Once we started dating, the local EDSAI brought me on as part of their full time staff. They figured if I was in town, I might as well help. That’s when I made a few mistakes with Chris and we had no option but to extract his memories and cover them up with imprinted ones. Before I learned that Chris sometimes spends the night in the park, by the pond, I thought he was a potential escapee meeting a contact to plot to leave Glory. Emma and I were on a real stakeout. Chris wore a hoodie, and I didn’t see his face until after I fought him to the ground and apprehended him. He wouldn’t be taken into custody lightly; he fought me vigorously.
Using my palm tablet, I used a memory scrambler and imprinting program. It knocked him out for a full day. While he’s sleeping, it builds a false memory of the day he misses. It clouds his mind so much, he can’t remember the few hours before he passed out. He’ll sense a faint gap in his mind, but it’s a minor feeling. It’s like forgetting what he ate for breakfast, it was good but it didn’t leave a memorable impression.
To this day, he has no clue I work for EDSAI. He thinks I transport goods from city to city. At times I am called to different cities to help with investigations about escapees, but the trips never last more than a week. There’s only one escapee I’ve never caught. Stigmo thinks I failed to find him, but the truth is I let him go. There was no physical encounter, but I knew which direction he was going and I went the opposite. By looking the other way, the window for apprehension closed, and all our leads died. One day, I’m bound to track him down. Lately, all escapee trails lead to a mysterious figure that has to have intimate knowledge of how cities operate and how the SAI run cases. Stigmo thinks Chris will lead us to the mystery figure in Glory City. I tend to think we already know who he is, because for the EDSAI in Luna City, he’s not much of a mystery, we all knew him well. Thatcher Tate is the Suzerain’s Nation’s Most Wanted.
Yes, it’s kind of obvious I would let him go. At sixteen, we were partners in the JC-SAI. We worked several undercover cases together. At 17, we spent five months undercover as a couple. At some point it went from make believe to the real thing. We were no longer partners as JC-SAI agents, but remained intimately involved. We both got the offer to become agents for SAI. I accepted and he declined. He went to work for Luna City Laboratories and invented gadgets for the general public and SAI.
He dropped subtle hints. A faint disdain for Stigmo and SAI foreshadowed his concepts and outlook on life. Of course I ignored them. He was the man I loved. The man I was going to marry and the soon-to-be father of my firstborn.
“Standby. Lister District 7. Wainwright Boulevard,” spouts the calm voice of Shepard. I rise out of my seat as Shepard states, “Opening doors. Five minutes until departure for Lister District 8. Avenue Solei.”
Clusters of people shuffle off and onto the monorail. Back in Luna City I had my own vehicle. I didn’t have to take public transportation. Even now, since the real transport business is dangerous I could afford a vehicle, but Chris is cheap. The only way we’re getting a vehicle is if I end up pregnant. Since the likelihood of that happening is slim, the statistics on it alone are depressing, for as long as I’m with Chris public transportation will be my mode of travel. Not that I’m against it or that there’s anything wrong with it. I just think too much on the monorail. If I don’t have anyone to talk to I get caught up in my “think tank.” I think about where I’m at in life, about what went wrong, what went right. I think about the “could haves,” the “should haves” and the “what if’s.” And though I get immense fulfillment out of my work, I can’t help but wonder if I’m meant for something more.
The home building is a few minutes away from the monorail station. Walking home, each vehicle that passes me reminds me of mine that sits and collects dust back in Luna. Anytime a case demands my attention immediately, Emma and I carpool into work together, or Alec swings by and picks me up.
Chris isn’t controlling in the least. My demands make me seem like the unfair, controlling one. He’s a firm believer in couples being a united entity. What’s mine is his and what’s his is mine. Chris stays within the lines, dots all his I’s and crosses all his T’s. All the information my father has on him seems falsified. Chris is among the few that follows the law of the land so well he won’t even jaywalk. I’m a SAI agent and I jaywalk! Well, occasionally he does break the law and he has gotten a few citations, but a night here and there under the stars is harmless.
He suffers from nightmares and insomnia. If it’s not insomnia keeping him up, the nightmares keep him awake. If I wake up in the morning, or in the middle of the night to respond to an emergency call into work, and he’s not there I know where he is. In the park, by the pond sleeping under the usual tree. When he sleeps in past sunrise, Sentinels catch him and issue him a citation.
At first, I thought his late night visits to the park were in order to meet up with outside contacts, but the only person he rendezvoused with is me. Since we’ve been married I try to get him to talk about his nightmares, but he won’t tell a soul. All I do is hold him− after most nightmares− sometimes he needs a way to forget, I assume, and I use a method to tire him out enough so he won’t focus on the night terrors that await him in his sleep.
Sex with Chris is indescribable. We didn’t sleep together until our wedding night. Though I knew Thatcher more and I felt closer with him, sex with Thatcher was incomplete. I used to call it making love. Thatcher and I loved each other. We were both passionate and committed to each other and I never regret a single night or moment with him. With Chris it’s almost like we connect beyond something physical. Sometimes I feel guilty for taking Chris’ love. But there is no going back. And there’s nothing I can do to change the circumstances.
Outside our door, I hesitate. A part of me wishes I would get called into work. I can feel the shift within me. Feelings− romantic ones− are genuinely forming for Chris. I’ve been tempted a few times to prove his innocence to Stigmo, but then logic got a hold of me.
There’s no record of Chris’ birth in Glory City, or any city. He has a strange armband tattoo on his left upper arm− etched in black ink, a maze-like motherboard grid fashioned of strategic lines and dots. Tattoos are only common among Groundlings. Listers and Elites see tattoos as taboo. Groundlings that miraculously become Listers usually have their tattoos removed. Chris refuses to get rid of his, and he won’t even share why he got it or where. Everyone he’s ever claimed to know in Glory has successfully escaped the city: Brad Leigh, Mya Summer, Sam Sez, and Thorne Teo. Not on my watch clearly. Some Groundlings don’t have official birth records; most are born on the streets, but once they start school they’re tagged with neck gauges and given a birth date. Not all Groundlings attend school, and therefore never get neck gauges. Those tag-less Groundlings get so bound up in illegal activity and buried in the burrows of poverty that they never make it to an age past 22. They either get killed or die of starvation and disease. In order for Groundlings to get an account to be paid by a real job, they need two things: neck gauges and a palm reader surgically implanted under the skin. The palm reader allows credit to be deposited into any citizen’s account and deducts credit from their accounts where they do business such as buying food or clothes, etc. Places of employment and businesses use credit scanners to deposit or withdrawal credit from accounts. Chris got his neck gauges and palm reader a few years ago, shortly before I showed up. The only memories of city life he has are imprinted.
As I go to press my hand against the door, my palm tablet beeps. I pull it out of my pocket and notice the number comes from a secure thread; not even Matieka will pick up the transmission of this call. I draw away from the door to answer. Stigmo’s not-so-happy-face greets me with a sematic smile.
Without room to say hello, he speaks first. “You haven’t sent your report.”
“Because there hasn’t been anything to report.”
“It’s unlike you to break routine. Are you okay?” He asks subtly, but I know what he really wants to ask. Am I getting emotionally attached?
I sigh, because I’m not fine, but if I allude to that fact Stigmo will ask questions that will force my honesty. I try not to roll my eyes, but it happens involuntarily anyhow.
“I haven’t been feeling well. When I realized I missed the deadline, I figured I’d wait until after tonight. Since it’s our−,” I fall silent catching myself.
I can’t display my true feelings for Chris to Stigmo. Chris’ future may be hopeless, because there’s no way Stigmo will let Chris live after he gets the information he wants. Until I find a hopeful future for Chris, I have to do all I can to keep this cover. I go on to explain, “Today is the anniversary of the Allens. Chris opens up more when he has more emotionally at stake. I’ll send you a report tomorrow. Mid-morning probably.”
“Have you seen the physician?”
“No, I’m feeling better.”
“Go tomorrow. I’ll schedule an appointment for you. And… don’t worry about the report unless there’s something new to divulge. Just don’t miss the next report deadline, regardless.”
“Yes, sir,” I say and he disconnects the line before I can give a proper salutation.
*Edited by Aly Fry