Episode Twelve ♦ Identity

Luis was more comfortable in his new accommodations. While hewn out of the same rock, this room had a full-sized bed with a chartreuse comforter and fluffy pillows. Against the wall a little over a meter in front of the door stood a small wooden table with a pair of chairs. A rug, the color of grass burnt by the summer sun, united the table and bed. John Rogers Cox’s Gray and Gold hung as a print above the bed.

An overhead fixture dispersed a warm light that made reading easy. With the pillows between his back and the wall, Luis sat on the bed reading 1984.

Catherine popped her head in. “I understand you have more questions for me.”

“I do. Come in.” Luis slipped a borrowed teaspoon into the book to save his place. “This world of the underground is new. Can you help me understand it?”

Nodding, Catherine entered. “I can tell you what I know.”

Luis got up, moved to one of the chairs, and gestured for her to join him. “Who controls the underground?”

She sat in the other chair. Her shoulders were relaxed but she maintained her poise. “No one. It exists as long as people subvert the status quo. Many do it by living without supporting corporations. You see them going about life every day in the free settlements. Others prefer a more active approach and find a group to work with. Here, we do it by offering choices related to the Informateur and the identity attached to it.”

“So what exactly happens with the Informateurs?”

“It depends. We won’t be able to sell yours, at least not until the bombing of the district control facility is forgotten. Might not be too long. Word is the Islamic League was behind the attack. But that may just be Authoriteit propaganda.”

Luis was surprised. “UGO did not do it?”

“I’ve no idea who did it. It might’ve been an underground cell. It might’ve been foreign agents.”

Concerned, he leaned in. “But you might give my Informateur to some terrorist. He could blow something up. Everyone will think I did it.”

“That’s unlikely. We don’t seek out suicide bombers, give them someone’s identity, and point them at an Authoriteit facility. We do check out intelligence and try to get a handle on what the person wants to do with the new identity…”

“Like the questions you’ve asked Avinashika and me.” He rested against the back of the chair.

“Exactly. I’m not here to overthrow world order. I do this because I want to help people – people who for their own reasons want a new start. If they are trying to skip out on child support payments, I won’t help them.”

“So what do you do with a parent like that?”

“The travel memories are fresh. We can usually convert them into remembered dreams. Then we transport the person to wherever makes sense: maybe back home, maybe to a new city.”

“Interesting.”

“Now you’re quite different. We’ve examined the data and see no signs you are trying to escape from anything other than an unfortunate connection. I’m not going to send an honest, unfortunate man like you for torture and confinement. That violates my moral code. So that’s why I’ve offered you a new identity or a temporary identity. The final decision is yours.”

“You could wipe my memory and send me back to Hartfield. If that is what I want.”

“Maybe. You’d probably think you dreamed you were kidnapped by nice people who fed you well and let you read banned books.”

“Gotcha! I’ll be able to recall things from the books. They do not exist on the outside.”

Catherine laughed. “True, but that’s a risk you take. If you run around babbling about Big Brother using the Informateur to oppress the masses and change historical interpretation to suit De Authoriteit’s present policy… Well, how would you react?”

“I would smile and get away.” He deflated.

“Exactly. And if someone knew what you were talking about, you’d be risking investigation again. After all, you’ve knowledge of banned books. Very tricky that.” Her ever present smile momentarily dimmed.

“Okay, so if I take a new identity…”

“Everything functions like it does now. We replace your chip with another, and you assume that new identity. However, you can’t go back to Hartfield or wherever that guy came from.”

“And complete removal?”

“There are two options. First, we can just take out the chip. Your Informateur model has everything on the chip. If we remove the chip, you can move around as you like and install another chip and identity in the future. Newer models have tracking technology in the socket.”

“That requires socket removal as well?”

“Yes.”

“With removal I use the eye glass thing to ride the train and buy food.”

“Yes, this is what most choose to do. We embed a chip in the temple of a pair of eye glasses – most people prefer sunglasses since spectacles are rare – this allows you to move around, make purchases, and in most instances pass security checkpoints.”

He leaned forward again. “What do you mean ‘in most instances’?”

“Most facilities open to the general public. You will want to avoid constabulary offices and the like since they do a more thorough security check. Given your case I’d also suggest some disguise – change your hair style or color, dress differently, a wedding band, stop shaving. I can help with some of that.”

“And if I just want a different identity?”

“As I say, I do a complete background check on identities I handle. I will share that information with you so you know what you are purchasing. We obviously want you to be free from security concerns, but the identity has to match your age and physical characteristics.”

“So you go out and find someone for me to change with?”

“No. We have an inventory of chips and I network with others who trade in identities.”

Regarding the possibilities, Luis was confident he found the loophole. “De Authoriteit must notice an identity disappearing.”

“It might. We store and move the chips around in a way to minimize suspicion. Don’t worry, we’ve been doing this for decades without arousing any serious concern.” Her confidence never diminished.

“The whole thing is unbelievable. Trading identities. I think of my identity as mine. It’s part of me. It is me. How can I be bought and sold?”

“Identity is a commodity. All commodities are bought and sold.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Luis sat across the table from Avinashika as they ate supper. The dining hall had two long wooden tables, each with enough mismatched chairs to seat a dozen people. While Catherine had joined them for some meals, tonight they ate alone.

Breaking off a piece of rosemary dumpling with his spoon, Luis said, “This is an odd place. An odd world.”

“How do you mean?” Avinashika brought a spoonful of stewed vegetables and lentils to her mouth.

“There are other people around. You just never see them.”

“We’re outsiders. They risk a lot doing this work.”

Luis carefully spooned up pieces of carrot and chicken with thick, creamy soup.

Avinashika put down her spoon. “I saw a doctor today. We did a hormone test. I’m pregnant. I’ve made up my mind to have the Informateur removed and go west. I want to find Willem.”

Knowing there was a correct response but clueless what it was, Luis continued to eat without speaking.

“Should be no problem to have anesthesia,” she said.

“That is good.” Though he had been enjoying the meal, his appetite failed him. “I’m sorry. I need to be excused.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Avinashika sat on her bed and continued sewing pieces of denim together. Catherine had managed to scrounge up an old skirt and pair of jeans after Avinashika mentioned making a baby carrier. Her design had worked well for her niece, serving both as a newborn’s mobile cradle and upright harness as the girl grew.

Catherine was supportive, even excited for Avinashika, but it was not the same as sharing the news — this much longed for but forsaken news — of pregnancy with her sister. Avinashika missed the knowing look of joy and the excitement of yet another pending addition to their family. Someday, someway the sisters would share it, but now there were more pressing issues.

Avinashika had to tell Willem. Why had Luis become distant when she mentioned it? Was he jealous? It seemed a bizarre notion considering Willem was a stallion that refused the bit. And besides, hadn’t Luis insisted they had never had an intimate relationship? Then again Luis hardly seemed the type to be physically intimate with anyone. Something was wrong.

“Knock-knock.”

She recognized Luis’ polite way of announcing his presence in an open doorway. “Come in.”

“Sorry to bother you.”

“It’s no bother.”

“I’ve made up my mind. I’m only going to have the chip removed. I want to go west with you.”

She thought a moment, touched by his offer, and looked up from her sewing. “That’s kind of you Luis. Really, it is. But you need to do this for yourself, not for me.”

He did everything – anything – but make eye contact with her. “I want to do it. If I cannot go back to Roseville or the bank, I might as well have a little adventure. Travel seems like a good idea.” His manner was abrupt.

“Well, don’t feel you have to escort me.”

“I will not.”

She was puzzled by those three words. “As long as you’re sure.”

“I just made the arrangements with Catherine. They will leave the socket. I might want to return some day. I might not. I do not know.”

Avinashika set her sewing in her lap and patted the blanket next to her beckoning him to join her on her bed. She needed to talk to him.

Luis said, “I just wanted you to know. Everything is set for tomorrow. For both of us. I’ll let you rest.” He left.

She felt the anxiety in her shoulders. Turning her neck from side to side, she concentrated on deep, relaxing breaths. She exhaled the tension.

He’s an adult, capable of making his own decisions.

♦ ♦ ♦

Luis and Avinashika sat at a small conference table with Catherine. A reproduction of Frederic Edwin Church’s Twilight in the Wilderness hung over Catherine’s shoulder. She said, “The idea of traveling as a married couple makes sense and will aid in your disguise. Have you thought of names?”

“Won’t they come with the identities you sell us?” Avinashika asked.

Catherine replied, “No. Temporary identities are complete fabrications. That’s why they can’t withstand any real scrutiny.”

Luis broke in. “I want to be George Winston.”

“Not a problem,” Catherine said. “And you?”

“Well, since it’s only temporary… I’ve always been partial to the name Anita. How about Anita Winston?”

“Okay. I’ll get them working on programming your chips. Anything else before I take you to the prep room?

Avinashika and Luis looked at each other, then at Catherine. Avinashika said, “Let’s do it.”

Luis nodded in agreement.

♦ ♦ ♦