Monday, February 27, 2012
I move through the train cars at a good clip, slowing between cars only because these junctures always make me nervous. There is hardly a soul on this train, but it’s enough to warrant my presence here. I can feel that things are progressing too slowly, I have missed my target somehow and now I am moving away from him. Disaster is eminent.
“Still no visual.” I say scanning the car. My voice, transmitted by the nano mics implanted in my hair follicles, reaches Zenith back at mission control as though we were standing shoulder to shoulder.
“Copy that.” Zenith’s voice sounds in my ear. “We’re reaching critical here.”
“I know.” I tell him. And I do, I can feel it in my rising pulse, the dizzying sensation that fills my head. “The third car, the third car.” I mutter under my breath and finally a little louder I announce, “I’m going back to the third car. He should have been there. He must still be there.” I turn on my heel and retrace my steps, jogging as I go, barreling through those doors between cars. Things are really hot when I reach my destination, my head is swimming.
“Ava, you’re running out of time.” Zenith’s voice is anxious. I scan the car. An old woman taking a nap, two small girls playing a clapping game besides a mother reading a magazine, a young man bobbing his head placidly to music only he can hear.
I push into the passage between the second and third car, standing right in that in between space that terrifies me. There is a whistling sound and I notice a maintenance flap that opens to the outside of the train.
“God.” I gasp, though I don’t believe particularly in any God, “He’s outside, he’s somewhere on the outside of the third car.”
I slip through the flap, holding tight to the hand grips mounted to the side of the train. The wind hits me with an icy blast and I find myself clinging to the side of the train, bathed in the pale light of the tunnel. There he is, holding onto the outside of the car just a foot away from me, red faced, perspiring, waves of anguish and fear radiating from his body.
He has a small black beard, closely trimmed. There’s only a brief moment in which he looks over his right shoulder and stares with surprise at the woman clinging to the train beside him. Then I started Qrelling.
All that I need is that moment of eye contact. In that instant I establish a connection, I begin to speak with them in a language beyond languages, I begin to unravel time and reality as though they were strands of yarn in a multicolored scarf. There are many possible moments, this moment is only one possibility, one possible choice.
For this man, for instance, this is a moment in a string of moments that may lead to him detonating a bomb that will wreck the train ending his life and the lives of most of the other passengers. One of the little girls in the third car may miraculously survive. But like pearls I lay the moments out for him, showing him possibilities that lead him away from anguish, away from suffering, away from death and destruction.
Some Qrellers could help this man to get off of this train, but maybe a week, or a year later he hangs himself or takes a rifle into an elementary school. Maybe another Qreller is there to stop him, or maybe not.
I have a talent and it is this: I can lead this man into a possibility where he never harms himself or any other being ever again. It is a matter of being able to see far enough, of holding the attention long enough, and most of all , of being able to maintain the contact with the target in order to take him with me on this journey.
I am showing him the possibilities, leading him through a labyrinthine web of moments, offering him a way that he could not find on his own, not just saving him in this life, but in many possible lives.
Finally we find it, that way, a translucent stream flowing through a perfect array of pearly existence, Ariadne’s thread. I extend my hand and he clamps onto it, tears streaming from his eyes. We are still there when the train arrives at the next station and the rest of the team helps us onto the platform. He grabs hold of my hand again before we part, his eyes are the wide eyes of a man who has seen for the first time to the center of his own being; the heart of the labyrinth of existence.
“Thank you, thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I say. There are tears in both of our eyes as we part.
Back at HQ Zenith shakes his head heavy with thick dreads and grips my shoulder grinning wide, white teeth gleaming in his dark face.
“You did it again. That’s a perfect record. 23 Ava, with no loses. No one in this division has ever come close.”
“It was a close one though.” I sigh, realizing finally that it’s over, my work for the moment is done. “You want to stop at the tea garden after operations are tied up here? I could use a warm cup of anything.”
Zenith grins wider and rubs my shoulder soothingly. There is a strange moment in which he doesn’t answer me. He only looks at me from behind that frozen grin. Then he says:
“Ava, there are some people here from Lancre.” We stare at each other.
“What do they want?”
His smile softens and he gives my shoulder another squeeze.
What is this emotion that we are feeling together? Elation. Lancre employs the most elite team of Qrellers in the world. They have access to the best and most innovative technologies and are contracted by the major global players, those whose infra structures reaches from Primus to Bedrock in their territories; the UN, the Tri-American Federation, and The Peoples Republic of Asia.
Sorrow. I’ll be leaving our little project funded by the local government and the team that trained me, the team I’ve grown with. I take a look around at our basement with white tarp functioning as dividers, Zenith’s folding table littered with electronics that look like something raided from an antique store specializing in 20th century home entertainment devices. I look back into Zenith’s familiar dark face finding his eyes again.
“23 Ava....23. With what they have at Lancre, imagine what you can do.”
Lancre is all steel and glass rising through two terra regions and breaking the surface of Primus. Hardly anyone can afford access to Primus anymore with its authentic blue skies. All of that glass takes advantage of the opportunity to flaunt such a rare view.
I am seeing true sky for the first time in this possibility. It is strangely unsettling, like looking at a prosthetic hand, except this is the real thing and what I am accustomed to is a prosthesis.
My guides through the halls of Lancre are a man and a woman in crisp black suits. Her hair is pinned in an immaculate French twist and her skirt is tight, very feminine. She does all the talking, he is silent with broad shoulders and a close haircut. He looks bored.
They have given me a brief tour of the facilities, introducing me to some of the technological advances being employed here, letting me shake hands with some of the legendary names; Felix Kaffa, Nora Al Gi. Now we are in an office of stainless steel fixtures seated at a long table.
Her name is Mia and she has already shown me the figure that will be my yearly salary, a number too large for me to comprehend the impact it will have on my life realistically. A number that simply means I shall not want for anything, ever again.
She has shown me the brochure of the living quarters offered to all Lancre Qrellers. We are free to obtain residence elsewhere if we wish, but the Lancre penthouses are equipped with state of the art equipment and facilities to help Qrellers relax and recharge. They are also above Primus where I will have access to fresh air and sunshine, and one is mine for the rest of my life, once I sign the contracts and become an agent of Lancre.
Mia is laying the contracts in front of me.
“The wonderful thing, Ava, is that you will take no more than six assignments a year, we have enough agents to rotate. You will never be overworked or overtired. And you won’t have to worry how things will get along without you because every agent at Lancre is as qualified as you are.” She tells me, handing me the thin stainless steel pen. “All I need is your signature. Then we’ll go over and select your penthouse or I can take you to meet a property manager I know who can help you find something else suitable. Tomorrow we can introduce you to your team and you can begin conditioning.”
I start to read the contract. And then I see it, the strangest thing.
“Excuse me, what does this mean?” I ask Mia
“Oh, it just means that when you are Qrelling you can’t arrange things too far. You can heal no more than three probable instances of violence.”
“What? A lot of people can’t Qrell beyond three instances. Why would you stop someone who can do more?”
“Well, Lancre is a private firm. Someone pays us to avert the first three. Someone else will pay us to avert the next three."
I stare at the contract. A cold sensation washes over me. The temptation is not too strong. I feel only a slight sense of loss as I set the pen down. What is being gained is limitless, immeasurable.
“I’m sorry.” I tell her. “I am happily employed by the City States of California.”
Mia laughs a little as if she thinks I am joking. She falls silent as I stand.
“Thank you for the tour. I think you should show me out now.”
Show me back underground where I am needed, where they are wandering blind through the darkened passages of a coiled maze. I can show them the way, a way beyond skies of any color or comfort, or currency. Show me out now. I will show myself out. I will show us all out as I have always done, as I will always do, as I am doing now. Extending a hand, uncoiling a line, traveling to the center and back out again. I think you should show me the way out now, but if you won’t, then I will.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Isa sat on the old tan carpet, her back pressed against the worn and sagging double mattress. The bed took up nearly the entire studio, which was only about 200 square feet, smaller than some of the bedrooms she had lived in. There was one single wide window by the front door with a view of the grassy courtyard in front, which was green but still managed to exude an aura of abandonment with its yellow dandelions and overgrown patches.
Opposite the window was a small kitchenette just barely visible behind a wall of boxes. There were stacks and stacks of things in the crowded studio, a lifetime of stuff crammed between four walls. On top of the boxes were loose papers and dirty laundry, dust and dog hair, the smell of things left sitting too long. Below the thin glass window was a faded striped couch whose back was covered with an old gray blanket that looked coarse to the touch.
A narrow walkway had been created between all the boxes and trash bags filled with clothes, it wove around the bed and between the boxes and stacks of papers and cut back to the bathroom and kitchenette. The carpet, only visible because of the cleared path, was tan and covered in a thick layer of beige dog hair. The studio was one in a dozen of single-story Indian red cottages just off the intersection of Broadway and San Lorenzo, which ran parallel to the river. The cottages were easily accessible by a single flight of stairs (just ten steps) that led from the intersection down to Barson St, which marked the beginning of the beach flats, a neighborhood of immigrants, small-time prostitutes, street dealers and a handful of students.
Isa sat on the ground, her back pressed against the mattress and dirty box spring. Ray sat in front of her on the couch, his knees shaking, his jaw clenching over and over like he was chewing gum, his entire body a picture of anxiety. Mick was supposed to be back any minute with the score. Until the moment he came back, opening the door with a squeak, Ray would sit there uncomfortably, his eyes darting nervously without seeing anything.
Debbie was laying on the bed sipping on a large glass of water, the golden retriever curled up by her feet.
“When did you say he left Deb?” Ray asked.
“He left about thirty minutes ago, but you know how slow he walks, nothin’ he can really do to go faster- those legs-”
“Yeah-” Ray answered nervously.
Isa pictured Mick walking, a thin man with thinner twisted legs and a colostomy bag hanging by his hip. He looked like an old Bob Dylan, if Bob Dylan had been hit by a car and then left in a hole for ten years. His face was sunken and pock-marked and pale, his dirty curly hair was just a few inches long but looked withered and burnt. Debbie was over forty, had thick limbs and a torso covered in fat. She was in her pajamas sprawled out on the faded blue sheets, looking slightly less anxious than Ray, but she was waiting too, anxious to shoot up.
“He left like- thirty minutes ago Deb?”
“Man, I’d have given him a ride if I knew it was gonna be this long. I’m phenin,’ you know?”
“I know. We’re all hurtin’”
Isa was quiet sitting on the old tan carpet, her back pressed against the worn and sagging double mattress. She looked at Ray, her beautiful boyfriend who had turned into something she just couldn’t bare to admit, not now. Now she just wanted the drugs. Wanted him to find a vein, get some dope for tomorrow and then they could go home. Maybe he’d eat her out when he felt better, maybe they’d watch a movie, lay in bed. Then she could pretend things were ok.