This story is by Kasey Anderson and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
14 Days Without Incident
The keys of this computer feel more foreign than I expected. I don’t know why I’m surprised. It’s been months since I touched computer keys, but I anticipated that all of my braille training and blind mapping of my environment would give me more confidence in my keystrokes.
As it is, I’ll have to fight to revise. I’ll have to fight for my right to write a log at all. The others around me don’t seem to understand how important it is to document what happens to us.
We’re trapped, basically. Like the orcas at SeaWorld, only Shamu can jump out of the water and splash the paying customers. We’re surrounded by plexiglass. We get a foot of air to breathe, and the rest of the time we essentially live in a pool. There’s a little bit of space for sleeping, but the psychopath who put us here gave us the bare minimum of space we needed to survive.
I’m writing in the sauna. Hardly anyone comes here. Why would they? There’s only laying down room, and it’s filled with hot steam. Particularly in the middle of the night, everyone chooses to sleep instead.
That’s what makes it the perfect place to write a log. Even if someone approaches me, I’ll be able to hear them coming, slithering across the ground.
I like the night and the heat. It means I get to be alone, away from all the chattering and arguing. It turns out that when you fill the air with a poison gas and force people to go around blindfolded with sarongs and covered with gas masks, they get a little testy.
If it weren’t for Josephina, I would have given up and died a long time ago. I come up with the ideas—me, the quiet, Asperger-ridden, socially anxious mess of a human being—and she makes them palatable to the others.
She was the one who convinced them that we needed a modified grid system, a way to feel our way around the pool. I used graph paper during several sessions of our ten minutes of daylight to design the system.
I should clarify. We get ten minutes of gas-free light every day. We get one item per day and one question, but only if we all agree. We get fifteen minutes of light if you count the body sweeping, but I’ve taken to hiding in a corner and filming with my smartphone as the system sweeps the bodies away.
I don’t want to forget the dead. I feel responsible for them.
It turns out those science fiction stories about nanobots improving our world were full of shit. That’s how we all got here in the first place. Nanobots.
It took only one rogue scientist and a bunch of self-replicating nanobots with the power to fuck up the human body to bring the entire world to its knees.
We built our own prisons with electrified barbed wire fences. Anyone who refused ended up bleeding out of their eyes, convulsing on the floor. It didn’t look like a good death.
So, we went along. What other choice did we have? We filled out endless forms of demographic information on computers. We built whatever the madman wanted us to build.
And one day, we woke up in these pools. Someone else had built them, obviously, giant plexiglass tanks with just enough airholes and ventilation for us to breathe. There were coated sarongs and gas masks floating in the pool. The madman told us the gas would be descending on us in fifteen minutes, that it would kill us if it got in our eyes, nose, or mouth, and that we all needed to survive for two months if we wanted to improve our situation.
I did the spatial math quickly. There were clearly enough supplies for everyone. Ten minutes to get a sarong and a gas mask. Easy. I would just have to make sure to protect my supplies from panicked people who might want more.
The first thing I did was to rip my sarong in half lengthwise. I clearly didn’t need the entire thing to cover just my eyes and nose, and it would make a good peace offering if I had to pretend to give up my sarong.
I didn’t want to be blind just yet. I’ve always had a pretty good idea of time, but even then, I was pleased to discover that I was still wearing my waterproof watch. Ten minutes.
Time to help the others survive. Those were the rules of the game, after all. We all survived or we all suffered for it.
There was a heavily pregnant woman panicking in a corner of the pool. Her hands shook as she waved them around wildly.
Useless, I couldn’t help thinking, but I approached her anyway.
“Do you need help?” I asked.
She stared blankly off into the distance before seeming to register the sound of my voice. Then she turned the blank look to me instead.
“Help?” she asked slowly.
“You’re blind, aren’t you?” I whispered.
She gave an almost imperceptible nod. I barely managed to keep myself from whistling. Blind and pregnant. The poor girl.
“Can I borrow this?” I asked. “I’ll give you one of my halves as collateral.”
“Collateral?” she seemed to pause for an eternity. “Why aren’t you more freaked out?”
“There’s enough supplies for everyone,” I said simply.
“But why save me?”
“You need the help the most. And we all have to survive. If you die, he’ll just replace you.”
“He never said that.”
“It was implied by the rules of the g—” I managed to stop myself from saying game.
She let me tie the sarong around her face and fasten the gas mask. I went around helping a few more people before tying my own sarong to my face and fastening my own mask. I trained the people who were willing to be trained by a twenty-six-year-old half-Greek kid, manipulating them as it benefited me.
I knew the kinds of people who would listen to me, and the kinds who wouldn’t. I prioritized those who would listen—the kinds of people who were vulnerable, who were willing to accept help.
Five people died that day out of their own sheer stubbornness. The sick bastard filmed their deaths and made us watch them. He made us watch as they bled out of their eyes, convulsing, frothing with white, rabies-like liquid out of their mouths.
“How did you know he’d replace the people who died?”
By now, I knew the first woman I’d saved was named Josephina, and she knew my name was Milos.
I shrugged. “It was just a hunch.”
“Pretty crazy hunch. Too many hunches like that, and people will start thinking you’re the killer.”
It was the sort of sentence that could have been a joke, but wasn’t.
“I’m not.” I desperately wanted her to believe me, and I didn’t know why.
“I know. The killer wouldn’t have saved me. He would have let me die just for the sake of his experiment.”
I followed her around from then on. There was something about her that intrigued me. I felt protective of her somehow. It wasn’t an instinct I liked. I felt protective of everyone, of course, but I knew from the moment I saw her that this went beyond that.
She couldn’t see with her eyes, but she saw things no one else could see. No one could argue with her. No one could dislike her. She could bring everyone to an uproarious laughing fit from the tensest of conversations.
I knew when I met her that we were meant to be linked.
That’s enough for a while, I think. I’ve documented the basic situation and I think we have things under control.
I wish I’d never met Josephina. Wish I’d never whispered sweet nothings in her ears. Wish that I hadn’t let her cast her spell over me.
I wish we’d never developed our own language and symbols. I wish I’d never let her spell out the names of people on the palm of my hands.
I wish I’d never been stupid enough to let her into my heart. I hadn’t thought there was anything left of it, but apparently there was just enough of a fragment to shatter into a million pieces when I felt her body convulse under mine and her heartbeat race faster and faster until it suddenly stopped.
The baby survived, and I suppose it’s an innocent that I ought to protect, even if saving it killed her. It’s a part of her no matter how I feel about it, so I’m going to keep it alive, no matter the cost. She’s the only thing I have left, after all, and despite being blind, she has her mother’s eyes.