Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
Chapter 12 - Relena
by Dyna Dee
Even though more than a week had passed, Relena still wasn't comfortable sleeping in a frigidly cold room with a group of strangers. She also blamed her nights of fitful sleep on the unpleasant odor of unclean bodies, the snoring that surrounded her and the fact that she was still in shock over finding herself on L2. She greeted the day the same as she has since the first time she woke up in this room, feeling worn and haggard. Slowly sitting up, she yawned and rubbed the sleep from her tired eyes before she glanced around the dimly lit room. Rita and Gian were still sleeping, as if they hadn't a care in the world, yet both men who were her roommates were gone, having silently left their beds and the room before she'd fully awakened.
Hoping not to disturb the women, she got up as quietly as possible and left the bedroom. The silence in other rooms indicated that no one was occupying the main room, kitchen nor the bathroom. Somewhat relieved to find herself alone, she made use the facilities, remembering not to flush the toilet, and washed herself with the most minute amount of water. Her head itched like crazy and her hair was oily, stringy and tangled. She wondered if she would be allowed to wash it anytime soon. She combed through her long hair with her fingers and decided to ask the other women for something to tie it back with once they woke up. If nothing was available, cutting it might be an option... that is if a functioning pair of scissors could be found.
Hungry but out of food and not willing to touch any of her roommates stores without permission, she pulled her tattered sweater over her shoulders and quietly left the apartment. Bypassing the defunct elevator, she made her way down the four levels of stairs to the ground floor. The lobby of the building she now resided in was empty this early in the morning, the room as shabby as ever. She ventured out of the grimy front door and onto the colony street.
Taking an early morning walk had become a part of her morning routine. It gave her some time alone and helped to calm the panic she felt after waking up each morning and realizing where she was. Stopping for several moments, she surveyed her surroundings before cautiously strolling down the streets of L2. Despite the poverty and lack of services, the lack of trash on the streets seemed odd. There was, however, a wide assortment of bed frames, old televisions and appliances thrown into the alleyways between the buildings. With all services cut off to the colony, there were no scrap-hauling freighters to carry away the metal refuse. Missing, she observed, was anything that could be burned. There was no trash, no cardboard, mattresses or clothing present in the debris piles. From the faint hint of smoke in the air, blending with the odor of unclean flesh and waste matter, she wondered if all burnable material had been used for heat.
Turning the corner at the end of the block, she passed by several other ragged people. Her nod of greeting was returned with a dispassionate stare. Everyone she'd encountered since awaking up on L2 a week ago bore the same gaunt and emaciated look she had only seen before in pictures of people who were suffering from starvation.
Her stomach rumbled loudly, reminding her that dinner the night before had been meager at best. She felt hopeful that her hunger wouldn't last very long, knowing that this was the morning she was scheduled to receive another week's supply of food from the distribution center the others had told her about. Today would be her first visit to the place. The previous week, Kirk, knowing that she had not slept well during that first night on the colony, had kindly picked up her allotment of food while she slept.
Her first week on L2 had been a long and tedious one. She'd always been an active person, and being forced into a state of idleness, lacking any work, visual or reading material made the minutes, hours and days drag by with unbearable slowness. Learning to eat sparingly and on a schedule had been more difficult than she could have imagined. Never before had she worried about where her food was coming from or if there was going to be enough to satisfy her hunger. Somehow knowing the limits of food she was given each week made her more aware of how insufficient it was and of the hunger pains she suffered every couple of hours.
Rubbing her arms, hoping to generate some warmth from the perpetual chill that filled the colony, she wondered if the solar panels were malfunctioning. Surely there was someone on the colony who could fix the heating system. Not for the first time she wondered how these people could live from day to day without a purpose, employment or... joy? She had not seen any evidence of happiness since being there nor had she heard the sound of laughter. There was definitely no joy in this colony, she decided with a sinking heart, only abject acceptance of their fate. It was evident that those she'd seen had given up all hope that things would get better, and that realization made her feel incredibly sad.
Spying a group of people standing in front of a building, she decided that instead of avoiding them, as she had during the past week, she would approach them, cautiously. As she moved closer the heads of those in the group turned in her direction, then turned away almost as quickly, dismissing her. Though none of them looked like a would-be hero, she had little to lose from making an appeal for help.
"Excuse me," she said, then waited until a man..., no a tough looking woman, turned and snapped back irritably, "What?"
Relena swallowed, hoping she wasn't getting herself into more trouble. After all, she didn't know who had brought her to this colony in the first place. It could have been anyone of these people staring at her. "I'm a stranger here and I need someone to help me."
From within the small group came the sound of muffled amusement. "Listen, dearie," the woman she'd addressed answered scornfully. "We're all in need of help here." More laughter ensued, but it wasn't the kind of laughter she was used to hearing. The woman leaned closer until her face was only inches from Relena's. With rancid breath and yellow, broken teeth the woman asked, "You got men troubles, girlie?" The woman's eyes raked her over, top to toes and over her used but serviceable clothing. A salacious smile spread upon her cracked lips. "I'd gladly take ya under ma wing, chickie, but my pra'tection ain't exactly free." To make her point, the woman's hand moved quickly to cup Relena's right breast.
Relena instinctively jumped back and crossed her arms protectively over her chest. Shocked by the other woman's action, it took the former queen of the world a moment to realize what exactly the woman meant by that statement. Repulsed and with a horrified expression, Relena took another step back from the crone and glanced at the men, who seemed amused by the scene. "Please," she implored them. "I was kidnaped and brought here for reasons unknown to me. I need to contact someone, anyone off colony, to let them know where I am and that I need help."
One of the men turned fully to face her. His frown of disapproval told her what he thought of her plight. "Are ya stupid?" he snapped. "We're cut off from everyone out there, the colonies and Earth. The UEC has seen to that, all right. If someone brought ya here, they musta had a good reason." With a contemptuous scowl he added, "If you want to get off colony so bad, I know of an air lock that is pretty obligin'."
She debated for a brief moment about whether or not to tell these people exactly who she was, that she was a person of consequence. But the memory of Havoc's warning and of his opinion of her and the UEC had her deciding against that idea. The desperate people of L2 would most likely not see her as nothing more than a thorn in their sides, maybe even a part of the reason for their suffering. Anonymity, she was coming to believe, was her only ally and a means for staying out of harm.
"No need for that," a voice called out behind her and she was startled when her arm was suddenly grabbed. She relaxed and felt enormously grateful to see the familiar face of Kirk, her roommate. "Sorry to trouble you, but the little lady hasn't been well lately."
"She looks damn healthy ta me?" one of the other men in the small group commented snidely. Relena realized that she must indeed look ‘damn healthy' in comparison to everyone else on L2. After all, she'd been eating three square meals a day up until her kidnaping.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kirk tap his head, indicating her illness was of a different sort. A look of suspicion and understanding dawned on the faces of the people she'd approached. "I'll just take her back to our flat," Kirk said, backing away.
"Ya best keep her inside until she's better or Kattia will eat her for breakfast," one of the men laughed and the others joined in. Moving cautiously away, Relena thought that there was laughter on L2 after all, just not the kind she was used to.
"That was foolish," Kirk said as he continued to lead her back in the direction she'd come. "What are ya doing out so early?"
"Couldn't sleep any longer," she replied. "I also thought it might be good to take a look around."
Kirk gave her a look of disapproval that showed her he knew exactly what she'd been doing. Though they hadn't talked much during the week, she wondered just how much the other man knew about her. "Do you know who I am, Kirk?"
"No. I only know yur someone who doesn't belong here and that we're supposed to see that yu're not hurt."
"Who do you take your orders from?" She'd been hoping to learn the identity of the person or group who had abducted her.
"Orders?" Kirk's laughter was tinged with bitterness. "The guardian who carried ya to the flat requested this of us. There's no orders on L2, not ‘til the UEC takes over whatever is left of this place when this fuckin' blockade is over."
"Is there really no news from outside L2? No way to communicate with anyone?" she asked.
"Nothin' but word of mouth spreads the news here, and that ain't always reliable."
They walked a few more steps before Kirk added, "And if ya'd take a bit of advice from me, keep whatever yur name is and the reason yu're here to yurself. Nobody here really cares who or what ya are, only that yu're taking away a portion of food that would normally be divvied out to the rest of us."
She hadn't thought about it in that respect. Of course her presence on L2 meant that the rations sent by the UEC government would have to stretch to feed one more person. She would have to remember that and be grateful for whatever she was given. Turning to her companion she asked, "So what are you going to do today? I have to admit that the lack of something to do is nerve wracking."
Kirk glanced down at her, and with the briefest of smiles he answered. "You're lucky. Today we go to the food distribution area and get our allotment." Then looking off into the distance he sighed as he continued. "Then we begin ta count the hours from one meal to the next, calculatin' how much ta eat in order to survive and make it last until the next time we can go back and get some more."
They walked the rest of the way to the apartment in silence, and Relena wondered, and not for the first or the last time, why she'd been brought to this godforsaken colony. Was it out of spite, for a ransom, to teach her something or make a point? Because so much effort had gone into taking her from earth and bringing her there, she had a feeling her stay on L2 wound not be for a short duration and that she would not be seeing her home nor the comforts she's always enjoyed anytime soon.