Carlos A. Duarte Cano
Translated from Spanish by Toshiya Kamei
It’s Saturday night. It has been more than a fortnight since I last heard from Carla.
I know full well she’s fickle, but to be fair, I must admit she’s content with very little or almost nothing in our relationship. However, the girl is uncompromising in some respects and that Saturday was her birthday. When I met her during my lunch break, I handed her a gift and a card, but that particular day she wasn’t going to settle for that, and I wasn’t available to run out and hug her again as she wanted. She thinks it was due to my sloppiness, because of my indolence, of course, but she has no idea what I really do for the Agency.
A furtive hug in the shadow of a front door, a simple kiss, saying “I love you” to cover the tracks of my love wrapped in an eternal absence, maybe some ice cream and a caress. It was so easy! But I told her no. I neglected her on any pretext such as “I saw you today and now I have to take care of my injured arm and you know I can’t be out so long,” because there are things I can’t share with anyone, not even Carla. And she hangs up on me and disappears and I think, like other times, I’ll see her again, her curly hair, her large eyes fixed on the floor, and that smell of herself and I would say again: forgive me, I’m such a selfish bastard, and I know I don’t deserve you.
But I’ve been looking for her in vain the last couple of weeks, no one has seen her, and I’m scared to death because I realize how much I miss her. Her house is empty, her cell phone is turned off, and her neighbors haven’t seen her, not even the old woman next door who knows more about her neighbors than her own problems.
And here I am, standing on this rooftop in Vedado, barely resisting the urge to launch a full scan into the entire city of Havana. I’m on one of the highest points of the city. With a little effort, I reach Villa Clara, some one hundred and sixty miles from Havana, and I know her mental pattern by heart. I have sensed it gently, as you watch a solar eclipse through a dark glass, but in this case it’s for protecting the sun and not your eyes. Protect her privacy, her thoughts, her memories…
I always felt tempted to get into Carla’s mind while running my fingers slowly through her hair after we made love as she snuggled up beside me with her eyes shut like a happy cat. Tempting, but useless. After all, Carla was transparent, or at least I wanted to think so because maybe it was my last chance to believe in that utopia called love, and she was the driftwood in the shipwreck, the desert island the remnants of my shattered faith reached. I know I was not entitled to more than that. Besides, it would have been suicidal. I never entered there, but I could draw her aura emission with my eyes closed, with that rare attenuated glow that seemed to me timid or perhaps insinuating, like Mona Lisa’s smile.
But something tells me that Carla has gone very far this time. If I don’t do anything, I’ll lose her…
Yesterday I couldn’t stand it anymore and called her father at his home – her mother lives in Madrid. I made up a story about Carla’s work to see if he was in touch with her. But nothing. He had no idea where his daughter had gone and, you know, I can’t take it anymore. Wherever she is, I’m going to find her and tell her the truth – that I’m a fucking telepath, a freak, and my family is a great excuse. I work for a government agency and dedicate myself to certain matters I don’t even tell her about. So I’m torn between my restrictions and the fear of losing her, but the memory of her skin touching mine still lingers, her legs around my waist, her otherworldly sex… and in the end I tell myself that I care little about the deactivation to which I expose myself, the mutilation of my abilities, and that I will look for her even if it causes me to have all my colleagues from the Agency tracking me through Vedado.
I chug down the last of my alcohol-free beer – nothing should interfere with my potency. I begin to project a circular psionic field that expands, slowly and methodically, in search of Carla’s mental pattern. It’s almost four in the morning. Although the aura emission is much more subtle during sleep, there is also less interference, so I can individualize the signals more easily and separate them with a precision of a few centimeters. Also the anti-telepath guard is weaker at this time, but anyway I build a protective barrier to hide myself. I know it will not help much once my emission is located, but at least it will afford me extra time to try to get to Carla.
With great tact, not to wake the sleepers, I discard irrelevant patterns and focus on the unique and unrepeatable projection of Carla’s mind. I know it will take me a while, but I will manage it, if she is within my reach. Minute by minute I look for her in the silence of the night. In about fifteen minutes I have already covered Vedado, and I expand toward the adjacent neighborhoods. No sign of Carla. Vedado was a good possibility. There she has friends I’d better not even think about because I’m gnawed by jealousy akin to a multitude of worms, but even more stupid, because I haven’t even had the right to watch over her. But tell that to my neurons wherever the center that generates jealousy is. After all, it’s good that she’s not in Vedado, I force myself to think in order to deceive my fears.
My psionic field expands into surrounding neighborhoods like a giant wave. I avoid the conflictive places I know from my work and where Carla can’t possibly be, but despite my care, I already feel at least one telepath timidly tapping my defenses. Maybe he’s just a class I telepath, fearful or even half asleep, but surely more will come. Soon he will warn the West guard, if he hasn’t already done so. I must hurry, I tell myself, but no matter how hard I try, it’s just Carla’s absence that surrounds me and oppresses me.
Fast flight over the ruins of Centro Havana, where only rats and desperate people live, but I’m much more meticulous in Old Havana, Víbora, Lawton, Cerro, and the eastern part of Playa, where the effects of the 1962 micronuclear bombing didn’t reach.
I continue scanning around the periphery. In a matter of an hour I manage to determine with a high degree of certainty that Carla is not in Havana. Otherwise she wouldn’t be alive.
I don’t give up. I project even further as a beacon in the dark night, avoiding the lookouts for better or worse – It’s certain that by now I must have turned on several red lights among my colleagues judging by the way my defenses wobble. I begin to fear that they will manage to neutralize me before I get to Carla.
I continue in this manner, town after town, searching within ever wider radiuses. Over land and sea until the edge of my psionic field touches the shores of Florida. There are strong barriers, but I’m a pro. It’s not the first time that I mock them. I know their game, their scanners, their amplifiers, and their blind divers. Even so, it’s always dangerous, but not today. Today no one can stop me. Today I’m looking for Carla.
Another thing is, those guys from inside already have my barrier in check, and I can’t divert more energy to sustaining it because I would have to abandon my search. I figure I have about fifteen minutes left. I go at it, possessed by the urge to touch her just one last time, now that she has gone far away to bury our senseless love, contradictory love, time bomb love.
I examine Varadero and Miami at the same time. Not Miami, please, not Miami, I repeat in anguish, but from the north my Carla’s mental pattern suddenly strikes me. As I’ve said before, it was unique. It’s that same one I detect ninety miles in the opposite direction. I knew it. In the end, everyone ends up running away. We’re a country of ghosts.
I don’t cry. I never cry. Not after my childhood in Romerillo, gangs and hunger. One day I decided enough was enough, so I won’t cry for Carla. It amazes me that she could get away from here in such a short time, but she has always been like this – unpredictable. Her mother must have sent her money for this and… but none of it makes sense to me anymore.
I can hardly hold back the desire to wake her up and shout my love to her. I gently touch her mind to implant an image that will be like a dream. It’s everything I aspire to, nothing more.
My defenses succumb and I hear the hum of a military helicopter approaching me. I kiss Carla for the last time and disarm. The mental shock knocks me to the floor with full force. I scream.
I don’t know how many sanctions await me. I have violated four or five laws, the rules of the Agency, my code of ethics, but what’s even worse than that is that eternal solitude and this yearning for Carla are in store for me, because I can’t enter that country.
The pressure on me diminishes. They know they have me already, and they don’t want to harm me because I’m too valuable. There are only four level-five telepaths here in Cuba and about ten in the rest of the world. They made us like this because of their stupidity, with their micronuclear bombs and radioactive rains. They made us increasingly more freaky and abnormal – but also more unrepentant.
The helicopter buzzes just above my head. A rope ladder drops, swaying in the wind, and two figures come down. Four hands seize me and pull my body. They hold me. Almost gently, they drag me toward the aircraft. I’m so exhausted that I don’t even feel like resisting. I smile, quite eager to enter a self-induced dream. I want to get out of this world, disconnected while I can.
That’s when an emission arrives and makes me shudder.
A weak pulse, a familiar mental pattern but of a nature I’ve never perceived, without that enigmatic containment. For the first time open for me, with no dampers. A current flooding me can come from only one person on the whole planet. Despair and love, a love I have never known and will never, ever, feel again for the rest of my life. There’s no place for falsehood or lies in direct contact between minds. I figure she must have a power very close to mine in order to launch that field more than ninety miles away. It’s ironic that both of us… the emission ceases. I just haven’t got enough energy left to respond. They will neutralize her, and I will never hear from her again. The same fate awaits me here.
It’s almost dawn now. I’m so tired…
I fly over the city of wan lights and neighborhoods destroyed by war and apathy, oscillating between authoritarianism and anarchy in an endless cycle. My city, now without Carla, seems much harder than ever.
The eastern sky begins to glow. And for the first time in many years, I cry.
Bio: Born in Havana in 1962, Carlos A. Duarte Cano has a PhD in Biological Sciences and works on human health-related biotechnology projects. He is one of the founders and coordinators of the literary workshop Espacio Abierto and co-editor of Korad: Revista digital de literatura fantástica y de ciencia ficción. He is the author of Caleidoscopio con vista al futuro (2015) and El olor acre de la libertad (2016). “Looking for Carla” is his first published story in English.