SHE – FOR THE SOUND WAS UNMISTAKABLY COMING FROM A FEMALE THROAT – screamed again and again and again, her terror penetrating the thick darkness and profound silence of the cage like nebulous needles of angst.
Had I screamed that much myself, before Trudie’s soothing presence had rescued me from my own nightmares?
I turned on the lights and ran along the corridor towards the quarantine room, suddenly realising I had no idea how to deactivate the wall, as Trudie had done with me. What I saw when I reached the quarantine room stopped me dead in my tracks.
Standing in the middle of the featureless, transparent chamber, her face set in an expression of profoundest panic and distress, was a gorgeous young woman in her early twenties. I stared at her in wide-eyed admiration. Her nude body was flawlessly proportioned in such a way that made me weak with desire in spite of the tenseness of the situation. She was looking in all directions frantically, running from wall to wall and slapping her palms on the nearly invisible glass as she shrieked out her distress and confusion.
As I came to stand directly in front of her in the corridor, she finally saw me and fell silent mid-scream. We locked eyes for a moment through the glass, and she backed off several steps with a loud gasp. Then she sank to the floor and drew her knees up to her breasts, encircling her bare legs with her arms, all the while glaring at me.
‘Hi,’ I said to her in the gentlest, most soothing voice I could muster. ‘It’s all right. You aren’t in any danger, okay? You’re safe. Do you understand me?’
The girl continued to stare at me silently, but said nothing. She was so beautiful I found it impossible not to stare back. It took a wrench of willpower to finally avert my eyes. How was the poor girl supposed to feel safe, I told myself sternly, if I kept gaping at her as if I wanted to swallow her whole?
‘I’m going to go and find you something to wear,’ I told her then, loudly and clearly. ‘I’ll be back in a minute, okay?’ I had located a sliding latch built into the floor of the corridor that must have been what Trudie had used to get her shawl into the quarantine room on my arrival. Something told me I wasn’t doing nearly as fine a job at calming down a new abductee as she had done.
Dashing off to the clothes room, I grabbed the first item of feminine clothing I laid my eyes on – some sort of sari – and ran back to the corridor.
‘Here, something for you to wear,' I told her soothingly, drawing back the hatch and shoving the sari into it. A second later, it was flung into the quarantine room from a similar hatch in the ceiling. The girl’s eyes momentarily flickered towards the sari, but she did not move. Instead, she just kept staring at me, her dark eyes as wide as an owl’s.
‘I’m going to try and get you out of there,’ I said slowly, beginning to think she probably didn’t understand English. ‘But I’ve never done it before, so it might take me a while. Do you remember your name?’
The girl flinched at that and lowered her head, breaking her long stare, but she didn’t reply.
I recalled that from the inside of the quarantine room, the entire wall facing the corridor had seemed totally transparent, but from my perspective now, I could see there was a darker patch at waist height, similar to the touch-sensitive patches in the corner of each room that enabled control of the lighting, only larger.
I stroked the panel as if it were one of the light switches. It responded immediately by drawing a series of simple diagrams somewhat like an etch-and-sketch. The diagrams seemed to be instructing me to tap my finger onto a certain area of the panel, which would allow the wall to dissipate temporarily. Trudie had done this, but she had tapped a rhythm...and there was no way I could remember what that rhythm was. As I paused, the instructive sketches were replaced by a series of dots and dashes.
Morse code? The silent voice within me (that seemed to recognise all the thousands of things my dislocated memory could provide me with no experience of) suggested. Tapping the morse sequence I had been given caused the glass wall to shimmer, and then vanish.
The girl did not move. She remained seated, curled up in a protective ball, the sari lying ignored by her side.
‘Come on!’ I urged her. ‘Step through, before the wall comes back!’
She looked at me, and her eyes narrowed. It struck me then that perhaps she did understand me after all.
Moving as slowly and as non-threateningly as I possibly could, I stepped into the quarantine room and reached out to her arm, intending to pull her gently in the right direction.
As soon as I touched her, she leapt to her feet, gave me a hefty shove, and darted out into the corridor. I had a split second of panic where I envisioned myself trapped back in the quarantine room, at the mercy of this strange and distressed young woman, and so I ran after her before the wall shimmered and re-materialised back in its place.
The girl didn’t hang around. As soon as she saw me run after her, she darted down the corridor. Locating the staircase, she disappeared down it in a blur of bare flesh.
‘Wait!’ I called after her uselessly.
I decided it was probably best to let her go and explore the cage on her own for a while; she was obviously quite traumatised and not yet ready to engage with me. It surely wouldn’t be long, I reasoned, before she came to realise that I was the only company she had in this place; the only one, furthermore, who could provide her with any answers.
That last thought made me frown. I had precious few answers myself, I realised. In fact, I had been here for maybe nine months or so, and I seemed to be accumulating more questions than answers. I still had no idea who ‘They’ were or why They wanted to keep us like pets. I was no wiser about the mysterious white sphere in the leisure and entertainment room. Now, I was apparently able to understand all languages and I didn’t know why or how this was possible. Just a couple of days ago, I had stumbled across a bizarre music festival in which human beings who weren’t from Earth mingled freely with other exotic beings and sang and danced along to a Kinks tribute band comprised entirely of lizard-people.
I had been unable to return to the festival with my fellow human captives the following day; there had been nothing there at the site to see. And yet, the experience had been undeniably real to me - more real than my months in the cage. I wondered if that whole episode was related in some way to my ability to understand all other languages. Perhaps I was able to see things others couldn’t, as well...? The big question, of course, was...why?
I made my way slowly down to the kitchen and exercise room, lost in thought. I hadn’t exercise-earned any food since my illness, and I realised that I wanted to know what They were feeding me now, seeing as they seemed to have gone to the trouble of healing the effects of half a year of nothing but junk food.
Could my healing also have played some part in my strange linguistic and perceptual abilities? The noticeable effects all seem to have happened right after my apparent treatment.
The stores had been emptied of any leftover food of any kind, rendering it necessary to build up stocks again from scratch. Climbing onto the exercise bike, I pedalled until several items fell out of the chute and into the trough, then I went to inspect them. I had received a bunch of bananas, a bag of wholegrain rice, a garlic, and some vine tomatoes. It appeared that They had ceased their little junk food experiment with me. I pedalled and rowed some more until I had enough food to make a couple of meals (although I dreaded subjecting myself to my own cooking again). Then I thought of the strange new girl who had just arrived and wondered if she might be any good at cooking. I decided to go and look for her.
I discovered she had retreated to the nature room. I found her half-way up one of the small stunted trees, her back pressed against the trunk, her eyes closed, and her mouth moving silently as if reciting some kind of mantra.
‘Hello again,’ I said softly to her.
She seemed to shudder and tense up when she heard my voice. After a long moment, she opened her eyes and looked at me. She seemed calmer now, but I could still see the distrust written all over her face.
‘My name is Quin,’ I told her. ‘Quin. What is your name?’ Making my movements very slow and obvious, I sat down at the entrance to the nature room, facing her.
The girl maintained her silence for so long I gave up hoping she would answer at all. Then, finally, just as I was thinking about what I ought to say next, she said ‘Marion,’ in a tone that suggested she was answering a question that required some sort of decision on her part.
‘Marion. Thank you...so you understand English, Marion?’
Some kind of tension seemed to snap within Marion. ‘Okay, what’s going on?’ she snapped. ‘Is this one of Mickey’s little games? Where is he? Mickey? Mickey? Where have they taken me this time? Who do they want me to be? I need instructions, dammit!’ She said the last two words in a savage hiss.
‘Listen, Marion, I know this must be very confusing for you, especially because you can’t - ’ I broke off, suddenly realising what I had just heard. ‘You can remember things?’ I exclaimed in wonder.
‘What kind of question is that? Mickey, Mickey, Mickey Mouse!’ she chanted oddly, dangling her smooth, shapely legs from a branch and swinging them nervously. I felt another rush of desire, almost unbearably intense, and I averted my eyes quickly so that I could get myself back under control.
‘Marion,’ I said. ‘I really think it’s best for both of us if you put on some clothes, right away. Okay?’
My obvious discomfort seemed to relax Marion somewhat, as though she had rediscovered some inner strength. She shrugged and jumped down from the tree. ‘Sure,’ she agreed indifferently, making no attempt to cover herself.
I dashed off to the clothes room again, grabbed several handfuls of women’s attire at random, dashed back to the nature room, threw them at Marion, said, ‘Put some of these on, for god’s sake!’ and lunged for the bathroom door.
The next several sleeps were spent trying – and failing – to solve the riddle of Marion. Her speech was peppered with references to her life on Earth, which she clearly remembered without any difficulty; yet her words were riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies, and her personality seemed to change with bewildering frequency. Sometimes, she would be quiet and brooding, sometimes almost hysterically fearful, still other times she became like a little girl or a seductive courtesan.
These stark changes of demeanour and character were usually foreshadowed by that strange, repetitive chanting of Mickey Mouse. I quickly came to the bitter conclusion that my sexy and alluring new companion was probably at least two snips short of a full haircut.
Naturally, because she appeared to remember her life on Earth, I asked her who she was and what she did back home. I received several different answers:
‘You telling me you don’t know me? Come on, everyone knows who I am. Everyone wants a piece of me. I’m Marion Tent.’
‘I’m daddy’s girl. I’m a good girl. I get to play with puppy and go out in the garden because I do everything I’m told like a good girl.’
And, ‘Why do you keep calling me “Marion ”? I am not Marion. My name is Mari. I am the Mistress of the Morning Star. Fear me!’
In her most normal, rational moments, she would talk about a life in Beverly Hills, and simply could not accept that I didn’t recognise her. She would rattle off a list of movies, none of which evoked a flicker of recognition within me, and act out a couple of lines from a character she said she had played in them.
But strangest of all was the way she seemed to just accept life in the cage. She asked few questions about her predicament, and just seemed to accept that she was cooped up in this odd glass abode with me for the time being. It was almost as if she didn’t see anything particularly unusual about that fact.
‘Marion. How do you feel about being here?’ I asked her one time as we both struggled to prepare food (I had quickly discovered to my disappointment that Marion was as clueless as I was about cooking).
The young woman, sumptuously and inappropriately dressed in a vividly sequinned, crushed red velvet evening gown, shrugged indifferently. ‘S’okay,’ she replied.
‘Don’t you find it strange, being locked in a cage with a...with me?’ Don’t you miss your family, for god’s sake?’
Marion looked up from clumsily slicing onions and smiled almost shyly. ‘Yeah, it is strange,’ she agreed softly, but without much emotion. Then she added ‘You’re nice,’ rather unnecessarily, I thought.
‘That isn’t exactly what I meant, Marion,’ I retorted irritably. ‘I mean, don’t you find it strange that one minute you were living your life in Beverly Hills, acting in some movie or another, and the next you find yourself locked in a cage with a strange young man who has lost his memory and talks about having met aliens and lizard rock bands?’
Marion paused in the act of chopping onions into ridiculously fine pieces and was silent for a long moment, her pretty face furrowed into a deep frown. ‘I - ’ she began, then broke off, as if she suddenly had a lot to say and no idea how to say it. Confusion clouded her features, morphing slowly into alarm. Starting to recognise the signs, I backed off slightly.
‘I’m a good girl,’ she stated then assertively, slamming the knife down on the chopping board in emphasis. ‘I ask no questions, you tell no lies, Mickey. Mickey? Hasn’t this gone far enough? Mickey?!?’ She yelled at the ceiling. ‘Tell me what to do, Mickey! Tell me what to say! Mickey Mouse!’
‘Mickey isn’t here, Marion,’ I told her soothingly. ‘Only me. Only Quin. You can tell me yourself.’
‘Tell you myself? My self?’ Marion hissed, swirling back round to glare at me, her eyes flashing with sudden hostility. ‘Are you trying to drive me crazy? Do you know what Mari has done? Do you have any idea what Etta has seen? You go on about aliens and reptilians. Big whoop. Don’t we all?’ She sat down heavily on a stool, resting her head in her hands and her elbows on the table, still glaring at me.
‘Marion, I’m afraid you’re not making any sense.’
‘There is no sense!’ she flared. ‘There is only Mickey,’ she added more quietly.
‘Who is Mickey?’
‘Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse.’ She began to rock backwards and forwards on the table, her long hair falling over her eyes.
Marion was a beautiful and fascinating creature, but it was clear I was unlikely to get any sense out of her by appealing to her logic or her rational mind. Whenever she had one of her breakdowns, I started to back off and give her some space. In time, she would come looking for me.
One day, maybe eighty or so sleeps after her arrival, while I was preoccupied with strumming on the guitar in the leisure and entertainment room and humming a wordless tune, she crept into the room and peered at me as if seeing me for the first time. ‘I've met you before.’ she said suddenly.
‘You met me about a hundred sleeps ago, up in the quarantine room.’ I answered in the neutral tone I had developed with her whenever she started being really weird. Was she losing her memory now as well as her mind?
‘No, Quin, I mean before that,’ she breathed intensely. I think it may very well have been the first time she addressed me by my name.
Her words made me freeze. Marion remembered her former life, though it had clearly damaged her mind in some way; that much was clear. Could it be possible that she was able to tell me something about my own life that I had forgotten? Or was this just another one of her crazy outbursts?
Slowly and carefully, I put down the guitar, wanting to emphasise the significance of this moment and put aside any potential distractions.
‘Marion, that’s the first time you’ve ever used my name,’ I said slowly. ‘Do you think you might be able to tell me why?’ I was burning with the need to ask about why she thought she might recognise me from before, but with Marion, you had to approach an idea or a line of questioning very carefully, or her frangible lucidity was likely to unravel like a half-knitted sweater.
‘I...I know you think I’m crazy, Quin,’ she replied, her voice wavering a little. ‘And I...I know I am a little crazy. Marion is a little crazy,’ she added, emphasising her name (as she often did) as if it were someone else she was talking about. ‘But...I...I...I...’ she slapped herself on the cheek. ‘I think maybe Mickey really isn’t here. And...I’ve been thinking...maybe Mickey can’t hear me anymore.’
‘I don’t believe he can, no.’ I agreed.
Marion glanced briefly up at the enormous blue eye that had been staring down into the cage again for the last fortnight of sleeps. It had terrified her at first, and she had ripped off all her clothes and hidden under her bed for several hours. Then she had apparently decided it was Mickey Mouse watching over her, and she had calmed down so much she had even tried to seduce me. I had, of course, been sorely tempted. You have no idea! The effect she had on me goes beyond words. But her craziness was like a perpetual cold shower; I didn’t want to make her (or my situation) any more crazy than it already was by allowing her to become emotionally involved with me in that way when I still had absolutely no idea what made her tick or what had damaged her in the first place. Whatever experience with women (or for that matter with insanity) I may have had in the past lay firmly beyond the reach of my conscious awareness, but something told me quite unequivocally that here was an area I would be well advised to tread very carefully.
‘I’ve been locked in a house with a guy before, more than once,’ Marion explained then, coming closer and sitting down cross-legged in front of me. ‘Usually when Mickey wanted me to sleep with them. I didn’t want to know them, and I didn’t want to know you.’ She lowered her eyes briefly. ‘I’ve seen how you look at me. But you didn’t want to sleep with me that time, did you?’
I drew in a deep breath. ‘Er, well...’ was all I could say. Where was all this leading?
‘I don’t always think straight, Quin,’ she continued. ‘But I’m not as crazy as you think.’ She seemed to be struggling to find the words to explain something. ‘I’ve had to be more than one person all my life. More than one...name. Do you remember the night I arrived here? How I screamed?’
‘You asked me to stop screaming because I was safe. You told me later that you had screamed when you got here too, because you were scared and couldn’t remember anything. Well, that’s not why I was screaming.’ She seemed to shudder at the memory. ‘I was screaming because, for the first time, I could remember everything.’
‘I don’t understand,’ I admitted.
‘My life never made sense before. I was always waking up in strange places, strange beds, or on film sets, with big chunks of time missing from my life. Mickey would always be there to tell me where I was and what I was supposed to be doing. Then I arrive here and I could remember! Not just my life as Marion Tent, the actress, but...all the bits in between. I...’ her eyes filled with tears and she looked away. ‘Oh, Quin, I’m not just Marion Tent, you see? I never have been. I’m also a high society prostitute called Etta, and Mickey is my...is my...my pimp.’ She spat out that last word with a savagery and bitterness that caused my hair to actually stand on end. ‘He did...something...to me when I was little so that Marion can’t remember what Etta does. Or what Mari does.’ Her face had drained of all colour and she started to tremble violently, her lip quivering.
Not knowing what to say, and spellbound by her story, I remained silent.
‘I came here, and I could remember my double life...triple life...for the first time. I can remember what Mickey has done to me, what he has made me do. I’m like three people in one now. That’s why I’m crazy. I can’t – I mean, it’s so hard to...know who I am. Do you understand?’
I sat in front of her for many minutes, trying to make sense out of what she had said. ‘So you’re saying that before you came here, you were only aware that you were Marion Tent, but when you got here you realised you had other identities – split personalities?’
‘I think coming here fused them, Quin. Whatever they do to us made you forget. But it had the opposite effect on me.’
‘And I take it you’re only just now starting to come to terms with it?’
‘I tried to rebel before. What chance did I have? Mickey knew everything about where I’d been, what I had been doing. He could just say a word to me, and I’d zonk into Etta or Mari. You don’t want to know...what he did to me when I tried to break free.’
‘But you’re okay now, is that it? I mean, you’re making sense for the first time since I’ve known you.’
‘I’m not sure if I’ll ever be okay, Quin,’ she told me seriously, looking deeply at me with wide, suddenly soulful eyes. ‘But I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am Marion, and Mari, and Etta. And that Mickey...isn’t here. He can’t control me from where I am now.’ She stood up abruptly. ‘You can’t control me!!!’ She screamed at the top of her voice at the air around her, her small hands clenched into fists and the veins in her neck bulging with the pressures of her passion. Breathing heavily, she sat back down.
Something told me this was my moment. ‘Marion,’ I said. ‘You told me you had seen me before. On Earth.’ My whole body was tingling with anticipation.
‘Oh, yes,’ Marion replied with grave certainty. ‘Now I’m sure of it. Only it wasn’t me who met you. It was Etta.’
‘Etta was told to sleep with you. Etta always did what she was told.’
‘What?’ I exclaimed.
‘You fucked me, Quin. Back on Earth. Just before I got here. Only you didn't call yourself "Quin" then. You called yourself "H". And that’s not the only thing.’
Her words stunned me into silence as I remembered my dream of the man called H. My mind spun in confusion. ‘Hang on! I’ve been in this cage for, like, a year!’ I objected in horror. ‘What kind of bullshit are you trying to pull here?’
‘You’ve said it yourself,’ Marion answered with a shrug. ‘Time seems to move more slowly in these parts.’
‘Yes, but – ’
‘And the other thing is,’ Marion went on relentlessly. ‘I’m pregnant.’
End of Part V.
Click here for Part VI: The Man Who Would Be Alpha