Chapter 33: Break

Lem stood up from the table and told Sangor to walk with him. He brought Sangor out of the forest to a cliff overlooking a fertile valley, dappled by sun and clouds. Beneath the clouds were sheets of rain that seemed to disappear after a few moments. The terraced hills on either side of the valley appeared to be pocked with holes. Sangor saw people, Rats, entering and leaving the holes. Lem led Sangor down a narrow path descending from the cliff into the valley.

Lem guided Sangor to his home, one of the caves Sangor had seen from the cliff. When they reached the third cave, Lem stopped and put his hand on the glass wall. The glass wall dissolved. They passed through the entrance into the cave, after which the glass reformed. Lem pointed to a sofa and told Sangor to make himself comfortable. Lem sat down on a chair opposite Sangor.

Yani offered Lem and Sangor a cup of water and a plate of fresh fruit. Sangor raised his cup and sniffed at the water suspiciously. Lem laughed, switched the cups, and drank from Sangor’s cup. Sangor raised Lem’s cup to his lips and drank down the cool thirst-quenching liquid in a few gulps. Sangor eyed the fruit with a combination of desire and suspicion. Lem smiled, reached over to the plate, picked up a prange, and popped it into his mouth. “You really should try the prange,” Lem said amiably with his mouth full of the tart pulp, “it’s fresh from our garden. My wife picked it just before you arrived.” Sangor picked up a prange from the plate and bit off the tip of the fruit. The tangy taste seemed to explode in his mouth. He ate the rest of it and reached for another piece of fruit.

Lem asked Sangor, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

Sangor looked at the Rat with genuine curiosity. He struggled for a moment with his rebellious memories but eventually gave up the effort. “No,” he answered. “Should I?”

Lem said to him, “No, I suppose not” and then, “You and I were children at the same day care facility in Sector 87. I built a fortress of wooden blocks and you knocked it down.”

Sangor started to remember images and feelings from his childhood. After all, he had not encountered many Rat children in his life. He remembered one or two, but not much else; certainly no interactions with them.

“Now, do you remember?” Lem asked Sangor.

Sangor was confused. Suddenly he saw and felt what he saw and felt that day when Lem’s mother had brought Lem to the day care facility and that Rat child had built a fortress of wooden blocks. Sangor had been envious of the Rat’s ability to construct something so tall and was so frustrated when the Rat was able to avoid his blows so easily. The old hatred came back to him.

“How are your parents, Javid and Dorka?” Lem brought Sangor back to the present.

“Hmm?” Sangor responded. “My father died a few years ago. My mother is in good health, as far as I know… Why did you spare me? … I would have killed you if I’d had the chance.”

Lem answered, “It was not necessary to kill you at that time.”

“Will it be necessary for you to kill me at some other time?” Sangor asked defensively.

Lem told Sangor he would not understand the answer to his question.

Lem bade good night to Sangor after showing him to his room for the night. Lem told Sangor they would have breakfast together in the morning and talk some more.

The next morning Lem told Sangor he wanted to show him around the cultivated fields and the cave village. Sangor understood that he was a captive audience and so he assented.

They passed two other caves on the way to the path leading down to the valley. Sangor glanced into the caves as they passed. The caves were similarly protected by a glass wall. Sangor put his hand on one of the glass walls but it did not dissolve. He saw a small Rat child on the other side of the glass wall sitting on the cave floor under a table playing with a multi-colored cube. The child raised his blue eyes to Sangor and waved to him. Embarrassed, Sangor dropped his hand from the glass and averted his gaze.

Lem and Sangor descended the path to the valley floor. They walked through fields of tall waving stalks, of low clinging vines around green and orange tubers, orchards of plump yellow fruits Sangor had never seen before, and flowers of every imaginable color growing from trees whose trunks looked like tea kettles. Sangor had seen farm country in Sector 87 but he had never seen anything like this.

Sangor asked many questions, first about the different kinds of fruit, trees, and flowers he saw, and then about the seeding and the harvest. He asked what the weather in these parts was like. He wanted to know what kind of price the farmers got for their produce. Lem answered each of Sangor’s questions patiently, but Lem’s answers did not make any sense to him. It couldn’t be like that. It just couldn’t be.

Sangor was silent for a while. He looked up at Lem and asked, “What about my friends? Where are you holding them? How are you treating them?”

Lem said “You are welcome to visit them and see for yourself.”

Sangor nodded and said he’d like that.

Lem took Sangor to the captive compound. “I have some things to attend to,” Lem told him. “You may come back to my cave whenever you want.”

Sangor looked Lem in the eyes and said morosely, “My place is with my friends.”

“You may stay with your friends,” Lem told Sangor, “if that is what you want.” He turned back and left Sangor at the entrance to the compound.

When Sangor walked inside, the buzz of Sap conversation went silent. Heads turned in his direction. A voice in the back of the room called out, “Is that you, Sangor?” Another voice snorted “Look at him, all clean and hair wet and slick… Where’d they take you? To the governor’s wife’s own bath house?”

“You can jeer all you like,” Sangor answered huskily, “but I’m a prisoner here just like you.”

“You don’t look like us,” one of the men said testily.

Sangor asked him, “Didn’t the Rats offer you to bathe in the river and wear clean clothes?”

The man shot back, “Sure they did, but I refused… Wouldn’t take nothin’ from no Rat.”

“Did you eat the food they offered you?” Sangor asked him with a wave of shame undulating in his belly.

“And let them poison me?” the gaunt man said, defiantly proud of his own hunger.

Someone else spoke out, “How do we know we can trust this Sap?”

Sangor reached over the heads of some men who were sitting cross-legged on the floor, grabbed the man who had just spoken by his shirt collar, and dragged him through the line of sitting men. “How do I know I can trust you, Worm-Meat?” Sangor hissed at the man. “I marched along next to you and I saved your sorry ass when you nigh fell into the river rapids. Many of you have known me since I was a child. Maybe I did accept their clothes and food, and maybe I just bided my time til the time was right to break them or to break away from them…”

“Hey man,” the man hanging inside the shirt whose collar Sangor clenched in his fist wined. “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it … I was just sayin’, ya know?”

One of the other men said, “Sangor’s all right. I’ll vouch for him.”

“Hey Sangor,” a man who had been silent up to that point said in a voice that carried above the others, “why don’t you come and sit down with us? Some of the guys have an interesting idea you might want to hear, if you don’t have other plans this evening…”

The interesting idea his friends had was a plot to break out of the compound and make a run for the river.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under Prose, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stories and Novels

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