Stories from Refuge – 46 – “We wanted to be brave like she was, but we were really cowards.”

Refuge: an underground city built to save people from an apocalyptic world. But how will its people save themselves? Read the stories in any order, or start with the introduction at part 1.

Reconciliation Council report B-41, dialogue between F.J. and Len 54C, recorded by James 72A
RY 100.9.4

I forgot for a while. It’s ironic, right? The whole point was so that people wouldn’t forget, and then I did.

I worked with… You know who it is, I don’t know why you want me to use initials. I.K., the artist. You know who she is and you know what she wrote. You know why she’s locked up in Confinement now. I don’t know why she still is, with the old Councils supposedly disbanded. I’m sure she’s writing something about that, but I can’t help her smuggle it out anymore. They fired me after this Empath interrogated me. I used to be on guard duty in Section 5. That’s when I found her, the artist. That’s when I remembered being in school, the group of us who wrote poems and plays and passed them around and pasted them to the walls but made sure we didn’t get caught. We wanted to be brave like she was, speaking out against Government and corruption, but we were really cowards and we weren’t willing to do it out loud. Until I found her in my cell block and I knew what I could do.

It’s hard to get a hold of paper. We used to rip pages out of the back of our old school books, and those were so old they were already covered in other kids’ notes and doodles. I managed to grab some paint out of Equipment and Maintenance. If I.K. didn’t want people to forget, if she wanted to burn her words into people’s minds and force them to look at the things that they wanted not to see, I was going to make them see those things in big black letters.

I hit the walls of about fourteen tunnels. Maybe half of them got painted over right away but the others stayed up, mostly in the sub-tunnels. Some people really didn’t want to forget. That’s the whole point of what you’re doing, right, these dialogues?

It’s fuzzy, the day that this Empath caught me. I figure he must have made me hit my head and that’s why I forgot. I kept telling myself that even after they discharged me from Medical and I went home and looked in the mirror and didn’t see any bruises on my head at all. Mostly I wondered why they didn’t lock me up right next to I.K. I never did figure out what had happened there. It must have been part of what I forgot. Sometimes I think it was all for the best – this forgetting. I got off easy. I was lucky. I’ll have another chance to fight. But then I try to pick up a pencil and I feel the pain in my fingers again, and I know what happened even if I don’t remember it. This man knew just what I wanted and he took it away from me. That’s worse than forgetting.

[Len 54C speaks.]

You Councilors haven’t done much investigating into this, have you? The Empath who’s running around taking away people’s memories? There’s a reason this subject didn’t end up in Confinement where he belonged. Someone took the case away from me. Someone told me she was taking over, and then she made me forget who she was. Maybe you should follow up on that, what happened after I interrogated F.J., who took him to Medical and got him released after that.

What? Why do all of you feel like I’m saying the wrong thing? What the hell should I say? You want me to apologize for doing my job? For shutting down an operation that was stirring up trouble? This subject just started spouting things about freedom and art when I first caught him. I had to do something to get him to tell me who he was working with. Do you think I read poetry and plays? You think I should have just recognized the gibberish he was painting on the walls and known who wrote it?

No, that’s not it. You think I went too far. I shouldn’t have crippled his hands. What would you have done? I had to hit him somewhere it would hurt. I could have made him bang his head against the wall all day and he would have kept droning on about how you can’t stifle art. So he gave me exactly what I needed to know. I saw just how to make him talk, and you think I shouldn’t have used it? I shouldn’t have given him some punishment for what he was doing? I shouldn’t have shown him how he was bringing this all down on himself for not being quiet and cooperating, how he was putting people at risk, how there’s not room here underground for people to be acting up and pretending they’re not part of the system, and maybe a hundred years ago people could act like brats and wander off into the wilderness to build their own perfect societies and whatever if they didn’t like where they lived but they can’t do it now, they can’t do it here. And if people like him want to act like that then they deserve whatever’s coming to them, because they can’t start trouble like this, they can’t stir up riots like this. People get hurt in riots. People get killed in riots. People…

Tell your recorder to stop trying to read me. I’m not telling him who died. I’m done here.

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Next story: “Because it will let us forget what we wish to.” ->

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