Theta is sitting at the transport hub waiting impatiently for the number 73 transporter . She starts to fiddle with her watch in frustration and boredom and taps in ‘ostrich’ ‘sand’ and ‘bury’ into the Agnitio search engine. 10 minutes later, standing on the 2nd deck squashed between two young men from the Ybur Mine with the smell of dried sweat hanging over them, she holds the screen close to her face and reads that apparently ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand. Instead when danger is imminent they lie with their head and neck on the ground – giving the appearance of a mound of earth from a distance. They can run fast and have powerful legs…
Theta sighed, enough of ostriches, sand covering the head is not an option right now and would be extremely impractical . She thought about her current dilemma and decided that although it was in her DNA to try and avoid conflict, to move away from all that is unpleasant, she has to face facts and come up with a plan of action. She needs a battle strategy, a pre-emptive strike. It’s fighting talk but it needs to develop into something tangible.
One option is to acquiesce to the demands made of her. Just agree, sell her soul and live with a superficial peace but internal anguish. But she is not sure she could live like that.
The second option is to stand her ground, stand up for what she believes in. Live a principled life. That would of course is the best thing. She could then walk in truth and integrity and of course be disowned from her sect.
She scrunched her nose at looked at the man on her right, his red and silver overalls, covered in grime. His number and sign tattooed to his neck stating his place in society. His hands rough and dirty with which he gripped his regulation standard issue holdall. She subconsciously rubbed the same place on her neck and wondered if she could be part of the millions of people that lived in the ergates zone. She thought about her privileged position – could she give that up? The transported lurched to a halt and half the occupants left. Theta looked out the window as she sank into a now vacant seat. Rain was starting to fall heavily. She felt bad for her fellow humans beings scurrying towards homes that she knew were inadequate for this type of weather. It was not right. She has told her directors but they would not hear her arguments.
She bought her tablet out of her bag and flicked through the presentation she had been ordered to give to the delegation tomorrow. She sighed. It was just not right , it was not just. She opened a password protected file – this contained her ideas, her dreams and her vision of the future. A fairer world. Her partner, a man who had somehow escaped his apparent predetermined fate in the ergates zone, had read it a week ago and had just laughed. He had then looked at her with sad but serious eyes and told her that it would never work. He held her hands told her that they did not live in the world that she wanted. He told her that she should be thankful for her position and should do nothing to jeopardise it. “You have no idea”
But she did, that was problem.
Jaen recognises Theta as she steps onto the transporter. She glances at him, wrinkles her nose but does not acknowledge him or her connection with him. He looks down at his red and silver overalls and wonders if he could ever escape this life. He thinks about his twin brother who has managed but through luck and quick thinking of their beloved mother. His thinks of his brother who now does not contact him – it is not permitted – but who he sees in the pendant around Theta’s neck.
He leaves the transporter at the first hub in the ergates zone. He walks, surrounded by swarms of others to the Residence. The building is 30 storeys and but he lives on ‘level 31’. He often jokes to his fellow workers that one day he is going to wine and dine the woman of his dreams in his penthouse. The reality is that his ‘penthouse’ is a converted engine room. It contains a single bed, electric cooker, a fridge and a sink. All standard issue for the workers of the Ybur Mine. In one corner of the room is a shower stall. On one wall are two cupboards – one to store food and one to store cutlery and crookery. His clothes were folded in a pile next to his bed. The remainder of his personal effects are stored in a box under his bed. He had no table or chair. His one pot meals were eaten on his lap while sitting on his bed.
He opened his front door, and smiled to himself as his familiar scene greets him. “What girl would ever come here?” he mused to himself. He rubbed his neck – it did not matter anyway – he was not one of the chosen ones – it was not his birthright. He had at best another 30 years of his miserable existence and then he would reach his expiry date. He shivered – he remembered the expiry day of his uncle. His aunt weeping inconsolably as he was lead away from the Residence. His mother, tense and pale, held her sister’s hand with “It will be my turn soon” written all over her face. He brushed this memory aside and brought himself back to the present. Opening the cupboard door he took out a packet for Thetaday. He fills a saucepan with water from the sink under the cupboard and places it on the cooker. While waiting for the water to boil he washes last nights bowl that has been left in the sink. Theta’s face flashes through his mind – tomorrow is the presentation. The water bubbles and spits, he pours the grey powder from the Thetaday packet into the pan. 10 minutes later he pours the now thick broth-like liquid into his bowl. He places the pan in the sink, switches off the cooker and sits on his bed. The soup is relatively tasteless. It is finished within 5 minutes while he stares at the wall. He puts the bowl on the floor by his bed and lies back on his bed shifting his focus to the ceiling. Theta’s face floats into his mind again – he remembers her strained face on the transporter today. He rolls onto his side in an attempt to make himself more comfortable. There are 18 hours to go. Will she do it? Will she save us?
Janus opens the front door of the flat and suddenly remembers that he has forgotten the ham and tomatoes he promised he would buy. Theta would be home soon and he had nothing prepared. In truth he should have travelled to the market to buy these items. However despite his 10 years in the Theos zone, he still felt uncomfortable. Even now he worried that somebody would notice that his birthright had been removed by laser and another number and sign had been put in its place.
He thinks of Theta and the plan for tomorrow. If she goes ahead everything will change. He rubs his neck. This comfortable life would be over. But it would not just affect him it, it would also affect his mother. His precious dear mother – his mother who had somehow lived past her expiry date and now secretly colours her hair to avoid suspicion. However if Theta does not do it – how would they live with the guilt of knowing they could have changed history. They have one chance to enlighten the people, one chance. He remembers the passion with which she read her ‘alternative’ presentation. He remembers the way in which he held her hands and brought her back to earth. He remembers pleading with her not to do it, that this was the way the world was and they should not try and change it.
Janus thinks about the tablet that he has hidden in his study. It is identical to the one Theta carries in her work satchel. In the months that she has been working on her speech – he has been painstakingly copying the files from one tablet to another. His friend at the Delegation has shown him how to ‘clone’ a tablet without detection. Even now he does not know if he will make the switch. He is torn between saving Theta and saving the world. But he knows that the world cannot be saved, at least not the way Theta wants. He does not want watch her to press the self-destruct button.
He steps into the cool walk-in larder – the shelves are stacked with cans, bottles, dried meats, fresh fruits and vegetables. Luckily not everything is reliant on him. He starts removing items to make a vegetable soup. While he is chopping and peeling, at the counter in the open plan kitchen, he entertains the possibility of a world where he could share the same table with his brother. Shaking his head, he chides himself – that simply cannot happen. It is not the natural order of things. Despite his own circumstances, despite Theta’s clever and well articulated arguments, he still cannot accept that things could be different.
The soup bubbles away on the gas cooker, Janus turns down the heat and moves towards the leather sofa in the living room. He sinks into the chair and glances at the post that the cleaner has piled neatly on the glass coffee table. The first letter catches his eye and causes his breathe to become shallow. The postmark is from the ergates zone and the handwriting on the centre of the envelope is the unmistakable scrawl of his mother’s.
Mathius looks at the man in red and silver overalls in front him and rubs his own neck. He focuses on the man’s neck tries not to memorise the birthright tattooed on his neck. But it’s too late, he has seen the number and it will be indeligibly marked in his mind now. 409 890 1111. Damn! A woman gets on the transporter hub and squeezes herself between them. She is typing something on her wrist device. Her cranes his neck forward and captures the word ostrich and sand. The transporter lurches and he has to steady himself, in slight panic he reaches into the inner pocket of his suit – yes the USB stick is still present. He chuckles to himself in light relief – of course it would still be there, it was so small, it was not going anywhere. So small but very powerful – containing the presentation that could change all their lives. He looked around at all the people in the transporter. All of these people. For good.
Too soon he arrived at his stop. The man in the red and silver overalls steps off the transporter and heads towards the high rise – Mathius seethes inwardly – the place is a disgrace – an affront to humanity. He looks into the transporter window as it slides away, the girl with the interest in ostriches and sand has taken a seat and is looking intently at her laptop. He starts to walk in the direction of the high rise and suddenly feels the weight of the day and the immensity of the imminent meeting pressing down on him. Will they be able to see this through? An image of lush green fields and blue skies flashes through his mind. It is at odds with the angry red sky with grey clouds above him and the ash coloured dust particles that his feet are quickly treading through.
Before long he reaches the gatekeepers home at the edge of the Residences. He presses the buzzer on the intercom and is let in. Once inside he sits briefly in the entrance hall before he led by an man who introduces himself as Reni, to room containing a trap door in the floor. The lid is lifted and they both climb down a ladder. When they reach the bottom they are at the edge of a hall. At the front of the hall is the Leader. He is surround by a circle of around 10 men and women. They all turn around when Reni and Mathius walk across the stone floor to their group. “Welcome Mathius!” the leader says with enthusiasm. “I hope you have brought what we have been waiting for!”