Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Caiaphas, ch 2

Like any animal, I had few real desires.  Food, would be the first.  A hole to crawl in and to feel safe in.  A woman, if it was possible.  But unlike any other animal, I had one more need that would be unfulfilled by the puny anmal brain that drove me now.  I needed information.  There were things going on that I didn't know, and that needed to be rectified.  Imminently.
The doors opened with a low rattling, all at once, my cellmates and I freed simultaneously and without a guard over our shoulders for the first time in years.
Most of the men I had served time with on C. had been respectable men.  Liars cheats and theives, sure.  But still men.  The rest of them... weren't really what I would even call men anymore.  Blood did something to you.  I would be the last person in the world to tell you otherwise.  And for some... well, let me just say that I wasn't too anxious to go into that hallway first and find out who some of my cellmates had been.
But I had to.  certain death if I stayed - I knew that, didn't I know that?
So I moved.  My legs screamed at the movement but their protest couldn't hold a flame to my desire to get the hell out of there.  Outside the cell was a hallway, mostly empty but quickly filling with men, and I looked left, right, trying to figure out where to run, where would be the best way for me to discover safety.  where would the food be?
Right.  Every instinct told me to turn right.  The place I hadn't been, the unknown.  My muscles started to twicth as my brain told them to move my body in that direction, but then I felt it.  A pull.  Incredibly strong.  Of course!  I was near the front of the line... everyone who was anybody was behind me.  I needed to avoid the center of the ship at all costs until things settled themselves.  I wasn't about to be pulled into a war that had nothing to do with me.
More and more bodies were piling into the hallway, some standing there stunned, some moving lazily in the direction of the pull.  All of them were in my way.
"Move!" I shouted, and to my surprise the stunned faces registered recogniton.  I started to move, pushing through still bodies, until they began to move away from me.  I felt trapped, claustrophobic.  But no one stopped me, no one challenged me.
I'm sure, that from their point of view, I was the crazy one.  Going back toward where they had put us in, like they had maybe left the door unlocked.
That worked for me.  I added a maniacal grin for emphasis and pushed harder.  "Move, I said!"
They moved.
Once they had parted I could run, and I did so.  Running against the pull.  Running for some reason I had forgotten.  To get away from the masses, to find a hole somewhere.  No one would explore here, because there should be nothing here to see.  But I needed to know for certain.
Soon i had passed them all, and my heavy footsteps sounded heavily against the gleaming walls and the burnished silver floor.  If I really needed to, if I had found nothing else, I could hide myself in one of the empty cells close to the airlock.  I'd rather pry off a plate on the bulkhead with my bare hands to hide behind, first, but I would take what could get in these all too short hours.
Then the cells stopped.  I stopped, too, slowing to a walk.  I had only been running for ahout a minute, not long enough to have covered any real distance, but the pull was less, here, and I heard no sound from those I had just left behind.  It felt almost safe, for the time being.  Almost.
After the cells there was nothing.  The walls of the hallway were unblemished and shining just as brightly as the floors, and I feared that my diversion had been quite useless.  I could easily have made it the other way, I could have!  I would just have had to be careful, that was all.  But now it was too late.  Were they already forming, the factions, the rivalries?  were allegiances being pledged?  it made me sick, all of this posturing.  I knew my place, and I intended to keep it as far away from theirs as possible.
I walked slowly, looking at the walls, the ceiling.  Looking for things hidden.  Things that they could have put right in plain view, knowing that we would be too blinded to see any of it.
At the end of the hallway, where I could see the dead end of a circle cut into the bulkhead, where you could barely see that there was an airlock on the other side, there was an indentation to the left.  An entrance.  I walked toward it as if i was in a dream.
There was no door.  it was just an open doorway, a space that showed a dimly lit staircase, the stairs going both up and down.
My heart pounded in my chest so hard that it was some time before I realized that the ship had long since ceased her convulsions.  I only stared at the steps leading away into darkness, and then looked back the way I had just come.  No one followed me.  No one would be coming this way for some time.  They had felt the pull just as I had, even though they might not have had the sense to avoid it.
There were stairs both up and down.  That could mean anything - where was the storage most likely to be held?  My gut told me down, so down I went.  The moment of my first footfall upon the top stair ignited a light that had been set into the wall, and as I moved slowly downwards the ones ahead of me shone and the ones behind me dimmed.  and it wasn't even hidden!
The next landing had a door that was locked, and no amout of coersion could open it.  I could have used more force, but didn't know what was on the other side.  the last thing i wanted to do was attract attention.  let the Vaughns do that.  Cenide.  The ones that had done those terrible, terrible things that were the only reasons we all knew their names.  There were darker names, too.  The ones I was too afraid even to think, in this darkness.  we were all guilty, here.  there was not an innocent man to be found, not on this ship.  not on the caiaphas.  but some regretted their crimes, and others... others embraced them.  once the factions had begun to form, i might be afraid to walk these dark places of the ship alone.
the next landing opened, but when i stepped into the hallway no lights came on to welcome me.  I could have done it, but i decided to wait.  if i had explored all other options and still hadn't found what i was looking for, i would return.  i knew, rationally, that the floor was probably empty, and it would be a safe place to hide until everything blew over.  if i was afraid to enter it, so should be any person who entered after me.
but there were things on this ship who weren't afraid of the dark.
I closed the door quietly behind me and shuddered.
The next floor, however, was both silent and well lit.  I left the door open a crack and started walking the hallway, this one with no mark on the wall at the end of the hallway.  Just seamless silver wall.  There were no other doorways in the immediate vicinity, so after a few minutes of walking I stopped paying so much attention.  just wall, wall, more wall, cells, nothing.  nothing in the cells, same as the one i had been chained in.  i rubbed my wrists at the thought, feeling their rawness under my fingers.  wasn't it enough that i was still inside of a cell?  why did they have to chain me to the wall?
i would never know.
i knew that there were at least a thousand of us, on this ship.  that had to mean that either the ship was long enough that they only had to use one floor of cells to hold that many prisoners or that the men that had been in these cells were already gone.  i doubted the second - the whole floor had this feeling of emptiness, of disuse, like no living being had inhabited this place lately.  and the first meant that there would be so much space that there would be little need for exploration after the food and the women had been found.  i should be able to find a hiding place easier than i had expected.

it took me a full hour to reach the other side of the ship.  i walked the whole thing, knowing already what i would find and knowing myself unable to resist the call of certain knowlege.  when push came to shove, and the factions had been created and were meeting each other in these very hallways, i wanted to know everything around me.  i would not trust my life to chance, even if there was monotony in making sure.  it took me an hour, but at the end of that time i knew that there was only a staircase on one side of the ship.  the other was a clean metal wall, nothing that could help me in any way.  just cells.
The whole thing was fishy.  i still felt the pull as strongly as I had when I had been in my cell.  I was getting very hungry, and i hadn't seen another human being since i pushed through that wall of humanity to find the staircase.  someone was here, somewhere.  the food would be somewhere.  just nothing was making any amount of sense.  
so i started to walk back.  i'd probably go down another level, just to see what was happening, and then go back up to the level where I had been deposited.  see what was going on and where we were in terms of destroying each other.
walking through the hallway was eerie, by myself.  but i preferred being alone to any other option.  and just as the thought occured, it happened.  the only noise i had heard for hours were my own solitary footsteps and the abnormally loud sound of my breathing, so the instant there was another noise i was on full alert.  breathing, soft but intense.  coming from nearby.  very close.
i slowed, but continued forward.  another person, by themself, could be promising.  a kindred spirit, perhaps, seeking to escape the carnage of adjacent floors.  i wondered if my decision to leave had been the prudent one - i hoped so.
the figure was in one of the cells, to my left.  on the ground, kneeling over, everything obscured except their back and cleanly shaved head, just like my own.  the figure was slender, almost effeminate, and i felt myself respond just in thinking that this person could be a woman.  it had been a long time.  too long, but that didn't give me an excuse to turn my brain off whenever i thought about getting lucky.
i didn't say a word, but i didn't have to.  i wasn't fooling anyone about sneaking around - i was too careless.  the figure was breathing so quietly, so controlled, that my own breathing sounded like i was gasping for air in comparison.  then she stood up.
for once in my life, and certainly since my incarceration, the confirmation that it was a female that i was dealing with came secondary.  the first thing i noticed was that the entire front of her prison uniform, the only thing we would ever own in our two years on the ship, was drenched in blood.  it was dripping off of her, onto the floor, making a dark puddle that reeked of copper and death.  what i had seen as slender looked more like emaciation from this angle, and her eyes were fever bright from the darkness into which they had sunk.  her cheekbones popped out of her face like billboards and her lips and face were dark with drying blood.
she looked at me and my body responded like it had been electrocuted.  i was frozen - if she had desired my death in that moment it would have been hers.  but instead she only looked at me, interested, curious.
"All the way down in the depths by yourself?" she asked me, and my veins filled with ice.
"I was looking..."
"For?" she prompted politely, smiling.
"For food," i said.
she laughed, a pleasant, tinkling sound that would have been enjoyable if it wasn't filled with madness.  "I see!  I just ate."
More blood dripped from her clothes, the droplets landing on the metal with the repititive sound of water on tin.  she seemed to enjoy it.
"I'm... ah, still looking."  I knew her.  I knew her, and i was going to die.
She didn't answer.  the look in her eyes was openly appraising, and my skin crawled where her gaze touched it.
"You're Senide," I blurted, and her eyes crawled lazily back to mine.
"You have the advantage, then."  it could have been a civil introduction, but for the incredible surreality of it all.  should i put out my hand, or would she bite it off if i tried?
"Jack," i said.
she nodded slowly, savoring the information i had just given her.  "Well then, Jack," she said, and her voice caressed my name, "I think you had better run."

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