Authors: Krista McGee
Tags: #ebook, #book
“Please.” I smile, wanting to know more about this odd man. Ninety years old. He must know so much.
John is thinking. I can tell his mind is reaching back in his past—the ancient past.
“I was born in a different world. A place called California. I
grew up right by the ocean. My parents called me a fish. I swam, surfed, had my own sailboat before I could drive.”
John’s accent is so different from ours, I am having trouble understanding him. And the words he is using: I know the ocean, but only as a contaminated body of water aboveground. Pipes pump the water into the State, and it is put through years of decontamination before we receive it to drink and bathe in. But swim? Surf? Sailboat?
“Never mind about that. Let’s just say I had a happy childhood. Fun. My dad was a pastor and my mom taught kindergarten. I was the youngest of five kids.”
I put my hand up. “You had parents?”
John shakes his head. “I always get ahead of myself. I forget how different life is for you. Yes, I was born in the way you were taught is primitive.”
“You don’t think it is primitive?”
“I believe a lot of things the Scientists don’t like.” John’s smile is sad. “That’s why I’m here.”
“I am sorry. Go on.” I want to ask him more—like how can he believe differently than the Scientists and still be alive? How can he have lived so long? What is it like being from a primitive world? I know he doesn’t want to keep the answers from me. For once, someone wants to give answers. But I must allow him to give them in his own time, his own way.
“I grew up in a home with two wonderful parents. We didn’t have much, but we were loved. My father taught us to know God.”
John leans forward. He has tears in his eyes. “Yes. The Designer.”
“The Scientists are the designers.” I think of our genetics lessons. The Scientists worked with the basic ingredients needed to create life. Those ingredients had been gathered years before the war, from primitive humans all over the world. They were stored somewhere in this facility. From those ingredients, the Scientists manipulated DNA so each child would fulfill a particular role. The Scientists determined everything—hair and eye color, height, build, even talents and interests.
“No, my dear. They are not.”
No wonder he is here. Speaking against the Scientists is not permitted. I am surprised he hasn’t been annihilated for such thoughts. “You cannot say that.”
“I’ve been saying it for most of my ninety years.” John rubs his gnarled hands on his knees. “I don’t intend to stop now.”
I am intrigued. And a little frightened. I have never heard anything like this before.
“The Designer, God, is not human. He is not bound by this or any world because he created everything. He has always existed, he will always exist, and he created humans for his glory.”
I don’t understand, but I remain silent.
“I grew up knowing this Designer. Speaking to him.”
This man is crazy. That is why he is here. The Scientists must feel sorry for him, and that is why he is still alive.
“It’s all right to doubt.” John seems to be reading my thoughts. “I understand. Now, where was I? Oh yes. My childhood was wonderful. When I finished high school, I wanted to go on and study the Bible—the book written by the Designer—so I went to a special college just for that. I met my wife there.”
John stops. Tears flow from his eyes. He doesn’t apologize for them. He just waits for the tears to stop before he continues. “Amy. She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, with a voice like an angel. I heard her singing in chapel at school and I was lost. I knew I had to meet her. I saw her sitting alone, outside on a bench by the lake. I pretended not to notice she was there.” John laughed. “I asked to sit next to her and she said yes. We started talking and we kept talking. Well into the night. We had so much in common. We both wanted to go into the ministry, we both loved the Beatles, we both thought rocky road ice cream was the greatest dessert in the world. We fell in love and got married a year later.”
“Fell in love?” John uses so many words I have never heard.
John stands and walks to me. “Love is the Designer’s greatest gift to us. Of all the changes Scientists have made to this world, removing love is, to me, the worst. It’s terrible.”
“You mustn’t say things like that.”
“Why not?” John shrugs. “What’s the worst they can do to me?”
“They can annihilate you.”
“Death is just the beginning.”
Yes, this man’s mind is completely malformed.
John sighs. “It’s hard to unbelieve what you have been taught. How about if I just tell you the rest of my story? We can talk about the Designer later.”
“All right. You said you fell in love?”
“I did. Love is a feeling, but it’s also a commitment. At least it was to us. Amy and I committed to love each other for the rest of our lives, no matter what. We had a wedding ceremony where we promised that to each other. We promised to help
each other, to care for each other, to look out for each other, forever. She was the prettiest bride to ever walk down an aisle. We lived together for thirty-one years. We had three children. Life wasn’t always easy, but we made wonderful memories and we never forgot the commitment we made. Amy has been gone for more than forty years, and I still miss her. Still love her.”
I cannot help myself. Even though I know he is crazy, I am wishing for something like that. Love. Someone who feels about me the way John feels about Amy. “What happened?”
“The war.” John rubs his hands on his legs. “I came out to Colorado to visit my son, James.”
“Dr. Turner?” One of The Ten?
“Yes, Dr. Turner. He was too busy to fly out to California to visit us, and it was his thirtieth birthday. Amy and I didn’t want him to spend it alone. She was helping our daughter with her baby, our first grandchild. So I went. It was amazing.” John motions to the facility. “I had never seen anything this massive. I knew there were rumors of nuclear war, and several countries were threatening to strike each other. But Amy and I didn’t think it would happen. Those countries knew that if one struck, the others would follow. Everything would be destroyed. We were sure the threats were empty.”
“You were wrong.”
John nods. “James was giving me a tour of the State when the first city was attacked. The Scientists didn’t have time to bring in the politicians like they’d planned. They only had time to seal everything up and set their plan into motion. I couldn’t believe it. I was sure it was a mistake. That only part of the world was destroyed, not the whole thing. But the Scientists had satellites that told them otherwise. The world
as I knew it was gone. Amy was gone. My daughters, my grandchild. All gone.”
“How awful.” No wonder John has lost his mind. I would too, given these circumstances.
“James and the other Scientists had already decided how they would run this State in the event that catastrophe struck. Their plans did not include me—a believer. They wanted to eradicate faith from society. They felt sure that belief in a Designer was one of the downfalls of humanity. It led to conflict, and they believed that a conflict-free world was the best kind of world. James allowed me to live, but the others insisted I live down here, given permission to speak only to those scheduled for annihilation.”
“That is why you came to me?”
John nods. “But then the Scientists decided you would be spared. So I was not allowed to return.”
I think about that. He is locked in a room, alone, allowed to speak only to those who are about to be annihilated. What a miserable life.
“Do you ever wish you had not come to visit your son?”
John reaches out and holds my hand, his thick fingers squeezing mine. “Sometimes, yes. This is certainly not the life I would have planned for myself. But I have a purpose here. For whatever reason, the Designer has chosen me to be his remnant.”
“The Designer always leaves a remnant to tell others about him. People throughout history have tried to rid the world of their Creator. But that will not ever happen. He ensures his truth will live on. Even if it is just through one old, unworthy man.”
I do not know what to say. I am not sure what to think. I barely remember saying good-bye or walking back to my room. I barely remember climbing onto the sleeping platform.
I fall asleep immediately, dreaming of beaches and wars and love.
ood morning, Thalli.” It is Berk. Dr. Berk. He is dressed just like a Scientist, with a white lab coat and a passel of Assistants beside him. His eyes seem cautious, clinical. His fingers fly over his pad—not a learning pad, exactly, but similar. A bit smaller. Berk holds it in his left hand while typing with his right, moving images and digesting data.
“Doctor.” I follow his example. At least, I hope it is an example. Perhaps I really am just an experiment. Perhaps the touches I was sure were to reassure me were simply an accident. Perhaps I am just a larger, more complicated version of his lab rats. I want to believe Berk is doing this to help me, but
along with curiosity comes something else, something other. An uncertainty about everything. Questions. So many questions. And never, ever enough answers.
“We will spend this first week establishing a baseline.” Berk looks up from his pad and addresses his Assistants. “From there, we can begin some experimental treatments I have been developing.”
The Assistants nod, typing Berk’s instructions into their own pads, seemingly undisturbed by the fact that the “subject” is right here, terrified, wondering if this testing might be worse than death.
“Follow me.” An Assistant with reddish hair walks out of the door. I do as she says. The other Assistants scatter. I suppose they are each preparing their part of my tests. Berk walks behind me. Silent. I want to look in the other rooms we pass, to examine this level I never even knew existed, but the Assistant moves quickly and I cannot slow down. I look at her hair, perfectly straight, pulled back halfway in an elastic that is wound around her hair in perfect circles.
The elastic makes me think of Rhen. I worry that she will reveal her sickness to the Monitors now that I am not there to stop her. As much as I miss her, I don’t want her here with me. I don’t want her to be a test subject, a lab rat. I want her to live out her logical life in our pod with all the others.
I do not have much hope that Berk’s tests will result in my being allowed back into our pod. Somehow I have absorbed enough of Rhen’s logic to know that my return would be more disconcerting for my fellow pod mates than my leaving was. No, the Scientists are just allowing Berk to test on me as part of his training. I am sure of that. But I will do my best, for him.
Even if I am just a project. I am discovering I would rather live than die, no matter what that life may look like.
“Sit here.” The Assistant points to a large white box, about half the size of my cube back in Pod C. She opens a door in the box and I see a stool in the center. I sit and the door closes. I am surrounded by screens on all the walls and even the ceiling. They flicker to life and images of a garden pour in. I smell grass and trees.
What are they testing? How should I react? What should I say? Are they reading my thoughts? Are they administering medicine?
I decide to relax and just watch. Berk wants an accurate test, so I must respond accurately. I enjoy this scene. Above me is sky. Just sky. Not a glimpse of the sky through a panel high up at the top of the State, but just blue, with clouds that float along. I twist around in the stool, my neck angled so I can see all of it. I want to lie down and just watch the clouds.
I feel a slight breeze. Not like the forced air that comes out of the ventilation panels in the pods. This is lighter, like a gentle touch. It reminds me of the way Berk touched my face after I saw him with Dr. Spires. I look straight ahead and the trees sway, the grass moves. I wish I could walk into the image. I have always wanted to walk on the grass outside my pod with my bare feet. That, of course, is not allowed. But the desire is still there. I am sure it feels wonderful. So different from the hard, smooth surfaces in the pod.
The screens change to an image of a city. I have seen these pictures before, on my learning pad. But I am not just looking at a picture. I am in the city. The images move as if I am walking. I know, in my mind, that I am sitting on the stool. I am not really
moving along the walkway. But I feel like I am. It is a thrilling feeling. It feels like freedom.
I see people. They are dressed so strangely. All different fabrics and colors. I smell something awful. I cannot place the smell, but I hope it goes away quickly. I look down and a man is lying on the ground, a tattered blanket covering his filthy body. It is his odor that has reached my nostrils. I gag.
The screens change again. I cover my nose with my hand to try to erase the smell of the fetid man from my nostrils. Now I am on water, on some type of transport floating on the water. I look at all the screens. I am trapped. There is nothing solid anywhere. The transport moves. Up and down. Up and down. I feel sick. The bread and fruit I had this morning threaten to come back up.
I turn to the screen behind me and see another floating transport. This one is much larger than mine. It is black and has tubes sticking out from all sides. It is far away, so the people on the transport look tiny, like music notes bobbing around. I try to create a song about this, to keep my mind off the moving, endless water. But I cannot create anything. I can only try to concentrate on keeping my breakfast in my stomach.