An army of men and women and all their children shifted through the streets; the air around and exuded by them was fabric. The darkness of the night sky looked like plastic; only the clouds showed their faces. The world was quiet and cold and numb, and for all the panic of an hour ago, not one man spoke; not even the children dared to squall. The silence was a barrier against hell: an eggshell of titanium. Sometimes, the earth rattled, but only by increments. No one questioned them.
A father clung to his small daughter, cradled in his thin arms; he was hunched like a rat. The girl in his arms looked like a life-sized ragdoll; her eyes were closed as if in rest, but her face was locked by etching chains of concern, digging age across her youthful face. The man’s wife stood beside him, her hand rested on his shoulder; she never looked at him, except with eyes of stone: the touch was merely a way of connection between her and her daughter, as if the man was a gateway of motherly love. She concentrated hard on the little girl, her gaze an embrace, occasionally flitting off like a butterfly to scout for dangers. But the mass of men they had assimilated into were trapped in a devotion of love all their own, and none had time to interfere with other human beings.
During the mass exodus, the small army of Threers saw pieces of their home hunkered and crumbled, shattered to nothingness for being too close to the Justice Building. A few would cry out. Many rushed on. When they saw these landmarks of death, Phottona and Blot Fax glanced down at their child to ensure she was not awake, and then they breathed relief in harmony. The one thing either of them had ever agreed on, in their entire lives, was the welfare of the child who had not been conceived between them.
The landscape became flatter, concrete and asphalt pounding the land into an industrial wasteland; wire fences welcomed them. The leaders of this large troupe of refugees opened them, and hurried on ahead to open the doors to the mammoth Factory that crowned the District Three economy. They unlocked them just in time for the Threers, as they crowded around the steps. The wide steel doors had to be pushed open by a few thick-armed men; the leaders did not have to urge them on: in one wild surge, the residents flooded into the factory. They managed to retain a level of dignity as they rushed inside, refraining from tearing and pulling at one another: the main concern for many of them was to restart life in the vast corridors and machinery of the miles large Factory, and as soon as possible. Threers thrived on order and logic: to have witnessed such destruction, such fear, drowned the souls of most. The time had come to fight for land and oxygen, even if a storm of bombs raged outside.
Blot and Phottona rushed on inside, but then stilled into rocks in the mighty river of humans once they entered the main lobby. They huddled against a wall of wide touch screens, designed for the workers to punch in, and waited for the mad flight to settle into some amount of reasoning. But after ten minutes of person after person, Phottona began to fidget, her eyes flicking from the door to her daughter. Huffing, she gave into her impatience, and grunted at Blot: “Wait here. I’m going to see if anybody here is a physician.”
He nodded. “Please hurry back,” he whimpered, his voice quavering. Phottona scowled at him for an instant, before she stepped forward and soon disappeared in the thick of humans. Blot fidgeted. He slid to the floor, holding his daughter Abra in his lap. He blinked, amazed to find how light she was, for a thirteen-year-old: it was almost as if she was still an infant.
Blot and Abra sat there for at least an hour. He could feel the ticking of the clock in his chest, in his skin, stretching everything out into an itchy mess. He held his daughter tight; sometimes he checked if she was still breathing. Her inhales and exhales were even enough, but were too unsettled for rest or REM. Blot mumbled little pleas and prayers under his breath. What could possibly be taking her so long? he began to ask himself, over and over. What’s she doing? Spreading her legs again?
An icy sickness spread over him. He knew he oughtn’t begrudge Phottona for her affair, or affairs. After all, they had given him Abra. It wasn’t like Blot and Phottona would ever have a child of their own combined genes, anyway.
Yet, no matter how many times Blot could apologize for her wife’s dalliance, the poison of resentment still hardened his veins. He was not naturally nice and forgiving, unlike his daughter Abra; his generosity was a product of years of intimidation and self-loathing, and nothing crafted from fear lives for long. Blot decided to pull himself to his feet, holding his daughter to his chest. He continued to obey Phottona’s order to remain fixed in his spot, but there were still people milling in, sometimes even out; he tried calling out to a few people, though most of his stuttered pleas went unheard (mostly because they were - literally - unheard, for his voice was much too soft). “Hell...hello? Um, could...could anyone - um - my daughter, she...She fainted, and, I...we...I don’t know what to do. Does - does anyone know...?”