We return to the Shelter once my conscience gets the best of me. I leave our reentry to autopilot and all goes as planned.
<Back to the house?> Carson asks on our exiting to an empty room, the ceiling already back in place.
It’s still but that won’t last. <Or as far as we make it.>
He shoots me a quizzical glance. Before I can elaborate, Davonte and several others – the Council, I realize with some surprise – enter. It’s a crowded fit for such a small space. I resist the urge to quip about a road trip.
Davonte is all in black except the yellow sapphire pendant that makes me look at her eyes, ablaze with that fury I know so well. Face rigid, she advances, flinging an avalanche of anger. It hurls into me with such force that I stagger back and gasp, temples pounding. Carson remains steady. Not a loss of control then. A focused explosion, the equivalent to a punch.
<Explain yourself,> she commands icily.
<It’s my fault,> Carson interjects. <I wanted to collect my mom’s Imprint and Eyan helped me.>
<As admirable as that motive is, it does not excuse attacking a fellow Chosen, stealing this Shelter’s only ship, and risking that ship’s destruction, or worse, capture by the DOH!>
Each word is a pulse of pain. I wince, grateful for the pause in recriminations. <I accept full responsibility for our actions. Carson does not know Shelter rules. I ask that punishment fall on me alone.>
<We are detaining you until we convene to discuss the issue,> Ilora, a Council member, says. <Please accompany Davonte to the Confinement Center.>
<Both of us?>
<No. Your guest is free to return to your house.>
Carson looks as if he would protest so I address him privately. <It’s all right. I’ll be comfortable in the Confinement Center. I expect they’ll sentence me to community service.>
<Did you know this would happen?>
<Something along these lines. We take violence very seriously.>
<As was the Lyril way.>
<I should have known. I’m sorry.>
<You had other things on your mind.>
Our Confinement Center is not a prison. It’s an eight bedroom house with only one exit: the front door, which, emergencies aside, is computer controlled to open from the outside and only for a select few – the Council, Security Commission, and a couple others. There are comfortable beds, bathrooms, and food is delivered as it is for the rest of the community. The Confinement Center is rarely used, making the eight prisoner capacity superfluous, and even when it is occupied it’s only for short periods of time. Crime among Chosen is all but non existent and punishment is never extended imprisonment.
There are no books, newspapers, magazines, computers, tablets, or telamps here so that the confined are more likely to reflect on their actions. There isn’t even anything to write on. Nothing that can be used for entertainment. The end result of this is that I go to sleep very early and wake up wondering when the Council will summon me.
I practice my telepathy with a series of mental exercises. I meditate. I recite every poem I have memorized – all five of them. I consider the pitfalls of a two-party political system where neither option is a good one. In short, I am bored.
Davonte retrieves me at 1400. Wordlessly we walk to the Council chamber where we cut through the waiting room to find them already in session, Carson seated across from the Council at the long narrow table.
Did they change their minds about sanctioning him? No, Davonte has fallen behind me and her forehead is drawn in surprise.
<Please sit down,> Ilora says.
I choose a chair next to Carson, Davonte one beside me.
<Carson was just speaking in your defense,> she informs me. <He reminded us that the Lyril valued friendship highly and that the loss of an Imprint is deplorable.>
Carson is looking at Ilora when I attempt to catch his eye.
The Council watches me closely. I don’t know what to say.
After a pause, Ilora continues. <Do you dispute wrong doing?>
<I do not.> With this simple statement, I relinquish my right to a trial.
<Why did you act on your own instead of bringing the matter to Davonte’s attention?>
<I am familiar with your policies. While you were willing to take risks to recover his amari you would not have done so for an Imprint. Asking would only have wasted time and perhaps made taking the ship more difficult had you suspected our intentions and increased security.>
<You are correct,> she nods in concession. <While the U.S. government remains hostile we must avoid our technology falling into their hands. They are dangerous enough with their own. The ship could have been disabled, leaving you vulnerable to capture.>
I know this.
<The incapacitation of a fellow Chosen is serious. We understand your actions were in the service of a friend, and that an Imprint was in peril. Your sentence is a single memory.>
A trickle of nervousness stops any response I might have had. This is unusual for a first offense; memories as punishment are frequently repugnant. Still, I ought to have suspected something out of the ordinary. The Council does not typically oversee legal infractions, that is the foray of the Security Commission. Their doing so now is a deliberate choice, perhaps because the CIC is part of the Security Commission and they wanted to avoid a conflict of interest.
Ilora places a tablet on the table and slides it toward me. The screen is dark except for the single line of instructions. Provide telepathic Imprint.
Swallowing, I do as required. I am dropped into different surroundings, into a sequence that feels like it’s unfolding around me even though I know I’m still sitting at the table. The things I see pretend to be right in front of me, the thoughts accompanying them drown out my own, like my mind has been muted.
“I don’t know what to do,” she admits. “My grandparents’ things are there. I don’t care about most of it but there’s some stuff I wanna keep. I’m scared, though. They actually came right up to me and said ‘You don’t belong here nigger bitch, get the fuck out.’” She gestures, palms up to chest height, fingers shaking. “Nothing like that ever happened when my grandparents were around…but they were white.”
I grab her hands in mine. “That’s dreadful, Luecy. I’m so sorry.” My voice is soft – a woman’s. “Tell the police, maybe-”
“You crazy? Did you hear about that black teacher they arrested last week? Car broke down outside town. She started walking to the nearest gas station and the cops just picked her up like she was some kind o’ criminal. It took them almost a whole day to release her. They had to ‘verify her employment.’ No, no cops,” she yanks her hands free with this last bit, emphatic.
That teacher must have done something. People aren’t just arrested for walking. But I know better than to say this. “Okay, okay, fine. I’ll go with you. It’ll go twice as fast with the two of us.”
Her skeptical dark brown eyes pin me as she runs the fingers of her right hand through her straightened hair, tossing it onto her back. “Honey, you’re sweet but hardly intimidating. You’re, what, 5’3”?”
Is her world really so different from mine? People are generally good. “I’m the kind of white that doesn’t tan. So if they have a problem with your being black then they won’t have that with me.”
She shakes her head.
“Luuuecy,” I whine playfully, bouncing on my feet, “we’ll be fine. I bet we won’t even run into them. It’s 11:00am. It’ll still be bright daylight when we finish and they’ll leave us alone.”
Luecy narrows her eyes a little, looking off to one side as she thinks.
“Didn’t you say that quilt is still there? The one your grandma made from your grandpa’s suits?” I press, knowing how important it is to her.
“Yeah… It was after he died. She obviously didn’t need the suits but didn’t want to give them away. I slept under that quilt for a week every summer when she took me to Huntington Lake. It smelled like his cologne and I snuggled up in bed remembering how he always made me laugh, even on bad days. Then there’s a box of letters they wrote to each other while he was in the war.”
“See? You can’t leave those as part of the estate sale. When is that, anyway?”
“Day after tomorrow.”
“So let’s gooo.”
Hmm. Well I know what’ll get her. “Okay, tell me where the stuff you want is and I’ll go on my own.”
“Gah,” she sighs through her teeth. “Fine. Fine. Let’s go.”
“Ha!” I grin. “Now we’re talking.”
The neighborhood is aggressive in its averageness. A line of ordinary houses and front yards in various states of greenery and decay. Sleepy cats in driveways. Children playing in yards. No sign of the upsurge in attacks against black people Luecy assures me is happening.
“Let’s do this quickly,” she says, parking in the driveway because it’s a one car garage and her grandma’s Volvo is inside it.
It takes us less than two hours to pack a box of the things Luecy’s keeping. I load it in the trunk while she locks the front door. Walking around to the driver’s side of the car, I watch her progress. As she approaches her eyes go wide and her mouth opens in a scream of my name.
Turning, I see a flash of white men, the arc of a silver baseball bat directed at my head. I try to move back but don’t have enough time. It connects with the left side of my face. There’s pain, I make out a jibe – “nigger lover!” – and then nothing.
Pounding agony encases my head. I’m lying on something hard and cold. What happened? I open my eyes. It’s light, but only just. Twilight? I turn my head, see Luecy’s car.
Scrambling to my feet, I stagger against the blackness that permeates my vision. The neighborhood spins and I feel myself slipping into oblivion. No. No, I won’t go. I breathe deeply, steady myself, wait until I can see clearly.
“Luecy!” I take a step forward, look to the house, and freeze. No, no, no, no, no. In front of the car, between it and the garage, on the cement… She’s crumpled, motionless, a pool of blood surrounds her battered head. Even in the falling darkness, the black of her skin, the crimson that’s leaked through it, stands stark against the gray driveway.
I blink, then blink again, adjusting with difficulty to the Council, to the table and room. The image of violence is relentlessly tangible, my breathing loud and uneven. I’m trembling. That was terrible.
<Please take this as a warning; the risks can outweigh the cause, no matter how just.>
No! No, I don’t see that. I see the cruelty and barbarism of humans. I know whose memory that was. She lived among them, I always knew that. Then something dreadful happened and she returned to the Shelter. Subdued, despondent. I never knew why.
I sigh. That quilt I’ve thought so beautiful, the one she’s leaving me, has a tragic history I could not have envisioned, not any of the times I asked about it, not any of the times I wondered what happened to steal her joy. Atthya wouldn’t say anything except that it was a friend’s. I never knew. I didn’t know.
<The people who killed Luecy, were they arrested?>
Ilora looks down. <No. The police never discovered who did it.>
How hard did they try? I revisit the memory but the glimpse of attackers is just that. A glimpse, nondescript beyond shades of skin and hair.
The Council allows us to leave.
<I was just as responsible as you,> Carson startsas soon as we’re home. <Whatever memory they made you live through, I should as well.>
Facing him, I prepare to disagree but his eyes are serious, his jaw set, and I know he won’t back down. <You’ll have to help with the transfer.>
We sit on the couch and I put what was so recently forced on me at the forefront of my thoughts so he can take it. As the scene of the lifeless woman fades, I see sorrow. Gravestones, funerals with masses of black clad mourners, a child’s room, empty forever.
He removes the stabilizer, tossing it rather carelessly onto the coffee table. We don’t speak for many hours. He suffers no attack, though at times I can feel his melancholy, see glimpses of what’s in his head even though there’s no telepathy exchanged between us.
<I want to get a Netflix subscription,> he breaks the lull.
<What?> I reflexively shut my book in surprise.
<You have a dark view of humanity. I’d like to broaden your perspective.>
<By watching Netflix?> I can’t keep my skepticism from bleeding through.
<By watching some of their masterpieces. By reading their great works of literature. My listening to music.>
This is so unexpected I find myself agreeing.