“What the fuck?” were the first words that escaped Ariel Connolly’s mouth as she awoke for the first time after being 192 years dead.
Her words may have been more considered if she had really understood what was going on, but at that moment, all she knew was that she felt nothing like she could remember feeling just minutes before. At least, it seemed like just minutes, but all the external cues she remembered were wrong. She had been in a small room surrounded by lab techs, researchers and students. There had been so many people watching the procedure that there was barely enough room for Ariel to be wheeled in on her hospital gurney with her IV stand being trundled along beside her by a blue-clad orderly. Now, the IV was gone and Ariel was aware of bright lights, white walls, and reassuring voices that seemed to be speaking an odd accent of English that she had never heard before. Internally, she was aware that she ought not to be able to see, feel or hear anything at all. In short, she ought not to be alive, but clearly she was. She had not been thrilled about dying in the first place, so to find herself suddenly very much alive, and well enough for vigorous verbal outbursts, made her very happy indeed.
All the weakness and pain she had been suffering as a result of her cancer were gone.
Her surprised expletive had roused the attention of a young man who now hovered over the bed in which Ariel was lying. His dark face had a look of concerned joy, as if he knew he ought to be worried, but could, in all honesty, barely contain his excitement.
“You look like I feel,” Ariel laughed.
This didn’t quite elicit the reaction she had hoped for. Instead of smiling and giving her an answer, the man grimaced and turned to a female colleague who was also now hovering about.
“It worked!” he shouted excitedly, then, “She’s speaking Pre-Fall. I didn’t expect it to sound like that.”
‘It’s a bloody miracle I’m speaking anything at all! What’s going on?”
“There will be time to explain later. For now, how do you feel?” asked the newcomer.
“I feel pretty good. In fact, I feel great, but also confused. As far as I know, two minutes ago I was laid out on a table in a completely different room, with completely different people, wizened, weak and close to death. I felt bloody awful then. Why, how am I supposed to feel?”
A look of momentary confusion flicked over the woman’s face, but then she seemed to latch onto the last sentence like a lifebuoy.
“We don’t know, exactly. We have never done this before, well, not exactly this. Something similar, but ... in any case, it’s good that you don’t feel close to death – we wouldn’t want that – no, not at all.” This was said by the female attendant in halting phrases and what seemed to be a great deal of nervousness.
Before Ariel had a chance to say anything in reply, the woman, whom Ariel assumed was some sort of doctor, followed by saying, “Perhaps we had better introduce ourselves. I am Tamar. I am the Prime Contributor of the Wellness Centre in the City of New Sydney. This is my colleague, Asha.” Tamar gestured towards the young man who had first looked down at Ariel. “He is a Senior Researcher in the Wellness Centre. He and his team are primarily responsible for bringing you back from the dead.”
Tamar clearly has a sense of the dramatic, thought Ariel.
There was so much to think about in this introduction that Ariel found it hard to decide which question to ask first: what’s ‘New Sydney’, what is a ‘Wellness Centre’, and where the hell did these strange names come from? Tamar had described Asha as a ‘senior’ researcher but he looked like he was barely into his twenties. Tamar looked perhaps only ten years older, but seemed, as ‘Prime Contributor’, to be quite a lot higher in rank and title. Tamar had said ‘back from the dead’, which suggested to Ariel that she had indeed been dead, or as close to it as to not matter semantically. This thought brought her back to her original question. She really couldn’t get anything else sorted until she knew the answer.
“Ah, thanks for the intro. I, as far as I know, am Ariel Connolly, and I would really like to know what’s going on?”
“It is understandable that you should feel confused, Arielconnolly, but it is good that you remember who you are. We weren’t sure if the load would work, given the unusual circumstances,” Tamar explained.
Ariel smiled at the use of her full name.
“It’s just Ariel. You don’t have to use my full name.”
“Ah, that will be easier,” Tamar acknowledged. “There will be much to discuss, but for now, it’s probably enough to say that the body you now inhabit has been grown anew from cells we extracted from your body, which was preserved in a pre-Fall research facility discovered 30 years ago. It took us a long time to find your scanned memories and match them up to your body, and another nineteen years to go through a normal growth and maturation cycle to make the new body. Your memories, or indeed, ‘you’ as you identify yourself, have been downloaded from the cognitive network scan taken just before you died in 2017. The year now is post-Fall 184, or in your pre-Fall reckoning, 2209 AD.”
Suddenly, ‘what the fuck’ seemed altogether inadequate.
Chapter 3 - Extract
Carla led Ariel through some transit tunnels and into a large open courtyard-like area where the smell of food assailed them from every point. Carla was still holding Ariel’s hand, and Ariel was finding it hard to pinpoint exactly how she felt about the sudden intimacy from someone she didn’t know at all. It seemed so incongruous, having her hand held by a stranger – altogether too familiar. It was something she had always been shy of with Monique, even once the glorious days of Sydney Mardi Gras had freed people’s attitudes a bit. She had observed many people walking about holding hands earlier, she now remembered. At the time, she had thought they knew each other well – were in fact ‘couples’, or even ‘triples’. But perhaps, Ariel thought now, she was reading too much into the gesture. Maybe that’s just how people made friends and made sure they arrived together to the same place at the same time.
“This is the South Food Court,” explained Carla. “If you switch to locator mode on your ICD, you can see where it is in relation to the Wellness Centre and the Central Gardens. You see, we’re quite close.”
While Carla was speaking she had reached over and removed Ariel’s ICD from her breast pocket, and had tapped the display to show their location in the air in front of them, and simultaneously onto Ariel’s retina. Ariel felt like the earth was moving underneath her, as she was suddenly launched into the middle of a three dimensional scene that appeared to be all around her, and which was moving to give the impression that she was flying over streets and thoroughfares from her position in the food court to her room in the Wellness Centre. She staggered, and felt Carla take hold of her arm to steady her.
“Too much?” Carla asked.
“Umm, sorry. I wasn’t expecting that. Thanks.”
“It’s okay,” replied Carla, switching the display off and putting the ICD back into Ariel’s pocket.
Ariel was again surprised by the audacity of this woman who was so easily taking control of the situation and clearly just assuming that Ariel would accept this behaviour unquestioningly. The funny thing was, Ariel was just accepting it. She seemed to have no power to do otherwise. In passing, she also thought how strange it was that ‘okay’ was still a word being used in the 23rd century!
That wasn’t the only thing Ariel thought was incongruous about this city. The food court in which they had just landed looked uncannily like a food court from Ariel’s time. It was a large circular space with stalls arrayed around the edge, displaying a variety of foods with some familiar names and some she didn’t recognise at all. Something called ‘Bubbles’ turned out to be a stall entirely devoted to coloured drinks with gelatin bubbles floating in them. This concept, at least, was not alien to her, although she had never tried one. Another stall called ‘Fruits of the Sea’ sold dishes that Carla told her were all made from various seaweeds and kelps. “Succulent Sushi”, unimaginatively, but still surprisingly, did, in fact, sell Sushi, and it didn’t look that different to what it had 200 years before. Other things looked completely inedible, not to mention the wrong colour, so Ariel decided she would wait for a later time to find out what they were and whether she was game to try them. She supposed she was old-fashioned, but things that looked to be covered in furry green mould and things that were shiny and blue looked too much like science experiments to tempt her.
In the middle of the court, on a raised platform surrounded and roofed by misted glass, was a room similar to an area she had seen at the Rehab Facility. It looked like a 21st century gymnasium, only better equipped.
Carla watched Ariel survey the scene as her eyes came to rest momentarily on the fall fungus and the squish melt, and finally settle on the gathering room. She was about to explain what the room was for, but decided it might be easier to show Ariel what was going on.
“Come on,” said Carla as she led Ariel around past the stalls. “Let’s order, and then I’ll show you what that room is for.” They came to rest at a stall that seemed to sell something very familiar to Ariel.
“This looks like salmon steaks and salad,” said Ariel, amazed.
“Salmon?” quizzed Carla.
“Oh, not salmon then. It’s a kind of fish we used to have before the Fall. A fresh water fish with pink oily flesh, people used to like it practically raw, although I could never understand why. I liked it though, when it was cooked properly!”
“Ah,” replied Carla, “we call this trout. It’s one of the few fish that could be found and bred for food after the Fall. If I remember my history correctly, they were called Rainbow Trout, and they survived as part of a sealed community where people had been doing an experiment on how to live completely self-sustainably, sealed off from the outside world.”
“Hah. I knew someone who lived in one of those communities for a while. That is so bizarre. We all thought those people were weird, misguided fools – trying to shut themselves away from reality. I mean, we all knew about climate change and all that, and we were all doing our bit, but we just thought those commune ‘closed system’ people were trying to get back to some mad 70’s hash smoking non-reality by shutting out the rest of the world. Now you’re telling me that because of them, rainbow trout survived into the 23rd century?”
“Yes, and a whole lot of other things too – rice, mushrooms and other fungus, peas, corn, lentils, watercress, most of these salad greens that you can see here.” Carla indicated the array of leafy and woody accompaniments that were not, in fact, all green.
“In fact, everyone in this City is descended from those people you refer to as ‘closed systems people’, except you, of course.”
Ariel sensed that she may have offended Carla, but didn’t get a chance to apologise. Carla was taking control of the situation again, and had clearly decided that this line of conversation was over.
Chapter 13 - Extract
Gradually, life for Ariel settled into a comfortable routine. Her job with Joseph was the most fulfilling she had ever had. She worked on many different projects with many different teams and her unique ability to recognise things that no-one else had any knowledge of appealed to Ariel’s need to be thought of as important. Her experience was valued, and that was something Ariel longed for but felt she had rarely achieved before in her working life.
Her social life was also interesting and diverse. Almost every third night she went to the History Night. She made many friends outside of her usual professional circle, so was generally occupied most nights of the week and Free-days as well.
She learned to play a popular game called Octoboule which was played on something resembling a pool table, only with eight sides and eight pockets. The balls that formed the targets were slightly bigger than 8-balls but were not colour coded, except for the red ball which had to be potted last and the white ball was used to propel the other balls into the pockets. This white ball was propelled by hand, without the use of a cue. Points were scored depending on how difficult the shot was, and this was determined by a complex array of lines on the table. Ariel didn’t understand the scoring, but she was very good at seeing which shots were most difficult based on the angles and force required to get a ball into a pocket, so she proved to be surprisingly good at the game. Octoboule was a popular form of donation it seemed. The table top and pockets were all designed to gather the force and rolling resistance of the balls and convert this to energy. This game, combined with her enjoyment of meditation and yoga, meant that Ariel didn’t find it difficult to accrue more than the required ‘donations’ whenever she went out.
Although Ariel made many friends she still found her friendships with Carla and Tamar were the strongest. It was Carla that Ariel began to rely upon most of all. At first, Ariel explained this to herself as a natural reaction to kindness because despite Carla’s tough cop persona she could be amazingly tender and gentle. Carla seemed to have a knack of always knowing what Ariel needed and Ariel found this more alluring than she would have imagined. She soon found that it was Carla who most often supplied the necessary fill-in information that Ariel constantly required to help her make sense of how things worked. To add to this, Ariel always remembered what Celeste had said in her prophecy. In everything she did, Ariel felt the truth of Celeste’s words, that her life was entangled with Carla’s and Tamar’s.
Carla was by no means Ariel’s only lover or intimate friend but she turned out to be the one person Ariel was happy to say yes to almost without fail. Their encounters weren’t always of the same ilk as their first time – Carla could be incredibly vulnerable during sex as well as the disciplinarian. Ariel tried a lot of new things with a lot of new people, but it was always Carla that Ariel seemed to compare these encounters to. She couldn’t explain it – it merely was. Ariel accepted it without the need for further analysis. So did Carla, it seemed.
Ariel’s initial trepidation that all her contributions would be measured and assessed was soon quelled. She was good at what she was allocated to work on and that, it seemed, was the whole idea. Tamar had suggested to her when she mentioned this, that the Resource Council and supporting staff would not have been doing their job properly if individuals, especially Elite ones, were not allocated correctly. It would be wasteful.
In her old life Ariel had liked to use her spare time in esoteric pursuits – reading, writing, drawing, photography. She had, as yet, found no equivalent leisure activities in New Sydney, except studying history, so this is what she did when she wasn’t out with friends or tied up with Carla.
Of course, Ariel still wrote. She wrote in her journal and she devised Lazarus feeds. Not many, but enough to keep her feeling like she was doing something useful to resist the oppression she felt existed for a significant percentage of the City’s population.
Despite her outward level of acceptance and pleasant routine, Ariel still found much that troubled her in her new city. As life progressed it became increasingly apparent to Ariel that not everyone in the City enjoyed the same standard of living as she did. The lower your rank in New Sydney the less control you had over your life. The level of personal freedom Ariel could boast was most certainly not shared by any other class. The City might look like all resources were shared and allocated for the benefit of all its citizens, but it seemed more and more clear to Ariel that the real winners were the Elites. What Ariel had, at first glance, taken to be beneficence started to look more and more like hubris. She was as much a part of perpetuating the status quo as any other of her Elite friends. The only thing that saved her from crippling guilt was that she was trying to do something about it through Lazarus. This was her attempt to share her knowledge with everyone in the City equally, regardless of their class.
There were some things she had wondered about that she had never been able to get answers to. She had come to accept, however begrudgingly, that she probably never would get answers to some of them. One such example was her desire to find out about ‘volunteers’. No matter whom she asked or how often, all her friends or acquaintances refused to explain in detail how they were raised, where they lived, or anything other than the mechanics of the renewal program. Eventually Ariel had to abandon her attempts because it was clear that she was only succeeding in annoying people.
All that changed, however, one day when an incident occurred which rocked the citizens of new Sydney – especially the Elites.
Chapter 20 - Extract
Ariel got up from the hard narrow bench for what must have been the hundredth time. She had been here all day, replaying every word and every nuance of her interview with Carla and Diana that morning.
Someone had brought in food shortly after she arrived, but Ariel had been unable to eat. Some time later, someone brought dinner, but this also remained untouched. The guard who collected the plates had made some snide remark. “Eat to work, work to live.” The longer version of the now familiar City motto, Ariel assumed. If that was the criteria for success in New Sydney, she was doomed. Ariel felt like she would never want to eat again, and the likelihood of ever being trusted to contribute again seemed remote.
‘A Tribunal of Peers’ Diana had said. Her peers were Elite level contributors she had thought of as friends. How could she stand in front of them without dissolving in shame? How could they ever look at her again with anything other than contempt?
She had agreed to be conservative in her answers, but how could anything she tendered as evidence be anything but damning? She had been out of control. The whole time in the club, almost as soon as the guards arrived, her head had been filled with images of violent clashes between protesters and police at anti-Vietnam war rallies, anti-vivisection protests, and pro-choice stake-outs in the foyers of abortion clinics and women’s shelters; part of the ranks of militant women arrayed against the evil right-wing fascist anti-abortion fools who tried to drag pregnant women kicking and screaming away from the doors just to stop them from getting family planning advice.
She hadn’t thought about those memories in years, but at the club they seemed to come unbidden and overwhelm her. She still didn’t understand why. What was it about the scene at the club that had set her off like that? She had met Monique at one such demonstration, a love forged through adversity between like-minded spirits. But the violence and rebellion had become unnecessary in the face of the more liberal attitudes of the 80s and 90s. It had been 40 living years at least since Ariel had felt any need to hit the streets with placards proclaiming her beliefs, ready to be dragged away in the fight for fairness, equity and respect for all. Those friends who had joined her on the picket lines – they were her peers. They would not have condemned her for what she did at the music club. They were long gone, however. They were 200 years and a non-feeder world away.
Ariel knew that she would have to face an interrogation with Carla the next morning, and again the memory of Carla’s words crept into her mind: “This is just a little taste of what will happen ...” Until today’s interview with Carla and Diana, Ariel would not have believed how much truth there was in that comment. Now she knew, she could not get it out of her head.
Hours went by and Ariel was unable to do anything but think, and occasionally weep.
All her friends, Ariel repeated in her head. Did she have any friends left?