"I don't run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet,"-Nadia Comaneci
A little gratitude and another beating-
It had been a few weeks since my work in the hall of the tripods and the nightmare that I had after the death of the slave and now everything had gone back to the normal routine. 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 as well as with the rest of his quarters. I had worked hard while he was out to tidy up the entire place to make it cleaner than it had ever been. As soon as he had arrived I had greeted him and pointed out my work. 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, "This is the cleanest I have ever had my quarters."
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 however, on the eight day after I had cleaned up the living quarters 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. My Master 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 me 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 me 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 own language 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 a familiar hospital attendant.
"Your friend is here to see you," said the freckle-faced attendant who I had finally learned was named Albrecht.
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, motioning 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."
He brought up the possibility of commandeering a tripod and attempting to leave the city in it but after I told him about the inside set up of a tripod he withdrew commandeering as an option.
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, along with their capped followers, 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 am 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. Next 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 as opposed to 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 were 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 that slave's 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. We came across a small garden pool in which there 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.
Its 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, drums, 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.
We took a few short breaks during 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 will 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 it, 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. I had come up with 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 Albrecht the attendant about Will. He 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 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, because 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…if he hasn't already."
"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 was done for. 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.