Cody's workday had been Michael's night. While he slept, she
studied the test results from the sample wells. While he dreamed, she
ordered select strains of genetically engineered bacteria from New
Delhi, along with case upon case of the nutrient broth that would
stimulate them to rapidly reproduce. Near 3 A.M. the frozen vials and sealed boxes arrived in Four
Villages, after a quick trip on a southbound jet. When Michael called
into the office first thing in the morning, Pallava Sen reported that
everything was in place to run a demonstration treatment on a well at
"Great! I'll be there in half an hour." It was already eight o'clock.
It was a vibrant morning. Rajban was in the courtyard, working at the
soil with the little hoe she'd found. The ground around her was wet,
and the air steamy. The eastern sky had turned itself into a fluffy
Christian postcard. Columns of light from the hidden sun poured down
between tearing rain clouds, like radiance leaking from the face of
God. In a patch of blue sky between the towering cumulus, two tiny
white cloud scraps drifted on the edge of visibility. Angels,
Michael thought. They looked like angels, gliding in slow raptor
circles on the threshold of heaven.
Was this how myths got started?
Rajban looked up at him as he approached. He pantomimed eating food.
She smiled tolerantly, then went back to her work. Michael frowned,
troubled at her lack of appetite. Then Cody's glyph winked on in the
corner of his shades and he forgot to worry. He tapped a full link.
"Good morning!" It felt so right to be working with Cody again.
"Or good night," Cody answered, her voice husky and tired. "I'm going
to catch a few hours' sleep before the demo.
Is that your waif?
She looks like a little girl."
"She is a little girl. And she hasn't been eating much. Muthaye was
here yesterday, but she didn't leave any messages. I'm a little
concerned, Cody. It's past time her AIDS treatment was started."
Rajban's work had slowed; Michael guessed she was listening to him.
What did she imagine he talked about? He shook his head. She looked
so lost, a little girl caught on an island in the midst of a rising
river, her spot of land steadily shrinking around her.
"She hides inside her work," Michael mused. "Just like we do."
The house pre-empted any reply. "Mr. Fielding, please step inside
immediately." The french doors swung open as the injunction was
repeated in Hindi. Rajban scrambled to her feet. "Air surveillance
has identified the intruder Raman Gharia approaching the premises,"
the house explained. "Please return immediately to the safety of the
"Michael, what is it?" Cody asked.
"A local troublemaker, that's all." He beckoned to Rajban.
They went inside, and the doors swung shut behind them.
"Hark, give me a street view," Michael said.
A window opened in his shades. He looked out on the lane, and saw
Gharia approaching in the company of a portly older man with
salt-and-pepper hair neatly combed about a face so dignified it was
almost comical, as if he were possessed by dignity, as if it held him
together, so that if he ever let it go his body would crumble to
helpless dust. A Traditional Elder? Michael wondered.
A link came in from Sankar. "Security forces are on their way, Mr.
Fielding. Please stay inside."
"Sankar, I trust you won't be sending helicopter shock troops this time?"
"Uh, no sir. As per our discussion, we will be striving for an
"Thank you." In their discussion, he had also insisted he have voice
override on any house functions. He wasn't going to be locked up
The house announced visitors. "A Mr. Gharia and Mr. Rao to see you,
Mr. Fielding." Michael glanced at Rajban. Her chest fluttered in
short little pants. Her eyes were wide.
"Hark. Ask her if she knows this Mr. Rao."
The house translated his question to Hindi. Rajban closed her eyes, and nodded.
Michael strode toward the door.
"Michael, what are you doing?" Cody's voice was sharp and high,
reminding him of another time. It's all gone. Can't you see
"Mr. Fielding," Sankar objected. "Perhaps you have not seen my
report. These two men are deeply involved"
"I only want to have a civil discussion with them." And learn what
it would take to get them to leave Rajban alone. "Hark, open the
The door swung open to reveal Gharia and Rao, shoulder to shoulder in
the alcove. Gharia looked up in surprise, then, "Namaste," he
muttered. Rao echoed it, and introduced himself. Michael was
unsurprised to learn that this was Rajban's brother-in-law, the head
of the household, the one who had rejected her after her husband died.
"You look at me with anger," Rao said, his voice deep, his dignity so
heavy it seemed to suck the heat out of the air, "when I am the one
who has been shamed. Return the woman you hold, pay a dowry for her
shame, and I will not involve the police."
Behind his back, Michael could hear the house whispering a string of
Hindi as it translated Rao's words for Rajban. He drew himself up a
little straighter. "She is not my prisoner."
The house uttered a brief line in Hindi. Rao waited for it to finish,
then: "She is my brother's widow. Perhaps you don't understand what
that means, Mr. Fielding. You are a foreigner, and your modern
culture holds little respect for a woman's dignity. Upon my brother's
death, I was prepared to allow his wife to live in my household for
the rest of her life, despite the burden this would place on me.
Rajban rejected my generosity. She desired to marry again. My wife
also counseled this would be best, but I am an old man, and I believe
in the old ways. A widow should be given respect!" He sighed.
"Sometimes, though, a woman will not have respect. The immorality of
the world infected this woman. Carnal desire drove her into the
Michael felt his body grow hard with a barely contained fury. "That's
not how she told the story." Rajban hadn't even known her husband was
dead until Gharia's visit.
Gharia glared at him. Michael watched his hands.
Rao alone remained unruffled, glued together by dignity. "I am
learning we must all bend with the times," he announced. "I have
found a new husband for Rajban. If you will pay the dowry and the
medical expenses of her rehabilitation as the penalty of your shame,
I will allow this marriage to go forward."
"What an evil old mercenary," Cody growled, while Michael traded
stares with Gharia. It was quite obvious who the intended husband was
to be. "Tell him to shove off, Michael. She's just a little girl."
Rao could not hear her, and so he continued laying out his terms. "If
you do not pay the dowry, I will return the woman to my household.
With the help of my wife and son, we may yet protect her from the
weakness of the flesh, for as long as she is living."
"Which won't be long," Cody said savagely, "when Rao refuses to buy
treatment for her AIDS."
"She's staying here," Michael said.
"Then I will summon the police."
"She's staying here! It's what she wants."
"Have you asked her that?" Gharia demanded. "No woman wants to be a
"You dirty son of a"
Michael broke off, startled by a wash of cold air at his back. He
turned to see Rajban, her face veiled by the hem of the sari Muthaye
had given her. Her eyes were wide and frightened as she squeezed past
Michael. "Rajban, wait!" She slipped past Rao too, out of the alcove
and into the street. Michael stared after her in astonishment, but
Rao, he didn't evenlook at her. She might have been a shadow.
"Jesus, Michael!" Cody shouted. "Don't let her go."
Rao nodded in satisfaction. "I will send a servant with the bride price."
Gharia was smiling. His gaze slid past Michael on a film of oily
satisfaction. As if to himself, he murmured, "Every woman desires
"Michael, stop her!"
"Rajban! Don't go." She would not understand his words, but surely
she would ken the meaning?
Rajban looked at him, with doubt in her eyes, and fear, and a deep
sadness that seemed to resonate through millennia of suffering.
"Rajban, please stay."
Her gaze fell, and docilely she turned to follow Rao, who had not
even bothered to look behind him.
"Michael! Damn you. Go after her. Stop her."
"Cody, she's made her own decision. I can't grab her and force her
back into the house."
"For God's sake, Michael, why not? For once in your life, go out and
grab somebody. Stop her. Don't let her make the decision that will
wreck her life. Michael, she's hurting so badly, she's in no
condition to decide." To his astonishment, he could hear her weeping.
"Cody?" Her glyph winked out, as she cut the link.
Something had changed in the house, though Michael couldn't decide
exactly what. All the furniture remained in place; the lighting was
just the same. Mrs. Nandy had not been by, so the mud stains remained
on the couch, and Rajban's bag of soilhalf empty nowstill
sat by the glass doors. Maybe the house was colder.
He sent a call to Cody, but she didn't answer, and he declined to
leave a message on the server.
So Rajban had left! So what? Why did Cody have to act like it was the
end of the world? Rajban had chosen to leave. She had walked
freely out the door.
Michael wished she had not, but wishing couldn't change the decision
she had made.
He wondered what her reasoning had been. Perhaps she preferred
whatever small life Rao might offer her to the strangeness she had
glimpsed here. Illiteracy was a barrier that kept her from a
knowledge of the wider world. Access to information was another
hurdle. So she had returned to the life she knew. It was probably as
simple as that. Rao's messenger arrived at the door after only a few
minutes. Michael listened to the price he quoted, then he put a call
through to his bank, adjusted the worth on a cash card, and handed it
over, letting the house record the transaction. He had promised to
pay for Rajban's AIDS treatment, after all. And she was better off
with her family, wasn't she?
He told himself it had all been a misunderstanding.
· · · · ·
On the long walk back to the house of her brother-in-law, Rajban
could feel the sickness growing inside her. It was a debilitating
weakness, a pollution in her muscles, dirt in her joints. By the time
she reached the house she was dazed and exhausted, with a thirst that
made her tongue swell. As she crossed the threshold behind the men,
Mother-in-Law glared, first at Gharia, then at Rajban. She asked Rao
if it had been agreed that a dowry should be paid. Rao shrugged. He
sat at a table, ignoring everyone, even Gharia, who stood by looking
confused and a little angry. "We wait," Rao said.
Inside the house the air was very still, a puddle of heat trapped
under the ancient, seeping walls. Mother-in-law turned on Rajban. "No
water. No!" she said, cutting her off from the plastic cube with its
spigot, that sat upon hollow concrete blocks and held the day's
supply of water. "Out! You have work. There is work, you stupid girl."
Rajban felt dizzied by the swirling motion of Mother-in-Law's hands.
She stumbled back a step.
"Won't you let her drink?" Gharia asked softly.
Rajban cast him a resentful glance. Oh yes. He had an interest in her
now. Or he imagined he did. Michael's house had told her what was
said on the doorstep. She blushed in shame again, remembering the
words Rao had spoken.
He had painted her with those words. He had painted her past.
Dirty whore. Her polluted body testified to it. And why else
would all this have happened to her? What Rao said had felt just like
the truth. Michael would not want to look at her now that he knew,
and Muthaye could never come to visit her againbut Rao had
offered her sanctuary.
Of course there would be no dowry. She thought it strange that Gharia
didn't understand this. Rao scowled at him. Then he scowled at
Mother-in-Law, standing guard by the water cube. "Women's business,"
"Get out!" the old woman screeched at Rajban, now that she was sure
she had permission. "No one has done your work for you, foolish
girl." Under the assault of her flailing hands, Rajban stumbled into
the courtyard. She looked around. The courtyard seemed strange, as if
she had dreamed this place and the life she had lived here.
Heat steamed from the moist ground. The plants were wilted in their
containers. She shared their thirst, and, using the dirty wash water
stored in a small barrel by the door, she set out to allay it.
· · · · ·
Michael took a zip to the office to find Pallava Sen waiting for him
in the lobby. "Good morning, Michael! Our bioremediation consultant
called a few minutes ago to say she will not be able to attend today."
"Cody called?" Michael's voice cracked with the force of his surprise.
"Yes. Of course I've been consulting with her throughout the night,
so I'll have no problem directing the media gig."
They matched strides through the security sensors. Armored doors
opened for them. An elevator stood waiting on the other side. "Be
assured, everything is in place," Pallava continued, as the doors
closed and the elevator rose. "We have technicians from New Delhi to
handle the bacterial cultures. Several media teams are already at the
airport, and within a few hours an international task force will be
here to examine the complaints against us, and our countercharges of
fraud against the local water commission."
They stepped out into the carpeted hallway on the top floor, greeted
by the scent of fresh coffee. "When will the water purification units
be here?" Michael asked.
"The first shipment is due to arrive within the hour. They'll be set
up in stations throughout the district. People will be able to
withdraw five gallons at a timeenough for drinking, anyway."
"Excellent." At least people could start drinking clean water now,
today, for the first time since
He sighed. Probably for the first time ever.
Someone had left a steaming cup of coffee on the desk. "Pallava,
thank you. I know you've been up most of the night with this
situation. It sounds as if you have things well under control." Then,
because he couldn't help himself, he added, "When you talked to Cody
just now, did she
sound all right?"
Pallava frowned, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. "She sounded tired,
but then she has worked through the night as well. There's no need to
worry, Michael. Let her rest. I can handle the gig."
"That's not what I meant. Pallava, I know you can do it. I want you
to handle the press conference, too. It's your scene now."
· · · · ·
Rajban crouched in the shade just outside the kitchen door, patting
dirty water on her cheeks and breast. Inside, Gharia and Rao were
talking heatedly. Gharia was saying, "Fielding will pay. You'll see.
He wants the woman to have medicine so that"
Gharia broke off in mid-sentence. Startled, Rajban glanced over her
shoulder to see if someone had spied her, resting in the shade. No
one looked out the door. Instead, she heard a stranger speaking from
inside the house, crowing about the cleverness of Rao's demands. This
was the messenger sent to collect the dowry.
"Give the money to my son," Mother-in-Law interrupted, her old voice
tight and frightened, as if she feared a rebuke for her boldness, but
couldn't help herself nonetheless.
Rajban peeked around the edge of the doorway, to see Rao still seated
at the table, Gharia still standing. Both he and the messenger stared
hungrily at the cash card Rao twirled in his hands. Then Rao's long
fingers closed over the card, hiding it from sight. His face was
fleshy, and yet it was the hardest face Rajban had ever seen. "You
may both go now." Gharia looked confused. "We need to discuss the
finances, the wedding, and"
"There will be no wedding," Rao announced. "My brother's widow must
be subjected to no further shame."
Rajban slipped back behind the wall. The garden looked so queer, as
if she had never seen it quite so clearly before. Inside, Gharia's
voice was rising in indignant anger, but Rajban did not listen to the
words, knowing that nothing he might say could change her fate.
· · · · ·
Pallava Sen had hardly left when Muthaye's glyph winked on in the
corner of Michael's shades. He tapped his glove, transferring the
call to a wall screen. Muthaye snapped into existence. She stood in
Michael's living room, her stern face framed by a printed sari, which
she had pulled over her head like a scarf. In her hand, she held
Rajban's half-empty bag of soil.
Michael's gaze caught on it. "Rajban has gone."
Muthaye's lips pursed petulantly. "I am at the house, Michael. I can
see that. Where has she gone?"
Michael felt inexplicably guilty as he made his explanation. He did
not feel any better as he watched Muthaye's expression darken. Her
eyes rolled up, beseeching the heavens for patience, perhaps. Then
she spoke: "Mr. Fielding, I would be interested to someday engage you
in a discussion of free will. What does it really mean? You tell me
that Rajban chose to leave with this Rao character, her
brother-in-law who treated her as less than human even as you looked
on. Mr. Fielding, can you tell me why she freely chose to go
Michael scowled, feeling unfairly impeached, by Muthaye and by Cody,
too. "I suppose she felt torn from her roots. Most people are, by
nature, afraid of change."
Muthaye's scowl deepened. "Rajban did not suffer a failure of nerve,
"I didn't say"
"No, of course. You wouldn't say such a thing. You are a kind person,
Michael, and obviously you've done well in life. It's only natural
that you believe opportunity is omnipresent, that we all rise or sink
according to our talents and our drivebut the world is more
complex than that. Talent is meaningless when we are schooled in the
belief that change is wrong, when we are taught that we are worthy of
nothing more than the ironbound existence fate has given us. Believe
me, Rajban has been well-schooled in her worthlessness. She knows
that she lives at the sufferance of her husband's family. Obedience
and acceptance have been drilled into her from babyhood. To expect
her to freely decide to defy her brother-in-law would be like
expecting a drug addict to freely decide to stay sober at a crack
party. There is no difference.
"And it is partly my fault, too, for I
laughed yesterday when she suggested this soil had a magic." Muthaye
lifted the stained cloth bag. "Perhaps it does. I have talked to a
horticultural specialist and he is intrigued. He tells me there may
be valuable microorganisms in this dirt. I will have it tested, and I
will not laugh at naïve optimism ever again."
She raised her palm. "Michael, I apologize for lecturing you, but you
must begin to see that to dream is itself a learned skill."
Stop her! For once in your life
Michael sighed. "I gave Rao money to pay for the AIDS treatment."
That was something, at least.
Although from the way Muthaye glared at him, it might have been worse
than nothing. He scowled, irritated now. "Was that wrong too?"
"There will be no treatment."
Michael felt his patience snap. Really, he'd had enough. "You don't
know that. She was to be married again"
"Did Gharia pay the dowry?"
"No, but it was understood"
"I expect none of you understood the same thing. You each heard only
what you could tolerate. Understand this, Michael. Rajban is the
childless wife of a dead man. Rao can gain nothing by letting her
marry. He will refuse her the AIDS treatment and keep the money for
himself. Mark my words: If we do not find Rajban and get her out of
her brother-in-law's house, then she will die there, most likely in a
matter of days."
· · · · ·
Cody linked into the Terrace on a full sensory connection. The
private VR chat room had been designed as a flagstoned California
patio, embedded in a garden of pepper trees and azaleas. Everyone had
a personal animation stored on the server, an active,
three-dimensional image of themselves that reflected their habitual
postures and gestures, so they would seem to be present even when
they weren't fully linked through a VR suit.
Cody's image looked a good deal younger than it ought toa sharp
reminder of how many years had gone by since she'd visited the
Terrace. The last time had been during those nebulous months between
the abortion and the divorce. Not the best of days, and returning now
made her feel a bit queasy.
Still, she had come with a purpose. She set about it, sending a glyph
to Etsuko, Ryan, and Jaya, asking them to come if they couldand
within a minute, they were all represented. Etsuko was involved in a
meeting, so she sent only a passive image of herself to record the
chat: an alabaster statue dressed in formal kimono. Her flirtatious
eyes and the cant of her head as she looked down from a pedestal gave
an impression of sharp and regal attention.
Ryan and Jaya were able to interact in real time. Their images
lounged in the French patio chairs behind steaming cups of coffee.
Jaya had a half-smile on her face. Ryan looked uncertain. He and
Michael were very close, Cody knew, and questions of loyalty were
probably stirring in his mind.
She drew a deep breath. "Thank you for coming. Jaya, Michael told me
about your newest daughter. Congratulations."
"That was an adventure!" Jaya said. "I don't know what I would have
done without Michael. He's a wonderful man."
Cody felt herself stiffen. "He is a good man, but he made a mistake
this morning when he let Rajban return to her husband's family."
"The girl who's been staying with him?" Ryan asked. "But that's good,
"No," Michael said.
Cody turned, to find Michael's image standing a few steps to the side.
"Cody's right. I made a mistake. I didn't want to believe this was an
"I'm afraid for her," Cody said. "Michael, we need to find her as
soon as we can. I came here to ask the Terrace for help. I know I
have not been part of this group for many years, but I still trust
you all more than anyone, and you're already familiar with Rajban.
Will you help? I've rented two drone planes. I know you're busy, but
if you could rotate shifts every few minutes, the three of you might
be able to guide one plane, while I inhabit the other. We don't know
where she lives, but we know some things about her."
Michael said, "I'm opening up the Global Shear census data. That'll
speed things up. When we do find her, Muthaye and I will go after her
on the ground."