John gone, p.31
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       John Gone, p.31

           Michael Kayatta
 

  Chapter 24

  ONE YEAR LATER:

  A man in a long brown trench coat walked through the rain, a wide-brimmed fedora tilted atop his head, shielding his glasses from the moisture that would blur their lenses. The inclement weather didn’t bother him. In fact, he preferred it. The raindrops weren’t enough to make him feel whole again, but at least they reminded him of something he knew long ago, even if he had yet to find it once more.

  With each left step, the man absently dragged the bottom of his foot across the rough concrete of the sidewalk as he made his way toward the next hostel on his list. The coarse surface of the pavement grated against his well-worn boot. It shook the whole of his leg. It made him feel partially alive again.

  The man stopped and looked up at the small, windowed building with a gray roof in front of him. He read the address on its side: Seepferdchen Str.5. He pulled a small crumbled paper from the breast pocket of his coat and held it in front of his face. Drips from the lip of his hat splashed against the parchment’s surface, bleeding the ink of the black permanent marker that had scrawled it. The addresses matched.

  He reached for the tarnished, silver handle on the door and pulled on it. It wouldn’t open. He lifted his right hand, clad in a tightly fitting black leather glove, and knocked heavily on the door. Eventually, there was an answer.

  A four-foot elderly woman opened the door wearing a black, silken sleeping blindfold pushed above her eyebrows. She reached a finger into one of her eyes and rubbed as she looked at the thin tree of a man standing before her. Slowly, she arched her neck upward to his old, shaggy face.

  “Ich suche eine Frau.” the man said, “Groß, Braunes Haar, Amerikanisch. Ihr Name ist Karen,”

  “Es ist zwei Uhr!” she replied.

  “Die Frau, bitte,” he answered.

  “Es gibt keine Karen hier,” she said, closing the door.

  The man placed a soggy boot between the door and its frame, preventing it from shutting. He removed his hat and placed it underneath his arm.

  “Tulip? Tulpe? Braunes Haar, Amerikanisch,” he tried.

  “Tulpe,” the woman repeated, nodding her head. “Zwei-B,” she said.

  “Herzlichen Dank,” the man said, giving the woman a slight, respectful nod. He pushed the door slowly open and made his way inside.

  The small older woman turned toward the stairs in the back and pointed her finger upward. The man nodded and headed toward them. She stopped him with a touch to his side and moved an upward-pointing finger to her lips. “Shhh,” she said.

  The man nodded again and made his way up the short, creaking wooden stairs. The ceiling above the stairway was low, and the man was forced to duck down to pass beneath it. He found room Zwei-B immediately, the second door from the top of the stairs.

  Quietly, he tried the knob. It was unlocked. He twisted it slowly and pushed the door open, craning his neck around its edge. He looked to the inside of the dormitory. It appeared vacant.

  The man finished opening the door, ignoring the loud creaks of its hinges, and slowly stepped into the room, his boots insufferably sloshing with each step he made. A bed beneath a window was in front of him, unmade and empty. He leaned toward it before feeling a hard metal cylinder press against his spine between his shoulders.

  “Stop,” a woman’s voice whispered. “Tell your partner to head back into the hallway, and close the door.”

  “I don’t have a partner,” the man answered.

  “No use lying,” she said. “I know you always work in twos. Do it now, before I end you.”

  The man turned his head back to face his assailant. Their eyes met, and a loaded gun dropped harmlessly to the floor between them.

  He knew that she must have aged in their time apart, just as he had. He knew that she must be wrinkled and showing grey amidst the chestnut. His brain told him that her skin must have loosened, that her veins must be showing. Thirty years had passed since they’d seen one another, yet he could see nothing but the way she’d looked back then, giggling at his jokes and watching his work with all that amazement and curiosity glimmering in her eyes. All he could see was the girl he’d met by the silo that day in the desert, as beautiful and as radiant as he remembered her to be.

  “Felix,” the woman whispered in shock.

  “Hello, Karen,” he answered, turning his body to face her.

  “How did you find me?” she asked.

  “It took a long time,” he answered, closing the door behind him. “I--”

  Her lips closed on his, immediately interrupting the words he’d been forming. They kissed and spun round toward the bed behind them. Her passion was furious, and Felix did nothing to fight it. Behind them, the rain thundered past the window above the bed, drumming loudly against the hostel’s walls.

  Felix shed his long, wet coat to the floor and found Karen’s soft hands lightly lifting the shirt underneath it from his body soon after. She fell with him to the bed, kicking off the jeans she wore and impatiently fighting the boots from Felix’s feet. She kissed him again, forcing her tongue against his. He cautiously moved his hands down her waist, finding her fingers on top of his soon after, lowering them to below her hips.

  She deftly removed the rest of her clothing while kissing him, trying not to laugh as Felix fumbled with his own. Soon they were naked, and Karen laid on top of him, still pushing her lips against his, her hands sliding manically up and down the sides of his face.

  Felix let his hands explore her and felt his way past each contour of her body. He kissed her mouth, an empty orchard at sunrise. Her tongue rolled past his, a morning tide washing back and forth against the shore. He poured past the atlas of her body, his touch finding peak and dale, verdant and vital. Her body was the entire world to him, his freedom, the sun. One year after reaching the surface, Felix was finally out of the lab.

  As they joined, the room changed and shifted. They were in the leaves beneath the cover of a forest, on the sidewalk behind an auditorium; they were on Linus’ desk, and in a well-furnished elevator dropping downward at two meters per second. And then they were there, in that moment, in that tiny room in Germany. He lifted his lips from her and looked at her face. She looked then as she should have, older, as she was. She was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. For the first time in over thirty years, he knew could live again.

  Hours passed as minutes, then they were still, lying together in each other’s arms, watching the moon glow past the raindrops through the small window in the wall.

  “You found me,” she said.

  “I had to,” he answered.

  “How did you escape?” she asked, taking his arm and embracing it across her chest.

  “I have the Diaspora. The rogue one I gave to you,” he answered. “It’s there in my coat pocket.”

  Karen sat up and looked at him with scientist eyes. “How did you get it? I thought ... ”

  “There was a boy. He found it in the sand on a little island in Florida,” he answered. “Speaking of which, how did it get there?”

  “Florida?” she repeated. “I don’t know. I was living in Corsica when I finally got the watch off. It took me some time before I dared do anything with it. When I first got out of the facility that night, it took me to a small burned house in Massachusetts.”

  “So it’s still there?” he asked, turning onto his side and propping his head up on his arm. “I would have thought they’d rebuild it or knock it down, or do anything with it by now other than leave it a charred mess. That was the house I grew up in. Well, sort of grew up in.”

  “Where were your parents?” she asked.

  “Which ones?” he answered. “My birth parents were gone before my memory starts and my last ones died in that fire you saw the ashes of in Massachusetts when I was ten. That’s why I had the watch set to go there that night. It was the only place I could think to escape to.”

  “I’m sorry,” she said.

  “Don’t. I’m not going t
o mourn the past. Not after today.”

  Karen lay back down on the bed’s uncomfortable mattress. “When I got there, I panicked. I didn’t know if the company would be after me. I never learned how to set coordinates in the watch, so I just changed the time randomly and let myself jump again on a lark. That’s how I ended up in Corsica. I wish I had known the numbers to your lab.”

  He smiled. “I set that code as a special combination. Six o’clock, four minutes, twelve seconds, setting the hands counterclockwise,” he said.

  She thought for a moment. “Six, four, twelve ... no, I get it. Six, three, seventy-two. June 3rd, 1972. The day we met.”

  Felix nodded.

  “Fifteen years ago, there was a knock at my door,” she explained. “I saw two men in suits through the peephole. I don’t know who they were, if they were actually Advocates or not, but I leapt through my back window that day. That’s when I dedicated myself to finding a way to remove the watch from my arm, and six months later, found success.”

  “How did you finally do it?”

  She giggled. “I electrocuted myself with a 1973 Volkswagen car battery while initiating the jump sequence,” she said. “It wasn’t the most elegant solution.”

  “No,” Felix said with a laugh. “But genius in its own right.”

  “Thank you,” she said smiling, bowing her head. “But it had an accidental consequence. I was able to get the watch off my arm, but it jumped anyway. Without me.”

  “When did you say this was?” Felix asked.

  “About fifteen years ago,” Karen said, pulling the sheet over her body and curling into it. “You said a boy found it?” she asked.

  “Yes, but ... ” Felix looked confused and trailed off.

  “Felix?”

  “Yes,” he said, snapping out of it, “but he found it just a year ago. That leaves fourteen years unaccounted for.”

  “Oh, well,” she said, “at least it made its way to you eventually. How did the boy who found the watch find out about you anyway?”

  “There’s a communicator in the device, originally installed for receiving field commands. If you pull the knob one click, it activates the function. I had a holographic imager attached to the computer in my lab.”

  Karen placed a hand over her mouth. “Oh, my God, if I had known!”

  “For awhile I thought you were dead,” he told her. “I thought that’s why I hadn’t heard from you.”

  “I was terrified of the device,” she said, lowering her hand. “I played around with it as little as possible. I was worried that I might accidentally trigger something that would let the company know I was alive, and worse, where to find me.”

  “I understand,” Felix said. “In your situation, I would have done the same.”

  Felix lowered himself onto his back and crossed his arms behind his neck. Karen lifted her head and rested it on his chest.

  “So who is this boy?” she asked.

  “His name is John,” Felix said. He couldn’t contain the sigh that followed.

  “Something wrong?”

  “It’s not something I’m proud of.”

  “What isn’t?”

  “The boy, John, we had to change places for me to leave. The device can’t transport more than one bio-signature. It’s just not possible.”

  “So he’s ... ”

  “Yes.”

  “Oh, my God, Felix. Did he know that was going to happen when he went down there?”

  “He didn’t have a choice. The Diaspora was stuck in some sort of untested introductory user protocol. The taxation on his body was killing him. He had to get it off his wrist, and my lab held the tool.”

  “Surely you could have come up with something,” she said.

  “Maybe I still can. I haven’t forgotten about him.”

  “How long has it been?”

  “About a year now,” Felix said. “That’s how long I’ve been searching for you. I haven’t tried to build another device, not that I’m even sure I could. I’ve just been looking everywhere for you instead. I had to find you, Karen. This is how it had to be to make that happen.”

  “But that’s terrible,” she said, lifting her head from his body and looking at him with two familiarly sad eyes.

  “What was I supposed to do? It was he or I being stuck down there. Surely you can understand.”

  “I do,” she said softly. “But now that you’ve found me, you’ll devote your time to freeing him?”

  “Soon,” he said, lifting her hand and kissing it. “First, there’s one more item on the list.”

  “What’s that?” Karen asked.

  “Revenge, to put it bluntly,” he answered. “I have to make the company pay for what they’ve done to you, to me, even to John. We have to stop everything, stop the predator from luring any additional minds to its lair. Stop it from ruining anyone else’s life.”

  “I’m sure it was a difficult decision,” she said, trailing off. “You’ve left a kid down there.”

  “You’re not angry, are you? I thought you’d understand.”

  “You were right, I actually do understand,” she said. “I understand completely.”

  “We’ve got to consider the greater good,” he told her.

  “That’s what they told me, too,” she said quietly.

  Felix couldn’t hear the soft words. “What?” he asked, turning his face toward hers.

  “Nothing.” She took his face with both hands and drew it in close to her own. She kissed him, leaving her lips pressed against his for a long time. Eventually she moved back and looked into his eyes.

  “This is a terrible love story,” she said to him. “If you think about it, we barely even know each other.”

  “And yet, you’re all I’ve thought about for more than half of my life,” he answered.

  “You’re all I’ve thought about, too,” she said. “And as if by some strange miracle, now you’re here.”

  “What do we do now?”

  “Let’s talk about it in the morning.”

  Karen wrapped his arm around her body and pushed in close to him. She closed her eyes. Felix lay behind her, staying awake for an hour more, looking at the back of her head and listening to her breathe.

  He thought about her words and about that dumb kid he stranded in his laboratory. Each time he’d thought about contacting him through the watch or visiting, he’d decided to wait just a little while longer, feeling too guilty to see the boy’s face or hear his voice. Felix had been sure that the guilt would fade with time; he’d been sure, and waiting, for a year now.

  None of that matters, he thought, looking down at Karen as she slept. I’ve found her. That’s all I ever wanted. Slowly, Felix drifted off to sleep.

  The next morning he woke to find a pillow beneath his arm where Karen had been. He jolted up from the mattress, ran across the small room to the door, and looked both ways down the hallway. She was gone.

  He returned to the room and thought. It wasn’t long before he reached a hypothesis. His arms shot down to the ground, lifting his soggy trench coat from a puddle on the floorboards. He shot his hand into the front left pocket. The watch was gone. So was the tool used to remove it.

  Felix looked to the table by the bed. There was a note with his name written across its top in cursive. He walked to the paper and unfolded it slowly before reading its contents aloud.

  Felix: Thank you for saving me all those years ago. I can’t believe I forgot to say those words to you last night. I thought about you and what happened on that night for years, and always wondered what I could do to make it up to you if we ever had the chance to see each other again. Now, given that chance, I find myself stealing your property and abandoning you in Germany with likely no easy way for you to get back. Admittedly, it’s an odd thank you, I know. But I’m leaving now to make it up to you. I saw your face when you talked about the boy. That’s why I’ve gone. I have the chance to atone for both of us. Thirty years ago you saved me. Now, it
s my turn to save someone. You’ve done so much for me, and I know in my heart that I haven’t deserved any of it. Still, I have one last favor to request: Find me again. I’ve no right to ask, but I’ll be waiting just the same. You know where to find me. Maybe someday, things actually can be different for us. Until then, know that you have my love and eternal gratitude. Karen.

  Felix folded the note carefully and clasped the paper tightly in his hand. He looked out past the window above the bed he’d shared with Karen the night before. It was still raining outside. He dressed himself in the same wet clothes and hat he’d entered with, left the room, and travelled down the stairs.

  Outside the hostel, Felix looked left and right down the street in front of him. Both directions were empty of people, probably due to the storm. Felix turned left and started walking. It was as good a direction as any.

 
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