Not Without You By Gill Harvey - chapter 2
The Fruit of the Wild Rose
When Sala and Cham left the simulator center, it was dark, and still raining. To get home quickly, they stepped onto one of the fast-moving walkways that stretched in all directions across the city.
As they traveled, towering blocks of apartments rose up high all around them. Most of them had at least forty floors above ground – these were called “sky apartments.” Below ground, there were often another ten floors, for “earth apartments.” The government had started building under the ground long ago, because the land inside the city was so limited.
Sala and Cham stepped off the walkway near their apartment blocks, and as they did so, someone knocked Sala’s elbow, then held her arm for a second.
Sala turned quickly: a young woman stood there. She was maybe a year or two older than Sala and Cham. She had a hat pulled low over her face, so it was partly hidden, but Sala could just see her green eyes.
The woman reached for Sala’s hand and slipped a small package into it. “Give this to your grandmother,” she said, and then turned away.
Sala’s mouth dropped open. “Sorry? What… Wait!”
But she was too late. The woman had already jumped back onto the speeding walkway. It carried her away rapidly, and in no time at all, she’d disappeared.
“Who was that?” asked Cham.
“No idea.” Sala stared down at the little package in her hand. It was made of clear plastic, and inside, there was some kind of small dark red fruit. It looked old and dry. Sala frowned. She’d never seen anything like it before.
“Must be something for Gran’s garden,” she said.
“Yeah, that makes sense,” Cham agreed. “Well, I guess I’d better go. Mom’s expecting me.”
Sala put her arms around him and kissed him.
“Thank you so much, again,” she said. “I’ve had a great time, and I can’t wait to go swimming with dolphins.”
“Good,” said Cham. “And thanks for my painting, too. I love it.” But his voice sounded strange… distant, almost.
Sala frowned. She remembered how quiet he’d been with their friends. Usually, Cham had plenty to say, and loved making everyone laugh.
“Cham is everything OK?” she asked.
“Yes, yes,” he said. “Why?”
“You seem worried about something.”
Cham seemed to hesitate.
“Is it your dad?” Sala asked. “Is he looking for work again?” Cham smiled, and shook his head. “No, he’s helping fix the equipment at the meat-growing laboratory, actually, and getting reasonable money for it. Honestly, it’s nothing. I’ll see you on the ultranet later, OK?”
They’d been standing under one of the shelters at the entrance to the walkway. Cham kissed her, and before Sala could say anything else, he turned and ran out into the rain.
Sala watched him go, puzzled. It’s nothing, he’d said. She wished she could believe him. But it was odd. All at once, she was sure that something wasn’t right.
She turned and ran down the street to her apartment block, and soon she was in the dry and rushing upward in the elevator. Twenty… twenty-five… the floors passed by so quickly. With a loud beep, the doors opened at floor sixty-three: the top. Sala walked out, and the screen on the door of her apartment recognized her, and let her in.
“Is that you, Sala?” called a voice from somewhere above. “Yes, Gran. Are you in the Real Space?”
“Of course,” called Gran. “Come on up!”
Sala smiled to herself. It had taken years for Gran to make her garden because it was so difficult to find soil or plants, but she had made some soil with rotten vegetables and fruit, and slowly found bits and pieces here and there. Now she spent as much time in the garden as possible, even when it was dark or raining. It was tiny, but full of life; Gran was managing to grow all sorts of plants. At night, little lamps shone, and mirrors reflected their light.
Gran was bending over a tomato plant, but as Sala entered, she straightened up slowly. Sala could see from her face that it hurt her to move like that. Her back was often painful from when she’d been injured during the Oil Wars, so she almost never left the apartment these days.
Sala greeted her, then held out her hand. “Gran, I have something for you!”
Gran frowned. “For me?”
Sala nodded, giving her the small plastic package. “I think it must be something for you to plant.”
Gran looked down at the strange gift, and to Sala’s surprise, her face went deathly pale. For one awful moment, she thought Gran might even fall over.
“Gran! Are you OK?” Sala put an arm around her, and made her sit down on the little bench that looked over the city.
Gran’s lips were trembling. “Where… Sala, where did you get this?” she whispered.
“A woman gave it to me. On the walkway. Well, just off the walkway, really. I think she must have followed me. Why? What is it? What does it mean?”
Gran didn’t answer. Instead, she turned the package over, looking for a way to open it. She broke it down the middle, and the little dried fruit fell out into her hand.
“It’s a fruit of the wild rose,” she said in a low voice, touching it carefully. “And the thing is… wild roses don’t grow in the city.”
Sala frowned. “So, where did it come front?” Gran, still pale, said nothing.
Sala was thinking fast. “You don’t mean… it came from outside?”
Sala had never seen anything from beyond the city. Everything they ate everything they used – it was all grown or made within the city’s limits. What’s more, there was a force field at the city boundary that was impossible to cross: there were alarms there that sensed your wrist chip before you even got close, and then government agents appeared in seconds to arrest you. They did not want anyone going into the contaminated world beyond – it was much too dangerous, they said.
The color was beginning to come back into Gran’s face now. “Wild roses used to grow near our house, when I was young,” she told Sala. “Before the Oil Wars.”
“Your house near the beach?” said Sala. Gran was always talking about how she’d lived by the ocean when she was a child.
“That’s right,” said Gran. “My brother and I used to play with the fruit. There are tiny hairs inside that make you want to scratch. So we used to play tricks with them: put them in people’s clothes. Oh, we had a lot of fun!” Gran laughed gently. “But then… we grew up. And the wars started.”
“So, your brother – that’s… Great-Uncle Eston, right?” said Sala. “The one you tell stories about? The one who…”
“Died.” Gran nodded. “After the Oil Wars, I looked for him all over the city, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I’ve always believed that he died in the outside world, in the contamination.” She rolled the fruit between her fingers. “I haven’t heard from him for more than… thirty years. Until – this.”
Sala frowned. “Wait a minute – you think your brother sent the fruit?”
Gran smiled. “Oh, I know it’s silly, isn’t it? I don’t know where it came from. I would love to believe it’s front him. But…” She shook her head sadly. “How could it be?”
The idea was crazy. But it was also exciting. “Gran, you never know! Maybe there are places outside the city that didn’t get contaminated – where people survived.”
Gran looked out at the view of towering blocks, stretching into the distance. Her mind seemed far away. Then she turned to Sala. “Did the woman say how you could contact her?”
“The one who gave you the fruit.”
“Oh! No. She disappeared.”
“Right. Well, that’s that, then,” said Gran. “Maybe someone found it in a dusty corner and thought of my little garden… But it’s very odd, all the same.”
She got up and returned to her tomato plants, taking off the dead and dying leaves from the bottom of each one. “So, tell me about your day,” she said, over her shoulder. “Did you have a nice time with Cham?”
“Oh, Gran!” said Sala. “You know we’ve been together a year today? Well, he bought us a pod experience. We’re going to swim with dolphins.”
“Are you?” Gran sounded surprised. “He’s such a kind boy. But I don’t know how he can afford something like that.”
“I know.” Sala thought of Cham’s face when he left her, and felt uneasy. “I don’t understand it either.”
Gran threw a handful of leaves onto a pile in the corner. “Well, it’s good to be generous,” she said. “And swimming with dolphins is wonderful – although this isn’t quite the real thing, of course.”
“You’ve been swimming with dolphins?” asked Sala.
“Yes. Years ago, before the Oil Wars,” said Gran. “When I went traveling with your grandfather.”
Gran was always talking about the days when she and Sala’s grandfather used to travel to distant lands, climb mountains, and go swimming in the ocean. Such adventures had been normal then, but they seemed almost magical now.
“Do you think we’ll ever be able to travel like you did?” Sala asked. “Me and Cham?”
Gran looked thoughtful. “Who knows?” she said. “Maybe one day. If we’re ever free of these silly things.” She tapped her wrist.
Sala smiled. Gran had a chip buried under her skin like everyone else, but she wore a bracelet to hide it as a small way of protesting about the government’s tight control over everyone.
“You’re such a rebel, Gran.”
Her gran’s eyes danced. “Never give up hope, my love.”
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