Twenty eighty ended and twenty eight one began without fanfare or celebration. Alcohol had been a crutch of the old world that had a corrupting effect on the citizens of the New World. It had been abolished. To avoid a repeat of the failed Probation Amendment in America, the Fuller Life Serum included a genetic alteration that caused severe sickness if alcohol is consumed. In most cases the night of the old year and the morning of the New Year came and went as did all others. A few people would sit up and watch the clock on the wall as the second hand ticked off the last of the old and welcomed in the new. William was no different than most, he went to bed at ten thirty and awoke at seven; it was just another day with a new four digit number at the end. In many ways his decision to assist the Committee had benefited him. Since Jim and Jennifer had been deemed traitors to the state he had been assigned to their old apartment and was now living in luxury. That luxury being Jim’s old apartment gave William a sense of justice for the time he spent in the Fuller Incentive Center. He was owed this, he had earned it, and he was entitled to have it. On the first day of the new year he was to attend a meeting at the Barns Firm. He had bought a new dark black suit, black leather shoes and dark glasses. Even if it turned out to be overcast, he intended to wear the glasses. A sporting James Bond look he thought to himself as he adjusted his black tie.
After one last inspection in the hallway mirror William exited the apartment and walked down the gentle curved slope to the ground floor. Once on the sidewalk he turned left and started walking toward downtown. The morning mist still hung low over Fuller City so it was difficult to determine if it was overcast or misty fog, William was hoping for the latter. The walkway had been cleared of snow; those who owned a house or business that edged a walkway were accountable for keeping it clear of all debris, snow, ice, leaves, anything that might happen to be an obstacle. The closer he got to The Barns Firm the suns appearance grew brighter. The grayness was in fact a heavy winter mist. The sky was clearing, the sun was shining, and William had on his new black Bond suit and was on his way to a meeting at the Barns Firm. It was looking as if taking the agreement was turning out to be the best decision he had ever made. He was free from working within The Incentive Center or The Education Centers, but instead he was working with the Committee that controlled everything. Somehow William had made it to the top of the New World.
He passed the Barns Firm by thirty feet before he realized it; he had been lost in a daydream fantasy. He had ‘removed’ Toby, Nick and the entire Committee from power and he himself now held total control of the entire world’s population. William had, in his mind, become a worldwide dictator; a smile etched his face, much like the last President of the United States before The Transition. After President Jefferson was assassinated and before The Transition started the WMC had the Speaker of the House sworn in as the new President. President Turner had pledged his total allegiance to Toby and the committee, however after taking office he instead ran the White House with his own dictatorial agenda.
When the fog in his mind cleared he turned around and within a few steps was standing before the huge, massive, wooden doors that separated the Committee inside the Barns Firm from the rest of the world. He approached the doors with a brisk walk and then suddenly came to an abrupt halt. He stood motionless before the doors, waiting, nothing happened. He took a few steps back and approached the doors again, nothing. Puzzlement shrouded his face, as a test he reached out and grasped one of the two large gothic handles and pulled, the door moved. He raised his eyebrows in disbelief and then pulled the door open. Stepping inside he turned to watch as the door closed hard and with a thud. He was astonished that the committee had not installed an auto door on their building. He turned around and found himself standing in a vast open lobby that by appearance had transported him back to the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, it was grand in appearance. He gingerly stepped forward on the marble floor, in his mind he was fearful that he might break something just by being in the room. He approached the chest high oak reception desk and cleared his throat.
“I’m aware you are there Mr. Couch; please give me a moment.” A voice uttered. He tiptoed trying to peer over the counter to see who the voice belonged to, but still saw nothing. “Yes ma’ma.”
William stuck his hands in his front pockets and started to pivot back in forth from the ball of his foot to this heal. He spun around and looked up at the ceiling, which someone had hand painted. The scene depicted a sick and crippled child reaching out to the hand of a man, a man that was bigger than he should have been in proportion to the child and the man was reaching down from the clouds. In the hand of the man was a tube that contained a red liquid and he was handing it to the boy, a depiction of the Committee’s ability to save the future of all mankind. William took in the painting and its godlike meaning, he was already aware of the self-image of the Committee and the painting was not unexpected.
“Mr. Couch!” The female voice spoke again.
“Yes! Sorry, I was just admiring the painting.” William quickly spun back around to face the chest high counter and at the same time removing his hands from his pockets.
“Mr. Barns will see you now; this attendant will escort you up.”
A young man, perhaps in his forties but by looks could be taken for sixteen, walked around from the left side of the counter. He was dressed in a two piece black suit, with black shoes and a black tie. He spoke not a word but gestured with his right hand, indicating to William in which direction to walk. The two approached an elevator, the doors of which were wooden and like the ceiling depicted a scene in similar context. They stood before the doors waiting for the elevator to arrive.
“So – how long have you been working for the Firm?” William asked.
The young man turned to William and simply raised his eyebrows, saying nothing in return. William turned his gaze back to the doors and resume waiting. When at last the elevator arrived the young man extended his arm, indicating for William to enter, he did so, taking a few steps in and then turning to face the doors. The young man then entered and pushed the B4 button. The Barns Firm had four floors above and four floors below. William cocked on eyebrow, he had assumed they would go to the fourth floor, to Nick’s office, but instead they were going four floors below the surface of the Earth. A wave of worry washed through his thoughts, but then he had no need to worry. When the doors parted the young man again extended his arm and William exited the elevator, to be followed by his escort. The young man cut a path in front of William and led him down the ancient hallway. As with the rest of the décor of the building, the sub-floors retained the vintage look of the late 1800’s. Heavy use of wood on the walls, marble flooring, and high mural painted ceilings with long chandlers hanging every few feet. Its design was met to humble all who entered, and William felt humbled.
After a few disorientating turns the young escort stopped before two large wooden doors, pressed a small button and waited. After a few minutes the doors opened of their own accord and the young man extended his arm indicating that William should enter, however this time the escort did not follow. Once William had taken a few steps forward the large doors gently closed behind him. William felt the palms of his hands grow moist and clammy, his heart rate increased, and he could hear the pounding of his heart in his ears.
“No need to feel stressed William; we’re all friends here now.” It was the voice of Nick.
“Thank you Mr. Barns.”
“No, none of that, Nick will do.”
“Yes sir. Yes I am nervous, a few weeks in the Incentive Center will do that to anyone.”
“Well it’s good that you have learned respect.” Nick said.
“And appreciation.” Toby added.
“Yes, both and more.” William said.
“Well then, that’s good enough for me. Here, sit here.” Toby gestured to a large oversized cushioned chair. Four of them were placed squared on a large oriental rug and in the center of the square was a large cherry table. William took the chair gestured to, Toby sat next to him, Nick across and Daniel took the forth. From the opposite side of the room a door opened and in walked the young escort that brought William down to B4. But he was no longer an escort he was now acting as a server. He approached each of the four men in turn from behind and on their right side, offering them a serum laced glass of juice or water. He approached William last and William took the juice.
“William; we do want to express our thanks for changing your mind. We are aware that when Bo and Jim took you, you had had your fill of working for us. We now understand the toll it took on you, and why you helped them. We did not want to place you in an Incentive Center, but we felt if you were on the receiving end of something you knew well, well you might just decide that working for us was better than being part of our work.” Nick said.
“I was tired of the work, it wore on me. I understand the importance of the work, but tearing apart the genetic lives of all those children, well after a while it got confusing. Yes we need the serum, but at the cost of lives? Although I knew eighty percent of the children will be a productive part of society, twenty percent were going to end up in an Incentive Center and all because of some minor genetic flaw we have yet to repair. Twenty kids out of every one hundred that I worked with are either dead or brain damaged. It takes its toll.” William said.
“As Toby said we understand that now and we have already implemented changes and are introducing rotations in placement and schedules.” Nick said.
“Perhaps the solution is altering the genetics of empathy and to create a workforce that does not care what the final effect is on the children?” Daniel said
The three other men looked at Daniel in disbelief and William added a look of shock.
“I don’t think that is the solution Daniel. If we create a workforce that does not care about the children then in turn they will not care about the serum. Now back to the matter at hand.” Toby turned his attention back to William. “We know that when the four left the book store they did not leave together. We know Jim and Jennifer left first and then exited town to the east and a few minutes after they left the store Bo and Nancy left heading west. What we don’t know is where they went after they exited Fuller City.”
William was now confused and his face and demeanor showed that confusion. He looked at the design of the rug attempting to understand the statement made by Toby. The Committee knows everything, noting escapes their notice. How could they not know where the four of them went?
“You’re confused William?” Nick asked.
“Yes.” William swallowed hard. If he asked and was not given an answer he would remain in a vulnerable situation, if he got the answer he expected, then the Committee was not all powerful, all knowing.
“Ask your question William.” Daniel leaned forward in his chair as if pushing William into asking.
“Well, how could you not know? The Committee knows everything. The Central System is monitoring everyone all the time. You must know where they went?” William forced the question out.
“Even us, with all this technology are still limited. In homes, businesses and about towns, it’s easy to track citizens. With audio and video surveillance equipment we can hear and see in every dark corner, but there is a limit. We are limited on power, even with solar cells, we could place cameras in distant places outside of cities, but then we are limited in transmitting that video feed back and maintaining the equipment.” Toby said.
William was getting answers, but the answers were as confusing as the explanation given that resulted in the answer.
“I still don’t fully get it. In this world, technology had come along way. Can’t you send Wi-Fi up to a satellite and back? Or maybe build several stations that relay the signal? And aren’t people who live in the country responsible for maintaining solar cells, like in the cities?”
William’s questions unnerved the three men of the Committee. Do they expose their weakness, their lack of control to William in hopes of his understanding so in turn they may be able to obtain needed information? Unknown to William he held a greater amount of power at that moment than the entire WMC.
“Truth is William; all things are not as they appear to be.” Daniel stood and walked to wall monitor display and activated it. The screen filled with images outside Fuller City, outside the control of the power of the WMC. “Within the populated areas of the Earth and the suburbs we maintain a firm hand of control. The thought of not having access to the serum helps more distant clusters of people to keep themselves under our authority. But there is a sub-set of people, ones intent to destroy all that we have built who are beyond are control.”
The display showed images of DMZ’s throughout the Earth, several in the New United States. A map, a true map not a propaganda map, showing how divided up the country truly was. Abandoned towns with some areas obviously occupied by people. Old road infrastructures still in use and maintained, vehicles driven by what appears to be construable engines. Homes powered by gas generators, or older, non-monitored solar panels. Then images were displayed of bombed or destroyed sub-stations, smashed and shattered video cameras, rusted out battery vehicles that had the WMC logo on the side. William stood to his feet and slowly walked to the display, hand covered his mouth, holding in a gasp. The images were shocking and not the images of a world of peace and security he was used to seeing on his display in his apartment. These images were of chaos and terror, of hate and revenge.
“Express yourself.” Nick approached William from behind and placed his hand on his shoulder.
William started shaking his head in disbelief, tears forming in his eyes. “I don’t understand. This does not make sense. On the news, it's different, it's not this. This is,...I don’t get it.”
Nick pulled a chair from the conference table that was in front of the display and guided William gently to sit down.
“This is the real world William. We still have a very long way to go and a very difficult fight to bring about total world peace. Out there, on the fringes of society are ones who have rejected the serum. They would rather give birth to defective children; let their bodies and their children be ravaged with diseases and old age. They would rather struggle to survive then live by the rules. They are rebels and they are dangerous. Their ideology is infectious and in many places it is simpler to fence them in and let them die out.” Daniel said.
“But does that make sense? Humans have lived on the Earth for centuries, and done so imperfect and have thrived doing so. What makes you think that they will ‘die off’?” William asked.
“In time, illness, genetic defects and infighting will kill them off. The infighting will take out most.” Daniel said.
“William, we just have to wait them out, give it time. But for the moment we must find Jim and Jennifer, we have to.” Toby said.
“Why? I don’t understand their importance. What makes them so important to the WMC?” William asked.
“They are important to the entire human race, but for now the reasons are not what we need to focus on. We need to focus our energies on finding them and ensuring their safety.” Toby said pulling a chair free from under the table and taking a seat next to William.
Nick and Daniel also took a seat at the table across from William. The three studied their new alliance looking for any hint of betrayal, any sign of fear. William showed none. His stay in the Incentive Center was the long term impression that sealed his fate to the Committee. William would never betray, never again would he turn his back on those that provided his life blood. William released a long sigh and bowed his head, surrendering his being to the three men before him.
“Take a deep breath William; it will all work out in the end. And the nice thing about that, is you and I will be here to live and talk about it, those rebels will long have turned to dust.” Toby said. He patted Williams hand to reassure him.
“So do they have a name?”
“As a whole they refer to themselves as ‘The Grid’. However there are already fractions within their structure. In this country several Native Tribes have formed the Tribal Nations, but under the direction of The Grid. There are similar situations all around the globe. Native persons in many nations have regrouped and at the time are taking direction from The Grid, but we feel that soon will fall apart.” Toby said.
“Sure I can see that happening, but even if it did and they fought each other, many would live.” William said.
“Don’t be so sure about that. Please William; let’s focus on Jim and Jennifer.” Daniel said.
“What am I supposed to know that you don’t already know?”
“Good, now we’re back on track. As was stated, once Bo and Nancy and then Jim and Jennifer exited the city we lost track of them. Now to be honest Central System was not alerted until after they had left the city, so by the time we reviewed the video hours had passed. But for the time disregard Bo and Nancy, we’re interested in Jim and Jennifer.” Nick said.
“Okay, I got that, but again what am I supposed to know.”
“You were in Nancy’s apartment while they were talking and planning. We tore that place apart and can’t find any documents, maps or plans as to their intentions or where they were heading. It's our hope that maybe you overheard something.” Nick said.
“I don’t know. They were focused on my job, what we did with the children and how we obtained the serum. I don’t recall them talking of much else.” William said.
“Okay, that’s okay. By bringing up the why and that your mind is now playing back the events you may just recall something.” Toby said.
“So we just sit here?” William asked.
“No, we want you to recall and retell everything that happened from the moment Bo and Jim took you by force. Just tell us the story as if you were around a camp fire.” Toby said.
William allowed the memories to fill his mind and as they did he included the three men gathered. He told how he was approached outside of the building where he worked and threatened if he did not follow. He did not need the incentive; he was ready and willing to tell someone his story. He was led to the bookstore and once there to the back and up a spiral staircase. Inside the small apartment an area had been set up for questioning him, implements laid out meant to instill fear, but they were not needed as he was willing to talk. But in all the talking, nothing was ever mentioned to him or in their conversations; he heard nothing about their intended plans.
“What about the apartment, or the bookstore, any maps or suggestions of documents?”
Again William drifted back to the dark, dated apartment. This time he walked through it with his eyes, looking and searching. He stopped and turned back to the corner of the kitchen counter. Glasses of ice sat in a row waiting for tea to be poured. He allowed his eyes to follow the line of tea glasses to the backsplash and a stack of papers hastily pushed aside. Writing, colors, crumpled shapes. Green, blue, traces of red, white, an old road map, what was used in the nineteen nineties. William focused his memory on the stack of papers and the old road map; suddenly a burst of sunlight spilled into the room and abruptly closed the memory.
“On the counter was a stack of papers including an old road map, like they used before GPS. I could not see the any defined area on the map but there were parts of two words. The first word was a C-A-B and it continued but I could not make out the rest. Under it was another word, Tasana. That’s all I got.”
“For now, rest and let’s work on what you got.” Toby said to William, he then turned his attention to the other two. “Any ideas?”
“It could be anything; CAB could literally be code for any number of places, and Tasana, well they are part of the Tribal Nations, it could have been the map that Bo and Nancy were to use. It really gives us noting on Jim and Jennifer.” Daniel said.
“Bo and Nancy, Jim or Jennifer, it definitely has to be a map for one of their groups. Tasana can be either east or west, they are mountain ranges on both sides. This is getting us nowhere.” Nick slammed his fist hard on the table causing the others in the room to jump, except Daniel, he looked coldly at Nick.
“I disagree, the information is good, William has given us something to work with whereas we had nothing before. We just need to understand the information for what it means. Understanding lies in knowledge, we need to understand our prey a little better.” Daniel said.
William shifted in his chair an uneasy manner.
"Something else?" Daniel asked.
"Well maybe nothing."
Toby nodded toward William encouraging him to continue.
"If you remember I told you and you saw some of it; they only used older outdated technology. Technology no longer used in the New World. I would think where ever they went and even among the people of The Grid they are doing the same, using old out dated technology. If there was a way to tap into that, to monitor the old tech, you might be able to track them." William said.
Daniel rubbed his hands together and brought them close to his face and stared deep and cold into William. "That is excellent reasoning. I'll see that a team is created and get to analyzing the possibility. Daniel said to Toby.
The men of the Committee stood and waited until William stood as well. Toby gave a verbal command to Central System and a few minutes later the young escort entered, and waited.
“William you’re free to go, and go anywhere you desire. When we need to talk again we will reach out to you, if however anything comes to mind get in touch with one of us as soon as you can. Don’t force yourself to remember, let it happen. Maybe get a tablet and write about the encounter as a story, or record it as a story. But let your memory relax and flow freely.” Toby instructed.
William nodded his head in agreement and followed the young man out and back up to the ground floor. There he was escorted to the two large doors where the attendant opened one.
“Have a good day Mr. Crouch.”
The young man speaking surprised William.
“For a moment I thought you could not speak.”
“I had no need to.”
“Well you have a good day too….I don’t know your name.”
“Well Pelle, thanks for your service and you have a good day as well.”
William stepped out into the early dusk of the evening. He had been in conference for most of the daylight hours and from his point, it was a not so productive days’ work. He saw no useful knowledge in three letters and the word Tasana. William shook his head at his own thoughts. What did Daniel decipher from that small amount of information that he could not? But in the pit of Williams gut he felt a sickening grip. The Committee had complete control of the serum, they had control of the larger part of society, why were they so disparate to retrieve Jim and Jennifer. They were not interested in recapturing Bo and Nancy, their focus was on Jim and Jennifer. William began to recall his early training as a technician in Fuller Labs, his studies in serum history, collection and production. Jim was mentioned, as the founder of Fuller Labs, the creator of the cryogenics systems and the one who stabilized the first version of the serum. William recalled in class asking how Jim could have been that involved when he was placed in cyro in twenty fourteen, but his question was disregarded. In researching it he never found factual information as to Jim’s involvement, just repeated entries as to the discoveries attributed to Jim and his contribution to the serum method. William stopped on the stone pathway and a look of fear washed across his face. The Committee’s interest in Jim and Jennifer took on greater importance when he told them she was pregnant. Was their interest in Jim and Jennifer or in her unborn child? William walked to Fuller Park and sat down on a bench under a tree. He leaned forward placing his head between his knees, sick at the thought. The Committee was not interested in Jim and Jennifer, but they wanted the child in her womb, the unborn Fuller child.
Why William thought, what is the importance of this child? William rose up to take in his surroundings, the evening lights in the park being to flicker on and before him at the base of a statue, lights lit up the figure of a man, the founding father of the New World, the statue of Jim Fuller.