Authors: Anne Charnock
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers, #Technothrillers, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #High Tech, #Literary Fiction, #Genetic Engineering, #Hard Science Fiction
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2013 Anne Charnock
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013945044
For Garry, Adam, and Robert
But a thought swarmed in me; what if he, this yellow-eyed being—in his ridiculous, dirty bundle of trees, in his uncalculated life—is happier than us?
he second-smallest stick insect lay askew
and lifeless on the trails of ivy. Jayna lifted the mesh cover, nudged the foliage with her middle finger, and the corpse dropped to the cage floor. It made no sense. The smallest of the brood, the outlier, should have died first. Why this one, the second smallest? She glanced at the temperature monitor. Surely, it wasn’t her fault? And it couldn’t be the food—she turned over a leaf—or they would all be ill by now. So what exactly…? The surviving insects shuddered indifferently.
Jayna placed the cover back on its base. One thing was certain. An autopsy was out of the question; she had no scalpels. In any case, she thought, it was a fact: in the normal run of things, people had autopsies; insects did not. She pushed a hand through her hair. One dead stick insect and now she was running two minutes late for breakfast. That’s all the death amounted to—a slight delay in her morning routine. The death would remain a mystery. No ripple of concern, no cascade of grief. She peered into the cage at the still-smallest stick insect.
“Maybe you’re…just lucky,” she murmured.
Jayna left Rest Station C7 with her friend Julie and together they headed towards the tower blocks of downtown Manchester. They
looked like schoolgirls, holding their packed lunches and wearing identical office garb.
“Why would the smallest, feeblest one survive longer?” said Jayna.
“Was it feeble? Perhaps it was just…small,” said Julie.
By the time they reached the Vimto sculpture on Granby Row, Jayna had scanned through the data she’d compiled over the past three months on the eating habits of her stick insects, their rates of growth, their response to stimuli—light, heat, and touch—morning and evening activity rates…thirteen variables in all. She plotted against time, overlaid the graphs, and compared. No help at all.
“I kept a close eye on them all but I only took measurements for two—the two closest to average size,” said Jayna.
The morning street projections let rip with the usual inducements—half-price breakfast deals, lunchtime soup ’n’ sushi specials. Julie peeled off northwards. Jayna, still perplexed, pressed ahead and pulled up sixteen data sets culled over recent weeks from a slew of enthusiasts’ forums and from academic studies by the Bangalore Environmental Research Institute. Rates of growth, population size, mortality figures; it was all there. She plotted the longevity of stick insects against their size at death, and regressed the data. The correlation with size was…heck, weaker than she’d imagined. She tripped on a raised paving flag. And as for
, she thought, the tiniest survivor in mind, that was without doubt a dumbed-down term referring to randomness.
On entering the high atrium of the Grace Hopper Building, she walked under the turquoise-leaved palms and bit her lip. She pushed the Bangalore data from her mind and considered her Monday schedule as she stepped to the back of the elevator. The doors closed with a
! and she tapped the back of her head against the elevator panel.
Time to think straight. How should she handle her entrance? Act as though nothing had happened on Friday? Walk straight past Eloise? Or should she apologize without any delay? It was just too awkward…and confusing. She hoped Eloise had calmed down over the weekend. According to Benjamin, it was a simple misjudgment. “A minor faux pas”—his exact words. The elevator doors opened and she stepped out. She was relieved Benjamin had said
of a faux pas would be worse, definitely.
Pushing open the office door, she came to a decision. She would keep quiet, hope for the best.
Eloise jumped up, lifted a hand—not exactly a wave—and scuffled across the analysts’ floor at Mayhew McCline to intercept Jayna. “Tea!” she said, and pulled Jayna towards the kitchen galley. “Listen, I’m sorry about Friday.”
“No. I’m the one who’s sorry, Eloise. How was your father?”
“You were right. No real panic. He was comfortable and sedated when I got there.”
“You were worried. I wasn’t—”
“I overreacted. I didn’t mean it.”
“Is he still in hospital?”
“Yes, should be home tomorrow.” She cocked her head to one side. “It was a very nasty fall, you know…but nothing’s broken. They’re running tests, giving him a full check.”
“I shouldn’t have barked at you.”
Jayna raised her eyebrows fractionally. She didn’t disagree. What had she said that was so bad? “Don’t forget the monthly figures before you go. Only take a minute.” It hadn’t exactly been a quarrel; too brief and one-sided. Jayna reassessed the incident: Eloise pushing things into her bag, one arm in her coat. She’d barged past and
so the whole department heard, “You really are
the bloody limit
, Jayna.” The emphasis still caught her by surprise. And then Eloise had thrown open the office door. Her coat belt got caught on
the handle. She’d yanked at the belt and shoved the door, which had slammed back against the wall.
“Darjeeling, black, isn’t it?” Eloise turned and hit the kettle switch. “Jayna, you have to understand. We can’t all be as calm as you.”
Jayna shook her head, “Nothing for me, thanks,” and turned to leave but Eloise touched her arm. “Listen, to be honest, I wanted to clear the air quickly. Something serious…” She hesitated. “You’d better see Benjamin, now. It’s about Tom Blenkinsop.” Eloise frowned at Jayna’s blankness and, as if spelling things out for a child, “It’s…not…good.”
A bugbear, that Tom. She should have told him; if he needed so much help he should have asked through proper channels, booked some extra training, some official mentoring time. Maybe Benjamin had found out about his off-loading. It had started two months back when Tom sent her a research report before submitting it to Benjamin, with a request:
Cast an eye over this, will you, Jayna?
An aberration; an extra step in the accredited process. On the first three occasions the amendments had taken less than ten minutes but, from that point on, Tom’s requests had landed every few days and the reports had become weightier. She hadn’t complained because once she’d corrected the first report she hadn’t liked the idea of Tom’s errors reaching Benjamin. He might have missed them. So Jayna had developed the habit of charging the time to her own jobs; five minutes here, ten minutes there. She finessed his arguments, improved his executive summaries—his weakest area—and, when essential, she hunted down additional data sources to “beef things up,” as Tom himself would say.
Benjamin usually worked in the middle of the analysts’ floor on the thirty-first but this morning he summoned staff to the thirty-second, to his so-called quiet room.