Sovran, the Director of Media, stood gazing out of the window of her luxury apartment. Beyond the city, as far as the eye could see, was forest – a green patchwork undulating far into the distance. Pursing her lips, she wondered how much longer they could carry on ignoring the Outside. The subject had become taboo and the very word unmentionable in polite society.
Ever since the catastrophe, the remit of Media had been to keep the morale of survivors high – even if it meant hiding the truth. And it did – the truth of just how devastated the planet was. But it’s different now, she thought. The Outside is renewing itself. Each year, the forest became greener and more vibrant. How much longer could they go on ignoring this? Surely it was time to venture Out? To turn the vision of the Founders into a reality by making Joypolis, not the last, but the first of many cities.
She sighed. The citizens would have to face their fears one day. It would mean unravelling all the illusions that Media had so carefully hung in their minds. If they didn’t, and something unexpected happened, all those comforting beliefs would come crashing down. It’d be bad, far worse than a controlled conversion.
And then there were the clones, she thought, pushing her hand deep into her glossy black hair. How, she wondered, could their forbears have accepted the production of a human underclass so easily?
Gorvik, Director of Cloning and Socialization, read the message that popped up onto his computer screen. His request for a meeting to discuss the advantages of free cloning had been turned down again. ‘Can’t even discuss the bloody issue,’ he growled, getting up so abruptly that his chair spun away on its wheels. Looking around, he wished there was a bag he could pound his fists into.
Pacing up and down, he fumed inwardly. The city was full of LPRs – Low Personal Responders, cloned from banked tissue and egg donations according to Clone Act regulations. These were the uncomplaining, low-paid workforce that supported the high standard of living that every citizen enjoyed. No wonder nobody wants to address the issue, he thought. Leave the status quo as it is. Why spoil a good thing?
But how much longer can we carry on like this, he asked himself for what seemed the thousandth time. It’s as if we’ve strapped ourselves into an intellectual straitjacket. Can’t talk about this, can’t talk about that! We’re stagnating when we most need to progress!
‘Shit,’ he swore as he sloshed a brandy into a glass. Swigging it down and feeling its heat burn back, he tried to calm his thoughts. Yes, he mused, it may have been all right at the beginning: the survivors were so traumatized the birth rate fell and cloning was the quickest way of getting the numbers needed to build a modern city. But we should have started cloning for intelligence and not left the project as a…slave production line. Because that’s all it is – whatever platitudes Media may use. Can’t go on. Initiative’s being undermined. If we don’t get rid of them soon, the whole system will grind to a halt. We’ve got to clone for intelligence!
Slowly, he put his glass down and began twiddling his red beard into a point as he pieced together a plan. If I can’t get them to listen, I’ll force them to by…
Q’zar, Director of Security, tried to ignore the razzmatazz blaring from a speaker above an entrance to the Pink Zone. ‘Come, come! Climb the vine of ecstasy! She’s yours, all yours, waiting to live your dream…’ He quickened his pace. The cheap glitter of this district sickened him. For him, it was clear proof that Joypolis had lost its sense of purpose. He thought of Zuriko Azari, the woman who controlled the sex industry. Damn her, he swore.
Reaching his vehicle, he got in, slid the door shut and sank back in the seat. Facing him were the neon signs that crowned the cluttered buildings of the Pink Zone. He watched them digitally draw and flesh out the ample curves of their products, set their eyelashes fluttering, breasts bouncing, asses wriggling.
What, he thought, would the Founders think if they could see this? They wouldn’t recognize the city they’d struggled so hard to establish. They never intended this…this, decadence. Joypolis was never meant to be the last city; it was supposed to be the first of many more. Perhaps it’s time he thought, shooting a wary glance down a road that led to the city’s perimeter.
Tiredly, he reached forward to push the starter button when, catching sight of some clones in his rear-view mirror, he paused. He eyed them coldly as they ambled along, laughing and joking. Growers, he thought, noting the emblem on their sleeves as they passed toward the Pink Zone.
He stared at their backs a few more seconds before pushing the starter. As the vehicle glided forward guided by roadside sensors, Q’zar began to wonder, what if we sent some clones Out? That way we needn’t risk exposing ourselves to radiation or whatever other dangers there may be. We could find out why that grey area of forest keeps getting closer. Who knows, perhaps we need to strengthen our defences. Code knows, we’ve had so many years of peace we’ve become complacent. What if there is something Out there that poses a threat? If only we had a leader with vision!
Ignoring the drone of voices around the table, Darvin, Joypolis’ most powerful politician, sat drumming his fingers on its polished surface. He’d grown tired of chairing meetings. How they dragged on. He leaned back in his chair to see if he could get a better view of the white triangular roof of the Aesthetics School. He could just make out its edges shimmering in the haze of heat.
He wondered if Zuriko, the head of the School, was dreaming of him as he was of her. How he longed to fill his nostrils with her perfumed fragrance and slide dreamily down the scented trail of her smooth barley-coloured skin to lose himself in the forgiving forgetfulness of pleasure.
Oh, Codes, he thought, coming back to reality with a jolt as someone squeakily insisted, ‘No, no, no. This will never do. It has to be amended. Point three of Article 5a should read ‘and’ not ‘or’!’
Groaning inwardly, he recalled a line from a poet of the Old World: ‘pinnacled dim in the intense inane’. How apt, he thought.
O was a noble who had turned his back on politics to wander the streets in search of enlightenment. Sitting on a low wall in the shade of an artificial tree, he watched citizens rushing hither and thither. Like shadows chasing shadows, he thought. Looking up at the glittering windows of high-rise buildings spiking the sky, he wondered is it a house of cards and am I the fool, the jester fallen from the pack, when I ask what’s happened to the wanderlust, the questing spirit of the people? Look at them! As much running from as hurrying to. Happily, satisfyingly distracted. Have they lost it? This, the city that holds the fate of humankind and they, its lifeblood, racing to the next purchase!
Change will come, he thought, getting up and dusting down his baggy trousers. But from where? he wondered as he shuffled away.