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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

They’ll know we’re Media from a kilometer off.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 35



She reads the words as slowly and as clearly as possible.

The bodies of four more unidentified men pulled from the river today.  More on that story in our evening broadcast.

The prompter is moving too fast.  She will have to smack the technician.  He is known for doing this when the news is important.

Okana Osaka reporting.  Have a good day.

She concludes as lightly as possible, though she knows to inject levity into this segment would be a mistake.

The LIVE sign goes out.  She breathes.

Twenty-six, Asian, black-haired, black-eyed, trim, curvy, intelligent, with friends – men and women – and family, a large 1 spread throughout Cities 32, 14, 21, and 11.  An uncle overseas is the last outsider, and he refuses to leave Japan, for reasons Okana does not understand.  She’s been at the channel less than four months, on-broadcast less than seven weeks, and the best way to advance is to do something bold.

I want to go to that meeting of the families, she tells Arthur Cuffy, dark-skinned with kinky hair, cut tight, pinstripe suit with mono-collar.  I want to go and I want to take Jerome.

They won’t let you anywhere near that meetin’.  He dismisses on his way to his office.  Meetin’s for the families of the missin’.  She follows him.  He speaks in broken waves, simultaneously reading a lightpad.  Just like the other meetin’s in the past.  Mayor’s office been very clear about us keeping away.

I’ll be discreet.  I’ll stay outside the venue.

You know the fines.  No Media within 10 blocks.  Better ta get them at their homes or jobs.  The families won’t come to Cocanaugher’s little parties if we’re botherin’ them.

But they’re going to name the suspect at the meeting!  She fervently protests as they round a corner into Cuffy’s narrow and over-stocked office.  They’ll say who he is, and, and, and then interview the families for connections.

He throws away the flash deck, folds his arms.  You’re right.  That’s what they’re gonna do.  The meeting is prob’ly to announce it to everyone, same time.  And ev’ry flash in town will make a grab.  And no one will get it until they wan’ us ta get it.  Make the families sign, for sure.  If they spill the name before the city wants it out there, might hurt the investigations.

I want to try.

Don’t care.  You want Media Ethics on us?  Media Ethics! He pumps his hands with the words as if they are neon blinkers.  Cuffy has clashed with Media Ethics before, approved the fine payments, weighed the fines against the budget, knows what fees come with what offenses, and he is the final word on any indiscretions.  A fine today would blow his fourth quarter’s budget and there may be a bigger story than the killer’s name just around the corner.  Something worth blowing a budget on.  Like the recovery of the children.

He’s just about to relate all these reinforcing details when Okana throws up her hands suddenly and says, Okay, fine, all right, Cuffy, never mind!

Don’t do that, Okana!  I know you.  You’ll go anyway.

Not this time, she smiles over her shoulder.  God forbid we get a FINE!

He’s doing the math in his head – the calculations can be seen on his face, on the curl of his lip and in the squint of his eye.  What are the fines if he she’s renegade?  Any less?  He is recalling the small print on the rate sheets.  She’s already around the corner.

Okana tracks down Jerome, who eats a dry sandwich from a plastic lunch tin in the break room of the broadcast station.  Jerome is like a newborn baby – doughy and smooth.  New to the station, he’s good with an imager and he always says yes.

Plans, Jerome? she asks with saccharine smile.

Mouth full of sandwich, he shakes his head and his dirty blonde hair falls over his eyes.

She brushes his bang back.  Then come with me.  I’m on an adventure.

The two arrive in her rented Q-glide.

Bribing the neighboring garage’s attendant, they park at the ends of City Convention Center Plaza, at the very top tier of the public garage.

Why are we parking so far away? Jerome asks.

The crosswalk, she says and points.  They tumble out the car, her with her purse, makeup kit, and lightpad, Jerome with his precious imager.  The police have the convention ramps blocked, she continues.  But if we’re on this side, we can cross on the pedway to the roof of the other garage.  From there, we walk down.

You know all that?

Sure.  Don’t you?

It’s obvious from his face that he doesn’t.  Jerome screws a lens onto his imager and tosses his bag of spare chips and zoom lights around his back.  She notices his jacket.  You should take that off, she tells him.

Jerome follows her finger-point.  The jacket has the station logo on it.

But it’s cold! he whines as he takes the pulse of the air with his free left hand.  Stupid Doll System.  This weather’s pissing me off.  You know I was on the crew that went out the generator station and they wouldn’t talk to us.  Complete dust-off.  That ain’t right.  It’s the taxpayers that put the damn poles up.

It’s the end of October, she replies and smoothes her wrinkled suit.  It’s supposed to be this temperature.

Not in 32.

Maybe.  Sometimes.  I don’t know.  Ask the weatherman.  He knows the schedules of the Doll System.  I just read the prompter.

Re-focusing, she dabs makeup to her face and sprays her hair.  Jerome winces from the raspberry smell of the bottle.   She’s ready.  Okana Osaka’s hair is parted perfectly and stays that way, even in the breeze.

Are you going to take that fucking jacket off or not?

Why should I?  They’ll know we’re Media from a kilometer off.  I’m carrying an imager, for Christ sake.  And I’m cold.

At least turn it inside out.

Jerome releases a moan.  Begrudgingly, he un-slings his pack.  He takes off his wooly jacket and punches into the sleeves, reversing the fabric.  When the jacket and pack are back on, the logo is still there, but harder to decipher.  Your pin, he says when he’s done, flicking Okana’s lapel.

The station logo pin she wore during the lunch broadcast is still hanging off her lapel.  Okana unsnaps it and tosses it into her open makeup kit.  She catches sight of her wrist – the time.  Shit, she curses.  We better get into position.

They quick step the bridge to the convention center’s garage.  Already some of the families are walking on sub-garage floors, observable through the pylons of the upper deck.  Jerome looks down at the tops of heads, the small crowd of arrivals heading for the elevator stacks.

Okana pushes on the glass brace, expecting the barrier to open to the descending ramps.  But it doesn’t budge.  It’s reinforced with wires.

How are we going to catch anyone if we can’t get down there?

Lift me up.  Okana leans herself against a pylon.  She intends to slide down, fire-pole style, to the level below.

You’re nuts, says Jerome.  It’s 20 meters.

But look. The poles have grooves.  Okana points to the tracings a meter apart on each pylon.

Yeah, but they stop before the bottom.

Then we jump from there.

You didn’t tell me there was going to be any exercise.  I’m flabby for a reason.

Lift me up.

Okana hops into Jerome hands and he lifts her onto the thick concrete embankment.  She puts out her hand.  He takes it, allowing Okana to tug him up the wall, poorly balanced, until he stands beside Okana on the ridge.  She’s first to descend, rougher than expected, but intact, from the uppermost boardwalk.

Jerome is behind her, slightly more agile but sabotaged by nerves.  I don’t like heights, he reveals when his feet hit the ground.

I told you this would be an adventure.

What’s the fine for trespassing?

More than we get paid in a year.

Cuffy approve this?

He did not.

I guess I should stop asking questions.

Yeah, you might want to stop.

Jerome takes a test image in the dim garage.  He captures an askew shot of several families as they funnel into the elevators.  It’s a good test – gray concrete coloring and a zoom to the families holding hands.  He is visibly relieved he won’t have to set any lights.  They’ll never let us in the building, he rolls.

We’re not going in the building.  We’re staying right here.  Okana takes a position at the mid-point of the floor, well behind the current flock, well ahead of those parked upstream.

Put that down.  She points at the imager.  Jerome drops it to his waistline.  We’ll wait here until someone approaches us.

Approaches us?  What makes you think they want to talk to us?

Parents always want to talk about their children.

The next wave of families passes by Okana and Jerome as if the 2 are ghosts.

Okana watches the sad procession, hoping to catch someone’s eye.  She sees faces only in profile.  Pain surrounds them like soft halos.  A husband, a wife, a sister, a grandfather, another child.  Each in some way touches another person – by holding hands, by draping an arm over a shoulder, by rubbing a child’s hair.  Each person is connected.

Okana feels awkward next to Jerome, as neither of them have children or any real emotional link to the horrific events of the last 10 days.  It is simply a story.  She knows that.  A story.  But these families, these relations of flesh, excavate something deep inside her and, for the first time that day, she realizes she is intruding.

The second wave passes them, filing into the garage floor elevators.  Doors shut and they’re gone.

A lull, but Okana can hear more glides being parked further up the floor.  Soon another group migrates down the ramp.

Okana remains a ghost.

She takes a step forward, hoping to be noticed, and a single teenage boy looks her direction, but he says nothing, tells no one.  The expression on his face does not change.  In the boy’s eyes, Okana detects wells of anger and grief, but also distant pains of hope, as if the boy is going to the doctor for new diagnosis, a second opinion, to reverse something dreadful he’s been told.  He is gone.  Down the elevators with his family, then the other families of that pyramid.

Jerome, impatient: Maybe you should say something…

He’s witnessed none of the things Okana has in the faces of the families.  She knows this because he has been checking the settings on his imager the whole time, a true technician, tapping his watch.

It’s 2 o’clock, he presses.  The meeting’s starting.  If we get an infraction fine but no story, we’ll be in big trouble.  You know that, right?

They’ll be stragglers, she snaps back assuredly.

The meeting was announced very suddenly, her head rationalizes.  And there’s traffic.

A glide’s tires squeal in the distance.

See?  There will be more.

But they’ll be in a hurry.

Silently, she must acknowledge this fact.  Anyone arriving will want to get inside and hear the latest.  No one will trust the 2 of them with their time.

Well, she starts, if we blow it before the meeting, maybe we can catch some luck after.

Forever passes since Okana has heard the far-off glide, and she begins to wonder if anyone else will really be coming.  If there was news about a missing child of hers, or a missing sister, or brother, father or mother, she would buck all traffic to get here on time.  2 hours is enough to get to the Convention Center from anywhere in 32.  The mayor and his commissioner must have known that when he chose this time and place.

A woman jogs down the incline.  She’s black-skinned, young, rail-thin, walking quickly.  Her low-heeled shoes clop clop clop and she almost looses one at the plateau.

Okana steps from between the parked glides.  Last chance, she thinks, last chance.  She leaps forward, a hand out.   Excuse me – do you know one of the missing children?  The words fly from her mouth suddenly and severely, and there will be no stopping the fines now.  This woman will run and tell the police, and there’s no way for Jerome and her to get out of the garage.  They can’t reverse their steps and climb up the pylons.  Without covering crowds, they are trapped.

Her words have stopped the young black woman in her tracks.  Her almond eyes flit to Okana and then to Jerome, who fiddles, momentarily embarrassed, and pretends to be distracted by a lens.

You’re from the broadcasts, says the woman.  I recognize your face.


I’m not supposed to talk to you.

I know.

My momma would sock you if you came around my house.  She thinks something bad will happen if we talk to Media.

Okana nods, conciliatory.  There are those that think that.  They don’t like us because the mayor’s men don’t like us.  Because we tell people’s stories.

The woman holds for a second then starts walking again towards the elevators.  She hides her face from Okana.

Wait.  Okana’s voice is now a fragile echo, the word barely uttered.

The young woman stops.

Can I ask, says Okana, what is the child’s name?

Okana now sees how very young this woman is, probably not over 20.  Younger than even Jerome.  But in her face, there’s no denying this young woman is a close relation to a missing child.  Are you the child’s mother?

I am.

Because at first, I thought you might be a sister.

No.  I’m Aluna’s mother.  She’s my little girl.