Katrina entered the small glass office of the Chief Supervisor without knocking at the door, as usual, and sat at the chair without saying a word. Those were all signs that something serious was going on.
-What is the problem, Katrina?
The two women knew each other from the very day when they began to work in the complex of the Seven Big Towers. And kept addressing each other by their old names instead of the sigla names given them by the Administration, AA-721 for Emma, who had become the Chief Supervisor of the Anti-hacker System, and AB-902 for Katrina, who was now acting as the Engineer Director of the Omega-Tau program.
-I believe that somebody is bugging my computers.
-You mean, a spy?
-I do not know, Emma. But I know for sure that some of my private files have been copied and exported away.
-Something important for our work?
-Actually... no. Rather private files, like my private photos and videos, a couple of talks and interviews... none of them dealing with our work within the Omega-Tau.
-Then, I do not know what to think and what to do. And this is why I am here, Emma. Not too bad, but enough to be concerned, don't you think?
-Yes, Katrina, and not serious enough to officially involve my anti-hacker squad. But I will do it personally for you, Katrina. And it should remain a secret with us...
-Of course, Emma.
-Let me rather use my female intuition, Katrina! - said Emma with a mysterious clicking of the eyes.
-What do you mean?
Emma then made another of her smiles and said, almost casually.
-When you came into my office, so nervous and full of energy, I said to myself: what a beautiful woman! Still so young and full of class!
-Thanks a lot, Emma, but...
-Then, you mentioned that only your private files have been bugged, right? Maybe it is all very simple. An admirer of yours...
-If somebody wanted to talk with me, he would have called me...
-No, darling, you are an AB, and no Secondary People, or no common employees, can call you directly. You must be at least an AC to be able to address an AB, have you forgotten?
-Yes, our horrible cast system in the Seven Big Tower...
-Katrina, don't begin again with politics. Here we are and here we will stay for the time being. But we can do something to catch your man, your admirer...
-Oh, Emma! Come on!
-Aren’t you curious to see who fell in love with you?
-Oh, love... a forgotten item for us, locked in this tower complex. I didn't have a date...oh, for so long now. Since a few months, I even sleep here in the Big Tower. So much work!
Emma made a sign; Katrina should sit and watch. Then Emma pushed a button, then another one, and remained concentrated on her keyboard for a few minutes. Then a small video started on the screen. Emma has succeeded in locating the hacker. Katrina recognised one of the little offices of the Secondary People, and there was... yes, a curvy man with spectacles who was talking with... with was? a kind of light figure... a hologram maybe... of clearly a woman, and that figure was wearing... her own skirt and pants!
-What...what is that? -Katrina exclaimed.
-That... - Emma said, still laughing - is your hacker. Or, call him an admirer.
- Emma! What is going on?
-This man - Emma said pointing at the guy with spectacles - has created a hologram of you. By stealing information, photos and others from your data. Actually, a very good job.
-This is illegal and I am furious about it!
-Of course, of course. But in technical terms... is a quite remarkable job. Yes, in legal terms, is a serious act of misconduct, and he can be denounced and prosecuted.
-He will lose his job and have a few months of jail!
-Oh, that, absolutely!
-Who is he? And... he is old and ugly!
-No, come on, he is not old. Ugly? Well, maybe, yes, but not a dumb one. I have looked now at his bio-data.
-A sex maniac? I know of similar cases...
-No, no, nothing of that sort. And... he only talks with the hologram, he doesn't touch you here and there, if you understand.
-No, and I do not want to understand. He is an old dirty man, and now I will go in his hole and he will hear from me!
- I will send your computer the back up of this scene, ok? For evidence in his trial.
-If he ever arrives there alive!
-Oh, come on, Katrina, calm down, don't forget your work, do not spend more than a few minutes with him.
-What is his name?
-He is in the C class; his name is CB-444 and located in the Third Big Tower. Apparently, he used to be in the B class, then he has been degraded - I believe for political reasons. In the old-time, he used to be called Jimmy. Now go, my dear. And listen: I am ugly and old, and you are young and beautiful. Do you understand the difference?
-What difference? What are you talking about?
-Just go, Katrina!
The employees belonging to the A and B class constituted the Primary People, those of the C, D, E class were the Secondary People, and they were confined in the Fifth and Sixth Tower. But to go to a different tower, Katrina had to take a 3D habitacle. The Towers were connected to each other by sub-terrain galleries, and the habitacles, a fast kind of trains, were linking them. Those things were small cabins crossing the towers complex in all directions, zig-zagging left, right, up, down, again left and right at an incredible speed and never stopping until the destination was reached. In a matter of seconds. But Katrina didn't like this new way. Better the old- fashioned lifts, although you had to change two or three of them for going from one Tower to another one- but on the long way you had the time to think and to reassemble your thoughts...
She entered in the habitacle and closed her eyes. She felt so alone and vulnerable in that cabin. Only one minute, and she was already at the right tower, and at the floor she wanted. This Fifth Tower was identical with her own First Tower. Katrina, out of the habitacle, had a moment of loss and had to lean against the wall.
Primary People could enter in the office of the Secondary People without knocking at the door. This is what she did. The room was almost dark, only the big screen at the wall over the desk was in full light. The man jumped from his chair; his spectacles fell to the floor. He tried to get them back, looking at the same time at the intruding person. He remained like that, on his knees, looking up, for quite a long time. Then he uttered:
-AB-902? Oh my God!
-Just get up, CB-444, we have to talk serious matter! I am very angry at you!
CB-444 recomposed himself and sat at his chair, indicating the other chair to the guest. Silence. With the angry glare of Katrina against that man.
-Oh my God! -repeated the man.
-What has God to do with your misdeeds? - Katrina was almost yelling.
-It is that... well, it is a kind of miracle...
-I mean... to see you in flesh, here, close to me.
-Why should it be a miracle, eh?
-Because, you see, this is for me a kind of dream. I have been hoping all the time to see you in person... Since then...
-Since which day, eh? we never talked with each other, certainly not!
-I mean... that day I have seen you for the first time. You disappearing in the elevator, you know, behind the sliding doors. Just a few seconds of your sight. You had your pink dress, with black shoes, as in some of your pictures. So... I mean...so beautiful...
Katrina looked at him, with open mouth, trying to find her rage again.
-And this is all what you have to say? As an excuse to what you have committed? - she tried again to raise her voice- And what did you do afterward, eh?
-The present laws - added the man lowering his eyes - forbid the Secondary People to visit or call the Primary People. I... tried to discover who you were, using first the video-camera of that lift... The sliding doors lift. Then I used the facial recognition function, and so I found who you were.
-And so, you decided to bug my computer, steel my pictures, to build my hologram?
-Yes. I apologize. I know that it is a crime, and I am ready to pay for that. But… - a long silence - when I got hold of your first photo, I was so happy. Then, it was from the first video that I could build the first hologram.
-And then what, eh? What did you do with me, I mean, with the holograms?
-Nothing, really. I was... watching you and... telling you stories.
-What is that, eh?
-Yes, I was talking to you, as a friend, just talking...
-Because I do not have any other friend. You see... it is not nice to be always alone... and I was glad to be talking to you.
-And what were you telling me, eh?
-Various things. My dreams, for example. Or... or... telling you about the books I was reading. Or, even, my poems...
-Books, poems? You must be crazy! do you realize that you were talking to a light illusion? This is what a hologram is: just a game of laser light.
-Yes, I know.
Then he added:
- You know, it is a Hyper High-Density Hologram. I used for constructing it, the Medieval Dark-Red Algorithms.
-You mean, you can master the Dark-Red Algorithms?
- Yes. You know, I was in the B class, section BB, working for the three-dimensional networking. But you are right: it is just, and only, an imaginary illusion. This was the sad thing.
There was a profound sadness in the voice of the man, and Katrina felt that sadness inside herself, and tried hard to go back to her rage.
-However - the man was continuing, keeping still the eyes on the ground - it was a great joy just talking to you. It still was... to be two... do you understand?
-But I happened not to know that, and certainly, I was not in agreement with all that!
-Yes, I know, and in no way, I wanted to molest your feelings. I... wish just to tell you that you gave me so many moments of happiness... sharing with me my stories and my ideas... you were just listening, and I felt the warmth of being two...
-You see - he added after a short pause - I am always alone. I work until the end of the shift, then I remain alone in my office, and then... then arrives the moment of joy: switching on your hologram and seeing you close to me, and you listening at me.
-It was not me who was listening, my dear friend. It was your optical illusion. Just a light game.
-But - illusion or not -there is a big difference between talking to you, and being completely, utterly alone, all the time.
Katrina felt a knot rising to her throat. She saw a familiar image and sensation: she, sitting in her small room in the high quarters of her Tower - feeling the pain of her solitude. But it has been never so clear as now. She thought, and almost said: "I remember when I was small, and my mother used to tell me stories..." Was she now a little moved? She fought against these soft feelings. She was here to punish him. And she then said aloud:
-Go ahead. No, tell me first: how did you finish in this miserable office?
-Politics. I took part in a demonstration against the Seven High Tower Oligarchy, they arrested me and questioned with the Cerebral Electronic Circuit. You know, they ask questions, you answer, and they check whether you say the truth or not, comparing your answer with the results of the neural wave reading.
-Where did you fail? - her voice was less harsh and hostile.
-All over, AB-902. They asked whether I was happy here in the Big Tower, I said yes, but my neural circuits said a loud no. They asked what I desired mostly, I said to work as usual in the Big Tower, but it was easy to see that I was lying.
-And what did you desire, CB-444?
-Well, AB-902, they recognised from my waves they understood that it was the Green Secret Land.
-What is that? - the voice of Katrina was not angry anymore, and she was hating herself now for not being able to keep yelling at that man.
-Oh, you don't know? You see: The Central Global Government decided, long ago, to choose a vast territory in what it was once South America, and to leave it in the original primitive state - just as an element of natural museum, an archive kind of, to see how it would change due to the normal natural flow of time. It is a territory extremely large.
Katrina didn't say anything but her head, almost spontaneously, made a sign of interest.
-Yes, it is all full of gigantic trees, yes, real trees, with real leaves and many flowers, but also animals as they were centuries ago. But mostly, you know, the silence and the time going slowly...
-What do you mean by time going slowly? - asked Katrina aggressively.
-I mean... that there is no reason to move fast, to hurry, you just... stay…
Silence. Katrina had the impression to understand well what he meant. She thought of her racing throughout the corridors of the Big Tower, every hour, every day. The swift jerky movement of the 3D habitacles. At the idea to get again one of those to go back, she felt shivering all over her body.
-And... you were telling me that... I mean, to your hologram?
-Yes. For long hours. Also using the virtual reality glasses... with those, as modified by me, you can even feel the smell of the flowers. And hear the chirping of the parrots.
-Parrots? Do they really exist?
-They have existed in the old world for many thousands of years. They still exist there, and they are so colourful. I… well... used to show them to you. Ten different species...
-Do you still do those trips in that secret land?
-Yes, AB-902. But only after hours, so that they do not check on me.
Another long silence. Katrina realized that she didn't want to say anything more. Finally:
-Listen! What is your real name? I mean, how did they use to call you?
-My name was... Jimmy - the man rose the eyes in surprise towards Katrina.
-And my name is Katrina. Use it.
-Yes, and it is now for me time to go. I am still in the working time... and you too.
-You are... going? To report on me at the Sever Towers secret police?
-No, Jimmy. I will not report on you.
-But... I will never see you again?
-Not until the working shift is over. I will be back here, and you will show to me your green land and all your parrots. And... now, give me your hand, Jimmy.