The girl with the long thin hair dragged her feet. She really didn't want to do this. But if the Director demanded something, you obeyed without questions. She took one look at the antique elevators and started to walk towards the basement. About halfway down, she stopped for a while to catch her breath. How could the 'unnaturals' manage the stairs every day? What kind of drugs did they use? She had browsed through the uppers that The Corporation offered and tried half of it, but nothing would give her the desired effect.
She stared at her surroundings critically. Everything looked pre-war and worn down. She knew it was only a matter of time before they closed down the Art department. And the professor, what was her name anyway? Tanira, would be out of here. Art wasn't profitable at all so t-lifts weren't even an option. Why couldn't they at least fix the old elevators? She sighed and continued her long walk down.
She stopped outside the door to the Art department. From inside, she could hear laughter and chatting. She frowned. Her own Tech professor wouldn't permit that kind of undisciplined behavior. Without knocking she pushed open the door and walked right in. The class seemed to be designing a room, that much was clear. But it was a strange room. She tried to estimate the dimension of the room, but failed. It wasn't any of the pre-approved sizes.
She continued her visual inspection of the room. Now she noticed that the ceiling wasn't a real ceiling. Instead it seemed to be a representation of a night sky with stars and a moon. The moon looked like the one she'd seen in the history books, big and pale, not the yellowish tone she was used to.
Not that she cared about the color of the moon. The important thing was that it shouldn't be there in the first place. A moon shouldn't be allowed on a ceiling. The Corporation's regulations clearly stated that all rooms had to be practical and profitable. And she should know. She was a Tech major, wasn't she? One of the best in her class. She hated everything the 'unnaturals' stood for. Still she listened to their conversation with fascination.
"Miss, what dimensions should I use on this chair?"
It was the girl with the light red hair who had spoken. She drew her skinny hand through her thin hair. A big wisp of hair came loose and she let if fall to the floor.
"Let me show you, Mai-Lee. Don't think too much, just feel. What do you think would be most
Comfortable? What color do you like? Close your eyes and try to imagine your favorite chair. Then, look in the ret-device and create your ideal furniture."
"Please, let me use the panel to calculate the optimal dimensions."
"Yes, Mai-Lee. It's your chair. If you prefer the panel, that would be fine too."
Tanira sighed. Every now and then she had Tech students in her class. She knew this wasn't the girl's first choice. In fact, she was pretty sure it was the only course she could get into. She must have made the wrong choices somewhere or allied with the wrong people. Both of them would have to make the best of it. She turned her attention to the rest of the class.
"Oh, that's beatiful, Alexei. Very interesting."
The class gathered around a glass fountain in the middle of the room. His classmates gave him words of encouragement. Alexei's face colored slightly. He made some last-minute adjustment with his ret-device.
"Wait, listen to this."
The room was suddenly filled with a very soothing music. It seemed to originate from the glass fountain.
"19th century, right?"
Tanira gave Alexei an attentive look. He reminded her so much of one of her old students. The same entusiasm and talent.
"Yes, Tanira, I mean - miss Sahlins."
Alexei seemed to be very glad to recieve so much praise for his work.
"Wonderful. Well, time to go home now, class."
Tanira suddenly noticed her silent audience - the pale girl in the doorway.
"Hi, there. Are you here to sign up for the class?"
"Certainly not, Tanira."
Tanira ignored the fact that the girl called her by her first name. The Corporation rules stated, among other things, that students were to address teachers with their surname.
"So, what can I do for you? Actually, I didn't catch your name."
"You can't do anything for me. I was told to get you. The Director wants to have a word with you."
"Fine, let's go then."
The girl cast Tanira a last condescending look. Without waiting for the professor to follow, she turned around and left.
With a practiced hand, Tanira pushed a few buttons on the comm-screen. She looked at her reflexion to see if the hair looked ok. She made a few adjustments on the comm-screen so she could see how she looked from the other directions. Well, she would have to do. She knew that the director didn't like her hair anyway - 'unnatural' was the way she was known to describe it.
She pushed a few buttons to restore the comm-screen. She smiled at the familiar picture on the screen. It showed a white house with green plants growing around it. She felt a little nostalgic as she always did when she thought about her home. Sighing she headed for the stairs.
When she reached the Tech floors she stopped to catch her breath. Even if she had to walk all the way down to her department everyday, it was a bit too much. She was quite tired. She really needed to get into shape, but she knew that if she contacted the health team they would make her take at least half a dozen pills. Climbing the stairs would have to do for now.
She glanced at the t-lifts. Should she risk getting into one even though she hated them? She knew she's being silly. T-lifts were perfectly safe. Everyone used them nowadays. But she couldn't help recalling horror stories she'd heard as a child about things going wrong with t-lift rides. But that was years ago. And she had to get to the upper floors. She would never get there on time if she didn't use them.
Less then a minute later she got out of the t-lift, feeling a bit dizzy. They always had that effect on her. Her collegues had told her that it was a temporary condition, which would pass when she got used to them. She never wanted to get used to them. She preferred the stairs even if it took a lot longer to get to work every morning. Anyway, they would never consider her department profitable enough to even think about getting her a t-lift. She shrugged and knocked on the director's door.
The director indicated with her hand for Tanira to sit down, while she finished some writing. She didn't seem to be in a hurry. Tanira was beginning to feel a bit uneasy. Why had the director asked her to come to her office? Her orders usually came in her e-memos. It must be something much more important if she took the time to meet one of her employees in person. When she was finished she looked at Tanira, her face completely without expression.
"Tanira. How good of you to find time in your busy schedule to meet with me."
She didn't wait for Tanira to reply.
"How long have you been with us now? Is it 4 or 5 years?"
"About that I think. Yes, 5 years."
The director was a woman who preferred to be listened to, not to listen to other people. Tanira knew what was expected of her so she kept silent until a reply was required of her.
"The reason I called you up here is that I'm about to give you some good news. I want you to teach a few Tech classes."
Tanira wanted to protest. She had her own classes and she had no time in her schedule to any new classes. But she knew it was no use protesting, so she kept her mounth shut.
"I knew you'd be pleased. Now, about the Art classes - You can keep one. They're not profitable as you know and the budget cuts must be financed, so the art department will have to be closed down. You will be provided a new location up here on the Tech floors. I'm sure you'd be a lot happier here than down in that old basement."
After that long monolouge Tanira didn't know what to say so she just nodded. The director picked up a pad to indicate that she was busy and the meeting was over. When Tanira was almost out of the door, the director called her back.
She took her time before saying what was on her mind as if she wanted to emphasize her advantage over the younger woman. She shook her long thin hair. Tanira always thought it had a slight greenish shade, but it might just be the lighting in the spacious office.
"I just wanted to congratulate you on your promotion."
When she left the luxurious Tech floors, Tanira was furious. Why was her department being closed down? She knew that the director didn't like her, but could this change in her work situation have another explanation? When she reached the basement she realized it was well past her usual lunch time. She would have to have lunch on her own, but since it made things easier it didn't bother her that much.
She pushed a few buttons on the hydromat and was rewarded with a cup of hot water and a little paperbag with her choice of food. Wïth experienced hands she handed the unopened paperbag into the disposer and filled the cup with the powder she had stored in the bracelet she always wore. She turned around with her cup only to discover that she had a visitor.
"Hi, Mai-Lee. Would you like me to make you a cup of soup?"
"No, thanks, miss. I just want to have a word with you."
"Ok. Come and sit down."
"Miss - I heard about you promotion. Congratulations."
"How - I just found out myself."
"I got an e-memo. Anyway, that's not important. Is it true that you'll teach Tech classes now?"
"Yes. I won't be teaching art classes anymore, except for one. The Director told me that my department will be closed down."
Mai-Lee looked content. For the first time since Tanira had met her, she smiled. The girl always looked so sad.
"That's good news. Do you think that I will be transferred to a Tech class then? Perhaps you can talk to the Director. Would you do that for me, miss?"
"No, Mai-Lee. I can't. It's not up to me and you know it."
Suddenly the girl's appearance changed. She looked angry and resentful.
"Oh, I understand. You never wanted me in your class anyway."
"Please, listen to me. I can't help you. I'm sure that you'll get that transfer if there's only going to be one art class. Don't worry about it."
The girl looked furious and without a word she just turned around and left. From a distance, a young man was watching the scene, with a worried look on his face. Alexei wanted to go and talk to his favorite teacher and warn her about Mai-Lee. On the other hand, she must already know what sort of person the girl was and what she was capable of, he argued with himself. She would think that he was childish, trying to protect his teacher. Silently he left without giving himself away.
The encounter with the girl had left Tanira really shaken. How long had she been standing there? Had she noticed anything? She wanted to block out the image of the angry young girl. Nervously she used her comm to call her sister.
"Hi, sis. How are things in the real world?"
"Don't tease me. You're living in the real world, not me. I miss you so much. How's mom?"
"I'm not teasing you. It's just that I'm worried about you. Mom's fine. She's in the garden."
"I miss it so much."
"Then come home."
"You know I can't. We need the money. Anyway, how's school?"
"You know how it is. I'm just taking the required course this year. There aren't any good courses anymore, just the usual tech stuff. Tell me about your new course. Any cute guys?"
"They're my students. I don't think of them as cute."
"Come on. I know you do. You can look, can't you?"
"Yes, there are a few very cute guys. And even a few of the teachers, but I don't think they like me very much."
"Stick to your students then. And you can bring one or two of them when you come home. I wouldn't mind getting to know them better."
"I'll think about it. By the way, can you send me more food? I can't stand the artificial food they provide here."
"You shouldn't eat the stuff. It's not good for you. Of course we'll send you more. Mom's found some old seeds and she's trying to get them to grow. It would be interesting with some new vegs, don't you think? Don't you miss the fresh ones?"
"Oh, yes. If I could work at home I'd leave this place at once. I love working with the kids, but the rest -"
Tanira sighed. There were so many things she hated about her job. The management, the collegues and the control. The talk with her sister made her feel a little better, but it made her miss her home even more. After some more chit-chat they hung up. Her students would be back in ten minutes and she had some preparations to make before that.
When she was almost done with the preparations, the students had already started working. She smiled at their entusiasm. They reminded her of herself when she was at uni. She really had loved the art, but now it was becoming routine. It ocurred to her that Mai-Lee wasn't there. The girl must have been more upset than she'd realized. Hopefully, she'd be back when she'd had time to cool off a bit.
She noticed that the tall serious boy, Alexei, was looking at her anxously. Tanira decided to be more attentive of him. What had made him so worried? Was it school or something else? She had an eerie suspicion that it was something worse and that it was something to do with herself.
"That's really good, Alexei. Very beautiful. I love the way you think."
Alexei smiled shyly.
Everyone looked at Alexei's work. He really was talented. After that they continued with their own work. Suddenly there was a disturbance at the door. Tanira went to find out what was happening. Outside, she found a group of people. They were Security, judging by their uniforms. One of the women stepped forward.
"Are you Tanira Sahlins?"
"Yes, that's me. Who's asking?"
"I have orders to bring you in."
"What are the charges?"
"We are not obliged to answer any of your questions."
"I won't go anywhere until you tell me what you are accusing me of."
The officer indicated the group of students that have gathered behind Tanira. They all looked worried and even afraid.
"The charges include treason. You have failed your students and your work and most of all the Corporation."
Tanira didn't know what to say. Who had set her up like this? She had no idea what she'd done to be charged with a serious crime like treason. She felt her students' worried looks follow her as she obediently followed the Security staff up to ground levels.
She was really scared by now. Tanira had heard about people being charged with even less serious crimes, never to be seen again. She was taken to a small room at Tech levels. No one would tell her anything. Several hours later a group of Security personel came to collect her. They blindfolded her and then she was taken to a transport. She had no idea how long the ride took. With no visual input she soon lost track of time.
When she finally arrived at her destination she was led to what appeared to be a t-lift. She couldn't tell for sure since they hadn't removed the blindfold. Again she was pushed forward. She could hear a door slide open. Finally they removed the blindfold. Tanira blinked at the strong light. She was almost blinded. They pushed her into the room quite hard so she fell to the floor. Without making sure she was ok, they left the room and the doors closed behind them.
Tanira was left in the small room for several hours or even days. The lack of food and water made her dizzy. When they finally came to get her she was even grateful for the change. She was taken down the corridor and was able to shower and have some water to drink. There was a new set of clothes for her to change into. The clothes seemed to fit her perfectly her so they must have taken the time check her personel file.
Feeling a little bit fresher, but still very concerned, she was taken to a t-lift. They led her through a short passage and finally she arrived in what appeared to be a big semi circular hall. In the middle of the room was some kind of rostrum. They indicated that Tanira should go there.
Tanira did as she was told. She wanted to scream in protest and ask why she was being treated like this. Deep down she felt angry and betrayed, but she knew it was no use. In any case, she had trouble focusing after being deprived of visual input and nourishment, so she remained silent.
"Do you know why you have been brought here?"
The voice sounded cold and had a low pitch. Tanira looked around trying to make eye contact with the person who had adressed her. When she failed she just looked straight ahead and tried to speak as clearly as she could.
"No, ma'am, I don't."
"Will you instruct your client, Tadney?"
Tanira felt a little relieved. Obviously she had someone who would help her. A little nervous man approached her. His face was pale and the eyes flickered.
"You will address Her Honor correctly. Show some respect."
"I'm sorry, Tadney, Tanira wispered."
She cleared her throat and tried again.
"No, Your Honor. No one told me anything."
"You will be given a chance to speak later. Now will you be silent."
Tanira hoped it meant that she would be given the opportunity to explain and vindicate herself. She looked around to see if she could find this Tadney, but he was nowhere to be seen. If she were to be able to defend herself properly, she really must talk to him.
"Now, Torres. Read the charges against Ms Sahlins."
A young woman in her thirties got to her feet. She had long reddish hair and pale blue eyes.
"Ms Sahlins is charged with Treason against the Corporation. Her actions have caused a substantial loss and her undue influence has adversely affected the ideological development of the students."
When Torres was done with the account she sat down again.
"Do you understand the charges against you?"
It was the cold voice again that Tanira now knew belonged to the judge.
"No, Your Honor, I'm sorry. I don't understand what I've done."
"You will be given time to discuss the charges with Tadley before the verdict. Now Torres, please present the case."
Torres continued with presenting the economic part of the case. She talked about budget, figures and compared the Art Department and the Tech Department. Tanira wanted to object. Art wasn't supposed to be as profitable as the more technical classes. She decided against it since she suspected that they wouldn't listen anyway.
It was hard to follow Torres' reasoning, though Tanira tried very hard to understand. She had never been any good with numbers. It wasn't her place to worry about that anyway. The Corporation had a whole team of auditors to work with the budget so the teachers wouldn't have to. They would have objected if she had been overspending.
She had to talk to Tadney about it. She tried to make eye contact with him, but he seemed to ignore her. It suddenly dawned her that she couldn't expect any help from that direction. That insight made her very uncomfortable. What was going to happen to her now?
When Torres was done with her economical account she went on talking about how Tanira had corrupted the young minds she had been entrusted with. When she was finished talking she pushed a button and a small holosphere resurfaced in front of her. With another push it started to show pictures of Tanira's classes.
It must have been taken quite recently since she could see the room they'd been working with the last couple days. She could tell from the reactions of the people gathered there that her teaching methods weren't what they were used to and that they didn't approve.
Now Tanira could see that the orb displayed pictures of herself alone. She was standing in front of the hydromat preparing her lunch. Suddenly it was obvious to everyone that Tanira had disposed of the Corporation's food. They were appalled and made no secret about it. The judge had to order them to be quiet.
"Order in the courtroom. We will take a break to consider the facts. We'll reassemble here in 15 minutes."
Tadney reappeared and told Tanira to come along. They followed the short passage and soon they were back in the rooms where Tanira only a few hours before had been able to shower. Now Tadney indicated that they should sit down. He seemed reluctant to look at her. Was he afraid of her or - Tanira couldn't believe that could be possible - disgusted with her?
When they walked back she had accidentally brushed against his hand and he had recoiled violently. Why was that? She wanted to test her theory right away. Tanira leaned over and put her hand on Tadney's. Same reaction. What was wrong with him? She decided to drop it for a while. The trial was more important.
"Now, Tadney. Tell me what's going on. What will happen next? When will I be given the opportunity to defend myself?"
"I will try to explain the procedure for you. This is not the actual trial. It has been over for nearly five hours. They processed your case when you were in that holding cell."
"It's over? Why go through with this charade then? It's like a bad holonovel. I can't believe it."
"The purpose of - this charade, as you so elegantly put it, is to inform you as the defendant of your crime. You will be given the opportunity to show remorse over your actions. Another important purpose is to discourage others from committing crimes."
"And the verdict? What is the verdict? Will I be informed of it any time soon?"
"As soon as this recess is over. I don't know it myself yet, but I have my suspicions."
"I think I can guess myself. What do you think the penalty will be?"
"It all depends on you remorseful you are. I will advice you to cooperate in every way you can. If you don't -"
"Ok, tell me the worst."
"Forced labor or termination."
"Termination for not eating the stuff that they serve there. That's outrageous."
Tanira's outburst seem to frighten the little man. He looked even more nervous than before. This was obviously not a case he would have chosen himself. With some effort, he collected himself as the professional he was.
"I must advice you that if you keep up this attitude in there you will most certainly be terminated. Behave yourself. This is going to reflect badly on my reputation."
He got to his feet.
"Let's go back. The fifteen minutes are nearly over. Think about what I just told you."
Tanira returned to the the hall awaiting the verdict. Until now, she'd been able to detach herself from the unusual situation. Now the reality overwhelmed her. If what she just had learned was true, she might die for what she'd done. She hadn't even been aware that it was a crime. She knew that the Corporation didn't look kindly on those who didn't appreciate their products. She would have suspected that she might lose her job, but not this - termination.
Suddenly she was aware that something important had happened. She could hear a low mumble around her. What was it the judge had said? It had been something about remorse and proper punishment. She must talk to Tadney, ask him to explain. If she was allowed to talk to him afterwards. Tanira could easily imagine herself being dragged away to termination right after this procedure was over.
When the judge was finished with her monologue, she addressed Tanira directly.
"I will give you five days to reflect on what you've done. After that I require an answer. Use this time wisely. You should be greatful to the Director. You have been given a unique opportunity. Court dismissed."
Tanira felt disoriented. She couldn't understand what had just happened. Why was she given five days before the punishment? What was that about the Director? Surely she hadn't spoken on her behalf? Tanira was certain that the Director hated her. When Tanira returned to the rooms she'd been in before she just slumped down on the floor. Everything was chaotic and she couldn't focus.
She didn't know how long she'd been sitting like that, but eventually Tadney's words filtered through to her.
"Ms Sahlins - Tanira. Are you ok?"
Tadney looked down on her with a worried look on his tense little face. Obviously she was his responsibility for some time yet.
"Oh, I just felt a bit dizzy. I think I can stand up now."
To Tanira's surprise Tadney helped her to her feet. He still looked a bit uncomfortable touching her though. Very professional of him, Tanira thought.
"Come on now, Ms Sahlins. Sit down over here. Let me explain the verdict to you. I must admit this came as a surprise even to me."
Tadney went on talking about legal stuff that Tanira had difficulty following. She interrupted him several times so he could clarify.
"You mean that I won't get any punishment at all? Why?"
"No, no, that's not it. The termination verdict still stands unless -"
"Unless what? What will I have to do?"
"It seems that the Director is very eager to keep you. They mentioned something about your technichal skills. The only thing you'll have to do is make a public apology. Tell everyone how wrong you were. And you'll get a new position teaching the Tech classes exclusively. Congratulations, Tanira. This had been a great success."
Tanira couldn't share Tadney's delight. She would have to make a statement telling everyone how wrong she'd been. What effect would that have on her students? Working full time on the Tech department would only result in even more intense supervision. This was a nightmare.
Tadney looked so happy. Tanira thought it was important to keep him believing that she was as thrilled at the outcome of the trial as he was.
"I can't believe this."
"No, but this is great, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's fantastic. The only problem is that I don't know exactly what I'm supposed to say."
"I will leave so you can focus on that in peace. Don't worry about it. You have five whole days to write your speech."
"Wait, Tadney. I want to thank you for all your help. Would you do something for me?"
"If it's possible, of course."
"All this has been so stressful. The trial and the waiting. Do you think it's possible for me to talk to a pharmacist? I want to discuss the dosage. And perhaps, if it's possible, even go to see my medical technichian and have a few tests done. I've been feeling weak for some time now."
Tanira could almost hear Tadney's thoughts. She knew what people thought about her kind, the 'unnaturals'. Weak and unhealthy. In need of drugs all the time.
"Of course. It's understandable. Let me see what I can do about it."
When Tadney had left Tanira had time to plan her next move. At first her impulse to get in touch with her medichal technichian had only been a scheme to get Tadney out of her way. Now, the idea was feeling a lot more interesting. She didn't want any drugs, but if she could get out of here, she might get a chance to contact someone. If she tried here, she would be found out. Now she only had to think about who to call. Who would be able to help her the most.
When Tanira had been arrested, young Alexei had tried to find out where they had taken her. No one seemed to know anything. He knew he had to do something, but since he didn't know anyone important all he could think of was to contact Tanira's family. She had often spoken so fondly about her home outside the city. Perhaps they would know what to do.
Knowing that they would find out if he accessed her personel file, he had to rely on what Tanira had told him. She had mentioned the location once and he had recognized the area name. Since he didn't want to risk contacting them over the comm, the only way he could think about was to meet them face to face. Knowing that it was the only option he took the first transport out of the city.
Several hours later he arrived at his destination. It looked a bit like his own home before they built that new housing complex. Now he only had to find her house. He asked around for the Sahlins' place. At first he wasn't lucky at all. No one seemed to know anything about any Sahlins. Alexei was beginning to suspect that they didn't want to help him and that they knew more than they were saying.
Suddenly someone grabbed him from behind. His hands were tied behind his back and he was blindfolded. He was placed in some kind of transport. After a short trip someone asked him to get out. They removed the blindfold and untied him. Despite the humiliation he felt relieved that he was finally at his destination. He could recognize the house from the picture at Tanira's office.
"What's your name, boy?"
Alexei turned around to see who had spoken to him. It was a girl not much older than he was. She seemed familiar. It had to be -
"Yes, that's my name. Who are you?"
Alexei looked at Tanira's sister. She was as beatiful as his teacher. Her hair was as red as Tanira's was brown. The sun made the hair glow.
"I'm Alexei, Tanira's - "
Cessny interrupted him and completed his sentence.
"Tanira's student. Not bad. Not bad at all."
Alexei didn't know what to make of that remark.
"She's in trouble. They've arrested her."
Cessny changed completely. Suddenly she seemed more grown up and very solemn. It was obvious that the news had caused her much concern.
"I knew it. She shouldn't have stayed there. Come inside. We must talk."
When Alexei had told Cessny all he knew, she sat silent for a while. Then she appared to come to some sort of decision.
"I'm so glad you told me this, Alexei."
Alexei's cheeks heated up. Cessny had the same way of looking at him as Tanira. Like she could read him completely. She smiled at him.
"Let's get started, shall we."
She worked very effectively. She and her mom contacted several people over the comm. They discussed the matter and started to form a plan. Alexei was very impressed with how well Cessny coped with all this.
"Can you help her?"
"Of course, Alexei. Tanira has friends who can anyway. The only thing that worries me is that we don't know where they're keeping her. And the fact that they might give her some drugs that will make her sick."
"What can I do to help?"
"You've done more than enough. Coming here, telling us about it was very brave of you. I'm not sure it's safe for you to go back. Not now anyway. You can stay here if you want."
Alexei thought about the offer. He had nothing and no one to go back to anyway. His small room at campus was nothing compared to this paradise. He really wanted to stay, but he wasn't sure the offer was sincere. She was being kind to him, but did she really want him to move in?
Cessny tried to understand what was going on inside that cute kid's mind. He looked so worried.
"If you'd prefer to stay somewhere else, I can ask around. I'm sure one of my friends would love to take you in."
"Are you sure you want me here?"
"Of course, I want you to stay here. Mom would be delighted. You're a friend of Tanira's. You can stay as long as you want. We have plenty of room here."
The medichal technician looked at the medscanner critically. He had run all the standard tests on Tanira and a few more.
"Some of the values are a bit unusual, but according to your files, that's nothing to be alarmed about. You seem to function ok anyway."
"So I'm ok? But I've been feeling a bit tired lately."
"That's understandable. I will give you higher dosages of your usual uppers. I'm sure you'll feel better in a few days."
"I'm still a bit worried. Don't you think I need a head scan just in case?"
"Probably not. We'll just have to wait for the rest of the results. It will only be about 10 minutes."
Tanira really wanted to get the med out of the room. She had to think of something.
"Sir - I've heard of this new drug. I don't remember the name, but I heard it was very good."
"Let me get you the catalouge for you."
He pushed a few buttons on the comm-screen and the medical catalogue appeared.
Tanira browsed through it. She had something particular in mind, but just anything would do.
"There - is that any good?"
He read the name on the screen and nodded.
"Yes, yes. A very good choice. I think you'll be very happy with that."
"I think so too. Do you think I could get a sample of it? And perhaps a few others so I can decide which one is best for me?"
"Of course, Ms Sahlins. I will get the prescription for you, and the samples. It will only take a few minutes."
This was the opportunity Tamira had been waiting for. As soon as the medichal technician left the room she used his comm to re-route a call. Hopefully the security wouldn't be as strict as in the rooms she was confided to. Although she wanted to call her family she had decided to contact the person she thought would be best qualifed to help her.
A familiar face appeared on the screen.
-Dimitri - I don't have much time.
"Tanira! I know about what's happened to you. Cessny contacted me."
"Good. First, here's where I'm being held. I think they'll let me stay there for a week. After that -"
Tanira punched in the coordinates for the rooms she was staying in.
Dimitri sighed. He thought he could guess what would happen after that week if they weren't able to get Tanira out.
"I will try to fix something to get you out. Don't worry about it."
"Of course I worry, but I trust you."
"I will try to contact you tomorrow if I can. One way or another."
When Tamira had ended the session she felt at least marginally better. If someone could help her it would be Dimitri. He had been one of her first students and the smartest. Tanira knew he led some kind of network, but she had never asked anything about that. It was safer that way. She sat down to wait for the med tech to return.
When she got back she noticed that there were two Security officers posted outside her rooms. They were having something to drink. Coffee probably, Tanira thought. She pretended to be dizzy. When they helped her regain her balance, she slipped the pills she'd just recieved into their hot drinks.
"Thank you, officers. How clumsy of me. I'm sure I'll be alright now."
Tanira smiled contently. It had been a very productive day. She'd been able to contact Dimitri and she had been able to dispose of these pills in a very effective way. The officers helped her inside to make sure she was ok. Then they returned to their position outside her door. Tanira wasn't fooled by that. She knew she was being watched through the security cams. Both the ones that were clearly visible and the others that she knew were there somewhere.
Since she wasn't able to do anything but wait, she decided to go to bed. Tanira didn't want to eat anything she could get from the food dispenser in the kitchen. On the other hand she didn't want to be accused of being disloyal. That's why she had carefully selected the drugs she had asked about. They weren't supposed to be taken with food. The info in the catalogue recommended three days of fast before starting the treatment. Hopefully she would be out of here before that.
The next day, Tanira woke up early. She felt relaxed and ready to take on the new day. Hopefully Dimitri would have been able to do something by now. She began to work on the speech as she was expected to. She had no intention of actually making it, but it would look better if they believed that she would.
Several hours later Tanira was beginning to feel a little worried. What if Dimitri wouldn't be able to contact her? She got up and went out to the kitchen to have a glass of water just to take her mind off things. Suddenly a buzz from the comm indicated that there was someone at the door. She could hear Tadney's shrill voice informing her that she had a visitor. Her boyfriend would arrive in about five minutes. He just needed a security clearance before he could enter.
"Would you like to come in for a while?"
"No, but I will be back later to discuss some practical issues with you."
"See you later then."
Tanira hadn't told him that she didn't have a boyfriend. It had to be Dimitri or at least someone he'd asked to come. Secretly Tanira wished it would be Dimitri himself. She had really missed him even if they'd kept in touch through comm-sessions or vid-comms. The door slid open and Tanira greeted her "boyfriend" in a suitably enthusiastic way.
"Dimitri, honey, I'm so glad you're here. It's been awful."
"I came as soon as I heard."
They hugged and retreated into the room that Tanira used as a bedroom. It felt good to be so close to Dimitri. She had to remind herself that it was just a pretense. They weren't lovers, never had been and he used to be her student. Suddenly Tanira tensed up. What was he up to now? He was reaching under her top. Dimitri sensed her objection so he started to whisper.
"Easy, this is what I came for. Relax, it will be fine."
Tanira smiled. She was being silly. Of course, he was trying to give her a message. Playfully she bit his ear.
"I'm glad you're here."
Dimitri was breathing a little heavier. Reluctantly Tanira pushed him away before they started something they might regret later. She tried to read his face. Was it disappointment? She wasn't sure. He got to his feet abruptly.
"I think I should go now."
"Perhaps you should. This place isn't the most romantic place in the world. Hopefully I'll get out of here soon. Will you be back tomorrow?"
She smiled encouragingly. Dimitri looked as he was going to say something else. Instead he leaned over and kissed her. Without waiting for Tanira's reaction, he turned around and left. She closed the door behind him. Tanira was very happy with the visit, but now she had other things on her mind than the cute young man that just left. He had left her a message. Now she was anxious to find out what is was.
Tanira went into the bedroom and used the comm-screen to lower the light and to play some romantic music. She wanted to create the illusion that she was dreaming of her boyfriend. In the dim light she reach inside her bra where he had put a small bio-device. She put it behind the ear and plugged it in. It was a small message recorded by her sister.
"Hi, Tanira. I hope everything's ok with you and that you enjoyed the visit from your "boyfriend". He's very handsome and he adores you. Clever too. Here's the plan we've come up with. Memorize it and then eat the bio-device. I know it's disgusting, but Dimitri assures me it's perfectly safe. He's done it once and it doesn't taste too awful."
Cessny outlined the plan for her sister. It was risky but it just might work. Tanira stayed in the bedroom for a few hours listening to the soothing music. Soon enough she had to deal with the real world. She dozed off only to be awakened by the buzz from the door. Tanira had forgotten all about Tadney.
"I'm sorry. Did I wake you?"
He looked at Tamira's disheveled hair.
"No, that's ok. I was just listening to some music."
"Fine. I have some papers for you. It's a suggestion for your speech from the Director. She's very anxious for you to make it right. You don't have to use the suggestions if you don't want to, but it might be best if you take a look. Staying on good terms with her could prove useful for you in the future. She's a very powerful woman."
"Of course I'll take a look. How nice of you to bring them over. Is there something else you wanted to discuss with me?"
"Yes - there was a small matter -"
Tadney seemed nervous. Tanira was beginning to feel worried. What had changed since they last met?
"Go on. Tell me."
"I know it will be short notice, but they've rescheduled the speech for you. You will give it the day after tomorrow."
"But I was supposed to have a whole week. I wont be able to get it ready -"
"That won't be a problem. As I mentioned before, the Director's suggestions might prove useful. And perhaps you've already started to work on it. I'm sure you'll think of something."
Tadney gave Tanira an unusually dull look even for him.
"Why did they reschedule?"
"I think they wanted it to coincide with the anniversary."
"They want me to give the speech on the Director's 10th anniversary?"
"Yes, that's the plan or so I've heard. Like I said earlier, you are lucky to have her on your side."
Tanira didn't feel lucky at the moment. The situation had never seemed more hopeless. Now she needed to be alone. She had to get rid of this Tadney person. He couldn't help her. He didn't even know that she needed help.
"If you'll excuse me, I have to prepare the speech."
"Yes certainly. I understand. We'll keep in touch."
When Tadney had left, Tanira began to make adjustments to the plan. If Dimitri couldn't make the nessecary preparations in time everything would be different. The only way she'd be able to survive was if she made that speach. But how could she? Everything she'd worked for would be lost. How many people's lives would be changed if she did? Finally she came up with the only alternative. She would make the speech after all. Tanira got to work on it right away.
The next day, Dimitri managed to visit again. Tanira gave him a hug. She'd missed him. When she let go, she noticed that he was blushing. She smiled at him and led him to the bedroom. She put on some soft music and they sat down on the bed. Hopefully the music would stop the surveillance equipment from picking up what they said. They started to talk very quietly to each other.
"How are you holding up?"
"There's been a change of plan."
"What do you mean?"
Tanira told him about the speech and that it had to be done tomorrow.
"Oh no. I'm not done with the preparations yet. I don't know - You must -"
"Shh. It's ok. I've decided to make the speech."
"I know it's not what you had in mind, but the important thing is that you'll survive."
"Dimitri, darling. I will not make the speech they expect me to. I'll tell everyone what the Corporation is really about. I can't let people down. Did your network ever analyse the food that I asked you to? And the drugs they supply?"
"Yes, but that's not important now. Please give that public apology they're asking for."
"Dimitri. What would you have done in my place?"
"That's not important."
"Yes, it is. Answer me."
Dimitri looked at Tanira pleadingly, begging her not to make this decision.
"I see. Then you know why I have to do this. I must have the info before the speech. Please come."
Dimitri didn't say anything, but nodded. He would do as she asked. He didn't like the decision, but he would help her.
Tanira couldn't bear to look at him anymore. He looked to sad, but this was the only way. She talked out loud now.
"Dimitri, I really must prepare the speech. Please come back tomorrow instead, if you can."
He gave her a last hug and left.
Early next morning Tanira was woken by the comm.
"Mm - yes?"
"It's me. Tadney. I'm sorry, did I wake you?"
"Yes, it's quite early. But that's ok. Any new developments?"
"Yes, the Director will send a transport for you in an hour. I just thought I should inform you."
"I'll be ready."
"May I ask if your speech is ready."
"Yes. I finished it last night. I think it's rather good."
"I'm glad to hear it. I've got to go now, but I'll see you later. I will attend the celebrations so I'll hear it live."
Tadney's call made Tanira wonder if she'd made the right decision about the speech. She would have liked to have come up with an alternate solution, but she knew there wasn't one. In vain she hoped that there had been a postponement, but his call had dashed all that.
Would she even be allowed to contact her family before - she hesitated before she even thought the word - the termination? Just in case she'd write them a message. If Dimitri did manage to get an invitation to the anniversary, he'd be able to give it to them.
Since there wasn't much time, she started on the message to her family. It was hard to put into words what she was feeling and how much she loved them. When she was done she added a greeting for Dimitri as well. He'd been wonderful these last few days. She wouldn't have made it this far without him. She put the textpad aside and waited for the transport to arrive.
She was picked up by a large luxurious transport. This must be the Director's private limo, Tanira thought. She must really consider this speech important. When she arrived she was taken to a big room right beside the Director's.
She waited without being able to do anything to distract herself, not even practise on her speech. Tanira was too nervous to focus. Suddenly the door slid open to reveal Tadney. Tanira didn't like him but today his visit made a welcome distraction.
"Tadney, I'm glad to see you. How are you today?"
"I'm fine. Thank your for asking. I just wanted to wish you good luck. This has all turned out so well, don't you think?"
"Yes. As well as you could expect. I would like to thank you for all your help."
"Just doing my job."
Tadney was obviously very proud of what he'd achieved in an impossible situation. He seemed convinced that he'd get a promotion for his work.
"Now, someone's here to see you. I think we can make an exception this time. Strictly speaking, you aren't allowed any visitors before the speech. Anyway, see you at the festivites. Goodbye."
Dimitri entered the room when Tadney was leaving. He looked happy to see her.
"Dimitri, I'm so glad you made it."
"Of course. I wouldn't miss this for anything."
Tanira looked so sad that Dimitri wanted to hold her, and tell her everything would be alright, but naturally he couldn't. He just reached out to stroke her cheek lightly.
"Dimitri, please give this to my family after - When all of this is over."
"Yes, I'll see to it. Don't worry about that."
"There's a greeting for you in it too. Please don't read it just yet."
"I'll do it after the speech then. Come on now. Cheer up a little."
He pulled her closer. They just remained standing like that for a long time.
When they finally pulled apart, Tanira could see that he had been crying.
"Look what you made me do."
Dimitri was trying to lighten things up, but didn't succeed. They didn't know what to say. In the end Tanira broke the silence.
"Dimitri. I want to thank you for everything you've done for me."
Dimitri looked a bit embarressed.
"I mean even if it hadn't turned out the way it was supposed to, it still made a difference. You managed to come and visit. That alone meant a lot to me."
Tanira was interrupted by the door. Outside were two Security officers. It was obvious that they didn't trust her enough to let her find her own way to the hall where she would give her speech.
"It's time, ma'am."
When Tanira made no attempt to move, Dimitri held out his hand.
"Here, I'll come with you."
Silently they followed the two men. They stopped outside the Corporation's biggest lecture hall, but indicated for Tanira and Dimitri to go inside. The hall was full of people. Tanira recognized several of her former collegues, but several of the management too. This was obviously a very important affair. Tadney looked at her encouragingly.
When it finally was her turn to speak she looked at Dimitri for support. He handed her the textpad he had brought.
"I managed to get hold of that information you asked about."
"Thanks. Wish me luck."
To Tanira's surprise, he leaned down to give her a very passionate kiss.
"For good luck."
He smiled at her sweetly.
"Tanira, this will go much better than you think."
She sighed and mounted the podium. This was it, she thought, no turning back. With a firm voice that didn't reveal how nervous she was, she began talking.
"Ladies and gentlemen. My former students, members of the press and of course the Director. I've been invited today to speak about the Corporation. I have something important to tell you all."
Tanira looked from her own textpad to the one that Dimitri brought and back again. She continued by telling everyone the result of the tests done by his network.
"The food the Corporation provides contains a substance that makes people calm and cooperative. The effects of some of the drugs are even more severe. They make you weak which makes you need more drugs to function normally. It's been estimated that regular use shortens the life expectancy by at least ten years."
Tanira wasn't allowed to continue her speech. Suddenly the two security officers grabbed her and dragged her away. The last thing she saw before they blindfolded and cuffed her was Dimitri's worried look. They pushed her ahead until she heard a door slid open. She was tossed inside a room so hard that she fell to the floor. Unable to stop the fall with her hands, she was jarred quite badly by the impact. Tanira could feel something warm and salty on her lips. She was so terrified that she couldn't focus. Her only wish was that death would come quickly.
Several hours later she could hear the door slid open again. She was grabbed and taken outside. Tanira was pushed more gently this time and she didn't fall. She could tell that she was being placed inside a transport. The facility where they performed the terminations and the recycling was located somewhere outside the city, Tanira had heard. It will all be over soon, she told herself as a slight comfort.
When the transport stopped she was let out. Someone uncuffed her and removed the blindfold. She blinked at the light but was beginning to recognize her surroundings. It was impossible. This couldn't be happening.
"Mom, Cessny. How -"
"You can thank your tech wiz here for that."
Cessny pointed behind her. Dimitri smiled at her.
"I was able to make some changes to the plan. Anyway, we can't stay here. Officially you're dead. Let's go to my place where I will tell you all about it."
They went inside the transport again and drove away. Tanira had never been to Dimitri's place, but she knew it wasn't very far. They stopped outside a high wall with a gate. Dimitri gave a few vocal orders to open it. When he'd talked about his place, Tanira had always imagine it to be a small cottage like their own home, but never this. It consisted of several buildings and must have been some kind of mansion.
"We have plenty of room for all of you as you can see. Let me show you where you'll be staying if you want."
Tanira would get a cottage of her own. Her things had already been moved there. The house was very pretty. She looked at her friend and smiled.
"It's perfect. Thank you."
"Come on sis, let me show you mine. And mom's too."
"Will we get one each?"
"Yes. No one uses them anyway. If you prefer to live together, I can arrange that too."
"No. Please. This is perfect."
Cessny was happy with the arrangements. She wouldn't want it to be different. It was time for her to be on her own.
Tanira suddenly noticed a familiar face.
"Alexei. You're here too?"
She gave her student a hug.
He blushed and glanced at Tanira's sister. Cessny smiled at her new friend.
"He's staying with me now."
"Alexei was the one who told us about you being arrested."
"I didn't know. I'm so grateful."
Suddenly Tanira felt dizzy. Recent events had been tough on her and she hadn't eaten for days. The voices around her seemed to come from a distance. When she finally came to she found herself in a bed with Cessny sitting right beside her.
"Welcome back, sis. You had us worried there for a while. Try to eat this."
She handed her a plate with real stir fried vegetables. It had been years since Tanira had eaten fresh food.
"How long has it been since your last meal?"
"I don't know. Four days perhaps."
"No wonder you feel a little week then. Eat up and I'll fill you in on what's been happening in the last few days."
She told her about Alexei and how he had dared to come and see them and tell them everything about the arrest. It was obvious that her little sister was very fond of her former student. It was a good choice. Alexei was a good kid. Cessny could do worse.
But Tanira could hear that her sister wasn't finished with her account yet.
"You wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Dimitri. He's been wonderful. Can you imagine him running a facility like this? They seem to be running some sort of resistance movement. They have hydropods for vegetables and recycle their own water."
"How did he manage to get me out?"
"Perhaps he'd better tell you himself. He's been worried sick about you. I'll get him for you."
Dimitri entered the room, a worried look on his face.
"Come on, Dimitri. I'm not that sick."
"I was so worried about you."
"You were worried? What about me? Why didn't you tell me that everything had been arranged?"
She pretended to hit him with her fist.
"I wanted to, but I didn't want anyone to suspect anything."
"Yes, I can understand that. Anyway, just having you there made me feel better. Now you must tell me all about what you did."
There was a proud look on Dimitri's face, as he began the account.
"Yes, I managed to change the information in your case file. As you know, there are two facilities handling the destruction sentences in this region. I just changed the time when they would pick you up. And I also changed the info in the directory so they would think that the other facility was handling your destruction. No one would be expecting you. Then I sent two of my friends to pick you up. As easy as that."
"I knew you were brilliant, but this is fantastic."
Dimitri looked away shyly. He wasn't used to this praise, at least not from Tanira.
"I read your greeting. I hope you don't mind."
Now it was Tanira's turn to blush. This wasn't how he was supposed to find out. She still felt the same way, but she wasn't sure about his feelings.
"I know you were very distressed back then, but I was very glad that you wrote that to me."
"You can ignore that if you want to. Thing's weren't excactly normal, to say the least."
"So you've changed your mind? You don't feel that way anymore?"
Dimitri didn't know what to make of this new and insecure Tanira. He'd always admired her for her strength. He could feel her fix him with a stare.
"No, Dimitri. I haven't changed. I'm just -"
"Please, tell me."
" I don't know how you feel."
"How can you doubt that? I've loved you since I first saw you, but you were my teacher and -"
Dimitri broke off in mid sentence.
"I was afraid you still thought of me as a kid."
"I never did think of you as a kid. That's the reason I kept the distance. You were always special, even then."
Dimitri hugged Tanira, feeling happier than he had for years. Finally she was with him and she was safe. This was more than he could have hoped for.
The Sahlins family and Alexei settled very well into their new home. They felt safe and it was a relief not to be dependent of the Corporation anymore. Regularly they got news about the new developments. After Tanira's speach things had begun to change.
The market had reacted to the new development by selling out. The value of the stocks had dropped dramatically and the Director had to leave her post. They were splitting up the Corporation into smaller, more manageable pieces.
The Art Department wouldn't be reopened. It still wasn't considered profitable enough and they hadn't been able fill Tanira's old position. She was worried about what would happen to her old students when they had to be transferred to Tech classes.
Perhaps they could recruit them to their network. They always needed more reliable people. But for now they had to lie low. Even if the Corporation was down at the moment, it wasn't beaten. And they wouldn't give up the fight until it was.