Sometimes sleep is the best solace. Consciousness returned slowly to Grief as the rays of the sun slowly crawled across his face. Cracks in the building’s elevated foundation allowed the light a way into his hiding place, revealing dirt and garbage, his prone figure and the outline of another just an arm length away from him.
With his senses flooding back into awareness there came an overwhelming emotion. Fear.
Sitting bolt upright, he yelled, “Lissa! Lissa, where are you!”
The figure stretched out nearby stirred quickly, and a female face became visible in the dusty morning light.
“Shh! Quiet, Grief,” she whispered harshly, “Are you trying to get us killed?”
Grief flung himself the short distance to his sister and threw his arms around her, stifling a sob. “I get so scared, Lissa.”
“I know Grief, but we are going to make it. We’re going to be okay. We just have to get out of Baudelaire. If we can make it to the coast no one will be looking for us.”
Lissa looked around at their bleak accommodations. Grief had made his way into the crawlspace easily, being the smaller of the two, but she had been hard pressed to squeeze certain parts through the small hole in the south wall. She did not relish having to do it again, and this time in broad daylight. It was just a chance they would have to take. The streets were all but deserted at night, making them easy targets for patrols. Not only that, a growing rumbling in her stomach convinced her that it was time to find something to eat.
“Get the pack, Grief. It’s time to jam.”
Just twenty four hours earlier their lives had been uncomplicated bliss. Lissa had been looking after Grief since the death of their parents. She had a job minding the laundry recyclers in the upper class neighborhood of Fleurs du Mal. Often she wondered how laundry could still be so tedious with the combined technology of thousands of years, technology enough to scorch half the planet. It was a hard job, but she and Grief enjoyed a measure of happiness.
Growing up she had always known that Grief was different. It wasn’t just his diminutive size. Sometimes Grief would get a far away look in his eyes, and then strange things would happen. Strange and wonderful things.
One time, before their parents died, she and Grief had come across an injured rabbit. It had been dragging it’s hind legs, and making a plaintive mewling sound barely audible to human ears. The look came over Grief. He walked slowly over to the rabbit and began to pet it’s head softly. The rabbit immediately became calm, and soon seemed to be lulled into a deep sleep. Grief leaned down and whispered into it’s ears for a couple of minutes before standing up and rejoining his sister. Behind him the rabbit opened it’s eyes, got to it’s feet and hopped away. Lissa never spoke of it, mainly because of the light she saw in Grief’s eyes.
That wasn’t even close to what happened after Grief had learned of their parents’ murder. Grief’s name had been Scott before that. When he heard about their deaths he was beyond communication. He kept rocking back and forth in the fetal position in a corner of his room. Lissa tried to comfort him.
After many rises and falls of her chest she went to him again. “Scott… Scott, everything is going to be fine. I’ll take care of you, I’ll…”
“Don’t ever call me Scott again, Lissa,” he said in a voice that was not of their world. “My name is Grief.”
He focused on her briefly, and then he asked her to leave, in that same unnatural voice. Lissa had been too frightened to refuse. She ran from the house with her hands over her face, totally overcome with terror. She fled into the small field behind their home and flung herself upon the grass. It was then that she heard, or rather felt it.
An invisible wave of pressure exploded outward from their home. Birds were flung from their flight. Even the clouds seemed to waver in the sky. After that there was only a deep, profound silence. At last her concern for Grief overcame her fears of the changes she had seen in him. She went back for him.
He was still sitting in a fetal position in a corner of his room, but he was just her brother again. The dangerous light had gone from his eyes, and his voice was his own again. Lissa went to him and threw her arms around him.
“I will always be here for you… Grief. I love you, Grief. It’s just you and me now.”
“Those people will never hurt anyone again,” Grief said sadly.
“What people, Grief?”
“The men who killed mommy and daddy,” he said simply. It was then that Lissa knew what the pressure had been.
Twenty-three pots of beans later the magistrate’s personal troopers came to their home. In their light bio-silicoid armor, reeking of the feeding banks where the equipment is grown, the looked and smelled like decaying scorpions. The bio-pulse rifles in their arms throbbed with malicious awareness, genetically enhanced to seek their targets by body heat and odor. Troopers needed their “fine” equipment to make up for their intelligence.
The one in charge displayed his finest trait. “You the one’s who’s parents murdered?”
“Yes, that’s us,” Lissa answered.
“We found them. Something ate their brains.”
Grief hung his head, and would not lift his eyes. Lissa responded gravely, “Why would you come to tell us this in the midst of our grief?”
“We just think funny. Parents dead, killers dead, you alive.”
“Not everyone has the fortune to die during hardship. My brother and I have a long, hard road ahead of us.”
“You know anything about this?”
“I know that my mother and father are dead, and I know what you have told me. Is there anything else?”
“Yeah. We be watching you.” The commander of the company stayed true to his eloquence as he ordered his men back to the magistrate’s compound, “We go back now.”
Lissa breathed a sigh of relief before she muttered under her breath, “Morons.”
After they had gone she called Grief back into the house. “We need to talk, Scott,” she said to him very kindly.
“I’m not Scott anymore, Lissa. I’m Grief. I’ll never be Scott again. I didn’t decide to be Grief. It just happened.”
“Okay, you’re Grief. But we still need to talk. Those men came because they suspected something about us – about you, from my perspective. They barely need an excuse to kill both of us. Are you listening to me?”
“You can never do anything like that again. Never again. Do you understand?”
“I understand, Lissa.”
“Good. Then we have nothing to worry about.”
Life has a funny way of making mincemeat out of vows, promises and the phrase “never again”. Not far from that moment something happened that would change their lives forever, even though they didn’t know it at the time.
Lissa was walking home from her job at the laundry. She was musing about the extra water she had accrued that week. It had been unexpected, and very welcome. Evidently she wasn’t the only one who knew about her windfall. Someone in Fleurs du Mal had leaked the information to the neighborhood muscle. They followed her home from her job.
She was in sight of her home when they jumped her. There were three of them. They didn’t even give her the option of forfeiting her water marks. These men were sadistic. They wanted the water, but even more than that they wanted to hurt her, deeply. Without warning they rushed upon her and dragged her to the wayside. She let out one involuntary scream.
Up in his room Grief heard her call out. He flew down the stairs and out the front door. His feet pounded down the road. Fifty yards from the front door he saw the toughs holding her sister prone, one of them hunched between her legs, pounding. The whites of his eyes turned the color of blood.
“Leave her alone.” Grief said it very quietly, but as his words left his mouth the air turned to ice as the message made its way to the attackers. Too inflamed by their lust, the strong men failed to notice.
The tough raping Lissa looked around at him. He growled at one of the other men, “Take him, she’s mine now.”
The goon that responded was muscular to the point of obscenity. He wore a low cut tunic of purple, the colors of his clique, and simple blue jeans. He grinned as he released Lissa. “You want to join in, little man?” His words fell from his lips like worms from a ripe grave.
“Please don’t do this, to yourself,” Grief intoned.
“Oh, we’re gonna do it to you too. We’ll do it real good.”
Grief’s eyes lost rolled back in his head, but even so a light shined out of them. The rapist saw the light even as he reached out for him. The flesh of his arm began to melt away from the bone quickly. The rapist’s mouth screwed up to emit a scream, but no sound came out. His flesh continued to dissolve, first up one arm and then the other.
Finally the liquid plopping sounds of the tissue hitting the ground reached the ears of the other two rapists. Coitus interruptus. The man between Lissa’s legs barely had time to get off of her before blood began to pour from his crotch. He crawled across the ground in silent agony. The remaining rapist, the one holding her hands, simply imploded upon himself. Within seconds all of his tissue had turned to dust. The silence was deafening.
Grief walked over to the penetrator. “Are you having problems now? Do you feel me inside you? I’m so lost, so hungry. All I want to do is find a way out,” Grief spoke softly, and as he did so trails of blood erupted in diagonals across the man’s torso.
“I just want to find a way out of you,” Grief said with infinite morose.
The rapist’s eyes screwed up in one last moment of tortured understanding before his heart burst out of his chest. Even in death he did not look peaceful.
Grief went to Lissa. “It’s okay, sis. Everything’s okay.”
“Oh, Grief, what have you done?” Lissa would never call her brother Scott again. Grief was right. Scott no longer existed.
They made it into the house and began packing even before the magistrate got word of what had happened. There are always witnesses to such things in Baudelaire. It had only been a matter of heartbeats, and how many, before word got to the magistrate. It had not been many. Even as they scurried across fields and through alleys they heard the sirens sound.
Hope dwindled, and the sirens drew closer. Suddenly Lissa and Grief stumbled out onto the main road leading from Baudelaire to Asimov, the port city on the west coast. At that very instant a slow moving refuse convoy rumbled past. Lissa yelled at Grief to jump on. Despite the stench the siblings flung themselves into the yawning miasma of one of the convoy creepers.
By nightfall they were on the extreme outskirts of Baudelaire, in the suburb of Hashishin. Luck was on their side. They found the hole leading to the crawl space they awoke in at dawn.
Lissa scrambled out of the hole, looking furtively from side to side. It appeared there really were no witnesses, so she and Grief hurried out into the masses. Lissa always wondered where all the people could possibly be going. Hopelessness clouded her mind. Grief looked her in the eyes, and her mood seemed to lift.
“All we have to do is get to Asimov, Grief. We’ll be okay in Asimov.”
“No, Lissa, we’ll never be okay in these lands again. They know what I am. They will look for me everywhere, until they find me. And then they will kill you.”
“But they’re looking for you, Grief.”
“Yes, but they can’t kill me, Lissa.”
“Where else can we go?”
“The scorched lands.”
“Your crazy. Grief, there’s nothing but death in the scorched lands.”
“There’s nothing but death here, Lissa.”
After another extremely long day they found a place to sleep. Lissa stretched her aching legs. In the moments before Grief fell asleep he twitched and moaned. As he fell off into a deep sleep he was finally still. Lissa was glad when he finally breathed calmly again. Sometimes sleep is the best solace.
end of installment 1a. Next: technology notes, and installments 1b and 1c)