Revolving Door: Volume 2
City of Eyes and Fog - The Eyes
It was a week ago that Adelaide’s steady life was shattered forever by the appearance of Felix Mercer.
Eleven years of the same week playing over and over, beeping clocks and sliding panels and beeping clocks, and now the pattern is breaking, lying in glowing pieces on that penthouse apartment floor. This stranger stood there outside her room, offering her something she had not dreamt of till that moment: freedom. And afraid as she was of the unknown, of having no beeping clocks to live her life by, she chose to flee, descending through the city lights in the last rain of spring.
It has been a week since their eyes first met. Today they sit watching the sky through a rain-streaked window, the light forming faint parallelograms on the burgundy hotel walls. The paint is old as the furniture and it has not yet outfitted with all the pleasures of modern life, but in some ways, that is for the better.
Felix ponders some handwritten notes, and Adelaide lies under the silken covers, stealing a glance at him over the pages of a novel. He has been bizarrely cautious about never occupying the bed while she is in it, and she cannot tell if he minds sleeping in the armchair every night.
“How many more nights can we afford to stay here?” she asks.
Felix glances at her and loses his unfocused stare for a polite smile. “Don’t you worry your pretty head about that,” he replies, fanning out the receipts in his hand.
“But you don’t have your job anymore.”
“I assure you, that time is better spent in your company.”
Adelaide’s face falls as guilt gnaws at her. “I’m sorry you had to quit for me.”
“Not at all, it was always a temporary arrangement. And as I said, we are in no danger of running out of funds. The first dividends for my shares arrive next week.”
Those ill feelings are dispersed momentarily by puzzlement. She arches an eyebrow. “How did you open a bank account here? You don’t have proof of ID, do you?”
Felix smiles that same unrevealing smile. “I have my ways,” he says.
Her eyes shift to the wall beside her. He keeps so much of himself veiled in shadow—or in light so bright that no one can see through it. How can she know he has benign aims? But his secret ways are keeping them both afloat, and she isn’t about to aggrieve the only person standing between her and capture.
Back in that penthouse apartment, standing in the blue light, she didn't know where her moment's fire and folly would take her, though that "moment" has lasted a week now. She is out here, on the run, unable to show her face anywhere. And nothing is written. And everything is possible. She gets to decide.
The pair know that the SFPD is casting its net wide. Photos of the escaped lab prisoner Adelaide Moore as she was last seen, brown-haired and distraught, have been circulating in the news at every hour for a week now, appearing on billboards between lurid pink-and-yellow advertisements.
This is a city of eyes, hiding in every wall and looming over every screen. But these are the eyes of the four megacorporations that puppeteer life from behind the scenes, and most of them operate with the greater parts of themselves distributed in networks across the world, so they do not answer to any law.
Felix does his best to keep her disguise up about her when they are in public, but even he cannot maintain it constantly, particularly not when she is out of his sight—though those moments are few. Although Adelaide has no doubts that she has been seen by a camera somewhere, the city cannot get hold of that data just yet. Still, she ducks her face away every time she notices a glass lens pointed her way, and averts the eyes of drivers and their dashboard cameras.
In their corner of Noe Valley, where trees stand manicured behind speed-trapped traffic lights, Adelaide buys herself a tiny green pair of scissors so that she can trim her hair. Her roots are growing out dark blonde, instead of the brown of her childhood, and flecks of blue have emerged from the grey of her eyes. She is caught between the past and the future, brown- and honey-haired, blue- and grey-eyed, staring into the dressing mirror of their little burgundy hotel room at someone she only half knows, tufts of hair scattered across the desk and the hotel phone.
It isn’t till they are standing at the intersection by Mitchell’s Ice Cream the next day, drenched in the golden afternoon light, that Felix turns to her and says, “Your present look is very becoming, quite the shame that it wouldn’t do for a disguise. It is too memorable.”
“You mean the disguise you have on me right now?”
“No, your actual look.”
“Ah, thank you,” she murmurs, though she isn’t sure of why this is something she should thank him for.
“Most would pay for these colors, but here you are, changing them without a thought.”
Not five minutes later, Adelaide glimpses a strange visage in storefront window, and halts to stare. That’s me. Isn’t it? Her face is sharp and round-nosed; her hair is all honey-brown.
She sees Felix come to a stop behind her. “Is something the matter?”
“Is this still necessary?” she asks, pointing at her reflection in the Tesla Futures storefront. Lights spelling NEW ARRIVALS glow behind it. “I’ve already changed my looks a great deal on my own. You noted it yourself.”
He lowers his week-old tablet-phone behind the shopping bag on his elbow. If he is putting any effort into her light mask, he barely shows it. “The cameras can identify you from the features you cannot change,” he replies. “Nose shape, jawline, distance between the eyes...those are the parts you cannot hide from cameras.”
“How do you know that?”
“I read an enthusiast’s page on facial recognition technology.”
“On the internet.”
“Did they have the internet at home, in your England?”
“Not at all.” He beams as she turns away from his reflection, and to him. “But it wasn’t hard to master; these marvellous contraptions come with their own tutors.” His phone emits a blip. With a smile, he holds the screen up for her to see it: a ginger cat with a cartoonishly large head gazes out at the two onlookers beyond the glass, tail swaying. “Like her,” he says. “This is Lillie.”
“How may I help you?” Lillie mews.
He smiles absently. “My country built the Tunnel Machine, the very crown jewel of contemporary engineering—sorcery, they liked to call it. Never mind that it dropped me off in the wrong universe. This, however. This is true sorcery.”
Adelaide reaches out to take the phone for a closer look, but he swoops it away.
“Patience, my dear,” he says, letting one cord handle of the paper bag slip off his wrist. His other hand, he plunges into the bag, and from it pulls a large box-shaped package wrapped in plastic film and labelled in silver: PalmNote ES Vert. While she gapes, he hands it over.
Adelaide spends a whole five minutes of the walk staring at the box, not even daring to make a nick in the plastic. “Did you buy this for me?” her question comes five minutes late, as they approach the gas station near their hotel.
“If I were you,” he replies, “I’d be concerned if that weren’t so.” She turns to him with round eyes. “It is for you,” he clarifies.
She finally tears the box open and slides the packing foam out, the device gleaming darkly as it emerges, sitting in a perfectly-sized indent in the foam. She pulls it out and presses once on the power button. Instead of a cat, a green frog pops onto the screen, waving its webbed hand at her and introducing itself as Freddie. “Oh, wow,” she murmurs.
“We can use these to stay in contact,” he says. “Just in case.” She nods, tapping through the onscreen guide, voiceover and all, until it reveals a home page with a menu of icons. One is a speech bubble labelled Messages. Touching it takes her through another onscreen walkthrough, where she is guided through the creation of her profile. Adelaide Moore, she types into the name field. The onscreen keyboard looks like the one she had on the screen back at the—
Seconds before she taps the confirmation button on her completed profile, Felix snatches her hand away. “Use a different name,” he says in a hush. Her mouth forms an “o” of understanding and she erases it, typing out the name of her favourite Greek goddess instead, and then casting her eye about until it lands on the box in her hand.
To the rest of the messaging network, her name is Artemis Glass.
Watching her over her shoulder till now, Felix turns to his own device. “Lillie, search for,” he laughs, “Artemis Glass. I should never get used to referring to you as such.”
“I found four profiles for the name Artemis Glass,” Lillie answers. “Is this what you're looking for?”
“Why, yes, and thank you, Lillie! Four Artemis Glasses…”
“You have received a friend request!” pipes Freddie.
“Uh…show me the friend request?”
“Gladly!” the notification pops out to fill the screen. Felix’s profile image unfolds with it: he is a silhouette in front of a carnival landscape, the golden lights and painted horses of a carousel blurring behind him.
“Is this you?” Adelaide pipes, scanning the profile. Gender: Male. Age: 21. “Are you really twenty-one?”
“It is convenient for me to be twenty-one, especially where the purchase of spirits is concerned.”
She taps her lower lip with her fingertip, slowing to a stop on the sidewalk. “When did you go to the carnival? In here.” She points at the photo on the screen.
He shakes his head. “I made it.”
She leaps as a flash illuminates the air around them, and the sunlight cools to black. She stares as a scene resolves around her: an empty carousel whirling, fairy lights illuminating its every edge, like stars scattered across the night, horses bobbing in the glow. The horse manes gleam, pink, white and gold and studded with faux crystals, but their eyes are dark and deep, no light touching them. She can still hear the car horns blaring, and feel the gentle beat of the setting sun.
Adelaide stumbles back, till she bumps against Felix. He catches her by the shoulders. “That’s terrifying,” she says, lights glittering in her eyes. She glances left and right, searching for something to give lie to the illusion—and she finds that the scene scatters into indistinct bokeh at the edges—but front and centre, the vision is so crisp that she can almost hear the carousel music playing, far away. “It looks...real. How do you do that?”
“Lovely, isn't it?” his voice answers from over her shoulder while everything continues to whirl. “I have spent no less than two weeks perfecting this scene. Every detail must be crafted—I must be able to see it in my mind’s eye with perfect clarity, every crystal on every mane, ever fragment of chipped paint.”
“But you missed the eyes,” she adds then. “The horses have no eyes.”
The vision unfocuses and dissolves, replaced again by the sweltering junction, except too bright now. Adelaide blinks. A man with a shopping bag is staring at them as if they were a circus act.
Felix tilts his head. “Ah, so I did,” he says. She looks down at her screen again, recognising the carousel in the profile photo plastered across it—the same horses with the same black eyes. She taps the word “accept” on his friend invitation.
By the time she slides the tablet phone into her pocket, he has wandered over to the traffic light. Hugging the box close, she races after him.
He is peering at a checkered code printed in black on the curve of the traffic light pole. It doesn’t take him long to figure out which application corresponds to the odd pattern, and almost as soon as his camera has registered the monochromatic sigil does the quietly-blipping speaker give a merry jangle and the pedestrian light turn green.
“Did you just—” Adelaide rubs her eyes, coming up beside Felix moments before he takes her wrist, and she lets him lead her onto the tarmac. Cars stop on the other side of the painted line that marks the crossing, their silent engines glowing white.
“I could get used to living here,” her companion sighs.
Two Tuesdays after Adelaide’s escape, they overhear an exchange of shouts in the lobby under their feet that ends in a threat of a police report.
Five frigid minutes ending in mutual glances of terror, they silently agree that it is time to start moving soon. The longer they linger, the more trails they leave.
“We ought to leave the city, go down to the suburbs,” Adelaide says in a hush. “There are not as many people there as there are in San Francisco proper.”
Felix, sitting on the desk chair with a hand on the edge of his suitcase, taps a finger on his chin. “We would stick out there like a sore thumb, suburbs do not often play host to the unusual.”
“They’re looking for me in San Francisco. The farther we are from here, the more places they’ll have to look before they find us.”
He clasps and unclasps his suitcase buckle with his left index. “A fair point, but who would harbor us? The farther we go, the fewer hotels and inns there will be.”
“My parents,” she breathes, more to herself than to him. Feverish with the thought, she turns to him. “We can go find my parents. I remember where they live. They’ll let us live with them.”
Felix takes care to retain a pleasant look, but Adelaide can see his gaze harden with suspicion. “Surely not the same parents who gave you away to the law?”
She feels a pleading anger well up in her chest. “No, it wasn’t them, it was the doctor they called who did that. My parents are okay.”
“Now, now, your attachment to them is understandable,” he presses on, “but I’m afraid it might be misplaced.”
“You don’t know the last thing about them!” The shout startles him straight. “You’re talking badly about people you don’t even know!”
He touches his hand to his heart. “I do know they were responsible for your arrest. Adelaide, you must keep your wits about you!”
“They are the only people in the world who would care about me, why won’t you understand?”
He knocks his suitcase over. “Oh, for goodness’ sake, I only want to keep you safe! Why won't you trust me?”
Like the turning of a tide, Adelaide’s anger shrinks back into her heart where it was caged. She pulls back against the backboard, hugging her legs close to herself. “No, that’s not what I meant, that’s not—I know you care, I know you’re just trying to protect me—we won’t visit my parents, we won’t, we’ll do what you say—”
As Adelaide’s sentences disintegrate into broken-record repetitions of her pleas, Felix’s face goes blank. “I’m sorry,” the words barely break through her pleas. She shakes with sobs, but he repeats himself louder, “I’m truly sorry.” This time she hears him, and looks up, tears splashing on the blanket. He weaves his fingers together. “I didn’t mean to distress you.”
“I just thought it was a good idea. I just…”
“It might prove to be yet,” he says. He stands his suitcase up on its base again and comes to the bedside, sitting down on its edge. “Why don’t we call upon them? You say you remember where they live?”
Adelaide lifts her head enough to nod, a tear rolling out of her eye as she does. From his pocket, he offers the tablet phone, and she taps on an icon that brings up a map. “Um, 68 Belhaven Court, Daly City?” she says, the words igniting a firework-burst of memories, of dry lawns and red roofs. The address appears in the search bar. The map begins to scroll on its own, roads and fields zipping by, before it slows to a stop on a red-outlined patch of roads labelled Daly City.