Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Chapter 17: Winter

From: Biology Tutor 3 [mailto:biotutor3@ministryofed.intra]
Sent: Tuesday, 10 August, 0045 AS 1:06 a.m.
To: neithcole@2K.intra
Subject: Where Have All the Animals Gone?

You had great questions today, Miss Cole. 

I promised I would come back to you with some answers.  I have considered these carefully. 

The Restriction of Animals Act may be in part due to limited food resources, but I believe these restrictions also reduce the risk of re-contamination.  Since the borders closed, the Flu has slowed dramatically, but hasn’t stopped.  Containing possible mutations to strains of the Flu (avian, canine, feline, and insect deposited on foods) is still of paramount concern.

In short, you are right; having a pet might ease some of the loneliness being experienced as a result of isolation and the fertility crisis.  But that pet could also be responsible for a premature death. 

I hope this answers your questions. 

I have included links to a few articles from the Intra you might find useful.

- Truncated; Archived Email from Neith Cole’s Biology Tutor, 45AS Status: Reviewed, Flag Status Waived.
Weeks passed.  Neith remained healthy – healthier and with more energy, if anything.  Neith drew.  She drew pictures of Amos in the dirt, peeking out from beneath blankets and tables, entangled in his mother’s calves.  The boy moved almost always, and Neith learned that producing non-ghoulish teeth was no longer her most challenging detail – capturing any static position was problematic. Most sketches devolved into a fluid action series’ of rapid line drawings. 

She sometimes wished her phone camera was permitted. It could better record the beautiful symmetry of the children’s faces, the miracle of their unlined skin, the improbability of their long lashes.  She was beginning to get it; her skin had been a thing, back home.  Not here, alongside these children.  Photos would be more accurate in proportion and overall form than anything by her hand.  They would also be in colour.  She lacked the proper medium to draw the unforeseen, diverse spectrum she’d found in Nydia.  Her quick contours served as cursory scrapbook illustrations of something she knew even a digital lens would fall short in truly capturing.  Nonetheless, she enjoyed the freedom.  In between helping Elle wherever she could, she drew.  Calluses formed on her fingers, unused to so much work of this kind. 

She drew Ruthie reading on the chair where Neith had first read to Amos.  It was also where she’d read to him each afternoon since.  Sometimes he would doze off in her lap. Neith would freeze, confused by the comfort of having a little person unconscious on her.  Sleep made the closeness more heart-warming.  And then more uncomfortable.  Inevitably, one of Neith’s arms would lose all feeling, but she didn’t dare to move it.  She would instead clumsily manoeuvre herself and the sweet deadweight so that she could pick up whichever novel she was currently reading.  She kept one within reach of the chair for the exact purpose of spontaneous kid-slumber-and-pinnage.  She became expert at turning the pages without the use of her other hand.  She read as long as she could, devouring every uncensored word.  She was working through a section of the shelf Ruthie had stocked specifically for her – titles Mini-Elle had been shocked to learn Neith had never heard of, let alone read.  Neith read about a magical wardrobe, a well-loved toy rabbit that changed hands many times, and a boy with a knack for war strategy who exterminated an entire species.  She couldn’t believe a child “in her thirteenth” year had read all of this stuff.  Well, from her vocabulary and conversation, she should believe it. What she couldn’t quite fathom, was how liberally she had been allowed to.  The books were just here, sitting on the shelf, ripe for the reading.  So Neith read them.  She had to fit in here, right?  Part of gaining trust was sharing…and these books clearly looked well-read.  For once in her life, she wasn’t being monitored by every And she passed; no one was blocking or banning her words here.  She was already doubtful MinSci would have her back now that she knew of Nydia, so how could reading some censored-back-home lit on her remote assignment really hurt?   

When she felt safe to, Neith messaged her parents and Grace.  Always from the outhouse, and always a little on edge, doing so; but satisfying Ms Zhang’s stipulations of vigilance.  Those stipulations made her jumpy.  Twice she thought someone was lurking outside, scrutinising her lavatory use.  The lurker turned out to be the family cat, Ninja.  Twice.  Davey had named the cat.  Neith had only ever heard of mutant teenage turtles being ninjas in one of the twenty-five archived Intra-comics.  From their name, she gathered ninja meant they were stealthy and good fighters.  Based on this cat’s behaviour thus far, it looked like the Boss had chosen an apt title for his little meat-eater…even if it was a cat instead of a turtle.   Rattled by each instance of feeling watched, each time she’d hastily returned her phone to its perch, ensuring the battery cell was positioned to capture morning light.  On the way back to the house she cursed Ninja for her increased heartbeat, and with more colourful words on the repeated offence.  He appeared unfazed. 

The content of her messages had been lacking.  She struggled to formulate anything of significance, considering all she was beholden to but unable to speak of.  She opted for ambiguous references like: Wish I was at liberty to share the wonders I’m seeing; vague truths.  If only her people back home weren’t rolling their eyes, assuming her enthusiasm was for circuit boards and programmes, dismissing it as her usual high-tech occupation and diversion. 

She was surprised she didn’t miss her usual occupation and diversions more.  She’d thought to access the Intra for “How to” video tutorials or definitions of new words a handful of times, and only twice caught herself wanting to note a concept to explore for And integration.  Otherwise, she was surprisingly engrossed in things other than androids, and more and more every day.  Ands simply had no place in Nydia. 

She was absorbed by siblings and their fickle affections and accusations, by a woman who hummed unfamiliar tunes and lullabies; absorbed by the overwhelming endearment she felt for Elle, Ruthie (she was no longer Ruth, to Neith), Davey and Amos.  Absorbed by their routines.  Even Ninja was growing on her – when he wasn’t stalking in her vicinity. 

Feeling this almost allowed her to forget for stretches of time.  That she was essentially infiltrating one community to preserve the safety of another.  MinSci wanted access to Nydia,  but Neith was hiding how much access was being given.  She hoped Nydia’s paranoia about transmissions was unfounded – it better be – Neith cared for Elle, and Elle had made very clear what would happen if Neith ever compromised the safety of her children.  Boyd had said saving the human race sounded noble, but exploitation and concealment didn’t feel noble.  She also regularly felt spikes in fear that the division within the Cabinet might result in a deviation from a gentle approach; the government was always leaning one way, then the other. 

In the weeks she had been here, she had only bathed three times in the designated outdoor waterhole.  She smirked imagining Rawiri’s wife there – one of many 2K’s she was sure would have balked at this assignment as soon as they learned no showering would be happening.  The washing that was on offer had knocked the wind out of Neith, although she’d remained partly clothed for the ordeal. 

It was on the way back from the bathing hole that Neith had seen Laser Eyes again.  And again on the way to the waterfall with Ruthie, he was among a clutch of men returning with tackle and nets (they’d been fresh-water fishing, Ruthie said). They looked about as old as the mid-range 2K’s – maybe early 20’s.  Aside from these two walk-bys, she had not had a good look at anyone outside of Elle’s home.  She was fairly sure things had been engineered that way.  She didn’t mind.  It was isolating her reach; controlling the damage it could do to those who trusted her.  If she was from Nydia, she would probably do the same – restrict access at first.  Then again, it pained her to know she was limiting her reports and any repercussions for them to the knot of people who trusted her most.