A pair of fins tore parallel silver wakes through the smooth surface of the Garonne. She caught a glimpse of two sleek grey bodies before they dipped below the surface of the wide body of water, only to appear fifty metres upriver, arching simultaneously, each dorsal spraying diamond droplets into the brilliant Bordeaux sunlight.
From her spacious laboratory in a building where the Place de la Bourse had once stood, the slim red-haired woman of about fifty watched the graceful progress of the river dolphins.
‘Zoom in on the child’s neck wound please,’ she asked in a husky, low-pitched voice.
The 3D holographic image of a 20cm laceration appeared in front of her and she considered it closely. Whatever had caused the cut had been relatively rough – it was not the more precise wound inflicted by a scalpel or a very sharp knife. She would not go so far as to say a serrated edge had done this but the tattered flesh around the gash suggested a blunt-ish tool, an unsharpened axe blade, or something even cruder perhaps.
Melano-1 considered briefly whether a tusk or claw had inflicted this damage. She was not sure. She could not even say whether this injury had been the cause of death. Without a physical autopsy it would be difficult to tell, despite the ultra-high definition reconstruction being broadcast to her from Poitiers.
She sighed. The loss of a child was always particularly difficult since couples only had the right to produce a single offspring and tragically, if the child died, the parents were deemed incompetent and the right to produce a baby was transferred to the next most eligible partnership.
As Chief Forensic Investigator for the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, it fell to her uncover what secrets lay behind his type of fatality. But she was failing. This was the third death of a child in the region in under twelve months and she had elucidated neither of the previous incidents.
She hesitated momentarily before contacting the National Bureau of Forensic Investigation in Paris.
Auburns, pinks and yellows nestled uncomfortably next to lowering greys and blues. With deft stokes the artist juxtaposed jostling blocks of vibrant hues and surly tones to create a powerful and brooding landscape reminiscent of the rugged Yorkshire moors she had once visited as a child. The vast richness of that glorious wilderness—the primordial clash of savage beauty and desolation— had marked her during her formative years, and it was a scene she returned to again and again in her work.
Chief Child Psychologist CeeDee-295 frowned in concentration as she applied the thick layers of paint to the canvas, striving to capture the furtive essence of those northern lands in pulsing patches of colour. For her, painting was like conducting an orchestra. With her brush she generated rhythm and movement that swelled and crescendoed, soared and cowered on the surface of the image. Every stroke pulled the viewer deeper into the landscape, enticing them to plunge headlong into the undulating forms and swirl through them through the threatening skies.
Looking through the window of her studio at the picturesque charm of Angles-sur-Anglin, she contemplated the contrast between the majestic moors of her mindscape and the quaint medieval prettiness of her native village. Notwithstanding the beauty of her home, she often found her thoughts travelling to the rugged moorland where she had experienced her first, and indeed only love, during one of her teenage residences.
Setting her paintbrush down next to her well-ordered palette, CeeDee-295 took five deep breaths and composed her thoughts.
In a moment she would be contacting the bereaved parents of the latest accident victim in Nouvelle Aquitaine.
Though painting was her passion, CeeDee-295’s specialist training was in family counselling.
Her professional background was exemplary. Even for a population selected for its intelligence, CeeDee-295 was amongst the most brilliant. She was an expert in nearly every domain, including genetics, algorithms, software engineering, anthropology and history. Nevertheless, she had achieved the highest levels of proficiency in psychology and perfected a multitude of proven therapies. It did not surprise her that she had been contacted by the authorities in Paris, since she was the most highly qualified expert in the country and she lived only a few dozen kilometres from the scene of the accident.
Still, it irked her to have to leave her painting unfinished.
She had thought that her artistic talents, coupled with all her other skills, would have easily granted her access to the Pool. But then in adolescence, a chance encounter with an exotic compound had triggered a previously undetected genetic anomaly in her body. There had followed a period of rapid and intensive growth leading her to put on over 100kg in weight. Her obesity was irreversible and had been the factor that had led to her dropping just an agonisingly few points below the acceptance level during her Test.
After carefully washing her chubby hands, CeeDee-295 asked the computer to establish a link to the coordinates she had been given and prepared herself for the important but heart-breaking job of easing the grieving couple through their pain.
The séance lasted well over three hours and CeeDee-295 felt that in that time she had managed to mitigate the parents’ most severe reactions of rage and incomprehension. Her deliberately controlled voice emanated deep compassion and empathy and she quickly established a strong rapport with the couple.
Throughout that first session she listened and advised, soothed and supported, finally leading the pair to a place where they felt more able to cope with the next distressing step of the process. Clutching each other’s hands and with tear-streaked faces they thanked the counsellor for all she had done and assured her that they were ready to organise the decomposition ritual in the correct fashion and that they would sure to contact her should they need her support.
‘I will be here any time you need me,’ promised the bulky counsellor as the holographic image disintegrated into the ether.
Humming an old air from Dvorak, CeeDee-295 returned to her tableau, picked up her brush with sausage-like fingers and pursued her portrayal of the unforgiving heathland.
There was a decidedly despondent mood at the monthly ceremony of Thanks in front of the Sacrifice that day. Smiling and laughing were normally encouraged. Usually, the congregation shared amusing anecdotes and personal achievements that they had learned from the lives of their allocated individuals. The whole tone was supposed to be festive. Indeed, there was often a sort of one-upmanship as neighbours tried to outdo each other in recounting the most outlandish, frivolous, bizarre or touching stories they had found out about their long-defunct designations.
Today, however, people shuffled around uncomfortably, conscious of Silica-24’s parents huddled awkwardly on one of the granite benches. One by one they approached the seated couple and extended words of sympathy which were greeted by forced smiles and weary nods.
On another of the benches Tyr-10 was bored and swung her legs back and forth. She would rather be out running with Eumala-24 or conducting on her own research on the new pulse crop that she had just planted. Having found Silica-24’s body she had enjoyed something of a notoriety over the last week but now it was getting a bit tedious.
When the flame-haired CFI had arrived from Bordeaux, Tyr-10 had enjoyed recounting in minute detail exactly how she had pulled the body from the stream. She understood that as the only person in the vicinity at the time of Silica-24’s death she was naturally a suspect and so had done her best to answer every question to convince the investigator of her innocence. It was clear that she had not done it since her ORS had been active during the time of death which had reordered her exact whereabouts and actions. Consequently, she had been eliminated from the enquiry.
Melano-1 and her investigating team had quickly found the victim’s clothes by the side of the stream and further analysis of the scene had revealed that the object used to slash her throat was a piece of flint that had been picked up from the stream bed. Closer examination of the child’s hands indicated that the girl herself had been holding the piece of flint and that the most likely scenario was that she had undressed, stepped into the stream, picked up the flint, cut her own throat and floated downstream towards Tyr-10. Officially, the verdict was suicide.
Tyr-10 had of course been the object of macabre interest for a few days but now people simply cast her glances that ranged from sympathetic through sceptical to downright accusatory.
While Tyr-10’s innocence had been proven, the question of the motive behind Silica-24’s suicide remained.
Eventually, most of the congregation drifted off towards their compounds leaving just a handful of elders standing grouped beneath the Wall, their heads almost touching as they conversed in hushed voices.
Tyr-10 could not make out everything but most of what she heard had already been discussed earlier that week during meal times at home. There was deep concern amongst the neighbours. This was the third suicide in a year in a region where suicide was practically unheard of. Prior to these tragedies, the last known recorded case had been almost forty years ago.
Yet last May a girl had climbed into one of the baker’s ovens and cremated herself. In November a boy had thrown himself from a clifftop. For no apparent reason.
And now Silica-24.
None of the children had suffered from depression, they hadn’t shown any signs of withdrawal or any anomalous behaviour, nor had they left any sort of suicide note. They had not known each other and they’d had no contact with each other prior to the suicides. They had been of differing ages: thirteen, six and eight respectively. No significant changes had been detected in the atmosphere or in the water supply. The parents had no dubious affiliations and there been not the slightest hint of neglect of abuse. The only things the children seemed to have in common was that they were from the same region and that all three households had been hosting visitors.
Inevitably and disturbingly suspicion was beginning to fall on those in residencies. Some families had even begun the procedure to cut short their guest’s visit and send them back. The desire to protect their progeny was understandable but lamentable.
Surrounded by his peers, Dihyd-52 was adamantly setting an example of rationality, logic and reason by insisting that Eumala-43 stay for the duration of his residency. There was no proven connection between the visitors’ presence and these tragic events, and panicking would not remedy the malaise that had beset their extended community. A head taller than the other elders, Dihyd-52 urged calm and dignified behaviour from the others who either nodded or shrugged in reluctant agreement.
One of the elders broke away from the group.
She looked Tyr-10 directly in the face before turning to Dihyd-52 to add scathingly ‘Would you still be so tolerant if your daughter were next?’
Melano-1 did not feel any pressure from Paris. They had offered her all the assistance necessary in her investigations and the Chief Forensic Investigator had gladly availed herself of that aid. She did however feel frustrated and inept, two emotions that up to now had been unfamiliar to her. Though she and her team could explain in precise detail how the children had met their deaths she had absolutely no idea why.
Worrying questions began to emerge.
This society had successfully vanquished most of humanity’s old enemies such as poverty, illness, greed, violence, exploitation and selfishness. Gender equality had finally been achieved. Clothing was uniform and utilitarian, everyone had shaved heads and even names were based on an individual’s DNA sequencing rather than their sex.
Over the past six hundred years Homo sapiens had found its place in nature as custodians of the planet, co-existing in perfect equilibrium with every other living entity. Humans did not consider themselves superior to other creatures nor did they succumb to any proprietary urge to own them.
Mankind was no longer enslaved by technology but used it only with very clearly defined goals. It was used to ameliorate all life on the planet and at the same time it was a tool which assisted in the
continuing search for suitable exo-planets to colonise. Research into human longevity and cryogenics continued but without such an acute sense of urgency that time was running out for the planet. With ten millennia and unlimited resources set aside for the development of interstellar travel, the ticking of the Doomsday clock was just a distant echo.
Technology could be used as long as producing it did not exploit the world’s resources. Solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and hydrocarbon energy production had been perfected meaning that all the power needed by mankind was renewable and clean. Advances had been made so that supersonic travel was possible without the combustion of fossil fuels. Global communication had been developed to such a point that it could be carried out perfectly by holographic projection in every home and practically anything could be sent from one part of the globe to another and reassembled by 3D printer. People only needed to travel for their residencies and for obligatory ceremonies of Thanks to the Sacrifice. Everything else could be done over great distances.
People had a sense of purpose. Being granted an Occupancy meant that every individual had the responsibility of passing on a considerable parcel of land in perfect condition to the next generation after their death. Every compound was self-sufficient and produced its own food. The hunting and eating of animals was strictly forbidden since all dietary and medicinal needs could be met by the astounding range of plants that were shared globally. Occasionally, there was a cull when invading species threatened to completely supplant indigenous populations but this was very rare and was only done when displacement was not possible.
At the same time every individual also harnessed their considerable intellectual capacities to numerous collective tasks coordinated through the internet, including the improvement of the quality of life on the planet for all its inhabitants and the search for new worlds.
For every person on the planet knew they were the product of the finest genetic selection. Thanks to the Sacrifice the current population were the descendants of the fittest, smartest, strongest most beautiful members of the human race. Everyone was essentially a superhuman and to guarantee the continuation of excellence their offspring were vetted by the Test. Genetic deficiencies had been eradicated through controlled inter-breeding thanks to the residencies.
Why would anyone want to kill themselves?