Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Dmitri shuffled through the crowd, his handler’s grip tight on his elbow. Someone had draped a jacket over his hands, tightly zip tied as they were in front of him, presumably to stop onlookers from becoming anxious.
“When you’re on the plane, we’ll release you,” a voice in his ear, “you’ll be a free man when you arrive on your home soil.”
He’d come to this country as a young man, recently wed, and with a young child not yet walking.
There were no opportunities in his country for people with his talent, and the intelligence community here paid well for what he could see.
He spent years in virtual, surfing the netstream, a constant flood of real-time information jacked right into his brain, sifting through raw data identifying patterns the AI’s could not see.
There had been complications from the ocular implants, and his optic nerves were burned out, leaving him blind in the real world, but he never noticed as he was constantly immersed in the vibrant colours of the virtual. He had been promised replacements when they could do without him long enough for the surgery.
Then his country was sanctioned, this country’s leader lashing out at a perceived slight from the leader of his own.
He saw the patterns in the data before it happened, but there was nothing he could do.
At first, he was just no longer able to send money home to his family, but then his security clearance was revoked, and he found himself here, in custody at an airport, no job, no assets, not even his personal belongings. From data analyst with the highest clearances to persona non grata in a matter of hours.
Without clearances, his implants became dead inputs, should he try to use them, his mind would fill with static. His life, as he knew it, was over.
“Mind your step,” the voice again. He shuffled his feet forward until a shoe caught the lip of a stair, and he tentatively climbed the steps.
“You’ll be seated, and the flight attendant will strap you in after I release you.”
He was guided into a seat, the weight of the jacket disappeared, and then so too did the pressure of the restraints.
Also gone was the guiding hand at his elbow, and for a panicked moment in the darkness, Dmitri realized he was completely alone.
“There are soldiers stationed at the end of the boarding tunnel, should you attempt to escape and remain in the country, you will be shot.”
There was a brief pause, then, almost as an afterthought, “Thank you for your service.”
Dmitri sat in silence. He listened as the plane filled with other passengers, apparently oblivious to his status. The flight crew was gracious, offering him food and beverages as they crossed the ocean.
On arrival, he was asked to wait until the other passengers deplaned so he could be afforded extra assistance.
On the ground again he was guided through customs without incident, and without so much as a ‘good luck’, left in the cacophony of what he could only hope was the airport of his homeland.
That voice, although the first time he’d heard it without the artifacts of filtered digitization, was unmistakable.
“Europa, is that you?” He could feel pain in his cheeks where tears should flow.
She buried her head in his chest and wrapped her arms around him, and he held her tight.
When she finally stepped back a little, he reached out tentatively to trace her face with his fingertips, memorizing the contours of his child’s visage, one that had grown from an infant into a young woman without him.
“You’re more beautiful now than ever,” he beamed, “and I don’t need eyes to see that’s true.”