Friday, January 29, 2016

Fiction Friday - Desert Heat

If you're interested in an overly prosaic introduction to The Tower, from a different perspective, then here it is. Teenage angst is quite an intriguing concept. It does make you wonder why all the YA novels seem to be distopian in nature.

By- K. A. Reis 

             The pulse of the desert’s heat reminded her, oddly enough, of the beginnings of her long journey. She reminisced about that experience: the long gray wool coat she had worn to brace against the frigid air outside, the questioning looks on the faces of the receptionists and agents at the long functional counter as she swept one perfectly manicured hand through her long dark hair. The girls and boys in their smug blue uniforms glanced up at her from their files, folders, and phones. As they looked at her, she saw in their faces a mixture of incredulity and admiration. Perhaps they were actually thinking something else, but that was what she saw in her unusually emotional state. Perhaps, at first, they had not known what she was there for, but as she walked towards the young male receptionist with a spark in her eyes, they must have recognized that she was the one they had been waiting for.
            She had spoken confidentially and clearly; stating her purpose simply by revealing only her identity and the small sealed yellow envelope she had received that morning. She was led past the long counter and the watching eyes towards the opaque office door that read simply “Director”. The silence in the long low-ceilinged room vibrated with the varying thoughts, worries, and unspoken opinions flying about the room. The people in this room had been working together for so long that just a few glances and miniscule gestures communicated the entirety of their minds and souls. The tremor of expectation that traveled across the room breathed in on her, as the door slammed shut cutting off the expressive silence behind her. Exhilaration and expectation overwhelmed her other senses, as she felt the gentle breeze from the closing door blow past her.
            She looked up into the gently-lined face behind the steel desk. His smile lines were deep, but his eyes were an ice-cold brown. The receding hair line, and military uniform gave him the appearance of a retired veteran from some war in years past. She smiled revealing her nearly perfect teeth. She appeared as if she were not only unconcerned with the stern expression on the Director’s face but also with the furor she had so recently created in the anteroom, forging her face into a mask of nonchalance. She looked down at the desktop, where his bent and calloused fingers lay folded, quietly taunting her with the bravery, danger, and pain they represented. She moved forward, propelled by the unspoken, and nearly unrecognizable, beckon in his demeanor. She shifted her form gracefully into the rivets of a hard-backed metal chair.
            The office room appeared to be in utter conflict with the understated opulence of the reception area. In the office, the tile floor and the brick concrete of the walls created a quiet, yet grating echo, detracting from the privacy intimated by the closeness of the four walls, and the untailored air of the furniture. On the other hand, the anteroom, with its sound-absorbing cork floors, geometric wallpaper, and richly upholstered armchairs, seemed to be symbolic of the mask she had carried on her face, as she fought past her fears and worries. It was merely a fa├žade to placate any casual observers with an air of peacefulness and security. The office walls had few adornments: a small black and white paper map of the building-bent and folded with age, showing a highlighted fire escape route-and a plastic model of a B-3 Bomber floating from a yellowed string. On a shelf near the frosted window, an aloe plant seemed to be an announcement of a possible interest in horticulture, yet the cold glint of a blade beside it, and a split and withered spear of aloe testified to the practical purpose of the plant.
            She suddenly felt the heat suffocating her, the closed room pressing in on her. She began to slip out of her coat to ease her discomfort, when the Director suddenly stood. “Well, then, are you ready for your first mission?” he asked.
            “Oh,” she exhaled quickly, then, questioning, “You certainly don’t mince words around here, do you? I suppose that I would have to know something about that mission in order to be ready for it.”
            He chuckled. “I knew we had a winner.” As she settled back in her chair, relaxing once again, he cleared his throat. “No, no. You must come with me first; we will talk later.” He beckoned to the door, which was opening behind him after a flick of his wrist pressed an unseen lever.
            With those simple words, he seemed harmless in her eyes. She gladly followed him through the secret door, not even bothering to wonder how she had missed its existence. The building map on the wall had listed nothing beyond this office. The narrow, poorly-lit hallway was filled with unidentifiable echoes. As she looked around for the source of these sounds, he saw her and began to explain where in the building they were. “In this business you must always know the where and the what, but rarely the why. This hallway leads directly southeast. You may have noticed, if you have a good sense of direction, that we are now heading towards the outer wall of the building. We are currently walking parallel to a ventilation duct. Thus, the conversations of the hundreds of offices and reception areas on this level can be heard banging around in the hallway as if they are right next door. Why build a hallway where someone could possibly hear you through the ventilation duct? Well, that’s one of those forbidden “why” questions. I do not think that they can hear us, and what we hear is unintelligible. Ask the scientists the how and why.”
            She nodded in silent affirmation. Truthfully, the words of the conversations were not discernable. However, she was curious as to who and what she was hearing. Dark cobwebs hung near the roof. Obviously, the janitors had no knowledge of this hallway. The row of doors on the left side of the hallway insinuated that the ventilation duct ran on the opposite side. The dim gray of the walls could have been any color in the spectrum faded by age and the dimness of the light. The scattered yellow light from ceiling fixtures did little to reach the fifteen feet down to the floor. The gray of the floor seemed to be tiles, broken and worn by years of misuse. She halted her musings as her guide suddenly stopped in front of a door identical to the dozens they had passed along the way. Drawing a key from a chain around his neck, he glanced in both directions down the hallway. Quickly inserting and twisting the key, he motioned for her to precede him through the door. She acquiesced, albeit more cautiously.
            She saw at first glance that no obvious dangers presented themselves. The door opened up to another long hallway. This hallway, however, had no other doors leading off of it as far as the eye could see. Also, the concrete floor angled sharply upwards. He spoke again, “Each door that we passed leads a different direction. Some lead directly to rooms on this floor, others lead up, others lead down. In the end I doubt that any one person could tell you where every doorway leads. Except for myself of course, and I am merely a go-for, as they say.” He chuckled, “They aren’t referring to the animal either, though in these hallways it sometimes feels that way.”
            Confused, she looked up, “But I thought that you were the director?”
            He answered in a more serious manner, “Yes, of course I am the director. I direct people to the appropriate advisors or leaders. I really have no position of importance in “their” eyes. But I know more about their operations than any one of them suspects.” The intelligent, amused glint in his eyes told her that he spoke the truth. Disappointed, she walked on, slowing to allow him to pass her. He gently corrected her again, “No, no. You go on alone; this is as far as I take you today. It’ll take you right where you belong.” He paused and reaffirmed, “We’ll talk later.” Turning on his heel, he reached the door, and passed through swiftly, not even turning back for a second glance. She heard the sharp click of the lock on the door.
            Breathing deeply, she turned her face to the gentle slope before her. The rise appeared to stretch on forever. Wonderingly, she thought how much this dim passageway paralleled her own life. With each step, she wanted more and more to turn back, until she made that all-important decision that whatever was before her was more important than that which she was leaving behind. Not that she even had the chance to return, since the door had been locked behind her. With her mind made up, her step was suddenly lightened, her body leaned forward slightly, and her motions seemed more pneumatic. It was only her mind that was decided, however; her heartstrings were still being tugged in the other direction.
            The hallway seemed to grow lighter as she drew closer to what she assumed was her destination. She pondered this fact for a moment. Her good sense of direction told her that this hallway was on the long side of the building and she may have a good long walk ahead of her. The gradual lightening had, at first, been unnoticeable. However, as she pressed onward, it became obvious that the source of most of the light was before her, rather than in the dim wall lights on either side.
            The hallway ended in front of what appeared to be an old-fashioned swinging saloon door. The light streaming around the edges, and the worn, rustic appearance of the wood appeared out of place compared to the hundreds of yards of concrete and metal she had left behind. She resolved her heart and mind to be as strong and immobile as the hallway she was leaving behind, and she passed through the doors with utter confidence in herself if not her future.
            The gentle, lovable director had not prepared her for what lay beyond those doors. As she entered she was suddenly surrounded by a cacophony of noise and loud crashes. Confused and frightened, she did not lose her wits or leap aside as she felt inclined, but rather continued to observe her surroundings, albeit more promptly. She cocked her head, her eyes and ears covering every aspect of the areas immediately above, before, behind, and beside her. She located the source of the sound, her muscles and expression visibly softening as she saw the concave speaker above her which created the small sound bubble she had stepped into. She shuffled a few steps forward, out of the confusion of sound, as she continued to study and analyze her surroundings.
The walls in this room appeared to be made of some type of cloth. She assumed that the walls were useful for absorbing any sound that might otherwise echo from the sound bubbles which were placed against the walls. She had, when glancing around the room, noticed many other sound bubbles. Some of the bubbles were against the walls, and a few formed a circle in the middle of the room. She also noticed writing, both on the walls and more visible speakers which formed the circle. Blinking her eyes several times to clear up her vision, she was able to quickly scan some of the writing. Seeing that these words appeared to be names, she continued scanning until she finally saw her name on one of the speakers in the circle in the center of the room. Her name, Caranea, was written with a flourish, and as she observed more closely was engraved into the metal in a script-like font, rather than hand-written. Caranea, she thought to herself, An unusual code-name if I’ve ever heard one. Of course, she had had little exposure to codenames or any other such nonsense before her sudden entrance into the unusual world opening before her.
Before entering her own sound bubble, she experimented with a few of the others. Despite her worries that curiosity had really killed the cat, she heard nothing of importance. All of the other sound bubbles were either silent, or were issuing the same echoing madness as the first she had unwittingly stepped into. Taking a deep breath and steeling herself as if about to plunge into an icy river, she paused to allow her mind to run over the possibilities and questions aroused by this unusual room. Perhaps, she mused, this room is the actual staging area, where I am to receive my instructions. Somehow these bubbles must be able to tell when the correct person is standing beneath them. With the thought that this room must be used frequently, she quickly ignored any other conclusions she might have jumped to, and went headfirst into the bubble created by her own personal speaker.
            She thought at first that her rapidly beating heart was drowning out any sound. However, she soon realized that the pulse she heard was slightly off from her actual heartbeat. Almost as if orchestrated, her own heart slowed and began beating in rhythm to the noise surrounding her. Even her lungs vibrated with the long wavelengths of the sound. Yet, the noise was not inordinately loud to her ears. She pondered this for only a moment, before the beating suddenly halted, and her heart along with it.
            As her heart raced erratically, in an attempt to find its own rhythm once more, she turned at the grating noise behind her, and saw another secret door opening. Confused, she decided to throw away any previous assumptions or worries, and take the path lying before her. As she stepped forward, a pulse suddenly filled the room. Her feet marched to the new beat, slightly louder with each step. Wonderingly, she stepped through the new door, and total darkness closed in around her, as her body took the control away from her now paranoid mind.
            Coming back into her mind was a gradual and painstaking process, but she began to hear before she could see. The dark gray of her open, but unseeing eyes, gradually lightened. Yet she was still unable to put faces or images to the words she was hearing. “I think she’s coming to,” the first voice said.
            “Of course she is,” a deeper voice responded. “I warned you that the setting was wrong for her. Not everyone can be controlled at the same pace. You obviously underestimated her heart rate. She is in shape, but she was also very nervous to begin with. And I think that the pitch was a bit too high; I’m pretty sure she could hear the beat. She’s supposed to respond without knowing what she's responding to. Anyway, you need to hush up, or she’ll tell the boss what you did when she sees him. I guess it's alright though, being your first day on the job.”
            “The boss already knows, Stupid. He knows everything. I’m not naive enough to think he won’t find out. I just hope he understands that we should be able to automate this like everything else. Everyone’s hearing threshold and heart rate is different. I don't see how it can be done manually. At least not without a lot more information.”
"You don't think we have all the information we can possibly need? I had the information, you simply miscalculated. Now hush before she wakes up."
            Gradually, dim forms presented themselves, and she realized that the room actually was quite dark. After a few moments of silence to convince them she had not been awake earlier, she spoke. “Wh- where am I now? Who are you? Are you in charge?” Her hesitant queries reverberated in the unknown corridors of the room.
            The first, lighter voice answered her gently, “Well, we can’t really tell you where exactly you are or where we’ll be taking you. What we can tell you is that you’re safe, and you can rest here as long as you need until you are ready to move on. You’ll receive any further knowledge that you might need from the boss when he gives you your instructions. Would you like some water, or some crackers? Is there anything else you might need?”
            “Must it be so dark? I’m still a little out of it, maybe some light would help. I guess I’ll have some water, too.”
            “Well, we can turn the lights on when we leave. I’m putting the water beside your bed. We have to leave now, but whenever you’re ready, just open the door, turn right, and walk down the hallway. We’ll talk later.” The same phrase the Director had used seemed much more ominous when it came from someone she had never seen. This lighter voice had also apparently been given more information than she had. She began to question her recent self-confidence in beginning this venture. She knew she wouldn’t have made it even this far if it hadn’t been for the dozens of people that were apparently watching, even controlling her every move. This meant that she was either weaker than she thought, or they could control and overpower her at any moment.
            The solid click of the door and a flash of light told her that her compatriots had chosen to slip out amidst her musings. Her eyes flashed with shadows and swirls as she squinted to adjust to the glaring fluorescent light now flooding the room. "You'd think they could afford some decent lighting with as much funding as they have." She muttered, pushing herself slowly to a sitting position, ignoring the tightness in most of her muscles.
            She surveyed her surrounding as she gingerly stretched her neck and back muscles. Her palms brushed against the thick flannel blanket covering the metal and canvas army cot. The unfinished concrete of the cell gave the appearance of a prison. She certainly felt like an inmate, though unjustly accused. She knew what she was supposed to do, but she had forgotten her original purpose along the way. She shook her head gently, then firmly, to clear out any cobwebs or stray thoughts that might have accumulated. Finally, she spotted the folding table beside the bed, with an ancient army canteen beckoning her to drink.
            A few drops of liquid near the canteen attested to its recent use, but had it been opened to quench another's thirst, or had her new comrades put an additive into the water? Her cottony mouth overcame her qualms. Her stiff fingers bared the cold metal opening, and she gingerly sniffed the contents, her training too strict to overpower completely. The overwhelming smell of the metal in the canteen nearly turned her stomach; there would be no way to tell if the water had been poisoned based on smell. She threw her head back and allowed the precious liquid to cool her parched throat. She knew she needed to forget about her training for unknown situations or she would drive herself batty. She needed to remain calm. She knew where she was; they had offered her employment; they needed her services. She would be fine.
            When she awoke again, she was lying on a bed of grass somewhere in a garden. She could smell the flowers and fresh air, and felt golden rays of light on her forehead. She heard the birds calling out to each other, and in their voices she heard the word, “Danger, danger,” repeated over and over. She fought to open her eyes, but soon realized that a bandage or cloth was wrapped tightly around her face. She tried to lift her hands to remove the bandage, but felt the sharp bite of a thick rope. Abandoning her training, she called out in a last desperate attempt to escape from this insanity she had fallen into, and heard the gentle voice of the Director. The first man she had met when entering this rabbit hole.
            She listened to the words from this man who had once seemed like a friend. She measured them carefully for anything that might signify hidden danger or secondary meanings. She felt her heartbeat begin to slow as she translated his words as calm, sure and true.
            The Director’s words were spoken softly, but clearly. “From the beginning of this world, there have been times when people grow to contain too much evil. In this time, you can search all the people in the world, but there are none that can be found who are truly good at heart. When this time comes, the entire human race can be either wiped out or changed for the better. Either of these effects, however, are only temporary solutions, because even we cannot truly wipe out the human race. You know that our sect haa been trying to resolve this problem, and you know that we have nearly succeeded in our last great attempt at solving the problem of the human race. You have seen our presentations during your schooling where we showed the propaganda we were using in films, media, and schools to train people to be what they would call Good. And yet, we are still lacking success. Therefore, you have seen the publications recently of our destruction of parts of the human race. Don’t try to deny it; the pain on your face is easy enough to see.”
            “I know that this area is not really your area of expertise, but we have to figure out some solution to the problems presented by these humans. We believe we have finally found the solution to all of the problems they face. We have found a way to keep their economy, keep their social behavior, keep them fed and well-rested, and we have at last found a way to keep them at peace and in comfort for their entire lives. The only problem is that only one-half of the population has been used in the trial phase, so you must find a way to solve this most undeniable problem, they seem not to be able to live apart, something is missing. You are the only one who can succeed in solving this dilemma.”
            Caranea, as she had begun to think of herself, could not bring her mind past its current point to comment on the Director’s words. She asked the first words that came to mind, “Why was I put in danger? Why is this so secret? Where am I now?”
            He answered reassuringly, “Did I not tell you that you are rarely to know the why of things? That is a word it would be best not to mention in the place you are going next. Your current instructions are to join a group that is participating in a sample habitation of our newest design, and determine if it will be possible to introduce one or more persons from the group that is currently ineligible without jeopardizing current situations. You have to do this in utmost secrecy. Only one or two of the human subjects in the project can be introduced to this new environment, if you do in fact believe one can be introduced. You must not let any of the other workers in on the fact that you are not like them, for many of them are in fact very sheltered, and would not understand. Until you receive further instructions or provide information pertaining to the introduction of a subject in the missing group, you are to proceed no further. Do you have any questions?”
            “I have many questions.” She was unwilling to accept this task without knowing something more of her duties. “Which group is not currently participating in the project? Why are they ineligible? And how am I to introduce them when and if the time comes?”
            “Currently, no males are present in the sample population. Of course, this does bring up certain questions of reproduction capabilities, but those issues can be easily resolved when the time comes, as I’m sure you are well aware.”
            “So am I being chosen for this mission simply because of the way I look, or are my special attributes going to be needed? And who is my contact in this mysterious place? I don’t even know where this place is!”
            “Oh my young one, you have much to learn.” His voice almost began to grow sickly sweet. “Everyone chosen is chosen at least in part for his or her special attributes. Yes, your femininity does help our cause, as well as your special and unique qualities and abilities. Your contact will be a young woman named Suzy who will meet you at the entrance. And the place will be made known to you, as soon as you can see.”
            She felt a cold shadow fall across her face, and flinched without knowing it. She forced her eyes closed as the rough cloth was pulled away from her eyes. She blinked at the sudden sunlight pouring in from around the dark shadow of the Director standing above her. His hands untied the scratchy rope, and she let it fall from her wrists as gently as possible. She looked expectantly at the Director. He had promised she would see where her mission was to take place.
            The Director trained his gaze upon some point behind her, and nodded his head in that direction. “Over there.” He said, “Over there is everything this society needs to be truly great. Everything they need to succeed has been manufactured and created and formed and melded into one huge tower of human strength.”
            Caranea slowly turned her head to look over her shoulder at this new project she was to undertake. They were on top of a slight hill, yet the tower in the valley below them seemed to reach above them to the very clouds in the sky. The building was tall and narrow. Its walls were alight with the sunlight reflecting in so many directions that the building seemed like a diamond. The sparkling tower was incredible in its glory, in the awesome presence it commanded over the surrounding countryside. She stood to her feet in reverent appreciation of this awesome spectacle of creation. The Director glanced down at her condescendingly and said boldly and crowing, “This is my creation, the ultimate solution. I have overcome; I have designed and created this magnificent aperture. I alone have triumphed.”

            Immediately, he seemed to disappear in the same manner as the few others Caranea had seen removed from their earthly dwelling. He must have been speaking the truth, for it was only when a being had fully accomplished his part in life that he or she was removed from the earth. The red dust of the Director’s body that blew away in the breeze seemed to cry out almost painfully. However, Caranea turned her back, contemplating the joys of a life well lived, and headed for the tower.
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