It's been three years. Three long years since they took me away. Three long years since everything I had was taken away from me. It isn't something that I did. It was because of who I am. I was a gay man. That was my crime.
My punishment was a lifetime.
"You need to work...if you aren't productive you know what happens," Amerie says.
"The gas," I state.
"The gas," she nods.
Amerie is a Transsexual or at least one time she was. They had forced her to stop taking her pills. She was once the most beautiful Transsexual I had ever seen when she arrived. She had long hair, full breasts and a skin reminiscent of cocoa cream. She was smooth and feminine. That was a while ago. Now she had begun to change back. Half between a woman and a man. She was taken to the Fixer concentration camps shortly after me and ever since then we became good friends.
"I gave it away...to Poppy."
Poppy was a kid. He's younger than me. He's dying. He doesn't have long. Most people only last in the camps for a few months. Poppy had only been captured three weeks ago and I knew he wasn't one that would make it.
The sun is hot on the work field. There is nothing to protect us from it. It comes down on us so hard. We have nothing to eat and nothing to drink but dirty water from a polluted stream. Last month a lot of people got Dysentery. Poppy was one of them.
"It's a waste. He's going to shit it right back out. And you'll die with him. You'll die with him Caden...look at you. Nothing but skin and bones."
"Maybe I should just give up. Maybe that'll be easier."
She doesn't argue. There's been many days that I've seen Amerie go to the cliff. The cliff was the only area of the labor camp that wasn't surrounded by fences. I watched Amerie many times go over to that cliff like so many others contemplating if it was easier to just jump. Most did. A few came back from the cliff.
"At least the view isn't too bad."
She looks to the right on the labor field. There is a guard standing there. He's staring over my way. I don't know his name but I've seen him before. He's tall about 6'2". He has brown skin and big lips. He has a very serious, masculine face that never shows expression but his eyes have all this character to it. He jawline is chiseled and so defined. It's almost like someone has taken a drill to define every part of his face. Sometimes he wears his GAYDAR helmet, but today he doesn't have one. I only know him because every day Amerie gawks at him. She calls him her long lost love.
"How can you have a crush in a place like this?" I ask her.
"I'm still a woman," she answers, "No matter what I look like."
I keep working. She has a point. She says it with so much sorrow but she does have a point. I nod when she says it and I lean back.
This was our life. The sun was so hot. All we had for food were several pieces of toast and a few eggs a day. There was no escaping. The government spent millions to keep us locked up in here. And the labor we gave was enough to put the money right back in their pockets.
This was my reality now.
Work. Work and more work.
And when I was unable to work any longer they'd take me where they took everyone who was sick for more than two days or anyone that just couldn't perform. They'd take us to the black rooms. You always knew when they filled the rooms with gas. You'd always see the black bags coming in and the smell of something burning shortly after. You'd always see the ash in the air.
This was my reality.
"I don't feel...so good..." I tell Amerie.
"Caden...Caden! CADEN DON'T!"
It's too late. I fall out. I hit the ground hard. My body feels numb underneath me. I remember the last thought I had before falling down. I knew that it would be over. I knew I didn't have any fight left in me. I knew that I was done for.
I wake up in a room. I'm back in the sleeping area. Most of the others are still in the field. When I wake up I turn to the right. There is that boy there. The Silverhead. Except he didn't have his helmet on. This is the closet I've ever been to him and I can see why Amerie is so in love with him.
"What am I doing here?" I ask, "What happened?"
"You fell out from exhaustion. Eat..."
I look at the food. I don't trust him. He was a silver head. He worked for the A&E. I could see the letters of the A&E right on his badge.
I hesitate. It isn't until he walks over to the dish, grabs a piece of vegetables and slowly eats it. I watch how he eats it. He eats it slow. His soft looking lips bite into it. They are so full. They aren't chapped and crazy looking like mine. He smells good. It's been so long that I've been around someone that smells as good as he does. The guards never came too close unless they were beating us or killing us.
"It's not poison," he tells me, "I promise."
"How'd you get this?"
There is food in front of me. So much food. It's nothing fancy. Beans and some dried meat. It looks a mess. Back then, I wouldn't even have given it to a dog but right now I am just grateful. It tastes disgusting but at the same time it's better than I've eaten in years.
"I stole it from the Constable's place," he tells me.
"You needed food," he tells me.
I give him a look. He doesn't stare at me in my eyes. He seems to be avoiding that. He's so damn serious looking all the time. It's almost like he's missing something. I'm not sure what it is. Somewhere behind that handsome face of his is a secret. He looks down at the floor. Then he looks back at the door.
"Will you get in trouble for helping me?"
"I don't know," he admits.
He's short with it. I don't think he wants to have a conversation but then why is he still here. Why is he still here making sure that I eat all my food? It seems to have some sort of concern. I don't get it. He looks back over at me with these huge eyes and I find myself getting more and more confused.
"You ask a lot of questions."
"You stole food to help me so I want to know: why me?" I state, "A lot of people are hungry. If you haven't notice. So many people are dying."
The gays were treated like animals.
He gets up. He looks like he is about to walk out. It's clear he doesn't want to talk. It's clear he shouldn't be helping me and I can tell by the look in his eyes that he's concerned about it. I am more confused however when he stops before walking out of the door. He turns and makes his way back to me. For the first time we look each other in the eyes. He has some beautiful dark brown eyes. They are the color of chestnuts. They seem so warm even with his chiseled cheeks and carved jawline. Even with his thick almost angry looking eyebrows I can see how warm those eyes feel.
He is slow to respond but he finally does.
"Listen," he starts off slowly, "I've been watching you for the past few weeks. I saw how you've been giving your food away. You give it away more than you eat. You have nothing left now. You're fading away...and..."
"And I felt bad."
I don't get it. I know I looked like shit. The way he looks at me just shows all this pity. I stop eating. It's causing a cramp in my stomach for some reason plus this stranger staring at me eat just seems uncomfortable.
I'm so confused. Why was this straight man feeling bad about me?
"Why do you do it?" I ask him, "If you feel bad then why do you work for them?"
"I need the money. Isn't that the answer to anything," he explains before taking a second, "Why'd you do it?"
"Be gay. You know what they'd do to you. Why'd you choose that life?"
"You think I chose it?"
I sigh. I don't want to argue with him. He seems really curious about it though. Me even questioning his mind state seems to take him by surprise. There is this long stare. He's so goddamn attractive in his own way. There is no other thing I can say about how attractive he is.
"You should have fought it. You'll die here," he tells me as though this is some sort of news that I've never heard of, "You know that right. You'll die here."
I've been here for years. The idea had crossed my mind that one way or another I was never going to leave here alive. Hearing someone who wasn't in my position say it seems to really hit home though.
I sigh, "Looking at you I'm attracted."
I'm not sure if he's disgusted or not. He just seems confused if anything.
"Your lips. The way every hair falls in the exact right place is attractive to me. I'm attracted to your frame. You are masculine and fit. If you'd let me even now I'd kiss you. Even now with my body aching from all the shit that they've done. I'd roll over your over. I'd kiss you. I'd let you fuck me. I'd let you eat me out. And if you wanted me to fuck you---I'd do it---"
He seems uncomfortable. I've gone too far.
"Sorry," I tell him.
"I'm straight," he responds, "I'm not into stuff like that."
"And I'm gay. I am into stuff like that," I tell him, "You can't change it and neither can I. So the next time you feel pity for me, feel pity because of what the people you work for did to me...not because of who I am!"
I'm so angry. There is so much hatred in my voice. I don't know how to describe it. I know this guard didn't do anything intentionally but it doesn't matter. I'm so angry. I'm so mad at all of them.
He takes a deep breath, "I'm just trying to help man."
He gets up. He starts leaving.
He's right. I'm angry with the wrong person. He was doing this for money. He didn't make the rules. He didn't make the law. That was all President Storm.
"Wait," I stop him.
The handsome guard with the stern face and gentle heart smiles back. Every hair is still sitting in the exact right place as usual. He gives me a stare that melts my soul. Then he nods.
I go to sleep that night not knowing what is happening. The cots we sleep on are hard as bricks. I wish I could have shared my food with Reggie Linkage. They've been doing experiments on him. They've been doing gay conversion therapy and he's skinnier than even I am. I think he only weighs about 60 pounds and he's 5'11". He shares the cot next to me and I can hardly sleep because I can him rocking back and forth sweating from his hunger pains.
It's the middle of the night when they come.
They bust down the door.
My heart rolls in my chest. Amerie jumps off her bed. A few other people trip when the door opens. The last time the Silverheads came in the middle of the night 30 people were taken out into the yard and shot for "fornicating". We weren't allowed to have sex at all. Most of those 30 people hadn't even had sex. They may have been caught flirting or appearing to flirt. Either way they were killed for it.
"What's going on?" I hear Rodney Michaels state from behind me.
Reggie can barely stand as we are lined up. The Silverheads are in the middle of the floor. They all have this look on their faces. I look for the boy who I met earlier. Shad is at the very end of the line. He is stone faced. I can't read his expression to know why he's here of if he even knows why he is here.
Then the Constable walks in. He's a fat...disgusting looking man.
"Someone stole from me."
He cuts to the chase almost immediately. My heart sinks in my chest. I look over to the side and see Shad. He doesn't react.
No one says anything.
The Constable gets louder, "One of you faggots stole from me. And if you don't tell me who it is, this will happen."
The Constable steps forward. Just at that moment he takes his gun out. He shoots. The person who dies is Rodney. Rodney's body hits the floor. Someone screams. I'm not sure who. It doesn't matter. This has happened before. The Constable was a cruel man and he hated gays. This probably made his day in some sick, twisted way.
He walks down the line.
He repeats himself.
He points the gun at Amerie.
"It was me!" I state.
Just at that moment I raise my hands. I can't let Amerie die. I just can't do it.
The Silverheads all look over at me.
"Take him..." the Constable says.
And just at that moment as if it means nothing to him at all, the Constable shoots Amerie. He shoots her for no reason at all. There is no emotion when her body hits the floor. Everyone is shocked. I want to cry out. I want to cry period. I can't though. My mouth is too dry. I don't have enough moisture to produce tears.
The Constable leaves seeming bored with the gays in the room. I don't have time to struggle. I don't have time to beg for my life. I'm immediately punched, kicked and strangled into submission. I can hear Amerie screaming my name as I'm pulled outside.
They take me to a room. It's a white room. No one is in it. All of a sudden I'm strapped to the chair. I realize what this room is when I see the plugs on the chair.
"No! No PLEASE!"
It's an electric chair. My heart is racing. They strap me to chair by my wrists, waist and ankles. An electrode is attached to my head and another to my leg. There is a thumping. I feel this heaviness all of a sudden when the helmet of the chair is strapped to my head.
"I'll take it from here," a voice says.
I look up at that moment and realize that Shad has walked into the room. He must be a higher up officer because the others listen to him almost immediately. They leave us alone. For a minute I think Shad is going to go through with it. Maybe he'd let me die faster.
That isn't the case though. I don't know how I feel when I see him until I see him starting to loosen the restraints.
"You're helping me?"
"I don't know why," Shad responds.
I didn't know why either. He loosens the restraints grabs my hand and starts leading me out of the chair.
"There's no way out," I tell Shad.
He doesn't answer. He seems to be focusing. He grabs my hand! Sweat is rolling down my forehead. My legs feel like jelly. I am running as fast as I can chasing after Shad. The hallways are long. They seem to last forever. The longer we run the more impossible it seems that we are going to get out!
And then reality strikes.
I am the first to turn around. I think Shad is too afraid. When I turn around I see the Constable. He is with his men. They see us attempting to escape. Shad looks at me. I look at Shad. We both know what this means. We both know what it means to be caught.
There was no way we were going to get out of this alive.
"I was taking him to get executed," Shad explains.
He doesn't look the constable in the eye. He isn't a good liar. It's no point in lying. It's obvious what Shad was doing. I am so confused. Why did a stranger risk his life to save me? What was he getting out of this? Why me? There were so many others dying every day? Why was I so special to Shad?
"You a faggot lover soldier?" the Constable asks.
The way he calls me a faggot is almost like it's the worst thing in the world. To these men I am lower than scum on the bottom of their shoe. He might as well be calling me a cockroach. He gives Shad this disgusted look and at that moment I realize the sentiment was even worse in the last three years than I assumed before. Even caring about a gay person was now a crime.
"Get behind me," Shad tells me.
"No what are you doing..." I state.
The Constable says his order. He pulls his head down. Bullets fly out!
And Shad jumps in front of me!
The bullets lace Shad all the way up. The only one that hits me is in the arm. I can feel myself bleeding out but it's nothing like Shad in the next minute.
"Why the hell did you do that?" I ask him.
I grab the stranger not understanding what is going on in his head. I didn't know anything about Shad. I didn't know where he was from or why he was attempting to help me. He had literally taken bullets for me.
And here I was crying. Tears are rolling down my eyes. He looks up at me and he smiles. What he says next is something I'll never forget.
"I just didn't want to be a part of the hate anymore."
Blood is splashing from his mouth as he says it. I'm crying so hard. I look down the hallway as I hold onto this dying boy. I was next. I already was shot once. I was already bleeding out. I was already losing consciousness. I grab Shad's limp body. I can feel his breath getting faint. He's going to die any second now and I had no doubt that I was going to be next.
"Make sure you kill him this time," the Constable orders.
His men come forward. I look over at the Constable. This man had made my life a living hell. And just at that moment when I hate him and feel like I can accept death I see death...except it isn't mine.
A bullet enters the Constable's head.
I hear the sound of boots. All these boots. I turn around and see all these strange men. They are fighting back at the Silverheads. All I see is lights and I think I'm imagining all of this.
I feel so weak though...too weak to know exactly what is going on...
And then all I see is black.
I wake up in a room. There are no windows in here at all. The walls are metal. I realize that I'm hooked up to an IV machine. There are all these strange men walking around. They don't look like doctors. I'm not in a hospital. They don't look like scientists even though that's what the room looks like.
They have on fatigues.
Were they soldiers?
"How are you feeling, Mr. Crosby?"
The voice is familiar. I turn to my right and notice that it's Rhett. After all these years he still looks the same. He still has that face that could stop people dead in traffic and cause an accident. He flashes me that Hollywood smile I remember seeing so many times on television. I almost lose my breath all over again. Rhett has on all black with black cargo and some military boots. His jacket has some initials on it that read clearly G.A.
"Am I dreaming?"
"Where are we?" I ask him.
I look around. The military men who are working on me help pull out my IV. A few of them do other things. I feel like I have just been dropped in the middle of some war zone or something. Everyone seems to be rushing. Two tables down, I see someone getting surgery right in the same metal room as me. There are not even any curtains to pull back.
"You've missed a lot," Rhett laughs shaking his head, "The world has changed since you've been in the concentration camp. You're safe for now at least. You're in one of the GA facilities. Fuck. I keep forgetting. You don't know what GA is do you? The Gay Agenda. These are the headquarters actually. Our biggest facility. You are 1 mile under what used to New York."
"What used to be New York?"
A few of the military men who were running around seem immediately stuck almost like I'm asking something that they'd rather not talk about. I'm so confused why it gets so quiet. I look over at Rhett. He doesn't seem emotional or anything but he doesn't seem too happy.
"You've missed a lot," Rhett states, "Walk with me..."
"Is it OK to walk?" I ask.
Rhett shrugs, "Listen. Nowadays you don't have much of a choice."
I get up off the table. My heart is racing. I'm so confused. I can barely get up and I realize that the back of my hospital gown has my entire ass exposed. I realize it a little too late though because I see Rhett staring hard at it.
"You probably barely recognized me," I state.
I've lost so much weight.
"You'll be back to normal in no time," he tells me, "Besides. That ass of yours didn't lose a lot of weight. No offense."
Seeing how he flirted with me openly like that just feels so different. I couldn't imagine doing that. A few of the guys walking by who hear him laugh a little bit as well as I struggle to close the back of my gown.
Rhett helps me swinging my arm over his shoulders so that I don't have to put too much pressure on my own feet. Its awkward holding onto Rhett with one hand and grasping my robe closed with the other. My head still hurts but I feel like I must be drowning with painkillers because I can't feel much of anything else including the closed gunshot wound.
"Here's some facts about where we are," someone states smiling at me as though I'm some long lost relative.
I smile back but feel a little bit weird as I get the information. It seems to be prepared specifically for me. I don't know why? My name is even printed on it.
The GA headquarters was a mile underground. Blast-proof and completely self-sufficient, the complex could accommodate up to 4,000 people in complete isolation from the outside world for up to three months. The underground city was equipped with all the facilities needed to survive, from hospitals, canteens, kitchens and laundries to storerooms of supplies, accommodation areas and offices. An underground lake and treatment plant could provide all the drinking water needed whilst twelve huge tanks could store the fuel required to keep the four massive generators in the underground power station running for up to three months. And unlike most urban cities above ground, the air within the complex could also be kept at a constant humidity and heated.
"You're safe here."
He wasn't my friend though. Shad was a stranger. Still. The idea that he had protected me in the way he did was amazing.
Rhett shakes his head, "He didn't make it."
My heart breaks at that moment. I could care less about this facility. I had made it out safe but Shad hadn't.
"That was you who broke into the concentration camp?"
"Yes. GA soldiers."
"Gay Agenda. Is everyone here gay?" I ask.
He nods, "Gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender. Most of us live underground now fighting back when we can, how we can."
"You liberate concentration camps."
"No...we haven't had the resources to really do that yet."
"Then why did you liberate mine."
"The concentration camp you were in is still there."
"What do you mean?"
"We liberated you..."
As we walk I notice something. The military men have been looking at me. At first I assume it's because I'm a new face. Maybe they are just curious. That isn't the case though. The look on their faces isn't curiosity.
The hallways lead to large construct. These were tunnels and the more I look around I notice that this is an entire city underground. It is makeshift and hard but it seems to be something that I never thought could have been built in just three years.
How much had I missed exactly?
A few Spanish boys damn near stop in their tracks as I'm walking. I can hear what they whisper.
Smiles spread across their faces. Excited smiles.
"What's going on?" I ask.
I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed when a group of lesbian soldiers stop dead in their tracks and stare. I'm shocked when an older man sees me and breaks out completely into tears as though I'm someone that he's missed for years. I keep walking down the tunnels and the reactions get more and more dramatic.
Were they mistaking me for some sort of celebrity? Were they just happy to see a survivor from the concentration camps?
"They are excited to meet you," he explains.
"We spent years looking for you. The young gays make up songs about you," Rhett explains, "Free Caden. It's a chant of a generation. We live underground now but not forever. One day we'll be in the skies. One day. You remember, don't you? Your words. A city in the sky. The idea that gay people are special in our own way. We are to be cherished and not shamed. It's been our rally..." Rhett explains to me, "Look."
I turn and my mouth drops.
A huge wall underground separates a part of the complex. The mural is a mural of me with the words "A CITY IN THE SKY" painted on top of it.
At this point I'm beyond confused.
"What the fuck is going on here?"
"You are our hope. And we saved you because we think you can change everything."
"How could I possibly change things?"
"An election is coming up," Rhett tells me, "We want you to run for president."