An excerpt from Ty Drago’s upcoming science-fiction YA, Dragons, funding now on Kickstarter.
PART ONE: THE PRISONER
ONE – Day 3
I wake up with a start, thinking three things in rapid succession.
First: This is a weird dream.
Second: Wait a sec. This doesn’t feel like a weird dream!
Third: Oh … furk.
My mom wouldn’t approve of that last one.
With a gasp, I sit up on the mattress.
I’m wearing an orange jumpsuit. On my feet are these little white gum-soled canvas pull-ons, without a doubt the ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen. Don’t ask me why, but it’s those pull-ons that tip my mind’s scale from “confused” to “scared.” But then I look around, and “scared” ratchets up to “terrified.”
I’m in some kind of futurey-looking cell.
It’s a cube, maybe twelve feet to a side. Glowing squares in the ceiling cast an artificial light that makes the flat gray walls look, if possible, even flatter and grayer. Every inch of every surface, ceiling and floor included, is made up of featureless metal tiles.
There’s no door, no windows, and no furniture. In fact, the only things in the room, besides the foam mattress, are a square pedestal sink and a somewhat shorter, square pedestal toilet. No soap, no towel. Both the sink and john look like they’re made of the same gray tiles as the walls.
I climb to my feet, half expecting something bad to happen when I do.
When nothing does, I try the sink faucets. The water’s cold. I cup some in my palms, and drink. It tastes clean but slightly “off,” almost as if it isn’t real water but more like someone’s idea of what water should be.
Very End-Of-2001-A-Space-Oddessey. The book, not the movie.
The toilet works – well, like a toilet. No answers there. With no towel in evidence, I dry my hands on my jumpsuit-ed legs.
Above the sink is a small mirror. Except it’s not a real mirror but just a rectangular grouping of those same square tiles. Only these are polished somehow, so that they give me back my own reflection.
More futurey weirdness.
My complexion’s sallow, the way I get when I spend too much time playing vid games. If this was home, my mom would be all over me with epithets like, “You’re not getting enough rest!” and “You’re not getting enough sun!” I once considered asking her if she wanted me to take long afternoon naps in the backyard.
But, as I recall, I kept that particular snark to myself.
Where are my folks?
Do they know I’m missing? They must, and are probably crazy with worry, even crazier than most parents would be in such circumstances, given – everything.
I’m suddenly, bizarrely glad that I wasn’t kidnapped out of my home, like the Lindbergh baby was. Otherwise, I might be standing here in this cell worrying that whoever took me also killed my parents.
“Okay,” I say aloud, trying not to sound scared. “What’s the deal?”
I don’t expect an answer.
Which is why I almost jump out of my skin when I get one.
“You’re in no danger.”
I don’t scream. Honestly, I don’t.
But I do whirl around, searching for the source of the voice. It sounded mechanical, disguised. That could be a good thing. If my captors don’t want me to be able to ID them, then maybe they don’t intend to murder me after they get the ransom.
You know, the ransom my folks can’t afford to pay.
Except a ransom motive is only the best-case scenario.
Questions tumble through my mind, lots of them. I pick the most obvious. “Where am I?”
The reply is both immediate and unhelpful. “Safe.”
“Great,” I say. The voice seems to come from everywhere at once. I can’t even tell if the speaker’s male or female. “Not what I asked, though.”
“All your questions will be answered eventually. Are you hungry?”
“No.” Though I am.
“Thirsty? We can do better than tap water.”
“No.” Though I am.
“Then what are you?”
“This must all be very confusing.”
“Confusing? You furking kidnapped me!”
No immediate response. So, I wait, trying to ignore the twist in my gut.
“All this is for the greater good. Soon, everything will be explained to you.”
“Why not now? I don’t have anything else on my calendar.”
“Not quite yet.”
“Listen, if you’re looking for ransom, you snatched the wrong kid.”
“We know exactly who we ‘snatched.’ You’re Anthony ‘Andy’ Draco, eighteen-year-old senior at Haddonfield High School in New Jersey, Class of ‘2099”
I feel my mouth go dry. “If you know all that, then you know that my folks aren’t anything like rich!”
“We’re not interested in money, Andy. But we’ll address that later. For now, I’d like you to do something for me.”
Here it is. The big ask. Will they demand that I strip naked? Could all this be some kind of perv party? I can’t spot a vidcam, but they know I used the sink just now, so they must be able to see me. Besides, they changed me into this jumpsuit, which means they’ve already seen my junk.
Unfortunately, bad as a sexual angle would be, there are worse possibilities.
“What kind of something?” I ask, trying to sound more impatient than scared.
There comes a gentle swoosh from above. I glance up in time to see something drop out of a square hole in the ceiling and land at my feet. A moment later, a tile slides over the hole and blends in with the rest, indistinguishable.
Do all these tiles move?
Wary, I look down at the thing that fell. It’s a crumpled piece of paper.
I reach for it.
“Don’t bother. It’s blank.”
“Then what’s it for?” I ask. Though I know. Of course, I know.
“I want you to burn it.”
My stomach lurches.
“I want you to burn the paper,” the voice repeats tonelessly, as if reciting the time of day.
“You understand perfectly, Andy. I’m aware of the rules of your people, but these are extraordinary circumstances. As far as any potential damage, these walls have an extremely high heat tolerance. Believe me when I say that there’s zero risk.”
“Believe me when I say that I don’t care.”
“I can appreciate that. However, we do need to see it.”
“See you burn that wad of paper.”
“Okay. Fine. Whatever. But you’re going to have to give me a lighter.”
“Or, I don’t know, a match?”
“I was really hoping you wouldn’t play this game.”
I look balefully around, struggling to seem genuinely confused. “I don’t know what you want from me!” I whine. It’s a good whine, one of my all-time best. “How am I supposed to start a fire without even a lousy match?”
“I’m disappointed, though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”
I make a show of being exasperated. I scowl. I huff. I throw up my hands, putting all the “What the furk do you expect me to do? into it as I can.
“Burn the paper, Andy.”
“Of course, you can and we both know it.”
With a frustrated cry that I think sounds genuine, I kick the wad of paper into a corner of my cell. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re a lunatic!”
“All right. Obviously, this was too much too soon. Let’s try again later.”
“What? Furk later! I want to go home!
“The fastest way for that to happen is for you to cooperate.”
“How can I cooperate when what you’re asking doesn’t make any sense?”
“Why don’t you get some rest? I suggest you lay down on the pallet. I don’t want you to get hurt when the vector takes effect.”
“Lay down. For your own sake.”
“I’m not doing anything for you! I don’t know what any of this is about, but I want nothing to do with it!”
“Your call, I suppose.”
A moment later, the world starts spinning. Alarmed, I try to steady myself. I can’t. Whatever’s happening to me is happening fast. Darkness closes in. As it does, a single horrific understanding wracks my already overtaxed brain.
They know! My God…they know what I am!
Then I hit the floor hard and stay there.
Ty Drago is a full-time writer and the author of eight published novels, including his five-book Undertakers series, the first of which has been optioned for a feature film. Torq, a dystopian YA superhero adventure, was released by Swallow’s End Publishing in 2018. Add to these one novelette, myriad short stories and articles, and appearances in two anthologies. He’s also the founder, publisher, and managing editor of ALLEGORY, a highly successful online magazine that, for more than twenty years, has features speculative fiction by new and established authors worldwide.
Ty’s currently just completed The New Americans, a work of historical fiction and a collaborative effort with his father, who passed away in 1992. If that last sentence leaves you with questions, check out his podcast, “Legacy: The Novel Writing Experience,” to get the whole story.
He lives in New Jersey with his wife Helene, plus one cat and one dog.