Freeman wakes up first. Unable to find his glasses, he begins squinting and looking around. He is sitting alone on the floor of a cage. There are other cages nearby, in which people seem to be sitting. He looks into the neighboring cage and sees that Gordon is lying in there, on the floor.
Freeman: Gordon! Gordon, wake up. Do you hear me? Gordon!
Gordon: Oohhhhh (he gets up and sits on the floor) Dammit, I feel so weak all over. What about you?
Freeman: Fine. My head just hurts a bit. And I lost my glasses.
Gordon: Well, you sure hit that door really good. You should have seen yourself (laughing quietly). Freeman, did you see them?
Freeman: Them? I only saw one – that one at the store. So there were others?
Gordon: Uh-huh. Two more came about later, and one of them used some device to knock me out. What the hell is going on? Freeman, those weren't people!
Freeman: Maybe we're on another planet?
Gordon: I doubt it. It really looks a lot like the Earth. And the sun is the same. And the nature. And there are people here, too. No, something else is going on. (he begins to scratch his forehead) But it’s a good guess. Who knows what these black holes are capable of.
Freeman: Well, we've won the Nobel Prize. Now we'll probably rot here. Or end up in that store.
They don’t notice that a stranger in a neighboring cage is listening to their conversation.
Elusive: Hey, Humie, where'd you pick up all these smartass words? Black holes, parallel universes… are you from the circus or something? And where are your collars?
Gordon and Freeman look at the stranger. He is muscular and sun-tanned with a short haircut. His face is decorated with several manly scars and he’s got a massive earring in his ear.
Freeman: We're scientists from California.
Elusive: Hahahahahaha (he starts guffawing so loudly that Freeman flinches out of surprise)
Gordon: Must be another madman. Now he'll start foaming at the mouth.
But he does not. The stranger stops laughing and stares at the scientists.
Elusive: I haven't laughed like that in a long time! You guys are definitely from the circus! Anyway, let me introduce myself. My name is Elusive. I'm a free Humie! (he says it with special pride in his voice)
Gordon: Hmm, I see… and doesn’t this cage interfere with your freedom?
Elusive: (waving his hand) None of this matters! I'm going to escape soon. I’ve escaped from such horrible places that the city human dispensary seems like paradise in comparison. I ran away from the slaughterhouse three times, from the farm twice, two times from leather factories, and who knows what else. I'd rather die than become a steak or a shirt for these damned Boogeys!
Freeman: Boogey? Who’s that? And who are Humies?
Elusive: Humies are like me and you, the human race. And Boogeys… Boogeys are those bloodthirsty creatures (he points somewhere in another direction) Were you guys born yesterday or what?
Freeman: You might say so. Sir, could you please tell us where we are at? That is, what country? Uhhh, planet? Year?
Elusive: (takes a hard look at Freeman) Yeah, I can tell you're completely insane. Maybe they staged some experiments on you? But sure, okay. I'll tell you everything (sits on the floor). Basically, we're here on the planet Earth! Heard of it? (he takes a look at Gordon, then at Freeman) Okay. We're at one of the Humie dispensaries in the suburbs of Hrrra City. Got it? The year is 354 since the Great Arrival.
Freeman and Gordon take a look at each other.
Gordon: And what is a Humie dispensary? And why did we end up here?
Elusive: You're here because you're Humies, like me. And this place – it's a distribution center: from here, they'll send us off to turn us into meat, or to get our skin or hair, or to conduct experiments. Well, or if you get really lucky, you'll become some Boogey’s pet.
Freeman: But who are these damned Boogeys anyway? Why do people let the Boogeys do all this to them? Where’s our government? Where’s the army?
Elusive: Army? Government? Hahahahaha (he produces another loud laugh). What did they give you guys? (laughs, then suddenly becomes very serious) The Boogeys came from outer space. At least, that's what people say. They say we weren't always just food and clothing for them. People used to be free. They built their own cities, did all kinds of things. Had families. And then, apparently, they enslaved us. And now they do whatever they want with us.
Gordon: And do many people live on the planet now?
Elusive: A lot. Several billions, they say.
Gordon: Hmm, and why don't people just stage an uprising, then?
Elusive: They tried. And they keep trying. But these damned Boogeys have all kinds of unbelievable technologies. So nothing does any good. All the riots end the same way – with the rioters getting turned into meat! Have you seen their spears? They can stun us or turn any one of us into a pile of dust instantaneously. And they wear those amulets. They protect them from everything – knives, sticks, rocks. They even protect them from bullets! Those amulets of theirs create… eh, what are they called… around their bodies… force lines…
Freeman: Force fields?
Elusive: Exactly! Force fields. So, those fields protect them. And Boogeys are bigger and stronger than us. Not many people could manage a Boogey bareknuckle one on one.
Freeman: How do you know all this?
Elusive: I travel a lot. There are people who still haven't forgotten science yet. I talk to them. I find books in old ruins. That's how, basically.
Gordon: Are there human settlements nearby?
Elusive: Nah, there's nothing for a hundred miles around. There are hardly any wild human settlements left. Almost everyone lives on the farms.
Freeman squats and covers his face with his hands.
Freeman: I can't believe it… this doesn't even make sense… Gordon, do you believe all this nonsense?
Gordon: Well… my mind refuses to believe it, but the facts speak for themselves – it seems pretty convincing. You saw that store yourself. And the butcher…
Freeman suddenly jumps up, comes up to the cage door and begins to hit it with his leg, yelling something inarticulate.
Elusive: Be quiet, you idiot, be quiet! Looking for an electric shock? Their spears don't just stun – they can hurt you really bad. I've learned that firsthand (he scratches his lower back)
Freeman looks at Elusive, then at Gordon.
Gordon: Freeman, he's right. Calm down and be quiet! We need to get out of here somehow! Elusive, right? You said that you're escaping soon, yeah? Take us with you.
Elusive wants to say something, but doesn't manage in time. Footsteps and some unclear sounds can be heard. Two Boogeys are walking around the cages and chirping away about something in their language.
Guard: They brought them in today. And found them near one of the local meat farms. One of them retched right in a butcher shop… imagine that. We haven't found their owners. They didn't have any collar or brand. And they're dressed kind of strangely. Maybe they're from the circus? Anyway, we decided to call you. There they are. Cages 44 and 45.
The second Boogey looks at the cages in which Gordon and Freeman are sitting.
Professor: I'm glad you called me. Give me a couple of minutes, I'll figure everything out.
The Professor approaches Gordon's cage.
Professor:Hey, fella! How are you doing?
Gordon stares at the creature in amazement. It is exactly like the one in the butcher's shop, with the same awkward long arms and legs, a small round body and a head resembling that of an insect. Only this one is dressed differently.
Gordon: Holy crap! Freeman, did you hear what he said? He can speak English! Uh, can you speak English?
Professor: Yes, I cccan. With a bit of an akkcent, but I understand everything. My name is Professor Agkkkart, you can simply call me Professor. Where did you escape from?
Gordon: I don't even know how to answer… Professor. (he shrugs his shoulders)
Freeman interjects from the next cage over.
Freeman: Who cares, you're going to send us to the slaughterhouse anyway, right?
Professor: No, no, that's not why I ckkame. I will try to get you out of here. But I need to know where you are from.
Gordon: Professor, I'm afraid you won't like our answer. We're scientists from California. Now you can laugh!
Professor: (completely serious) From Kkkalifornia? Funny… That name has not been used for a very long time. But anyway, we'll figure that out later. And what kind of scientists are you, what do you study?
Gordon: Physics – unified field theory.
Professor: Hmm… what are you, playing me for a fool?
Gordon: I said you wouldn't like our answer. Professor, you can believe us or not, but we really are physicists. Believe me, we are no less surprised than you by what has happened and how we've ended up here. My colleague and I were conducting an experiment… uh, in our world, so to speak… well, and something went wrong. The last thing I remember is a bright flash. And then we woke up in your world.
Professor: I frequently deal with Humies who say all sorts of crazy things. But they are all mentally ill. And you look kkkompletely healthy and normal. You want to tell me that you're from another world? Like a parallel universe, yes?
Freeman: We don't know exactly what happened. But we have proof. I'll show you something…
Freeman reaches into his pocket and takes out a smartphone. Strangely enough, it is intact and unharmed. The screen is not even cracked.
Freeman: Look here (he sticks his hand, holding the phone, out of the bars of the cage, closer to the Professor), these are photos from our world. Here, this is Gordon and I in our lab, and here too. And this is my family. Here we're sitting in a restaurant in San Francisco. And here Gordon and I are in Silicon Valley.
The Professor examines at the photos on Freeman's phone with interest. Then extended a hand towards it.
Professor: May I takkke a lookkk?
Freeman carefully places the smartphone into the creature's hands. They have very long, thin fingers. But, nonetheless, the Professor deftly grabs the telephone and begins to turn it in his hands and examine it.
Professor: This is amazing! Brilliant! Where did you manage to find a workkking specimen? (takes a look at Freeman)… Ah, yes… I forgot. You know, I've seen this symbol before. This one (points at the logo on the smartphone). It is the half-eaten fruit of one of the lockkal trees, yes? Very interesting… this is ancient human teckkhnology. I often find such items in places where human cities used to be. But they are usually defeckktive. And this one works. Astonishing…
Gordon: So, Professor, will you help us? Do you believe us?
Professor: Well, it's an unusual case. Of ckkourse I will help you. And then we will figure out the seckkret of your appearance. Anyway, sit qkkuietly, I'll arrange everything.
The Professor gives Freeman his smartphone back and goes over to the guard. They begin to talk about something in their unusual language, which sounds like chirping.
Guard: Well, how are the critters, Professor?
Professor: They will do. I'm taking them. Don't put them down in the journal, please. (he quickly slips something into the guard's hand)
Guard: Of course, of course, Professor. Let's go, I'll open the cages. I heard out of the corner of my ear that you know their language. Funny. It must be really primitive, right? I heard somewhere that they have several languages, not just one. Why do they need so many languages?
The Professor does not answer.
The guard opens Freeman and Gordon's cages.
Professor: Come with me. Walk silently and stay close to me.
They walk alongside cages in which people are sitting – men, women, children. The majority are dirty and naked. They look at the passersby with tired empty eyes. A little boy is sitting and crying loudly in one of the cages.
Gordon: Professor, is it true that the majority of them will be turned into meat and leather?
Professor: Most likely, yes.
Gordon: Even the children?
Professor: Let's discuss that later.
One of the prisoners jumps up from the ground as the group passes by his cage. He runs over to the bars and starts yelling.
Prisoner: Hey, you, bastards! You still haven't gotten sick of killing us, you damned brutes! Damn you all!!! But whatever, you'll get what's coming! You hear me, you egg-headed freaks? You hear?! (he begins hitting the bars with his legs and arms)
The guard approaches the cage and takes out some sort of stick. Within a second, the prisoner is lying on the ground and writhing in painful convulsions.
Guard: He's gone completely berserk – we need to send ones like that to the slaughterhouse right away. Professor, what did he yell? He’s hungry, right?
Professor: Yes, yes… he's very hungry, that's why he's yelling. Feed him when he comes around.
The Professor and the scientists go outside and head towards some means of transportation, which is standing on the ground a couple dozen meters from the building. It looks like a minibus, but without wheels.
Freeman: Gordon, look! (he points at a similar vehicle which has come in for a landing. It spins in the air and silently descends to the ground.) Holy crap…
Professor: That's enough finger-pointing. You're acting unusually for Humies. Into the aerocar, quickly. (the aerocar doors fly open)
Gordon and Freeman jump into the car and sit down. The seats are more than big enough for humans, since Boogeys are much larger. The Professor perches in a seat across from them and chirps something in his language. The doors close and, an instant later, the car begins to gain altitude quickly. Thirty more seconds go by, and it is flying in line with cars at the height of 500 meters above the ground. Gordon and Freeman, glued to the car's windows, examine the city above which, or through which, they are flying. For a second, they forget what kind of a mess they have ended up in.
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