For Cody Graham, home was a luxury condo in the foothills above Denver. She caught a train from DIA, arriving home in late evening, at the same time as the dinner for two she had ordered along the way. The food went onto the table while her account was automatically billed. She took a quick shower. When she emerged, she found Wade had arrived. He was pouring Venezuelan spring water into lead-free wine glasses. "Hey," she said, toweling her hair dry. "You remembered."
"Of course I remembered." Wade arched an eyebrow in comic offense as he set the bottle on a tray.
Wade Collin was president and chief stockholder of a small but thriving biotech firm. His company was his life, and he regularly devoted seventy to eighty hours a week ensuring its success. It was an obsession that had brought his marriage to an end. "A good end for both of us," he claimed. "Marriage demands more time than I'll ever be willing to give it."
In his mid-fifties, with two grown children, Wade was still a handsome and vigorous man. He and Cody had been friends for years, and lovers for much of that time, brought together by need and by convenience. It was all either of them had time for. It was all they would admit to needing.
He studied her face, and gradually, the humor in his hazel eyes changed to concern. "Cody? Are you getting nervous?"
"No." She sighed, tossing the towel onto the back of the sofa. "It's just been a strange day. I found out that the neighborhood I grew up in has been designated a hazardous site. It's scheduled for remediation."
Wade scowled as he uncovered the dinner plates. "Inauspicious. Will you take it?"
"I don't know. I picked up the download packet, but I haven't looked through it yet." She dropped into one of the chairs. Fear was a fine mesh wound around her heart. "Truth is, I'm not at all sure I want to go back there."
Going back would mean facing again the stuff of vanquished nightmares: summer heat and summer anger and the urine-stink of crank houses, transformed into blazing infernos when their clandestine labs caught fire. And other, more personal things.
"You are getting nervous," Wade accused.
Cody shook out a napkin and grinned, hoping it didn't look too false. "Maybe just a little," she admitted. It had been six years since her horrible first pregnancy. She'd waited all that time, living a medical regimen while the toxin levels in her tissues declined. "I still want my daughter."
"Howling, screaming, smelly brats," Wade warned, sitting down beside her.
"Won't work," Cody assured him.
"Could be a boy."
Nope. Cody wouldn't say so outloud, but she knew it wouldn't be a boy.
She sipped at the Venezuelan water, imagining she could feel the babyjack in her womb. A slight pinching sensationthat's the identity she gave it. She hadn't told Wade it was in there.
Uterine implants were a form of selective birth control developed for couples with inherited genetic disorders. After conception, they screened the embryo's DNA for a suspected defect. If it was found, the implant would release a drug to block the natural production of progesterone and the pregnancy would fail.
Though it appeared nowhere in the company prospectus, the most common "defect" the implants screened for was the sex of the embryo. Cody's babyjack would kick in if it detected a male embryo, causing a spontaneous abortion within several days of conception. That early in her term she might experience a slightly late, slightly heavy menstrual period. Nothing more.
Wade had waived parental rights to any child she might conceive. She had signed documents freeing him of obligation. They had submitted DNA samples to an anonymous testing service, where their chromosomes were sorted across a large series of DNA chips. No major incompatibilities had been found.
"Genetic maps," Cody mused, "health tests, trust funds, legal documents
am I neurotic? My mother conceived me in an alley behind a rave club when she was fifteen. He didn't want to use a condom because it was too constricting. They screwed for a week, then she never saw him again."
"So you both learned from her mistake."
"And we've both been overcompensating ever since."
He sighed, his sun-browned hand closing over hers. "You're a good person, Cody. You deserve more than this. You should have had the fairy tale."
She smiled. I did.
She'd had the marriage, the handsome husband, the baby on the way, and it had all blown up in her face. On some level, she'd always known it would. She'd already made it out of the brutal slum of Victoria Glen, and surely that was enough to ask of life? The castle on the hill could wait for the next generation.
Muthaye left the house, promising to return as soon as possible. Michael did not like the sound of that. It reminded him too much of the woman from the charity, but what could he do? He had his own schedule to keep. This afternoon he was due at a publicity event on a local farm, the first to bring in a harvest of genetically engineered rice developed by a Japanese company and distributed by Global Shear.
He took another shower, and another tab of Synthetic Sleep. The pill's chemical cocktail was designed to mimic the metabolic effects of a few hours of rest. His body could not be fooled forever, but he should be okay until the evening.
In the living room, Rajban was crouching on the floor, staring out at the garden. Michael hesitated on his way to the front door. Something in her posture touched a memory in him: for a moment he was immersed again in the half-dark of a city night, and the awful silence that had followed her cold declaration: There's nothing left, Michael. I'm leaving. He felt as if his chest was made of glass, and the glass had shattered.
He shook his head. That was all long ago.
The house spoke in its soothing, feminine voice. "Your car is here." Then it repeated the news in Hindi. Rajban turned, her face an open question. Michael wished he could stay and talk to her. Instead, he put on his shades and he left.
· · · · ·
The company car bounced and lurched along a dirt road in dire need of scraping. The driver was forced to dodge bicyclists and zips, an assortment of rusty old cars converted to ethylene, and hundreds of pedestrians. Fifteen miles an hour was a top speed rarely achieved, and Michael was twenty minutes late by the time he arrived at the demonstration farm. No one noticed.
A huge canvas canopy with walls of transparent plastic had been set up in the farmyard. An air conditioner powered by a portable generator blew an arctic chill into its interior while, outside, misters delivered fine sprays of water over the arriving guests. Michael soon found himself in conversation with an Ikeda tech and a reporter from CNN. "It's an ideal grain," the tech was saying. "Requiring less water and fertilizer than any other rice strain, while producing a polishable kernel with a high protein content."
"But," the reporter countered, "your opponents claim it's just this engineered hardiness, this ability to out-compete even the weeds, that makes it a threat to the biosystem."
Michael dove into the debate with practiced ease. "Out-competing the weeds is something of an exaggeration. Ikeda rice is still a domesticated plant, requiring careful farming practices to thrive
Most of the afternoon was like that. The event was a press op, and Michael's job was to soothe the usual fear of genetically engineered food plants. Most wealthier countries forbade the importation or sale of engineered crops, fearing ecological disaster, or the discovery of some previously unknown toxic quality in the new food. At least, those were the reasons most often cited. Michael suspected it was really a fear of shouldering any more responsibility. Already the land, the climate, and even the ecology of the oceans had been transformed by human activity. If the formula of life itself was now to be rewritten, what would be left outside the range of human influence? Not much. Every disaster outside of seismic instability would then fall squarely at the feet of technology.
For now it didn't matter that Ikeda rice couldn't be sold across international borders. Small farmers could peddle their excess crops to the villagers. Large farms could ship to the cities. Someday though, international markets would need to open.
· · · · ·
It was late afternoon when Michael slipped free of the press parade. He took a folding chair and set it up beneath the spreading branches of a banyan tree. He had hardly sat down when a party of young men emerged from the farmhouse. They laughed and teased one another, startling a long-legged bird that had been hunting on the edge of a rice paddy. As the bird took flight, Michael found himself surrounded by six smiling youths, each neatly attired in dress shirts and cotton slacks, sandals on their feet. One of them introduced himself as Kanwal. He offered Michael a banana-mango smoothie obviously rescued from the tent.
"This is my father's farm," he informed Michael proudly. Then he explained that his friends were all from nearby farms.
Michael was halfway through the tall glass when he realized it had been spiked. With vodka? That would neatly counter the Synthetic Sleep.
Kanwal proudly tapped his chest. "I am seventeen this year. I have finished my public schooling. My father wants to buy a truck. He will start a business delivering fruit to the cities." Kanwal rolled his eyes. "He says he is getting too old for farm work. He wants to drive a truck while his sons do the tough work!"
The other boys erupted in laughter. Michael grinned too. "Your old man must think a lot of you."
"Oh, I don't know," Kanwal said. "I think he just wants to hit the road to look for a new wife."
The boys giggled and moaned. "He's old," someone muttered, "but not too old!"
"He wants us to believe it, anyway," Kanwal said. "But I'm seventeen! He should be looking for a wife for me."
"Isn't that your mother's business?" Michael asked.
Kanwal shrugged. "My mother is dead three years. My youngest brother does all the cooking now."
Kanwal made a face. "No. Of course not. My old man wanted to get ahead, not raise a servant for another man's family. We are very modern here. We don't believe in dowry. If I had a sister, my father would have to pay her dowry. Still, it makes it hard to find a wife. My father was married when he was fifteen. Look at us. We are sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old. No one has a wife. Hey." He turned to his friends. "Know who's making the most money these days? The marriage broker!"
The boys guffawed again, but Michael frowned. Kanwal noticed, and responded by rubbing Michael's shoulder in a friendly way. "You have a wife?"
Michael shook his head, declining to explain to Kanwal that though he'd been married at twenty-four, it had not lasted two years. There's nothing left, Michael.
Kanwal might have read his mind. "Divorced?" he asked.
Michael scowled. "You watch too much TV."
Kanwal giggled, along with his friends. "American women like to have many husbands and only one son."
"We could use some American women here," one of the boys chimed in from the back of the group.
Michael felt the vodka inside him, dissolving his diplomacy. "Women are not toys. They're people, with their own dreams, their own ambitions."
"Oh yes," Kanwal agreed with a hearty nod. "They are goddesses." The boys all offered confirmation of this.
Kanwal went on, "This farm would be a happier place if we had a woman in the kitchen again. Hey, but no one wants to be a farmer anymore, not even my old man."
Michael sat up a little straighter. This sentiment had not been reported by his census teams. "Why do you say that? This farm has had a profitable year, despite poor weather."
"Oh, we're doing all right," Kanwal agreed. "But do you think it's easy? Laboring all day in the hot sun, and we don't even have a tractor. The water buffalo are still our tractor. It's shameful! I want to move to Bangalore, learn computers, work in an office."
"Ah, Kanwal," one of his friends interrupted. "Everybody wants to work in an office, but it's the farm for us, you know it."
Kanwal gave his friend a dark look. "Not all of us. Every evening I walk all the way to town, just so I can spend half an hour at the home of a link-wallah, exploring the net. Half an hour! That's all he allows, because he has many clients, but half an hour is not enough time to get any real trainingmaybe if I could print out lessons, but I can't, because I don't have the paper. But I have a plan.
"I can read well. We all can. I've read every book in the two library booths at South Market. Do you know what we're doing? My friends and I? We're putting our money together to buy our own terminal. I have a friend in town who can get an uplink." Kanwal nodded, his dark eyes happy at his inner vision. "There is formal schooling online, from all over the world, and some of it at no cost. You hear how well I speak English? I learn fast. Hey." He looked at his friends again. "Maybe we're better off with no wives yet. No children to care for, right? Make our careers first. It's what the Bangalore families tell their young men." He turned back to Michael. "You have children, mister?"
"No," Michael said, feeling a sudden tightness in his gut. There's nothing left, Michael. I'm leaving.
Kanwal's brows rose in surprise. "No children? Not even from the wife who divorced you?"
"No," Michael repeated firmly, his cheeks heating with more than the torrid afternoon. She had not wanted to try again. I'm leaving.
From the back of the crowd the anonymous heckler spoke. "Hey, Kanwal, waiting a few years for a wife doesn't sound too bad, but I don't think I want to wait that long."
The boys again erupted in laughter, while Michael's cheeks grew even hotter. He was only thirty-two, but to be thirty-two and without children
did that make him a failure in their eyes? It was a stunning thought, and one he didn't want to examine too closely.
Quickly he drained his vodka smoothie while Kanwal went right on massaging his shoulder, his dark eyes shining with confidence, and ambition. "That's right, mister. You watch us. In two years, we will all be middle class like you."