Again, I woke in the white room, woozy and dizzy from the drugs. Again, something stung. But this time it was not my neck. Instead, beginning what I realized would be a long line, there was another tattoo on my right ankle. I had no doubt in my mind that they would continue up my leg until some foul death befell me.
The tattoo was a circle about as big around as the mini oranges you get at Christmas time. Not the mandarins. The tiny honey ones.
The black ink depicted a ring surrounding more, interlocking, rings. I could feel what it meant. We'd identified ourselves as a group, a team, and this was their warning that they knew. That even though we barely understood what had happened, they understood further. Some sort of bond had been formed and it was a crime against our captors.
"312, out, now. The Wizard has plans."
Never had such terrifying words come from the mouth of an ape. For that was what the man before me was. An ape. Hairy from head to toe, slouched back, extra long arms, big lower face with extruding lips. An English-speaking ape.
I, 312, Moonleaf, captive to... the Wizard, the apeman, the goons and who knows who else, followed. It was obvious that outright insubordination would be punished by yet another mark, yet another step closer to my end and so... the only way was to be sneaky. And hope the miracle of our crew survived its first impact.
A flash of pant legs, careful rearrangements of cloth, as we sat, kept apart, in a series of folding chairs scattered about the large room from before, showed who, exactly, had suffered from the fiasco of before. Several others joined the movement, showing both tattoos as they introduced themselves from afar.
Sunbird had been pegged for talking back. Moonpetal for crying. Sunwing and Sunbolt each already bore two marks, one the familiar interlocking circles and one with a sword, obviously the given token for fighting back.
Sympathy was radiated about with careful looks, interspersed with glares of "shut your expressions up before we get caught!" It was obvious already who would play by the rules, who would crack to fear, who would act out and who would bide their time. It was all in the eyes. All in the tiniest movements of the mouths and heads. All in the flashes of emotion that flickered across features. Anger, sadness, hate, fear, defiance, worry.
I extracted myself from the proceedings to study the room more fully and the people less. Our grey folding chairs were set, at first glance, randomly throughout the room. Each chair had at least four feet between it and those around it. Boys and girls, older and younger, there appeared to be no rhyme or reason to the arrangement. And then I looked up.
Glistening on the ceiling, as if proclaiming our fate, was a series of metal cages, each positioned over a chair. I wondered at the idea behind that. We were already kept to our chairs by the apemen and the goons, each armed with dart guns. Why cage us too?
As the cages descended, creaking the whole way, I could tell I was not the only one wondering that. Others began to notice, glancing up in horror at the shiny metal bars lowered themselves around us. What could these wackos possibly be planning? We were soon to find out.