Disclaimer: I don't get it. "Disclaimer?" It sounds so weird. According to the thesaurus, it means, "to deny," but I've never seen anyone going around saying, "Do you disclaim that you were with a known prostitute on the night of June 22?" or "No, I disclaim that I was with one. I do not, however, disclaim that I was with four."
Here we go again: I do not own "Biker Mice From Mars" (if I did, I'd probably be rich by now, or at least setting Throttle, Modo, and Vinnie up on dates with members of the Unofficial Biker Mice From Mars Fan Club), and I make no profit from this story save the hopefully bounteous joy of my bros in said Fan Club when they read it. This story was written for pure enjoyment, in honor of the show. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
Note: The characters and situations created in this story do belong to me (thanks to the copyright, ha ha!), so please restrain from writing any FanFics using them. All the subtle foreshadowing I throw in could go straight down the tubes with one well-meaning little story. Please respect this wish and don't be mad. You're welcome to try your hand at sketching any of them, however!
In the last exciting episode, the Biker Mice finally make it to Hellfire
after Throttle is very nearly "deflowered" by Carbine. There, they are
shocked to see their former home torn to bits by the Plutarkians, as if
the Army has never even been there! On their way to Vinnie's old
apartment (it was his mother's, actually), they find their lost bro, Bingo,
who is skinny as a rail and looks starved, but is otherwise okay.
So what's going on? Did Bingo suddenly go on a crash diet or is
something more sinister behind her supermodel proportions?
As it turned out, Bingo ate nearly five more boxes of rations before she was full. In contrast, the other Biker Mice could only choked down one apiece due to the taste. Vinnie thought to himself that whatever had happened to Bingo, her taste buds must have been destroyed in the process.
Bingo was silent while she ate, so ravenous was her hunger, and also out of consideration to her bros, as she didn't want to spray crumbs all over them while she talked. Shortly after she had finished, she unleashed what would later be known as, "The Burp Heard Round the World."
"So," Modo asked once Bingo was full, "where ya been, Bing-bro?"
"Nebraska," she replied.
(It should be noted here that, "nebraska" is a Martian slang term for "unending flat place of boredom and misery", or simply, "Hell.")
Bingo shook her head and said softly, "It's kind of a long story."
"Talk," Throttle replied.
"Well, it's kind of long, but it all started the same day that we got seperated. Even before I got to Ash, I knew something was up. The whole ride there, everybody was quiet. Nobody said a word. Even when I tried to talk to Wallenczech, he stayed tight-lipped.
"We drove for a couple of hours like that. It was driving me nuts. The skimmer didn't have any windows, and the air conditioning sucked. I thought I was gonna roast for sure. It was so muggy in there. I had sweat rollin' down my face, and my legs kept stickin' to the seat. It was miserable. Thought I was gonna pass out.
"I guess I did, `cause next thing I know, I was wakin' up. Someone grabbed my arm and yanked me outta the skimmer. I fell, skinned my knee. I started cryin', but `Czech just looked at me and shook his head no, tellin' me to keep my yap shut. That's exactly what he said. He never talked like that. `Czech always speaks with old terms and old words. I started to notice how nervous he was. And Wallenczech's never nervous.
"That's when I realized we were in deep shit.
"So I stayed quiet. As we started walkin' toward this big, huge wall, I saw the guys that drove us there.
"They were Plutarkians, and they weren't tryin' to hide it. No masks, no hoods, no nothin'. They didn't care if we saw them. I almost think they wanted us to."
Throttle muttered, "This doesn't sound good."
Bingo snickered, "It wasn't. I panicked and grabbed `Czech's hand and told him we needed to run. Then somethin' hit me in the back of the head and knocked me down. Turns out I got hit with a gun butt. One of the Plutarkians told `Czech that if he didn't keep me quiet, they were gonna off me right there, right then. He picked me up and carried me the rest of the way. It was almost comforting, except for the fact that he kept his hand clapped over my mouth. His fur was as damp with sweat as mine was, but his wasn't from the heat.
"It was from fear.
"I don't think I've ever been so scared in all my life. Not when the Plutarkians ambushed us at Throttle's, not when we got seperated, not even when we saw that picture of Boy George naked."
"That was an awful revelation," Modo said, shaking his head.
"Yeah," Throttle agreed, shivering.
"Who knew he wasn't a girl?" Vinnie asked rhetorically.
Bingo sighed and muttered, "I think that little moment just killed any drama that had been building up."
Throttle patted her on the back and said, "Keep goin', bro. I wanna hear this."
"We won't interrupt," Modo added.
Vinnie even surrended the comic book he had found and sat up straighter.
Sighing, the younger mouse continued.
"They led us inside this big gate. It was like somethin' out of a movie, everything was so big. The walls were kind of yellow. Looked like they were made of some kinda colored cement. Don't know why they were yellow, they just were. Pale yellow.
"We weren't the only ones being taken in. There was a whole fleet of the black skimmer vans at the front. Mice were bein' led in by the dozen. Some of `em I knew, some of them I didn't. Most I didn't, but since the Shelter had been built especially for members of the Order, I knew they were my kith and kin.
"Far removed, of course. I don't know that I have any living relatives. Probably not, or I would've been sent to live with them instead of Wallenczech.
"There weren't many kids my age there, but there were a few older ones and ones that were alot younger than me. I think they all knew something was going on, same as me. Most of the adults were nervous, but some of them were just annoyed. I guess some of them had just been brought from their homes and weren't tickled about bein' taken to Ash at a moment's notice.
"Whispers were flying through the lines we stood in as they registered us. Some mice were tryin' to bribe the rats in the camp at the registration desk, and they were bein' pulled aside. A few folks said that they had heard shots ringin' out while we were standing there. I thought I heard one myself. Spooked me. I jumped, and Wallenczech told me to keep still. He'd put me down by that time, o' course. His arms were gettin' tired.
"Other rumors said that President Abrahams had somethin' to do with whatever was going on. Nothin' outta the ordinary there--everyone knows he hates the Order, for some reason. Someone guessed that St. Dumas had summoned us all there. But if he had, then why the Plutarkians?
"Besides, I thought, there was no such person as St. Dumas. He was just a mythical-type figurehead. Someone you prayed to who had never actually existed.
"Wallenczech and I came to the table. There was a big rat sitting there, smoking a pipe. It smelled sweet, like cherries. Kind of like incense. He smiled at Wallenczech, and was nearly laughing.
" `Why did you join the Order?' he asks. `You know how stupid that was? Did someone force you into it?'
"Wallenczech didn't answer. He's always been proud of being in the Order. Nothing can force him to say a word against it. Sometimes I think that's why they sent me to live with him, because of how strong his faith is.
"The big rat sighed and says, `Okay, smart-guy, what's your name?'
"Naturally, I expected him to say, `Wallenczech.'
"That's his name, after all.
"Instead, he looks the other rat square in the eye and says, `Kirurczech.'
"I was pretty puzzled. Why in the world would he say that was his name? I started to ask him why he said something so weird, but then the rat behind the desk asked what my name was. Wallenczech says, `Crankshaft Kirur'.
"Now I'm really confused. I'm like, `WHAT?!', but before I could say anything, `Czech was pulling me away inside the wall. Before I can even get a decent look at everything around me, he yanks me around behind this brick building and crouches down in front of me. He puts his hands on my shoulders and says somethin' I'll never forget so long as I live.
" `Little knight, there are things I am going to have to do here and things I am going to have to say here that are going to seem odd. But I have no choice in the matter. Whatever I do, I need you to play along. Do you understand?'
"It was scary. His voice was kinda quick, scared, but he still said all his words right, ended `em, you know. He always had a real elegant way of talkin'. His eyes looked like big green gumballs or somethin'. Gobstoppers, maybe. And I knew he was terrified, and that didn't help me stay any calmer.
"But I finally agreed, and he stood up and guided me over to where this big crowd was. It was everyone who was already in the camp, those that had already gone through registration and everything.
"It was then that I got my first good look at the place. Apparently, whoever had put it together wasn't in as big a hurry as the guys who put the Shelter outside Hellfire had been. All the buildings were made out of brick, real carefully made. I mean, it was like they took the best kids out of the Vo-Tech and put `em to work on this place. The mortar was real even, the brick buildings were real pretty--I thought they were almost beautiful then, before I knew better. They were square, but they were cute, in sort of a Fisher-Price playhouse kinda way.
"But the rooves were just these big, huge pieces of sheet metal. They were a few inches thick, and rivetted on, or something. There were no windows, just a hole in the bricks every few feet, one brick wide, turned sideways. The doors were big metal ones, with huge locks.
"There were maybe thirty or forty of those buildings. In the middle was a huge open space--that was where we were all standing. A big fence, barbed-wire at the top, ran in a loop around the little buildings. A trench a couple feet across and a couple feet deep had been dug all around the fence. I hadn't seen it when we went in, even though we crossed right over it on a little bridge. I was too weirded-out by Wallenczech, I guess. It was lined with something that I think was fiberglass. Something clear filled it, but I had a bad feeling it wasn't water.
"I was still looking at it, trying to figure out what it was, when a little squirrel bat landed near the trench for a drink. It lapped some of the stuff up, then it began flailing around like something had bit it. Its mouth was smoking. It screamed. I didn't know squirrel bats screamed before that. It kept jumping around until if fell over, dead.
"Obviously, the stuff wasn't water.
"But that wasn't the worst of it. As I watched, there was a hissing sound, and next thing I knew, its flesh was melting off until there was nothing but a puddle where it had been standing. The bones, the skin, the flesh, were all dissolved.
"That's when I realized the trench was full of acid.
"Now things were really looking scary.
(A brief note from The Writer: I'm going to drop the quotation marks. It's understood that everything is what Bingo is saying, okay?)
Pretty soon, everyone was inside. The gate closed, and they shut another gate on the fence I said about. Everyone was getting really tense. Wallenczech kept stroking my hair nervously. I could feel his nails digging into my scalp while he did. It hurt. I don't even know if he knew he was doing it, that's how nervous he was.
There was a noise to the front of the crowd. I tried to look and see what was going on, but I was too short. Even if I'd been taller, I might not have been able to see over everyone's heads. I guess Wallenczech noticed, but he told me to keep still. He'd tell me all about it later, which he did.
Apparently, this really really old mouse had come in. He had brown fur, no hair, wrinkles--turned out to be President Dick-weed himself. Instead of the They-Would-Like
-to-Believe-They-Are-Secret-But-Come-On-You-Can-Spot-the-Black-Suits-and- Sunglasses-a-Million-Miles-Away Service, he was surrounded by Plutarkians. Really heavily armed Plutarkians. Mad the fish-faces who attacked us at Hellfire look like players. There were rats guarding the perimeter all around the fence, and especially around the sides of the crowd.
Abrahams picks up this microphone and starts talking. God, he's got the most annoying voice. Kind of like a cross between Jerry Lee Lewis and Ned Flanders. But....you could almost hear something in his tone....it was like an underlying note of evil or something. Not good at all.
Remember how I said I'd never forget what Wallenczech said to me? Well, I'll never forget what Abrahams said right then and there, either.
"Ladies and gentlemice, children of all ages," he says, "welcome to what was formerly the mining city of Ash. Some of you were from this area, some were not, but in case you couldn't tell, I didn't have you brought here for a vacation.
"You've been brought here, as you know, because you are members of the Order of St. Dumas. But most of you are unsure of why I've had you brought here. The explanation is simple: you're all going to die."
Naturally, we were all pretty suprised. I'd been holding onto Wallenczech's hand, and he squeezed mine so tight I lost all the feeling in it. I didn't notice right away, though. I was in shock over what that jerk-off Abrahams had said.
He smiled when everyone was asking what was going on and all, like he was enjoying it. A few mice in the front row started to charge him. Then there's this sound, kind of a whirring-popping sound. It was the Plutarkians and the rats shooting them. Everyone starts to gasp and takes a few steps back.
Abrahams starts to laugh. "Fast or slow, it's of no consequence to me," he says. "The good fish and rats in charge here will destroy you all. You'll all die sooner or later."
Then he keeps going.
"As some of you may know, I have a long-standing grudge against the Order and its members. I've wanted you all dead for years and years and years. My political career was vastly impeded early on thanks to you and your forefathers."
Some great wit shouted, "And foremothers, too?"
"Yes, and foremothers as well. Especially the foremothers.
"For your crimes, I have sentenced you all to death."
He stopped for a minute and ran a hand over his head, like he was smoothing his nonexistent hair back. He pretended he was considering something.
"But, I may change my mind. After all, there is one family among your clan that I despise so much that I would let the individual and his family who reveals a member of that family to me go free, and possibly with a large monetary bonus."
Everyone starts to chatter. I may be too short to see what's going on, but I'm not too short to understand. There's a chance somebody might get out, and everyone wants to know how. I can understand--crud, I start to think about everyone I know in the Order in case I can get me and Wallenczech out.
But `Czech gets real nervous. His hand gets even tighter on mine. I shout for him to let go, and he does, but then he grabs my hand again, like he's forgotten that I just asked him to let go. His teeth are gritted, and I can see his fangs way too clear. His ears are shoved back further than usual. He's gettin' ready to fight, I can see that much. But I didn't understand why.
Then Abrahams says, "Any mouse of the family Ritziantanto, brought to me, will bring freedom to his revealer."
Well, everyone stands there, puzzled, and asks, "WHO?"
Abrahams is blown away. He can't believe this.
"The Ritziantantos!" he howls. "The family of the Holy Knight of the Order of St. Dumas! You know who I'm talking about!"
Everyone just shrugs their shoulders. Finally, someone pipes up something about they've heard the name, but no one had ever met a Ritziantanto, or knew one that was with us in the crowd.
Wallenczech sighs. He looks so incredibly relieved. He smiles and lets go of my hand, but he's still a little on guard. His eyes are still tense, and his ears are flat against his head yet.
One of the Plutarkians leans over to Abrahams and says that it's possible that the Riziantantos just haven't been rounded up yet. President Weiner-For-A-Brain just sighs and shakes his head, says something about this whole thing being a collasol flop. We watch him pull a portable transporter out of his pocket. He twists the top, there's a flash of light, and he disappears, but his entourogue stays with us.
That night, they herded us into those little buildings that I thought were so cute. They almost woulda been quaint if it has just been like one family to a building. Instead, they squeezed sixty of us into just one. There weren't any beds. We had to sleep on the floor. And the floor was nothing but hard-packed sand. Little sand fleas started biting us the second we went in. And the places stank of Plutarkians because they helped build the buildings.
It was hot that night, and we roasted in those little brick ovens. The doors were locked, so no one could go out and get a drink or anything like that. It was worse than in the skimmer. A hundred times worse. My throat got so dry.....
Sleep was impossible--I can barely sleep at all anymore, but I'll get to that later, so I asked Wallenczech why he had given different names for us at the registration desk.
We had managed to get off into a little corner, sort of by ourselves. Wallenczech spoke in a whisper.
"Crankshaft," he says, using my new name, "you have noticed the way I call you, `Little Knight, correct?"
"I can not tell you precisely what your future holds--only one person can tell you that--but a great destiny waits for you. It is because of the lineage you are a part of. The family Ritziantanto is the most powerful one in all the Order--"
"But `Czech, my clan name's not Ritziantanto!" I interrupted. "It's Ritz!"
He clapped his hand over my mouth and said, "Don't say that! Not now, not ever again! Your life is on the line!"
When I told him I wouldn't say it again (even though I am right now, aren't I?), he explained that "Ritz" is the shortened version of "Ritziantanto", and that my name was shortened because of Abrahams' grudge against my family. Apparently, someone in the Order knew he was searching for my family, and now we had to use false names to avoid detection, even among our kin in the Order.
I was just glad I got to use the shortened version of my name. "Ritziantanto" is such a mouthful.
The next day, the Plutarkians and the rats in charge gathered us all into the center of the camp for the second time in as many days.
We were all tired. It was really really early, and none of us had slept well at all. They had fed us, but just barely. Just enough to keep us going.
They said that they didn't have a problem with us personally, and that they wouldn't mind keeping us all alive, provided that we assisted them in stealing the soil and ore and everything that was nearby.
We were all pretty shocked. What about Abrahams? Weren't these guys on his payroll?
Turns out they were, but they were also very interested in seeing what minerals were left in Ash. And I guess it's no suprise to anyone that the Plutarkians aren't opposed to double-crossing their bosses. Abrahams never said he wanted to see bodies, or that he wanted to know how many of us were already dead by a certain point. He only told the Plutarkians to kill us. They rationalized that he had never specified how much time they had to finish wasting us all.
A few mice still didn't want to do it. They thought that if they complained enough, said things like, "Look, if you're supposed to kill us, do it now," that they could get out of work.
But the Plutarkians just kind of shrugged their shoulders, said okay, and shot them where they stood.
Remember when we saw that guy's head explode when we got ran out of Hellfire? Nothing compared to this. Soft-head delayed-fuse explosive shells. You'd see them get thrown back and forth, doing what looked like a weird little jig or somethin', when the slugs struck them, shaking. Then, all of a sudden, they'd explode. One second, their head would be there, the next, BOOM! There's a big, bright red spray everywhere. No skull left. Just little bits of jaws, chunks of their brains flying around. And the Plutarkians would spread their shots out all over their bodies. Shot in the leg, the chest, an arm if it was convenient, and always a few in the head. They wanted those deaths to be as grisly as possible so the rest of us wouldn't even try to resist.
It worked. From that point on, every one of us was down in the mines, tearing at the walls with pneumatic drills, low-power jack-hammers, and stuff that was just a step removed from being pickaxes.
But it was horrible work. From the time we woke up in the morning until the time they took us back to the camp, we tore at those ugly old walls, trying to find a vein of magnesite or duranium or something that miners who had been working their for decades hadn't uncovered. Most days, we worked eight hours or more and came up with nothing more than a handful of usable ore.
It was usually dark by the time we got back. We had a half-hour each day for lunch, but most of that time, you were fighting off everyone else, trying to push to the head of the line to get whatever they brought for us to eat. It was never any great shakes, though; breakfast at the Shelter was a hundred thousand times better. Bread crusts, apples that were way too mushy to be sold, meat that someone had just scraped the maggots off of--and sometimes they didn't even bother to do that! But for as bad as it was, they never gave us much. Just enough to keep us going. You can see the end result; we all got thin as sticks, and too weak to fight off our captors. That really sucked, because I'd heard that alot of the Order's monks--like Wallenczech--are trained in all kinds of wicked hand-to-hand combat, but they were too weak to use them.
Alot of us starved to death. I was only by the grace of God or St. Dumas or St. Bullwinkle (patron saint of young Martian mice in deep, deep shit) or whoever that I didn't just die in there. You bros know my appetite.
But Wallenczech wouldn't let me starve, though; he was my guardian, and he wouldn't stop being my guardian just because we were locked up in a prison camp, no. If anything, it only made him all the more determined to make sure I'd survive. He forced me to take his food. In turn, I had to watch him turn into a furry skeleton. Sometimes, I couldn't eat because I felt so bad about what my being able to eat was doing to him. But if he had to, he'd shove food down my throat. And he did that quite a few times before I finally stopped fighting him on the matter.
So there we were, all down there in the mines. Men, women, hermaphrodites, children--like one big happy family. The Plutarkians didn't care if we dropped over dead with shovel in our hands--they'd just grab the shovel and pass it off to someone else. So, in the end, they did end up killing us. Just not the way Abrahams intended.
Through it all, Wallenczech kept educatin' me about the Order, about its principles and all that. He kept hammering home the idea that I had some kind of destiny, though I didn't understand how starving to death in a prison camp had anything to do with it. Wallenczech would just tell me that sometimes you have to suffer. I asked why, and he'd just say God is kind and God is cruel.
Frankly, I thought he was bein' a real dick. I changed my mind later. God's pretty cool. It's just hard to believe in a benevolent higher power when innocent mice are droppin' dead all around you.
Wallenczech did alot of things I didn't understand. He started teaching me how to use a sword at night when no one could see. Of course, I didn't have a real sword then. We used a wood plank or a stick or whatever was handy. He was a good teacher. A real good teacher.
He never explained why he was teaching me, though. When I pressed him for a reason, he refused to even answer. So I let it drop and kept training.
I think that, when you get close to death, you know it. At least, if it's a long, drawn-out kind of death. You can feel it.
If that's true, then I guess Wallenczech knew his time was up. About a year into our stay, when he was nothing more than sticks with a fuzzy overcoat and could hardly move because he was so weak, he took me to the children's bunker--one that had been set aside for the orphans or when the other places were just too crowded--and said I had to stay there. He entrusted me to the care of a mouse a few years older than me named Shift and said it was time for him to leave. At first, I didn't understand. Then I thought of how the Plutarkians had been disposing of corpses in the acid moat. Stick thin corpses....
.....just as thin as Wallenczech.
I tried to get him to stop, and I finally managed to grab his hand. He looks at me with the saddest eyes I've ever seen.
Then, suddenly, he pinched my nose shut and shoved a pill into my mouth. He made me swallow. I started to get dizzy. I fell backward into Shift's arms and was out cold in just a few seconds. The last thing I heard before I dozed off was the sound of Wallenczech walking away.
I cried for a few nights after that. Wallenczech's always been my Dad. He's the one that raised me. I can barely remember my real father. `Czech's taken care of me since I was three years old. He may not have been the most sociable guy, and he might've been a little strict, but I loved him.
I still miss him.
(Throttle could sympathize all too well).
I don't know what he slipped me to make me sleep, but it must've had some pretty powerful side affects. Maybe it had something to do with the trauma of losing Wallenczech, but since that night, I haven't been able to sleep more than an hour or two at a stretch. I keep waking up. It's like really bad insomnia. Actually, it's more a pain in the ass than anything else. It doesn't make me physically tired. It's just annoying.
The worst part was and is the boredom. There wasn't much to do in Ash when everyone else was sleeping, so I had alot of solitary time on my hands. I'd just sit there and wish I had something to do. Some nights, I prayed rain would come so that I could listen to the rain hitting the metal roof.
On the bright side, in those lonely nights, I did manage to perfect my conversational French. Qui a coupe le fromage? Who cut the cheese? Useful stuff like that.
Shift was good to me. He was a big, gray-furred mouse with this weird hair. It's hard to describe, so I'm not even going to try. Apparently, he was descended from healer blood, but something about the camp negated his powers. I told him I thought it was the food, and he laughed. I was serious, though. My black holes didn't work their, either. Turned out, there was a dome over the thing like the one at the Shelter--they were both built to eliminate the possibility of someone using a Transporter to teleport into or out of the camps. An electric current ran through the thing. I don't know how it worked, but the electricity was important.
That's what had me screwed up, and stopped me from making black holes.
I think, if it hadn't been for Shift, I might not have made it after Wallenczech died. Like I said, he was nice. He played with me, told me stories to keep my mind of my stomach when it was growling so loud I couldn't hear anything else. Not quite as self-sacrificing as Wallenczech--he'd give me some of his food to keep me going, but he always kept the best parts for himself. His family was high class, in the Order. There wasn't much magic left in most of the families that were part of it. Shift's was one of the only clans left who could still heal. He never really let on much, though. Never held it over my head. Then again, according to Wallenczech, and what I found out later, my family is the highest-ranking one in the entire Order of St. Dumas, higher than Shift's was, even.
He told me alot of dirty jokes, too. There's this great one you shout when you're on the bus--stop me if you've heard it....
"So, for two years, that's how I lived," Bingo sighed finally, taking a mammoth drink of water. She was terribly thirsty, having spoken for so long without a chance to pause. "It really sucked, but it's over now. I imagine I'll have horrible nightmares if I ever hit REM sleep again, and probably post-traumatic stress syndrome, but--"
Vinnie snapped suddenly, "But how'd you get out?"
"Yeah, Bing!" Modo agreed. "You left out the best part!"
"Aw, come on, bros," Bingo whimpered. "I'm tired, I'm sick, I'm hungry--"
"And if you don't finish the story and you fall asleep, I'm putting one of your hands in hot water and fill the other one up with shaving cream and tickling your nose," Throttle interrupted.
Bingo blew the bangs out of her face and muttered, "You guys suck sour frog's ass."
"We know," Modo replied, smiling warmly.
"Speak for yourself, bro!" Vinnie corrected, grinning.
So Bingo continued.
Well, like I said, I spent two years in there like that. I don't know exactly what the worst part was. I mean, excluding losing Wallenczech, there was back-breaking work, the worst possible living conditions, bad food and not enough of it to go around, and fear that any moment, the Plutarkians were going to just change their minds and kill us all, in spite of what they said earlier. They still had the responsibility to destroy us, after all.
But the worst part may have been the hopelessness. After about a year without any sign of the Army, it became pretty apparent that no one was coming to save us. Couldn't blame `em--after all, most of the population of Mars probably thought we were just in a Shelter like the one that took the place of Hellfire.
And....well....you guys know as well as I do that most mice are pretty suspicious of the Order. We're creepy, we're mysterious, we've got strange, secretive rights. There're other misunderstood, cultish religions on Mars, but we're number one. It's an honor I don't care for, and I don't think any of us did. It's possible that if somebody in power had known what we were going through, they would have mounted a rescue.
But I've got my doubts. Maybe I'm cynical now. I dunno. I suppose you can't go through the entire "death-camp" experience and not come out a little jaded.
Like I told you guys earlier, the accomodations left alot to be desired. The little brick houses were stuffy roaster ovens in the summer and iceboxes in the winter. Sleep wasn't easy for anyone, and with my insomnia, I hardly ever slept at all. So I had to keep myself occupied at night, but quietly, because some mice could sleep, and they'd rip me up one side and down another if I woke them up. Literally. I had big cuts on both sides of my body for a few weeks when I accidentally woke up this one guy. Turned out he'd managed to sneak a knife into camp, and was planning to fight his way free.
Plutarkians stopped that pretty quick. BLAMMO. The explosive bullets again. Grisly.
He had it comin', though.
Anyway, alot of nights, I'd just sit and think. And don't even say it, Vinnie. Don't even. Thinking doesn't hurt.
So I'd sit and I'd think about all kinds of things. Sometimes I thought about you bros. I really missed you. It was hard to make new friends in Ash. The kids weren't any fun. Nobody liked explosions, motorcycles, danger--pheh! No fun at all. But I guess it had something to do with the fact that most of them had just lost their parents and were horribly broken up over it. I've already lost both of mine (never knew what happened to my mother), and Wallenczech to boot, so I was used to it, and maybe a little unsympathetic. I don't know. But I really missed you guys.
Heh. I got smoke in my eyes.....
No, I'm not crying. There's really smoke in my eyes. Look! It's everywhere!
Dammit, somebody put the fire out! It's goin' up the curtains!
Phew. Okay. There we go. Fire's out.
Something else I used to think about was my black holes. Like I said, I couldn't open them, but it wasn't that that I thought about. What really puzzled me was what would happen if I went through one. Instead of just reaching in, or waiting for something to fall out, what would happen if I in it? Where would I end up? Trapped in some inter-dimensional limbo? Or Hell? Or Heaven? Or Detroit?
It really made me wonder. Wallenczech had always insisted that I never go into one, and I never disobeyed him a day in my life. But it was alot easier to question him when he was gone. Did he tell me not to go because he knew what would happen would be terrible, maybe even fatal?
Or did he tell me not to because he didn't know? Because he had no idea what was inside one of those little black disks?
It had me scared, too. A lifetime of conditioning designed to steer me away from ever embarking on a trip to see what was on the other side of my portals had done its job. I was scared stiff at the idea of going through one. But no matter what conclusion I came to, thinking about the black holes and their secrets, it didn't matter. Because I couldn't create them anymore. It was a moot point.
Until the storm came.
It was just a few nights ago, as a matter of fact. Don't know if you guys might've seen it or not, but it was raging in Ash. The rain was coming down so heavily that, when we were outside on our way to the mines, you couldn't see in front of you at all. Likewise, you couldn't make out the person on either side. The only way you could tell someone was behind you was if they bumped into you. We could here lightning crashing, even though we couldn't see it. There was thunder some time after noon. Shook the mines like there was an earthquake. Everyone was terrified there was going to be a cave-in.
I'll never say Plutarkians can be sympathetic, but they did pull us out of the mine early that day. Maybe they were afraid of getting bogged-down in the mud. I know I was. Shift had to keep a hand on my arm to pull me up out of the mire when my feet got stuck. That happened every few seconds.
We figured that once we were inside the camp, we'd be dry and warm.
Sheah, right, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.
Apparently, our dome could keep teleporter signals out, but not the rain. Wait. I remember now, the roof was porous. I know the Shelter's wasn't, but ours was full of holes. About as big as your fist. Domes like that were apparently lighter, easier to build, but they let the weather in like nobody's business.
So we got more soaked than ever. Those of us who lived in the bunkhouses closest to the fence and the moat were terrified that the acid would rise up over the level of its banks and flood the camp. Mice refused to go into their bunkers. After all, no one wants to have the flesh melt off their bones in their sleep.
They gave us moldy fruit and some stale bread, and then it was straight into the shacks for the rest of the night.
Like I told you before, though, the floors were nothing but packed sand. The water seeped in from outside, and from holes in the rooves (they never patched them once the metal started rusting, and it wasn't good Martian steel, or even Plutarkian steel, so it did). Soon, we were all up to our ankles in mud, with it growing deeper every hour. There was no dry spot to curl up on.
It wasn't exactly a Motel 6, if you get my drift.
Shift and I went to one of the corners that was fairly muddy but had solid roofing over top, so our heads wouldn't get wet. It was freezing cold, so we sat pretty close. There were a few blankets, but everyone was putting them under themselves so they didn't have to sleep on the mud, for all the good it did. All I had was this big thick shirt I've got on now, and these jeans.
And don't ask about underwear, okay? These were bad times.
Pretty soon, Shift nodded off. He was lucky he could sleep. I usually didn't mind being awake at night, but tonight was a miserable night for insomniacs.
Around midnight, a bright flash lit up the sky. For a few seconds, it was bright as day inside the bunkhouse. I could see everything, and everyone as clearly as if the sun itself had been in there with us.
The lightning had struck something, I was sure of that. But I wasn't sure what until I heard the sound of something crashing down and striking the ground. I managed to crawl up to one of the little ventilation holes and peak outside. We faced the commons in my bunkhouse, so I was able to see what had happened pretty easily.
The crashing sound had been pieces of the dome falling. The lightning had struck it and cracked the dome's surface. Giant pieces began falling out. A few pieces hit bunkhouses and killed the mice inside.
The only bright side was that a few pieces also landed on Plutarkians. Heh. They make this neat squishing sound when a five-hundred pound hunk of metal lands on top of them. It was extremely gratifying.
With the huge holes in the dome, more rain was getting through, and the mud level was rising. The Plutarkians wanted to protect their investment, I guess, so they herded us all out as quickly as they could. Kept us in check with their guns.
Again, I was freezing cold. There was no heat in the camp, except in the cabins the rats and Plutarkians had, and the mud and the rain had chilled me to the bone. Everyone looked terrible, their hair and fur soaked and matted around their faces. I've heard the one about looking like a drowned rat, and it fits.
Naturally, since I was cold, I kept wishing I had a coat or a poncho or something to throw over my shoulders. My thoughts I kept going back to this old blanket I used to have. Real soft and yellow. It was the only thing of my father's that I owned, and it had been left behind in Hellfire.
The crowd was being shoved under a canopy that had been thrown up, and I followed Shift when he started for it. I had enough sense to come in out of the rain, after all, unlike some mice I know....
I put my foot down, and expected to step onto thick, wet, slimy mud, so when my foot started to slip, I wasn't suprised.
What caught me off guard was when I felt myself starting to fall. Not just falling forward, but falling down, sinking, like falling down into a hole.
I jerked myself back just in time. When I looked down, I thought there might be something lying there, like some little girl's doll, or maybe a body or something. Maybe I had stepped in a hole.
Boy, was I right. I had stepped in a hole.
A black hole.
There it was, plain as day. About three feet wide, kind of an oval shape. Black as night, or a sock on an old guy's leg. I suppose that since it was so dark, nobody else saw it. Or maybe there was something about it that only I could see it. I don't know. It's too deep for a ten-year old mind.
Yeah, ten. It's been two years, remember?
I just stood there, gaping. I didn't understand why now, of all times, one had just popped up, but it had.
And I didn't know what to do. I suppose that if I would've reach through it, I probably would have found my blanket on the other side.
The other side.
I didn't know what to do. Part of me thought, "No! You know better than this! Hasn't Wallenczech told you for years that it would be dangerous to go through one? It could kill you! Don't be a fool!"
I was scared shitless. Literally, as in, I hadn't had anything decent to eat in weeks, but you get the idea. All my nights of thinking about what I'd do had never prepared me for what would happen if a black hole actually appeared in front me!
I don't know how long I stood there, trying to decide what to do. Shift was already under the canopy, and I think he saw me standing there, rigid as a statue. Out of frustration, I finally turned my face up to the sky and said, "Give me a sign."
And, boy howdy, did I get one.
There was this horrible screaming sound, and an acrid smell, but pungent, too. It was awful. If I wanted to be melodramatic about it, I could say it was the smell of death. Because it was.
What it was was the smell of about twenty mice, screaming and running amuck. They were crying, bawling, ripping at their hair and faces and rolling in the mud like they were on fire! Like two years of internment had finally taken its toll and had caused them all to snap at the very same time.
At first, no one had a clue what was going on. Too dark, like I said.
But then, a bolt of lightning flashed at that second (another sign, I guess), and it was made all too clear what had happened.
The rain had driven up the level of the acid moat around the camp. First by inches, then by feet, until it was overflowing. If the acid was diluted at all, it wasn't by much. Eventually, it rose up high enough that it flooded the bunkhouses closest to the fence. The mice inside woke up with their bodies on fire while the acid ate their flesh away. Some, especially little kids, were just submerged in the stuff while they slept, and they had already been eaten away to the bone by the time the first mouse woke up in his death throes. They were nothing more than skeletons running out into the rain, with a few scraps of muscle hanging on and burning while they died on their feet. But they could still scream. Others were luckier, if you can say that; half their faces eaten away to the bone. They might survive. Alot of them had accidentally swallowed it, or licked their lips and brought it into their mouths, and it was eating them from the inside out, like the squirrel bat I'd see the first day in the camp. The smell was as bad as anything, a bad mix of sulfur and burning flesh.
I had my sign, all right. I knew what it was telling me.
The camp was death.
Whatever I found inside that hole had to be better than this.
It was time to act.
First, I vommited, `cause seeing that.....ugh.....
Then, I took two steps and fell into the hole.