Tyler was booked for obstruction of justice and inciting violence. There was no charge for being a flatworlder because it wasn’t a crime; however, it was a crime to call oneself a flatworlder when you were no such thing.
The policy on flatworlders, or anyone calling himself a flatworlder, was zero tolerance. With prophecy suggesting that flatworlders built Two Cities and would one day destroy it, outsiders were viewed with understandable suspicion. To anyone believing in the power of change, the arrival of a flatworlder was worth the risk. Even a change for the worse was better than the hopeless cadence of sameness, with developers building a new future on the same hollow promises that doomed the past.
The only promise that meant anything to those with nothing was the promise that one day everything would be different, though there was no agreement on how different it should be. It was too difficult to make informed decisions about a better future when people remained so woefully uninformed about what was really at stake. And what was at stake was the assumption that those in power deserved all they got and that those without power needed to be monitored closely.
A protest to save Bunker Hill from the wrecking ball ignited the question of what people deserved. Did they deserve to have their neighborhood leveled in the interest of progress, when they were unlikely to know the benefit of progress, moving from one slum to another until they could be conveniently ignored and forgotten?
Progress was inevitable, thanks to the efforts of Russell Murdoch who promised a better future in Old City, just like the one being constructed in New City; but it required the burial of ill-will and disappointment under a shimmering smile. The new must replace the old, but was the new any better?
Only the return of Ozymandias offered convincing assurance of a better future, and when rumor spread that Ozymandias had in fact returned and was being held in chains deep within Twin Towers, the Bunker Hill protest turned its anger north.
By the time Tyler arrived by squad car, the protest outside Twin Towers had swelled to the hundreds, each massive tower casting faces in shadow. Anger couldn’t be seen but it could be heard with a deafening roar.
A cordon of Blue Knights spanned the perimeter of Twin Towers, eyes concealed by caps, and hands holding truncheons; no doubt awaiting the order to disperse the multitudes with heavy casualties and to put the rest to flight.
A gate opened and the car turned a corner, the crowd now out of sight. A sign read: Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
When the vehicle parked, he was pulled from the car, his captors more than willing to drag him over the asphalt if he were unlucky enough to lose his footing. Once inside, he was prodded and pushed, hands grabbed and his fingers dipped in ink and pressed onto forms. He provided information, the Bunker Hill address of his grandmother earning as much contempt as if he’d provided no fixed domicile.
Once stripped and cavity searched, his dehumanization was well underway. Tyler was still smarting from his bruised and bloodied face, the swelling more painful than the cuts. He protested his innocence as he got dressed again, but words died before they could be heard.
He was going to ask about his arraignment, which would give him an opportunity to make a case for reason and fairness, but the guards gave him no opportunity to speak, knocking him to the ground if he so much as uttered a word.
If Murdoch was behind this, perhaps he could be persuaded to pull some strings if necessary; but would the price for justice be too high?
He was expecting a shared jail cell but what he received was solitary confinement; although all alleged flatworlders were lodged far away from other inmates, like matches prevented from striking a flame with the rough side of a box.
It occurred to Tyler he had no good reason to remain jailed when he need only turn back the clock to a time before Twin Towers broke ground and then walk away. But he couldn’t imagine a time before Twin Towers existed. His imagination felt drained and devoid of possibility. He was merely a thing of flesh, broken and hopeless. No doubt the protest outside would soon run its course, ending as so many protests did, in exhaustion and defeat.
Then he remembered Magus. Vi told him that Magus wasn’t his name, and that his name was Tyler Hackett too. Did the authorities know there were two of him, and, if so, was it assumed one of them was an imposter? How could there be two of him anyway?
There was a mattress and bed frame in the room, but given how filthy the sheets looked, Tyler chose to sit on the floor. He could hear water gurgling down pipes, and, in an adjoining room, a toilet flushing. There were others like him, silenced just as he was. Were they here for the same reasons he was? Did they find passage from Los Angeles, only to be jailed under suspicion of inciting revolution?
He smacked the wall, but the walls were too solid and unyielding to transmit sound.
Overhead, light filtered through a high window, bars permitting nothing larger than a cat from slipping through. He stood up and approached the window, imagining himself on the other side. But his ability to adjust space and time was little more than wishful thinking, and he was just as irrevocably trapped as his unseen neighbors.
Standing was proving excruciating. He figured he’d pulled a back muscle. The spring mattress squeaked as he rolled onto it.
What, he wondered, would come of this? His arraignment couldn’t come soon enough, and when it did he would do as Lula advised and request trial by triumvirate, assuming he couldn’t persuade them to throw out the spurious charges against him. After all, how could the suspicion of wrongdoing be sufficient for prosecutors to make a case?
Tyler didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep until he awoke, his joints stiff and his face even more painfully swollen. He must have looked horrific.
A tray of food had been shoved under his door. There were scant servings of sliced meat product with a side of congealed vegetable matter. Fortunately, he still had no appetite for food.
“You should eat,” said a familiar voice in his ear. Tyler turned to find Murdoch standing near the window, his collar open and his hair grey under the filtered sunlight. “If they know you don’t eat, they’ll take you for a flatworlder for sure, and flatworlders never leave.”
“How did you get in here?” asked Tyler, unnerved that Murdoch could do where he pleased but he couldn’t. The odds of getting home began to feel like an impossibility.
Murdoch grinned. “You haven’t figured a way out yet?” he asked.
Tyler didn’t feel compelled to try, convinced there was no turning back the clock to a time when stone walls didn’t exist to box him in. He shook his head.
Murdoch chuckled as he turned to the wall, pressing a hand to it.
“Funny thing about time,” said Murdoch. “When the future’s gone, so goes the past. You can’t have one without the other, it seems. And since it’s been built, not a single flatworlder has escaped. Of course, they haven’t tried to escape because they see no reason to do so, the future and past coalesced into a single moment, that moment a room with six sides, and that moment an eternity unless you can convince them you don’t belong here.”
“I’ll ask for trial by triumvirate.”
Murdoch chuckled. “If only it were that easy.”
“I don’t belong here,” answered Tyler.
“Belonging is an idea. You belong because it feels right, but there’s no reason this place can’t feel right to you as well.”
“Is this what you wanted?” asked Tyler, trying to stand.
“This?” answered Murdoch in mock disbelief. “No, Tyler. You came here for a reason and it wasn’t to while away an eternity behind bars. I know what eternity can offer and you have only to ask me and I’ll show it to you in all its splendor. I’ve seen how ideas take shape. I didn’t believe it possible once but I’ve seen cities take root, watered by willpower alone.”
“Is this real?” asked Tyler, still holding on to the hope he would soon wake up.
“Do you ask that when you look in the mirror?”
Tyler said nothing as he climbed to his feet, stooping from the pain in his ribs and lower back.
“Have you ever felt like that in a dream?” asked Murdoch. “You can still have whatever you want as long as I get whatever I want.”
“I just want to go home.”
“That’s not the deal. And there’s nothing you want that I can’t give you. Dreams are nothing compared to what I can provide and you can have Laurel anytime you want.”
“But is it her?” he asked, suspecting some kind of trickery.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” asked Murdoch testily. “You want her, she’s yours. Or you can settle for this place.”
“Either way I’m a prisoner. And so is she.”
“But you have no future here, and no past either. And when you lose those, you start to disappear. What I offer is eternal life.”
“And what do I do?”
“Forget all of this, and forget the place you hated so much you looked for a way out and found this place. Forget all those things and the future is yours. But you don’t see that future yet, so you?”
“Was this the plan all along, to lure me here and then expect me to concede everything?”
“I knew it would happen. I can see the future just as clearly as the past. But you can’t see the future because you don’t believe you have one here. If only you’d seen it, you could have chosen a different future for yourself.”
“How do you see me getting out of here?” asked Tyler.
“Only one way out and it’s on my terms,” replied Murdoch with a grin. “Are you prepared to come back with me?”
Tyler didn’t have an answer. He was given a choice which was proof the future could be altered; and with a choice, there was the possibility of alternatives. Although if Murdoch were Ozymandias, then perhaps there was no other future but the one Murdoch chose. After all, how would Murdoch create Future City but by the sheer force of his imagination?
“And those people outside,” said Tyler. “Are they here for you?”
“They want the future for themselves,” replied Murdoch, “but they would only make a mess of it. They can’t be trusted.”
“And you can?”
“I have a taste for … beauty.”
“You said you were Ozymandias,” said Tyler.
Murdoch chuckled. “Ozymandias is dead, and I’m very much alive. But when they realize that I can do all the Ozymandias ever did, they will cease to dispute the future I have planned, a future you still have the chance to share.”
“But it’s on your terms.”
“You think you can do better?” asked Murdoch with a sneer.
“I think I belong to no one, not even myself.”
“You have only to forget what makes you unhappy,” said Murdoch.
“But how will forgetting help me make the right choices?”
Murdoch growled impatiently.
“You don’t have to make those choices. I make them for you.”
Tyler could only shake his head. It never worked when others made choices for him. It didn’t work when his father left him and it didn’t work when his mother never let him grieve for his grandmother, insisting he forget everything in a numbing haze of prescription medication.
“Laurel agreed to this?” he asked, remembering that she was likely in police custody too and might never see her again.
“She chose what I gave her.”
“They’ll bring her here to Twin Towers,” explained Tyler.
“She’s already here,” replied Murdoch with a smug nod of the head. “And I’m happy to take you both home, everything forgiven.”
“And if I refuse?”
“You’re on your own,” explained Murdoch.
The prospect disconcerted Tyler and yet gladdened him. When had the future ever been his own? The past was cluttered with error and regret, but the future was still up to him. He had only to choose it. Besides, Tyler never took well to authority, preferring the thrill of being contrary to the comfort of knowing his place. How he wished he could say no to every disingenuous offer of advice.
If Murdoch had gone to the trouble of seeking Tyler’s future, it must have been worth something, and Tyler wanted to see it for himself before he gave it away.
“I can’t make that decision,” said Tyler.
“You already did,” replied Murdoch, sneering with undisguised contempt. “When you beg me for another chance, my terms will be less inviting.”
Murdoch turned and walked to the door which, for a moment, appeared to be open, but once Murdoch stepped outside, it was locked again.
Regret was instantaneous, and it was soon followed by defiant resolve. What gave Murdoch the right to claim Tyler’s future? At least there was comfort in the thought that whatever Murdoch wanted, Tyler still called his own.
The mattress squeaked under his weight as he lay down, his hands to his bruised face. How had he earned the hatred of the local law enforcement? Was it because they were on edge because of the protest outside?
Tyler imagined himself elsewhere, anywhere else. But even clearing his thoughts failed to remove the walls. He gazed at his father’s watch, wishing it was more than just a reminder of him, wishing it could dismantle every wall and guide him home.
Was Laurel suffering what he suffered? He could do nothing to protect her from the contempt of their keepers. Surely, they would spare her the same kicks and punches. But what if Murdoch claimed her? Would they surrender her to him and allow him to hide her from the world?
Tyler turned to face the wall. He imagined it wasn’t there, and yet it remained. He’d been considering the past, but perhaps it was time to contemplate the future. Although what future could he possibly envision in Twin Towers?
Closing his eyes, he realized he was too exhausted to think and that perhaps if he fell asleep he might awake in his bedroom back in Los Angeles. Anything was possible in dreams.