by Nadia Hutton
Copyright © 2016 by Nadia Hutton
Lena took a deep breath before she spoke. If he could throw any rebuttal at her, he would claim that she had not fully thought out her decision.
"I decided to take the Manthras Companyís offer, Dad."
It seemed like such a simple sentence to say over coffee and biscuits, the sun setting in the deep red sky. She would always remember when he looked up at her, his steel blue eyes meeting hers directly.
"You would turn mercenary for some extra cash?"
It caught her off guard and she found her well-rehearsed speech fleeing her mind. She had even written it down, though she had tossed it out in a state of cockiness that she no longer felt.
"Itís an honor to be a Daywalker, Dad. They only pick the best graduates, top of their classes."
"You were the head of a Level 4 class. You could have a commission, serve your country," he demanded, "It is your duty to serve."
"What country?" Lena said sarcastically, gesturing to the faded light in the sky, "This darkened hole in the north? The last parcel of Canadian land, rightfully won back from the evil American empire? Of course. I should be part of the True and Free and together we can wipe the bastards even out of Saskatchewan."
"You shouldnít joke," her father reprimanded. "Many good men and women died so you could live in freedom."
"They died so I could use a different nationality on my ID. A leaf instead of a star, such a great contribution to the world. It was even harder to draw as a kid, so no help there."
"You donít know what it was like then," he said softly. "You donít remember the Presidentís Aid, you donít remember what the fallout was like after Iqaluit, even decades later. We suffered a hundred years under them before we had any sort of freedom."
"Dad Ö that was almost thirty years ago now."
"Thirty years is nothing, not even a generation," her father replied. "We fought it so you Ö so all of our children could grow free. When you went to the Academy, I thoughtÖ"
"I did too," she admitted, "I thought Iíd follow in your footsteps. The second General Greenwood. But Ö I canít anymore. I need to make my own name for myself. I canít just be your daughter anymore."
He frowned and she tried to backpedal, "I didnít mean it like that. You know I didnít mean it like that."
"When do you leave?" he asked, quietly.
"Two days from now," Lena replied, looking down into her coffee cup. "They want me to start getting acclimatized as soon as I can. It apparently can take some people quite a while."
Her father smiled sadly, "Youíve never really seen the daylight, have you?"
"And you have?" she smirked, "Youíre an old man, but youíre not that old."
"I saw it once at its peak," he said, leaning back in his chair.
She had heard his stories often as a little girl and despite her frustration, it was easy to fall back into the pattern of listening to her fatherís tales.
"During the war, we were outside Collingwood. I remember we couldnít find shelter, we were climbing the escarpment, trying to find some alcove to spend the day in. We found a cave, started covering it with whatever gear we could, anything to block out the sun. After we covered it with tarps, we laid down to sleep. I was on guard then, and I was young and foolish and decided to look past the tent."
He paused to drink his coffee, and then continued, "The sky was yellow and orange, the sun was huge in the sky and so hot on my skin. I was transfixed, looking out at the valley and the ruins of the city. I stayed until I nearly threw up; I wasnít used to that much exposure. I went back inside, the sun still marking the back of my eyes. Sometimes I can still see it when I close them. I guess that wonít be such an unusual experience for you in a few months," he said quietly, "Youíll lose your night vision, you know. It will be harder for you to transition back. The body can survive the sunlight; humans have always been good at surviving. But your healthÖ"
"I know," Lena said quietly.
He sighed, his hand resting on his forehead.
"Do what you will, child. You always have."
"I love you, Dad."
He laughed, "The response of any child caught doing what their parent despises. Oh, lamb. Be careful in your dealings. Be wise and brave. You have the latter in spades, I know. But Ö be careful."
"Iíll try my best," Lena smiled.
He looked up at her sorrowfully, "I just want you to make something of your life. We have been given so muchÖ"
"Iím sorry you think Iím wasting my life," Lena groaned, rising from the table, "But I donít owe you or anyone else anything. I am allowed, as much as anyone else, to do what makes me happy."
"And does this make you happy? Or are you doing this to spite me?"
"Not everything I do in my life is about you," Lena said, leaving the room. She paused as she left the door, turning to see her father drink his coffee without looking up at her. With an angry sigh, she walked to her childhood room and went online to look up directions to the city and to check on the status of her file transfers.
She paused as the screen loaded, running her hand through her hair. She bit her lip and logged in.
The trip to Vancouver coming in from the Interior took her longer than expected. She was not used to this new transport model and the flight path it plotted traced the old highways making the journey longer than the aerial maps had suggested. She was almost shocked when she finally glimpsed the skyscrapers that lingered on the horizon like shipwrecked schooners across an abandoned shore. And the ocean. She had never seen so much water in her life. Dark blue against the dark red sky, slowly fading into daylight as she crossed into the city lines.
This was the furthest south she had ever been. The American border was close; her father had warned her. They were on friendlier terms than they had been thirty some years ago, but resentment lingered. Many of the old Canadian territories were still under American jurisdiction, but the west had managed to free itself, or so Canadian children were taught in school. The west was divided on the old lines: Yukon, British Columbia. Typically, everything west of the Rockies was rightfully Canadian territory. Lena had often wondered if the west had been given as appeasement for the rest of the country, but she did not know enough about these things to be certain. If so, it seemed strange, as most of the damage from the nuclear blasts a century ago had affected the Hudson Bay area and the Great Lakes.
The transport beeped at her incessantly as she reached the city limits. She pressed another button, alerting the authorities to a possibly contaminated occupant entering the city. It seemed strange to her to have to report this. Many refugees had come into the city on foot over the years, and they had not had to register themselves. And how many years had it been since anyone was actually exposed to the fallout of the Iqaluit Incident?
No matter, protocol was protocol, as her father would have said.
She hated herself for missing him already.
A female AIís voice instructed her to move to Station B in Quadrant 202.
Lena set the coordinates, letting the transport navigate the upper streets of the city. She looked below her, watching the pedestrians and lower streets. She could see the people somewhat despite the morning glow, but she had to squint in the early daylight. Until her body had adjusted, she would have to wear protective lenses for certain. It was a good thing she already had an appointment to have her artificial irises replaced. She had been considering a shade of violet; she thought it would complement her short black hair.
At the sound of the autopilot shutting off, she lined up the transport with the fluorescent lights, angling the ship as it lowered itself into the midsection of a building. As it locked into the pattern, an AI message reminded her in English, French, and Mandarin that all organic materials were to be registered with city officials before being admitted into the city populace.
Lena had been aware of this beforehand, making sure to only dress in synthetics. She knew people who had lost priceless heirlooms and vintage clothes to those who were too stringent with the disinfectant or too loose with the concept of personal property.
She docked in the lineup and exited out of the transport. She looked up, seeing a helpful sign telling her, Guest 2342, to go to the third room on the left for disinfection and registration.
Luckily, with the sun so near to rising and safe travelling done for the night, there were not that many people left in the intake lines, and she was able to walk straight in without an appointment.
A stern-looking woman signaled to follow her into an examination room. She patted the examination table and asked, "English? FranÁais?"
"English," Lena said, though she was technically fluent in both. It seemed so stupid to her as a child to keep learning the second language; what used to be Quebec was still under American jurisdiction. Yet her father insisted it was important and for some reason, she had believed him. As an adult, she now viewed it as six hours a week she could have spent in the gym.
"Alright," the woman said, "Youíll put your clothing in this bag here. Youíll then be scrubbed and disinfected. While thatís happening, I need to confirm your identification for your registration with the city."
"Good, now go strip, girl. Itís nothing I havenít seen before."
Lena did so without modesty and laid back down on the table as the glass came down over her body. It adjusted slightly to her frame as the motor started buzzing. She felt the suction over her toes as a heavy file came down and started scraping off the first layer of her skin. She winced.
The woman slightly raised her eyebrow, "Daywalker?"
"You must be new at it. Your retinas are too clean and you have no abnormalities in your skin. Better watch out for that. You should see some of the lumps I find on refugees. Now, place of birth?"
"I was homeschooled for five years, went to Oswood Academy in Fort St. John for another fifteen years. I graduated earlier this year."
"That far south, eh? Most kids go up in the Yukon for military training."
"I wanted to stay close to my Dad, maíam."
"They really do want to know everything about you, donít they?"
"Standard procedure. The Metropolis wants all of its citizens thoroughly documented. It cuts down on unpleasant occurrences."
Lena nodded as the scraper and suction moved up her calf, "My father is Harvin Greenwood, general of the 2nd Battalion of the True and Free Brigade. Sorry, was. He retired fairly recently, Iím still getting used to it."
"Any other parents?"
Lena shook her head, "Single father. Iím adopted."
"Do you have your medical history from your biological parents?"
Lena nodded. "No history of heart disease, one maternal aunt with cervical cancer. Grandparents all died during the Independence Wars. My ratio is 50% Thai, 50% Japanese, roughly. My parents were both fourth generation Canadians. I know youíre not allowed to ask that, but you probably want that for your records anyway."
Most of this information was bullshit, but her father had tried what he could to track down her genetic information without raising alarms about her nationality.
The woman bit her lip and grudgingly typed it into her datapad. "Vancouver has a great interest in genetic diversity."
"Of course it does."
Lena flinched as the machine coated her pubic hair in a fine mist.
"It should sterilize you from any other organic matter your hairs might have caught."
"Shouldnít they have done the same with my leg hair?"
"Standard procedure. We used to merely shave and wax everyone, but thereís religious issues for some Ö and weíre not allowed to ask about that either."
"Of course you canít. Dad was Catholic once. He didnít raise me with it and I have no idea what anyone else in my family was. Put me as none, I guess."
"Any injuries or previous surgeries?"
"I broke my right arm when I was twelve. The pins should have dissolved, but I never got it checked out again. If your scanner didnít see it, they should be gone now."
"You didnít go back to the doctor?"
"Iím a little scared of them."
The woman laughed, "Oh, donít worry. I hear the superstitions you folks have in the Interior. The witch doctors who sell your organs to the Americans while youíre under the gas, all tattooed with the stars and stripes on their chests and whistling the American anthem as they cut you open."
Lena blushed slightly as the suction moved over her belly, "I was twelve. I didnít know any better at the time."
"Donít worry, your skin cells are good to no one after this process. Theyíll get burned and buried with the rest."
"I wasnít worried."
"Of course not. Now," the woman said, "Youíre not going to be able to talk for a while as it does your face. If you need me to stop, tap on the glass."
Lena felt a wave of anxiety as the hood of the contraption came closer. The suction started on her eyes, the scraping device going over her skin, the fine mist coating her hair and eyelashes. She started coughing from the smell. She wanted to scream, but could not as the suction device entered her mouth and went down her throat. She dug her nails into her palms, squeezing until there was blood.
An old phrase from her training echoed through her mind like a mantra: chosen pain is better than forced pain.
Then the hood lifted and she could breathe again. She coughed and vomited into the provided canister.
"Thank you, Lena Greenwood, for choosing to immigrate to the Metropolis of Vancouver. If you go to the room on the right, you will be equipped with your ID and given fresh synthetics to wear. Your cooperation is appreciated."
Her skin aching, Lena dressed. Her transport had been cleansed of skin cells and any other material that could contain containments. She hated the smell of the disinfectant and worried she would throw up again. The bright light rising over the mountains behind her wasnít helping with that.
Once she got back into the air, she felt a little less queasy and programmed the craft to take her to the Manthras Companyís building, near the waterfront of English Bay.
Upon docking, she saw someone waiting for her at the edge of the building. Disembarking, Lena walked out with an open hand.
The woman who returned her handshake was at least a decade older, with a firm grip. Dark ebony skin, even darker eyes, and a coy smile. Her long, braided hair stirred in the heavy winds from the ocean.
"Stiar," she introduced herself, "Agent Stiar of Manthras Company. You must be the newest recruit, Lena Greenwood. Iíve heard a lot about you."
"All good things, I hope."
"The best. Come on now, letís get you inside the building before the sun really gets up."
"It gets brighter than this?" Lena joked hopefully.
Stiar smiled, "I better get you some glasses and block. Youíre going to need it. Come on, you might also want some balm. Youíre pretty red from the disinfectant."
Lena blushed, "Is it that obvious?"
"Check out your ass when you strip tonight. Donít be surprised if you get slapped a lot these next few weeks. All part of the local welcome."
"Were you born here, then?"
"Yep. Born and raised in the glorious metropolis," Stiar rolled her eyes, "I was lucky enough to be born on the second Confederation Day. They like to think of me and my birth mates as lucky."
"Are you?" Lena asked, surprised Stiar was so young.
"Could be worse. I could have been born sixty kilometers south of here or even worse, sixty kilometers north. Itís damn cold up there."
They reached an observation room with tinted windows. Lena sat near the window, looking at the city. Stiar went to a cooler, grabbing two bottles of water. She tossed one to Lena, who caught it with one hand.
"Good catch," Stiar commented.
"I was a baseball player for many years. I was a pitcher."
"Iím sure Papa was pleased at you loving the American pastime."
"I should have realized youíd know who my dad is.Ē
"We research the shit out of everybody. I probably know your academic records better than you do. I also know about that time you dyed your hair pink for two weeks. It wasnít a very good look for you. Professor Duncan also had some very interesting things to say about you punching out a fellow student when you were eight. You had a very good right hook, apparently."
"Even more impressive since Iím left-handed. So you were the one to hire me?"
"Technically my boss did. But I was the one who put the file on his desk."
"Did you pick me because of my dad?"
"I picked you in spite of your dad. I thought you would be opposed to what we do for a living."
Lena smirked and said, "What dishonest things could happen by the light of day?"
Stiar tapped her bottle against hers, "I think Iím going to like you, Greenwood."