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Authors: Krista McGee

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BOOK: Anomaly
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The tubes on the other floating transport turn toward me. The tiny people see my floating transport. I hear distant shouts in a tone I have never heard. How loud they must be for me to hear them from so far away. One of the tubes erupts. The sound is deafening. Fire spits out from the tube and some type of projectile flies toward me. I panic. I can’t escape. I can’t jump in the water, can’t get the room to move away. Is this experiment trying out new ways to annihilate the anomalies? I am sure there is a better way. I am frightened. I cannot breathe.

Then suddenly, right before the projectile is about to land
in my floating transport, the screens go black. I see nothing. Normally, I would not like this. But darkness is a welcome relief to the alternative. I can still feel the heat of that projectile flying through the air toward me. Still feel the motion of the room going up and down.

The screens slowly come back to life. At first, they just glow, a shade lighter than the black. Then lighter and lighter. From gray to dark blue. Light comes up from a corner of the cube. Daylight. In minutes, I am back in the garden. I see images of birds. I smell flowers. The wind blows through the trees and caresses the back of my neck. I sigh in relief. I wasn’t killed. I am not floating on water. This is only a test.

The door opens. Berk stands behind the Assistant. His eyes seem to be communicating to me,
I’m sorry
. Or maybe it’s my imagination. Since talking to John, I have felt a greater desire for the love he spoke of. I am projecting that desire onto Berk. That’s what Rhen would say. I try to be logical. Try not to let my errant thoughts control me.

“I will debrief her, Sami.” Berk dismisses the Assistant. He points to a plastic chair beside him. He sits after me, typing on his pad before looking at me. His eyes lock on mine, then move to a spot to my left. Cameras?

“Let’s talk about the first simulation.” Berk’s voice has no music. Flat tones with a steady rhythm. Different from how I have heard him speak before, with varied pitches, long and short phrases. I am sure, now, he is communicating with me:
We
are
being
watched. I must appear disinterested, a Scientist completing
an experiment
.

I nod, a slight movement, just enough for him to know I understand.

“The garden?” I try to speak in flat tones. I sound like the notes on a muted keyboard.

“Yes. What did you see?”

I tell him what I saw, what I smelled, how I felt. Berk reads dozens of questions about the experiment, questions that seem to have no point, although, of course, every question has a point. Everything here in the State has a purpose. What would it be like to do something, to say something, that has no set purpose? Just for pleasure?

I keep that thought to myself. That will never happen. When productivity is paramount, pleasure is pointless. I smile. I like that thought. When productivity is paramount, pleasure is pointless. I could put that to music. Sing it fast, repeat it. That would be pleasurable.

“Were you frightened?”

I should not be smiling right now. Berk is talking about the water simulation. The floating transport with the exploding tubes. I try to change my smile to a grimace. “Yes. That was uncomfortable.”

“How so?” Berk is typing onto his pad, recording my words.

“The transport was rocking, and the people on the other transport were shouting. I believe they wanted to hurt me.”

Berk looks at me. His green eyes remind me of the ocean. The yellow specks are like the reflection of the sun off the waves. It is hard to concentrate when he looks at me like that. “You were on a boat.”

“A sailboat?” I remember John speaking of a sailboat, something he enjoyed as a boy.

Berk drew his eyebrows together. “No. A battleship, actually.”

“But you said it was a boat.”

“Boats and ships are similar.”

“Oh.” I am not sure I understand, but I do understand from his tone that this particular line of communication is irrelevant.

“What else?”

“I thought I would be hurt by the people on the other boat.”

“Did you want to hurt them?”

“What?”

“Did you think about looking around your boat for something that could hurt the people on the other ship?”

I don’t comprehend this question. Why would I want to hurt someone? Berk’s mouth tips upward slightly and he moves on, asking me about the city again, the old man, the smells. He keeps asking me what I was feeling. I suppose the cube can only record so much data. It cannot determine how I feel. I am relieved to know that.

And then we are finished. He shuts down his pad and stands. I follow. We leave the room, but instead of turning right toward my room, Berk turns left. He doesn’t say anything. Neither do I. I just follow. He opens a door that leads to a stairwell. I have only traveled by elevator in this building. The stairs look even older than the rest of the building. They aren’t as clean. The paint on the walls seems dull and there are scuff marks on the floor.

Berk turns and almost runs right into me. He is standing just inches away. I smell the soap on his skin. I see where the beginnings of facial hair are standing out on his chin and his upper lip.

“We don’t have much time.” Berk speaks so quietly I barely hear him.

“Time for what?”

“There are cameras and microphones everywhere. We are being watched closely.”

“But not here?”

“No.” Berk is still whispering. “But we can’t stay here very long.”

“All right.” Berk is still close. So close it is hard to think clearly. “What is this all about? The cube and the images?”

Berk looks at me, his eyes saying something I do not quite understand. But whatever it is makes my heart beat faster. “I can’t explain right now. You answered well. Keep doing that. Go along with the simulations. Be honest in your evaluations.”

“I want to help you succeed in your project.”

Berk’s hands come to my shoulders. He pulls me close and wraps his arms around me, holding me so tight I can barely breathe. But I don’t care. This is the most wonderful feeling I have ever experienced. My head reaches his chest, and I can hear his heart beating. It is beating fast, like mine. He leans his head down, and I feel his breath in my ear, the stubble of his cheek on my cheek. “You are not a project, Thalli.”

He pulls away, and I want to pull him back in. I want to stay like this. But he is opening the door, looking out into the corridor, motioning me to follow him back to my room.

And we walk back the way we came. I stare ahead at Berk. I am memorizing everything about him. The way he walks, the way his hair curls over the collar of his white jacket. Too soon, he stops.

“Thank you for your cooperation.” He opens the door for me to walk into my room. And then he is gone.

I go to my sleeping platform and lie down. I close my eyes and relive that moment in the stairwell. Feel his arms around me, his whiskered face at my ear. I dream of gardens and birds and Berk.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

I
wake up thinking of John and Amy. And love. I try not to think of Berk and Thalli and love. That is too ridiculous. Primitive. And pointless. As much as I would like to believe otherwise, I know I am scheduled for annihilation. Berk is simply prolonging the inevitable. Because we are friends.

But he doesn’t feel like a friend. I have many friends. Rhen, Lute, Gen. All of Pod C. But I don’t want those friends to hold me like Berk held me. I don’t think about those friends far into the night. I don’t crave to be near those friends like I crave to be around Berk.

I expel all the air in my lungs. I need Rhen right now. What would she say if she were here?

“Thalli, you were designed to bring the beauty of music to our pod. You make us productive, you stimulate our brains. How can you do that if your own brain is filled with such superfluous thoughts?”

Rhen is right. And now I have moved from thinking about love to having imaginary conversations with my pod mate.

I go to my violin. I need to play. Even if I am the only one whose mind is stimulated.

I lift up the violin and place it beneath my chin. Just the feel of the smooth wood comforts me. My fingers flex. I need to play something fast, so fast that all I can think about is getting the bow from one string to the next. I want to play something slow, something that reminds me of my “stairwell moment” with Berk.

But I know I should not. Perhaps if I learn to control my emotions, my errant thoughts, the Scientists will allow me to live. I wouldn’t even mind if I had to live here, like John, a prisoner of the Scientists. Especially if my captor were Berk.

Play, Thalli
.

And so I do. I play the difficult pieces I learned as a child. Pieces designed to improve my dexterity and my sight-reading skills. I don’t even have time to think about anything else. I close my eyes and forget where I am. I am just playing. I am doing what I was designed to do. I relax. My arm seems to be moving on its own. I listen, enjoying the sounds of the music, the feel of the bow in my hand, the strings underneath my fingers.

But I don’t want to play. Not by myself. I think of John, all alone. When was the last time he heard music? No one seemed to notice my previous visit to his room. Maybe this hallway doesn’t have cameras, as I suspected. Or if it does, maybe those
monitoring them think that I will be annihilated, so talking with John is not a problem.

I take my violin and bow and open my door. The last Monitor did not bother to lock the door.

I go to John’s room and show him my violin. “I need an audience.”

John rubs his hands on his knees. “I’m thrilled to be your audience, maestro.” He smiles. I don’t know what
maestro
means, but it seems like something nice. I lift the violin to my chin and begin to play.

I play something slow and soothing for John. He closes his eyes. I have never seen that reaction in anyone but myself. When I play for the pod, they just sit and watch. Sometimes they pull out their learning pads to accomplish a task. But they never really enjoy what I am playing. No more than I enjoy Rhen’s logical solutions to problems or Gen’s mechanical innovations.

My arm is tired. But John is so happy. I recognize the look on his face. I know it has been on mine. He is lost in the music. It is speaking to him. So I fight through the fatigue and keep playing. With renewed energy, I play the piece that changed my future. I don’t know why. I should not like this piece. But I find I need to play it. I must. And though I have only seen the music once, I have memorized every note.

As I begin the first strains of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” John’s eyes fly open. He stands and puts his hand to his mouth. I stop playing.

“No, please.” John sets his hand over his heart. I am afraid he is going to die. I don’t know what to do. “That song . . . my wife walked down the aisle to that song. Played by a string quartet. Please continue.”

I have so many questions. Walked down the aisle? String quartet? But I do not ask. John is transported to another place in time. He remains standing, but his eyes are closed, his hand still over his heart. He is swaying to the music with tears slipping down his wrinkled face and becoming absorbed in the white hair on his cheeks.

I cry with him. I don’t know why, but his emotion becomes mine. It is love that makes him cry. It is painful, obviously, but not the same kind of pain as a sore arm or a blistered finger. This pain seems almost pleasurable. He doesn’t want to avoid it or seek a solution for it. I slow the tempo, knowing that John doesn’t want this song to end. I hold out the final notes, my finger wavering on the string to make the final notes sing with vibrato, filling the room.

And then I am done. John falls back onto the couch. I am sure something is wrong. I go to the wall-com to call an Assistant.

“No,” John whispers, like he is forcing his voice past rocks lodged in his throat.

I wait. John wipes his eyes and smiles at me. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For bringing back a beautiful memory.”

“What memory is that?” I sit on the sleeping platform and watch John spin a thin gold band on his finger.

“Do you know what a wedding is?”

I think back to my history lessons, but I cannot recall that word. “No.”

John looks sad. “A wedding is a ceremony where two people promise to love each other forever, no matter what. This was something the Designer intended from the beginning of time.
Marriage is a picture of his love for the people he created. His commitment to them. Sadly, that picture grew distorted over time. But Amy and I knew what he wanted. Our wedding was a celebration of what the Designer intended—to care for each other for better or for worse.”

“That sounds wonderful.” Strange. Impractical. But wonderful. “But you said something about walking down an aisle? And a string quartet?”

John’s blue eyes sparkle. “Yes, our wedding was at a church.”

“A church?”

John looks like he is going to be ill. “You have never heard that word either.”

It isn’t really a question but I shake my head. I can see the answer pains him.

“A church is a place where people who want to worship the Designer gather together. We would sing and pray and listen to men speak from the holy book.”

BOOK: Anomaly
10.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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