We all yearn - Editor
by Tony Haynes
The sun was setting. Darkness was drawing in again. They stood together at the edge of their world. He slipped his right hand into her left, their fingers clasped tightly as the final rays of light kissed them.
“Please don’t be sad.”
“Let’s just enjoy our last few hours together.”
“I’m not going back.”
“Cassie, we had this conversation last year. You have to. You must.”
“Why must I?”
“Because if you don’t we both know how it ends.”
She turned to face him. “Do we though? Has anyone ever tried to stay behind? What if they’re just myths, stories passed down by The Owner to scare us into behaving like good little girls and boys. What if they’re not true? Wouldn’t you like to be with me forever?”
“I feel as if I am.” He reached up and stroked her hair back tenderly as only a lover knows how. “It’s not easy for me either you know, waiting a whole year.”
“I’m sure it’s not, but at least you’re alive. What happens when you die too?”
“That’s years away. Let’s not think about it.”
“It’ll happen one day Joseph and whose love will bring us back then?”
He shuddered fearfully for he knew that she was right. He held her in his arms and the sun went down.
“All present and correct sir.”
“Excellent.” He ticked it off and added it to the completed pile. One more to go and he could call it a night. Looking down at the balance sheet, it wasn’t immediately apparent whose tally he was waiting for. Glancing back up, he found Eder shuffling nervously from foot to foot in front of him, clasping his clipboard protectively. Peter held out his hand. Eder reluctantly passed him the set of figures. Peter ran his expert eye over them. Discrepancies weren’t difficult to spot because they happened so rarely. “An error?”
“That’s the third this month Eder, it really isn’t good enough.”
“Not this time, sir.”
“You’re suggesting this is genuine? Someone has stayed on down there?”
“It’s a young woman too.”
Peter sighed and shook his head. He was sorely tempted to write it off as a glitch, but he knew he better check just in case. “If you’ve miscounted again…”
“I promise you I haven’t.”
Peter tapped Eder with the clipboard. “Come on then. Show me.”
Midnight had long since gone and they were still in his flat. Joseph was nervously pacing up and down, talking to her through the closed bathroom door. “It’ll never work.”
“Yes it will.”
“Don’t you have to have passes and things?”
“Of course, but no one checks them.”
“You’ll stand out like a sore thumb.”
“No I won’t.”
“Have you ever even been to the elite sector?”
“Twice. Once on a school trip when I was fifteen, the second time wasn’t long before I died. There was a big job on at the luxury apartments in the Euro-metro zone. I spent a bit of time there then. They’re no different than us really, Joseph.”
“They are. The way they look, the way they dress, even the way they talk is different.”
She opened the bathroom door and twirled in front of him. The dress she wore probably cost more than the whole apartment.
“Cassie?” He backed off, slightly afraid of the wonderful vision that had emerged.
She walked straight toward him. He retreated until she had him cornered. Moving to within a hair’s breadth away she whispered, “Still don’t think I can pull it off?”
Peter scanned the balance sheet. It stared back up at him resolutely refusing to add up correctly. The flock in ‘G’ sector were starting to become restless. They had been counted six times.
“I told you.”
Peter shot Eder a withering look and the subordinate shut up. “We check them one more time.”
“There’ll be a riot.”
“No there won’t. We do it as we feed them back into their pens.”
Eder nodded in agreement. It was a solid plan.
“Go to.” Peter gave the order. Eder passed the command around to his men. They positioned themselves at each exit and counted again as the prisoners filed past them. The murmuring of discontent died as each soul left the empty hall and passed into stasis for another year. The numbers dwindled steadily until the final few stragglers were ticked off and the clipboards returned to Peter. He ran his expert eye over them once more, willing them to be correct. They remained one short. He beckoned Eder. “Do we know who she is?”
“Twenty five years of age, five feet ten inches tall, brown shoulder length hair, blue eyes, ten stone five pounds in weight…”
“Yes I know all that, I can read, but who is she?”
“How did she die?”
“It was an accident.”
“Aren’t they all?”
“No sir. It was an accident. A mistake.” Eder handed Peter the circumstances of death sheet.
Peter looked down at it grimly. “I see.”
Eder lowered his voice. “She shouldn’t really be here, sir.”
“It’s too late for that.”
“Do you think she realises?”
“How can she?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps she can feel it, sense it somehow.”
“In my experience humans aren’t that bright.”
“There are always exceptions.”
Peter pursed his lips. “We’re going to have to tell him.”
Eder balked and began to tremble. “Do I have to go with you?”
“It’s your sector, Eder.”
“But it’s not my fault.”
Peter clasped his hand tight on his colleague’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t worry. I’m sure he’ll understand.”
They stood side by side in front of The Owner. Eder fought desperately to control his nerves. He had never been so close to the Old Man before. Of course there were regular meetings, but that was different when there were a dozen or so sat around a table discussing figures. Here in the office, just the three of them, Eder felt as if his very soul was under examination.
“There were no signs of discontent previously?”
Peter nudged Eder into replying. “Sir?”
“The proper checks were carried out before she was allowed her annual visit?”
Eder cleared his throat. “Well, I assume so Sir. I mean, as section head, I can’t account for every single individual personally.”
The Owner glanced across at Peter. “I see.”
“If you look at the entry circumstances, sir -” Eder stepped forward and began to argue passionately. “She shouldn’t be here, really. It’s little wonder she stayed behind. She must feel a sense of injustice.”
The Owner’s steely gaze brought Eder to a halt, the last word of his plea hanging in the air like an accusation. “Is that what you think this is about?”
“Justice. Do you never think to question Eder where the clothes on your back come from, the food on your table, the wine that you drink? What about the relaxation rooms or the pleasure arcades? Who do you think provides those Eder? The economy has to run somehow and the more hands to the pump there are down there, the easier we have it up here. Why do you think I allow them their one day a year grace? To satiate the loved ones they visit? Have you any idea of the extra expenditure those very same loved ones outlay on parties, celebrations, hotels, flights, flowers, fancies? The boost to the economy is enormous. And who feels the real benefit?”
Eder couldn’t decide whether it was a rhetorical question or not. Before he had a chance to reply, The Owner posed another. “Let me put it another way. When was the last time you wanted for anything Eder?”
At that precise moment he would have given anything to be out of the gaze of his superior. Prior to that though? He hadn’t given it much consideration before. The answer struck him as so odd he blurted it out involuntarily. “Never.”
“Precisely. And we wouldn’t want that to end now, would we?”
Eder stopped and thought about it. On reflection it didn’t seem right, yet from the tone of The Owner’s voice he knew the answer that was expected of him.
“So, we have to guard against little acts such as these in case they spread, because then where would we be?” As he spoke The Owner handed the clipboard back to Peter. He turned his attention to his main supervisor. “Make the call.”
The Owner went and sat back down behind his desk and began reading Cassie’s file in depth.
Peter cleared his throat. “Aren’t you forgetting something sir?”
“Hmmm?” The Owner looked up, a touch absent-mindedly. Peter nodded towards Eder. “Oh yes, of course. Congratulations Eder.”
“What for sir?”
Eder looked puzzled.
The Owner pursed his lips somewhat bemused. “It being your death day.”
Eder began to fade. “No!”
His scream became lost in the corridors of time as the outline of his form stumbled forward blindly. It clutched at The Owner who had stood as if to deliberately antagonise the dying spirit, safe in the knowledge the shadow would never reach him. “See you next year.”
Cassie and Joseph stood at the entrance to the bridge. She looked resplendent in the dress she had stolen. He was still in his work overalls.
“Come with me.”
“I’ll tell them you’re my personal worker.”
“And you think they’ll accept that?”
“Why shouldn’t they?”
“How do you know these things?”
“I don’t. But that’s the point, neither do they. Dress is only half of it. The rest is simply confidence and attitude.”
He was unsure. He wanted to believe her, he really did, only he was so scared of the consequences. A car caught them in its headlights so they ducked into the shadows of the doorway of the last old building on their side of the bridge. The bridge itself acted as a crossing between the two worlds of workers and pleasurers. No guard stood at the crossing; there was no need, for each member of society knew their place. As the car sped past them Cassie pressed herself against him. He felt her warm inviting flesh. He was amazed that she was still so alive. He wasn’t sure what he had expected to occur, though he had had a vague notion that she would somehow become less substantial. It hadn’t happened. In fact if anything, she felt more physical than ever. Although the car was well past, he held her tightly in order to feel her firm breasts against his chest. He leant down and kissed her squarely on the lips.
“What the hell do you think you’re playing at?”
The blow came from nowhere. It struck Joseph across the shoulders. It didn’t hurt that badly, just took him by surprise. He turned to face his assailant, making sure Cassie was safe behind him. A car had stopped by the roadside and the driver, a middle aged man in a pristine pin-striped suit, had stepped out and was waving his cane at Joseph.
Cassie spoke up. “It’s alright.”
“It’s far from alright my dear. I saw this brute touching you. Get in the car, I’ll drop you home after we’ve flogged this one to death.”
The pleasurer lifted the cane to strike again. Joseph beat him to it, throwing a short punch. It caught the pleasurer flush in the face and knocked him to the floor. Cassie went over to the fallen figure. She looked back up at Joseph.
“He can’t be. I didn’t hit him that hard.”
Cassie smiled up at him. “Thank you.”
“For what? Landing you in even more trouble. We have to go, get away from here. What if somebody saw us?” He looked around frantically.
Cassie searched the body, pulled something from one of the jacket pockets. She offered Joseph the set of car keys. “Join me.” He said nothing.
They met on neutral ground, The Owner and The Servant. It was in the rules. On the surface it looked all very respectable and polite. Beneath, The Servant quietly raged ever resentful of his place in the scheme of things. The Owner handed over Cassie’s records. “It’s been a long time.”
The Servant didn’t reply, choosing instead to read through the file.
“I trust there’ll be no problems?”
The Servant snapped the folder shut. “She doesn’t deserve it.”
“And since when did you care about deserves?”
“I always have, remember?”
The Owner eyed him coldly. “Are you refusing?”
The Servant merely smiled. “Where is she?”
“Where do you think?”
Cassie drove the car until it ran out of fuel. After that she wandered the streets, often gasping at the breathtaking architecture of the pleasure city. She marvelled that life could be so wonderful. The people took her as one of their own and she struggled not to get caught up in the wave of hedonistic emotions that radiated from everyone. Staying apart was the only way she was able to nurse her inner anger and try to figure out her next move. From what she could see there didn’t appear to be any structure to the day on this side of the bridge. It seemed to be just one long bout of eating, drinking and playing. She passed yet another of the orgiastic love parlours which promised to cater for all of her desires and more. The glance that the girl on display gave Cassie nearly tempted her in. Cassie had never been looked at like that by a woman before. She tore herself away from the window reluctantly and headed for one of the coffee shops across the road. After ordering, Cassie nearly faltered for she had no money with which to pay, until it struck her that she didn’t have to pay, everything was free.
Choosing a table by the window she sat alone in order to catch her thoughts. As she sipped her drink she watched the pleasurers go about their daily lives. The carefree atmosphere was intoxicating, as was the taste of the coffee which burst over her tongue and lips. Only when she had been with Joseph had she felt so alive. She drank the remainder of it slowly so as to savour each mouthful before realising she didn’t have to be so frugal as she could simply order another. After getting a refill she returned to her table. A flyer now sat upon it advertising that evening’s entertainment at the celebration hall. The second cup of coffee did not taste anywhere near so sweet as Cassie thought of Joseph alone and afraid in The Factory. Folding up the flyer she tucked it into the top of her dress. The third cup tasted as bland and mundane as those she used to drink back in her own sector when she was alive. Putting the half-finished drink back down on the table she tore the flyer into tiny shreds and set off for the bridge.
Unused to traveling by car, Cassie had badly misjudged how far the vehicle had taken her. Her feet ached from the stupid, impractical, shoes which she wore and she was hungry. As she rounded the next corner, she came to the conclusion that she must have taken a wrong turn for the road opened out onto a grand central plaza which housed the most magnificent building she had ever seen. Banners draped from the soaring columns announced that it was the celebration hall. People were flocking inside in their hundreds. Gritting her teeth, with renewed determination, Cassie headed for the other side of the square. Trying to battle against the flow of the tide was not as easy as she thought and though she did her best to fight against it, she found herself swept along with the masses and into the building.
Once inside she was bombarded with food and drink from all angles. Cassie refused to touch anything and instead looked for an opening in the throng of people in order to try and push her way back out. The lights suddenly went out and there was a huge surge in the crowd. A lone chandelier lit up to reveal that a space had been cleared in the centre of the hall to enable couples to dance. Cassie watched fascinated, transfixed, as pairs of people waltzed across the floor. She had never seen anything like it in her life. It was utterly mesmerising. The whole room seemed to be in motion except for her. No, not quite the whole room. She saw him some distance away. He was wearing a smouldering dinner jacket and refusing the hand of every girl who wished to take a turn with him and they all did. He headed straight for Cassie. On reaching her, the vision proffered his hand. Instinctively she knew who he was.
“Will you dance?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Then in that case I’d be honoured.”
He took her in his arms and they began to spin around the room. Faster and faster they went until the other dancers became a mere blur.
“You know, I dared to love once as you do.”
She looked deep into his eyes and smiled defiantly. "It was worth it."
He smiled back at her. “Yes, I think that too.”
Then he kissed her. Her soul withstood the ecstasy for a moment before it tore apart and joined his, roaming infinity forever.