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Chapter 6 - Guardian Angel
This morning Bianca had been suggesting some improvements in his essay to young William in the lobby of her apartment block when she noticed a Bogan girl hovering. How unusual!
"For your next assignment I want a thousand words about The Cloud," she told William. "If you complete it before the New Year we'll spend another session reviewing your work and discussing information science, because information science is fundamental to everything a Grad needs to understand, no matter what discipline you elect to study."
The girl was obviously waiting for William to leave because as soon as he did she approached.
"You probably don't remember me, I'm Zaire one of the girls you were spying on last month."
Bianca was amazed that she'd been found out and that somehow the girl had trailed her. But she didn't show it. This might be some sort of demand for recompense.
"Oh, Hi Zaire I didn't recognise you. You've changed your hair. What can I do for you?"
Zaire was equally surprised by this matter-of-fact response. Had Bianca known that they knew? Some sort of double bluff?
"Well it's a bit complicated. Can I come in and talk to you or we could go somewhere else if you'd prefer. I'll shout you to a drink if you like," she said.
There was no way Bianca was going to invite this girl home until she'd discovered what this was about but she was impressed that Zaire already realised this.
They went to the local student coffee shop. Zaire looked around as if she'd been invited into a slum. There were old armchairs and blocks of paper lying around. At least that was what they seemed to be - big thick bundles of paper. They smelled strange. The whole dump smelled strange - but not unpleasant.
She picked up a block and opened it down one side. The sheets were glued together down the other edge and each was covered in lines and lines of symbols that she knew to be letters, words and sentences. It came to her. This was a book. Wonderful. A book! She hefted it form hand to hand.
She asked her VPA, Pip, to scan some lines and discovered that they were from a story she knew: The Taming of the Shrew. Scanning the cover she discovered it was The Collected Works of William Shakespeare.
"So I suppose you imagined you were Henry the fifth hanging out with the commoners?" Zaire asked Bianca as she came back carrying two cups of coffee herself.
"What extraordinary behaviour - putting wait staff out of a job," Zaire thought.
Bianca almost dropped the coffee in amazement.
"You know Shakespeare?"
"Yes, I happen to like his plays. And I liked learning his weird words. My VPA, Pip, had to help at first but now she just recites the original words. I like Chaucer too."
Bianca was nonplussed.
"What I don't understand is: what's the point of these books with their impossible to scan text, when everything's in The Cloud and you can just listen to it?"
"A good question," was all Bianca could think to say. "Maybe another time, if we have a few hours to spare? So what do you want to talk about?"
Zaire then explained her job and her difficulty.
"What do you think I can do to help?" asked Bianca
"I need someone really smart, not like us but someone like you who knows how things work and the law and computers and stuff. You're the only Grad I could think of."
"That's flattering but I don't know if I can help. I'll have to give it some thought."
"Thank you! That's great. I know it's a long shot but you're my only hope."
Zaire thought the coffee was the best she'd ever had and this place sort of grew on you. "Like warts," she thought, and smiled. Somehow she knew Bianca could help.
For her part Bianca was hugely impressed with Zaire, who'd shattered her prejudices about the intelligence and learning of Bogans. So she'd do whatever she could to help.
Before she left she had to ask Bianca about the tramp in the park.
Bianca had laughed loudly saying: "It may have been my mother, she loves to garden there. But there's quite a big group of them. They have the place exactly how they like it. If you look carefully you will see that there are only native plants and wildflowers and it’s attracting native fauna and birds back into the city."
"But are those clothes in fashion here?"
"Well sort of. If you call unkempt a fashion. They wear any old clothes that are hard wearing. There is no particular requirement but somehow they do all tend to look the same, covered in dirt."
"Dirt! That's what I don't get about you Grads you seem to actually like dirt. Everything here looks old and dirty."
"Yes but old and shabby is not unclean. Do you know about disease?"
"I certainly know that sickness comes from not disposing of things often enough and not keeping surfaces shiny and clean with disinfectant. Like if you get a cold, you should throw away your bed and everything you touched and buy nice new clean stuff. You probably should bring forward your bathroom and kitchen renovations too."
"Interesting. I'll give you some references to listen to your on your VPA, I mean Pip. Good choice by-the-way. The references concern bacteria, viruses, and prions, the common pathogens or vectors of disease, together with cell mutation and genetic disorders that can lead to cancer. It's quite complex, but as you've struggled your way through Shakespeare, it's well within your capacity to understand. Keep that in mind if it seems a bit difficult at first. You'll find that the pathological fear dirt or 'mysophobia' is a modern phenomenon. It was unknown in Shakespeare's time."
Zaire said that she would listen with interest. They exchanged contact details and gave each other a little hug before Zaire walked away, attracting inquisitive stares from the Grads in the street, particularly the men.
Zaire decided to look more carefully at the park on her way back to the subway. It was a lot different to the mostly flat parks she was familiar with, with their big geometric or swirling garden beds; and courts with high fences to play all sorts of games; and elaborate but very safe children's play areas. Taking a longer path this time she came across some children actually building something in a tree, apparently unsupervised. There was a sound of crying and she dashed across to them.
"What's the matter?" she asked concerned.
"Oh, he's just hit his thumb with a hammer," a little girl replied offhandedly, "he does it all the time, when he's not falling out of the tree. He's a butterfingers."
Zaire had only a vague idea of what a hammer was. She'd learned about them being used for inserting nails and as a weapon, so she wanted to call an Ambulance but the kids were insistent: it was something very minor and happened frequently. There was no need for an Ambulance.
A little further on she said hello to one of the 'tramps' who seemed startled to see her but quickly recovered and said: "Hello dear, you startled me. I was miles away."
Zaire knew perfectly well it was her surprise at encountering a Bogan. Zaire told her about the kids.
"Oh yes, There's a bit of a competition going between the kids to see who can build the best tree house. It's a lot safer than competitively building rockets, which was last long holiday's enthusiasm. But they've been warned to take the necessary precautions and they do have to learn don't they?"
This had to be the weirdest day in Zaire's life. She'd listened to Alice Through the Looking Glass, read by Pip in the original, and now she felt like Alice. Encouraging competition; dangerous activities for children; no ambulance? This world, just half an hour away from home, was on its head. She had a lot more questions for Bianca. Yet in this strange place she was more confident than ever that Bianca would know how to help her keep her job.
Suddenly the strange old lady, with the very wide mouth, smiled broadly under her funny hat and asked, like the Cheshire Cat from Alice's earlier adventures: "How do you like our park? I'm sure it's a bit different to those where you come from."
To which Zaire surprised herself by answering, perfectly honestly, "I love it."