Ward Stoner Found a Solution
Also in the library, Ward Stoner walked briskly into the main lobby and thumped his knuckles on the desk. In his mind, as the muscle behind the Blue Guard, he was entitled to fast service. Everyone else could go to the back of the line. A woman and two small children had come in ahead of him to return a stack of books and Stoner was losing his patience. The boy and his sister bounced back and forth arguing over who would carry the books.
“Madam, control your children,” he snapped.
“Certainly, Inspector.” The woman led both children through the portal. The curly haired five-year-old looked back at Stoner and stuck out his tongue. Stoner deemed the boy a good judge of character.
Stoner took pride in being a part of an elite department of the national police. The Blue Guard was considered a necessary evil. They took their orders from no one and their actions were under the scrutiny of no one. At one time, they had the power to protect the citizens from abuses from the government. They were originally established to derive their powers, not from the government, but from the people. Now, they were too often the source of abuse against the people. Stoner was one of those who perpetrated some of the most heinous abuses, especially in the last year.
Something had been working in Ward’s life. His attitudes and behavior vacillated back and forth, from somewhat considerate, to wholly inconsiderate. One day recently he woke to find himself changed. A shroud had lifted from his eyes, and he could see again. That day, he hesitated before lashing out and thought before applying force. Other days, he bent his personality around his old principles as he searched for more power. He was a jagged riddle unto himself, never knowing which side of his personality would emerge at any point during the day, until the day acted upon him. But, he had a job to do. He had shopping to complete . . . and he did not like waiting.
“Thank you Ma’am,” he mumbled and tipped his hat at the woman as he went through the library gate.
“May I help you, Sir?” Frank, the portal monitoring guard asked as he watched the inspector approach.
“No, I know the area I’m looking for. I spent many hours in here as a student.” Stoner pushed through the gate brashly and covered the length of the hall with great strides. He rarely asked for assistance in anything. He depended on no one.
Science, here we are, he mumbled to himself. Stoner studied in those stacks as an undergrad student intent on becoming a renowned scientist. Then he met Miriam, the counterbalance in his life. But, now she was gone. All he had left was his mother and his son. His true balance had died with his wife.
He walked through the stacks and slowed at the A’s. Astronomy. There was a large section of books, astrological charts, and other related materials. He ran his eyes rapidly over the bindings until he found what he was looking for. He took the volume to a nearby table and flipped it open to the index.
There it is, Pluto, Discovery. He ran his finger down the page, speed-reading the text and then snapped the book closed. I knew it, he sneered as if he had been walking his trap lines all morning and had just caught an unsuspecting animal.
Covered Her Tracks
All of the books and papers I had taken off the library shelves, I carefully replaced, so no one would know I had been in the room should someone venture in. My ability to move about in the back section of the library and linger as long as I had, was a stroke of good luck. Earlier, I had logged out for the day and this time I hadn’t signed back in. Security guards could have seen me enter, checked on me, and then thrown me out.
I walked cautiously from the back room and locked the door behind me. Even when I hurried along the corridor back to collect my things before leaving, there was no one in the hall or around the next corner. I stopped at Mary’s desk to pick up my bag and tunic before I left the back area. I had Dr. Jason O’Reilly on my mind.
“Oh, Christiana, I’ve been so anxious to get out of here, I had forgotten you were back there.” The reference librarian looked up from her work. “I didn’t hear you. Wonder why I didn’t?”
“What do you mean?”
“Every time someone comes or goes, there’s a faint buzz. Nothing happened this time.”
“How odd,” I agreed then retrieved my belongings and put the paper and pencil into my pocket.
As I hurried down the library’s main hall, I saw a Blue Shirt approaching from the left. I could feel my heart beating faster and wondered if my fear was obvious to the officer as well. I had hidden the book at home, but I still carried Silas Drummond’s desperate note in my bag. Upset with myself for displaying such a reaction to the guard’s presence, I tried to cover my surprise with a comment.
“I see someone else is spending the near holidays in the library.” I wondered if I sounded as panicked as I felt. Christiana, get a grip on yourself! I was surely going to dissolve into helpless fear or giddy giggles. I didn’t know which. I only knew I was nearly out of control.
“Yes Ma’am,” the blue-shirted Chief Inspector murmured gruffly, tipped his hat and moved swiftly past me. The clip, clip of his shoes sounded just as rigid as he had appeared.
I exhaled and darted past Frank with a merry smile. “In a hurry—sorry.”
“Certainly My Lady,” he glanced up and waved me on.
I panicked again but resisted the urge to run out of the building. My leg muscles ached. I felt as if I were fleeing down a marathon course on the inside, while crawling to the finish line in reality. Did the Blue Guardsman know me? Do I have to jump and run every time one comes near? Will all of this never end?
By the time I got to the transit, I felt calm and more in control, until I boarded. I was both amazed and irritated. That strange man who had ridden the bus before and stared at me was still on the bus or maybe he had boarded again. Was I being stalked? The thought made my skin knot in fear. My feet were ready to run while my body was forced to remain still. Finally, I took a front seat where I didn’t have to look at him. I tried to clear my mind by thinking about the little shops that flanked the medical complex.
The old books would have called the buildings quaint. I liked that word, and I loved the shops. They reminded me of something I couldn’t recall, an old picture, or a description from a romantic novel I had read. Each small shop was slightly different in architectural style and painted an array of colors that fed my spirit. They seemed to greet everyone like assorted bobbles on a charm bracelet. Their ambiance of comfortable steadfastness helped to wipe away the anxiety I had felt in the library and on the transit.
Once at my destination, I smiled with anticipation as I entered the Demitasse, the popular coffee shop. I was surprised to see Doctor O’Reilly waiting for me at a corner table.
“You’re early.” I laughed. “I’ve finally met a physician who is willing to be kept waiting. It is usually the other way around.”
“I was able to leave early.” Dr. O’Reilly smiled. He stood and pulled out my chair for me.
I stared at him for a moment. It was unusual to see a man with the old manners most men had forgotten years ago or never had. “Thank you, kind sir.” I sat down and wanted to bluster out with question after question. Tell me about the books. How many have you read? Do you know anything about the Length of Days process? I decided I had better know a little bit more about the man before I asked too many questions.
“How long have you been here in Capitol City, Dr. O’Reilly?”
Before he could answer, the serving girl came to take our order. My questions had to wait.
“What would you like, Miss Applewait?” Then, he turned to the waitress. “I’d like the steak sandwich and coffee,” Jason said.
“Um, I don’t think I have eaten all day. I had just a few of my grandmother’s fresh baked cookies. That sounds good. I’ll have the same.” I sat back and looked around the delightful room.
“Right,” the serving girl jotted down the order and bustled away.
We dissolved into casual conversation, small talk, one of my books called it. It felt natural and comfortable. Even the silent parts, while we took time to eat, were packed full of a closeness that was growing. I was surprised that I was enjoying myself so much.
“You’ve had a busy day?” I said as I watched him relax and enjoy his food.
“Very busy,” he admitted. “Hospital rounds took longer than usual, which put me behind schedule seeing my office patients. Luckily, those in the hospital were all being discharged in time for the holidays. But, there were a lot of them.”
“What with the epidemic and all,” I teased, reverting back to the morning’s conversation I had with Dahlia in the medical office.
“I wouldn’t call it an epidemic in the same sense as an illness or communicable disease. But, Christy . . . is Christy okay?”
“Sure Jason.” I felt comfortable using his first name. He was rapidly becoming more Jason than Dr. O’Reilly.
“It’s not like we have an outbreak of an old illness, like influenza, or something. It’s . . . I probably shouldn’t talk about the office.”
“You’re not talking about your patients. You’re talking about the non-epidemic. You don’t have to give me their names.”
“True,” he paused again. “Christy, I am seeing suicidal young people . . . so many of them. Medicine had eradicated depression and suicide when they put additives in the drinking water. And, there’s another curious thing. All of these young people expressed a fear that I would take them back to their previous feeling level, of flat and bland emotions. They wouldn’t consider returning to a life of nothingness. Their new found joy of living was worth the possibility of their death.”
“Did they have a wound on their shoulder at their inoculation sight, like I did?” Something inside of me was trying to pull together all of the mysterious threads that were emerging in my life.
“No, they had no complaint of itching or something tearing their clothing. A general exam didn’t reveal anything either?” He looked intently at me, a curious expression on his face. “What do you know, Christy? I feel I am getting answers to questions I never knew I was supposed to ask.”
I reached in my pocket and pulled out the tissue Jason had given me earlier. “Grand-mère said this small coded particle was not to be removed. She said it was my identification chip that has everything on it, including my DNA code.”
“I knew we used to tag people, but I had no idea . . .” Jason shook his head. He seemed bewildered. “Why didn’t I know that? I’m a physician. I’m sorry, Christiana. I didn’t mean to ―”
“Jason, I guess I understand your anger. A few hours ago, neither of us knew anything about tagging children nor the true reality of this world in which we live. Of course a doctor should be told about all aspects of their patients’ health, like removing the chip from my shoulder. How would you know how to treat any of us if you had not been trained or informed about the I.D. chips?”
He looked at me as if a few of the missing pieces had suddenly fallen into place. “That’s what the pediatricians were talking about.” He shook his head. “Why didn’t I ask?” He stared out the window in silence for a minute. “I am embarrassed. I should have known. Why didn’t I?”
“I think the important question is why did they keep the secret from you? Especially, since you’re a Legacy Citi―”
Jason’s eyes snapped up to meet mine. He didn’t seem angry, just surprised.
His eyes squinted and he smiled quizzically. “Now, how did you find out about that?”
“Grand-mère told me.” I lightly touched his hand. “I am sorry. I didn’t mean to let your secret out.”
“Don’t worry about it, Christy,” he said as he took my hand in his. “It isn’t a secret. It’s just something I don’t tell people. I am already treated differently because I’m a doctor. If people knew I was Legacy as well, they would be spreading laurel wreaths in my path. I don’t want any part of that.”
“I like that in you,” I whispered, then wondered if I should have spoken so honestly. Why was I feeling such a strong and immediate attraction to this man? I changed the subject. “Jason, do you think the chip could have other functions besides identification?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this, I’m going to find out.” Jason picked up his cup and made a face. The coffee had obviously grown cold. He motioned for the server to come and freshen up our cups.
After she left, I whispered, “If the suicidal kids had a missing or damaged chips that might have told us something. You have removed mine, what if I don’t have it put back? What effect would that have?”
“I guess you won’t be identified. After I gave you the detoxification tablets and you left, Dahlia told me she had found a lot of pills missing. She couldn’t tell me exactly how many since we have never dispensed them before, they’ve just waited there, locked away in storage. We have no idea who could have taken them.”
“Why would someone want to go through the detoxification process? What would they get out of it? What do I get out of it? What is this all about, Jason? Should I put the tablets in my water or not? What about you?”
“Since doctors don’t prescribe for themselves, I get my detox pills from another physician. I take them. I advise you to take them too. After you’ve used the packet of tablets I gave you, you’ll be given a second amount with a higher dose, gradually increasing the amount, while you slowly detoxify. Think about it. If these kids used the tablets in a non-prescribed way, I have no idea what the outcome would be. They may have taken larger initial doses than they should have.”
“One would think that pure water would be a good thing.”
“Christy, it is a good thing. But, we’re not really sure what is being filtered out. Maybe pure water isn’t the only goal.”
A spark of insight flashed through my mind. “Jason! The antidepressants that are in the water . . . maybe the young people are filtering out too much too fast. That may explain the suicide tendencies. They could experience a ricochet of reverberating emotions, bouncing all over the place.”
“That is it, Christy! That has to be it. But, why are they using the tablets, and why are they using such a high dose?”
“Well . . . what are some of the side effects one would experience with antidepressant medication? The side effects would be gone too.” It made sense to me to see what they would gain back, if they eliminated the medication from their system.
“Sex!” Jason whispered excitedly. He had obviously been too loud when others turned to stare. He lowered his voice and added, “Christy! They would get their sex drive back.”
“Sex drive? You mean that I’ll get a sex drive? Jason O’Reilly, you tell me the truth and you tell me right now.” I blushed at the very idea that we were sitting in a quiet coffee shop talking about sex. Not that it was taboo. It wasn’t. In fact, no one seemed to care about sex anymore. Maybe the additives in the water were the reason everyone stopped caring.
“Christy, I think you may have hit on the cause of several situations, the etiology of the epidemic as you called it and the reason for the low libido in everybody else. As I read the old books, I wondered what they were talking about when they spoke of passion and longing. As I explained, I began my detoxification several years ago, but I have never been attracted to anyone before. Now, Christy, with you ―”
“Jason, I’m attracted to you too and I’ve only had one dose of the detoxification tablets. It’s all happening so fast.” I sat back in my chair but could not take my eyes off his handsome face.
“Maybe, as we detoxify, we become drawn to others who are also medication free, or at least have begun the process. In that way, Legacies are attracted to each other.” Jason leaned in even closer. “Did you just say you’re attracted to me?” His smile was mischievous and compelling.
There was an amazing excitement I had never experienced before. It made my heart rate increase. I actually thought I was beginning to perspire . . . in December!
“Christy?” Jason murmured lowly. He cupped his hand under my chin so my eyes would meet his. His warm smile spread from his eyes across his face.
“Yes, you heard correctly, Dr. O’Reilly.” I blushed and then cooled my passion by turning the conversation to the books he had talked about. “Wait a minute. What do you mean you read about passion in the old books? You were going to tell me about those books.”
He hesitated. “You switched tracks on me pretty fast that time.” Then he smiled, “The books . . . okay.” He lowered his voice and looked around to see if anyone was close. “I’m feeling a little paranoid talking about the books in public.”
“I know what you mean. When I am in the back rooms of the library, I’m afraid someone will come in unexpectedly. I am constantly looking over my shoulder.”
“Is that a bad thing? Is the library a dangerous place?”
“The back rooms, the ones all the way down the back hall, are totally off limits to everyone else, except Marge, the curator of old books and documents, and me.”
“What’s back there, Christy? The Constitution?” Jason smiled as if he had just made a joke. “Christy?”
“Among other things . . . yes.” I patted his hand, hoping we could move on. “Your books? Let’s talk about your books.”
“Well, they aren’t my books. Maybe . . . I guess they are like mine,” Jason said. “No one else knows they are kept there. That must make them mine. And, I’m the only one who brings them home.”
“Home? Jason, where are they?” I needed to know about other collections of books, those outside the library, in case there were books there that I hadn’t read.
“Christy, they’re in the hospital library. People used to read while they recuperated. I take them home, one at a time, and then return them later. That wing of the hospital has been sealed off for many years. Since it also houses the DNA file banks and bears the Bradford family name, our strongest benefactors by the way, that section remains open, even if it isn’t open to the public.”
“How many books are in there? What kind? Who are the authors? Can I see them?”
“Slow down, Miss Applewait. Drink your coffee.” He wasn’t ordering me. It was a tease rather than a command.
I watched Jason closely. There was so much to learn about him. “You know I’m going to see those books eventually don’t you? Sooner or later.” Just then the server brought fresh water, and I remembered the little white tablets and took them out of my bag. “Every glass of water?” I asked as I paused over the water before releasing the pill.
“Every glass,” he agreed, then smiled mischievously. “And, let’s not forget the side effects, or the elimination of them in your case.”
I couldn’t believe he had just said that. I had only known him half a day. What I had learned so far, I liked. Admittedly, there was an attraction. I had no idea how to handle the new emotions I was feeling, except to avoid them. So, I changed the subject. “Could we go to the hospital library Jason, so I can see the books?”
Jason looked at me and the corners of his blue eyes crinkled softly. “Yes, I guess that would be all right. There wouldn’t be anyone in the DNA lab at this time of day, given the upcoming holiday. We can go there from here, if you have the time.”
“Do I have the time? I’ll carve time out of my imagination if I have to,” I laughed. “But I have just one more question.” I scanned the room for safety and then whispered, “My grandparents will be seventy-five in a few days. What is the process with the never-ending-sleep?”
He looked surprised that I was asking about the Length of Days law. “The sleep? Everything we have been taught tells us that it is just that. When a person gets to the end of their Length of Days, they are put into a state of perpetual sleep.”
He wasn’t confirming what Silas said at all. “Where are their bodies then?” I asked.
“There are storage areas for sleepers within some of the mountains around here.” He looked at me carefully. “Why the questions?”
“I read some very disturbing information recently. But we can talk about it later.” I knew I shouldn’t get the note from Silas out of my bag where someone else might see us exchanging something that appeared secretive.
We left the restaurant and stepped out into the wonderful late afternoon air. The wind from the northeast was chilling, so I drew my tunic around me. A light frost crunched under our feet and the aroma of espresso coffee from inside the Demitasse hung on the cold air like perfume from a fine crystal bottle. It was breathtaking and it was December, nearly Gifting Day. Snow would certainly follow in a few days. The Gift-giving season was upon us and I hadn’t even noticed the passage of time. In spite of the frost in the air, I felt strangely warm as Jason took my hand in his.
Cameras in the Capitol
In the heart of the city, Ward Stoner pushed his way into the Capitol Building and flashed his badge at the guard. His attitude of entitlement to authority was enough to command domination. He stormed past the entry portal, elbowed an elderly woman out of his way and made a straight path back to the Capitol security office.
“Yes Sir,” the duty officer jumped up and snapped to attention. He kept his eyes focused forward like the royal guards of old.
“We may have a small glitch in our security around town.” Stoner paced back and forth, both impatient and somewhat bored with the smallness of the task. “Only one incident has been reported. It’s rather an odd situation. It may be an anomaly but we’re not going to error on the side of laziness.”
“No, Sir,” the duty officer agreed.
Stoner glanced at the guard. The officer’s rigid, fixed gaze irritated him. How could he intimidate someone who never blinked? “Someone has accessed a secure area without setting off a buzzer,” Stoner sneered. “While the reported incident happened on a transit bus, we are not going to wait until it happens in a more sensitive area. I will be stopping at the courthouse, the banks, the hospital, and the communication headquarters with a system to get things started before the holiday.”
The duty office said nothing. He simply maintained attention.
“Are you hearing me, Mister?” Stoner growled, with his face aggressively thrust out toward the guard.
“Yes, Sir,” the security officer shot back with bullet report speed. “The Capitol will be locked up tight during the holiday weekend. No guards will be on duty because no one can get it.”
“I’m taking no chances,” Stoner snapped. “Then, on December twenty-fifth, while the buildings are closed, I will view the tapes and see if we’ve caught anything or anyone. The little swisher will not get past me.”
“The twenty-fifth, Inspector Tomb― . . . Stoner? That’s the holiday.”
“Yes, it is the holiday.” Stoner worked his jaw in impatient anger. He had heard the slip and chose to ignore it. “We cannot wait until we have a serious breach of security before we begin investigating.”
Stoner pushed the security guard’s papers to the corner of the office desk, plopped his bag down in the middle and unzipped it. “I have some old motion sensor video cameras we’re going to use to catch this guy.”
“Really Sir? Those haven’t been used in years.” The officer’s interest peaked as he studied the camera. Such stop action picture equipment was no longer available.
“No, they haven’t. But, we have a well-stocked arsenal of weapons and instruments, both new and vintage. We use the best weapon for the kill and in a case like this, one of these. I’ll set up a camera here at the portal to the Capitol, a few throughout the building, and at the other major locations I mentioned. A second camera will be positioned ten yards past the security check to catch anyone we missed with the first images. We will see anyone who walks through the portal, even if we don’t hear a buzz. It won’t matter if it’s an animal, human, or specter.”
A Cache of Books
After leaving the café, Jason and I walked across the street to Memorial Hospital where he would sneak us into the private library. It was dark outside by that hour so the building glowed with glittering lights, an oasis in the dimly lit city. By contrast, the other neighborhoods were allowed only an eerie glow from the energy-efficient, non-heat producing bulbs that cast a pall over the city. Only the Gifting lights provided a colorful break from the drab.
“You walk in first, Christy,” Jason whispered. “I’ll follow behind you and we’ll meet by the elevators. We’ll ride up to the second floor, then get off and walk up two more flights. That way, it won’t be obvious that we’re going to a closed area of the hospital.” Jason kissed my cheek and guided me in through the front door.
In the middle of the open hallway on the main floor, a marble topped information desk and communication station commanded a presence. A pleasant looking, middle-aged woman looked up and smiled as I walked past but since I kept on going, she said nothing. I reached the elevators just as the doors opened. Looking back, I didn’t see Jason and didn’t know what to do next. Another woman, in a green uniform, stepped onto the elevator and stared at me. “Well, Ma’am, are you coming?” Then she seemed to recognize me and looked away.
Up two floors. I rehearsed Jason’s instructions and stepped into the car just as he hurried around the corner and slipped onto the lift. I started to smile, when the woman in the green uniform spoke to him.
“Dr. O’Reilly, why are you here at this hour?” She didn’t really look at him but faced forward and watched the floor numbers tick off above the door, as people tend to do who need assurance and control.
“I’ll just be a little while,” he explained, then stepped to the side as the doors opened on the third floor.
I hesitated. He wasn’t getting off.
“Ma’am?” the lady groaned again obviously irritated.
“Oh,” I feigned absentmindedly, “sorry.”
I stepped off without looking back at Jason, and walked toward the drinking fountain. A moment later, Jason darted through the door that led from the stairwell, out of breath and beaming.
“That was fun!” He whispered hoarsely as he touched my back.
“Jason, what happened?”
“I thought I’d better not make a display of getting off the elevator with you, so I rode up to the next floor, waited to the last second, then pretended I’d been daydreaming and nearly missed my floor. I squeezed out through the closing doors. Right or wrong, it was still exciting.” He took my hand and led me back into the stairwell so we could walk up two additional flights. Jason paused at the stairway door, checked to make sure no one was in that wing of the hospital and then eased us silently into the hall. We darted through the double doors to the left and into a darkened passageway. “If we stay close to the wall, we can make our way into the back recesses.”
We turned at the next cross hallway. A little beam of moonlight was sneaking in through the window at the end of the hall, just enough to lend light to the next turn. Once around the corner, Jason guided us through a windowless door into a room on the right. “We can turn on the overhead lamps in here. The room is positioned in the heart of the building. None of the walls have outside exposure. No one will look in and see us in here.”
“Ah!” I gasped as the lights snapped on. I found myself in a richly veined gold mine of precious books. “Oh Jason, look at all of them.” I ran my fingers over the first few shelves and moved on around the room. “How many are there?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never counted them.”
“How many have you read?” I saw titles of many wonderful old stories from the last centuries. I had read some of these books before, their words strung together like pearls on a string that created a beautifully crafted work of art. Over the years, the language, attitudes and vocabulary changed, but in these books the underlying message was always the same: good won over evil, and love was the redeeming and saving emotion of all time.
“There are hundreds of them locked in here,” Jason said. “I’ve had the ability to safely get them out of the hospital, and since I don’t have much to do in the evening, I read.” Jason’s voice trailed off. I thought it might have been a sad testimony to his loneliness. “We shouldn’t take too long,” he hurried me along “I usually hear a beep if someone comes through that outer door.”
“A beep? Someone else said something about a beeping sound as people passed certain points. I haven’t heard any tone.”
“Oh sure, there’s always a sound. You just get used to it after a while.” Jason pulled a book from the shelf. “Here’s one I like, Autumn of Love.” He opened the small leather bound book and leafed through a few pages and read:
“Autumn’s richest golden days
held love’s promise within their grasp,
and sending leaves upon the wind,
whispered, “Death won’t win. Love will last.”
“Jason,” I gasped, amazed at the beauty of the words from lives lived long, with promise and togetherness. “I don’t know what to say. I can only feel.”
Jason pulled me to him and kissed me tenderly. “I’ve waited so long,” he whispered. I knew what he meant, even though I didn’t know I had also been waiting until I found Jason’s arms.
He held me close. I could hear the beat of his heart against my chest. I felt safe and at home. I never knew that the love I’d read about between the pages of my novels and the dreams I had dreamed, could have been surpassed by first love. We lingered in our embrace only a few minutes.
“We’d better go,” Jason said. “There are no sensors in this old part of the hospital, but they’ll soon be aware that X-number of people came into the building and there are two unaccounted for.”
“Sensors? The rest of the hospital has a . . . what? Like a census system? They can count people as they come and go in here? Jason you mean they . . .”
“They trace our every move, not just in the hospital. There are sensors everywhere.” Jason put the book under his jacket and took my arm.
“Then, there are sensors in the library too?”
“Sure, everywhere, except the oldest buildings. There are only three structures that are so old they probably don’t think sensors are needed: here in this original hospital wing, the old sections of the library that you’re aware of, and the archival rooms of the Capitol.”
“Jason that must account for the buzzing noise we set off as we pass. Maybe that is the key. They are numbering the citizens and checking each person’s activities.”
“Probably. They used to do a census, now I guess we just buzz.” He turned off the lights and guided me out of the room.
“Could I borrow some of those books? There have to be some that aren’t in my library.”
“Sure, we’ll come back another day or if you know the title of a particular book or a favorite author, I can pull several from the shelves and bring them to you.”
Our whispers hovered in the hall and seemed to echo off the walls. I thought of that buzzing sound again. “You know, when I was in the library this afternoon, they didn’t even know I was there. And, the transit driver thought I had to pay. Then, when I went back and picked up my tunic, he apologized. Jason! It finally came to me . . . The chip! The chip that you removed from my shoulder was in the pocket of my tunic. When I didn’t have the wrap with me, I went about unnoticed. Now, I guess, we know why infants are tagged,” I gasped. “Jason, they track our every movement, from the time we’re born until we reach the end of our days. The DNA code etched in our chip lets them know exactly where we are and who we are. It’s like we have an old fashioned easy pass at a highway toll booth permanently implanted in our bodies.”
Jason gripped my arm as we stood in the dim hallway. “Don’t raise your voice Christy. It was all done in the name of national security. I read about that era, when the revolution of the masses overthrew the rights of the individual.” Jason looked beyond the corner of the hallway before we slipped around and into the final hall. “If you’re going to have mass rule, you better be prepared to live with mob control. That’s us. People aren’t living lives of freedom, to pursue our loftiest individual plans,” he whispered. “We exist on the lowest plane possible for all to attain, the level of mediocrity through chemical control.”
Just then I recognized the double doors at the end of the hall. “Here we are,” I said with great relief.
“Wait,” Jason spoke softly. “Come here,” he smiled.
He kissed me tenderly, sweetly and looked into my eyes. “You’re amazing, Christy.”
“Jason, I don’t even know how to express all the new feelings I’m experiencing. There are no words left in our meager vocabulary.”
“The old novels expressed it well,” he reminded me.
I knew authors would have used words like thrilling and desire, but I hesitated. “I know, but I don’t think I have the courage to use those words yet.”
“You have more courage than you know, Christy,” Jason assured me. I wondered if his words would still be right, over the long course that lay ahead of us.
There was one thing I was sure of. This feeling between us could be the kind of love that lingers and lasts, the kind of love that lives are built on—the kind of never-ending love that lasts beyond our present Length of Days.
After leaving the Capitol, one of Tombstone Stoner’s next stops was the hospital. Ever since his Miriam died, he didn’t like anything about the place, especially the antiseptic odor that permeated through the never-ending halls of deceptively beautiful marble. It smelled corruptly clean—like all the life had been scrubbed out of everything with a substance so strong it stung his eyes. He shuddered and moved past the front desk into the wide hallway to the right. He knew where the records’ office was. Not the current patients’ charts. Those electronic documents were at the nurse’s station located near each room. The official records’ office held information on discharged, discarded, and deceased patients and the necessary data on each citizen to determine their Length of Days.
Stoner knew that each citizen had credits—factors that make them more valuable—that added to their Length of Days, to calculate the exact birthday at which they would enter the never-ending-sleep. In addition, a health record was maintained to determine the viability of each citizen unit. His Blue Guard training also emphasized that every damage to the body was itemized with a specific point value, and the running total was maintained until it reached twenty-five points. Defective persons were eliminated, just like pre-birth masses that needed no points to justify their termination. The family was notified to bring the unwanted and useless to the sleep chamber at an appointed hour. If they failed to show up, a squad of Blue Guardsmen was sent to bring them in. Stoner’s mind raced and tumbled with all the faces of those he had forced into the limousine that took them to the sleep center. His head swam a little and he thought he was going to be sick.
Shake it off Stoner! What were those people to you? Then another voice echoed in his head. But, she was.
“Yes Sir, may I help you?” A nurse in a white uniform with a round, pleated nurse’s cap, approached the inspector.
“No,” Stoner snapped when he glanced at her cap. “I want to see your supervisor.” Ward Stoner dealt only with the person in charge, no matter where he was.
“Yes, Sir. Certainly.”
A woman wearing a smooth, white, nurse’s cap with a black band along the upper edge—identifying her as the head nurse—came out of the inner room. “Inspector, what may I do for you?”
“I’m here to place a camera in the records’ office. Please lead the way.” Short and to the point, Stoner used no more words than were necessary.
“A camera, Sir? I don’t understand”
“You don’t have to understand, Nurse,” he responded gruffly. “Understanding isn’t a requirement for you to lead me to the records office.”
“This way, Inspector.” The nurse’s tone showed little respect, but she led the way and said no more. They walked silently to the elevator, rode down to the lower level, and proceeded along the corridor. “May I ask if there has been a problem that we’re unaware of?”
“No, you may not,” Stoner snapped. “This is a precaution. The files must be protected. Without each citizen record, we wouldn’t be able to administer the never-ending-sleep fairly.”
“Yes Sir, the endless sleep. We must know exactly when we can legally kill someone, mustn’t we?”
Stoner was outraged. He gripped his fists to control his temper. “Hold your tongue, Nurse. We are very fair. You should know that a common cold doesn’t carry any point values unless a pattern of chronic upper-respiratory distress becomes evident. Only then is each additional incident noted in the patient’s records. That, combined with other indicators, determines the health of an individual. That seems quite fair. I’m sure you’ll agree.”
“Yes Sir,” she reported dryly.
“Nurse, furthermore, it’s only the loss of a limb during an accident, or blindness that could automatically reduce a citizen’s Length of Days to age twenty-five,” Stoner scolded. “You know, if there is compelling evidence of a citizen’s ability to contribute to society, well above any financial drain caused by their injuries, their Length of Days can be reinstated with a proper court hearing. Surely, you learned that only a coma of more than three days, or a back injury that results in paralysis, could trigger an immediate placement in the sleep chamber.” Stoner gritted his teeth in anger. “I fail to see why I’m explaining myself to you.”
“Here we are, Sir. I’ll be happy to help you further if needed,” the nurse offered as they came to the records room.
“No, Nurse. Just leave. Silence will be the only help I require.”
Stoner quickly installed the camera facing the entrance to the large humidity controlled vault-like records office and slammed the door closed. He didn’t look back. He was glad to get out of that dreary place.
Stoner took the elevator down and had stepped off near the lobby entrance when he heard shouting. As he rounded the corner, he ran into a gang of five young men who were waving old, last century, guns in the air. Laughing and stumbling over one another, they were behaving in a strange and hysterical way.
“Look, Benny,” one of them laughed as he pointed his weapon at Stoner. “We found us a little soldier boy.”
“Get that thing out of my face,” Stoner ordered with a controlled, calm voice.
“Whoa, man, listen to the little chief,” one of the other young thugs yelled. “You tell one of the nurses, they’d better get us some of those little white pills or we’ll find them ourselves,” he shouted.
“You’ve had enough pills already, Mister. I’m going to give you the greatest Gift-giving present you will ever receive. I’ll give you a chance to leave this hospital under your own power,” Stoner barked.
To Stoner’s instant analysis, the men appeared to be intoxicated. How that was possible, since alcohol and most other substances were controlled, Stoner had no idea. There had been rumors of a huge increase in the production of an old substance called moonshine. What he saw before him was an out of control mob, of out of control young men, who continued to wave guns erratically in the air and shout obscenities and taunts to everyone who came near. They obviously had no respect for the authority of the Chief Inspector of the Blue Guard and that was intolerable to Stoner. When the young thugs didn’t run, he pulled his sting ray from its holster, aimed and fired in rapid, Gatling gun fashion, sending laser point shots of contact-anesthetic directly into their faces. All five dropped where they stood.
“Clean this mess up,” Stoner barked at the head nurse as he stepped over the body of one of the young men. He resisted an impulse to kick him in the ribs.
“But Sir,” she responded with an expression of bewilderment and fear. “What do we do with them? Can’t you arrest them?”
“Scan them for their names, addresses, and contact information while they’re still out. You’ll be able to get closer to them while they’re still unconscious. When they wake up, if they can get themselves under control, send them home to their mamas for the holidays. If they give you even the slightest resistance, call security and the Blue Guard will put them in jail for the holidays, and they’ll stay there until the courts reopen.”
“But Sir,” she tried to protest, “we are used to caring for people in a near comatose state. Most people are in their own world of mumble thinking. We’ve had little preparation for handling erratic, uncontrolled patients.”
“Are you saying you’re not up to your job’s requirements, Nurse?” Stoner growled.
“No, Sir. I am not saying that at all.”
Stoner turned crisply, leaving the nurse standing in the hallway with the anaesthetized bodies of five drooling young men at her feet. As Stoner rounded the corner, he saw a young woman push through the doors of the adjacent hallway.
Well, well, the same female again . . . or she’s one of the triplets I’ve been seeing around town all day. He slipped back around the corner and waited for her to pass. Now, why is she ahead of me everywhere I go?
Jason and I had slipped cautiously through the large double doors into what appeared to be an empty outer hall of the hospital. We had been in the off-limits library, but were still not totally out of danger of being apprehended. I thought I had heard noises coming from that area but now I only heard Jason sigh deeply. It must have been a situation around the corner, in the adjacent hall. I wanted to get out of there.
Jason motioned that it was clear to come out. “I’ll take the stairway and you go down on the elevator,” he whispered. “If there’s a problem, I’ll meet you back at the coffee shop.”
Jason moved silently to the doors that led to the stairwell and disappeared. I stood there for a moment then pressed the down button for the lift. My stomach tightened with a growing awareness of the danger we were in. My thoughts went to Silas Drummond’s note. Surely he had lied. All that he described was so grotesque and beyond my mind’s ability to take in; it couldn’t possibly be true.
“Lady Applewait,” Dahlia called to me as I stepped from the elevator car on the first floor, still wrapped in my concern over Silas’s warning. “You’re here late,” she smiled as she came toward me.
I thought fast. “Just doing some research for someone and then realized that I didn’t really have the time.” I looked at my watch, hoping Dahlia would recognize the social cue to move on. “I’m to meet someone at the Demitasse.”
“Really? I love that place. I’ve finished teaching a seminar and I’m ready to leave. I’ll walk over with you.” Dahlia didn’t wait for a response but fell into step beside me as I started toward the door. Her manner was strikingly different from the morning’s encounter in the office.
I saw Jason start to emerge through the stairway door. He stopped and turned to descend the next staircase to the lower level of the hospital. Neither of us was ready to be seen together. We had only been together for a matter of hours and had no idea ourselves, where it would all lead, if anywhere.
I didn’t look back as we darted across the damp streets. It hadn’t been raining, but a fine December mist had settled over the pavement beyond the brightly lit hospital. The water drainage system under the heated streets evaporated moisture as soon as it landed on the pavement, leaving only a wet glaze that sparkled in the holiday lights. The night had grown cold. We moved quickly into the coffee shop and claimed the last remaining booth by the front windows.
“May I join you until your friend arrives?” Dahlia questioned as she slid onto the bench seat.
“Sure.” What else could I have said? She was already seated. I knew that Jason wouldn’t come in if he saw his nurse with me. Too many questions spoil the mystery. I was glad we had found a table in the front, close to the window. Jason would be able to see us before he came in. But, how was I going to politely get rid of her?
“You look tired,” I began. “Did you have a busy day . . . more than usual? I know you’re always busy.” I tried a professional tactic.
“Yes, very. Even the mammas with the little kids seemed more stressed than usual. One said she had been herding chickens all day.”
“More of those suicides and attempted self-annihilations?” I kept my voice low so the people around us couldn’t hear, but clearly enough so Dahlia would know I intended to pursue my line of conversation.
“Suicides?” Dahlia gasped in a hushed voice.
“Yes, Dahlia,” I lowered my voice to a crisp whisper, “suicides.”
“People don’t suicide anymore,” she denied.
“Most don’t, but there is a growing epidemic of young people who are taking their own lives. It’s a strange topic for all of us, Dahlia. Most people have never even heard the term, suicide.”
“How do you know what it’s called?” Dahlia wasn’t asking. She seemed surprised that I knew.
“As a Legacy Citizen, I’ve begun to delve into the wisdom of the ages, to immerse myself in the history of our people.” I pressed on. “Suicide is a sin, Dahlia.”
“A what?” Dahlia appeared anxious as her eyes scanned the room.
“A sin, you know. It’s against Devine law.” I heard myself saying words I didn’t know that I knew, much less understood. “Life is precious, Dahlia. It’s a gift.”
“A gift from whom?” She whispered incredulously. “Like a Gift-giving present? A gift implies a giver.”
I tried to appear relaxed, but I was a witness, bearing testimony about someone I didn’t even know. Dahlia was asking who, not as an inquisitor, but as a seeker, and I had no answers for her. I had hoped our conversation would cause her to leave but instead she stayed, and it made me want to flee. “There are things I’m not at liberty to talk about Dahlia.” I saw the disappointment in her eyes and added, “We’ll talk about it when we can. This isn’t the best place” I picked up my bag and started to leave. If she wasn’t going to move, I would have to.
“No, Miss Applewait, I’ll go. You’re waiting for someone.” Dahlia drank from the water glass the waitress had placed in front of her and added, “Don’t forget your detox pill.”
I saw Jason cross the street just as Dahlia stood up. Behind him, two blue guard officers pushed past him and entered the restaurant. The room hushed as the men slowly scanned each table.
“Wonder who they’re looking for.” Dahlia whispered nervously.
“Dahlia, you’re afraid? Of what?”
“I’m always nervous when the Blue Shirts show up and lately I’ve seen them more often.”
“Why are you afraid? If you’ve done nothing―”
“There’s a group of people that . . .” she stopped as the guards came closer to our table.
“What group? Dahlia, what’s wrong?”
“Hush,” Dahlia begged as she looked down at her water glass and avoided the men who drew closer with each step.
I asked no more as the officers stopped at our table and eyed Dahlia as she slumped and pulled her coat around her. I raised my chin and confidently looked at them both. “Good evening officers. It’s a beautiful night isn’t it?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” one of them mumbled and then they moved on.
“They’re gone,” I nudged Dahlia on the sleeve. “What is wrong? What group were you talking about?”
“I can’t talk now.” She jumped up to leave just as Jason entered. I didn’t want them to meet at the door so I touched Dahlia’s arm to turn her away from the windows.
“Yes, Dahlia, not now, but we’ll talk more later. It sounds like we both have some information that needs to be shared. I’m just not ready to talk and it seems you’re not either.”
“Thanks. Lately it seems, I’ve had the feeling there’s more, and I don’t even know what there is more of. Those of us in my group are aware of . . . something. I sense a change in you, Miss Applewait. You know what I’m talking about even if I don’t.” Dahlia sat back down on the edge of her chair and spoke quietly. “Miss Applewait―”
“Please, Dahlia, call me Christiana. Very few people do, you know. Even in school I was Miss Applewait. Since I am Legacy, I was set apart. And, please talk to me when you see me in the apartment building. I may be in my own world, but you are welcome there.” I touched her arm to reassure her of my sincerity. Then I thought, Legacy people don’t touch others, and they aren’t contacted in return. The old rules now sounded strange.
“Yes, Christiana,” she said with a tremble in her voice. “I would love to sit down with you soon. Maybe we can talk about the knowing that’s inside of you sometime over the Gift-giving Holidays?” Her voice was pleading as she touched my hand.
“Yes, that would be nice.”
“There’s a fresh glow in your face, Christiana. When little Hector Montoya fell down the stairs and broke his leg, you showed love and compassion for him. Most people just accept the inevitable.”
“Maybe the inevitable doesn’t have to be the inescapable.”
“My great-grandmother used to say, ‘Bless you child,’ and for some reason that seems to fit. Bless you, Christiana Applewait.”
I watched as Dahlia stepped out into the night. The serving woman came over to the table, paused and stared at me.
“Are you staying?” she asked and slouched with a hand on her hip. “Do you want to order?”
“She will have a cup of cocoa and a glass of water.” Jason touched my shoulder as he sat down opposite me. “And I’ll have cocoa too. Oh, sorry, do you want anything to eat?”
“I don’t think so.”
Jason sat back and waited until the serving girl walked away, then asked, “How did you do with Dahlia? Did she ask too many questions?”
“No, she didn’t ask much. She started to tell me about a group of friends. Two blue guardsmen came in, and she became really frightened.” Christiana paused as the server put the hot chocolate before us.
“Friends? What was she talking about?”
We paused again as the server placed spoons and napkins on the table, then left. Jason repeated, “What friends?
“I don’t know. It sounded like a spiritual quest she had recently embarked on. Then she brought up the friends and quickly dropped it.”
“Spiritual?” Jason covered his mouth with his hand and whispered into his palm so no one could read his lips. “Like, in God?”
“God?” My words were nearly inaudible. “Do you know about God?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. To speak the name of the deity of old had been forbidden for more years than anyone could remember.
“Christiana . . . we haven’t known each other very long. I’m afraid I’m dragging you into dangerous ―”
”It’s all right Jason. If you hang, I’ll hang right there beside you. They would need two executioners. Besides, our punishment would not be severe, since we’re . . . well, you know. We would be in a reeducation program.” We kept our voices low, but my excitement was hard to conceal. “Tell me Jason, what do you know about God?”
“I have a book.” Jason was hesitating, but I wouldn’t let him stop.
My breath caught in my throat. I was nearly unable to speak. Then I whispered, “Is it . . . black?” Could it possibly be that Jason had a copy of Grand-père’s book?
“Yes, it’s black. It has letters on the front.” He paused as if he were gathering permission to say the words. “It says, Holy Bible.”
“Where did you get it?” I could feel my heart race to embrace the words I longed to hear again. How could Jason have a Bible? They had all been destroyed.
“I found it in the hospital library. I had never heard anything about a Bible book, so I didn’t know what it was.” His eyes shone as he talked. “When I read it, Christy, it was like truth had been unfolded in my soul. I don’t know how, but I knew. I just knew.”
“I know what you mean, and I haven’t even started reading it. I have a copy of that Bible book, Jason. I just got it today. It had been Grand-père’s. He gave it to me since I’ve come of age, and they are nearing the end of their Length of Days. He said the Bible book had to be passed on, to be kept safe.” I studied his face. I was feeling strangely empowered. Somewhere, in an old text, the haunting words, and the truth will set you free, echoed in my mind. But, what truth? Silas’ truth . . . or had he lied? If he hadn’t, how safe was all this talk of forbidden books and old truths? I was learning that truth had power, but I didn’t know what truths would be found. Should I drag Jason into all of this? Could I trust him with things I didn’t know about . . . yet?
Over in a part of town Christiana rarely visited, Ward Stoner charged into the headquarters of the Blue Guard, ignoring the Desk Sargent’s, “Evening Inspector,” as he dashed to his office. Chief Inspector Stoner was in his own world of anger with a purpose. Why do I have to micro-manage this unit? He sank into his desk chair and snapped around to look out the window. He saw no holiday lights or happy shoppers scurrying about the city looking for a special Gifting surprise for their loved one. In his wounded spirit, he saw greedy children trying to drain another precious dollar from their overworked parents. Through his own anger and pain, he saw overindulgent parents who wanted to pile presents under the Gift-giving tree to buy the love of their selfish children.
Chalky Boone, Stoner’s first assistant, poked her head around the corner of the half-opened door. “Is there anything I can do for you, Boss?”
“No,” he snapped and then asked. “Where is everybody? The place looks empty.”
“Some people had put in for vacation days months ago, Boss.” Her comment was an over the shoulder afterthought as she started to go back to her desk.
“Chalky,” he shouted after her, “bring me the daily roster.”
There was never a please. To Stoner’s mind, please implied a request. He was not asking for anything. He was giving an order and that didn’t warrant please or thank you for having done what was expected in the first place.
“Here you are, Sir,” Chalky smiled anyway and laid the file on her boss’s desk. After working for Stoner for several years, she had skin as thick as tanned hide, though it masqueraded as young and supple.
The Inspector didn’t look up but reached roughly for the file. Only a handful of the guard was listed for that day. Perhaps because the roster was so sparse, one item that would have been buried in the dearth of other activity glared at Stoner from the page. A special contingent of guard was working that day. It mocked at him from the page. There were far more guardsmen on the streets than he had scheduled. He certainly had not ordered out a special detachment of personnel. One, two . . . there were five men at work that day, but their locations were not listed. Beside each guard’s name were the words, Confidential Assignment.
“What’s this?” Stoner yelled as he jumped to his feet. “Boone!” he shouted to anyone beyond his office door. It didn’t matter to him who responded.
“Yes, Sir,” Chalky stuck her head around the door again, but this time her manner seemed apprehensive.
“What is this . . . this Confidential Assignment, some arrogant joke?” His eyes flared with the fire of rekindled anger.
“Confidential Assignment, Inspector?” Chalky Boone eased carefully into the gladiator’s arena with nothing but her fountain pen to protect herself from the lion.
“I have brought the most modern law enforcement equipment into this office,” Stoner bellowed. “Aren’t our people outfitted with the latest in light weight, oxford cloth upper torso body armor that wears like your favorite shirt? Didn’t I fight for and get the best communication device on the market, the Tiny Fleck, a radio and transmitter so small it can look like your Lodge pin or your favorite tie tack your mama gave you as a Gift-giving present? Even the communications implant was my idea.”
“Yes Sir,” Chalky Boone responded hesitantly to the obvious questions with the not so obvious meaning under the spoken words.
“Then, will you please tell me how we can have an elite, clandestine unit of Blue Guard . . .” he paused as the anger rose in his chest and threatened to choke all breath from his raging body . . . “which I command!” He seethed . . . “And yet, I know nothing about it?” His voice rose and landed on the ground at Boone’s feet.
Chalky Boone was usually able to handle his tirades. This time, Stoner’s behavior was different. That day, he was the epitome of that which he loathed, a man out of control. Boone could see it in his eyes. “Sir, let’s look at the entire week’s schedule and see if a pattern emerges that will explain the mystery.”
Boone returned quickly with a 281 Palm Device and set it on Stoner’s desk. She flipped it on. The picture glowed like a hologram before his eyes. “There,” she pointed to the names, “Shiloh Perkins, C.A. . . . Clause Zunstein, C.A. . . . and there and there. Sir, all five guardsmen were scheduled to work a confidential assignment all of last week. Have they been working undercover?”
“How the blazes would I know!” He shouted. “I’m just the commander around here. It looks like someone else is giving orders as well.” He glared at Chalky for a long minute. Then he grabbed his hat again.
“I’ll let it ride for today, Boone, given the season and all. But I’ll find out what’s going on. You can bet your future on that. And when I do, some careers will fall like downed timber, with a mighty crash.” He stormed back out into the world of holiday lights. But, inside him, the only sparkle came from the fire that continued to rage within.