From a Rock to a Hard Place: Part Three
“Our Leader, Nero, is seated in his throne at that end of the room,” Sue said as she gestured in one direction. I’m having a feeling I’m going to be surprised. I slithered behind Redd as we made our way to the leader. When we reached the “throne” (an old stool with a tattered cushion, the only real piece of furniture we had seen so far) we were very surprised indeed. A few old notepads and pencils surrounded the stool, and atop it lay a small napping Draik. He was island-colored, and somehow looked cute but slightly ferocious.
“Trust me. He has genius streaks, but stupidity ones, too,” Sue whispered to us through gritted teeth. Then, he woke up.
“EH! Wuzzat?!? Erf, I ain’t seen ya couple ‘round ere b’fore! Gah, Suemina, fetch me a new chokato, the one I’m sitting on is giving way. Destructive dandruff! My shoelaces are untied! Ergleflurgbindalsnap!” he shouted in a rapid, grown up tone, alarmed (especially that last bit).
“Okay, we were wondering if we could be REGISTERED.” For the second time that day, I got annoyed by a high-rank Rebel member.
“Oh, yes. I pardon for my unintelligibility; my insanity fits thankfully are brief. My name is Nero. Welcome to the Rebels. I take it that Sue here has already explained the Official Rebel Rules and Pact. She always does with the new members. Now please, each of you must sign your name on this notepad. Are you hurt?”
I groaned. The constant battling while Redd had made for the bomb had injured me with scratches, bruises, scrapes, you name it.
“I take that as a yes. Are you hurt physically, or mentally?” The question seemed so eternally ridiculous that I never imagined that I would hear it.
“Are you hurt physically, or mentally?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Mentally it is.”
“Um, I’m hurt physically, I just don’t understand why you mentioned ‘mentally’.”
“It is rumored that some of the high-level magician workers can cast spells on the brain. Scurry over to the medic, now. Then get some food over there.”
I slithered over to a Cybunny who was treating pets with antiseptic and bandages. I gave a quick hiss as she sent off a Shoyru who looked much disoriented. I tried not to think about what had happened to him.
“Oh, I didn’t notice you there! Let me put some medicine on you; it’ll make your bruises feel better. Oh, your head might need a bandage, it looks awfully sore. Now, please tell me a little bit about yourself. You can just call me Celia.” A “little medicine” was an exaggeration. She poured antiseptic all over me, but then again, my wounds were many due to the claws, pounds, kicks, slashes and bites of the many mutants. I don’t know how I stalled them all until Redd had thrown the bomb. “Ah, many pets think that the healer’s part is dull. All the pets explain how they woke up and everybody they knew except one person was gone, and then they doubted their new home so much they woke up here.
“But ah, that is the only part that is ever the same. Each individual I heal always has the same tale of awakening, but never the same tale of escape. Now, sweetie, just tell me, how you escaped.”
I explained it all to her while she drenched me in antiseptic.
“Ah, Vivily, dear, you battered some of the finest mutant warriors, and this is the absolute least damage you could have received. This is simply the beginning of things to come.” I asked what this meant, but she only redirected me to the food crate.
So then I slithered over, famished. There were a few pets getting trays out, others were ripping some plastic wrap off of their trays, most were lapping up food. I took out a tray, then a drink bottle from another crate. I curled up beside a green Eyrie.
“I’m new here. Could you mind telling me what these foods are?” I asked him. He pointed at a segment of the tray filled with white gelatin that had many tiny noodles with some burnt spots on them. “This is the macaroni and cheese, since it was Mac and Cheese Monday when we stole these cafeteria trays.” He pointed at some lumpy green goop piled up in another section. “This is the Pea Mix Up. It’s called a mix-up because there are some other veggies in there, too. And this is the Mystery Meat. I think it's chicken, but everybody else says beef.” He pointed to a patty that was mostly burnt. “The drink is just water.” The aqua was slightly grey. I hadn’t had real food in ages, though, so I ate each dish slowly, one at a time, and then finally chugged down the water. The room around me slightly blurred.
“Before you ask, it always does that. A few of us think that it’s supposed to aid the transmogrification effect. Is something wrong?”
My mouth was hanging open as my eyes darted around. “Nobody deserves to live like this! Constantly hiding, having to rely on stolen provisions that aren’t good anyway, and living in fear, never seeing daylight, being without freedom, it’s just not right! You deserve fresh food, peace and for GOODNESS SAKE, ACTUAL FURNITURE!” I screamed in horror, then started crying, face in hands.
After my last word, the room’s inhabitants instantly jumped into crates, pulling the lids over them once they were full. Redd, who, like me, had little experience in hiding, tried clawing his way up and into a crate, but he was too small to get up the side. I was too shocked at the way they were living to move a muscle, but if I could move, I’d never fit into one of the crates anyway.
Pounding of feet could be heard as well as muffled voices. Soon some small mutants came in through a door I hadn’t noticed before (the Rebels probably didn’t use it because by the sound of it, Grundos were working technology in the room over).
“Ya think s’mones in da crates?” a mutant with a very low IQ said.
“Arr, if there is, we aren’t allowed to open any of ‘em anyway,” a slightly smarter mutant said.
“Okeydokey, boss. I t'ink I found s’mone.” A mutant Cybunny seized me. I was about to do a head butt, but then I found I still couldn’t move.
“For once, ye was useful, Blues. Ah, the paralyze beam, best invention ever. No screams to give you away. Just ZAP and they won’t fight back. It even calms them for mutating. Hey, what’ve we here?” I heard a small yelp, and then Redd fell limp in the arms of the Cybunny.
“I can’t see anybody else. Come on, Blues.”
A mutant Blumaroo went up the ladder. The Cybunny followed with the two of us hanging limply from his arms. All I could do was breathe, and I did so rapidly. The Cybunny apparently was very experienced at carrying bodies and climbing ladders at the same time. We surfaced after some time, but the ladder was easier to do down than up, so it took some while. We could not struggle, we could not fight, and we could not escape to the Rebels again. I am making this sound very short because there wasn’t much to describe, reader, trust me. We were carried through the same old corridors. Maybe they were different ones, there was no way whatsoever to tell. He was taking us through a larger, round room now that had doors all along the inside, each with a combination of numbers and letters on it.
Finally the paralysis effects wore off. I would’ve start struggling, but he didn’t take a second for him to punch some numbers into a keypad on the wall. Then the door slammed open and he stuffed the two of us inside. The door slammed shut, a lock clicked, and we were left alone in the darkness. I sniffed. It was paralyzing me. Not again. I nodded off after a few hours of quiet sulking.
I reached out and touched the wall of the transmogrification pod. Metal might help contain the gases. Interesting. The gases had come to a halt a few minutes ago. Now there were just fumes. The seat had a thin cushion on it. Probably to help the soon-to-be-mutants drift off better. So sleeping probably helps mutation. Very fascinating indeed. I wonder why I have a slight pain in my limbs. Speaking of my body, I now remember what a mutant Yurble looks like. My lucky stars aren’t working today. And then the door to the pod slammed open.
All I could see was light. Not as in, light flooded my vision, but more like my vision was dark except for the light coming from the floor. Mutants apparently are ultra-sensitive to light, so I could see more than you’d think. When I looked, I saw light bouncing off a grille. I saw it reflecting off of myself. Thank goodness, the transmogrification progress is spread out over time. I still have fur. Not very much, though.
“Vivily, wake up!”
“I am up! What is it?” I knew she was there obviously, but if I didn’t I could tell she was there by the light in her eyes.
“Let’s find a way out!”
As if on cue, a loudspeaker pipe sounded. “Mutants #1053 and #1049 to Transmogrification Unit B-64. Release mutants #3410 and #3411.”
“Quick! Before they come!” I clawed my way up the grille. It was useless, as I slammed my head against the rounded metal top instead of roof tiles. Vivily bit onto it and tried slamming it open, the same way all the other doors here did when they had the right combination punched into their keypad. It worked.
“Faster, faster! Let me get on your head!” She lifted her head as high as it could. I pushed a roof tile up as fast as I could and I climbed up through. Vivily experimentally flapped her wings. She managed to get high enough to poke her arms through the hole. From there we got up, into the abandoned upper floor.
“Suemina! We’re back!” Suemina whipped around from a crate.
“I’m sorry, we can’t accept mutants.”
“It may really be you, or it may be someone else trying to find out where exactly we sleep. I suggest you get back to where you were before if you don’t have proof.”
Vivily dropped back through the hole, with me on her back. She wasn’t hurt from the impact, because she was so colossal. I fit the tile back onto the ceiling and we got back in the pod. She grabbed with her teeth the bottom of the grille that was just poking through with her and slammed it shut. Just on time, two mutants waltzed in. I could tell that one was a Flotsam by three eyes side-by-side and the other was a Bori because of the light bouncing off the shell. They slammed open the transmogrification pod. They were probably high-rank, because they carried powerful-looking weapons.
“It all works in a routine for the recently transmogrified. First the newbie group, that’s mutant slang for new awakenings, helps the grub master mix and pour the food into trays for morning work. Then they and all the other mutants eat. They get less time for eating, though. After fifteen minutes of eating, they go to the grub master again and start preserving leftovers. Once that’s done, they do trash duty. After the 'food ritual' as the newbies in my day called it, they proceed with the day’s work.
“This includes digging roots in the indoor garden for spells, working food processors, battle training, other factory work, and more battle training, this time handling basic weapons.
The food “ritual” repeats and then the mutants are free to roam in the halls, their bunks, the bathrooms and battle training area. Anyways, now you what to do. ‘Kay, set them off here.” With that, the Bori and Flotsam pushed us off into the cafeteria.
“We need to find a way out of here!” I hissed to Redd through the corner of my mouth.
To be continued...