Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Chapter 11: Complete Good-byes




The South Island [cough], or, rather, Nandao’s climate, appears to still offer the seasonal variation necessary for successful germination and cultivation of high yield crops.  We have found no evidence of persisting contagion.  The ferry and electric trains could facilitate transport of sufficient grain products and produce to sustain Feichangbei.  What we lack, and can’t find the answer for, is who is going to work these farms? [microphone turned off]
- Transcript from a presentation given to an assembly of the Ministers of Health, Science and Technology, Commerce, and Agriculture for the People’s Republic.  Presenter’s name and current whereabouts unknown.
#

Neith leaned against one of an old pair of posts springing up from an abandoned athletic field.  She had been here many times to test the mini-droid.  The other visits, she had been the one bringing I.M., meaning she could get started on arrival.  Today she waited, taskless.  Grace was bringing the object of their meeting.

She had tried reading on her phone to pass the time, but six times on one sentence was enough.  Instead of internalising fiction, all she could think was, “What is Prescott capable of?”  She was going to Nydia.  But what would become of the people there because she went?  Building bridges seemed good and well until the history between both sides was considered.  What was Phase 2?  Would MinSci shuttle in the likes of Rawiri and Wilson and pair them off?  Force them on young Nydia women?  She shuddered.  Earlier she’d thought she had no choice but to be part of Phase 1.  But there was always a choice.  She could choose not to go.  She could tell her parents the secret, refuse reassignment, and accept the consequences.  It would most likely mean she would disappear, like any resister she’d ever heard of.  And it would most likely mean harm came to her family.  Four people were her entire world, if she was counting.  She realised then, another thing that made her a great candidate for blackmail was that her world was so small.  A 2K with an interconnected casting network and floor of friends was hard to do away with; but a girl with only her parents and one true friend?  That was easy.  They’d find someone else.  Someone who had less of a chance of making it work, Boyd had said. 

Nydia was certainly made up of more than four people.  This was their secret too, not only MinSci’s.  Telling anyone other than her parents was something Neith ruled out.  She didn’t want desperate City throngs descending on Nydia.  She didn’t want the City to fall apart.   She could see no way out. 

Maybe she’d find answers in Nydia.  Maybe once she got there and really understood how Nydia needed Feichangbei – for more than keeping their secret and sending occasional supplies – she wouldn’t feel these reservations anymore; she would happily support the entire operation, in all its phases. 

That’s if she didn’t die after arriving.  She released a hysterical laugh.   

“I haven’t even said anything yet, but I know, right?”  Grace moved into view from behind Neith, claiming her comedy as cause for the solo outburst. 

Neith pulled an unsure face at I.M., who was sitting in an old baby buggy.  There were plenty of those.  “For someone who ‘must. learn,’ you’re kinda late.  And I.M. can walk.”  Neith dusted off her pants and smiled at fearless Grace.  Blissfully unaware Grace. 

Neith felt an onset of envy. 

Although, for all intents and purposes, this unknowing friend was voluntarily drafting into a mating programme… 

Envy extinguished.

Anger ignited.

If people knew, would the madness stop?  Would should-be grandmothers stop cradling dolls in The Green?  She supposed new, alternative forms of madness would most likely take place of the current crazy array.  What wouldn’t you try, if holding a child again suddenly seemed less wishful thinking, and again a real possibility?

She reminded herself of her earlier verdict.  It was not her place to decide which madness to prescribe people – their current one, or one new.  She would do what Prescott and Boyd agreed was best.  She would also try to understand why both of these worlds wanted and needed each other.  She wanted to know more. She wanted to see a child.

Gray was talking; she needed to be present with her friend.  Neith had said I.M. could walk.  “Something went wrong with the pairing, he was walking too fast. So I needed a fix.  The buggy worked.  Plus, I liked freaking people out on the way – one dry thought I was one of her kind.  She gasped when she looked in to see my cargo.  Even with the pairing debacle, I was running on time, I swear, but the final ’print and sign for My Towers took longer than I thought.  There were a lot of disclaimers.  Sheesh.” 

“What kind of disclaimers?”  Neith would come back to pairing settings on I.M. later.

“Who knows?  No one reads those things, Nee.  You tap ‘Accept’ and get on with your life.”

“Gray!” there was a newfound passion in her voice, “You do not just tap accept!  Who knows what you have signed up for in that place?”

“I can imagine.”  Grace was surprised to see Neith so incensed.

“Can you?”

“Yeah, they’ll probably be monitoring everything from pee to pulse.  I know.  Does anybody think they stop at our comms?  I’m not that naïve.”

“But you’re consenting to possibly more?  For all you know, you just agreed to give your unborn baby to science, should she be conceived within the Towers of Darkness.”  Or worse.   Neith pictured sweet Grace’s unbeknownst-conception video on the Intra, for historical purposes.  Then she conjured an image of an ugly And tasked to pimp out residents, or stamp some kind of card for their escapades. ‘Promiscuity Cards?’  Checked by a demented, nightmare version of a Super, for each floor.

“I thought we established these were My Towers, Nee.”  Grace gave her a condescending stare, followed by a crumpling of concern.  “Do you really think so?”  It was the first time Grace had shown some fraying at the ends since she’d made the big move decision.  Usually Grace would be the one more inclined to get fiery, but today Neith’s own forced hand had her edgy and it had Grace worried. 

Good. 

She should be worried.

They all should.

Neith couldn’t leave her this way, though.  “I don’t know.  But you should always read before you ’print and sign.”  Neith’s sentence trailed off on an accompanying, defeated sigh.

“Well, it’s done.  And what are the odds Grace II will ever come into being and suffer for my folly, anyway?”

Neith couldn’t answer that anymore, so made the question rhetoric with her silence.  A little Grace.  The thought! Maybe there could be a little Grace.

“Let’s fly this guy!”  Grace was ready to move on.

“Gray?”

“Yeah, Nee?”

“I love you so much.”

“I know.”

“I’m going to miss you a lot.”

“Don’t go.  Move into My Towers.”

“A lot.”

“You too.”
 
#

Neith collected two of her favourite dark soft pencils from the back of her secure proximity-activated desk drawer. 

It was quiet in the lab.  She would miss it.  She felt good at what she did here.  She’d made breakthroughs here. 

She’d escaped reality here. 

She closed her eyes for two seconds and breathed in.  It smelled clean, mostly.  Her breath then caught as she realised Wilson was almost on top of her.  He was always doing that!

“So, you’re leaving?”  Restrained anger rippled off of his taut arm muscles and his eyebrows sat high, tight and expectant.

“Yeah.  A training programme.”

“Why only you?”

“That’s what I said, believe me.  But they need someone still working here, and…”

“…and it’s because of the movie files, isn’t it?  I knew it!  I knew this would happen!”

“No.  I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t think I want to…” 


“What do they expect?  I’ve been given access to a plague-load of archives – many unreviewed – so I’ve watched a few things the censors might not approve of…” 

“Wilson,” Neith called him back firmly from his rant.  She didn’t have time to ignore him, and she really didn’t want to hear it.  “I don’t know what kind of videos you watch off the clock.  Or on the clock…” Neith added, realising at that moment Wilson had access to a lot for his research, and she really had little idea what he watched on his screens.  She had done so deliberately.  “Just know, that if I could give you my spot at this programme, I’d do it in a heartbeat.” 

“Sure you would.  Like anybody’s buying that, Cole.  You live and breathe this job, I bet you’re screaming with glee inside that you can go and play with Ands all day and avoid actually touching anybody else that breathes.” 

Ouch. 

In the mythical place she was going, did he really think there’d only be Ands?  Was now the time to namedrop the Boyd-zinger?  No, that would only further incense Wilson’s hurt and anger.  Retaliation wasn’t Neith’s MO.  Neith licked her top teeth inside her mouth, as though therein lay a self-control switch.  She was done attempting to enlighten someone she knew would choose disgruntled ignorance every time.  “Thank you for making leaving a whole lot easier.” 

It didn’t make it easier.   


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