Stunned, I rubbed my forehead, then cautiously stuck out a hand until I felt the barrier. It was impossibly smooth and solid as rock, and beyond it was endless ocean, or so it seemed. I was not reflected on its surface, so I must have been looking through it to the other side.
The wall was higher than I could reach and extended into the water. Keeping one hand on it as a guide, I dove as far down as one breath would take me, and still it was there. I assumed it went all the way to the ocean floor, and I had no idea how deep that was.
Returning to the surface, I drew in a much-needed lungful of air, then treaded water again while I looked around. It was amazing, really. I could not see the wall at all, even this close. It was that perfectly transparent. The flash of light must have been a brief reflection off the surface of the water.
I swam, keeping the barrier on my left. After a while, I reached the conclusion the wall surrounded the island.
Shell and I were in some kind of… the only name I could come up with was “container.” I pictured a snow globe. The realization made me furious. Who would build such a thing? And then put us in it as if we were, what, pets? Prisoners?
Carelessly thrashing the water, I quickly swam to shore. I had to tell Shell about this right away. We’d talk about it. I’d go back into the water with her if she wanted to see it.
As I hurried back, I thought about the things I’d seen so far on the island and wondered if I could use any of them to break through the wall.
Kol reached through an opening in the roof of the enclosure he’d had built especially for the humans and picked up the male, who was in the water. Though he felt a moment of regret—this creature had cost him a sizable amount of credits—he cut off its head over the sink, cringing when blood sprayed from the neck, then disposed of the two pieces in the incinerator.
He called Laran. “I need another male.”
Laran gave him a jaundiced look. “What’s wrong with the one you have?”
“I had to euthanize it. After two weeks, it was not copulating with the female. You brought me a defective specimen. If they do not fuck, they’re no fun to watch, and there won’t be offspring.” He didn’t mention the male discovering the finite nature of its home. Kol resolved to expand the size of the tank. There should be enough water so the average specimen could not reach the outside wall. He intended their surroundings to be as much like Earth as possible. Maybe he would buy the tropical wildlife package after all, which offered birds and bugs and non-venomous snakes at a reasonable price. The recordings were nice, but seeing parrots flit about would be pleasant. And he should really put fish in the ocean, but that package was nearly as expensive as the cost of one human. Perhaps start with the turtle and starfish collection?
“You kept the female then?”
“For now, but I will need a replacement as quickly as possible.” Others in their group had learned humans didn’t do well alone. They needed at least one companion to function properly.
“You’re in luck. I’m expecting a new shipment this afternoon.”
“Excellent. Let me know when it arrives. I want first choice, and this time, it had better perform.”
Laran shrugged. “They are replaced easily enough if it doesn’t.”
Kol hid his frown and ended communication. Easy for Laran, who seemed to have bottomless pockets. He looked in on the female. It was still sleeping. It didn’t know yet it was alone. With luck, he’d acquire the new male before the female realized the previous one was gone.
Shell slept later than she expected. She was hungry and made a sandwich. It was so odd; their food supplies never really went down. Somehow there was always more than enough to eat, though she was getting tired of the same stuff over and over.
Was it possible whoever was keeping them fed had also written FUCK on the beach? Her eyes filled with tears as she cut up a tomato. She missed her friends. She wanted to see her family. Jon was a terrific guy—she felt totally safe with him because he was gay and didn’t look at her “that way”—but she missed her boyfriend. She missed sex. How much longer would she have to stay here?
After her early lunch, she showered, then wandered out to the porch, where she sat in the swing and waited for Jon to return.
She’d have killed for a book or cable TV. Island life was pretty boring.
After an hour or so, she went in search of Jon. He wasn’t on that part of the beach she’d come to think of as “theirs,” so she went for a walk, eventually circling the island. Concerned, she looked out to sea. He hadn’t gone swimming alone and run into difficulty, had he?
Not seeing his bobbing head in the water, she sighed, irritated he’d left her alone so long. They’d agreed never to explore on their own. It could be dangerous.
Belatedly, she realized FUCK was no longer on the sand, and the place where it had been looked like a herd of elephants had trampled it. Was it Jon who had erased the word, or had it been the mysterious provider of food?
“What the hell is going on here?” she yelled, not for the first time.
She was sitting on the porch, scared and miserable, when she spotted Jon on the path approaching the hut. She jumped to her feet. “About time! Where have you—” Her mouth snapped shut.
A man who wasn’t Jon stepped into the clearing. He wore khakis and a tan button-down shirt with short sleeves. His auburn hair was short, cut close to his head, and his expression indicated he was on the edge of panic.
“Who are you? Where am I, and how did I get here?”