John gone, p.32
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       John Gone, p.32

           Michael Kayatta
 

  Chapter 25

  John sat quietly at the lab’s workstation and drew a thick black line down the side of the white page, closing his eyes as he slid the pencil’s tip against the curvature he saw in his mind. He brought the line up the other side of the sheet, finishing the contour of her face and closing the shape at its top.

  He drew the hair next, carefully arcing the graphite a few inches above the scalp, lifting the lines high before crashing them down past the sides of her cheeks to the unseen shoulders beneath the page. He brought the still-sharp tip in past the edge and outlined an eye. He finished the other the same, letting the pencil naturally dip down from its inside corner to form the bridge of her nose. Her smile came after, an easy task, which he drew as thick and as wide as he’d seen it so many times before, during those welcome breaks between his voyages.

  He dropped the pencil and looked down at Ronika’s face, unfinished but present. The portrait was similar to the others he’d drawn, now stuck orderly to the back wall with a thick, blue gummy substance he’d found in a drawer. There were twenty-five in total, and John counted for the eighteenth--it was the one with the shading he’d been proudest of, drawn lightly against her left cheekbone, pitting the smooth landscape of her face against the invisible light source he’d created for it. He found the portrait and mimicked the technique onto the page laid across the table. This one will be perfect.

  Art had been a hobby of John’s while growing up on the island. The activity was perfect for him, inexpensive and solo. He’d shown talent, but had never taken the time to develop it, never truly focusing on the work as a craft. Now, in the lab alone without distraction, he had the time to do so.

  He‘d first begun with lettering, learning to write again with his left, non-dominant hand. From there he’d graduated to shapes, advanced from shapes to figures, and from figures to portraiture. His ability as an artist had blossomed exponentially, due solely to the fact that he could now devote most, if not all, of his hours and days to perfecting it. In only a year’s time, John had improved his skills by a decade’s worth, and he used them frequently to capture his memories before they faded with time, a consistent fear shadowing his thoughts.

  Next to his gallery of Ronika, John had hung drawings of others, the lot of them who’d been involved with his adventures. All were there but Amandine, whom he thought would have preferred it that way. Even Adam had his place among the art, seated in an imaginary scene, reading a book about dragons to his daughter. It was John’s way of offering the man both an apology and his forgiveness.

  The portraiture of the others had come first, as John had originally not been interested in drawing Ronika’s face. He would see her again, he’d told himself often; she doesn’t belong with the others.

  Eventually despair had overtaken him. It had been a year since becoming stuck in the lab, and not even Felix had come back to see him. Six months passed before John decided to draw his redheaded friend, the thought of forgetting her face causing fear above all else.

  John blew the graphite dust away from her cheek and lifted his pencil. Its tip was growing dull again. He lifted the scalpel that sat next to his paper on the table and used it to sharpen the point as he often did.

  Having no obligations had made him careful and meticulous about every action he performed. Often, he found it nice to do things that way. Sometimes he would spend forty-five minutes just sitting in his chair, carefully sharpening his pencil into just the right tip.

  As he worked on the pencil, he noticed his reflection in the metal table below him. He no longer recognized the person he saw there. The John in the table had shoulder-length hair. His face showed early signs of stubble. A white lab coat two feet too tall was draped across his back.

  Even the pencil he held was different. It was down to only a fourth of its original length, and there were only four more pencils left in the drawer after this one disappeared completely. The pencil had now lasted a year, but its lifespan didn’t bode well for the future of an art career.

  Only four more years before I have to find a new hobby, he thought. And what will that man I see in the table do then?

  A loud thud sounded from the bathroom across the room, frightening John backward from his chair to the floor. It was the first noise he’d heard in a year’s time that he’d not caused himself.

  “Felix?” he called. His voice cracked as he spoke the word. It was also the first he’d spoken in a year. He’d refused to speak, even to himself, during his time in the lab. He feared it would be the first step in going mad. Many of John’s decisions in the lab were made with that worry in mind.

  “Is that you?” he called again. There was no answer. Slowly, he rose from the floor and walked toward the bathroom.

  “It’s been long enough. You haven’t even turned on the watch’s communicator! Did you forget about me?” he asked angrily in his scratchy voice.

  John opened the door and was surprised to see a woman on top of his toilet. She was wearing the watch. He leaned in cautiously and examined her face more closely. Suddenly, she opened her eyes.

  “Ahh!” John yelped, falling backward to the floor again.

  “Hello,” the woman said sweetly. “John?”

  “Who are you?” he said, backing up until hitting the wall behind him.

  She walked over to him and leaned down. “Don’t be scared.”

  “Stay away from me,” he said, raising to his feet and dashing back toward the workstation. He lifted the scalpel he’d dropped on the table and waved it at her.

  “Okay, I’m sorry,” she said, stepping back.

  John noticed the picture he’d drawn of Thutmose behind her, then looked back at the knife in his hand. He set it down on the table, ashamed of himself.

  “Who are you?” he asked, his voice returning to what it once had been.

  “My name is Karen,” she answered.

  “Karen?” John repeated. “Why does that sound so familiar?” He sat in the chair by the workstation and stared across the table at her. “You’re the woman Kala was looking for, aren’t you?” he realized suddenly.

  “Yes,” she said, taking one step closer to John. “He found me, actually.”

  “Good for him,” John replied sternly. “You know, he’s never spoken with me since he left me here. Not once. And he can; oh, I know that he can.”

  “May I?” she asked, gesturing at the round black stool by the table. John nodded his approval and she sat down.

  “You know, there was a time when I’d sit in this chair twice a day and watch Felix do his magic.”

  “Why were you down here?” John asked suspiciously. “I thought he said he was alone.”

  “Not at first,” she answered. “There was a time when he worked here willingly, albeit under a false pretext. I was his supervisor.”

  “Then, are you the one who trapped him here?” John asked.

  “No,” she answered. “Didn’t he tell you anything?”

  “Almost nothing,” he said. “But that’s just like him. Selfish over even his own back-story.”

  “Don’t judge him too harshly, John,” Karen said softly. “He’s led a complicated life.”

  “My sympathy for him ran out on the day I realized that he hadn’t come back to visit me, and that he wasn’t going to. That’s also the day I lost hope of him figuring me a way out of here.”

  “I imagined he’d come to see you,” she said quietly.

  “Well, he didn’t,” John replied quickly. “He said he would and he didn’t.”

  “He should have. I don’t expect you to forgive him, but please understand that Felix has been faced with one impossible decision after another since coming down to the labs. He sacrificed himself to save me from here. Did you know that?”

  “No,” John muttered.

  “He had a choice. Only one of us could leave. He chose me over himself. That’s how he came to be trapped here, like you are now,” she said.

  “If he’s such a g
reat guy then why hasn’t he come back? Why hasn’t he spoken with me over the watch? He even showed me how to work his dumb hologram thing. Why would he do that if he wasn’t planning on talking to me with it?”

  “If I had to guess? He feels guilty, John. Leaving you here was probably harder on him than you can possibly imagine,” she said.

  “Why hasn’t he built another watch?” John yelled, slamming his fist into the table in front of him. “Why hasn’t he gotten me out of this place?” He panted three heavy breaths before allowing himself to calm. “I’m sorry.”

  “It’s alright,” Karen said. “But if you want an answer to that, then you have to try to understand the way he thinks. Think about the choices he’s been faced with, saving me or himself, trapping you here or gaining his own freedom, even seeking some kind of revenge on the company before working on another device to free you.”

  “Is that what he’s doing?” John asked. “Out there looking for some pointless revenge instead of saving me?”

  “It wouldn’t be pointless if he actually succeeded. They’re still out there, John, just half a mile past those stones at your doorstep. Every year they’re bringing new people to this exact same fate. If he can stop them, then it saves countless lives moving forward. What’s the freedom of one person when compared to hundreds? That’s the way he sees it, anyway. And I’ll be honest with you; I can’t argue the logic. In an odd way, each of his decisions has made sense. He isn’t evil; he’s just a scientist.”

  “Aren’t you also a ‘scientist?’” John asked.

  “Yes, and I’ve turned my back on my conscience more times than I’d care to admit. But I’ve come to realize that there has to be a point where we stop just thinking with frozen logic. Scientists like to believe the world is just a product of physics and math, vectors and numbers dictating everything.”

  Karen stood from the stool and walked around the table to John’s side. “But there are things in the universe like love and compassion, and humans feel them naturally in their gut just as easily as neurons fire in their brains. There’s got to be a reason, even a scientific one, that we react this way. We cannot ignore the way we feel any more than we can ignore the way we think. We have to find a balance there or we really are just numbers and vectors.”

  She knelt down by John and placed a hand on his thigh. “And I can’t accept a universe defined like that. Not anymore. And that’s why I’m here, to give you this.”

  She stood, pulled the rounded tool from her pocket, and slid it between the watch and her wrist. She unlatched the band, and John watched the Diaspora slide easily from her arm. She offered it to him. “Take it,” she said.

  “But I can’t,” John argued. “You give me this speech about love and compassion, then you ask me to take that, that thing from you and leave you down here to rot? No.” John swiveled his stool away from her.

  “Someone has got to, John,” she said, “and it sure as hell doesn’t deserve to be you.”

  “And what have you done that’s so terrible?” John asked.

  Karen looked down toward the ground beneath her feet. “I imprisoned a lover,” she said. “I’ve never told anyone that before.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “These caves ... ” Karen began, looking behind her to the stone-filled port glass in the door behind her. “The company collapses them to trap scientists for the off-chance that they may need them again. They have the money for it, so they just figure that it’s safer and more strategic than executing them.”

  “That’s horrible,” John said, turning back to her.

  “Yes, it is. And I worked for them. I met a young scientist here years before Felix came. He was the one initially brought in to make the device. I had no idea what the company was doing at the time. When his contract was up, they explained everything to me, justifying and simplifying it down to where it was almost unrecognizable as the heinous act that it was. I was the one to push the button sparking the explosion in the cave leading to his lab. He’s probably still in there. I’m only glad that he never knew I was the one who did it. That’s why I deserve to be down here. I deserve the same fate I gave him.”

  “That’s crazy,” John said. “Go to him; save him if he’s still there. How long has he been down here now? Why did you come to me?”

  “Because I don’t know how the hands work. Only Felix and the company know that. Even if I did, I doubt there would be a code to take me somewhere so precise. There are almost two hundred bathrooms down here within a one-mile radius. It’s just not going to happen. This lab is the only exception to that. Felix programmed a special code just for here. I’ll write it down for you.”

  Karen took a sheet of paper from a stack in the corner and jotted down the numbers with John’s dying pencil. She slid it to him.

  “Go,” she said. “It’s why I came here.”

  “I don’t care what you did,” John argued. “You’re obviously sorry about it. I can’t let you give the watch back to me.”

  “Please,” she said, “don’t carry this decision on your shoulders. I’m not doing it for you.”

  John looked at the device in her hand, lying defeated by the small tool next to it. He looked at Karen’s face and realized that he understood none of it, not who she was, what had happened, who was guilty, and who wasn’t. He had some of the facts, but not all of them, and the decisions being made outside of his control were complex beyond measure. It was pointless to argue further.

  “Alright,” John said, accepting the watch. “If you’re sure this is what you want.”

  “I am.”

  “Will you help me?” he asked. “It’s a little difficult for me.” John nodded at his right hand, dark and stiff.

  “Of course,” she said, latching the band to his left wrist. “What happened to you anyway?”

  “Advocates,” John replied. “One named Cornelius Black.”

  Karen shuddered at the thought. “One told you his name?”

  “It’s a long story,” John said.

  “Maybe you’ll tell me next time you visit.”

  John smiled at the comment and looked down at the watch, back on his arm after so much time. He saw Karen’s saddened eyes in the reflection of its glass.

  “Do you love him?” he asked.

  “Felix?”

  “Yes. Do you love him?”

  Karen looked away from him. “Honestly? I don’t know. But he’s earned it from me, if that’s what he wants. I owe him everything.”

  “That’s not how it’s supposed to work,” John answered. “Not that I’m some expert. My longest relationship with someone was three weeks. Then I got dumped.”

  Karen smiled and turned back. “Maybe you’re right nonetheless.”

  John eyed the Diaspora. “I never thought I’d be happy to see this thing again,” he said.

  “Here,” Karen said, “take off this silly coat.” She lifted it from him and placed the removal tool in the front pocket of his jeans. “Don’t lose that,” she said.

  “Oh, I won’t,” he answered, smiling. “If there is one thing I will never let out of my sight, it’s that thing.” He laughed. “By the way, the 3:14 thing is fixed, right? I assume Felix fixed it, but I just want to be sure.”

  “The what?” she asked.

  “Every day at 3:14 A.M. and P.M., the watch teleported me on its own. I didn’t have any control over it.”

  “I’m sure that he fixed it. Anyway, I doubt he would let himself bounce around like that every day.”

  “And the biometric signature thing on the tool to take the watch off? He said it had to be calibrated.”

  Karen laughed. “It does. Just hold it in your hand for a few minutes before using it, and never have anyone else do it for you.”

  “That’s it?”

  She laughed. “Not everything is complicated.”

  “So how do I make this work then?”

  “Just put your thumb ... ” She stopped and looked at his ri
ght hand again. “It might be a bit of a problem for you actually. I’ll do it this time.”

  “Where will it take me?” he asked.

  “Like I said before,” Karen replied, “I don’t know how the coordinates work. You could wind up anywhere. I’m sorry about that.”

  She pulled the knob on the watch’s side outward and spun it. The hands of the watch circled rapidly and stopped as she did, landing in a random position.

  “Are you going to be okay?” she asked.

  “It’s alright,” John said. “I’ve done it before. It’s just one more adventure. One more chance to get home.”

  Karen nodded. “Are you ready?”

  “Last chance to keep it,” John said.

  Karen shook her head no.

  “I’m ready,” John said.

  Karen placed her thumb down on the glass and held it there.

  “Don’t forget to turn on the hologram thing. It’s the two buttons on the camera over there.”

  “Okay,” she said.

  “I’ll be back. You know, to visit. Until we find a way to get you out of here.”

  “I know you will.”

  The room began to fill with bright blue light. Karen stood, watching him leave, unaffected by it.

  “I hate this part,” John said as he disappeared.

  “Me, too,” she replied.

  The bright blue light rolled into a small sphere and disappeared from the room completely. John was gone.

 
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