Saturday, April 23, 2005

Chapter 2: Of Things Longed For and Their End

Before the blood on his hands had dried, U had left the station. From his office terminal, U headed out along the hallway which stretched from the rear of the moon base, through the many computer centers to the station’s entrance. At first U walked hesitantly, unsure of what had happened. The feeling of sickness had not yet left him, but it was fended off for a fleeting moment or two. He wanted to be sure.

Every time he had imagined what it would be like to kill he had been sure: they would come and punish him. It would be just. But they left him.
The light gray walls that once made him feel secure now oppressed him. There was no glory in this crime. U trudged passed the many frames that hung along the hallway. Each frame danced with vivid sights and sounds of the earth. At the end of the hall the space opened up to the entrance room. This room always reminded U of his own office; small, stale, and homely. A single steel door separated the inter-station from the transport tunnel which was the only way to leave. Beside the door on either side were two tall houseplants strategically placed to provide a sense of serenity in the otherwise drab room. Next to the plant to the left of the door Mr. Node stood hunched over. His hands were digging confidently through the soil.

“Hey there Mr. U, going home early?” Mr. Node’s wrists rested on the pot, his hands dangled on the surface of the soil. Sweat, U felt himself beginning to sweat. He hated the feeling of sweat.

“Yes.” U managed to allow the word to drop out of his mouth. Mr. Node nodded.

“Those red stripes that came through told me to check my PDA for a clean up order for your office. I couldn’t see how you could have a chance to make a mess, what with the doctor being there and all. But, sure enough, here’s the order.”

The older man pulled his PDA from its holster and showed the screen to U. He looked up to U with a look of satisfaction as if to say that he had proof that the PDA system was all bunk. His smug grin wrapped around his face and U began to feel the sickness returning. U looked politely at the PDA and then moved away from Mr. Node.

“Between me and you,” said Mr. Node in a low voice, “I think this just goes to show
how un-re-liable these things are. You don’t have a mess in there. What do you have to make a mess with? Your computer? How do they expect me to do my job when my orders are all screwy?”

“I don’t know Mr. Node” and with that, U turned and left the station.

The door of the station opened to small airtight room. On the other side was a door to a shuttle. As U sat in the front seat of the shuttle, his PDA lit up with possible destinations: Apartment, Store, Minerva, Relaxation Center… U selected “Apartment” and the shuttle set off without the slightest jolt. U felt the urge to sit back against the seat and view the screen in front of him. It was his ritual to watch the news on the way to his apartment. But today he was unable to do it. Instead, he pressed the button on his PDA’s screen which read: “view”. The view-screen lowered to reveal a window which peered onto the dark track below. The ride was typically quiet but winds had struck up and the shuttle began to sway slightly. U was not sure if the turbulence added to his sickness or lulled him. He let his head rest on the seat cushion. The shuttle itself was silent except for a low frequency hum from the engine and the sound of the wind whistling through the glass. It occasionally grew uncomfortably loud for U and he soon felt his stomach twisting again; that feeling of sickness. He started to think about his first time.

He couldn’t remember how it actually felt to do it, but the afterwards was still fresh. She was good, he could recall that much. His memory only became sound after they had finished. U stayed on the bed; there was nothing else to do. She rolled over and kissed him. The uneasiness had begun as soon as they had ended, and this kiss only hurried it along. Her light blonde hair was tucked behind her head but little strains danced in a tangle near her bangs. She smiled with lips made for pleasure, swollen with blood, and gave a little giggle that sung with knowledge and wonder. Before he could react she pulled away and slipped out of the defeated bed. A large window facing the parking lot stood next to the bed. As she put herself together, she opened the off-white curtains. The light from the late afternoon sun rushed into the room like an avalanche of radiance and she lit up in an angelic silhouette. The air hung still as if in recognition of her beauty, and the specks of floating dust shone around her like microscopic snowflakes. U knew he should have gotten up and gone to her, that’s what she wanted, but the light and her body only made the uneasiness return. He had imagined this and yearned for its coming for an eternity. Now it had come and gone and he was left with a world of brutal reality that seemed to mock his imagination with fleeting images of the surreal and the forever beautiful, but he knew better, now he knew better. The sunlight absorbed the room; the folds in the blanket glistened. Everything was alive and apparent. It should have been perfect, U had thought. But the light was different. It could have been warm and clear, as light should be, as he had imagined, only it wasn’t. She became washed out from the sun’s rays. A dryness filled the room. There had to be something wrong. Something out of place. He got up and went to her. Her smile came back and she shifted her weight to one leg in a way that accented her full, ghost like aura. As he closed his eyes and kissed her, he tried to forget that he felt ill. “There was no reason for this,” he told himself, “if I could only stop thinking and starting feeling”. When he opened his eyes he was facing the window. Her head was resting on his shoulder and as they stood she whispered to him. U’s vision fell upon the shuttle parking lot below the building. Other than their own, there were only two shuttles in the lot. “There is nothing wrong,” he tried to think. But the whole thing felt off. The air, the dryness, her lips, the light, it was just too bright to be his dream.

“I have to go to the bathroom” U said as he pulled away from her. He was sick.

A vibration woke him coming from what felt like the inside of his body, all of his body. It was the PDA. The shuttle had arrived at his apartment and was waiting for him to leave the oval shaped transport. For a moment all that was, was quiet. The shuttle’s hum seemed to ease his mind. He couldn’t remember what he had dreamt of, only that he felt sick. The office came rushing back to his memory and a feeling of profound emptiness that can only come from unfulfilled dreams filled him. Dr. Ortho. As he stood up, the door opened revealing the hallway of his apartment. The airlock door to the shuttle and the hallway slammed shut with a deadened sound.

“It ought to be loud, it ought to sound like large masses of metal clashing into each other. Do they need to deaden everything?” U questioned as he drug his feet over the old red carpet. His stomach had begun to settle again and U decided to make it to the living room. Down the short, well-lit hallway laid U’s bedroom, which doubled as his living room. A small MediaUnit sat facing his well-worn bed. As he neared the room, U could just make out the blue light from the M.U. shooting out to the bed. He always left it on to fill the apartment with space, it never worked, and every night when he went to bed, and everyday before he left for work, U would think to himself, “There’s no use in leaving it on…”, but there was something about the warm glow and the sound of indistinct voices that gave him a feeling of security. Now, however, the voices seemed to ridicule U, taunting him with the ever-present possibility of happiness and fulfilled desires. “Why couldn’t they have just punished me?” The bed was on the floor, no frame, just a slumped mattress protruding into the middle of the small room. The light turned on as U entered, illuminating a row of suitcases lined up against the wall opposite the hallway. U cringed as he saw cases of his clothes and necessities, ready for when the red stripes would call for his things. A note sat atop the middle of the three brown and green cases:

“For your convenience, all my valuable belongings have been packed and organized for efficient cataloging. If you are wondering how I was able to pack my things without raising suspicion from the system, I will leave it up to the glorious system itself to discover. I will say however, the mind of a single man has more potential than the actions of a million systems made by a billion men…”
The words were bitter. “How could I have been so pathetic?” U was almost glad that he wasn’t punished, at least some peon red stripe didn’t find that note and pass it around for a good laugh with his friends. U took the paper from the case and tore it, then folded it, and tore it again until it was a mass of small notes. He threw it into the trash incinerator and set himself down on the bed. The MediaUnit was playing the events he had missed while at work that day: stories, reports, distractions, comedies, sex. U turned up the volume of the box and fell back upon the bed to face the roof. A tightening feeling gripped him as he recalled the feeling of sickness, which only brought it back to life like some sleeping giant.

“Why didn’t they just take me………..Didn’t I kill a man? An important man? Maybe this is the punishment, a life of guilt…no…the system is not as generous as all that…” U’s thoughts were interrupted by the PDA’s flashing light, beating out a rhythm which called for U to read it. The light competed with the MediaUnit for luminance, but the red light from the PDA cut through the air and projected itself upon the wall. U could make out his name in the distorted message. He reached down and pulled the PDA from its holder to read it: “U, I know you deserved punishment. Something is interfering. Interview is needed for final report. Please take shuttle to your office for meeting at 04.45. Blue Stripe Leader Hughes, Enforcement Center.”

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