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Nana Knows Best

by Phoebe-June Rogers

 

"Tarsa, get down from there this instant! I will not tolerate this kind of behavior from you," Nana screamed while Tarsa balanced on the thin ledge that overlooked the Central traffic grid. Aerocars zoomed beneath her at high velocities, leaving small short puffs of white exhaust as they flew to destinations known only to them.

"Get down!" Tarsa's Nana repeated.  Her white hair was starting to come out of its bun, making her look angrier. Tarsa simply resumed walking and looking at the zooming cars below. She put out her two arms for balance and began to sway as she walked, making vrooming noises of her own.

Her Nana caught up to her and stomped her foot. Tarsa looked at her Nana and then frowned. "You always take away all the fun. I can't never have any fun." Tarsa got down, and she put her hand inside Nana's cold hand. Her hands were always cold, even in the middle of summer. Tarsa pouted as they walked along the central walkway that connected her living dome -- she lived in B dome -- to the C dome, or Central park dome. They both had respirators on: thin, almost invisible oxygen tubes that went into their nostrils and filled them with good air. The air outside the dome was so polluted that it seemed like an eternal evening, no matter if the sun was shining or not.

Tarsa thought it was a grand adventure to walk between domes. Her parents had never let them do this before, but they thought it would be good for Tarsa to get a look at the traffic and see why they weren't allowed to drive all the time. She could see for herself that it was certainly crowded!

"Nana, how come I am not allowed to play with Jessica Dee? Her mother came over and said Jessica wasn't allowed to play with me n'more."

They didn't pause in their walking toward the dome, which loomed ahead of them. Nana answered simply, adding a slight pressure to Tarsa's hand as she spoke. "Because Jessica is a Beta and you are a Gamma. She is being trained differently than you to fit into society. Being with you might cause her to become more like a Gamma, and so her Nana told her parents that she must end playing with you, so that she wouldn't ruin her education."

"I wouldn't ruin her education."

"Little girls mean well, but they do not always know best. A Nana, however, always knows. And it is our duty to raise our proteges into proper citizens who perform their duties and understand their obligations to society."

Tarsa was ignoring Nana's speech as she watched the advertisements flicker on the outside of the dome. The cool air told her they were nearly out of the hot, musty, smelly world, and entering the pastoral C dome.

* * *

 
Nana guided her through all the procedures and identification checks with her usual deftness. Tarsa noticed Alpha children who didn't have to get their identification checked -- just a quick retinal scan, and they could walk into the park. A chubby boy walked by her and winked. He held a palm-sized computer and was playing with miniature airplanes that he sent soaring between the trees and sky. Tarsa watched him with admiration, and followed him, aware of Nana's shadow wherever she went.

"Hello, little boy, what is your name?"

"I'm Michael, but I'm not allowed to talk with you.  You're a Gamma, and I'm an Alpha."

"I know, but I would love to try out your toys. Can I try the airplanes?" He put his hand up to his ear, as if he were blocking out some horrible noise, and then smiled gesturing for her to come over and try his airplanes.

Suddenly, her Nana was before her. Nana's shadow engulfed Tarsa. "Tarsa, you are not allowed to play with the Alpha children.  Let's go and watch the sail boats, or play in the sand with the other Gammas."

"But I want to play their games, they look much more fun." Tarsa gestured to the area where the Alpha children were flying kites and airplanes, sitting playing chess, or playing war games. The boy named Michael just watched through narrowed blue eyes as the airplanes swirled about him like planets. Tarsa took a step toward the boy, ignoring what her Nana said.

"No, you cannot go!" Nana shouted. A shot of pure pain lanced up Tarsa's spine, and her vision was blurred by tears. But Tarsa was tired of being with her Nana. Defying the pain, she ripped off her monitoring bracelet. The pain sharpened for an instant as the needle connected to the bracelet ripped the skin of her arm, but then it subsided. She ran away from her Nana's agonized shadow.

"Come here, Tarsa! Come here now!" Her Nana crumpled down on the grass, her white hair flying all around her. Tarsa ran into the trees, wondering where she could hide.

* * *

 
It wasn't the first time Tarsa had run away from her Nana. She did it all the time. And every time she did it, her monitoring device was exchanged for a new one that was harder to tear away. Tarsa knew she was smarter than the rest of the Gammas she played with; she understood the way things worked. She knew all about the little bugs in the monitoring bracelets that ran through your blood, keeping tabs on everything you did. She knew because she saw them under the microscope at the lab when the technicians were making her a new bracelet that would mildly electrocute her when she was bad. They had changed the nanos. They had said she needed harsher, more powerful, nanos so that she wouldn't stray. But she didn't care how harsh they made the nanos -- she would get away.

Almost tenderly, she pushed aside some branches and looked out into the park. Her Nana was sitting on the ground, looking very sick. For some reason, Nana couldn't go far away from the bracelet, Tarsa discovered. Her white hair was almost invisible in the sun. Tarsa watched as two park wardens talked with her broken-down Nana. Tarsa suddenly wished she hadn't run away. She was going to get into BIG trouble.

"They're right about Gammas, you know . . . they're stupid!"

Tarsa turned around and saw Michael, his airplanes folded up neatly into a small satchel tied around his wrist. He had a big scab on his knee and was scratching it. Almost jealous, she reflected that she had never been allowed to roughhouse enough to injure herself.

"You are stupid, too! You let them control you!" Tarsa said, letting the branch go.

"Am not, I know all about how to get away. I'm not dumb like you. I never run away, but I still can get away from my Nana. You can't run away -- they always find you. Your blood gives you away, and so does your sweat; they're both filled with nanos that tell them where you are. You've run away before. You have pincers, I saw them!"

The pincers were the long needles that stuck into her arm, making it more painful to pull out the monitoring bracelet. If you tore your veins, you could bleed to death. At least that's what everyone told her. Her arm was covered with blood, and she noticed that her arm was still bleeding. She ignored the pain, curious as to how this Alpha had been able to get away.

"I run because she tells me what to do, and I want to do other things. I want to be an Alpha, I want to play chess, and to run and jump."

"Alphas are real citizens.  You're just a worker, and are being conditioned for a worker's life." He kept putting his hand to his ear and wincing in pain. Tarsa wanted to grab his hand so he would stop doing it.

"I don't want a worker's life. I want yours. I don't care what they do to me. They can kill me for all I care. They think I'm just a little girl, but I know all about them. I am never going to let them control me! So I run away.  How would I know any other way to fight? No one has ever taught me."

Michael sniggered, and then leaned close to her. "I know a way we can get rid of our bracelets, and they'll never be able to do anything about it. We can get rid of our Nanas too!"

"How . . . kill them?" Tarsa whispered.  She shivered in the patchy sunlight.

"No, dummy, they're just holograms made by the bracelets. You can't crack the code because it's done with nanotechnology and the program is right in the DNA. I've tried mutating it, and I've tried killing the bugs, but I've never tried . . . " Michael laughed, and ran toward her Nana. The park wardens had moved on, searching for Tarsa while they continued their patrols. Tarsa watched through the bushes, ready to bolt if he betrayed her. Nervous, she needed something to do with her hands, so she tore a piece of her jumper off and tied it around her bloody arm.

She hoped he didn't give her away; she wasn't ready to go home and face her punishment. Whenever she was forced to put the bracelet back on, she would be electrocuted because she was a bad little girl.

Michael picked up her bracelet and her Nana followed him.  She suddenly looked much better, wiping back the wisps of her hair and walking with her usual commanding stride.

In the distance, she noted, the wardens had abruptly called off their search for Tarsa.  She saw them join up with another group of wardens and head back to their giant log cabin to await the next emergency.

Tarsa had been readying to bolt when she watched her Nana fade from sight. Michael was smiling. He ran to her. "It's working, for now. I don't know if it'll last forever . . ." He handed her a bracelet that looked almost the same as hers, but slightly different.

"It's mine," Michael explained. "I think the foreign nanos might make us sick at first, but our immune systems should kill them off, and all we'll have left is a regular bracelet that monitors your blood."

"It won't shock me no more?" Tarsa said, her eyes lighting up as she slid the bracelet onto her arm. His was much nicer because it didn't have the long pincer needles, just tiny invisible needles that slipped right into your arm. She pulled her cloth bandage over it. "No, and there won't be an evil nano Nana, because the programs won't work in our different blood."

Tarsa giggled. "Thank you!" She hugged the older boy, showing the affection that Alphas never expressed. He hugged her back, an odd expression on his freckled face. "What is it?" she asked.

"It's just that my Nana's voice isn't in my ear anymore telling me what to do." He smiled broadly. "Now, let's go play! We can do whatever we want and no one will bug us!"

Tarsa grabbed his hand, telling him that first he was going to let her play with his airplanes and later he was going to teach her to play chess. Then she would go home really late and tell her parents that Nana said it was OK. *

 

Story © copyright 1999 by Phoebe-June Rogers <juneling@dragonsoup.com>

Artwork © copyright 1999 by Steve Munsinger <smunsin@trib.com>

 


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