Nuban’s hands were shaking, he was back staring out a window at the now dark cityscape with hundreds of dots of light below and endless above in the sky. A few craft hovered in, illuminated as they landed further up on the spire or the smaller entourage of buildings. He could not see the landscape beyond the city now, the desert, it was lost from site but would be forever his fate.
‘I need to be alone,’ he had said to his father who had bowed his head in defeat and walked away. He had tried to comfort his son but to no avail. Nuban could think of only how they had failed. They had been summoned into the meeting, a single table of four people of varying age and gender, their noses down, in stark contrast to the bustling dining hall that had left behind less than a minute earlier.
His father hadn’t even stated their business name or completed the formalities when he was cut off and told unceremoniously that his requested amount was entirely too much. Given not even a moment to process this or to begin negotiations as was customary, they were ushered out of the room and set free to wander the halls in despair.
Nuban saw his life crumble away, his hopes and dreams utterly destroyed. He would never move to the city now, never live well, simply survive, scrounge, that would be his life, damn!
Only absently did he note one of the other pairs from his table storming off, no doubt rejected in the same fashion. His reflection in the window was barely noticeable, his dark skin and strong jaw, invisible, as he would be living in a wasteland.
His nostrils reacted, there was a familiar smell, something pleasant that he couldn’t place, he turned.
‘Ah, there you are,’ said Mara’s gentle voice, ‘I thought I would see you close to the submissions office.’ Her beautiful features did little to calm his anger, she offered him a sympathetic smile, he turned away.
‘I don’t want to be laughed at, not now, not ever.’
‘I’m not here to laugh at you,’ he heard the frown in her voice, he turned back, remembering himself.
‘Yes, I’m sorry, I’m just in shock at the moment.’ Mara’s smile returned as she looked at the dark decorated halls.
‘Don’t you think it strange that the government’s emblems are of change? They represent us, everything has these curved, vine like coils, we change with the landscape, we survive, yet the government has not changed in generations, this spire,’ she said with a touch of bitterness, ‘hasn’t budged in all that time. We are expected to change, yet they have the benefit of standing still, and all the stability that it brings.’
Nuban frowned, taking a moment to change tracks and follow what Mara was saying.
‘My father says that standing still too long makes you weak, vulnerable.’
‘I think he is right, so let’s get a drink, you could use it.’ With that she turned and slowly walked away. Nuban waited a moment, surprised by this young woman and how tantalising she was. He decided that yes, he could use a drink and followed her.
They walked in silence for a minute before finding a lift that took them down seven levels at Mara’s behest. He was happy to see that they were going to a less premium part of the building as they walked into a bar that was far less luxurious than he had feared. He had some money loaded into his wrist, for emergencies, but decided that now was a good a time as any. They sat in a booth, the dim purple-blues of the bar with only scattered lighting matched his mood, dark yet appealing.
They each brought up a menu and ordered a drink of fermented vegetable juice with multiple sour fruits twisted in. Nuban was only used to drinking with some of his workers, rough alcohol, home made of course, but as he sipped his drink, he thought once again of the nice things he would not be experiencing again after today.
‘I’m set to go back first thing tomorrow,’ he started. ‘We were going back to begin planning our work, but now, I guess we’re just going home.’
Mara put her hand on his for a few moments, they looked at each other, she smiled, ‘you’ll survive.’
‘I know, that’s just it, we’ll survive, but we wont thrive, I had plans, many plans.’
‘That’s life I’m afraid, it sends us on all sorts of paths.’
‘You sound like my father, ever the philosopher,’ he took another sip of his drink, the strong bitterness making its way down his throat.
‘He must be wise,’ she winked. Despite himself, Nuban smiled back.
‘What about your parents?’
‘I’m by myself,’ her smiled strained, Nuban nodded. This was a harsh land, being without one or both parents was not uncommon, thus sympathies were not required. Nuban knew only too well the pain of losing a parent.
‘I just don’t get it,’ he said after a few moments of silence, ‘if we were the most qualified, why didn’t we even get time to speak, it was like they had decided before we even arrived.’ He paused, ‘it’s like they had already decided, they didn’t want a discussion,’ his mind played back to his waiting near the submissions hall, every one of the pairs who were making a submission were rejected, he remembered now that the last had gone through as he was talking to Mara, but had not been paying attention. ‘We were all rejected, but how can that be? If no one is doing the work, the city will run out of water.’
‘Indeed,’ Mara frowned, thinking for a moment, ‘so what is the most likely answer?’ She said in such a way that said she already knew the answer.
‘That someone else was selected, someone who didn’t follow the proper forms. Dimi, that-‘ he stopped himself from swearing, ‘our liaison was transferred only today, someone is pulling strings.’
‘Now that is interesting,’ Mara said as she took a sip of her drink, ‘so what are we going to do about it?’
‘Sure, I’d like to find out what’s going on here.’
‘Why?’ Nuban was suddenly sceptical. ‘You don’t really know me.’
‘I know you enough, and besides, I suspected there was something wrong. I suggest we go find your old liaison, she may know something.’
‘Ok, yeah,’ Nuban was slow to respond, his mind changing tracks, ‘alright, I have her contact details, father gave them to me in case I needed something whilst he was busy.’
‘Good, let’s go.’ They finished their drinks and went back to the lift, taking one up eight floors. Following instructions given to him through the com system built into his wrist, he found Zan’s office.
‘Ah, there you are,’ the older woman said as the door opened to admit them, ‘I’m just packing,’ she smiled. They walked into her office, a small sparse room, one desk, no windows, dark blue-gray walls. ‘I must admit Nuban I was surprised you called, please sit,’ she directed them to a seat as she was sorting through files on a screen at her desk.
‘Oh?’ Nuban said as they sat down.
‘Yes, I thought your father may have called.’ Yes, my father, I must get back to him shortly.
‘Well, it has been a surprising day.’
‘Indeed it has. I am sorry about your contract. I mean that, it really should have been yours, that was my recommendation.’
‘What will happen to you?’ Mara asked, Zan smiled at her bravely.
‘I’ve got a new job, bit of a step down, but I’ll be ok.’
Nuban looked between the two women, something was niggling at him but he was too focused on his next question.
‘Why would every one of the companies going for the contract have been rejected? Was someone else chosen, someone not going through the correct channels?’
Zan stopped what she was doing, looked up at the two of them, went to the door and made sure it was locked before returning to her desk.
‘Nuban, that’s a very serious accusation.’
‘It’s the only logical explanation.’
‘So? What do you plan to do about this?’
‘I don’t know yet, I was going to ask your advice.’
‘My advice to you my boy, is to take that father of yours and go back to where you came from,’ she said coldly.
‘You what?’ He started.
‘It’s for your own good, and you’ll get no more help from me,’ she said sharply, jamming something into her bag.
Why is she suddenly against me? What happened?
‘We need your help Zan, if we’re to fix this.’
‘You can’t fix this, it’s bigger than both of you, and myself for that matter. There are those who have influence in the right places to make our lives whatever they wish, you would do well to remember that.’ Nuban was incensed, he wasn’t asked her to do anything other than give some advice. He recalled his place, yelling at a senior was improper, especially an official, so he stood up, fuming and stormed to the door.
After the two were gone, Zan looked down at her work, put her head in her hands and resisted the urge to scream. Those poor children, she thought, I only hope they have the sense to stay clear of this, lest they get swallowed up by it.
‘Nuban, Nuban wait.’ Nuban stopped stalking the halls and allowed Mara to catch up, he was furious, but made sure not to lash out at her. ‘You know she is trying to protect us right? She is sending us away for our own good.’
‘So?’ He huffed, but the words began to break through to him.
‘If it was advise you were after, then you got it, she knows more about this than us, and if Zan says we should stay away, we should take that into account.’
‘And do what? Nothing? Let my future fade away into nothing, let it fall apart, let them get away with this?’ he seethed, but Mara was unperturbed by his anger, she simple took a step closer, her nose close to his as she whispered to him.
‘Not by a long shot, but if it’s to be dangerous, it is better that we know so, right? So now we have to tread lightly.’
‘You are determined,’ Nuban blinked in surprise, his anger forgotten. ‘But what do we do now?’
‘I’ve got an idea, I know someone with a few connections, but at a different level, we’ll have to leave the city though.’
‘Ok, I’ll have to see my father first.’
‘If you’re sure, he may talk us out of it, or at least try.’
‘Ok, I’ll leave him a message.’
They went for the lifts, as they left the Spire behind them, the monstrous construction, Nuban only now started to wonder what he was getting himself into.
(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Great Change’ 2017