The man actually chuckled. He looked Baldwin up and down. Then he raised his left eyebrow as a passerby shot the man a look, presumable for talking to a non-augmented lower class.
“Well, all right then. Carry on.” He walked away and Baldwin stood there watching him walk away. Perplexed.
The moment was interrupted by his least favorite voice.
“Good news, Mr. Baldwin! You report to work tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. sharp! Don’t be late, we know what a troublemaker you can be!” At this, Evy attempted her synthetic laugh. Baldwin hated it. There was nothing in it; no humor, no soul, nothing. Empty mirth, as far as he was concerned, didn’t cover the multitude of sins Evy seemed to believe it did.
Six a.m. had come early but the day had dragged for what seemed like an eternity to Baldwin. As he walked home from his new job (some days, he just preferred to walk, even in the danger, rather than be carted around by Evy. For while ‘mother’ might be a god to the eyes of a child, no such thing should be the case for a grown man as far as he was concerned), he watched giants, freaks and weirdos pass him on all sides. It was peculiar to him how the gigantic people walked together. All of them huge, traveling in packs as though they had much to fear. The freaks and weirdos did much the same but that didn’t really surprise him. He’d seen plenty of old images of people in the 20th Century that were misfits huddling in the same fashion. Not even technology trumped tribal notions.
As he approached home, he saw the same man standing out close to the sidewalk that had spoken to him yesterday. He drew closer to the man and decided to risk saying something to him.
“Hello, sir. How are you today?”
The man looked at him for a moment, then returned the greeting. “Another day in what passes for paradise here,” he said. There was no smile, merely a draw from his cigarette to punctuate. The man furrowed his brow, then he said, “Come on. Follow me.”
And so Baldwin followed the man. He could feel his stomach turning, wondering why he was being treated in such a way: in a manner almost implying respect.
Not a word was said between them as the elevator raced upwards. Baldwin watched the floor numbers. It didn’t take long to realize the status this man possessed. Those with status enjoyed lofty views of the world around them. When the doors opened, he expected to see technological oppulence at its finest. The spartan decor genuinely surprised him. There also wasn’t an entertainment screen anywhere in sight.
“You have no screens?” Baldwin asked. Again, it was a risk but he thought that if he’d come this far, he might as well ask.
“I hate entertainment,” the man harrumphed. “Unlike you, I can shove Evy and her bullshit right out the door.”
Baldwin had to force himself not to go running down a mental road, chasing that idea. It didn’t just appeal to him: it was something he thought he’d gladly risk his life for all around. “I’m envious,” was all he said. The man actually laughed, his face not creasing as much as it should due to him being augmented. But in his eyes, Baldwin saw a spark; life. The man wasn’t wholly dead spiritually, like so many augmented.
“I know you do,” he said. “Every man who’s a man needs time. Time to not have to hear the incessant chatter of his mother.”
“It would take me a week to fully agree with that.”
“Sit down,” the man said. And then he disappeared into a room. When he reappeared, he had a book with him. It wasn’t a normal published book but something he’d clearly made himself.
“If you get caught with this, it’s all over for you,” he said.
“What about you? Won’t giving it to me put you at risk? And where’s Evy?”
“Don’t worry about her. She’s not here. I spent more money than you can imagine making certain that was the case. And don’t worry about me. My time is done.”
As much as Baldwin wanted to ask the man what the last sentence meant, he deferred. Something more important than the man’s own life was clearly at stake. He could also see that in the man’s eyes.
“We don’t have much time,” he said. “Everything I know about Evy, that ridiculous ‘alien invasion’ that we were sold, and the subsequent jump in technological advancements in every field, is in this book. I have another copy that Evy will never find. You need this. And you need to get out of this city. Something is coming; something is going to happen. I don’t even know when, despite that I know a lot about Evy and what she believes her purpose to be, it will happen.”
Again, Baldwin stopped himself from interrupting the man. The man lit a cigarette, which he passed to Baldwin, then lit himself another. Baldwin took a long drag, it having been several years since he was allowed to smoke. His head swam in the wonder of tobacco. “Thank you,” he said.
“I need you to understand something more critical than anything in this book. I need you to listen to me. Your life does depend on this.”
“All right, I’m listening.”
“Action. Nothing could be more important right now, Baldwin.”
How do you know my name, Baldwin thought, keeping it to himself.
“This book will divulge secrets to you. You’ll perhaps feel power from having this secret. You might even think you can plan some sort of coup. Do not be so foolish. Do not plan. Do not believe you have a secret that will save you. Action is the only thing that will save you from what’s coming. You’ll survive the event, because of who you made certain to remain. But once it happens, if you’re not already running, you’ll be dead.” At this, he handed Baldwin the book. He took it as though it were a religious book.
“Ever read the Bible,” the man asked.
“Use it.” He then reached into his pocket and gave Baldwin an old-fashioned, plastic keycard. “And use this. Take it to the warehouse district in the South part of town. When you see the guard, allow it to approach you, then hold this keycard up and allow it to scan it. Once that’s done, the guard will take you to what’s in the warehouse.”
At this, the man sat back and dragged heavily from hi cigarette. “How about some whiskey?”
Baldwin couldn’t believe he’d get to experience two high status luxuries in the same day. They spent the next two hours drinking, the man telling tale after tale to Baldwin about the past. He never did remember to ask the man’s name or what his augmentations were. It didn’t matter.
As Baldwin sat in his own tiny apartment, screens jabbering everywhere despite asking Evy to turn them off and leave them off. When he heard the first person scream outside, the screens all went red.
“Outbreak of massive proportions…”
“…the augmented seem to be dying in droves…”
“…no method to this madness reported yet. The affliction seems to be random…”
“… no report filed from Evy as of yet. As we find out more information, we’ll relay it to you. Stay in your homes.”
When Baldwin heard that last command by the holographic talking head on the screen, he walked right out his front door and proceeded down to the street.
The dead lay in quiet. No struggles, no fighting for life. They simply lay still, lifeless, their bodies finally mimicking their own hearts and souls.