Monday, August 15, 2011

Novel #2, Draft 2, Chapter Six

Here's an excerpt from the draft of "Escape from Grace I'm working on.  Just previous to this, Beata's (our heroine)  younger sister, Imogene (6 yrs old), was detained and killed by the alien Megari rulers of earth.

Chapter Six
Citizen-Servants will report regularly to their local Megari Authority office to submit themselves for treatment.                                        (Rule Six, The Megari Way)

It was the most agonizing week of Beata’s life.  Not only was she missing Imogen and seeing her in every stray shadow or sunbeam, she was watching, helpless, the spiral of depression and anger that Mia and Duncan were on.  Dominic was still too young to understand what had happened completely.  He knew that his Immy was gone and he wanted her back, but he didn’t know why.  He asked about her at least two or three times a day, especially right before bed.  That was the time that Immy had used to snuggle up to him, play with his hair and make up lullabies to sing him to sleep, and sometimes herself as well.
Duncan was sinking further and further into anger.  His dark eyes burned with it whenever they passed by a government building.  He only communicated with her when she absolutely demanded it, and seemed to be pushing away from Dominic and Mia as well, as if he didn’t want to share in their pain, or perhaps didn’t want them to rely on him for security. 
His teachers at the Academy had disciplined him several times over the last few days for taking his physical aggression out on other Protector Academy students.  He was putting himself in danger and lashing out at the world, and it might just get him killed.  Strangely, the MHA hadn’t sent in an investigator yet.  Beata kept waiting for the message from the Authority calling her to the Treatment Center for interrogation.
The worst was that whenever he looked at Beata now, she felt the accusation in his stare.  In his depthless eyes, she had done nothing to stop this from happening.  She couldn’t protect Immy.  She couldn’t protect any of them.  None of them were safe.  And she’d just lain down and taken it.  There was no heroic rescue like in the great adventurous stories that he’d cut his teeth on as a reader.  There was no happy ending.  She was just gone and the world was cruel and unapologetic for that. 
Mia had become nervous and secretive, refusing to speak her mind where before she had been almost ruthlessly outspoken in her feelings.  She was just as likely to be caught staring off into space as looking furtively over her shoulder.  Beata was worried that she was beginning to become paranoid, so much so that she might inadvertently draw the unwelcome notice of the Authority.
Beata was struggling with just getting through the days right now.  Today was her regularly scheduled appointment with her Megari “treatment counselor”.  “Interrogator” would probably be closer to the truth.  This Megari oversaw hundreds of human Citizen-Servants of which Beata was only one, but Beata knew that she had to have been red-flagged for closer scrutiny after the last week’s events. 
A normal treatment session lasted about half an hour, and the Beata would spend it answering a written questionnaire while wearing a series of devices suction-cupped to her pulse points and temples to measure her reactions to various photopathic pictures her Megari counselor would project to her.  The questions were often strange or unrelated to anything that Beata would think they would want to know about her.  They asked questions like, “If an elephant crashed through your living room, where would you go?” or “What is your favorite method of cooking eggs?”  Some were very pointed - like, “When you are angry, what do you do with your excess of emotion?” or “When was the last time you checked the efficiency of your automobile?” 
In general, she’d answer them as quickly as possible, then submit to the physical examination, blood-draw, and tissue sample they required.  She always felt cold and a little violated when the Megari touched her, only in the most clinical ways of course, to perform their examination.  They were always men - something that was apparently a part of their race’s expansion plan.  Beata had never even seen a female Megari, although there were always the rumored sightings running around - someone’s supply contact had seen one once, but never anyone directly.
Today, there was a strange bite in the air.  The weather was turning cooler for the fall, only reaching the low seventies, when they’d battled ninety-degree temps last week as the last hot breath of summer blew through Arizona.  Dominic was at his early-childhood class, and Duncan and Mia were in school, so Beata had a moment to herself to contemplate what they might try to question her about today.   She slung her purse over her shoulder, and entered the old Interstate Bank high-rise, checked in with the human receptionist and was given clearance to go up to the twelfth story to her counselor’s office.
“Doctor” Veddito was waiting for her in the outer office, and his normal reception clerk, an older woman who dressed dowdily and frowned almost constantly wasn’t there.  Instead, there was a beefy Protector in sheep’s clothing, so to speak.  Immediately, Beata tensed even further, but Dr. Veddito took her by the elbow, steering her away from the reception area directly into his office, his massive, gray-feathered wings blocking any view she might have had looking back.  Veddito settled her at the round wooden table in his office as he closed the door. He projected a picture of her sitting, pencil in hand, answering a questionnaire.
With a sigh, Beata picked up the pencil and read today’s questions to herself before answering them.
“At what time(s) of day is your house empty of people?” 
“Describe your feelings towards the Megari Authority at this time.”
“Which do you prefer for cake, chocolate or white?”
“What makes you feel anger?”
“How have the Megari Authority benefitted your existence?”
Beata’s hand spasmed around the pencil in her hand, and the paper trembled with the shaking of her other hand.  She glanced at Veddito, her disbelief reflected in her gray-green eyes.  Could they really be so unaware of the feelings of their human servants that they would poke at her pain like this?  Like a child discovering how to burn ants with a magnifying glass, just to see what will happen?  Veddito made his beautiful mouth smile encouragingly, and he made a “please commence” gesture with his hands.  She saw the picture of her finishing writing and her smilingly handing it back to Veddito appear in her head.  As if it were a census survey she was filling out!
Her fist was clenched around the pencil like it had become a dagger and the paper an enemy she could somehow dispatch with a well-placed stab.  If the Megari could read minds...
The door behind her opened, and the enforcer stood just in the doorway now, letting his presence be known.  She could see the bulge of a weapon under his left arm.  So, it was a game of life or death now, was it?  Veddito must have showed him her trembling anger photopathically.  Better than any panic button, that.  
She forced the tendons and muscles in her fingers to relax, took a steadying breath and began answering the questions one by one.  She started with the easiest, and made a decision to play chicken with Veddito.  Would he know if she lied on these questionnaires?  She’d never tried it before.  The pain surrounding Imogen’s death was too dear to her, too close to her heart, for her to share any of it as part of some Megari “experiment” or “data-gathering”.  She was probably already in trouble, the very fact that the neckless musclehead was standing in the doorway was proof of that.  She would see if there was a way to toy right back with them.  They didn’t deserve the truth from her at this point.
“At what time(s) of day is your house empty of people?”  Usually from three to five p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.   She answered this one honestly - they could check that easily enough - there were cameras on every corner in every neighborhood where people lived, and scattered, but hidden throughout the neighborhoods where people no longer went or lived.  Big Megari Brother was always watching.
“Describe your feelings towards the Megari Authority at this time.”  She was leaving this one until last.  She’d have to work up to that one.
 “Which do you prefer for cake, chocolate or white?”  White.  Well, really, it was chocolate.  In her old life, she’d been a Hershey Bar a week kind of girl.  She felt a silly surge of victory at this miniscule disobedience.  Veddito peered closely at her face, and she made sure she was still flushed with anger, pursing her lips together and focusing hard on the paper before her.  Veddito sat back, apparently satisfied that she was doing her duty.
“What makes you feel anger?”  Cruelty, injustice, frustration at being helpless, and disrespect for authority.  Some of that was true.  Let’s see if any of it would get her into hot water.  She’d thrown in the “disrespect” thing at the last second to see if they would even notice the irony of it in combination with her other answers.  Were the Megari able to even conceptualize irony?
“How have the Megari Authority benefitted your existence?”  She knew the party line on this one, and could give it in her sleep. The Megari Authority keeps us safe.  They provide us with efficient services, consistent supplies, and a chance to serve a larger community. This question appeared on every single questionnaire, and proved conclusively to Beata that the Megari must have some feelings or emotions, stunted and slight as they may be, to be so blatantly egocentric.
“Describe your feelings towards the Megari Authority at this time.”  She stumbled over this one again.  She didn’t know how far she could go without being exposed as a fraud and not making it out of the building alive.  She chewed the end of the pencil in thought, and from the corner of her eye, she saw Veddito nod slightly to the Protector in the doorway, who sidled back to the reception desk, closing the door behind himself.  So, Veddito must not consider her a threat any longer.
“Describe your feelings towards the Megari Authority at this time.”
Rage.  The nigh uncontrollable urge to punch you very hard in the face until your head is bleeding almost as much as my broken heart.  The overwhelming desire to rip your Authority down, brick by brick, rend your denizens limb from limb with my bare hands.  A sincere hope that all of you suffer horrible, painful, flesh-eating deaths and that I am there to watch and dance upon the ashes you leave behind.  So suck it.
“Describe your feelings towards the Megari Authority at this time.”
Fear.  That you will take Dominic at his evaluations appointment.  That you will turn Mia and Duncan into one of you: heartless, ruthless, efficient (oh, how I hate that word!). That you will take the rest of my pathetic excuse for a life from me by taking away the only ones I have left to live for.  That you will force humanity completely into extinction, and I will have let it happen without raising even a whimper. 
But she didn’t write any of that.
“Describe your feelings towards the Megari Authority at this time.”
Gratitude that I will be allowed to continue to serve them in any way that I can.
If the Megari could learn how to lie, so could she.

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