She never would have even known anything was wrong, if she just hadn’t glanced down at the bottom of her movie. And she’d been doing a good job of avoiding it for the past fifteen minutes or so, as Audrey Hepburn’s holiday in Rome kept getting interrupted by a red flash.
It was probably nothing - her computer couldn’t tell the difference between her e-mail program crashing and a tornado warning, considering it gave them both the same color pop-up, and the same persistence in trying to steal her attention away from Gregory Peck, even though she knew if it was being shown now, they’d be showing it at least once a day for at least the next week. She also knew she could turn the alerts off, but you never know when something big was going to come up, so she left it on “just in case,” and ignored it whenever it came up. But now it was really killing the mood as Peck walked slowly away, down the empty corridor, so she shrank the movie’s window enough to catch a glimpse of the warning message.
As the computer’s message popped up, the smell she’d just assumed was from one of the kids in the apartment next to hers leaving popcorn in the microwave too long or something seemed to grow stronger, though perhaps that was just her mind’s way of reinforcing the words she saw there, the ones informing her that her apartment building was on fire, advising her to leave in an orderly fashion. She started to get up, to follow the first half of those instructions, at any rate, when she realized that was merely the first of the messages to have built up. Quickly, she closed it, only to have the second pop up, this one urging her more strongly to vacate.
As she closed it, a third appeared. “If you have not yet vacated Hill’s Crest Apartments, please stand by for emergency teleportation.”
Her heart thumped loudly in her chest as she began to wonder just how bad things had gotten, and if it wouldn’t be better not to know. She started to stand up, flicking her display off for a moment so she could try to think of what to grab, what she should or could salvage. For just a moment, the sight of her apartment returned, and then vanished, replaced with a quick shock of static and the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach she’d only felt once before, on her first teleportation.
The static blinked away, leaving her in darkness. “Come on, off the platform for the next person!” someone barked at her, roughly taking her hand and pulling her away as she tried to make her contact lens screens reboot. Obviously her computer wasn’t in range anymore, but they should have reset to transparent as soon as that happened. Finally, she was let go of, allowing her to take the contacts out completely, showing her where she’d ended up. It was a large, blank room, packed with people, most of whom she vaguely recalled having passed in the hallway or the lobby. The family from the apartment next door was there, trying to comfort their toddler, who looked a bit green around the gills - probably her first time - as a frazzled looking woman with a tablet tried to talk to them, marking something down, then seeing her.
“Heavy… Huvon…” she struggled, squinting down at the screen, poking at it.
“Heavenlea,” she interrupted helpfully, glancing up at the high pitched thrum that announced the teleporter firing up again. “Hea-”
“Heavenlea Hendrickson,” the woman’s computer finished for her. “Floor 15, Room 4.”
“Yeah, that’s me,” she shrugged. “What is…?” But the woman was already off, heading for the next teleportee, an elderly man Heavenlea could remember holding the elevator door for one time. She glanced around again, feeling like she should be helping somehow, though she didn’t know how. Nobody seemed hurt, just confused, and there wasn’t anything she could do for that. She shook her head as she heard, or rather, felt, the teleporter start to run once more. It was starting to give her a headache, and the workers were too busy with the new arrivals to give her any news, so she located the exit and hurried over to it.
After a short hallway and a rather large, heavy door, it led her to another plain room, this one with a row of computer terminals along one wall. Surprisingly, though there were quite a few people in this room as well, very few of them were at the computers, having instead chosen to line up near the other wall, where the light from the sunset streaming in through the glass doors, reflecting off of the snow that had fallen the night before, was nearly blinding. Heavenlea started to head towards the computers first, hoping to find something on her news stream, some story to tell her just what had happened to her home, only to be stopped by an official looking man. “We’ve started loading the buses,” he told her. “They’ll take you to the hotel.”
“What hotel?” Heavenlea demanded as the man walked away, as if that were explanation enough. “What’s going on?”
“The owners of your apartment building have arranged for you to stay at a hotel for tonight,” he said. “Free of charge, of course.”
“Yes, but… What about my stuff? When can I…?”
“I’m sure they’ll let you know as soon as they can.” And then he was gone as well, off to inform the next group to stumble down the hallway.
“Guess I’d better get going before all the good rooms get taken,” she mumbled to herself, walking over to one of the lines. She could hear soft murmurings, discussions of what might have started the fire, worries about how much of the apartment building had been destroyed, floating around her ethereally, there to be observed, but never joined in. Of course she wanted to, of course she was worried and curious about all the same things, but she didn’t know any of these people, and it would take more than being thrown together in the same room for her to be able to simply jump into the middle of the conversation like that. She wished she’d had time to grab her phone so she could have called one of her friends, had someone to talk to about all this.
Instead, she popped one of the contact screens back in, trying to force it to reboot as the line slowly made its way onto the waiting array of buses, as they drove her through the city, finally stopping at a cheap motel. She wasn’t surprised - it wasn’t like she lived in a high class apartment or anything, so she hadn’t exactly expected the owners to shell out much to help her, or the others, out.
“I thought they said a hotel,” she complained out loud, even so, cracking an uneasy smile as she remembered a man had been crammed onto the seat with her, even though that had forced her to slide over as close to the window as possible, trying to play it off as a joke rather than a private musing.
“Huh? This is a hotel,” her companion replied confusedly.
“No, no… This is a motel. Hotels… Well, basically, the doors to hotel rooms are inside. Motel doors go outside.” Heavenlea shrugged, taking out her contact as she explained it to give herself something to do.
“I see,” the man nodded, bemused. “Close enough, though.”
“Yeah,” Heavenlea agreed, glad to see the man get up and start heading out, rather than trying to continue the conversation.
She looked out the window again with a sigh, half wondering when she was going to wake up from what surely must have been a dream - everything had all just happened so fast. Was she even going to have a home to go back to after she left this place?
She walked slowly off of the bus, after realizing she was the last one left, and to the front office of the motel. It wasn’t the cheapest looking place she’d ever seen, at any rate. The front desk was rather small, and she doubted there were normally any more than one person behind it at a time, but there was now a small handful of them wandering around, handing out keycards and gradually thinning down the herd. Heavenlea stayed near the door at first, until she saw that everyone was going back that way once they had their room assigned, and then she stepped off to the side to get out of the way.
Luckily, one of the clerks made their way over to her soon after that, checking her information and sending her on her way. She was on the ground floor, not too far from the front office. The room wasn’t big, but it was enough for her, with the standard mass-produced painting hanging over the bed and its thin, faded blanket, a sink - she’d need to find some place to pick up a toothbrush and toothpaste, it dawned on her as she played around with it - with one loose lever that worked after jiggling it into the exact right position, and a bathtub with a curtain adorned with seashells.The TV also had a keyboard beside it, which surprised her a bit. Sure, that was somewhat old technology by now, and rather customary, but she still had been dreading its absence.
She turned it on, sat down on the edge of the bed, setting the keyboard carefully beside her as she waved her hand in front of the sensor on the monitor. Nothing happened. She did it again, more slowly, leaving the small scar on her palm where they’d injected her ID chip in front of the sensor for a moment or two. Still nothing. She made sure it was set on computer mode, but it didn’t help any.
She sighed, trying to decide whether she should switch over to regular TV, and hope she could catch a news report about her building, rather than having to call down and get the TV fixed so she could get her own news streams. She flipped through a few channels before reluctantly picking up the phone and glancing over the mini-directory posted by it to see she needed to press 0. The man at the other end sounded a bit harried, and told her it might take him an hour or more to get to her, so she decided to go to the little store she’d noticed just down the road.
It was a short walk, though long enough to make her glad she’d been too lazy to take off her shoes or change out of her sweater after she’d come home from work, before plopping down in her comfy chair and watching her movie, even if she had just tossed her purse onto her coffee table. It was nearly dark already, unsurprisingly - just one more day until the official start of winter, after all, and with it the longest night of the year - but the path was well lit enough that she didn’t feel too freaked out.
The door slid open for her silently, a blast of warm air blowing around her, warming up her slightly rosy cheeks and heading over to the ATM, past the display of calendars for 2013. She was glad she wasn’t one of those stubborn people who refused to get their ID chip implanted in themselves; she’d always known there would be a time she’d need it when she’d have been sure to forget her card, like now. And then she’d have been stuck with no access to any of her files, the Internet and her personalized TV feed from there, or even her money, and that would have really sucked. Of course, she couldn’t get to some of that yet anyway, since the stupid monitor in her room was broken, but at least she could re-buy some of the basics to make this a little easier on herself. She just didn’t feel right if she couldn’t brush her teeth, or have some Goldfish crackers to snack on.
Unfortunately, she would have to wait a little longer to be able to do either of those things. After a few unsuccessful attempts at getting the ATM to read her chip, she tracked down the nearest employee, her annoyance significantly cutting down on her awkwardness. “Excuse me, is your ATM broken?”
“Not as far as I know,” the young woman replied, looking rather bewildered.
“I’m sorry,” Heavenlea said quickly, hoping she hadn’t been too harsh. “It’s just… Well, it’s been a crazy day, and I can’t get it to work right, and…”
The girl dug into her pockets and pulled out a card, waving it in front of the ATM’s scanner, making the screen spring to life. “Looks like it’s all right to me,” she shrugged, reaching out and pressing the button to escape out of her account information, eyeing Heavenlea with a touch of suspicion, as if Heavenlea would expect someone that might still be a teenager, technically, that worked in a convenience store to have enough money to be worth ripping off.
“Thanks,” Heavenlea nodded, trying her hand again before hurrying back out onto the street, annoyance bubbling into anger and adding speed to her step, easily propelling her back to the motel, where she half expected her key card not to work. It did, however, and once she had the door open, she saw that there was already a new monitor, and a note that said it had been tested and worked just fine. She hadn’t been gone long enough for them to have done too much testing, she thought bitterly, but who knew?
Rather than trying it out right away, she checked the directory by the phone again to make sure she had seen a number for room service. She had, so she called it up, anxiously ordering a cheeseburger, crossing her fingers the whole time she was on the line that they’d just charge it to her room instead of making her pay right then. She’d never actually ordered from a motel, or hotel for that matter, kitchen before, but that was always the way it seemed to work in movies, at any rate.
And, at least this time, it was the way it worked for her, as, after half an hour of bored waiting and cooling down, half watching live footage of a communications satellite getting launched and remembering again why she never bothered to turn on regular TV anymore, there was a light knock on her door. She had been half expecting a tray of some kind, but instead was handed a small, white paper bag after confirming that she had, indeed, ordered food. Heavenlea thanked the teenage boy who’d brought it to her, smiling sheepishly as she shut the door on him awkwardly, knowing he was waiting for a tip that she couldn’t give. Once she had all this sorted out, she told herself she’d try to find him.
The burger was better than she’d been expecting, and she wolfed it down quickly, not having recognized how hungry she was. She thought about ordering something else, but she couldn’t bring herself to make that boy, or anyone else, come back to her room so soon when she didn’t have anything to give them. And if it was the same kid, she’d probably run the risk of having him spit in whatever she ordered when he saw it was going to the same room.
Instead, she returned to the TV, keeping her fingers crossed - it had just worked for her, after all - on one hand as she swept the other in front of the sensor.
“God damn it!” she screamed, throwing the keyboard across the room, where it hit the painting, sending it sliding down the wall and, finally, onto her bed. “Give me a fucking break!” Obviously it wasn’t enough that her apartment and probably all her physical possessions had burned up, or that she couldn’t even go buy a damn toothbrush; no, she had to not be able to do anything at all! She might as well be living in the godforsaken dark ages!
She took a deep breath, closing her eyes, trying to calm herself down, to tell herself it wasn’t that bad, she was just over-reacting, and probably in shock or something. It worked well enough to keep her from shouting, “What?!” as another knock came to her door, though she was still worked up enough not to feel too embarrassed to open her door, ready to tell whoever it was from the motel that their replacement monitor still didn’t work.
Instead, the man from the bus was there. “Sorry to, uh… interrupt,” he said by way of greeting. “I just wanted to make sure everything was okay. I heard some yelling, and a thump, and… Redecorating?” He peeked in the door at her bed, smiling wryly. “I didn’t much like that painting either.”
“I’m… I’m fine,” Heavenlea answered, stepping a little further back into her room, pulling her door a little further shut. “Sorry to bother you.”
“No, it’s all right,” he assured her. “It wasn’t a bother. I just wanted to make sure there was nothing wrong.”
Normally, she’d had repeated herself, then shut him out. But today… “Oh, there’s plenty wrong! My home just burned down, and I’m stuck here, and…” She slowed down, blushing. “Well, you live at the Crest, too, so you know. It’s just…” She shrugged. “And my ID chip is acting strange, so I can’t even get at my money.”
“Do you need to buy something?” he asked, sounding genuinely concerned, though at first Heavenlea didn’t recognize that.
“Well, sure, there’s plenty of… No, I mean, I didn’t…” She shook her head as the man started to get out his wallet. “I’m fine here. I just… I think I just need to go to sleep, you know? Maybe this is all a dream.”
“Maybe,” he smiled softly. “Well, if you’re sure you’re good here…”
He started to turn away, but, oddly, there was no sense of relief that would normally accompany such a sight. “Hey,” Heavenlea said, not quite sure why, quickly coming up with an excuse as he turned back to her. “Could you… umm… come hang this painting back up for me?”
He chuckled. “Sure.” He stopped at her doorway, mostly because Heavenlea was still standing in it, working up the courage to let him inside. “I’m Elias,” he held out his hand.
“Nice to meet you,” Heavenlea responded, putting both her hands on the door, acting like she needed both of them to pull it open. He stepped inside, walking over to the bed and picking up the painting, quickly rehanging it as she watched, still clinging to the open door. He admired his handiwork for a moment, then started to head back out when Heavenlea stopped him again. “Could you test my monitor? Maybe it’s just me…”
“Oh… Well, I left my ID card in my apartment, so…” he shrugged apologetically. Heavenlea was a bit surprised - he seemed only a few years older than her, and most everyone her own age had gotten their chips injected… But who was she to judge?
“Sorry to hear that,” she said, “That must suck.”
“I’ll get by,” he replied. “You said your chip isn’t working?” She shook her head. “That may be from the teleporter. I’ve heard that in emergency situations like that, sometimes they have to leave the EMP shield deactivated to speed things up. That could’ve fried your chip.”
“Could be.” It would also explain why her contacts had stopped working, she thought. “I guess I’ll have to wait for it to repair itself.”
“Actually…” Heavenlea looked up at him, not liking his tone. He smiled sadly, and perhaps a little condescendingly, at her. “I’ve also heard that kind of thing can knock out the repair nanobots, too.”
“Seriously?” Heavenlea sighed. “Awesome…” She would just have to go get it replaced manually, then, which defeated the whole point of having nanobots in the first place, to keep from having to get the chip extracted and re-implanted every time something went wrong with it. Boy was she glad she’d paid the extra for that now…
She went to bed shortly afterwards, once Elias was back in his own room, or at least out of hers. She tossed and turned for awhile on the unfamiliar mattress, trying to find a comfortable position, and then holding the pillow over her ears to try and block out the rythmic thumping and moaning coming from the room above hers. She supposed she could have called to complain, but she’d more than used up her allowance for human contact for the day already, and she didn’t really want to ruin another person, or two’s, good time. And, as she knew it was bound to, the noise died off abruptly, and she was surprised to find herself quickly falling asleep only moments after, dozing through the night like a baby.
She was even more surprised to wake up like one, in a wet bed. Actually, at first it didn’t seem odd at all, just uncomfortable, and she even found herself sniffling and starting to cry before she woke up fully and stopped herself with a deep blush, both over what she was doing, and what she apparently had already done. She sat up and looked down at herself, seeing that, sure enough, there was a wet spot both on her bed and on her pants. She couldn’t believe she’d done that! And in a motel, no less… And without any new clothes to change into.
She got up, shaking her head, disgusted at herself. She stripped down, tossing her sweater and bra at the sink as she passed by and then emptying the towel rack to hang her panties and jeans as she climbed into the tub, sitting down and turning on the water, sighing as she waited for the tub to fill up. It always took so long… She didn’t mind baths other than that, but she hated having to wait around while Mo…
She stopped herself, shaking her head. What station had that train of thought pulled out of? She glanced down at herself, and then at the bathtub, rolling her eyes. “What is wrong with me?” she asked, though of course she had no good answer, as she stood up, kicking at the lever that let the water drain back out of the tub and then switching the faucet over to the showerhead. She flinched a little as the water started shooting down at her, even letting out a squeak of fright. “Chill out!” she demanded. But she just couldn’t seem to shake the cobwebs of sleep from her mind, no matter how hard she tried, or how long she stayed under the soothing rain.
Finally, she plugged the drain back up and switched the water back to the faucet, stepping back out of the tub and wrapping herself in one of the towels, doing her best not to think of how many other people surely must have used that towel before her. She washed out her pants and underwear as well as she could before hanging them back up, then went back to the other room to grab her bedding, dumping it into the water. She knew she could always just make housekeeping take care of it, but she didn’t want to foist that off on someone else - or have anyone else know what she’d done, for that matter. She’d have felt worse if she didn’t know the sheets were going to be washed again before they were put on anyone else’s bed anyway.
She left them in the tub to soak, grabbing her washcloth and soap and heading back to the bed to try to clean the wet spot off of it. It only took her a minute or two to get bored of that and switch her position so that she was facing the TV, which she turned back on, flipping through all the boring channels and finding almost nothing worth more than a moment of her time, just a bunch of boring old news shows. She stopped briefly on a cartoon station before rolling her eyes at herself again. But there wasn’t anything better further down the dial, so she went back to it, telling herself she just wanted some background noise anyway.
She went back to scrubbing; yet her eyes kept drifting up and onto the TV, and before long, she was kneeling on the floor, staring upwards, completely engrossed. At the first commercial break, she blinked, looked back at the bed, and went back to washing it, cheeks red, but once the show had started back up, she was right back to watching it, and during the commercials that came after that, she simply found herself bouncing anxiously and boredly on her heels.
It wasn’t until she felt the towel start to grow warm around her bottom that she snapped out of it, running into the bathroom frantically. The towel was only a little wet, but it was still more than enough to mortify her, and make her wonder just what in the world was going on, what was making her piss her pants. Obviously, there was something wrong with her… Was it just the shock of all of yesterday’s events? Or was there something more?
She quickly switched the TV back off, not wanting to get caught up in it again, and sat down on the still-dry edge of her bed. What was she going to do? She couldn’t very well carry on having accidents, especially when she had only one set of clothes. She’d have liked to think that she wouldn’t have any further “incidents”, but she had barely even noticed the need to go… And there was a part of her that, no matter how hard she told it how wrong it was, seemed sure that this wasn’t an uncommon thing.
She paced around her room, searching for some explanation, some solution, but there was none of the first and few of the second - and none that she liked. But she knew she had to do something, so she reluctantly went back to the bathroom, grabbing the clothes from there and taking them to the sink, where she dried them off as well as she could with the hair dryer, blushing and squirming a little as she put them on, their warmness odd, but not entirely unpleasant, against her. She put her bra and sweater back on as well, and pulled on her socks and shoes.
She paused at the door, initially the be sure she’d remembered to grab her key card, and then to worry some more. What if she had another accident out there? Especially out somewhere she didn’t know where the pott… bathroom was? She hated to have to think that way, but it was only practical. After a minute, she went back to the bathroom, picking up the washcloths she hadn’t used for herself and the bed, and stacked them up in her underwear. It was a gross idea - she had to keep telling herself she would wash them afterwards, to make her feel a little better about it - and they felt strange there, around her bottom, but it was better than nothing.
She headed out, locking her door behind her and going to the room next door, timidly tapping on it. She glanced around the parking lot, sure there were loads of her neighbors there, all of whom somehow knew what had been going on in her room, but the whole place was strangely still and quiet for as many people were staying there. She tapped at the door again, the lack of people now making her nervous.
“Good morning,” Elias said, rubbing his eyes. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“I-I hate to ask, but…” Heavenlea blushed, staring down at her feet, wrinkling her nose at the smell from her own pants, a strange mix of handsoap and faint ammonia that made her wish she’d just stayed in her room. She was sure he could smell it as well, and the thought mortified her, froze the rest of the words in her throat.
Luckily, he could tell what she was getting at. “Oh! Oh, okay… No problem. How much do you need?” He pulled out his surprisingly fat wallet and started to count through the stack of bills inside. Heavenlea didn’t even know there were still people that carried that much actual cash around with them…
“I don’t really know,” she admitted bashfully. “B-But I’ll pay it all back, I promise! Just as soon as all this is straightened out and…”
“I trust you,” he stopped her, handing over a wad of money.
“But I… I mean… You don’t even know me…” As if she wasn’t already embarrassed enough, Heavenlea found herself sniffling.
“Hey, it’s all right. What are neighbors for, huh?” He smiled at her chivalrously. “Do you know where the nearest store is? I can walk you there if you don’t want to go alone, or…”
“No!” Heavenlea calmed herself down quickly, shaking her head. “I-I know where it is. Thank you, really.”
The path to the store seemed a lot longer than it had the night before, and more lonely. She saw a few cars passing her, most seeming to go much, much faster than the speed limit, but otherwise, she almost seemed to have the whole world to herself. On one hand, it was nice not to have to awkwardly nod at everyone she walked past, or have to feel nervous whenever one of them came too close, but on the other, it just seemed… wrong.
The store’s parking lot was also empty, and Heavenlea was afraid it was still closed, but the doors whooshed open when she got close enough, so she cautiously stepped inside, looking around in confusion. She felt herself start to pee again, forcibly made herself stop before she could soak through her temporary protection, glad she’d not been silly enough to leave without it. Finally, she stepped forward, out of the doorway, telling herself it was just too early for there to be many customers, that all the employees were off stocking the shelves.
She went to find a toothbrush first, since she had the money for it anyway, and it would give her an excuse to be there in the first place, in case one of her neighbors ran into her before she got to her real destination. Toothpaste was right in the same aisle, and, no matter how hard she deliberated, she couldn’t spend enough time choosing those two items to give herself the courage to get what she was really there for, even though she knew that the longer she waited, the more chance there was that she’d lose control again. Instead, she headed for the food, glad to see there was a deli, and even more glad to see another person there. She wasn’t about to just out and say ‘Hello!’ to a random stranger, but even so, it was nice to know the rest of the world hadn’t vanished completely.
She began to look through the pre-made sandwiches, hoping for some roast beef, when suddenly the person froze, then whipped around to look at her. Heavenlea waved shyly. “Didn’t mean to startle you,” she said with a shrug, going back to her food hunting and expecting them to do the same, even though she could feel their eyes still on her. She shivered a little, now feeling much less happy about their presence. She settled for turkey and straightened up, hurrying away. She nearly jumped out of her skin as she walked by the produce aisle, only to find another person there. Obviously, she’d just been acting silly before, thinking the place was abandoned.
She smiled slightly up at that person, who was also staring at her, and hurried away, ducking into the next aisle she could find, daring a quick backwards glance that seemed to reveal that both of those people were still watching her. But no, she was just being paranoid, no doubt worried she was going to wet her pants fully in public. So, to make herself feel a little better, she headed back towards where she’d gotten her toothbrush, then scoured the nearby aisles until she found what she was looking for.
There was a surprising array of incontinence briefs, as most of the bags proclaimed them, enough to make her head start to spin. She’d been expecting one, maybe two, but obviously she was underestimating the number of people with bladder problems. She could still feel those eyes on her, even though there was nobody around, so she grabbed the nearest package that seemed to be in a size that would fit her and hurried to the front.
The check-out machines were all empty, to her joy, and she scanned the briefs first, double bagging them and tying the handles of the bags shut, hoping that would be enough to disguise their contents. She let herself slow, and calm, down a bit as she scanned the rest of her items, then selected ‘Cash’ as her method of payment.
“Is your identification chip still not working?” came a voice from behind her.
Heavenlea let out a sharp, and blessedly short, scream, another stream of urine making its way out of her bladder before she could stop it. She turned around, letting out a stifled, frantic chuckle as she saw it was the girl she’d seen there the day before. “H-Hi again,” she smiled, slightly relieved. “It’s pretty slow in here, huh?”
“Why are you not using your identification chip?” the girl asked.
“W-Well, you see… You remember me, right? Yesterday, with the ATM and…”
“You do have an identification chip, do you not?”
“Y-Yeah…” Heavenlea started to squirm. There was something about the girl that was making her feel uncomfortable, making her want to get away, and not bother with the full explanation. “I have cash, though, so I’m just gonna use that.” She heard squeaking from the other side of her, turned to see her fellow shoppers both heading towards the check-out machines at the same time, both still seeming to be staring right at her.
The girl reached out and grabbed Heavenlea’s hand before she could stop her, lifting it up to the sensor on the machine. Heavenlea tried to pull away, but the girl was surprisingly strong. The machine scanned her, and, unlike the night before, started to read her chip, only to spit out a line of garbage characters onto the screen, rather than her name and credit information. It vanished after a moment or two, but that seemed to satisfy the girl, who simply said, “Under repair,” as if Heavenlea didn’t know that already, and then let go of her and started to walk away.
Heavenlea watched her go, rubbing her wrist and feeling even more confused. She saw something red drip from the girl’s hand - the one she hadn’t touched Heavenlea with, thankfully. “Hey, are you okay? You’re bleeding.”
The girl didn’t answer, just walked away. The other two shoppers went to their check-out machines, also having lost their seeming-obsession with Heavenlea, intent instead to concentrate on scanning their own purchases. “I’m going crazy,” Heavenlea whispered to herself, quickly jamming the money into the check-out machine and taking her change so she could get the hell out. As she walked towards the door, she began to notice how heavy the washcloths in her pants had grown, and a nervous glance downwards showed a small wet spot starting to form already.
Reluctantly, she went into the bathroom instead, locking the door after making sure nobody else was in there. She pulled off her pants, hanging them on one of the stall doors, hoping the spot was small enough to dry at least part of the way before she finished changing, then took off her underwear, staring with disgust down at the urine-soaked washcloths within. While she knew it was technically stealing, she wasn’t about to put them into one of her bags to return them to the motel, so she threw them away, then, sadly, followed them with her pair of panties. They were damp, too, and while she didn’t WANT to be stuck with only diapers to wear under her pants, it was likely safer that way. Her chip seemed to be fixing itself anyway, so she could always just buy more.
She untied the bags from around the package of diapers, then ripped that open, pulling one out. It wasn’t nearly as thick as she imagined, nor did it look anything like a baby’s diaper - more like a pair of training pants, really. That made her feel a bit better as she stepped into them. At least she didn’t have to worry about not knowing how to put them on. She stared at herself in the mirror once they were up, finding herself smiling with a strange sense of pride, instead of the humiliation she’d been expecting. There was a part of her that almost didn’t want to put her pants back on, not if they kept people from seeing that she had on her training pants.
“Gah!” She shook her head, pulling her hand away from the door handle, trying to banish that thought as she quickly pulled her jeans back on. There were something very seriously weird going on… She hurried out of the bathroom, and the store, hoping that it was just that place making her act so oddly, only to feel her legs freeze as she stepped outside the front door.
Which way was home? She blinked, glancing back and forth, but neither of them looked familiar. Her bottom lip started to quiver, and she heard one of her bags fall to the ground, leaving that hand open for its thumb to find its way into her mouth. She’d never been outside on her own before, not without at least her big brother there to watch over her, and…
“Oh, shit,” she panted, this time just barely managing to pull out of her weird fantasy state. Every time she slipped in, it seemed to drag her further and further away from herself… But how was she supposed to stop it? She shook her head, grabbing her fallen bag and hurrying back to the hotel, fighting back the waves of terror that pounded against her, nearly sweeping her away. She threw her bags down in her room, then stood there, bent over, trying to catch her breath. She didn’t feel any safer, being there, but at least it was familiar. She knew she had to do something, had to stop this, but how?
“What else do you know about ID chips?” she demanded, after Elias finally opened his door after what felt like five minutes of pounding.
“What?” he blinked, confused.
“You HEARD a lot of stuff about them last night,” she said, barging past him and into his room. “What else do you know?”
“I… I don’t know what you mean…” But it was obvious he was lying.
“You know… I thought at first it was just because I didn’t know many of my neighbors… But I don’t think you actually live at Hill’s Crest, do you?”
Elias started to open his mouth, then shook his head instead. “It’s not what you think,” he said.
“Then what is it? What did you do to me?”
“I saved you. I-I mean, not me alone… There’s a group of us. And we…”
“Did you burn my apartment down?!”
“What? No! No, we just… We hacked into the security mainframe of your building, and as many other buildings as we could, set off the alarms, but kept them silent so there would be enough people left inside to trip the emergency teleport switch.”
It all sounded quite simple, the way he explained it, and she almost found herself getting lured in by his gentle, calming voice, but she couldn’t help but ask, “Why?” anyway.
“Because we’d disabled the EMP shields on the teleporters. We needed to kill the ID chips to… It’s hard to explain, really, but we had to do it, I promise. It was for your own good. I’m sorry you ended up here in this…” he smiled a little, “motel, but I guess they wanted to test your building’s security before they let anyone back in.”
She found herself drifting in and out of his explanation, torn between listening and scrunching up her face, getting ready to cry as she found herself in some strange place, with some strange man. Her legs wobbled beneath her, and she fell down onto the floor, butt first. “Are you all right?” Elias asked, kneeling down in front of her.
“Y-You did something wrong,” she shook her head, letting him help her back up.
“No, we did this to save you, I told you! You’ve been out there, you saw them!”
“All those satellites they’ve been launching recently… They’re for communication, yes, but it’s more than that. They’re trying to control everyone, make sure everyone does exactly what they’re supposed to, all the time, like… like robots or something. Forced brainwashing for the entire globe. It was supposed to maintain world peace, keep order… The system was activated today, so we had to destroy as many of those chips as we could, and… What are you doing?”
Heavenlea’s eyes had glazed over as she reached up, started to suck blissfully on her fingers. She was aware of the man saying something to someone, someone with some weird, really long name, and then there was a sudden pain, and she nearly burst into tears.
“Wake up! What’s going on?”
“I-I don’t know…” she admitted, shaking her head. “Something’s wrong. I… I feel like I’m losing myself, like I’m slipping away…”
“Oh no…” Elias led her gently over to the TV, turning it on and putting her hand in front of the sensor. Just like at the store, a stream of garbage filled the screen, but this time, it resolved, for just a moment, into a screen with a rubber ducky background, a row of icons from educational games filling up one side, a list of children’s shows filling the other. “I’m betting that wasn’t your home screen.” Heavenlea shook her head, starting to suck on her thumb again. “It didn’t kill the nanobots,” he said softly, mostly to himself. “They’re all repairing themselves…”
“But why…. What’s happening to me?!” Heavenlea demanded.
“The filter,” Elias shook his head. “Whenever you get teleported, you… Well, there’s this filter that’s supposed to get cleared every time, or it can corrupt your ID chip. But with the EMP shield being down, they must have assumed it wouldn’t matter, since everyone would have to get new chips anyway. But the nanobots survived, somehow, and they’ve been repairing your chip. Only, it isn’t yours anymore… It got corrupted, and probably overwritten, by the information from the chip of whoever went through before you… And now with the satellites being activated…”
Elias grabbed Heavenlea, dragging her over to his bed. “What are you doing?!” she screamed, squirming in his grasp, her struggles growing more and more frantic as he opened the dresser drawer and pulled out a knife.
“We have to take it out!” he told her. “Or there’ll be nothing left of the real you!”
“Let me go!” she yelled, trying to pull away, crying. “Let me-”
He clamped his hand over her mouth. “Quiet down! If your chip is being rebuilt this quickly, everyone else from your hotel is probably already integrated! They’ll hear you! Do you understand?” he hissed. She nodded slowly, doing her best not to cry. “Close your eyes,” he instructed, more gently.
She followed his instructions slowly, hand still trying to pull away from his as the knife drew closer and closer…
Then a bang, and she was free. There was the sound of a scuffle, and, scared, Heavenlea scrambled to the far side of the bed, daring to peek out just in time to see Elias being dragged outside by two men, while a third waited in the parking lot with a machine Heavenlea barely remembered as the kind she’d gotten her ID chip put in with, and another observed. He turned and saw her there, staring at her for a moment before saying, “There, there. It’ll be all right, sweetie. Your mommy will be here in a moment. She’s been looking for you.”
He shut the door for her, blocking out the sight of the machine puncturing Elias’s hand, sending blood streaming down his suddenly docile palm. Heavenlea stood, heart beating wildly in her chest as she looked out the window, saw Elias being led off, the last man still standing in front of the door. Could she get past him? What would she do after that, with this chip trying its best to turn her into someone else?
She looked around the motel room, searching for a clue, only to spot Elias’s knife on the floor. She swallowed, staring down at it, then at her hand, knowing what she had to do if she wanted to stay herself, to keep her life from being erased completely. Or was that even right? Was there someone out there now who had their own ID overwritten with hers, who had become her? She knelt down in front of it, shaking, reaching out…
“No, bad girl,” she told herself. Mommy always told her not to play with sharp things, and that looked very, very sharp… She didn’t want to get in trouble.
She shook her head, gritting her teeth as she tried to force her hand out, fighting against her own body’s impulses. She could feel her bladder let go, drain into her pull-up, knew her Mommy would probably put her back in diapers, again, when she got there like that nice man said…
No! Her mother lived three states away! Whoever was coming was one of her neighbors, some stranger who happened to live in the same building as her! She wasn’t going to get in trouble!
But her hand was still scared, still wouldn’t reach out that far. She strained against it, fighting with all her might, reaching out, further, further… Part of her mind thought back to the day before, to the end of Roman Holiday, to Gregory Peck walking slowly away, all alone, until finally, he was gone, leaving only The End.
Her hand landed on the remote, switched on the TV. She stared up at it, at some black and white movie where some pretty lady was getting her hair cut. It looked pretty boring, though, so she quickly changed the channel, giggling happily as she found the cartoon station. She stared up at the TV, sucking on her thumb, entranced. She squirmed a little as she felt herself go number two in her Pull-Up, pouting at the warm, icky feeling on her bottom, but she knew Mommy would take care of it, just like she always took care of everything. That was her job, after all, just as it was Heather’s job to be a good girl. Even having an accident now and then was part of it - after all, potty training couldn’t be TOO easy, now could it?
She looked up in fear as the door opened. For a moment, she didn’t recognize the person who came through, but after a moment, the image seemed to pop into place. “Mommy!” she exclaimed, standing up and toddling over, nearly losing her balance on the way, only to be caught by her Mommy’s strong hands.
“There’s my baby girl,” Mommy said gently, giving her a big hug. “I was looking all over for you!”
“I sowwy, Mommy,” Heather apologized, sniffling. “I won’t do that ever again!”
“I know you won’t,” Mommy nodded. “Because you’re my good little girl, aren’t you?” Heather nodded, starting to suck her thumb again, until her Mommy gave her her pacifier instead. “Let’s go home.”