Lenth grew up in a lie.

Apparently there's more than five people in the world.

Four Brothers live their lives in an enclosed habitat as directed by the silent Rubberman above them. When they disobey, they get shocked. This is normal. It always has been.

When a Brother dies, they learn of death. When he is replaced by someone new, they learn they are  replaceable.

When the ceiling above the ceiling cracks open, Lenth plans a journey beyond the known universe:

A third floor.

Up.


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Excerpt 1

    
Chapter 1: Out With The Young 

Slim felt the familiar little pinch on his wrist from the bulky cuff that kept him tethered near his bed. “We're getting pricked tonight,” he warned his three Brothers, who hadn't yet put on their own restraints.

The elder Brother Joints grunted as he sat on his own bed across the seven-metre wide room. “Goody.” He put on his own cuff, which clicked and locked for the night. His own little jab soon followed.

Blue settled in as well, putting his cuff on and getting his jab over with.

Lenth wandered over to Slim with a gentle smile, and Slim began to return it.

Slim's eyes widened, and he groaned with pain. Collapsing back on his bed, he gripped the sides and bucked back.

What's wrong?” Lenth gasped. He wanted to help his favourite Brother, but had no idea what was going on. Slim let out terrifying soft groans. His body thrashed to the side, his eyes wide in terror.

Lenth! What's going on with him?” Joints yelled.

“I...I don't know!”

Slim gagged and began to slip off his bed, but Lenth helped him stay on, fighting another of Slim's convulsions.

Overhead, upon the Brothers' iron grate ceiling, the faceless Rubberman stomped, calling attention to the green light that had turned on behind the head of Lenth's bed.

But I have to help Slim!” Lenth hollered up to the dark figure. The Rubberman stomped again, harder.

Lenth looked at Slim and over to his own bed. “Now? I can't leave him! Something's really wrong!” Lenth looked up at the Rubberman and back to the convulsing Slim.

The Rubberman stomped on the grating once more, and the room shocked all the Brothers.


Disobedience warrants punishment.

 

Knowing that his actions were harming his Brothers as well as himself, Lenth scurried over to bed and secured his cuff around his wrist.

Rubberman ran out of view as Slim's convulsions began to calm a little.

Slim alone was shocked again. He had a sudden, violent convulsion.

What are you doing to him?” Blue yelled up to Rubberman's level. No reply, not that any was expected. Rubberman never spoke.

Again Slim was shocked.

Again.

Again.

 

And then it was quiet. Slim had stopped convulsing. He wasn't making any sounds at all now.

“Slim?” Lenth said. He sat up on his bed, but being tethered with his cuff, he couldn't go check on Slim. The cuff wouldn't open until Rubberman made it so. “Slim, you okay now?”

Joints leaned forward in bed to peer over at Slim. “He ain't breathing.”

“What?” Blue said, puzzled. “Slim, what are you doing?”

Joints sighed. “I've seen this before, I think. Before you three came here. If it's the same thing, Slim won't be here tomorrow.” Joints lowered his head.

“I...what?” Blue was alarmed. “I don't understand! Why not? If he's not breathing, why does he have to go away? He'll start again, right? Where's he going to go?”

Lenth stood up and walked as far towards Slim at the tether would let him, which was about two metres from his own bed, still about four away from Slim's. He stood silently, looking at his dead Brother, not knowing what death was.

“Slim...wake up, moron,” Lenth said quietly. “I don't want you to go away, that's stupid.” He turned to Joints, looking for the wisdom of his age. “Hey, away where? Where would he go? Up with Rubberman? Or the place Rubberman goes when he isn't here? What...”

Joints' face wrinkled inward with consideration. “How am I supposed to know? It's not as if I can fathom the ways of Rubberman any more than you, Brother.”

None of them were actually Brothers, but they had always called each other that. There existed the Brothers, and there existed the Rubberman. And that was it.

As far as they could tell, anyway. Joints had told them before that his old Brothers had gone away, and that then, his new Brothers came. There was no explanation of 'where from', or 'where to'.

These were things for Rubberman to know, and Rubberman never talked.

That much was understandable, since he didn't have a mouth. Even calling him a man was a point of question. A man, or an 'it'?

The Brothers all wore plain cloth foot coverings, slightly tougher on the bottoms, and simple cloth bodysuits, from the neck to the knees and elbows. This left a fair amount of skin showing. This was not the case with Rubberman.

Rubberman was all black rubber...even over his head. Where eyes would be, he had only a pair of large dark circles that reflected light at certain angles. Where a mouth or nose might be, there was a metal circle, about as wide as his eye. It did not seem as shiny as the eyes, and had many little holes.

But Rubberman had gone away now.

Lenth still stood there, as close to Slim as possible, pondering what had happened. What might be about to happen. Slim was their Brother after all, but Lenth felt the fear of losing Slim the most keenly.

The green lights behind the beds lit up again. The lights were built into the white, age-worn walls, and sealed in with a clear layer of a plastic-like material.

It was bedtime. The day was officially over.

The Brothers all tried to get as comfortable as they could on their beds. A three-centimetre thick pad was bonded to the metal bed frames, and indestructible to any force the Brothers had ever been able to summon.

“Slim doesn't look very comfortable,” Blue said quietly. Indeed, Slim's position suggested that he would wake up sore in the morning if he didn't move.

Lenth stared at Slim and the lights dimmed. Breathe, you idiot. Just breathe again.

A soft hiss came from above.

“Sleepy-smell,” Joints observed. Sometimes, sleep-smell would come when a change was going to happen.

“So...so it's true,” Lenth said quietly. “G...goodbye, Slim.”



 

 

Excerpt 2

    
From Chapter 15: Studying for Citizenship
 

Diane squirmed through the crawlspace, doing a regular inspection of the various conduits that kept things running in the Provider areas. The darkness was cut by Diane's headlamp, a boxy little thing strapped to her head. The light, as much as it moved around, was enough for Lenth to follow her. Diane didn't show any interest in sitting for a chat, but begrudgingly allowed Lenth to follow her as she worked.

Piping, vents, and electrical cords. Diane inspected every inch, paying extra attention to joints and connectors. Lenth couldn't help but wonder if this kind of diligence would have saved Slim. Should Diane have caught that leak? If that particular little tube had been her duty, he couldn't bring himself to blame her. She seemed to be doing her job with fine attention to detail.

“How often do you do this?” Lenth asked.

“A lot. These things go everywhere. By the time we're done, it's time to start over.”

“How far do you go?”

“Me? Provider levels only. Others go higher up or farther down.” She sounded tired. Not in the way that a lot of work can make you tired, but in the way that a lot of life can make you tired. Before they had crawled into the darkness, Lenth had seen that her eyes matched that feeling.

“Have you ever been—”

I know why you're here,” she snapped. “I know what you want, and you're a fool.”

“What was so bad about it?” Lenth asked.

Diane turned around to face Lenth, which was no simple task in the crawlspace. Her headlamp shone almost directly in Lenth's eyes, so she adjusted it a little. She took his hands in hers and squeezed hard enough that her knuckles cracked. “Don't go,” she said quietly. Her eyes were a mix of anger and fear, and her breathing had become rougher.

Lenth stared into her eyes for a while, then asked what she'd likely been asked a hundred times. “What happened?”

Her eyes broke the stare and she looked away. For a moment, Lenth thought she was going to answer, but then abruptly, she turned back around and resumed working. Lenth followed silently for some time, hoping she'd have a change of heart.

Diane stopped. After a moment of shuffling, her light went out.

“What's wrong?” Lenth asked.

“Shh!” was the answer. As Lenth's eyes adjusted to the miniscule ambient light being supplied by an undefined source somewhere, he saw Diane reach to a pocket on her thigh and pull out a knife. Still facing away, she laid there silently. Lenth heard only her breathing, but Diane apparently heard something else. Her body shifted suddenly.

“Six, maybe,” she whispered. “Go,” she said, crawling backwards, forcing Lenth to do the same. Seconds later, Lenth heard what Diane had been hearing. Someone else was here, and they were now moving fast.

He's coming. Hustle!” Diane said. There he was, a dark shape coming from the right, yanking on a pipe to help him move faster.

Monster!” came a male voice, harsh and furious. Diane's body shifted to defend herself as the attacker reached them. Lenth tried to maneuver to go help, but Diane's foot slammed in his path as she tried to find leverage. She screamed as the attacker's voice came again, “Die! Die! Get out of our way and die!

Diane yelped. Maybe as she attacked, maybe as she was cut. In the near darkness, and cramped space, Lenth couldn't make out much more than a struggle.

The sound of a fierce thrust came once, twice. Diane stopped moving after the second, but the sound came once more.

Stunned, Lenth froze. Quiet quickly returned, leaving only the attacker's heavy breathing, laced with hint of laughter with every exhale. Sounds of a little more movement, and then the voice came, now much calmer. “Ooh, handy!”

Diane's headlamp, now being held in a hand, was turned back on. It flickered past the attacker's face before being pointed right at Lenth.

Hey! It's you!” The attacker said. “Were you after this one? Sorry if I spoiled your fun. How many have you gotten? I'm now up to six. If I want to kill any more, maybe I need to grow more toes! Get it?”

“Seven,” Lenth said quietly.

“You're beating me, then! Knives sure make it easier than smashing their heads. Like this female, here? It would have been a real pain to find a good spot to bash her head against in this cramped space, or get a good angle.”

“No. I mean you've killed seven, I think, not six.” Lenth spoke quietly, but tried to not let his voice betray his fear. Or was it hate? Either way, his nerves were trying their best to make him tremble. “I heard someone say you'd killed six. I can't remember if that was before or after Eyes was found.”

Six was quiet for a moment. “Oh yeah. Eyes. But he doesn't count; he wasn't a Provider.” Six reached forward to smack Diane's rear end. “Well, her problems are just as over as Eyes'. I'm going to go grab a bite. I'd ask you to come with, but I've taken a liking to travelling alone, you understand.” He took a moment to give Diane's rump a little squeeze before he turned to leave. “See ya, Lenth.”

Lenth stared as Six crawled away, his looted light waving around in front of him. Six's movements were making enough sound that Lenth barely heard a soft gasp. He turned to look at Diane. In the dark, he couldn't make out a lot, but he saw movement, most importantly, breathing.


 


 

 
 
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