Imagine His Thoughts
by Jonah Kruvant
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
I was ready to go home. I made my way to the edge of the park beneath the crack in the sky.
At the time, I was playing blockball with my classmates and had only joined the game in the first place because Lizzy Cole would be there. A kid snickered when I struck out three times in a row, and I threw my bat at him and stormed off, my face hot, toward the septuple-decker elevators with their doors that glowed.
When I reached the sliding doors, I slammed my palm against the door-open button and said, “Floor 613.”
I rode in silence as the elevator shot up through the opening in the sky to the upper floors, my fists clenched. I blamed my parents for my having no friends, for not understanding me, for raising me in the Mountain for my entire sixteen years of existence without ever once thinking to leave.
It was in this frame of mind that I came into my apartment to find that my parents had disappeared.
Never in their lives had they left the Mountain, which always had everything we ever needed: the Great Mall, with its endless array of stores and restaurants; and for our vacations, the Rainforest on floor 121, where my dad and I liked to search for sloth. Yet they’d always waited for me to come home before venturing out to other floors. When I searched every room, they weren’t there.
My mind began to conjure up scenarios: my father had taken my mother to watch the hourly sunsets on the Beach (Floor 171), but why hadn’t she messaged me to let me know? Or out for a short stroll on the Sky Deck (Apex: Floor 808), yet his walking shoes were where he always left them by the door.
Teresa, our automotron maid, came into the apartment from the recharge room. “They took them,” she said, her monotonous voice unwavering.
“Who took them?”
The door to the apartment swung open, and in walked a member of the Technological Police Force, dressed completely in black from his midnight boots to his leather hat. He removed his oversized goggles when he saw me, revealing his beady dark eyes.
“You killed my parents!” I shouted at him.
“I wouldn’t be making those accusations if I were you. Sit down.”
“I’m not doing anything until you tell me what happened to my parents.”
“I said sit down!” he commanded. I sat, and he stood over me when he spoke. “Now, listen to me closely. There are people out there who call themselves ‘Creators.’ They’ve been planning terrorist attacks against the Nation. Your parents were a part of this group. When they learned that their friends were committing treason, they refused to be a part of the plot. Then the Creators killed them both.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“See for yourself.”
The officer flashed a video on UNICÉ, that amalgamation of the Internet and consciousness, which felt as much a part of me as my heart or brain. I didn’t learn until much later of the chips inserted into our minds at birth. I blinked and watched the video illuminated on my retinas. An older man was standing across from my parents. He lifted his B747 laser pistol and fired. My whole body felt weak. I couldn’t breathe.
“No,” I finally managed to say, “the video’s not real.”
The TPF officer sighed. “It’ll take you time to digest this. My name is Thomas, and I’m here to help you. My parents died when I was nine; they were hit by a car that veered off the airpath. I’m not going to lie to you and say you’re going to be fine. But you gotta keep living.”
Why me? How could life be so unfair?
“We will find the people who did this. They will pay for what they’ve done.”
“No,” I said, “I will kill them myself.”
The officer’s thin lips widened into a long smile. He put out his hand. “Welcome to the TPF.”
I trained for the next two years. I learned about weapons: how to load a liquidator with water and the velocity of the stream when it shoots out of the gun; the angle to hold the mirror-reflective shields so bullets will fly in other directions; the distance required to hit a moving target with a missile gun. I learned more math and science there than I had at school.
I also discovered that the man in the video was Sylvester Huppington, the leader of the Creators and the Art Resistance Movement, which he called “ARM,” and who the TPF believed was plotting terrorist attacks against the Nation. Thomas promised he’d put me on the mission targeting him.
The officers drank together after training sessions and told stories. Some told why they had joined, some didn’t. It didn’t matter. We all had the same purpose: to defend this great country.
I wanted to tell them my story but was afraid I wouldn’t be able to. I kept having dreams where my parents came to me and told me they were still alive, and it was all a big joke. The dreams would come the nights after I was beginning to accept it. I found a room in our facility where no one went — with whitewashed walls and no lights — and that was where I went to be alone. To cry.
After six months, I felt strong enough and I told the others of my past. We took a shot of whiskey together, and I went to sleep that night feeling guilty that I felt so good.
After that night, I couldn’t cry. I’d be on the verge plenty of times, but no tears would fall. There’d still be hard moments but I rarely had time alone — the room I used to go with the white-washed walls was locked — or without something to do. If I began to feel weak, I’d watch the video again. I must have watched it a hundred times.
* * *
And that brings me to today. Ten years later. It’s six a.m., and I’m wide awake. My arm is around her. Sara, the woman I wed. I feel her steady breathing as she sleeps. She holds our baby, Jack, who curls his little fingers into soft fists as he dreams.
The room is dark, curtains drawn. Slowly, I remove my arm from her waist. The bed, hard and unforgiving on my back, is a structure I’ve grown to respect, yet I rise with a stiffness in my shoulders and feel a headache looming. A tenseness in my sinuses and neck has become a common feeling as I think of what I must do.
I walk onto the balcony and look out at where I’ve been living for the past two years. A stream of sunlight seeps through the smog, signaling a new day, hitting roofs that stretch into the distance. Tents line the streets where stray animals roam, dogs with glazed eyes sipping water from sewers, cows eating garbage piled up on street corners, emanating an unbearable stench that permeates the air.
And then there are the people. One woman makes her way from her tent to the sidewalk, squats, and urinates, her urine flowing like a creek through the cracks of the sidewalk and down the street. Three kids play jump rope and, though the youngest one sports a giggle, the other two wear solemn expressions and downcast eyes.
These people — the beggars, of course — are the ones I’ve been living among, so separated from the Upper Class that I never saw them as human until now. Until I got to know them at ARM, the illegal Creators whom I’ve been called upon to investigate and destroy. Who I’ve pretended to be. Who Sara thinks I am.
As I view the scene in front of me, I wonder how the world could have gotten this way, how the wealthy have gotten so much and the poor so little, how people could have been so complacent to let it happen.
I look back into the room at my wife, like most Creators a beggar herself, the shape of her small body under the blankets, and I feel a sudden rush of contentment. But it’s all a mirage. It’s the feeling you get when you watch a magician perform a trick: sheer awe, yet deep inside you know it’s an illusion. That’s how I feel when Sara’s body is pressed against mine, when I watch her undress, when she looks into my eyes and smiles.
Of course, I am the magician. A magician who is in a perpetual state of levitation, his feet just off the ground. Whose trick is so good he begins to believe it himself. Sara is my audience. The kid who is overcome with wonder when the rabbit comes out of the hat. She’s in awe of me, in love, the sort of love that’s been manufactured by a pick-up artist for a cheap lay. But pick-up artists can learn to love. They can change. They can realize when they’re hurting someone and become a better man. But to become that man they have to reveal who they really are.
After that moment of awe, when an audience views the magician’s trick, in that second or two, the mind always tries to figure out how he did it. It’ll do anything to decipher the magician’s code, coming up with every possibility. It’s only a matter of time until this happens to her.
I listen for a moment to the soft breathing of my wife and son. It is then that I receive the message.
And I know the illusion is over.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Jonah Kruvant