Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Chapter 10: Initiate Good-byes

i’m sick of people blindly accepting the republic as my gatekeeper for information – we all have a right to whatever was salvaged on drives here.  i don’t have a problem with where the republic comes from, i have as much chinese, malay, and filipino in me as the next guy - that’s not the issue here.  i don’t even have a problem with reading a long history filled with my home country being bailed out of debt by our new mainland.  what i have a problem with, is how we’re repaying it.  immigration wasn’t the problem; like i say – i have an immigrant-rich bloodline myself.  consolidation of corporate gains with government gains is the issue.  since when were ads for ands publicly-funded?  since when did a robotics’ manufacturer’s parent company host all the city servers?  since when did we lose our voice?  ethnic and cultural diversity is a win, IMO.  but the price being democracy?  that was too steep, and staying quiet isn’t the cure.    join THE INTERNET CROSSES BORDERS – be part of the cure.
- User: YunKa0042, Executed for Treason, 48 AS Illegal Intra-hack content extract, held in sealed evidence by the Ministry of Justice for the People’s Republic.  


“You’re doing exactly what we agreed we would never do,” Grace said, with more concern in her tone, than frustration.
“Back atcha!” shot Neith, whose frustration was plain.
“I’m talking about how childish this is!  We both mock the adults we know who seem to feel it their duty to fill the child-void by being children themselves.  We are better than that.  We’re better than kids’ play.  That is what this is.  You don’t have to throw a tantrum to get my attention, Nee.  I get it.  I’ve hurt you.  How many ways can I promise to keep on loving you from a new building?  Don’t try to slap me back with your own stupid move!  We can be adult about this.”
“Says she who begged me to dedicate significant resources towards creating a toy for her amusement.”

Grace faux-gasped, but then cocked her head sideways in a way Neith knew was her searching for intent to injure.  Neith did her best to conceal the portion of her that wanted Grace to feel bad for leaving.  That wasn’t why they were here.
“Grace.  I am kidding – about I.M. making you in any way lame – it…he…doesn’t, but I’m not kidding about this training programme.  I have to go.  I didn’t choose to leave because I’m angry at you, or because I can’t stay here and face you and your utter betrayal.  Clearly I’m still working through it, because hyperbole appears to come to me quite easily.  But that isn’t why I’m going.  It’s really unfortunate coincidence.”  Neith swallowed hard and internally voiced, Oh, and everything you know is a lie.
“What kind of restricted training takes ‘maybe a year?’”  That is what Quinn had said.  Up to a year.
“The mandatory, MinSci kind.  The kind I have to attend to keep my job.” 
“I’m surprised you think it’s even worth keeping.”

“Excuse me?” 
“Your job.  I know you’re good at it – the most promising graduate this side of Isolation – we all know it…but for someone who is so opposed to joining the majority ranks for the post-apocalypse…  You’re pretty committed to keeping the machine oiled and operating.  Pun not intended, but I’m embracing it right now.”
“I can’t laugh about this.  You think I’m a hypocrite?”

“I didn’t say that.  I am saying that everyone is trying to find something they can do to try and make this better, because it seems we can’t do anything about the real problem.  I’m going to try the only way I know how.  You’re going to keep putting a band-aid on this aging population we’re in with your Ands.  We keep going, we keep going…  How long do we keep going before we stop and do something we really want to do?  I mean, after we’ve made our grand gesture?  Our Omega sacrifice?  Our best effort?”
“What if our best effort is what we really want to do?”  Neith remembered Boyd called the Ands a band-aid too.
“Really?  My plan is to see if I’m a modern Madonna, and failing that, find someone to love me to the end of all of our days.  I like the contingency built into that.  I’m worried about you.  Because you go to your conference and get better at building human-replacers, and when that’s over, that’s what you’ve got – really killer human replacers, Nee.  And eventually they’ll stop selling, and our tiny band of semi-young people will turn into a tiny band of old people, and no one is going to come visit us in the group homes.  No one is going to tell us we’ve got peanut butter on our cheek.”  Grace was openly worked up.  She reminded Neith of a cross parent. 
“I’m not saying good-bye to Mama Cole until this afternoon; I came to talk to Gray.”
“Maybe you’ve heard all this before because it’s true.  Lucienne is one smart lady.”
“Also, that’s why I need to design better Ands.  Because our grandchildren aren’t going to wipe off that peanut butter, but we might just have a service class around to make sure we go out with a smidgen of dignity.”  Neith found herself believing the investment she was lathering this speech with.  She forgot for a moment that her leaving, according to Dr Boyd (Dr Alma Boyd!  Had that happened?), had nothing to do with an intensive secret programme to prepare for the next And release.  It had everything to do with MinSci hoping they could do better; end the fertility crisis. Why then, did convincing Gray of the urgency of her work come so easily then? 
Was this what she’d been doing all along?
But before she had thought there were no longer living children.
Before, her employer hadn’t threatened the safety of those she loved.

Neith’s internal chip alerted the shower to switch off as she stepped out of its sensor range and onto the mat.  She retrieved her towels from the rail and dried off, wrapping her hair in one, her body in the other.  As she tucked the second towel’s corner in at her bust, she noted the faint outlines of wet footprints crossing the tiles from the shower to the shelf of towels.  She knew then, from her position still on the mat, precisely what had happened a half-hour or so earlier. Her father had forgotten to place a towel for himself within shower’s reach before getting in and wet.  His consistent forgetfulness on this count was evident in the reoccurrence of micro-puddles.  Maybe she should redesign the bathroom layout so the towels were always in reach?  She wondered if it was normal to know about your parents’ idiosyncrasies this well.
She applied her skin screen, finger-brushed her hair, and dressed. 
Everything felt final, like a prisoner’s last meal. 
She left for her loft room, and sluggishly began packing her things in what felt like her sleep.  Wasn’t Grace the one who was meant to be packing to leave while Neith got her righteous indignation on?  How did Neith come to be going through these motions all of a sudden?  She felt unusually hot, and tabbed the room temperature down on her phone.  She refreshed the message screen multiple times, looking for signs of life from Grace.
She heard a conspicuous announcement-of-presence throat-clear from behind her.  It was her father, she knew without turning.  Another well-known parent-tell of his.
“We will miss you while you’re at this programme.”
“You guys, too.”  She cringed momentarily, thinking of the wet footprints and her mother’s too-helpfulness.  She’d half-lied.  She’d miss them…mostly.  “But hey – at least I’m doing ‘something new?’”
“I’m not sure this is what your mother had in mind,” her dad took a step into the room and sat at the end of the bed.  “Although,” he continued, “she did mention maybe you might get to know someone with similar interests while you’re there.”  Owen turned his lips in, imprisoning a laugh.  They both knew that she had met every 2K there was to meet, especially those in her field.  She’d added to her cover that she was getting time with people like Alma Boyd (having just met her it didn’t feel like a stretch), so perhaps her mother was now hoping she’d find love outside 2K circles.  Mama Cole, ever-helpful and hopeful.
“That doesn’t surprise me.  What about you?  What did you say?”

“I’ve said my piece on this, and I’m leaving that subject alone now.  I only came in to say we…I…will miss you.  That, and to let you know you better go and hug your mother, she’s a mess.”
Neith dropped the jeans she had been folding and looked into her dad’s face.  He was a hidden mess, she knew.  She stepped in to hug him tightly, and attempted to better memorise the smell of the lemongrass soap she associated with him.  He held her for longer than any of their usual hugs, which admittedly had become less usual.  “For the record, I’m not excited about going,” Neith said into his collar.
“I can tell.”
“Good.”  Neith released Owen and squeezed his arm as she moved out of the room past him.  He followed her down from the loft, but took a different turn in the hall.  Neith checked her parents’ room first and found her mother there, sitting on the bed.  Her back was faced to Neith, her long mane of hair straight on her back.  She was probably on her phone.  Neith moved closer and saw she was holding a wrist cuff in her hands. 
“Ma, I’m sorry.  I’ve been a ball of angst these past couple of days.  I haven’t paid any attention to how this is all affecting you.  You know I’ll miss you, right?”
“I hope so!”
“Of course I will!” Neith eased in beside her mother so that their legs were touching.  It was clear there had been tears.  She wasn’t going to speak of those, that only tended to invite their return, she knew.  And sometimes with empathy tears, which she wasn’t ready for.
“I was saving this.  You know, for when you found someone.”  Lucienne placed the cuff in Neith’s hands.  The cuff was made from some type of synthetic leather and was embossed with a curling koru pattern.
“Was this yours?”
“Yes.  I used to wear it when I was nursing you.  I so often would forget which side you had been on last, I decided I would switch this cuff back and forth each time to help me remember – whichever wrist it was on, I knew that I should cradle your head on that side next,” she hiccupped on the last word.  The tears were apparently coming without invitation.
“Oh Ma, that’s really…organised.  But also sweet.  Really sweet.”
“I was going to tell you about it, if you ever…you know.”
“I know.  You could still save it, couldn’t you?” 
“Because this is just a programme you’re going to, this isn’t good-bye for good.”  It sounded as though Lucienne was attempting to convince herself.  Was “up to a year” too long?  It seemed like Lucienne didn’t believe Neith would want to come back home to the loft.  Why did everyone have this same feeling of finality?  Probably because Neith was projecting it.  Was there coming back from where she was really going?  Are there happy endings for spies?  Lab rats?  According to Boyd, there was a chance she might not even survive outside the city.  If she survived, would MinSci let her come back and resume her former life (or paediatrics maybe?) when the assignment was over?  She didn’t think so.  They would only be allowing a few people to go – hundreds of thousands couldn’t know of Nydia all at once.  Would they trust Neith to live with the secret, like Quinn Zhang?  “You still don’t know when you’re coming back?”  There it was; a simple question.
“No.  I wish I did.” Neith didn’t have to strain to add sincerity there.
“Then it’s decided, I am done saving it.  I want you to have it now.  I’ve thought a lot, and I am done waiting for some miracle to happen for me to give it to you.  A miracle has already happened – we had you – and I want you to know I love you.  Now.  And that you don’t have to do anything else for me to give you this.”  Lucienne’s hand still rested on Neith’s, still holding the cuff like it was a fragile creature.
“Ma!  You’re killing me!”  Neith bumped her shoulder into her mother.  She smiled to hear Lucienne laugh, breathily.  Those weren’t empathy tears Neith felt on her cheeks.  She was crying in compliment to the surge of relief and joy she felt to hear her mother say her love truly lacked the condition Neith marry and produce posterity.  Mama Cole loved Neith.  The end.
“Oh, that expression, Neith!”   Lucienne had never liked joking about death.
“I love you, Ma.”
“And I love you.”  Neith felt 10 years younger as she leaned her head on her mother’s shoulder.  She didn’t shy away from the maternal hand that then tucked a lock of her black hair behind her ear, or the squeeze of the other hand that remained on hers, still clasped. 
She knew then she had lied; this was a good-bye.