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Chapter 37 - Three Witches

 

 

 

The lives of each of the self-styled Three Witches - all for one and one for all - are in turmoil.

That Zaire was already a minor celebrity didn't help the publicity she now attracted.  Now she was being mobbed by Bogans who had invaded the city like a plague of moths. They gathered in a crowd in the downstairs foyer of Claude's apartment and banged on the glass, much to the distress of all the residents.  She had become a freak-show.  Could she really read?   What was Claude like in bed?  Cameras were forced into her face.  Her fashion setting dark suits and flimsy blouses were torn off her.  There was no way she could do her job.

As the Bogans descended on Claude's apartment, Angela came to Zaire's aid with a wig and theatrical makeup; helping her to make the move back to her own apartment and settle in using Angela's name.  Zaire's apartment had been sublet during the Claude years and she'd never really settled into it before she moved in with Claude.  The two friends had fun together, choosing a new design and programming the redecorator robots to do the work. 

"See, I told you it was stupid to allow yourself to become famous." Angela told Zaire unsympathetically as they took a tea break. "I always said you're a Bogan."

"Bogan is not an insult. As I always said, yes I am a Bogan and proud of it.  And that's no way to talk to me in my hour of need.  Give me a cuddle, you rude woman.  I can't call you a child anymore.  You'll soon be an adult."

Then she realised what she'd said, adulthood is Angela's Achilles heel. 

"Oh. I'm so sorry!" Zaire put both arms around the poor girl. 

Bianca had told Zaire the story years earlier, before she'd introduced her to Angela, and told her to never mention it.  Bianca's aunt and uncle, Angela's parents, have three children between them.  In order for her parents to go ahead with the third pregnancy they both had to sign a Ten-Two contract. The Ten-Two rule applies to any third child conceived by either a man or a woman. Once signed the contract is irrevocable. It doesn't matter if the children all survive or not, the day the youngest child would have reached adulthood both parents must celebrate their death by euthanasia.  Voluntary or not.

Bertrand and Miranda have always said that it was their desire to have three children that caused them to agree to this sacrifice.  So each of their children shares their sacrifice equally.  But this isn't how the children see it.  The two older ones have always been strictly forbidden from telling Angela that they will be losing their parents early, because of her.  Yet this very prohibition is testament to what all three actually feel.  Angela says it's like being born in original sin. She can't even save her parents by sacrificing herself. 

But there's been a three year reprieve.  It used to be that adulthood was achieved on a person's eighteenth birthday but the Committee for the Preservation of Ancient Cultures pointed out that this was an entirely arbitrary number.  In some pre-Famine cultures it was sixteen and in others people were not considered adult until twenty-five.  The World Panel for Unified Laws resolved this by deciding that the age, for the purposes of administering World Law, would be twenty-one. Their judgement maybe arbitrary they agreed but their decision was final.  The culture people could go off and do whatever they liked - hold a conference they suggested. 

"Thank goodness that it's been changed from eighteen.  At least your parents' death-day has been deferred," Zaire went on, trying to dig herself out of the hole.

"I hate all this public interest," Angela declared angrily, changing the subject. "This recent intrusion into your private life is exactly what I don't want in mine. I never want to be famous. I dread the day when someone shoves a microphone at me and asks:  How does it feel to be the reason that both your parents have to die at the prime of their lives?   That's why I've spent so many hours working on systems to completely change my identity and make me untraceable in The Cloud. Would you like me to show my App to you?"

"Yes, of course."

Angela went on to explain how her App could give Zaire a complete new Cloud identity.  But unlike an old witness protection program she would be able to continue to work and live as before, because these days everyone depends on cameras and screens for everything. In future, Zaire's Cloud appearance would change like a chameleon, to blend in to her environment.  No more wigs and makeup.  Her physical, real life, appearance could soon remain unchanged.  Those who needed to like her boss, and close friends would continue to know that she was her.  Yet strangers and acquaintances, who identify her by referring to an image in The Cloud will find that the past and present images in their databases and on their screens no longer resemble her.  In future any Cloud based system will be forever confused as to what she looks like and by any other identifying characteristics such as her clothes, fingerprints or an iris scan.  She'll be able to wear whatever she likes and could even become invisible in cyberspace at any time she desires. 

Angela cast her electronic spell and Zaire simply disappeared from all those past records and all the unpleasant publicity.  A different image subtly morphed from hers across The Cloud and in selected historical media reports Zaire magically changed to Kinshasa.  She refused to change her name to Congo. The Bogans flew away and Zaire continued her University studies unmolested.

*** 

Bianca's life changed the day Claude jumped. That was also the day she threw both Lucent and Willow out.   Lucent had been unemployed since he lost tenure and was hanging about her apartment. 

After Bianca's trip away with her friends and Oliver, Lucent had become a jackrabbit after Willow whenever Bianca was not around. 

Bianca had brought that on herself of course and found she didn't mind as long as they didn't involve her.  But Willow is just too ignorant to have as a friend and her usefulness has been as a pair of actual hands; something that Isis lacks.  Willow is still being dominated by her VPA who reports to Isis.  So Isis continues to act like a good butler managing the household.  Yet sometimes Willow acts like the halfwit maid.

Bianca was still feeling responsible for dragging Lucent back from his University position.  So she was still sleeping with him but it rarely resulted in sex and he was seldom still there in the morning. When they discussed it he told Bianca that he was unwilling to be: "your stand-by toy-boy, on-call to satisfy your insatiable quim."   When he told Willow about it later, it had become Bianca's: "every whim" that he was no longer on-call to satisfy.  Willow seemed so innocent, despite having been the victim of her very sinister VPA called Snookie 'who' had for a period demanded that she engage in the most bizarre perversities.

Two months before the crisis Bianca and Lucent had fought more seriously.   He'd been reading Oliver's latest book to Willow, when it became so raunchy that he'd skipped several paragraphs, like someone innocently beginning to read Tropic of Cancer or Portnoy's Complaint to a teenager.  He was shocked on Willow's behalf and stormed out to where Bianca was reading.

"You got annoyed when I slipped out of bed to see Willow last night.  Why don't you go down and visit Oliver in his rooting lodge?  You were happy enough to go to Bog-land with him as your pretend husband.  And, now I find, you're happy to be depicted in his latest lewd book as his nymphomaniac, bisexual slut."

Bianca found that she was rather pleased with this outburst, she liked the description.  Yet he was becoming a bit tiresome, like an old leather jacket she hadn't quite decided to toss. She couldn't even be bothered to bewitch him to stop his tirade. So that evening she sent him to sleep in Willow's room, full-time. 

After that Bianca felt like their parent.  Her apartment had somehow become a home to which two mendicant adult children had returned.   

In the end, it was Willow constantly throwing away anything old, that made her decide.  The morning that Claude took flight, Willow had again ignored Isis' warning not to do it and threw Bianca's last pair of old denim pants into the recycler.  When Bianca went to change and discovered her loss it was the last straw.  She went into the MV room where Lucent was watching some game or other with Willow, involving teams of scantily dressed men interminably wrestling a ball from one end of a field to the other, that Willow liked, with Willow wrapped around him, and turned it off.

"Where are my pants Willow?  I warned you!  And Lucent, you were supposed to be stopping her compulsive recycling," She said crossly, without raising her voice. "Now you can get out of here, and take Willow with you."  

They stared at her dumbly. So she added:  "There's a small apartment vacant on the second floor that's free to a homeless married couple.  So I want you to marry Willow this coming weekend and take it.  And get a job." 

Bianca had used that witching flick of her hand, so that Lucent found that he couldn't disobey. Anyway he didn't want to.

Oliver gave him a job mowing the grass. He never did like that robot-mower doing a man's job. 

They make an amusing couple: a lawn mowing Grad and his silly Bogan wife.  Yet they seem happy and she's pregnant.  She probably doesn't know how it happened.  They threw a small party in their little flat and included Bianca and Oliver in the invitations. Their marriage makes Bianca smile.

***

For Bianca the loss was a relief.  She needed to simplify her life now that Oliver Mellors has become the world's most famous author, using the simple strategy of splitting his sexy books into hundreds of fifty second long chapters, each ending with a hook to the next; and eliminating big words like 'eliminating'. 

With his mixed background he understands the huge Bogan audience very well.  When read by a VPA to their owner they seem to be a kind of urban chant in blank verse.  He's tailored his short 'Squirts', as he calls them, reflecting intent, to match his listeners' attention span.

Bianca remains his muse.  Connie features in many of his Squirts, usually for alliteration.  Bianca's been impressed by how poetic they've become, like free verse stanzas that read one after the other resemble a rather bawdy epic poem. Eskimo Nell came to mind.  When they are read in sequence like this he calls it a Storm.

As the months passed critics began to rave about Oliver's Squirts and say that he's the creator of a new art-form for the seventies.  As a result Bianca's relationship with Oliver has become more complex as he has sought new inspiration, wanting to allude to her friendship with Zaire, who had become Gudrun.  Their life is now more time constrained, what with his MV chat shows and so on.

To fill the void, and with Oliver's encouragement, Bianca's brought another man into their lives.  Brian's the new presenter of what used to be called The Claude Ball Universe.  The two men get on very well together and are the inspiration for two new characters: Rupert and Gerald who appear in Oliver's latest Squirt-Storm - titled Women in Love.  

When it was suggested that Connie needed a Gifford to get into the true Laurentian spirit she quoted Zaire, quoting Margery, quoting Gilbert:

You'll find there are many
Who'll wed for a penny,
There are lots of good fish in the sea.

 

Oliver had laughed at her delightedly and explained that it was Connie in Lady Chatterley's Lover who supposed that this only worked for mackerel or herring:  "if you're not a mackerel or herring yourself, you are likely to find very few good fish in the sea."   Lawrence's Connie had amusingly thought that most fish in the sea are either mackerel or herring. 

"You're hilarious sometimes Connie," he'd mocked when she didn't realise the line was her namesake's; coming above her naked body again; and kissing her lips tenderly.  He loved her more when he discovered a weakness, like this chink in her body of knowledge.

Bianca was amused too. Oliver didn't realise that she'd caught him on a fishing trip.  Nor did he know how easily she'd previously caught a bucket-full.  Lawrence's Connie was mistaken, not all fish are mackerel or herring, some are holy carp and others are tadpole cod.  Thankfully, Oliver was neither a holy carp nor a tadpole cod.

She kissed him back, hooking her arm behind his neck. She had hour before she was due at her apartment to have a late supper with Zaire.  Isis had the arrangements in hand, she needn't hurry.  At this moment Bianca was brimming over with love.

***

After Claude jumped to his death, Bianca had taken her metaphorical sword in hand and hunted the Margery Avatar down in The Cloud, intent on slaying her for good.  It was complex and took some time to root out every last vestige.  When it was done earlier today, Bianca texted Zaire with slightly changed lines from one of Zaire's favourite books:  Alice Through the Looking Glass: Yes, I hath slain the Jabberwock.  Come to my arms my Boganish Girl.  O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!  I chortle in my joy.  

Zaire had smiled with relief and delight when she got Bianca's message.  She loves the Reverend Dodgson's strange poem. 

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

 

It seems to mean nothing and, somehow, everything when your occupation is hunting down new entities in cyberspace.  There's something very 'Margery' about the Jabberwock.

"O frabjous day!" she replied. I'll be there for supper.  And tomorrow we can have a late breakfast on your balcony, if you're agreeable."

"Lovely, I'm looking forward to it," Bianca texted her back, delighted that at last, Zaire was a Grad.

***

When Angela turned seventeen recently her steady boyfriend sat beside her, ensuring that her every desire was satisfied.  His given name is Ben and he's from a Busie family that owns a drugstore franchising empire.  Angela met Ben at a dance at the Christian youth club where she'd previously met a number of young Bogans and Busies who hadn't worked out.  Several of them have turned out to be confused, simultaneously believing in the Biblical Heaven and in extra-terrestrial abduction. None of these would recognise her if they saw her again.

It's a small world these days and more people know of each other than ever before.  So Angela has had to keep Ben's true identity secret from Ferdinand, her stepfather, because the drugstore-magnate and the banker have a longstanding business feud and can't stand each other. Ferdinand says Ben's father is a mountebank and Ben's father calls Ferdinand a cap-in-hand.  Recognising the similarity to a classic plot, also borrowed by Shakespeare, Angela thought it would be fun to rename her boyfriend Romeo. After all, what's in a name?   Now when she's living at Miranda and Ferdinand's, Romeo can come with her for the night.  He seems to have little say in the matter.

***

The 'The Margery Papers', as Zaire now subtitled her thesis, has become a seminal work, attracting thousands of citations and attributions in peer reviewed Cloud resources.  Within a few years she's become a lecturer in Female Studies.   She also remains the foremost holiday and resort reviewer for The Holiday Network and conducts regular resort assessments, to which she occasionally invites her very close friend 'Connie' for a second opinion. She writes her, sometimes biting reviews, under her pseudonym: 'Kitty'. Kitty's something of a mystery woman.  The resorts never see her image on-line before she arrives in person.  They, and the media, must deal with her very intelligent VPA, Dickens, an avatar of many faces. Pip is but one of these characters, reserved for when Zaire communicates with a small group of fellow Grads.

Rocket Man remains her personal servant and has become a substitute for a puppy she once lost in Centennial Park.  The tops of her feet are always clean.

 

 

To be continued… in The Cloud

 

 

 

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