Through tired eyes I stare at the clock mounted on the wall. It reads '5:47pm'. My shift will soon end, and not a moment too soon. Days like these are agonizing. As an emergency physician (ER surgeon), every day of work is a different beast. Some days we get hordes of patients, ranging from those with minor, acute injuries to those in critical condition. You never know what will happen. We’re expected to be prepared for anything.
That in itself is exhausting.
Today is one of the slower days. I met with a teen who had twisted his knee in a football game. Two hours later, I helped an elderly woman who had scalded her finger while pouring her tea. Nothing too serious, and not that much work. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. I wouldn't have studied so hard to become a doctor if it wasn't something I enjoyed. The hours I spend at the hospital vary each week. Some days I get to work all day and other I have to work all night. Too many night shifts in a row and I've become thoroughly exhausted. There's never any rest for us, and even less appreciation for that matter. Even still, I wouldn't want to be doing anything else with my life.
Except for today. For the first time in ages, I have plans.
The clock finally hits '6:00' and I decide to start gathering my things. If a patient bursts in now I can just pass them on to the next doctor, assuming they're here. They’d understand since we’ve all been in a hurry one time or another. Eager as I am, I need to get out of my work coat and scrubs first. I take my time changing back into my casual clothes. A navy-blue sweater under a double-breasted, brown coat was the look I chose this morning. Beige trousers and a belt finish off the outfit, and I quickly check myself out in the reflection of a metal tray. Pretty damn handsome, or at least I think so. The only opinion that truly matters is my wife's.
Leaving the lounge, I pass by some of the other ER doctors and surgeons chatting by the receptionist's desk. One of the surgeons notices me and nods with a smile. She seems just as tired; dark circles are clearly visible under her eyes.
"See you guys tomorrow, I'm just about to head out. My wife's already at the restaurant and...yeah, I didn't plan all that well. Anyone know if the Green line's running late?"
"Yeesh, that's some bad luck. Green's been down all day. Apparently some dumb teens spilled a drink down a maintenance shaft and flooded the tunnels. Kids never change..." She scoffs.
"Damn. I'd take the Red line, but it's super crowded this time of night. She'll have ordered, eaten, and gone for a walk before I get there." I sigh, feeling hopeless. "Oh well, there's always next week."
"Actually." One of the doctors interrupts me. "I do know a shortcut, but it's outside of the safe zones. You'll be walking through biggos territory, but it'll get you there in 30 minutes or less. I took it once, but I only use it when I really have to."
I consider the idea. Generally, leaving the safe zones is strictly prohibited. Technically it's illegal, but it's not a law that anyone really enforces. The risk alone is enough to deter people like us. During rush hour, it's basically guaranteed you'll be reduced to a red stain underneath someone's boot. With all the commotion, they wouldn't even notice until they got home. I doubt they'd care, either.
"What choice do I have? I’ll take it. So, where this shortcut anyway?" I shrug.
"Okay. So, to get to downtown..." He tilts his head and stares up beyond me, trying to visualize it. "Head out from the back door of the building and…head to that big, old, cracked pipe. It's empty and it'll take you halfway there. Exit through the next crack you see and you'll be in an alleyway. From there, you'll be in the streets. I suggest you stay as close as you can to any walls and avoid the pedestrians."
"Sounds doable? I'll give it a shot, thanks. If I'm not here tomorrow, assume the worst." I use my finger to mimic slitting my throat.
Morbid as it is, accidental deaths happen far too often. With such a cruel reality it's somewhat therapeutic to make light of it with jokes. I even manage to get a chuckle out of a few of them. Giving them a wave, I turn and head down the hall to the stairway. On instinct I head to the main entrance before turning to head out the back. Looking back and forth I check that no one is watching, probably looking very suspicious.
As soon as I step through the back door I'm met with the frigid, winter air. I shiver and exhale, seeing the condensation of my breath clearly. I mouth a thank you to my wife for insisting I dress warmly this morning. The sky is dark since the sun went down two hours ago. The only light in the area is from a window somewhere high above me. I locate the pipe: a large, rusty bridge going from one massive building to another. I stare at my feet, situated at the border of the safe zone line. My voice of reasons urges me to reconsider this course of action, so I act before I can come to my senses. If I'm quick, I can minimize the time I spend in danger. It’s a reassuring thought.
I'll be there in no time.
I take my first step out of the safe zone and stand there for a moment, unmoving. If anything were to happen to me here, it would be my fault. The law only protects those who are injured within our protected zones. Am I really about to give up that one guarantee of protection? I step back into the zone, not sure what to do.
"Come on, she's waiting for you. You're wasting time standing here like a scared little kitten. Just do it!"
I mumble under my breath in an attempt to psych myself up. Somehow it works, and I find my feet moving on their own. One step, then two, then three...
I then make my way over to the pipe. It's low to the ground; enough so that I can climb into it if I jump up. The crack is visible and easily big enough for me to slip through. I hop up to it, catching the damaged part with my hands. With a grunt, I pull my out-of-shape body up and crawl into the tunnel. Still on my hands and knees, I gaze into the darkness and shudder. Being alone in the dark would make anyone feel anxious. There’s this feeling that I’m not alone in here.
My voice echoes as it travels down the seemingly infinite distance, fading away somewhere in the abyss. I gulp, take a long, deep breath, and stand back up on my feet. My pan and use my phone as a flashlight. It only illuminates a few feet in front of me, but it's enough to see where I'm going. I start walking, and soon enough, I manage to calm myself down. As dark and spooky as this pipe is, it's providing me protection from the outside world. When I compare this walk to a walk through the streets, I’m immediately inclined to count my blessings.
As I walk, my mind becomes lost in thought and my body goes into autopilot.
Why does the commute have to be so complicated? Actually, why does anything have to be so complicated? Every little thing is a journey to us Lillis. I guess that's what we get for losing the genetic lottery. Our bodies are small, we’re relatively weak, and many don’t even consider us people. Sure, I am a foreigner in this land, but the Gulliveran nation has loads of opportunities for Lilliputians, assuming you're willing to live in a world built for people much bigger than you. Even our buildings only occupy small pockets of their society, here and there.
Life is this land of giants is...complicated. Ever since the three races confirmed that we share essentially the same DNA, we gained the same rights. Despite our diminutive size, we're made of the same stuff. We think, feel, experience and love all the same. Pain and hardship are universal, but rampant sizism tends to make people forget that. Size matters far more than it has any right to.
Currently, you can legally immigrate to and work in any of the three nations, if you're of a smaller race. Naturally, Brobdingnagians don't leave their land. It's simply far too complicated for them to visit the Gulliverans, let alone our nation, Lilliput. I chose to come here with my wife to make ends meet. Neither of us are particularly fond of the larger races. In an ideal world where money was not a factor, I would never have left my quiet town in the southern countryside.
Such is life.
My disdain for those larger than me is not born of jealousy. I lost a friend to a Gulliveran once. A teenage girl thought it would be funny to enter the safe zone and pick him up. Apparently, her friends were pushing her to do it on some stupid dare. That dare ended up costing him his life when she lost her hold on his clothes and he plummeted over 300 feet to his death. It was gruesome, cruel, and completely unexpected. One day he was with us and the next he was gone. Needless to say, we couldn’t let his family see the state of his corpse. Not his poor, old mother; I don’t think she could have handled that. Now that I think about it, I'm older than he ever got to be. He was four years older than me, at the time. Damn, I miss him a lot. At least I can rest easy knowing that the girl was punished for it. The law came through and she had to spend some time behind bars for involuntary manslaughter.
My wife has had her own share of losses too. I can't even begin to imagine how she must feel, having lost both her parents so suddenly. This happened years before I met her, but apparently her parents had saved up enough money to go on vacation. The two of them had only just retired and were looking to start the next stage of their lives with an adventure. Of all the places they could have chosen, they chose Brobdingnag. It should have been safe, but sometimes accidents just happen. Towards the end of their flight, their airplane, one of many arriving at the same terminal, crashed. They were just about to land at the Lilli airport when some Brob woman decided to walk a little too close to the safe zone. She was so fast—line she came out of nowhere. Ground control was doing all they could to alert her, but they didn't act in time. As she walked by, two planes hit her neck and three went right into her cheek. The ensuing explosions left no survivors.
The woman had only felt some tiny pricks on her skin and thought nothing of it, going on her merry way. It became an international incident and she was eventually put on trial once the public uproar got loud enough to reach Brob ears. She was let off on technicality, since she had indeed been in the safe zone at the time and the planes were simply too tiny for someone so enormous to see them. Although it wouldn't bring the victims back to life, she expressed sincere remorse over what had transpired. Personally, I don't blame her, but I would never tell my wife that. It's because of accidents like this that there's essentially zero interaction between Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians. When you're that big, can you really be blamed for not noticing beings no bigger than specks? We try to respect our differences and stay the hell away from them, when we can.
I hold my hand out in front of me, glancing at it closely. There’s a black speck on my fingertip, probably some dirt from earlier. If I were a Brob, that would be a Lilliputian. That speck, something I can only see if I concentrate really hard, barely even visible to the naked eye, is how I appear to them. Those planes were probably around an inch long to her, I bet. How terrifying.
We fear them, and for good reason.
Whenever people of difference sizes interact it's almost always bad. I don't believe in different-size relationships, let alone cooperation. How could I ever like someone so big, let alone love them? These tragedies are just the tip of the iceberg. I only mentioned some of the 'accidental' deaths. Although no government official will acknowledge it, there are a whole lot more Lilli fatalities than we hear about.
It's simple, really. You're big; you think you're somehow superior; and you act accordingly. In extreme cases, the smaller races aren't even regarded at all. 'Insects', 'Pests', and 'Mants'--it's all the same. Size equals value. If you think about it, doesn’t it seem like the bigger something is, the more important it’s life is? No one bats an eye when squishing an ant. Killing a mouse might make some feel remorse. A dog or cat would definitely be seen as bad. By that logic killing an elephant or a whale would be the worst of all, I think. A truly terrible act.
There's a pattern here.
Or maybe there isn't?
Maybe it's about power?
Everyone knows that power is attractive. Some people get off on that. When your race inherently grants you power, you'll be inclined to use it. The Gulliverans are the worst, in my opinion. Being the 'middle race' means they should relate to both Lillis and Brobs. You'd think being bigger than some while also being smaller than others would put things in perspective, but it doesn't.
Sex trafficking of Lillis is real, even in this city. You get captured, sold, and then used by some sick giant or giantess. Being crushed, eaten alive, or tortured really depends on how depraved they are. If they're the types who like 'toys' then you can look forward to a painful end in one of their orifices, while they get off at the expense of your life. I’ll leave it at that.
We live in a sick world. Life isn't fair and there's nothing to be done about it. Sometimes I like to imagine what it would be like if we lived in a world in which everyone was the same size. It's silly, but I like to think that we'd have world peace. Like, what would we fight about if sizism wasn't a thing?
I finally snap out of my daydream when I notice some light up ahead. I pick up the pace and head toward it. It's the first crack down the line, just as my coworker told me. I carefully step through it and hop the short distance down to the ground. I'm in an alleyway now and can see the street up ahead. Apparently, it connects the two streets on opposite sides of the block. My target is another broken pipe on the other end of the alleyway. Just a little farther and I'll be at the restaurant. Lucky for me, it seems that no one is crossing through. Not too many giants are walking around in the streets either, which is a huge relief. I start making my way through the alley when I hear a noise. It's loud and it's beginning to shake the ground as it intensifies.
There's no mistake; it's a Gulliveran.