Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
Part 2 - Relena
by Dyna Dee
Even before she opened her eyes Relena felt dizzy... and nauseous. And what was that repugnant smell? She cautiously stretched out her stiff legs and arms, feeling as if she hadn't moved from the same position for a very long while. She wondered briefly, before waking completely, if she was getting sick. She didn't feel feverish, in fact she was a bit chilled. Forcing her leaden eyes open, she was startled to find herself in a dim, unfamiliar room breathing in strange smelling air. Her ears picked up the distant sounds of life coming from somewhere beyond the room that were so unlike those of her home. Fear and dread seized her as the realization dawned that she was somewhere she shouldn't be. With her heart pounding wildly within her chest, she scrambled to sit up and with wide eyes cautiously surveyed the small room where she'd slept. The dim light that allowed her to see came from a window that appeared to be covered by a thread-bare blanket that was nailed to the upper framework. Clarity came in an instant.
It had taken her a long time to get over the experience of being kidnaped by the Barton faction. Though she had been terrified, she'd portrayed herself as being brave, managing to hold her chin up and keep her outward appearance calm, but she had been only seventeen at the time, not quite as naive as she'd been before her adoptive father had been murdered, but still young and trusting. In many ways she had been an innocent. For months after the final battle she experienced many sleepless nights, plagued by nightmares and the fear of people creeping in the shadows or drugging her food and drink. To think that she might have to go through that again was almost as bad as having been kidnaped a second time.
She closed her eyes, trying to remember how she'd gotten there. She recalled slipping out of her stately home in her dark jeans, sweater and a cap that concealed her hair. The family estate was located in the city's center, so it wasn't too far a walk to her destination. Believing the streets of Sanq to be safe, she'd recalled leisurely walking down the sidewalk once she was well away from the palace and its security guards. She'd always loved the city at night, the sight of lovers casually strolling down the streets, arm in arm, and friends enjoying the theaters and restaurants and most of all, each other's company. She'd planned on going to a nearby convenience store and purchasing a tasty snack. After which she hoped to attend the cinema before returning home.
Then, as if a veil had been lifted from her mind, she recalled being grabbed from behind, a strong, male body pressed against her back and a foul-smelling cloth pressed over her nose and mouth. She remembered being afraid, of panicking and trying to dislodge her attacker, but then everything faded at that point in her memory. She paused for a moment, closing her eyes tightly to try and recall more, but nothing else came to her. She had no memory about who had abducted her or how she'd come to be where she was now. It was a mind-boggling puzzle that left her feeling quite upset and nauseous.
Opening her eyes once more, her gaze lowered and a shocked gasp escaped her; she was not wearing the new black jeans and sweater she'd put on when she'd left her home. She made a quick inspection of the garments covering her body. Instead of the perfectly-fitted casual clothing, she wore a pair of loose, well-worn brown pants that were gathered at her waist by a matching strip of the same material, pulled through the belt loops. The T-shirt covering her upper body looked like it had once belonged to a man. It was long in length, reaching down to mid-thigh, with a crew neck, short sleeves and the fabric was faded from many washings, hinting that it had once been navy in color. She also had on an unfamiliar sweater. It was thick, warm, and a very unappealing brown, similar to mud. It was outdated in style, like it had belonged to someone's grandmother before it had been packed away for several decades. She was also wearing unfamiliar socks that lacked the elastic necessary to hold them up. They were covered by dark tennis shoes that were heavily scuffed and without laces. She briefly checked beneath her clothing and sighed with relief in seeing that at least she'd retained her undergarments. But why had her captors dressed her in such a way? It was unsettling that they had done so while she was unconscious and beyond puzzling why the change was necessary.
Sighing at her hapless set of clothing, her eyes lifted to gaze more thoughtfully around the room she was being held in now that her eyes were more adapted to the dim light. It was horribly shabby. The walls were splotchy and gave the appearance to having once been painted yellow. The paint was faded and peeling away from the wall's surface, and there were even bare patches that exposed the dingy drywall beneath. She was sitting on a thin, sheet-less mattress with two well-worn blankets, one beneath her and the other covering her body. Other than a second dilapidated mattress, set against a different wall and topped with crumpled blankets, the room was bare of any furniture or lights.
She moved as silently as possible to her hands and knees, then rose slowly to stand on unsteady feet, clutching her queasy stomach. She remembered feeling like this when she's awakened after her first kidnaping. She'd been drugged. Moving to the draped window, she pushed the left edge open, hoping to discover where she'd been taken. What she saw outside the pane-less, grimy window was completely foreign to her. It took a moment for her mind to register that she was looking at small space that separated two closely-built structures. Her eyes lowered slowly, counting the windows in the building across from where she stood. Four, she was on the fourth floor. That would make an escape out of the window very dangerous. Jumping was definitely out of the question. From what she could see, the ground below was littered with discarded furniture, or rather, what used to be furniture. She saw at least two chairs without cushions, broken beyond repair, an ancient-looking refrigerator, broken televisions and other odds and ends. It appeared more like a junk yard than an alleyway. A shiver shook her body as she wondered what kind of vermin would be living in such squalidness. Rats, no doubt, and she shuddered at the thought. She hated mice, and rats were worse.
Turning to the only portal that offered either freedom or danger, she moved cautiously to the door and placed her ear against its surface to listen for several moments. She didn't know what to think when she detected no sound, not voices, television or even a radio. Had she been left alone? Her hand trembled as it moved to clasp the worn and dented doorknob. She was prepared to find it locked, securing her within the room, but she had to try it, didn't she? Biting her lower lip she slowly turned her wrist to the right, wincing at the rusted squeak that came from the cautious movement. The door opened slightly and she blinked with amazement by the fact that it wasn't locked after all.
She now faced a new dilemma. What was in store for her on the other side of the door? Was it being guarded or perhaps booby trapped? She took in a shaky breath, girded up whatever strength she had left and inched the door open just enough to peek through the widening crack.
She found herself gazing into yet another dingy room, but it was far from sparse. Along the wall, opposite from where she stood, there appeared to be a large variety of everyday household items, stacked in a haphazard manner from the floor to a foot or two beneath the grungy ceiling. After spending a moment studying the items, she decided that everything visible appeared to be intact, but in such poor condition that they must have been pulled out of the trash, maybe even from the alleyway below. To the left of the room was a rectangular, black and white faux-marble laminated table with five mismatched chairs set around it. To the right of the room sat several wooden crates and a faded sofa, worn and patched in several places, upon which was the room's lone occupant, an older woman who appeared at first glance as if she hadn't a care in the world other than the book in her lap. She was dressed in clothing not dissimilar to Relena's own, though shabby and rumpled. The thin, straggly and mostly gray hair had streaks of faded black in it, suggesting the woman once had sported raven hair. Faded blue and wizened eyes were set on a face that was pale, thin and deeply wrinkled across her forehead and neck as well as around the eyes and mouth. Those eyes suddenly looked up from the book and became fixed on Relena as she stood shell shocked in the doorway, wondering what she should do. Her hesitation seemed to amuse the old woman, for her thin lips twitched upwards at the corners.
"Yur finally awake."
Relena blinked. She wasn't sure what she had been expecting after realizing she'd been kidnaped, but being greeted by an elderly woman wasn't one of the scenarios that had raced through her mind.
"Well, come have a seat."
Mechanically, Relena obeyed, never taking her eyes off the other woman. She sat stiffly at the opposite end of the worn sofa and waited to see what would happen next.
"Cat got yur tongue?" the woman cackled, obviously amused.
Surprised, Relena shook her head and demanded, "Who are you and why have I been brought here?" Even though it was obvious that she'd been kidnaped, she still hoped to learn the reasons behind the abduction.
"I'm Rida, Rida Darbro. 'm one of your flatmates. Your name's Lena, right?"
"Flatmates?" Relena was thoroughly confused. Was that any way to describe a kidnap victim? "Who brought me here and for what reason?" she demanded.
"Why it was Hal Stockton boughts you here. He's one a them guardians. He told me yuz didn't have a place to live so ya've been assigned to this here buildin' and room. Wur sharin' with three others." Seeing the confusion on the young woman's face, the older woman rushed to reassure her. "Now don't worry. We'r decent folk. Wouldn't hurt a damn fly." The woman paused a moment and chuckled as she added, "Well, other than to eat it, that is. And we don't steal from flatmates neither. Yu'll be safe enough storing yur rations and sleepin' here."
Was this a bad dream? Relena couldn't make heads nor tails of what was going on. Had she been kidnapped or not? "Where am I?"
"Section 8, buildin' 24, room 412."
"No, no, I mean where? On Earth or a colony?"
"Ya don't remember?" Rita looked concerned.
"No, I don't."
"Well, dearie, yuz trapped here in the rusting walls of L2, or hell in space, as I likes ta call it." The woman actually chuckled after that statement.
L2! How the hell did she come to be on L2? There was a strict ban on all travel and trade to and from the rebellious colony when the UEC government considered L2 to be beyond redemption. It was reputed to be lawless, corrupt and a den of villainy... and she, apparently, was now trapped here amongst society's worst rejects. She began to break out in a cold sweat, knowing that this colony was, as far as she knew, without any law or order. There was no one to tell of her kidnaping, no law enforcement or communications with other colonies. Her only hope lay in her security team, that is if they'd been able to track her movements. Somehow, she doubted that possibility.
Leaning forward, she moaned as she put her head into her hands. Why in the world had she snuck out for a couple of hours of freedom? She'd been warned by both Heero and her brother the dangers of such covert, seemingly foolhardy activities, but she couldn't help herself. She'd given up so much of her young adulthood that she felt compelled to rebel in some small way, to reinforce to herself, if to no one else, that she was still able to make some choices in her life, that her position in the government didn't rule every aspect of her existence. So when her schedule allowed her a few hours of free time, and knowing Heero had been conveniently called away on Preventer business, she'd snuck out of her security-laden residence with the simple intention of going to a movie, eating junk food and just strolling down the streets of the capital city. She never really felt threatened being out by herself, in fact she enjoyed it, experiencing such a wonderful feeling of liberation that she could hardly wait for the next opportunity to do it again. She had only herself to blame for being kidnaped again, her reckless disregard of the warnings she'd received had put her in this unfortunate position. Now what was she going to do? If indeed she was on L2, a rescue seemed highly unlikely.
Lifting her head up, she gazed intently at the other woman. "Why was I brought here? What's the ransom demand?"
"I tolds ya, you were brought here 'cause you didn't have a place to stay. Sorry ya don't remember, but somebody musta felt sorry for ya and turned ya in. And what's this about a ransom? Who da hell would ask for that when we'z all got nothin'? If you've been taken and it's food dey want, you'd be better off in a 'scape pod without oxygen, honey, cuz nobody's gonna give up their weekly rations for anyone else, 'specially if they're not blood related."
Relena didn't know if the poorly-dressed woman was truly as ignorant of her situation as she seemed to be, but the roll of the aged eyes told her the woman thought it was she was the one who was unbalanced in her mind, not the other way around.
"You don't know who I am, do you?"
Relena paused to consider that question. No doubt the poor of L2 didn't have many ways of getting information regarding Earth or colonial current events. It was entirely possible that this woman, and possibly many of those living in the embargoed colony, really had no idea of who she was. "Am I free to leave here?"
With an indifferent shrug came the answer, "No one's gonna stop ya,"
The former Queen of the world remained motionless for several moment, trying to judge whether or not to believe the older woman. Rida returned her gaze for a moment, then shrugged her bony shoulders and resumed reading her well-worn book. Thinking to test the woman's words, she stood and turned towards the door she presumed would lead out to a hallway and to freedom. Her hand clasped the doorknob and turned. The aged hinges squeaked loudly, a grating sound to the ears, and once again she was surprised when it opened.
She cautiously poked her head out the open door to check out the dark hallway where one dim lightbulb, hanging from a dangling, single-socket line further down the hall, was the only illumination, showing the battered and paint-peeling doors that lined both side of the long, graffiti-filled hallway. The words and pictures, she noted, were made from what appeared to be black charcoal, not paint. Because of the dim light, she could barely make out the unlit exit sign at the far, right side of the hallway. She couldn't imagine what the stairwells were going to look like if the hallway was so poorly lit.
Pausing before closing the apartment door behind her, Relena caught a last warning from the woman on the sofa. "Don't forget the section, buildin' and room number of dis place. Streets are purdy damn scary when da lights dim for night cycle. And believe me, girlie, ya don't wanna be out dere after dark."
Shutting the door behind her, she noticed the number 412 was boldly written with charcoal on its outside surface. She would remember that. With no small amount of trepidation, she made her way to the door-less opening with the unlit exit sign set above the doorframe. Just as she feared, the stairwell was dark. She studied the few steps she could see from the dim-lit hallway, then grabbed the handrail bolted to the wall before taking the first step down.
Relena never been afraid of the dark before, but her imagination was running wild as she carefully inched her way down the stairs, moving by instinct and touch, feeling her way down the four flights of stairs instead of relying on her eyes to do that for her. She imagined all sorts of nefarious thugs and vile creatures sharing the dark with her, and by the time she reached the bottom floor, her clothing was dampened with sweat and her breathing was heavy from the fear her active imagination had set off. She frantically fumbled at the door for the knob, anxious to escape the stifling darkness. She almost cried with relief when her hand found the doorknob, which she clasped with sweaty palms and turned. In a most un-ladylike move, she virtually flung herself out of the stairwell and into a lobby, or rather something she took for a lobby.
Her eyes widened at seeing at least fifty people, male, female, young and old and all dressed as shabbily as she was, lounging about, sitting or lying on the floor and leaning against the walls. All eyes turned to her at the abrupt entrance, giving her a once-over, scrutinizing glance. Seeing only mild curiosity in their otherwise dull eyes at the appearance of a stranger, they soon looked away, returning to their former conversations or pastime.
Relieved that she hadn't encountered any form of confrontation, Relena took a moment to study her new surroundings. The first thing she noticed was that the lobby lacked any type of furniture, and that the front doors and windows of the building were empty of glass. There was a built-in counter, that might have once been a reception desk. But instead of an attendant in a neat uniform standing there to greet guests, there was written in black charcoal across the front of it, SEC 8, BLDG 24.
Wrapping the ugly brown sweater around herself in an attempt to shield her body from prying eyes, Relena memorized the numbers of her location. She decided it would be better to return to a place where she wasn't considered a prisoner than to subject herself to unknown horrors when the colony's lights dimmed. With wary eyes on the occupants of the room, she made her way to the door and, out of habit, opened it instead of simply stepping through the open space that had once been filled with glass.
Once on the street, she surveyed her surroundings with a sinking heart. The buildings hardly looked sound and some appeared to be crumbling, and the smell... The air was filled with the scents of rusted metal, of body odor and of an indeterminable stench. She fought the gag reflex that was induced by the overwhelming stink, and brought her arm up to cover her face and nose with the sleeve of her sweater. It didn't really help rid her of the smell, but it did lessen some of the most offensive odors.
The next thing she noticed was the lack of noise. It was eerie, being in a city that lacked any sound of traffic. In the distance she could hear a child crying, a woman arguing and a man coughing. It was sobering to think that these were the primary sounds of L2.
With nothing else to do, she began to walk, sleeve still pressed against her lower face, hoping against hope that she might stumble on someone in charge so that she could lodge a complaint and be taken away from this foul place. She walked on, making mental notes of buildings and the numbers prominently etched in black charcoal on each one, marking her distance from the place she'd woken in.
No one seemed to recognize her, nor was she approached or addressed in any way. Being so far from her home and all that was familiar and the people she cared about, she suddenly had an overwhelming feelings of being alone and isolated. Those feeling weren't helped by the fact that there had been no communication with L2 during the embargo, despite the fact that emergency supplies were delivered once a month. She had to wonder if her feelings of isolation and desperation to get off this colony was something all the residents of L2 experienced, seeing that they were cut off from not only Earth, but the other colonies as well.
As she continued appraising her surroundings, another thought came to her. Even though she was free to walk about as she willed, she was still very much a prisoner. She was effectively trapped, along with all the other people living there, in what appeared more or less to be a rotting metal coffin. Whoever had taken her, for whatever reason, had put her in the one place she was certain would not be searched; she would never be found. Tears gathered in her eyes from that dismal thought, and in her mind she railed, Why? Why me? What have I ever done to deserve this?
Suddenly, the lights illuminating the dull and crumbling colony blinked twice, and Relena became aware that the people who had been loitering about the traffic-less street a moment before now began to walk or run very quickly. She could only assume the blinking meant something. Calling out to a woman scrambling past her, she asked, "What do the blinking lights mean?"
"To get yurself the hell inside," the woman snapped back impatiently without stopping. "Night cycle's in three minutes."
Realizing she didn't have much time to make it back, Relena turned and joined the other colonists in walking briskly back to Section 8, building 24, the only place that offered some form of safety. Sensing that her time was running out, she began to run, hoping to make it before the lights dimmed. Somewhat breathless from running, she successfully made it back to the designated building safely, only to find the entrance was clogged by a goodly number of rag-tag people, apparently queuing up at the doorway to the stairs, taking turns going up to what she supposed were their apartments. The thought of being trapped in the confining space and darkness with a bunch of unknown people frightened her, but she didn't see that she really had any other choice.
She'd just stepped through the ineffective front door when the colony's lights suddenly blinked out. Frowning, she knew most colonies faded their lights to simulate dusk and the coming of the night cycle, similar to sunset on Earth. Perhaps the dimming program had malfunctioned, she thought, and then wondered what else was wrong in the neglected colony.
In complete darkness now, Relena instinctively put her hands out in front of her to feel her way towards the direction of the stairs. Despite the large number of people jammed into the room, it was oddly quiet, as if the darkness had clamped down on the voices of not only the lobby, but of the entire population within the colony. She bumped into someone larger than herself and her fingers told her he was wearing a rough jacket. "Sorry", she said softly and received a grunt in reply. After a few moments the sounds of shuffling feet rose amongst the quiet as did the barely audible murmuring of the crowd. Feeling a body pressing up against her back, she took a step forward and bumped into the person in front of her. Within moments the press of other bodies all around her became almost overwhelming, the closeness bringing the nauseating smell of unclean flesh. Since no one seemed to be protesting the stench, she did her best to ignore it and let the shuffling of those surrounding her direct her movements. She moved forward, taking several small steps each time, until a thump sounded. The person in front of her whispered, "Door", alerting her to its presence.
Continuing to follow the faint sounds and footsteps, she finally entered the enclosed stairwell and realized with a bit of panic that she had no idea how to recognize the fourth floor in the dark. Would the light be on in the hallway when she reached that landing?
"Grab my coat," the man in front of her said at about the same time Relena felt her sweater being clutched by the hem. Relena realized she had become one in a chain of humans, all engaged in the difficult act of climbing a pitch-dark stairway. She concentrated on each step, trying not to step on the feet in front of her and avoiding those behind, following just as closely. Their climb was slow and halting. The line made several turns before the person in front of her paused and a faint voice ahead of her called out something she couldn't quite catch. A moment later the line moved again.
She hated to ask for help but felt she had no other choice. She'd never find the correct floor or room without some directions, and these people seemed to know where they were going. "Pardon me." She tugged on the rough coat in her hand. "I'm new here and I need to go to the fourth floor. Can you help me?"
"I get off on the third," the man in front of her stated.
"I live on the fourth so I can help you," a timid male voice called out from behind her. He sounded close, so she figured it was the person holding onto her sweater who had volunteered to help.
And so they climbed upward, the many shuffling feet marking the only sound other than the occasional comment of, Here's my floor. The man in front of her paused. "My floor," he stated. Relena let go of his coat, sensing that was the reason for the declaration.
"I'll lead," the man just behind her said, his voice sounding unsure. She pressed herself close to the railing in order to let him pass. Once he came around to the step above her, he waited until she reached forward to touch his back. She grabbed a fistful of coarse fabric and felt another hand from behind grab onto her sweater and the collective group began the climb up the stairs once again.
"Here we are," the man before her said after pausing in the open doorway. Over her shoulder, Relena related that information to the person behind her, and felt her sweater released. She was pleased to see that the dim lightbulb hanging from the center of the hallway was still on, illuminating just enough light for her to see her guide. At first glance she decided the tall man wasn't young, but neither was he old. His head was covered with thick and oily brown hair that fell raggedly past his shoulders. His face was thin, gaunt, and covered with a coarse beard. He might have been considered handsome once, she thought, though the beard could be hiding some facial flaw. The one feature he had that caught her attention was his eyes. They were large, brown and had a soft, understanding look to them.
"What room?" he asked.
A slight smile teased his chapped lips, exposing teeth that were dull and yellow. "Hello," he said in a shy manner. "I'm Kirk, one of your flatmates."