It had been working perfectly, all of it, well and truly all of it.
Debra quickly searched through the kitchen for anything that could be of use. The knife she found was designed to be too thin to cut anything but bread, and that would hardly suit what she needed. A glass jar of chunky red liquid lie on its side on the table and her nose wrinkled in disgust. She would have to clean that up as soon as she regained some semblence of control of the situation, but as she climbed up onto the counter to reach the police radio she had hidden atop the fridge, the notion was quickly put from her mind.
Where had it all gone wrong?
It had been a long day at work, but one in which she was pleased. She had spent most of the day searching for confirming evidence of a theory she had, scrolling past contradicting articles and other such obvious untruths. She remembered sighing. There were too many people who failed to accept that the correct understandings were almost the most recent.
Having collected the necessary evidence after hours of scrolling through and a few minutes of cutting and pasting, she found her boss's office and sat down for the wait. A week earlier, she asked Tim why he always allowed so few people to see him, holding a well-written issue about the building's central heating.
"I don't know, I guess if he let them all in, he wouldn't hear about the most important issues." Typical, she thought, there's always some other explanation. His words, however, came back to her as she saw the line in front of her. The day wore on and when at last she submitted the document to her boss, he let out a long sigh. Of course. He's at a loss for words.
"I thought we went over this."
"We did, but nothing changed."
"Look, time is money and we really need to move on from this superstition." Oh, time is money. You only care about money.
"It is not a myth. These figures show that Tim is probably being paid more than I am."
"I can't disclose another employee's salary. You've worked here the same amount of time, and you do the same job-"
"And you pay him more for it."
"Why would I do that? If I could get a woman to do the same job for less, why would I hire a man?" She let out a sigh. Oh, there you go again, only caring about money.
"You tell me."
"I'm asking you because I honestly can't think of a reason." Debra sighed and left. Some people would just never accept that their lives were determined by statistics.
On the road home, she saw something statistics would have decided graphically impossible with 95%C and 1r.
It was a peddler running between cars, selling people something from a sack. In dress, he looked well enough to do, but his manner was much worse. He bounced back and forth between feet as if in some strange sort of dance, accepting people's hastily offered money and then throwing it in the air. Crawling closer at 10 mph she noticed he had grown out his hair and beard, as though he had never once seen civilization, especially with the crumbs that flew in all directions as he shook his head. His madness was like that of one who had been forced to live on an alien world, one who struggled to make sense of all the strange sights.
"Something changed! Something changed I tell you! This city is not the same as it was!" He sprinted in his odd, jaunty way to the open window of a cab and shouted as it closed. "The world is not the same as it was!"
She had seen the disturbed run about in the streets before, yelling to anyone unfortunate enough to hear that the world was ending, but it was a notion she entirely disregarded. Every day was better than the last, and the end of the world would be bad. Thus, it would never happen.
"Please! You people have to remember!" Debra tired of the man's act and passed him with the windows raised. As she parked in the nearby garage and walked to her apartment, she found she had little else with which to occupy her mind and the peddler returned to it. Though she usually avoided men shouting in the streets as dangerous, especially those with deviant opinions, the madness of it excited her, and as she caught sight of the same old man sprinting down the sidewalk from the men in trench coats. His protests came hoarsely, having yelled as much as he had, or perhaps that was just his voice.
"Stop! I am within my right! I made them myself!" He tripped in front of her and she leaped back, not knowing whether to expect magical trinkets or live explosives to tumble out of the bag. Instead, for one moment as those in pursuit produced a black cloth to throw over both the man and his wares, Debra could see it. It was a round, nondescript mass with a hole in the center. What was the purpose?
Thoughts of the strange object would not leave her alone as she walked hastily to her apartment, unwilling to even eat, so certain anything she ate would taste like dust and ash. How? How could she be so certain?
Her eyes turned to the top of the refrigerator where she kept a radio set to the frequency the police used.
When at last Debra possessed the will, she grabbed her bag and marched herself to the station, but could not find the deranged peddler being held.
"May I help you?" A woman with a nice smile asked.
"Oh, yes, there was, you see, this arrest and I, well I may have some evidence to offer."
"Of course, ma'am! What was the crime?" The blonde woman asked, tapping at a computer.
"I am not sure. He must have already committed it when they arrested him." Listening, she stopped tapping at the keyboard for a moment. "Or, he might have been selling something without a license. Yes, that was probably what it was." The receptionist's momentarily reserved expression disappeared.
"Oh, I see. You saw him doing something, and it must have been illegal. Do you know him?"
"I've seen him many times before." It was not true, but she felt it.
"I see. We get quite a number of arrests on this charge. Would you please describe the offender?"
"Well, he was far away at first, so I could scarcely-" The smile faded as the woman's eyes narrowed. "But as I approached closer, he was the same man I've seen many times, yes, the one with long hair and a long beard, the one who wears all black and shouts things that make little sense. His words are strange, and should probably not be permitted." Deviant opinions were most likely far from currently held, and certainly completely incorrect. She smiled internally as the receptionist entered the information into a computer. A thin frown began to form once more as the computer made a sound and she looked more closely to read the message on the screen.
"I am sorry, we are not allowed to discuss information on this subject or others like him. It is part of the 1999 Opacity Act revision. We hope you understand."
"Of course. I learned about that in school. The government has the responsibility of preserving peace and order." She thought for a moment, tapping her fingernails on the counter. It was only a deviant who would ask after this sort of offender without good reason. It was better to walk away, she concluded. As she stepped out, Debra risked the security of the entire city by reaching for a pen on the desk to sign in and glanced at the screen by the reflection from the other woman's mirror. Managing to read a snippet of the prison's name, she signed and left, politely saying her goodbyes.
The prison was a small, nondescript building with no clear markings. A man wearing a trench coat stood outside. She was not sure he had been the same, but was careful to look down as she knocked on the door.
"What business do you have here?"
"Is this a government building?" Due to the Opacity Act, I should never question the security of a government building. The man stood there for a second.
"I cannot answer that question."
"Oh, do you not know?"
"Not necessarily. It is, however, very dangerous." He said with a minatory voice.
"Is it government work?" If it is, all is well.
"Do we need to report the danger?" The guard cast a glance in both directions.
"Get inside, dammit." She smiled as though blithely ignorant of whatever the building might contain. Once through the door, it was not difficult to locate the cells, as it was a small structure with only two connected floors. Each one had a bundle of arms and legs under a thin flaxen blanket. A sign hung above reading "ANOMALIES". Though she did not remember the meaning of the word, Debra imagined it was a serious crime, anomaly. She wished to never be one herself. In the cells, she caught sight of one at the end of the row with an upright sack, devoid of its contents. Crouching low to the level of the old man within, she whispered to him.
"Where did they take your things?"
"The ... white room ... used to ... be a kitchen." He answered feebly with labored breath. "Please, you ... have to ... remember." Nodding while rising, her eyes picked up a man in a trench coat with a suspicious expression. He walked not toward her, but past her and with all intent to hear. Falsely brushing off her knees, she went around the corner and took a squat concrete staircase upward, crouching as she neared the top and peering forward before rising. It was mostly clear save a guard outside the white room itself. Casting a glance out the barred window, she saw the sun was setting but the flashlights had not yet come out. The guard was staring out into the street and Debra quickly concluded there would not be a better chance. Her curiosity was ravenous, insatiable. Slowly stepping onto the floor, she crept around the back of the man, her careful step having been well taught to her, as she was always advised to tread carefully. With agonizing patience she crept into the former kitchen and resisted the urge to close the door.
The table in the center of the room was littered with evidence, but she knew little of what she sought, only that she had never seen it before. Scarcely able to look for something she had never seen, she took a quick inventory. There were a few weapons, a stack of papers, odd trifles one might find in a pocket, and basket of food items, each carefully labeled with pins. In her mind a connection suddenly appeared, as though dimly lit until that very moment.
What she wanted was food.
Taking a quick glance outside, Debra went through the basket, finding apples on top, packets of coffee, and- there it was. She ducked under the table with her prize, the label fixed to it by the pin revealing little, as it was a word that did not exist. Putting a hand over her mouth, she refrained from gasping as the guard entered the room, walking around it and rifling through the basket of food. From it he drew his own prize, which he began to eat at once. For her part, such low, instantaneous reward would not do. There was a ritual to observe, she knew, and one would not last her long. Listening carefully for the footsteps to leave the room, she allowed herself at last to resurface and force several of the items into her bag, replacing them with firearms and covering those with apples. Taking a brief look about the room once more, she saw only one other possible method of exit, the window in the kitchen was unbarred for fire regulations, and if those same rules cleared it, she decided there was a chance it led to a fire escape, having forgotten what the building looked like from the outside.
Debra quickly unlatched the window as quietly as possible and heaved herself out of it, aware it would be impossible to close behind her and secure the secrecy of her escape. As she landed on the fire escape, the structure rattled, drawing attention. A man in a trench coat stared up at her.
"Fire!" she shouted, buying herself a few moments. Swiftly descending the ladder and crossing the street into the crowd, managing to blend before more authorities arrived. They will come after me, she thought suddenly. They will not rest. No matter what, they would never allow the firemen into the building, and so they have to tell them it was a false report. Everyone saw me, but no one knows who I am. They have to find me.
They will find me.
As though Deimos had touched her mind, her nerves were set on high alert as she made her way through the crowd, instinctively maintaining her speed with the flow of the crowd, forcing herself not to break and run. It was not so wide a street as Park Avenue, but she would have to mind her step, as she always had. It pained her greatly to flee the authorities as though every step took her farther and farther and farther still from the manifest perfection of civilization, deep into the wilds, deep into the past. As she kept pace with the crowd, she felt her bag grow lighter as one steadily taking leave of its contents, as one with a hole spilling itself onto the trafficked street, as one ripe for the pilfering by the multitude of greedy hands that passed her by. Resisting the overwhelming urge to clutch it closer, she forced herself into an alley as the crowd thinned and quickly made her way to the opposite street surfacing only momentarily to go up the steps and into her apartment building. Debra felt their eyes on her back as she stepped into the elevator and pressed the button. She would not have long before she would desperately search for a suitable knife, before the police radio would announce their movements, before they would bang on her door.
None of it mattered. She needed a goddamn bagel.