Friday, January 31, 2020
'You can't just eat people.' (Part of Future Past TP.)
Tall, thick walls surround a destitute camp, with guard stations every twenty yards. On each side of the walls there are fences of barbed wire, keeping people from approaching. The ground inside is fairly barren, dirt and minimal grass, mixed with spindly steppe climate scrub vegetation. There are small block like houses lined up in a regulated fashion, filled with nothing but bunks, built out of pressure treated lumber and lined with thin mattresses and basic bedding. There is one large cafeteria building where food is manufactured and assembled, but there are no tables for eating. Two outhouses stand on opposite sides of the camp, providing minimal access to hygienic facilities, simply to keep disease from running rampant.
Cordoned off by yet more barbed wire is a little slice of the modern world: two tall concrete buildings with heavy metal doors stand watch. One is the guards barracks, with hot showers, laundry facilities, entertainment and a distinguishably better cafeteria. The third floor is an office space with officer's apartments on top top, providing those who run the camp a place to go over paperwork, strategize plans. The other building, the more sturdily constructed building provides a space for further detainment of more dangerous or troublesome prisoners, those that are not seen for extended periods of time and return to the general population worse than when the left -- if they return at all. These buildings stand on either side of the only entrance to the camp, providing supports for the series of gates that slow anyone coming in or out for inspection.
Today it is bitter-cold. It's been cold for a while, on-and-off snowy, and the ground is still frozen hard and mostly covered in muddy-dirty-icy-slush in some places and gritty-dirty snowdrifts piled high-high-high in others. But where before it was only middling-cold today it is terrible, blustering windy and dropping well below freezing even in the sun.
The inmates are doing their best, by and large, to stay indoors. It makes the barracks crowded, restless and cramped and a little bit stir-crazy. Some people have ways to pass the time. Reading on their bunks, clustering together to swap stories or swap snacks, napping. In one corner a fight has broken out, though. Kind of inevitable in the too-crowded quarters.
Lyric and Yasin have a small island of quiet near the front -- not a desirable bunk due to its close proximity to the door, the draft let in every time it opens, but it suits them well enough because of being left more or less to themselves in the drafty-chill. Lyric's clothes are drab as everyone's are, a scavenged mix of layers; the chequered wrap twisted and tied around her head bears a striking similarity to some of the bedsheets. Namely because she's fashioned her headscarf out of one. 'One day I'll write a book,' she is signing to her bunkmate, a tall thin young man with dark dark skin and black hair and black beard both cropped short, 'and you'll totally be the villain.'
He just smirks at this, eyes rolling. 'In /my/ movie version of the story /you'll/ just be the comic relief.'
A small, scrawny figure slinks in, bringing a small blast of cold along. A gray camp-issued blanket obscures most of their body--just over three feet tall at the oddly hunched shoulders--and what little skin they show is almost entirely covered with fine, short black hair. Short, backswept horns grow from their temples, dwarfed by their almost comically long, pointed ears. Their eyes are vivid green, shining with a fierce, predatory light as they fix on a snoring, human-shaped mound of blankets on a top bunk. They stalk closer, ears swiveling to and fro, flattish nose scenting the air. The bed's occupant does not stir when the creature climbs up to join him, nor when they root under the blankets, mouth opening to reveal sharp, elongated canines.
'Who's going to make /your/ suck movie? Come on, my --' Lyric pauses as the door opens, shivering and wrapping a blanket around her shoulders. Her head turns, eyes faintly wider as she watches the creature enter. 'Do we know them?'
Yasin's dark eyes shift, too, watching the small figure's progress. 'No, I think we'd know if we knew them.' Frown. 'Do they know /him/? I guess so.' He slides off the lower bunk they're sitting on, standing to peer at the nearby bunk. 'Family maybe?'
The new arrival seems intent on their digging, and in a moment has exposed one of the sleeper's arms. His sleeve is so tattered that it only reaches half-way down his forearm. His visitor's ears flatten back as they bend their face toward the arm. Beneath the blanket they wear as a cape, the tip of a tail sways rhythmically. Their jaw opens wide and their fangs sink into the sleeper's wrist. The man starts, though it's hard to say whether he wakes completely, as he seems disinclined to do anything about the creature drinking his blood.
'He's very small,' is Lyric's first commentary. 'Maybe family.'
Yasin shrugs, almost about to sit back down when the creature starts to /eat/ the sleeping man. His eyes shoot open wider, mouth opening and then closing again. '/Eating/ his family.' He reaches up to /shake/ the sleeping man by the shoulder, waving a hand by the creature's eyes.
Lyric bounces to her feet, bounces to her toes, a little alarmed -- only a little, really; across the room the first scuffle has died down but a second one has broken out over a trade in food so really, perhaps someone getting chewed on is not all /that/ unusual. Perhaps.
Still unusual enough that she's somewhat wide-eyed, somewhat frowning -- '/Eating/ -- what -- I have an apple!' Admiteddly she's kind of hesitant before digging it out from under her pillow. But eventually she digs it out. Reluctantly offers it up to the bunk. Instead of PERSON.
The small vampire begins purring faintly as they feed, but the sound becomes a growl when Yasin shakes the man onto whose wrist they have latched. Bright green eyes snap to Yasin, then to Lyric, then back. The man, for his part, only responds with a happy sigh, never even lifting his head from the pillow. But abruptly the creature's attention focuses on Lyric again, and they cease growling at once. They stare right past the apple and at the young woman. Then, very slowly, they release the man's arm, licking their grayish lips clean. Blood trickles from two neat puncture wounds in his wrist. 'Don't like apples.' Their hands, though inhumanly long-fingered and tipped with sharp black talons, move with the fluency of a native signer. 'Blood better.'
Even /more/ startled, now -- but Lyric's alarm has shifted to something brighter, more excited. 'You sign?'
'Deaf?' Yasin is asking. Similarly excited. The puncture wounds in the man's wrist seem to be overlooked, suddenly.
'It's a good apple.' Lyric polishes it against her shirt, setting it down on the edge of the other man's bunk. 'You can't just take people's blood?' Though the creature just /did/ so this is a little bit uncertain.
The vampire licks their lips again. 'Hearing. Can't speak.' They pick up the apple and scramble down from the top bunk without even using their hands--the blanket-swathed hunch on their back turns out to be two additional limbs, which unfold to steady their descent. 'Not supposed to.' They don't seem particularly sheepish. 'But, hungry, and other food doesn't help. I tried asking, but nobody understood.' They regard the apple dubiously, sniffing at it, then setting it down on the bed again. 'Thank you, though. I'm E-R-I.' The spelled-out name is followed by a sign name--'star.'
Yasin plucks the apple off the top bunk, returning it to its hiding place beneath Lyric's pillow as he sits back down. 'Y-A-S-I-N,' he spells, followed by his own name, one that looks kind of like having your face buried in a book. 'Is he your friend?' He points to the man in the bunk.
'Have you been here long?' Lyric is frowning at the man's still-bleeding arm. She bites down on her lip, moving to grab a pillowcase off a neighboring bed to wrap his wrist in before she takes his seat again. 'L-Y-R-I-C,' she introduces herself; her own name is a modified version of RHYTHM that looks a lot likeher hand is tapping out a drumbeat. 'Who did you ask? Maybe we can help. Ask.'
'Him?' Eri indicates the top bunk and shrugs. 'Don't know him.' They tucks the blanket deftly around themselves with their supernerary limbs, leaving skinny arms free. 'Got here last week. Asked people who caught me, after the robots. Asked people who work in the food place. Asked other people.' They shrug again. 'No one understood. You can ask for me? I don't write very good.'
'You just came in and ate a stranger?' Yasin is maybe less horrified by this than he should be. A slight frown, not exactly reprimanding so much as thoughtful. 'What if he hurt you?'
'Not a lot to write /on/ here.' This is making Lyric frown, deeper than Yasin's. 'But yes. We can write for you. I'll find something. Next meal time.'
'Before here,' Yasin adds. 'Where were you before?' Then frowns deeper still, scrutinizing the skinny arms, small figure. 'How old are you?'
'Fathers said never to eat strangers,' Eri admits, ears drooping. 'But I don't know anyone here. All strangers.' They stick their head out to peer up at the top bunk again. Bandaged and covered again, the man seems to have just gone back to sleep. 'I'm faster than him.' This rather blithely, though without any suggestion of bragging. 'I wrote in the snow. Maybe that's why no one understood.' They cock their head at Yasin, eyes unblinking. 'Before here, I was in a town because I got too hungry in the woods. Before /that/ I was with brothers and sisters, and before that I was with our family. I just turned five!' This last with something almost like pride. 'How old are /you/?' Like a challenge.
'Fathers...' Lyric echoes this with a very faint wrinkle of her brow.
Yasin shoots her a disapproving look, briefly. He looks back to Eri, head shaking sadly. 'Your fathers aren't here? I'm sorry.' His lips press together. After this a smile, a small chuckle. 'Five? Woah.' His eyebrows lift. Impressed. 'I'm twenty-six.'
'Twenty-one,' Lyric answers. 'People here won't be strangers forever. Maybe we can find people to feed you. Take turns?' She looks a little bit wistful at the mention of brothers and sisters. Family. Her knees curl up underneath herself. 'Before...' There's a small sag to her shoulders. 'That's a lot of before.' She offers Eri an encouraging smile. 'But there can be family all kinds of places, maybe.'
'No. None of my family is here.' Eri subsides, curling their tail back under the blanket. 'They keep sending me away when robots come, because I am small and not supposed to fight yet. I don't know what happened to them. It's probably better to find people who want to give me blood, especially if they're not strangers.' Long, floppy ears suddenly perk up. 'Maybe we can leave and go find our families together. You two are /old/, you're better at stuff like that, right?'
The siblings exchange a look. Furrowed brows, worrying at lips.
Lyric lifts a shoulder, shaking her head once. 'My family's right here.' She points to Yasin. 'And I can't really fight the robots.'
'They're a lot stronger than us. They're a lot stronger than most people. Old or young.' Yasin's brow is still furrowed. 'Your family was doing the right thing. To protect you. By keeping you from them.'
Eri's ears droop down again. 'Maybe my family will find us.' Their eyes wander, scanning the floor of the barracks with idle intensity. 'Then we could leave and I won't be hungry all the time.' They curl themselves into a tighter ball of blanket and black fuzz, gray tongue darting out again to swipe over their lips. 'You can come, too. If you want.' They seem confident in the prospect of their rescue, but distracted, nose twitching at the air. 'Someone bleeding over there.' One batlike wing extends from beneath the blanket to point at the knot of people gathered around a fight in the far corner of the building.
'Maybe.' Lyric's response comes at a delay. Her smile comes delayed, too, a little strained. 'Hungry all the --'
'Blood,' Yasin signs, his eyes following the path of Eri's. 'There's blood in here a lot.
'People fight a lot,' Lyric agrees. Frowning. 'But everyone in here is hungry all the time. They don't feed us much.'
'Too bad you can't eat the guards.' Yasin's suggestion is a little darkly humoured. Sentinels don't bleed.
Eri stretches their neck out toward the fight. 'You guys go hungry, too?' Their huge green eyes flick back to the siblings, the picture of startled naivete. 'I can get you food, easy. Just have to get into the kitchen. There are tubes in the walls for air.' Their ears swivel toward the gradually dispersing throng, the fighters separated now and the combatants cajoled back to their bunks. 'I should go check on those people first.'
'No it's okay you get in trouble if you steal extra.' Lyric's eyes open wider at Eridani's suggestion. 'Don't do that. We'll be fine. They do /feed/ us.'
'It just sucks,' Yasin says with a small snort-laugh.
'But it's fine.' Lyric nods. Emphatic. Her eyes shift across the room to the dispersing group. 'Do you know them? You could go check on them. I think they're okay? Probably.'
'People don't notice me usually, I'm small.' Eri puffs themselves out as if to put a lie to their own claim. 'You said they don't feed you enough.' They sniff at the air. 'I don't know them, but they're already bleeding anyway. Maybe they won't miss a little more.' Their ears press back against their skull. 'That's OK, right?'
'What?' Blinkblinkblink. Lyric looks between the people across the room and Eri again now, comprehension suddenly dawning. 'No that's totally not okay. You can't just eat people. People's -- blood. Not without their permission.'
Eri sighs hugely--their tiny body seems to contain a lot in the way of lungs. 'Why?' All they same, they tear their eyes from the nearest injured inmate. 'I wouldn't have hurt them all that much.' They gnaw on their lower lip and tugs the blanket tighter over their bony shoulders. 'Just still hungry.'
'Why?' Lyric looks confused as she echoes this. 'Because you can't hurt people is why.'
'Because people aren't for eating,' Yasin says. 'You can't just bite people if they don't want you to.'
'Can't just hurt people if they don't let you,' Lyric agrees. 'Sometimes you just have to be hungry.'
'Or you end up like them.' Yasin gestures across the room. 'Always fighting. Not so great.'
Eri stares blankly at the siblings. 'OK. I won't.' Their face does not register true comprehension, but they seem sincere enough. 'My fathers were always fighting. They said it was important to fight.' They chew on the edge the blanket miserably. 'Can I take a nap here? I'm tired.'
Lyric's expression crumples into something sadder, worried, watching Eridani chew on the blanket. She moves closer, wrapping the blanket up around them and shifting off the bed to make room for the child. 'Of course.She fluffs up the miserable thin pillow as much as she can, climbing up to retrieve a second blanket from the top bunk so that she can bundle Eridani in a little bit more. 'I'll go talk to someone in the dining hall. See what we can do. You nap.'
'Thank you.' Eri coils up into a tight bundle of wings and blanket around the pillow. The tip of their tail twitches. 'If my dads show up you can tell them I'm here, and then we can go.' This said, they settle down, eyelids sliding shut, though the green eyes behind them follow Lyric through narrow slits until she is out of sight.