Home of Sword and Soul
Some said it was a virus others claimed it had mythic origins. Some of the elders spoke of a deadly disease of the past called cancer, which their elders had told them about. But they were either ridiculed or ignored.
On March 21st 2070 the population of Gabon disappeared. Over the next seven days the populations of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Somalia suffered the same fate. They literally vanished, leaving ghost towns cities, and countries. Men, women, children, native Africans, resident Europeans, all gone. They called it the ‘Equa Virus’ as it had started on the equatorial line and traveled along the length of it like serum through the bloodstream. On the morning of day one the world woke to find the people of Gabon missing from their beds. There were no signs of war, civil strife, or even alien abduction. Whatever it was it was fast, not even time to send messages for help. Death had crept silently and instantly across the country during the night and spared no one. On day two foreign aid workers and journalists were evacuated from all surrounding countries as the people of Congo vanished. On day three the United Nations declared a global state of emergency while the population of Uganda held it’s breath as night drew close. The rest of the world held its breath too. Internet viewers, military satellites, all trained their cameras and infra-technology on the country. By morning Uganda had become a green and luscious desert devoid of human beings. The billions who’d been watching couldn’t understand what their eyes had seen. In the night people were on the streets, mostly praying for morning deliverance. Then in an instant they weren’t there. No big event, no biblical fire raining from the heavens, just gone.
By day four the panic that had engulfed Kenya and southern Somalia as people fled for their borders was brought to a sudden halt. The cradle of the human race had become its coffin. The rest of the world was terrified.
On March 28th 2070. The UN state of emergency was lifted. Each following morning the surrounding African states gave thanks for being alive. The entire area along the equator was sealed off by the military. It was a year before medical scientists were allowed to enter the ‘Equa zone’ and another eighteen months before they were able to publish their findings. They found nothing that could explain the situation, Nothing on the ground, nothing in the atmosphere, food, water, nothing. The United Nations proposed the greatest global inoculation project the world had ever seen. There was much confusion about what people were being inoculated against but the people didn’t care. The reassurance of the doctors jab was what the world needed right now, and in any case, it was compulsory. To refuse was a criminal act and the hysteria was such that those who refused or questioned became victims of the mob. A story surfaced that the virus had been the result of military experiments in atom reduction technology, supposedly able to disassemble the body’s atomic structure reducing it to dust. The military denied such a weapon whilst secretly wishing they had one.
After the Equa virus the United Nations quickly became the United Nation. Such was the social and economic turmoil that even the most nationalistic nations quickly submitted to rule by the Inner Global Council.
On September 21st 2075 the ‘Safe Health Act’ was passed were still places were it didn’t have control. The black peoples of the world felt the brunt of the turmoil. To the uncritical eye Equa was clearly and irrefutably an African condition, and Africans themselves were powerless to prove otherwise. The Safe Health Act 2075 made it compulsory for Africans to undergo random health checks, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy a global population baying for blood in the absence of answers. The Non African Movement for Clean Health was founded in 2078. They campaigned for Health segregation measures. Their influence quickly spread. In 2085 the NAMCH, Health Segregation Measures were adopted by the Inner Council. This made it illegal for Africans and Non Africans to share health facilities. By 2090 these measures spread to education, housing, and employment. In 2095 the first quarantine zones were established in North America. This was in part due to repeated uprisings and rebellions by the African population as each new act came into being. The Committee for Clean Africans condemned the rebellions and petitioned the Inner Council asking for negotiations and consultations on the new measures. The Inner Council refused but chose senior members of the CCA to form the internal government in the quadrants. Europe followed suit in 2097 and the rest of the world soon after.
By 2100 the United Nation ideology had fully taken hold of the global consciousness. A new world was promised and delivered. It would be called Neucasia. Children pledged allegiance in schools and adults in churches. Africans were allowed in only via inoculation at birth. Un-inoculated Africans were kept in strictly regulated and isolated Quadrant Zones scattered around the planet. All medicine and medical processes were now under the strictest state control. The problem for the Inner Council was there were still places were it didn’t have control.
2205 - TODAY
Shula, the mid-wife. placed the newborn child in his mother’s arms just as her spirit bid farewell to her life giving body. His newly uncurled fingers traced a path across his mothers face. Her still moist brow, her closed eyes, wide nostrils and full lips. After eight and a half months together this was the first time he’d seen her face. Shula lifted him from his mother’s stiff embrace and held him against her own chest, his warm body easing the pain of his mother’s departure. She turned away from the table humming a soothing melody whilst gently rubbing his back. As she caressed him he looked over her shoulder at the body he’d emerged from. His eyes widened in intensity. His mother’s chest expanded and contracted, then repeated itself. He reached out his hand towards her and her eyes opened. Shula heard a sound behind her and turned to see mother’s eyes and mouth open. She watched her chest expand again then finally come to rest. She wasn’t shocked, she’d been around death long enough to know that life never gave up easily. She placed the child in a cot and once again closed his mother’s eyes. She returned to the cot and stared at him wondering how she was going to hide him from the Doctor. It was then that she realized he hadn’t uttered a sound either during or since his birth.
Three days passed and Shula knew she’d have to step outside soon as her supplies were running low. She couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t focus her mind like she was used to doing. Tehu, his name came to her in a dream, watched unblinking as she struggled with her thoughts. Memories kept interrupting her efforts to formulate a plan. Tehu’s mother had appeared on her doorstep four days earlier. A tall dark skinned woman whose strength was in her stillness. As Shula stood in the doorway awaiting an introduction the woman had merely said “You are the mid-wife and my child is ready”. It wasn’t a request neither an order. Shula was the registered mid-wife in the compound but very few in the compound knew of her real mission and the women who knew had their own reasons for remaining silent. Shula stepped aside allowing her to enter. The two women sat silently at first. Shula asked no questions of her, experience guided her to wait until the woman felt ready to speak. In the silence Shula tried to appraise her but found no clues. She could’ve been of royal stock but just as easily of peasant. Her occasional glance around the apartment betrayed nerves beneath the still exterior. Finally she spoke. “My mother was never inoculated, nor hers before her, nor me”. Shula’s mouth fell open. She’d heard whispers of such people. The compound was populated by the un-inoculated but that was because they’d failed the genetics. The Doctors had found a defect that they said couldn’t be corrected so they were placed in the compound and barred from ever leaving. These were Shula’s people. But there was no defect in the woman who sat a few feet away from her. Her words were said with pride, and they filled Shula’s head with a thousand questions. “My child will not be inoculated” she declared. Shula nodded. “When is it due?” she asked. “Now”. Shula was confused. The woman showed no visible signs of pregnancy. “Are you sure?” She nodded once. She was sure.
As the Eastern Quadrant mid-wife it was Shula’s job to supervise the delivery and registration of all births in the quadrant with the Doctors who then tested them for inoculation. If the child were proved to have the right genetics it would be taken away from the family and raised among the inoculated in Neucasia, the land outside the quadrant. Some Mothers thought this to be a blessing, Neucasia was paradise. Others couldn’t bear to be parted from their children and begged Shula not to register their child’s birth. She agreed on condition that they left the Eastern Quadrant and never returned. Most of them had already lined up escape routes. Some didn’t and preferred to take their chances by staying and hiding. These she could only agree to give them time to flee before she informed the authorities of the non-registration. If the Doctors ever found out Shula would lose her license, her practice, and run the risk of being sent to work on the farms. As dangerous as it was for her it was far worse for the mothers who refused to register. If discovered they and all their offspring no matter what age would be taken from the compound and never seen again.
Tehu’s mother lay still on the examination table as Shula ran the scanner across her stomach. A small hand held device used to evaluate all the child’s organs in an instant. She checked its results, and then checked again. According to the scanner the fetus was in perfect health, which meant it was a perfect subject for inoculation. It also said Tehu’s mother was ready to give birth. Despite the scanner she found this hard to believe staring at her flat stomach. She looked at Tehu’s mother and found her staring right back at her. “You’re right, you’re ready. What will you do after the birth?” “Others will decide.” She said without emotion. “Who?” Mother’s eyes turned away from her and fixed on the ceiling. Shula took a chance and followed her instinct. “Omo?” Mother closed her eyes at the word. When she opened them they were still fixed on the ceiling. “That is why I come to you”. Shula’s hand shook. She carefully placed the scanner on the tray beside the table. “The stories are true then?” “Not all of them, but the right ones are.”
Shula placed both hands on the table to steady herself. Her head was spinning with the revelation.
The whispers Shula had heard were of a people, a small group who’d survived the Equa virus. They were called the Omo. Their genetics were so old it was said that modern mathematicians couldn’t crack their genetic code. Some of the mothers, those of the old knowledge, who’d she’d delivered for and who’d kept their babies had told her of the stories, hoping that she’d know where to find them. She’d dismissed them as myth though like many she secretly hoped they were true. “Why me?” she asked. Mother looked at her and for the first time Shula saw vulnerability as mother reached out and took her arm in a strong grip. “Only you can hide him from the Doctors.” “Me? No, there are others better skilled at that. The Mantee. They are the ones for that”. “No” she interrupted tightening her grip on Shula’s arm. “It must be you” She released her grip and sat up on the table. “It’s time, prepare the water” Shula was surprised by the instruction. “You want water? I haven’t delivered like that for a long time. “Water” she said as she climbed off the table and took Shula’s arm again to steady herself. Shula realized mother was exhausted. She sat her on a stool. She picked up her scanner, made a few adjustments and pointed it at the table. The table transformed itself into a small circular bath. Water jets appeared along its sides and spouted water fountains. As the bath filled Shula looked at Mother staring transfixed at the rising water. She’d used the description ‘him’. How did she know, did she know or was it just a generic term. Mother stepped in and raised her dress. Shula opened her instrument case. Mother shook her head. “You won’t need those”. Shula hesitated closed the case but placed it next to the bath.
Shula stepped into the bath and positioned herself to support Mother who was already squatting in the warm water. She spread her legs, turned to Shula and said “Keep him safe until it’s time.” Before Shula could respond Mother arched her back and started uttering a dialect Shula had never heard before. Shula panicked and momentarily doubted the woman was who she thought she was until she saw Tehu’s head appear between her legs. In one smooth motion Tehu left his Mother’s womb. Shula collected him in a blanket, tied the cord and cut it. She turned to present Tehu to his Mother only to find she’d passed out in the bath. It took all her strength to lift her out of the bath and back onto the table.
It was dark. Shula preferred it that way. It helped her thinking. She looked at Tehu in her arms, his eyes glistening like candles. “Tehu, your mother has gone and I am to care for you.” He gurgled and smiled as if in approval. “But I don’t know how. I just deliver babies I don’t know how to raise one. The Doctors said I could never have one so I never learnt. Are you Omo? From the silence of her apartment she heard no answers. She fell asleep praying that the morning would bring some to her.
She was woken by a tingling sensation in the little finger of her left hand. She stared at it and wiggled it as the implant made its presence known and called for attention. She glanced at Tehu asleep beside her. How much time do I have she thought. She tapped the tip of her finger three times and closed her eyes. In the darkness behind her eyelids the screen appeared. A single sentence appeared. ‘Doctor Ce to collect data from Eastern Quadrant, arrival immanent’. Her eyes opened and she sprang into action. She scooped up Tehu from the cot and looked around her apartment thinking where she could hide him. She whispered a curse to herself. What was she thinking, Doctors were highly sensitive to the presence of new life, they could sense a new born behind any man made material. No point in hiding him, how could she explain him? An idea came to her. She grabbed the scanner and pointed it at the bare wall. The wall shimmered and transformed, a closed incubator emerged from it. She opened its cover and placed Tehu inside. “Be still little one, and pray.” She closed the lid, grabbed the scanner and pointed it at the incubator. The wall shimmered and the incubator merged with the wall before disappearing. She spun around and pointed the scanner at the examination bed. It transformed into a desk with two office chairs and a small computer screen rising in its centre. She took a deep breath, sat on a chair and waited.
Thirty minutes later her little finger tingled again, not as strong as the one she’d had earlier. She stood up, adjusted her shawl, and walked towards the door. She gave a cautious glance at the bare wall across the room and opened the door.
Doctor Ce was from Neucasia. Tall, lean with piercing blue eyes and a healthy sheen about him. He smiled a professional greeting at her. “Shula, how pleasant to see you, forgive my unannounced intrusion.” “You are always welcome Doctor Ce.” She offered her hand. He looked at it distastefully. She quickly withdrew it embarrassed as she remembered outsiders preferred to avoid touch. Since the Safe Health Act physical touch had become almost taboo. In the compound it was less so.
She invited him to sit at the desk. “Refreshments?” “Not today thank you, my visit is a short one.” He sat down. “You have the data?” “Yes.” She said referring him to the screen “We’ve had forty two births this month. Seventeen were still born, of the remaining twenty five initial tests show thirteen are to remain, leaving twelve for collection.” She waited for his response. He leaned back from the screen and nodded. His manner worried her. He seemed uninterested in the figures. Usually he’d insist on rechecking the data of those who were to remain, in case a child with inoculation potential had been missed.
They sat quietly, Shula noting his distracted demeanor. “Why do you work alone Shula”? The question stunned her. He’d never made personal comments or enquiries about her. “Midwives in all other quadrants work in teams”. She struggled to answer. “I have a team I call on when I need.” He sat upright, asserting his authority in his posture. “Who?” His blue eyes held hers in an interrogatory grip. “Who’s in your team Shula?” She felt her breathing quicken and fought to control it. Her ‘team’ were the Kora people. They were the majority in the Eastern Quadrant. descendents of those who had fled the areas around the Equa Zone. Shula didn’t know much of the history. Her focus as a mid-wife was on new life not old stories. “You have that information Doctor Ce. They’re all qualified and registered.” He held his stare for a few seconds then looked away as if bored with the subject. She ventured a question of her own. “Is there a problem Doctor Ce?” He threw it back at her “I don’t know Shula, is there?” Was it a question or a threat? She chose the former and attempted nonchalance. “None that I’m aware of.” He held his stare a moment longer then relaxed and withdrew into his own silent reflection, his mind already on something else. “Do you ever wonder what it’s like Shula, Neucasia?” There it was again, personal. “I know what it’s like. It’s clean and healthy and progressive. Everything we’re not. People live longer and better than we do. I used to watch some of the broadcasts.” Her answer amused him. “Oh yes, the broadcasts, very informative.” He stood up and strolled across the room ignoring her. Shula relaxed, being ignored by Doctors she was used to. Her anxiety returned when he came to rest against the bare wall. His near proximity to Tehu’s hiding place caused her throat to tighten. “My job carries great responsibilities. I am responsible for the safe health of a great many people. Not an easy task. Shula struggled to swallow. “It calls for clinical unemotional assessment, both medical and personnel.” He looked to her for agreement. Shula nodded like she understood, but she didn’t. Her focus was the wall. He was standing right beside the hidden incubator.
“I have to be sure every link in the chain is strong and committed. There can be no weakness. Weakness of the mind is the most deadly virus” He gave a hard stare at the bare wall then turned and directed it at her. His voice was stern. “I have to know my teams can be trusted.” He raised his left hand, extended his fingers and held the index finger of his right hand over them, posed for action. Shula held her breath as his blue eyes seem to penetrate her even deeper. He shouted a final warning. “Can I trust you Shula?” The choice before Shula had her frozen in fear. If she tried to stop him she’d reveal Tehu, if she did nothing Doctor Ce was about to find him. She did nothing. He took her inaction as his cue and tapped out a short combination on his fingertips. The wall shimmered and Tehu’s closed incubator emerged. Shula felt nauseous watching the Doctor stand over it. He still had his finger raised. He pointed it at her, and shook his head with the disappointment that comes from feeling betrayed. With his index finger he gave a solitary tap on his middle finger and the lid opened. Shula shot out of her chair and climbed on to the desk. “Doctor Ce, I can explain”. He ignored her plea as she scrambled over the desk and stepped towards him. His puzzled expression was firmly focused on the contents of the open incubator. He reached in with both hands and gently lifted out a brown skinned baby girl. Shula stopped dead in her tracks. She felt her legs go weak. Doctor Ce was smiling at the wide awake baby in his arms. Shula realized whatever had happened to Tehu she had to control herself and hide her own feelings. She breathed deep breaths. Doctor Ce slowly raised the child and turned her around in inspection. “If I’m not mistaken this is the Geme child correct?” Shula nodded. “Yes.“ Doctor Ce carefully placed the child back in the incubator. “It’s a shame.” He said taking a last look. Shula thought she heard genuine compassion in his voice. “She looks quiet healthy. When is her mother collecting her?” “In two days.” She improvised. Doctor Ce closed the cover, tapped another combination on his fingers and watched as it re-emerged into the wall. He strolled back to the desk and took his seat. Shula sat on the floor where she stood, too tired to move and preferring to keep a distance between them. She saw him pull the screen towards him. She snatched a look at the innocent wall behind her. Doctor Ce placed his fingertips against the screen. Data started flashing across it and congregating around the areas where his fingertips touched it. He waited for the data to download. “There have been discoveries of withholdings being committed in the North Quadrant.” Shula’s mind instantly filled with images of distraught Mothers being caught and whole families transported. “As you are no doubt aware that is a most serious offence, the most serious offence. I know you keep a clean Quadrant Shula but these are challenging times. You may find yourself being approached by certain unenlightened people who have difficulty accepting their place in this world. Disclosure of such information as this present time would bring great reward.” She knew what was being asked of her and nodded obedience. The last of the data surged into his fingertips. He withdrew his hand and turned to her. “And we all know the greatest reward is to be clean, healthy, and progressive.” This threw her. “I’m not inoculated.” He rose from his chair and headed for the door. He spoke with his back to her. “I am the Doctor, anything is possible.” He pointed a finger at the door. It opened and he quietly walked out.
As the door closed Shula exhaled and lay on her back on the floor. Doctor Ce, was he really promising her a life in Neucasia? That couldn’t be, not with her genetics. “Tehu?” She cried out his name as she sprang to her feet. Shula grabbed the scanner off the desk and activated it at the bare wall. The incubator emerged. She approached it cautiously. Doctor Ce had clearly felt the presence of a new born. But the child he found in Tehu’s incubator was that of Geme, a girl she’d delivered over a week ago. So where was Tehu, and how did Geme get in there. She stood over it, bent down and gently took off the cover. Inside was Tehu, quiet. Shula felt confusion and relief in equal measure. She carefully lifted him out and slowly looked him over. Yes, it was him. She cradled him in her elbow, stepped back from the wall and pointed the scanner at it. The wall shimmered and transformed into thirteen small incubators suspended in mid air, all containing brown skinned babies. She checked their labels. Yes, there was Geme, just as the Doctor had found her, awake in her incubator. She looked from Geme in the incubator to Tehu against her chest. Her mind full of questions her mouth couldn’t ask. She activated the scanner. Her mood hardened as she watched the incubators re-emerge into the wall. It was time to act.
Shula wrapped her head in an orange material. Then placed Tehu on her back and wrapped him in tight in a longer piece of the same material covering his head. She slipped the scanner into her small pouch, wrapped a shawl around them both and walked out of her apartment.
She left her apartment and walked to the street corner where a dirty yellow tram sat waiting. Its door was opened. She climbed on board. The tram was full of men sitting quietly, with no apparent purpose. All looked up at the sight of her, some expressed surprise to see a woman on the tram. She ignored them and took a seat at the front.
The tram was automatic. It had its destination ‘Erytia Station’ displayed on a neon sign with a timer on countdown from ninety seconds. Shula watched as the timer counted down into the minute mark. At thirty seconds the horn sounded, it went again at fifteen seconds. Then the battery engine revved into life and the doors closed. As her body felt the tram’s vibrations Shula relaxed into her seat. It was morning, and the town of Erytia was springing to life. It was a small town, one half of it left undeveloped when it was quarantined in 2103 and declared part of the Quadrant seven years later. The empty warehouses and four storey buildings the tram passed gave it the feeling of being deserted but this was misleading. In all the Quadrants individual property ownership was banned, housing was regulated by the CCA. A combination of a person’s Genetic Grade and familial ties to CCA members would see them placed in the best housing sectors, and this wasn’t the CCA part of town.
Shula watched a large group of black men in shorts and cut downs working out on an outdoor gym put together from recycled scrap. While some men pumped weights, others were stretched out on benches being massaged with oils. Others were having their hair treated in an assortment of styles and colours. Men took it in turns to assist each other’s grooming. A young man wearing green shorts sitting on a bench spotted Shula in the tram window and smiled. He sat up, dropped his shorts and held out his long oiled penis for her appraisal. A couple of men next to him saw him stroking his penis for Shula and immediately dropped their trousers in her direction. They had long penises hanging down to their knees. All three men made inviting gestures to Shula as the tram moved on. She watched them. Their sexual motions had no effect on her. There were Seedmen hustlers all over Erytia and the ones in her district were known to be seedless, only good for servicing.
She felt the boy child on her back and wondered if he’d end up a Seedman. She doubted it. There was something very special about Tehu. The thought filled her with fear and at the same time a strange reassurance. Suddenly the tram braked hard sending its passengers lurching forward.
Across the tram aisle she could see the hold up. They were at a crossroads waiting whilst a CCA shuttle drove past. The sight of it drew gasps of awe from some of the men on the tram as they moved across to the windows to get a closer look. The long metallic silver shuttle gleamed as it glided past. It’s blacked out windows keeping its passengers anonymous and its large lettering along its side giving them status. As senior Midwife Shula rode on CCA shuttles regularly, she realized she’d never given a thought to what people on the ground watching might think of it.
The tram came to a premature stop half a mile from its declared destination. “Battery malfunction” a seductive female voiced cooed through the speakers as the doors opened. “This tram terminates here. The next tram arrives in twenty three minutes and eighteen seconds”. She decided to continue her journey on foot. She stood up and joined the queue of three men in front of her. The man closest to her glanced behind him and quickly ushered the two men in front of him to make way for Shula. At the sight of her they dutifully moved to the side allowing her to exit first. Shula walked past them with no acknowledgement from either party.
She joined the mass of people approaching the market. The market was an empty tower block by the dry riverbed that had been taken over by street traders from across the four quadrants. They’d been there three generations now and a community had grown up around it. Physically the block was a shell of its former self. The people had staked their visible claim to it with signs, symbols and colours signifying their allegiances.
As she approached, a tall man stepped across her path. He had a wide gleaming smile and was covered head to toe with beaded necklaces, necklaces made from animal bones, lucky charms, amulets, bird feathers, rabbits feet, and turtle shells. “Mama, wan some protection?” He held out a small oval shaped amulet, turquoise coloured. “Protection from de Equa spirit, so it don’t possess yu and steal yu spirit, like fe de ancestors dem.” He made a sign with his hand and looked up to the heavens. Shula walked past him. “Every spirit need protection Mama, even yours” She heard him call after her.
The serpent sign of the Southern Quadrant greeted her as she entered the ground floor. As she entered her senses were assaulted by the sudden inhalation of pungent fragrant scents. The people of the Southern Quadrant, the Mantees, were a rebellious people who traded in GMs, Modified Sugars, and Arousers. They were mostly known for their Arousers, scent capsules modified for personal taste. They had perfected the skill of fine-tuning the modification so it stimulated only the area of the brain specified. And they kept their methods secret, known only to other members of their clan. Arousers were legal, the government allowed them for medical purposes, treatment for depression and some non-psychotic forms of mental illness. At night the market dealt in a more illicit and lucrative economy, the traffic of illegal Arousers. This traffic gave the street life its rhythm, its music. Illegal Arousers were modified way beyond legal limits and designed to connect directly with the neural pathways of the brain.
“Mama, yu wan GM?” Shula was snatched from her arousal by a young man standing in front of her, smiling. She responded politely. “Ooyu, I no look GM?” She moved to go around him, but as she did she was stopped mid step by a scent that slammed into her senses, lifted her off her feet, and whispered promises to her no mere mortal could keep. “Fresh this morning.” His gentle voice directed her gaze to the array of fruit spread before her, each row identical and perfect in shape and colour. She licked her lips consumed by sensual expectations as she picked up a peach and slowly raised it to her mouth. She felt movement against her back, jolting her from her trance. Suddenly she threw the peach to the ground and shook her head hard trying to clear it, the scent drifted away. The young man laughed, he’d almost got her. She snapped at him. “No be gaming on me boy, I no fall for tricksters.” “Wha trickster Mama, wha you smell is wha yu feel.” Enjoying his moment he bounced as he walked back to the stall. Shula saw his Mother, a stern faced round woman, sat behind it. “Yu Boyo play trickster Mama?” Shula asked her. The Woman responded with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Ooyu, Yu boyo try trickster with Arouser. Is illegal, I call Enforcer.” Unmoved the Mother looked away. It was no use. Both women knew it was an empty threat. Enforcers rarely came to the market. And if they did it was because someone was late paying their dues. ‘No dues, no clues’ was the description the ground floor used for them.
Shula placed a protective hand on the bundle wrapped around her back as she quickly walked on. She could feel his warmth refocusing her. She walked through the ground floor past the rest of the stalls. GM fruit gave way to GM foodstuffs gave way to GM animals. Chickens, pigs, pigeons, ducks, rats, pheasants, lambs, all perfect of their kind. The last stall she passed as she neared the exit sold GM pets. She watched as a Mother led her deliriously happy young daughter away from it. The girl carried a small cage containing a brand new kitten.
Once through the exit Shula stepped out into the bus station. Vehicles of all descriptions in various states of repair, scattered apparently at random across the intersection of roads. They all ran on battery cells, some newer models were self-driving. Older models needed a driver, though with the older models it was advisable to get out before the driver recharged the battery. You could tell a driver from the scars on his hands and arms, electric and acid burns from leaky batteries. Destinations were printed on signs placed on the roof. She saw a bus with the sign ‘Harleyfield” on it. A large vehicle it had been a school shuttle in a previous life, still able to run on rails. The seats were an odd collection of chairs nailed to the floor after being rescued from scrap. Shula stopped by the open door. “Taky?” she called inside. She climbed the first step onto the bus. “Taky? She shouted. “Se mi yere” She almost fell off the step startled by the voice behind her. She spun around. “Whey yu bin?” Taky was of similar age to her. He was a well built man used to a days labour. His short hair was uncombed. He eyes lit up as he smiled in recognition. “Shula, no vex so”. She sucked her teeth. “I go Harleyfield” she commanded as she climbed back aboard. “Is wha de sign sey.” He stayed on the ground pointing to the empty seats. “No go yet, bus need passenger.” “I the passenger.” She called from inside. He placed a foot on the first step. “Shula, is wha yu hurry, Harleyfield nah go nowhere.” “Is wha yu have dere?” Shula had unwrapped Tehu and placed him in her lap. Taky climbed into the bus. He stared at Tehu mesmerized. “Water.” She instructed. Taky reacted instantly unhooked a flask from his belt.. Handing it to Shula he looked at Tehu in wonder. “New born?” he whispered. Shula ignored the question as she took out a handful of herbs and roots from her pouch. She took the flask from him and poured in the herbs and roots. She replaced the cover on and handed it back to Taky. “Shake.” Taky took the flask and shook it whilst Shula took out her scanner and made some adjustments. She pointed to the seat next to her. He placed the flask on the seat, she pointed the scanner at it. It shimmered and transformed into a babies feeding bottle with rubber teet. She inserted the teet in to Tehu’s mouth and watched as he fed. Taky was transfixed by her scanner. “I hear about dem, I no have one though.” His attention moved to the feeding bottle in Tehu’s mouth. “Shula, ah no for yu dis new born?” “Eydiot man, I deliver them, dis one I deliver to Harleyfield, now.” Taky gestured to the empty seats around them. “Passenger more important than battery, when battery dead passenger push.” Shula wasn’t listening. She focused on Tehu sucking on his meal. Taky watched. “Never seen one so close before.” His gaze settled on Shula stroking Tehu’s cheek, he was seeing a new side to her. “Yu ave credit?” “Yu know me ave credit. ”Yu ave to pay fe de whole bus.” He said as he took his seat behind the wheel. “Trickster, when last dis bus full?” He started up the bus and listened to the battery cells charge up before turning back to her. “Yu pay fe de whole bus.” She sucked her teeth as the bus moved away from the station.
Shula ran through the field, it’s tall grass lashing against her bare legs. The moon had disappeared and the stars were too distant to read, but though she couldn’t see her way ahead she daren’t stop. Her mind screamed. “keep on running.” Her lungs burned with the effort. She winced as a thick branch scratched across her breasts. She prayed the river was close. Suddenly the ground disappeared beneath her and she lost her footing. She felt the loose earth against her skin as she slid downwards. She cried out but when she did it was with the voice of a Child. “Mama?” she called as she fell deeper. “Mama?” It was a girl’s voice, pleading.
A Woman’s soothing voice responded. “Mother’s little girl is making her whole family proud as she graduates from the G4U institute.
The voice was not her mothers.
“Here at G4U we develop and nurture the best young minds in the Eastern Quadrant. Whatever your genetic status we’ll provide the perfect environment for your growth and prosperity.”
The voice faded and was replaced by emotive music. Shula opened her eyes and saw a group of caramel coloured young children smiling at her in matching uniforms. Their smiles morphed into a logo bearing the title, G4U. She felt something hard against her head. It was the window. She sat up. Tehu was on the seat beside her gurgling to himself, a container his makeshift cot.
She returned to the window to see the huge hologram she’d been watching change image again. Two muscular dark skinned men with murderous intent in their eyes snarled at her. To the sound of loud metallic music their naked oiled bodies adopted a series of aggressive fighting poses. An equally aggressive deep male voice boomed out. “G4U presents The All Quadrant Final of the One Seed Cup.” “Woh yes.” Shouted Driver from the front of the bus. “Dis ah de big one.” Shula yawned and stretched the last remnants of sleep from her body. They were moving along a pot-holed highway. It was getting dark. To her left was desert. Not sand just dead earth, nothing grew and government chemists had seen to it that nothing ever would. About five hundred miles away was the western edge of the Eastern Quadrant. To her right in the distance she could barely make out scattered square and round shapes. Temporary pod settlements for the Omadic recyclers who seasonally rested on this stretch of land. The pods could be de-assembled in less than an hour and made to fit in the back of a car. This had a certain irony as the Omadics were banned from ownership, of anything. Their previous generations had built up such levels of debt they’d been excluded from the credit system.
It would take them nine future generations to clear the debt. Their survival was based on their ability to scavenge and move, move and scavenge. Another hologram burst into life beside the bus. Shula turned away from it.
They were headed north.
She left her seat and made her way to Taky. He had both hands on a huge old-fashioned steering wheel casually turning it left and right. His hands and arms were covered in burn marks and long lightening shaped scars. She saw he’d noticed her staring at them. “Taky, is why yu have dat dere big ol steering wheel?” “How yu mean?” “Look out de window man, de bus deh pon tracks.” Just as Shula had said the bus ran on the old tramline system.Taky shrugged. “Ah so mi like it.” “Yu love too much illusion.” Shula said. Taky shook his head. “Uh uh, me love de breed fight going on tonight. Dey holding de finals in Harleyfield. You watching?” “Ooyu.” She shook her head as she reached for his water container. He watched her drink. “Yu gonna do yu magic on mi water?” “I dunno no magic.” “Dat ting yu have, yu done point it at mi flask.” “Is no magic, is jus ah digital.” “mek me see.” She didn’t want to show him but felt she should indulge him. She reached into her pouch and took out the scanner. Taky took both hands off the steering wheel and held them out. She placed it in them. He held it up against the bus interior lights studying it carefully. It was a simple smooth rectangular object with no visible markings. “How it work?” She went to take it back but he held onto it. “Mek mi work it nuh?” “Yu cyan work it.” She reached for it again. He held it away from her. “Yu tink I too stupid fe work dis ere ting. I is ah craftsman yu know. Yu see dis bus?” He gestured along the entire length of the bus. “I build everyting in dis bus wit mah bare hands.” “Taky, I nuh dissing yu.” “Even the battery cell I construct myself.” She placed a calming hand on his shoulder. “Ooyu. It can only work in my hand.” He stopped his protest. “Truth?” She nodded and gently reached for it. He reluctantly placed it in her hand. She closed her hand around it and held her hand up to his face. Like a magic trick she opened her hand. Taky saw the scanner in her palm now had a control panel along its side. “It’s fe mi work, look fancy but ain’t saying nuttin.” She offered it to him. He took it gently, and closed it tightly in his strong hand. He raised his hand close to his face and opened his hand. He was disappointed to see it had retained its smooth surface, no control panel. With a dismissive shrug he dropped it in Shula’s hand and looked out on the road ahead. The tramlines spanned the pot-holes beneath them. He leaned back in his seat placing his hands behind his head. “De new born, is ah ight?” “He ah ight.” “How much baby yu deliver Shula?” It was a question she’d never contemplated, not numerically. “Mi nuh know.” “Hundreds, thousands?” “Mi too busy fe count.” How many was it she thought to herself. She could check in a moment but for some reason she wanted to remember by herself. “I wan ask yu sumting.” She looked at him. He was still staring out ahead but with a serious expression. “Wha?” He turned to her. “If yu coulda breed, would yu ah tek me fe breed yu?” She turned away in awkward embarrassment. “Taky, is wha foolishness yu ah gwan wit.” He took her arm and turned her back to him. “Ansa mi Shula. Woulda yu tek mi?” She looked at him and detected a pleading in his expression. In her heart she knew the answer before he’d finished the question. “Lemme tend fe de new born.” She gently pulled herself free. He let go and turned back to the road watching the inevitability of the track’s straight lines unfold in the dark.