Monitoring: Olivia Garcia
Mesa, Arizona, USA
12:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time
Monday, June 9th, 2014
19:45 Coordinated Universal TIme
Monday, June 9th, 2014
As far as Olivia can tell, nobody is following her. At every intersection she has to press a button and wait for the crossing signal to change, and she takes each stop as an opportunity to look at the yellows and scan her surroundings. It’s a lovely motivation to start learning, quickly, how to distinguish one person from another. Olivia thinks that she’s doing an alright job but can’t know for sure. Up till now she’s never cared much whether a given body was this person or that one, even at the school. Even when she wasn’t more concerned with the big picture stuff and had an interest in the details, caring about who she was looking at would have been like giving names to each brushstroke of a painting. When Olivia was seeing yellows, it wasn’t about people.
A couple of minutes after she left the McDonald’s, Olivia tuned back into the yellows to see that Blank had gone to sit over in the booth with Hannah and Austin, taking Olivia’s spot. Then they actually ordered something, and by the time that they were too far away for her to really make them out, they were still eating.
She isn’t sure what she had expected from the CIA, but it certainly wasn’t a decision to follow up their failed recruitment drive with lunch.
“So, what do you want?” she imagines one of them saying. “I think I’m in the mood for some pink slime and salty grease today,” the others must have said.
Forget it. So long as they aren’t going after her, it doesn’t really matter. They’re giving her some space, at least for now.
It takes forty minutes to walk home, and not for the first time Olivia regrets that she can’t move around while she’s seeing the yellows. It would be nice to be able to change the scenery.
Hands in her pockets, she ascends the steps to her family’s apartment with reluctance and suspicion. Was there somebody that she hadn’t noticed on her way here? Had they somehow bugged her? It was all irrelevant, she admits to herself, an exercise in worrying to make herself feel better, distracting herself from the awful fact that they just plain know who she is and where to find her. The CIA hadn’t bumped into her on the corner by accident. They had gone after her, even addressed her by name.
What does it matter, then, whether or not they are tracking her? They still know where she lived, maybe even when she went to bed and how long it took her to make hot chocolate in the morning. If they want to force the issue then she’s as good as dead.
“Hello, I’m home,” Olivia says as she closes the door behind her. “School closed out early,” she says before her father can ask the obvious question. He surely knows that she’s lying, but if that’s so then he doesn’t remark on it.
“Would you like to join us?” he asks, gesturing to the deck of cards on the table. Olivia begins to shake her head but reconsiders before the motion is complete. She drops her backpack where she stands and slides into the chair next to her Lita at the small kitchen table.
They play cards together for a couple of rounds, her father occasionally issuing a probing question on her feelings and Olivia deflecting, and both of them keeping Lita occupied and content
“You can get some rest now, you know,” Olivia says after her father’s fourth attempt at figuring out what’s wrong with her. He frowns. She sighs. Lita keeps looking at her cards. “Look, I’ll be alright tomorrow morning. It’s one of those things that’ll stop being a bother overnight, and if it isn’t then I promise you that we can talk about it. You need to sleep more than I do, though.”
Her father opens his mouth, then closes it without saying anything and just nods. They finish the hand that they were playing and then he lays his cards down on the table and departs for his room. “Hey,” she says a little while later, “let’s watch some television. Do you want to put on your shows?”
Lita shakes her head, so Olivia deals out another hand of cards for each of them, gives a playful swat when Lita tries to cheat and grab another card, and imagines her being twisted into a horrible flesh and bone sculpture like Austin described. She imagines radiation poisoning, her Lita’s skin cracking red and her teeth falling out and her internal organs turning to jelly.
“Are you happy?” is something that Olivia doesn’t ask. It’s obvious that Lita’s happy, at least most of the time, when she isn’t getting confused because she’s missing something and can’t even figure out what it is, and getting angry because she can’t piece together what’s confusing her. Setting aside those times, Lita may even be happier more than she once was. There are less things in the world to bother her now, so long as Olivia and her father can properly manage that world for her.
The really important question, really, is “What could be so awful that it isn’t worth living through?” Olivia doesn’t ask that one, either, just says “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes” and writes down on a piece of paper that she’s in the bathroom in case Lita needs her.
“What could be so awful that it isn’t worth living through?”
Well, for starters, something that isn’t going to be lived through. Maybe refugees find it in themselves to call it all worthwhile, years after they’ve escaped the wars that erupted in their homelands, but the dead sure don’t get to partake of whatever silver linings were found or invented. The scars of smallpox might have gotten less noticeable for those who survived the disease, Olivia isn’t sure, but she knows that they never really faded on those that died, just decayed away and fed worms after the manner of all flesh.
She doesn’t really know if there’s a way to move past some things, either. Atrocities leave trauma and some sicknesses disfigure the body, and the greatest wars left permanent marks in the very cultures that they happened to. Austin and Hannah said that the world was going to end, but that it could maybe be saved. Even if it were, though, what sort of world would be left? What sort of a society would remain when the dust and ash had settled?
(“Who would be running it?” is a question that she thinks but doesn’t voice, even here where’s she’s alone, rummaging through the bathroom cabinet for cleaning supplies.)
People always want to live, or at least if they don’t then everyone agrees that they’re broken. Perhaps they’d disagree once they’re in the thick of the horror, but then again survival instincts are sometimes strongest in the cornered rat. It couldn’t be any other way, really: Olivia remembers reading about how the Lake Toba eruption nearly drove humanity to extinction, tens of thousands of years ago. If there were ever a type of human who could easily commit suicide, the genes for it must have died out with them, and Olivia finds it hard to argue that they wouldn’t have been right to cut both their losses and their throats under those circumstances.
“The world is ending,” it might be said, “so how do you want to die? Painfully or quickly, in terror or in peace?”
Olivia chooses speed and peace. Her father and his mother might say otherwise, but how are they to know the right decision to make? If their ancestors couldn’t commit suicide when the world was overturned and extinction was at the door, then how could they be expected to do it when it was still on the horizon? They wouldn’t believe her, anyway. She’s just a child, but she knows that there are strange things about in the world, and all that she could do is stand here with bleach in one hand and ammonia in the other, unable to proceed any further.
It would be easy. A little painful, maybe, but at least it would all be over. It wouldn’t be as bad as some other ways to die, not when the future offers starvation and radiation and worse. Or she could go to her computer and figure out how to fill the apartment with carbon monoxide, if chlorine gas was too painful. Her Lita would fall asleep, her father would never wake up, and Olivia could open her eyes to the yellows of the world and watch as some of them slowly faded away in time with her own. She can’t save their lives but she could save them from suffering, if only she were strong enough to do this, if only…
Knock, knock, goes the door, and Olivia sighs and closes the cabinet.
“I’ll be right there, Lita.”
Maybe she can do it tomorrow.
(Maybe she’s a coward and she just won’t ever do it. After all, she doesn’t have the genes for it, now does she?)