Diary of One Who Disappeared: A Novella

Diary of One Who Disappeared


“A fantastic tale of the possibility of revolution—both personal and political—inherent in every moment.”
—Ken Liu, author of The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

“Through communiqués, missives and the common email, relationships unfold and splinter within a futuristic world ruled by religiosity and prejudice, mirroring our present-day political climate in terrifying but revelatory ways. Diary of One Who Disappeared also convincingly offers a morality tale about how the ramifications of our actions and thoughts, even our unconscious desires, extend beyond the realm of our known universe.”
—Cyril Wong, author of Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me

“A story of interpersonal and international politics, a haunting exploration of how one defines and redefines oneself, a thriller and a human tale of personal growth. If you are looking for intelligent, thought-provoking speculative fiction, board the airship from the repressive North American Union to cosmopolitan Tinhau. Readers of thoughtful, humane fiction are in for a treat.”
—John Kessel, Nebula Award-winning author of The Moon and the Other

 

TINHAU, 2040 – Twenty-five years have passed since the Range, an autonomous phlogistonically-enhanced floating mountain range, disappeared from the skies, having left a decade and a half of terror and infrastructural devastation in its wake. The North American Union—comprised of the remnants of the USA, Canada and Mexico—has finally begun to recover, even while they continue to imprison swees in concentration camps that nullify their superpowered abilities.

Lucas Lehrer, a civil servant with a conscience, decides that the best way to help these imprisoned scapegoats is through political partnership with a swee-friendly country: the Southeast Asian island nation of Tinhau. Lucas’s immediate supervisor on the mission is his estranged wife Ailene, and he hopes that the trip will also reinvigorate their failing marriage.

However, religious and cultural differences cause the negotiations to quickly break down. Ailene announces her intention of annulment as soon as they return to the NAU, but in an act of rebellion Lucas requests asylum to stay in Tinhau. As he begins his new job at Tinhau’s Ministry of Stability, he encounters an odd series of coincidences, in which his deep-seated desires start coming true. Among the backdrop of societal instability and growing nativism, he befriends a young woman who is not what she seems, and who may not be from our universe at all.


Extract From the Book

Encrypted Dispatch
#A4FEB6946B8AD5C444890F6CB2
Sent: Mon, 01 Oct, 3.37pm

Rick,

I’ve just returned by train from the indef camp in Orlando with the rest of the DESD contingent, and things are worse than we suspected. The camp warden, a squat red-faced man named Duke, put on a good show, presenting a Potemkin tent-city full of their “best behaved” swees, all smiles, everything clean and proper and in its place, not an untoward word against their prison guards. No complaints about the ability-blocking kara bracelets they’re all forced to wear. Each tent decked out with books and magazines and even the odd tablet or æ-reader, like a fun camping trip instead of indefinite detention. Aside from the canvas of the tents, all of the administration and support buildings were grey concrete. The smell of bleach was strong.

Halfway through the tour, Warden Duke decided that we all needed a demonstration of the karas’ effectiveness; one of the “model” swees was brought before us, a young Hispanic man with arabesqued tattoos on his arms. One of the guards aimed a hand-held device with wires all over it at the swee’s bracelet; the metal kara glowed briefly, and then the warden handed the young man a cup of water. But instead of taking a sip, the swee waved his other hand over the top of the cup, and the water rose out of it! Of course, I’ve read the documentation on hydromancers, but to see it in person is a totally different experience.

With his outstretched hand, the swee pulled the water upward into a long tail and then manipulated the stream into different shapes in the air. The cup had dropped to the ground. One of my DESD colleagues (I think his name is Herman? He works in financial analysis) involuntarily clapped and let out a cry of delight, and then immediately checked his actions at the severe expression on the warden’s face. But then the warden’s mouth turned into an O as the swee lengthened the water into a thin tube and whipped it quickly in the direction of the warden’s head. It could only have been providence that collapsed Warden Duke’s knees at that moment, saving him from concussion or a lost eye or some worse injury.

The guards tackled the water-manipulating swee to the ground, even as the water whip struck them on their backs and arms; with the wired box they reactivated the kara, which glowed again, and then the tube of water lost coherence and came apart in a splash that dampened all of them. The swee was again contained, so the guards marched him off to one of the support buildings. The warden stood back up and tried to laugh off the incident, “bad apples and all that”, but he was clearly rattled that the demonstration had not gone according to plan.

I slipped away on the excuse of needing the toilet, and was able to meet up with our contact Blair in a service corridor inside the administration building. She handed over a sealed envelope, which I secreted underneath my shirt. Once the camp tour was concluded and I was back in my hotel room, I scanned the enclosed documents and photos, and then burned the originals; the digital files are attached to this dispatch.

It’s clear that the tent-city was a ruse, because all the swees in the concentration camp are actually housed deep underground in fenced-off areas. The kara bracelets are not even necessary there because the walls are lined with a mesh that acts like an enormous Faraday cage, and blocks their superhuman abilities en masse, no matter what kind; they’ve solved the problem of having to engineer each kara to work specifically with a given swee’s ability. However, the effect is that the environment looks like a maximum security prison. The electricity of the camp is powered by solar panels, but the swees themselves are denied sunlight.

The technology itself is remarkable, far more advanced than I’d have thought we’re currently capable of. Just imagine where we’d be if the Range, that apocalyptic weapon, hadn’t devastated our infrastructure for so long. It’s appalling that these advances come at the expense of freedom and dignity.

And the children. Rick, they’re keeping the children in overpopulated pens, segregated from the adults. Since they’ve got the swee-testing age now down to eight years old, there are kids there without their parents, without any adult supervision or care, having to cope on their own. Thank the Lord that, by law, we’re unable to test any younger. Can you imagine the evil cruelty that would come with putting babies in cages?

That this site is on the former Disney World campus could not be more ironic.

I trust that you’ll be able to use this information in your campaign to close down the camps once and for all, and reintegrate the swees back into society. You have a difficult task ahead of you, sir, and battling President Jarret’s single-minded bigotry is something I do not envy.

I’m also very aware that my diplomatic trip to Tinhau two days hence is now all the more important. If we’re able to re-establish a partnership with a nation that openly celebrates its swee population, it’ll increase the pressure on our “Dear Leader” to release his fellow citizens back into a life of dignity. But I worry that Ailene will throw a wrench into both our plans; her intolerance has only grown in the past few years, and her disdain for swees is a matter of public record. I’m praying that the importance of this mission will override her disgust and hatred.

I’ll send an official communiqué before our airship departs for Tinhau, so that any monitored communication will produce the paper trail we want to leave. If you get a moment, I’d appreciate if you could spare a prayer for the success of this venture. More from me soon.

Lucas