Where the Tide Takes Us

Entry for the heroine-writing competition.

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2. 1b

 

 

   "Oh, shit," T breathed, the plug dropping from her hand. It rolled under the table.

 

   Suddenly she was on my side of the workbench. I jumped. "Listen to me," she said, quiet but intense, "you need to hide, stay absolutely quiet. If you don’t, we will both be dead, and what they do to you will be worse than whatever you’re afraid of from me. Do you understand?"

 

   I nodded mutely.

 

   Whoever was at the outside tried the handle; it was locked. "Hey, Tomoko, it’s me," called the person on the other side. Their voice was deep and friendly. Whoever it was didn’t sound hostile; I wondered what she was so panicked about. But then I guess I didn't have much leg to stand on.

 

   "I’m coming!" she yelled, then, glancing around, pushed me towards one of the doors on the side wall. "In there. Quiet."

 

   She grabbed the upright table I’d been strapped to and collapsed the stand, lowering the whole thing to the floor, straining with the weight. I almost moved to help but she jerked her head towards the door and I went, brushing the pad on the wall to turn on the light.

 

   It was a bathroom. There was a mirror above the sink and I stopped dead when I caught myself in it. Wide cheekbones, pale lips, surprised grey eyes staring back at me. It was strange to see the face move when I did; I stuck my tongue out, scrunched my face up, and the one in the mirror did the same. My face was the same colour as my hands, and could maybe be mistaken for skin at a distance. The texture was too frictionless, through, and the cheeks and lips bloodless. I had no hair on my head but I did have eyelashes and eyebrows that were kind of... stitched in? It wasn't what I was expecting, somehow; I wondered what I'd looked like in the past, if it was an echo I was feeling.

 

   I heard Tomo open the front door and turned away to switch out the light. I pressed my ear to the crack of the door. Tomo’s voice was steady, not as if she was really in mortal danger (and had just partially redecorated the room).

 

   "Hey Dad. Look, I’ll come over to help later if I can, but I’m kind of busy at the moment. Sowing season and all, the Hawbrushes need their sprinklers."

 

   "Oh come on, Tommy, don’t pretend you’re not bored, I’ve known you your life long," he laughed. "You need the fresh air, I’m sure I heard you talking to yourself down here."

 

   I held my breath. Guess I didn't need to breathe anyway.

 

   "Just because your job is drinking coffeen all day doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t have real work to do," Tomo replied lightly. "Do you know how often farming equipment breaks this time of year? I’m down in town half the time patching it." Her voice went sullen, "Never mind that I don’t exactly get much help anymore."

 

   Tomo's dad’s voice went sympathetic. "You two still haven’t made up?"

 

   "There’s nothing to make up," T replied, her voice steel-edged.

 

   "Alright, alright, it's none of my business. Why don’t you come home for the evening, let Nona put some meat on your bones. It's been too long since we've seen you. We can talk about work on the way."

 

   She hesitated, but then said, "Okay. Let me just grab my coat real quick-"

 

   "Aha, nonsense, it’s a beautiful afternoon!" The clap of a hand on a shoulder, I could almost see him guiding her along. "But I tell you, if we don't work around this technical hiccupping soon-"

 

   The door swung shut behind them.

 

***

 

   Creeping out I listened until any trace of their noise died away, then tried the front door. Locked again. There was a number pad next to it, and I wished that T had succeeded in making me good at computers, for more than one reason.

 

   Maybe I could break the door. I put my hand around the handle; it felt like I could - I was strong, and pretty sure that was new too - but I hesitated. What had Tomo meant about danger? She's seemed pretty sincere, if I was any judge. Was I? I couldn't remember.

 

   I shook my head. There was probably no danger, she probably just said it to keep me out of sight, though I couldn’t think why. And I knew nothing about her! Apart from that she 'built' me. I pulled my hand back into a fist, ready to punch out the lock.

 

   My arm paused again. What was past the door? The fear was rising in my throat again like vomit. On one hand, Tomoko, her intentions none too good. On the other, 'what they do to you will be worse than whatever you're afraid of from me.'

 

   My fist dropped to my side, and the dread in my chest turned to disappointment in myself, then resignation.

 

   I turned back towards the room; if I was staying to wait for Tomoko to come back with others to dismantle me, I might as well have a look around, and maybe find an alternate way out for the future.

 

   The room didn't have any windows, so I assumed it was underground; I tried to fight off the feeling of being trapped by pacing around. It was a fair size, but lots of the floor space was taken up by the workbenches and piles of boxes around the walls. I looked in a couple and found everlasting food packets and medical supplies.

 

   One of the beds had neatly made blue blankets and looked a lot less dusty than the others; there was a set of drawers at the end if it, full of Tomo's clothes: long underwear, tunic tops, jeans, knitted jumpers and thick wool socks, a garment that looked like a waterproof coat cross boiler suit. They all apart from the last had a handmade look to them, but quality too; I got the feeling Tomo hadn't made them herself. Had she mentioned a town to her dad before?

 

   Anyway, she had a preference for blue and orange. I put things back as close to how I found them as I could.

 

   Apart from the bathroom I'd already been in (which had a bath without a shower - strange - and a big marbly blue block of soap melted to the lip) and the exit, there were five doors around the room. Two more along the same wall were identical bathrooms, when I moved the boxes out of the way, but there was an enormous spiderweb stretched across one with a fat spider the size of my palm crouched in the centre so I exited quickly without investigating further.

 

   Only after wondering where the spider got prey did I go back to the first bathroom, and realise there was a window; it was small, high up, and covered in something on the other side of the glass so it didn't let any light through. For a moment I felt unbearably claustrophobic at the thought there was more earth or water on top of me but looking closer I could see wooden creepers attached to the glass, lit up by the light inside the room. Ivy, maybe? 

 

   The window didn't look like it would open anyway so I carried on to the doors on the back wall. At least I knew where one outer wall was. The workshop floor lead up to them in steps (five) still made of concrete. Without outer skin sensations were kind of numb so I was careful not to trip (after the first two times. I knocked a long metal thing hanging off the workbench onto the floor with my hip at one point but it looked alright so I just put it back).

 

   The first was a kitchen, sinks along the back wall, cupboards up the rest. There was a bowl of fruit on the sideboard, small bananas and pears and what I thought might have been figs; some I couldn't put a name to.

 

   There were trays and cutlery and cups, a lot of them, and more packets and cans of everlasting food in the bottom cupboards as well as in a couple of deep, big freezers that weren't running. The cupboards that it looked like Tomo used - that weren't covered in dust - were cool, almost refrigerated, and contained flatbead, muffin cakes, pasta, and porridge oats, as well as all sorts of root vegetables and also a half a fruit pie. There were eggs on the counter and two glass bottles of milk, and a big resealable bag of airful snacks, sort of like crisps or rice cakes. There was a kettle on the top of one stove that smelled strongly of coffee.

   

  I wondered if Tomo really didn't ever leave her rooms.

 

   I inspected the windows. There was one on each of the outer walls. They were much bigger than the ones in the bathrooms, still covered in ivy but more thinly, letting light in at the top.

 

   I could see blue through the gaps if I squinted, and the leaves dappled the sunlight all over the kitchen, the patterned shadows moving in the wind. Something told me it was late afternoon. With the door to the lowered main room shut the ambient noise of pipes and the computer fan, that I hadn't even noticed, was gone, and all they was left was the ivy rustling and tapping on the glass in the breeze. I got distracted from listening out for other noises watching the way the light shifted over my arm, and feeling it warming me, and then tried the handles on the windows - locked.

 

   Surely Tomoko wouldn't have anticipated me wanting to get out? She seemed surprised when I didn't act passive and flat (was that how I was supposed to be?) so maybe there really was a danger she was trying to keep out.

 

   The next room was different; the mirror of the kitchen in the placement of the windows, but empty apart from a washed out blue carpet. There were compressed patches in the pile, just the right widths apart to be the legs of Tomo's workbenches, I realised. She must have dismantled them to fit them through the door.

 

   One of these windows was locked too, but the other swung open just enough for me to realise there was something behind all the ivy stopping it. I reached in through the leaves, and until my hand reached what felt like a rusty metal bar, then another crossing it. A grate. I pulled my hand back, then realised there were dead leaves and dirt on the carpet. I picked them up the best I could and deposited them back outside; maybe Tomo had left the window unlocked by accident, and I didn't want her knowing that I knew.

 

   I was coming down the concrete steps into the main room to try the door on the final wall (which looked less like the flimsy inside ones and more like the metal front door) when a wave if wooziness hit. I swayed for a second, then let myself fold onto the steps when I realised it wasn't getting better. I put my head between my knees; that was what you were supposed to do, right? Well, humans were, maybe it didn't work for androids because I had to lie down on my side on the step so I didn't fall.

 

   What was happening to me now? This was getting to be a really long and unpleasant day, even without any others in my memory to compare it to. At least this wasn't a particularly unpleasant feeling, just a sort of drifting, floating sensation. My eyelids kept closing slowly without me telling them to, so maybe if I just let them rest there for a little while...

 

***

 

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