It was pouring the kind of rain that seems like it knows you. Fast and unrelenting, toasting your imminent destruction.
I was a dead woman today.
I stood on the curb outside the prison gates, fists clenched, swallowing memories and regrets.
Endless tall grass surrounded the security wall. The fields and sky were a thick grey in the grit of the storm. I’d sometimes seen pink and purple sprawls of sky from my square cell window. All color was blotted out today.
They’d let me wait alone. The land was so flat you could nearly see the curve of the planet. There was nowhere to run. I wore an ankle insert that tracked me, with enough current to stop my heart should I run. I waited.
“The grid won’t be painful,” the prison counselor had said. “It might feel like you’re flying, floating through space.”
I blew warm breath toward the tip of my nose, where water dripped on my lips. I shivered. I wasn’t wearing a coat. I had been captured asleep, wearing little. The clothes on my back were prison clothes. The soggy button-up clung to my arms. My brother’s photo hung in the pocket stuck to my chest.
Two of your children gone this way, Mom.
I would become part of the grid today. My memories will dissolve, for the better good.
“The grid will borrow from the computational circuits of your brain,” had said the counselor.
Until they had replicated those circuits, of course. After that, my brain and my body would be discarded.
“There’ll be delusions,” she had warned, “partial dissociations from your body, your past, fragmented memories….”
I touched my abdomen, barely larger than before. And you. You’ll be a memory that never was.
A heavy two-wheeled machine slid up to the curb. The thundering rain masked what faint hum the electric motors might have emitted. Motorbikes had come a long way in my lifetime. Nowadays they carried people to their destruction.
There was a single person on the vehicle, likely a man. I named him Ex. For executioner.
He was dressed in prison colors: black and blue. A sleek black helmet covered his head. He wore a jacket and trousers of fortified leather with steel-blue rubber lining the elbows and knees. Were the roads dangerous out here in the prairies? Not a scratch showed on the suit or the bike.
“Nice day,” I said. My last joke.
Ex turned in my direction. He pushed a dark helmet my way. His job was to get me to the grid safely. He was doing his job. I put the helmet on.
Ex straddled the machine, and I did the same behind him. The cold rubber seat soaked my pants.
The insert pulsed from deep inside my ankle, and the bike’s front panel flashed my ID number in response. My last journey was successfully registered.
A button close to Ex’s thumb could trigger the current from the ankle-insert. The prison guards and Ex shared control over me now.
Ex took the handlebars. I grabbed his waist on instinct. Rain slid off his jacket like oil. The smell of the leather made me nauseous. I inhaled the cold damp air.
The engines thrust forward, and the shadowy stone of the prison receded behind us. There was only one road. It led to the grid.
The rain tore at my skin. It had started raining last night. I hadn’t slept well. The pattering against my window had calmed me. The last time it rained like this, I was kissing someone, laughing with him, falling into bed with him. My man, who hadn’t known my crimes, and hadn’t known his seed had finally reached mine a little too late.
I looked at the grey. Everything in the fields was three shades darker from the heavy low cloud. Patches of slate shrubs emerged and flew by. We passed fields of corn, the rows ticking off before my eyes. For fragments of time, I saw the length of each row before it passed, each one stretching forever, disappearing just as quickly. Like moments in my life.
If I flung myself off the bike, I could roll into the corn. I could run the length of one of those rows and… never get anywhere. My ankle insert would kill me in seconds. There was nothing friendly in that corn.
Ex sat as if frozen. My fingers burned with cold, bright red over Ex’s jacket. The road blurred in the distant downpour. How far to the grid?
I leaned into Ex’s back, to shield myself from the torrent and maybe to feel a last human touch. This close, the leather smell gagged me. I withdrew and let the water pelt my neck.
“You’ll lose each of your senses in the grid,” the counselor’s voice spun in my head.
My tears mixed with the rain. I let go of Ex and undid my helmet, held it beside me. It bounced in the current created by our speed. My hair flapped and stuck to my face. I gasped for air.
I roared up whatever was left of my voice and yelled. At Ex, at the land. I hit him in the back, my fingers curled into a fist I couldn’t feel from the chill. I threw my helmet to the road and hit him with both hands.
“End it now!” I said. “Push that button, you coward!”
Ex was silent. We flew on. I tried to pry the black helmet off his head. He smacked me away. I tried again. He pushed my arm back. I reached forward to push the kill button myself. Ex thrust me back once more.
“You’re not killing just me.” My voice ran out of steam before it started.
I held my stomach as if able to warm it.
Why am I trying to protect you? Better that you didn’t get to see the new world.
Ex put a hand on my leg and patted it briefly. A gentle tap, like patting a dog’s head when the dog is being needy. I leaned in and sobbed into the leather. Then I threw up. I had enough sense to turn my head so that the vomit wouldn’t fly back in my face. It disappeared on the road behind me.
My vomit would outlive me.
We passed a tractor. It happened so fast, I didn’t register it until the thrumming motor was far behind. It was too late to seek the help of a farmer. What were farmers doing on the road to the grid? People needed corn, no doubt.
It was so cold even my gums and scalp ached.
I pulled out the photo of my brother and held it with two hands to steady the image.
You were so capable. How could you let them kill you?
I loosened my grip and the photo flew off into the fields.
Another tractor approached. I saw it long before it neared this time. It was large and yellow amidst all that grey. It grew closer and something glistened at its wheel. A blade? Ex held my leg. Something was wrong. Our bike was pointed wrong.
I heard thunderous crunch, felt a cold slice into my leg, then free fall and then nothing.
I glimpsed only fractions of time. Like in a stereoscope, each time I blinked a new scene registered.
Rows of corn. Smoke. Haze. A smile. Bits of steel. Pouring sunlight. Wet asphalt. Thrumming in the air. A helicopter? No, a hummingbird.
Was I really blinking? I didn’t feel my leg. I looked down.
I had no leg.
There was no pain and no cold. I closed my eyes. I was totally relaxed.
Fright gripped me. Am I floating? I opened my eyes. Was this the grid?
Two arms held me, a face above me. Clouds were clearing out beyond the face. I blinked.
“Your brother’s not far now,” the face said.
I saw blood. I smelt leather.
The face above me was Ex. Sloughing off his jacket.
I didn’t feel nauseous now, only faint.
“Is this the grid?” I heard myself over and over.
We were hurrying, floating through the corn.
I could have sworn Ex smiled, shook his head.
I closed my eyes.
The air smelt of rain.