Chapter 64: Your smell
As Steven was returning to his living quarters, overwhelmed with emotions, he didn’t pay any attention to the people on his path, whether they noticed him crying and talking to himself aloud, cursing Heaven and Earth and everything else in between. The implications were maddening and he barely had time to understand them when he got back to the room.
For now, she was gone from his life and she didn’t even know it. At least, she was spared the agony he was feeling and the pain that was growing in his chest. He had always assumed that the pain of losing someone was psychological, but he had been so wrong. It was more physical; it had only been thirty minutes but it had already felt like ages. He had read and discussed these things before when people lose a loved one. They went through stages that he wasn’t sure he remembered, but it seemed that the first one was agonizing pain, that, he was sure of now. That’s when you lose a loved one, but had he? Was she gone? Why was she told to go inside and why did she accept to go willingly under these conditions? How long would she remain inside before she realized that it was a trap? Would she go out running or walking? The former could mean years in the Core instead of decades—but would she know that? What if she had decided to wait for him or to take a few minutes to discuss the situation with Sordana, effectively ending her chances of ever seeing her family and friends before they all died of old age?
He sat on the bed, the room smelling like the perfume she had used a few hours earlier, but just like Chrissy, the smell would evaporate and that thought frightened him. Would he still love her when she got out? Would she forgive herself for the years and decades he will have to spend living his life without her? Then he paused, allowing his mind to hope and he started thinking of couples who face separation because of long prison terms. Was the person outside feeling guilty, something like a survivor’s guilt? But it was not the same, was it? Inmates could receive mail and write letters—hell, they even had conjugal visits where they could have sexual relation with their spouse. That was not the same and the brief hope it had given him was now gone, and he felt more alone than ever.
His adrenaline was still off the charts and his hands were shaking, like leaves in the autumn wind. It took another thirty minutes before his brain regained a bit of control over his body and it is at this moment that his mind calmed down, enough to see other possibilities he had overlooked. Maybe Gill or Ataninnuaq would know. He grabbed his FastCom and a few minutes later, Gill was fully debriefed on what had happened and was offering his deepest sympathy and outrage, but little else in the way of a solution.
Gill had also been clear that there was no way to expulse a person from outside the Core; that he didn’t know why the Builders had designed it so and didn’t see the purpose of speculating on that now.
Steven noticed that his pain had subsided, like it is often the case with heartbreaks; talking to other people made the pain go away, but only for so long.
“If you feel that you don’t want to be alone, we are all here for you. All I’m asking is that you be careful not to be seen if you are coming here,” offered Gill, really wanting to advise him not to go and do something stupid, but he had not found the appropriate words to say it.
Steven had not noticed it, but during the ten minutes with Gill throwing ideas like a tennis match against a newbie that would just not return the ball, he had paced in the room the entire time and he continued doing it until the door chime was heard. Eirik’s face appeared inside the painting on the wall opposite the door, just as Chrissy programmed it the day before. The thought of it had caused the pain to return and Steven just sat on the bed, out of breath. It took a serious effort for him to ask the system to open the door and let Eirik in.
Eirik dispensed himself of the usual pleasantries and stepped in. “Steven, I just spoke to Johnson. He has been ordered to draft and sign the necessary documents for your expulsion from the facility and draft your contract termination. He said we would delay it a while, but he can’t do anything about it. The orders came directly from the Council,” informed Eirik. “They said that you are the one responsible for Chrissy’s predicament.”
Steven’s eyes closed and his face darkened. When he reopened them, he was looking directly at Eirik’s face. “Do you believe them?” he asked.
Eirik paused. Obviously he had not expected the question. “Of course not, and neither did Johnson. He said he was there moments after you tried to enter the room. He saw you in pain and the horror on your face. He said no one is that good of an actor.”
“Did you know about it before hand?” asked Steven.
“I can’t believe you ask me that, after what we have in common buried in Africa!” replied Eirik, indignant. “I swear to you on my mother’s grave that I had no idea of anything before I got the news about Chrissy entering the Chamber an hour ago, and I didn’t have a clear picture until I went to see Johnson.”
Steven relaxed at the answer. He was good at reading people and Eirik was not that type of person, and the Facility didn’t think so either. But he was not sorry to have asked the question. A billion dollars in diamonds and priceless Builders’ equipment split four ways instead of five was motivating enough. He had heard professional criminals fought among themselves and got arrested for less, a lot less.
“Did Chrissy’s father know about Professor Carmichael’s restoration to health?”
“Yes, everyone on the Council knew and they are the ones who decided to keep it a secret and asked him to remain in the Facility to save everyone’s face,” answered Eirik. “I know you told me that the Facility thinks we are the Lords of the Land because of our levels. Steven, you have to understand that the project leaders only see us as employees, tools to be used; we can’t take decisions without their authorization.”
Steven didn’t comment. “I hope you don’t think that her father is involved?” Eirik added.
Steven took a deep breath and looked around although he wasn’t sure why, and ordered the computer to change the room to Celina’s medieval settings and then went to sit on the bench on the other side of the long wooden table made of four half tree trunks cut lengthwise, with some of their barks still attached. He then motioned for Eirik to sit down opposite him and Eirik paused for a split second, clearly confused about his young friend’s actions. He didn’t ask, at least not in words.
“If you wonder why I have done it, it’s just that I have read somewhere that if you—” he paused to swallow, “if you lose someone, it helps to move all the furniture around, redecorate and, in my case, change the smell that reminds me so much of her.”
Eirik didn’t say anything. Things were moving too fast for him. Steven seemed to have accepted his fate, or maybe he had not and was just perhaps trying to keep his mind busy to make sure he wouldn’t do something stupid.
“Look, I don’t give a shit about diplomacy and politics anymore. I’m not United Nations material so let’s no longer pretend. Chrissy’s father is a first class motherfucker, a selfish bitch who only thinks for himself, but even he wouldn’t have exposed his daughter to that,” Steven strongly reacted.
“Well, if they believe that you guys are a threat, instead of being like me, just a tamed old dog, maybe he was forced to compromise for the safety of his daughter?” offered Eirik, ashamed of himself for having accepted the new administration and saving his job at the expense of his conscience and his dignity.
Steven had obviously not thought of that and if he allowed himself to cross the thin red line separating threat from paranoia, he could imagine a few scenarios where a father like that would have conspired against his own daughter.
“You could be right. After all, the guy walked away from his own daughter when she was three years old because he got a higher position in New York, but his wife didn’t want to quit her job to follow him. He just left her the house and moved to the States without giving his family a second thought. He didn’t even make a detour to Scotland when he was travelling for the organization to Geneva, and spent his six-week holiday in Panama on personal business or most likely whoring around. When she started schooling, he used his UN education entitlements to send the money to his wife for management and didn’t even send a Christmas gift to her. It’s only when his ex-wife died that he was obligated to return to Scotland and make arrangements to send Chrissy to a boarding school,” explained Steven. “Chrissy said that even until now, he has never returned home to visit his family.” Steven paused and took a few seconds to think about his own family and realized that although they were clueless human beings, they were not that bad after all. “Knowing that, it is totally possible that given the choice between death and a few minutes of imprisonment, the choice was easy, even if it meant that in a manner of speaking, she would be totally outdated and alone upon her release.” Well, not alone because I will be there. But that he kept for himself.
“I don’t want to sound…” started Eirik, but he was interrupted by Steven.
“Paranoid?” offered Steven. “Trust me, I know what you are thinking. I know I’m next, maybe not today or even tomorrow but soon, something will happen to me. O’Donnell may have played a role in his daughter’s fate, taking her out of play without harming her more than he had to. But they will not have the same reservations toward me. I know that for a fact, especially after they killed Lawson, a Colonel and the leader of this Station. After that, can you look at me in the eyes and tell me that I’m wrong?”
“What will you do?” asked Eirik, realizing that the reality of the situation was such that there was no point in sugar-coating the facts anymore.
“I can’t outrun them. I can’t disappear either, not against a coalition of countries including the United States, France and Great Britain, to name a few,” said Steven, his idea already in motion, but his experience was telling him not to reveal it to anyone.
“Damn, that’s bleak. We should make sure that you are not alone until you are somewhere safe.”
“No, what you need to do is leave me alone. I’ll prepare my stuff.”
They both got up and nodded, and Eirik left without saying another word. Like Steven, he was sure that nothing untoward would happen, at least not in the Facility, and that gave him comfort for the time being. Eirik had been curious for an instant to learn of Steven’s plan, but the Little Chicken within him had resurfaced and he soon returned to his happy place. He was safe and sound again in the facility he helped discovered and that was good enough for him.