Read Stray Online

Authors: Andrea K. Höst

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Teen & Young Adult

Stray (7 page)

BOOK: Stray
13.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The mind's eye

Den = second

Joden = minute

Kasse = hour

Kaorone = 'living day'

Kao = day (single day/night cycle)

So my name is a bit like a reference to time here.  That's better than the Earth meaning by far.  Cassandra means 'she who entangles men', which has got to be the suckiest name meaning ever, and that's not even getting into the whole cursed by Apollo and then everyone thinks you're mad and you know everything's going to end up a mess and can't do anything about it part.  I've never understood why Mum picked it, since she's usually more sensible about names.  I can think of ten million names I'd rather have than one which stands for tragic futility and madness.

That's – it sounds circular saying it, but it drives me nuts, thinking that I'm really nuts.  I mean, walking through cracks in the world to different planets and having computers installed in your head?  The giggling in a straightjacket possibility seems so much more likely.

And I'm not.  I'd know, somewhere deep down, I'd know if this was all imagination.  Delusion.  I'd never have made up being so sick, for a start, or those blisters.  I'm not imagining any of this.  I'm not. 


Must sleep more and practice interface less.  Then I wouldn't get so worked up over stupidities.

Tuesday, December 25

From here to you

Merry Christmas Mum.  Merry Christmas Dad.  Merry Christmas Jules.  If there was some way I could make you feel better right now, I would. 

Wednesday, December 26

Moving on

I've been released from the Institute!  I'm on 'parole' with Sa Lents, after a final medical exam where they decided they don't need to keep me under close observation any longer.

One thing the doctor told me just before she sent me off really brought home what kind of society I've found myself in.  I currently have the barest access rights to the systems around me, but the government here has access rights to me.  My interface isn't just one way, and I'm not in control of it.  It's a school, entertainment, a health monitor and an alarm.  It will send a distress signal if I'm sick or hurt, and it can stimulate my brain in a way which regulates hormones.  I've automatically been 'regulated' for birth control.  Rules about having babies are really strict here, and you have to be given permission to conceive, for each and every baby you want.  You have to pass some kind of parental worthiness test and everything.

Having someone else put me on birth control without my permission is just...I feel really strange about it, especially considering the uncomfortable conversation I had with Mum about babies at the beginning of the year, when I went out with Sean J.  Sean and I have been friends a few years, and we were trying to see if we could be more, but it was totally a bad idea.  We were careful enough, the couple of times we did it before the sheer awkwardness brought us to our senses, but if I'd wanted a baby, I could have walked down that path.  I don't get that choice here.  I'd have to fill out a form first, and hope someone stamped it APPROVED.

Sa Lents is taking me to his family's home on a place called Unara, which involves a long journey by plane (or tanz, as these spaceshippy flying machines are called – they don't look at all like our planes).  It'll take a few hours, but my interface practice comes with me everywhere.  I've a whole world of work installed in my head, and it's powered by my own body, so won't run low on batteries – unless I do.

I'm growing increasingly confident using the interface, now that I properly know a few basic words.  The concepts aren't very different from email or web browsers, just without a mouse or keyboard.  I haven't qualified for some of it yet, but have just stopped to write after sitting through the introductory lessons for how to record everything I see and hear, and keep a personal library.  Every person on this planet is a CCTV system.  I'm definitely going to have to remember that when I talk to anyone, or am in sight or earshot of anyone.  I keep telling myself it's not that different to everyone having a mobile phone and access to You Tube, but it's hard not to be a little creeped out.

Talking to people remains a huge challenge.  I'm more or less okay listening, at least to get the general gist, but it's going to be a mid-sized forever before I can talk anything like normally.  I don't
any of the words.  It's not like a proper dictionary.  I can't look up cat and find 'nyar'.  Instead, I think cat and my head produces an oozy possibility of words and, increasingly, a lot of handy labelled pictures.  But it can be hard to tell if it's meant to be a picture of an animal or a predator or hunter or kitten – and abstract concepts are far more difficult.  My head fills with pictures and feelings when people talk and an odd kind of certainty of knowing what they said without understanding how I know.  The idea comes without necessarily an exact translation.  I'm trying to figure out how to annotate my head with words I'm certain of.

Anyway, I'm pretty excited just to get out of that military facility.

Thursday, December 27


Until today, I'd hardly seen any people.  Those couple of blacksuits back on Muina, and a few greensuits and greysuits and the guy who brought my meals.  The only people who have spoken to me were Sa Lents and Ista Tremmar.  At the KOTIS facility all I really saw were three rooms and a few corridors.  And, biggest change of all, my interface was at the most minimal level possible.

During the flight – which was a military flight and not open to the public – Sa Lents taught me the different access options of my interface.  This is a bit like choosing to have subtitles when watching a DVD, but so much more.  I had to laugh when I turned on the 'Public information: people' option, and you could see people's names floating above their heads.  World of Warcraft without the shoulder pads.  You can't hide your name, apparently, any more than you can absolutely shut the government out of your head.

There are tons of different display options or filters.  'Open' is full of things everyone can see, and is broken down into different levels – emergency and directional and décor and advertisement and entertainment and so on.  Then there's 'closed' or 'tight', which is things only you or a particular group can see.  Having made sure I knew how to filter all these display levels on and off, Sa Lents had me turn all but directional and décor off before we reached Unara.  This was a good move.

Tare is fantastically crowded.  I hadn't realised the extent while I was locked away, but they're seriously packed in.  From Sa Lents' description – and the world map he showed me how to display – there are a lot of small islands, but only two decent land-masses, and even those are more Tasmania-sized than Australia-sized.  Unara is on an island called Wehana, which is almost all city.  Not suburbs, not even sky-scrapers, but this deep below the ground and high above the surface endless blocky whitestone
– the same as the Institute, but monumentally larger, like a beehive of people.  External windows like the one I had are really rare and not even very popular because people feel exposed and unsafe.  I couldn't tell if Sa Lents meant that windows really did make you less safe, or if it was some kind of agoraphobia.

So anyway, we flew through very bad weather over a lot of dark, uninviting water until we reached Carche Landing, which is a main 'airport' of Unara, and Unara pretty much tops what you'd get if you compacted Earth's biggest cities into a ball.  People
, going every direction, and even the two display filters I had on were just Too Much.  The Unaran idea of décor involves holograms of fishes and clouds and winding patterns shifting all over the place and way too much colour and movement.  I shut it off.

Sa Lents didn't seem to mind too much – or probably wasn't very surprised – at the way I clutched at his arm.  Thinking back it was really just a humungous shopping centre, but airier and with tons of plants (vegetables mainly) growing everywhere, and reminded me vaguely of the Jetsons cartoon with glass tubes with long train things shooting through them.  But the constant movement, the absolute mass of people and the height of the central atrium of Carche Landing had me the most freaked out I've been in ages.  And the noise.  The hive was buzzing.

We boarded one of the glass-tube trains, which thankfully blocked out most of the noise so I could get my head back and look around just at the people inside of the train.  I hadn't realised that not everyone here is Asian (or looks Asian, whatever: with black hair and golden skin and 'Asian eyes' I'm calling them Asian).  Maybe one in ten Tarens don't look particularly Asian.  I haven't seen anyone really black-skinned or any bleached Nordic types, but there's all shades in between and I'm not the only pinkish, brown-haired girl, so I at least don't stick out completely.

Unless we're less genetically similar than I've been told, the dye bottle is popular, especially colours like lime green.  Clothes are almost normal, though formal wear for men seems to involve long coats or robes.  I was beginning to think everyone on the planet wore tight-tailored uniforms, but that was just the military, of course.  Nenna – Sa Lents' younger daughter – dresses like she's out of a music video, but I think I'll save trying to describe Nenna till later.  I'm supposed to have gone to bed. 

Saturday, December 29

The teens here are your forties

Sa Lents' daughter Nenna is the Energiser Bunny of talk.  Or just the Energiser Bunny generally, since she's always moving about, dancing in place, dashing back and forth.  I like her, but I'm glad I'm not sharing a room with her.

The Lents have a three-bedroom apartment in an area called Kessine.  They've been very nice to me so far, though Sa Lents has been off working at some kind of university and his wife, Ketta, is what I think equates to stock market broker, and spends almost all her time in her home office gazing into nothing I can see.  Sa Lents handed me over to Nenna for a couple of days so that she could help me adjust before we started in on our interviews again.  He knows how much harder it is for me to talk than listen, and Nenna's really good at explaining everything we do or see, and asking yes and no questions, and bringing some fun to my infant status.  And I guess it's not really worth his time interviewing me until I can string a sentence together.

Nenna finds it all very exciting having a stray to look after, and devoted herself  to showing me how to change the wall decorations and access the way-too-much entertainment and telling me all the things she thinks worth watching and listening to and getting me to try on her clothes.  What was that song?  "We'd Make Great Pets".  I do feel a little like a new pet, but really Nenna's just a normal kid and doesn't mean anything by it.

One thing I found out right away is that Nenna's absolutely obsessed with the blacksuits.  The Setari.  The word means something like 'experts' or 'specialists', and after two movies, all the poster-hologram-things in Nenna's room space, and Nenna going on about them constantly, I've figured out they're some kind of psychic soldier.  She was really disappointed that I only saw two of them for a couple of minutes.

The movies are highly useful, though I can't tell if they're supposed to be realistic or over-the-top.  One was so 3-D I had to look behind me to catch everything going on, but otherwise they're pretty similar to what you'd get out of Hollywood, which I guess means that culturally it's not that different here, for all that most of what's going on plotwise goes over my head.  But watching them really helps with my language mountain: I'm picking up the things people say most commonly, and the way people greet each other.  Mixing movies and television in with my interface lessons will make this easier, and more interesting.

Nenna's at school at the moment.  Despite all the lessons you can have over the interface, there's still mandatory school attendance for sport and practical science classes and other group sessions.  Since the city's not open to the real sun, there's three shifts each day instead of a formal night and day.  Nenna goes to Shift Three school, and attends four out of six days, which gives me a useful break.  Nice as it is to have someone who wants to talk to me, it's also good to have some quiet to think.

I'm not allowed to go out of the apartment yet, but Sa Lents says that when I'm a little more adjusted, Nenna can take me on a tour. 

Monday, December 31

This world is not my world

For every thing I find which is similar to Earth, there's as many which are different.

Tare's not a democracy, for a start, or a monarchy.  From what I could tell from my session with Sa Lents, it's some kind of quasi-meritocracy.  To be put in charge of anything you have to pass exams on related knowledge and practical competence.  It sounds like you have to pass exams to get to do pretty much anything; it's all about demonstrating capacity.  The top non-military government jobs are Lahanti (city leaders like mayor, except that they're mayors of cities of tens of millions) and any resident can apply to be a Lahanti.  They have to pass all these tests and then a council chooses from the top scorers.  I asked Sa Lents if people could cheat, or buy better results, or at least bribe the council if they got top scores and he squirmed around the answer a bit and said that such things were very difficult but that no system was perfect.

I'd already thought about the question of cheating and whether having a computer in your head means that there's no crime, but it's not quite so absolute as I thought.  Citizens aren't actively monitored, but breaking into someone's house, for instance, when you don't have permission to be there, will trigger alerts.  If you attack someone, they can immediately let emergency services observe what they're seeing.  If you're knocked out, your interface will send an alert for help.  One of the movies Nenna and I watched showed bad guys using programs which changed who the system thought they were, and gave permissions they weren't supposed to have.  Probably as likely as any of the hacker excesses of Hollywood but still based on the possible.  Tare  comes across as hard-working, orderly, and obedient, but not any kind of ideal society.  I'm not going to forget the forced birth control any time soon.  And they have monster attacks, of course.  All the movies Nenna wants me to watch either involve cute boys or monster attacks or both – so not too different from what I watch at home, hah.

BOOK: Stray
13.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Winter Serpent by Davis, Maggie;
Game-Day Jitters by Rich Wallace
The Liar's Chair by Rebecca Whitney
Starship Spring by Eric Brown
The Pea Soup Poisonings by Nancy Means Wright
Sleepwalker by Wendy Corsi Staub