Elegant Union (John Clark Smith) - 10

John Clark Smith
A Novel by John Clark Smith

VI

 

25

 

In the morning Titus sat on the edge of his bed. He could hear someone in the kitchen outside his room. The smell of toast was prominent. He dressed and saw that it was Midia. Quickly he returned to his room and sat back down on the bed.

“Come on,” she called out to him. “Hurry. The oatmeal is going to be cold. I’ve been here since five.”

Titus walked out and reluctantly sat at the table across from her and began to eat.

“You’ve got twenty minutes before you leave,” she said. “You should’ve been up earlier.”

“Are you ready?” he said.

“What?”

“You’re presenting in class today, remember,” he reminded her.

“Salvatore will be here soon,” she said, ignoring his comment. “And I have a client. You better change. You want to look in authority or you’ll be dead.”

She began clearing up the table.

“I’ll meet you and Oriana at the Charity at six,” she said. “We’ll have an hour, then I’m on at eight again. Maybe today we’ll be lucky.”

She went into the bedroom and showed at the door the clothes she wanted him to wear.

“This one.”

Midia grabbed clothes for herself and went into the bathroom. In fifteen minutes, she emerged in a mini skirt, black boots to her knees, a blouse that revealed much of her breasts, and heavy make-up.

“I have three coming, so you better get out.”

Titus put his dishes in the sink and left.

He went down the stairs and passed a man on his way up. The man knocked on his door and Midia let the man in the apartment.

The sun had not fully come out. It had rained all night and into the morning. There was such a heavy mist in the air that nothing could be seen beyond the second story of buildings. The rain should have freshened the air, but, as he walked down the front steps of his building, the odor changed with each step. By the time he reached the bottom step it smelled as if a blast of air from an exhaust pipe was thrust at him, mixed with the stench of decayed food, feces, and rotten eggs.

A large rusted black RV was parked out front. Titus assumed Salvatore was in it.

He opened the door and sat down. Salvatore had dyed blond hair with black eyebrows and a grizzly face. His hair was covered mostly by a beret. He wore a t-shirt that showed his muscled torso and arms. On it were the words: SURVIVAL COMES SECOND.

There were three young men in the back seat. They all wore blindfolds.

Salvatore sped off without speaking. He drove through a city that looked as if it had endured several bombing raids. Parts of the road were so torn up that Salvatore had to drive up on the sidewalks and lawns to avoid the holes. Streetlight poles were bent or hanging. No stores or businesses were operating. All were boarded up. Only rarely was a person seen. The few Titus noticed were peeking out of corners and had guns.

Titus looked back at the young men behind him.

“I did what you said,” Salvatore said. “But there were only two. I had to recruit my cousin Luc.” He whispered: “He’ll do it for the cause.”

They drove to a large empty lot that was the ruins of a bombed church. The skeleton of its outer walls stood up at the corners. Two large trucks and one van faced them when they arrived. Women in white coats and masks greeted them.

Titus and Salvatore waited next to the car. The young men remained in their seats.

The white coats produced tablets and asked for a sample of saliva from each of the young men.

After analyzing the saliva, they looked to see if the young men were in the database. The computer confirmed that their sperm had never been tested. A good sign.

The people with the white coats produced guns and pointed them at Salvatore and Titus. But Salvatore already had his hand automatic on the three young men in the car.

“How many?” a white coat asked, expecting an answer from Titus.

Titus looked over at Salvatore. Salvatore put up four fingers.

“Four,” Titus said.

“Four!” the white coat said in surprise. “Are you mad? Where will you put them?”

“That’s our business!” Salvatore said.

The white coats returned to their vehicles.

“We’ll make the exchange at the train station as usual,” the white coat said. “Or we can deliver them to the building of your choice. Which do you prefer?”

Titus looked again to Salvatore.

“Bring them to us,” Salvatore said. “On Saturday. All of them.

Titus nodded.

“And open up the Lexington apartments across the street.”

“They’re unsafe,” the white coat said.

“It doesn’t matter. Just remove the barriers. We’ll fix them.”

As Salvatore drove off, he whistled and seemed quite happy.

“That’s one hundred,” Salvatore said. “You should be proud when you consider we started with 7461. 7461. We’re almost there. Only fifty more, right? We’re doing fine.”

“Do we need a whole building for just four?”

Salvatore looked over at him.

“Are you kidding? We need several buildings. And we got’em. The Lexington is available. Most people have left town.”

As they drove up Lansdowne to the area once bordered by Brandon, Dovercourt, and Foundry Avenue, an area once full of old factories and foundries, Titus ransacked his brain to relive this existence, an existence Gretchen was using to remind him. Over the entrance was a new sign cast in iron that said, “Truth Will Bring Freedom.” There were times he would enjoy shifting on his own because he wanted to know again, but there were times Gretchen was the obvious catalyst.

Salvatore stopped the car and looked at the sign.

“What do you think?” Salvatore asked Titus.

“Good,” Titus said. “Beautiful work. Who did it?”

“Jan Liwacz.”

He knew a prisoner with the same name and talent who worked at a concentration camp in World War II.

They drove into the complex. It was crowded with women and children, but no men. Many of them waved, clearly knowing the car.

From the time he woke up, nothing was familiar, including this place. Titus wanted to ask questions, but he hated to seek answers for what should be obvious to him. After all, it was existence. He had lived it and was living it. Does this mean that the longer he ignores his union with reality, the more he becomes attached to one event of existence after another and loses his sense of his work? It was unknown why sometimes he could remember and other times he could not. Or sometimes he could remember only snippets. Knowing so little of his position was uncomfortable, even if he knew the situation would eventually become clear to him. He had a fondness for being a professor, but he was not a professor in this event. Gretchen had said: If you truly want existence, and turn away from your union with reality, this is the kind of uncertainty you face. You will not know yourself but will remain in a state of obscurity because your true work happens when you have union with reality.

Since his status would reveal itself and reality would be there, he had not worried, but the loss of that union even for a few hours left him with a closed-in feeling.

Salvatore parked the car in front of the only one-story brick building in the complex and walked up five steps to reach the door. Titus followed him.

They entered a large room, filled with desks and chairs. Titus’s desk was like the others in the corner. Salvatore brought his own chair to sit beside him and slumped into it, On the wall behind Titus was a sign that said: 7461 to start, one million to go.

In a couple of minutes, a woman walked in. It was Oriana.

“How’d it go?” she asked Salvatore.

“Four thousand.”

“Excellent. Good work.”

Titus realized the number was not four but four thousand.

Oriana brought her own chair and sat beside Salvatore.

“We need to think in terms of three hundred,” she said, “not one hundred.”

“Or a million,” Salvatore said, laughing.

“And why not?” she asked. “Thanks to the Arbiters and the migration, there are more than enough deserted buildings throughout this area, not only on Dupont,”

“We’ve got the Lexington,” Salvatore said.

“Great!” Oriana said.

“We’re still running out of men,” Salvatore said. “We’re running out of space.”

“I wish we could find out how they’re treated,” Titus said in a worried tone, the words spewing from his mouth without thinking.

“The Medical Centre labs are impenetrable,” Oriana said. “You know that.”

Salvatore smiled.

“What is it?” Oriana asked.

“They took my cousin,” Salvatore’s smile turned into a big grin that showed his large white teeth.

“That’s too bad,” Oriana said. “Why are you smiling?”

“No, no,” Salvatore said. “It’s not bad. Listen. They took my cousin, Oriana. He’ll find a way.”

“You know for sure he’s fertile?” Oriana asked. “Otherwise, he’ll be set to work and probably catch the virus.”

“I know, I know,” Salvatore said. “Oh he’s fertile.”

“What about the units across the street?” Titus asked Oriana. “There must be a several thousand. Let’s use them.”

“I already said,” Salvatore said, confused that Titus did not know. “That’s the Lexington.”

“Not ready yet,” Oriana said.

“Yeah, too soon,” Salvatore agreed. “When we see the Lebanese women return, we’ll rush in.”

“They took women?” Titus asked.

“Their kids too,” Oriana said, “They want to threaten the parents. They also think the women will know where the men are.”

Titus stood up and looked out a window that faced the street and the Lexington units.

“All of them, even the pets?”

“This is what happens when people are desperate and think they’re doing good,” Oriana said. “Those families had to leave everything behind, though the vultures have wiped it clean. The Arbiters mean well, but they’re out of their depth. They should have stayed in the labs and let others figure this out.”

“What’s Midia doing?” Titus said in a harsh tone, his mind unable to erase the image of how she appeared and the man going into his apartment. He had to ask. He had to know. The explanation had not yet occurred to him.

“Why?” Oriana asked, suddenly with an anxious tone. “What happened? She was there, right? She showed up?”

“I saw her,” Salvatore said. “She waved from the window.”

“Don’t upset me like that,” she said.

“Oh she was there,” Titus said, “dressed as a prostitute.”

Salvatore and Oriana both looked at him with faces of confusion.

“Let’s hope she’s lucky again,” Oriana said. “Charlotte and I both struck out. I wonder if we should set up a kind of underground brothel, so that more than one of us can be working at the same time. No, no. Forget it. It’s too risky. And some of the women are uncomfortable with gathering the sperm afterwards. As if that’s the real problem.”

No one spoke for a couple minutes as Titus continued to stare out the window. He was trying to grasp what was happening.

“But has Midia turned up anyone?” Titus wondered.

Again Oriana, puzzled, paused, shook her head.

“Of course,” she said. “What’s wrong? Are you OK?”

“There must be a better way,” Titus said.

“Find two, save thousands,” Salvatore said quietly. “That’s what you said.”

“Why are you getting so upset?” Oriana said to Titus. “Are you having second thoughts? Because we can stop this if you have a better idea. We have loads of women here who want their men back, even if they’re not fertile.”

“I think it’s worth it,” Salvatore said, rubbing his tired eyes.

“I do too,” Oriana said. “As long as there’s a known link between impotence and fertility, we’re going to do it.”

Titus nodded and sat down. Another sign of his ignorance about his own work. He was becoming anxious. What was he doing here?

“They know what you did and what you continually do,” Oriana said. “You saved their lives and the lives of their men. Millions, Titus. We have to get as many out of there as we can and quickly. It’s random, but it’s working.”

Titus nodded again, but his mind was on the desperation involved in this idea.

“But if the Arbiters found out what we’re doing,” Oriana said, “well--”

“—well what?” Salvatore said. “It means nothing to Titus.”

“I guess they’re just waiting for the right time,” Oriana said. “Each day they say they’re coming.”

“The Arbiters should concentrate on the cause,” Titus said. “I wish we had a medical lab.”

“They’ve given up trying to find the cause,” Salvatore said.

“Please thank Jan for the sign,” Titus said. “The work is creative.”

“Thank him yourself,” Salvatore said. “He’s at his desk. He wants to give you something.”

Salvatore gestured to Jan to come over. Jan stood at Titus’s desk.

“Thank you for your work, Jan,” Titus said, “You’re an artist. The sign is perfect.”

“Thank you. But I have a personal gift for you. I did it on behalf of all of us.”

He handed to Titus a gold disc, the same gold disc that Titus had found and had examined with his magnifying glass.

“You created this?” Titus said.

“Yes. I made it to remember what you’ve accomplished for us. I’ve included the numbers of the first three groups you saved. We would be starving and without our families if not for you.”

“It’s an amazing work,” Titus said. “Thank you, Jan.”

Titus and Jan shook hands, and Jan returned to his desk.

Titus wondered how he gathered that much gold to make the disc, but he did not ask.

The design and detail of the disc impressed him. There was one difference from the disc he had found in his apartment. The word ‘pamoghenan’ was missing. There was a space for the word, but no word. Titus turned it over and looked at it again with great care.

Oriana noticed his attention to the disc.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Titus said. “Just admiring the fine detail Jan took in creating it.”

“It’s missing something, isn’t it?” Oriana said.

Titus, surprised at her statement, looked up and saw her smiling.

“Come with me,” she said.

They went outside into the small stone courtyard where many residents were in rows meditating. Another group was around the edge waiting for their turn.

The sight of them meditating jogged his memory. Titus remembered teaching meditation to a small group of them when the revolution started. That group had been the core that passed on the method to the others.

When the people around the edges saw Titus, they bowed their heads. The others in the courtyard stopped meditating and turned toward him and bowed their heads too.

“Please let us know how we are doing,” one of the people meditating said.

“It’s a truth not said enough,” he said, “if you all can be who you are, if you all can do what you are, change will happen, because one can make change for all. Each of you is and will be that person. Real change, change that endures—it has been shown again and again—doesn’t come from forcing change—such as what happens in violence, conflict, self-interest, power, or laws that some authorities pass. Change comes from being. The universe is unimpressed with ego and territory and institutions and borders. The universe clearly tells us this when we see that ego, territory, borders, and institutions do not endure. The universe is clear on what it finds distasteful. To change the world, you need only succumb to who you are and the way of the universe. To know that way, you meditate, become who you are, and discover how to unite with reality through the natural inner light that rests in each of you.

“This crisis, any crisis, does not change human nature. Look at the Black Plague in the fourteenth century. It changed the social and economic path of the world, but it didn’t substantially change human nature. The spiritual catalyst was ignored. If the Black Plague, which killed millions, had so little effect on human nature, how could any conflict or empire-building or paranoid grab for power succeed? Look at the twentieth century. Stalin, Hitler, and Mao killed millions by their policies and orders. Did their efforts change human nature? Did it make their societies any better in the long run? No, because human nature, human society, did not fundamentally change. We have created a vehicle of change more important than whether males are fertile. Fertility will return. Nature will see to it. But this crisis gives us an opportunity for a greater revolution. Remember what you’ve done and how you did it. For at some point, we all must leave and hand down the work to others. Passing on the character and meaning of our work is as important as the work itself. Let the universe trigger your inner light.”

As he said this, several cars drove into the complex. A group of ten officers with weapons came out of their cars and pointed their guns at Titus.

He went with them.

Titus seemed to fall asleep soon after sitting in the police van, but it was not sleep. He was moving across existence. His body fell forward on to the van’s floor. They let him lie there, four guns guarding him.

 

26

 

The brisk and icy chill from a winter wind made the group of 124 huddle tightly beside each other around the six large fires, flames reaching up twelve feet. Titus could not erase the image of bees snugly clinging and shivering beside each other on the hive to survive the cold. Snow and ice created a blanket as far as he could see. Behind them was a large cave where they had spent their nights to escape the brutal night-time wind and cold. The storm that had harassed them for days had died down by the early morning. They built the fires and waited to see if the storm would return. It was better to camp here, with the protection of the cave, than to strike out across the frigid plain in such a storm.

They and many others had abandoned the city, which they could see in the distance. Ongoing violent weather—fierce winter storms and harsh summer droughts where the temperatures ranged to extremes—had crippled the city’s facilities until it no longer could keep its residents warm, safe, and supplied with food and clean water. No one would bring food into the cities, even if they could avoid the gangs ready to steal and sell it on the black market. Group by group, family by family, migrated elsewhere, mostly to the north where the changes were still significant but less extreme. The south remained unbearably hot and far more dangerous. The crops were parched, fresh water was rare, and, due to most people thinking wrongly and going south, overpopulated.

Starving animals and viruses were a rampant danger everywhere. The animals—those who could survive—had retaken the land and waters, as well as the towns and villages. To pass through any area, north or south, travelers had to know how to appease or circumvent the animals. All creatures sought shelter. All saw each other as food.

This group was one of many Titus had guided north. Most of them had no survival skills or psychological toughness. Most of them were adults because few children survived the viruses. But the adults acted like lost children. No jobs, no homes, most of their friends and families either dead or scattered to far off places, unable to survive on their own, and, in their minds, little future possibilities. After a few weeks in the outdoors in extreme weather with strangers, in what seemed an endless trek to nowhere, they were like zombies trudging along, their brains empty of hope. Some would admit that they were prepared to welcome a quick death. Suicide was widespread.

Titus promised each group he would take them to the closest rail connection. His compatriots and he—considered outlaws by so-called official authorities—had eventually assumed control over every form of transit, but the trains were the most useful. This group was only a little over fifty miles from the place where they could put everyone on to a railway car heading north. His only compensation was that each group would protect and take the bees. With each group, Titus handed over the heavily padded hives, the bees clustered to keep warm, each hive covered with shivering bees. The bees would eventually arrive at the underground farms that his associates and he had formed up north and down south. To be certain that the bees did arrive safely, one of Titus’s associates would travel on the train to the destination. Once there he had to trust in the people to care for the bees. Before they would leave on the train, he spoke to them of the critical importance of the bees, how he admired them and their union around the hive, and how well they understood community and sacrifice. How elegant, he said, was nature!

“Did you see her?” a woman interrupted Titus’s thought. Her tone was not from hope but from desperation.

But a common question. Everyone knew he had led many groups to safer ground.

She was talking about her child—or, for others, their children—but many also sought their friends or loved ones. The “child” was not always someone young. The parent would call their thirty-year-old daughter or son their child.

The chance of finding anyone lost or separated was not good. There might be a chance for a thirty-year old, but if the child was underage, he could not offer much hope. There were several possible fates. The children could become separated and die from exposure—to weather, starvation, or death from wild animals. Or they might be snapped up by those who prey on young people and desperate adults and sold to “tents”—either brothels randomly placed around the trails or on caravan routes or slave markets. Or they could die from various sickness and viruses, become one of the predators, or be kidnapped for breeding.

And even if someone was found, the traumas they experienced left them unrecognizable.

“She had blond hair, blue eyes, thin, and always wore this green hat tipped to one side, with ear flaps.”

“No, I’m sorry. I haven’t seen her. There are now so few children on my journeys.”

“I know, now,” she said, beginning to break down, “but in the past, when things were different, you might remember her. Please. She doesn’t know where I’ll be. She’ll never be able to find me. She depended on me. We were together and I went out for water, but she left. I told her to stay. She left. I don’t know why.”

“I’ll keep an eye out, OK?” Titus said, motioning to Oriana to comfort the woman. Most likely predators found her, he thought. Many others did not want to be found.

Others overheard the conversation.

“Where are all the children?” a woman asked, on behalf of several women. “They can’t be all dead or taken, can they? There were once many more children than adults.”

Titus answered after the first woman was taken away by Oriana into the cave.

“If you mean, children under the age of puberty,” he said, “yes, it’s true. In the beginning, there were more. In the time when most people could reproduce. And some have survived. I’ve had a few on these transits. But, to be honest, the chances of anyone that age surviving without assistance or catching the virus or becoming a predator is small. One of my associates, who stays behind in the towns and cities to be certain no one remains, finds many more dead children than adults in situations of risk, meaning they had no adults to assist them, they were trying to survive but didn’t know how or didn’t have the means. Animals are a great threat to children. Older youth are a different story. The weak among them die quickly, the strong victimize others. They form packs and eventually become like animals themselves.”

Oriana rushed up to Titus.

“She’s having a break-down,” Oriana said. “Come quickly.”

Titus ran off into the cave, Oriana behind him.

When he found her, the woman was foaming at the mouth and shaking violently.

“Bring me my baby, bring me my baby,” she repeated several times.

Oriana looked at Titus.

“Help her!” Oriana said.

Titus shook his head.

“There’s no way to help her,” Titus said. “She either survives on her own or she doesn’t survive. We have no medical help.”

“But you could save her,” Oriana whispered. “You’re a god.”

“I have saved her,” he replied. “Now she must try to save herself.”

The woman’s eyes opened wide, she gasped, liquid and foam spewed from her mouth, then her body went limp.

Oriana pulled the eyelids down over the woman’s eyes.

“She was healthy, she could’ve made it,” Oriana said. “Why?”

“To live without her child…or the possibility her child was alive…was too much.”

Titus placed a scarf over her face.

“It was her choice,” he said quietly.

They stood over her without speaking, staring at her form and thinking the same thought: They had spoken to her a minute ago. She had talked. She was well.

“After we burn her,” Oriana said, “let’s get away from here. This is a place of death. That was the fourth. I don’t care how cold it is.”

“Check on the hives again,” Titus said. “Without them, every place will be death.”

 

27

 

When they arrived at the Medical Center, they lifted Titus up from the floor of the van, gave him a mask and gloves, and brought him to the twentieth floor. Another group ushered him into a room full of giant floor-to-ceiling cylindrical air purifying machines quietly humming. They glistened so much they would force anyone who looked at them to turn away from the glare. He squeezed around and by the machines to reach the chairs. No chair faced any other chair, so no one could see the reaction of anyone else. It was as if each was hiding from the other.

Many rooms in the Medical Center were filled with similar machines. No patient could be treated without them. In some rooms, the machines blocked viewing the bed of the patient. Alone in one room the machines were almost inaudible but combined with others in every room the hospital sounded like a murmuring person with dementia.

He sat down, visible to the four guns pointing at him from outside the room, though he was unable to see anyone else.

Two women and one man entered the room and sat in chairs around the room, all wearing masks and eye coverings. They identified themselves for privacy as Med1, Med2, and Med3.

“Where have you taken the boys?” Med1 said.

Titus did not answer.

“We know you have countless families and young boys. We want you to bring all the boys to us or we will be forced to invade your complex.”

Again, Titus remained silent.

“Answer us!” Med2 said.

“We know you have them because one of the men in interrogation told us,” Med3 said.

“Why are you so stubborn?” Med1 asked. “Without these boys and men, humanity will die out. We’re trying to save our species. What is more important? Your revolution or evolution?”

Titus stood up. The guards with guns entered the room and told him to return to his seat. Titus did not. They warned him again to sit down or they would injure him. Titus walked toward the guns. He grabbed a hold of the gun barrels and turned them away. One of the gunmen put the gun aside and grabbed Titus from behind. Titus swiveled around and released the gunman’s hold. The gunman swung at him and missed. The other gunmen came to assist. Titus moved toward the elevator and pressed the button. By then, the four gunmen subdued and dragged him back into the room. They handcuffed him to the chair. Titus could have resisted and succeeded, but he would need to use skills that would astonish his captors and raise more questions.

“We know what you’re thinking,” Med2 said. “You’re thinking we won’t attack. But this is a crisis of life and death. We need fertile men. We will come and we will take the people one by one and interrogate them until they tell us. Is that what you want?”

Again Titus didn’t speak.

“What do you want?” Med3 asked. “We need males. You keep finding them. Is it our fault that this has happened? The Regime Council is responsible. They left us with this disaster. Now we must survive. I sometimes think you don’t understand. If we don’t find fertile men, there’ll be no men in the next generation, which means the species will die. The sperm of most men is poison and destroys the eggs, we don’t know why, as if it comes from another species or alien. We don’t understand why. Our women are producing only female. And the females are also mutant. We’ve tried to fabricate sperm. We’ve failed. Our synthetic sperm have poor mobility. We have tried lab reproduction, but without success. The radiation, the environment, or something has damaged the male DNA. The situation is getting worse.

“There! If you didn’t know before, you know now. You have it! You know everything. Now help us.”

“Oh no,” Med1 said. “He doesn’t know everything. There’s more. We have no governing body and few services. Most of our businesses are gone. We, the senior medical staff, and the Arbiters, are the only authorities. The streets are bare, there’s no activity and life to our society because of the damages of the Regime Council who preceded us. What we did have, riots have taken.”

“Help us,” Med2 said.

“I will repeat what I’ve said before,” Titus finally spoke. “I will help if you release your authority and let my group finish the revolution.”

They went outside the room and conferred. In a few minutes, they returned.

“You have a solution?” Med3 asked.

Titus nodded.

“If you have a solution, the Arbiters will gladly relinquish control. They have no interest in running this or any society. They’re scientists, not governors. They never expected this when they defeated the Regime and its Council. We simply wanted the horrors to end.”

Titus noted the handcuffs.

A gunman came and uncuffed him.

Titus stood up and said,

“As I’ve said to you before on several occasions, boys and men won’t help, no matter how many you use as guinea pigs. The answer is in what’s causing these mutations or defects. You must attack the cause.”

“We don’t have time for that!” Med1 yelled. “It could be a hundred different things.”

“Do you have any functioning land lines?” Titus asked, ignoring the frustrated Med1.

They pointed to a phone at a reception desk. Titus called Oriana and told her the news.

Titus walked to the elevator and pressed the button.

“Two things,” Titus said, “both of which the revolutionary committee will fix. In a few years, you’ll see a difference. When I return, we shall begin…together.”


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