"Noah, Aoi, meet Dante D'Amuri. He's in charge of the Anteros case from here on. He's going to be your boss," David introduced.
Next to David stood a man who towered over all three of us in height. Back then, I didn't know that he would be the man I would come to admire as my beloved mentor. Still, he had a strong impression on me upon first meeting.
Mister D'Amuri had calm disposition and a gentle straightening back, but a sort of smile that affirmed a solid character of confidence. In a white dress-shirt matched with a clean grey vest, fitted slacks, and topaz hair combed back, he had the appearance of a young businessman trying to swoon everyone with his deep-set, sleepy cobalt eyes. The brilliance of his eyes was not his most prominent feature however, and neither was his admirable height. Instead, it was the even symmetry of his face that defined handsomeness. His chiseled jaws squarely turned from the crooks under his ears, of which the left was pierced three times, to his chin in a subtle fashion of gentle masculinity.
When he lifted one eyebrow at me and twisted his expression into one of awkward confusion, I realized that I had been staring at his features while ignoring his outstretched hand. Intimidated and embarrassed, I stammered an apology while shaking it. "I'm Noah, nice to meet you Mr. D'Amuri."
"You can call me Dante," he replied smoothly in a deep masculine voice that fit the firmness of his handshake. I almost believed he would break my hand but he let go before causing damage. I awkwardly looked over at Aoi, who held his hand in understandable pain.
My eyes drifted back to the towering man whose lips curved into a subtle smirk. I examined his features once more. From the golden latch piercing on the cartilage of his left ear, inscribed with the Roman numeral two, I deducted his rank. He, like David, was of Gold ranking, only the "2" signified that he was one standing below David, who bore a "1". However, here before me was one of the rare, multi-talented geniuses of the IA, for the 2 indicated that he was a generalist rather than a specialist, unlike David. I was afraid to admit my rank in comparison. I awkwardly tilted my head away from him, hoping that he would not notice the bronze latch on my left ear.
Despite appearing confident, he was not much of a talker. He stood there with a distant coolness, hands neatly tucked into his slacks and blue eyes that would often drift to the side. When David left, he made an attempt to keep a conversation, asking the two of us what our hobbies were. To be honest, I felt that his efforts were incredibly forced, for there was an awkward tension that would arise every few moments and he would just say, "Oh, I see."
Adults, from my experience, were always interested in virtue and talents, rather than interests and values. Mr. D'Amuri, who I could not naturally call just Dante, was not incredibly different here. When he asked us, "So, what do you two do?" I assumed that he meant, "What have you accomplished that I should be aware of?"
I could not think of anything to tell him so I stood there rubbing one arm, vision falling aside.
"I play the clarinet, and I'm in the school choir!" "Is that so, Aoi? What school do you go to?" "District 0." "Public school, right?" "Yeah, what high school did you go to, Mr. D'Amuri?" "Eastwood Academy."
'Eastwood Academy,' the name rolled off my tongue.
I once read that the schools and cities of America all had names. There was New York, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego
Canada had Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal
The provinces and states, too, were anthropomorphic, like Ontario, British Columbia, Pennsylvania, or Michigan. Schools were usually named after people, but not always. For instance, there was Hunter College High School in New York.
But there is no more New York and there is no 'Hunter College.' There are just the spiraling districts in every city, with downtown always labeled 0. The states are called by the rough coordinate of their capital, like our state: 41N74W. Cities are given a randomly generated letter code. So, if a foreigner asked 'Where am I?', I would say '41N74W-AK-District 11, America.' (My city is then, obviously, AK).
So naturally, I was surprised to hear that Dante was from Eastwood Academy, one of the few places in 41N74W-AK that had preserved a name. The school, I knew, was situated in the upper-class private property, appropriately known as Eastwood, in the suburbs of District 15.
"You must be really wealthy, then," Aoi commented bluntly. "Just a little," D'Amuri said.
Just a little.
He was just a little wealthy, with a two different sports cars, one of which was a convertible, a company motorcycle, a different outfit every day, golden rings, diamond rings, real quartz watches, a platinum credit card, and more. These are all the things I found out about him in the next week, as I trailed his footsteps around the headquarters, every day, before and after school. I would ask the attendants to lead me in his direction. They would always giggle after I left and gossip about handsome he was, or how he was just a little wealthy.
I could not understand what exactly compelled me into admiring him, this stranger, but perhaps it had to do with his status, which I only aspired to obtain. He had the face, the stature, and the reputation, of my hopeful reflection, always described as successful by anyone who spoke of him. "Successful," I would think every time my eyes fell on him, "What makes him so successful?" I yearned to know.
Every weekday morning he would arrive at HQ at exactly 7:00 AM, walk in through the back door of the West building, take a seat by the large windows by the courtyard. He would get a large cup of coffee, black, read the newspaper, cross one leg over the other, and make an attempt at the crosswords. At 7:35AM he would get frustrated, toss the newspaper into the garbage can, not recycling, check his watch, pace back and forth once, before going down the east hall. I would go to school, come back at about 4:00 PM and he would be in the gym. At 5:10 PM he would move to the track, do a few runs, and at exactly 6:00 PM head out for, probably, dinner. On Mondays through Wednesdays he would come back at 9:30 PM, talk with David, talk with Faust, the head of the Data and Information Department, and then leave with some woman.
My curiosity in him heightened because his apparently strict schedule was different on Saturday afternoon. The figure of a young woman, the one he often leaves with, approached him in brightness of the courtyard (he sat outside this time, probably because the weather was wonderful), her features as equally beautiful as his. He was sitting comfortably by a table but rose to embrace her, rocking her back and forth in a gentle motion while humming, "Vita mia, vita mia." Something in Italian I did not understand.
The young woman chuckled at his action but slid underneath his arms and twirled on her heel to escape his touch. It was like they were dancing. He turned on her heel once more when he went to embrace her again, and I caught a glimpse of her beauty. Her dark brown hair ruffled in the gentle spring breeze, revealing her young, doll-like face and bright, clear eyes. Her features were small, along with her stature. Petite and slim, she was in stark contrast to Dante who was tall and built. She turned and I caught a looked at her eyes. I was captivated.
Soon, I came to realize, that I not only admired Mr. D'Amuri, who I learned more and more about every day, but this woman as well, whose bright eyes held a sort of curious intelligence and beauty I could not completely describe. It was something about her wide, attentive eyes that always seemed to be analyzing every passing figure, and the naturalness of her character that seemed unaffected by the notion that submissive women were the most beautiful. She would approach others with polite mannerisms but a sort of laidback coolness that I often saw in men. Often times she was witty and sharp-tongued, but only with those that appeared to deserve it.
She was not controlled by David, like Aoi and I. When he asked her to go fetch him a coffee, something I often catch him doing on Sunday mornings, she laughed and tussled his dark hair. "Go get a woman for that," she said.
"Who is she?" Lienna asked while leaning her weight against me. I gently leaned back while watching Skye and David bicker about their responsibilities.
"You are a woman." "I think you're crazy." "You are a woman, Skye, you are. Now go get me a coffee." "A sandwich too?" "Are you trolling me?" "Oh, no, David. If you want a sandwich I'll gladly go make you one." "Well then, yes I do." "Ok." She left. She didn't come back.
"I don't know," I said.
I don't know. I had been watching her for a few days now but I really did not know anything about her. A part of me wanted to speak with her but I was too nervous to approach her. What would I say, anyway? 'Hello. What's your name? I've been following you and Mr. D'Amuri for the past few days'? I do not believe she would take that the right way. Of course, I could casually bump into her and pretend that it was an honest stumble of the feet. 'Sorry,' I would say. Then I would ask for her name. Actually, that also sounded quite absurd.
But one night, I spoke with her. It was unexpected, so I was naturally confused.
"Hi there," she greeted me. She gave me straight eye contact, which was intimidating. I nearly jumped upon hearing her soft voice so near, used to listening to it from a distance a far. "Yes? Do you need something?" I asked.
I was startled by what she said, but before that, by the girlish complexion of her face. Although her eyes were wide and sharp, almost feline-like, her face curved so gently that I would believe her if she said she was my age. Her childlike appearance stood complemented her playful tone. Still, when she said, "I just wanted to say hi, since you seemed like you wanted to talk to me. You can call me Skye," I nearly choked on air.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I quickly defended. Her eyes quickly caught the nervous twitch of my hand.
"You don't have to be so intimidated, really," she said calmly while tucking a strand of her mahogany hair behind her ear with her slender fingertips.
"I'm not," I replied, but her eyes jolted to the tensing of my jaw.
"If you say so," she said while gently curving the edges of her lips into a smile.
I woke up in a start, surrounded by the darkness of my room. Barely any light spilled through the window but I had the clearest image of the young woman etched into my mind: everything from the way she smiled to the gentleness of her voice. Her name rolled off my tongue. "Skye," I said.
Suddenly, I realized that there was something oddly familiar about the woman, in both appearance and mannerisms. She had never told me her name but I knew it, and I knew her. I knew her face, I knew the way she carried and presented herself: both graceful and fluid like water, but distant and cool like ice. I knew her frame, her doll-like youthful face, and even her slender fingers.
Perhaps I knew her in a past life, in some mysterious time that I could not recall, for her brilliant eyes filled me with misplaced nostalgia. The Buddhists and Hindus, after all, believed that our soul is a sort of eternal flame that gets reincarnated after every death. The memories of our previous life are lost but when the soul is focused and at complete rest, one with the earth, it reaches a state of eternal knowing and bliss called nirvana. Was I in nirvana? Was I recalling a lost memory?
When I saw her the next evening, she paid no attention to me, so it was clear that our meeting was in fact a dream. It was so incredibly vivid, however, so I could not ignore such a happening. My hand twitched when she casually looked over at me, or perhaps something behind me. I wanted to stroke her hair, touch her face, or caress her slender handsanything that would return this memory rightfully to me.
"Who's that woman you're always with?" I asked Mr. D'Amuri, interrupting his briefing of the Anteros case. He blinked, startled by the sudden question, which I did not believe was personal but perhaps it was, and awkwardly looked around at the others sitting in the conference room. Now was not the time to ask. I shut up.
He continued to talk about the case, but I could care less. He said something about the location we would be going, the sort of training he would administer before the date, the date, some paper work that had to be done
I didn't care. I knew her, and that was all that mattered to me. Perhaps this is why murder is so common. The hearts of people are easily captivated with trivial curiosities of life and not the persecution of murderers. We care about what matters to us, not to others.
"She's my best friend," he told me later in private. "Why?"
"What's her name?" "Skye," he said.
I definitely knew her.
Still, I considered that perhaps her name slipped into my subconscious from some subliminal message. Maybe I overheard her name somewhere, giving me the illusion of false familiarity. However, a feeling in my gut told me that this was not the case, because every time I saw her thereafter, I felt a sea of mixed emotions which I could not describe.
I spent the next week ignoring the Anteros case and Aoi who kept calling me because I had been missing school. I stayed in bed with a racing mind. I knew that I was not in love with her, but I was obsessed with illogical melancholy. I sank into bed, the covers holding me close. My mother called in the distance, "Noah, Noah, it's the first day of school. You don't want to be late, do you? Noah. Are you going to school or not?" My pillow melted around me.
Sometimes we don't know why we get feeling of longing. We drift into bed after a regular day, but somehow tears come to our eyes, and we find ourselves crying for no explainable reason. My mother always said that everyone has those days where they just want to scream and let their lungs explode. She said that it's natural to feel like you're suffocating once in a while. But when it's happening to you, it does not feel natural, because it's so incredibly misplaced that you don't understand why this mental virus chose you, so you become more frustrated than before. You scream in your sleep and wrestle with your thoughts. You then wonder whose thoughts you're thinking, because you can't control your own mind.
The mind is such a beautiful but odd thing. It stores memories in mental cabinets, some of which are always open, and some of which are locked so tightly that we cannot even open them. They are from a past life that you have no memory of living. Occasionally, however, an especially strong lock is broken, and the most unconscious thoughts swarm out like a virus, spreading and infecting every crevice of the mind. Everything you think then becomes interpreted with this paradigm, this incurable mind-cancer. Everything becomes this one thought.
This was the disease of my mind. I felt like my thoughts were all one and that I only had one focus now. I wanted to know who Skye was, because I felt that she was more to me than just a familiar face, but the key to a lock so strongly bound that I could not open it myself. When I whispered her name, I could feel the locks trembling like I had spoken a secret password.
Emotion overwhelmed me and I woke up crying. I felt like I was suffocating again. I called for my mother, but she did not answer. It was 1:03 AM.
I stopped following Mr. D'Amuri, but then began to follow Skye. Unlike Dante, who was extremely methodical, she did not have much of a schedule. She did not arrive in the morning (or I could never find her), and in the afternoon she could be anywhere in HQ. I could not even find her for three days. When I asked David, he just asked, "How do you know Skye?"
I still did not know.
It was more than curiosity. It became an obsession. I followed her everywhere, stopped going to school, found out everything I possibly could about her. For instance, I learned that she is twenty-one and her birthday is on February 15. She is one of the very few women of gold rank and she is a generalist, like D'Amuri, but works closely with the Information and Data Management Sector, the Discipline Bureau, and Public Relations. David used to be her mentor, so I suppose they are close enough that she does not feel compelled to be his-excuse my French-little bitch like the rest of us. When I searched her on the internet, I found that she also works as a model, though she isn't very popular or mainstream, so it wasn't odd that I didn't know that. I collected pictures of her and taped them on my wall. I examined every angle of her face, trying to jog my memory. Nothing.
I did not even care that she was beautiful anymore, I just wanted to know who she was to me. She could have been ugly or poor, though I am certain that she is just a little wealthy like D'Amuri, judging by the amount of jewelry she wears and the chauffeur who occasionally drives her to HQ.
Frustrated, I clawed at her photographs, ripping them off the wall.
I wanted to ask my mother if it was normal to feel this frustrated and suffocated over nothing, but she wasn't home. I could ask my father, but he did not know anything about the mind. I scratched at the white paint of the walls. I cried, "Lienna, why can't I remember who she is?"
"Maybe she isn't someone you should remember," she said.
* * *
"Hold it like this," D'Amuri snapped my wrist and locked my hand into a tighter fist around the shaft of the handgun. I jerked uncomfortably. He muttered, "I thought you guys knew how to hold a gun, at least." "I thought I did, too." "Well, I mean, you're not doing horrible. You just need to put more strength into it or the recoil is going to hit you in the face." He laughed. I laughed, too, "I don't have the muscle for that." "Then you should work out."
D'Amuri was so straightforward and simple. He gave instructions like a textbook, or more like a point-form set of notes. Earlier, when I asked him what to do if I found Anteros alone, he just said, "If he tries to kill you, kill him first," like it was that simple.
"Do I pull the trigger now?" I asked. He replied, "Yeah but watch out for the recoil."
I shot the gun. The gun shot back and flew out of my grasp, nearly hitting D'Amuri in the face. He ducked quickly enough, though.
"Oh god, Noah!" he yelped. Still, he smiled. I smiled back. I definitely liked him better than David. David would have picked up the gun and thrown it at my face. I apologized and reloaded before taking stance again.
"How's this, Mr. D'Amuri?" I showed him. "Dante," he corrected. "That's fine. Just don't let go of the gun. Oh, and if you're going to get recoil, let it hit you, not me." He stepped aside this time. I pulled the trigger, and neither one of us got injured.
"Ok, now try to actually hit the target." Dante said. I felt weird addressing him by his first name, even in my own head. Unlike David, who I was just afraid of, I respected him. Perhaps, however, I was influenced by the fact that he was just a little wealthy.
I aimed the barrel of the gun at the bull's eye, ready to shoot, until Dante said, "Just pretend its Anteros."
I heard 'Pretend it was a person' so I couldn't shoot.
We had lunch together that day in the courtyard, Dante's offer. He apologized for making that earlier statement. "I sometimes forget that kids don't get motivated by shooting people." He said.
It was weird because he was so polished, but so alright with the idea of murder. Perhaps it was because Anteros was a criminally charged serial killer, but even so, what happened to innocent until proven guilty? My vision fell and my stomach churned.
"Did you get my email about next week, by the way?" he asked amidst the silence, trying to change the topic. I shook my head. I had not checked my emails since my obsession with his best friend. Of course, I couldn't tell him that. "I've been busy."
"Well it's a good thing I brought it up, then," he said. "There's going to be a party next week for everyone on the Anteros case. It's tradition to have something like that the night before heading out with the mission." I didn't even know that the big day was next week.
"It'll be at Skye's placeyou know Skye, right? The address is in the email with a map attached," he added. I knew her but didn't at the same time, so I didn't answer that question.
"I'll go," I said, even though I didn't really want to. "Great." "Why is it a tradition to have a party before the night of a mission? Isn't that, well, excuse me, kind of stupid? Don't people get drunk and hung over?" "Oh, well, don't worry about it. The mission is the night after, so everyone would be fine by then."
He didn't really answer my question, so I asked David. He didn't answer me, either. "Go practice at the gun range." So I did.
I went back to the range, trying to keep in mind Dante's advice. I locked my elbows and grasped the handle as tightly as I could. I held my breath and went to shoot, chanting 'pretend its Anteros, pretend its Anteros' but someone else pulled a trigger, hitting right in the eye of the target. Startled, I jumped at the sound of the crashing gunshot and snapped my head to the side.
She stood there with her cool demeanor, holding a handgun so naturally that it appeared like an extension of her arms. She lowered her arms and I whispered her name. "Skye."
"Have a good night, in case you die." She said. I blinked. Die? What was she talking about? I stumbled as I approached her, confused. She pointed the barrel of the gun at me. I stopped. I choked. "You never know, he might shoot you, if you don't shoot him first." And she pulled trigger.
I woke up again, gasping and panting for air like I surfaced from the ocean, having almost drowned. Clasping beneath me, I caught the blankets of my comforter in my fists. I panicked and looked around. I was in my room.
The mind really is intriguing, because it is unknown to everyone but yourself, but even you do not understand it. It can oftentimes appear to be simple, like when you're studying the three types of consciousness of the Freudian brain. However, with so many competing psychological theories and the complex networking synapses of the physical brain that makes up the basis for study of neuroscience, it is hard to say what the mind really is and why it does what it does.
For instance, why do we dream? Some scientists claim that it is an evolutionary defense mechanism that first developed in early mammals to train them against emotional stresses in real life. Others claim that it is a way of replaying crucial information that has been stored in the subconscious, which is not easily withdrawn consciously because of memory overload. However, if the mind has the capability of storing such vast amount of information in the subconscious and displaying them with such vividness in the form of dreams, why cannot this be done consciously? Of course, we can day dream, but it's not nearly the same as REM nighttime dreaming. Why can't we unlock our entire brain at will?
I wonder, then, is it because the mind is perhaps a different part of us? Is the mind an immaterial entity that is not the brain, but connected with the brain? After all, if the mind is entirely physical, why aren't mental illnesses treated only with drugs? Is the mind what we call our 'soul,' which harbors our thoughts and ideas, while the brain provides the necessary information? Sometimes, the brain does not provide the information on a conscious level, so the mind cannot extract it until it is spewed out in REM sleep, where synapse shoot like firecrackers and our subconscious explodes. It is only then that we understand, for example, that having a party the night before a capture mission is because you may die the night thereafter, so might as well have a good drink and break a few rules. Or, perhaps, that the woman you have been yearning to remember is definitely the source of sudden, unexplainable longing.