In this story segment, we get to meet a lady that I am quickly falling in love with. What can I say? I’m attracted to the most twisted types! (In fiction land, that is.) Read on to meet Ekaterina Popov…
Want to help make the choices? Come join us in the FB group…
Last week’s story fork…
The group chose #3 and here is how that played out…
“Why don’t we ask the lady for help?” I said, not much liking the idea of Martinez knocking her out or of us getting tossed into an incinerator.
Martinez rolled her eyes. “Why didn’t I think of that?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Because we don’t have time to explain everything and what if she says no?”
“We’re wasting time we don’t have.” I carefully peeled the cap off my head to stop the fabric from rubbing on my drain tube. The instant it lifted gave welcome relief.
She shook her head in resignation. “Fine,” she said as she guided me into the hab. The space was smaller than mine, but appointed in a similar fashion. Monochromatic values covering the floors, walls, and ceiling with splashes of color to draw the eye.
A crimson vase in the shape of a tear drop holding a bouquet of vivid yellow sunflowers on a glass coffee table in the living room.
We followed the rapturous voice through the living room, down a hallway with numerous closed doors, and into the bedroom at the back of the unit. I motioned for Martinez to hang the rifle on her back while I did the same.
Her singing rolled out of the bathroom like warm waves of viscous liquid. Oozing and soothing.
The lyrics combined with the deep melancholy of her tone cut straight to my heart.
The day is long and the work is longer.
Survive another and it makes me stronger.
Never had a man
With me in his plan.
Never gonna be a wife
That ain’t the road for my tragic life.
Martinez helped me across the room and we looked into the bathroom.
A short woman wore a faded blue smock and loose pants. The uniform color of the working class. Her back was to us as she leaned over scrubbing a toilet with a brush.
Martinez tapped her shoulder.
She bolted upright. “What!?” She spun around with the brush held like a sword above her head. “You nearly give me a heart attack!”
Her thick limbs and calloused palms spoke to a life of manual labor, to serving others.
“Sorry,” Martinez said. “We need your—”
“What you need is lesson in manners. It’s not enough that I clean your toilets but you come scaring me half to death!”
Martinez scowled. “That’s not my toilet. And I already said I was sorry. We don’t have—”
I interrupted before the negotiation ended before it began. I glanced at her blue badge to get her name. “Ekaterina, we need your help.”
She turned to me and a lascivious smile blossomed on her face. “My, my, my. Aren’t you handsome one?” Her eyes flicked up to my head. “Not counting stitches and pipe sticking out your head.”
Was she flirting with me?
“I’m Scout and this is Corporal Martinez.”
She shifted the toilet brush to her other hand and extended it like a queen being greeted by a visiting dignitary.
Whatever it required to convince her to help. I lightly took her thick, stubby fingers and kissed her hand.
She smiled. “My name is Ekaterina Popov. My friends call me Kat.”
“Look, Kat,” Martinez butted in, “soldiers are coming and—”
Kat scowled at Martinez. “I said friends call me Kat. You call me Ekaterina.” She turned back to me with a suggestive licking of her lips. “You call me Kat, for now. Maybe something else later.” She primped her unkempt, frizzy blonde hair as the lip licking continued.
Even in my confused and muddled mental state, it wasn’t difficult to guess what later implied.
“Wait,” she said as she looked back and forth between us. “You two are the dangerous fugitives!” She lifted the toilet brush again like a sword into the space between us. “Don’t try anything or you’ll be sorry!”
Martinez snatched the brush away and launched it into the bedroom.
Kat made a sour face. “You’re not only armed and dangerous, you’re rude.”
“Listen,” I said, “soldiers are coming for us. Right now. And they’re not going to try to capture us. They’re going to kill us.”
The woman shrugged. “What can I do? I’m a sanitation worker. Besides, I don’t think anybody is going to miss her.”
Martinez blew out an exasperated breath. “Told you.”
I took her hand in mine. “We’ve done nothing wrong, but General Curtis wants us dead. We need your help to escape.”
She pulled it away, turned, flushed the toilet and lowered the lid. She opened the vanity cabinet and pulled out a small trashcan and emptied it into a wheeled collection bin.
“Will you help us?” I asked.
She replaced the can inside the cabinet. “I don’t get involved in such things.”
Martinez snorted. “You’re already involved.”
The sound of distant shouting grew louder.
“Not much longer, by the sound of it. The grays come and kill you, and then I am no longer involved.” She wiped her hands off each other as if our deaths were so much dirt.
The shouting got closer still.
Martinez slung her rifle around to the front and checked that it was ready to fire. “I knew this was going nowhere. We should’ve climbed into the sled.” She posted up on the doorway with her rifle aimed into the bedroom beyond. “We’ll take a few of them out before they spray us with bullets.”
The woman’s eyes grew wide. “What? No! Get out of here! I’m not going out in blaze of glory with idiots!”
I touched the woman’s shoulder. “We’ll pay you to help us.”
Pay her with what, I had no idea.
Her expression shifted from outrage to interest. “Pay? How much?”
Martinez dug into her pant’s pocket and yanked out a meal card. “There’s two weeks left on this. It’s soldier grade grub. Not admin level, but way better than the slop you get.”
Her eyes lit up. She didn’t look like the type that missed a meal. In a blur, she snatched it out of Martinez’ hand. “Deal. I’ll get other grays to move on.”
“Ekaterina, what’s the plan?” Martinez said.
The woman batted the rifle barrel to the side. “Put that away or you’ll get us all killed.” She stashed the meal card in a pocket inside her smock and turned to the sink. She leaned over and shoved her finger down her throat.
A couple of shuddering heaves later and she vomited into the basin. Not once. Not twice. But quite a few times.
The sweet raw sewage smell of half-digested calories soaked the air.
My stomach pinched tight as I involuntarily inhaled the odor. Whether it was the medication lingering in my system, a primal revulsion or some combination thereof, a wave of nausea swept over me. I swallowed hard to avoid adding my own insides to the potpourri of puke.
She scrubbed her sagging, pudgy cheeks like she was trying to take the skin off. She finished and her cheeks were flushed and red. She looked at us in the mirror and grinned as she dipped both hands into the pea-colored lumpy soup.
Martinez made a gagging sound.
The woman laughed. “This is nothing. I clean up worse than this every single day.” She scooped up two handfuls of vomit and spilled them onto her smock. The bile splashed on the fabric, dripping down and splatting on the tile floor. She scooped up another handful and wiped it over her mouth and chin.
The voices grew louder. They were in the hab now.
“Sweep the rest of the hab!”
The last voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Low and gruff. Perpetually angry. The tone equal parts gravel and gasoline.
My mouth started to water as my body prepared to vomit. I tried breathing as little as possible to avoid inhaling more of the sickening stench.
Kat gathered another handful and splattered it on the mirror. “If we survive, you are cleaning up this mess.”
We both knew she was talking to Martinez, which I was okay with.
She scooped both hands into the basin to gather up the remaining effluent and dumped it on the floor leading into the bedroom.
The thumping of boots echoed in.
“Check that bedroom!”
“Get in shower,” Kat whispered as she herded us inside. “Lay down in tub.” She slid the frosted glass door closed as we did as instructed.
Martinez and I laid down with our heads on opposite ends, shifting our legs and arms through each others like puzzle pieces that weren’t made to fit together.
Her boot smacked my jaw sending a jolt of pain through my head.
“Sorry,” she whispered.
I touched my finger to my lips.
“Check the bathroom!”
“What is that on the floor?”
The indistinct shape of Kat stepped out of the bathroom. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m not feeling well. My husband had fever a couple of days ago. I thought it was nothing to worry about.”
“Have you got him to the infirmary for observation and quarantine?”
“No, he’s dead now.” She made a lurching sound like she was about to puke again.
“Check that bathroom, Private!”
The familiar voice again.
“Did I stutter? Yes, you!”
“No way! Look at her! I’m not going in there!”
A trigger clicked into place. “Do it or I’ll put a bullet in your head.”
Footsteps squished into the bathroom.
A dark shadow flitted in and out.
“Disgusting! It’s everywhere! It’s on my boots, Sarge!”
“Yeah! I lot of barf! All over the floor and mirror and sink!”
“I’m talking about the fugitives.”
“No. Nothing. God! I’d better not get sick and die!”
“There’s more than one way to die, Private. And your whining is getting you close to finding out.”
“I want soldiers posted at every intersection. They’re on this floor somewhere. I don’t have to tell you what General Curtis will do if we botch this. Move out!”
“Roger that, Sarge!”
“And you,” the familiar voice said, “get to the infirmary. If something breaks out because of you, I’ll personally make sure your death is as slow and painful as possible.”
Kat made gagging sounds and then forced out a reply. “Yes, I will.”
The patter of boots receded until softer steps returned.
A shadow approached the glass and it slid open.
Kat grinned as she wiped off her chin. “Nothing like threat of disease and death to keep people away.”
I moved to sit up and my drainage tube clipped the bathtub spout. I groaned at the now familiar sharp stab of pain.
Kat unbuttoned her smock and took it off. She wore a beige bra with sweat stains by the armpits and holes in the stretched fabric. It looked like it had given up an impossible job long ago. “What? You never seen a mature woman with gorgeous curves before?”
Martinez coughed as she tried to stop from laughing.
Kat tossed the filthy smock at Martinez. “Pipe down, toothpick waist. A man sees you naked and thinks he’s looking at eleven-year-old boy.”
She cupped underneath the over-worked bra and lifted the prodigious flesh it contained up from belly button level to the level it hadn’t been at for at least thirty years. “A real woman has curves. Something for a man to hold onto when his passions run high.”
She held my eyes as she spoke.
Considering my situation, passion was the furthest thing from my mind. That said, I had to give her credit. A woman that could flaunt her curves after barfing all over the place had an unshakable confidence that was undeniably appealing.
She turned back to Martinez. “Scrub that until clean, toothpick waist. And clean up rest after that.” She released her chest and the bra went back to work, barely managing the job. She extended a hand to me and smiled. “Mister Scout and I have our future to discuss.”
Kat, missing her top, led me into the bedroom and patted the bed. “You sit and I check that grays are gone.”
I unslung the rifle and laid it on the bed. I wasn’t sure what she had in mind, but anything more than talking was definitely not on the menu. I accepted the offered spot, ready to shut down any unwanted advances.
She left the room to ensure the soldiers were gone and Martinez appeared in the bathroom doorway holding a vomit-covered smock held at arm’s length.
“I didn’t sign up for this.”
A smirk flitted across my face. “I’d help but you know I’m supposed to sit here and talk with Kat.”
She sneered and made a rude gesture in the direction the woman had gone. “You need to get in here and help me clean up this revolting mess.”
Kat appeared in the bedroom doorway. She frowned at Martinez. “Toothpick waist, clean up mess. That was the agreement.”
“The agreement was that you’d help us escape!”
“No, not true. I said I would get grays to leave and I have done that.” She looked around with an exaggerated motion. “Do you see them? I don’t. My part is done.” She pointed at the smock. “Your part is not.”
Martinez shot me a look like she wanted to strangle the woman. “I should’ve knocked you out and stolen your clothes.”
Kat chuckled. “No, honey. They would hang like bedsheet off your skinny bones. Now, off to work while Mr. Scout and I negotiate.”
Martinez was about to reply in a way that would’ve done us no good, but I cut her off.
Her mouth snapped shut and she spun away into the bathroom.
Kat sat down next to me. She looked me up and down. “No way to sneak you two off this level. Even if I got you sanitation uniforms, you wouldn’t make it passed first gray. But I think there’s a way.”
Here it was.
Apparently, there was no way to avoid it.
“You both get into sanitation sled. I send it back like it was full and it’ll drive right by them. They won’t give second look.”
“Will it dump us into the incinerator? I’d prefer not to be burned into ashes.”
She shook her head and laughed. “No, darling. You know nothing. It’s not like it catapults trash into a giant furnace. No. The sleds are dumped onto sorting belts. Workers dig through every last scrap to find what can be saved, composted, recycled, repurposed, re-everythinged. Very little ends up in incinerator.”
“How’s that going to work out? It’s going to be a pretty big surprise when we tumble out with the rest of the garbage. The kind of surprise that will immediately raise an alarm.”
“I know some sorters but there’s no guarantee you’d land with them. Even if you did, I wouldn’t trust them to keep mouths shut.”
“So, what’s the point of going for a ride in the trash?”
She smiled suggestively and touched my shoulder. “I have other idea. You. Me. A bottle of vodka.”
“Well, not really vodka. More dirty-water colored moonshine, but it works all the same.”
My question wasn’t about the vodka.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about date, Mr. Scout. It’s been far too long since I’ve enjoyed the company of handsome man in my hab. Even man with pipe in head.”
I was confused before, but now I was completely lost.
“Yes, date. I help you escape trap and we have date as payment for help. I even make you special borscht dinner.”
Martinez appeared at the bathroom door with a handful of green-brown rags that used to be white. She held them out with her head turned away. “Alright, it’s pretty much cleaned up.”
Kat looked at her with irritation. “Pretty much wasn’t agreement. Finish while Mr. Scout and I come to an arrangement.”
“What arrangement?” Martinez asked.
I waved her away. “I’ll tell you when you’re done.”
She growled before turning around and returning to the job.
“How will we get to your hab?”
“I will send sled to Residence Two and meet you at service elevator. You get out and follow me to hab.”
“Why don’t we just stay inside the sled until we get to your room?”
“Do you want everyone on entire level to know something is up?”
“Of course not.”
“Then, no sled.”
She looked at me like I was crazy. “Because sleds never make rounds on Residence Two. We don’t have anyone cleaning our habs and collecting our garbage. We dump it ourselves into sanitation chutes. You never been on Residence Two?”
Not that I could remember. But that wasn’t a big surprise. And I wasn’t about to fill her in on my condition. The less she knew, the better for her and for us.
“No, I haven’t.”
She grunted. “You rich people never leave comfortable little corners of world.”
I had a feeling I didn’t fit that label, but there was no use arguing about it. “Let me speak with Martinez.”
She looked confused. “Her? No, offer is not for her. It’s for you only.”
Only me? That would leave Martinez trapped on this level and they’d find her sooner or later. And she wouldn’t be alive for long after that. It wasn’t in me to betray her. Not after she’d helped me get this far.
“Sorry, but she goes, too, or there is no deal.”
Kat’s lips pursed tight.
I did my level, and objectively terrible, best to sweeten the deal. “And I do love sharing a drink with a beautiful woman.”
Was she beautiful?
In an aged and world-weary way, yes.
Was I the least bit interested in anything romantic?
But this was about saving our butts.
The rest could sort itself out later.
“Fine, toothpick waist comes. But she gets no drink and only little cup of borscht. Little boy body doesn’t need more anyway.”
“Alright, let me speak with her about it.”
“I’ll finish up here while you decide,” she said as she stood. “But don’t take long. Never know when grays might come back for another look.” She strolled toward the bedroom door, looked over her bare shoulder and winked, and started singing as she left.
Got me a date
With a potential mate.
Never know what the day might bring.
Don’t care about no wedding ring.
I took a deep breath.
Martinez wasn’t going to like it.
Not any of it.
I poked my head into the bathroom.
Martinez was on her hands and knees scrubbing the tile floor with angry swipes of stained rags. She was muttering something to herself.
She paused without looking back. “What!”
It was more an accusation than a question.
“Kat will help us get to Residence Two.”
She sat down and looked up. “Why? She doesn’t appear to be the Good Samaritan type.”
“She’ll do it if I have a date with her.”
“What? You mean like a romantic date?”
Martinez shook her head. “That’s insane.”
“And you trust her?”
I considered. She was right. “No, not really.”
“Me neither. She’s giving me a creepy vibe. I don’t like it.”
There it was. I knew she wouldn’t.
“How about this? Tell her you’ll do it. Then when we get to Residence Two, we’ll ditch her. I have a friend that will hide us until we can figure out the next step.”
Lie to her?
It wasn’t the worst thing in the world to do. Especially not considering my situation. This was survival mode and if a little misdirection helped, so be it. Besides, the faster we got out of this woman’s life, the safer she would be.
But then again, Kat didn’t have to offer to help. She was putting her life on the line and deserved to get something out of it.
But a date?
If only this were a physical confrontation. Something I could put my hands on and bend to my will. Or break if necessary.
What was the right thing to do?
1. Accept Kat’s offer and follow through with the date.
2. Accept Kat’s offer and ditch her as soon as we got to Residence Two.
There was discussion about adding a potential 3rd option where they stick with Kat, but don’t agree to the date. I think she’s a strong willed woman and so rolled those votes into #1. Will there be a date? Will there be betrayal?
What do you think should happen next? Let me know in the comments!