Chapter 1. S.
It is 10:04 a.m. and a pale March sun shines onto the pedestrian area in the inner city shopping centre. Between the newly renovated stores, pavement stretches out, its surface glittering with a multitude of small particles. Many feet step on it, spreading tiny amounts of dirt; but all day, every day, uniformed men are moving over it with their buzzing ambiCleaners. Its exemplariness is a symbol of power. Absolute power.
S. continues to walk. Around her, the cleanliness has permeated the city, shaping her mind even though she would never be allowed to take part in its perfection. Bright clouds fill the space between the buildings. A hole. A void. I am nothing. I am’
A wordless melody spins itself into being, spiraling in her scull. The shifts in tone are too extreme to voice, and in an absent way she allows it to shape her outlook on things. She does not stop to think about its origins. The melody is there, like she is there, period.
The stores teem with people, elbowing each other to get their best buy ever. Spring sale is on and even on this Tuesday, many people are moving about on the wide avenues. People, too many people...
Taking out her fake mobiPhone, S. nods, pretending to be listening to someone while she keeps going, following an overwhelming default acting on her.
As casually as she can, she slings her jacket over her arm. The denim hides her Mark. Nobody reacts on her presence.
‘This will be the day that I die...’
The weird melody, still floating in her head, temporarily assumes notes from a popular song, the tonality fragmented to construct a new melody.
S. scans the city panorama she keeps in mind, views the almost triangular inner city highway curving around the high-rise center, the silvery river making a U-turn before moving under the Bridge and on towards the harbors and disappearing into the far away sea, the smaller bridges dividing the city into Boroughs, the huge wired glass walls protecting the President’s many Palaces, the vast Prisons and still, scattered over the city, the scars of her actions.
Zooming in, she automatically checks all escape routes from here: the shops with a convenient back door, the back-ways leading out of the maze behind the store fronts. The small cash changer with the convenient side exit is just out of reach, and it will take half a block more to be within running distance of the next alleyway leading out. - I am nobody. I am nothing. I am who you are. I am’
Keeping up a soft inconsequential babble in the mobiPhone, S. glances around. The pattern of people moving is as it should be, even though human presence never fails to arouse anxiety.
Yes, she is a wanted person.
The past couple of years she bombed some of the city's finest tourist attractions in an attempt to attract worldwide attention to the President's 'government' here.
A contemporary society on the surface, the country continues to be subjected to a dictatorship of which the rules have steadily become more brutal. The President is in total control, even though in name, the Parliament and Ministers advise him. His Guard and the Secret Police are above any law, the press copies what the Presidential staff writes for them, and the Prisons with ample torture facilities are full. In line with the old Bearer etiquette, the Head of State has immediate power to kill or injure anyone crossing him, and the President is too fond of this special power to relinquish its use.
S.’ bombings made her one of the most feared and wanted terrorists in the country. Too much honor, she knows. She was just an instrument. Hermon was more of a leader, Moss more of a strategist, X. much more extreme... No, S.’ most outstanding talent is the ability to move anywhere without being noticed. Unremarkable all her life, she does not care for her life, making her an ideal planter of bombs. And so, it was her appearance the securiCams had captured, and she had paid for it, the Mark only one of the traces. She had escaped from Prison, somehow, in an incredible action undoubtedly thought out by Moss just before he disappeared. Since then, she has been moving from safe-house to hideaway, never staying anywhere long.
This is what life should be. S. has been under cover for so long that she does not even remember what the S. stood for. Tanned, spiky-haired and lithe, the simple S. suits her, so she never bothered.
She never looks back.
But, while walking in the pale sunlight, S. does force herself to look forwards. She had managed to avoid that for weeks, living in cold storage buffered by reading cheap detectives. Again and again she had devoured the same structures, the introductions laying out people and places, the inevitable murders, the characters evolving, the lies surfacing, the tell-tale tiny mistakes, the pattern of declarations interlacing, the logical deductions making the tiniest detail meaningful, the final conclusion… Pure escapism, she knows, and that is exactly why she has been an addict for so long.
She has to face her prospects are grim. Most of her group were arrested, when at their last ‘action’ someone had sung to the police. It had all happened in a flash: she had just returned from interrogation, set free without any memory of what had happened inside the bureau. Lei and Yake and Hermon and Sterre and X... S. had observed their energy with admiration: their anger defying all fear, their audacity challenging the absoluteness of the power shaping their lives. Their faces suddenly were everywhere: on NationalTV?
, on dataFlow, on the net, on the streets: distorted into black low-res mug shots, frowning from cheap printPaper soon sagging in the rain. Trophies of the President, another proof of his superiority.
Where are their faces now?
She has no time for the thought. There are other cells active, and being the only one of her group still safely out of prison does make her look suspiciously like the singer, making her either a next victim of her own friends, or at best at a dead end. There is nothing she can do, no person to turn to for help, no one she can trust. No one. Nobody.
S. forces herself to stop thinking. Not there. She cannot go there. Never, again. Never, ever again. Never, ever again. Never, ever’
The words thump in a recurring refrain, weaving over the high eerie sound in her head, getting louder and louder as she briskly walks on over the smooth pavement tiles.