It was a magnificent morning, full of color and beauty, yet it began
so early that there was only one witness to it. She sat quietly on the glassed
in balcony, turning a small, metal cup in her hand, but not sipping from
it. Instead she ran her eyes over the glorious sunrise, enjoying the warmth
of the cautious rays that stole their way over the silent city. They bounced
off a large, striped pyramid, shone through an aging water-spanner of orange
metal, and lightly touched a tall, gothic column on a small hill. The watcher
closed her eyes dreamily, silently adoring sleepy San Francisco, knowing
that within a hour alarms would be ringing and toasters popping and weary
children rising and adults leaving for the morning commute. No one had time
for an hour's rest - evening fell upon the laborers of the city with unfair
quickness, rushing the people towards home and dinner plans and homework
and squabbles. She refused to rush, and so sacrificed a precious hour's
sleep every day to watch the sun wake the city up. It was a ritual, one
of her more important ones.
An alarm rang inside the porch, and the girl lifted herself from the padded chair. "Damn," she cursed softly, and walked quickly to the door, which was busy preparing to seal itself off. The dark shades, in place most of the day, began to lower themselves to cover the windows, but just as they began to close, she turned back quickly, as always, and managed to catch her last glimpse of a lavender sun gently warming a lime-green sky.
The commute was a dangerous time in San Francisco, with cars rushing
back and forth to various laboratories and offices. There were three types
of people in the city - those who lived in the slums, those who controlled
the slumdwellers, and those who worked in the labs. Almost all were scientists
- all searching for an answer.
Cautiously the girl worked her way towards the dusty car. Its shiny metallic gray finish shone through the dirt, but to her it glowed purple through the violet-tinted lenses. They snugly into the large, bug eyed sockets, which in turn seemed to meld into the large helmet, covering up a thick tassel of brown hair that barely poked out underneath. Turning her head once, twice, her breath coming out in short, rusty puffs, she dashed inside the car, locking, then sealing the doors. She snapped off the helmet, revealing a worn, rather plain face with two light gray flecks in them. The face was soft, shy, but with an intense aura that had supervisors looking up when she walked by, and at the moment it was focused tenaciously on starting the car up. After three jolts she held her breath, then said a silent prayer of thanks as the haphazard contraption rolled slowly down the hill, through the dust clouds, and towards downtown.
She had to stop at one recharging station along the way, sifting through documents as the humming generator powered the little car's motor. Everyone inside the waiting room was looking at computers, paperwork, or organizers too, remembering yesterday so that today could start smoothly, not willing to waste a moment. About three quarters of the people were regulars, commuters who happened to stop at Station 35SF every day at 7:16 exactly, but the others were feared. They were the prowlers, the hunters, the ones who found you if you weren't contributing to the Great Solution. They chased the streetdwellers, the ones who weren't interested in the Great Solution, the ones who asked to be ignored. Most people worked all hours of the day, every day, and never ever wasted time. The streetdwellers did not do so, and were despised as a result. To be called a streetdweller was almost as bad as being named a timekiller, an epitaph which could ruin the truest of friendships with its utterance.
She sat down on a hard bench between two regulars, in fact, the same two regulars that she always sat next to. And the same bench, and the same papers, and the same frantic, worried air that always hung about the charging station. Quietly, to avoid attention, she reread yesterday's lab reports, jotting more notes in the margin with a green pen. Green for second-class scientists, red for first class. All reports were handed in soaked with green, but a rare splash of red sent people flying to an experiment site. Her notes were useless, boring, routine, but something the author mentioned in his conclusion......
As a flicker of curiosity bloomed across her face, a short old streetdweller threw himself at her feet, his pungent odor permeating her clothes. "Miss, you gotta help me. They took my home for storage, and I only got one filter left. Miss, you understand, I'm down to my last filter, and it won't last for more than a day. I'll be dead by sunrise, you hear me? I'll be dead by sunrise - no more sunrises for good ol' Joe. I've always loved the sunrise, please let me see tomorrow's, Miss, please!". His tone was desperate and hinted of honesty, and the girl looked around her to see who was watching. There were punishments, harsh ones, for helping streetdwellers without government approval, yet to not see a sunrise again..... Her hand drifted towards her sack, where she kept an extra filter, carefully stitched into the lining. But just as she had almost seized the filter in hand, ready to rip it loose, the aged woman next to her stood up quickly and grabbed the man's arm.
"That's enough of that, now. Come along, Joe, I'll get you a filter." But the voice was hard and brisk - the voice of a prowler, and the old man shrank away uselessly at its sound. The woman turned towards the girl. "You better get ready to go, Miss Cara Pandora." The eagle eyes twinkled with amusement at the girl's surprised jump. "I think they just announced your car. You had better check."
Sure enough, the car had been called, and gathering her papers, Cara darted for the door. For how long had she sat next to the prowler, she wondered, looking back at the quickly vanishing figures, how long? She had settled her routine so long ago that it could have been months, or even years, and she would not have known the difference. Faintly shaking, she drove to the lab. What had she been thinking about before? A report, the conclusion, an interesting point...... Steering with a practiced hand, she scoured her memory for information, turning into the garage almost unconsciously. The guard, used to daydreaming scientists, parked it for her and she walked into the building, her rubber shoes making no sound on the steel floor.
As she walked into the office, people sat up and greeted her, but took
a step back as she nearly trampled them in her preoccupied state. By now,
she had the reports in hand, and was scanning them and working her way towards
her desk, something she had gotten very good at over the years. She sat
down, pulled up her chair, and grabbed a pad, making notes with one hand
even as she was taking off her jacket. Enthralled by what lay in front of
her, she barely noticed her co-workers gathering towards the center of the
room. Someone had to shout before she looked up. "Cara, come on! I
was going to try to have a little meeting here, and your help would be appreciated,"
yelled a short, rather unpleasant man who was being surrounded by anxious
"Sorry, sir. Coming, sir," replied Cara, abashed, creeping towards the big circle that had been formed around the shouting ringleader.
"Cara, I'm ecstatic over the news," he remarked with not a little sarcasm. "Now, everyone, I'd like to welcome you to the morning status meeting. I only want to know one thing - what's our status?"
A slender, rather nervous young man stood up, clutching papers at haphazard angles. "Well, um, sir, the Problem Solvers have just finished analyzing some of the substances in the atmosphere, and we think we found some pollutants that may have been a part of the Great Burnout. Cara, um, I mean, Miss Pandora was supposed to review the reports... I'm not sure if she's finished...."
"Actually, Gus, I have, and you mentioned something I wanted to discuss with you. If we could talk about it later....." He stared at her curiously, and looked for a moment as if he was about to say no, but remembered his place and managed to convey some sort of agreement to her.
"Is that a yes, Gus?" the leader barked, causing Gus to shrink even more into the background. "Looks like. Sounds interesting, Cara, and I'd like to hear more about it later. Now, how 'bout the Solution Seekers? Any progress?"
"Well, sir, we've come across some roadblocks...." Almost automatically, Cara began to tune out the discussion, as did all the Problem Solvers. It was almost expected - for what one department did was not the business of the other. So most everybody planned meeting agendas and listed reference material and wrote papers while this or that person droned on about quotas and deadlines and other such things. It wasn't a rule, but everyone did it anyway, for there was no time for them to waste, especially on useless discussions that were unimportant to them.
As the meeting broke up, she cornered Gus before he could escape to his workstation. "In your report, you mentioned how there was some evidence that one of the toxins could have been some byproduct called, um, let me see...." She shifted through her papers quickly, and came up with the one she was looking for. "Chlorofluorocarbons! That's it! It was interesting because I think I remember something about how they were byproducts of refrigeration systems, or something like that."
"You're pretty up to date on your history," he replied, more at ease with subjects of academia. "The old cold-storage boxes used to exhale them, as well as car and house coolers. But they all became obsolete a long time ago, long before the Great Burnout."
"That's right - I remember now. But I don't remember anything about them being toxic..."
"Well, I've done my analysis, I've turned in my report, and I look forward to reading your comments, Miss Pandora, but I'm only a 3rd class scientist, analysis and experimentor. I collect data, but you find it's practical applications, and I'm in a bit of a hurry. Sorry I can't be of much more help...."
"It's all right," she got out, before he dashed off, papers flying everywhere. She stared after him, wondering what could possibly make him look so......scared? Poor Gus always had an air of terror about him at being in the real world, but this time, he had looked like his name was on a prowler's list, and he had just found out about it. She sat at her desk uneasily, pondering the problem, but then put her worries aside as she called up the reference desk, asking for all listed information on CFCs. The reply was quick and informative, as always. Soon she was immersed in government reports, science journals, and other paraphernalia, but quickly she realized a problem with the material in front of her. She decided to inform someone of it.
"Reference section. How can we help you be more efficient?"
"Reference, this is Cara Pandora on Level 2, 2nd class. You just sent me some information regarding chlorofluorocarbons..."
"Yes, of course. I put it through myself. Is there some sort of problem?"
"Well, I've been looking through what you sent, and while it's very informative, I can't find anything written before the Great Burnout. While what I have is interesting, I was hoping for some data on CFCs in old refrigeration products, which you seemed to have left out. Could you just zap some down here, please?"
"I'd be happy to process your request. One minute." Cara found herself on hold, listening to the monthly listing of deadlines and projects in the cheery, articulate voice of one who ate raw sugar for breakfast. Lulled halfconcious, she drew random, lazy swirls on the pad in front of her until the line picked up. "Miss Pandora, we're sorry, but we don't have any of the documents you're looking for."
"Really? Are they at another facility you can't access or something? I don't mind going to look..."
"Miss, the reason we can't find the files is because they don't exist. There simply wasn't anything written about CFCs before the Great Burnout. It just wasn't a subject of interest back then, I suppose. Interesting, isn't it?"
"Oh," she said in amazement. "I guess so. Very interesting. Well, thanks for your help."
"My pleasure. Thank you for sharing your time with us." The line went dead, and Cara cut off her extension and stared at her desk, letting her eyes drift over the complex circles on her pad. How odd. She'd mention it to the supervisor later, but there was work to be done. Pushing aside the stack of papers in front of her, she grabbed a new stack that was demanding her review. But as she scanned the documents, an unsure, nervous feeling crept into her stomach. It was interesting, she thought. Very interesting, indeed.
This section of "The Green Sky" belongs purely to Elizabeth
Miller © 1996.
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