Please Note: This story deals with very dark and disturbing themes. Do not read it if you're squeamish. This is part 4 of the story. Part 1 of the story is online here http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-truth-about-lions-and... and part 2 is online here http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-truth-about-lions-and... Part 3 is online here http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-truth-about-lions-and.... Part 5 will be online next sunday
By the time he awoke buried up to his neck in the huge, mephitic swamp of excrement and other remains on the ground floor, he was guilty of every sin imaginable, and a victim of them as well. He had no idea how he’d come to be there, of course, no memory of who he was, but in situations like this such things don’t matter. A subconscious, sub vocal instinct sounded in his head over and over again, ‘just survive, just survive, just survive.’ It had been there since shortly after he arrived in the airport, since this new order of life had claimed him, but it was louder in situations like this. It was The First Law, after all, though he lacked the capacity to think of it in those abstract terms.
After quite some time, he managed to work one of his arms partially free of the filth - interesting how memory plays such little part in coordinating life-or-death situations - and reached out for anything solid to pull himself forward. There was a half-buried chair just in reach. He managed to get his fingers around that and pulled. It came loose from the muck and slapped him in the head. Already on the edge of panic, he gave in to it and went hysterical for such a long time that he got bored with it and then tried to rescue himself again. He found an unidentifiable bit of tubing sticking up with a reasonably intact person impaled upon it. He reached out and grabbed for it, but his disgustingly engreased fingers slipped off several times. Finally he grabbed the hand of the dead woman, and was able to pull himself forward somewhat. A few hours later he had his other arm mostly free, and he had the woman as a source of food.
In two days, he was able to commando-crawl to the edge of the dung-heap where the density of the material was less, and he clawed his way through on hands and knees. His hand struck something. It was solid, and fairly large. He became interested in it, and wrestled it out of the muck. A briefcase? Small suitcase? Something like it, anyway. For no particular reason, he took it with him when he finally reached the lowest bank of the broken escalators. After forgetting he had it in his hand and rediscovering it several times, he smashed it repeatedly against the wall and broke it open.
Inside was something more magical than magic itself: It was cleanliness.
The case had been waterproof, obviously, though he couldn’t comprehend that. Inside it were papers and pens and various office supplies that were as pristine as they day some now-anonymous wretch had brought them to this place. They even still smelled faintly of a mill or office supply store. It was the only clean thing in this entire hellish tiny world, salvaged from the filth.
It struck him as numinous and holy. Taking pains to scrape off as much of the muck from his body as he could, he touched only one sheet, and then tentatively on the edge.
“Paper,” he said, the first word he’d spoken in days. The amnesia was of slightly worse than the standard sixties television plot device variety: they could remember language, skills, things built in to them on a basic level before the more shallow things were wiped by the odd experiment going on here, but any more personal or recent memories were as volatile as the morning dew, and somewhat shorter-lived. Even these memories tended to degrade over time, much to the interest of the observers. It was a cruel miracle that anyone survived here at all, which, of course, was the point of the exercise.
He piled up some smashed furniture on the second floor until he had a pile big enough to climb up and reach the merely-grimy ceiling and rubbed his hands along that until they were relatively clean. Why? What deep instinct put that thought in him? No one would ever know, but one must be careful not to profane holy things. All the while, “Just survive, just survive” beat a rhythm in his head so basic that he had long stopped noticing it, except in emergencies.
He took a pen - it still worked - and wrote ‘I am on the second floor.’ He could see that much from looking over the balcony. Something in his head screamed in triumph, and this too was numinous and perhaps even holy. Sometime later, lugging the case full of blank paper along, but inexplicably covered in blood, he found a large room off to the side that had emergency rations in it - army MREs, probably intended in the event of a blizzard or something similar - it took him a while to realize what they were, and even then it was only an accident when he tried to stab a large snake with his doorstopper and missed, ripping a hole in the reflective mylar wrapping. He greedily wolfed it down. There were freeze-dried strawberries in there! Freeze-dried strawberries! It was as if heaven had descended upon earth for him in the form of dehydrated sweets, the first thing he’d eaten in God knew how long that wasn’t a rat or a person or worse. After such a long time on a starvation diet, he was overwhelmed and when in to something not quite diabetic, but still some kind of hyperglycemic shock.
The paper said “I am on the second floor” and several other random things that had occurred to him since he found it. It had helped him, the paper had, he could keep track of things. He kept it pinned to the inside of a shirt he’d taken off a corpse some time earlier, and continually forgot about it, but whenever it happened to make itself known to him - scratching on his chest, or falling out at inopportune moments, or just feeling odd when he itched - he looked at it, and was reminded of various minor things about his life. This time he scratched out the things that no longer seemed relevant, and drew himself a map to the food cache. It took him a few days to do it, since he kept drifting off, but one of the things he wrote on the page was “Make a map to the food,” it will help you survive. Presently, he had a fairly detailed treasure map that told him how to get to the food from virtually any location adjacent to the atrium, and which was coincidentally a fairly good map of the center of the airport itself. It was simply labeled “Follow this to food.”
Thus, even though he had no memory, he’d managed to work out a system of artificial memory, though he generally forgot he had it with him. The cache became his home base, and he started putting on weight, gradually increasing from the animated skeleton he’d been.
One day he found himself suddenly aware while looking over the balcony at one of the paintings. He began to itch, and when he scratched he rediscovered his map. While puzzling over it, a child - nothing but skin and bones herself - came crawling past. She had long since lost the energy to stand. She was sick and naked, and clearly wouldn’t last much longer. She mumbled “hungry, hungry, hungry” as a barely-recognizable mantra.
‘Just survive, just survive, just survive’ kept repeating in his subconscious, he’d been in flight or fight mode for however long he’d been in this place, but a consistently full belly and some semblance of an external memory had caused it to recede somewhat.
He looked at the map, and at the dying girl.
“You want something to eat?” he said to her, his voice scratchy and unexpectedly loud. He hadn’t spoken in days. She ignored him, mumbling ‘hungry, hungry’ to herself, and kept crawling on. She was far gone, past the point of realizing anything beyond her own misery. She was entirely bestial.
‘just survive’ played in his head, but he looked at that law, recognized how little it was, and told it to shut up. In the course of a millisecond, it was gone.
“Yeah, you are,” he said to no one in particular. He picked her up - she couldn’t weigh thirty pounds even - and put her over his shoulder. She was too weak to squirm or fight or do much of anything. Then he looked on the back of his map, where it said “Write down things here so you don’t forget them” in his handwriting. Underneath that, he wrote:
“You have got to help the girl survive, get her some food, keep her safe.”
“Let’s get you something to eat,” he said as he carried her off to the cache, completely unaware that the fundamental nature of his universe had changed, but feeling good in some way he couldn’t define just the same.
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