The King finished his coronation speech and I filled with relief. As I continued to stand, knees aching, arms dead weight and back fixed in the upright position, I was thrilled to be able to leave. A full day of labor moving rocks and they still expected us slaves to somehow remain upright through the ceremony. To my disappointment, a short man with a bushy mustache stood and began speaking with no sign of ending the coronation.
My eyes drooped as I scanned the crowd and quietly groaned. The controllers were in a tight formation around the crowd, per usual. I imagine that’s why no one had passed out yet. Those poison infused sabers were no joke. I closed my eyes for a brief moment and bent down slightly, arms hanging, to stretch my back. I felt it crack and slightly loosen. My mouth let out another involuntary groan through my clenched teeth. I straightened up and glanced around to make sure I hadn’t drawn any controller attention to myself.
The short man droned on about the dawn of a new day. I tuned it out. For the most part, his words didn’t affect me as a slave. They never did. Things never changed. Again, I wonder why they forced us here. A false show of solidarity? I just wanted to rest.
The speech was interrupted when there was a minor thump. I glanced out my periphery and saw poor Tea had collapsed. My heart mourned for her, that would be at least a night in the pen. I shook my head and snapped my eyes open in an attempt to avoid her fate.
“We will be bringing this coronation to a close now,” the mustached man said, with a quick cadence. “Rentals, please follow the controllers through the exit in the rear. Citizens, please-”
Finally, it was over. I almost cried tears of joy. My cot was calling my name.
“F62! Let’s go!” But first, it seemed a controller was calling it.
I willed my aching joints to move faster, joining the crowd of fellow rentals, hurrying back toward the living quarters. I looked into the sky and noticed the sun was farther along in setting than I anticipated. That was why they were in such a rush. They’d have changing villagers on their hands in a few minutes if they didn’t get us inside.
I heard a brief yell and a curse come from behind me. I turned and peered through the crowd. The sea of rentals pushed me forward, preventing me from seeing where the disturbance came from. But I didn’t have time to dwell on that as the individual in front of me also cried out, suddenly distraught. “Oh for Mariah’s sake!” The man fell and began to change. Well, looks like I was wrong. They’d have changing villagers now.
I attempted to push past the throng of people clogging half the path, simply watching the individual on the ground begin to sprout thick gray legs.
“Guys, you might want to move!” I hollered as I tried to get in the direction of my dorm. The controllers were nasty people. When there were accidental changings, there was nothing that rivaled their cruelty. Most of these people must have never seen that or they’d be clawing through the crowd right along with me. I heard a woman from behind me yip but I didn’t bother looking back. She was changing or she had been a victim of crowd control, either way, I didn’t want to be there to experience it. I finally cleared the crowd and began hobbling toward my cot. I ran straight as a board with my back threatening to tighten up and/or spasm.
As I increased the distance between the commotion and myself, my right calf cramped up. I hopped to a stop and felt a knot began to form. Gritting my teeth, I felt a tear per eye begin to roll down my cheeks. Only fear kept me moving forward as I slowed to a walk. Others in better shape passed me by. I finally spared a glance back and saw the group of bystanders being herded quickly in my direction. The controllers gave a quick slash to any that lagged behind, dropping them under the power of the tranquilizer immediately.
I attempted to once more pick up my pace, but the knot of muscle in my leg prevented me from keeping in front. The crowd gained on me. I hope forcing us to the coronation was worth it, I thought as I moved to the side of the road, hoping to avoid being trampled.
I reached the side of the path, awaiting the controllers and the herded group of rentals to reach me. I sighed, hoping I would only be penned for the night.
My thoughts were interrupted as a small lady in the front of the pack frantically called for help. She was having trouble keeping in front. The lady stumbled and locked eyes with me. She and the pack were a dozen feet out. Unfortunately, it looked like she caught the attention of a controller as well.
Without thinking, I pushed off the post that was supporting my weight and “trotted” to beat the controller to the woman. If he tranquilized her now, she’d certainly be feet meat. The tears began again as I alternated between running one step and hopping the next on my bum leg. I chuckled while imagining my penguin-like run. My smile slowly faded as I remembered I was running headlong into a few dozen people. Regardless, I continued. It was going to be close. I yelled as I got closer and the controller turned to face me, briefly pausing his walk toward the woman. He furrowed his brow and brought up the side of his mouth in a scowl before continuing to the small female. The controller’s pause allowed me to intersect his path. I half-dove, half-fell at the controller in an attempt to bring him down. I felt a sharp pain on my shoulder and I was unconscious as soon as I hit the ground.