Aftermath – Chapter 7

A short story set in a near future – Internet and our societies have fallen and the law of the jungle prevails…

This article is also available on Medium.

2063. After the Event, communities have reformed — while the majority of the population has regrouped in a handful of megacities under lockdown, the rest are scattered across the globe and fighting for their survival. This is the story of seven survivors stuck in a bunker, in the Middle East…

Chapter 7— Ichiro

I don’t like her. She is exactly what she should be, every time you look at her. It’s not right. Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes, people have to make mistakes. I should know, it took me a while to remember to put some errors in my game in order to get more accepted. I always try and get down to their level by being wrong, faking to be carried away by emotions, going against my basic programming as Aiko would say… Weirdly, this Anna is the opposite of me: everything she does, everything she says is about fitting in by being absolutely what you want, being always right, even if deep down she is so flawed.

Up three steps she goes, and then one step down
She’s dancing around with her robe and crown.
Princess of desires, both sweet and warm,
Empress of all men, queen bee of the swarm:
Tell us, dear Anna, how we poor workers,
We simple creatures whose life purs and whirs,
Ought to content such a greater figure?
Why come here to rest, dressed in bright armor,
If not to be the struck down, blood angel?
We give her our hearts, our souls: all is well!
For she takes three steps up and then one down,
And dances around with her robe and crown.

Did she study the art of charming or is it natural? She could have each of us in a heartbeat right now, one look and she reads the weakness of anyone in this room. Yes, my rational mind analyzes it all and sees the danger. But the problem is she still has a hold on me, her large eyes and sweet mouth are a trap I have to avoid. When I glance at her, a lot of contradictions rise in me, and disturbed thinking is only the noblest manifestation of it. No, I don’t really take my eyes off of her pale neck, of this lock of black hair curling in an arabesque over her ear, of her fingers unconsciously tapping along Mozart… My sister hates her too much for it to be a coincidence: this woman will be our end — Aiko senses this kind of things, she feels when the nest has been kicked. So what is this smile on my face about? Well, I finally have a worthy adversary.

  • Thought you’d like some coffee.
  • Thanks, Ichirō.

So much grace when she takes the cup in her agile hands. For some reason, I have less trouble pretending to be normal around her. My stomach jumps around while I force myself to unclench my fist.

  • Rick says you’re into math.

Nice phrasing. The man probably has trouble describing a boy covering up walls with equations out of his reach. He may be an astronomer, still he doesn’t understand any of what I’ve written in the storage room. Speaking of which, I’ll have to ask him for some paper on his next desert scavenger hunt. He’s always so happy to be of service. Or maybe he just likes driving the big jeep.

  • It helps me clear my head. Numbers are reliable and safe.
  • Unlike people.
  • Yeah, unlike people.

Shit. I’ve got to stop my look from going down to her breasts before she sees it.

  • You know, in my opinion, human behavior can be modeled by science quite well. I’ve spent some time taking notes and learning patterns on people. Is it possible you and I aren’t that different after all?

I go back to her face to find her eyes on me and a sweet smile. Blushing heats my jaw and interrupts my train of thoughts. What was she saying? Not that different, huh? I’d rather be as distinct as possible from such a witch, if only I could. Because there is this voice inside of me, rattling around, that keeps on asking itself if she’s not right.

You who take the rose,
Mind its thorns and its poison
When you pick it up.

While my mind keeps buzzing around, I vaguely hear her ask something. The words eventually morph into a sentence.

  • How long have you been here?

Interesting. Is she taking notes on all of us, has she got a secret with pages covered in dots and crosses? Every question she asks has a purpose.

  • A while. We were the last arrivals before you two came along.

I remember this sunny morning, eight o’clock, when She appeared in our shabby slum. She had Her blue dress on, like always. She simply opened the tin door and held out Her hand. She invited us to join the show, a new duo of clowns. But now here’s the real trick: which one is the sad one?

I see black tigers running in the arena,
I hear people scream, I cheer for a prima donna.
The freak circus is in town, come, gather around!
Under the tent, time has no meaning, skies are ground.
Listen to the showmen, look at the fire rings,
Trapezists fly over in large groups, like herrings.
In the end, there is only two men left standing:
May the whiteface and the august keep you smiling!
Hoy, people, witness the showmen’s quick turnaround,
The freak circus is back in town, gather around!

Yes, Anna inspires me poems. There’s something in her face that jolts my brain and reactivates the mathematical words. It’s got to be put in the right order, syllable by syllable, until it matches. Counting is crucial, it is a nice way of calming down after a long day. It’s just about adding up well. Like us: the seven souls in this bunker have to be added up right, and it will click.

  • What are you working on?

I like his deep voice. It soothes me. The old man sits on the couch loudly behind me and stares at the paper on my knees. How to say it so he understands? After all, he’s supposed to be smart. I need him to be if he’s going to help.

  • I am studying spreading patterns. Dispersion models. It reminds me of when I was younger.

I could talk about Fourier, Maxwell, but he wouldn’t want that. People usually say I can get very boring when I talk science. So I don’t start at all, not to be tempted. Soon, he will be ready. We’ll have to tell him about it, because we need him to finish the project. I am surprised she decided to start so soon… If only it could be just me and her! but no, the two of us don’t know how to make such a thing. Not to worry, the old man likes me enough to keep it a secret. I hope. I’ll have to tell him very soon, probably tonight.

For now, if I have predicted the old man’s actions well and if I have done my calculations correctly, talking about the past should trigger the right response and get things moving. We’ll see tomorrow how far they’ve gotten. I’m mostly worried Aiko won’t wait that long. She already installed video surveillance to keep an eye on Anna and her ‘treacherous ways’, as she puts it, but I need her to wait until the final scene. The numbers aren’t matching yet.

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