Novel part 10

The next few months passed by without a visit from Dr. Karon, and Minubar kept her distance. Since school and wife-training classes were seen as unnecessary for the girls of A building, they were idle and unfocused and tended to get into trouble. They got into frequent fights with one another or caused mischief in the compound by making bombs from sacks of flour and javelins from clothesline poles. It took a special occasion to get the girls to work together. One such morning, Sevara entered A building’s main hall to the sounds chair legs scraping across the hard floor. Girls ran back and forth, carrying supplies. Orly shouted instructions.

“Put that mattress on top of the other one! Good, now take those beds apart. Oh good, Sevara’s here.”

Sevara stowed her school things in her room and joined the others. Another auction had just finished. A small gathering of grooms had shown up and purchased some girls from E, F and G buildings. The girls from A building watched form the window as the sedans were pulled away. One girl from B building wasn’t sold. Now she was an Unwanted, just like Sevara, Orly, Tanner, and the others.

“Reeder’s coming soon, we’ve got to get ready for the Humilitorium,” said Tanner, and they all scrambled to the broom closets and secret storerooms to get supplies. Orly produced the skull masks and robes from a compartment under her bed. The long hemp rope for the noose was kept in spot, hidden behind an air vent. The other girls got the candles in place and arranged the furniture. The coffin was being put together by attaching pieces of wooden bed frames together. Inside the coffin were several mattresses and about a dozen pillows to fill in all the cracks and make it safe. Overhead, someone had already hung the hangman’s rope, but it wasn’t attached to the rafters. One girl would hold the other end, just to make sure that no one got hung for real.

“How do you make the spikes?” said Sevara.

“Oh, that’s easy. Look, you take the cardboard mold and you wrap toilet paper around it gently. Then you come over here.” They both went to the courtyard where a makeshift air paint station was set up.

“Just spray it with the silver paint. Don’t get any on your clothes, it’ll never come out. Perfect. In a few minutes it’ll dry, and you can pull out the cardboard mold. It’ll be soft as a feather pillow. Put it over there, we still need a few more.”

They worked on spikes while the other girls got the room ready.

“Now, remember, we need about eight girls holding her legs as she falls into the coffin. It needs to feel like it’s happening in slow motion. And make sure to tickle her armpits if she tries to hold on to the noose, we don’t want her to pull it down. Let’s do a few practice runs before we put those spikes in.”

They ran through the entire initiation ceremony, with Orly directing the ritual and the other girls playing their parts. Sevara remembered Reeder. She was a few months younger and not particularly bright. She was quiet and easy to influence, going along with what the other girls did without questioning as to whether or not it was right. She was pleasant to be around, though, and Sevara was glad to have her old friend with her in A building.

Tanner stood on the chair this time, and Sevara and the other girls lifted her by only holding her thighs, calves and ankles. It took some practice to get the balance just right. They picked her up, let her fall suddenly, then stopped in midair and put her gently onto the mattress coffin.

“That time was perfect, yes!” said Orly, looking around at the entire production. “Okay, get the spikes and put them on top. Make sure there’s no cardboard inside the tissue. And make sure that rope isn’t caught on anything, it has to be free or else someone’s going to get killed. Okay, more pillows on the side just in case she misses the mattresses. If she is falling outside the coffin, just lift her back onto the chair, yes, put her back up there. If she starts to cry, just repeat that chant over and over to calm her a bit. Go easy on her, she’s one of us now, and make sure the plum milk is ready. Is her room ready? Good. Clean sheets? Good.”

There was some noise outside as the custodians brought Reeder and her things to the A building lobby, and the girls got their costumes on. Tanner switched off the main lights. Sevara cracked the door and told Reeder to close her eyes and enter. Another girl came up behind her and put the blindfold on. The blood rushed from Reeder’s face as she took a hesitant step forward. The girls of A building tried to contain their excitement until Orly shouted, “Welcome to the Humilitorium!”

The whole ceremony only took ten minutes, as they prodded Reeder forward, poking her and spinning her, forcing her onto the chair and then finally guiding her down onto the soft spikes. But after the initiation, Reeder refused to calm down. The shock of the ordeal had broken open all her anxieties, and she wept, repeating, “If I’m not married then what am I? Who am I?” Then she went into a cold shock, muttering about what would happen to her if they sent her to the front to fight the Chinnai. She continued to weep for hours, even after the girls had snuck out into the city and bought her candies and fizz. In the darkened dormitory, the girls could hear her sobs echoing off the wooden floorboards well into the night.

Sevara went to Reeder’s room and tried to console her, but it was no use. She lay in her bed, her hands covering her tear-soaked face, and refused to uncurl from the fetal position. It was when Sevara was making her way back to her room that Minubar lunged from a dark corner. Sevara was ready this time and drove her bolo sticks hard into the larger girl’s meaty stomach. Then she tried a few quick swings to the forehead and knuckles, hoping to peel back the skin enough to get her to stop fighting. Minubar roared in pain but drove forward, grabbing Sevara around the waist with both hands while Sevara pummeled her spine with the heavy bolo sticks. Sevara felt the wind knocked out of her as she was crushed against the wall behind her, and she blacked out for a moment. When she could see again, she saw that she had kicked Minubar in the eye and the hulk of a girl had staggered back. She rolled forward and delivered a few blows to her leg and neck that put Minubar in the infirmary.

Novel part 9

For a few months, dark thunderheads built up on the outskirts of town but refused to release any water. Then, without warning, it rained for five days straight. The girls of A building planned a hasty goodbye party for Lizzie. It was her fifteenth birthday, and by law she had to leave the orphanage. Using the stock ingredients from the cafeteria, they made a sweet bun cake and smuggled in plenty of pinkberry fizz from Jan’s grocery store across the street. They chatted and said their goodbyes until the Curator called them all into the main building for the final farewell. There, Ms. Dunn got on her knees and helped Lizzie put on her jacket and tiny backpack. A ring of other girls from A building lined the entry hall.

“Will you tell me where to go?” Lizzie asked.

“We’ll tell you which trolleys to take and where you can start looking for work.”

“Okay, but will someone meet me?”

“We’ll give you some pocket money and a few addresses. You’ll be on your own, but you’ll be fine, don’t worry, dear.”

“What about my token?”

“Your boots are untied.”

Ms. Emma sauntered into the staff quarters with her pyramid-shaped purse spread open in her palm. It glowed and chirped, ready to accept credit disks.

The other custodians made their bets on which girl would leave next, and put their discs into the hungry purse.

“Where are the tokens?” someone asked.

Ms. Abigail opened the cabinet and hoisted a sack full of trinkets, mementos and relics left by hopeful parents over the years. The staff members gathered around and peered in, examining the odds and ends. Every mother hoped that the token would help her reunite with her daughter after she graduated, since contact with the outside was forbidden. Newspapers and pamphlets sometimes ran ads showing pictures of a mother’s half of the token, requesting that the child with the other half call in.

Out on the street, a hooded figure weaved through discarded baskets and empty barrels and made its way to the entrance to the orphanage. The wetness carried the dank smells from the nearby factories, the stench of gun metal oil and tanned leather. A drenched fist pounded on the door, then pounded again.

“She’s getting soaked,” the woman said, and pounded again. The Curator slid open a viewing window on the door, eyed the woman, then closed it again. The woman trembled and looked back the way she came. The sound of the locks made her focus again as the door swung open. The Curator’s muscular build filled the entrance.

“Here,” said the woman, handing a bundled infant over to the Curator. “I’m sorry, I—”

“Don’t worry,” said the Curator, “do you have a token?”

“Yes, of course,” said the mother hurriedly, as the Curator looked down at the infant girl she held. “You take one half, I’ll take the other, and that we she’ll be able to find me—” she said as she pulled out a playing card and tore it in half. “Please take good care of—”

The Curator took the half of the playing card and then slammed the door shut. The mother, alone on the street, looked at the steel door for a moment, thinking there might be something more to do. She reached out to touch the door, then stopped herself short and shuffled, head down, back the way she had come.

The Curator held the baby for a moment, staring at it with a mix of curiosity and disgust. Then, wiping the rain off her cheek, she walked slowly into the main hall where Lizzie and Ms. Dunn were talking.

“Ms. Curator, thank you for all your, you know, everything you’ve done for me and us girls,” said Lizzie shyly.

“I wish I could give you more. I hope that you’ll make a life for yourself out there. Well, Lizzie good luck,” said the Curator, with a rare tremor of sincerity in her voice.

“Have you got the token?” asked Ms. Dunn.

“Oh, yes, your token,” the Curator said, startled by the question. She approached Lizzie and handed her the recently torn half of the playing card. “Here it is.”

In the recreation building, Sevara sat on the edge of the orphanage swimming pool, her feet dangling down into the dry shell. She wore her one-piece bathing suit and clutched her goggles, twisting them as she looked into the white emptiness. Ms. Luiza’s swift footfalls stopped abruptly when she sighted Sevara.

“You’ve got to be careful, Sevara. You fall in there and you’ll break both your legs, or worse.”

“I won’t fall.”

“You’re not going to the sendoff?” Ms. Luiza asked.

“No, we had a party for her in A building last night. If I go out there I’ll probably start crying. I mean, what’s really going to happen to her?”

“She’ll find work and—”

“With no certification, what kind of work can she find?”

“Well, whatever needs to be done, whatever she’s good at.” Luiza sat down next to Sevara.

“Do any of the girls ever come back to visit? To let you now how they’re doing?”

Luiza didn’t answer. They both sat, staring at the emptiness of the pool.

“When are you going to fill this pool? I had hoped to go swimming at least once before I leave here,” said Sevara.

“We’ll fill it someday, I promise. Come on, back to your building.”

Sevara made her way back to her building as Lizzie stepped out into the street, the metal front door of the orphanage slamming shut behind her. She crossed the street, passed Jan’s grocery store and continued on towards the trolley stop, each step filling her with overwhelming anxiety. As she waited for the trolley, several men lurked on the opposite corner, chatting and occasionally staring at her while chewing fly juice nuts and spitting the shells on the ground. She waited for the trolley as the men eyed her with relish.

Sevara had just changed out of her bathing suit into her house clothes, but hadn’t yet put on her steel-toed boots or slid her retractable bolo sticks into her shirt sleeves. She tossed her swimming suit into her locker and crossed passed the row of empty shower stalls. It was the perfect time for Minubar to attack. Sevara felt a rib crack against Minubar’s bolo stick, and just avoided the second attack to the base of the skull, a fatal blow. Sevara lunged towards Minubar’s massive frame, instead of away, as the big girl would have expected, causing the next swing to greatly overshoot. But Minubar put her knee into Sevara’s chest, knocking the wind out of her as she felt herself fly up towards the ceiling, then go crashing into the lockers on the far side of the room.

Sevara stood and shook her head to brush the stars out of her eyes. She was cornered, barefoot and weaponless, at the far end of the locker room. Minubar advanced, both bolo sticks out. Sevara desperately looked left and right for a weapon or escape, but saw none. Minubar swung with both sticks, but Tanner shouted from behind them and Minubar paused.

“I’m right behind you, Sevara,” cried Tanner.

“This is between us! Stay out of it unless you want some,” said Minubar.

Tanner had been in the orphanage long enough to know what that meant, and immediately jerked both arms forward, flicking her bolo sticks from their bamboo sheathes hidden in her sleeves. Tanner charged, attacking as if pain didn’t matter to her, as if she wanted to die there today. Minubar swing powerfully but clumsily, and Tanner got in a few solid strikes on her legs and shoulders before getting hit on the arm. Sevara heard her bone fracture. Tanner crumpled over in pain, but then leapt up when Minubar was on top of her, jabbing her elbow into her jaw. Minubar staggered back and fell, and Tanner jumped on top of her, putting both knees into her throat and raising her good arm to finish her off.

“No!” yelled Sevara.

“She’ll just be back for you later,” said Tanner, and swung her club, but Sevara’s hand caught her wrist.

“I’ll be ready next time,” said Sevara, and Tanner jumped off. Orly appeared in the doorway to the locker room, bolo sticks out. Minubar started to hack and cough.

“You’d better be,” Minubar said, rolling onto her side and trying to prop herself up. Orly and Sevara pulled Tanner away from the locker room, and they went back to their dormitory.

“Tanner’s right,” said Orly, “we should have finished her.”

“I can’t do that,” said Sevara. Orly grabbed her by both shoulders and stared at her intently, her striking jaw line hardened and blazing eyes suddenly alive.

“We’ve missed our chance to marry,” she said earnestly. “We’re warriors now; we’ve got to start acting like it.”

Tanner sat on a bottom bunk bed and held her broken arm close to her chest, looking up at the bold brunette and the naive redhead, her best friends.

“I’d rather be a soldier than servant to some jerk,” said Tanner through a smirk. “I’d rather die on the battlefield than cleaning up some old man’s droppings.”

Orly thought the same. She was actually looking forward to being released from the orphanage and making it on her own in Plexus. She was a natural leader and a charismatic spokesperson, resourceful enough to thrive in 127, the most dismal place on earth. The other girls followed her without question, and most likely all of Plexus would some day as well.

“Minubar will try to bleed you as soon as she gets the chance,” said Orly. “Let me finish her tonight while she’s sleeping.”

“I can’t let you do that Orly,” said Sevara. “I started this. It’s my fight.”

“Your morals will get you killed,” said Orly.  “Okay, stay close to me. Keep your guard up and your bolo sticks ready at all times, even when you sleep.”

“I’ll be one step behind you, always,” said Sevara, and they retired to their rooms to rest.

Outside, the first two trolleys refused to let Lizzie board, so she began to walk away from the orphanage. In half an hour, she was hopelessly lost. Shopkeepers and storeowners would not talk to her, and men on the street jeered and harassed her. She was certain that an old man with a heavy limp had been following her for a dozen blocks, so she rushed through countless unfamiliar neighborhoods to avoid him. Finally, she met a nice young man, dressed in a sharp yellow suit, who offered her food, a place to stay, and a bottle of pinkberry fizz, her favorite flavor. She wasn’t sure she should trust him about the place to stay, but she was very thirsty couldn’t resist the fizz. She drank a bottle, and didn’t remember anything else that happened to her that afternoon.

Sevara graphic novel

“We’ll fill it someday, I promise.”

Novel part 8

The doctor tapped the roof of the truck, indicating that he wanted more speed. The hookman, seated precariously on top, adjusted the hooks with great skill. The wagon lurched forward with a jolt, leaving the orphanage behind. As they came to new sectors of the city, the hookman released his hook and caught a different one, harnessing the energy provided by the hourglass-shaped central hub and the circling zeppelins that connected to it. A fat, bald man in a white sleeveless shirt steered the vehicle on the far seat, while between them sat a younger, much more handsome man dressed all in yellow.

“Did you get ’em?” said Fib, as he clutched the control wheel and navigated through the streets.

“A good haul,” said Dr. Karon.

“The redhead?” asked the handsome one in yellow.

The doctor remained silent.

“Jordan is gonna be mad,” said the pilot, wiping sweat from his forehead with a rag while the bumps in the street made his fat shake.

“There were some complications,” said the doctor.

“Why don’t we turn around and just take what we want? This is our city,” said Fib.

“That’s not actually the case,” said the doctor, not turning to look at the other men. “Do I need to remind you that what we do is not according to the Codex? If we get caught, despite our deals with the central hub, we will be put to death.”

“Jordan’s gonna be mad.”

“Fib, the boss is always mad,” said the man in the yellow suit.

“What are you gonna tell ’em?” asked Fib.

“Why don’t you steer this thing and I’ll worry about what I’m going to tell our boss,” the doctor spit back.

“Cause I want my percent, that’s why.”

“Oh, I see. Well, this is what we’ll tell our boss. The truth. The redheaded one is very sick. She certainly wouldn’t be suitable for any work of any kind. No, she has acute lymphatic sclerosis. Very contagious. Very deadly. She’s been quarantined. I’m administering a course of enzymes and vitamins that should cure her, in, I’d say, about one year.” With this, the doctor took a handful of credit tabs from his coat pocket and placed a pile in the yellow man’s open palm.

“One more year means more money for us.” He placed another pile of tabs into the waiting hand of the pilot. Neither looked down. They placed the tabs into their pockets without a word. The wagon rumbled on.

“Jordan’s still gonna be mad.”

The doctor stared out the window and stayed out of the discussion.

“Oh, the old puppet hole is always mad,” said the yellow man.

“He’d be mad if he heard you call him that.”

“Let him be mad. What do we care? The trick, my friends, is to make sure he’s not mad at you!”

“What do you think our next job will be?”

“I don’t think. That’s how I stay so marvelously happy all the time, my friend. I don’t think. I just do what I’m told to do, and then I go home.”

“Please check on our passengers, won’t you?” the doctor asked.

The handsome man in the yellow suit swiveled all the way around in his chair and opened a small door that led from the cabin of the vehicle to the cargo compartment. A half dozen girls sat inside, frightened.

“Good morning, ladies, I’m very sorry for the bumpy ride. Now, I know, you’re probably scared, right? Well, I can assure you there’s nothing to worry about.”

His smile and demeanor seemed to put the girls at ease.

“Now, that whole thing about being sick, that was just a game we play. There’s nothing wrong with you. We just wanted to get you out of that awful place a bit quicker. Just an administrative trick. That place was dirty and altogether wretched anyway, right? You’ll be glad you got out of there. We’re going to take good care of you. There’s gonna be lots of girls just like you where we’re going; everything’s gonna be fine.” The girls copied his smile and he saw them relax their shoulders.

“Now these bumps in the road are gonna get worse, and you might start to feel a little sick because of it. Bet yer not used to driving, am I right? Go ahead and take this little pill, it will help. Here’s a bottle of cold pinkberry fizz to wash it down. That’s it, drink it down. Now at first you’ll feel a little dizzy, then a little numb, then you won’t feel anything at all.”

The girls took the pill, drank, and remembered nothing more that afternoon. Within a few days they were taken by rope-tow truck to the front, to fill the ranks of the mine-clearing brigades.