Karen felt herself moving. She also felt cold, and she was shivering. She was lying on a cold metal surface that rumbled beneath her, as it carried her in the direction of a loud, continuous growling roar.
She opened her eyes. She was being moved along, with girders crisscrossing above her, beneath a massive dark ceiling. She looked at herself. She was naked but unwounded. She looked to her left, where another naked woman lay dead. A naked dead man was on her right.
She sat up and found herself in the midst of an endless pile of dead, naked men, women and children, lying on a massive conveyer belt, as wide as an avenue. The conveyor belt was carrying the bodies, toward a massive, black aperture, like an unending giant tongue, bringing endless piles of food, through a monstrously gigantic mouth.
From inside the aperture, she heard a continuous growling roar, and the scream of a woman being killed.
This is a meat packing plant! Karen thought, The growling machine is a meat grinder, and everyone here is about to be ground into sausages! Including me! In less than a minute!
Karen stood up, with her bare her feet against the cold metal of the conveyor belt, and the crisscrossing girders passing less than a foot above her head. She turned, with the approaching aperture to her right, and hurried toward the side of the conduit, through which the conveyer belt transported the unprocessed meat. She couldn't avoid stepping on some of the bodies.
She reached the side of the conduit, which had a waist high barrier. From here she saw long lines of tables, beneath florescent light fixtures, that hung on wires, suspended from the overhead girders.
People stood beside the tables, sorting mountainous piles of clothing. Shirts, pants, shoes, dresses, blouses, skirts, hosiery and undergarments, and children's clothing were all being sorted. Briefcases, personal computers, wallets, keys, eyeglasses, jewelry and other personal items were also being sorted.
Those were personal belongings, Karen thought, taken from all the dead people here, and from me too.
I was killed again? I was in the gym. I was killed after that punch fight I had with Alyce. After that my neck was in pain, where the noose had choked me to death. Then Louise Torelli punched me in the face, and knocked me to the floor. That's all I remember.
I was killed, a second time? By that nerd Louise Torelli? Over a boyfriend? Now I'm alive again? Again?
Or until I get dumped screaming into this giant meat grinder.
Karen was getting much too close to the aperture. She could now plainly hear the sounds of flesh being ripped off bones.
Karen sat upon the edge of the barrier, picked her feet up, swung her legs over to the other side, and leapt away from the conduit. She tried to slow her fall, by grabbing onto an overhead light fixture, knocking it sideways, causing shadows beneath to sway back and forth. Then she landed on a table, and rolled onto the floor. Everyone sorting at the table jumped back.
Karen stood up, with her bare feet against the solid, cold floor. Everyone around her had stopped sorting. They stood staring at the naked teenage girl, who had just fallen off the pile of moving dead bodies, and she was alive.
A woman called out, "Live one! Live one! Aisle 15! Got a live one who needs shooting! Aisle 15!"
She heard the sound of feet clanging against a catwalk, above the overhead lights, where she couldn't see.
A man shouted from above, "Yeah! I see her! Everybody step back!"
All the people around Karen moved a good distance away from her. Then she was completely alone and exposed.
Above her, she heard the loud buzz of a laser pistol, and the tabletop to her right splintered.
Karen jumped away and began running along the aisle, between two long lines of sorting tables, while laser shots cracked around her. She ducked down as she ran, stopping to pick up a pair of slacks, shoes and a halter-top. She carried them with her, as she continued to flee, until she came to end of the rows of tables.
She heard the same woman say, "This happens every now and than. Sometimes after a street falls open, people get hit by a weak laser blast; so they're stunned but not killed. Then when they reach here, they jump off and try to run; but they all end up as packaged meat, just like this one's gonna be."
A door with a bright red EXIT sign stood about thirty steps away from where Karen crouched.
She gripped the items she'd grabbed, and ran for the door, trying to stay crouched. Now laser shots came at her from the right.
A man on her right shouted. "I'll get her!"
She reached the fire door, stood up, pushed the door open, and ran through the doorway, while a laser blast struck the spot where her heart had just been.
Karen ran across the landing of a dimly lit stairwell. She began running down the steps, with a gray wall to her right, and the banister to her left.
She had almost reached the first landing, when she heard a loud laser buzz, from the landing above and behind her. She felt a hard electric jolt slam into her back, and go through her entire body, knocking her forward. She also heard the sound of shattering glass to her right, and a powerful, white light surrounded her.
Then she lay sprawled on her breasts, at the bottom of the steps, with her legs stretched out on the steps she'd just come down.
She heard a man above her call out. "Welcome to Paradise”
Then Karen heard the door shut.
She put the palms of her hands against the floor, and pushed down, raising herself up, while groaning in agony.
What the hell is going on? She wondered, I can't stay dead? Every other hot, sexy cheerleader, who got hanged on Saturday, is now being digested by some of our fellow citizens. That's what they should be doing. That's what I should be doing.
Instead of that, I'm alive. That is not only wrong, it's...
"Irresponsible, immoral, unnatural, and antisocial!"
And my family still won't be getting the extra rations.
She rose up to a squatting position. The garments she'd grabbed, while rushing past the sorting tables, lay on the landing beside her. She slipped into the slacks, which were a little tight. The shoes were also a tight fit, but she'd be able to walk in them. The halter was just too small to wear.
She thought, I'll just have to walk along the corridor streets topless. It'll be like I was wearing my gym uniform. Lots of women go topless in public, including me. That's how a lot of the girls were dressed at the Homecoming Dance, including Homecoming Queen Alyce herself.
She also thought, There are just too many things that I've got no idea how to handle! I have no idea where I am! I have no idea where my home is, or if I'll be able to get there from here! Then when I do get there, I no longer have my key. Now I'm getting hungry, and I'm thirsty; but now my money's gone!
Of all the cheerleaders and warrior girls who got killed, in all the combat games that took place on Saturday afternoon, on every level of the City Building, why did the one who came back, have to be me?
There was also something else mysterious going on. When she'd first rushed through the doorway, the stairwell had been dimly lit. Now it was fully illuminated by a strong but soft white light. It came through a foot wide hole in the gray wall, which was actually painted over glass. The glass had been shattered by the laser blast that had nailed her.
Karen wondered what kind of light could be so powerful, but remain so soft.
She climbed halfway up the flight of stairs, being careful not to step on any shards of broken glass. She came over to the spot that had been blasted away, and looked through the opening.
Karen found herself looking out through a window that was three inches thick. Through the window she saw a vast green plain, stretching all the way to a range of rolling blue mountains, beneath a glaring blue sky, in which fluffy white clouds drifted. She also saw the ruins small of ancient structures, scattered around the plain, rising as much as twenty levels, above the surrounding woodlands.
She also saw a broad river, flowing between the City Building and the plain, flowing from right to left, as far as her eye could see. Far below her, to her right, a suspension bridge crossed the river, from the greenery of the plain, to someplace beyond her view, along the City Building's side.
There was also a flock of birds, much nearer the window, flying in a V formation.
They're outside, Karen thought. I'm looking at what's outside the City Building. There are living things outside. That means that the world outside the City Building is no longer polluted. That means that we can live outside.
On the landing above her, Karen heard the firedoor open. She jumped up and ran down the steps to the first landing, turned left, ran down the next flight of steps, and the next flight. She ran down three more flights. Then she stopped running.
She was on a landing, beside a door to a City Building's corridor street. She had no idea what Level she was on, or how far she was from home.
Karen opened the door, and stepped out into whatever would be there.