Round Robin

So I felt the need to share. A few months ago, 3 friends and I decided to start a round robin of story-telling, in yet another attempt to alleviate our ennui. My friend E started it, and we each in turn added a paragrah. This went for several rounds before it came a stopping point, though I’m note sure why. Maybe it got too REAL.

So, gentle readers, I shall treat you to what we had amassed so far. Each writer’s section is a specific color. (E: Black, Miki: Red, Me: Green, LJ: Blue) Enjoy.

Chapter 1

She looked at the headless corpse floating face down in the muddy riverbank. The sudden smile cracked her dry lips and, licking at the welling blood, Jane began to laugh. It was absurd. Long ago she had realized that time no longer mattered, but she couldn’t help counting the wasted months– thirteen. That was considered unlucky once, when there were different kinds of luck. Now there was only living, and dying, and the things in between.

Jane turned the body over, removed the wedding band and placed it on her thumb. The bloody knife she wiped negligently on her shorts– like months and years, guilt was useless. Anyhow, this wasn’t murder. It wasn’t for Jane to decide what it was. Closing her eyes, she reviewed her memories through a yellow haze. And then she said goodbye to her husband, for whom she had come so far and suffered so much.

She thought too much about her husband. Jane shook her head and focused on the now, on surviving. She couldn’t think of him. Not when he was out there somewhere. One of them. Jane placed her knife back into its sheath and started following the river. It was safer by the water. The sun was starting to rise and she would be safer once it was full in the sky. The sun didn’t stop them but, it made them easier to spot. At night they were like shadows, everywhere and nowhere. The night was the hardest.

In the distance Jane spotted a tree with high branches that looked like a good place to rest. She kicked up her pace and at the same time a shuffle of feet from behind her made her pause.
“Fuck” Jane broke into a run and aimed for the trees.

She was so sick of running. Even as her heart quickened with the now familiar flight-or-flight instinct, she despised it. The lack of control over her destiny, over her own death, boiled inside of her.*huff huff RUN* still spun in her head, regardless. Yet lately, it surprised her: even in the most animalistic pursuit, Jane had an uncanny ability to survey her surroundings and pinpoint anything advantageous, even anything unusual. This time she noticed an unnatural glow to the tree line as she raced towards it. She set her sights on an elderly oak and managed an alarmingly high jump to the lowest branch, scrambling immediately upwards.

As she climbed, Jane continued to scout the landscape. That’s when she saw it: A nuclear power plant under a sinfully green glow. ‘That can’t be good’, thought Jane with a hard look. How close have I been to this deathtrap for the past 9 months? And then it struck her: how long had she been able to successfully out run these robotic, dead apes with ease, despite her dwindling food supplies and sheer exhaustion? And why was it so easy to climb this old oak, its branches thicker than body builders thighs? And when was the last time she wasted a round of ammunition on a lousy shot? Fucking Christ, she wasn’t even parched. Jane paused, her eyes losing focus. My god, she thought, what’s happening to me? …God?…

An unsettling calm washed over her, her cold sweat evaporating as quickly as it had broke onto her dirty forehead. Jane looked down below her. Ten, maybe fifteen hungry lifeless rag dolls clawed hopelessly at the tree’s base. Jane gritted her teeth and made a decision. Drawing her rusty, yet trusty, katana blade, she leapt from a limb 20 feet from the ground, a mad look in her eyes, hungry for revenge upon the plague that destroyed her civilization.  

Killing them wasn’t hard.  They moved slow, and their decaying flesh cut like butter under her blade.  She beheaded the first, then kicked his lifeless body in disgust.  The others stalked forward, without so much as a glance at their headless counterpart.  She shouldn’t be surprised; she saw first hand how quickly the disease destroyed the humanity of anyone infected.  She paused momentarily and a lump rose in her throat as she thought of him: her beautiful, sweet David, and how quickly he became a monster.  How his eyes, once a vibrant blue, had turned to the milky white eyes of death.  She shook her head and blinked.  Stop it, she thought.  No time for mourning.  They were coming at her.  
No, it was not hard to kill them.  It was their size that mattered.  A group of fifteen wasn’t bad, but you couldn’t blink, couldn’t pause, for risk of being bitten.  She quickly decapitated the rest, kicking them off until she could give them due attention.  She stood staring at the wreckage for what seemed like an hour, then realized she had to keep moving, knowing it wouldn’t be long before others came.  The running, the hiding – it was endless, and some days it was difficult to keep hope.  But something new had happened.  There was smoke coming from the plant, which meant one of two things: either zombies were running a nuclear power station, or there were survivors inside.
Jane looked backward- a second horde was heading in her direction. She pounded for the power plant; her kitana, Haiku, thumping heavily against her thigh. “They’re quick, but I’m much faster,” Jane rejoiced in her newly acquired strength. The animated corpses dwindled in the distance as she approached the massive iron doors. With an effort she forced an entrance and slammed the doors shut behind her. Once the clanging of metal subsided, there was an uncanny and suffocating silence. The weight of her blade comforted her. “You’re my only friend, Haiku,” she whispered.
As if awakened by her voice, a tall man materialized from the shadows, his booming voice cutting a swathe through the stillness.  “Why have you come?”
Jane responded instantly, oddly compelled by his authoritative manner. “I saw the lights. I am lonely. I want to be where the people are.” Her stomach rumbled, adding its two cents.
“You may stay here with us.” He spread his arms in a welcoming gesture as the room filled with well-fed and healthy humans. “Stick with me, and you’ll never be hungry again.”
The wariness and distrust that had become second nature dissolved– his proposition was more than tempting. She felt that his promise held a weight that would carry far into the future.
“No worries, for the rest of your days,” he urged, practically reading her mind. “Be our guest.”
With tear-filled eyes Jane stumbled forward to receive his hug, months of fear and anxiety rolling away. Haiku slipped from her belt and clattered to the floor, unnoticed. For the first time in over a year, Jane was weaponless.

CHAPTER 2
Jane was led into a cafeteria that had seen better days. There were long metal tables with attached benches, windows that had been boarded up by whatever was available, and there was paint peeling off the walls. In several places the brick was exposed and crumbling. Despite her dismal surroundings Jane couldn’t help but be comforted.  Her collection of wedding rings was jingling softly against the sway of her hips, held in place by a shoe lace and torn t-shirt, bringing her comfort from the familiarity. And, most importantly she was with humans. Real, live humans.  
“Jane,” Demetrius’ voice rumbled through the empty cafeteria “We aren’t just humans you know. We are special, I have a feeling you are too.”
“How did you know –“ Jane cut herself off, taking a quick breath and steadying her nerves. “The power plant. It changed us didn’t it?”
“Not changed but enhanced.”
Jane ran her hands against the metal of a nearby table in order to feel its manufactured coldness and was instantly surprised. “Fucking great,” thought Jane, “now tables have memories, and I can see them.”
Flashes of images, half-thoughts, went rushing through her mind. Demetrius first, eating at the table, wearing a uniform of some sort. Jane tried to look closer and the image was gone. Replaced by a woman, young and happy until suddenly someone, Demetrius maybe, was there at her side with a knife. Blood spattered. A final flash, showing a wild-eyed Demetrius on the floor next to the dead woman crying. With blood on his face, in his eyes. In his mouth.

Jane gasped and pulled her hand back. “Are you allright?” Demeterius asked quietly, expectantly. Jane recovered quickly, her guard now raising its gates once again. “Oh! I’m fine, a little tired and woozy from the trip I suppose. Do you have somewhere I can rest for a bit?”

“Of course, follow me,” Demetrius smiled and motioned her towards a dimly lit hallway, his hand on her back. Jane’s muscles tensed; human contact had been such a rarity these days that it now felt akin to a cockroach crawling across one’s cheek. She studied Demetrius through her peripheral as he led towards a well lit room at the end of the hallway.

“We’ve lost track of the date, unfortunately” he said, evidently a little embarrassed. “With all the other…developments, it kind of fell by the wayside.” Jane nodded, silent. “We’ve guessed that the reactor malfunctioned shortly after the plague began. We were all refugees holed up in areas nearby, and one by one we were just drawn to this place. I myself couldn’t believe how strong the urge was. It seemed unnatural, suicidal even. But I was welcomed. Stevenson greeted me at the gate’s entrance. He was one of the first survivors to make it inside…” “Where is he now?” Jane asked. Demetrius talked on as if he didn’t hear her, glossing over the question by suddenly launching into the details of the plant: its layout, the lighting schedule to conserve power and meal times. 

His demeanor seemed faked, harshly constructed. That smile of his seemed almost painful…. He wasn’t telling her everything. She wondered if her newly discovered power was limited to inanimate objects. She couldn’t sense anything when he touched her… but what if she touched him? She noticed a scar on his right temple. She breathed and reached, a cursory question poised on her lips, when Demetrius immediately jerked forward, as if he anticipated her treacherous intent. A rabid look crossed over his eyes for a moment, and once again he was all smiles. “Here we are,” he said, his eyes on hers for a second too long before he looked into the room. Jane followed his gaze, and gasped yet again….
The brightly lit room looked more like a laboratory than a place to rest. The florescent lighting stung her tired eyes.

“Please, do not be alarmed,” said Demetrius.  “This is simply a standard procedure.  I am sure you can understand that we will need to do some tests before we can allow you to become a full time resident in our facility.  With the recent developments in our surroundings, we need to make sure you are not…infected.”  Jane surveyed the brightly lit room.  On the right, there was a medical bed, with straps for arms and legs.  On one side of the bed was an IV.  On the other, a small table with various pieces of medical equipment – a syringe along with a small unlabeled bottle of liquid, swabs and tongue depressors, a stethoscope, a scalpel… a scalpel?  Jane’s heart began to race as she looked back towards the door.  Demetrius stood blocking the only exit with a strange smile on his face.  Jane’s head began to pound and her vision blurred.  A wave of nausea hit her so hard she thought she might vomit.  

“What will you do to me?” she stuttered.  Demetrius let out a slow guttural laugh.  “Jane, you must relax.  We mean you no harm.  You must be dehydrated, so that’s what the IV is for, along with a light sedative of course.  After the testing is complete, and assuming the tests are negative, we will wake you so you can rest assured.  Some patients have anxiety upon waking, so we may sedate you again to let you rest.”  

“But what kind of medical tests?  What is the scalpel for?”

“Well, I’m not exactly a doctor Jane.  That is not my area of expertise.  Spencer?” he called.  “The subject is ready.”  A man in a white lab coat appeared suddenly.  This must be Spencer.  He was short, with dark curly hair and glasses, and he moved quickly around the room, averting his eyes.  Her question remained unanswered.  Two larger men appeared, dressed in all black, and each one grabbed an arm.  But there was no need.  Jane complied.  What else could she do?  She was defenseless, and every part of her body ached.  She hated to admit that a sedated sleep sounded slightly appealing.  The men strapped her to the bed and Spencer inserted the IV.  For the first time, he spoke.  “Try to take deep breaths.  Tell me if you are uncomfortable or awaken at any time.  The IV should take effect shortly.”

As the sedative began to burn in her veins, she looked back at Demetrius, and a disturbing thought hit her like a freight train.  How could she not have noticed?  “How… how…?”  Her words began to slur and a blackness creeped into the outer window of her vision.  She summoned all her strength to spit out the words.  “How… did you know my name?  I… I never told you.”

The deep, rumbling laugh again.  “Oh Jane, silly girl.  We’ve been expecting you.”  Jane had no time to react.  The blackness enveloped her and she slipped into unconsciousness.

Jane woke with a start, her whole body snapping to attention in one jerky motion. Looking around, there were people in lab coats moving briskly everywhere, but no one seemed to notice her sudden return to consciousness. She swung her legs off the table, surprised at their strength, having expected to wake up chained or infirmed.
“So, where’s Demetrius?” Jane asked the crowded room. No reaction, as if she hadn’t spoken at all. “Uh, okay. This is fucking creepy.” Again, nothing.
Jane sat there, kicking her feet and drumming her fingers on the cold steel of the surgical table. Before she could even ponder her next move a tingle thrilled upwards from her fingers and exploded into her mind. Hundreds of people had occupied this very table, Jane saw, undergoing numerous procedures of varying cruelty.

“YOU WILL FIND THE CURE!” Demetrius screamed at the scurrying physicians. “I don’t care how many people it takes!” He foamed at the mouth and his eyes rolled like marbles in their sockets. Soon Demetrius was bent double, retching blood and garbled obscenities. It took two people to restrain him while a lab-coated doctor injected some kind of substance into his neck.
“This will calm him for now,” the doctor explained, “but when he wakes he will be severly weakened and confused. We must find a cure soon. These treatments lessen the symptoms but their effectiveness is waning quickly.”
Time seemed to jump backward. The room stayed the same but the scene changed; the lights were dimmed, and Jane could barely make out the forms of two people pressed together in the semi-darkness. They clung to each other passionately, fumbling at buttons and zippers. A staccato clang punctured the air and the couple halted, guiltily glancing around. “Stevenson, did you hear that?” the woman whispered. The man called quietly into the shadows but when no one responded they resumed their hushed lovemaking.
Jane could see what they couldn’t. Hidden behind a large piece of lab equipment stood Demetrius, his cold, murderous eyes glued upon the lovers. Suddenly Jane understood- the young woman from her earlier vision was the same one moaning in the dark now. Demetrius’ wife.
Another sharp shift in time. Demetrius’ was covered in blood and waving a knife around. His eyes were insane, his breath labored. “Stevenson,” he hissed. “You made me do it! I loved her. I loved her! And you put your filthy hands on her and now she is dead!”
Stevenson pressed himself into the corner, his eyes nervously following the weapon’s jerky movements. Just as the knife plunged into his chest, Stevenson pricked Demetrius with a syringe hidden in his palm. The last thing Demetrius heard before he collapsed was Stevenson cackling “Now you have it! Now you have it!” Jane was the only one in the room to see Stevenson draw his last breath.
The visions ended and Jane felt the reality of the present rushing back into her awareness. All of the scenes she had witnessed tumbled about uselessly in her brain. What did it mean? Was Demetrius a victim or a killer? Or both? What had he been injected with?
Jane closed her eyes to ponder all that she had seen, and when she opened them again she gasped. Somehow she was lying strapped to the table, aching all over, as Demetrius smiled down on her. “You made it through like a champ,” he proclaimed. “Everything’s fine.”
Jane, more confused than before, offered a weak smile. The only thing she did know for sure was that everything certainly was not fine.
Chapter 3
Demetrius was taking Jane to what was going to be her room. He took her through winding hallways, up and down elevator shafts, and in circles.
Jane knew he was trying to confuse her with his roundabout ways. Jane had touched the wall with her hands while they left the lab and was able to see the entire layout of the facility. From what Jane could tell he was taking her to a small room that locked from the outside. Jane wasn’t scared, from what she could tell there was a crack in the wall. With her newfound strength she should be able to find a way out of this place.
“Jane.” Demetrius gained her attention. “This is your room. The door locks automatically from the outside. To leave you press your palm to the Digitus Interface. It will recognize you and let you out during select hours. Our charges are to stay in their rooms unless required elsewhere or during breaks and meals. Until the other learn to trust you this is how it must be.”
Demetrius showed Jane the flat glass panel that would serve as her prison guard until she was ‘accepted’.
“Is this really necessary?” Jane inquired.
“Jane,” he growled “We are providing you shelter, protection and food. Do not question me. Do not question us.”
Jane entered the room and with an ominous click the door shut behind her. Once she was sure Demetrius was far enough away she ran her hands against the wall and found what she was looking for. A way out.

The air vent was just big enough for her wiry frame to fit through, and oh so Mission:Impossible. Jane smirked as she easily tore the cover away and squirmed through. She ran her fingers along the walls, pulling up a mental map as she crawled. It looked like this tunnel connected to an exhaust vent w/ an exit on the south side of the building… 200 feet off the ground. Great.

Jane finally reached the external wall, breathing heavily and covered in sweat. She kicked the exhaust covering away and peaked out. Jane wondered if one of her powers was sheer luck. As she gazed downward, a salty breeze caressed her face. The plant edged up against a sheer outcropping above the Atlantic Ocean. The drop was intense but the landing looked pretty safe. Jane wiped her brow, set her jaw, and jumped.

CHAPTER 4

Loyyd awoke with a start. What a cooky dream! Loyyd glanced at the clock: 3 am… not even close to morning. Loyyd sighed and rolled onto his back. Ever since he’d started the estrogen therapy, his sleep had been fitful and restless. Jane was one of the women he imagined becoming: fearless, powerful, and effortlessly sexy, even when she was months out on a shower and fighting for her life. I suppose that’s not exactly realistic, though Loyyd. I’ll never have super powers, not even with a vagina.

One of these days we’ll find out what happened to poor Loyyd….

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