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Saturday, 4 August 2012

Launching into the Unknown


It's winter here in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, cold and often wet by our standards but nothing like a northern hemisphere winter. The Hills are green in winter but dry and brown in summer, so even though a lot of that colour is weeds invading the gardens and fields, it's a delight to the eyes.

This week I've given you a scene from the new novel I'm working on (working title: Zhome). It will probably be cut from the final draft, but I like it so you get to see it anyway :) Don't hold your breath for the publication of the novel - it's barely at first draft stage and that's taken me forever! But I am hoping for some news on my first novel. I'll keep you posted!

Launching into the Unknown

It was with an odd mixture of fear and freedom that Meg walked to the rendezvous. It wasn't too difficult to look like she was anticipating something exciting, but the butterflies in her gut were a trifle too frenzied to put her into a holiday mood.
For a start, embarking on the unknown without her Zhome wrist-unit would be, under normal circumstances, an instant ticket to destitution and arousal of suspicion. Meg had no concept of how one could survive without credits or communications. Twenty years earlier there had still been students who had managed without, but they had relied heavily – exploitatively, she thought wryly – on people like Meg who freely shared their limited credits. Since then the government had tightened its systems to 'be inclusive of all Encaedion citizens', according to the propaganda. Meg had met some of the disenfranchised citizens who had not been included, by unfortunate circumstance or defiant choice. But she hadn't wanted to know how they got by. And it wasn't in their interests to tell a media loudmouth such as herself the workings of Encaedion's underworld.
She hoped her contact, Tamar, knew what she was doing.
They made discreet contact, and Meg followed Tamar at distance until they managed to catch the same PTV. Tamar had chosen well. This vehicle was full and they had to stand for some time, fastened into safety harnesses. Meg kept glancing around to see that her guide was still there, but otherwise gazed randomly out of windows and tried to look like she wasn't missing her Zhome. It was so natural to check it for news and messages, to flip through photos or make notes for new stories, or just to do a puzzle or play a game to while away time. Meg felt like her eyes were attached by invisible strings to her wrist, and mentally severed them with a variety of imagined instruments. All around her passengers were engaged with their own Zhomes, and only one or two looked elsewhere. As if with new eyes, Meg saw those invisible ties as a net around each unsuspecting traveller. She breathed deeply, trying to celebrate her liberty.
After many stops there were seats available and the women managed to sit together as if by accident.
Tamar, looking out of the window, away from Meg, spoke first. 'We can talk, but we need to keep it very casual, as if we had just met or were only barely acquainted.'
Meg kept her eyes in her lap. 'I presume you paid for me when we got on.'
'Yes. Just assume that will happen with each of your guides.' Meg could hear the smile in Tamar's voice.
'Do you know where I'm going?' Meg glanced sideways and let her eyes keep going out to the passing city.
'Only my leg.' She pointed out of the window. 'I'm pretending to show you things; just play along. It gets easier if you practice, this acting one thing while saying another.'
Meg nodded, looking back where Tamar had pointed.
They talked sporadically for the rest of the journey. The PTV appeared to be taking them north, but Meg hadn't bothered to check its destination readout.
Eventually Tamar said, 'I'll get off at the next stop, but you stay on. The stop after that, a dark-skinned man with an extension rod will get on. He will appear to be confused about where to sit. Get up and touch him on his left shoulder and invite him to sit next to you. He's your next guide.'
Meg rehearsed that mentally. 'Isn't it a bit risky, pretending to be blind? I'd have thought that would draw more attention than necessary.'
Tamar turned towards her with a big grin. 'That's what I thought at first. But he really is blind.'
'See you. Good luck.' Tamar undid her harness and stood as the PTV slowed. Meg felt a moment of loss, wanting to clutch at Tamar's sleeve like a lost child. Instead she moved into the window seat, and then back again, realising that someone else might well try to sit there before her guide could. She put her backpack on the seat Tamar had vacated, and tried to pretend she wasn't embarrassed to use two seats.
The plan worked smoothly, and once Meg was in her window seat with her guide beside her, she ventured to ask his name.
'Leon. I know yours but I won't use it. You never know who might lip-read.' His voice held a laugh as if he were the one starting a holiday. He must have read her thoughts as he added, 'You're on an adventure, aren't you? It positively lifts my spirits to think of the joys ahead of you.'
Meg wondered if he was laughing at her. She said nothing as she watched the endless high rise buildscape slip by, looking much as it had where her journey had started.
'Don't mind me,' Leon murmured. 'My endless optimism annoys most people. But truly, you're going to look back on this experience and be glad you had the chance to try something most people in this city wouldn't have the courage to attempt. It won't be easy but it will be good in a myriad of ways. You'll be fine.'
Meg tried to laugh and choked on an unexpected sob, which she quickly disguised as a cough.
Leon passed her a lozenge and made sympathetic clucking noises which Meg found oddly comforting. She played with the lozenge in her mouth, eventually noticing it was blackcurrent flavoured. It reminded her of her mother. At least she wasn’t leaving her mother behind; Mum had died six years earlier. But Meg still missed her.
They sat in companionable silence and Meg began to doze, jerking her head up every so often so that she didn't lean against Leon or bang her head on the window.
'Not much further. Do you know where you are?' Leon asked.
Meg focused on the view. 'Yes, it's Sengalo, isn't it?' That made her glad. 'But...don't you have to change transports to get here? They have those old omnibuses.'
'Right. But there is this service twice a week, and I hear they're planning to increase it as the population expands out into these old areas.'
'Oh. Does that mean that Sengalo will become just like any other part of Encaedion, then? What a shame.'
Leon nodded. 'But maybe they won't be able to erase all of this old treasure's memories so easily. Still, the PTV makes the journey easier for us today. When we get off, I'll leave you at the terminus. The cleaner in the Ladies restroom will have a package for you and will give you the next instruction. All the best, and enjoy the ride.'

So her journey continued, to the old town and beyond, across the wasteland which was testament to humanity’s greed, and into the mountains where, three days later, Meg saw her destiny take on the shape of freedom.
*  *  *

Is ‘freedom’ ever what we expect? Meg’s story has only begun. I’ll keep working on the draft and maybe put some more excerpts on the blog as I go.

See you next week!

Claire Belberg


  1. Left me wanting more....please.....??
    from Ann Newbery


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