Marcus sat in the boarding house, not exactly abandoned, but feeling excluded. He figured Helen, wait not Helen, Allison. He figured Allison had passed through New St. Louis before. She had to have to meet up with Earl and stowaway the way she did. He did not expect her to have personal business here though. He especially did not expect private business that she would not talk about.
She almost ran out of the door without saying a word. This was becoming a kind of habit, skipping out. She was pushing through the doors before Marcus could process her departure. He ran out and caught up with her walking briskly towards the center of the city.
“Hel… Allison. What are you doing?” She hesitated for a step, but kept walking. “Where are you going?”
“I. I have to go.”
“What? But we already left Nesson. What are you running from?”
“I’m not running from anything at the moment. I can’t explain right now.”
“OK, fine. Don’t explain. I’ll see when we get there.”
“No, you are not coming.”
“Then, what?” Allison stopped, though her left heel still hovered off the ground. “Are we, I mean, is this…”
“Don’t be so dramatic. Go back to the restaurant. Ask about lodging, I’ll come find you.”
Marcus had never waited on someone before. Not in this sense. Sure, he waited for deliveries. He waited on appointments sometimes. This was different. He found himself lying in bed afraid to leave the room. This was probably unnecessary. It would be healthier to leave a note, to go somewhere. What were the chances she would come looking for him at the moment he stepped out? Yet the possibility froze him. The whole town seemed shuttered anyway. There was probably not much to do outside of this room. Even the landlady seemed displeased to be dealing with business at the moment. He showed up at her door, holding a bag containing day old bread and a few mangos. The kitchen at the restaurant was closed, but they were not going to send him away hungry. Ms. Loa cracked the door when he knocked and almost closed it without a word, but something stopped her. She looked at the bag.
“Do I smell bread from Tino’s place?”
“Yeah, you mean the restaurant over in the harbor, right?”
“They’re always sending me their riff-raff.” Marcus started to protest, but she cut it with a maternal tone, “Come in, Come in.”
Marcus took out his mobile. It had a luster and its surface was still slick. It was a new model, one that he had not even put on the shelves yet. The shipment came in the day before Allison decided to run; on their way out, he grabbed one. He was not one to steal nor did he covet new devices, but something possessed him to pocket this one. As he turned it on it occurred to him that he would have to use his net credentials. Would Links track him to this island and bring him in for going AWOL? Probably not. If anything, he would be putting Allison at risk.
Welcome New User. Enter Name, the screen read. That was odd. Usually this process demanded your unique ID and the device would boot your information. He never had a mobile give him the option to type his name. What would happen if…
Welcome Fred Farmer. Enter birth Date. Marcus made up a birthday with a year not far from his own. He followed the prompts and found himself inventing a whole person from scratch. Why was he doing this? Rather, how was he doing this? After he submitted his profile the screen resolved into a clean workspace with a stylized depiction of the New St. Louis Skyline. Some of the usual applications were available, but some of the links on the home screen were unfamiliar. This certainly was not his normal net space, which was currently cluttered with store business.
“Project.” Marcus told the device. Normally one would connect directly to a video wall, but the walls here were static. Most devices were able to project onto a blank wall. A blue light shone from the top of the mobile and drew the contents of his screen on the wall. He set the mobile on a table and adjusted the angle until he had a stable image.
Marcus stepped up to the wall and pressed the Town Hall icon. It was an asynchronous discussion board. People were posting thoughts in audio, video, and text. He pressed one message titled “Stay out of it.”
We have flourished because we have been left alone and we leave others alone. The moment we get involved in another country’s conflict, we forfeit our obscurity and neutrality.
Another was titled “Stop Links!”
If we do not do something now, we’ll be another Links colony. He’ll bring fragmentation and drain our resources.
The last one he read was called “Save them.”
Hundred of people are trapped on Nesson. Their basic human rights are not guaranteed and they are in a potential warzone.
Marcus backed out of the town hall. Another link was titled “Fahr talk.” This was a replay of the meeting they were watching before Allison ran off. The beginning was mainly administrative concerns and introductions. The main speaker gave his name as Simon and identified as a New St. Louisian. He said he had been studying activity on the main land. He wanted to share what he had learned and introduce a special guest.
Allison was riding a half full, all silent elevator. She did not know exactly where to start, but she felt confident that if fate landed both her and her brother on the same island, she could manage to locate him. The island really was not that large, but the city was bigger than anything she could imagine. There were immersive holoworlds that seemed quaint compared to New St. Louis. Even if they were occupying the same point in horizontal space, there were so many levels to this city that she may never find him.
She was feeling her way through the city. She felt no anxiety walking through the maze that took her out of the harbor. She did not hesitate when there was a fork in the road, she just kept walking. When the walls opened up a bit, she saw several ground level building entrances. Some looked like public access, but many were nothing more than fire escapes. The real entrances and exits were many stories above.
Now she had a hard time deciding, but she kept moving. There was a set of revolving doors ahead, just a little to her left. She had never seen these in real life. Trying out a new kind of door was as good of a reason as any to pick a building. How should she proceed? Did she just walk into them?
No one else was around to observe using them. There were bars on each door, she took that to mean she should just push her way in. The door spun with a swish as brushes on the bottom of the doors scraped the floor. Something was incredibly satisfying about operating the revolving doors; she almost made a second revolution before entering the building, but she did not really have time for that.
Inside was a cramped, tiled lobby. Two elevator doors glared ahead, to her right was a large desk with a small woman sitting behind it. Allison nearly blew past her, but noticed the woman was staring at a screen.
“Excuse me.” Allison said. Her voice echoed on the hard floors. There was no response. “Excuse me, ma’am?”
“Huh?” The darkly dressed woman sat up straight and looked around. Her age was hard to read, she had a deep tan and few wrinkles. Something about her eyes belied her youthful complexion.
“Do you mind if I ask what you are watching?”
“What? What do you mean what am I watching?”
“I mean, what’s that on your screen?”
“My question is, what are you doing here? Why aren’t you at home watching and getting ready for the vote?”
“Quit messing with me.”
“No no, I really don’t understand.”
“Wait a minute. You look familiar.”
“I don’t know, not like anyone I know, but like someone I’ve seen very recently. Have you been to this floor before?”
“I’ve never even been to this building.”
“What’s that? Never?”
“But how in the world do you not use this building? What, do you spend all your time on,” the woman hesitated and whispered, “ground level?”
“In a way I guess. Anyway, you’re watching that meeting you say?”
“That meeting? Yeah, and it scares me to death. We’re not equipped for war, but we’re making military decisions. But I just know the island is going to vote for going to Nesson. Bunch of idiots, haven’t learned anything from history yet.”
“And that meeting, where is it happening?”
The woman scrunched her face in concentration. This added a decade to her apparent age. She stared at Allison for three long seconds and responded, “Twenty-third floor.”
“On this building?”
“Alright, alright! Quit messing around, I can’t hear.” The woman relaxed her face and looked back to her screen.
Allison decided not to press her luck and walked to the elevators. She pushed the single button that was mounted between the shining doors. She was the first on, but others trickled in as the elevator ascended. The first couple of stops looked residential, but as they climbed closer to the twenty-third floor the doors more frequently opened into rooms full of other elevators. The dial for this elevator showed the top at twenty-five, but when the doors opened for twenty-three and she stepped out, she was in a room surrounded by elevator doors labeled for ranges of floors. The highest said 106, but she wondered if she went to that floor whether she might find another room like this that would take her higher. That was something to investigate another time. She stepped through an open corridor that would take her out to the building.
She rounded a corner and found herself in a broad atrium. The center was open with terraces in a horseshoe along the outer wall. There were three levels looking out into this space. The fourth wall was made of an asymmetrical mosaic of windows and several doorways on her level. She could smell flowers and coffee. Conversations that were several seconds old bounced from the ceiling back to the floor and back to the ceiling. They combined to make a harmony.
She was on the twenty-third floor, but this was not the place. It certainly was an impressive place, as far as places go, but it was not the place she needed. Allison oriented herself towards the doors. Though she could see them clearly the whole time, she had to walk up and down half flights of stairs and squeeze through botanical paths to get there. The lights reflected too brightly off the windows to be sure what was on the other side, but as she approached the shadow of a leviathan was resolving. Once she was standing in the doorway, turning this way and that to let the people by, she saw where she was. It was a train station.
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