In my father’s time, genetics research was of the utmost importance. Population control, ensuring sufficient air and water supply for every Indrithian. The EX2 pill was his creation. I have taken my daily supplement since I turned twelve, as has every other Proper Young Woman. When I am cohabitated, I will discontinue my daily dosage, conceive my single offspring, and resume my daily EX2 pill after the birth. Except for the small human creature growing within me for nine months, everything will remain exactly the same.
Perhaps it’s good we’re only allowed one. I can barely manage myself.
Due to my father and the EX2 pill, the population is suitably controlled. Indra thrives. Now genetic research and implementation have evolved into something else entirely. Geneticists specialize in enhancements: dimple insertions, skin replenishment, skeletal adjustment. Nothing that changes the world, just your appearance.
Governess begged me to get a chest alteration before the party season. “No need to inflate for the whole evening,” she confided. “Only your debut entrance. And perhaps for the formal dinner.”
I refused again and again, and she would sigh dramatically, whole body crumpling as though I had stabbed her with my zinger. Governess believes in enhancements with the same intensity she believes in perfectly tied waist sashes. Her own face ceased changing when she began her yearly visits to the Rejuvenation Island Clinic. You could not discern her age unless you noticed the dullness in her eyes. She has yet to have the sparkle put back in, which is a very painful procedure.
◊ ◊ ◊
Up here in the upmost of Upper Levels, we have everything we could possibly want for, according to Governess, who never fails to want for an opinion. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include an actual person with whom I can have an actual conversation.
Life Guide doesn’t count. Master comes once a week to oversee my swordsmanship, and he doesn’t count either.
I have never visited the City of Indra, and the only Middlers I know are the maids appointed to scour the endless white surfaces of the main quarters, and the garden crew that reprograms the synth-trees to bloom for new seasons. Their leaves are gold and red and orange now.
Last year Governess chose white blossoms. I thought much the same of them as of my white dress. This year they grew apples. They look far better than they taste.
Veda neighs nervously. I’m getting closer to the edge. “Keep going, girl,” I tell her.
My Emergence Ball will be the biggest of the season. Everyone will be there, desperate to see Helix Island up close. Desperate to see my inadequacy up close as well.
And the Proper Young Men of Indrithian Society? They will line up to cohabitate with the Cosmo Airess. I will be forced to pick one of them—that’s how it’s done. That’s how it’s always been done.
The air grows chilly. The clouds draw closer.
Veda comes to a sudden halt. We’ve reached the edge. Nowhere else to go.
I gaze up at the dome that keeps us all protected. It is far above and faint, but I’m always aware of it. It is what keeps us from burning with radiation.
I gaze down. The floating islands glide through the clouds beneath me, caught in their predictable orbits. They’re beautiful from afar—you can almost imagine each is a slice of paradise, but must paradise feel so limited? For a moment, in the space between, I see the bottomless City of Indra, the twin towers of the High Council rising above all others. There is so much glass that it’s hard to look at directly, the way it refracts the sun’s light. It all looks as if it could be broken so easily, yet it has stood for centuries.
Behold Indra: city of impossible architecture, her beauty timeless, her secrets dark. Whose mind dreamed her to life?
For a split second, I imagine leaping into the sky and falling into the endless, unknown Indrithian void. Past one of the construction rigs, the crew of Hubbers astonished at my falling form, distracting them from island maintenance for a mere moment. . . .
The feeling I get is exactly like experiencing an Emergence Ball. Falling into an endless, unknown social void. . . .
Veda senses something. She backs us up. I shift her so we face Helix Island. My home, though not for much longer, if everything, unfortunately, goes according to the very well thought out and endlessly practiced plan.
I will return to the main quarters and apologize to Governess. Tomorrow I will open my fan wide and curtsy low but not too low. I shall smile at each of the Proper Young Indrithian Men as though they are the most fascinating Young Men in existence, and then I will choose one with which to spend the rest of my life. At least it’s my choice, right?
In that moment, I feel something boiling to the surface of my skin. This part of me I cannot control. This part is not only improper but something far worse. Dangerous.
I give Veda a squeeze with my heels, and we gallop toward an enormous tree. On its branches hang the last of the apples. We’re going faster now, the wind blowing through my hair. When we’re practically flying, I draw the zinger from the sheath on my back.
I swing as we race, cutting through the air, and the blade releases a few notes.
The sound rises, growing angrier and more distorted. I hold the blade steady, the feedback disrupting the island’s well-preserved harmony. I pull myself to standing, balanced upright on Veda as she races forward, just as a burst of melody emerges from my zinger.
Not a song, but closer than I’ve ever gotten.
In the split second, we race under the tree and I launch into midair. I land where I started: sitting safely on Veda’s back. Veda halts. As I’m catching my breath, she turns.
Beneath the tree looms a tall figure in white.
I don’t have swordsmanship today. Why’s he here?
Is he constantly watching?
He bends down, picking up an apple from the ground. He holds it out to me in his open palm, gives it a slight twist. The apple falls into two perfectly cut halves.
“Livia,” he says. “We do not damage nature. We do not kill what grows.”
“But it isn’t real, Master. Nothing here is real.”
Excerpted from The Book of Indra, Chapter VII: “The Archives: A Universe of Wonderment”
The Archives are a gift to Indrithian Society. Accessed via wrist implant, entering the Archives can be easily mastered by both child and adult. A fully immersive environment, these Archive experiences range in nature and are entered via access chips.
As for your memory Archives, they are stored on an individualized chip assigned to each Indrithian citizen by the High Council at childhood.
From replications of historical events pre–Great Catastrophe and educational training programs (“simulations”) to reduplication of your personal memories, the Archives serve to Educate, Entertain, and Enlighten.
To Access Archives:
♦ Find a calm, quiet location that is free of distraction. The Archives can be accessed from any location, though many prefer to do so in the comfort of an Archive access center. Archive access centers are located throughout Upper Indra, the City of Indra, and the HCP Hub. (For a complete listing of locations, see appendix LXIV.)
♦ Administer two quick, firm taps to the wrist to circulate the blood. Insert Archive access chip into left wrist slot.
♦ Quickly place thumb tip to pulse point.
♦ Once thumbprint has been matched, DNA activation will be immediate.*
♦ The length of the simulation is dependent on the Archive accessed. Memories provide the briefest duration, while historical archives can be looped to ensure the most satisfaction with your experience.
♦ To end an Archive, within the memory or simulation tap your wrist twice to remove the access chip. Upon removal, you will immediately regain consciousness within the safety of your Archive access location.
The Archives: just another example of Indra’s greatness!
The Archives: offering a wealth of knowledge, a virtual preservation of your personal history, and hours of fun!**
The Archives: a universe of delight at your fingertip!***
* Your Archive access is monitored by the High Council via thumbprint DNA matching. Your individual Archive access is restricted at their discretion.
** If you attempt to access an Archive the Indra High Council has not made available to you, you will face immediate dismissal from the Archives. This process, also referred to as “flinging,” is both shameful and illegal. Repeat offenders will face punishment as dictated by the High Council. In extreme cases, the High Council Archive Commission may choose to give the offending citizen permanent “shadow” status. Shadowed citizens are rendered voiceless and sentenced to wander the Archives for the remainder of their lives. You will know them due to their blank stares and hooded cloaks. Do not interact with them. Shadowed citizens serve as living reminders of the great gifts bestowed on the citizens of Indra, the Archives being among them, and the severe penalty for taking advantage of them.
*** Archive areas and experiences are restricted by and provided at the sole discretion of the High Council. The High Council has the power to alter, modify, and adjust archival simulations. All further matters regarding Archive operations and “shadow” status are restricted by High Council command.
(The above excerpt appears at Amazon in the notes, outside the book. Is it good? YOU DECIDE. The publisher also did Kris Jenner’s book, Raising Kanye, and more.)