Holly Quinn 2000
*Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction. The people and places within are the property of Tatsunoko Productions.
It all started with the fish. The end of the fish. One day, when the fishing boats returned to the villages after a day's work, they were empty. Not one fish on even one boat that had left the island that morning. Not even an old tire or a discarded shoe or a even a mound of seaweed. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. Once word spread that every fishing boat from every dock had come home empty, the blame began. The religious blamed he non-churchgoers, insisting that God was surely punishing the entire island for their blasphemy. The non-religious blamed everything from the schoolgirls' aerosol hair spray to mainland commercial fisheries to the alignment of the planets. Some talked of curses, leading even the skeptics wondering if it might be possible.
The crops were suffering, too. Once, the island's farmers had been able to support all of its inhabitants with their produce and dairy and meat. But the soil dried up and choked the crops, and the livestock perished rapidly from dehydration and plague. Soon, there wasn't even enough fresh water for the human inhabitants, either. The once prosperous and beautiful island had become a prison of famine and decay - all in less than a month's time.
These were the darkest days of B.C. Island.
This was when Galactor came, with sacks of food, jugs of water, and medicine.
Katarena held her breath, and braced herself against the nearest wall of faceless strangers. She had come from the countryside to this town square, after word that, at last, someone had come to distribute aid. It was a long way for her to go, but her family was starving, her younger sister near death and in dire need of medicine. The crowd swelled and rolled, her body lifted off the ground in the crush, then released. She could feel something give beneath her feet as she came down again - a soft, sickening feeling beneath her. She looked down, and could see arms and legs and torsos writhing underneath them. She gasped, her lungs filling with thick, steamy air. She wanted to cry out, "people are dying beneath our feet!" She wanted to call out for reason, but it was no use. Her voice was drowned out by the agonized wails that surrounded her, rising up from her feet and exploding into the air. Instinctively, she reached down to help one of the hapless victims below, and the wave of bodies overtook her. She began to pray.
Katarena was still praying when the crowd finally dispersed. She was bruised and battered, but she was alive. She blinked as she looked around the town square. It looked the way she had imagined a battlefield to look, with bodies strewn everywhere. Some were moaning and writhing, some were trying to get up. Many appeared dead. She noticed an older woman lying still beside her. Slowly, she moved closer. Katarena recognized her; the woman ran a small market not far from where she lived in the country.
"Mrs. DiCicco," she whispered, grasping the woman's shoulder. She felt her chest for a heartbeat. There was none. "Oh, God, Mrs. DiCicco....." She shook the woman's body vainly.
Katarena looked up. A young man leaned down and grabbed her by the arm. She pulled away.
"Come on," he said. "You can't stay in the street after they've left." He gripped both of her arms now, and pulled her to her feet.
"Let go -"
"You can't stay here," he said, his fingers pressed deep in her already sore arms. "They're dead!"
"Let go of me!" She wrestled away from him.
Another man with a bag slung over his shoulder called over to them. "Just leave her, Andreas," he said. "If she wants to die."
She looked from the man with the bag to the one who'd grabbed her.
"I don't want to die," she said.
"Come with us, then," Andreas said.
"I don't know why you're crying. Those people who died today were the lucky ones."
Katarena shook her head. "She was nice..." She looked at the two men. They were younger than she'd initially thought, not much older than she was. They were both filthy. But then, so was she. "Don't you even care?" she asked.
"My brother's right," Andreas said. "They were lucky."
She looked around. They were inside a burned out stone building not far from the square. It was dank and full of garbage, but she could tell this was where the two brothers were living. Andreas, the nicer one - she hadn't caught the bag-toting man's name yet - sat in a broken-out windowsill, as if on watch.
"Do you know what's happening?" she asked.
"End of the world, from what I can tell," the bag man said. He was spreading out his take on the tile floor - extra rations, mostly, but also jewelry, eyeglasses , and personal effects clearly taken from the bodies in the square.
Katarena got up and stood before him, looking down at the collection. "You looted those people?" she asked incredulously.
"They're not people anymore," he said.
She stood speechless for a moment. "You're disgusting," she said, finally.
He didn't look at her. "Andreas, will you get this woman out of my face?"
Andreas didn't move. "Shut up, Giuseppe," he said.
She narrowed her eyes at him. "That could be you someday," she said.
Giuseppe sighed. "If it is, I won't care, so what's your point?"
Andreas slid from the windowsill. "It's coming. Let's go down," he said, motioning towards an open stairwell.
Giuseppe gathered his things and slid the sack over his shoulder. He looked Katarena straight in the eye. "You gotta survive," he said. "That's all there is to it."
Katarena watched them head down to the basement. "You're out of your mind if you think I'm going down there with you two," she said.
"You have to," Andreas said, turning around.
"Let her stay," Giuseppe called from below.
"We're not leaving her," he called. He looked at Katarena. "We're not leaving you."
She let out an exasperated laugh. "This place is about to collapse, and you want me to go to the basement?"
"Trust me, it's safer."
"There's not even any light down there..."
Giuseppe came up to the middle of the stairway. "It'll be dark up here, too, in about ten minutes," he said.
"How do I know it's 'them' I'm supposed to be afraid of? How do I know it's not you?"
Andreas walked towards her. "We saved your life," he said.
"No you didn't."
Andreas looked at his brother. Giuseppe gave him a "who cares" shrug, but they both knew she'd never make it out there once the machines came.
Katarena took a step back. "Look, I appreciate you bringing me here and feeding me and all, but I can't stay here all night."
"You don't understand," Andreas said, "it's deadly out there."
"I came here to get provisions for my family." She pointed to the small bag Andreas had given her, full of rice and medicine and water. "I got it. I'm not doing them any good staying here." She turned and started to leave.
"Katarena!" Andreas jumped over the rubble and grabbed her by the arm "Listen to me -"
His words were stopped by a sound - a loud, rumbling, foreign sound, that was followed closely by a flash of light. Katarena tried to see, through what was left of the building's wall, despite Andreas' pull. The glimpse she caught was beyond description. It appeared to be some kind of tank, but far, far bigger than any tank she'd ever heard of. It lurched with -- could they be legs? - with almost animal movement. She looked at Andreas, confused and terrified.
"What *is* it?" She shouted.
He pulled her down. "That," he said in a loud yell-whisper she could just hear over the noise, "is why we have to go underground."
"Here's the information on the prisoner, Officer Verano." The agent ran up behind Katarena and handed her a folder.
"Very good," she said, taking it. It had been two years since she had left Andreas and Giuseppe to return to the family she would never see again. When she was taken by Galactor agents, she feared the worst, but, in time, she had found that the Organization offered her potential opportunities she had never dreamed of as a rural teenager. She had learned quickly how the system worked, and used it to her advantage. Before she knew it, she was on the Officer track. Now, in a position of authority in the Department of Re-education, she was able to pick and choose the fates of certain prisoners, and remained secretly sympathetic to members of The Underground. In all the sweeps the Organization had made, she had never come across the misguided brothers who had, with all good intentions, saved her from capture that night. By now she had figured they were probably both killed. It was a shame, too, because both of them would have made valuable Galactor agents.
"Did he give a name?" she asked.
"What do you think?" the agent said, leading her to a small booth beside the holding cell. "We suspect that he is the 'ringleader'... or one of them, anyway..."
Katarena looked through the glass, a one-way mirror. The young man had been badly beaten, probably while resisting capture. "What do you think of him?" she asked.
"From what I can tell, he doesn't seem like a good candidate for re-education," the agent said. "Our recommendation is elimination, unless you can do something with him."
Katarena stood silent for a moment, then turned to the agent. "Turn on the light," she said, requesting that the mirror effect be evaporated for the prisoner. "And close the door as you leave."
The prisoner didn't budge as she became visible behind the glass. He sat on a chair, his hands tied behind his back.
She pressed a microphone button. "What is your name?" she asked.
He sat still, unresponsive.
"Shall I venture a guess?"
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
Katarena paused. "Where is Andreas, your brother?"
His eyes shot open. He sat up straight and looked at her. He didn't speak, but she could see it in his eyes that there was no more Andreas.
"I'm sorry," she said. "He was a good man."
"All this time," he said in a hoarse voice, "I thought you were dead, and it turns out you're just a traitor."
"A traitor to what? Your little play-army?"
"We should have killed you when we had the chance," he said.
She smiled. "You know, I would have spared him. He would have been quite an asset to us."
"He never would have joined Galactor. He wasn't a snake like you."
She clicked her tongue. "Oh, now, you just misunderstand what we're all about. You don't understand us, so you feel you have to fight us."
"I understand what you've done to my home, to my family. You can't defend that."
"Change is never easy."
"The only change you've done is to destroy everything this island was. That's why we fight."
"You're nothing but guttersnipes," she said. She crossed her arms. "Now, tell me: what do you think we should do with you?"
He glared at her. "Why don't you just kill me and get it over with."
Katarena paused. "I'd prefer not to," she said. "It's really not my style."
"Don't give me that."
She looked to the ceiling for a moment, then walked past the glass and through a door into the cell. She stood in front of him, not two feet away. "You'd rather die than join us," she said. It wasn't a question.
"In a second."
She nodded slowly, then walked around to the back of his chair. His hands were still bound. She pulled out a small knife, and before he realized she had it out, she cut through the rope. He looked at her suspiciously, rubbing his sore wrists.
"What are you gonna do?" he asked.
"I'm not going to do anything," she said, sounding more than a little irritated. "I told you, that's not my style. If you don't want to listen, if you'd rather die, then so be it." She took out her pistol, a small piece that she wore on her belt as all officers did. "But I'm not doing it." She handed him the gun.
Giuseppe looked at her with disbelief. "What?"
"Go ahead," she said. "Get it over with so I can move on to someone who wants to live."
Giuseppe looked at the gun. For a fleeting moment, he considered it. But letting her coerce him into suicide - that was crazy. Handing a loaded gun to a prisoner was crazy. This woman was messing with his mind.
"I'm not shooting myself to keep your hands clean," he said.
"Is that why?" she asked. She paced the small cell for a moment. "You know, Giuseppe, I learned a lot from you for the short time I knew you. I learned a lot about the survival instinct. Sometimes a person will do almost anything to survive." She paused. "Well, not everybody. But people like you. I'm putting the choice in your own hands."
"What choice? Death or permanent imprisonment?"
"You wouldn't be a prisoner."
"Everyone here is a prisoner."
She sighed. "Only if you're stupid."
He looked at her. She had been so naive, sweet even. Now she looked at him with a coldness that was almost soulless. Almost. If he looked straight into her eyes he could see empathy. He could see goodness.
He snapped out of it.
He pointed the gun at her. "What do you think will keep me from killing you right now?"
Katarena didn't flinch. She looked right down the barrel of that gun and smiled.
"Nothing," she said.
He held the gun steady, his anger welling up. He could tell by her expression that she knew he wasn't going to shoot her, and he wasn't going to shoot himself. Damn it, he wasn't going to. He was going to hold the gun on her as long as possible, though.
"You can hold on to that," she said, nodding towards the gun. She turned. "I'll have someone bring you a uniform." She touched the door to leave, then looked back at him. "Don't worry, she said. I'll see that you're assigned properly. After you're taken care of, of course."
He watched her leave, still frozen. The light in the adjoining room went out, and the window became a mirror again. He looked at his reflection for a long time before relaxing his muscles and putting the gun down. What had just happened? He looked at the pistol. It still wasn't too late to do it. He thought about his brother, and what he would want. Andreas fought against Galactor, but he had never wanted to die. He thought about the clean, dry uniform they'd be bringing him - maybe they'd let him shower, too. He thought about a bed, even a cot, and a couple of decent meals a day. The thought was luxurious. He hadn't eaten what anyone would call a "meal" in months. He thought about Katarena's assurances. Somehow, he trusted her. She had let him point a loaded gun at her, and she never flinched once. He respected that. He could be like that, too, he thought. If only to stay alive.