Excerpts from “D.O.B. + 195”
I felt sorriest for the birds. I remember listening to them sing their melancholy songs into the wind. I hear them crying, still. Someone should have admired them on that day, especially the man who intended to shove their music back down their throats with killing force.
But for the first time in my career, I failed to deliver my performance. My arrest came without warning two hours later, and that day—my Day of Birds—marked the start of a new calendar for me, one that tolls the time spent down here in The Mines.
Blissfully oblivious to the impending reversal of fortune, I started the copter’s recording sequence and then flew my rented skysleigh back to the inn at Middletown, an atavistic rural hamlet that was a short but safe distance away. Once there, I perched a remote monitor on the northwest windowsill of my suite; range readings across its display spectrums confirmed that the funnel was functioning normally. I could responsibly break for lunch at Miko’s Dragon Saddle, an enchanting bordello crucial to Middletown’s tiny economy. There is no place better than a whorehouse to spend illegitimate currencies like hemp papers—the exchange rate cannot be beaten.
Having overexerted myself in the Saddle, I later departed the villa, its façade dripping with wisteria and begonias, less than fully alert to my surroundings. As I stepped through the gate, I should have seen the silver globe right away, hovering above a nearby rooftop with its ruby eye ogling about—I remember ignoring a flicker in my peripheral vision. Had I simply followed my intuition and glanced sideways before stepping into the empty street, my life might have followed a better course. Instead, I walked half a block before I heard behind me a sudden whoosh and hum that anyone who may read this journal has surely come to dread; though we seem to have heard it a thousand times since our childhoods, we falsely assure ourselves that its wave will never rush our way, that the sailing Eye which brings it will never trail us with a reddened stare.
With no one else about to spy upon, the roving drone locked on me and, presumably, ran its check. Sometime, somewhere, someone filed a complaint. Surely the Mexican paper was not the problem. I must have underbid the wrong competitor or disappointed a client with high connections. Or not. Perhaps the shiny predator was malfunctioning after the previous night’s heavy rainfall. Whether or not the Eye had rightly singled me out for apprehension made no ultimate difference: as it is always illegal to disclose that one is under investigation, objections or cries for help were worse than futile.
All I could do was run.
Primal instincts rarely overcome high technology. Zigzagging through the village, I made a right, a left, another left, and then came two of them. Were they police? Bountymen? I will never know: a pair of muddied skinsuits wrapped in Y-shaped combat harnesses strode toward me through the carriage-cloven slop of the road; the tarnished metals on their helmets were free of agency insignia and reflective visors shielded their faces from view. Without uttering a word or projecting a thought, the one on the right made a sweeping gesture with his—or her—hands, and my legs were pinned together by a smoky nimbus that manacled my knees. I pitched headlong into the muck, and though a cushion of horse manure prevented the dislocation of my left shoulder, my joints ached for weeks afterward.
It took them several minutes to truss me up for trundling. Apparently, some sort of power flow problem in the taller one’s harness required repairs that delayed our departure. As I writhed, I noticed that off to the roadside, shadowed by the planks of a tack peddler’s boardwalk, a pigeon struggled against its badly broken wing. It desperately changed positions from moment to moment, first laying on its side with its little breast swelling and shrinking, then standing to peck its feathery limb, and then stumbling forward only to fall again. The creature’s neck was twisted with pain and its eyes blazed with panic. I had slaughtered thousands upon thousands of its kin without a whit of regret, but seeing it there—so tantalizingly close that had I been able I could have cupped it up and carried it away—I could only empathize with its plight and, weeping, wish it the swift mercy of death.
My captors levitated my body onto their large sleigh. There were no other pickups; mine must have been the last of their shift. As we flew without conversation to the prison where I have remained for one hundred and ninety-five days, I absorbed the heat of the setting sun, the winds, the jungle scents
We rounded the flatheaded heap of Black Mountain and descended past the guard towers and rows of baled wire shortly after nightfall and landed upon a cracked pad near the center of a circular, graveled courtyard illuminated from above by a rack of spotlamps. Close to the pad was a waterless fountain set at a thirty-degree tilt, its unpainted concrete basin filled with leaves, branches, crumpled bags and assorted plastic trash.
Out of a stonework gate in the mountainside emerged three guardsmen who were dressed in nearly identical khaki coveralls. I was rough-handedly turned over to them. The tallest one had a well-trimmed moustache, a potbelly, and a few stripes on the right shoulder of his uniform.
“Rehabilitant FFF408,” he said through a smirk, “I am addressed as Sergeant Uben. Your former name shall not be returned to you until the moment you are released from Common Ethics Rehabilitation Facility 19, should that moment come. Should you refer to yourself or otherwise use your former name during your term within this Facility, the penalty shall be a period of supplemental rehabilitation. Do you understand what I have explained to you?”
Nodding my head, I demurred. One of the shorter, fatter ones slapped me in the face. I came to know him later as Guardsman Mannadou, whose cock is torqued with a rightward curve.
“You must answer aloud,” he barked. So I did. “Now you strip and stand over there, just inside the gate.”
Doing as I was told, I placed myself in the entranceway, where, like all rehabilitants, my new status was painted onto my skin: from apertures on three sides of the automated portcullis sprayed a shower of deep purple dye. My body tingled with a slight burn until a thorough drenching of clear, cold water followed.
As I stood naked, alone, and dripping into the rusted grate beneath my feet, Sergeant Uben thought at me with a wink: “Welcome to The Mines. Don’t fuck up.”
Anthony E. Hoyle, Spring 2012