By Giles D Hobbs
All rights reserved
James-Johann approached the heavily polarised window and looked out from his bedroom to the brightness of the town beyond. He had been drawn there by the sound of children playing in the street outside his family home. He regarded a group of four kids, close to his age, who sat by the dusty roadside, giggling and poking at each other. The buildings around them were all painted in bland colours, chosen to balance between reflection of heat and reduction in glare from the blinding sun above. Wherever possible the streets were covered by awnings in a variety of styles. Some was authority provided roofing but much of it, erected at personal expense, consisted of wooden screens and cloth sheets that whistled and flapped in the wind. Where the children played there was no cover from the sun. Blatant disregard of the sun laws was a clear mark that these children were born to sun-worshippers. Sun-worshipper families were avid freedom believers who held personal rebellions against the new state order that had arisen some 300 years ago, a time when a revolution in thinking about health and responsibility had made the individual pay for any illness directly related to personal risk. It had started with smokers and marched on from there. It was a legislative move that preached individual responsibility and choice but effectively destroyed personal freedom. These families chose to risk the sun, refusing to scurry like moles from one building to the next, yet even they were not stupid enough to do so totally unprotected. The children were all smeared in the standard sun-block, making them a sickly white and all four wore state subsidised sun-glasses. They were clearly not wealthy.
He looked to his left and could make out the ‘Energy composites’ factory like a giant metal limpet growing from the mountainside that loomed over their town. It harnessed the huge river that fell over the cliff face. The water that finally reached the town, although technically the same clear water that had seeped from the rivers source, somehow seemed man made, spewed back to the riverbed from the guts of the turbine wall that spanned the cascading water.
Two huge chimney-shaped cylinders thrust at an angle from the top of this shining metal building, a building that seemed to defy gravity sitting up on the hillside like it did. These chimneys, like giant stakes seemed to be the one thing that should allow it the grace to hang at such a precarious location. The chimneys were giant geothermal pylons that plunged hundreds of meters into the rock below. The energy that flowed through that building was unthinkable, but it was not his energy, not his mothers, or the children’s outside. It belonged to the composite, sealed away, safe in their exclusivity.
There had been a remarkable societal change some 200 years ago. The world had been treacherous then, factions were squabbling, anarchists took advantage of the chaos and the little person suffered. Then through a chain of events it became possible for swathes of society to retreat from the daily troubles, risks and excitement of regular life. It first began when many large production centres began to close their gates, offering protection, independent health care and good money to those who were willing to make the factories their home. With their workers housed inside they began to defend themselves, heavily. They were all over the globe, and were now an entirely different, wholly segregated society. They traded almost exclusively between themselves, and if the outsiders, which included him and those kids on the street, had anything the composite factories needed then towns like this may get the chance to trade as well, but it was quite rare. Luckily the town made enough energy for domestic needs from their solar panelling. The vast energy created by the factory mainly supplied the manufacturing needs of similar factories. They served each other for safety and they served each other for efficiency. That was their purpose for existing. Their reason for existing was the soup. He was just learning about that in his history and chemistry classes. ‘Semi organic unguent plasma’; It had grown out of a complex history and fiendishly hard chemistry. He looked back to the road.
One of the children was looking his way. Pointing at James and then smiling to one of his young accomplices he began to squirm in mock agony, collapsing and rolling around on the floor as the sun beat down on their bodies. The second boy joined in. A third child, a slightly older girl giggled behind one hand. “I’m burning, I’m burning” the first shouted. He stretched a hand, claw like in his theatrical pain towards James-Johann’s window. It was an old joke. He would have looked away but for the fourth child, a slightly younger girl with blond hair who looked passively from behind her sunglasses, neither smiling nor laughing. Then, as the others stood and jumbled away she remained looking towards the window, standing with her hands behind her back. She smiled warmly and took a few steps forward in curiosity.
James’ hand went to the dimmer switch that controlled the polarising strength of the glass and dropped the windows protection by 50%, something his mother would have beat him for. He wanted to see her better. She glanced to her left, frowned deeply and turned back towards him. He glanced right to see what had vexed her, saw nothing unusual and returned his gaze to where she stood. The moment he did so a blinding light blasting from her chest creating a hammer of pain behind his eyes, he collapsed to the floor covering his face. What had it been? Had something destroyed the young girl right there on the street? His eyes screamed like fire and he was terrified that they would be permanently damaged. Scared and confused he began to sob.
Out on the street the pretty girl put her hands behind her back again and half walked half skipped back towards her friends. Had James been able to see he may have noticed as she moved away that there was a small mark on her right forearm. He may not have known it for what it was, the beginning of a malignant melanoma, a cancer that would untreated, spread throughout her young body. There was something else he hadn’t recognised for what it was. Clutched in her delicate hands was a small but very shiny mirror that slashed a violently bright beam of light back and forth across the road.
* * *
At the same moment that James-Johann lay writhing in agony on his bedroom floor wishing for a Doctor, a young woman in a tight, blue shimmering suit was realising that her Doctor was the last person she wanted to be with. They were within a small room in the western end of the large limpet like composite factory that hung on the cliff face above the town. A small permanently darkened window allowed a distorted image of the land below. The glass was about 4 inches thick. She had come here hoping the doctor had something to offer her. He was offering her nothing.
“Miss Khan-Ewing,…. Cecile, you knew the risks!”
“This is insane! You’re saying I can’t receive any treatment!” Cecile was stood, pacing between each reply, her arms gesticulating wildly.
Doctor Joplin raised his arms, almost in resignation “You know I had to pass the test results through the authorities. I’ve been your family doctor since your parents were young and I want the best for you but no treatment can be authorized. It would set an unacceptable precedent. The doctor reclined in his chair looking at the 17-year-old girl in front of him. He knew that she was fully aware of the implications of her reckless behavior; she also already knew all the answers he could ever give her. This conversation was all part of the process of accepting her position, but it was futile.
“Is there nothing we can do?” Cecile Khan-Ewing continued pacing around the surgery. “This shouldn’t be allowed, we have no freedom anymore”.
“Please Cecile, you studied history, this is exactly the argument that the ‘Right to smoke’ campaign used when tobacco users fought against the no-treatment ruling of 2014.”
Dr Joplin rubbed his tense jaw through the greying sideburns that he grew long, a retro look he rather liked.
“Yes I know Doctor, it was deemed fashionable at the time to remove prohibition of any kind in relation to drug use. Having done so the state felt that it was also acceptable to deny free treatment for diseases that could be directly associated with risk taking behaviour.” She looked directly at the familiar face of Dr Joplin.
“Yes, and under most circumstances it’s very difficult to prove. Most Cecile, but not here.”
Her Hands went to her hips and felt the shimmering blue material shift its form, adapting its heat and moisture properties in response to the warm sweat on her palms. She knew she had recited that piece of history straight out of the text book. He knew that she had wire-learnt more history lessons than probably anyone in this composite and 21st century history was her particular interest.
The ‘Responsibility Bill’ of 2014 that served to deny smokers the right to free treatment for ailments that were deemed to be related to their smoking behaviour led to a revolution in political and social philosophy. In time a society developed that denied nothing, but expected an informed individual to accept full responsibility for any strain that their reckless behaviour imposed upon society as a whole, even to the point of denying free treatment by their health care system. Inevitably risk taking became unfashionable except among the fashionably risky and basic survival needs forced new healthier lifestyles.