Dirth woke, feeling cold. He was lying prone on a cold surface, metal maybe? He could hear a faint whirring sound. He suspected he was still in the factory. A white bandage over his eyes kept him from being able to open them. He could only make out vague shadows through his closed eyelids. There seemed to be a bright light above him, pointing right at his face. It gave off a slender warmth. He didn’t seem to be wearing clothes. He could feel his naked bottom on the table. The backs of his legs, against the metal, began to tremble.
After a long while, Dirth heard a pair of boots enter the room. They sounded very much like the boy Jimmy’s had sounded before he’d found them.
“Hello?” Dirth ventured. “Who’s there?”
An electronic woman’s voice, like the one in the tunnel, sounded all around him. “Please hold still. Activating neural sequence.”
He heard a few taps on a surface nearby him. The light above him turned red. Suddenly it was like his eyelids had been shot through with blood.
“Please.” Dirth tried again. “Please tell me where I am.” His throat felt dry. Drier than it had ever felt before. Almost like someone had made it dry on purpose. He wondered when the last time was that he’d had water. He tried to swallow, feeling his Adam’s apple scrape down his throat like a two ton boulder sliding down a blade of grass.
“Please hold still,” the voice repeated. “Attempting to activate neural sequence.”
Dirth could hear the boots circling near his head. A dark gray shadow fell across his face.
Dirth held still. Someone was there. “Who's there?” he said, cutting it off quickly before it could sound too brave or too afraid. He made a sudden move with his right arm to grab the person, but his right arm would not oblige. It lay still on the cold surface, stiff and apart. He tried to move his legs, cold and trembling against the table, but they didn’t seem to be listening to him right now either. What in the world was happening to him? Where was he? Why couldn’t he move? Visions of Kaemi appeared in his head as he tried desperately to push them out. He’d heard that Outsiders knew how to extract memories from minds.
“Neural sequence activated.”
The gray shadow above him disappeared as a hot white light flooded over him. It was so bright he fought to shut his already-closed eyes and keep from being blinded. Suddenly in that moment, he was struck by flashes of Jimmy in the tunnel, Barb entering the cave, Aniah tracing figures in the sand, he saw –
The zneers circled slowly around the boy. Aniah was a mixed child, common in the bad part, but very rare in Klammath. In Klammath, each kept to their own, for the most part. None of that mattered now, for the zneers paid no mind to borders or the traditions held within them.
One of the zneers, a gangly brown-haired man with graying skin and yellowed teeth, got quick in Aniah’s face. “whaddyu doin is this leel boy” he hissed. Aniah could smell his breath, dank with hunger, hot with the fumes of nut alcohol.
“looksin hees brawt’sn food fer’d us” responded another, smaller one.
This sneer pack was white, and as with most sneer packs, grossly uneducated.
Aniah looked at the five sneers and opened his palms to them, letting the nuts and berries fall to the floor.
“whas he givin us”
“looksin be’s nuts we kent drink”
“may be's hes givin it but he donnow”
“what he donnow”
“he donnow what we’b want”
Without a word, Aniah raised his arms slowly into the air, palms to the sky as though grabbing for stars.
“whas he doin jes now”
“whas he doin donnow”
Aniah let out a single, loud cry and let it rip and rend through the trees, sending tremors through the birds, causing the air to waver and warp and warble. He was bending it. His bellow went on and on.
The sneers covered their ears and watched as light broke the space in front of them into large jagged shards. The sound and light pierced all their senses.
In his vision, Aniah saw the blood again – silver and red – he saw the face to whom it belonged at last. He saw Kaemi shriek and fall to the ground – he saw thousands of men, standing in lines, prepared to march, and then he saw utter blackness. He fell to the ground, sending nuts and berries rolling in every direction.
The sneers had gone. Legend long had it that dark powers traveled in young children, and the sneers were superstitious folk. It had taken every ounce of strength in their body to pull themselves away. If they had stayed, they might have been able to help him, but Aniah, too, was gone.