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Nov 04

He: Shorn

Each scrape of the razor’s edge sent more of the soft dense cloud of dark hair to the tiled floor. When he was reaping swaths of it from around his head, bunched up in a mahogany fist, all he felt was a slight tugging sensation. He preferred the feel of the cool blade against his skin, and the way his bare flesh tingled in its path.

He couldn’t remember ever doing this before, and if he focused on each step of the process, found himself stymied. Instead he let his hands and arms perform as they would, removing from his scalp the weighty mop of curled black and silver. He felt lighter without it.

He paused as he brought the blade to his chin, to the bristled mass surrounding and obscuring his face. So much easier to just hack it away and be done with it. Instead, again following impulse, he lay the razor down along the sink and picked up a pair of scissors. He watched in the mirror as they moved, guided by his fingers, sculpting the mass on his chin, shaping it until it was almost geometric in the way it framed his jaw, in the way the hair across his lip met the straps framing his mouth.

The result pleased him. He rubbed a hand along the smoothness of his face and smiled at the mirror, white teeth gleaming amid dark lips. The way his muscles seemed to sag, a once fine engine fallen into disuse, was something he could fix. Somehow he felt like he’d been expecting to find himself worse, weaker, more decrepit but this… this was good.

He pulled his jumpsuit up from where it’d been folded at his waist, zipping it as he turned away, and found that his hand had grabbed the razor from the side of the sink where he’d left it. It felt right to take it, to keep it with him. It felt… safe. A talisman against the wrongness of the corridors outside this bathroom.

Everything was an unknown. He felt isolated. He had no idea who he was, or why he’d woken up in that tube, or what he was supposed to be doing. That was the worst of it. There was something he was supposed to be doing. Someplace he was supposed to be. Men don’t just… end up in tubes. There should be someone around to tell him what he was supposed to be doing, where he was supposed to be going. Who he was supposed to be.

But beyond even that uncertainty, there was something deeply wrong with the way that the corridors were empty. He expected something else. Anything else. This wrongness lead to a general sense of creeping dread that he only noticed once the trauma of his confusion had departed, and it had been mounting quickly.

The razor, though. With it, he felt a sort of calm assurance. Not of purpose, not exactly, but of certainty. It was a tool. Something useful.

A smile found his lips as he folded it closed and slid it into the jumpsuit pocket. Whistling a tune he couldn’t name, he pushed through the door to the hall.

***

Most of the doors lining the hall opened at a touch, but there was little reason to investigate after the first few. The doors with slightly-differing strings of symbols on them — strings he found incomprehensible but maddeningly familiar — each concealed small rooms, some five paces by three paces, lined with more people-tubes.

Doors with only a pair of symbols held rooms that held rows of showers, sinks, and toilets. Sometimes the water was working, sometimes not.

Sometimes the doors didn’t open, either buzzing angrily at his touch, or simply not responding. In other areas, the diffuse light that seemed to come from the ceiling was either dim, flickering, or entirely absent. These areas of disrepair left him with the same unease that the general emptiness did. It wasn’t right that the halls had this problem. Someone should be fixing it. Someone should be there to greet him, to explain. Someone should be there.

He walked the corridors for hours, stopping intermittently in each room he passed, but saw no sign that anybody else had emerged from their tubes before him. Some of the tubes were dark, some contained unlucky bastards whose life-support had failed, but most held men or women like himself in some sort of state of hibernation.

He found nothing but a growing unease and an even more urgently growing hunger.

Food was going to be a problem. There had to be a storeroom or pantry somewhere. These corridors were meant to be walked by men. Even if he hadn’t found any sleeping quarters or kitchens, he’d seen showers and toilets. They had to eat, wherever they’d gone.

There hadn’t been any sharp turns in the hall he walked, though there was a gentle curve to its path, with occasional side hall to his right. For fear of getting lost he hadn’t explored any of them yet, but when he opened the door to the room that held the pod he himself had crawled out of, his suspicions were confirmed; he walked the circumference of a great wheel, with the side halls as its spokes.

The fear of getting lost left him. Lost in relation to what? Empty rooms full of strangers in tubes? Any one of identical bathrooms?

He walked to the nearest spoke, striding confidently down it, twelve paces past featureless walls to another corridor parallel to the one he’d left behind. It too curved, and the doors along its sides were similar to those he’d already seen. Rather than diverting to explore them, he continued walking down his straight spoke another twelve paces to a third inner concentric ring.

Ahead he saw in what he guessed was what led to the center of the concentric rings, a pair of wide double-doors. Unlike the opaque doors he’d passed before, these doors had clear plastic panels. Beyond them he could see a vast chamber, far larger than any he’d seen to date.

The doors opened as he approached.

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