How we think the fight will go
Perhaps there had once been a time when travel provided an opportunity for rest and reflection. Now that one can get virtually anywhere on earth within an hour or two thanks to bullet trains and sub-orbital spaceflight, one rarely experiences that long, fertile pause between locations. You arrive in the new place exactly as you were when you left the old place.Living in exile means living in constant motion. How many times must Anderton circle the globe before it’s safe to settle down somewhere, settle once more into a fixed identity? He leaves traces of himself in every city as he passes through, knowing that the trail will not cool so much as it will scatter nonsensically through too many jurisdictions, confounding the typical patterns of investigation.
Anderton covers so much ground in a few scant weeks that even his own senses become scrambled. Suddenly every city seems equally unsafe, every uniformed figure just moments away from unraveling his alias du jour. Time to slow it down, he thinks, come what may. He books a spot on an ocean liner to from Tokyo to Jayapura. Not as a passenger, but as a crew member working in the desalination galleys. If he were younger there might have been a lot of pesky questions about his forged certification documents, but for once travel exhaustion and middle age work in his favor: He has the grizzled appearance of someone who’s worked for decades, who is restless to return to sea.
Anderton’s last night in port. He should spend it in the city, in the open air. It might be the last fresh oxygen he’ll breathe for three weeks. Even so, he finds himself drinking below deck with a bunch of other enlisted galleymen, in a discontinued hangar that’s been converted into squalid, ad-hoc rowdyhouse called Automat. The humidity is stifling, the lights are low.
Not terribly different from New York, he thinks. Except the drinks are much cheaper.
As hours pass, he can’t help noticing a pattern of odd activity around a portal near the rear of the bar. Periodically someone will head over yonder and slip behind the curtain, but he’ll be damned if he’s seen even one person come back out. The lovely bartender is either one of those fabricants they seem to love so much over here, or attempting to pass for one – either way she keeps herself planted squarely between that curtain and the rest of the rabble. Must be some kind of tunnel … Anderton’s curious to know what sort of backdoor operation they’re running, but he has to admit he’s better off not knowing. Even so, old habits die hard.
She catches him looking, and he instinctively lowers his eyes, absorbing himself in the act of drinking. When he raises them again, she is still there, observing him with the same enigmatic expression on her face.
Their mutual appraisal is shattered by the sound of many boots thundering down the stairs at once. Anderton experiences a moment of total, full-body paralysis. They’ve come at last, to round him up. The dolled-up woman at the bar springs toward the curtain and throws a switch, there is a metal clank and the hiss of a vacuum seal. Spinning back toward Anderton, she hurls something that bounces off his chest and lands on the ground at his feet. A small satchel, the kind any merchant seaman might carry. There’s no time to ask questions. Black-uniformed troops pour into the hangar, firing electronic pulse rounds into the steel rafters. Everyone in the makeshift bar throws themselves to the floor, protecting themselves from the cascade of magnesium sparks.
Anderton lifts his head up just in time to watch the men dragging the unconscious bartender up the steep metal staircase, along with several of the men. Her lifeless legs are scraped bloody as they bounce against each step.
Two armed officers linger behind to clear the room, marching all the drunken sailors out en masse. No trouble, they say. They got the ones they came for. They’re not Japanese troops, Anderton notes. They’re speaking English and wearing UN insignia – a red crosshairs encircled by a laurel wreath. The sailors don’t have to go home, they say, but the Automat is officially closed for the night.
As Anderton travels back along the winding hallways to his cabin, he marvels at how weightless the bartender’s satchel seems to be. It must be completely empty – but then why had she been so determined to hand it off? Why had she risked passing it to a mere stranger?
Before retiring to the stale-smelling bunk he shares with a dozen other men, he lingers at a porthole and makes a show of patting down his pockets, as if looking for a smoke. That way he can move on to rummaging through the satchel without drawing undue attention.
It is empty, he discovers – except for one small object: some kind of egg-shaped gadget, silvery smooth. A recording device, most likely. There is a lens at the end for holographic output.
Anderton is troubled by the egg. He’s very tempted to explore its contents – whatever it contains must be extremely valuable, and obviously quite dangerous to keep in his possession. For all he knows, they could be tracking it right now.
And he’s not looking for trouble. Not anymore.
Her eyes, he remembers. She had looked long and hard at him, decided he was worthy of her trust. A kindred, perhaps. Maybe once long ago, he had been.
Anderton lets the small object tumble from his fingertips out through the porthole. There is no sound, no splash, no punctuation mark to denote the difference between one moment and the next, this lifetime or that other one.
“What was that?” asks a groggy voice from the bunks behind him. “You lose your lighter?”
“I did. Guess that means it’s time to quit.”
So much for this island, he thinks. On to the next.
Predicted Winner: John Anderton
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON Friday, March 14, 2014, AT 12:00 PM, EST
Editor’s Note: Tom Blunt is the producer and host of “Meet the Lady,” a recurring variety show that pays tribute to oft-overlooked women in cinema, part of the film program at New York’s 92nd Street Y. His blog, Doom Cakes, has been profiled in The Guardian and Edible Geography. Tom has also written for New York Magazine, Hadassah, and the television channel AMC.
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