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Pen Your Pride

Obliviation

114 11 10

He wasn't worth the thought, screamed Citizens United — a waste of air. But what do you expect from a logic-bound channel? Meanwhile, the Anti-Capital Punishment Co-op was mobilizing. It promised to deliver at least 800 for the vigil. The rest would be up to me. Independent Intel gave me thought-time to launch a public appeal for volunteers. And I got in touch with everyone I knew — long-lost relatives, friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, work colleagues. Some blocked me. Some said yes, then quietly renegged. Others — who I thought I could rely on — said no. My own sister refused. She said to me: "He's been found guilty, Caro, by the greatest Minds in Salvation."

"Well, they're wrong. He's innocent."

"They're never wrong. They're the Minds."

But he told me even the Minds aren't perfect. Stray thoughts, after all, bits of faulty logic happen even to the best of us. He was innocent. I'm sure he was innocent. He had to be innocent. I knew him so well — how could we have shared our thoughts for a decade and I not know he was committing such heinous crimes? I couldn't; it was impossible. And those who loved him as I do, agreed. I took comfort in every volunteer that signed up — not that all of them believed he was innocent. "He is guilty as blood," said one glib teenager, "but that doesn't mean he hasn't the right to air. Capital punishment is barbaric." Fine, whatever, as long as she worked her shifts, she could think what she liked.

By the time he came before the Minds for sentencing, we had mustered 1,500 volunteers. I was still hoping for a life sentence, but the lawyers warned us that was wishful. When I heard them announce "Death by Obliviation", I collapsed and pleaded for mercy, for time — just a little time. They gave us a day and a half. We stocked his space with as much food and water as we could; we put in the compost toilet, the battery-operated hydroponic lights, the plants to soak up carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, the back-up carbon dioxide scrubbers.

I had two private hours with him. He was stoic. I was hysterical. He professed his innocence to me. He told me he loved me. He told me I should go on Independent Intel every week to shore up support for him. He asked me to keep recruiting volunteers — that he was counting on me. I promised him I would never let him down.

And exactly a day and a half later, the good citizens of Salvation, except for we few volunteers, turned their thoughts away from him. But we were ready. Two-hundred and fifty of us at a time in four-hour shifts held his space to 9 cubic meters. And by doubling up once a week, we were able to establish a narrow supply corridor for an hour. To have this reprieve was a gift; to still hear his voice was a blessing.

During the first couple of months he was in good spirits. He joked that now he had time to read all the books he had never got around to reading before. I was able to keep his name on the channels and I was able to visit him. Oh my God, that time was so special. The thought channels broadcast round-the-clock chats with him and he was witty and charming and so grateful to the volunteers. But eventually, when he would not comment on the crimes, except to reiterate that the Minds should concentrate on finding the real criminal, the public eventually stopped tuning in and the channels canceled the chats.

The third month out I quit my job to concentrate on keeping him alive. It was a lot of work to keep the volunteers going, to organize the shifts and supplies. I couldn't get anyone from the channels to talk to me now. "Old news," they said, "we've moved on."

Six months into it, some of the volunteers began to slip away — family obligations, professional commitments they said, "so sorry." At first I could replace most of them, with only the loss of a few centimeters. But without channel coverage, volunteers became harder to recruit. He began to complain, when my daily calls to him became weekly, when the weekly supply drops became monthly. Centimeter by centimeter his space got smaller.

By the ninth month, we were down to 800 volunteers, and 7 cubic meters. I began to take on longer shifts myself. We were all working overtime — 200 people sitting for six hours in a dim room, joining our thoughts together, keeping his space in tact, imagineering the walls, the floor, the ceiling, keeping the air circulating in the space so he could breathe, so he could live.  I was exhausted; he became shrill. I cried every night. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. All I could hear was his voice ringing in my head:  "They've forgotten me. I'm nothing."

By the 14th month, we numbered just 300 and he could walk only five steps in any direction. We couldn't supply him with food or water anymore. It was now only a matter of time. My wish, I remember clearly, was for him to die of starvation before we collapsed with exhaustion and the room and its air disappeared. But he was stubborn and rationed what supplies he had and kept on living. It was selfish, so selfish of him, of me, to be so demanding.

By the 15th month, we were briefly mentioned on the channels again as the longest vigil on record. I thought, thank God, some relief, some volunteers will sign up. But no, we got one or two maybe. It wasn't enough. We were down to 207. His ceiling was low now; he had to crouch. The Channels shook their heads at us and labeled us as misguided thinkers. That was too much for some and he didn't help matters. He began to rail against the volunteers — the very people who were keeping him alive — calling them babies and selfish bastards for not working 12-hour shifts.

In the middle of the 16th month, three quarters of them walked out. We were now just 52  — stalwart souls every one of them, how I loved them. They kept me going. And they took such abuse from the public, from their neighbours, from their families, from him. He railed against his fate every day and every minute. He called them every name he could think of. I begged him to shut up, but he was living in a closet now and was down to his last box of food and water and the air was getting thin and the plants were dying and the batteries for the lights were dead and he had headaches and all he could do was swear.

It's been 18 months now. This morning I dismissed the remaining volunteers. I cannot in all good conscience let them go on — though they were willing. I should just end it now. He hasn't spoken in days. He lies in the dark on the floor huddled in a ball; the space is so tight he can't straighten up. But he's still alive. I can feel him. He's a thin line in my head — it waivers with every breath he takes. I have to stay awake, to focus on seeing the walls, the outline of the space. I can't let my mind slip or wander — or the room will collapse and he'll be gone. I have to keep going. I've got to hold on to him. I love him. How can I let go? I can't, but I know I will the minute I fall asleep.

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