This just did not happen. Not in the thirty-fifth century. There was no need for it. It was barbaric.
No matter how she tugged, the tunic would not close at the back. She couldn’t bear anything touching her breasts. She couldn’t even bear touching them herself. And this horrid feeling every morning, and sometimes at other times of the day. This feeling of fullness, of something wanting to get out, then her throat filling with the foul-tasting liquid, which forced itself out of her mouth.
Gross! She thought as she looked at the contents of the lavatory pan.
It wasn’t supposed to happen anymore, either. But the diastic monitor had not been able to adjust the water supply this time. The alarm bell rang – the first one to ring for over two hundred years.
Marijam shuddered as she remembered. She was alone then and managed to disconnect the machine before it relayed its information to central control. She started to do her own research.
It was called vomiting. It used to happen when there was something wrong with the digestive system. Nobody had things wrong with their digestive systems any more.
She’d found out just the day before. Vomiting also used to happen often in the first stages of pregnancy in the old days when babies were gestated in a human womb, not in artificial incubators as they were now.
Surely she had received the Stopes treatment as a child? She rechecked her medical record. Certainly, it was there. And surely Gabrizan had done the same?
So how had this happened? She must talk to him. Last night was the first time she hadn’t seen him since that first time at the Waterfall when he had kissed the back of her neck, sending ripples of excitement through her …
Gabrizan had had his interview yesterday for the Northern Lights Project. He had had to stay overnight at the Nuffield Centre.
Would she hear something soon?
On cue, the dataserve kicked in. There was an important message for her. She held her breath.
Her father’s picture came on to the screen. He had his official face on. It was probably being broadcast to everyone, then, and not a personal message.
Marijam didn’t know whether she liked him most when he was just being Dad or when he sat there as now, looking wise and dignified and seeming a whole ten centimetres taller.
‘Well Miss Kennedy,’ her father’s official voice spoke. ‘Good news. You are invited for interview to join the Northern Lights Project as a research student. On successful completion of your Part 1, you would be able to proceed to becoming a full research fellow.’ Frazier Kennedy then grinned. ‘Well done, sweetie,’ he beamed.
He really looked happy. For a few seconds Marijam felt pleased as well. Then that uncontrollable wave of nausea came again. She ran towards the bathroom.
Just in time, she managed to bend her head over the toilet. The vile orange fluid came up again.
This is really gross. But really, thought Marijam. This can’t be happening. Why hasn’t the Stopes programme worked?
She must find Gabrizan. Perhaps he would know how this had happened. Was it something to do with him?
Pull yourself together, lady, she said to herself as she made her way back to her room. You’ve got some important business to sort out here.
The dataserve whirred.
‘Downloading joining instructions for the Northern Lights Project interview,’ said the tinny metallic voice.
‘Relate,’ said Marijam.
‘Your interview will take place on Level 6, Lab 10 at the Nuffield Centre,’ she read. ‘Please report 15.30, Day 79, 3500. A transporter pod will be sent to collect you at 14.00. Please bring overnight bag. Interview procedures take 24 hours.’
Lab 10! That was where Gabrizan had had to go yesterday. Perhaps he would be going back there? Perhaps they would be able to work together. If she was allowed to work at all, of course, now.
What was she going to do? Was she some sort of freak that the Stopes programme wouldn’t work on? Or Gabrizan? Should she tell her parents?
She couldn’t. How could she tell that their daughter was a misfit, a quirk of nature?
At least Gabrizan was due back this evening. How she was going to tell him she couldn’t begin to think. But it would be good to see him.
She didn’t look too bad in the blue velvet tunic. It was the best colour for the moment. The only one that didn’t make her look even greener. But it still wasn’t a pretty sight that greeted her in the mirror. Her hair seemed to have lost most of its shine. There were dark circles around her eyes. She had not been able to sleep well for the last two nights. Her face was white.
What will he think? she asked herself.
Marijam felt dizzy as she made her way up the rungs in the tube. She was used to the fresh air now, but feeling so ill and worried seemed to make her unsteady. Even so, it was still a thrill to breathe the natural atmosphere and taste the delicious green smell. It would be good to see him. Even if she did have to give him this unbelievable news.
She arrived early. That gave her time to sit and think about what she should say to Gabrizan when he arrived.
The sound of the Waterfall was soothing somehow. She was so looking forward to seeing him, despite everything. Everything seemed so much more alive up on the surface. The running water moved on its own. The water channels in the caves were driven by motors. It smelt so different, too. She dangled her hand into the pool that formed at the bottom of the fall. It felt silkier than her finest tunic. The soft breeze, moved one of the ferns so it looked as if it was waving to her. Shoots of green which were coming up through the now much browner earth. And it was just eight weeks since the poison cloud had lifted. What was it going to be like when the others came up to the surface in two days’ time? She was going to have to pretend she was surprised too.
It began to get dark. Marijam shivered. Where was Gabrizan? It wasn’t like him to be late. She was beginning to get cold. It hadn’t been this cold before up on the surface. The sun was going down rapidly now. Some clouds were forming on the horizon - the first ordinary rain clouds since the poison cloud had disappeared.
Marijam decided to walk a little way up the path which led from the base of the waterfall to the cliff above. It must have been a natural path, because it was still easy enough to walk along, even though no-one had been along it for over 1200 years - apart from when she and Gabrizan had been up there a few days ago. She just loved the view from up there. She could stare for hours at the pink and grey rock which was getting a lace-like coating of green.
By the time she reached the top, though, the sun had gone all together. The clouds were so thin and scanty it was still possible to see the night sky. But she couldn’t see land like she had the other time.
Marijam sat and stared at the stars. They were so clear and bright compared with how they had looked from behind the plastiglass and further dulled by the poison cloud. Time never seemed to matter to her and Gabrizan when they were out there.
Only it wasn’t ‘they’ tonight. It was just ‘she’ now. Marijam shivered again. She pressed the controls on her wristband. 20.30 already. He had never been this late. In fact, he had never been late. Now it was more than an hour after the time he’d said he would come. Why didn’t he use the mini compu? Was he so far away that he was out of range? Perhaps being outside made a difference.
Marijam wasn’t so sure she liked it out here so much now that she was on her own. It was getting colder and colder. She touched the button of her compu.
‘Gabrizan Taylor 0051,’ she said, after the tinny voice had asked whom she wanted to contact.
‘Unavailable,’ squeaked the robotic voice. Not out of range. Nor occupied. Just not available. His interview was taking longer than they had expected. Oh she hoped he would get on the Northern Lights Project. And that she would, too. It would be great to work together.
Except there was just this one little problem. Well, no it was actually quite big really. Another wave of nausea passed through Marijam. She knew that this time it was not to do with that strange biological change that had taken place in her body. Not directly, anyway. It was because she didn’t think she could face the other changes which were about to happen.
She shivered again. Well, it was obvious she wasn’t going to see Gabrizan tonight. He just must have got held up at his interview. It was almost a relief not to have to give out this dreadful news tonight. Even though she missed seeing him.
Marijam was quite glad to get back inside. It was more frightening and less of an exciting adventure to go out there alone. She was feeling tired as well. Perhaps she would sleep better tonight, now.
The lights were on in the communal room of the Kennedy apartment when she arrived back. Both Frazier and Louish Kennedy were sitting there in silence. Their faces looked grim.
‘Well, did you see him?’ asked Frazier. Marijam had never heard him sound so angry.
‘Did he turn up for you?’ he demanded. ‘Because he sure didn’t turn up for his second interview!’
‘We tried to get you on the mini compu,’ said Louish. ‘Only we couldn’t get through.’
Marijam wondered whether it had been because she was outside. But then her compu had communicated with the centre. Perhaps it could get to the centre but no further…or perhaps they had called just as she was trying to call Gabrizan.
‘He’s a waste of space,’ hissed Frazier. ‘We’d set up a really expensive programme for him. No-one else could do what we had in mind for him.’
Then Marijam realised what her father had just told her. Not only had Gabrizan not turned up to see her this evening, he had not turned up for the second part of his interview. He had disappeared. He was gone. She was on her own now.
The nausea came again. She managed to mumble something about being tired, and hurried off to her room.
She just made it to the bathroom in time. Now it came as a relief to throw up the heavy feeling out of her stomach. As if she was giving way to all the tension that was inside her.
She came back from the bathroom and collapsed on to the bed. The tears started. She could hear her parents’ muffled voices. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but that her father had sounded angry and her mother concerned. She heard the door open and her mother say, ‘Can’t you see how pale she looked? That boy has hurt her.’
Marijam closed her eyes. Then there was nothing. Just blackness. Marijam hoped she might never wake up.