Anton finishes his breakfast with Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major. He puts his school bag on. There is nothing inside it but a research diary.
It’s a nice day out there. The sky is so clear that he can even see the space stations and planets outside the atmosphere layer. According to the data provided by Illiza and analyzed by Angela, the peacekeepers tend to check in the underground transportation system during sunny days. So Anton decides to take the airway shuttle to school today. And since the airway shuttles cost less time than on-ground or underground transportations, he will experience less anxiety during his way to school.
Loli would hate to get out today. Anton looks through the window before he walks out of his apartment. A sunny day like this is not rare but common either. Anton still remembers that Liz would drag Loli and him out of the base in days like this, and they would argue for minutes about transportation. In their chips, Angela programmed them as friends who live in the same building so that they could get in touch with each other in real life. So Liz was always using ‘protecting their identity as an excuse to take them to a reserve park. On their way, they would always separate–Loli, as a self-proclaimed vampire, would take the underground transportation while Liz, who often joked that she needed photosynthesis, took the airway shuttle. Anton would face a difficult choice of whom to come with. But in the end, they would always meet each other at the front gate of the park.
Anton closes the door and enables the sign ‘Anton is not at home in case that his neighbors want to give him a basket of homemade cookies or The Rebels needs him for an emergency shift. He takes the elevator down to the lobby, greets every person he sees in the lobby regardless of whether they are rebels, and walks out of the door.
Anton turns right and walks all the way to the intersection between Hac St. and Pumpkin St. He gets into the elevator at the corner and looks at the screen on the elevator’s door. 7:30 A.M. Since it’s still early, Anton decides to take the local shuttle and leaves the seat on express shuttles to people who are in a hurry. He controls his chip to give the signal of ‘Air-3’, and waits for the door to materialize.
‘Ding Dong–Air-3 level. Local shuttle station.’ The electronic voice from the nano speakers in the elevator makes the old-fashioned sound when the door disintegrates. Anton walks to the floating station. A screen on the side shows that the next shuttle will come in 2 minutes. Anton sits on the only empty seat in the waiting area. He holds the thoughts of previewing the lecture for today. Instead, he watches the kids chasing each other on the platform.
“Guess who is this?” Someone suddenly covers his eyes with cold fingers.
Fuck. Anton starts to panic immediately. If his chip functions like everyone elses’, the chip will tell him who that is. However, his chip is not an AI but the puppet he controls. And if he answers this wrong, the monitors around here would notice his abnormal behaviors. The voice is so dramatic that Anton can’t even recognize it.
Luckily, he is a good actor. Hiding the function of their chips is rebel 101. Feeling his heartbeat slowly calms down, Anton opens his mouth.
“Don’t be such a child. The shuttle is coming.” Anton answers with a smile, just like he is dealing with a close friend.
He feels the cold fingers leave his eyes and then opens his eyes. Anton sees a familiar light purple vintage cape, the one he researched for two hours last night, and a willful smile on its owner’s face.
“Oh you are so clever.” Herbert doesn’t keep their voice down at all. “Tell me, how do you know it’s me?”
I didn’t. Has no one ever told you not to make the next move until the opposite directly answers your question? Anton tries not to be sarcastic: “That’s not hard. Although my eyes are covered, the monitors are not.”
“Oh you are not fun at all,” Herbert says with their aria tone, which is completely different from the calm person in the base last night. But no matter which tone they use, Anton has never met anyone so alive like them.
This is not fun. This is stupidity. Anton tries to act normal. It’s lucky that Herbert is not stupid enough to say something like ‘What’s wrong with the monitors’ or ‘What does your mind have something to do with the monitors”.
“We are not kids anymore, Herbert.” Anton answers. He hears the sound of the shuttle, for that he thanks Marx. “So where are you going?” He changes the topic quickly.
“Wherever you will go.” Herbert stresses on ‘ever’.
???????? For a second, Anton doesn’t even know what they are talking about. He then realizes that they probably are going to the college to meet with Professor Mad since they are interested in the vampires.
The shuttle comes with the wind. Anton stands up from the seat and walks to the door area. After the door disintegrates, Anton waits until the kids get on the shuttle to walk in it. Herbert follows him.
Anton stands right next to the door. He doesn’t tell Herbert why he doesn’t sit on the seats. If Herbert sits somewhere, he would love to listen to Mozart for five minutes rather than talking with them. Who knows what question Herbert will ask.
How can he survive in this world while acting like this? Hadn’t he taken rebel 101? Anton plans to tell Professor Mad or Angela to give Herbert a lecture today. But firstly, he needs to ensure that Herbert won’t cause any accidents on the way to college. Anton decides to take the initiative.
“So, you’re meeting with Professor Mad?” Anton asks with caution.
“Yes, my dear Anton.”
Okay. If the shuttle is not moving and the door has not already been materialized, Anton would kick Herbert out of the door. For Marx’s sake, I only know you for less than a day. Where’s your manner? Anton screams inside.
“Are you also a researcher of the vampires?” Anton asks without any emotion in his voice. Perfect, Anton, you are such a good actor. You can do this. Only five minutes and you can leave them to Professor Mad.
“Not really, little boy, I don’t need to research vampires. I know vampires.” Herbert smiles, showing his perfect teeth.
Where has the calm person been? What happened to you after 12 hours? Anton wants to confront Herbert so badly. He can’t believe he spent 2 hours researching the cape of a person like this. They are way too alive for him.
Oh the cape. The cape! Anton suddenly realizes that he can directly ask Herbert about the cape. It’s safer than talking about how they knew vampires.
“So… where did you get the cape? Is it a vintage?”
“Well, I don’t really remember. I think my little sister got it for me a long time ago.”
No, Herbert, you can’t ‘don’t really remember’!!! Didn’t you just tell the Central Archive that your chip is not working? Anton screams inside. He wishes that no monitor recorded their conversation. Otherwise, Herbert is fucked. He is too.
“Is that some special family collection?” Anton has to continue the conversation, trying to make Herbert’s answers sound natural.
“No, darling, they’re all mine. But I only brought this one here.” Herbert laughs. “If you like, I mean, you’ll see them someday eventually, and you can have them if you want.”
Finally, he says some human words. Anton reliefs a little bit. Since Herbert finally says something about destined life, Anton doesn’t even bother to correct their strange ways of calling him.
“This station: The Second Philosophy College of the Republic. Please be aware when the door disintegrates.” Mechanical voice raises.
Finally. Anton feels like it’s been forever. He decides not to let Herbert say a word before meeting with Professor Mad.
The Second Philosophy College is not far away from the station. Anton walks slightly in front of Herbert while introducing them to the college. He knows this is not the best choice because a person with a normal chip would have all the information in their mind. But it’s explainable and way better than answering Herbert’s obviously problematic questions like “why is the college built through the ground to Air-6 level” or “to which level should we go”.
In less than two minutes, Anton sees a familiar gate on the ground level. There is a stone sign on the side of the gate that seems out of tune with the world.
“Reach For The Stars And Act Like Humans,” It says in academic English.
Anton walks in the gate. He continues to talk about Professor Mad’s study. Not until he gets in the elevator does Anton realize that Herbert disappeared. He says sorry to other people in the elevator and gets out of it before the door materializes. Anton shakes like a leaf in his mind, but he can’t show even a little bit of panic. He walks back stably like he already got Herbert’s GPS location via his chip. Luckily, there is only one road from the gate to the elevator, so Herbert can’t be far away.
Anton feels such relief when he finds Herbert standing next to the stone in front of the gate. They are touching the stone with their left hand. Noticing other people are quietly looking at Herbert when passing them by, Anton quickly runs to them.
“What’s wrong? You don’t want to come in?” Anton asks.
“Just a moment, sweetheart.” Herbert answers without even looking at Anton. Anton notices the shiver in their voice.
“Eh…sure. How long do you need?” Anton doesn’t even know how to continue this conversation without being noticed by the Central Archive. It’s a miracle that no peacekeepers are showing up in their fluorescent green uniforms holding quantum frozen guns right now. He won’t be surprised if they find themselves in some data flows without physical bodies in the next minute.
Herbert stares at the stone for a second. Anton has a weird feeling that Herbert is generating some emotions based on the stone. This is bizarre. How can they feel anything from a stone? Anton is pretty sure that it is a real stone and not made by human-created compounds.
“I’m fine. I just… haven’t seen it for a while.” Herbert turns their head and looks Anton in the eyes, “Don’t worry about me sweetie, I just…miss her.”
Anton tries to ignore that Herbert just referred to a stone, an inorganic material, as “her”. He knows this is not the place to ask too much.
“Then… let’s go?”
“Let’s move on.” Herbert answers. Anton nods, and walks into the gate again.
Professor Mad’s office is on the top floor of Air-4 level, the highest level with the human residence. After getting off the elevator, Anton walks through the corridor. There is nothing on the top of the Air-4 level except express shuttles in the inner atmosphere. There are no offices on the top floor of this building except Professor Mad’s, so the long corridor from the elevator to the office is covered with regenerated glasses on the top and both sides. Lights are pouring in from every angle. Anton once thought that this might be the view of “heaven” per descriptions in ancient books.
“What do you think? Isn’t it beautiful?” Anton turns his head around to Herbert who stands slightly behind him.
“Yes. Who doesn’t love lights?” Herbert looks at the ceiling.
Anton laughs: “Vampires don’t”.
“Who told you that?” Herbert raises his right eyebrow.
Of Course, it’s Loli. But Anton can’t mention her name. “I’m a vampire researcher, remember?”
“That’s why, darling, you are a researcher, not a historian.” Herbert takes a deep breath, and points to the only door at the end of the corridor: “Is that her office?”
Anton nods. He walks towards the door with Herbert behind him.
He knocks on the redwood door three times and hears no answers. Anton opens the door himself.
“Shouldn’t we wait for her outside?” Herbert hesitates. “Isn’t this impolite?”
When do you start to act politely??? Anton can’t believe someone who played ‘guess who I am’ and called him sweetheart the second time they’ve met each other is accusing him of not being polite.
“No. She didn’t hang any signs outside the door. Besides, she’s probably writing something inside. Professor Mad ignores everything when doing her research.” Anton explains.
Anton lets Herbert get in the room first, and closes the door after he walks into Professor Mad’s office. It doesn’t seem like a large room because of the giant crimson bookshelves next to each wall that surrounds the room. Although the office has three whole glass walls, the bookshelves hide all the light except those from the ceiling. Since it’s not 8 A.M. yet, the room is still dark. Behind the redwood desk there is a small iron shelf, and half of it is filled with the same kind of notebook in Anton’s school bag. An opened book is placed on the desk next to the bosei, and the coffee pot on the side table is boiling. The room doesn’t seem like a modern office at all.
Professor Mad is not in the room, but judging by the coffee pot, she is likely to return soon.
Anton points to the sofa in front of the desk: “You can sit there. It’s more comfortable than the hardwood chair over there.”
“The book collection is…impressive.” Herbert sits on the sofa, looking at the bookshelves around the room.
“Yeah everyone uses digital books, and the books were either recycled or rotten. She applied for these when the People’s Committee decided to deconstruct the last library in the world.” Anton walks to the side table, “Coffee?”
“Thank you, sweetie, but I’m fine.” Herbert shakes his head hard, “So, this is a vampire researcher’s room huh?”
“Professor Mad said that it’s important to feel the same way as your research object in order to understand the object.” Anton pours a cup of coffee, adds ⅓ cup of milk, and sits on the sofa next to Herbert.
“She thinks vampires love coffee and dark rooms?” Herbert rolls his eyes.
“No. Vampires love dark rooms. I love coffee.” Anton doesn’t know why Herbert is questioning a simple fact. Isn’t it common sense that vampires are afraid of lights?
“No they don’t. Okay some of them do, but not all of them.” Herbert argues, “The fact that they are afraid of lights doesn’t mean they don’t like lights.”
“But…” Anton reflectively wants to argue back, but he has to admit that Herbert makes a great point. He shouldn’t assume that one would hate something if one is afraid of it. And vice versa, one loves something doesn’t mean it is not harmful to oneself. As a rebel, Anton used to think that he has his own thoughts. Now he suddenly realizes that society still somehow implants certain ideas in his mind because he just assumed, like everyone else, that people do whatever they are doing to benefit themselves and the whole human race. But the logic never involves emotion and willingness because it is assumed that people have negative emotions about things that can hurt them. And negative emotions do not exist.
“Anton? Herbert? You both came early.” The clean female voice wakes Anton up from his thoughts. He stands up and nods to Professor Mad, who is holding some crispy chicken tenders in her hand.
“Actually, we came together. Anton also gave me a historical view of the college on our way here. We had a nice time discussing your findings and theories.” Herbert also stands up from the sofa with a perfect smile.
?????? Anton is almost choked by coffee. A minute ago Herbert was arguing with their aria tone, and now they are like the best students one can ever imagine? Why don’t you call Professor Mad ‘sweetie’?
“I’m glad that you two get along.” Professor Mad closes the door and sits on the office chair behind the desk. “So, where did you two get to? Did you get to my hypothesis of Cassius?”
“Yes. Anton told me your theory that vampires did not exist until Cassius, which I’m afraid I couldn’t agree with you.” Before Anton puts down the coffee cup, Herbert starts, “Also, I am pretty sure that vampires do exist in this world at this time.”
“Young man, it’s not enough to just be sure. I need evidence.” Professor Mad opens the lid of cranberry sauce. “If there is one, then it is either in the Central Archive’s database or is a member of The Rebels. I’ve read every document about vampires, and I know every rebel member.”
“I am not a man.’ Herbert argues back seriously. “I don’t have a gender.”
“…Sure. Young person…”Professor doesn’t expect this. “Everything in this world is built by human beliefs. And no one believes in vampires anymore.”
“Loli does.” Anton cuts in the conversation.
“You don’t know if people believe in vampires or not. You have no access to the human mind.” Herbert ignores Anton, staring at Professor Mad.
“I don’t, but the Central Archive does.” Professor Mad waves her hands passionately, forgetting that she is holding a piece of chicken tender in her right hand. The cranberry sauce on the chicken tender drops everywhere on the desk along with her waving hand.
“Even if it does, what if it’s hiding information from you? What if there are plenty of people enough for vampires to continue to exist, yet the Central Archive is not telling you?” Herbert asks.
We are fucked. Anton wants to cover Herbert’s mouth with his hand. Don’t they have any idea that they have been watched???? Anton hears his heart beating like a drum. He is going to faint. Should he run now? Will the peacekeepers enter the room in the next minute? He looks at Professor Mad anxiously, but she is cleaning the desk with a disinfectant composer, acting like she hears nothing surprising.
“No, the Central Archive is programmed to show all data it collected. The People’s Committee ensures that no information shall be held from the citizens.”
“Don’t.” Professor Mad stops Herbert. “We’re going to a historical site in state 21. Do you want to come along with us?”
“Don’t. Come to the site and we can further discuss it.”
“…Sure.” Herbert answers, and walks out of the door after nodding to Anton.
“Professor, are you sure it’s okay for them to come?” Anton asks as soon as Herbert closes the door. “They haven’t published any vampire-related research?”
“Yes. They are more useful than you can imagine.” Professor Mad smiles. “No worries. They are safe from the Central Archive. At least for now.”
Anton knows that Professor Mad already understood something when she stops Herbert, and he knows he can’t ask. But he feels like Herbert is Professor Mad’s student although he has been her research assistant for so long. He can’t even cut into their conversation. He knows Professor Mad forgets everything when she is really into her argument. But Herbert… they were so polite when talking with Professor Mad. Do they hate me? Why do they mess up with me and ignore me?
“Anton? Anton? Did you hear what I just said?” Professor Mad’s voice interrupts Anton’s thoughts. He shakes his head slightly while his face turns red.
“You need to prepare the details of the next fieldwork with Herbert together. I’m sure you can learn a lot from them.” Professor Mad repeats.
“I—-” Anton takes a deep breath. “Sure, professor.”
“Anton–” Professor Mad stops him from leaving the office.
“Stay with Herbert as much as you can. You might learn something.” Professor Mad looks him into the eyes, “We might learn something from them.”