Rajban kept her head down, knowing what would happen, but so much had
changed inside her she could not turn back. Her heart beat faster,
and still the expected blow failed to arrive.
Cautiously, she raised her eyesto encounter a sheen of
unexpected blue. The little airplane! It hovered at her shoulder like
a dream image, so out of place did it seem in the hot, cloistered
room. Brother-in-Law stared at it as if he faced his conscience.
The tiny plane had summoned Rajban with its color like the searing
sky. Wordlessly, it now advised her: Time to go.
So she straightened her shoulders and stepped to the side, circling
Rao until the doorway stood before her again. She walked toward it,
through it, on unsteady legs, out into the mud of the street. The
little airplane cruised past her, floating slowly back up into the
blue. Brother-in-Law started shouting
Rajban didn't stay to find out. She stumbled away from the house, not
caring where her feet might take her.
She turned, startled to hear her name. "Michael?"
The street was crowded with women moving in small, protective groups.
Hard-eyed men lounged beside the shop fronts across the street,
watching the women, or haggling over the price of goods, or sipping
sweetened teas. Flies buzzed above the steaming mud.
Michael emerged from the crowd, with Muthaye close behind him. She
called out Rajban's name, then, "Namaste."
"Namaste," Rajban whispered.
Muthaye took her arm. Above her veil, her eyes were furious. "Come with us?"
Rajban nodded. Some of the men around them had begun to mutter. Some
of the women stopped to stare. Muthaye ignored them. She stepped down
the street, her head held high, and after they'd walked for a few
minutes, she tossed back her sari and let the sunlight fall upon her
Cody relinquished control of the drone, leaving it to return like
a homing pigeon to the rental office. She lifted off her VR helmet to
find herself seated in her darkened living room, the lights of Denver
and its suburbs gleaming beyond the window. She felt so scared she
thought she might throw up.
There was a ticking bomb inside her.
She imagined a fertilized egg descending through one of her fallopian
tubes, its single cell dividing again and again as it grew into a
tiny bundle of cells that would become implanted against the wall of
her womb. With a few hormonal triggers this nascent life form would
change her physiology, so that her body would serve its growth. Quite
a heady power for an unthinking cluster of cells, but as it reordered
its environment, it would begin to shed evidence of its identity.
Very early in gestation the uterine implant would classify it
desirable or undesirable, and would act accordingly.
Cody laid her hand against her lower abdomen. She imagined she could
feel him inside her, a bundle of cells with the potential to become a
little boy. She remembered Gharia standing in the street, looking up
at her with utter confusion, with helpless rage. He had tried too
hard to hold onto the past and the world had gotten away from him.
She felt as if she could hardly breathe. Her shoulders heaved as she
struggled to satisfy her lungs. Air in, air out, but none of it
absorbed. She felt as if she might drown, trapped in the close
confines of her apartment. So she found her shades and called a cab.
· · · · ·
If we are lucky, life shows us what we need to see.
Cody snorted. It was one of the many inspirational aphorisms drilled
into her at Prescott Academy. And how had that particular pearl of
wisdom concluded? Ah, yes:
If we are brave, we dare to look.
Cody was not feeling terribly brave right now, and that was why she
was running away. The cab took her to the airport, and from there an
air taxi took her north. Upon landing, she picked up a rental car,
arriving at Project 270 just before dawn.
An ocean of cold air had
settled over the land. Though she wore boots and blue jeans, a
thermal shirt and a heavy jacket, she still felt the bite of the
coming winter as she stumbled through the darkness. A flash of her
company badge soothed the security system. Ben would not be by for
two or three hours, so she made her way alone to the upper gate,
where she found the card slot by feel. The gate unlatched and she
The sky was a grand sweep of glittering stars, and in their light she
could just make out the slope of the land. A few house lights gleamed
far, far away across the river. Leaving the ATV in the garage, she
set out down the long slope of the meadow, stumbling over clumps of
sod and seedling trees. The meadow grasses were heavy with dew, and
when their seed heads brushed her thighs they shed freezing jackets
of water onto her jeans, so that in less than a minute she was soaked
through. She kept walking, listening to her socks squish, until she
reached the bluff above the river bank.
The sky was turning pearly, and already birds were stirring in a lazy
warm-up song. At the foot of the bluff, a doe hurried along the
narrow beach, while the river itself grumbled in a slow, muddy
exhalation that went on and on and on, a sigh lasting forever. Cody
shivered in the cold. Can't run any farther.
It was time to discover what she had done, get the truth of it.
So many chronic problems came from not facing the truth.
She slipped her shades out of her jacket pocket and put them on. They
were smart enough to know when they were being used. A menu appeared
against the backdrop of the river. Tapping her data glove, she
swiftly dropped the highlight down to "U." Only one listing appeared
under that letter: UTERINE IMPLANT.
"Upload status report," she whispered. "And display."
Even then, fear held her back. She let her gaze fix on the river, its
surface silvery in the rising light. Steam curled over it, phantom
tendrils possessed of an alien motion, curling, stretching, writhing
in a slow agony lovely to watch.
Lines of white type overlay the prospect. For several seconds Cody
pretended not to see them. Then she drew a deep breath, and forced
her gaze to fix on the words:
Status: No pregnancy detected.
She stared at the report for several seconds before she could make sense of it.
No baby. That made it easy
Her body did not feel the same. Somehow it had become hollow,
forlorn. She stared at the water, wondering how something that had
never existed could have felt so real.
The doe gave up its stroll on the beach to climb the embankment,
stirring ahead of it a flight of blackbirds that spun away, trilling
and peeping, noisy leaves tumbled on a ghostly wind. Cody remembered
the painful confusion on Gharia's face as he stood in the street,
looking up at her. She had seen herself in his eyes, asking,
A figment of mist curled apart and she laughed softly, at herself and
at the strained script she had tried to write for her life.
Gharia had wanted a scripted life, too, except half the cast had vanished.
It was the same all over the world. Virtually every culture
encouraged loyalty to social roles
but why was it done
that way? Because there was some innate human need to eliminate
chance? Or because it saved conflict, and therefore the energy of the
group? Even as it wasted intellect and human potential.
The world was evolving. Energy was abundant now, and maybe, the time
had come to let the old ways go, and to nurture a social structure
that would unlock the spectrum of potential in everyone.
Starting here, Cody thought. She looked again at the menu,
where UTERINE IMPLANT remained highlighted.
"Shut it down," she whispered.
The letters thinned, indicating an inactive status.
Cody started to slip off the shades, but she was stopped by the
sudden appearance of Michael's glyph within an urgent red circle,
meaning Please please please talk to me NOW.
Her throat had begun to ache in the cold air, but she tapped her data
glove anyway, accepting the link. Michael's glyph expanded until it
became his image. He stood in the open air beyond the bluff, remote
from her, though she could see every detail of his face. "Michael?
Has something happened to Rajban?"
"Rajban's all right." He squinted at her. "I can't see you."
"I just have shades."
His scowl was ferocious. "Then I borrowed this VR suit for nothing."
She waited for him to get over it. After a moment his body relaxed.
He turned, to look down at the silvery path of the river. "We did the
right thing, Cody. Rajban is set now, in a house with two other
women. She'll probably do garden work. You know the bag of soil she
carried? Turns out to be a natural bioremediation culture, a
community of microorganisms fine-tuned for the pollutants particular
to the soil around Four Villages. Muthaye thinks it might be possible
for Rajban to sell live cultures, or at least to use it to enhance
her own business."
"That's good. I'm glad." She felt a fresh flush of wonder at the
adaptiveness, the insistence of life. She toed a clod of exposed soil
on the bluff. Contamination had been rampant in this land, too, but
it had been chased away, broken down in a series of simple steps by
microorganisms too small to be seen. The scars of the past were being
"Where are you?" Michael asked. "It's beautiful here."
"At a project site. It is pretty, but it's also very cold. I should
head back to the car."
He stiffened. "If you're thinking of running away from me again,
Cody, I might have some objection to that. It's been suggested to me
that I give in too easily to other people's choices
I know those choices are bad."
Her fingers drummed nervously against her thigh. A Canada goose
paddled into sight, leaving a V wake unfurling behind it. "I really
said that, didn't I?"
"Cody, I never wanted you to leave. You chose to go. Rajban chose to
go. Should I have forced either one of you to stay?"
The goose had been joined by another. Cody's hands felt like
insensate slabs of ice.
"I don't know."
"If we each can't be free to decide for ourselves"
"I have used the same uterine implant you discovered in Four
Villages, only it was my choice, and I wanted a daughter." She said
it very quickly, the words tumbling over one another. "I've shut it
off now, and
I'm not pregnant."
He stared at her. His stunned expression might have been funny if she
didn't feel so scared. "Say something, Michael."
wish I was there with you."
She closed her eyes, feeling some of the chill go out of the dawn.
Michael finished the day in his office, facing Karen Hampton on
the wall screen. Outside, the sun was a red globule embedded in brown
haze. Its rays cast an aging glow across his desk as he leaned
forwardtense, eager, and a little scaredthe same way he'd
felt on his first flight out of the U.S.
He knew it was likely Karen would fire him. He didn't want it to
happen, but that wasn't the source of his fear. He had done only what
was needful, because trust comes first. So it wasn't Karen he feared.
It was himself. He had lost some of his tolerance for the foibles and
foolishness of human culture. He had learned to say no. It was
a terrible, necessary weapon, and that he possessed it left him
elated and afraid.
Karen stared at him for several seconds with eyes that might have
been made of glass. "You have a unique conception of the
responsibilities of a regional director."
Michael nodded. "It's been a unique day."
He watched the lines of her mouth harden. "Michael, you're in Four
Villages because I felt it was an ideal setting for your creativity,
your energy, and your ambition, but you seem to have forgotten your
purpose. You are there to grow an economy, not to rescue damsels in
Michael no longer saw a clear distinction between the two. "Damsels
are part of the economy, Karen. Everyone matters and you know
it. The more inclusive the system is, the more we all benefit."
"How does offending a significant segment of the population expand the system?"
"Because doing anything else would break it. You said it yourself.
Trust comes first. If people can't trust us to support them in their
enterprises, then we've lost. If we come to be known as cowards, then
we fail. I'm not here to fail."
Four Villages was a microcosm of the world and it faced formidable
problemspoverty, overpopulation, illiteracy, environmental
degradation, and, perhaps worst of all, the poison of old
ideasbut none of these challenges was insurmountable. Michael
swore it to himself. Nothing was insurmountable. Terrible
mistakes would be made, that was inevitable, but the worst mistake
would be to pull back, to give up, to give in to the dead past.
"It's fear of change that's holding us back."
Change was coming anyway. The old world was being washed away, and
soon there would be no paths left to follow. Then everyone would need
to find their own way, like fishes or sleek eels, tracking
ever-shifting currents, trailing elusive scents, nosing into the new
possibilities of undreamed of futures.
Karen shook her head. "I love your thinking, Michael, but the hard
fact is, this project is floundering."
Michael smiled, as the sun's last gleam finally vanished from the
horizon. "No, Karen. It's just learning to swim."