I was asleep when the alert sounded in my earpiece. It was 10:05pm on a Tuesday. I had retreated to bed early because I had been drinking alone till the morning the previous night and I knew that if I kept going down that road it would be tough. The spikes in my mood were being picked up so my ‘i-buddy’ told me what was going on and I respected its opinion. It knew my body and mind well enough. That was why I had volunteered for Saviour Squad duty in the first place, it was for personal reasons, ‘pass it on, right?’.
The guy’s information streamed into my handheld. I kind of knew him from the membership. I rubbed my scruffy hair in the dark, trying to massage some life back into my scalp. I had to let out a deep yawn as the blue glow of the screen popped with holographic information.
Male, 45, married but barely, one kid, redundant, right smack bang in the danger demographic. I stared at the bedroom wall for a second, listening to the de-brief from the device.
“Kyle Stephens is thinking seriously of suicide. He has not taken recommended medication. He feels alone and abandoned and unable to support his family. The eavesdropper devices around his house detect his levels of depression are high from the content and tone of his conversations with himself. Combined with his weartech checks, he seems to be chronically depressed. He knows he is connected to this network – can you talk to him? I am assembling a saviour squad now from available members.”
The i-buddy was dialling out to several members in the group. We had all agreed to respond in such circumstances, if they were detected. A bunch of us would be better than one voice, we could bounce off each other, take turns, collaborate, use strategies we understood might work. We had lots of personal experience and some basic training. We were considered the guy’s last hope.
We patched through to all the devices in his home, the gateway program allowing us to bypass all other security protocols.
“I’ll take the lead,” I said to i-buddy.
I switched to the kitchen eavesdropper, the smart device installed in the kitchen above the dining table.
A click to indicate I was live and all I could hear was the sound of quiet functional noises in the room, the swish of the night economy dishwasher, a hum from a heater.
“Kyle, it’s Rick… I know you are suffering. I am here, no pressure, my friend. I care. Do you hear me? Talk to me, I am here. Your devices, they recognised the moment you are going through and alerted us, we’re putting together a saviour squad right now.”
I listened and heard a kitchen drawer being opened. He was picking out a knife.
I shook my head vigorously to get the blood flowing. This was it. I had to act fast.
“Kyle. Something triggered this. What was it? Please talk to me. Was it something someone said, someone close to you, or a stranger? Please. Please talk to me.”
There was a long silence, like the dark was counting silently, and then a voice.
“Tell me what they said. Please. I need you to hear it because I need you to know it’s from someone who does not know you at all.”
Again silence, but this time, I could hear his pain in the dark. A knife was in play. I knew once we were alerted, the police and ambulance were too. But Kyle knew that. That’s why this was a last chance. His bio-signatures were so strong that suicide was likely the outcome tonight. I had to do something. I had to be real for him.
“It’s more about what they didn’t say,” Kyle confessed.
“Kyle, you are a strong person. I’m not just saying that. You have always been strong. That’s why you can not accept failure. That’s why it hurts so fucking bad. But it’s a phase, a step, just a moment in time. You need to wait in the pain until it passes by.”
I pushed the duvet off and flicked the light switch on. The drinks cabinet was at the end of my room. I had not been able to fight my demons well but if I could save one person in hell, it would feel like I had crushed everything that was wrong about the world. This was a chance. I stumbled toward it and swung open the twin doors. Lots of gin, wine and whisky. Perfect. I fumbled with my free hand for a tumbler and managed somehow to navigate pouring a tall whisky. Pure, undiluted delight filled me for a microsecond.
“Kyle, can you hear me, what’s wrong? Tell me?”
“It’s simple,” he said in a disturbingly low voice. “Everyone is fake. No one really cares, they just want to prove something and that, that is not caring… Hell, Rick, I bet you’re just in the group to drink to a successful save, am I right?”
I held my tumbler firmly, my arm not moving an inch, as if a statue could not be critisised if it made no movement.
Kyle was walking in a circle in his kitchen. I could hear his footfalls. I imagined the knife in his hand. What did he intend to do? Sever a vein, stab himself? This was too awful.
“We’re all selfish in the end,” I said.
He stopped walking and was still. I sensed his mood.
“No… Please…You think I don’t give a shit? I do. I really do!” I yelled. “This is what I remember about you, Kyle. I remember at the first meeting, you kissing your son on the top of his head when you walked into the room, it was great your son could see you going for help. That’s what I thought. I remember you looking back at your wife despite her not looking back at you. I remember seeing the pain in your silence at the first circle. You care. That’s why everything hurts so hard for you.”
“It started,” he said, “so long ago. Probably at school. You learn more than you think at school. Bullying, relationships, how people interact. I can’t shake this anymore. You ever noticed, cats always behave like cats, dogs always behave like dogs? Well fuck… Guess what, humans don’t ever change in the way they are meant to behave. We’re stuck with ourselves, so why hope for anything different. We’re just nasty creatures.”
“Then why,” I said, “Do I care about you so much when you are a not my family? And don’t say I don’t, because I do.”
I could hear him in the shadows, hear that deep resignation frown. I imagined his family upstairs, his estranged wife in a bed she would no longer share. I imagined his son in the daily grind of life, picking up those obvious signals but not so aware of what was happening, as his parents slipped awkwardly into disintegration.
“How do I ever know anyone loves me, how do I know I have any real value?” Kyle asked. I could sense the knife blade near his wrist, like I had a third eye staring above him in some celestial omniscience.
I had an answer and I knew it would count. I took a long swig from the tumbler, gulping down the whisky before the satisfaction of a perfect moment.
My connection cut. Boris Trent came on the line. I-buddy had detected my drinking and swung the line over to a collaborator in the Saviour Squad. I could tell Boris was mid-session in some drug fuelled orgy of hedonism. I-buddy had messed up.
“Hey Kyle, don’t be a dufus, go to bed you silly shit.”
“Great advice there Trent! For fuck’s sake,” I blurted – I was still connected to the group, just not Kyle.
“Get off the line fella, this one needs us now!” I added, trying to calm my voice.
I could feel the seconds ticking toward the point of no return. I had an idea.
“I-buddy, where is Kyle’s son now, is he awake?”
“Yes, he is, in his bedroom upstairs in the house,” said the device, “he has earphones in, and is on the app YouTopia.”
YouTopia consisted of three million videos of people unwrapping presents. It was insanely addictive to children.
“YouTopia, pause his viewing, this is a life and death emergency. I need to talk to him direct.”
I could sense the i-buddy and YouTobia hooking up and computing.
I-buddy asked me a question, “What do you want to talk to him about?”
“I need him to go downstairs and see his dad.”
“I am sorry,” said the device, “I will not allow him to do that. Kyle Stephens has a knife in his hand. He intends harm. I cannot risk his son’s life.”
“No… No… You don’t understand. His son is his life. Action override safety protocol i-buddy, override now, I’ll take accountability.”
I patched through. I paused, sighed and then knew what I had to say.
“Hey my friend, sorry to interrupt your videos, but your dad needs you right now. He is really sad, really sad. He needs to see you in front of him. Can you go downstairs and talk to him, please?”
“But I’m watching YouTopia… He doesn’t need me anyway. He shouted at me today, again.”
It struck me, when Kyle said ‘a stranger’, was he talking about his son?
“Tell me, please…What’s your name? Don’t worry, I know your dad…”
“Well, Henry, people shout at people sometimes because they are very sad themselves. That’s what happened here. Can you see that? Your dad, he needs you to say something to him, he needs you to say one thing to him, that’s all. I’ll tell you what it is…”
After a short conversation, the boy was out of bed and padding across the landing, finding the stairs down to the kitchen. I could feel the crushing gravity of time, how every pause, stumble and little moment counted, meant the end or beginning of the universe for at least one family.
I think Kyle had begun to cut but stopped abruptly at the sight of Henry. I heard Henry wince in shock. Shortly after, Henry began to sob, quite loudly.
“You bastards!” roared Kyle at the devices in his home.
There was a long silence, broken only by the boy whimpering and it dragged on, until everyone in the Squad tuned into it, and began to understand, began to comprehend.
“Dad… don’t. I love you….”
And then. All we heard were those long cyclic sirens of the approaching emergency services. It was like listening to the loud noises of a storm after the damage was already done, but somewhere in a house out there, in a room, a father was now holding his saviour tight.
I slumped back into the backboard of the bed, I smiled and then held my tumbler up as if in a toast to the club and I downed it all in one.