Will said then added, "Thanks for the help Fritz."
I smiled and replied, "Get some rest Will."
Getting Will Out-
I got to Will later than I would have liked. I had told him to meet me after two hours but something held me up…That something was tall, green, and angry. My Master had apparently had more than a few gas bubbles and had gotten irate at the fact that he was having trouble keeping steady. He decided that slapping me around for a while would sober him up. When he was done he went to his sleeping quarters and left me to go about my business.
I knew Will could tell that I had been beaten by the expression on his face. I had fresh bruises and welts on my back and arms which were evident to anyone who saw them. Instead of complaining about my condition, I made sure that Will and I had enough food and water before we set out. I also made sure that we changed out our mask filters. There was no telling how long this would take.
"I suppose there's no point in wasting time," Will asked as he put his mask on.
"No," I answered, "We had better start right away."
I made a suggestion to Will that I would travel ahead of him because I not only knew the layout of the city better than he, but also because it would draw too much attention if two slaves were walking around together late at night than just one. If one slave was out late he would more than likely be taken as being out on an errand for his Master. Will agreed and kept about 30 meters behind me. I periodically had to stop and look over my shoulder to make sure that I hadn't gotten too far from him. Being night, shadows abounded throughout the city and was only broken up by the glowworm like lamps that were evenly placed along the streets.
I led our way through the maze of winding streets, tall pyramids, and garden pools which were all largely draped in shadow. I made sure to keep a sharp eye out for any passing Master or slave who may take noticed of us.
We had just walked across a small bridge that spanned a garden pool when I heard a familiar sound: the slapping sound of a master's feet. I held my breath, hoping it would pass, but to my horror it came nearer. My nerves tensed up and I readied to flee but stopped myself as that would mean that I would be abandoning Will. Instead I just stood there and respectfully greeted the Master.
"Good evening Master," I said to the towering (but not as towering as my Master) Master.
"Good evening boy," it replied rather courteously. I had found that some of the Masters were civil when it came to dealing with slaves. These were rare but they were around if you looked hard enough.
"What can I do for you Master?"
He peered at me closely, as if examining me, and then said, "You are not the slave of the one I am looking for, you looked like the slave from a distance but you are not him. I must go on and see the Master."
I watched as the mistaken Master made his way off into the darkness in search of whatever Master he was looking for. I then stepped into the shadows and waited for Will to catch up.
"What is it?" Will asked, "What did he want to know?"
"Nothing. He thought he recognized me as the slave of someone he knew," I said, "I think he had a message to give. But I was not the one he wanted, so he went on."
"I thought we were sunk."
"So did I."
We continued on.
We came across some unusual sights as we wound our way through the city, granted just about everything in the place was unusual to us. There was a huge, triangular, pool filled with seething green liquid. There was a small garden pool in which were two Masters who appeared to be wrestling one another. I watched them for a moment as they struggled then shrugged my shoulders and went on. There were more zigzagging roads, side streets, glowworm lights, and dimly lit pyramids of varying height for us to walk by. Finally we reached it: The golden wall.
It's smooth surface towered above us for several hundred feet and, as far as I could tell, there was no break in it. My fatigue then caught up with me and I let my arms and head hang limply. Then I had an idea: Will and I needed to sound out the river. We needed to hear running water.
Will stood at my side a moment and I told him what we needed to hear, then we continued our search. We came across a ramp that led down below the street level and took it. Underneath the city was a labyrinth filled with crates, drum, and metal spheres. There was machinery that hummed unattended and one area where a few Masters were making gas bubbles. There was a moving road of metal that sat above the floor of this room and on which were empty gas bags that were being moved to a nozzle which in turn filled them up and moved them along. Further along I saw an area where the Master's food was being processed. I tried to memorize as much of the layout of this place for future use and hoped Will was doing the same.
Will and I took a few short breaks as we continued our search, I was feeling more and more worn out. The heavy atmosphere and heat of this place was sapping my strength harder every day. I knew that I had to get out of here as soon as possible, but first things first: I had to get Will out.
The night went on and soon I noticed that the color of my surroundings was changing, it was getting lighter! We were running out of time!
Will took note of the growing dawn and said, "The streets may be swarming with them soon. We will have to give it up for tonight, Fritz, and get back to a place where we can take our masks off and eat and drink."
This was not an option. "In a few hours they will find him."
"I know," Will said grimly, "But what else can we do?"
Fatigue hit me again, "I must rest," I said as I went to the ground.
Will laid back alongside me to rest as well.
We were lying there in a small room off of one of the underground walkways resting and doing our best to ignore our hunger and thirst and…Wait! What was that? I rolled to my side and pressed my ear to the floor. I listened closely and what I heard made me smile.
"I think…listen!" I said.
Will did as instructed, pressed his ear to the floor to listen, and smiled as he heard it, "Water!" He said joyously.
"Water!" I repeated happily.
Suddenly renewed with strength, we went back searching for the source of the sound. We moved around the various underground passages, dodging Masters who were now beginning to show up in droves, and then we were there.
Will and I stood and stared at the pool of water that was beside the golden wall. The water of the pool gushed and churned as the overflow from the many garden pools was emptied into it. We followed the pool, testing the temperature of the water with our hands as we went, and finally came to a point in the pool where the hot water had turned cool. We had found our way out of this hell.
I reached into my pocket and withdrew a tube of a sealing substance that the Masters use to seal their food containers.
"I've brought sealant for the mask," I said.
Will stuck his hand out, "I'll do yours first."
"But I am not coming."
He looked at me as if I were crazy, "Don't be silly. You must."
"No. They must not suspect anything."
Will didn't like my answer but this was an answer that I had made as soon as I had seen the dead body of his Master. As I had stood looking at the dead beast I had made the quick determination that we needed a good, solid plan of action. What I had come up was was this: If a slave's Master died the slave would be expected to go to the Place of Happy Release. This is what I would tell anyone who asked about Will: that he felt no reason to live and in turn was going to the Place of Happy Release. I knew that he and I had been seen associating together by both slave and Master alike and it stood to reason that I would be asked his whereabouts. Also it would be odd if both he and I dropped out of sight at the same time. The slaves might not figure it out but the Masters may be able to put two and two together and realize something was amiss. I explained all of this to Will as well as my plan to follow him out in three days, after making the announcement of going to the Place of Happy Release.
Will didn't like my decision but he let me know he saw my reasoning. He said he'd wait for me to escape and I made certain that he understood that he was to wait no longer than three days. He needed to waste no time in getting back to the White Mountains with the sealed gas bubble bags of the Master's air and water that we had filled earlier. Maybe our scientists could do something with them. Regardless he needed to get back and tell his information…plus the quicker he got out the quicker I could get back to my business.
"The sooner you dive, the sooner I can get back, and have a drink of water," I said with a grin.
I spread the sealer on his mask and told him that I had practiced sealing mine earlier and found that it could hold about five minutes worth of air inside. Hopefully it would be enough.
Will looked at me and smiled wearily, "Thank you Fritz."
"Good luck," I said as I reached out, squeezed his arm, and then watched him disappear into the depths.
I knew that escaping the city was no easy undertaking so I was determined to ready myself physically for the attempt. Unfortunately the time spent helping Will get away had pushed my body to the edge and caused me to collapse while I was on the way back to my pyramid. After being helped up by a fellow slave, I was able to make it back right before my Master awoke. All it took was me fixing his meal to cause me to collapse again. I was so worn out from both the physical exertion of the night before and from the leaden oppression of the city. My Master yelled at me, prodded me with his foot, and had me sent to the hospital, accompanied by the slave of the Master next door. As I left I heard my Master say that if I didn't heal up he'd replace me.
Along the way to the hospital I had my slave escort, a boy named Franz, take me to Will's pyramid where I told some of the slaves in the communal room that Will had gone to the Place of Happy Release after finding his Master dead in the water. Once this was done I was dropped off at the hospital by Franz who I thanked, and then mentioned to a hospital attendant about Will. This was the same freckle-faced attendant who had informed me that Will had come to visit me. The attendant had known that Will and I were friends and was more than helpful in telling some of the other slaves about Will's 'fate'.
I lay in my hospital bed and thought long and hard about Will's escape. I reasoned that he must have had a difficult time making it out, if he did make it out, I tried not to think about the alternative, and I decided that my best option would be to stay in hospital as long as possible, without raising any eyebrows by appearing to be malingering, and heal up as much as I could. I looked down at my stomach and saw how underweight I was and decided that I'd try to fatten up as much as I could. I knew that the odds were completely against me if I was anything but strong.
I managed to stay a fortnight and was able to build up my strength and add a few pounds, although I still looked malnourished. I faked being worse off than I already was with the intent of convincing my fellow slaves that I was no longer fit to serve my Master. Speaking of my Master, going a fortnight without a beating was a new record for me.
"Are you alright?" asked the freckle-faced attendant whose name I had learned after arriving was Albrecht.
"I feel nauseous," I said doing my best to play up my charade, "I've been getting dizzy."
"You haven't been well Fritz," Albrecht said grimly, "I was hoping that you would get well here…but you've gotten too weak I think…you may have to…"
I finished his thought aloud for him, "Go to the Place of Happy Release."
He nodded sadly, "It's a shame, you seem so devoted to your Master from the way how you keep going back to him despite your health. He must be very fortunate to have someone like you to serve him; after all, you keep on doing your job for him no matter what."
I wanted to laugh. If only Albrecht knew what sort of a monster my Master was and how much I hated him. Maybe after I left my Master would stumble onto some tracks and get ran over by a carriage.
"If only I wasn't so worn out," I said faking sadness.
"If you do decide to go, I'll be sure to send word to your Master so he can get a new servant."
"You'd do that?"
"Of course," said Albrecht with a kind smile, "I just hope he'll find as good a servant as you."
"Thank you Albrecht," I said, truly appreciative of his appraisal of me. He wasn't a bad person, he was actually a very friendly lad who, although bothered that he hadn't been picked to serve a Master, was dedicated to helping those that are assigned to Masters. I think he felt a sense of pride in what he did. Too bad he was capped. If he wasn't then I think he'd be worth taking to the White Mountains, I think he'd have been a good addition. "I think I'm going to go ahead and go."
"As I'll ever be."
"Goodbye Fritz," Albrecht said as he extended a hand to me, "Your Master was lucky to have you."
I shook the offered hand, "Goodbye Albrecht…any Master would be even luckier to have you."
As soon as I said that last part Albrecht's eyes widened and a grin spread across his freckled face.
When I left it was late afternoon. I had headed off in the general direction of the Place of Happy Release but instead of taking a left to it, I took a right and ducked into a side street. I found a ramp leading down to the sub-floors and took it and hid out in a darkened corridor until night fall.
I don't know exactly how long I had slept; it could have been five minutes or it could have been five hours. I reckoned that it had to have been at least an hour but I had no way to tell at the moment. I imagined that by now my Master had been informed of my decision to go to the Place of Happy Release and odds were that he wasn't entirely pleased to have lost his whipping boy.
I quietly but quickly made my way back up to the surface and went to the ramp that Will and I had taken when we went underground. I could have tried to find my way from where I had been hiding but I didn't want to get lost. I went down the ramp and worked my way through the labyrinthine underground until I reached the pool.
I wasted no time in sealing up my mask with the sealant that I had brought along with me. I had to jump in now or else I'd waste my air. I took one last look behind me to make sure no Masters had come along and then I dove in.
The current dragged me down and down into the darkness as I careened away from the lighted portion of the pool. I entered a world of blackness in which I lost all sensation of up or down. Blindly I reached out with my hands for any wall or ceiling but I found nothing but water. A whooshing sound filled my ears as the slipstream of water belted my covered head, the pressure rose and my ears became clogged. I wondered how long I had been down. I knew I'd have roughly five minutes worth of air but I had no idea how long I had been submerged. I took short, shallow breaths in order to conserve my oxygen but I was beginning to worry. What if the way out was too long? What if there were nets, or worse, a grate at the end? What if I ran out of air? What if Will hadn't made it out?
The thoughts turned my worry into outright panic and I flailed my arms and legs in vain. There was nothing to grab onto. Nothing that could give me any idea how far I had gone or how much farther I had to go. I took a shallow breath and found there was nothing left to breath.
OH NO! I wasn't going to make it! I cursed the Master's for their evils, I cursed the city for its oppressiveness, and lastly I cursed myself for failing to escape, for failing not only Will and the freemen, but for failing Kerstin. I was losing my chance for revenge! If only Will got through then maybe he could avenge her for me by finding a way to defeat the Masters…and to avenge me as well. Anger overwhelmed me as my lungs ached and my mind became fuzzy. I exhaled and at once tried to inhale but there was nothing. It was over, it was done, I was finished. My eyes closed, my thoughts became hazy, and I slipped away into nothingness.
It was the force of the river shooting me out of the underground tunnel that brought me back to consciousness. I opened my eyes and looked up and saw a faint silver light shining down. I used what little strength I had left and swam toward it.
As soon as I broke the surface and was bathed in the silvery light of the Moon I tore my mask off and took a gulp of air. The water continued to push me along and at first I struggled but then found renewed energy. I swam toward the bank and hefted myself out of the water. The cold night air chilled my skin to the bone and as I exhaled I could see my breath. It was freezing and I was wet and half naked but I had to lay there for a few moments before I could move. I stared up at the Moon and thanked God that I had made it out alive. I then stood up on wobbly legs, wrapped my arms around my bare chest, and looked around for Will. He was nowhere to be seen. I called out into the darkness and received no reply. He must have followed my instructions and left days ago. I knew in my heart Will had made it out of the city because I had as well. I knew something else; if he could make it back to the White Mountains than so could I. I took a look at the city and made a vow to myself that I would come back and get revenge on the Masters; for Kerstin, the Freemen, and for myself; I would use what I had learned of the Masters and the city of the Tripods against the enemy. Then I turned and walked into the night.