Episode Eleven ♦ Catherine

“Help me! I can’t breathe!” Luis struggled but was unable to move his hands or legs. His voice was lost in the pillow held against his face.

The pillow was pulled away.

“What do you want from Ugo?”

“He knows what happened to my friend Willem. I just want to know he’s okay.”

“Liar!” The pillow moved closer. “Tell us the truth. Who sent you here?”

He screamed as the pillow again crushed his face.

♦ ♦ ♦

Luis bolted upright flailing against nonexistent bonds and tormentors.

“You’re okay.” It was the voice that crackled. “You had a nightmare.”

Looking around the dark space, he wiped the sweat from his forehead with the sweater sleeve. He felt colder. The single focused light reminded him he was still in the cell.

“Could I use the restroom?” He knew someone was listening.

“I’ll let your handler know.”

Time passed.

Wondering how long he had been asleep, Luis thought, “Time.”

Nothing happened. His Informateur was still not working.

“Hello Luis.” The questioning voice crackled. “I have a few more questions for you. Why are you here?”

“I came with a friend. She is looking for Ugo.” He paused but decided to share the truth. “We want to know what happened to our friend Willem.”

She asked, “What do you think happened to him?”

“I have no idea. He said he was leaving for the west – the wilderness park. Then I saw an alert. He is wanted for questioning. I want to know he is okay.”

“Do you think he’s not okay?”

“No. I’m just worried about him.”


“He left without saying goodbye. It was strange.”

“You didn’t know he was leaving?”

“Yes. But not when.”

“Did he plan to go any place in particular?”

“No.” Luis paused. “Through Saint Louis.”

“Where do you work?”

“North American Banking Company.”

“What do you do there?”

“I’m an auditor. I verify financial statements and reports to De Authoriteit.”

“Who do you report to?”

“The chief accounting officer.”

“Who does Avinashika work for?”

“I have no idea. I think she does odd jobs, sewing and stuff.”

“You’re traveling with her. How well do you know her?”

“Not very. We share a common friend…”

“This Willem you mentioned?”


“Please lay back on the cot.”

Luis complied. A clunking came from the door followed by a long creaking. Luis was unable to see anything past the focused light.

Two figures appeared from the shadows. Dressed in black body-suits, no skin was visible. One grabbed Luis’ left arm at the wrist and elbow as he tried to sit up.

“Please come with them quietly and you will not be hurt,” the questioner said.

Trembling, Luis took a deep breath. “I will come quietly.” As he dropped his feet to the floor, the other masked person took his right arm. Their grips were strong: it was foolish to fight or run. “I’m okay,” he said.

The other two stepped forward; Luis followed their lead. They maneuvered him through the doorway. Once outside the cell Luis was blinded by insistent light. He shut his eyes, shuffling where led. A left turn. A long straight walk. A right turn. A quick right then another left. His tottering changed to being maneuvered around something. It ended with, “Sit.”

Luis eased into the chair. He opened his eyes but was still oppressed by a light that only shone in his face. He moved, trying to escape into the shadows of the room. The light followed him. He darted his gaze to left and right. Yes, the guards were still there.

“I’m sorry for the dramatics. However, people don’t just show up asking to speak to Ugo.” The questioner’s voice came from behind the light. It no longer crackled. “Most people who come here make contact with an outreach worker in a free settlement first. You two knew to ask for Ugo in Appledorf, even at the All Ways Inn.” She paused. “I’ve reviewed the intelligence. I’m confident you’re not an agent even though you work for an Authoriteit controlled bank.”

“I just want to go home.”

“So why did you come?”

“Avinashika said it was not safe to go home.”

“It probably isn’t.”

“So where are we?”

“You’re in an UGO facility.”


“Do you even know what UGO is?”

“He’s some guy. Avinashika thinks he knows what happened to Willem.”

The woman adjusted the light. Unfocused, it lit the table between them. He blinked. The outline of her face materialized. She shook her head. “You don’t even know what UGO is. It’s not someone. It’s something – a group of loosely-affiliated independent somethings. You’re with the underground now. Get it? U-G-O. Under ground organization.”

Sighing, Luis made the slightest movement of his head from side to side.

“You have no idea what you’ve gotten into. Okay, let’s get off to a better start.” She leaned over the table and presented her right hand. “Hi, I’m Catherine. I’ve been assigned to handle your case while you two are with us.”

Luis took her hand: her grip was firm, officious. They shook and released. “Our case?”

“Well, as I said, people don’t usually show up unannounced, especially in Caseville. Usually they come – are brought here – because they are ready to have their Informateur removed. That’s all we do. Your friend seems to have understood this.”

“Is Avinashika okay?”

“Of course. You can see her in a moment. I just want to talk with you individually before taking you to more comfortable quarters. You need to understand your options.”

Luis was perplexed. “My options?”

“Well there are many ways an individual can unplug from the communication network. It all depends on what you plan to do next.”

“Was Willem here? What did he do?”

“If I knew he was here, I couldn’t tell you. You understand – confidentiality and security.” Catherine flipped something in her hands. “Still, you left without reporting to Investigative Services. Explaining that will be difficult.”

“But I want to go back.”

“Okay. Your life will be different.” Her tone was matter-of-fact. She handed him a visor. “Please put this on.”

He placed the light-weight device so it covered his eyes and was held in place with slight pressure on his temples. His view of Catherine remained unobstructed.

“Please review this document,” she said.

As if displayed on a cubicle wall panel at work, the document appeared in the visor. He began to read. “Luis Antas, Senior Auditor, Financial Reporting Division, Hartsfield Office... is immediately suspended until further notice. All security clearances and access to bank premises are hereby revoked until further notice…” Stunned, Luis’ voice trailed off.

“How is the document signed?”

“By the CAO.”

“I wasn’t sure. I can’t read the code.”

Luis removed the visor and thought for a moment. Yes, he had used the algorithm so many times on company documents he was able to decode the signature without thought. He also knew the CAO’s encryption key was required to sign the document. No one else had it.

“If you return, you must be prepared to do time for not reporting to investigators. However, we can help you with a new identity if you wish to avoid that. I recommend against returning to Hartfield though. You might be recognized.”

Luis shook his head. “This is surreal.”

He looked at Catherine. He sensed compassion as she said, “Don’t worry, I’m here to help. We will talk over the details after you’ve rested. In the meantime, do you want to room with Avinashika?”

“No.” He knew his reply was too strong. Adopting a softer tone he said, “I would like my own room and to be able to see her. And I need the restroom.”

“Of course. If you’ll follow me.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Luis perused the spines in the Banned Book Room. While still underground, armchairs, a sofa, a rug, and tables gave it a homey feeling.

There must be a couple hundred books here. Books no one has seen for centuries. “Oh my, George Orwell!” He pulled both 1984 and Animal Farm off the shelf. “They are legend among bibliophiles and neither is available in the Informateur library.”

Avinashika sat in a comfortable, overstuffed armchair. She worked with blue fabric, needle, and thread. Luis was clueless what she was making.

He continued. “All copies were lost during wars and coastal flooding.”

“I’m sure they made certain they were lost — lost in water, lost in fire, lost in machines that eat paper,” said Avinashika.

With both volumes in hand, Luis settled into a sofa placed perpendicular to Avinashika; a floor lamp was positioned to provide light to both. “I have to read these before we go.”

“Uh huh.” She nodded.

“Have you decided?” he asked.

“No. I don’t want to go to prison, and it’s hard to leave my sister and her family. With a new identity, Willem won’t be able to find me. I’ll have to find him.”

“So you are thinking of going west.”

“Luis, I want this bug removed from my head. The price of instant access to information is too high – De Authoriteit knowing everything I do. Everything I think. Everywhere I go. I just want to be free. I can be that – out there.”

“I asked Catherine. She says no one knows what they track.”

“It’s easier that way. If we knew, we wouldn’t be so paranoid.” Avinashika picked up a small scissors. “What are you thinking?”

“I just want to go home.”

“You ready for prison?”


“Even with a new identity you still can’t go back to your job or Roseville.”

“I know. That troubles me. But living in a free settlement is not so bad. I could try another – say Albany or Charlotte.” He opened the cover of 1984. “I never imagined going west. I thought someday I would go to South America. See where my family is from. Or maybe Europe.”

“A new identity will probably work best.”

“Yes, but my savings stay with my identity. I will not be able to afford a voyage.”

“It’s a lot to think about.”

Luis looked at where the wall met the ceiling. “You really think he is out there?”

“I do. He has to know he’s going to be a father, even if he doesn’t stay around. Somehow I’ll pick up his trail.”

“Don’t you think that sunglass device sounds risky?” he asked.

“All the options are risky. As I said, I like the idea of being unplugged once and for all. The sunglasses allow me to travel, buy stuff, and when I’m crossing the Mississippi, oops! they fall into the water. Temporary identity drowns and I’m still me.”

“But the cost — if I can only get a few thousand credits off my account…”

“Don’t worry about it. My identity is rare and valuable. I’m a resident alien of Indian parentage and can claim Union of South and East Asian citizenship. They will pay me enough to cover both of us and get us started again. It’s not so bad.”

“I don’t know.”

“Take a night or two and think about it. You can’t rush a big decision like this.”

Luis started to read.

♦ ♦ ♦