The city lights reflect in the uneasy waters of the Atlantic as my shuttle touches down. I step from the hatch, and before my foot alights the galley panel, I am already whispering his name.
My temple buzzes, and the robotic voice of my SHIRLY headset replies, “Searching….”
I remember Mother’s words when she had learned the location of my government-assigned adult domicile. “Tangier?” she had hissed. “He must have interfered.”
“I thought Gabor was barely aware of me.”
“Your supposed father would not recognize you if you were lying beside him in an alley.”
“He could never resist a champion.”
I know mother is speaking of herself. She was a silver medallist distance swimmer in 2084.
“You will not go. Not with the Olympics so near. You are within three points of the AI standard.”
SHIRLY’s voice pulls me back to the shore.
“Gabor Jezek located. Set connect course?”
I hold my breath and consider the line I am about to cross. A lifetime with mother has taught me Gabor is dangerous, almost feral, and caught up in a world so dark I would shudder to know the half of it. A dealer in substances, she says, and worst than that, an Antifuturist.
I turn to face the Staite of Gibraltar and feel the sudden need to slice myself through the water’s surface. I am now the top-ranked sentient Spanish swimmer, so I might just make it back to Algeciras. I will never be world champion, though. The Republic has dominated the pool since 2096 and has clearly found itself a new supplement the body scans cannot detect.
A figure approaches from the city side of the dock and, as the moon illuminates his face, I realize it can only be Gabor. My father looks as if he has risen from a hundred-year-old grave. His face is unsettling, aged in an almost macabre way. His features are unaugmented, and the sinister grey of his natural hair dangles from his chin and scalp. He wears a blue overcoat and a matching western-style hat, the likes of which I have only seen in a Historical Sim.
“I am not allowed to talk to you,” I whisper.
Gabor hands me a piece of rough paper, and I struggle to decipher the meaning of the antique printed text:
“Welcome, Son. Your life begins now.”
Gabor has a small machine strapped beneath his arm. There are letter-symbols painted atop clunky white buttons with a sheet of old paper stuck in its top. Gabor presses the buttons as he speaks, and I am fascinated by the speed and coordination of his fingers.
He pulls a second paper from the machine and offers it for my inspection.
“STAY SILENT. THEY ARE ALWAYS LISTENING. FOLLOW ME.”
I know I should turn and run; that before me is everything mother had feared. “Twenty-one years of raising you pure, and he can ruin you in a second. His temptations and potions are irresistible. Your only hope is to stay away,”- but I find myself strangely drawn to this man. It is as if some awful thing inside me has awakened and is rising to meet its maker.
I lift my eyes from the paper and nod. Something clicks from beneath Gabor’s robe, he presents a small flame, and both pieces disintegrate into ash.
Steam rises from the sewers beneath us as I follow my father into the night. A smell, both repugnant and intriguing, drifts backward. It reminds me of the smell of my own body in the moments before my morning disinfection.
I follow Gabor into a culvert, and when we are well underground, he removes a grate from the floor, and we descend further beneath the city. A door is at the end of a tunnel, and beyond it is a subterranean dwelling. As we enter, the smell becomes overwhelming.
“We are safe to speak here,” Gabor says, in a voice more vigorous than I expected, given his decrepit appearance. He approaches a metal tray that sits atop a roaring fire.
I inhale deeply, desperate suddenly, to bring this strange smell inside of me.
“It is the scent of your return to reason, son, of your future triumph over a world that has weakened you.”
Gabor removes a burlap package from the inner pocket of his coat and unwinds the black yarn that holds it. The material falls loose to reveal a moist, red slab within. Gabor holds the slab between us as the firelight dances across its glistening surface.
“My god,” I whisper. “It is worse than mother imagined.”
Gabor crosses to the opposite side of the fire and holds my eyes as he drops the slab atop the hot metal.
“Your mother,” Gabor says, “has been brainwashed by The Order. She has forgotten, like the rest of them, who she is. They feed us plants to make us weak, but you cannot starve a shark and expect him not to hunt.”
My heart rises to my throat, and I feel the need to flee. “SHIRLY?”
“We are alone here, son. SHIRLY has been silenced.”
“But it is immoral to consume a sentient beast.”
“No, son. It is natural. It is one of the many things humans are meant for.”
The smell of the sizzling meat surrounds me, and my mouth becomes wet.
“Embrace your instincts, Son. You no longer need to fight who you are. The gold is within your reach.”
Gabor smiles, and his teeth glint with the flames. Despite myself, I smile too.
“You will see how do things here in The Republic. You will succeed where your mother failed.”
I laugh, but somehow it comes out as a guttural growl. Then, ensorcelled, I grab the meat from the hot surface and sink my teeth into the simmering flesh. I feel wild and wrong, and I realize I have never felt such pure joy.
I envision my feet leaving the podium, feel the oncoming rush of my perfect descent.