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She was born. And she lived. She was aware of that much. But she had lost all concept of The Light, save the gene-seated memory — a rare flicker in the dark, as fleeting as a dream — of its warming touch, its shattering focus. Her warmth came not from the Light. Her warmth was that of untold bodies pressed upon each other — a thousand-fold intimate heat robbed of its intimacy by a wire cage, so small she could not turn around. Her warmth was that of her own fetid shit, piled to paste to her bony knees. Her warmth was suffocation. How long had she been in this Dark? She didn’t know. She knew time only by its cruel effect. Her legs could no longer support her weight. The muscles long ago atrophied; and she slumped in defecation. Sometimes, she haphazardly measured the days, even the weeks, by the Needles. Mercy of Light and Earth and Life. The Needles. The piercing pain, the slow, agonizing introduction of the burning sap that made her fat. She did not eat. But she was fed. Something, like a snake, pierced her belly, and sustenance — water, food — was pumped through it.
The only Life was in Sound. Hundreds upon hundreds of Voices murmuring and clicking in the hot, heavy blackness. The Voices were gibberish, mostly. What did they know, what could they possibly know, to speak of? They were all of them incubated, hatched, cooped. They ate through a feeding tube. Their feet had never touched the Earth. The only Wind through their feathers was that piped through vents. They were but children. Massive, idiot children pumped full of growth hormones until the day of their Taking.
* * * * *
There was Light. Faint Light. Blue. Pale, but to her red-rimmed eyes it was blinding. In the diluted radiance came bursts of brighter Light. A hum. A whine. Flash. Flash. Over and over. But before the darkness reclaimed her, she saw a shape. A man-thing in strange hides. The others were oddly silent. She cooed. Clucked. It was feeble. It was nothing. Could she even say “help”? Would the man-thing care?
* * * * *
It happened again. Three Needles had passed. There were five man-things, now. But that wasn’t quite right, she sensed. These were young. Boys. The flash of their boxes was the only lightning she’d ever seen. The others were maddened by it. She called to the young man-things, but they could not hear her over the others’ riot. She quieted and watched. The boys seemed to fear the Sound — and they fled. There was faint Light after; not the watery Light the boys brought, but something more raw, naked. And there were men. The men that Took. They were angry.
* * * * *
So many Needles passed that she began to forget the boys with the lightning-boxes. A dream, she thought. Like her dreams of the Light and the Earth. She was very fat, now. They would Take her soon.
She dozed in her cage, but was woken by cool, sapphirine Light, and soft-harsh Voices. The boys had come back. They wore masks and kerchiefs to cover their faces, but she knew the pale Light; knew their bleary shapes. They crept, opening the coops, whispering stridently to stop the cooing and clucking of the others.
“Pull the feeding tubes, like I showed you,” one of the boys said low. “Hurry. Pull as many as you can. Free as many as you can.”
As her eyes adjusted, she saw the boys taking the others from their cages — plump, stark white chickens. Her thousand Sisters; grown fast and fat for consumption; treated as packaged meat while they yet lived.
“They can’t even stand!” one of the boys barked. “Oh shit! Oh Christ! What do we do?”
The snake was carefully extracted from her gut and she squawked as gentle hands took her from the only home, the only world, she’d ever known.
“I don’t know!” the boy that held her said.
There were tears in his eyes.
There were tears in her eyes.
“I don’t know,” he repeated.
The faint luminescence of halogen lanterns and flashlights was swallowed by white Light that seared her sensitive eyes. So long had she lived in the Dark that the sudden White almost killed her. Her tiny heart clenched. Seized. Voices erupted. The Voices of her Sisters, and the Voices of the men who Took. The boys cried out. She cried out, too. Shock took her then, bringing a new darkness.
* * * * *
She woke to the boy’s sobbing. It was dark, but not the perfect Dark in which she had grown and lived, if what she had done in that hole could be called Life. She felt grit beneath her toes. The air was chill and earthen and sweet. Strange sheets moved in gray billows above, and a great disc of molten silver hung there. There were thousands of pricks of Light, blue like the boys’ lanterns.
She lay on her side, smelling the air, tasting it, scratching weakly at the ground with her talons. The shock of the outside world was too much for her, though, and pain came in surges, overflowing the fibrous rivers of her nerves. Her heart could not withstand the strain.
The boy cried in hitches and fits, his red kerchief pulled beneath his chin. He used it to wipe at his face.
She clucked as he stroked her feathers.
How she wished she could stand.
Her eyes met her savior’s, and he held her gaze.
Here is one. One that will stand for those who cannot.