Excerpt

CHAPTER TWO

Almost a hundred miles away, and blasting in the opposite direction, sat a young freckle-faced woman with blond hair. She was holding a safebox that was given to her only a half hour earlier. The exchange was one of the most peculiar moments in Rebecca Badeau’s life. She was standing at the railway platform, as she did every morning while on her way to work, when a woman holding the safebox approached her. The woman was a short, middle-aged, Seventh Tier caretaker with deep black hair and wearing a Ministry approved uniform, which consisted of a powder blue button-up top, matching slacks and a silver vest signifying her rank. Above her left breast was the embroidered shape of the Ministry seal. Rebecca recognized it instantly for she wore the same one above her left breast.

“Are you Rebecca Badeau?” asked the strange woman, her mouth licked dry.

“Who’s asking?”

“Please pardon my intrusion at this early hour,” said the woman apologetically. “I’ve been debating about coming here for two days. The old codger was insistent I do this despite how irrational it may be.”

“Excuse me?” said Rebecca.

The woman sighed and then said: “I’m sorry. My name is Jillian Heddington, I work for Cognitive Services. A guest of mine wanted me to deliver something to you.”

Rebecca reeled with surprise. Cognitive Services was a branch of the Dioceses of Social Affairs (DSA) and dealt specifically with the cognitively challenged as well as facilitated them. They had a long running reputation as being the caretakers of the world’s social rejects. The majority of people who utilized their expertise were men and women who had succumb to mental illnesses or were born with mental defects. Rebecca couldn’t recall anyone she was acquainted with using Cognitive Services. “What guest are you speaking of? I don’t recall knowing anyone who uses Cognitive Services.”

“Yes, I was aware of that,” said Jillian and then paused nervously for a second, “aware that you didn’t know my guest, I mean. He told me you wouldn’t.” She then looked anxiously around as if expecting someone else to arrive.

Rebecca felt confused. “What’s this all about? Who was your guest?”

The nurse stopped and returned her attention. “See now, this is the whole problem. We aren’t allowed to reveal who our guests are—or were in this case. All employees sign a confidentiality agreement that prevents our sharing of private information. It’s designed to prevent our guests and their families from suffering any embarrassment or grief by outside knowledge of whatever circumstances they may encounter.”

“So why are you here then?” asked Rebecca.

Jillian sighed again and walked toward her. “Because, my last guest was insistent that I bring this to you.” She held up the safebox so there wouldn’t be any confusion. “I would normally never do something like this—please understand that—but he . . . ” she seemed to be searching for lost words, “he was kind of special to me. We had built a strong friendship these past nine years and I wanted to honor his last wishes.”

Rebecca looked at the metallic safebox and its flat inconspicuous exterior. “He wanted you to bring me a safebox?”

Jillian shook her head. “There’s more to it than this. Inside this box is something . . . well, something he wanted you to have.”

“He wanted me to have it?” said Rebecca almost sounding appalled. “And you thought it was prudent to bring it to me?” Rebecca wasn’t versed in the rules bestowed onto the workers of Cognitive Services but knew enough to know that delivering gifts from guests to strangers was highly unacceptable. The Ministry took a staunch stance on passing sensitive materials and information. “Ma’am, as a member of the Ministry I would expect more from you. We are charged with upholding the strictest discipline that would be expected from none other than the Minister himself.” A textbook response.

The woman looked surprised by the reaction. “I know and I’m terribly sorry to be bothering you, but if you’ll hear me out I think you’ll see why I’m here.”

“I want you to tell me who this came from first,” demanded Rebecca.

“Fine,” said the caretaker, “but all of this needs to stay between the two of us if I’m to tell you.” Jillian veered closer to her, as if to reveal a grand secret. “His name was Benjamin Vermil. Ever heard of him?”

Rebecca shook her head. “Not that I recall.”

Jillian sighed again. “He said you would say that.”

“Well how does he know who I am?” asked Rebecca.

“Good question. I don’t know. As far as I know, he had never once left the facility or mentioned you before. I was certain he had gone delirious, that he had made you up in his head. He started mentioning your name four days before he died. He never said how he knew you and when I asked he told me I wouldn’t understand. You see Ben was not like anyone else at Cognitive Services. He was . . . he was . . . special, but not in the chicken-brain way. He was unlike anyone I had ever met.”

Rebecca didn’t understand. “Why did he want you to give me this box?”

“During those last four days he revealed to me a secret that he said was the most important secret anyone had ever told. He then asked me to buy a safebox and to go out to the Eastern Plains, to a place where I would find what I now have stored inside here.” Jillian then lifted the box so that there was no mistaking.

Rebecca was having a hard time getting past all of the infractions Jillian had committed. “Miss Heddington, I am shocked by how reckless your actions have been. As I’ve already said, you are a member of the Ministry. I find it hard to fathom how your superior would feel if he were to hear this confession let alone know that you approached a higher tiered member with such ridiculousness.”

“I know, I know, and yet this is very important.”

“I can’t imagine what could be more important than the seriousness of these offenses,” said Rebecca with judicial callousness.

Jillian sighed anxiously and looked around before speaking. “If you will let me finish. . . .”

Rebecca couldn’t imagine what Jillian could say that would justify her breaking Ministry code. “My train leaves in five minutes. I suggest you make haste.”

Jillian nodded and then held out the box. “I don’t need five minutes, everything you need to know is right in here.”

Rebecca eyed the safebox. “What did you find?”

“I don’t really know what it is,” confessed Jillian. “All Ben told me is that you would know what to do with it. He told me to place it in this box and give it to you with a warning not to give it to anyone else.”

The situation was becoming more serious to Rebecca. “What’s inside? I don’t like the threatening tone of his message.”

“I don’t think it was intended to be a threat, Miss Badeau. I think it was meant to be a warning.”

“Either way, it’s hardly the kind of message a guest at Cognitive Services should be sending to a Fifth Tier member of the Ministry.”

Jillian looked taken aback, as if the comment had struck a nerve with her. “You’re not at all as Ben described.”

“Excuse me,” snapped Rebecca, not sure if she was just insulted.

Jillian extended out the safebox again. “Are you going to take it or not.”

“Not until you tell me its contents.”

“I already told you, I don’t know what it is. Ben said you and you alone can understand it.”

“Then what was this big secret he told you?”

Jillian hesitated for a few seconds. Apparently she was unsure how to tell Rebecca. “The secret isn’t what’s inside.”

“What do you mean?”

Jillian nervously licked her lips. “The secret is how to open this safebox.”

“What?” said Rebecca, confused. “The most important secret anyone had ever told is how to open a safebox?”Is she mad? Rebecca thought.

“No,” said Jillian while shaking her head. “The secret is the password to the box.”

“Oh . . .” said Rebecca, still not understanding how a password could be a great secret. “What’s the password then?”

Jillian looked incredibly anxious. “I first want you to know that I truly have no idea how Ben knew this . . . if it is in fact true.”

“Go on.”

“Well . . . it’s just that . . . I don’t want you getting the wrong impression after I tell you,” said Jillian and then nervously tapped her fingers on the box. “What I mean to say is that I haven’t told a soul about this secret. After I tell you, the secret will never leave my lips again. It will travel with me to the grave.”

“Then maybe it shouldn’t be told,” said Rebecca.

“I would agree with you if it weren’t for the promise I made to Ben. He told me it was imperative to make it the password to this safebox. I can’t explain to you why, only that he insisted that it be done this way.” Jillian then handed over the safebox.

Rebecca took it with both hands and was surprised by the weight. “Pretty heavy.” She couldn’t imagine what could be inside let alone what could be so important that a fellow member of the Ministry would risk so much in order to pass it along. It doesn’t matter, thought Rebecca. She was fully intending on taking it to the Ministry Security Force as soon as she had the opportunity. As a Fifth Tier member, it was Rebecca’s duty to report such conduct. It was a loyalty to her government that was engrained in her personality at the earliest of age. Rebecca’s father, Francis Sommers, had a mantra that he spoon fed his daughter: The Ministry first, family second, Collective third, and all else last. “And the password?”

Jillian trembled a bit before quickly blurting out: “It’s the surname of your biological father.”

At first Rebecca wasn’t sure what Jillian had just said. “Excuse me? What was that?” But before Jillian had a chance to clarify, the words came together in Rebecca’s mind. The surname of my biological father. Not her father, but her biological father. Rebecca blinked rapidly as her mind went blank.

Jillian’s pale face opened a bit. “Like I told you before, I won’t repeat it ever again.”

Rebecca still didn’t know what to say. The situation far exceeded serious. There were only three people in the world that knew who Rebecca’s biological father was—Rebecca, her mother and the man himself. “That’s impossible.

Jillian backed off a bit. “I’m sure it is and I don’t want to pretend to understand it any further. Ben gave me a name and I made it the password—end of story. Whether or not you can open this box is between you and the recently deceased. I’m only here to pass on the message.”

Rebecca was too in shock to say anything else.

“Goodbye Miss Badeau and good luck.”

Rebecca watched Jillian walk over to one of the cars and step inside with a few others.

My biological father, thought Rebecca. A chill ran down her spine as she looked up at the giant portrait of the Minister hanging high above the station, smiling down on her as if silently saying: I’m watching you. This was a colossal problem. Whatever infractions Jillian had inflicted onto herself were nothing in comparison to what Rebecca would receive if anyone alerted the MSF of her secret. The most important secret ever told was damn right—at least to her.