Sunday, August 7, 2016
Autonomy by Jude Houghton
Sub-genre: Cyberpunk, Dystopian
Release date: July 29, 2016
Balmoral Murraine works in a Battery, assembling devices she doesn’t understand for starvation pay. Pasco Eborgersenis the pampered son of an Elite, trying to navigate the temptations of the Pleasure Houses, the self-sacrifice of the Faith, and the high-octane excitement of Steel Ball. They never should have met, and now they will rip the world apart. What happens when ninety percent of the world lives on skaatch – a jellyfish and insect composite? What happens when mankind spends more time in alternative life sims instead of in the “real” world? What happens when economic interest is the sole determinant of global decision making? What happens when a single secret is discovered that calls into question everything we have ever believed? Welcome to the Autonomy. Welcome to your future.
Discharged from Triage between shifts, there were no trams running to the Stacks so Li hobbled four miles home with the baby strapped to her chest in a Battery-issued sling. It was cold and Li could see her breath, despite the heavy smog. She was lightheaded and groggy from the birth accelerating drugs.
As she walked through the streets the rusty trailers, riveted together and stacked twenty high, yawned down upon her. Several times she had to avoid the waste that came gushing through the dunny holes above. You could never quite avoid it, some of it always got on your feet, your clothes and if you were unlucky, your head. The narrow streets were awash with litter and filth, each building only a few inches from the next. Li held Balmoral tight to her chest, shielding her.
She struggled up the six flights of rickety stairs welded to the outside of her stack. Only as she fumbled for the key, did she notice that the baby’s face was purple and that the respirator had slipped from her face. She smacked the child’s bottom, but instead of crying, the baby’s lips tightened further. Panicking, Li banged on the door of the trailer.
“Tai-Tai!” she screamed. “Tai-Tai!”
Inside, she heard a curse and a painfully slow shuffle of steps. The old woman opened the door. “What is it? Why don’t you use your key?”
The amah looked at the child’s face and quickly pulled Balmoral from the sling. Tai-Tai hurried to the sink and reached for the large clay jug. As she poured water over the baby’s blackening face, Balmoral jumped as though slapped. She let out a silent, slow motion scream before gulping in mouthfuls of air in a torrent of tears.
“T-Thank you,” Li stuttered.
Tai-Tai clicked her tongue in disapproval and rocked the baby back and forth, soothing her.
“You need to put this on,” Li said handing her the respirator.
“She doesn’t want that.”
“They said to put it on, even indoors.”
“She’ll be all right.”
“But she couldn’t breathe a moment ago!”
Tai-Tai muttered something Li couldn’t hear, and continued to rock Balmoral.
Li chewed her lip and put the respirator on the table. Her husband said it was just a piece of cloth with a gauze filter anyway. It didn’t actually stop the pollutants; just broke them up a bit. None of her other children had bothered with one.
“Sit,” Tai-Tai said. “Did they give you formula?”
“Then I will change her and when I’m done, you can feed her.”
“But I fed her a couple of hours ago.”
“She’ll be hungry again. Now sit.”
Li lowered herself onto the chair, wincing as the stitches pulled. The drugs had begun to wear off and she was in pain. It would be worse in a couple of hours.
The amah removed the baby’s blanket, the thin plastic undergarment and the soaking cloth underneath. She placed the cloth in the sink, rinsed the plastic briefs, took another piece of cloth from the pile of four or five she had laid ready, replaced the briefs and wrapped Balmoral in three quick folds. She swaddled the child back up using the Battery’s blanket.
The old woman’s proficiency reminded Li that she knew almost nothing about being a mother. It hadn’t mattered before. Tai-Tai looked after the children while she worked in the Battery. But tomorrow there would be no Tai-Tai.
Jude developed a love of fantasy from a relatively early age after realising an innate talent for making stuff up could result in something other than detention. Working across the globe in fields as diverse as journalism, data entry, sales, management consultancy and babysitting, Jude has partially succeeded in putting an English and History degree from Oxford University to good use. A somnambulist, insomniac, lover of letters, Jude writes late into the night, most nights, tumbling down the rabbit hole to dream of other lives. Jude currently lives in Pennsylvania with an over-enthusiastic family and absurdly entitled dog.