I may be getting a late start to blogging in 2015, but the year has otherwise started off like a shot. I’m almost four weeks into the spring semester, have drafted a major organizational plan for the first half of the year, to include completing some projects that were first outlined last spring, and started a short story competition. Needless to say, there’s much to come for the blog soon enough!
That being said, I’ll cut to the chase and present the piece I submitted for competition for review and critique. In the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition 2015 my was heat #45, with the the following assignments: genre – sci-fi, subject – pregnancy, and character – a private investigator. I had a delightful time crafting the story and hope you enjoy reading it!
What have I done? Why did I bring this girl back here? Arnie paced the room, staying in the shadows and watching the slight movement of her chest under the thin sheet. He paused periodically to listen, but the only sounds were those of his android moving around the office. Arnie was sure he had been cautious, but he was still fearful of the discovery by the Wus.
When Arnie turned back to the girl, the memory of her frail, limp body being dropped into the medical waste bin was fresh enough in his mind that he could almost still taste the grime that was in the air of the alley. The hulking frame left her, bleeding and unconscious for pick up by a disposal team, before retreating into the old brick building and securing the steel doors. Arnie waited for thirty minutes before venturing over to inspect the lock. It was easy enough to override, but getting her out had been a more complicated matter.
Lightweight as the girl was, it had taken another thirty minutes to wrangle her out of the bin and move her over to the shadows of the alleyway without leaving a trail. Arnie then had to devise a method of getting the girl back to his office without attracting attention and exercising extreme caution so as to not leave behind any evidence. By the time he held his eye against the old peephole for a retinal scan and pushed through the doorway into his humble office suit, Arnie was drenched in sweat and shaking from exhaustion.
“Arnie?” The slightly metallic voice of Sheena, his android assistant, drifted down the hallway.
“Here, Sheena,” he replied. “I could use a hand.”
The blue-gray form appeared around the door frame from the back room where they did most of their research and file maintenance. She moved toward him with quick, precise steps and paused to assess the aging man and the crate he had just hauled through the front door. The metal of her forehead reflected the dim light in the hall as she angled it to the side, better assessing the box.
“Arnie, what does this crate contain? Surely, we do not have need for one hundred pounds of apples.”
“No, Sheena, you’re quite right. No apples. If you could help me lay this down, I’ll need your expertise to know what exactly was done to her.”
“To her? Arnie, what have you gotten into?”
“Later, Sheena, please. Right now, this girl needs our help.”
Sheena’s cool gray eyes stared unblinking at Arnie for a pause before she shifted around the crate, gently laying the wooden box on its back. In one deft move, she removed the lid and stared at the slender form that lay carefully curled within.
“Arnie, someone has operated on her today,” Sheena said, “and they were careless. She has lost a lot of blood.”
Arnie nodded, dabbing the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. “Yes, but what I don’t know is what they did or why. I pulled her from a medical disposal bin.”
Sheena’s gaze was focused on the girl, a full minute passing as she scanned from head to feet, then shook her head. “It would appear she has had uterine contents removed, most likely by nanites. There are traces of nanite debris in the blood.” Sheena took one of the girl’s hands in hers and pressed one of the girl’s fingers to her palm. Arnie had raised his hand but the words protesting her move to identify the girl died on his lips as Sheena snapped her head up and rose slightly so her eyes were level with his. “Arnie, this is the girl we were hired to find for Mr. and Mrs. Wu.”
Arnie sighed and dropped his gaze to the floor, pausing to consider all he had not yet told Sheena about the girl. He shook his head and raised his eyes to hers, instead saying, “Yes, Sheena, she is. And now she needs our help, so if you could aid in moving her to the sitting area-”
“No,” said Sheena, shaking her head. Arnie opened his mouth to override her, but she quickly continued, “That is too near to the front. She would be safer and better hidden in the back. We can set her up in my rest area and I will relocate myself to the file room for rejuvenation.”
Arnie bit his lip to keep from smiling at Sheena’s description of her recharging station, then reached into the crate and slid his hands under the girl’s arms to lift her torso. Sheena carefully lifted under her knees and together they carried the feather-light girl down the narrow hall towards the rear of the building. In Sheena’s rest area they laid her on a small sofa that was just long enough to accommodate the girl with her knees slightly bent.
Sheena shooed Arnie from the room to properly cleanse and dress the girl in clean clothes, a long linen shirt and billowy pants left from Arnie’s wife. After she had pulled the sheet over the girl, Sheena detailed for Arnie what her scans had shown.
“The nanite debris I saw in my original scan was confirmed on analysis. Nanites of origin 87-NT, specifically. They are the most sophisticated model I am familiar with, capable of microscopic vascular and neurosurgical procedures but they are not widely available. It appears she had contents removed from her uterine wall, which left a circular pattern in the lining of the uterus. She is shedding that lining now, which is heavily contaminated with hormones consistent with pregnancy. I believe the nanites removed a placenta from the uterine wall and any products of conception along with it. Her bleeding has slowed, but we will need some medications to help her properly heal. I will see Eldwin and procure what I can. What of the crate?”
Arnie rubbed a finger across his chin, pondering destruction of the evidence that carried the girl to his office. “Incineration would be the most thorough destruction. We can load some old file boxes in it to pass it off as confidential materials. Are they running it today?”
Sheena nodded, “They should be, it is a work day. But what of the blood stains and nanite remnants that are sure to be detected?”
“Hmm.” Arnie shook his head. “We’ll have to consider disposal of it after we get the girl what she needs. You see to Eldwin, I’ll remove the crate and keep watch over her.”
Sheena eyed Arnie, seeming to ponder his statement as a suggestion, rather than the directive it was, to which her programming should have instinctively complied. Whether she was able to manually override her programming or was merely plagued by glitches, Arnie had never been sure, but she was fiercely loyal, an incredible resource and his constant companion, so he had never questioned it. When Sheena finally nodded and moved to exit the back office door, Arnie began his pacing, listening for unusual movements outside the office and keeping a careful watch on the pattern of the girl’s breathing.
The girl’s eyes burned when she opened them, not from the dim light of the dancing flame in the oil lamp, but from the image seared onto her retina of the enormous lights in silver domes that had shocked her vision when the hood was removed. Instinctively, she wriggled and attempted to shield her eyes, only to discover her arms were bound at ninety degree angles in two places and her legs were secured even more heavily, so wide apart she could feel a slight draft on the skin of backside and thighs. Her hips and knees were bent up such that she would be sitting were her feet on the ground.
The girl had urgently strained against her restraints as her heart rate thundered in her chest. The sheet draping across her lower half began to slip and the thin paper gown covering her torso tore in several places. She craned her neck, managing to lift her head and shoulders several inches and allowing her to see a large machine to just beyond her right shoulder with several screens, tubes, a mask and many colored knobs. Before she could look in the other direction, the sound of movement from directly behind her head caught her attention. The girl strained again, this time catching sight of a tray of fluid-filled syringes and needles, one of which was snatched by the gloved hand of a figure in green who spoke firmly through a mask that shielded her face.
“Shh, now. You need to hold still.” The figure crossed around to the girl’s side, shining a small light over an area an inch in diameter in the crook of her right arm that was left immobile by the restraints. “Here, this will take the edge off,” and with that, the figure in green slid the needle through her skin and into a blue bulge, then depressed the plunger, squeezing a clear liquid into the blue structure.
The girl felt the sharp prick followed by cool liquid rushing up her arm and rapidly began to feel the table melt away from beneath her. Her mouth dropped open slightly as her thoughts of escape floated away. Warmth filled her chest and her heart rate slowed to a peaceful rhythm until she heard the figure in green speak again, its gray eyes focused on hers.
“Now, we’re going to take care of your little predicament.”
The words were still ringing in her ears as the girl strained again, this time finding herself free from restraints and the table. As she moved to block the light and drew herself into a ball, a sharp pain clenched inside her abdomen.
She emitted a guttural sound, drawing a tall aging man out of shadows, but she swiveled her head in his direction, he froze. The girl shifted her body, positioning herself to spring from the couch. The gray-haired man raised his hands slowly and keeping his pale green eyes directed downward.
“I won’t hurt you, I only mean to help,” he started.
Before he could continue, another voice called out, “Arnie, I heard some movement, is she waking?”
When the android appeared in the doorway, the girl scuttled across the couch, cowering by the far arm and shaking.
“Sheena, you had best hold very still,” Arnie said to the android, never taking his eyes off the girl. He held his palms up again and crouched, making sure he was at the girl’s eye level but without making visual contact.
“My name is Arnie. This is Sheena, my android and partner. You were pulled from a medical disposal bin and I brought you here to help you. We’re not going to hurt you.”
The girl’s eyes darted from Arnie to Sheena, finally coming to rest on Arnie’s splotched and sagging face.
“Arnie,” the girl whispered, looking back to him. “Why have you been following me?”
Arnie sat back on his heels, stunned. He was rarely noticed as it was, having developed a talent for blending in. From his days as a youth, learning to stalk animals in the forest with his father to his decade’s long career as a hawkshaw, Arnie could not recall the last time a target been aware of his presence.
He hesitated, then replied, “First let’s start at the beginning. I know you only as X. What do you like to be called?”
The girl raised her chin, revealing her finely chiseled features and slowly constricting pupils. “My name is Xalbadora. I go by Xalba.”
Arnie’s eyes widened. “You are the daughter of Raina, the wife of Hu, who was exiled from The Northland.” He shook his head. “This country has really suffered since then under his rule.”
Xalba nodded. “Many do not know I exist. My mother hid me, hid our identities, and she did it well. Until you found me five months ago, I had lived here for almost five years undetected. Now tell me, why did you seek me out and what was done to me today?”
Arnie glanced towards Sheena, then back to Xabla. “I am responsible for all that has befallen you these last four months.”
Sheena was quick to speak. “Arnie, you have been withholding from me. This is most disturbing.” She stood in the doorway with her arms crossed.
Xalba glanced warily in her direction, then focused on Arnie. “You know who raped me, who impregnated me.”
Without looking up, he nodded. “They came to me looking for a runaway, a lost sister. They knew you were living here, but nothing else. I couldn’t refuse the case, they’re too powerful. Once I found you, there was more, things about your habits and routines that only one with illicit intentions would ask. I started following you, hoping to warn you, but I didn’t move fast enough.”
“The ones you speak of are my sister and her husband, aren’t they?”
“Yes. Zetian Wu and her husband, Chen.”
“And you were there, when they grabbed me that day.”
Arnie nodded again. “And today. The timing was all too precise. I knew the rape had a purpose, I just didn’t know what until today, after Sheena’s scans revealed nanite debris.”
“And the baby,” she asked.
This time Arnie shook his head. “They have it,” he said. “But by now I’m sure it’s been re-implanted. Your sister suffered the same radiation exposure as Hu during the attempted coup 30 years ago. It is likely she unable to conceive her own child.”
Xalba lifted her chin and straightened up. “My mother warned me of the evil in my sister’s heart. She told me that one day I would have to face her, that my burden was to see to the future of the country my ancestors carefully guided for generations. That was why she named me Xalbadora. Will you help me?”
Arnie looked up to Sheena, who nodded once, then back to Xalba. “What happened to you is in part my doing, and is something I can never change. But helping you right the wrongs of the past to change the future…I will help you.”