Synopsis: In the future a Government supplies peace and prosperity in exchange for the loss of some freedoms. In the shadows the government has been using its people for enhancement and other experimentations. An act of violence, which has been all but extinct, threatens the security of the government and could lead to their secrets being brought to light as well as a revolution.
Parker awoke early, enjoying the sun warming him as he strutted down the hallway towards the rear of the house. He stopped short of the milky glass door to the bedroom; it was ajar. He peered at his reflection with the sun shining in. If he’d had an opinion he’d likely think he was handsome. He pushed through and hopped onto the bed. His light footfalls didn’t wake Anne. Parker stepped on to Anne’s chest looking straight down upon her face, a light purr that rolled into a meow. His front paws alternated pressing down, contracting and relaxing his rounded black nails. His eyes narrowed to relaxed slits and then blinked, his sign of affection and trust that he’d shown to Anne every morning since she’d rescued him. As far as cats went, Parker was a dignified, although needy, gentleman.
A cool light breeze blew in through the open French doors of the bedroom. The early morning sea air combined with Parkers’ greeting woke Anne. She sat up and Parker put his feet up close to her shoulders driving the top of his head into her cheek, rubbing it back and forth. She said “Good morning to you too.” Anne thought that the sunrise, the breeze and Parkers’ morning ritual made her morning perfect.
Anne, dressed in a white silk sleeping gown, made her way from the bedroom to the living area. Parker trotted alongside. He purred and sauntered around her ankles in a figure eight, pressing his head into her legs and rubbing his cheeks against them. She paused, caressing his silky grey fur stroking him from his ears to the base of his tail. “Let’s get you some breakfast, shall we.” Anne filled and placed Parker’s silver dish down on the honey-colored bamboo flooring. She thought the colors were a gorgeous contrast against the dark grey fur of the cat, and she smiled at the simple beauty. She retreated back to her room for a few minutes, emerging again in simple khaki pocketless pants and a white t-shirt.
She headed out the side door towards the shared garden between the houses. Mrs. Kusta, the widow, as usual was at her dining room window that looked on this space. She was like clockwork, every morning sitting there alone with her old-fashioned white ceramic mug, taking in the view over the water. Anne liked the consistency that this neighbor had provided, as she herself was consistent, someone who ran on routine. Anne picked a handful of lavender, pulled a few weeds and watered the garden. Mrs. Kusta came outside.
“Anne,” she said with a smile “I can’t thank you enough for taking care of the little garden. I know you’re a busy woman but I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated all your help over the past few months since my Arland died.”
“It’s my pleasure.” Anne replied. “And it really hasn’t been a bother at all. If it weren’t for this little garden that you started we wouldn’t have our lavender, now would we?”
“Dearie, if it weren’t for you, this garden wouldn’t have survived, to say nothing of the odd jobs you’ve done for me either. Especially fixing the latch on my dining room window! I don’t know what I’d have done without you, and I just want to tell you how much I appreciate it.”
Anne smiled and stepped through the garden to give Mrs. Kusta a hug. The old woman smelled of a sweet perfume, something like jasmine.
Anne said; “Don’t forget to close that window this evening. It’s likely to be chilly.”
Anne leaned down and clipped a bit more lavender, handed it to Mrs. Kusta and bid her farewell with a warm smile. Mrs. Kusta then slowly shuffled back to her kitchen table calling out “Anne, dear, you take such good care of me.” Anne smiled and retreated inside her home. Mrs. Kusta lived a simple life, she was a quiet little old woman who minded her own business.
Inside, Anne tapped the control to the blinds that faced Mrs. Kustas’ home, then checked her holo-pad ensuring all the blinds were closed except those facing the water from her small dining table. She used the pad to unlock the front door as well, then sat and looked out over the water. She sat motionless, absorbing the view and the sounds of the gulls being carried on the breeze. The blue of the water, the small white gulls that flew above and the soft light of the morning helped to keep her relaxed, carefree and certain. After some time, noticing the clock, she stood and called for Parker. He came trotting to her, the bell on his collar jingling. It reminded her of the old-fashioned tricycle from her youth: whimsical, musical and pleasant. It made her smile. Alise gave her the little red collar with the bell. While Alise said she hated cats, Patrick would always sit on her lap when visiting. Alise never shooed him away.
She took Parker in her right arm, grabbed a few of his favorite cat treats and the catnip plant from the counter. Parker began swatting at them with his paw. She carefully placed the plant in the spare room on the bedside table, the treats on the bed and Parker next to them. She checked the attached bath, ensuring the litter box was clean and that the small water dispenser was flowing for him. On her way out of the room she stroked Parker and scratched under his chin. He purred loudly. She took the collar off; holding it in her hand, left the room and shut the door. Anne walked around her small but comfortable home, ensuring everything was as it should be. The rooms were neat and tidy, the few hand-written notebooks she’d set out upon her long marble Kitchen counter were open to specific pages, and documents that needed to be passed along were set out for the messenger, Molly, to scan and reproduce for work. She wanted to leave nothing unfinished. Her life’s work was here, or at least the copies she wanted to ensure were found today. The rest, well, it would be available soon enough.
As Anne walked back towards the kitchen and her view, she checked the plants to ensure they had enough water, straightened the mat in front of the glass doors to the rear deck, then went into the sitting room. She reached into a small antique wooden box, with the name “Montecristo” burned into its lid. This antique was one of her most treasured. The feel of the old wood and the aroma of lemon oil used to ensure its continued beauty, the old-fashioned metal hinges that creaked slightly when she lifted the lid. The lid had the Montecristo logo, a triangle of six swords surrounding a fleur-de-lis was worn, but recognizable. These little details made her feel alive, so different from the sterile and cold offices of the R&D lab where she spent her days with its holo-screens and grey uniforms. She grabbed some handmade paper and an ink pen from under the lid, as well as a small, but moderately weighted canvas bag. This, after all, was no job for the holo-terminal voice dictation program. This was an occasion for the old-fashioned written word. This was personal, and timing was important.
She sat at the small bistro style dining table, the marble countertop covered with her work. She took a moment to look over the items before her, contemplating their textures and the way the light was reflected or absorbed by each. She let the sunshine on her face, feeling its warmth, inhaling deeply to etch the odor of the salty ocean and decaying seaweed inside her lungs, then exhaled and felt peace. With two taps on the holo-pad the patio doors and blinds closed. Another tap and a single dim light shone over the table, an almost romantic light that cast a warm glow. Anne carefully uncapped the pen, its weight felt nice in her hand, not like the weightless instruments used on the holo-screens at work. The sensation of the paper with its ridges and imperfections of color delighted her fingers and eyes.
Anne wrote; “My name is not important, but what I have done is. When you proceed with the retinal scan you will find I am a registered citizen in good standing. What I do now, I can only hope will have a wide and deep impact upon my fellow citizens. In the time it takes you to enter my home, scan my retinas and begin the investigation, the damage to the Amerist Government and the hand that leads it will have begun. I ask only one thing: when Ms. Pearce arrives, please apologize to her for any inconvenience she suffers due to the time you detain her for questioning regarding my death.”
Once finished, Anne opened the canvas bag and pulled out the matching neuro-stim bolts. These were antiques, heavy in the hand and smooth except for the small ridges at the center of the rounded ends. The military had stopped using these years ago due to the fact that the needed effect was much less than these bolts were designed for. The bolts, once activated, would destroy the circuits in the brain where thought was processed. While the body could be kept alive, if necessary, there was never a chance of recovering any information. Even with the algorithms that Anne had created to read, decode it and translate electrical activity, once the neural pathways were destroyed there was nothing that could be read or retrieved.
Anne pressed the cold smooth bolts to her temples. The adhering compound worked; it was the one thing she’d worried about, as the compound was very old. She folded the canvas bag neatly in half, placed the newly inked paper on top, then the pen as the weight to keep it all together. She heard a small thud in the backroom, like a small weight hitting the bamboo floor, and Parkers bell jingling. She imagined Parker had found and gotten a hold of the catnip, and it made her smile. She gently touched the emergency alarm on the holo-pad.
“What assistance do you require?” the pleasant feminine voice chimed.
“This is Dr. Anne Augustine, please send a SOaC team to my home.” Her voice and hands were steady, as she pressed the disconnect button, cutting off the human voice that was just breaking into the holorecording. She then pulled up her messages that had not yet been sent out, each to a different contact but containing the same documents and research. She said slowly, in a quiet but strong voice, “Send all,” then lightly set the holo-pad on the table. She closed her eyes, exhaled, and simultaneously pushed in on the bolts attached to her temples. Her eyes turned crimson and her nose abruptly began to bleed, her jaw locked and a throaty deep momentary grunt arose. Her arms grew rigid as the electrical impulses batted around inside her head from one side of her skull to the other.
Once the electrical impulses had stopped, her head fell forward striking and cracking the glass top of the bistro table. The blood from her nose flowed slowly through the cracks in the glass, creating red channels that reflected the light above. Her arms fell to her sides, lifeless, and dangling. What remained were the faintest signals from her brain stem, short with long pauses between, causing the false appearance of breathing; they would call it “agonal breathing” on the incident report. Her body had only to wait a short time before the Social Operations and Control Officers arrived to begin the retinal scans. She greeted them with a deep chestnut lifeless gaze and the faint smell of the burned flesh at her temples.
End of Chapter 1
By Jennifer Schmidt
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