Tags: advertising, bamboo, banner in space, battered wife, climate change, CMF, combined military force, dictatorship, ETAT, genetic, global warming, grass, haiku, housing, Mylar, mysogyny, nanotechnology, ozonosphere, park, personal risk, poetry, Prozone, psychology, recycling trigger, remuneration, risk, sister, speculative fiction, spouse abuse
The next twelve months were the happiest of Otomo Komatsu’s life. His work in the public park was simple, apolitical and vigorous. He enjoyed spontaneous insights into the human condition and looked forward to holding court over his shattered family each evening.
He had removed all the flat’s interior doors. From his new chair in the lounge, he could monitor every corner of the dwelling.
Sei Komatsu had lost weight; her Poor Class clothing hung straight down, like washing on a chair. She’d found it impossible to make a home of the hovel. Forced to take her first job, she spent her days reconciling meaningless figures.
Each evening she silently prepared dinner, then took position in the lounge. For up to six hours she stared at a chip in the concrete floor while Otomo basted her with rhetoric.
Higuchi knew she’d found hell on earth. Her missing tooth and occasional bruises were constant reminders to keep her mouth shut at home. The effort for one so opinionated was enormous. Her grades had plummeted and she spent countless library hours catching up to classmates who considered her a freak for having accepted her demotion.
As if she’d had a choice. Now in society’s lowest echelon, her only chance of a bearable job was to improve her mind. Money and contacts didn’t count any more; selection was on merit alone. As the months ground past, she became tougher and more cunning, her hatred of Otomo growing ever more intense.
Mika’s bête noire was loss of privacy. When Higuchi wasn’t home, her father was. Otomo targeted rooms silently and at random. Even with her back to him, Mika could feel when he was watching — any attempt at composition ruined.
She graduated with marks substantially lower than previous years. This didn’t overly concern her, as many of her favourite poets had never finished school.
It was six weeks to her birthday. She yearned to be published and sought her father’s permission to research her future. Otomo saw no point in hindering her further; legally she was almost her own woman.
Mika’s shoes clicked across the marble atrium of the ETAT information centre. The receptionist received a rare smile for his directions. As Mika entered an elevator, a blurred figure pushed past her. She glanced crossly at the intruder and gasped.
‘Higuchi! What are you doing here? You should be at school. Papa will kill you if he finds out!’
Higuchi grinned grimly past her chewing gum. ‘Got it in one, sis. He is a violent bastard isn’t he?’
‘Well, I would never say such a thing.’
‘Of course not; it’s not your style. He hasn’t touched you for ages anyway. Wanna see his latest handiwork?’ She turned and carefully lifted her top.
Mika’s hand flew to her mouth as her eyes scanned back and forth in horror. ‘Oh! Oh! Oh, Higuchi!’
‘You should’ve been there; he put on quite a show.’
‘I told him about Ihara and me. Boy, did that get him going.’ Higuchi gingerly readjusted her top. ‘Don’t worry; everything’s about to change.’
Mika stared at the concealing garment, feeling nauseous. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘You don’t have to.’ Higuchi tapped a thick folder. ‘I just need you to agree with what’s in here. Thirty-six!’ The carriage flew skyward. Higuchi kept chewing. ‘You’ll see.’
‘But my appointment is on twenty-three.’
‘Not any more, sis. Just bear with me for a few minutes, OK?’
The thirty-sixth floor was eerily quiet. Higuchi guided Mika into a room and disappeared. A panel of strangers sat her down and questioned her closely about her home life. They already knew so much; she found herself confirming everything, apart from a few exaggerations.
All Mika could think of were her sister’s awful injuries. At length a document appeared. It seemed she could do nothing but place her hand on the screen, whereupon a radiant Higuchi reappeared, thanked her and sped back to school.
Mika stumbled home and collapsed onto her bed as the implications of what she’d agreed to sank in. Higuchi was moving out with her. In six weeks. Her dream of solitude destroyed, Mika wept steadily into her pillow until she fell asleep, missing her work shift for the first time.
Higuchi came home late and, from the safety of the threshold, broke the news to her father. True to form, Otomo shifted seamlessly from bewilderment to apoplexy and made to grab for his stick. Higuchi nimbly evaded him and fled yelling down the corridor. Otomo gave chase, bellowing like a madman.
Mika crept from her room and saw Sei, focused on the floor as if her husband were still there.
‘Mama, we mustn’t be here when Papa gets back!’ She tugged at Sei’s arm. ‘Come on! We’ll go down the back way!’
Sei seemed rooted to the couch. She stared woodenly at her wrist, as if an invisible force were clawing at it. From the stairwell came harsh male voices, a furious struggle and two distinct clicks. Higuchi’s trap snapped shut with the handcuffs of the Combined Military Force personnel she had earlier telephoned.
Otomo’s antics cemented Higuchi’s case against him and led to Mika qualifying for self-determination in advance of her birthday. The sisters moved out soon after with priority ETAT assistance.
Despite Mika’s passionate entreaties, Sei refused to leave. Upon his release, Otomo found her standing in the lounge room, clutching his stick, with an unearthly light in her eyes.
As the months passed and Sei gradually responded to her court-ordered treatment, Mika’s concern yielded to the intense pleasure of living in her own space. Though smaller, everything else about their new flat was better. The walls were sunflower yellow.
Contrary to what Mika had feared, Higuchi appeared genuinely grateful for sharing her freedom. Her impatience and antagonism vanished, supplanted by behaviours Mika had never thought she’d see in her fractious sibling.
Higuchi did more than her share of the cleaning, repaired all their clothes and even bought incense for the flat with her meagre student’s allowance.
Each night they ate together before Mika’s shift. Except for The Game, which Mika refused point-blank to watch, they enjoyed many of the same programs. On the eve of Mika’s monthly weekend, they drank cheap wine and talked late.
Higuchi seemed never to tire of hearing her sister speak about herself. Mika was reticent at first, but years of paternal neglect made the attention deeply flattering. The desire to voice her ambition proved irresistible. Higuchi’s interest surprised her. Yet it was borne out by the poetry books she borrowed and the content of their subsequent dinner discussions.
Eventually, Mika gained sufficient confidence to reveal some of her writing. Putting the pages into another’s hand, she felt she knew the pride and pain of relinquishing a child to its first school.
It was Thursday. Mika stood in her bedroom, gazing through clean air at a majestic city panorama. To the left stood the restaurant in which she now worked. Beyond it, Higuchi’s school. The ETAT consultant had indeed been kind in their relocation. At Mika’s command, the window slid open and a breeze toyed with her fringe.
She dropped to her futon and took up her pad, trying once again to produce her first haiku since moving in. For once the words flowed quickly and to her satisfaction.
I lie among clouds
So close to my golden dream
God’s breath stirs my hair.
Re-reading the lines, Mika forgave Higuchi for all her scheming. It was true; everything would be alright. In any case, Higuchi would be free to follow her own path in just over a year. It would be a shame not to make the best of their remaining time together. Feeling her familiar desire to be outside, Mika changed into running gear and headed to the park.
She loved the flowers, the spongy, uneven ground and the wind-stirred eucalypt leaves. She ran hard, picturing her blood coursing cleanly through young vessels and knew she could look forward to ninety more years of life.
In orbit above her, a square kilometre of Mylar glittered with a Game logo. Mika’s striding became automatic and she frowned. Why would anyone risk death for material gain, when life in the sunlight was so precious? A bigger home, more money, a loftier career? Since none of these held any value for her, she could not answer her question.
A butterfly swept over her shoulder and Mika switched to planning a special dinner for Higuchi. Beneath her pounding feet, engineered grass clove at a uniform height — blades decomposing rapidly in the afternoon sunshine. The wind would complete the mowing once it exceeded twelve knots. After only a few gusts, the entire park would be immaculate.
Higuchi clattered the plates away. ‘That was great, sis. How long’d it take?’
Mika zipped her work tunic. ‘Not long. I’ll show you how next time.’
‘No you won’t; you know I’m hopeless in the kitchen.’
Comb between her teeth, Mika pulled her hair into a ponytail.
Higuchi crossed the room. ‘Let me fix that for you.’
‘Bit rough, aren’t you?’
‘Didn’t think so; you’re such a waif. Hey, check it out! I’m taller than you!’
‘Nooo, that can’t be true; not already. Let me see.’
Higuchi seized Mika’s shoulder. ‘Hang on, I’m almost finished. There.’
Mika turned. Her eyes seemed level with her sister’s smaller, closer-set pair. ‘You’ve certainly grown, but you’re not taller yet. Your spiky hair gives the illusion of height.’
‘Bullshit! Come to the wall. Here, stand up straight.’
‘Higuchi, I don’t have time for this; I’ve got to go.’
‘It won’t take a second.’ Higuchi’s voice became muffled. Jars and tins crashed together. ‘Hah! This’ll do the trick.’
Mika fidgeted. ‘Look at the time! I’ll be late!’
‘Let ‘em wait.’ Higuchi put a box of breadcrumbs against the wall, then slid it down to Mika’s head. ‘Are you up straight? Come on girl, stand up!’
‘OK, OK, I’m up.’
Higuchi’s tongue moved like a slug as she tried to mark the wall with her thumbnail. The plastic would not yield and her nail abruptly flipped back on itself.
The box hit the ceiling and Higuchi hopped swearing across the room. Mika snatched her bag and made for the door.
‘Come back here, little sister; I’ll prove I’m taller.’
Mika winked from the corridor. ‘Seeing it’s so important to you, I’m happy to admit, without any proof whatsoever, that you’re taller. Anyway, if you’re not now, you soon will be, right?’
The throbbing in Higuchi’s thumb dissipated and she surveyed the crumbs. ‘Yeah, OK sis. See you tomorrow.’
For a long time Higuchi glared at the smear her thumb had made. Then she wrenched her hair into a stunted ponytail of her own. Screwing her face into grotesque parody of Mika’s, she minced around the room winking furiously and murdering her sister’s voice.
‘If you’re not now, you soon will be, right?
Suddenly she stooped down, whipped the knife from her boot and slammed it into the wall hissing, ‘I’m stronger, smarter and taller than you, you bloody goody-two-shoes!’
Higuchi bashed the breadcrumb box back into shape and stood under it, noting with satisfaction that it rested three millimetres above the slit she had made. Then she began sweeping up the breadcrumbs, humming tunelessly.
Though Mika preferred to walk, she was grateful this night for the swift, clean train that deposited her metres from her workplace. Before she reached the surface, three more trains passed through the station.
Her dish racks filled rapidly. The restaurant offered value and quality and had become popular with Comfortable Class citizens. Two years remained before The New Deal’s cut-off date. Yet most patrons were firmly, if not officially, entrenched in their strata.
Classification deferments had been fairly easy to obtain, though recipients had found it hard to increase their net worth significantly in the space of a few years. Most gave up after several months of saving, studying or trying for better jobs.
On abandoning their attempt, they next became anxious to preserve what they did have. Changing tack completely, they applied for classification ahead of deadline, relaxing in the guarantee they would never go backwards. Eating out was proof that caste entrenchment didn’t preclude a happy and varied life.
A few diners were ‘fence sitters’. Reluctant to improve their lot but afraid to be stuck with it, they secured deferments and waited for a better offer, despite categorical ETAT declarations that The New Deal was non-negotiable.
The consultants humoured them. Better to claim dissenters later than to aggrieve them during the delicate introduction of a new order. As deferments expired, sitters were processed along with the rest, all effort spent seeking a better deal wasted. Classified, they derived comfort from the fact that for once, all society was in the same boat.
Classified or not, Poor patrons were obvious by their demeanour — their motivations for dining out being the most original thing about them.
A young couple bitterly consumed the last of their disposable income on the eve of their classification. A middle-aged businessman, trapped at the lowest ebb of his fortune, mourned the demise of his biggest deal. Bereft of family, an old woman gazed at every face, fortifying herself against weeks without entertainment.
None could afford to be there. Soon they would be limited to venues reserved for their stratum.
Harder to spot were Rich Class diners, since many had prospered through hard work and thrift. Even with income assured, their frugal habits hadn’t changed and many wore lower class clothing.
The strongest class distinctions had always existed in the minds of the system’s participants. The New Deal was simply a codification of ‘the way things were’.
Mika worked hard, washing, cleaning and preparing for the morning shift. At dawn she had fourteen hours to do as she pleased within the confines of her echelon. This was her wealth.
She strolled homeward into the mist from the park’s ornamental lake, where curious ducks received restaurant scraps. Mika delighted in this event, which was becoming a ritual. The park was unfolding for her. Each day revealed a new experience, depending which way she walked.
She crossed a wisteria-entwined footbridge and followed a path to a dense bamboo grove. The thick stems towered above her. Mika twisted and slithered through the bars of the natural prison. Perspiring, she eventually broke through to a clearing in the heart of the grove. The accuracy of her instincts astounded her.
The silence was complete, save for the sighing of topmost leaves. Mika watched them flutter, like syllables eager for words. Her mind reached up to dandle and dance and her pirouette spun everything till she was giddy with delight. Here was a sanctuary of the highest order; a sacred chamber. A place to be alone.
Pale light filtered from the morning sun. Dropping to her haunches, Mika studied the soil. The clearing appeared natural, perhaps the result of lightning, and bore a fine mantle of grass. She reasoned that at noon it would become a marvellous suntrap.
Shivering, she hugged herself and resolved to return with her writing. She picked her way out and trotted home, buoyant with the wonder of nature.
The table was set for breakfast. Mika took an orange and stood at the bathroom door.
‘I’m home! Sorry I’m late.’
Teeth gritted, Higuchi steadied herself in the shower. ‘That’s OK. Have your breakfast and leave the dishes. I’ll clean ‘em tonight.’
‘And Mika,’ Higuchi craned her head out of the shower.
‘Sorry about last night; I got a bit carried away.’
‘It was nothing; you were just being silly again.’
Higuchi laughed shallowly. ‘Yeah, I know. Crazy wasn’t it?’
Higuchi winced, then towelled her stocky body and dressed for school. Without looking at Mika she called, ‘See you tonight, sis; have a good sleep.’
Mika smiled. ‘Thanks. Good luck at school.’
The door slammed. Mika entered the steamy bathroom, took a dental capsule and washed her face. Soon she lay snug in bed. Her PC countered all noise entering the flat with inverted waves and she fell asleep to the sound of wind through pine trees.
When Mika returned at noon, the clearing had been transformed. Sunlight drove into the space, forming a crust of powder on the dark earth. The wind had dropped and the beams seemed to sound quiet tones of their own.
Delighted, Mika stripped to singlet and briefs, spread a towel and lay on her back. Her chromatic lenses darkened as she looked up at the brilliant circle of sky. Images of her evening slid and tumbled in her head, gradually yielding to calm. At length her thoughts became leisurely and quiet, like eels in a weir.
She remembered her mother’s stories about Prozone; how it had healed the ozonosphere of its industrial scars, then modified it for the better. People had rejoiced as the ice caps began their recovery and weather patterns became more familiar. The filtered rays hitting the earth were now harmless to tissue but devastating to anything with its recycling trigger tripped.
Yes, occasionally humanity did get it right.
Mika revelled in her discovery of the grove and relaxed utterly. Eventually she rolled onto her stomach and worked on a poem, finishing as shadows crept onto her paper. The clearing felt like an empty theatre. Mika gathered her belongings reverently and left the space in peace.
Read Chapter 13.
Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.
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- The Game – Chapter 23
- The Game – Chapter 22
- The Game – Chapter 21
- The Game – Chapter 20
- The Game – Chapter 19
- The Game – Chapter 18
- The Game – Chapter 17
- The Game – Chapter 16
- The Game – Chapter 15
- The Game – Chapter 14
- The Game – Chapter 13
- The Game – Chapter 12
- The Game – Chapter 11
- The Game – Chapter 10
- The Game – Chapter 09A
- The Game – Chapter 09
- The Game – Chapter 08
- The Game – Chapter 07
- The Game – Chapter 06
- The Game – Chapter 05
- The Game – Chapter 04
- The Game – Chapter 03
- The Game – Chapter 02
- The Game – Chapter 01
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