Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Path to Eden I - Noah

I have been feeling pretty queasy for the last couple of days. I couldn’t really explain it. I knew it couldn’t be something I ate, so I just blamed it on the stress. The problem is, I didn’t really have a reason to feel stress. Retiring in your thirties is hardly a reason to feel uneasy. Still, I managed to keep that sensation at bay as I drove my car up to the hospital.

The door slid open with a barely audible beep. Someone should take care of that, I said to myself. The tall walls of the hallway were lined with huge windows. Screens with paintings of nature filled out the spaces that were not made of glass. The overall effect was pretty tacky, but at least the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Gentle jazz was coming from the wall-mounted speakers, the nurses talking to the people waiting for their turn were all smiling and speaking in pleasant tones. The tall, busty Latina woman at the reception sounded no less pleasant.

“Good afternoon, sir,” she said in a very smooth voice. My eyes caught her large, deep chestnut ones. What little make-up she had on was used to emphasize those eyes and her full lips – and she used it to great effect.  “How may I help you?”

“Hi,” I stuttered a bit. “I’m here to pick up my father. His name is Flint Eldridge.”

“Just a moment,” she said as she turned to her holo-screen. “Yes, it seems Mr. Eldridge is waiting for you. You must be Noah, then. Can I see some ID?”

“Sure.” I pulled out my phone and placed it on a panel she held out. A flash later, I was admitted into the waiting room.

He sat there in the middle of the room, the sun illuminating his bald, spotty, brown scalp surrounded by a wiry halo of white hair. When he heard me come in, he turned around his wheelchair and scowled at me.

“You sure took your sweet time,” he grumbled. Several of the folks in the room glanced at him.

“Yeah, it’s good to see you too, dad.” He extended a hand to me. I went up to him, shook it, and hugged him. “How’re you feeling?”

He scoffed. “We can talk in the car, eh? I don’t really feel comfortable around these people.” He made no effort to lower his voice. The people watching him started to turn their gaze to me. All that was left for me was to nod in an effort to silently apologize for his behavior. Why would they care so much, though?  Is this really something I should be apologizing for?

He went ahead of me and waited for me to open the car for him, which I promptly did. “You need help?”

“I still know my way around a car, thank you,” he said as he pushed the panel next to the window. The back seat folded and moved away to the back, leaving behind only a space that would allow the wheelchair  to attach to the floor.

“Just wanted to make sure you got everything you need,” I sighed and got behind the steering panel. With two pushes, I set the course for home. “So, did you have fun?”

“Oh, loads,” I could see him roll his eyes in the rear-view mirror. “You know how perky all those old folks are. I was half afraid you’d leave me there with them till I die. Now there’s a thought…” His tone suddenly got much softer. “It’s good to see you, son.”

“Yeah, I know, dad,” I turned my head and smiled at him. “So how’re you holding up?”

“They printed me a new heart,” he said with a shrug. “I’m actually surprised at how well this thing works.”

“Yeah, well,” I turned to him again. “You know it’s all still pretty new stuff, so don’t you dare try to push your limits now, you hear?”

“Well, that’s why I’m moving in with you now, isn’t it? You’ll be babysitting me 24/7.”

“Now that I have the time, I’ll gladly do just that,” I said with my eyes fixed on the road. It’s the best I can do now.

“Any word from Bianca?” His gaze was fixed on something outside the window. The question seemed half-hearted, as if he asked it more out of obligation than genuine curiosity. That, however, was hardly a surprise.

“No, and I want it to stay that way. No reason to dig up the past.”

“Mhm.” He would kill me if he knew I noticed it, but I could see it. Somewhere deep in those chocolate eyes lay buried a deep sadness, concern, that he harbored for all this time, but wouldn’t let anyone know. I knew. If only because that sadness was so much more deeply rooted within my own soul. “So,” dad tried to change the subject, though his bored monotone made it seem like he had little interest in it. “They announced it today, huh?”

“The disarmament, you mean? Yeah, they did. That’s no news to us, though, is it.”

“Kind of a pity, don’t you think?” he turned his eyes to me. I could feel his gaze pierce me through the mirror. “You never even got the chance to prove yourself, did you.”

“Look, dad. Just because I became a soldier too late to take part in any serious conflict doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything important during my service. I’m more than happy to know that whatever small part I played in the grand scheme of things, we now finally have peace.” I could feel my jaw clench. Calm down, Noah. He doesn’t mean it that way. I took a deep breath. “Well, at least I get enough money to live by for the rest of my life now, even if my service was short.” I smiled. I was trying to laugh it all off, but dad seemed concerned.

“You know what, Noah,” he began in almost a whisper. “Part of me is happy that you never had to witness the things I did. You never had to murder innocent children in the name of your country. You never saw your friends turn into monsters or die the most senseless deaths imaginable. That part of me is overjoyed. I am so happy that what I did – and what you did – has helped the world reach the state it is in now. A state when we are actually at peace.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “But there’s another part of me. This one says that it’s all a ruse. We’ve taken over the whole world under the pretence of world peace. We claim war is over. But when is it really over? Noah,” he said as he opened his eyes and turned to me. “I don’t think there is such a thing as eternal, world-wide peace. I know not everyone is happy about the state of the world now, and it’s only a matter of time before uprisings start. And then, with no weapons, and no army, who will defend the defenseless?”

The rest of the ride we remained silent. I didn’t really know what to say. You’re wrong, I thought, so many times. We need peace and we should fight for it, and now that it’s finally here, we should embrace it. But then I remembered so many things. And in that instant, as we stopped the car in front of the house, I found it in me to say: “You’re wrong.”


“I wasn’t spared all of those things,” I said. My voice shook as I spoke of things that I would spend night after sleepless night wishing  that I could forget. “I saw people turn to monsters. Ten years ago, in that project. Remember?”

“Don’t talk about that, Noah,” dad said as he opened the door of the car. “Talking about them won’t make falling asleep any easier.”

“No, wait, it’s just,” I clenched my fist. “I think you’re right on one account. I think this disarmament may be premature too. But maybe, just maybe, they did that as more of an incentive, so that we would actually get that peace now?”

“Why would we need a fake peace now?”

“I-“ I started, but found myself at a loss for words. The memories from ten years ago came floating back. The agonizing screams, the patients tied to the beds. And all I could do was watch and make sure they wouldn’t run away. And I did just that. But none of that ever made public knowledge. And they didn’t let me tell anyone about it. “Maybe, they just need to make peace official now?”

“But why? It’s the damned federal government we’re talking about. They are the ones who decide what needs to be done.”

“Well, what if someone’s watching us-“

“Don’t you be going all conspiracy theorist on me now. Looks like you need the rest now more than I do.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I said as I stepped out of the car and locked the door. I looked at the evening sky and did my best to remember those words that kept haunting me in my dreams but that I could never really recall when awake.

“Crap,” dad hissed. I turned my head towards him. He was in front of the door, fidgeting with the control panel. “Your panel’s busted. You’re gonna have to contact a handyman.”

Contact. That word hit me like a brick. That was definitely one of the words in my dreams. One piece of that sentence that got repeated over and over. The sentence that I kept hearing in that base, echoing through the hallways and the rooms with the patients. The contact…

What does that even mean?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Path to Eden I - Laura

The cafeteria was filled to the brim with inmates. As they were all lining up in front of the food dispensers, we were making our rounds around the place. The tall white walls made for a pretty crushing feeling. Then again, perhaps this was why we never had any discipline problems.

They all look so normal, I thought. If they weren’t all wearing uniforms, I’d say these women were completely ordinary citizens. And yet, they all deserved to be there, there could be no doubt. The legal system had at that point been refined to a degree that there was no possibility of a mistake. These women were all thieves, bandits, murderers. Yes, they looked like normal humans. But deep down, they were anything but. This white box contained the very scum of the Earth. And I was its guardian.

My job was to make sure all the automatic functions were implemented properly. I was in charge of checking if the doors locked the way they’re supposed to, if the bots guided the inmates to their proper cells, or if the food was delivered to the proper cells. The higher-ups always made a big deal over the health of the inmates, so we had to make sure the people didn’t get any allergies. What a waste of money.

This week was also my turn to patrol the West block in the evenings. No one ever wanted to do that – that block was the one where all the people with a life-sentence were. It never made a difference to me, however. The prisoners were all very quiet, regardless of the wing they inhabited. They were all criminals, sinners anyway, no matter how you looked at it. I just found patrolling extremely boring.

My first patrol night started pretty normal. The hall was two stories high, with two rows of cells with glass doors on one wall, a large glass window on the whole of the opposite wall, with a beautiful view of the forest and mountains, engulfed in a thick fog. They don’t deserve this kind of view, I would always think, but that’s just the way things work now. The cells in this block housed one person each, so they were quite tiny. Barely anything more than a bed fit in there, and yet the inmates still found enough space to clutter them with their own stuff. One cell was filled to the brim with abstract drawings, the walls of another were lined with books, and there was one that was filled with toy cats – probably presents from a kid or something.

And then there was a room full of crosses and other Catholic iconography. One picture that drew the attention in particular was a very ornate painting of the Black Madonna. Such a waste, I said to myself as I looked at the room. No amount of prayer is going to save you from going there.

“Hey,” I heard a voice from the cell. The person that up until that point I could’ve sworn was fast asleep turned to face me. Jennifer Stone, sentenced to life for the murder of her sister. Up until the last minute she swore she hadn’t done it. But the evidence never lied. The brown eyes of this forty-something white woman radiate gazed at me. Had I not known I was looking at a cold-blooded killer, those eyes would’ve definitely made me trust her. “You’re Laura, aren’t you?”

“Didn’t think inmates cared to remember our names,” I said. “Go back to sleep.”

“No, no, you’re Laura!” she stood up and approached the glass door, placing a sweaty hand against the door right in front of my face. Thank God for the glass.”I remember you! From back then.”

“Excuse me?”

“You were there with me when the angels came, a long time ago… Ten years or so, I think.”

“Angels, huh?” I smirked. “Go back to sleep, Ms. Stone.”

“You don’t remember?” her eyes went wide in disbelief. I thought she was about to cry. “All those years ago we were taken, remember? There was so many of us… And you helped me get out.”

“That’s good to hear, thank you,” I smiled at her and wanted to keep going, but she kept talking to me.

“Please, you must remember,” she was almost sobbing. “They came to me in my dream. They’re coming again. The end of days is upon us.”

“Please go back to sleep, Ms. Stone.”

“You don’t believe me…” she whispered. “Check the mark below your left breast then. You surely have it. A small red star.”

“That is quite enough,” I said a bit too loudly. The prisoners around me started to emit irritated noises. I slammed the green button hidden next to the door and shutters fell down on Ms. Stone’s cell entrance. She wouldn’t bother me anymore that night. Or so I thought.

I couldn’t help thinking about what she said on the way home. I knew I had no mark there, I was certain of that. And yet, I had to check. Something about what she said stirred something bad in my mind, something I was supposed to forget. Something I couldn’t understand and that I knew would bring me pain. Ten years ago… Angels...

Amos, my faithful German shepherd, greeted me as he always did when I finally came home. I had not time to say hello to him, however. I rushed to the bathroom and stripped in front of the mirror. For a moment, I held my breath. Lifting and stretching any piece of skin I could grab, I scanned every inch of my torso. Then, finally, the breath came back. I felt so relieved. There was nothing there. And yet, for some reason, tears came rolling down my eyes, and my body wouldn’t stop shaking. Amos came to my side and started licking my face. I hugged him as tight as he would let me. The empty feeling seemed to slowly go away.

“Thanks, buddy,” I said to the dog once I was feeling better. I then dressed again and went to the kitchen to give him some food. I then took him for a long walk in the fog. That really helped ease my nerves. The lake was so close, and yet it was barely visible in these conditions. Still, just the smell and sound of it made me remember my childhood and how happy I used to be back then. For all the complaining I used to do, I now wished there was somebody who would nag to me about how I should be getting married and having kids.

For the next couple of days, I asked Maria Velasquez to take care of my patrols for me. I offered to take her shift next time. She agreed after I told her I wasn’t feeling that well. Though we didn’t talk much, I always felt a kind of bond with Maria. I knew that I could always count on her, and despite her cold expression, I could tell that she always cared deeply about other people.

I quickly forgot about the whole business, but was soon reminded of it. The other guards started talking about Ms. Stone. Apparently, something happened and her health was deteriorating rapidly. The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with here. She wasn’t sick, she didn’t seem to have any physical injuries. She was just dying. Just like that.  Even though there was no death penalty, we still had a policy of allowing dying prisoners to have one last wish fulfilled. As luck would have it, Ms. Stone’s dying wish was to talk to me. And thus, on the day she drew her last breath, I was called to the infirmary.

“Laura,” she heaved. “You came.”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Stone, but you must have mistaken me with somebody,” I told her. “I didn’t find any mark. I wasn’t there with your angels.”

“I see.” Her voice was faint. Barely a whisper. “That’s why you aren’t dying. Your surgery was successful.”


“Listen to me, Laura, and listen closely,” she whispered as she grabbed my hand. Her grip was tight despite her state. “The angels have chosen you. It is up to you. You are the one who will bring justice to this world and punish those who did this to us.”

“Ms. Stone. I’m sorry, but this all really is a bunch of nonsense to me.”

“The angels will come to you in a dream, as they came to me. They will take you. I was unworthy. For my crime, I was deemed unworthy. I couldn’t go with them… But you can go and you can make this right…”

A single tear rolled down my cheek. But she’s a murderer, I said to myself. She may regret it, but she still deserves all this. So don’t cry. Don’t cry for her, she’s doomed anyway, don’t mourn her.
“Goodbye, Ms. Stone,” I said. She nodded and closed her eyes. I left the infirmary and continued my duties like nothing happened. Because  nothing happened. It was all a bunch of nonsense.

But then why did I feel like I needed to scream?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Path to Eden I - Mara

The final bell rang. With a sigh of relief, I told the kids they could go. Unfortunately, the excited whispers that arose were killed by my last-minute announcement of homework. It was only two exercises, and yet they still moaned. Always moaning, always tired, devoid of any drive or ambition. The holoscreens on the desk turned off one by one. I still had to turn off the board, as I was the last teacher to have classes in this room.

“Bye, Mrs. Chapman,” a girl’s voice called to me from the exit.

“Goodbye,” I called back. I glanced up from under the desk to look up at the student. I smiled back at her, one of the few faces that actually showed some enthusiasm about learning something. Ellie Morgan was still a kid, but I could tell that with that kind of brain, she could do something great in the future. She looked a lot like her sister, too, except for the eyes. Ellie had much better grades in my class than Angela ever had, but the memories I had of her older sister were pleasant.

After locking up the class, I made my way to the teacher’s lounge. The look of schools in general has changed considerably since I was a student myself. Almost all the walls were made of interactive glass that would let in all the sun when on standby, but could be manipulated to block the view if need be. Even the classrooms were much more open and separated only by segments, never full walls. The atmosphere of the building, with its warm hues and abundance of natural light, made it feel like the perfect nurturing environment. Logically, the kids should want to take in knowledge gladly in a place like this. Yet most students would still approach learning with the enthusiasm of a zombie. There must be something fundamentally wrong with this system.

After leaving the key and grabbing my coat, I left the teacher’s lounge. I didn’t see anyone there, which wasn’t surprising. At this hour, there’s hardly ever any teachers left. Outside the school my lovely green car was right where I parked it. I took control of the wheel, as usual. The self-driving system was working just fine, I just never thought I needed it. I felt fine being completely in control of my car. Plus, there was no way in hell I’d let my supreme driving skills get impaired by lack of proper training. I rode out the driveway and into the street.

In an instant, I forgot all about the zombie teenagers and broken education system. The tall trees, with their leaves a collage of browns, oranges and yellows, with only the occasional splash of green, formed a tunnel over the street. It was rush hour, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at this street. One of the biggest perks of living and working in the suburbs – you were never stuck in traffic. That, and the beautiful houses built in the style of the 1950s. Both Jerome and I agreed – this is as good as it gets.

Before going straight home, I had to pick up Ivy, as usual. The elementary school was just a few blocks away. As I got there, I noticed my little girl stand by the metal gate on the red brick wall separating the school grounds from the street. Once she spotted my car, she ran up, a multitude of tiny braids bouncing on her head.

“How was school?” I asked her as she took the front passenger’s seat.

“It was okay,” Ivy shrugged.

“Lots of homework?”

“Mhm,” she nodded, her little eyebrows furrowed.

“What’s wrong, honey?”

“Well, there was this thing today,” she began. “We had this really difficult math equation to do in class today. And Mr. Green asked Sophia to come to the blackboard, which she did. And she even gave the right answer, but the teacher said she didn’t do it right, because she didn’t solve it the way he showed us earlier. So she didn’t get a star even though she’s really smart and deserved it. I think it’s unfair.”

“You do?”

“Yes,” she nodded again and turned her large brown eyes to me. “What do you think, mom?”

“Well, I think Mr. Green had a reason to say you have to use his method,” I told my child, but there was doubt in my head. Was this one of the fatal flaws in our system? I understand how students need to know certain processes before they move on to bigger things, but is this really the way to go about it?

We soon reached home. As we entered through the front door, I heard a pair of tiny footsteps rushing in my direction, as usual. I was wondering how Micah never got tired of it.

“Mommy!” a sweet little voice called. I lifted the boy and gave him a kiss on his round little nose. His thick curls were a tangled mess.

“Hello, sweetie,” I smiled at him. I noticed Jerome come out of the kitchen wiping his hands on his apron that was tied pretty tight around his large belly. His thick glasses were a bit askew, lips twisted into that smug little smile of his.

“Come on kids, dinner’s ready, give mom some room to breathe,” he said as he took Ivy’s backpack from her. I let Micah go and both he and Ivy ran to the dining room. Jerome approached me and gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek, his beard itchy as always. “Hey, honey. How was your day?”

“Ugh,” I groaned. “Same old zombie business. What’s for dinner?”

“Lasagne,” he said as he made his way back to the kitchen. “Just hurry up or it’ll get cold."

We all sat at the dining room table, recounting the events of the day. Jerome got pretty upset over Ivy’s story, or at least acted upset to make his daughter feel better.  I was really impressed by how well Micah could use the fork and knife already. Looking at both of our kids and how they were turning out, at that moment I could safely say that Jerome and I were doing a pretty good job at parenting.

I offered to do the dishes, as Jerome still had a lot of work to do. Not that that was a particularly time-consuming task, as we had recently purchased a new dishwasher. I didn’t even need to do anything, just put the plates in it. It all worked like a charm. I then sat down with the kids, helping Ivy with her homework, while Micah filled out his new coloring book. Then evening came and I put Micah to sleep. Ivy was still playing some games in her room, so I just told her not to stay up too late.

I went to check up on Jerome in his study. The room always looked a mess, but there was no helping it. Batches of paper lay sprawled on the floor under piles of cables and wires. In the middle of it all stood a chair, and in it – my husband, a metal helmet on his head so big it covered half his face. I went in as quietly as I could and jabbed him in his flabby belly.

“Whoa!” he screamed. “Jesus, Mara. How many times did I specifically tell you not to do just that?”

“Sorry, Cerebro,” I chuckled. “You’re just such an easy target. You done for today?”

“Yeah, I think I can go to bed now,” he said as he put away the helmet. “I was correcting this super important document today. Now, this is classified information, but they’re going to announce a global disarmament tomorrow.”

“You’re joking,” I said in a flat tone.


“Huh,” I said as we made our way to the bedroom. “Well, when you said it’s classified info, I expected something… bigger.”

“Oh, come on,” he looked at me with his brown eyes, his dark forehead wrinkled from all the furrowing he always did with his brows. “This is literally the most important document I have ever worked on.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I ended that conversation there. I still thought about it as I took a shower, however. It was a big change, and yet, it really seemed like something obvious. I knew there was something wrong with the way things were run, and I was really starting to doubt gradual changes like these would really be enough to set everything right.

When I got out of the bathroom, Jerome was already in bed, reading a book. Our bed was really wide – it had to be if it were to accommodate both of our bodies, neither of which could be considered a size 0. Still, I stood there for a moment, just taking in the way the man I loved looked as he read that book, his face focused, eyes darting back and forth. Even though neither of us were exactly young anymore, I still felt we were both very attractive. Even if not by everyone’s standards, I knew we were still attractive to each other. That night, in a surge of spontaneity, I got on top of him, threw his book away, along with glasses both mine and his, and made sure we wouldn’t sleep for at least a couple of hours. We made sure to stay quiet so as not to wake the kids, though.

The next morning, I barely managed to go to work. Not because I didn’t want to or couldn’t get up early enough. Once he saw me, Micah decided he needed to cling to my leg and not let me go anywhere.

“Come on, buddy,” Jerome said to him as he forced the boy to release his grip on me. Micah instantly broke into tears. “Shh, there now. Mommy’s gonna come home from work soon, okay? Don’t you worry. We can have fun without mommy, right?”

“Don’t go!” Micah wailed. “Don’t leave, mommy!”

“Don’t worry,” I said as I laid a kiss on his little forehead. “I won’t be long.”

The day did seem long, however. I was growing more and more frustrated at how similar all the days looked. The same zombies roaming the schools, the same complaints from my kids. Yes, we got a global disarmament. That is fantastic. Too bad so many things are messed up anyway.

“You know,” I told Jerome as we lay in bed before going to sleep. “You’d think after all the changes the education system had, things would be better.”

“Well, aren’t they?” he asked. “I mean, at least schools are safe, and our kids don’t have to worry about getting different treatment just because they’re black. Plus, according to statistical data, kids are scoring better and better every year.”

He has a point. “I know what you mean, but what does it all matter in the long run? Everyone hates school anyway and it’s only a select few that want to gain knowledge for their own benefit. Imagine how much more people would actually consider higher education if the system let them spread their wings better?”

“Of course that would be good. But how can you do that? The system’s constantly evolving anyway. Maybe someday.”

“That’s just the thing. I don’t think this evolution is the right way to go. We need a drastic change, and we need it now.”

Jerome kissed me right in the lips. “Don’t you be going starting revolutions now, okay? I know something needs to change, and maybe it will someday. But for now, I think we have more important things to focus on.”

“You’re right,” I said. We both went to sleep.

I wouldn’t consider the state I was in sleep, however. The only word that comes to mind is vision. I saw Angela suspended in midair, surrounded by eleven people, me among them. The entire space was completely white, with an eye in the sky piercing through the white layers to reveal a blue sky beyond. The Contact the eye called the girl. I woke up from the vision horrified and ran straight to the bathroom to vomit. The feeling I had wouldn’t go away, though. Through the bathroom mirror, I saw lights in the sky. I felt a numbness fill me. It was all true. I went back to bed and hugged Jerome as tight as I could. The feeling inside my body was pushing me to find Angela as fast as possible, at all costs, but I fought it. I wouldn’t leave this place for the world, ever. I needed to be here, with my family. I had important things to focus on.

This change was too early for me.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Path to Eden I - Atsuko (2/2)

The two men guided me into a black car that took us somewhere pretty far. For a moment I was worried I had been tricked, but in the end, we reached the airplane standing in the middle of the darkness. The jet was much smaller than the public planes that could be seen in the distance, but it still looked like it could contain a fair amount of people. The men allowed me to keep my luggage with me as they guided me into the vehicle. The interior looked more like a luxurious living room than a plane, with comfy-looking couches, tables, a bunch of holo-PCs, a large screen TV and even a bookshelf and refrigerator with drinks. Agent Riley came up from the lower deck and smiled at me.

“We will stop at two more places before we reach Washington,” he said to me in a pleasant tone. “We have to pick up some more people like you.”

I nodded and Riley went back downstairs. The plane took flight almost immediately afterwards. I couldn’t tell what direction we were going. I soon became very sleepy and dozed off until we landed for the first time. There were no crazy dreams this time.

“Thanks,” I heard a voice in the distance say in English. His accent was some kind of British, but I was never a specialist on that. I looked at the general direction of the voice and noticed a man come on to the upper deck. He was a slightly chubby man in his forties. His golden hair was pretty thin, but arranged in quite a neat manner. He smiled at me as he came in and waved at me with his hand. I noticed a wedding ring. “Hello!”

“Hi,” I said to him in a meek voice. Although I knew I was fluent and everyone always praised me for it, I was never really comfortable speaking English. The man sat down on the couch opposite of me. He was smiling a broad smile. He looked very pleasant, but there was something fake about that smile. I could tell his intentions were good, but his eyes betrayed him. Those big, blue eyes were bloodshot and swollen. I didn’t want to ask. He extended a hand to me.

“I’m James, by the way. James Boone. But I guess you can call me Jamie. Hardly anyone calls me that nowadays, but I quite like it, personally.”

I shook his hand and tried for a smile of my own. “My name is Atsuko Tachibana. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise! So…” his voice suddenly became a bit quieter. He lowered his gaze, glanced about the room, and said to me in almost a whisper. “I take it we had the same dream, then? You saw it? The eye and fire, I mean?”

The plane took off. We were alone in the room, but I didn’t think there was anything to hide here. The people who brought us here seemed to be aware of the situation. Still, my reply came out as a whisper as well. “Yes. I saw the twelve of us, the eye, a red light, and I heard a voice mention the contact.”

“And then you knew you had to fly?”

“Yes.” I nodded.

“Fu- Oh, sorry. What do you think all this means?”

“Well, there’s one thing we can be sure of,” I told him as I pointed out the window. The lights lingered there, still dotting the sky during the late afternoon. “We’re not alone.”

“Yeah… Bloody hell, one moment I’m minding my own business, living my life as usual, working hard, spending time with my family, and now look. Aliens. And what the hell even are they?”

“We don’t know that. Not yet, at least. I think the most exciting thing about this is that we will probably get to find out.”

“Yeah. Not sure if that isn’t scarier, though.”

 I had the feeling we had nothing to be afraid of, and yet, the very fact that we are coming in touch with a completely alien culture was, in a way, terrifying. The endlessness of space that was largely unknown to us and had nothing to do with any of our daily lives could soon become unraveled, and nothing would be the same again. Is this what they mean by saying that ignorance is bliss?

For the rest of that part of the flight, Jamie and I changed the topic. I found out he’d also left a spouse at home in all this. I found that I quite liked his company and that we had a lot in common. Later he pulled out an old-fashioned deck of cards. I was delighted. It had been so long since I’d played actual cards. We played war for at least an hour, right up until the point that we landed.

That’s when the other man entered. He was very tall, quite a bit taller than Jamie. They seemed to be around the same age, but this man seemed to be in much better shape. His sandy hair was overgrown and his bangs fell on the right side of his face, mostly obscuring that eye from view. The other one revealed itself to be very narrow, deeply set, and a particularly cold shade of gray. A heavy stubble covered his angular face. And though I could see his lips twisted into a very friendly grin, there was something off about him. His smile was fake, as his eyes betrayed him. But what he was hiding I could not tell. And that thought filled me with an eerie dread.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Path to Eden I - Atsuko (1/2)

I woke up from the most bizarre dream. Well, perhaps calling it a dream is inappropriate. A vision? Premonition?  I couldn’t tell why, but I knew it was real. I knew it was something that my mind had not made up. I knew, because after waking I could feel that there was something I needed to do. I knew that the task I had was extremely important. The fate of the world depended on it. I didn’t know exactly what it was that I must do, but I knew that I had to fly across the ocean, to America, to fulfill my part of the task.

The burden was heavy, but there was some relief in knowing that I had to go somewhere far away for who knows how long. It’s been a long time since I last felt safe in my own house with Kenji around. He was out now – a perfect opportunity for me to leave.

“Sophia,” I called out. The doll entered the room as the translucent door slid open. A metal construct, physically only vaguely resembling a human, and yet I felt a surprising affinity to the thing. There was a screen where its eyes would be if it were a person. The screen would display whatever state the machine was in. Right now, the characters for awaiting input were displayed. “I need you to pack my things. Only the bare necessities. I will later mail you the address of where I want the rest of them sent.”

“Certainly,” the doll replied in a voice that sounded like a very convincing imitation of a human being. “Shall I inform Master Kenji of this?”

“Oh, don’t trouble yourself. I’m sure he’s too busy to be reading e-mails now,” I lied, but the machine seemed content with the response. Then again, he might have been too drunk to notice an e-mail anyway.

It only took Sophia five minutes to have a small suitcase ready. I bid the doll farewell and left. The pristine elevator rode down to the first floor in an instant. I exited the lobby to find quite the commotion outside. People were huddled in groups gazing up at the sky, excited whispers filled the air. I looked up myself. The image of a giant multi-colored eye surrounded by flames returned to me, the echo of a headache and intense nausea returning for a minute, but then faded away in an instant. So that’s them, I thought as I watched the millions of white lights littered in-between the stars on the evening sky. That’s quite a bit more of them than I expected. Then again, they didn’t exactly speak to me,  did they.

I remembered hearing only one word: contact. And yet, they (whatever they were) managed to convey more information to me through some means I could not comprehend. I knew there was twelve of us. I knew that word referred to the girl in the middle. I knew where I had to go. But what happens once I get there?

A chill went down my spine. I couldn’t waste any more time. Everything about Kenji was a crapshoot lately. He could come back from work early or not come back for days without saying a word. I decided against taking any chances. So I stopped stargazing and went to the monorail as fast as I could. I was hoping I could reach the airport, but doing that in less than an hour seemed unlikely, considering all the crowds.

The ride was surprisingly easy. I spent it reading a PSA glued to the car wall about sexual violence in public transit. I was one of the few people who were on board the monorail. I guess the crowds were too excited about all the lights in the sky to actually care to commute somewhere. I got to the airport much faster than expected. But it was only then that the real problem arose.

The airport was filled to the brim with people. Some were glued to the glass walls, pointing and shouting at the mysterious lights. Others were lined up in front of the ticket offices, throwing fits, being reassured of something by the security. The lines weren’t moving at all. It looked like no one could actually book a flight or reach their terminal. I took a look at the departures board. I could feel my breath become heavy, sweat trickled down my neck. All the flights had been cancelled.
I walked up to one of the security guards.

“Excuse me,” I said as gently as I could. “What is going on?”

“I’m sorry to tell you this, ma’am, but no public planes will be departing today,” said the security guard. He was really young – I don’t think he could have been older than 20. His voice was shaking slightly, but I could tell he was doing his best to remain calm. “The lights that appeared in the sky are still unidentified and the federal government has demanded all flights to be cancelled. There are currently no planes in the air anywhere around the world. This is all to ensure everyone’s safety.”

“I understand. Thank you, sir,” I smiled at him and turned around.

I walked around aimlessly. What am I supposed to do now? I have to get there no matter what! Why did this have to happen? I sat down on the bench and put my face in my hands. I was just about to cry when I heard a familiar female voice call out to me.

“Atsuko! Is that really you?” A woman approached me. I instantly recognized her face. It was Mai Kashihara, an old colleague of mine. Her wide smile would always brighten my day. We used to work together until I took my leave. A noticeable baby bump was a new aspect of her that I hadn’t seen before. For a moment, I felt a burning surge of envy run through my veins. “It’s been too long!”

“Mai!” I blurted out in surprise. We threw our arms around each other. The embrace of a friend you thought you’d never see again – a feeling that no words can describe. “It HAS been too long! Look at you! When did this happen?”

“Oh, you know,” she grinned. “Six months. I’m supposed to be taking a vacation now. And what are you doing here?”

“Oh, I’m–“ I found myself at a loss for words. “Um…”

Mai’s grin faded. “Don’t tell me… Is it Kenji again?”

Well, you’re technically not wrong. I nodded. “I guess you could say I’m going on a vacation too.”

Her face remained stern, despite my feeble attempt at humor. “Well, none of us are going anywhere at this rate, so why don’t we just grab a coffee and talk?”

I was really grateful for her proposal. For a moment, I was able to forget my task, as we sat a Starbucks at the airport, sipping on our frappuccinos which were really more ice cream than coffee anyway. We had so much catching up to do – she told me all about her idyllic life as a happy wife and soon-to-be mother, who still manages to have a successful career in the gaming industry.

“So you’ve left Kenji?” she finally landed the question. She’d always been very blunt.

“Well, it’s not that simple,” I sighed. I considered telling her about my dream and my real reason to go. But I just couldn’t bring myself to it. I was sure I could trust her, but for some reason, a part of me couldn’t believe that there was any way she could take me seriously. “I don’t think he’s noticed yet.”

“No way! So you just ran away without telling him?”


“Wow,” Mai smirked. “You’ve got some balls, I can tell you! Way to go!”

For all her bluntness, I really enjoyed her company. There were things I never had to tell her about – she just knew me, she understood me. She never even asked about the real reason I had to leave work for a while. She knew it wasn’t health. She always knew exactly what to say to make me feel better.

“I’m so glad we bumped into each other,” I grinned at her. I saw her grin back at me, but by that time my grin had faded, as I saw two imposing, foreign-looking men in suits approach our table.

“Ms. Atsuko Tachibana?” the blond one said to me in a deep, cold voice. His Japanese was flawless.


He pulled out a badge and showed it to me. The golden seal on it indicated that he worked for the government. “My name is agent Murdoch. This is my partner, agent Riley.” he beckoned at the dark-skinned one. “We have come here to escort you to your flight, on behalf of the federal government.”

“Oh?” I glanced at Mai who was just sitting there with her mouth agape. “I thought all the flights had been cancelled.”

“We will be boarding a government jet,” agent Riley said.

“Is it safe?”

“There is nothing to worry about.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. There was a silence. All three people with me were now looking at me. “Why should I go with you?”

Agent Murdoch rubbed his temple and then smiled. “I understand you have doubts, but you can trust us. If our badges don’t convince you, then let me just tell you that we are taking you to where the contact is.”

At the sound of that word, my heart stopped for a second. This is my chance.

“Atsuko, what’s this all about?” Mai was staring at me. I smiled one last reassuring smile to her. I tried to make it as warm as possible. I had the feeling I might not get a chance to see that face ever again. I stood up, went over to her and hugged her.

“I think it’s time to say goodbye. Take care of yourself for me, okay? That new life growing within you needs to get to know you well, you get what I mean?”

“Yeah, of course,” she grinned at me one last time. “Take care on your journey! Let me know if you ever need something!”

“Thank you. Goodbye, Mai,” I said as I waved at her and followed the two men on their trail. I later noticed I was holding my hand on my belly. I let it linger there for a while. A new life, I said to myself. Would things look different if I was able to…?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Path to Eden I - Chance (2/2)

The view from the Ferris wheel was always breathtaking. I knew Hope loved it too. After taking in all the attractions we could during the fair, we could finally take a rest in a small wagon suspended in midair. Against the setting sun, the orange sky phasing into indigo, the white skyscrapers in the background looked pitch black. That is, until all the lights went up. That, however, made the sky take a darker shade of its hue. The time had come, I knew. Here goes nothing.

“You know, Hope,” I started. My voice sounded cool and confident. Perfect, because all my innards were shaking. “I’ve been thinking. About how much I love you.”

“Oh, shut it, scar face,”  she laughed. “Sorry. That came out a bit wrong. I love you, too. I’m just having so much fun.”

“I know, right?” I laughed back at her. My right hand clutched the pocket in my pants tighter. “It’s all so unreal. I can’t believe how happy you make me feel. You have literally given me so much hope in life.” We both laughed pretty hard at that.

“Well, you know,” she said, her full, kissable lips spread in a warm smile. “I don’t think it’s pure chance that we ended up this way.”

“You think so?” I grinned back. “Because, you know, it’s funny. How you mentioned chance. I mean, it’s not that funny, considering how we make these puns all the time, but, you know– Anyway, I guess I want to say that is that you’ve changed my life and you mean so much to me and I can’t imagine being happier than being with you. So I guess I just want to make sure if you feel the same, and,” I pulled out the small box from my pocket and got down on one knee. The cabin swayed a bit. “If you’ll take a chance on me.”

As I opened the box and the diamond ring gleamed, I could see her eyes turn wide. Hope had big eyes. But I had never seen them quite so big. For a second, she stayed silent. That second seemed to last an eternity. Then, a single tear rolled down her cheek and  she started laughing.

“Chance, I–” she said that between what I could no longer tell if they were laughs or sobs. “Of course I’ll take a chance on you!”

I put the ring on her finger. It was really thin, but nothing bigger would look good on those tiny hands of hers. We sat there embracing the rest of the ride, locked in the longest kiss I ever experienced. For a second I thought my luck could never get better.

I was right.

Everything went downhill as we were making our way back to the monorail. We wanted to get home fast, so we took one of the shortcuts I knew were there. It was a back alley that was almost completely dark, but I knew my way around it, so I didn’t think anything could happen to us. I guess you could say I pushed my luck.

“Chance F. Donovan?” I heard a distorted voice behind me. I wanted to keep going anyway, but Hope had stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes wide, she stood frozen, looking at something in front of us. It was a huge, hooded figure, pointing a gun at me.

“Yes?” I asked. My voice sounded cool and confident, against all odds. How do I keep doing that?

“I believe you are in the possession of something that belongs to my superior,” said the voice from behind me .

“You mean the money? I had an arrangement with Mort. He said I still have time to pay him back.”

“Chance, just what did you get yourself into,” said Hope in a trembling whisper.

“I believe there has been a change of plans, Mr. Donovan.”

“I’m sorry, amigo, but I don’t think I can pay you back now. I kind of spent all the money and won’t be able to pay Mort back until next month.”

“My superior is not satisfied with the way his money has been spent, and thus he demands that you repay him now. It needs not be in cash. Another prized possession will suffice.”

For some reason, I just knew it in my gut. I knew where it was all going. That gut feeling made me act. I leapt even before I heard the gunshots. I threw Hope to the ground, probably a bit too brutally, but that was nothing compared to the pain she could have felt. The pain I felt. Two bullets entered m,y body. I couldn’t even tell where, the pain was too much to handle. I closed my eyes, I hoped I could just lose consciousness and wake up all patched up.

But that was just the beginning.

I opened my eyes to face a giant, burning, alien eye gazing down at me. It was surrounded by red, burning wings, descending down a whole in the clouds that expanded wider and wider the closer to me it got. And the closer it got, the hotter it felt, and the more I felt I was losing my mind on top of being in immense pain. I turned my gaze down and noticed a naked woman suspended in midair, surrounded by a crowd of people. A crowd I was part of. A red streak of light was connecting her forehead to the eye in the sky. I could barely focus, I felt that I was dying of all the pain, but still, the woman looked familiar.

“Angela,” an all too familiar voice came from my left. It was only then that I noticed Hope was clutching my hand. She was shaking, her hand cold and sweaty. Her eyes were fixed on the woman in the middle, which just as well could have been Angela.

The Contact, said a voice. It filled my head. There was no room. It was all too hot, too stuffy, the pain was too much. I felt like I was going to puke.

And then I opened my eyes, gasping for breath. I was in Hope’s bed. I looked around. The bed sheets were all covered in my blood, but I saw no trace of bullet holes on my body. The pain was gone. Hope was kneeling by the bed, clutching my hand with both of hers. Her doe eyes were swollen with tears gone by, but soon became wet again with a new batch.

“Chance!” she cried as she threw her arms around me. I embraced her and tears came rolling down my eyes as well. It was only after all the pain had gone away that I realized how scary it all was.
“Hope. Hope, listen,” I started talking to her. My voice was muffled by her golden curls. “Did you–“
“Yes, I saw it too,” she sobbed. “Chance, I–“

“I know,” I said. This time, I could hold back my tears. My voice was cool and confident again. “Don’t worry. We’re in this together. We can get through this.”

I then noticed the view from the window. The sky was dotted with lights, even though the sun was up. I wasn’t surprised, though. We both knew exactly what they were. They weren’t there by chance.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Path to Eden I - Chance (1/2)

Drumming my fingers on the counter, I kept my eyes glued to the clock on the wall. It was five minutes to three. Only five minutes left. Just five more minutes and I’m outta here. The day was dragging mercilessly. Hardly a customer arrived and I could not wait to just get out of there and do my thing.

“Chance!” a voice boomed from behind me. I sprang up, hitting my knee. A piercing yelp of pain came out, startling the person standing behind my back. I must have been too caught up in watching the clock. Darryl, my boss, was a huge lump of meat that was impossible to not notice or hear from a yard away. “Jesus, man! You alright?”

“Sorry about that, boss,” I said to him, wincing. My knee hurt. A lot. “You scared me.”

“I can see that,” the man laughed. “Watching it won’t make the hands move any faster, you know.”


“Nah, don’t worry. It is a slow day, after all,” he said, rubbing his shiny, black, bald head with his humongous hand. “You know, if you’re in such a hurry, why don’t you go already? Your shift ends in two minutes anyway, right?”

“Thank you so, so much, boss!” I exclaimed. I was already hanging my apron on the wall as I said that, then I shook his monster of a hand and almost jogged to the back exit. “I’ll repay you someday!”

“Don’t worry about it! And watch your step, kid. Don’t want you killin’ yourself before you get where you wanna be so badly,” he shouted behind me, but I could barely hear him. I’d already pulled out my card and flashed it in front of the receiver. With a gentle swoosh, the door opened.

The sky was perfectly clear on that day. The pristine white skyscrapers reflected the sun’s rays, magnifying the light that fell on the city. Everything was bright. I knew it would be a good day. It had to be perfect. So I ran. I didn’t have much time. The game shop was only two blocks away, but I still needed to get from there to Hope’s house on time. I crossed one busy street, then the next, maneuvering through entire crowds of people. I almost made one lady trip, but when I looked back later, she was okay. On the last crossing, I almost got hit by a car. It was a close call, but nothing too out of the ordinary for me.

I’d always had tremendous luck. The worst I ever got out of an accident was the small scar I have above my left eye. And I got that during a huge monorail crash back when I was still in high school. A lot of people died in that accident. People always told me that it was my name that kept me safe. I hardly believe such superstitions, but there’s no denying that I am an extremely lucky person. And that’s in more ways than one.

I stopped in front of the game shop. The tall windows  showcased a wide variety of  colorful games of various shapes and sizes. Video games, board games, card games, merchandise – this store had it all. I pulled out my woolen gray-blue wallet – Hope had made it for me for our first anniversary. I needed this day to be perfect. For that, I needed money. Quite a bit of it. And so, my wallet was filled with cash, which was a rare sight nowadays. Most of it I’d already spent on the “big gift”. What was left was no small sum, though. I was just hoping that day wasn’t the day my luck would run out and that the person I owed the money to would not ask me to give it back for another couple of days.

Inside the game shop, I found a familiar face behind the counter. An attractive girl with cropped, brown hair and numerous piercings in her ears smiled to me as I entered.

“Hey there, Chance.”

“Hi, Angie,” I said with a stupid grin on my face. I was feeling so good it was almost embarassing.

“Let me guess. Today’s the day?”

“Yup,” I said as I drummed my fingers on the white counter. “Hope you haven’t sold that thing I asked you to save me yet.”

“Don’t you worry,” Angie said as she dived under the counter. She returned with a small black box.  The front was adorned with a stylized image of a maze, all in white and gold. The sides were covered with white bunnies with little red spots on different areas of the bodies. “A find like this? I wouldn’t let you and Hope miss it for the world.”

“Dude, thanks a lot,” I said as I laid the money on the counter. The game was incredibly pricy.

“No problem, man,” Angela handed me the receipt. “So, any big plans for today?”

“Well, I have one very general plan. I intend to just go with the flow, as usual.”

“Funny. I thought days like today generally demanded a bit more planning.”

“Trust me,” I looked her straight into her big brown eyes, her face expressing amusement, her raised eyebrow indicating a hint of disbelief. “It can’t not be awesome.”

“We’ll see about that, then. Let me know how it went!” she said louder and louder, as I was already making my way to the door. I had no time to lose. “Oh, and say hi to Hope from me! We should go out somewhere all together soon!”

“Yeah, we will! See ya!” I waved her as I made a sharp right behind the door. If I hop on the monorail that leaves in five minutes, I can make it to Hope’s before she comes back from work. Piece of cake.

As it turned out, I did make it in time. As usual, the traffic lights changed accordingly to my needs, the monorail door closed just behind me, and I arrived at the right station ahead of time. Hope’s apartment was part of a larger complex of buildings that formed a hexagon around a very well groomed patio. The staircase could only be accessed with the right card, but I’d long figured out a way to get in without one. Right next to the door was a fence made of glass that led to a miniature yard with another entrance to the staircase – one that was usually open without a card. One of the panes of glass had been broken off, leaving a very narrow gap. For a normal person, that gap would have been too narrow to cross, but I’m a slender man with very flexible bones. As luck would have it, no cameras were fixed on that little spot, so I would never get caught. And even if there were cameras, life had taught me how not to get caught for… certain deeds.

I had this little spot where I liked to wait for Hope to come back in times like this. The hallway had walls covered in little niches between the doors. They served no purpose aside from being the architect’s grand artistic vision in creating his hexagonal masterpiece. I could always behind them, so that Hope wouldn’t notice me before she opened the door. I loved the look on her face whenever she got so startled and then so relieved that it was me. This time, that was not the case.

I hid as usual. I knew she couldn’t see me. And yet, this time, when I heard her footsteps grow closer and closer, the clink of her keys turning in the door, when our gazes met, there was no surprise at all in her face. I must have frowned in my disappointed, as in that exact moment, Hope burst out laughing. Her long, curly blond hair shook wildly as she was gasping for breath, unable to take in the hilarity of it all. I noticed she was wearing that daisy hairclip that I’d gotten for her.

“You’re breaking my heart, Hope,” I said in a mockingly sad tone.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Hope said as she wiped a solitary tear of laughter from her round, beautiful violet eyes. “I just… Somehow I knew you’d be there today. I guess at some point I was bound to get used to your antics.”

“But why today?” I said, with a grin this time. “Well, whatever. I got you something, birthday girl.”

“But my birthday isn’t coming up for another month!” she cried out in disbelief as we entered her apartment covered all in pastel wallpaper.

“So? I got your present early. Here,” I said as I handed her the black box. When she saw it, her mouth formed a neat little “O” and her bag fell out of her petite hands.

“No,” she gasped. “Is it…? How did you get this?!”

“Oh, you know me,” I said. My grin was making my face feel hot. “Pulled some strings. You can thank Angela later for getting a hold of this game. You like it?”

“Are you fucking joking!” she shouted with tears of joy in her eyes and threw her arms around me, kissing me passionately in the lips, our tongues intertwining wildly. “I just can’t take it. You’re too adorable.”

“Oh, I know,” I grinned yet again. “But my adorableness pales in comparison to yours, you know?”

“Like hell,” she grinned and then laughed again. Her laughter was nothing like a typical giggle girls often make in front of guys to look cute. She had hard, hearty laugh. Brutal, even. A genuine laugh that I was so in love with. She took off her coat. “So, you want me to unwrap the game and play it with you, or do you want to unwrap me and play another kind of game?”

“Actually, we’ll do both,” I said as I backed away a bit and grabbed the doorknob. “But before we do that, I have another idea.”