by London Lampy
My mouth is dry and my head is pounding. I'm pressed up against a warm body, the room seems to be moving and I have no idea where I am or how I got here; I must have got way too drunk again. Every time I do it I promise myself that it's the last time, I always seem to wake up in a stranger's bed halfway across the city feeling like reheated crap. I try to remember last night, what I did, where I went and who I went with, but nothing comes back. I decide to risk opening my eyes, but all I can see is complete darkness, which is worrying as the city is never completely dark, did I somehow end up in the countryside this time? Or perhaps I'm in a cellar, that wouldn't be good.
My body aches, but not in the usual way, my shoulders in particular are burning but when I try to move my arms I find that I can't, and it takes a while for my brain to work out that they are bound behind my back. This is strange, did I let someone tie me up then pass out? I move my legs, or rather I don't because they're tied together as well, which is...odd, and I realise that my tail is also in there, which is even odder. Then something else occurs to me, I'm fully clothed, and as far as I can tell only my feet are bare, and come to think of it wherever I am smells strongly of sacking and...horses, for some reason. A sudden lurch makes me realise that for once the room is actually moving. Shit! I'm not in a room, I'm in something that moves, a train or a tram, maybe a ship? No, not a ship, the noise is wrong as is the horse-smell. It's a carriage or a cart, what the fuck am I doing tied up in the back of a cart?
I try to force my mind to remember. Vin...something to do with Vin. Vin running...me running, the moon, a full moon? Someone pointed a gun at me, I thought I was going to get shot again, who was holding the gun? A picture of Tallis comes into my head, is Tallis taking revenge on me? No, that doesn't feel right...not Tallis...a mean looking echoback man with a scar.
As I lie trussed up in the darkness things gradually start to come back and eventually I'm able to piece together everything that happened up until the moment the dart pierced my skin. A bit of wriggling reveals that not only am I very firmly tied up but gagged and hooded too, just like Vio and Sampson were when I found them in the house, and I can only assume that the person next to me is one of them. Or maybe it's Vin, did he get caught as well? Perhaps when I didn't come back he came in to look for me, or maybe he finally did the sensible thing and went for help, but if he did he was too late.
I have no way of knowing how much time is passing, occasionally I catch the sound of voices coming from somewhere outside the cart, and after what must be a couple hours since I woke up I hear someone much closer to me making a protesting groan. It sounds very much like Vio and I answer her as best as I can while gagged. She makes a noise which I swear is meant to be "monkey boy", and I reply with an "uh huh". We grunt at each other a few more times, but without words it's impossible to communicate anything and it becomes frustrating. I want to ask her if she has any idea of what's going on but I can't and in the end we stop. If Sampson, or even Vin, is in here with us they're keeping very quite.
More time passes, during which both the pain in my body and my fear over what's happening to us grows larger and larger until the cart finally stops moving. Next there's a whole load of thumping and clanking noises along with the voices, louder this time, then I can feel cooler air and suddenly someone grabs hold of my feet and pulls me by them, then someone else takes my shoulders and I'm placed onto the ground. My hood is removed and the feeling of air on my skin again is wonderful. I look around, I'm outdoors and I'm lying on some scrubby grass. It's dark, I can see stars above us, and there are trees silhouetted against the sky. Vio is being pulled out of the cart now, she's placed on the ground next to me by the echoback who pointed his gun at me back in Shelly and Kremmen, who removes her hood. She turns her head and looks at me blinking, and I wonder if she can see anything at all in the darkness. On the other side of Vio Sampson is being taken out in the same way, I can't see much of him past her but worryingly he doesn't seem to be moving at all. I see a light, it's a small oil lantern and it's being carried by the human that Kremmen called "Barney", he squats down beside Sampson and touches him.
"Thank the...thank Gui he's alive," the relief in his voice evident. He then looks down at Vio and me, and not needing to prod us to find out if we survived he addresses us. "Our intention isn't to harm you, and so long as you co-operate we won't. We are many miles from the nearest human town or village and are on the edge of the great forest. If you attempt to escape you'll undoubtedly become lost and with no food or water supplies sooner or later you'll perish."
The edge of the forest? The Reah basin forest, where echobacks come from?
"We will undo your bonds now, please don't even think of attacking any of us, we are armed. Also the drug that rendered you unconscious has after effects, you'll have difficulty walking for a while to come, to put it bluntly, you're currently weaker than newborn kittens."
Kremmen starts to free me while the other echoback does the same for Vio. They start with our hands and work down, removing our gags last. As soon as Vio's is taken off she asks in a hoarse voice what the fuck is going on.
I try to sit, my body feels like it has no bones and nothing seems to be entirely under my control, after a lot of effort I manage to get myself upright.
"Once we have a fire burning I'll explain all," Barney replies to Vio, while Kremmen hands me a canteen of water. The water is warm and stale and right now it tastes like the best thing I've ever drunk and I drain it dry. I can see that Vio is having the same problem sitting I had. "Ev, help her out," Barney orders. The echoback scowls at him but does as he's asked, once she's sitting he gives her a canteen too, meanwhile Kremmen is setting to work on the unmoving form of Sampson.
"Is he alright?" I ask, my voice sounding much huskier than normal.
"He will be," Barney replies. "Some people react to the drug more than others, did you wake first?"
"I think so."
He nods. "It effects humans more intensely, you should recover quicker too."
I look over at Vio, she's sitting leaning forward using her hands to support herself as if she's feeling very ill. She's certainly not herself, I would have expected her to have exploded with anger by now if she was. I can't say I'm too happy about the situation either, but getting angry at a group of people who have guns and strange knock out drugs when you're in the middle of nowhere and they hold all the cards isn't a very good idea. As the water settles in my stomach I realise something. "I need to pee," I say.
"Alright son, let me help you," Barney replies.
"I don't need help peeing."
"Maybe not, but you're going to need help walking."
"I have to go too," Vio says woozily.
"Ev, Tippit, help her," he points to Vio.
Barney offers me his hand and I take it, letting him pull me to my feet. Walking is a difficult task, my legs are rubbery and want to go in different directions to one another. Barney steers me a little way from the cart, using his lantern to light the way until we're behind a large tree, then rather embarrassingly has to hold me up from behind while I do my business. I'm not sure that things are going so well with Vio and the other two, I can hear a fair amount of swearing and crashing coming from behind the cart. Eventually we all return to the small camp, Barney has a scowling Ev fetch blankets from the back of the cart and pass them out, tucking one around Sampson who still hasn't moved. Then he produces some kind of dried meat and hard, flat bread and gives some to everyone, along with more water. I feel kind of sick and put the food to one side, and I notice that Vio does the same. Kremmen has gathered a pile of sticks to make a fire and he lights it using a box of matches that Barney pulls out from one of his many pockets. Once it's going and they're all sitting around it eating Barney decides it's finally time to talk to us about why we're here.
"First of all let me introduce myself and the others," he starts. "I'm Barney, the person you know as Kremmen is actually called Tippit, and that's Evetted, normally shortened to Ev." Kremmen/Tippit nods when his name is mentioned, Ev simply grunts and bites off a piece of the meat.
"We are part of an organisation that is committed to ending the appalling enslavement of the echoback race by any means possible. We are making some headway over here but there's a long way still to go, and part of that is due to the insatiable appetite of the Twin Island's for cocoa and rubber without ever giving a thought to how it's produced. Few people in your country seem to either know or care about slavery, we need to prick your nations conscience, if you start to refuse to buy goods produced by the companies that haven't signed the Forest Treaty it would go a long way to ending the vile practise. Ideally we would have taken your president," he smiles at the idea. "However that would have been somewhat overambitious, so we decided on someone else. It wasn't hard for us to discover that the head of one of the most powerful companies on the Twin Islands was set to visit these shores, we have sources of information within the Cartel. All we needed to do was substitute the real Kremmen for Tippit and let him bring you to us. We plan to hold him, and the two of you, until your country has sat up and taken notice of the evil that is being perpetrated on these shores in the name of profit."
I struggle a bit to follow his speech, my brain seems as wobbly as my legs, but what he's saying makes some sort of sense.
"While we don't need the pair of you to make our protest we took you for safety. You may possibly have awoken and been able to identify us if we'd left you behind, and I also felt that Mr Sampson would want the company of some of his fellow countrymen."
"What are you going to do with us?" I ask.
"Nothing bad, you have my word. We will be taking you deep into the forest to my village where you will be well looked after, then when we have achieved our aims we will simple return you to the outskirts of Shelly."
"Fucking bullshit!" Vio snorts suddenly. "Stop acting like...like we're your guests. You fucking kidnapped us, that's a crime."
"Maybe," Barney shrugs. "But the mutilation and deaths of thousands of people every year is a far, far greater one."
"You...you're trying to justify yourself," her voice is still woozy but I can hear her anger growing. "One crime does not cancel out another."
"That's merely your opinion," he replies, then turns to me. "What do you think, can you sit back and accept this horrific treatment, the virtual genocide, of your race?"
I don't know what "genocide" means, but I get his general meaning. "I...it's wrong, but I don't see how taking Sampson will help, won't that only annoy people?"
"Annoy people? You make us sound like those half assed slavery reformers who hand out leaflets on street corners and have polite meetings with politicians and business men, this is direct action son."
"What if we don't co-operate with you? What will you do to us then?" Vio slurs.
"We'd be forced to incarcerate you, but I'd prefer not to do that," Barney replies.
"How the fuck...how...does threatening to imprison us make you better than the slavers? We're innocent people."
"Our motives are to save many people's lives and liberty, if we have to take a handful of prisoners to do that then so be it. My conscience can live with that, especially as you've been given the choice," he looks at her challengingly.
"Fuck...choice? You drugged us...tied us up and took us out here. What choice?"
Barney sighs. "Hopefully in time you'll come around to our way of thinking."
Despite the fact that I've spent a fair portion of the day unconscious I suddenly realise that I'm utterly exhausted and I can't manage stop myself from yawning loudly. They both turn to look at me.
"You're tired," Barney says.
"Mmm," I nod.
"It's the drug, you need to sleep properly now, you'll both feel much better in the morning."
Vio glares at him. "Don't you...don't fucking pretend you care...don't pretend."
"You both need to sleep, perhaps you'll be more agreeable tomorrow." From the expression on Vio's face I very much doubt she will.
I'm woken a few hours later by a loud commotion, it soon becomes clear that Sampson has finally come round and he's flailing about like a landed fish and shouting incoherently in a hoarse voice. I watch half asleep as the two echobacks and Barney try to calm him down. Eventually he does, but only after Ev has bound his hands and feet again.
"Gods-damn...bloody hell!" Sampson rants as Barney attempts to explain the situation to him.
Tippit is standing back, he seems much more reluctant to get involved than the other two and I notice something that escaped me earlier. I can see Ev's tail, it's sticking out the back of is trousers like mine, but Tippit's is nowhere in sight. It could simply be that as he was pretending to be human, at least that's what I think he was doing, he doesn't have any trousers with holes in the back, but he's changed since Shelly and is wearing the same sort of stuff the other two have on. Seeing as Ev has his out it makes me wonder if Tippit actually has one, or has he been docked at some time in his past? This thought makes me feel both queasy and very sorry for him. Could I ask him about it or is it one of those things you don't mention?
I start to fall asleep again, waking up when the three of them noisily haul Sampson off behind the cart to relieve himself I assume, although as his hands are tied behind his back I don't want to think too much about how this is going to be achieved. A few minutes later they carry him back, and not long after that all goes quiet and soon I'm sleeping.
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