Meiki picked an apple as she walked her bike past the orchard. The apples of Naya were bred to do well in minimal sunlight. They were dark and mushy, but sweet. Meiki knew that on Earth the apples were often described as “crisp” and “crunchy”. She longed to someday taste one of those bright red gems.
Phel strolled up behind her and snatched a lackluster apple of his own from a low hanging branch. Meiki took a bite of hers and quickly spit it out.
“What’s wrong with it?” asked Phel.
“Nothing.” said Meiki. “It’s perfectly ordinary. That’s what I hate about it.”
“You going to the market?” he asked, ignoring her criticism of the fruit.
“I’m going for a ride. I don’t have any place in mind. Just biking.”
“Well...market’s this way, ya know. On the other side of the grove...may as well head down with me. That’s where I’m going.”
“You don’t say?”
“Why are you such a dill? Seriously? I’m tryin’ to be friendly here. Come into market with me. I’m going to try out a new schematic on the maker. I have enough cred saved up to get a new banjo. It’s gonna be pretty sweet.”
“Let me guess...today is Ker’s day on maker duty, right?”
“Oh...I think you’re right about that...we should holler at ‘er,” said Phel. He was not good at being coy.
“Fine. I’ll go and watch you make moon eyes at her. Maybe you’ll even talk to her for a change.”
“I talk to Ker plenty," said Phel, “Just last night she asked me the time of day and I told her.” Meiki flashed one of her rare smiles.
The two passed through the orchard and onto the road. It was about a kilometer to their destination and they crossed most of the distance without any talk until Meiki finally spoke.
“It doesn’t make sense that Charlie would lie to us.” she said.
“Oh no. Not this again," said Phel.
“I’m just sayin’ is all. Why would he not want us to think it was a meteor?”
“Maybe he thinks we’d be scared that a meteor storm could hurt the colony...I dunno.”
“So you agree with me that he was lying?” Meiki asked with eyebrows raised.
“Hey! That ain’t what I said.”
A truck came down the road from behind. The kids stepped aside to let it pass. It had a gray-white trailer with no markings except for a set of serial numbers on either side- the delivery from Sagan.
Meiki’s jaw dropped and she blinked three times before saying, “That...the truck isn’t supposed to be here until tomorrow!”
“Well,” said Phel, “looks like it’s early.”
“But I’m not read- it’s not supposed to be here!”
“You already said that.”
They were getting close to the market when the truck stopped outside Charlie’s quarters. Deliveries usually went to the market square. This seemed quite odd.
Meiki slowed as they approached the truck to get a better look. She wanted to see what was being delivered on the wrong day and to the wrong place.
The door opened and out popped the wrong driver. Instead of Dav she saw a near twin of Charlie...except with no hair, brown skin, and no eyepatch.
“Tyson!” she shouted and waved her hands in the air.
“Meikaya!” said Tyson, “So good to see you!”
“Why are- I mean what brings you to Gates?”
Tyson paused and said, “I have some free time and decided to visit Professor Darwin, Charlie to you. I gave Davino the day off.”
“Are you disappointed to see me?”
“No,” Meiki started, “I was just expecting Dav. I like Dav because I help him unload the truck and he tells me stories. About all the places he’s been to.”
“Well, I’m sorry that I won’t be able to regale you like Davino does, As a matter of fact, though, I could use some help unloading the truck. Perhaps you and your friend...”
“Phel-Phelliam,” he managed to utter.
“Perhaps you kids could give an old gentleman a hand? I’d be most grateful.”
They showed Tyson to the market square and spent the better part of two hours dropping off cartons of supplies to various vendors.
“This was not how my day was s’posed to go, Meiki," said Phel through his teeth.
“Well, you could have said no.”
“To him? He looks like the spit of Charlie. That makes him like...my boss or something.”
“If you say so. Anyway, we’re almost done.”
They hefted the last two boxes off the truck while Tyson was chatting with the shopkeepers.
“If he don’t mind, I’m gonna cut out after we drop these two. I might still have time to see Ker.”
“So she IS the reason you’re at the market? I knew it!” Meiki teased.
Meiki kept up with Tyson on his way to Charlie’s office. Soosa was sitting at a desk outside the door, typing into her book. She did not look surprised to see Tyson.
“Good day, Soosana.” He said to her. Silently she rose to open the door to Charlie’s office.
As the two of them went in he turned his eye toward Meiki and said, “Run along now, dear.” The door closed behind them.
Meiki was sure that something was up. First the harvester and now a surprise visit from Tyson? Were they connected? She pondered it as she walked to her bike. When she got there she saw her book poking out of her backpack. She had a thought. It would be nothing to spy on the conversation in Charlie’s office. Well, it would be no trouble technologically. It would still require her to betray the trust of someone whom she held in the highest regard possible.
Meiki had always done well in tech classes. Poking around the network was her favorite hobby. It started with accessing Charlie’s library. Before long she realized she could connect her book to all the other books in Gates. Most of them weren’t even protected and the ones that were usually offered little resistance.
She wasn’t a snoop. Meiki just liked the challenge of figuring out how to open another’s book. She never used it to spy or get any information she wasn’t supposed to have. It was just like peering over someone’s shoulder as they are reading in the park and taking a quick glance. Nothing wrong with that.
Of course, books didn’t just display information. They gathered it too. Each book had a unique code that allowed it to be found by any other person with a book. This was useful for forgetful students. Each book also contained a camera and microphone and a clever girl who paid a lot of attention in tech class and who practiced a bit on her own time could figure out how to activate those things. Such a person could listen in on conversations. She had never done so, of course, but she knew she could.
She tucked the book back into her pack and zipped it up. There would be nothing simple about it, no matter how easy it was. But still, if Charlie was up to something, wasn’t he the one betraying her trust? Wouldn’t it be her right to be informed? Maybe Tyson figured out her plan somehow. Maybe they were discussing how to stop her from running away. Meiki couldn’t risk not knowing what was going on in there. She pulled the book out again.
Meiki sat on a park bench in the courtyard outside Charlie’s office. She used her earbuds so that to any observer she would look like a young girl listening to music or watching a video.
Soosa probably wasn’t expecting Tyson and must have forgotten to switch her book to protected mode. Bypassing the firewall was child’s play for Meiki. In seconds the voices in the locked room were flooding her ears.
“...I knew this would happen. This is why I fought her. This is what I struggled against.” she heard Charlie say.
“But what if you’re wrong?” said Tyson, “You treat all of the people here like children. They’re cut off from the world. Cut off from history. The calamity of Prathama was over a century ago. No one here even knows it happened.”
“It’s for the best, Tyson. They are children. Most of them literally. Even the adults rarely live to be one hundred. We came to Naya to sustain the human race. To keep them alive and to prevent them from making the same kind of mistakes that humans have always made.”
“They are in charge here, Charles, not us. Our goal is to nurture them and help them grow and expand. If you just speak to Marie...listen to her and you can see...”
“That will never happen. She has never listened to reason. Life is good here in Gates. The people are happy and healthy. I can only imagine what kind of hell Newbright has become.”
“Newbright is a beautiful city, Charles. They’ve built something wonderful there. Marie was wrong about some things. She admits that now. Her initial...experiment...was misguided. She’s learned from that. Newbright and her people are thriving. She wants you to come and see for yourself.”
“But I...” Charlie began then trailed off. “Soosana. Can you please leave the room? I apologize but I wish for the remainder of my chat with Professor Tyson to remain off the record.”
Without a word Soosa exited and Meiki’s link to the conversation was broken.