“What?’ said 3, trying to shrug off the grogginess which blinded and stupefied him.
‘This is how you destroy anonymity,’ said a voice. ‘It’s a method we recommend called E.A. theory. That’s E for exploding and...’ The boy smiled knowingly as if 3 would understand the obvious. He looked familiar. Hazy and vague, yet familiar.
‘Josh?’ said 3. ‘Is that you?’ His eyes wandered around his bedroom but he couldn’t see any of the walls, just whiteness like clouds or mist. ‘Where am I?’
‘Pay attention, Ted,’ said the boy. ‘Concentrate! You’re too easily distracted.’
A girl appeared from within the mist, a step or two behind the boy and to his right. Dressed in a tight-fitting beige tracksuit, she returned 3’s curious look.
‘Yes Ted,’ she said. ‘Listen! This is important, and you should put some clothes on.’
3 looked down nonchalantly at his naked body. ‘Veena?’ he said. ‘What have you done to your hair? I liked it long.’
‘Ted! Ted!’ called the boy. ‘I don’t have much time and if you can’t show more interest in what I’m saying than I’ll simply keep it to myself.’
He looked at the girl then back at 3. ‘I know it’s difficult with no clothes on but do try and concentrate just for a minute. The E.A. theory? I’ll give it to you.’
‘Josh? If that’s you, can you tell me what the hell is going on? I don’t understand any of this.’
‘Look, call me Josh if you want to but please shut up and let me speak.’
3 quickly stole another glance at his nudity and for an instant wondered why it didn’t bother him before Josh’s voice interrupted him.
‘This is how a nobody, like you,’ he stabbed his index finger at 3, ‘becomes a somebody. You start with anonymity, then you do or say something controversial. That’s stage two, controversy. Out of that controversy comes publicity. Good or bad it doesn’t matter. Publicity is stage three. The publicity gives you notoriety, that’s step four and that is the official end of your anonymity. Now you are someone.’
‘I am someone,’ protested 3. ‘I don’t understand. What does all this mean?’
‘It means,’ said Veena, ‘that you should put some clothes on and wake up.’
‘Wake up? Am I dreaming?’
The boy laughed to himself and said softly, ‘He’s a bit slow this one.’ Then he walked away, disappearing into the air out of which Veena had appeared.
‘Ted,’ said Veena in reply to 3’s question. ‘Does this look like reality? Look at my hair. You said it yourself, I wear my hair long.’
‘You could have cut it.’
‘I’m sorry I have to go, too. Think about what Josh said.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Josh needs me, I have to go.’
‘What do you mean Josh needs you? I need you, Veena. I need you. More than he does. Come back! Come back!’
She turned to face him one last time and smiled but her teeth were all broken and bleeding.
A throbbing pain gripped the left side of his head, and tore him from the horrifying and perplexing dream. He called out from the darkness of his bedroom as pain wrestled him fully awake.
‘Veena, come back! I need you too.’
His mother 2-11-15, glided into his darkened bedroom, projecting calming thoughts to her son. Already floating beside 3’s bed, was 1-11-15, his vigilant yet irritated father.
It’s all right 3, came the unspoken message from his mother. You were having a bad dream.
‘Dad, my head hurts,’ said 3 as he lay motionless in his bed, buried, apart from his head, under a black and white checked thick quilt cover. This wasn’t the first time he had dreamed such a dream nor experienced such intense physical pain. As he could normally endure it silently, he preferred not to disturb his parents but this time was much worse and he had lost control as the surreal subconscious world took an unpleasant turn. Worse than a throbbing pain or a stabbing pain, his headache felt more like a Chinese burn applied incessantly to the forehead.
His father lay a withered comforting hand where he presumed 3’s shoulder was and said, Don’t use your voice, son. It’s only making the pain worse. Speak with your mind; you know it’s much more efficient.
Reluctantly accepting his father’s advice, 3 resumed telepathic communication with his parents. It was the only way for him to talk to his dad, and his mum only voiced with him when they were alone. As one of the architects of much of the Newtonian’s progressive cultural and technological reforms, his father frowned on speaking, and his mother as a good Newtonian wife, would in humble submission not defy him or deliberately antagonize him. However, because 3 really enjoyed voicing, he was glad he was still permitted to attend a mixed school, where although strongly discouraged, telepathy was not banned. Not yet anyway.
How long will this pain last, dad?
Not long, it’s a natural part of growing up. The elder Newtonian moved his hoverchair around 180 degrees, then reached out again to lightly touch his son’s arm. You can expect these pains to happen more often now in the final stages of puberty. Turning to his wife, he smiled knowingly at her and she nodded back. Their second child had been stillborn so 3 was their precious only child and they loved him dearly. The suffering and anxiety of that pregnancy and the ensuing traumatic delivery of a dead child caused his mum to vow she would not fall pregnant again. Fortunately for her the doctors agreed, otherwise his father would almost certainly have insisted they try to add further arrows to his quiver. A man could boast of a greatness measured by the number and the character of his sons.
Dad, mum, do you think dreams mean anything?
Sometimes, said his mother.
No, said his father emphatically.
3 decided to wait until he could talk about it to his mother alone, later. Now he had more immediate and painful problems.
The physical tribulation he was enduring was not entirely caused by puberty and he knew that, despite what his father said. The morphing drugs that all Newtonians took had never been successfully integrated with the natural surge in hormone production during pubescence. This knowledge sometimes made him resentful, especially when it caused him to occasionally miss school and spend the day in bed. As none of his friends suffered these excruciating growing pains, they did not understand. The Newtonian world view allowed no talk with outsiders in relation to the morphing drugs. During these times of suffering, 3 often wondered about the veracity of the High Council’s claims about the coming cataclysm, and their plan for the survival of the Newtonian race. What would his generation do if the predictions were false?
Enough of these thoughts, 3 chastised himself, before I accidentally send one to dad and earn another lofty and condescending lecture.
It’s starting to pass now. I think I’ll be able to go to school. 3 lifted his large head off the pillow and with difficulty sat up, pushing back the quilt as he did so.
Although, 1 was shaking his head to protest, 2 had already sent her affirmation. She wanted him to go to school much for the same reason as 3 himself wanted to go. It was good for young people to socialize and interact with the other tribes. Being in the public service meant that 2 rarely had any contact with other either Deists or Adonites. She served the Newtonians as a parliamentary under-secretary, and although it was a stimulating and challenging job which made full use of her skills and experience, she often wished she could interact with mixed tribal groups. She believed they all had something to offer. Harboring a deep longing for a fully integrated society, she was glad for 3, that he had opportunities which she did not.
Her husband interrupted her thoughts. Why do you wish for those things? No good comes out of integration. All attempts since the war have failed, it’s futile. I don’t understand you, wife. His eyes blazed with indignation.
What are you doing, husband? She returned his glare, and put her hands on her hips. An action which would have told anyone how she felt even without hearing her words. 3 had tuned out, not wanting to hear his parents argue. Disrespecting my privacy, how dare you? she continued.
I was only-
Only being rude and intrusive. Don’t do that to me. Don’t treat me like one of your office slaves. Then she spun her hoverchair around and slid quickly out of the room.
Breaking the first commandment of Newtonian telepathy was a moral crime against the individual and the tribe, even though it was only policed in the public realm. When the first telepaths began using their new found skill, the Council was worried about the effects of such ability on the wider community, not only Newtonians but the other tribes as well. Obviously it would be seen as an invasion of privacy, and the ethical storm which would result from its misuse or even ordinary use would be nearly impossible to quell. Recognizing its potential for good, they ventured down the path of regulation rather than prohibition.
The expectant look from his son was keenly felt, as much as the question undergirding it was sensed, but 1 ignored it and glided out of the room.
Laboriously, 3 climbed into his hoverchair after bringing it to his bedside, and connected to its central processing unit. Wincing at the slight discomfort he felt as the hoverchair synthesized with his mind, 3 then made his way to the bathroom, ordering the lights on and off as he traveled down the hall, not because he had to but because it amused him.
As he passed the entrance to the living room, he peered in and noticed his father preparing to dive from his hoverchair into the heated pool which served as the floor of their home in all common areas. Someone had coined the term ‘aqualounge’ and it was now popular even amongst the other tribes. When the decision had been taken by the council to follow the recommendations of the Destiny Report into the cataclysm, Newtonians began to take morphing drugs, until then, developed under the strictest secrecy, which were designed to convert their physiology from human to amphibian. The length of these stages of development varied among individuals but was most certainly affected by age. As a young man, 3 would pass through the current phase four times as fast as his parents which was some consolation as initially the morphing drugs caused muscle weakening and altered the pH levels of the skin. These two not unexpected effects meant that Newtonians needed hoverchairs to get around on land and plenty of water for skin which they now discovered dried out easily. The latest product from the research laboratories to add to the basket of medications they needed to take was an ultra rapid hydration formula in a micro pill naturally, but also available in single shot injections.
At that time most Newtonian homes had pools built in their homes which were filled with warm water. Here they were more comfortable and at home than in their hoverchairs, however they were not able to eat or sleep underwater. The operation of electrical equipment was also a major issue. The safety factor was no longer a problem but for some reason interfacing with computers under water was slow and time consuming. Not at all practical, and a mysterious roadblock on the technology freeway of the twenty second century.
Watching his father swim effortlessly in the clear water, 3 marveled at his long muscular body with small limbs crowned by a magnificent oval head. He was a fine figure of a Newtonian male. A Senator in the Asian parliament, a man well respected and well connected, he was the leader of the Newtonian tribe in and out of the chamber, and had recently been promoted to the position of Education Minister. If only he wasn’t so focused on the future, and not so against the past which he said only served to illustrate the desperate need for Newtonians to move forward and plan for a separate future. Isolationism, he called it. He could not see any purpose, any benefit in an integrated society. The Adonites, he said were too fatalistic and the Deists too optimistic, only the Newtonians were sensibly approaching the cataclysmic consequences of the war.
Slowly moving away from the living room, 3 thought of his two best friends, Veena, an Adonite and Joshua, a Deist. How his father frowned on that triumvirate of comradeship, as if it were a pollutant causing irreparable psychological damage to his son. Why couldn’t all three tribes carry on living in harmony as they had done since the end of the war? Why not face the challenges of the future together?
Continuing down the hall, 3 passed the kitchen where his mother was preparing breakfast. Surely not all Newtonians are isolationists like my father, he thought. There must be others like my mother and myself who want to continue a symbiotic relationship with the other two tribes, but what use was that when the council was determined to press ahead with its plans regardless of any opposition from within the tribe or from without. The young Newtonian didn’t actually know whether there was any real opposition within the tribe, he only hoped there was, and on certain days like today it was a very faint hope indeed.
Joshua, Veena, and 3 had a great time at school, sitting together in classes and during meal breaks, where they spoke of their differences sometimes seriously, other times in jest but never with bitterness. Despite the external pressure from peers and society in general, there was no thought in their young minds that they should continue to be anything but the best of friends. However outside of school, contact was limited to e-mail and telephone and 3 was not able to do either of these while his father was at home-fortunately not very often. Nor was Veena, whose father was also a member of Asia’s parliament, a Senator like his dad, allowed to contact her friends. The irony of their two children being the best of friends was not lost on 3 or Veena, while at the same time being a source of shame and irritation to their prominent fathers. In fact 3 had recently heard rumors around the campus that there was a push to close the school; the last mixed school in Mumbai, the capital city of the Earth’s most populous and powerful nation: India.
Only the dread of having to suffer through another of his father’s lectures prevented 3 from asking if the rumor was true. If anyone knew for sure if it was going to happen, as a leader of the education council, his father would be one of just a handful of men and women who did.
‘Mum,’ said 3, gliding into the kitchen.
Turning around quickly she said, ‘Hush, where’s your father?’
‘Swimming in the living room. You don’t mind if we talk, do you?’
‘No,’ she said, smiling, ‘I kind of like it. It must be such fun for you to be able to voice with your friends at school.’
He scratched his nose and played with the buttons of his shirt. ‘That’s what I wanted to ask you about actually.’
Sensing the serious tone in her son’s voice, 2 rotated her hoverchair to face him.
‘Has dad said anything about our school being closed down?’
‘He,’ she hesitated, and 3 noticed her uncertainty, ‘He says it’s almost a done deal. He’s been pushing hard for years now and has finally gathered enough support among the other councilors to go ahead. Of course he is the education minister.’
Keeping his eyes fixed on the liquid floor, 3 felt a surge of anger in his veins and his head began to ache again. ‘It’s not fair, mum. It’s just not fair.’
Wisely, his mother tried a change of subject to attempt to calm him, ‘What about your dream? Did you want to tell me about it?’ she said. But he turned abruptly and left the room talking to himself. She tried to project a warning to him to stop voicing, but he was so angry she could not penetrate his thoughts.
In the bathroom, 3 looked at his image in the mirror and cursed. His head, a little large for his body, its shape oval yet triangular, narrowing at the forehead. Eyes wide-spaced, under no eyebrows and long lashes, nose flattened, mouth too wide. As far as Newtonians could be attractive he probably looked all right, but how would any girl ever find him attractive? How would a particular Adonite girl desire this ugliness? If he was to be forced into single tribe education then it probably wouldn’t matter anymore. Obviously looks would play no part in the partnering of Newtonians, but he desperately wanted to stay in mixed schooling. Of course there was no hope of him ever partnering with a girl from another tribe but so much of a teenage boy’s world was fantasy, and 3 was no different. He burned with passion for his friend, the goddess, Veena.
Washed and changed, 3 remained sullen during breakfast. His parents would not read his thoughts but they knew he was upset because he ignored their attempts to communicate. He chewed slowly and deliberately in silence. Looking at his dad he felt a wave of rage rushing forth again and hoped his father would not react to it.
He probably doesn’t even want to have breakfast this way anymore, thought 3. Too old fashioned this eating food business, we should do away with it all and just take pills and enhanced liquid nutrients. How boring, how pathetic! What kind of bland and pleasureless future were his father and his friends in high places going to take us to? Realizing his father might be listening even though he wasn’t supposed to, 3 left the breakfast table and declared he was going to school early.
Why? from his father.
I want to, replied 3 without further effort to explain.
He packed his school bag and left without saying goodbye to his parents, still angry and frustrated, yet glad to be out of the house and glad that his headache had disappeared to leave him in peace for a while at least. Until its next cruel assault.
As he passed through the ID booth at the front of his house, 3 read the numbers on the wall: 2087. This house in Prahbash Rd, Powai was the only home he had ever known and although he loved his parents, and his childhood and upbringing had generally been good, some might have said privileged, he knew he would have to leave soon. Living with his father’s obstinacy and militancy was becoming unbearable.
Out on the street it was uncomfortably humid under a typically ashen sky which always threatened to rain but seldom delivered on the promise. Regular precipitation was just one casualty of the Intercontinental War. Looking to the north, 3 saw a thick mist draped all over Kembla Grange like a hastily made bed and realized he had never seen the sun shine on that breathtaking escarpment, and if the scientific forecasts were correct he never would.
He touched his badge-phone and said, ‘Call Veena.’ Her number was one of only a few stored on his internet phone. He hoped she had already left her home and was on her way to school so they could walk together. Laughing to himself at the idea of him walking anywhere with anyone, 3 was equally grateful that him being unable to get around without his hoverchair had never been a problem for his friends. Although he was all too keenly aware of its limitations, it really did not matter to Joshua or Veena.
The more he thought about it, the more he reasoned it out within in his own mind, the more he came to see how advantageous the hoverchair was. He could travel long distances at relatively high speeds without growing weary. All the electrical interface equipment he needed was built into the chair so he had access to communications and information systems whenever he needed it, and he never had trouble finding a seat on public transport.
‘Hi, have you left yet?’
‘Hi Ted, yes I just stepped out the door. I’m so angry with my dad.’
‘Tell me about it.’
‘I asked about the rumors of the school closing and he gave me a lecture about the alleged benefits of isolationism, and told me to enjoy the rest of the year because it will be my last in a mixed school. Do you think it’s true, Ted?’ Her tone was unmistakably anxious.
‘No doubt.’ he replied, not really wanting to talk about it. ‘Should I wait for you here?’
Veena lived a block away in Valley Way. Her family had moved to Mumbai from Chandigarh when she was twelve, just in time to start at a new high school where sadly for her, she knew no one. Joshua and 3, already good friends, had been the first to reach out to her in welcome and that had meant the world to her and still did.
‘Yeah, I won’t be long. What are you angry with your dad about? Same thing as me?’
‘Yeah, but I didn’t ask because I reckoned I already knew the answer. Being the same as your dad. Mum told me it’s a sure thing.’
‘You know if they were of the same tribe they would be best friends.’
‘Who? Our dads?’ 3 laughed. ‘Imagine that!’
Veena kept walking as she talked to 3, and before too long he could see her at the top of his street. Slow moving transports filled the tree lined streets, passing 3 without him noticing because he only had eyes for Veena; enchanted by her. Even from a distance she was stunning, like all Adonites. They all loved their bodies and concentrated on appearances as well as physical and mental health. That made many of them, particularly the males 3 noted, vain and superficial, but Veena was gloriously indifferent, always looking wonderful but never seeming to make any effort about it or talking about it. So well proportioned, and feminine, and although he knew a union between them was impossible and perhaps not even desirable, he could not help but feel irresistibly attracted. What man would not find her desirable? Intellectually, they were equals and they had much in common but, society being the way it was, he had to resign himself to a poor substitute of limited friendship, and even that was about to become another memory, another piece of the redundant past which his dad was always criticizing.
‘I see you now,’ said 3, admiring the confident stride of her long legs, accentuated as they were by hiking boots, short socks and canvas shorts resting mid thigh.
Looking up, Veena saw him and waved, then broke the telephonic connection.
Just then 3’s badge-phone rang so he touched it and answered. It was Joshua.
‘I’m going to be late this morning Ted. Don’t wait for me, okay.’
‘Okay. Everything all right at home?’
‘Great, glory to God. See you at school.’
Saying goodbye and disconnecting, as Veena reached him smiling widely, 3 marveled at Joshua’s optimism. He always seemed confident and happy no matter what was going on around him, in his life or with others. For all 3 knew he could have been calling from a hospital with two broken legs and still giving thanks to his God. Joshua endeared himself to people because he had such compassion for those suffering or in trouble and was always putting himself out to help. Watching the example Joshua set, 3 wondered why all Deists weren’t the same as him. He was such a shining advertisement for what 3 himself considered to be true religion. Personally he did not accept the reality of the supernatural world which Joshua and the other Deists so fervently proclaimed, but there were times when it was hard not to be impressed by their unshakeable faith.
Perhaps it was Joshua’s particular branch of Deism that made the difference, even though 3’s dad said that they were all the same. Religion, he said, caused the war and nearly destroyed all life on earth. Hard to believe, thought 3 based on his experience of Deists, and their champion ambassador, Joshua.
Joshua didn’t even like the term, Deists, and was always telling anyone who asked that he was a Christian not a Deist. He said Deism was only five hundred years old whereas Christianity was nearly five times that ancient, and if you counted its ancestor Judaism then it almost extended back beyond the dawn of civilization. Deists, said Joshua, and 3 had no reason to doubt him, believed in a God who like a great cosmic engineer created the world and then stood back and left it to its own devices. This God did not intervene in the affairs of mankind because he did not care. Christians rejected that kind of god as false.
‘Hey,’ said Veena, ‘Bring that super brain of yours back here, Ted.’
Adjusting the speed of his hoverchair so as to maintain a comfortable pace beside Veena, 3 glided off the footpath so that she could use it. Due to public safety reasons, high gliding was compulsory in densely populated cities but here on a quiet suburban sidewalk, 3 was free to glide beside Veena at eye level.
‘I was just thinking about Joshua and how my dad reckons Deists are nothing but trouble.’
Laughing again in her unselfconscious way, Veena said, ‘It’s like I said, your dad and my dad...you know?’
3 studied her round face, framed as it was by thick raven hair, and was transfixed by the flawlessness of her skin. All Adonites had perfect skin and perfect hair and perfect bodies, that was their focus, physical perfection. No wonder their leaders were so keen on ending the cohabitation of earth, especially with Newtonians, whose unnatural ugliness in their view was the antithesis of their highest aspirations, as superficial as they no doubt were considered by other tribes. Veena seemed more beautiful than other Adonite girls, and more than just beautiful she was intelligent, and intelligence, thought 3, was itself a beautiful thing.
The Adonites had everything. Despite concentrating on physical development and health, they had not ignored their brains either, and although as a tribe they had lower IQ s than the Newtonians, (if that really counted for anything anyway), there were certainly individuals among them who were intellectually gifted. There were genii in both camps. Even the Deists, who as a tribe focused on the spiritual aspects of their lives, had mental giants among them. That was something else 3 admired about the Deists; the balance in their lives, their middle road approach.
‘We are the most fanatical of the three tribes,’ said 3. ‘We are obsessed with increasing our mental abilities and enforcing our superiority. We’re so sure that we have the best solution to the cataclysm, the only true solution. When the world floods we will simply become sea dwellers. Just like that.’
‘You can already breathe under water for longer than the rest of us.’
‘But not indefinitely,’ countered 3.
‘And your body,' continued Veena, ‘is at its flexible and agile best in the water.’
‘Who says the water will be warm enough for us?’
Pausing at the street corner before they crossed, 3 looked thoughtfully at Veena. ‘And that’s just one of our problems. I mean we may not even be ready in time, although we could adapt wet-suits and breathing apparatus in the interim. I don’t know, I kind of like your approach better, and to be honest, I ...’
‘You what, Ted?’
‘I don’t know,’ he replied, shaking his head. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Hey,’ said Veena, pointing across the road to a small dark green shrub, ‘Look at that. It looks like a bird.’
Hurrying over to catch up with his excited friend, 3 said, ‘I’ve never seen a bird outside of a zoo.’
They stared at it, entranced.
‘Me neither,’ said Veena.
Its feathers were dirty looking and ruffled, as the bird perched motionless on a branch of the shrub. Oblivious to them, it simple stared directly ahead and they began to wonder if it was dead.
‘Touch it, Ted. See if it’s alive.’
‘You touch it.’
Realizing he was not acting like a man, 3 reached out to the bird and gently prodded its wing. The bird slowly turned its head and continued its unnatural stare. This time into 3’s face, making him shudder involuntarily. He felt like he had just encountered the visage of death.
‘Check it with your biometer,’ suggested 3 quickly.
Veena pulled the hand-held device out of her pocket and aimed it the bedraggled creature.
The biometer gurgled away for a few seconds before announcing its conclusions with a long single beep.
‘It’s dying,’ said Veena. ‘Maybe we could take it home and look after it.’
‘Are you nuts? It’s dying! What are we going to do for it? Anyway biological pets are illegal, have been since the war, and for good reason. Don’t you know how many germs and diseases they carry? That bird could be carrying, and easily transmit some fatal disease.’
Veena looked sad. ‘I guess you’re right.’
‘I am right. Come on. Just leave it, it’s dying, just let it die.’
‘It’s so weird to see a bird,’ she said softly. ‘I can’t believe it. Maybe it’s an omen.’
‘Now you sound like Joshua,’ teased 3. ‘It’s not an omen, its proof that this world cannot sustain bird life and we…’
3 nodded in agreement with himself, satisfied by his restraint. What he had wanted to say to Veena was that the stinking atmosphere had killed all the birds, or was going to kill them all very soon and before too long it would kill all biological life-forms including humans. Only Newtonians would survive because they would no longer be dependent on air.
Still he wondered about the bird. Before the war, birds had filled the skies and even afterwards, so his mother often told him, there were some birds flying around, and there was hope among some people that the stronger species might actually be able to adapt and survive and eventually repopulate. But the rapid deterioration of the air quality left them with no time to adjust and evolve. There was insufficient time to test Darwin’s ancient theory and the birds slid into extinction. Only a few selected species remained in zoos, safe in biospheres; a reminder of how humanity, entrusted with the stewardship of the earth, had in arrogance, destroyed it. How had this one survived so long?
‘I want to buy a robot dog, but dad keeps saying no.’
‘Shut up about pets,’ said 3.
Finishing the journey in silence, they arrived at the entry point of Ladeeda High School and entered adjacent reception booths simultaneously. He sat still as his eyes were scanned to confirm his identity, and that having been done, the booth revolved open to allow 3 to enter the school grounds. As he did so he looked left and saw Veena emerge, and he moved to her side.
‘Sorry for shouting at you,’ he said.
‘That wasn’t a shout. Don’t worry about it. You’re right anyway.’
They walked passed a group of male Adonites, one of whom called out some derogatory remarks to Veena, reminding 3 again that there would be some advantages to not being in a mixed school. Many of the Adonites were very anti-Newtonian and looked for opportunities to harass and bully them. Because he always hung around with Veena, 3 was an even more obvious target for their sarcastic taunts.
‘Hey Veena,’ called their ringleader, ‘when are you going to stop hanging around with the freak?’
‘You should stick with your own kind, Vee,’ said another.
“Yeah, real men, not froggy freaks like that.’
Veena was already moving towards the group before they finished their teasing. Watching his friend adopt an aggressive posture before them, 3 knew she would fearlessly fight them. She loved it and she knew exactly how much force to use to rough people up and teach them a lesson without seriously injuring them. Physical combat was a natural and necessary ability for Adonites, and Veena was better than average. How ironic, thought 3, that she was afraid to touch a little bird but had no hesitation in kicking the collective butts of a group of tough guys.
‘Supergirl, eh?’ they continued teasing her. ‘Is that why you hang around with the freak, because you can beat up on him?’
‘Maybe he likes it,’ said another, causing them all to laugh.
Veena delivered a sidekick into the stomach of the group’s ringleader, and before he knew what was happening, she swung her foot down across the side of his face and knocked him to the ground.
Watching the entertaining action, 3 wished he could simply use his mindblast. That would quickly and painlessly, for him and Veena anyway, end the confrontation. But as desperately as he wanted to, his father’s words of warning were yelling in his mind. The second Newtonian commandment declared mind weapons were only for extreme circumstances. For the protection of your life, lectured his dad, or others lives, they are defensive weapons. If you use them irresponsibly you will not only be in violation of the law but you will alienate yourself further in a society where most already consider us to be freaks and misfits, and do harm to the reputation and position of our tribe. Heavy stuff.
‘Veena,’ he called, ‘Just stop. Don’t worry about it.’
Busy beating the big mouths, Veena didn’t hear 3 until he came right up beside her and shouted. She almost knocked him out of his hoverchair with another spinning kick which was intended for the last man standing. He noticed the big smile on Veena’s face.
‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I guess I got a little carried away.’
‘I’m glad we’re friends,’ said 3, with a smile.
Suitably embarrassed, the boys stood around in a ragged circle with their shoulders hunched. One rubbed his stomach, another his jaw while a third was still on the ground winded and humbled. Veena threw a last triumphant look over them before she and 3 walked away.
At the snack dispenser, 3 touched the picture of a flavored milk carton on the display screen, then waved the back of his hand in front of the scanner. Personal Credit Storage, PCS for short, was a recent innovation which combined and successfully realized all the elements of the much vaunted ‘cashless society.’ A decades old dream of bankers all over the world had finally come to fruition.
Three beeps confirmed the transfer of funds to cover the purchase and the carton duly emerged from the bottom of the vending machine.
It said, ‘Thank you Ted.’
‘Come on,’ said Veena, ‘Let’s get to class.’
‘Any chance of you staying out of trouble until we get there?’
‘Watch it!’ said Veena as she jumped in front of him and took up an attack posture. ‘You’ll be next.’
The two friends carried their laughter with them into the classroom, and sat down in their usual seats. History class was first up.
‘The Minister for Education will speak.’
Senator 1-11-15 moved onto the speaker’s podium as though he owned it, as though it was made specifically for him. Like a king long destined for glory ascending a throne to bathe in the awe of the common people, he sat tall in his hoverchair, head held high and swept the chamber with a haughty look. At the invitation of the Speaker of the House, the Senator was to speak for fifteen minutes on the issue of inter-tribal education. It was an unprepared speech, coming from the heart and spoken many times before to whoever would listen. There were of course slight variations, extra emphasis on particular aspects of his argument or adjustments in language use depending on who he was talking to, but the central message remained the same. Inter-tribal education was a cancerous growth which must be cut out of society.
As minister for education, 1-11-15 was a heavyweight in Earth’s parliament, and revered by his own tribe, the Newtonians. Having served in government for twenty years he was also a hardened veteran, and a well connected man, unafraid to use whatever means may be required to achieve his goals. As far as he was concerned, the old adage about winning not being the most important thing was a pitiful excuse for failure, a justification for lack of effort, a badge of weakness. Winning was everything. This attitude made him almost as many enemies as friends. Some of his parliamentary colleagues feared him, others loathed him, but from all, he commanded respect.
Sitting in his hoverchair at the podium, he silently contemplated his audience for a few moments before he began. He reached for the glass of water on the lectern, took a long deliberate sip, put the glass down, then cleared his throat unobtrusively.
‘The persistent efforts of some in our society allegedly represented by men and women in this house, to maintain inter tribal schooling has had disastrous consequences. Contrary to the propaganda pushed out by advocates of this archaic method of education, our children, have suffered as a result of policies which do nothing to advance our society. The purity and uniqueness of the tribes must be preserved in order to...’
The senator coughed to clear his throat. ‘In order to…’
He began to choke on the words, coughing as though an invisible hand had fastened around his throat. Reaching for his glass of water, he found he could not see it properly and with his airways constricting rapidly, he panicked and started waving his large hands frantically in the air. With his eyes bulging and bloodshot, his lean body spilled out onto the floor as his hoverchair lost power and crashed at the foot of the podium.
Screams and roars of disbelief and mayhem filled the chamber as members sprang from their chairs and buzzed around wildly in all directions inside the triangular chamber. Knocking each other out of the way as they scrambled for the exits, their cries filled the chamber. Shouts of ‘call an ambulance’ and ‘let’s get out of here’ and ‘what happened’, and ‘is he all right’, and finally by those who spoke in ignorance, ‘the senator is dead’. There were a few doctors in the house and two of them rushed to the stricken Newtonian’s side but they were unable to determine what was wrong let alone help him. By the time police and paramedical services arrived, 1-11-15 was dead, and the great hall of democracy in Mumbai was like a cemetery on a bleak wintery day.
Police began conducting interviews with the few remaining people, while others began to examine the dead man’s body. Nothing definitive would be revealed until an autopsy had been carried out but initial observations and descriptions of the event from witnesses, forced the police to consider foul play a definite possibility.
‘What do you think, Mike?’ Chief Inspector Adrian Jacobssen towered over the body of Senator 15, he dragged his large right hand across his unshaven cheek and onto his chin. He waited for an answer though it was painfully obvious to him what had happened and equally clear that this man had no shortage of enemies who might have been responsible for his death. His question was addressed to the chief forensic examiner, Mike Kuczynski.
‘His heart stopped by the sound of things,’ said Mike, standing so as to not have to crane his neck to look at Jacobssen. ‘I haven’t seen his medical records yet, obviously-but from what I hear he was as healthy as an ox, in his prime. Without any external signs or marks on his body, and based on what witnesses say, a sudden massive heart attack seems the most likely cause of death.’
Jacobssen stared at the corpse as if it might suddenly solve the mystery for him by a brief resurrection. ‘Thanks, Mike.’
It was impossible for Jacobssen to not entertain thoughts of murder, even without the degree of inside knowledge he had on this victim. It was in his nature to be suspicious, and here was certainly more than enough fuel for his suspicions. Foul play meant assassination, and not just of any politician but a prominent and powerful minister, albeit a controversial one. The fallout from his death would be hard to contain and impossible to predict, but whatever transpired, it would not be good. However, all that was not Jacobssen’s concern. He was a detective and his job was to find the truth. Catch the bad guys; his only purpose in life these days.
Still sitting in his armchair in the center and front row of the Adonite’s side of the triangular chamber, was 1-11-15’s greatest political opponent, leader of the Adonites in the parliament, Harish Singh. Feeling as though he had been punched in the stomach repeatedly for hours, Singh was unable to move or breathe properly in shock at what he had just witnessed.
Jacobssen saw Singh and quickly threaded his way through a crowd of policeman who were interviewing witnesses, towards him. Strange, thought Jacobssen, to find him still sitting here alone. Why would he react so differently from the majority of other parliamentarians who had fled like chickens responding to an unwelcome visit by a fox?
‘Excuse me Senator.’
Singh looked up slowly to see a tall man of heavy build holding out a badge for his inspection.
‘Chief Inspector Adrian Jacobssen, Senator. Are you all right?’
Singh moved his head slowly, but Jacobssen was uncertain whether that meant yes or no to his question. Before he could ask another, Singh spoke.
‘Such barbarism…’ he paused to claw the fingers of his left hand through his long beard as though he wanted to rip the hairs from his chin. ‘Weak word, isn’t it? But I can’t think of a better one. It’s unthinkable in these enlightened days. Debate can get very heated and even personal but never violent. Senator 1-11-15 was a man in the prime of health, a fine example of a Newtonian. He had never suffered illness of any kind since surviving meningicoccal disease as a child in the north of India. He was fanatical about high standards of health and fitness. It was his idea to establish regular mandatory health examinations for all members of parliament.’
Jacobssen regarded the Senator critically, and thought his words sounded like a well prepared eulogy. ‘My forensic guy reckons it was a heart attack,’ he said.
Singh laughed briefly, pathetically, tears welling in his eyes, then shook his head.
Many years ago in the innocence of youth he and 15 had been friends. Decades passed and they both became powerful men whose diametrically opposed political views shipwrecked their friendship. Under different circumstances, in another lifetime they may have remained the best of friends for life. Fate had determined they be enemies instead, and fate, Singh realized, was not one to be argued with or challenged.
Someone called out to Jacobssen who turned and nodded at the officer signaling for him that it was okay to remove the body now, which they did.
Watching the strange looking corpse leave the chamber, Jacobssen wondered how the Newtonians survived in those pitiful bodies anyway. As a member of the only egalitarian branch of the government, Jacobssen understood the limitations experienced by the Newtonians but he also understood the advantages they gained over others in the trade-off and he respected the path they had chosen for the future of their tribe. He had many dealings with 1-11-15 over the years and although he could never quite trust him totally, he respected his authority and believed him to be a man of great integrity.
A junior detective, a Deist came over to his boss. ‘Everyone’s saying he was murdered, poisoned.’
‘It’s a bit early to be saying anything isn’t it?’ said Jacobssen. The words spoken harshly and accompanied by a withering look caused the young man to recoil.
‘It was murder all right,’ asserted Singh, suddenly extracted from his melancholy again. ‘That man was the healthiest in the chamber, there’s no way it was anything but murder.’ Looking up at Jacobssen again, Singh repeated himself. ‘It was definitely murder, detective.’
Waving the junior officer away, Jacobssen sat down beside Singh and pressed his communication badge. “All right if I record this?’
Singh nodded absently.
‘Tell me about it.’
Tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling, Harish again marveled at the artistry involved in the decorative mural which he himself had commissioned for the house some fifteen years earlier. It was a classic piece, painted in the style of the nineteenth century, when art was beautiful and spiritual, depicting a battlefield immediately after the cessation of hostilities. Critics had argued against the work, questioning the beauty and value of war, but Singh had held his ground, the mural he said was not a glorification of war but a celebration of peace. Peace, the ever elusive dream.
Reluctantly tearing his gaze from the ethereal view, his eyes met the burly detectives and he sighed. ‘This is worse than just murder, it’s worse than assassination, it’s a-’
‘Senator,’ interrupted Jacobssen, ‘If you could tell me what you saw.’ Bloody politicians, he thought. There were times when their inability to get to and stick to the point was amusing, but this was not one of them. He had a crime to solve and was not remotely interested in philosophical rhetoric or nostalgic musings.
‘Of course,’ said Singh.
The two sat quietly amidst the hustle and bustle of police and forensic scientists as they sifted for clues and posed hypotheses and shared theories and questioned witnesses, gathering evidence. Singh answered the questions honestly while continuing to insist that his colleague was the victim of a murder.
A loud bang interrupted them and Jacobssen sprang to his feet. A muffled explosion followed, causing all the police to reach for and draw their electroguns. It was nothing. The noise, it turned out was caused by a malfunction in a piece of forensic investigation equipment.
Both Singh and Jacobssen snapped their heads back to face each other. Sharing their mutual relief in a glance.
‘Okay,’ said Jacobssen, switching off the digital recorder. ‘Thanks for your cooperation.’
Standing to his feet despite still feeling shaky, Harish shook the detectives hand and wished him well with the investigation. Leaving the chamber, he looked around at the empty chairs and pictured them full of earnest ministers and members of parliament, all listening politely to 1-11-15 even if they disagreed vehemently with his views. The parliament was a place where men behaved with decency and respect for each other and where there was genuine desire to do what was best for the citizens of Asia. Opposed as they may have been on numerous issues, none could doubt or question the sincerity of the others. The highest ideals of humanity were championed here until this day, when someone desecrated its sanctity, and set the parliament on the road to disintegration. Literally and figuratively.
Outside parliament house, unnoticed among the large group of people who were standing around either talking to each other or to police or uploading information onto the Web, a solidly built Adonite with strangely thick legs and clean shaven head, wearing a tracksuit spoke into his phone using an alpha-numeric code. Unconcerned about being interrupted or approached by anyone, the man nodded with satisfaction as he filed his report on the incident.
‘Senator 15 is dead. It was over very quickly, my compliments to the manufacturer of the poison. You may initiate stage two and I will await payment at the agreed time into my account. Good to do business with you.’
Satisfied, the man smiled to himself and imagined how he would enjoy spending the money soon to be transferred into his account. Lie around on some Pacific Island for a few weeks or a few months, whatever. Relaxing, unwinding. This job had been difficult to orchestrate, his hardest challenge yet, but despite the problems and the complexity of the schemes he had to use to get to the Senator, it had come off smoothly. There would be nothing to link him to the murder, not a trace of evidence.
So busy congratulating himself was the assassin, that he failed to notice a Newtonian glide up behind him, place an electrogun against the back of his head and squeeze the trigger. The dead man crumpled to the ground while the Newtonian moved to the curb and entered an unmarked, unregistered black RV which sped off down the street before the door was closed.
Back inside Asia Parliament, Harish Singh turned for one last look into the chamber, before trudging down the long white marble hall sighing as the enormity of what had happened bore down on him like a heavy load.
He would be a suspect, would undergo intense scrutiny and public speculation about his role in the death of 1-11-15. Legally he was completely innocent, he had nothing to do with the crime, but morally, Singh was as guilty as sin. He had lost count of the number of times he had wished his opponent dead, or somehow permanently out of the scene. Why that notion should bother him now, he was not sure but there it was, nipping and biting at his thoughts like a blue heeler dog at a sheep’s legs. It would have been so much easier to push his agenda without 15’s interference, and proficiency at getting his own way.
At the exit to Parliament House, Singh entered the identification booth and had his eyes scanned as the computer logged his exit in its memory. Outside under a dull sky, the humidity pawed at his skin as he hurried to a waiting government RV and climbed into the back seat. Giving the driver directions, Singh nestled into the leather seat and closed his eyes allowing the cool air from the air-conditioning to wash over him as they drove away through the crowded streets of Mumbai. If only it could have washed away the guilt and despair he felt.