The day started like any other. The lights came on and we trundled off to the shelter for some sleep. It's always a fight to actually get in there, but I got a decent spot, close to the middle, most of my body covered by the warm flesh of my four roomates. It was going to be a good sleep. Warm, belly full, surrounded by the protecting, safe walls of our shelter, my nostrils filled with the scent of my Brothers.
But that changed a few hours later when the room moved. That's nothing unusual, it happened fairly frequently, just a little rearrangement...no big deal. Might even be getting some fresh food....But this time something seemed different, wrong. The hands were blue, the too-high eyes covered in some translucent disks, and we moved for too long, with less certainty than usual. I caught a few glimpses, but everyone just crowded together and, being at the bottom of the pile, I couldn't see much. After a time, the rocking stopped and we scattered. I tried to get a look, but suddenly, the room was plunged into darkness. Night already? Did I sleep that soundly? No...wait....moving again. We never move at night.
It seemed to last forever, huddled together in a pile in the corner, chests heaving, trying to get a sense of what was going on, but no clues. Just the familiar smells of the room and my Brothers, the soft diffused hint of light of the night...but it was odd. Waves of weight, like for a moment I was heavier, then normal again...Then the waiting.
We ended in a different place, somewhere new. Somewhere brighter, quieter. We waited. It's not like we had much choice in the matter. Some of us dozed, but I was simply too anxious. I couldn't sleep, so I wandered. I roamed around the room, unable to resist the temptation to find a way out. I hoisted my body on top of our shelter and grasped the grating above me, inspecting the removeable ceiling over us...sometimes, when we moved, the ceiling slid up and back. Some had escaped that way, and I had a plan. Wait in the corner, back near the Wind Caves and wait. When it opens, it is always by the Hanging River, never by the Wind Caves, but that just means they are always at the opposite end. Sometimes, sometimes the crack widens near the back by just enough...If it opens far enough, I can slip out, escape. I knew. It was vague, I didn't know the details, but I knew then. My Brothers were complacent, willing to simply sleep in a new place, they had no idea that this was just the beginning. And I did not tell them. I was afraid to be wrong.
We weren't all really Brothers, we in fact came from at least two different sets of parents. But when they put us together, we forged the bonds and became Brothers nonetheless. Only one of us was truly my brother, had shared my creche. The rest were from another, but they accepted us openly. The brotherhood of crisis, I suppose. It was when they took us in that I first met a Small One that was male. The only Small Ones from our mother were our sisters, we had assumed that was just the way it was; some sisters are small. I haven't seen them in...in....I forget. After a while, time loses its meaning. I know the sun exists, but I can't even remember it. Was it real, or was it just a story my mother told? Had she ever even seen it?
The blue hands took them first. Maybe they really were special, or maybe they were just easier to catch. Sometimes, they had a hard time breathing, and they couldn't move very fast for very long. It had been a stressful morning, and they were already wheezing. Looking back, though....looking back it wasn't all that bad. At that point, the day had just begun, and my nightmare hadn't even started.
They weren't gone long, and they didn't cry out. Not at first, anyway. It happened too fast; one moment they were there...then gone...then back, punctuated by a weak and muffled cry of terror. I tell myself I did nothing because I couldn't. It was so fast, and who could fight...that? They didn't scream at first, but they did. I couldn't see what was done to them, and they said nothing when they got back. The pain within me was born in that moment. I should have helped them, done something, anything. But I know....I know now. Even if I could have, even if it hadn't happened too fast for a response, I was afraid. Besides, it was them that were wanted, not me. Or so I thought.
They started to change. First, they just slowed, but it got worse in a very short time. They crawled on their bellies, their eyes darted around madly as their legs twitched mindlessly...I could smell the taint of blood on their bellies...tiny, almost imperceptible and mixed with.....something. Faint, but unmistakably....there.
When they were silent, the hands came back for them. It was a long time before I saw them again, and by then I had problems of my own to deal with. They took the black one, and he was stoic. Nothing but a cold stare. But that hard facade didn't last long, he broke and screamed as well when his time came. My creche Brother watched me as he was taken. He...I think he knew. Somehow, he knew how it would end for him. He never made a sound. He was the only one that went quietly.
I was alone. I was the last one left moving. I cried and screamed as the hands came for me, chased me around the room. I tried to escape, bounding for the crack in the lid, but it was no use. They took me. I could feel my heart in my chest, pounding, about to burst from my chest, my lungs full of fire. I screamed in fear as the needle pierced my belly. It really didn't hurt. It was the fear, the knowledge of what was to come of me.
I have only vague recollections of the next period of time. Crawling around the room, lost time, swinging into the air, something cold and hard and sharp! against my neck, but my movements were attentuated, as in a dream. My legs simply wouldn't move. I felt the blades come together over my throat. I braced for death; the sure, cold death of a slit throat, my life dripping from my body. But as the darkness fell....he's shaving me? If I had the strength, the absurdity surely would have evoked a laugh.
When I awoke, I was back in the room. I was warm, it was dark, and I smelled my Brothers. My throat was shaved clean for the first time in...how long? Time, again. Whatever that is. I could smell my brother...and something else. Disease. Distress. Death. I searched for the source, rummaging around in the darkness, but it was .... elusive. It permeated the room, it was everywhere. The food, the water, the floor, the ceiling, my Brothers....me. It didn't take long to figure it out. It didn't take long to find the still bodies of some of my Brothers. Some were moving around a little, others were already alert, crouched in a corner, trying to make sense of it all. That's when I found him. My brother, lying on some white sheet, his eyes glazed white and dried. I didn't have to check, he didn't make it. He was always the lucky one.
The days became normal again. Eat, sleep, wake, bathe...the normal cycle of daily existence. But the stench remained. The room was cleaned, the food removed and changed, fresh water given....but the smell remained. Disease. Decay. Death. The fire started slow in my chest, deep when I breathed. Just a warmth, almost comforting. But then I started to hear strange sounds on deep breaths, some of my Brothers began to sleep more and more, eat less and less. They were taken one by one as they grew frail. We never saw them again. The odd thing was with the small ones.
They seemed unaffected. They breathed...well, not normally, but as they always had. They kept what little weight they had, even gained some because they no longer had to compete, or put up with mean tempered Brothers. It made me glad that I had been nice to them. (Even though I would never admit it to them, but the only reason I had been was because they reminded me of my sisters, and therefore females in general). They did exact some retribution. I suppose it was just their due, the oppurtunity for vengence brought on by an angry god with hands of blue, tools of cold steel and inner fire.
My story is about to end. They have moved the room once more. Again, I am last, but this time I have an excuse for not fighting. I can hardly move. The warm glow in my chest has turned to a raging fire. The scratch in my breath has turned to a rasping, foaming stream from my nostrils. But it is nothing I don't deserve. I watched, a coward, as my Brothers were taken. I did nothing, I tried nothing. I knew that I should fight, I knew that even death would be preferable to our fate. I was right, and it changes nothing. Still, I did nothing. Out of fear of failure, I did nothing.
When the needle comes, I will welcome it. If it kills me, all the better. It can't possibly be worse than the pain and guilt. The physical pain is a welcome pennance. The fire in my lungs is to purify me of the fire in my mind...that is the true pain. I can see my Brothers. They lie outside the translucent walls of the room. The blue hands...the blue hands....they are doing terrible things. Smoking cauldrons, cold, glistening steel, marred by the blood and gore of my family. They are turned inside out, gutted, their bodies ripped asunder and tossed into a pile still warm, still twitching. It is the end of it all. We are not the only room. There are many...oh, so many. The pile grows, and they all look at me, the coward that still survives.
I will welcome the needle, when it comes.