When the name Kenz Bradbury popped up on my screen, I glanced around to see if anything incriminating was in view of the pickup, then took a few deep, calming breaths and punched the button to accept the call.
“Mr. Smith, how delightful to see you again,” she smiled. Her face was unreadable, her eyes pools of dark brown on the old monitor.
I cleared my throat, “Uh, thank you, Ms. Bradbury, the feeling is mutual. Please call me John.” I tried to grin, but my face felt like it came across more like a grimace. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?”
Bradbury blushed, lowering her eyes for a split second. I saw her straighten her shoulders. “If we are to be on a first name basis, you should call me Kenz.” She inhaled sharply. Was she as nervous as I was? She continued, “I just wanted to ask how your granddaughter was enjoying the books I picked out for her.”
I did not relax. She could have seen through the ruse. I replied guardedly, “She loved them. We have already read each one twice and some three times,” I replied, pausing for breath. “She wants more. Would it be possible for you to help me pick out some new ones?” I mentally crossed my fingers. It was a good sign that Bradbury had called me, and I didn’t expect her to say anything remotely related to what we had discussed at The Library, and the suspense was killing me. I had to wait for her to make the next move.
“Oh, yes, Mr. Sm…uh, John. As a matter of fact, I have taken the liberty of choosing a few more she might like. Could you come to The Library tomorrow? Perhaps just before five?” I saw her hold her breath for a second, then plunge on as if she had made a monumental decision. “I get off duty then and thought it might be nice to chat more about your granddaughter and her taste in stories.”
I feared a trap, but then recalled what Jones had said about risks and decided to go for it. Not on her terms, though. “I have a better idea, Kenz. Instead of meeting you inside The Library, why don’t you meet me at the little park where we first met? The weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow, so perhaps we could take a drive in the country.”
I could tell that she was weighing the idea. I knew that high ranking Librarians carried much in the way of personal security, so she would have no reason to feel unsafe. Unless her intentions were to arrest me. I had secrets she knew nothing about. “Very well, John, a drive in the country sounds pleasant. I will meet you at five thirty at the park.”
Waiting was hard, but the time finally passed. During the afternoon the next day I had a video conference with Jones and a couple of other trusted people from The Movement. We talked about risks and rewards. I knew that while we all shared some of the risk, I was the one who had chosen to put myself in peril. I hoped it did not blow up in my face. The thought crossed my mind that Ms. Bradbury might feel that she was the one at risk. Who was playing whom?
Bradbury arrived promptly with a stack of books under her arm. I led her to my car and settled her into the passenger seat. As we merged into the late afternoon freeway traffic, I quipped, “I miss the days when most of the traffic was in the sky.” It seemed an innocuous statement.
Kenz raised an eyebrow, “Indeed, John. Traffic is terrible, almost as bad as my grandfather said it was in his day. Was your car one that would fly?”
I nodded, “Yes. When the computer guidance system failed, I was forced back to the ground. I’m not one of the lucky ones who learned how to fly without computer assistance. So, I’m stuck in traffic.” I hoped my statement would give her the opening she needed.
Kenz tapped a button on her cloak, “Now that we are away from The Library, I can use the Zone of Silence for longer periods without fearing that it will trigger alarms. I frequently do so when I am off duty.”
I nodded but held my silence. This was her stage, and she had to make the first move. I was prepared to take some risks, but she would have to open the door. I guided my aging car off the crowded freeway just beyond the edge of town and turned onto a road that had little traffic. A few signs of early spring were beginning to show; a few leaves daring to peek their heads out on bare limbs.
“I want to know more,” Kenz said, her voice almost a whisper in spite of the Zone of Silence. I wished I could tell her that my car was quite well warded already, but I didn’t dare. Not yet. She took a handheld computer from the pocket of her cloak and tapped it to activate. She cursed under her breath and tried again, then finally gave it a sharp whack and grunted as the screen lit up. I almost laughed. “John, I did what you suggested. I looked up the history of innovation and cross referenced it to years of publication of different genres of literature.”
I glanced over at her and saw that her knuckles were white from gripping her computer. “And?” I asked innocently.
“Okay, you made some bold statements, but the facts seem to back you up. The years of greatest innovation seemed to take place while science fiction and fantasy books were at their most popular.” She fell silent for a couple of miles, then continued, her voice stronger. “How can that be? I was taught, the whole world was taught that science fiction was nothing but a distraction. We were taught that it made people forget about the real world, so creativity declined. Now I think that was all lies.”
The road I was driving had narrowed to the point where it was only two lanes with no painted line in the middle. I was going slowly, so I took a few seconds to look over at Kenz. She was sitting with her hands clenched around her computer, a forlorn, lost look on her face. She was almost ready. I blew out a breath, “There is more. I can show you much more. I can show you about very specific technologies that were in common use a generation ago and are no longer used.”
“But why?” Kenz cried. “Why? What purpose could there be for suppressing innovation? I can understand that there is little in the way of new things being designed now, and I get how we don’t even have the ability to maintain what we used to have. Transportation. When I was a little girl, cars still flew. Our computer network is practically useless even for a Librarian.” She waved her computer at me and I ducked, afraid that she would hit me with it. “Why? Why?”
I shrugged, “The reason is the same as for almost any other question. Money. Money and power.”
“Explain,” Kenz spat, “Who benefits?
“The ones who make and sell gadgets such as the one you are brandishing like a weapon,” I chuckled.
Kenz reddened and put the computer back in her pocket. “Sorry. I’m just so damned angry and confused.” She looked at me intensely, so I steered the car to the side of the road and stopped.
I turned off the engine and swiveled in my seat until I was mostly facing her. “It can be confusing and a lot of people are as angry as you are. What you have to understand is that the ones with the power to control the big things in society are not the kind who spend much time thinking about the future of the human race. They are all about squeezing the most profit out of their business as possible then cashing out. The bottom line is that once they corner the market on something, they don’t want new ideas or competition.”
It was time to take the risk. I could tell that she was more than interested, she was hooked. Now it was time to reel her in. I inhaled, “I can show you. I can prove it to you.” I saw her eyes widen as her mind began to race, so I plunged on. “More than that, I can show you that innovation has not stopped. If you are willing to come to my home, I can introduce you to gadgets that do not exist in your world.” I could see her hesitate and tried to look innocent. “I promise that you will be safe and I will return you to the city in the same condition in which you left.” Now it was time to hold my breath.
Kenz finally nodded. “I asked you to teach me, I suppose it would be foolish to refuse and back away now.”
I grinned and reached for the keys, but heard a noise outside my window. I froze. A shadowy form appeared in the corner of my eye and I could see another approaching Kenz’s side of the car. I heard the ka-chunk of a large weapon being cocked and a voice rang out, “Don’t move! Keep your hands in sight and don’t move, don’t even breathe.”