Auxi breathed heavily. The cold had frozen her throat, and when she exhaled, the air came out in half solid white crystals. Who would be so inhuman as to leave a girl in one layer of cloth in a cold room when it was three degrees? On top of it, the rascals had left an Air Cooler working. So the objective was to torture her. Auxi knew she couldn’t hold on much longer. She thought about Vizas.
“Cool, ain’t it?” mocked a sudden loud voice that Auxi couldn’t place, she was so disoriented. The heavy ruffle of someone moving in layers and layers of cloth made Auxi even more angry.
“Made a mistake, missy. Bad mistake. Shouldn’t have poked your nose around so much.”
The jestering voice came closer, and Auxi could see the outline of a hulky man, or maybe it was just the coats. A single black cloak over all the others told Auxi he was a commoner. No badges, no stars, no golden lining to show his position. And wearing some one else’s cloak was a serious sin, even for kidnappers.
The man crouched near Auxi’s feet, and seemed to uncap some sort of container. The snow had frozen on Auxi’s eyelashes, and her vision was foggy.
The man stood up, and Auxi could see he was of the same height as her. Where was his accomplice, Auxi wondered.
The man laughed once more before pouring the content of the vessel over Auxi’s arms and giving her much pain. Auxi shrieked, as the liquid slipped down her arms and pained her every cell.
“STOP IT! Stop it, please! What are you doing to me?!”
The man seemed to be set off with her cries and stopped. “Brine.”
“Brine?” gasped Auxi. What was that- some new chemical? The Tower must be behind it.
The man grunted. “Salt water. Everybody in this place is too advanced for conventional smartness, aren’t they.”
Salt water? What in the world?
“Your skin has frozen with the cold. It’s a different kind of parched. The salt irritates it. The water cuts cooler. Your heart is going fifty times faster than normal.”
Auxi shivered violently. The water chilled her bones. And suddenly, the liquid slipped down her left hand, and just as it touched the little finger, Auxi yelled. Her cries echoed and the man frowned.
He grasped her left hand, crushing Auxi’s stiff fingers, and looked at an open wound on the little finger.
“Aah. Salt and open wounds. I told you you made a mistake. Should have kept to your own ruddy business.”
He threw her hand back and turned away.
Auxi gasped. She swallowed all the air she could, and tried to block the pain.
“Wait. Please. Please wait.”
The man stopped.
“Please. I never meant anything. I was just looking. I won’t do anything, I promise. Please.”
The man didn’t move.
“Please- please let me go.”
The man laughed his loud, drawn laugh again. “Yeah, right. Didn’t think of this before, did you? Well, I have my own way of punishing. That stupid Waratia of yours isn’t enough for me.”
With that, he went away, and the whizzing fan was all the sound in the cold room. Auxi fell unconscious. Winter truly began.
A few miles and thick snow tracks away, Vizas tried to focus on Auxi’s thoughts. He had once managed to pick her from The Tower, but today, he was having all the trouble in the world. He had picked threads, but they were confusing. Bei’s files? An Air Cooler? What could Auxi be doing with an Air Cooler in that winter? And brine? Why was Auxi thinking about saltwater? And how did she know what brine was? Vizas only knew of that compound of the lost ages because he had once worked on excavating base and heard stories of the excavators everyday.
Vizas frowned. Was Auxi in trouble? But- brine?
Nothing made sense.
All of a sudden, Vizas remembered what Auxi had told him. Lord Janei, in the adjacent room. Surely he could pick his thoughts. Vizas focused. The dazzling whiteness of Waratia made problems, but Vizas was determined.
At last, he got something.
Auxi Feaze knows. She is on the track. She will soon know everything. Should I trust her?
Vizas was alarmed. Lord Janei obviously didn’t know that Vizas was in the next cell. But Lord Janei knew much more.
Vizas tried to connect back but the red light inside his cell jumped to life, and Vizas grudgingly sat back. Who could it be?
“Vizas Hows, you are to be moved.” said a Waratia officer, and grabbing him by the collar, pulled him out. That was too rough for even Waratia standards, Vizas realised.
Auxi frowned as she walked back to her house, from Waratia. The day had proven useless, and Auxi knew she couldn’t waste so much precious time. All she had managed was introducing her agenda to Lord Janei, and revealing everything to Vizas, if very abruptly. The grief of Bei’s death was weighing down on her. And the fact that it might just be murder, was something she couldn’t come to terms with. Could the Tower really kill someone, for a secret? A life, taken? How could they be the people’s government then? How was the Tower not a monarch then? How were they in the 31st century then, if their human ideas of dominance had just not died?
Auxi wondered what she could do… where she could go… who…
She wanted to go through Bei’s house but had seen the heavy surveillance around it. And the Tower had not even bothered to keep it down. Rounds of red rings floated halfway up the house, as warning for trespassers that that particular house was reserved for Tower work, for some time. And since Bei lived alone, with no one to call family, it was all very convenient too.
Auxi passed the house again, and the lifeless still building chilled her heart more so.This very building only recently housed a living heart, a noble heart made Auxi shiver despite the cloak wrapped around her tight. The red lines shone bold. Warning was clear.
Auxi knew entering would prove fatal.
Auxi reached her own house. The warm air that hit her as she entered made her breathe in relief. Finally. Auxi shed almost all her layers, and was surprised to find she could still go around in a single T-shirt and pants. That was strange. With three degrees outside and the Tower having to set up a heat machine, she was surprised she could afford her own heating.
Auxi went over to the study. She lifted the lid of her laptop, and pressed her fingers across the blue strip. The laptop sprung to life.
“You have, four messages pending.”
Auxi start scribbling an imaginary pencil against the white metal plate following the blue strip, and the strokes appeared on the screen.
“Lord Janei visited. Vizas told. Bei’s house still sealed.”
Then she swiped her thin fingers across the screen in moves practices through repetition and the Messages panel opened.
1. Officer Uid, Waratia Prison Facility; “You have made a first visit today to a prisoner. This has been recorded in the prison logbooks. According to the Prison Regulations you have already been briefed, every first visit is video-recorded, for security reasons. You have been notified.”
Auxi wondered if the last sentence was indeed ominous- You were told. You shoudn’t have.
2. Tower Message Center; “You have missed one day at the Message Room. Since your leave form had been turned down and you had been notified, this shall be recorded in your work sheet. Another miss without permission could lead to expulsion from the job.”
Auxi swore. She recollected how her leave application had come back with a ‘Not Suitable Grounds’ Rejection when she had reported the death of Bei.
3. Bei, Tower Control Room;
Auxi jumped when she saw who the message was from.
“This is an electronically timed message. You have received this, because the sender created an event that has happened, and the message has been automatically sent.
Dear Auxi, if you get this message, I want you to know someone has been tampering with my personal laptop. It isn’t as safe as the Tower networks so I have stored this message here, right under their nose. I told you I felt a danger to my life at work. When those officers took me away, they led me to the Jury Centre. They said they knew I had been poking about. They knew I was digging up files from various sources for the S-Crisis. I had been to talk to all the families of the poeple on the Team, only one actual member was alive. They said they were stamping my record with Breach to Solidarity, something like betraying Tower ethics. I know it was just bullshit, they just wanted reason to poke around.
I am recording this message because if something really happens, I want you to start from what I already know, because I am sure you WILL start.
Auxi, I’m holding on to you. And Vizas, though I know he is angry.
Auxi let a tear sip away. Bei was murdered. She would get to the bottom of it, she was certain now more than ever. With a heavy heart, she turned to the last message.
4. Auxi was shocked it was another message from Bei. It was from his personal laptop.
“Auxi, I know they are coming for me. I am sending you all my files, everything I could jot down, all the pictures I could collect. Get everything down to download, out of your laptop, they will breach it sooner or later. Clean it thoroughly Auxi. Tell Vizas I am sorry I could never come. But it was just this-”
And then it broke off. Auxi opened the files he attached right at the top. She couldn’t go through them just then, because a sharp knock on the door made her swipe the blue strip and lock the laptop.
“Tower Control Officers, ma’am. Please open the door.”
Their IDs scanned through the door, and Auxi went through them carefully before opening the door.
“What-” but the rest of the sentence muffled as she looked at a bright white light and slipped to the ground.
Forty five minutes later, when she woke, Auxi was still in her T-shirt and pants but cold, as she was bound to a tall vertical hold, she couldn’t yet understand what and the room was freezing. The rumble of an Air Cooler explained that the temperature was set low, on purpose.
Auxi gasped for fuller breaths and shivered.
Please See- This has become a six-part series. Part 1 and 2 are Winter in June and Winter Continues. Here’s Part-3.
“Vizas?” asked Auxi nervously. She knew Waratia wouldn’t let him die, but he hadn’t responded to her entering his cell, and surely he must be anxious to see her, when she hadn’t visited him yesterday.
Vizas didn’t stir. Auxi rushed towards him, and grabbed his arm. He didn’t move an inch. She breathed hard onto his wrist, and peered as the green letters re-appeared. Pulse-normal. Heartbeat-normal.
“I had half a mind to let you run crazy to the guards screaming for help. But I can see you are dead stiff.”
Vizas made her jump.
Auxi caught him a tight embrace and held on.
“I couldn’t lose you. I could never lose you.” She muttered softly.
“Really? I thought you had found someone else yesterday… Kick that old bum at the prison… what can he do anyway?” sneered Vizas.
Auxi reeled back. She was clearly hurt. “Vizas! I would never-”
“Of course. You wouldn’t. I would blame the rat but-”
“Vizas! What are you talking about?!”
“What you were THINKING about! I go berserk worrying about you, why you never came, what could have happened, and I hear nothing from no-one! And then suddenly, fifteen minutes ago, I picked your thoughts and have the ball of my ruddy life!”
“Whatever you heard, it’s obviously not true! You’re just creating storms out of things you obviously don’t know!”
“Perfect! He’s in prison! Blame HIM! He would NEVER know! All right, you tell me- what did you mean when you were thinking- I must not tell Vizas. I will have this meeting and no one will know. But I must do this. About time. How long can I wait? He will give me what I want. YOU tell me, what the hell was THAT about?!“
“You have been reading my mind and you get these mess-ups and then you go livid over nothing! Would it amuse you if I brought out my entire day’s proceedings written and submitted it to you everyday like a schoolkid?!”
“Hell, it would! Specially if my girl was going out with someone else!”
“Vizas, I’m not with someone else. Will you-”
“It’s Bie isn’t it? That- that- hole takes my job, he takes my girl!”
“Vizas, Bie has nothing to do with this. But if you just want to argue with anyone who cares for you, I should just go away right now!”
“Sure! Get more time with your boy, won’t you! Just like yesterday, right? Why weren’t you here yesterday, then?”
“VIZAS! Bie is dead!” Auxi screamed at the top of her lungs, and fatigued by the ordeal, slumped down on the bed.
Vizas had shut up at last. Auxi pressed her forehead, and lay still on the bed.
“What?” Vizas asked.
“Heart attack while he was at work.” Auxi whispered.
“Heart attack?! The Tower monitors the heart beats of everyone inside-”
“A med team was on its way they say, but he went away too quick.”
“That’s bullshit! All they needed to do was drop through the floors! And he didn’t even have any condition-”
“They are holding him under inspection.”
“Auxi you know he didn’t have a heart attack! You can’t-”
“I know. But if you’ll let someone else speak for a change, maybe you’ll know all the other things I do.”
Vizas sat down on the chair, and waited, trying to show he was sorry, though he still had doubts.
“Bie was murdered. By the Tower I know. He acme to me day before after I visited you, saying his life was in danger, and he suspected the Tower being involved in something back when the S-Crisis occurred. He had picked up something, but of course, wouldn’t say anything. Just told me to get to everyone I trusted and start digging if anything happened to him. I pressed for more but some people from the Tower came to my house, where we were, and took him away. He told me to keep things from you for a while, because he believed they would come after you on the double if they suspected anything. And even now, I feel dumb telling you this beneath their obvious vigil.”
“What the hell! The S-Crisis? A heat break conspiracy?”
“And since you so want to know and have no respect for anyone’s privacy at all, I was thinking all those dark thoughts about my visit to Lord Janei right now, in the cell next to yours. Help you sleep better?”
Auxi showed her disgust clearly, on her face. She intended to give him a hard time over this. But Vizas was just plain silent.
“What, you done already?”
Vizas looked at her. He saw his mistake. That was obviously no way to treat her. His eyes fell on her cloak, and the thinning material and greying fabric welched his gut.
“What degree is it outside?” He whispered.
“Three.” Auxi replied, just as softy, exhausted herself, and feeling just as bad.
“Three. You sure you don’t want to steal a fruit or something and get in here?” Vizas asked, hopefully.
Auxi looked at him. She got up and went over to him, and slipped next to him and hugged him again.
“I’m sorry Auxi, I really am. It’s just- it’s this place. You weren’t here for one day, and I was all over my head and-”
“It’s okay. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s okay.”
“We have got to get to this. About Bie. About the S-Crisis. We can’t let this go now.”
“And I will help, however I can.”
“But that’s going to be tomorrow now, Vizas. The light’s on.”
“Shit man. I wasted all our time on-”
“It’s okay I said. I’ll be here tomorrow. Get some sleep, we are going to talk about many things tomorrow.” Auxi walked towards the door.
Auxi turned and saw Vizas desperate for one last word. She gave him his chance.
“I love you.”
“And I do you. And Vizas, I’ll love you for the next one year and sixty days the same , and then after that too.”
And Auxi walked out.
Please See: Written due to requests made to the first part- Winter in June.
Vizas walked up and down in his little white cell, his little white home and growled. One year and sixty days to go… One year and sixty days in this hole.
Auxi had made it bearable. For some time Vizas had even dared to enjoy the cell, not having to make decisions, not having to be on his guard all the time like he did at the Tower. But all his reckless bouts burst when he saw Auxi trudging on, even when it was the coldest winter in the land and that too in June. Of course, the Tower was involved. And Vizas hated having to be in Waratia while Auxi made her visits everyday through the numbing cold, and her cloak reminded Vizas of that when she came.
But even that was now no more. She hadn’t visited him yesterday. She hadn’t sent someone else. She should have done something. Vizas was furious. He realized, for the first time, how incapable he felt living one day in that hole. He hadn’t done so before, because he had spent his time thinking about Auxi, trying to read her thoughts at the Message Room. But now that he had not seen her for one day, he had a head full of doubts.
Vizas slumped into his bed. It was about time for her visit now. Would she come today? Vizas tried to concentrate on her thoughts. But he picked nothing, just like yesterday.
Vizas blew on his wrist, near the artery, and within seconds, his skin peeled and a plate of green numbers and figures showed. Vizas noted the time and exhaled on his wrist again. As the skin sealed, it pained a little. But Vizas had the comfort of knowing her regular time hadn’t yet passed.
Unlikely as it was at the moment, sleep came. And Vizas happily embraced it, and was soon snoring away, thinking of Auxi.
Fifty paces away from his cell, A-56, Auxi stumbled on. She was trying hard not to break into a run and alarm the people behind the steel lenses of Waratia. The prison was new, but the men behind it, experienced hard to the core. She couldn’t afford to lose her meeting. She might not get another.
Auxi reached the final corridor. The corridor that would always be the final one to her. But she passed on, ahead of 56, and could already hear the small whizz of a camera surprised by her movement. She was supposed to enter 56, as always. And I will. But first, I need to speak to him.
Auxi knew this conversation would be taped. Every first is. But she had prepared for that.
Auxi presented her ID, and it took longer than the usual time to enter her. The seven checks progressed. And the door opened, ever so slowly. Only this time, Auxi wouldn’t mind if it went slower.
Okay, gotta do this. She thought to herself. But then stopped, afraid that Vizas had heard her in the next cell. Auxi rushed inside, and the cell slowly closed.
“Auxi Feaze,” said a thick voice from inside. “To what may I owe the pleasure, my lady?”
Auxi breathed slowly and stepped further inside the little cell. For some reason, this one seemed smaller to her, but it could just be the dominating aura of the person she was visiting that made her feel small, and the walls nearer.
“Lord Janei, I come here to discuss a very important issue, which I believe you can assist me with. And I don’t intend to take much of your time.” came Auxi’s rehearsed reply. How would he play along?
Auxi looked into the face of the man she once loved dearly. But he had never encouraged such feelings, and she had kept in check, but not hiding her respect. There wasn’t a man in all the land who did not bow when Lord Janei passed. But things had taken an awful turn and the Lord had been convicted of a crime no one believed he could have committed. Auxi had often wondered if every inmate at Waratia was just plain wronged, because the people didn’t really know any name that deserved to be in prison.
“Auxi, time is something I can give to you freely, because not many people think of visiting old Lord Janei and the few who come get a fair chance.”
Auxi felt the words come right from the Lord’s heart. That was strange, because the Lord spoke, felt, ate and slept through his brain and that alone. But he had been changed. Waratia had won over Janei, and even the deep lines beneath his eyes that earlier spoke of experience now only hinted at tiredness. Auxi wondered if she would actually win today.
“Just Janei. Not much of a Lord anymore.”
“Yes Lord Janei. I had a query about the Tower, but I feel I must warn you. If you think you should not indulge in any discussion about the Tower, or that you may compromise any rule on you, or any other breach to promise, this would be the end of this conversation.”
Auxi hoped all her heart that it wasn’t. The Lord was frowning. Was it a bad sign?
“You always had a way of unsettling a person didn’t you? How can I possibly turn you away now, now that you have my full attention and grappling curiosity? But should I indeed refuse to talk? Will you make me reveal what must not be revealed?” The Lord thought for a moment. Auxi was getting tense.
“You win. Ask your questions.”
Auxi tried not to show the immense relief she felt. She felt like she had already had the conversation and gained enough victory.
“About two years ago, there was a glitch in the Tower Mainsroom. A central processing device had failed and several other linked to it were breaking down. I’m talking about The S-Crash.”
The Lord nodded, listening carefully.
“It was said that the central processing unit was one heating control panel that had broken down due to random temperature changes and hot wind gushes in the Tower.”
“But at the same time, there was noticed a steady drop in temperature and that was the year there was autumn in August.”
“The Tower explained it. They had their own separate heating channel and it was not holding up properly.” the Lord interrupted.
“Right. For the next six months a team of workmen put all their day on the Tower temperature controls and things had been turned back to normal.”
“The central processor had been fixed, yes.” The Lord said, waiting for her question.
“What if it hadn’t?” Auxi asked.
“The Tower let a team of people come and poke in, just for that reason. They wanted the people to verify for themselves that things were indeed right and the Tower controlled the temperature again. The point was to reinstate the authority. The taxes had been cut off when the heating was weird, but now they had to be started. But you know all this, so what’s your question?”The Lord asked, frowning deeply.
“My real question is- What if the heating had never really broken down? What if the team was collected for something else? What if, and this is very important, that the Tower needed those people, and precisely those people, to come in for something and they needed a very strong theory to hide it with?”
Auxi asked slowly. She knew Waratia didn’t record audio, and felt glad.
“Why would they do that? There are hundreds of people who can make just any excuse to meet any of the people on the team any day. When the heating broke, the Tower lost almost half of it’s control centre, and that is a pretty big risk for anything. And how could they be sure the right people were sent on the team? Why would they create such a bogus story? This is too much speculation, I say. Why go to so many lengths to bring in just a few people? What could possibly be that big?”
“What indeed?” Auxi mumbled.
The Lord frowned.
“Auxi- if there’s something-”
But the Lord was cut off by the glow if a red light inside his cell door. A startled Auxi jumped in her seat.
“First visits are half as short as regulars! I completely forgot!” Auxi gave away a desperate cry.
“I know you will come back tomorrow. I know I’m in too deep to get out now. So Auxi Feaze, I think there’s no reason for you to feel defeated, yet. You shall get another chance to complete your well-prepared speech.”
Auxi bowed her head in respect, just like she did all those years ago.
Without a word, she walked out of the Lord’s cell and let the door shut tight behind her.
Once out, Auxi breathed freely. She realised how tight she had been holding onto her cloak, and the tension she was in. Auxi took two long breaths and stepped in front of the next door.
She must finish her other visit too. She wouldn’t tell him about the meeting with Lord Janei as yet but she could tell him, maybe, some of her doubts. At least that would give her something to talk about.
Sighing deeply, Auxi lifted her ID for the second time that day and allowed it to be scanned outside Vizas’ cell door.