Credence Foundation
Author:Marco Guarda

Chapter Fifteen

Trumaine snapped his eyes open.

He was again in the safety of the believers’ chamber and he was panting. He swept his hand over his forehead and found that it was covered in sweat beads.

He couldn’t tell how many times that horrible dream had come to haunt him but, this time, it had been so vivid it had looked real.

He glanced at his arms. Even now, they felt heavy under the light Syntex fabric of his suit and his muscles were overworked, as if he had really used them.

Maia’s body had been heavy as hell and her cold, lifeless limbs had the consistency of real flesh; he had felt the cold wind blowing from the sea, the freezing raindrops that had chipped away at him and he had tasted the salt of his own sweat ...

Trumaine swallowed hard. He sat up and massaged his temples, trying to forget the dream.

Around him, the believers floated peacefully, minding their own business. The group of believers looking for the Hibiscus were still in their corner, a sign that they hadn’t found it ...

Focusing on something else didn’t work—he still couldn’t get Maia out of his head.

He had often thought about that day and he had wondered: if he had forbidden her to go, if he had followed her, would she still be alive? The idea that probably she would drove him mad.

Trumaine cursed himself one more time for not realizing before about the madness that what was growing before his very eyes. There was so much he could have done to stop it ...

He glanced toward the gallery gate and saw a man in a white suit approach, sitting on the couch opposite from him. He knew the man, he wasn’t one of the believers.

Benedict looked up at him, studying him.

“Have you found anything, Detective?”

Trumaine shook his head. “Nothing yet.”

Benedict nodded sadly. When he spoke, his voice sounded less businesslike and more informal, friendly even.

“I took the liberty of talking to your captain, Detective,” he said. “I take Captain Firrell is a good friend of yours.”

Trumaine wondered what Benedict was aiming at.

“Grant and my father worked together. That makes him think he has an obligation toward his son as well.”

“He told me you’ve lost your beloved daughter in an unfortunate accident and, possibly because of that, the care of the woman you once loved.”

Trumaine felt the blood go straight to his head, Firrell had no right to tell Benedict anything about his personal life.

“Why not ask me? I could have told you myself.”

“I doubt it, Detective. There are things we hardly confide to ourselves. Things we’re afraid of, things that hurt us. No, you would have never told me about Maia. I had to ask someone else.”

“I guess that changes everything, now that you know.”

“I’m not a busybody. I asked for a good reason.”

“I can hardly imagine.”

“I need to know if we are having any progress at all in the search for the crawler. The time you spend in the chamber can be in vain if you focus too much on personal matters. It is my duty to know if there are any elements that might ... cloud your judgment.”

“I ain’t focusing on anything. Those dreams just come to me, I can’t do anything about it.”

“If you’re too involved in your dreams, you might be overlooking—”

“I ain’t overlooking a darned thing!” exploded Trumaine. “I’m doing just what you told me. I’m alert to anything that might be slightly off than how I remember it, I’m alert to every single word that’s being said. The trouble is, everything is as it should be. That’s exactly how all those damn things happened, that’s exactly the words we’d been saying to each other, the same way we said them. There’s nothing off, there’s nothing wrong. Everything is as it’s supposed to be.”

Trumaine looked in the distance, lost in thought.

“I have never dreamed as clearly. The ocean, the lashing rain, Starshanna’s kisses, Maia’s lifeless body ... It all felt so real.”

“The heightened perception depends on the feed you’re exposed to,” explained Benedict. “As I told you, it takes a bit to get accustomed to it.”

He exhaled in a long sigh.

“Would you care to talk about what you see when you’re in the feed?”

“I dream about my daughter, about my wife. They’re episodes from our lives; about when I first fell in love with Starshanna, about Maia’s birth, her obsession with chasing the dolphin. About her death ...”

“A painful experience,” commented Benedict.

“Which keeps repeating itself. Maybe it’s the feed as well?”

“I don’t think so. Clearly, after all these years, the loss of your daughter still haunts you. Somehow, you can’t accept what happened. Your subconscious relives that awful moment for you to try and change it but, even if the images of that event are in your memory, they’re just flimsy remnants, shadows. Because that event truly belongs to the past—you can’t possibly change it.”

Trumaine nodded tiredly.

“Don’t make the mistake of believing you’re the one whom death has touched, Detective. Death is not a privilege. I’ve lost beloved ones as well, your captain did too—everybody does. It’s in our nature as mortal beings. Medical science as well as technology can’t stop time. We age, we die. It’s as simple as that. It might be cynical, yes, but that’s what life is all about ...”

“Dying?” scoffed Trumaine.

“On the contrary; living. Living in such a way that when we are close to the end, we aren’t left with complaints or regrets, but with the full realization of the even few accomplishments we have so hardly achieved. I’m sure the life of your daughter, however short, was full and happy.”

“She was only twelve ...”

“Nonetheless, as hard as it might be on us, life goes on.”

“I should have stopped her ...”

“Does anyone else populate your dreams, beside your beloved ones?”

“There’s an Aquarian nurse and the clerk at the Aquarian embassy.”

“Are you sure they are who they pretend to be?”

“I’m sure.”

“And you haven’t noticed anything strange in your visions, since you entered the empty feed? Quirky, odd things that don’t belong to you?”

Trumaine shook his head. “It all belongs to me, I told you. I’m sorry, maybe your theory about curiosity doesn’t apply in this case.”

Benedict exhaled. “Anything is possible, of course.”

“What are we going to do now?”

“We stick to the original plan,” said Benedict, flatly. “We keep combing the feed until we find the crawler.”

“I tried and I came up with nothing!” snarled Trumaine. “It’s no use and there’s no time left! Why continue?”

He pointed at the choice believers floating in their corner.

“Look at them! It’s three whole days tomorrow and they keep searching! What have they found? Nothing! The Hibiscus is gone, Benedict! They are all dead, that’s why your believers cannot find them! Why insist?”

“Because there’s no alternative,” said Benedict, filled with a quiet resolve.

“I can’t force you into believing that we’re going to catch the crawler in less than twenty-four hours, of course. But if we don’t stop him, intergalactic travels won’t be safe anymore. People will begin to fear possible attacks—it’s going to be the end of Credence. I just can’t permit that. I don’t like the sound of it, but I have a responsibility toward mankind, Detective ...”

He made a long pause.

“Help me. Help me find the crawler hiding in Credence,” he pleaded.

Trumaine looked up at the large signboard hanging above the turnstiles as he shuffled past them.

It said: 501 and 05:55 AM.

He felt old, tired and helpless. He needed a cup of coffee and he needed it badly, so he steered his steps to his left, entering Credence’s canteen.

Strangely enough, the canteen was almost empty. The few believers hanging around were slumped in their chairs; they kept yawning, fighting hard not to drop their heads in their breakfast.

Trumaine approached the large cupboard flooded with UV rays and recovered a white sterile mug. He filled it with a black, hot, fuming stream of liquid. Even if its smell was anything like the powerful aroma he had inhaled at Faith’s, it would do all the same.

Anything would do this morning.

Without realizing, he strode to the same table in the corner Faith had showed him the previous day.

He sat, clutching the mug with both hands, enjoying the little heat the ceramic released. He sipped some coffee, feeling it go down in his stomach, ever so slowly, savoring every moment of it.

Lying in the chamber had stirred something buried deep within; memories he thought forgotten, but that had never really left him, memories that lay smoldering just a few inches below the many layers of his limited awareness.

Trumaine took out his sleek, self-sealing plastic wallet, opened it and retrieved something he hadn’t looked at for a very long time; it was a three-dimensional picture about three inches long and two wide of a young girl. The carefree, sparkling smile of Maia shone on her tanned face. She was about eleven, then, her chestnut hair was fairer than it used to be—since the summer sun had bleached it—but her eyes always looked the same. They had that touch of craziness and unpredictability that went not just with the flourishing, young people like Maia, but even with older ones, who were supposed to be more controlled and self-possessed, like her mother.

The picture had been in his pocket for three years straight now. He touched his thumb to it, tracing the outline of Maia’s cheek, as if to caress her, recalling everything about her—

When, all of a sudden, a shadow appeared in front of him: the movement had been so abrupt he had almost jumped.

He looked up ... but it was just Faith.

He had been so absorbed in Maia’s picture he had forgotten everything that was going on around him.

“You mind if I sit?”

He looked up at her eyes and, for a moment, he thought they were a bit shinier than the usual, and flushed, as if she had been crying. Was it just an impression? Was it the light? Was it exhaustion? What else? Trumaine wasn’t sure.

“Not at all,” he said.

He motioned Faith to the next chair and she sat across from him.

“You going in or coming out?” he asked.

“I’m coming out. Sometimes, I think I should move to Credence and live the rest of my life here. Any good news?”

Trumaine shook his head. “Not yet.”

He turned the picture upside down and went back to drink his coffee.

“Who is she? Your daughter?” Faith asked suddenly.

Trumaine nodded his head; there weren’t many things he could hide from her. He flicked the picture over again and around for her to see.

“She’s Maia.”

“She was very young.”

“Was?” asked Trumaine with a frown.

“She’s dead, isn’t she?”

Trumaine looked struck. “How do you know?”

“People don’t stare at pictures the way you do,” said Faith, with a hint of sadness in her voice.

“You guessed it just from that?”

“Just from that.”

Trumaine toyed with the corner of the picture, then turned it around to look at it.

“She died chasing a little girl’s dream,” he said, keeping his eyes on the still.

There was a long, awkward silence, and Faith put her hand over Trumaine’s. The detective looked at the small hand, then at Faith and he half smiled. The touch was meant to give some comfort and possibly to stand for a late condolence and he was grateful for that. All the same, he retrieved his hand.

“If Credence were what Jarva meant for it to be, Maia could be alive once again ...” said Faith in a whisper, her eyes searching Trumaine’s.

“There’s little sense in talking about that now, since Jarva is dead, don’t you think?”

“I suppose so ... Would you have him try and bring her back, if he was still alive?”

“There’s no point in living in the past.”

“What about meaning?”

“Once your lesson is learned, the past is better left behind, forgotten once and for all.”

“Is that why you keep looking at that still? To forget her?” snarled Faith.

Trumaine thought for a while, but ultimately didn’t say anything—he had no answer to that.

Trumaine left Faith at the canteen.

He had walked back to the hall of Credence, entering one of the many video-message booths that lined it.

He swept his card in the credit slot and the obsidian monitor hanging on the wall switched on, turning to a pearl-white.

“Call for Captain Grant Firrell, Department of Police,” he said.

The monitor blinked two words: CALL SENT.

In moments, the large, yawning face of Firrell came into view.

“Trumaine,” he grumbled.

“I hope I haven’t rolled you out of the bed, Grant, but I thought you should have the forensics about the Goldmars’ car by now.”

“I sure do,” said Firrell, opening wide in another yawn. “The traces of DNA Boyle found in the Meteor belong to both the Goldmars and their cat. Boyle compared his samples with those they sent him from Santorini—they match.”

“Nothing else?” asked Trumaine, hoping for something more.

“Nothing else. The Goldmars don’t have a garage, that’s why they always leave the car under the porch. They don’t even bother locking it—it’s an old piece of junk, they said. They didn’t think someone would pick it up.”

“What about their neighbor? That Alveraz girl? I guess they know her.”

“They know her all right. ‘She’s so fine a girl,’ that’s their exact words. According to them, Alveraz would never take the car without their consent. Either they’re right or she has bamboozled them nicely.”

Trumaine shook his head and swore, it was another miss.

“What about you?” asked Firrell, solicitous.

Trumaine grunted, still half mad with him.

“Benedict and I had a long chat. I’m happy to know you like to keep him well informed about my own business,” he said nastily.

Firrell didn’t like the remark too well.

“Hell, you sore at me for that? What’s left since they shut down Credence for good? Twenty hours now? We’re getting nowhere, Chris. You know why you found me already up? It wasn’t you who rolled me out of my bed, the guys at the TSA did. They call me about every two hours now. Day, night—it’s all the same for them. They called me half an hour ago. Guess what? They have just threatened to give this number—my personal number—to all the people who have relatives aboard the Hibiscus. You can just imagine!”

He took a deep breath to let his arterial pressure set. “I’m damn sorry if I told Benedict about Maia, Chris. I’m friends with you and everything, but I’ll do anything if it helps you or him get an inch closer to catch the cursed mole.” He nodded to himself—there, he had said it. He looked sullen and he was.

“All right, Grant. All right ...”

“What are you going to do now?”

“Why, follow Benedict’s infallible plan. I’m going in the chamber again and then I’ll go in again, and then again. I don’t know what the hell he thinks I’m going to find, but I’ll do it—I’ll go in.”

“At least you get some sleep,” said Firrell with one last yawn.

Trumaine groaned and disconnected him. He stared at the monitor as the image dissolved again to obsidian-black.

Trumaine marched toward the turnstiles with a sort of deep revulsion. He didn’t know what it was like to be in the real feed, he didn’t want to know and probably he would never know. But there was one thing he knew: going in and out of the empty feed was driving him crazy. He hated every moment he spent in the chamber and if he had realized before that catching the crawler meant digging deep into his best forgotten past, he would have never accepted Firrell’s offer in the first place.

As he strode on, he watched the turnstiles open with a creepy hiss every time a believer approached. They looked like the gaping jaws of Hades, he thought.

Trumaine wondered what was in store for him next; what point of his past the feed would have disclosed for him, what hardly healed wound would hurt and bleed again ...

As he stood in front of the plastic slab that was the turnstile door, it slid open. It took him a good dose of will to walk past it. A few steps more, and he was on the other side.

“I thought I just saw you come out, Detective,” said a sneering voice to his right.

It was the gate guard, of course. He had approached Trumaine from the side, welcoming him with a wink.

“Caron, my old friend,” said the detective.

But the man didn’t get it.

Trumaine slunk away with the sneer of the guard in his pocket.

At last, he arrived at his couch, the much dreaded couch 144. It would always be there, for him—what a comfortable thought.

He sat then, with a scowl, he lay down.

The black one-eyed snake of metal rose from the abyss of the chamber and bit into the aluminum flesh of the couch, lifting it. It carried it back to the blackness where it had come from, and Trumaine rode with it.