As the lights of the city dissipated and the outer sectors flew past the windows of the taxi, Nuban wondered if he was doing the right thing. He had followed Mara, a girl, barely a woman whom he’d just met into the unknown. He was angry about the outcome for him and his father, had found Mara alluring, interesting, attractive. But did he really think this would work? That this would give them the outcome they desired? Trying to fight the government’s decision would be tough and Zan, their former liaison, the woman who had guided them through the whole procedure to get their contract had herself said it was futile. But he deserved that future, he deserved wealth, comfort, a good company name, known beyond his dying home village, if he couldn’t get that, he didn’t know what he wanted.
‘What are you thinking?’ Mara spoke suddenly. Nuban turned his head, bringing his thoughts back to their taxi as it sailed across the streets and a dim light from a sign promoting a fish market waltzed across his face. That they were fast disappearing into the natural ground of the poorer parts of the city was all too evident.
‘I’m thinking this may be hopeless, but I at least want to try to get revenge.’
Mara frowned in reply. ‘Revenge isn’t the only path.’
‘It is for me, what else is there?’
‘Compensation, if we can prove that there was wrongdoing than we may be able to correct the problem.’
‘This is the government we’re talking about here.’
‘I know, but we should try that path first, they owe us much after all.’
Something was niggling at Nuban’s mind and not for the first time, it flickered there in front of him and was gone.
‘Where are we anyway? This place looks kind of rough,’ he said looking around.
‘This is my home.’
‘Oh, sorry. I shouldn’t talk this looks better than my village, and at least you have access to the city.’
‘It’s ok,’ Mara smiled sweetly, ‘it is rough, I had to learn to survive out here.’
Nuban surveyed the small run down huts, it looked about as ordinary as his home, but with such density in population he figured there would be much conflict. That explained why Mara seemed so uncomfortable in her formal wear, being in the Spire, it wasn’t her world, she was much closer to Nuban’s life than he thought. And she must indeed be tough to survive here by herself, no parents, he looked at her in a new light, with new respect.
‘Have you always been alone here?’
‘No, my work has given me a good network, an older colleague in particular, he’s who we’re going to see.’
‘Work, what do you do?’ Nuban admonished himself for not asking sooner, it occurred to him that he’d been so caught up in his own troubles that he’d not asked Mara anything about herself.
‘I used to work for one of the farming co-ops near here. I was into managing the crops, preserving them, making them more efficient.’
‘Wow, that’s an important role. So if you used to, what do you do now?’
‘We’re here,’ Mara turned as the taxi began to slow, the automatic tracking in the vehicle’s computer had done the job. They got out, their fare paid in advance with a swipe of Mara’s wrist, her account deducted accordingly. They looked out of place, still wearing their semi-formal wear from their time in the Spire. There were a few people in the streets now as Dark had fallen and eyes turned towards them, yes I am a stranger here. Nuban followed, he sniffed the air, the smell of cooking and slightly damp air touched his nose. He knew nothing of this place, felt as if he were still following his father around, he didn’t like not being able to take the lead.
‘Which is your house?’
‘Not far, but we’re not going there,’ after walking for only a minute through the head height structures, Mara took a turn down a narrow alley and down the three short steps into the sheltered doorway of a hut with a sign out the front that read ‘Feed RTL.’ The RTL represented its co-op connections although Nuban could not recall what the letters actually stood for. Waving her hand at the door, a chime could be heard inside which was no doubt echoing throughout the underground levels.
In a few short moments the door swung open, it was manually operated of course, the automatic doors of the city centre were beyond the energy output in most parts.
‘Mara!’ A man said startled as he looked up from the recess of the inside of the doorway. He looked at Nuban briefly then back at her, ‘what are you doing here?’
‘Hello Mav, we need to come in.’ He moved away allowing them entry. Nuban looked around, the shop front was small, illuminated with only a small lamp above the counter. The light plas-metal décor glowed in the soft light as various information adorned the walls, printed on plastic but it was too hard to read. Looking at the stranger, Mav, he appeared to Nuban to be a man half again as old as he, was light skinned, almost white and had short but well maintained red hair and beard. He looked uncomfortable, was it Mara’s demeanour or maybe his presence?
‘Not much business?’ Mara said, folding her arms across her chest, yes there is tension between them.
‘Not this time of Dark, we’ve been busy with the contracts coming up, things slow down until the decisions are made. How did you go?’
‘Not so well.’ How did you go? Mara applied for a contract as well? That’s right, she said as much at their first meeting. Of course, she warned him ‘do not hold a hope,’ she knew what was happening. That means it wasn’t just my contract that was tampered with, it was several, maybe even all of them, this is bigger than I thought, how stupid!
‘Sorry to hear that,’ Mav replied.
‘I need to ask you about the contracts Mav, can we put our past behind us?’
‘S-sure,’ he nodded.
‘My contract had only three applicants, no one was accepted. Meanwhile, my friend, Nuban,’ the men exchanged a nod in greeting, ‘had four, his family has a long history with reservoir restoration, he wasn’t given the time of day, nor were the other applicants. Something funny is going on, if bad decisions are being made, bad work gets done, many people could suffer.’
‘She’s right,’ Nuban chimed in, his mind finally getting into gear, ‘we’re talking about the absolute basics, food, water, essential services here. With the Great Change underway,’ -Mav’s hand twitched in an approximation of the salute given when referencing the Great Change,’ the whole planet will turn to desert, if there’s not enough food, not enough water, thousands, maybe millions will die.’ How can I not have seen this before, I was so caught up with my loses, but what we’re doing really is that important.
‘It’s even worse than that, if people lose the basics, they will fight, they will blame, they will tear down the very foundation of our society. The government will fall, there will be a bloody revolution.’
‘I think you’re being a tad melodramatic,’ Mav smiled awkwardly.
‘You sure? It’s happened before, not much history has survived so many Changes, but I’ve seen it, I’ve read it. The government we have is not the same that’s always been, the Spire was not even built by them. There was one unified nation across this entire planet, but something as simple as not providing the basics for the people lead to catastrophe, the planet fell into chaos, now no nations exist. That’s why the influence of the government covers only this one region of the planet and most people don’t even know what exists beyond.’
‘How can you say such things,’ Mav looked in turmoil, this all seemed so alien to him but Mara didn’t hold back. Nuban could sympathise, his head was spinning a little as well.
‘It’s true, it’s not widely taught of course, but the question remains now Mav, and I think you may have some answers for us, who got the contracts?’
‘How can I know? There were hundreds set to be given out, I’m just in charge of one tiny co-op.’
‘No you’re not, you’re in charge of the entire region’s co-ops, I know you didn’t want to make it public, but the co-ops combined, you were put in charge. My plans would improve our farming techniques two-fold at least, but I wasn’t even given the time of day, that means something changed, and nothing bigger than the co-ops being combined has happened recently, so something tells me you know what’s going on.’
‘Ok, ok,’ Marv put up his hands forcing a stop to the onslaught, ‘give me a second,’ he went behind the counter, poured himself a drink, there was a smell of alcohol in the air, the glass clinked as it was set back down. ‘I’ve got some information for you, but you’re not going to like it. There are some very powerful people at play here, they’re making changes, the co-op thing is just one piece of it and no I don’t know what their full plans are, but they pulled some strings to get certain people selected for the contracts.’
‘Who are these ‘powerful people,’ they work in the government?’
‘No, at least not directly, they work with the government, the government doesn’t even know these people exist, they make precision decisions, a bribe here, an official transferred out of the way there,’
‘Zan,’ Nuban muttered, Mara nodded.
‘So who got our contracts?’ Mara asked, her jaw set firmly.
‘Well, for the reservoir, it went to a group of off worlders,’ Mav’s eyes darted around.
‘Off worlders? How can they know our conditions as well as us?’ Nuban protested.
‘They umm, don’t, I’ve seen their profiles, they’re rookies, but they put in a low bid.’
‘What about mine?’ Mara asked.
‘That was a group that is umm, part of our new super co-op.’
‘Well,’ Mav chuckled, ‘your old group as it happens.’
‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ Mara’s arms shot down at her sides, he fists clenched. ‘That means you got the contract.’
‘Well now, not directly-‘
‘Don’t give me that, you’re a part of this.’
‘No, hey look, I just put in a bid on behalf of our old group, I’ve only picked up basics about these people in the mean time.’
‘You’re a selfish coward Mav, you’re endangering many people, you would have known this was a bad deal, but you stood to gain, so you said nothing.’
‘Do you think it’s true, what you said about riots, revolution?’
‘I know it happened, so it can happen again.’
‘Than we’re in trouble, because the resources they gave me for the farming are woefully inadequate.’
‘So wait a minute,’ Nuban’s head was still spinning as he was processing as much as he could. ‘They have people fixing the water supply who don’t know how to fix it, and farming is taken care of by a group that’s too small and under recoursed, why?’
The group paused as they considered the question, no one had an answer.
‘Mara-‘ There was a buzz that emanated from the door and deeper into the building, the door chime. Mav sighed and moved to the door, he opened it, Nuban was looking at Mara, he was in shock at the revelations laid out before him. It took him a moment to realise the commotion behind him, he turned as several bodies forced their way in. He didn’t recognise the people, they were dressed in various shades of casual clothes but moved with purpose, they had to be agents of some kind, police maybe?
‘Don’t move,’ the first man said. Mara stared daggers at Mav who looked at the ground.
‘You’re coming with us,’ they each held small handheld weapons, laser powered, very deadly, they were trapped, they had no choice. That’s it, they were caught.
(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Great Change’ 2017