Credence Foundation
Author:Marco Guarda

Chapter Sixteen



The bedroom was silent.

It was awash with the light that came in through the blinds ajar of a French window.

Discarded clothes—trousers, socks and a couple of shirts—lay scattered between a dresser and the wooden floor. A man slept in the unmade bed; he had a long stubble growing on his chin and on his hollowed cheeks, and his hair looked oily and unkempt.

Soft, approaching footsteps resounded in the room.

A woman’s hand reached out to the man’s shoulder, awakening him.

Trumaine wiped the drowsiness from his face with the palm of his hand, then acknowledged Starshanna with a nod.

“You want some coffee?” she asked.

Without saying anything, he took the cup she offered him and drank some, lost in thought.

She sat next to him, studying him for a while.

“Always that dream?”

Trumaine nodded his head.

“Stop torturing yourself, Chris. It wasn’t your fault,” she said in a whisper.

As if Trumaine had just heard the familiar voice of someone he once knew, he peered up from behind the wall he had raised against the world.

“No?” he asked.

“No ...”

Trumaine let out a raucous sound that could either be a chuckle or a scoff and twisted his lips in a crooked, embittered smile.

“I’m a cop. I’m supposed to have a heightened sense of danger. How couldn’t I see it coming? I should have forbidden her to go, it wasn’t the day to take a swim.”

Starshanna sighed. For the millionth time that month, she started all over again.

“Maia has taken from both of us, she was stubborn and a little crazy. Do you think she would have listened to you? She wouldn’t.”

“I should have drained the channel, filled it with dirt.” Trumaine was talking to himself more than to Starshanna.

“She would have found another way to go out after the dolphin.”

Starshanna put her hand over Trumaine’s arm, as if the physical contact could bridge the gap that had suddenly opened between them.

“Then I should have killed him. Allowing that beast around here was the worst idea I’ve ever had.”

Starshanna smiled sadly. She knew he didn’t really mean it, she knew he loved the dolphin and what it represented at least as much as Maia did.

“She was born to the water, it was her life. You could never take it away from her, it would have killed her all the same.”

Trumaine took his head in his hands, as if he didn’t want to listen to Starshanna’s words.

“She knew when it was risky; all the same, she decided to push it to the limit. Isn’t that what everybody, at some point in their life, does? See if they can take that one little step just a bit further? See if they can succeed?”

“For Christ’s sake, Shanna ... she was only twelve.”

“She’s always been precocious. Maybe it’s the water she swam in that made her that way, or being with Arthur, I don’t know. But you must accept it—it was just a horrible accident.”

There was a moment of silence.

Trumaine shook his head in his hands. Again, Starshanna reached out for him, trying to comfort him but, this time, Trumaine reacted to the touch as if her hand had bitten him—he stood with a snort and left the bedroom.

She watched him go, anguished and pained.

Starshanna had listened to the horrible news of Maia’s death with shock. At first, she couldn’t believe it then, after a long while, she had told herself that Maia was just like any other girl and that she wasn’t immune to death—accidents could happen.

She had taken the next shuttle bound to Earth and had joined Trumaine for the funeral rites. She had stayed on for a couple of months. At the beginning, Maia’s death seemed to have drawn them together then, bit by bit, a wall had started to grow between them and never stopped. Soon, Trumaine didn’t even acknowledge his wife anymore. In his eyes, she had turned from the woman he loved to just another object to be found in the house, like a chair, the bed, the blinds of the French windows.

She never held him responsible for what had happened, never ever blamed him once for that; she knew it all came down to an unfortunate accident. It could have happened to anybody: only, this time, fate had chosen them.

While Starshanna, after a time of perfectly understandable grieving, was more prone to accept Maia’s death and to move on eventually, Trumaine couldn’t.

He kept going over it in his mind, thinking and rummaging about that cursed day. His rational mind could only think of the things he ought to have done—but didn’t—to save her. It kept firing accusations at him: if he was more vigil, if he had watched over her more carefully, if he had really been the father Maia deserved.

Trumaine thought he had come to a point in his life where chance had no place; everything could be planned and decided beforehand, and reality would have submitted docilely.

Discovering that he had been wrong all the time hurt badly and he couldn’t come to terms with it.

From the deckchair in the patio where he sat, trying to run away from Starshanna’s forgiveness and love, his thoughts drifted away once again. He could never forget how many times he and Starshanna had wondered about what Maia would have been when she had grown into an adult. Well, she never did.

“Life is a beautiful dream.” Wasn’t that what Starshanna used to tell him?

Trumaine wondered what was left of that dream.

It was still the main bedroom. Even more clothes had piled up on the dresser, the bed, and on the floor—they were all Trumaine’s.

When Starshanna had picked them up, trying to put some order in the room, Trumaine had shouted at her, stopping her and forbidding her to touch them ever again. He didn’t need order, he told her; order had been the misplaced trust of his whole life, order had betrayed him. He didn’t need to depend on order anymore from now on ...

A designer suitcase lay open on the bed, now.

A woman’s shirt flew into it, followed by a sweater, a pair of trousers, a dress—

Starshanna wiped away the tears falling from her eyes as she kept packing her things.

Trumaine poked his head through the door, leaning against it, painfully aware that something between them had finally broken.

“Going already? I thought you had another week.”

“What’s the point of staying?”

“Look, I’m sorry ... I—”

She turned suddenly, her eyes flushed. “No. I’m leaving,” she said.

He straightened up. “Is it all finished, then?”

She stopped for a moment, burying her eyes in Trumaine’s.

“It’s up to you. I still love you but, right now, there’s no place inside you for anything else that isn’t pain and sorrow and regret. You have no place for me, Chris.”

She stifled the mounting sobs and kept on packing.

“What am I gonna do, Star?”

“Forget the past, Chris. Live in the present, let go of your guilt. Tell me that you will and I’ll come back, I promise.”

That was one last chance she was offering him; if only he had apologized, if only he had admitted to her he had been foolish. It wasn’t his fault, it had been an accident ...

But he didn’t say anything.

Starshanna nodded her head—so, that was it. She steadied herself, gathered her luggage, then pecked him on the cheek and shuffled out of the room.

Trumaine listened to her steps as she walked into the living room, as she opened the entrance door and slammed it behind her. He listened to the sudden buzz of an electric engine, as it started and grew, bringing Starshanna away from the house.

She had gone. Like that.

Deadpan, incapable of processing in a rational way all that was happening, Trumaine just shuffled to the bed and lay down ...

Trumaine opened his eyes. The snakelike stem which had just delivered couch 144 to its cradle disappeared in silence beyond the parapet, diving back into the abyss from where it had been summoned.

Trumaine didn’t move for a while; he just looked into the distance, without thinking ... when a soft electronic voice coming from the couch headrest prompted him to get up.

“Believers who have finished their turn are required to leave the couch immediately after they are returned to the gallery,” repeated the voice.

But Trumaine paid no heed to it and kept looking in the far.

At long last, he sat up ...

And found himself watching Faith’s black eyes: she was staring at him from the next couch.

They didn’t say anything for a while.

“You look exhausted,” she said, at last. “You want some coffee?”

Trumaine shook his head. He had taken enough coffees in the last two days to drill a hole in his stomach as wide as the bottom of the chamber.

“Don’t you ever go home?” he asked her.

“I’m going, in just a few minutes.”

“You on double shift?”

“Once in a while,” she said, shooting a darting glance at her nail polish watch.

Trumaine studied her. “Tell me something. What do you see when you’re in the chamber? When the empty feed is administered?”

Faith arched her eyebrows and her eyes brightened suddenly.

“You’ll think I’m crazy,” she said.

“Well, two crackpots are better than one ...”

She looked at him, amused. “You promise you won’t tell anyone and that you won’t laugh?”

“I promise.”

“I go fishing with my grandma,” confided Faith with a chuckle.

“Is that all you do? Fishing?”

“Well, we fish and we talk ... We don’t catch many fish, but we do talk a great deal.”

“Is your grandma still alive?”

“She died when I was young. I loved her dearly, she was always kind to me. It was her who taught me first how to string a worm on a hook. Horrible thing to teach to a kid, huh?” Faith grinned.

“What do you talk about?”

“About anything ...”

“About Jarva?”

“Sure.”

“Have you ever had the feeling that what you see or hear in the feed doesn’t belong to you? As if someone else was in there, with you. Not physically, but as some kind of presence?”

“Is that how the telepath is supposed to behave?”

“Something like that, yes.”

Faith furrowed her brow as she went rapidly through her memories of the feed, but ultimately she shook her head.

Trumaine stroked his chin and, again, he was lost in thought. He looked over at the corner where the choice believers rested, searching for the Hibiscus.

“How long since you last saw your wife?”

“Four months?”

“Do you dream about her often?”

Trumaine nodded his head.

“Do you still love her?”

Trumaine exhaled tiredly. “I think I should, but I don’t know anymore ...”

“You miss her?”

“Of course I miss her, but I’m afraid she just won’t come back.”

He glanced at Faith’s eyes and was lost in them.

“You’re not alone in this world,” she said.

She kissed him lightly on the cheek, then held out her hand for him to take.

“Come ...”

“Where to?”

It was still the dead of night. The ocean was in turmoil as if it had eaten stodgy food and the sky was moonless. Here and there, for brief moments, the crashing surf would flash eerie, phosphorescent glows.

Trumaine’s car whined along the deserted and silent highway, its headlights slashing the night like sabers, looking like a bobbing lifeboat lost at sea, about to be submerged any minute by the raging rollers.

Faith sat in the next seat, looking into the night without saying a word, throwing an occasional glance at the supernatural ocean.

Trumaine drove past the Goldmars’ house, arriving at Faith’s home, where he parked.

She climbed out from the car first. The strong breeze hit her, throwing her hair in her face. She strode around the hood, opening Trumaine’s door, waiting for him to come out. When he did, she led him along the walkway to her house.

Faith stumbled on a displaced flagstone and the two grabbed onto each other not to fall.

It was then when their fingers felt the warmth of each other’s body, which was alive and craving under the synthetic silk of their neuter suits.

Trumaine could smell Faith’s exotic scent and was suddenly inebriated by physicality as if it were an unexpectedly strong wine. The breeze blew hard at them and they found themselves in each other’s arms.

Faith extricated herself from Trumaine’s hold, searching herself, until she retrieved the front door keycard.

Her fingers quavered with excitement and fumbled with it as Trumaine drew closer behind her, grabbing her around her waist.

With a blipping sound, the lock clicked open. Faith spun toward Trumaine and pulled him inside, shutting the door behind them.

She moved the keycard over the bookshelf, but she let it go too soon and it fluttered noiselessly to the floor.

Trumaine’s hands got hold of her and they kissed.

His fingers drifted to Faith’s jacket’s buttons.

One by one, he undid them.

Never stopping kissing her, he got rid of her jacket, then he took off his own: the Syntex garments fell to their feet with a soft swish.

Trumaine moved his fingers to Faith’s shirt buttons, trying to undo them, but he had to stop and breathe. Even Faith was gasping for air now.

“Let’s get out, to the beach ...” she said, taking his hand.

Tripping into the furniture, they headed toward the back door in the kitchen. Faith groped for the handle of the door, opening it at last, revealing the beach and the crashing ocean beyond it.

They kicked their shoes off and raced in the sand, toward the shore until, holding onto each other, they finally got down into the sand.

Trumaine bent over Faith, kissing her mouth and her neck, reaching down into her shirt, to her breast.

With a jerk of her hips, she pushed him into the sand, bending over him in turn. She straddled him the same way Starshanna used to, then unfastened Trumaine’s shirt and flung it in the wind, revealing his wide, muscled torso.

She started kissing it, moving up to his mouth.

At first, he returned all her kisses, then, little by little, he slowed down and stopped.

Faith stopped as well, wondering what was wrong with him, but Trumaine didn’t kiss her anymore.

She sighed, disappointed, then sat in the sand, next to him, wiping the locks of her hair the wind threw in her face.

“I’m sorry,” said Trumaine, with a look that was both regret and apology. “It’s just—I think I’m still in love with Starshanna ...”

He held Faith in his arms and cradled her gently as the first light of day brightened the horizon. They sat like that until the sun rose, encasing them in a glow the color of hot copper.

“I can understand ...” said Faith in Trumaine’s ear.

“Ain’t life a bitch ...”

“No. Life’s a beautiful dream ...”

The house was cold and dark when they got back. Without a word, Faith pecked Trumaine on the cheek and went upstairs, to her bedroom.

He stared after her until she disappeared behind the upper landing, then crossed the living room, recovered his jacket, put it on and buttoned it up, about to leave.

He headed for the front door, when his attention was suddenly drawn to the wicker chest sitting under the ebony African mask. His mind racing, he checked the landing, making sure Faith was gone, then he approached the chest, kneeling in front of it.

Rubbing his thumbs against his fingers, he nervously reached out his hand to the lid, about to throw it open ...

He started to lift it ...

But then he stopped—somehow, he couldn’t do it.

He curled his fingers and shook his head.

Then, with a scowl, he stood and left the house.

Trumaine drove all the way back to Credence.

The mousy guard at the gate welcomed him with a yawn and motioned for him to pass. He parked the car and strode through the entrance doors to the building.

He was well aware it was the last day Firrell had given to him to solve the case; he didn’t know what he would clutch in his hand at the end of the day, a first-class Aquarian citizenship or a relocation order to a lesser job, but he would know soon enough.

As he bobbed away in his deckchair, entering the chamber of believers, Trumaine wondered what he would dream next. Was it going to be Starshanna again? Or Maia? Who else?

Before he entered the trance, he threw one last glance in the far distance: the believers looking for the Hibiscus were still searching.

Then everything dissolved to a bedazzling glare ...

It wasn’t the house, this time, it wasn’t the patio, the beach, the ocean, or even Aquaria.

Trumaine found himself standing in a line with other people, all waiting for their turn to get in front of a booth.

Behind the booth, sat the familiar, relaxed figure of a good-looking man with the broad shoulders of a swimmer. Trumaine knew him very well, since he had spent long hours in that same line every time he had to ask for a permit to go to Aquaria. Again, he watched the clerk as he talked to the first in the line and, from time to time, curled his lips in a loathsome sneer.

With a snort, Trumaine glanced at the clock on the wall.

When Trumaine had dragged his feet in front of the clerk, an hour had passed.

As usual, the clerk acknowledged him.

“Mr. Trumaine. It’s good to see you,” he said with a knowing smile. “How may I help you?”

Trumaine, who had been simmering for an hour, exploded.

“If there’s another reason I come here every week other than to see your smug face!” he shouted. “What about my fucking request of citizenship?”

“There’s no need to be upset, Mr. Trumaine,” said the clerk, suddenly worried by the number of curious glances his booth was drawing.

“I assure you, all I do is strictly by the rules.”

“So what!? What about my request?” snarled Trumaine.

The clerk punched a few keys on his computer keyboard, as if he didn’t know already ...

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But—”

“What! I have to wait for hours and that’s it?”

“I’m afraid so,” apologized the clerk, curling his lips into the sneer Trumaine hated so much.

“Will you give me that citizenship!” Trumaine slammed his palms on the counter, getting mad.

“How dare you!” said the clerk.

Trumaine couldn’t restrain himself anymore, he lunged for the clerk’s lapel with both hands and yanked him out of the booth forcefully. Somehow, the clerk managed to turn around over the booth and land on his feet. By now, all bystanders, including all clerks and a couple of embassy executives, had stopped doing whatever they were doing and stared openly at them.

“What are you doing?” complained the embarrassed Aquarian. “Let go of me!”

“You son of a bitch of a crawler!” growled Trumaine. “Maybe I haven’t been clear enough. I need that paper! I need it to go back to my wife and to my daughter! Don’t you get it?”

Trumaine slapped the stunned clerk.

“Don’t you get it!?”

Trumaine was about to slap him once more when, unexpectedly, the Aquarian reacted, kicking him hard in the stomach. As the clerk rose, it was clear he didn’t just have big muscles under the tailored suit, but that he was also in perfect shape.

“Bastard of an Aquarian ...”

Livid, Trumaine attempted to punch the clerk, but he parried and jabbed back full in his face.

“Watch your mouth, Detective! I’m proud of being born on Aquaria and you have no right to insult me!”

Trumaine looked at the blood dripping from his nose to the front of his jacket. With a snarl, he flung himself at the clerk, grabbing him around the neck and trying to throttle him, but the clerk elbowed him, forcing Trumaine to let go.

“What have I got to do for that scrap of paper?” wheezed Trumaine, holding his aching side. “Pay you? Pay someone else? Kiss someone’s ass?”

“This is not the way we work, Mr. Trumaine,” replied the clerk, horrified at the very idea. “As I told you, our immigration policies are very strict. Aquaria is a new planet and we can’t let everybody in. And you, Mr. Trumaine, just don’t qualify ...”

Trumaine, beside himself with fury, jerked back his arm, about to punch the Aquarian ... but the clerk was faster and, with a powerful swing, he hit Trumaine hard in the stomach. The detective went down to his knees holding his belly in pain, squirming for air.

As if another application had been satisfactorily handled and processed, the clerk smoothed out his rumpled suit, regained his unflappable composure, then turned to the bystanders and, with his usual sneer, he said, “Next!”