novel excerpt by Julia Shor, ’20

Chapter 1: Trial by Trust

The light was blinding, yet there was no one but him to see it. Why did he bother leaving the interrogation room? If it was possible, the light was even brighter here. As his eyes adjusted he began to truly appreciate the emptiness of the chamber. Unlike the streets, where he could barely move without tripping over a druggie, he had a large space to himself. Rows upon rows of seats lay empty; he almost wished for someone to fill them. Almost was the key word—if they were filled, he would come to regret it. Some would pass out and drool green liquid, while others would hold their dirt-covered handkerchiefs up and wave them daintily, like they were trash-can lids that would shield them from bullets. It was better this way. He walked over to a small bench before the seats, to investigate the small metal box there. If it worked the same as the interrogation room, then there would be instructions on the box. He picked it up and turned it around and around until he could see the words.

This is a sound recording device, please confess or otherwise make your statements.
Once statements are made, bang gavel to approve statements.
Once gavel is banged, you may leave.
If statement says guilty, please take yourself to the nearest police officer
and ask them to arrest you.
If statement says innocent, we hereby formally apologize for
Bringing you here.

He walked to the podium, light bouncing off his too long, unwashed dark hair. After picking himself up from the clean floor, he re-stepped on the raised dais. “Innocent.” He whispered, as it seemed highly inappropriate to speak any louder in this room. He wasn’t sure if the device picked it up, so he cleared his throat and tried again. “Innocent, completely and utterly innocent, never committed a crime in his life.”

The machine made a small noise, and it pushed out a small silky paper. By the time he stepped down to get it, it was already lying on the floor. The clean, perfect, ‘costs more than your life’ floor. The thin paper in its entirety, was useless. He would have stopped reading after the second line, but there were only two.

Dron Golbuss,
we formally apologize for arresting you, an innocent civilian.

He let it sink to the floor in the lopsided way that paper does. Dodging left, right, circling around his feet, before it finally reached the floor to ponder its miserable existence. He kicked it, and walked out the door without looking back.

The police officer nodded at him, having no data as to whether he was innocent or guilty, but trusting in the procedures to work. A grin was etched unsteadily onto its face, the maker having forgotten what a smile looked like and improvising. It seems even the high and mighty cannot help but to look upon the city and scream, to fall sobbing to the ground, to stand there still and empty, and slowly turn around, pretending they were never there, that they never saw, that they had no obligation to help.

And Dron turned, pretending he never thought that, that the smile meant nothing, that it wasn’t sickening.

The muck got closer, and the cold metal, hard wood, and horrible emptiness drifted away. In its place too many broken people, and crumbling concrete, and stains that show that you’re not alone, that a drunk man or woman was here only seconds ago, and that another will be here soon, so don’t bother to clean it up.

He stepped around, graceful in a way that only comes with years of practice.

The crumbling room in the apartment was his, no matter that there was a hole in the ceiling, no matter it smelled like something he couldn’t quite place, it was his, only his, and he didn’t quite hate it.

He deposited the money bag near his bed, for the farther away from the bathroom the better, and he didn’t want it rained on. It wasn’t raining now, but as he looked up through the hole in his roof, the clouds were dark.

Ω

When he went to sleep that night, he dreamt of a woman screaming.

Like fireworks bursting, he was the only interesting thing around. Excepting those on hallucinogens, everyone watched. Watched and stared and did nothing, and silently cheered him on. Because what else was there to do? You cheer for the winning team. He and his gun. What a team. He snorted to himself. Shaking fingers pulled the trigger, and shaking hands pressed the dial, and shaking legs caught in the perfectly measured web, spun the only steady thing around.

Ω

It wasn’t here. It just was gone. Not here, not there, oh it must be somewhere. NO. It’s not here and it won’t ever be here again. He’s not going to lie to himself. Maybe someone stole it, maybe someone broke it, maybe it just walked out on its own. But it’s not here and he’s upset, and it’s upset and life’s upset. Not here. Even if it’s somewhere around here, if he can’t use it what’s the point? No point. Lay wasting away, wasting him away, when he trusted it. He trusted it. He kicks himself, then the floor.

Ω

He stays in his room the next day. He was tired of all the hubbub. He knew he should pay the rent, but the money was gone, and no one else did, and the cashier wasn’t paid enough to get sober enough to walk up the stairs.

He didn’t pay the rent the next day either.

Ω

What was the city named again?

Ω

He drifted off to sleep.

Ω

He got up today because he was hungry. He’s used the last ammo in his gun, so he went out unarmed.

Today he made sure the bank was empty before taking the money.

He forced some cabbage down his throat and that was that.

He took a nap under the trees.

He woke up covered in barf, and went home to take a shower.

He didn’t come out ‘til dinner.

Ω

Pain. The pain comes back again. Why? No, he doesn’t want to hear it. All that will ring in his ears is that something bad is causing the pain and he can’t do anything about. When he sits like this, when he lies like that… pain.

Then soon, the pain is gone. He can feel its ghost, he can lament it, but he can’t remember it. Not the way it was anyway. He’ll be surprised all over again… by the pain. The Pain. He can’t remember… his pain.

Ω

It stays gone the next day, and he goes out and eats bread and peppers. No one’s the boss of me. No one…

Except The Pain.

Ω

A steady hand… all he wants is a steady hand.

Ω

He builds a system. His back is breaking, and the pain is threatening him in the corner of his eye, but he does it.

He stands back to look at his work.

Ω

The next day he stays inside. The next day, too. He doesn’t need to leave. The system has it all figured out.

Ω

The policeman comes, but today his eyes are blazing red, and his grip is harsher.

Ω

It has been explained again. The Area is for the skilless. He is not skilless. The Machine is for the skilled. He is skilled. He still doesn’t understand it.

They tell him not to worry, if nothing funny happened, then there wouldn’t be any funny stories to tell later.

Ω

The Pain is gone. He left the monster in the Area. Just another reason to stay in The Machine. The people can keep their rubble. He’d rather take his chances here.

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