©RMGilmour 2016

 

Grid

A short story from The Colony

By RMGilmour

     

          Focus, Grid tried to tell himself.  But it was useless.  He couldn’t get her voice out of his head.  Problem was he’d just fumbled the ball for the second time that quarter, and the game had barely started.

          “Grid,” he heard call, followed by a cuss word.

          He looked up just in time to see a beefy arm swing at him.  He ducked.  Thankfully.  A moment later and he’d be on his back.  Instead, he landed a punch of his own, and then kicked out his attacker’s legs.

          “Watch your language,” Grid yelled.

          “What are you, my mother?” his teammate yelled back, cussing yet again.  He jumped to his feet and tackled Grid; smacking his back into the wet grass and mud.  But Grid rolled him over and slammed another fist into his teammate’s jaw.

          Several hands grabbed at Grid’s arms before either of them could make another move.  They dragged him off, and threw him to the ground.  The stinging thud of several feet contacted with his ribs, and one to his head. 

          Whistles blew.  Coaches screamed.  The crowd roared.  They always loved a good fight.

          But it wasn’t too bad, just a little payback.  His own actions though, were enough to have him sent off the field.  Probably for the best.

          He tasted blood in his mouth as he tried to sit, and he rolled over, groaning.  He didn’t know what had happened to him.  He used to be the football star, king of his high school.  And once he’d started college, he’d started at the top.  But now, in his fourth year, he was done.  His head was elsewhere.  In fact, truth be told, his head was in another dimension.

          Gia, he thought, and smiled involuntarily.  He couldn’t help it.  He knew she couldn’t be real.  But he’d seen her, just once, one perfect, cloudless dawn.  ‘Watch,’ she’d said, as he’d studied his own features upon the lake’s surface, for she could see everything through his eyes.  But as he did, his image changed into a smooth reflection of her, staring back at him.  He was sure he was going crazy.  After three years, he still wasn’t completely convinced she was real.  But if he was crazy, he was content to stay that way.

         He had to quit the team though.  It was his only option.  Too often she had popped into his head while he was playing, too often she had heard all kinds of disgraceful talk a woman should never be exposed to.  He just didn’t know what went through other men’s minds.  For it seemed to him, when on the field at least, his teammates lost all sense of morality. 

          You’d think in this day and age that men would know better, he grumbled inside his head.  It was the fifties for cryin’ out loud. 

          He shook his head and trundled toward the locker rooms, wondering as he always did what his future with Gia would hold.  However, upon entering the room, he felt her presence fill his heart.  She gasped, he knew, from his pain that she had to be feeling through him.

           “Don’t be here now,” he whispered.  “Give me a couple of hours.”

          Of course, Gia responded, inside his head.  He loved the sound of her voice.  He could drown in it.

          Once he was sure she was gone, he removed his gear, grabbed a cold, wet cloth and applied it to his throbbing face.  He then lay down upon a bench and closed his eyes.  He would be expected back on the field in a few minutes, but he already knew he wouldn’t return.  He loved playing ball, but he loved Gia more.  Although, he had no idea how he was going to live the rest of his life without her by his side, but he was fine with taking it one day at a time.

          An instinct had startled him awake.  He couldn't tell how long he’d slept.  But it couldn’t have been long, for he could still hear the raucous sounds of the game, and the wet cloth upon his face, was still cool.  He was certain he was alone.  Must have been a dream.

          Deciding to head back to his dorm, he showered and changed.  Coach would be furious, but they were better off without him. 

          He hoisted his bag over his shoulder but it slipped from his hands, and dropped with a thud.  The muscles around his chest contracted, weakening him, and he fell to his knees, gasping for air.  The clamping sensation around his ribs, soon became a dull pulling, pulling his insides downward, and with increasing intensity.  He wanted to call for help, but no air would enter his lungs.  He squeezed his eyes shut, and collapsed. 

          But he didn’t meet the cold, hard floor.

          Realizing he was no longer in the locker room, he groaned and rolled over.  The ground was warm, and the grass beneath him was dry, and crumbled as he moved.  He sat up, wondering which of his idiot teammates had dragged him back out to the field, but as he looked around, there was no field - no football field, at least.  Instead, he found himself smack in the middle of a wide expanse of grassland, edged with trees and a rocky incline not too far away.

          “Grid,” he heard call.  “Get up.  Run.  This way.”

          As he got to his feet, his chest ached from the blows his teammates had landed, but he ran anyway, toward the voice.  A tall man, clearly stronger than him, and somewhat older, was running in his direction with his hand outstretched as though reaching for him.

          However, as the man grew closer, Grid paused his forward momentum at seeing the agitated look upon the man's face.

          “What are you doing?”  the man yelled.  “Keep running.  Go to the cliff," he pointed behind him.  "Don’t stop.”

          The man ran past him by several steps, and Grid turned to see him stop and drop to one knee.  He then held up both hands, aiming them, as though they were weapons.  Grid looked up ready to question the man’s actions, but stopped upon seeing a mass of people storming toward them.

          Whatever the man had in his hands, was working.  The group stopped short as they fell one by one, and then disappeared before his eyes.  The hesitation in the group was all the man needed.  He rose and turned back to Grid, then grabbed his arm, and pulled him along.

          Grid was sure he was dreaming.  He had to have taken a blow to the head.  People didn't just disappear.  But he followed without a word, for he couldn't explain Gia either.

          They climbed up an incline, more grassy than rocky, and then down the other side.  They then entered a narrow doorway, and descended - a little too fast for Grid’s liking - down a set of narrow stone stairs.

          “Wait,” Grid began, then realized it may be a little too late for questions.  “Where are we going?  Who are you?  And... where am I?”  

          “You’ll see,” was all the man would say.

          At the base of the stairs it was so dark, Grid couldn’t see his hand in front of his face.  But before he had a chance to complain, or make a break for it back up the stairs, the wall in front of him dropped away, revealing a shining city.

          After the darkness of the stairwell, after the panic and the chase upon the field, and after the attack from his teammates, the city appealed to his senses.  It filled him with hope, and a sense of home.

          He took a moment to take in the sight, barely hearing the man as he called it the Colony.

          Where was he?  he thought, and almost asked, but then thoughts of Gia filled his mind.  Maybe he was with her, on her planet, in her dimension.  Maybe he wasn’t crazy after all.

          “Aleric,” he heard the man say.

          Grid wondered for a moment if that was the name of the city.  He turned to question the man only to see him holding out his hand in a way that was not familiar to its owner.  And Grid realized that the man was introducing himself.  He clasped Aleric’s hand in his, shaking it.  Aleric looked down at their hands, a puzzled look upon his face.  He began to introduce himself to Aleric, but then remembered that Aleric had already used his name out on the field.

          “How do you know my name?” Grid asked.

          “I know a lot about you.  But we’ll save that for another day.  The others are expecting you.”

          “Others?”

          “You’re from Earth.  I’m from Rathe.  Some of the others here are from Heart, and this planet you are now on is Threa.  All similar in many ways, essentially the same planet, just different dimensions.”

          “And you just happen to speak English?” he asked.  He never bothered to question Gia on this point.  Most likely, because it was the least crazy question to have crossed his mind.

          “I don’t know what English is, but I have a feeling that one day, soon, we may all find out if we really do speak the same language.”

          Grid had no idea what he was talking about.  They either did or they didn’t speak English.  But, no matter.  He would go along with it for now.

          He followed Aleric down the stairs and into the Colony.  It was strange.  They had a forest in the middle.  And the roof - he was sure it was a roof - looked just like the sky.  He was led to a large room filled with people, who quickly introduced themselves.   They seemed pleasant enough.  The men were respectful around the women.  And the food was decent.  Not like his mom’s cooking, but edible at least.   Aleric had offered him a beverage with a smile, but after one quick whiff, Grid declined.  He knew what it was.  Before he’d left for college, he’d promised his father he would never touch it.

          After a hearty meal, Aleric showed him to his room.  There weren’t too many other occupied rooms near his.  He felt somewhat isolated, but Aleric explained that it was necessary to keep the people from Earth in one area.  He didn’t say why.  But Grid did meet his neighbor.  Nice chap.  Dressed like he was a horseman, and talked like an English gentleman.  Hammond - curious name too.   The rooms next to Hammond’s belonged to Rebecca, but he said she rarely left her room.

          “From Earth, there are five others,” Hammond told him and went on to explain that they never left their rooms at all.  Two of them needed frequent sedating.  They’d been into the city, and were led back out by the city’s wards.  Unwanted by their Guardian.  Left to wander the fields, lost, confused, and scared.  Aleric and Haize brought them to the Colony, and had been trying to soothe their minds ever since.

          “The area we occupy,” Hammond continued.  “Is designed specifically for us.  For our needs.  Built stronger.  Not sure how though, and they didn’t say why.  It all seems the same to me.  But one would think, considering their size, that they would require a stronger abode.”

          Grid wasn’t entirely sure what he meant.  In fact, there were numerous things Hammond had said that held no meaning for him.  But he had neither the inclination, nor the desire, to ask any questions.  None of it seemed important.  All he could think about was Gia.  No one had yet mentioned her name.  And so, he wasn’t sure if asking about her was wise.

          That first night was the longest night of Grid’s life.  He was sure at any moment, he would fall asleep, and then wake up only to find himself falling off the bench he’d been laying on, back inside the locker room.  But he didn’t fall asleep.  And the following day, he didn’t leave his room.  He didn’t speak to anyone, and again he didn’t sleep.

         “Gia,” he whispered, on more than one occasion.  “Where are you?”  He hoped, and waited to hear her voice.  But it never came.

          As the days and weeks dragged on, he waited and waited, but she was gone.  Aleric explained that if she was real, she would be in the city, and that she wouldn’t be able to leave.  But there was a chance he may be able to go into the city.  Mason could take him to her.

          Grid had no idea who this Mason was, or if he could trust him.  In fact, he didn’t know if he could trust any of them.  Aleric tried to explain about the wards, the city, the wall, and some giant machine that ran it all.  But he didn’t really care.  He was pulled from his home, and had no way of getting back, or at least no way that had been presented to him.  And he seemed to have lost Gia now, as well.  If she was even real.  That part of Aleric’s statement stuck in his chest.  How could she not be?  Did Aleric think he was crazy, after all?

          The following morning however, he followed Aleric to a great shining mirror - the wall that ran around the city.  It didn’t seem like much of a wall to him.  He didn’t know why they just didn’t smash it.

          Aleric laughed, without explanation.  Grid only looked at him, hoping for at least some information about the wall.  But none came. 

          However, as they waited for Mason, Grid watched the field behind them, for they seem to have been followed by almost everyone from the Colony.  All of whom dispersed, disappearing amongst the trees beside the wall. 

          Grid didn’t know what to expect next, Aleric had not informed him, and he tried not to speculate.  But without warning, the wall before him developed a giant black spot that stretched to almost the size of a door.  And from within the darkened doorway, stepped a man who looked like he belonged on a movie screen.

          “Welcome,” Mason smiled at him.  “I know this is strange to you, but it won’t hurt you, so long as you step within the dead spot.”

          At first, Grid wasn’t sure he’d heard right.  Dead spot?  They wanted him to walk through a doorway called a dead spot? 

          “I have to warn you, though,” Mason said.  “It is dangerous for you to be in the city.  The Guardian and the wards may sense your presence and come after you.  However, I’m going to try to conceal us both.  I found Gia.  I can take you to her.  I tried to bring her to you, but she wouldn’t listen to me.  She didn’t believe you were here.  The last thing she felt of you was the pain you were in, and her wishing she could be with you.  She thinks something terrible has happened to you back on Earth.”

          “She’ll know me when she sees me,” Grid answered.  He tried hard to suppress the hope that soared through him.  The thought of seeing Gia, in person, was too much.  And the smile he tried to hide made its presence known in a dopey, embarrassing way.  But he couldn’t help it.  He couldn’t wait to get inside the city.  Wards, Guardian, whatever they were, he didn’t care.

          “Just remember this,” Mason continued.  “If you should feel anything, a pain or a force within your chest, we leave the city immediately.  We get back to this wall as fast as we possibly can.  Understand?”

          Grid nodded.  He understood.  He sure hoped the pain wasn’t going to send him back to Earth, the way it had brought him here.  He wanted to meet Gia more than anything.

          He followed Mason back through the dead spot in the wall, and down one street after another.  All of the houses were blank, white.  It was the weirdest city he’d ever been in, as though the people inside didn’t know other colors existed.  Before long though, the streets all turned green.  The houses flattened into grass, which then stretched on to a goal post.  Stadium seats rose on either side of him.  He stopped, blinked, and slowly turned his head to Mason.

          “What…?” Grid began, but it was too strange to even question.  He looked back at the stadium, and realized it was his college stadium, the one he’d just left.  Were they sending him home?

          Mason however grabbed him by the elbow and dragged him along.  He was sure he was hallucinating, but the grass squished beneath his feet, and several of the houses reappeared in the middle of the football field.  But they kept walking.  Grid could only shake his head, trying to remove the image that was before him, and instead he focused upon Gia.  As he did, the houses slowly reappeared, the stadium reverted back to the city and Gia filled his mind.  He knew exactly where she was, and Mason was indeed taking him there.

          “Gia,” he whispered.  But before another thought could form, the pain ripped through him, just as Mason said it would.  He stumbled to the ground, which was no longer soft, green grass, and he groaned as his knee smacked into the hard surface.

          Mason yanked him up, and pulled him backward, cursing.

          “This should have worked,” he said, then cursed again.

          Grid wanted to reprimand him for his choice of words, but instead he followed silently beside Mason.  As they ran back through street after street, the pain in his chest felt more like a weight, holding him down, trying to glue him to the ground.  But he was used to running dressed in full gear, and pushing a sled that held two heavy-set men.  The anchor in his chest didn’t slow him down one bit, and he managed to keep pace with Mason.

          Before long, they made it back through the dead spot in the wall, and then continued through the trees.  When he made it to the field, he was about to stop running, but an even larger warrior of a man, yelled at him to run toward the Colony as fast as he could.  He stopped for only a moment to see what the urgency was, but then hoofed it as he saw a great mass of bodies pouring through the dead spot, all rushing toward him.

          He didn’t wait to find out what was happening, nor why he was being pursued, he just ran.

          Hours later, all who resided within the Colony returned, dirty, sweaty, bleeding.  Most of whom were smiling, as though some great feat had just occurred.

          “Those were the wards chasing you,” Aleric explained.  “We weren’t sure if they would sense you in the city or not, but we were prepared in case they did.”

          “Prepared for what?”

          “To catch them, not let them return to where they came from.”

          “But Gia,” Grid complained.  “I felt her in the city.  I need to get back in there, I need to go to her.”

          “You can’t,” came a familiar voice, and he turned to see Aleric’s companion approaching, and remembered her name was Haize.  “If you go back into the city, the wards will capture you, insert you into their machine and they will control you.  You will no longer be yourself.  And if Gia leaves the city, they will take her as well.”

          He couldn’t believe what she was saying.  This couldn’t be happening.  It seemed he’d come into this dimension for no reason.  At least, back on Earth, they could speak to one another.  But here, knowing they were so close and…

          “You can never meet,” Haize finished his thought.

          “No!”  He didn’t mean to yell at her, but it just came out that way.  What she said, couldn’t be so.   And he stalked back toward the stairwell, determined to find his way back into the city.  They couldn’t stop him.  He had to reach Gia.  She was right there.  Right there.

          A hand pulled him backward, but he shrugged them off too easily.  However, a moment later, he felt a brief, cool sting at his temple.

          “Grid.”  He heard his name repeated over and over.  Someone was pulling him out of whatever sleep he’d been in.

          He opened his eyes to see Haize and Aleric sitting beside him.  He turned his head toward the doorway, but there were two very large warriors blocking his only exit. 

          “Grid,” Haize said again.  “Don’t get up.  Gia felt you in the city as well.  She knew how to leave; the Central Unit gave her that knowledge.  She made it to the fields, but she got no further.  The wards caught her…”

          “What?” Grid sat bolt upright, but his head was still fuzzy from whatever they’d done to make him sleep.  “What did they do to her?  If they hurt her…”

          “She’s been inserted.  She’s in the Spire.  You can’t get to her now.”

          “How do I get to this Spire?”

          “Grid, you can’t.  Going into the Spire means dying.  Every cell in your body is separated, broken down, your memories stored for when you can be, or choose to be, remade.”
          Haize lost him at dying.  He didn’t want to think about the rest.  Gia was dead?  She couldn’t be.

          “She’s not dead,” Aleric stated.  “She’s just not whole right now.  She can be brought back out of the Spire.  But I doubt the Guardian will let her.  Anyone from the city who tries to leave is considered a traitor.  It’s been after Mason for years, but he always manages to evade it.

          “How do I get to the Spire?” Grid asked again.

          “Grid, you can’t go into the Spire.  It's in the middle of the city.  You can’t go into the city.”

          Grid closed his eyes and turned away from them.  This couldn’t be happening.  All he wanted was to see her.  And now she’s gone.  Why did they do this?   They knew this could happen, surely they knew, and they let it.

          Over the weeks that followed, he kept away from the Rathe and the Heart, and only kept company with Hammond and Rebecca.  She was an interesting soul.  So lost, confused by her memories and her present situation.  Hammond tried to convince her she was still on Earth, but Grid couldn’t help but feel that she knew better.

          “I have been inserted, as has Rebecca,” Hammond confided in him, one morning. 

          The Colony was mostly deserted.  The Rathe and the Heart made daily visits to their fields, doing - he didn’t care what.  On most days, they returned not long after lunch, but there were many where they remained outside until almost sunset.  On those days, they came in looking like they’d run a hundred miles.

          “What was it like?”  Grid asked.

          “A little scary,” he said, although he didn’t quite seem himself when he said it, he was almost happy to be imparting the details.  “Painful, but only at first when they caught me.  After that I didn’t feel anything until I was in the Spire itself.  I’m not sure why they released me, though.  I couldn’t be one of their wards.  I was too… hmmph,” he mumbled.  “I don’t really know.  But once in the Spire, I could feel people, communicate with them too.  Not like talking, more like sensing each other; understanding a thought, or feeling a feeling.  Actually, it was rather strange.  You see, the wards caught me outside one night.  I’m not sure why I was out there, I guess I just missed looking up at the stars, while strolling along the grass in the cool, evening air.  I missed my horses.  I wish they had horses here.  Aleric said one day soon, it may be possible to have horses…”

          Hammond trailed off.  Whatever was left unspoken wouldn’t have been heard by Grid anyway.  He was sure Hammond knew what he was saying.  After all, why would he have said it.  He did seem rather strange when he was saying it, though, he didn’t seem himself.  But it didn’t matter.

          Grid had decided.  He would be with Gia.

          He watched Hammond enter his apartment, and then without hesitation, Grid ran for the stairs.  Today was one of those days, when everyone would be out until sunset.  That was excellent timing, Grid thought.  Hammond explaining all he did, when he did. 

          Once he’d made it to the field, he bolted toward the trees, and moved along the tree line.  But no ward was in sight.  He waited until the sun was gone, until the Rathe and the Heart would be back inside the Colony, and he ventured out into the fields, travelling back to where he was sure he’d entered the city the first time.  And when he felt that sting within his chest, he smiled.  He stopped walking, and willingly lowered himself to the ground.  Surrendering, to whatever the pain may bring.

          “Gia,” he whispered, and managed one more thought before darkness descended.  I’m coming.

          Grid, he sensed her voice.  He knew he couldn’t actually hear her, it was more like he felt her words.

          Gia, he responded, feeling her move through him, and around him.  He found her.  He had to be in their Spire.  He had no idea how to get them out, but he didn’t care.  He was with her now.  And he moved with her, his senses entwining with hers.

          But it didn’t last.   He felt himself pulled away.  He sensed her reaching for him.  He tried to go back, but the force was too great.  He lost all sense of her.  And then he lost all sense of himself.  If he’d had a mouth, he would have screamed.

          When he awoke in the field, he pounded his fists upon the grass over and over.  His bones meant nothing to him, the pain didn’t even register.  It wasn’t a dream.  It was real.  She was there.  She was with him.  He'd felt her.  He sat up and this time he did scream, raising his face to the sky.  The sound erupting from his chest, in wave after wave, was pain he knew, would never end.  It wasn’t a dream.  She was right there, with him.

          He felt his temples grasped, the pressure stinging through to his brain.  If he’d had another conscious thought, he would have said thank you, for the reprieve from the pain.

          Weeks went by, months he was sure, perhaps even years.  There was no hope left for him.  He’d been inserted.  The Guardian was part of him.  He sensed its presence.  He sensed when other wards were watching his moves, listening to his words, hearing his thoughts.  He tried to stay away from everyone in the Colony, but in his weaker moments, he felt himself controlled by the Guardian, willed to move, compelled to speak.  But it never lasted long.  The Guardian couldn’t control him when he worked to keep it out.

          But inside, all he wanted was to find his way back to the Spire. 

          On numerous occasions, he walked into the shining city wall, without a doorway, not caring what it would do, but hoping it would attract the Guardian, and it worked better than he thought it would.  Each time, it instantly killed him.  And like a spring stretched too far, he was pulled back to the Spire, where he could sense her once more. 

          Brief moments were all they had, like fingertips touching from across a great distance.  Wishing always for more, but content with the slightest of contact.

          More years passed, and Aleric convinced him without words, to help them build better traps, and better weapons to stop the Guardian’s wards.  Aleric, Haize and several others, tested their weapons on him, as well as their traps, some of which sent him back to the Spire, but some were just an endless stretch of time, frozen with nothing but his thoughts.  But the Guardian heard it all, sensed it all, and he couldn’t tell them.  It wanted the fight.  It wanted to lose against the colonists.  For that was how it learnt.

          Throughout the years, others came, new people whose lives filled his heart and his head appeared upon their screens within the Colony, showing all who they were.  And he remembered every moment he’d spent with Gia while he was on Earth and she was here on Threa.  And all of it, every moment would have been on display for all in the Colony to see and feel.  

          The love the new ones felt for the one that they communicated with, carved a deeper well within his chest, every time they came.  And when they left, they took every speck of his humanity with them.  Aleric convinced him to meet the new ones on the field as they were brought over, convinced him it would help him build his resiliency against the Guardian.

           And as time passed, hope slipped away.  He knew that he would never see Gia, knew he would never hear her, feel her, nor even be near her again.  It was hard to accept.  Better to believe that she wasn’t real.  Better to believe that she was nothing more than a dream, one that had tricked him into coming to this world.  A world of torment and darkness that he couldn’t escape.

          That is, until she appeared, in his head, and on the screens within the Colony.  She was so small, so fragile, so alone.  He was sure Jordan was real, but that didn’t matter.  They would never meet; the Guardian would never allow it.  And she was already filled with so much loss, she didn’t need anymore.

          No, she needed to be protected.  He’d hide her away, lie to her if he had to.

          And he felt that spark of life within him once more.

          He had a purpose. 

          The Guardian would not have her.

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