After nearly an hour waiting, the door opened again and a man and a woman entered. As she had waited, Kiri had at first grown anxious then restless then anxious again. After ten minutes she had tried the door but found to her horror it was locked.
More than anything she had been dreading who would open the door, dreading that she was going to be interrogated by Adils, but now as she watched the two strangers sitting in front of her she felt reassured.
They were older than her certainly but they looked more like majors than the smooth-faced man. She guessed they were both approaching eighteen. The woman had a notepad and the man carried a computer tablet.
‘We have to ask you a few questions. Do you know Mark Stabislot?’ the woman said.
Mark’s surname threw Kiri for a moment and she stared blankly at the woman. Nobody used second names. Most people didn’t know their own second name. Kiri had never really understood the point of them. Why have a second name when you already had a name?
The tutorial vids at school explained that it was a way for people to remember their ‘parentage’ but this had never made sense to Kiri. When middleagers mentored or helped out with the younger children they were never their own biological children. Newborns were sent straight to automated nurseries so nobody ever knew anything about their parents. What good was a surname be to remember them by?
‘Yes, I mean I think so. He’s my neighbour,’ Kiri replied trying not to let any emotion show.
‘And did you see him today?’
‘Yes I…’ Kiri’s memory flew back to their morning embrace and the previous night. It seemed so long ago they had been in each other’s arms. ‘I saw him earlier. Is he here?’
Neither of her interrogators said anything but the man in front of her flinched and looked at the woman as if to ask her a question.
‘What were you doing with him at the Civic facility this afternoon?’ the woman did her best to force a smile onto her face but she had hard, icy sort of features that didn’t lend themselves to friendliness.
‘We were…’ Kiri paused, unsure how much they knew already. She was starting to think they didn’t have Mark, didn’t actually have anything. ‘…visiting a friend.’
‘I see,’ the man looked down at his tablet. ‘And who was that friend.’
‘Jed,’ Kiri replied. She wished she knew his surname as well to make it sound more official as if they had been in the building on official business.
‘Yes, I don’t know, I guess so.’
‘And why did you visit Jed today?’
‘It was my idea,’ Kiri said suddenly eager to distance Mark from this investigation. ‘I wanted to see Jed again. Mark introduced me to him a while ago and we were in the area so I wanted to meet up again.’
The woman made a note in her pad. Kiri started to wish she had never started this conversation. Jed was obviously working on their side so of course they already knew why Mark and her had visited the facility earlier.
Jed already knew more than enough and if they checked the files it would probably be easy enough to piece together what they were investigating.
‘And would you say you were good friends with Jed Lancaster?’ the woman continued.
‘I… no not really. Like I said I only just met him really. I just thought it would be fun to drop in and see him, we were not close.’
‘Not close,’ the man echoed staring at his screen.
‘And how would describe your relationship with Mark Stabislot?’ the woman asked in a tone that, aside from the circumstances, Kiri would have taken as friendly.
‘Mark… well he is my neighbour,’ Kiri felt even more evasive. Surely they didn’t know about her and Mark. They had only got together the night before. But then Civic Management had access to the control centres that ran everything, who knew what they were capable of finding out.
’Do you go ‘for coffee’ with all your neighbours?’ the man asked, a lewd smile on his face.
’I’ve only just moved in,’Kiri retorted, starting to get annoyed at the direction the questions were taking.
With a solemn look the woman put her pad of paper on the table and leaned in towards Kiri.
‘Look, we know why you were in Record Management and that’s fine, those records are public property, you are perfectly entitled to look at them,’ the woman smiled sympathetically at Kiri. ’We just wanted to know why you were looking at them?’
‘Me?’ Kiri was confused. Were they interested in Mark or her?
‘Yes you. When did you decide you wanted to find out about these facilities?’
‘I don’t know, I’m studying. I thought the files would be useful. Mark agreed to come along with me.’
‘And why those specific files? They are nothing to do with your studies are they?’
The man eyed her steadily and Kiri suddenly felt uncomfortable under his gaze. It was as if he were able to undress her and see deep inside her soul, to uncover not only her secret feelings for Mark but even more buried truths that were hidden even to her.
Kiri could think of no answer to the man’s question and simply opened and shut her mouth dumbly.
She was finally saved from answering when the man’s phone rang.
Fishing it out of his pocket he brought it to his ear.
‘Yes… Completely?... yes, certainly.’
He hung up and fixed his eyes on Kiri again.
‘That’s the end of our questions.’
He seemed agitated by the phone call and hurriedly tidied up his papers. Kiri felt panic rising in her chest again. What did that mean? They had only just started questioning her and she had barely even answered those questions. Surely this was some trick. What else did they have in store for her?
‘You are free to go,’ the woman said with the same sympathetic smile as before.
The man and woman both stood up and indicated the door to Kiri.
‘We’ll show you the way back out.’ they said, almost in unison.
Kiri followed them out into the hall and along the corridor in the opposite direction from which she had come. After about a minute they reached another hallway where five metal lift doors stood side by side. The man walked ahead to the closest one and pressed the call button.
A light lit up above the button and Kiri heard the lift mechanism whirr into action deep inside the shaft but, whereas the lift that took her down had appeared almost instantaneously, this one seemed to take an eternity to appear.
The man and woman both avoided eye contact as they waited and when the lift did finally appear they simply marched inside without a word leaving Kiri alone for a moment on the landing. Eager to escape the building she followed them in and the lift bore the three of them upwards, back towards the surface.
When the doors opened Kiri saw that she was on the far side of an empty reception area. The man and woman both nodded to her and as soon as she stepped out, the lift doors closed, presumably taking them back into the bowels of the facility.
Outside, Kiri blinked. She was not outside the Civic building as she had first imagined but in some unfamiliar part of town. Although it was very late by then, and the sky above was pitch black, the street lights kept the place lit up as bright, if not brighter, than during the day.
She had felt a real terror in there and now unable to control her emotions, tears flood down her cheeks as a sadness welled up inside her and gushed out. She didn’t know quite how to explain it but it had something to do with the idea that Mark might be lost to her or that she might be lost to him. The moments they had shared the night before and that afternoon had already passed and now she realised she might never have the feeling of that moment again.
Even if she returned home and found him there, relaxed, how could they be happy when both of them knew there were only a finite number of seconds left to either of them. Only a finite number of moments before everyone unwound.
It was a full ten minutes before Kiri felt able to pull herself together. Although she had a gnawing desire to return home and find out if Mark was there another part of her felt indignant, angry at being made to feel a pushover.
She tried his phone but there was still no response. She was scared in case she discovered his apartment empty when she got back. Scrolling through her recent contacts Ben’s name caught her eye and she tried his number.
‘Hello gorgeous.’ Ben’s face flickered into focus on the screen of her phone.
‘Ben, thank god.’ Kiri felt reassured to see his face squinting her from the screen. ‘Can you meet me, now?’
‘Sure,’ Ben smiled sardonically. ‘Not like I’m doing anything important myself.’
‘I’m serious, Ben. I don’t know what to do.’
Sensing Kiri’s tone, Ben straightened up in front of his camera, peering closer as if to get a better look at Kiri’s face.
‘Sure, are you ok? I’ll come straight away. Where are you?’
‘I don’t know somewhere near Brookfel. I’ll check the address and message you. Just come ok?’ Kiri could feel the tears welling up inside her again.
‘Yeah just stay tight ok? I can be there in 20 minutes. Are you ok?’
‘Yes I’m ok. Thanks Ben.’
The traffic must have been light as he arrived after only fifteen minutes.
‘What happened, K?’ Ben asked, putting his hand on her upper arm and sitting down next to her on the bench.
Seeing Ben’s friendly face so close and feeling his grip on her arm she suddenly couldn’t find the words to explain what she had been feeling. Only moments before, while on her own, the feelings inside of her had been so real and heavy, something that coloured everything else in the world.
The cars, the bench, the buildings, the birds flocking up above had all seemed part of some sad, timeless feeling which had invaded her. She had felt as if a tumult of words were ready to power out of her, ready to burst out asking the sky itself why it was all so unfair.
Her tears were still wet on her cheeks but now, looking at Ben’s concerned, sympathetic face, peering at her she found that her words had evaporated. The idea remained but she didn’t feel it anymore. It seemed stupid now to say these things out loud.
It was stupid to get upset, in the middle of the street, about something you could do nothing to change. If she only had a limited number of moments left then surely it was even worse to spend some of them crying about the way the world was.
‘I think I’m in trouble,’ Kiri did her best to force a smile, though the muscles of her face were still locked in the shape of a sob.
‘In trouble?’ Ben looked shocked. ‘What do you mean? Trouble?’
‘I don’t know, we didn’t even do anything.’ Kiri felt her emotions rising to the surface again but now the logical part of her brain was kicking in as well. Whatever this was that she and Mark had got themselves into there had to be a solution.
Ben looked confused.
‘Is this about last night? Where did you go after the bar.’
In a flash, Kiri snapped back into her old self. Of course, it had been only last night that she had been out with Ben. The day felt like a dream to her. Less than 24 hours before she had been plain old Kiri and now she had slept with Mark, sneaked into the record archives to study the GAAP files and been questioned by Civic Management.
Looking back now it seemed obvious to her that her ‘arrest’ and the bizarre questioning must be linked in some way to whatever they believed that she and Mark had discovered.
‘No, no its nothing to do with that. I was with Mark...’ Kiri felt she should explain more to Ben but pressed on anyway. ‘… we were studying some files in the Civic building earlier. I think they thought we had discovered something so they pulled me in to question me.’
‘I see,’ Ben said slowly,’ and why were you studying files in the Civic building?’
‘Mark has a theory, well its not even a theory really, just an idea, we wanted to find out a bit more so we arranged to go into the file room.’
‘So you’re getting friendly with Mark?’
Kiri felt a red blush fill her face. Had Ben already read everything in her eyes? He was her oldest friend but suddenly she was tongue-tied.
‘Yes, he lives…he’s just across the hall from me,’ she said, sensing the instant the words came out of her mouth how stupid and defensive they sounded.
Ben dropped his hand from her shoulder his mouth forming an ‘o’ shape.
‘Oh My God!’ he clasped his hand to his mouth. ‘That’s where you went after the bar?’
Kiri felt her face start to glow red-hot.
‘You did! Mark! Oh My God.’ Ben’s eyed twinkled and Kiri felt the blood flow in her cheeks return to normal.
‘I couldn’t get in the door, he helped me…’
‘I bet he did,’ Ben let out a loud laugh. ‘Go girl. Tell me everything.’
‘No it wasn’t… he didn’t… I mean,’ Kiri felt embarrassed, it felt wrong somehow to tell Ben details about the private connection she had shared with Mark. At the same time she felt confused and angry with Mark for leaving her. She didn’t need him anyway.
‘Don’t worry K I can use my imagination,’ Ben winked at her. ‘Wont be the first time.’
‘You’re not upset are you?’ Kiri asked.
‘Get out of here,’ Ben smiled. ‘I’m happy for you. Its obvious Mark was into you, it’s been obvious for ages.’
Kiri wondered if that was true. Had Ben spoken to Mark? There were so many feelings and ideas buzzing just below the surface that she felt she might explode. The happiness she felt when she thought of Mark or looked at Ben was almost exactly balanced by a nebulous fear that seemed to permeate her thoughts the instant she was alone.
‘And did you find something?’
‘When you were looking at the old records? Did you find anything?’
Ben seemed to have forgotten the gossip for the moment and peered at Kiri intently.
‘Nothing definite but we might be on to something.’
Slowly she started to explain the basis of Mark’s theory and their investigations in the Civic building. How there might be more GAAPs than anyone thought. That it might be possible to evade unwinding.
Although she and Mark had spent most of the day discussing the same ideas and only a few hours earlier she had been completely convinced, as she spoke she was aware that she was on the verge of sounding like a crazy person.
These conspiracies were the sort of thing you only saw or heard about on vid screens. The idea that the world where the Adils lived might be anything other than fictional was as cracked as trying to convince someone that unicorns were real and frolicked around in a field on the edge of town.
Any sane person would surely realise how silly it sounded, would laugh at the idea or tell you to stop talking rubbish, but, Ben didn’t laugh or tell her to stop, perhaps because he was her friend, he merely nodded as if mulling over an interesting flavour.
As she described Mark’s idea that unwinding itself might not be natural, that people might be capable of living longer lives, living in a completely different way Ben didn’t say a word but slowly the half-grin that otherwise seemed to hover permanently on his lips disappeared, replaced by a look of serious concentration.
‘I’m not saying it doesn’t sound mad, cause it does, but you could be on to something you know,’ Ben spoke in a whisper and Kiri realised she too had subconsciously been whispering as well. ‘I don’t know why anyone would want to cover it up but from what you say something sounds suspicious.’
‘I think we need to go to Cyness.’ As a wave of sleepiness hit Kiri as she suddenly realised with crystal clarity that a visit to the facility was probably the only way open to them now to uncover the real truth.
A return to the record management archives seemed highly unlikely after her interrogation earlier and from the little they had uncovered Cyness seemed to be the best bet if they wanted to understand what was really happening.
Ben called a car and within moments a luxurious vehicle pulled up at the kerb and they both bundled inside. Kiri was glad to have Ben there with her as they moved through the bright night-time streets. For a couple of blocks neither of them said anything.
As they sped through the night-time streets of the city, heading back towards her apartment, Kiri huddled closer to Ben, pleased to feel the warmth of his body beside her. It had been such a long day but already she knew the events of the previous 24 hours had changed her life.
The rocking motion of the car made her head feel heavy and as she let her body fall against Ben’s shoulder, dreams of far-off places engulfed her.