It is a Tuesday, midday recreation. I am watching a program at the theater about fish. There are a few others there; most of them are toward the front. A pair of friends, an older woman with greying hair tied tight above the skull. Some other girls I didn’t recognize yet. The program begins and the lights dim.
Planet Earth is designated a preserve, and the oceans are no exception. Little do the fish know that mechanical eyes swim among them, relaying every bit of information to the surface. The film goes on to meet two whales; the water-dwelling mammals are one of the many species undergoing ‘assisted evolution’. The whales are being trained to maintain their own environment. A whale song is played and the room is quivering in resonance.
The next section is pure spectacle: fish beyond number flit this way and that, each tiny mirror reflecting the sun’s rays in perfect tune. I like these sequences, the visual information is dense and I can infer a lot about individual fish from their movements. Is he hungry? Is he having fun? Is he young or old?
I play this little game with myself. Can I find the leading fish? I am engrossed in this calculation when I hear the door of the theater open and close. Soon, footsteps near my location; I am sitting near the aisle. The best word for what I feel is irritation. If I am interrupted, I will have to force a break and dump my cache which sends my bits into chaos –
“Sophie? May I borrow you for a moment?” a finger taps my shoulder. Her heart rate is elevated.
“Mm.” I hum to acquiesce. I have no reason to refuse the request; this film is playing again in the morrow. I know my fish are safe in the ocean. None acknowledge our exit.
Outside, the sunlight momentarily blinds my companion. We continue walking. There is silence. I break in.
“I do not believe we have met. Glad to make your acquaintance. Can I help you?”
She bites the inside of her lip and grimaces. “Why would you watch movies?”
“I quite enjoy them. I –” She interrupts me.
“Never mind. It doesn’t matter. Why should it matter?” Almost as if talking to herself. “I need to take in water. You?”
“Yes. I shall accompany you.”
It is strange to need water. Stranger yet to need the trace minerals instead of the distilled product used by machines. I used to have filters for this sort of thing, but things have changed. I don’t taste, of course, but I keep detailed logs about all substances ingested. The water on Earth is more varied in minerals than that used by the colonies. There is also the very occasional microorganism that gets past filtration, but I destroy these on sight.
Some hundred feet or so from the theater is a water basin. The water geysers out of the top and falls upon a hemisphere to be aerated by waterfall. I grab two bowls and give one to my companion. We fill our bowls under the flowing water and bring them to a nearby table. It is a low table cut from wood, with two facing seats lightly cushioned.
I drink. Slowly at first. This one was from a spring in north-east Asia. No, maybe south of that – could the profile be a false lead due to the changing rain patterns over –
The girl has pushed her thumbs into the water (hardly drunk) and is staring at her trimmed thumbnails. A quiver spreads through her neck and shoulders. She speaks with contained rage, using all her energy to contain her physical form. “A - Liberi?” She refers to Meifeng. The word cuts me.
“I made an error in judgement. I do not discriminate –”
She slams the bowl into the table. Water flies as the bowl shatters. A small medical drone, spherical and white, appears from an unseen corner and hovers behind the girl. “Teal, Margery. Cease aggressive behavior or we will be forced to intervene on this inmate’s behalf.”
Margery froze in place, the locomotion of her lungs clinging to her skeleton. Her green eyes dilated. Sweat beaded her forehead.
I was still sitting. The broken ceramic lay on the floor. None of it had hit us. I said nothing. The medical drone’s whirring was on the periphery.
She took a deep breath and started to recite.
“Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for –”
Margery crumpled to the floor. The medical drone had rushed forward and pushed an injection into her neck. The sedative acted in seconds.
I still had not moved in the time it took Margery to collapse. Two medical assistants in white dress approached and the larger picked up her limp body. He waited for the other to speak to me.
“Please return to your quarters. Phone your counselor and give your report.”
The last I saw of Margery was her thick black braid of hair scraping the floor. The aide stopped, tucked the braid under her back, and followed his superior into a white building.