Bag and Tag
■ My submissions ■ Partner’s submissions
The ghost town of Bretham stood as a dilapidated monument of wells, wagons and dusk-lit showdowns. A convoy of jeeps—camouflaged with military patterns of beiges and ochres—approached from the west, traversing a forgotten road which carved through a sun-bleached desert that stretched for miles in every direction. Sergeant Brock sat quietly amongst a row of soldiers flanking him on either side within the canopied bed of the foremost jeep. His nose twitched as he sensed the transmission shifting down a gear—the objective in question was close at hand. He was rarely nervous during routine Bag-and-Tag operations, but his recent promotion was a game-changer, potentially setting the groundwork for a high-ranking government position in the future. An entire platoon was now under his command, and beads of sweat jostled upon his brow in accordance with the heavy bumps of the road. With a heavy exhale, he forced his mind to wander. His thoughts routinely drifted towards his small circles, and those circles almost always seemed to involve Jordan.
It was just a week’s time before their mandatory deployment to the Dravouth campaign, and Jordan had the bright idea of visiting the Claim Exchange as a sort of motivator to ensure their safe return. Jordan flashed his infectiously toothy grin at Charles as they casually strolled beside the gallery of Braces which were presented behind a vertical plate of one-way glass at the Claim Exchange. “Braces”—improvised vernacular for breeding sows—were prisoners volunteered for the various propagation programs that were offered to long-tenured soldiers.
There was never any shortage of Braces to choose from, since that was the only recourse for female captives to avoid relentless propaganda and sixty-hour workweeks at the Reeducation Camps. One particular prospect stopped Jordan dead in his tracks, and he’d approach the glass with hungry eyes while folding his arms behind his back. “I’ll be having one of those firecrotches under my thumb and in my bed every night after our dues are paid, Chaz. Just you watch.” Redheads always seemed to make him giddy, prompting him to jot the Claim number for each within the small black notebook that he always kept in his back pocket.
The odds of a soldier obtaining his number one choice were very low, of course, since Officers and MPs always enjoyed first selections, but it seemed any redhead would do for ol’ Jordy. He was a horny bastard, in spite of the mandatory anaphrodisial injections for enlisted soldiers, and this was always a topic of jest exploited by friends and foes alike. “I’ll never be doused,” Jordan would boast with an exaggerated wink worthy of a Warner Brothers cartoon. “Let it be known to every man, woman and child that I like to fuck.” Charles had a new set of responsibilities to uphold, since he was now an Officer in training, but he volunteered for the injections anyways. It was implied that claiming a Brace could hinder your chances at promotion, so he fulfilled his infrequent needs at the local whorehouses which were common on the outskirts of the barracks.
“Let it be known to every man, woman and child that I like to fuck.” Well, maybe just the women, Jordan might add as a humorous addendum, if he had it to say all over again. He was dead now, claimed by an artillery round fired from an insurgent’s bunker. It wasn’t until after he saw Jordan’s name flash across the KIA marquee in his visor that Charles realized that Jordan was his best friend… maybe the only real friend he had. Ol’ Jordy, who could make dead babies funny. Maybe there was a personal bordello of redheads waiting for him in heaven.
Charles took it upon himself to inform Jordan’s family of the tragedy. As gray streaks of light from nearby window blinds slid across his face, he barely mustered the news with a gravelly, dust-choked voice. Jordan’s father and mother sat stunned, but Jordan’s sister Andrea took it the hardest. There was yelling and screaming before she bolted out of the house, tears streaming down her cheeks. Andrea’s name was mentioned during a missing person’s broadcast a week later. A year after that, his parents were suspected to be rebel conspirators, tried, and hanged. It seemed that Jordy’s death would magnify its own misfortune tenfold in its wake.
Charles’s mind snapped back just as the jeep’s hatch swung open. Soldiers filed out and quickly claimed strategic advantages throughout the perimeter, reacting to Charles’ hand-gestured commands without hesitation.
Colonel Emmerson was already at work with his bullhorn, barking threats and ultimatums through a mechanical screech which seemed to disturb lines of dust from windowsills. “Attention, attention. This area is now under State control. Any insurgents are to surrender themselves immediately or risk being fired upon.” It wasn’t long until a response echoed between the rows of buildings which flanked the main street. Scattered pops from small arms were soon followed by sputterings of machine gun fire. Well, well, Charles thought to himself as he rushed for cover with the click-clack-click of ammunition belts on dust-colored fatigues. It would seem that intelligence was right about this one, after all.
All in all, it was a successful, if not dull operation to claim under his belt. Eight rebels were killed and another six were apprehended…in total, ten men, three women and a child, with no internal losses or injuries. Once they were rounded up and carted away, Colonel Emmerson assigned Charles and three other soldiers clean-up duty and final inspection as the rest of the platoon pushed onwards towards the rendezvous point. It was a duty which he hated, but he’d grit his teeth and take it. He was platoon leader, after all. The trio of grunts would engage in small talk as they dragged bodies out into the open street, but Charles quickly grew bored of supervising, letting his curiosity pull him away towards the opposite end of town.
The saloon offered a decent amount of shade from the relentless afternoon sun, and Charles would naturally roam around with curious eyes at the timeless relics which seemed to beg his attention. There was an upstairs floor, so he slowly climbed the creaky steps to investigate what it had to offer. One particular room caught his attention, as it offered a particularly deep recess of shadow, so he slowly approached the doorframe to enforce his position before taking a sideways lean for a look inside.
The sound of a shuffle would surprise him into immediate action. “You there!” Charles barked, readying his rifle towards a pair of legs emerging from a shadow in the corner of the room. “Hands up, now! Comply at once or…” The spotlight on his weapon revealed a pair of terrified eyes which quickly locked themselves upon his own. “Andrea?” Charles asked with an incredulous whisper as he lowered his gun to the floor.
Andrea is a placeholder name. Feel free to PM if you’d like me to change it. I intended your character to be feisty and strong-willed, at least in the beginning, despite her obvious disadvantage. She’d be taken as a Brace (after some red tape, of course) by Charles and the story would develop from there. I know this intro is fairly long, but I wouldn’t expect our responses to be nearly as intensive from this point forward. As always, I’m open to any other ideas you might have. Have fun!
In a message dated 5/4/2016 11:22:33 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, TellingofTales@aol.com writes:
((Here we go. I hope it’s good enough for your enjoyment. I’m still feeling out a bit of the setting, so my quality will likely go up as I get a better feel for the character.))
She should have waited another hour. Waited until it was fully dark, even. The room’s secret little panic room was crowded and stuffy and uncomfortable, but at least it was relatively safe. Nope, she had been lured out by the sounds of those military trucks leaving, baiting her into thinking it was safe to get moving again.
That was what Elise had been reduced to these days. Not really part of one world or the other, but a shattered soul running around trying to avoid oblivion after her entire way of life had fallen apart. Running, ever running. Her brother, dead in the line of ‘duty’. Her parents, labeled as traitors and murdered by the State. Elise knew what that would mean if she was ever caught. Guilty by association. Whether she was a rebel or not in truth, she’d be considered one by the oppressive regime and treated as such.
Truthfully, she was tempted. Tempted to join the rebels who fought back against a State that seemed ever more determined to stomp its own people out under its heel, when they dared to voice an opinion that wasn’t sanctioned or ‘correct’. It wasn’t right. It couldn’t be right. Wasn’t humanity stronger when it listened to a plethora of different ideas, and discussed them like rational beings?
That was what those rebels she had met had been saying, had been asking, and it made sense. Elise hadn’t committed to much of anything yet, because it was all so big, so over her head. What could SHE really do? On the other hand… she knew she was already damned in the eyes of the State. No matter what she chose to do, she’d be tried and murdered if they ever got ahold of her. That in and of itself was almost enough to decide her. If you already carry a label to those in power, why not just grab the bull by the horns?
But now, it seemed like she’d not be given the chance to even make up her mind which side she was on, because her own moment of stupidity and flight response had led to now. And now was a soldier’s booming voice calling out for her to stop and comply, as she’d been creeping from the panic room and across the room above the saloon, intending to be on her way before more soldiers arrived.
Her jaw clenched as the bright light of the spotlight splashed across her face, caught between terror and indignant anger. She’d heard the trucks leave! It should have been safe now! Her emerald green eyes flashed as without realizing it, her chin rose a bit in almost a defiant arrogance. Their fault. Always making her run, flee, and fear for her life. And then they had the audacity to trick her too.
Standing there in the dark room, highlighted only by the dimming light from the single covered window and now the spotlight of Charles’ weapon, Elise was a rather sorry sight. When he’d met her briefly during his excursion to inform Jordy’s family of his death, Elise had been a very pretty young woman in her early twenties. Long luxurious mahogany brown hair, sparkling green eyes, and an hourglass figure that was equal parts voluptuous with feminine curves and delicate in bone structure, standing an elegant five foot eight inches tall in bare feet.
Her year plus of disappearing off the grid had left her looking rather bedraggled. That gorgeous long hair was now held back in a messy unwashed braid. She’d lost weight, leaving her previously lovely natural curves somewhat diminished in the ragged utilitarian pants that cinched at her slender waist with an over-long belt. The long-sleeved shirt she wore had a rip in the side that exposed a hint of too-thin ribcage, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows to keep them out of her way.
And as she took a small step to the side, trying to put a table between herself and her aggressor, the thud of tread on the floor was telling that she was wearing sensible hiking boots. Her hand, trembling hard, was tugging at the pistol she had stuffed in the wrapping of her belt. Didn’t really know how to use it, but somewhere along the line she’d picked it up and it had worked wonders as a deterrent against less-desirable elements.
The fumbling half-draw of her weapon stopped short when she heard the surprised whisper from the soldier in the doorway crossing the dim gloom of the room. Was that… had he said her name? Emerald eyes squinted in the dim, but she was unable to really see past the lingering dots and dimples the spotlight had left clinging to her retinas when the man had shone the light into her darkness-adjusted eyes.
She couldn’t really see him, still half-blinded. But she could somewhat tell that he had lowered his weapon, which didn’t make sense. Soldiers just loved to point their weapons around directly at people.
“How do you know my name?” Her voice echoed across the space between them, the same rich smoky tone he’d remember from so long ago. Deeper than a typical female, a touch throaty but still exquisitely feminine. And it only trembled ever so slightly, despite how badly frightened she was. A show of strength. Fuck him. Maybe she could figure all this out.
A shift to bend her knees slightly, trying to let the table between them disguise the way she was once more trying to get her pistol free of the belt that held it. Was the damned thing even loaded? She couldn’t remember.
In a message dated 5/9/2016 10:58:59 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
(sorry for being a day and a half late, but here we go. I hope you’re still interested in pursuing this!)
An overlapping jumble of considerations flooded Charles’ mind as the situation unfolded before him. One of which being… if he was forced to kill the stray before him, then he most likely would have to write a lengthy report regarding the incident and submit it to Tactical Affairs for procedural analysis. He presumed that the prospect of losing half your next day off to paperwork was the State’s half-assed deterrent for the average soldier with an itchy trigger finger. His hopes were high that Elise would simply submit herself into custody without a struggle. His report to Colonel Emmerson could be sweet and succinct, and life could go on without a hitch after she was detained and carted away.
There was also the fact that Charles tried very hard to be a decent human being, of course. There were inherent limitations to when and how he could apply his generosity, but sparing lives whenever possible helped Charles to sleep better at night. His experience was that if the right peacekeeping tactics were properly implemented, killing could be avoided in the majority of close encounters. This would be the first time in Charles’ line of duty that he had an exchange with someone he actually knew, which strengthened his hope that no rounds would be fired between them.
“You’re Jordan’s sister, aren’t you?” Charles’ voice was human now, losing its mechanical harshness after he deactivated the built-in amplifier in his helmet’s mouthpiece. The bio readings on Charles’ scouter read that Elise was malnourished and weak, but otherwise healthy. He took a step forward into the room, allowing the light from outside the room to trickle contours of reflection along the various planes of his silhouetted armor. Charles stood tall, well past six feet, with his eyes offering no reflection from the available light, suggesting that they were a deep brown. A small tuft of black hair jutted from underneath the open visor of his helmet, a juvenile peculiarity to an otherwise imposing presence of armor and weaponry.
“Listen, I don’t know if you’re with the rebels or not, but I’m technically supposed to terminate you due to your lack of compliance from the earlier ultimatum.” Charles hoped that his tone suggested a preference against any bloodshed, but tact wasn’t his strongest suit… and as his words lingered in the air for an awkward moment, regret quickly set into his mind. He actively fought against his first instinct, which was to ask Elise a slew of questions and hopefully receive a slew of answers. There was no going back now, but perhaps he could reconcile the situation another way.
“I’m going to leave this building now.” There was a noticeable shift in Charles’ voice, as if he was beginning a set of instructions. “I will rejoin my men outside and mention nothing of our encounter. Wait five minutes, then head outside and walk towards us slowly, with your hands behind your head. I’ll apprehend you and see to it that you’re treated as fairly as possible.”
He took one more moment to scan Elise from head to toe before turning to honor his end of the bargain. Before fully disappearing through the doorframe, however, he paused and glanced back at her. “If I don’t see you in five minutes,” Charles warned, the soldier returning in his voice, “then I’ll hunt you down and kill you.”
In a message dated 5/10/2016 7:46:12 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, TellingofTales@aol.com writes:
Fingertips slid over the handle of the pistol that may or may not be loaded as Elise tried to ease it slowly from the makeshift holster for which her belt was currently acting. The table was shitty cover, but she certainly wasn’t going to stand there and be gunned down like a helpless animal. If she went out, she wanted to face the afterlife being able to say she at least tried to save herself.
But all movement stopped, and her breath was held as the amplifier on the soldier’s mouthpiece was shut down, rendering his speech far closer to that of an actual living, breathing human. It was so easy to forget the soldiers were men when their voices were mechanical and loud and booming with small cracks of static. So easy to think of them as merciless machines of death and oppression.
His question reached her as he took a step into the room, Elise reflexively taking an answering step backwards without even consciously thinking about it. Her hip bumped into the edge of an end table and she winced slightly, but didn’t take her eyes off the man who had just sparked a small flash of recognition in her memory banks by using her brother’s name. Did she know this guy?
Her gaze narrowed in both suspicion and attempt to make out the man’s features as her thoughts ran quickly through possibilities. Who the hell had Jordy known that would also know her, and was a soldier to boot? She’d never met any of his soldier friends. A moment later, even as the guy continued to speak, throwing out a sort of veiled threat about proper ‘protocol’ for finding her? It clicked for her.
He must be the one who had come to their house, who had told her parents about how their son was dead, about how she would never ever see her brother’s laughing face again. It really wasn’t technically the messenger’s fault, and there were all sort of proverbs about not shooting the messenger, but right then Elise wanted to do it anyway. She might have tried, if she could have been certain the damned weapon she had was loaded.
What was the guy’s name? What was it? She’s not exactly been in the best frame of mind when the news had been delivered, and names tended to be the first thing to flee her head in times of stress. Carl? Harley? Charlie? Even as her mind fumbled for the fragmented memory, she kept watching the man in utter silence. Really, what the hell was she supposed to say?
“What?” Popped out of her mouth before she could stop it, when Charles suddenly informed her he was going to leave the building. Was he… going to let her go? She didn’t even really notice the shift in the man’s tone in that moment, a sudden flare of hope swelling heat through her chest. “Because… of Jordy…?” The question that emerged breathily from her lips essentially answered Charles’ first question for him, and solved the mystery of her potential identity, even if she hadn’t really meant to be all that informative. Hope softened her briefly, a quiet breath drawn into her lungs.
Then his real purpose for saying such a thing became crystal clear as he continued his ‘instructions’. He wasn’t letting her go. He was just allowing her the chance to get out of this alive and instead turn herself in… where a fresh sort of hell awaited her. As hope died in her emerald eyes, Charles’ final look would see her body language shifting towards something harder, distant and insulted. Her chin lifting in a prideful gesture as her back straightened ramrod straight.
His final warning was delivered, hard and cold as soldiers so often were, and Elise suppressed an urge to scream, launch herself at him and claw out his eyes. Bastard. Cold-hearted bastard. He’d given her hope and then smashed it into pieces. She HATED him. Instead, she simply lashed out with words as he turned to go, her fiery temper that had always gotten her into trouble before shredding her better judgment.
“What wonderful fucking choices. Thank you soooooo much.” Anger, disdain, fiery frustration flung at him as her hands curled into fists, though she held her ground like a snarling cornered cat… and had also entirely taken her hand away from that pistol at her waist. “Any chance I can get some tea to go with my shackles?”
Shut up, Elise. Shut up. She knew she was being stupid, stupid and childish and was likely to end up with a bullet in her eye. But she couldn’t manage to hold her goddamned tongue, though now she reined it in and just stared at him, waiting for him to actually leave. Visibly shaking in her boots with the expectation of being gunned down for being a mouthy bitch, but determined to at least stare the fucker in the eye when he did it.
Leave. Please let him just leave like he said he would. Then she could figure out what to do. Captivity or death. Which was preferable? It was a hell of a thing to decide in less than five minutes.
((Enjoy! 🙂 If you can get a response to me sometime tonight, I can probably at least begin another reply of my own before I go to bed later tonight.))
From: propagandapiece <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: TellingofTales <TellingofTales@aol.com>
Sent: Tue, May 31, 2016 3:05 pm
Subject: Re: Post #3
Elise’s bitter sarcasm was hardly scathing; Charles had been subjected to much worse during previous military excursions. He wouldn’t actually kill her, of course, but the possibility remained that she’d be dragged kicking and screaming back to his outpost. Sometimes, acting like a hardened, blood-lusting warmonger was necessary to drive a point home. He could only hope that Elise would follow his instructions and choose surrender, if only to put him in the best position towards helping her make the most of her future.
He approached his squadron out in the dusty street as they were finishing the last tally of their corpse inventory. Their collective gaze upon their approaching commander was one of quiet curiosity, quickly alerting Charles that he was visibly reeling from his encounter with Elise. He obscured his wearied eyes and flushed face underneath a sheet of shadow with a casual tip of his helmet, and ordered for one last scan of the surrounding area before the final haul of bodies upon the bed of their canopied jeep.
Minutes passed. The soldiers were busy, and Charles kept scanning the area where he emerged from the saloon. His mind was pleading with fate regarding the eventual outcome of his tense exchange. Please, Elise. Make the right decision. I’m imploring you. Otherwise, I seriously cannot guarantee your safety. His loyalty to Jordan seemed to stretch from beyond his friend’s grave. Charles would not… could not have been as lenient with a stranger in that darkened room moments earlier. As the time limit approached and elapsed, Charles forced his gaze once more towards the bright orange streak which was hazing the horizon, hoping against hope that he’d find an approaching silhouette.
In a message dated 5/31/2016 9:27:50 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
As soon as Charles had left the room, Elise could feel the countdown starting. Five minutes had never felt like such a long time, and paradoxically like no time at all. The first thing she did once she knew he wouldn’t see was to drop to her knees and let her face fall into her hands. A rock and a hard place. That was now her life. Capture or death. There was no longer anything else she could aspire to achieve. She had believed the soldier when he said he would hunt her down and kill her. That was what soldiers did, especially those who worked for this regime. Even if this one had known her brother, why should he be any different?
For the next minute, various possibilities ran through her head. Thoughts of trying to flee anyway, a cycling of different strategems to try to make it work. But it was fruitless. Soldiers were still around the town, and she would be seen if she tried to slip away now. She couldn’t stay here either, because Charles would just find her again. Now that he knew her face, she might be put on a list of fugitives. And being hunted like an animal was really not high on her list of things to do in this life.
The next minute was spent being absolutely enraged at the world. The table was turned over and kicked soundly with the toe of her boot. The wall was punched and a string of curse words escaped her lips that no proper lady should ever speak. She was likely to have to control her fiery temper from here on out, so she might as well get it all out of her system now. A loud crash as dishes went flying from the cupboard, smashing against the opposite wall, until Elise was left panting and breathless.
Minute three had her preparing for her ordeal. She was going to have dignity for it. Screw them all. She’d hold her head high and stare defiantly into every last pair of eyes who wanted to condemn her. Water still ran in the kitchen area, so she took a few moments to wash her face. The messy braid that kept her hair out of her face was quickly unraveled, and the long mahogany brown locks were brushed out as well as she could manage with her fingers. They needed a good wash, but they hadn’t lost all of their shine. A rough shake of her head let them spill more freely around her shoulders and down her back to their full length, which brushed just above the curve of her backside. There was little she could do about her bedraggled clothing, so she didn’t bother. The pistol (which upon inspection, did turn out to be empty and unloaded) was tossed across the room into the wall in her final act of temper.
Minute four had her descending the staircase of the building and walking out the front door into the failing light of the early evening. Now that she had made up her mind, she did not drag her feet or draw it out. Her head was held high, emerald eyes sparking with spirit and the promise that while they could capture her, they could not break her.
And as the fifth minute dawned, she appeared on the horizon that Charles was watching, walking with a stride that belied the way she was surrendering herself to capture. She could have been prowling freely like a jungle cat in its domain for all the fear she showed. One might almost think she was the predator here… until she came to a stop a short distance away, raised her hands and laced her fingers behind her head. The fading sunlight caught in her dark tresses and almost gave her a halo as she remained where she was, and spoke firmly.
In a message dated 6/3/2016 7:14:23 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
(Again, sorry for the delay but at least you didn’t wait as long for this one. :))
Upon hearing Elise’s words, Charles quietly closed the distance between her stationary body and frisked her from head to toe. The soldiers, returning from their brief excursion around the perimeter of the town, had bewildered looks on their faces, possibly from the lack of Charles drawing his weapon as Elise approached. He’d wave them off after a satisfactory inspection before speaking. “This one is clean. Corporal Davenport, please get Emmerson on the horn so he can personally approve a direct transport to the camps.”
As the soldiers busied themselves once more with menial taskwork, Charles whispered into Elise’s ear while standing behind her. “Don’t worry. I’ll see to it that you are rerouted and processed at a recruitment depot, where we’ll explore our options. Take a deep breath and relax, we’ll be on the road soon.” Her smell, which caught his nostrils as he leaned in to utter his reassurance, was strangely alluring. Truth be told, he hadn’t been this close to a live woman in months. A juvenile part of his brain craved another frisk with more emphasis on particular parts of her body, which forced a slight smile upon his face. It was thoughts like these which he filed away as evidence that he was still human, at least for the most part.
Colonel Emmerson would arrive twenty minutes later on a jeep, flanked on three sides by soldiers who were obviously meant to shield him from any attempts on his life by snipers or shrapnel. He quickly jumped up and dismissed the grunts under Charles’ command before joining him and Elise in the middle of the street.
“Well, looks like you caught a fresh one there,” Emmerson began, smiling as he eyeballed Elise from top to bottom. “Good lookin’ one, too. Let’s take a closer look, hmm?” He gently seized her chin with his thumb and forefinger, guiding her face from left to right as he peeked in close on her features.
“Nothing obvious as far as viral infections… good, good. Open ‘er up, then.” He motioned for Elise to open her mouth and scanned top to bottom before humming his approval. “We’ll have a dentist take a profession look-see, but everything seems fine to me. Well then, friend. Shall I turn you over to the authorities as a criminal, my dear?”
Colonel Emmerson smiled at his own sudden inquiry with a focused gaze upon Elise’s face. Charles clasped her wrist firmly, a signal for her to keep her mouth shut. The silent moment which passed was likely delicious in Emmerson’s own demented mind.
“I’ll have my own favorite Commander make that call,” he finally snorted, shifting his eyes towards Charles behind her. “Cart her off and make sure she gets a Phase-B analysis. We’ll see if she’s any good to us as a breeder.”
One final nod from the Colonel seemed to finalize matters. “After dealing with this one, take the rest of the day off, Commander. You’ve done some good work today.” With that, the Colonel and the soldiers relieved themselves from the vicinity, leaving Charles to snap restraints on Elise’s wrists before gently guiding her to the idling jeep waiting for their own departure. Charles would whisper in her ear one last time before climbing in the driver’s seat beside her. “We’ll get you fed and we’ll get you safe. This I promise.”
In a message dated 6/4/2016 6:58:47 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, TellingofTales@aol.com writes:
As Charles approached her, Elise’s emerald eyes focused on him intently, meeting his gaze without the slightest hesitation. Chin held high and proudly, even as she held the standard surrender posture that was expected of her, fingers laced behind her head and elbows fanned out on either side of her. There was almost a sort of challenge in those green eyes, that dared him to try and get away with anything she didn’t really want.
She had to be here, but she clearly didn’t think she had to behave like a victim. As his hands patted her down, she stood rigidly but did not flinch. It was hardly pleasant to be frisked by a near-stranger, especially in such a situation, but she held her ground. Inside, her stomach was knotted, and she had set her jaw so she wouldn’t tremble. But she wasn’t going to break, or show weakness. Not even a little bit, not even when his hands got a better feel for the curves of her body as they learned she did not have any weapons on her.
The whisper he murmured into her ear wasn’t what she had expected. It wasn’t cold, or rude, or demeaning. It was almost.. .compassionate, and it had her raising an eyebrow briefly, though she did not otherwise react. The evening breeze was causing a few tendrils of her dark hair to flutter back against him, carrying the faint scent of her unique personal pheromone signature. It’d been days since she’d had a chance to wash her hair properly, but it still carried a faint hint of warmth and sunshine to it.
Elise was quiet as they waited for this Colonel Emerson, not speaking a single word and maintaining her standing position without the slightest indication of fatigue or strain. The only telltale sign that she was tiring was the slight droop of her spread elbows as the minutes ticked by. Breathing was regular, slow and even. But anytime one of the soldiers looked her way, he’d be greeted by a fierce glare of defiance from her otherwise statuesque stillness.
The arrival of the Colonel finally came to pass, and Elise knew she hated that man as soon as she saw him. There was no stopping the angry flare of her nostrils when the military man eyed her like a piece of meat, and when his filthy hand came close enough to grip her chin so he could get a better look at her, it took every ounce of Elise’s self-control not to spit in his face.
As it was, if looks could kill, the Colonel would have been laid out before her. Her loathing was clear even as she submitted to his little inspection without a fight, obediently opening her mouth when he insisted so he could look into her mouth like she was an animal. But her eyes… her eyes continued to wish Emmerson death and pain throughout it all.
She nearly lost it when the Colonel asked her if she should be processed as a criminal. Her full lips parted and she was already drawing in breath for a sharp retort when she felt the press of Charles’ hand on her wrist, entreating her to silence. Her wrist within his grasp tensed, twisted smooth skin through his fingers ever so slightly as if testing the strength of his conviction. Then with a slow, slow exhalation of breath through her nose, Elise submitted once more to her captor, and remained silent.
If Charles had not given her pause before with his vaguely kind words, she would have likely gotten herself into a load of trouble right there. The Colonel repulsed her, angered her, frightened her. Men like that were monsters, and it was never proven more true than when the word ‘breeder’ came out of his mouth. A breeder? Jesus Christ, that was true? This fucked up government really did that? She’d always convinced herself that had to be propaganda by the rebels, to stir up hatred and fear of the oppressive regime. The more anger and fear, the more people were willing to fight, after all. It couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t.
But here it was, being spelled out as clear as day. She very well may be on her way to becoming some whore for some stranger, expected to pump out little brainwashed soldier babies. It was worse than her worst nightmare. And it was that, that made it impossible to miss the slight tremble in her slender wrists when the restraints were slapped onto her.
Still, aside from the small tells that betrayed her fear, Elise did not falter. She did not make a fool of herself nor did she beg for mercy. She walked for the Jeep that Charles guided her towards with her head held high, her eyes sparking defiance, and her steps steady. Only the slight heightening of her breath, the small heaving of her ample bosom gave away the signs of stress.
And when Charles whispered those intended-to-soothe words in her ear as they approached the Jeep, she couldn’t help her smart mouth. Her head turning to the side so she could glimpse him standing just behind her out of her peripheral vision, and murmuring back sharply in her smoky tone, “Right, because I’ll need my strength for all that fucking I’ve got to do as a breeder, yeah?”
Again, her inner monologue told her to shut the hell up. But the stress of the situation was making itself known. She stared straight ahead as Charles climbed into the Jeep’s driver seat, swallowing slowly as she promised herself she wouldn’t cry. A small shifting and clinking of the restraints on her wrists, as if testing them, but she made no obvious move to try and break free.
It was only when they were on the move alone that she spoke again, still staring straight ahead. “Breeders? Are you all batshit crazy? Breeders??? Am I even human to you, Commander?” The title the Colonel had used for Charles rolling off her tongue in clear derision, but also charged with emotion. The wind caught her hair and fluttered it alongside her face and across, and Elise lifted both hands in their restraints to brush it out of her eyes.
“You knew Jordy.” It wasn’t a question, and it was spoken in a slightly softer tone, though still defensive. “You’re the one who told my family he was dead, right? Is that why you’re being nice? Well… nice being relative, of course. You could have just let me go. That would have been a lot nicer.” A pause. “Breeders. Jesus Christ…”
In a message dated 6/6/2016 4:07:49 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
(Hello there, friend. I wanted to say that I really enjoyed your last reply and apologize for my flakiness up until now. Sometimes I think I seem aloof or indifferent to roleplay and that is not the case in the least. I promise to keep up the momentum I’ve established thus far with my stream of replies.)
From a soldier’s perspective, the mandatory encounter with Colonel Emmerson was an uncharacteristically painless ordeal, so Charles initially found himself at a loss regarding Elise’s complaints. As he started up the jeep and began their rocky journey to the processing center, he did his best to assume a more sympathetic frame of mind. Elise was distressed and angry, which Charles felt the need to manage with a frank but forbearing conversation.
“Your participation in the Propagation Program is a far better fate than the alternative,” Charles began, trying to voice his argument as matter-of-factly as possible. “Would you rather spend sixty hours a week in poor working conditions building weapons or digging tunnels? With plenty of mandatory films to watch about the State’s altruistic intentions?” As he explained Elise’s options, his voice trailed off in a moment of sobering enlightenment. It finally dawned upon him that she was truly jammed between a wall and a hard place. Women really were only objects meant to be utilized by the State for breeding purposes. They had next to no rights, especially the ones which were captured or uncovered during expeditions.
The town was now far behind them, and Charles fielded Elise’s frustrations as best he could. Every now and again, he turned his head and nod to acknowledge a particular remark, quietly seizing the opportunity to take her in with his eyes. A strange sensation was consuming his body… a warm, mild euphoria which fluttered across the surface of his skin. He was enjoying Elise’s company despite her verbal misgivings, and his mind began to tempt and tease.
He fantasized of a bold mutiny to divert the jeep from its current course to the forbidden zones which lay far beyond the State’s expansion territories. The pair of deserters would learn to live off their land and build their own shelter, far from the State’s influence. Children would be had after a countless number of sweaty, passionate nights. He would protect his companion and kin from all threats with the determination of a devoted father and lover. Life would be simple, satisfying, and free.
A snide inquiry from Elise snapped him back from his own self-indulgent fantasies. The processing center was dead ahead about a half-mile away, and several soldiers in white fatigues were preparing for their arrival atop a large retrieval bay. Their time together was coming to a close, which distressed him to the point of desperation. It was then that something possessed him, some primal craving that pulsed through his loins and emboldened his lips.
“Elise, I’m telling you that your agreement to be circulated with the Propagation Program is your best choice from an admittedly bad list.” A sputtery exhale whistled through Charles’ lips as he gathered the courage to press forward with his recommendation.
“There is one thing you can do to make your situation just a bit better. If you choose to waive your entry into circulation, you can instead nominate me as your benefactor.” He locked his eyes upon Elise’s own, unable to determine whether her gaze expressed interest or contempt. His mouth kept moving regardless.
“You’d be able to skip the physical tests and other red tape as you make your way through the system. And after two years of living with me, you’d earn basic privileges that you wouldn’t have otherwise, such as unsupervised excursions through market and recreational zones.”
Charles hoped that his last selling point didn’t do more harm than good. If Elise would only agree to these terms, then the road ahead would be relatively simple. Arrangements like this were frequently approved by the State without a bat from its collective eye. High-ranking officials rarely denied themselves the chance to portray rebels and their sympathizers as lost souls who only need a compassionate soldier to help them ‘see the light.’ Positive PR was a way, it seemed, to justify certain atrocities and pave the way for conquest.
Their destination loomed ever closer, forcing the discussion to its inevitable head. “I promise to help you live as normal a life as possible,” Charles said with as thawed a voice as he could manage. “And I’ll never take advantage of you.” He swallowed hard, an obvious nervous habit, as he anticipated Elise’s answer.
In a message dated 6/7/2016 12:08:34 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, TellingofTales@aol.com writes:
((Hello! I’m also really enjoying our back and forth. I’m glad you aren’t annoyed by my playing Elise as rather unhappy about her situation. There will be lots of time for attraction and softening once she’s had a chance to breathe and settle slightly, lol. Also, I have never gotten an air of indifference or aloofness concerning RP from you. I more get a vibe of dislike of/irritation towards OOC chatter. I personally enjoy bring friendly and chatty with people I RP with (I’ve made a few life-long friends that way), but I also understand that some people prefer to remain more detached and businesslike, if you will. 🙂 So I don’t take offense.))
Elise was not privy to Charles’ thoughts on the matter concerning her choices in where she ended up. She was oblivious to his little mental revelation about how much of a quandary she was in. So she didn’t hesitate when her eyebrows shot up in clear disbelief of what he was saying. And her smoky vocals rang back rather forcefully, “I’d PREFER having the freedom to choose something better for my life than breeding whore or labour slave, thank you very much!”
She really had no particular desire to look his way after that, and stared straight ahead at the road as they drove along. Every now and then, the restraints about her slender wrists clinked as she sat quietly, her limbs twisting slightly as if secretly trying to determine if she might be able to slip them off. She wanted nothing more than to slip those cuffs and make a break for it, as foolish as that would be.
The very idea of being passed off to some strange man and used for sex like some toy was nauseating. She’d have preferred to break her neck trying to take a dive out of the running Jeep. Every now and then, she did glance at Charles from the corner of her eyes, and she couldn’t help wondering how he had gotten to where he was.
He didn’t strike her as an evil man, and he had shown bits of kindness and empathy now and again, sandwiched between his rather disturbing allegiance to a government that treated its citizens like so much cattle. But whether he was a good man or not deep down didn’t much matter as long as he was taking her to be ‘processed’, as they had put it. Action spoke louder than words or thoughts, after all. So even if she couldn’t find it in herself to hate him, she wasn’t exactly swooning for him either.
And that meant he did get peppered with sharp, disdaining remarks every once in a while as the drive continued.
“Careful with the bumps in the road. Don’t want to bruise the merchandise, right?”
“What a glorious master you serve. How proud you must be to round up people like animals. Such distinguished military service.”
But mostly, she was tired and frustrated, and was quiet. There was only so much satisfaction to be had in throwing her barbs, and it wasn’t going to help her be any more free. So after a while, she pretty much stopped altogether and just played with the restraints to the point of making her flesh red and irritated. Sitting so docilely while being taken like this was making her slowly lose it.
She’d offhandedly made another remark about wondering how much really good pussy went for on the government market when the sight of the installation ahead came into view, and her stomach immediately tied itself into knots again. Without even realizing it, she tugged futilely at her restraints once more and pressed her thighs tightly together in her sit, as if already fighting the ‘tests’ she was going to have to go through.
Then Charles suddenly started speaking, sounding distressed in a way and rushed, and that was enough to make her look at him more fully. Green eyes fastening on his face and meeting his gaze went he sought to lock them. But she wasn’t going to let him see what she was thinking, and her expression was unreadable as he laid out this new possibility.
Make him her… benefactor? He would see her lovely green eyes narrowing slightly as if looking for the trick he was trying to pull, though beyond that, she remained inscrutable. Her mind was racing though. So… she’d still be a breeding whore, but to him instead? Her eyes broke from meeting his in order to glance over the details of the man’s face, as if determining whether he was worthy of such consideration.
He wasn’t terrible-looking, and she was relatively sure he wasn’t an evil monster. For the moment, her sex drive was essentially null and void in the face of what she was about to endure. But perhaps… if she was going to have to… it would be better to give into someone who at least didn’t seem inclined to treat her like a toy and who wasn’t utterly repellant? Of course, he could change his tune the moment he had her truly alone and at his whims legally. A risk. A big one.
Her hands closed into fists and she flinched with a clench of her jaw when he mentioned her having such special privileges as market visits after two years. Another reminder that she was essentially going to be a slave now, no matter what choice she made. All that remained was exactly how cruelly she’d be treated, and by whom. For a moment, Elise almost gave into the urge to punch him.
It was his final statement that decided her. He said he would not take advantage of her. She wasn’t sure she believed him… but she didn’t immediately NOT believe him either. He’d known her brother. He might have some sense of honor that extended that far, to not treating his ex-comrade’s sister like meat. It… really was her best chance. She hated that he was right. But he was right.
And that was when she leaned in slightly, bending just a little across the gear shift of the Jeep so she could fix her emerald gaze firmly upon Charles’ own. Challenge and spirit blazing within her as she spoke to him very quietly, a touch of her breath washing over his face from the nearness she had created.
“You will NOT take advantage of me. I won’t let you. I’ll kill you first.” He’d threatened her life once already. It was fair turnaround. Her nostrils flared slightly as she inhaled sharply and lifted her chin proudly, then sat back once more in her seat and faced forward. He didn’t have a terrible scent either. One more minor positive in a world of shit.
“If you accept that, then fine. You can be my benefactor. Let’s get this over with.”
In a message dated 6/10/2016 11:07:28 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Charles had no physical reaction to Elise’s warning as he downshifted the jeep a gear, mirroring the ebbing concern in his mind. Elise could talk the talk, certainly, but was she really as violent and unpredictable as she tried to portray herself? Somehow, he doubted that she’d committed any atrocities, regardless of any ties she may have had with the rebels. Charles supposed that he’d never truly know whether she was dangerous because he intended to avoid pushing her buttons as much as possible.
They were now seconds away from arriving at the processing plant, which on the surface looked very much like a small hospital. All the soldiers and personnel wore various arrangements of predominantly white attire with blue and yellow accents. The soldiers wore gas masks, which heightened their intimidation level just a tad, but otherwise had no weapons other than batons that were strapped to their belts.
Charles’s jeep sputtered slowly as it found its way upon a large steel platform with various markings indicating the precise area where it should stop. A sleek, crane-like machine jutting from the floor slowly encircled them, apparently scanning for something. A strange beeping sound seemed to indicate they cleared some kind of inspection.
Three soldiers then approached but seemed to hesitate when they were close enough to realize Charles’ rank. “I have this one,” he instructed with a wave of his hand which immediately resulted in their dispersal. “Leave us be.”
Charles exited the jeep and slowly made his way around the front towards Elise, gently lifting her from her seat by her shoulders. He then latched on her neck a sort of leash which was strapped to his wrist after retrieving it from a pouch on his belt. She certainly didn’t seem pleased with this new hindrance, but Charles tried hard to temper her anger with reassuring eyes.
“Just for a little while,” he explained quietly while testing the chain with a series of benign yanks. “It’s a protocol measure.”
Charles guided Elise through a revolving door leading into the main lobby of the facility. It certainly seemed to be a busy afternoon, with lines of detainees being escorted to and fro across various areas of the building. The prisoners, as they certainly seemed to be, were easily identified with their orange fatigues screaming out against the otherwise colorless surroundings. Soldiers occasionally hastened their march by using electrically-charged batons upon stragglers.
Charles was well-practiced in hiding his discontent as the other personnel in the building were no kinder than their gas-masked compatriots, shoving lines along while barking instructions. Despite his doubts that she’d believe him, Charles leaned in and whispered into Elise’s ear. “I loathe them as much as you do.”
Finally, Elise and Charles arrived at a small office where a plump woman with large spectacles greeted them behind a computer desk. “Hello, Officer Brock. How may I help you today?” Her lack of acknowledgement regarding Elise’s presence would have been unbelievably rude under socially normal circumstances.
“Good afternoon, ma’am. I’m here because my companion was adamant about making a statement.”
Elise grudgingly recited the terms that she and Charles had agreed upon earlier, prompting the desk woman to look up and study her with mild, narrow-eyed curiosity. The silent probe lasted a few moments before she withdrew her eyes.
“Requests for assignments like these are usually reserved for higher-ranking officers,” she remarked with a flat voice as her attention returned to the computer on her desk. Despite the rebuff in her voice, she typed away at her keyboard before printing a sheet of paper and presenting it to Charles.
“You do understand that this woman’s welfare is now completely under your supervision, Officer Brock?” He nodded his answer to the desk woman’s question and followed her instructions on where to provide his signature on the sheet of paper. It would be a series of forms later before the desk woman finally got around to creating Elise’s identification card. Not surprisingly, Elise didn’t smile for her picture.
“Your partner has now been assigned a designation number. There will be periodic inspections to ensure PA-4732‘s voluntary compliance in the Propagation Program,” the desk woman explained. “We’ll go ahead and suspend your monthly agamic injections to get your reproductive system back on track.”
A flash of embarrassment burned across Charles’ cheeks, as Elise now knew something about him which he tried hard to keep private. The thoughts in his mind recoiled before pushing forward towards the evening ahead, which was sure to be awkward at best. He regretted the inevitable discussion with Elise regarding the impracticality of not sleeping together, due to the fact that surveillance bots occasionally combed random domiciles and would find separate beds highly unorthodox, potentially placing their arrangement in jeopardy.
Once all the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed, a soldier escorted the pair to the entrance of the facility where a shuttle was waiting for them.
“We’re being taken to the train station so we can go home,” Charles casually informed Elise as they situated themselves on a pair of leather seats near the front of the idling transport. Acting promptly within their newly-acquired privacy, he unfastened the brace from Elise’s neck and tucked it away with a look of apology.
Charles’ mind then explored the possibilities before him. He was seriously considering putting in a request to take the next few days off in addition to the evening which lay ahead. Furlough approvals for soldiers were few and far between, but Charles was long overdue for some personal time… and he assumed he’d need all the time he could get to tame and temper Elise’s frustrations.
In a message dated 6/12/2016 12:37:08 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, TellingofTales@aol.com writes:
((The revised version is excellent. Thank you again for being so gracious about it. I replaced the original version with the revised in this email thread, so that we still have a consistent log flowing in one thread.))
The entire world became a fresh new sort of hell as the events began to play out upon arrival to the compound. Elise had ceased talking in any way at all as soon as they had pulled onto the strange scanning machine, her jaw clenched tight as she adopted a rather distant, detached expression. She didn’t want anyone knowing just how badly rattled she really was. And she’d be damned if she gave ANYONE the satisfaction of seeing her tremble or cry. Better to block out as much of it as possible, and simply endure.
As long as she was alive, there was hope. She had to remind herself of that. She’d get out of this eventually. She’d find a way. Though it was hard to keep such hope alive when Charles lifted her up out of the jeep and then snapped a goddamned COLLAR around her neck like she was some sort of animal. Her green eyes burned angrily at him even as he tried to reassure her about it, and she had to fight back the urge to spit more verbal vitriol at him.
But to her own credit, she was once more unreadable and distantly cool as they entered the compound. Everything Elise saw there was filed away in her head. She would never forget it; it would haunt her at night. But she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. NEVER. And when Charles murmured to him about his apparent loathing of the situation, he would simply be rebuffed by a brief stare deeply into his own gaze, before the quiet brunette rather pointedly broke the eye contact and stared straight ahead, ignoring him entirely.
Her stomach was churning with nausea, but Elise remained utterly composed and outwardly indifferent to everything that happened during the booking procedure. She spoke the words Charles had instructed her to say utterly deadpan, inwardly wishing pain and suffering on the receptionist who didn’t even seem to recognize that the prisoner was a living, breathing person who might appreciate being acknowledged as such.
But one thing broke Elise’s mask, if only for a second. It was when the receptionist said, “There will be periodic inspections to ensure PA-4732’s voluntary compliance in the Propagation Program”. What was said after that was actually lost in the shuffle of the sudden spasm in Elise’s thought process. So she actually didn’t catch the part that embarrassed Charles and made him blush.
Maybe he’d take some comfort in that down the line. Because even as he was blushing about the personal detail being leaked, he was briefly being fixed with a look of abject, utter hatred and horror in equal parts from his new acquisition. Inspections? Voluntary compliance??? What was that he’d said about not taking advantage of her? Suddenly his lack of any real reaction to her defiance about not allowing him to do so made perfect sense.
He’d known. He’d known all along that he wouldn’t have to take advantage of her directly. The system would do it for him. The threat was inherent right there in the words the receptionist spoke. Without voluntary compliance, there would be consequences, probably awful ones. Inspections to ensure she gave it up regularly, without him having to do much to dirty his own hands in the process. He’d played her. Utterly and completely.
It took every single ounce of self-control she possessed to not try to throttle the man right then and there. After letting slip that brief harsh glare in his direction, Elise forced her features back into that cold detachment of before. But now her jaw was clenched so tightly it ached with every step she took as she was led back out towards the transport that waited for them at the front of the facility.
Charles was not the only one to take advantage of their new-found privacy as soon as they were alone and away from prying eyes. He reached to remove her collar, and she let him do that. But the instant his eyes lowered so he could tuck away the restraints, Elise lashed out. Unless he somehow managed to anticipate what she was going to do or stop it in some way, Charles would find himself the recipient of a rather hard punch right to his jaw.
She swung at him with every intent of cold-cocking the bastard right in his falsely apologetic face. If the shot connected, he’d find that she had a good punch on her too. This was no girly open-handed smack, but the solid strike of a woman who’d been in a few fights in her time. And even as it (hopefully) landed, she was spitting words at him, the first tears she’d been unable to hold back in front of him sparkling in the corners of her eyes.
“You son of a bitch! You knew, you KNEW about these ‘inspections’, the goddamned Big Brother boot on my back! You knew all along and you let me think you might not be so bad, that you’d not take advantage! You fucking COWARD!”
In a message dated 6/13/2016 12:29:52 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
Charles managed to catch Elise’s fist with the reflexes of a trained soldier, but the strength and momentum behind her punch propelled his own knuckles against his nose and upper lip. A strong tingling sensation immediately overwhelmed his sinuses, along with a small amount of blood which collected around the base of his nostril. For the briefest of moments, he look dazed and overwhelmed. He reacted quickly, however, with the realization that Elise could be preparing another blow as an encore to her first, prompting him to speak in a firm, methodical voice which was bolstered by desperation.
“NOTHING. NOTHING is going to HAPPEN. There are WAYS around this. Please, STOP.”
The initial result from Charles’s proclamation was positive, as Elise hadn’t raised another fist, but the look on her face refused to disclose its origins. His eyes began to water from the blow he absorbed, further obscuring the features on her face which he learned to quietly adore.
As it was, Charles had been looking forward to sharing his queen-sized bed with Elise. The thought of an accidental brush of skin was enough to flutter pulses of warm anticipation across the surface of his skin. Perhaps they could have the occasional conversation, maybe even share a laugh once in a while. They could learn to respect and accept one another despite the madness which swallowed the world outright… and perhaps, just perhaps, deeper feelings could develop between them. But the way she was acting now, seemingly determined to reveal him as an untrustworthy monster, quickly evaporated Charles’ hopes of a peaceful night’s sleep with Elise at his side.
The matter at hand, however, snapped his mind from lingering upon any regrets. Elise had to be reassured somehow, and Charles’ lips acted accordingly.
“I know it seems hopeless. But I can adjust readings, exaggerate testimonies and forge documents. There are things I can do to make sure I keep my end of the bargain. I KEEP my PROMISES, Elise.”
This was a half-truth, despite another pair of emphasized words. Charles knew the vast majority of ins and outs of regarding the State’s surveillance tendencies, but the Propagation Program was rather obstinate in ensuring the full dedication of its participants. They could possibly skirt and fudge for a few months at best, but sooner or later, after the inevitable sperm count and fertility test, tough questions would be asked by pushy personnel in white clothing. Elise would have a choice to make, and even if she decided to continue their arrangement, the mandatory consummation of intimacy that would soon follow didn’t interest Charles in the least.
As far as their conversation was concerned, there was momentum, rolling in some sort of direction, but Charles still felt he hadn’t satiated Elise. Perhaps she would never trust him, regardless of what he said or how he said it, and simply assume the worst under any circumstance. A thought entered his mind, one which beckoned forth another strategy that scraped its intentions from the bottom of the slimiest barrel.
“Listen. I wouldn’t be able to do anything to you anyway. The injections would take a week or two from now to wear off. That should give you enough time to plan the where, when, and how you’ll bonk me on the head and make your escape, right?”
He didn’t like the way that sounded, lingering in the air like some juvenile’s hostile attempt to push a parent’s buttons. But perhaps his comment would resonate alongside Elise’s cynical assumptions and calm her down. At this point, that was all Charles truly cared to accomplish. He was suddenly tired and weary, yearning for the sanctuary of home.
In a message dated 6/13/2016 3:47:17 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, TellingofTales@aol.com writes:
Elise hadn’t intended more than one blow. She just wanted the one, because she felt it was owed her after everything she had gone through. After feeling like she had been lied to in order to coerce her into a terrible situation, surely one hard clock to the jaw was a reasonable penance? She wasn’t by nature a terribly violent woman, but she also wasn’t a doormat to be kicked around.
So she simply sat and glowered at Charles as he implored her to calm herself, and said once more that he intended to keep his word to her about not taking advantage. The look on her face, partially obscured by his watering eyes, was full of suspicion and a measure of disbelief in his claims. But to her credit, she didn’t attempt more violence or call him a liar outright.
A brow rose when he spoke of altering readings, forging things, and so on to fool the system. Sitting back a little in her seat, Elise raised a hand again, but this time only to rub at her own face in frustration and a measure of her own weariness. He was tired. She was tired. The fatigue was clear in her voice when she spoke more quietly this time around, and said simply, “You should have just let me go. Why didn’t you just let me go?”
Slowly her hand came away from her face and she let it drop once more into her lap, closing her eyes and leaning her head back on the headrest of the seat. She had to pull it together. She was coming apart at the seams, and none of this was helping. She really wanted to sleep for about a month, then try tackling all this again. Could that be arranged? She wanted to get off this ride now.
It was Charles speaking about her potentially ‘bonking him on the head’ and escaping that finally had her emerald eyes opening and looking his way again, again with a measure of exasperation. She let it slip by that he supposedly couldn’t do anything to her anyway. For the moment.
“Give me more credit than that, please. I’m not stupid. Trying to escape would only get me killed even faster, and even if I did somehow luck out at first? I’d be on a list. You have my picture. I’d be hunted down like an animal. I know the reach of your precious military.” Her gaze fixed on him more solidly, and she continued. “If I’m pushed far enough, I may just kill us both instead.” An almost derisive little chuckle, a hint of a smirk on one corner of her mouth. Had she just made a really dark joke?
It was impossible to figure the man out just yet. He could be a lying monster. He could be a decent person simply brainwashed by the regime. She wasn’t going to take any chances either way. Though she did have to admit that aside from keeping certain things from her knowledge until it was too late, he HAD been less brutish than he could have been.
In this sort of situation, there was little reason for him to hide his true nature. He already had her entirely within his power. Unless he simply enjoyed that kind of mental torture, making a person have hope only to yank it away. That would remain to be seen. She… really did hope that maybe he wasn’t so bad. It would make the coming days far easier to endure.
Glancing over at him again, she sighed and offered a tiny olive branch of her own. Not much, but it was something. “What the hell is your name, anyway? Because I sure as hell am not calling you Commander Brock.” And she still couldn’t quite remember what his first name was. It’d been too long, and too much had happened.
From: propagandapiece <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: TellingofTales <TellingofTales@aol.com>
Sent: Fri, Jun 24, 2016 6:28 pm
Subject: Post #8
(Sorry for the delay! Things got in the way this morning but I punched them in the face until they moved!)
A thin trickle of blood trailed its way down from Charles’ nostril, which he wiped away with a nudge of his glove. He then turned his attention to a pouch which was strapped to his belt and pulled out two bars wrapped in wax paper, with the words Supplemental Meal Bar – For Field Consumption Only printed on its side in stenciled lettering. He placed one on the armrest which divided them upon their cushioned seat, with the assumption that Elise would eat on her own terms, before slowly beginning to unwrap his own.
“Charles,” he’d say after a moment and before a bite of his bar. “My name is Charles.”
The sound of an engine starting would accompany a stiff shake of the shuttle before fading towards a faint rumbling. Charles took another bite and sighed, squinting his brow above the bridge of his nose to help with tingling sensation that still lingered. He swallowed a little blood down his throat before addressing Elise’s other concern.
“I couldn’t just let you go, Elise. Even if I wanted to. There were surveillance bots everywhere, and if you decided to run, you would have been captured by another soldier or worse. Besides, there were orders to torch that place to the ground once all the once all the rebel bodies were accounted for.”
The full truth this time. Recent rebel victories had left a bad taste in Colonel Emmerson’s mouth, and after a period of intensive surveillance, he had finally located the hideout for a number of high-ranking rebel operatives. The State was determined to make an example and hit the objective hard, bending their own rules along the way if necessary.
The shuttle was pulling out now as all the passengers were situated, prompting Charles to close the door to their private compartment. The world outside through their window was beginning to move, offering promises of scenic vistas and other sights to behold. Charles finished his bar and turned towards Elise with a look of placation and an offer to make.
“What would you like for dinner tonight?” The bar only made him hungrier, and he licked the last of its taste off its lips before crumbling the packaging into a ball and discarding it into a nearby waste bin. Elise would not only receive a meal in the evening that lay ahead, but a shower and new clothes. Indeed, she would eat and sleep well as long as she was under Charles’ care, have access to adequate medical care, enjoying various forms of entertainment, and enjoy opportunities to visit exotic lands twice a year. That is, if she decided not to kill the both of them first.
She’ll live a decent life, Charles quietly justified in his mind. Better than most.
In a message dated 6/25/2016 11:48:14 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
Elise took one cursory look at the supplement bar that Charles placed onto the armrest between them in clear offer to her, then turned her face away and proceeded to stare out the window. She absolutely was hungry, so much so that she hoped her stomach wouldn’t begin to rumble just from the nearness of food, but she wasn’t yet ready to accept anything the man was offering. Besides, a military ration was the last thing she wanted. Anything that reminded her of soldiers and her predicament made her physically ill at the moment.
“Pleasure to meet you again, Charles.” There was a sour sarcasm to her words as she uttered the old polite expectation for meeting someone again. The world was so much different now than when such things had been commonplace, when manners and polite society still reigned supreme. Her emerald eyes took in the world outside the window, the woman still stoically ignoring the sounds of the wrapper as Charles ate his own ration beside her.
He succeeded in getting her attention again with the full truth of what was going to happen to the town she had been within. At first she wasn’t sure she had heard him correctly, and when he returned from closing the door to their compartment, he would find those deep green eyes staring at him in utter horror and disbelief. The dark brown locks of her mussed hair framing her face as she repeated softly, almost to herself, “Torch… that place… to the ground?” A few moments as it set in real deep into her head, something within her eyes beginning to die at the horror of it all.
Then she couldn’t help herself, ignoring his question about dinner. Even if it continued a bizarre pattern of whiplashing back and forth between moments of fatigued calm and furious outburst, Elise grabbed the untouched ration bar and flung it at Charles’ head, rising from her seat and putting as much possible distance between herself and him as she could manage. It really wasn’t much, but she no longer wanted to be anywhere near him and wanted as far as she could get.
Her voice barely remained below the volume of yelling, her voice strained as she fought to keep it in check and not draw unneeded attention to their compartment. “Torch it to the fucking ground??? Are you utterly insane??? Oh my gods! All those people!!!” She wanted to strangle Charles right then, her fingers flexing before fisting at her sides in a trembling harshness. Turning away sharply, she stared out the window again as if looking to see what was happening to the place they had left behind, even though it was miles away. Maybe there was smoke on the horizon?
“Not just rebels live there, you know! There are CHILDREN. OLD people who cannot run or fight!” Her legs spread slightly to shoulder’s width apart, the better to balance herself through the movement of the shuttle as she persisted in standing and keeping as much distance between herself and Charles as possible. Her slender body with all its womanly curves swayed slightly with the motion of the vehicle, the long locks of mahogany hair spilling down her back nearly to the curve of her bottom as she refused to look at him.
“I’m not even a rebel, you know that? Though I suppose that doesn’t even matter to your fucking overseers. Since I wasn’t waving a patriotic flag and screaming support for the overlords, I’m still an enemy.” A heavy snort of derision as she leaned forward slightly to press her forehead to the window, closing her eyes again for a deep sigh before once more watching the scenery go by as they re-opened. “DOES it even matter that I’m not a rebel, Charles? Or is the fact that I’m good breeding stock more important than the truth?”
In a message dated 6/26/2016 8:28:30 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
A strong sense of hopelessness swept over Charles’ mind, which took him a moment to process with slumped shoulders and blank eyes. He shifted himself from his chair to reach for the meal bar which now rested across from his feet and placed it back in his pouch. His thoughts offered their last motions of rebuttal soon afterward. Should he make the effort to disclose the fact that the State did its best to round up any and all survivors before extreme measures were taken? Would Elise even care? Perhaps she shouldn’t, since there’d likely be casualties regardless of intent, if civilians were well-hidden and didn’t anticipate the peril of staying in their shelters.
With closed eyes and a shallow breath, Charles provided his stale reply. “I really don’t know what to say, Elise. Let’s just stay quiet until we get home.”
Charles would remain quiet for a long while, resigning himself to hear or not hear what Elise had to say or not say. Regret made its climb to the forefront of his mind. Perhaps he didn’t deserve a normal life. If Elise was simply going to hate him regardless of his efforts, perhaps he should have just let her go and seal her own fate. Deep down, though, Charles knew he was trapped either way. The thought of somehow betraying Jordan would have haunted him for the rest of his days, had he at least not tried his best. He’d drive himself mad every night, dwelling on the possibilities that were now unfolding before him.
There were other concerns as well, especially if Elise ever accepted her situation to the point of submitting herself to bearing children. The worry that something would set her off to flee during the night with their offspring would weigh incessantly on Charles’ mind. Or perhaps she would simply use the child as leverage for negotiations involving their escape or otherwise. These measures forced a heavy exhale through Charles’ nostrils and a subconscious shake of the head that he hoped Elise wouldn’t notice.
His mind explored every advantage that he could utilize regarding her situation. The State only required a minimum of one child every one-and-a-half years, so with proper testing, Elise could enjoy the majority of her nights not gritting her teeth underneath Charles’ panting weight. Perhaps they could even take things further and have Charles relay the necessary fluids to artificially meet their obligations and save at least some dignity on Elise’s behalf.
No. It was impossible. A surveillance bot would undoubtedly reveal such transgressions and immediately disclose them to the proper authorities. Elise would be removed from the Propagation Program in a heartbeat and made to sacrifice her body in other ways to other men.
Time passed. A stewardess was approaching down the center aisle with a trolley, waking him from an introspective daze. There were bottled drinks available of different varieties, and Charles would choose one bottled water at first, but double his request after a moment’s hesitation. Once again, a gesture of diplomacy was made by placing a bottle in the cup holder that was integrated into the armrest between them. His mind, as resolute as ever, was determined to try.
In a message dated 6/27/2016 1:24:32 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, TellingofTales@aol.com writes:
Charles’ reply to her questions and fired vitriol was pretty much what she expected. He had no answers, no justifications, no good reason for the horror he’d just spoken about. Though, to her credit, Elise did acknowledge that he at least didn’t try to justify it any further. He didn’t try to paint the regime as the good guys or excuse their behaviour, and that did actually mean something to the brunette.
For a while, Elise remained standing in silence, only shifting a bit to bend her forearm against the glass of the window so she could press her forehead to the opposite side of her limb, gazing dully out at the scenery as it flashed past. Much as Charles was, she was lost in thought, though her thoughts had much less to do with trying to game the system, and more with analyzing what had happened thus far.
And she had to admit… he had been remarkably patient with her so far. She knew plenty of men who would have lost their temper by now and smacked her around for acting out as much as she had. Hell, she knew some who would have already tried to rape her within this very compartment. Was she really being overly critical? Could she really be blamed if she was?
Not for the first time, Elise had to fight back exhausted tears during the stretched out silence. Part of why she remained turned away from Charles even after her rage had smoothed away once more into resignation was to keep him from seeing the pain on her face. Though every now and again, she snuck a brief glance at the man out of her peripheral view, examining his own tired expression and worried demeanor.
The arrival of the stewardess with her trolley finally snapped both of them out of their dazes, though Elise remained where she was until the other woman had left again. The movement of Charles placing the extra water bottle in the armrest between their seats was what finally prompted Elise to move herself. With a heavy sigh, she stood up straight once more and shifted back to sit in her seat once more, avoiding direct eye contact with Charles as she did so.
Her hand reached for the water bottle he had offered and then opened it, her head tilting back as she took a long swig of the cool liquid. It soothed her throat, and she swallowed slowly before lowering the bottle in her hand down to her lap. Throaty voice murmured a quiet, “Thank you” as gratitude for his small kindness.
A moment of silence as she weighed her words, then decided against saying anything more. Instead, she just closed her eyes and tried to relax. Considering how the man had behaved thus far, he really didn’t deserve to have anymore attitude thrown his way, and while Elise certainly had a hell of a temper? She did try not to take it out on people unnecessarily. He’d been pretty patient, and she was more angry at the situation than him. And it took energy she just didn’t have right now.
Time began to pass again, and soon enough Elise’s breath began to smooth out and soften as the exhaustion took over. Unless Charles said or did something to stop the inevitable, the brunette soon fell into a fitful nap beside him. She didn’t snore except for an occasional soft deeper inhalation, and gradually seemed to relax as her mind began to force itself to rest.
Eventually, a small bump in the compartment from the motion of the shuttle had her head turning towards Charles in her sleep, and as she shifted a bit in her seat to accommodate her muscles’ need to stretch slightly, her cheek came to rest on Charles’ shoulder as if it were a pillow. Certainly not something she would have done while awake, but awkwardness happened when people sat next to each other and fell asleep.
In a message dated 7/2/2016 12:24:24 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
Elise had calmed herself after a look on her face suggested she had come to terms with something in her mind. Charles would mask his relief with the same blank eyes he offered during his dejected proposition. He really didn’t want to resort to raising his voice or physically imposing his will upon her, as his assumption was that such actions would only serve to make her angrier and the situation worse. His prevailing fear was a knock at the door of their private compartment by a shuttle conductor to ask what the noise and commotion was about. Attention was something Charles secretly deplored, a trait of his personality hammered into him by years of training within structured platoons that sought to diminish any sense of individuality amongst its soldiers.
She sat beside him once more, and time passed just the same. Charles would find himself almost afraid to say anything to Elise, lest he incur her wrath once more and ride the possibility of being investigated by a third party. So he stayed quiet and allow his mind to roam.
The sight of a checkpoint in the distance reminded him of the progress being made towards their destination, and Charles’ thoughts settled themselves on the near future. He reflected on the promotion that resulted in his acquisition of a domicile that was a staggering upgrade from his life in the barracks. Three bedrooms that he could claim as his own, a deluxe-sized shower, king-size bed, a living room whose north wall was entirely devoted to a high-definition telescreen. He was privy to services which supplied him with music and movies from eras past, at least those that were approved by the State’s Cultural Adherence Commission.
At first, he had no idea what to do with all the extra space, but soon found a hobby as a collector. He would visit quarantined areas outside of the State’s borders with special permission and collect artifacts. He had a fascination with the past and enjoyed piecing together trends within various cultures, before the Great War changed the landscape of everything.
At one point during their journey, Charles actually looked forward to sharing his hobbies and interests with Elise. Perhaps they could somehow bridge any lingering gaps between them and aid in the ease of her transition. But with the way she had acted since their arrival at the processing station… he wasn’t sure if she could reached with any means of hospitality at all. A reminder of the fact that a large State flag was hanging wide and proud within his bedroom would further dampen his spirits with a heavy sigh and furrow of his brow. Elise would almost certainly react adversely to that decoration, and Charles was not looking forward to managing that situation.
Tall, white buildings in the distance with layered patterns of glass were visible through the window now; Charles turned his head after waking and recognize that they were very close to their destination. He had somehow missed Elise’s head finding its way to his shoulder, which was a fascinatingly pleasant development that he dare not disturb with a jerk of his body. The shuttle was noticeably slowing along the route of it tracks, and would finally come to rest at a station ten minutes later after Charles opened his eyes. People could be heard shuffling outside of their private compartment in response to the conductor’s announcement of the shuttle’s arrival over the intercom.
With a gentle nudge, Charles rolled his shoulder to try and wake Elise. “Hey,” he said with a breathy voice and a warm smile. “Hey, Elise. It’s time to wake up and get off the shuttle. We’re here.”
In a message dated 7/5/2016 6:34:21 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, TellingofTales@aol.com writes:
Elise dreamed as she slept against Charles’ shoulder. Her tired mind and stretched nerves dreamed of happier times and places, took her for a stroll down memory lane when life had been simpler and more pleasant. When her brother was alive and still teased her about stupid things, when her parents could still be counted on to gross both of the siblings out with open displays of affection.
Every now and then, there was a small twitch in her form as she napped next to her new companion, or a soft murmur of response to something happening in her dreamscape. But overall, Elise was proving to be a relatively quiet sleeper, and didn’t stray too far into any of the more annoying habits that sleep could bring about. There was only occasional soft snoring, and she didn’t flail or thrash.
If anything, there was a sort of peace to the woman right now that Charles had never seen before in her, the fire in her soul and temper smoldering beneath the quieter surface of her sleep rather than openly flaring up in his face. Her dreams were taking her back to more pleasant times and places, and that reflected itself in the quiet persona she now adopted, with eyes shut and breath steady and even.
Finally, the shuttle seemed to arrive at their destination, and Charles’ shoulder rolling beneath her head was the first thing to make her stir slightly. But it was only for a soft little sleepy groan at first, a sound that was quiet and exquisitely feminine in delivery as her mind fought against being awakened. Some might even call it sensual, with the extra breathiness given to it by her current state.
His words finally had her stirring more completely however, and with a slow blink and another throaty groan, Elise lifted her head partially off his shoulder and murmured a quizzical, “Hmmm…?” In this moment, it seemed as if she were a different person, someone less angry and defiant, less of a dangerous hellcat and more a sleepy kitten.
Then the first grasps of reality once more seeped into her mind, and her eyes opened more fully. With a sudden inhalation of breath, she realized that she had somehow let her head drift down onto the soldier’s shoulder and she immediately rectified the situation. A sharp jerk of her head lifted it sharply until she was sitting up straight once more, blinking rapidly to get the fuzziness out of her vision.
To her credit, she didn’t seem inclined towards getting angry at Charles for the sleeping arrangement, the more logical side of her mind recognizing that it wasn’t exactly his fault she’d drifted off into the position she’d adopted. Instead, her emerald eyes simply looked him over with a guarded expression, trying to ascertain his intentions now that they had arrived at the station.
Her gaze locked with his for a moment, as if she were trying to read his mind, trying to see deeper into the truth that lay behind his eyes. Finally, her gaze dropped and flickered towards his belt where he had previously stashed the collar apparatus he had used on her before, and she frowned slightly before speaking in a soft undertone.
“You’re not putting that collar on me again. Don’t even think about it. I don’t care what protocol or rules say about it. I’m not an animal. You can… you can hold my arm or something if you absolutely need to do something to show that you… I don’t know… claim me or whatever the hell your Overlords call it.”
It hadn’t taken long for the defiance to flash back into her expression, especially concerning the matter she spoke about. But for all her insistence, she didn’t seem on the edge of attacking him, either. There was a sort of wary desire to get this all done with and get to their destination as seamlessly as possible. She just really, really didn’t want to be leashed again, if it could be helped.
In a message dated 12/9/2016 11:30:35 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
(Whoooo-wee! Back on the saddle. It took a while to get back into the groove of writing, but… here it is. I hope you enjoy and cross my fingers that the rust isn’t too obvious.)
Charles curled a soft smile into his right cheek before offering his answer to Elise’s demand through a patient breath. “No leashes, I promise. Not here. No cuffs either, though you’ll have to stay within a few footsteps of me wherever I go.” There was a bit of emphasis on the latter end of his remark, because Charles knew all too well that there were security personnel chomping at the bit to apprehend and interrogate anyone remotely suspicious. Isolated women were, of course, the most common targets. Charles’ newly-acquired rank mitigated most, if not all of that possibility, but one could never be too careful underneath the State’s all-encompassing eye.
Charles and Elise’s exit from the sleek, white shuttle would unveil a broad, paved concourse which tapered off in the near distance towards a series of checkpoints and revolving doors. A tiled design depicting the State’s emblem of an eagle snaring a snake was on prominent display underneath a shallow, circular pool carved into the eggshell concrete. A marble statue of the Overseer floated about ten yards above the emblem, with no visible means of suspension from the ceiling or otherwise, wearing a soldier’s fatigues while having a rapier drawn and stretched to the heavens. Bronze figures of a man, woman, and child stood within its shadows near the pool, staring upward in wondrous contentment at their aerial savior. It was a strange monument, since it exhibited cultural characteristics of the past; the Old World’s traditions of family were methodically being replaced as thoroughly as possible by the Cultural Adherence committee.
Elise was led out onto the concourse and towards the bustle of travelers who were vacating or boarding their own shuttles. There were various personnel in white garb moving to and fro between bordering turnstiles, their minds numbly focused upon their forthcoming destinations. Soldiers were also present amongst the crowd; some alone, some with their Braces and some in groups. One seemed to be shoving his female partner by her backside as tears trickled and dried along the contours of her cheeks. Another Brace was being led along on a leash by her partner, and both seemed happy with the arrangement as they strolled towards a stairwell which descended into an underground level. Yet another gave Elise a hungry look before recognizing Charles’ rank and forfeiting his pursuit.
“The State welcomes your arrival to Zone 7-58A. Please have your papers or valid identification ready to be scanned and verified by the Authentication Officer. We appreciate your patience.” A pleasant, female voice chimed in proper protocols from overhead intercoms as Charles and Elise took their place in the shortest of a number of long lines leading into the province. Security personnel stood poised and primed to pounce at a moment’s notice along a nearby wall. It wouldn’t be long until a young woman fumbled a question at the front of the queue, prompting the zealous guards into swift action. They quickly converged even as her voice pleaded with the officer who refused to authenticate her. “No, please! These papers are good, they were issued yesterday! Please, let me THROUGH!” Her protests fell on deaf ears as the sound of dragging feet rounded past a corner before the sound of a door being shut ended the interruption. No one seemed to bat an eye at the occurrence, staring blankly ahead as the Authentication Officer continued with his stamps and scans.
Finally, after a time, the line ahead of them dwindled until Charles would approach the AO with a slight lean of his torso to present the military decorations that distinguished his rank. Everything seemed routine as a hand-held device verified as an officer of the State’s Republic with a series of beeps and a greenish color. However, the AO would halt any progress Elise might attempt.
“I’m sorry, I’ll need to see some sort of verification for this one. The bioscan is showing nothing as far as her registry and travel permissions.” A series of red lights flickered and flared underneath a thin, plastic archway which framed itself outward from the turnstile by several feet. Two guards who had replaced the earlier group tensed at the development, but Charles stared them down with a steely gaze before turning his attention to the Authentication Officer.
“Ah yes, my apologies. She is a recent registrant for the Propagation Program and probably hasn’t been circulated within the network yet. I have the paperwork here.” The AO officer nods after a moment’s contemplation in regards to Charles’ claims, accepting a paper from his hands which was acquired at the Processing Station.
After a moment to adjust his follicles, the Authentication Officer studied the paper with discerning eyes before scanning a thin barcode at the bottom of the page, shifting the red lights on the archway to a solid green.
“Schedule an appointment with the Registration Office before her next checkpoint so that she can be ran through without any hiccups,” the AO explained with a bit of impatience before waving both Charles and Elise off with his hand. “Next, please.”
With the checkpoint behind them, Charles casually lead Elise towards a shuttle bay not unlike the one which greeted their arrival. There was the picturesque visage of a city past a wide, shallow track meant to coordinate the arrival and departure of driverless taxi vehicles. They were sleek and white, similar in appearance to the bullet shuttles but much smaller and compact, floating along the same types of invisible track lines as their longer, bulkier cousins.
One taxi announced with a robotic voice, “Sector nine, complex thirty-six. On route to sector nine, complex thirty-six.”
“Here,” Charles called towards the taxi with a wave, prompting a light fixed into its side to shift from green to orange. Charles led Elise towards a vertically-latched door which opened as they approached, helping to place her upon a padded booth-like seat before he followed suit.
“Third quadrant, floor seventeen, please.” Charles spoke into a small microphone mounted into the wall ahead of them while sliding a State-sponsored identification card into a slot reader. A few seconds passed before the robotic voice acknowledged its approval through a speaker system. “Voice authentication complete. Welcome, Commander Brock. Travel time will be approximately thirty-seven minutes.” Charles would then turn towards Elise, taking the time to temper his excitement before speaking. “We’re almost home.”
Sent: 1/2/2017 10:49:59 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: Re: Post #11
((I am so very sorry about the looooong delay in getting my post to you. The holidays were crazy. From now on, I should be good to get back to my usual quick turnaround of a day or two!))
As soon as she was reassured that she would not be leashed like some kind of animal once more, some of the tension went out of Elise. She was still far from relaxed, but it seemed her situation was slowly becoming accepted in some manner, so that she recognized that the courtesy of not being leashed was a good thing. What sort of regulated Hell did she now exist within, she wondered.
when they exited the shuttle and began their walk through some of the Interior of the State’s grasp, the brunette was as good as her nod of acceptance to his condition that she remain close by his side. As much as she despised all of this, and still to a large degree Charles himself, Elise did stay within a step of the man. There was a difference between being defiant and being stupid, and all outright defiance would get her here was further punishment, degradation, and potentially death.
When she caught sight of the poor brace being shoved ahead by her… Owner?… in such clear trauma for the experience, Charles would feel a sudden pressure on his arm as Elise wrapped one delicate hand around his forearm as if to reassure everyone around that she did indeed have a place here. Charles would feel the harsh bite of nails through his clothing as her grip was strong and agitated. It was almost as if she wanted him to feel some physical pain as the other Brace was feeling emotional pain.
But her mouth remained shut through all of what she observed. Not a word was spoken, but Charles could so easily see that her quick, intelligent gaze was taking in every bit of what was around her, storing away the information for future reference. She wasn’t cowering within herself and blocking it all out. No, she was taking it all in, every disturbing moment of this pristine authoritarian society she now found herself in.
Every now and then, her jaw tightened in clear unhappiness when people were dragged away or otherwise subjugated and abused. But she also took in the sight of those Braces who seemed happy in their place, which lent her gaze a quizzical shift. How could anyone be happy in this sort of place, under the heel of their oppressor? Clearly it was Stockholm Syndrome in play here.
Thoughts ran through her head quickly, mulling over numerous possibilities as she cast a sidelong glance at Charles’ profile. He’d seemed rather harmless thus far, even kind in a way. But would that persist? Would he remain kind and amiable once he grasped exactly what sort of position he was in? It was so easy for power over another to go to people’s heads. Regardless, she had no intention of being a complicit victim, nor begging him for scraps.
The turn through the checkpoint was rather harrowing, and when it first looked as if there might be an issue, Charles would feel that hand on his arm once more, digging fingernails into his clothed flesh beneath as if she were silently telling him to FIX IT, in no uncertain terms. Deep inside, however, that moment of uncertainty had Elise feeling her insides turn to jelly and a true wave of terror wash through her. Was she going to be yanked away from Charles and sent elsewhere, somewhere worse???
Finally, they were through. Her nerve endings felt like they had been strung tighter than those on a guitar, and the perpetual state of nervous readiness she’d set herself in was becoming rather exhausting. She’d felt a bit refreshed after her nap on the shuttle, but all it had taken was a walk through this regulated dystopia to drain all the energy out of her all over again.
By the time they’d gotten onto the smaller travel apparatus, Elise allowed herself to be guided to the padded bench and slumped down onto it with all the grace of a sack of flour. There was no attempt to be feminine or proper at all, her knees parted and her body slumping in the seat as if she were a guy sprawling in his favorite chair, though without the aura of comfort and relaxation.
Leaning forward, she pressed her head into her hands and groaned softly, hiding her face behind the tousled sheet of her long mahogany hair as it flowed in front of her shoulders. She heard Charles speak about them almost being home ,and she had to bite her tongue to keep from snapping at him about how this was not her home. Seeing the reality of how precarious her fate was had at least temporarily, sheathed her sharp tongue.
Instead, all she had the energy to say, “When we get there, I want a shower and to sleep for a week. And both of them WITHOUT COMPANY.” Just in case he had any ideas of getting into her personal space.