Credence Foundation
Author:Marco Guarda

Chapter Eight

Trumaine snapped his eyes open.

He sat up and swept his hand over his face, trying to understand where he was. He looked around him and realized he was back to the level one in the gallery.

He lifted his eyes to see Benedict and Matthews standing at the foot of his couch, patiently waiting for him to come to. Matthews held her inseparable pad in her hands; from time to time, she would tap a command or scribble a note in it.

“That’s it? That’s the empty feed?” he asked.

Benedict nodded.

“You have been in the chamber precisely eight hours. What did you see?”

“Bits ... of my life ...”

“Was it from a specific period of time? Do you remember which?”

“That was long ago. I think it was about ... thirteen years ago? It must be so. When my wife and I had first moved to the beach house. I must have dreamed images from back then.”

“That’s all you saw? Your old house?”

“The house ... Shanna ... The clerk at the Aquarian embassy. That’s all I remember ...”

“The Aquarian embassy? I don’t understand,” said Benedict with a frown.

“I used to ask for weekly visas to go see my wife,” explained Trumaine. “She worked on Aquaria. I applied for citizenship, but they never gave me one. It’s just a dream of the embassy. There’s nothing odd about it—it’s just the embassy as I recall it.”

“Did you see anything queer, or strange in your dream? Something unusual?”

“I’m afraid not ...”

“Think about it. Nothing? Nothing at all?”

Trumaine shook his head and rubbed his forehead.

“Everything’s the way it should be.”

“Very well,” said Benedict. “Don’t try too hard for now, Detective. It’s your first attempt, after all. It is important that you get used to the feed, first.”

“It will take forever ...” protested Trumaine.

“I’m afraid it’s our only chance ...”

Trumaine came out from the turnstiles and glanced at the large signboard hanging above him, which now read: 501 and 6:30 AM, then looked toward the check-in booth, where a second guard had replaced the one who had appointed him with the transmitter.

He walked back, arriving at a fork in the corridor. A soft rustle and a vague smell of coffee came from his left. He couldn’t help but take a full sniff at it, when his stomach let out a loud grumble—it was hungry.

Without thinking twice, Trumaine stepped into the branching corridor.

The noise increased in tone as he approached, until it was clear it was the pleasant, unhurried and casual chatter of people who were having breakfast together.

Credence’s canteen was wide and tall, large enough to accommodate two hundred believers. As the vast majority of Credence’s halls, this too had no windows.

Lamps mounted behind the opalescent ceiling provided the required lighting, so that the canteen was eternally bathed in the soft, diffused light of a cheerful morning.

Believers, fresh believers and apprentice believers, wearing white, yellow and orange suits respectively, peacefully enjoyed their meal, exchanging a few words with their chair neighbor.

Trumaine got himself an empty tray from a nearby stack. He set it down on the long rail that coasted the fully automatized self-service counters. Now and then, he would stop to pick up one of the many sealed packs on display. He didn’t pay much attention to what he was collecting. He was more interested in the neat, efficient way every counter immediately replaced whatever packet he chose with an identical one, obliterating right away the choice he had just made—as if he had never been there.

That was one of the things about machines that drove Trumaine mad: they treated individuals like processing material. To machines, individuals were more than equals—they were just numbers to shove, or sweep, or pile up as quickly as possible.

Trumaine was sure that in a not so distant future, personal machines would have been invented, with the only purpose of serving and assisting individuals from the moment they were born to the moment they would die; taking overzealous, scrupulous care of them for all their life, cleaning and tidying after them, to the point that not even the faintest trace of them would remain after they had gone. And that was a very depressing thing, thought Trumaine, because no one would be remembered.

He slid the food tray toward a cashier’s scanner, which blipped cheerfully, automatically detecting the items that lay on the tray. Two streaks of data would be sent: one that added to the virtual list of supplies that needed to be restocked, the other that added to the virtual check that was going to be charged to the administrative section of Credence at the end of the month.

Trumaine wasn’t even supposed to show his credit card or anything. The transmitter sitting in his breast pocket had handled all that for him. With a scowl, he realized that in far less time it had taken him to think about it, the machine had done it all without the slightest error or glitch.

Damn computers, he thought.

Trumaine lifted his tray, then moved to the dining hall, looking for a spot.

He passed a table occupied by a blond-haired young man with bulging muscles, a red-haired girl with a pointy nose and a small chin, and a pretty athletic girl with her braids in a bun and black opals for eyes. They sat facing each other, seemingly intent on breaking the ice and getting acquainted with each other.

Trumaine couldn’t know, but Benedict’s nose had been right. Those were the three applicants he had spotted the previous day. They had passed both the interview and the preliminary tests and were now sporting the orange suits of apprentice believers they had just earned.

Trumaine walked past them when, suddenly, someone crashed into him ...

It was a blissful young woman of about twenty-five, wearing the spotless-white suit of a full believer. The tray she was carrying went askew, scattering all over the floor the packets of food it contained. Both dived down to retrieve them and slammed into each other a second time.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you—” apologized Trumaine.

“No, it’s my fault,” said the woman. “I should pay attention to where I’m going instead of looking at the tag on my milk carton.”

Both fumbled about in the awkward attempt to get hold of their respective packages. The girl pointed at a white cube lying at Trumaine’s feet.

He picked it up for her.

“What’s wrong with your milk?”

“It always says full cream, but I’m sure it’s all skim,” chirped the woman.

“Don’t girls only drink skim?” he replied, teasingly.

“Hey, give it here. I love it full cream.”

Trumaine handed over the carton and they stood. They stared at each other for a moment then, with a smile, the woman offered her hand.

“Faith Alveraz.”

“Trumaine,” he said, shaking her hand.

He peered around at the dining hall, looking for an empty table, but he couldn’t see any.

“It’s chock full.”

Without thinking twice, Faith nodded her head toward the corner of the hall.

“Over there,” she said.

She led the way to possibly the only free table in the whole canteen and Trumaine wondered how come he hadn’t seen it.

They sat. Faith quickly unwrapped her breakfast and dug in ravenously. Trumaine, still shaken from the experience in the chamber, just watched her wolf down the milk and a yogurt.

“Why, you don’t eat?” she asked, at the same time trying to cram a large leaf of lettuce between her teeth.

Trumaine shrugged, opened a plastic holder containing something vaguely resembling porridge and stirred it with a fork. It didn’t tempt him in the least.

“You must be a new believer,” commented Faith, after she had swallowed a whole portion of vegetables.

“How’s that?” asked Trumaine with a disgusted face. He had tasted the porridge at last.

“You look like you just got off your first ride.”

“Why, what do I look like?”

“Kind of ... green?”

Faith studied with interest Trumaine’s white suit.

“Is that the new suit model?” she asked, slightly disappointed. “Surely the tailors didn’t rack their brains this time—it looks exactly like a suit bought at the local department store.”

“I did buy it at the local department store. This is my suit. I’m no believer, I’m a detective investigator.”

Faith’s eyes grew wide all of a sudden. She leaned over conspiratorially, keeping her voice low.

“You’re the one everybody talks about!? You’re here to catch Aarmo—I mean, Professor Jarva’s murderer?”

“If I’m lucky enough, yes.”

“Jesus! I’m curious. So? Tell me, am I a suspect?”

Trumaine scoffed. He had to admit to himself she was fun; her blithe cheerfulness had already taken him.

“I don’t know—well—not yet, at least,” he confided.

“You know something about Jarva?” asked Faith in the same mysterious tone.

“No, tell me. I’m all ears.”

Faith threw a watchful glance to her left and right, paying attention that nobody was overhearing her, then she craned her neck toward Trumaine.

“You know, everybody acknowledges him as the founder of Credence, since he came up with the theory. Well, I’ll tell you something: Credence is everything but what Jarva meant for it to be,” she said.

“You knew the professor that well?”

“When you read everything he’s ever written, you become privy to his thoughts, in some way. I read all Jarva’s books—it’s all in there. He wanted for Credence to be the cornerstone for a new Eden, not just a transport corporation! Jarva developed Pistocentrism to change the world!”

Again, she peered over her shoulder for unwanted listeners.

“It’s the rule of the Federal Law,” explained Trumaine. “Credence can only be used for intergalactic travels and long-distance communication. Imagine what believers could do if their ability was unrestrained.”

“That’s exactly the point!” said Faith, getting worked up. “But the problem is not the believers. The problem is the law—it’s too restrictive! Don’t you understand? Credence is an amazing technology and we mustn’t be afraid of using it! We are on the verge of an epochal change. The world we’ve grown used to won’t be the same anymore. If we were only given the chance, we could reshape it as it was in the beginning!”

Faith’s breath was labored by now and her face was flushed with excitement.

“You mean all green and flowery?” teased Trumaine. “Without traffic? I’d really love that.”

“I mean ... without evil,” she said in a dead-serious tone. “Maybe we should break the law,” she added under her breath.

Trumaine was struck by Faith’s fervor. She reminded him of the young protesters who fought with all their strength for a crucial cause, when the world was just too complicated or too stubborn to listen to them. He exhaled in a long sigh.

“I’m the law,” he said flatly. “You can’t break the law. If you break the law, I arrest you.”

With a snort, Faith slid back in her chair and checked her nail polish watch, which read 06:55 AM.

“I have to go. See you around, Detective. And think about what I told you.”

“I will,” promised Trumaine with a soothing smile she deliberately ignored.

He stared after her as she wound through the tables, leaving the canteen.

After breakfast, Trumaine had gone back to the believers’ chamber. If there was the slightest chance of catching the crawler, he needed to stay in the empty feed as much as he could.

Once again, he moved to couch 144. With a bit of surprise, he realized that the couch was still in its cradle. Benedict or Matthews must have assigned it to him; it would be available for use whenever he needed it.

Before he lay down, Trumaine glanced at the believers in the chamber, then peered into the distance, where the choice believers kept hovering about in square formation, still focused on picking up any signal that might come from the lost Hibiscus.

Trumaine sat on the couch and tried to relax, getting ready for the trance. To his wonderment, he couldn’t wipe Faith’s impassioned voice, or her piercing eyes from his mind. He could still feel the fire of excitement and passion that burned inside her.

That’s what it was like being young and not yet disenchanted and cynical as he was about the way the world went, he thought. He had been quite like her, a very long time ago. When he was filled with hope and willing to change the world. Long before the world had showed him it couldn’t be messed with. He had learned the hard way that the world was too hard a contender—it always won. Reality over dreams. Disillusionment over hope. Illness over health. Age over youth. Death over life. It was the DNA of all things. The DNA of the human race as well. You could never change that. Trumaine didn’t need any more face-offs. He had enough.

Trumaine sighed, then lay down ...

Strangely enough, the couch didn’t activate. No snakelike stem rose from the abyss of the chamber to pick him up.

He lifted his head, then dropped it again on the headrest, a little harder this time. Maybe it wasn’t as sensitive as it was supposed to be? But nothing happened, not even then. The couch was dead.

“Detective Trumaine?” called a familiar voice.

He sat up again to see a panting Matthews.

“I think the couch isn’t working,” he said.

“It’s I who deactivated your couch,” she explained. “Captain Firrell just phoned in. He wants to see you as soon as possible.”

“Is anything wrong?”

“I’m afraid yes,” said Matthews, flicking a lock of hair off her face. “One of our believers has just been found dead in his apartment ...”

A look of bewilderment spread across Trumaine’s face as he took the note Matthews handed him.

“It’s James John Boyd,” she said.

The note read: SUNSHINE AVENUE 1537, APT. 342.