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Here is where Pete Nicholls posts the first drafts of whatever he's working on and feels like making public. Currently, it's chapters from "New Earth City", a novel about the fall of a futuristic society set in a ring of space stations around the sun. Sometimes, drafts from other projects will appear here. Check out for more.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Earth City, 10 January

The next few days were quiet. The quiet before the storm, I suppose.

I kept my eyes on the inFeeds--well, all feeds, really. Unfortunately, it looked like Cho hadn't managed to put the story in front of anyone important before he died. The thing that still nags me is that the obituary had said Cho had died of a heart attack. But who has heart attacks anymore? And when I saw him, he seemed pretty healthy to me.

This is all so stupid. It's all so very stupid.

Sorry--everything was quiet until the morning of the tenth.


I was woken by a voice coming from my smartBox. I didn't recognize it as I drifted away from my sleep.

I looked over to the nightstand to see the avatar of who ever was speaking--it was just a big box. No face--just a flesh-colored box with a mouth.

"It's a terrible shame, Mr. Conant."

"What's that?" I asked, my head still clouded with the night's dreams I was about to forget.

"It's a shame that because of you and what you did there will be consequences."

"Who is this?"

"I really didn't want to do it, but you've made me, Mr. Conant. It's your fault. Not mine."

"What are you talking about? Who is this?"

Suddenly, the avatar retracted back into my smartBox as though it had had the air sucked out of it.

I rolled over and as I drifted off to sleep, I decided that I was pretty sure that the voice belonged to that guy in the park the other day.

Maybe an hour or two later I began to drift awake again. This time I didn't know why I just remember seeing through my only very slightly opened eyes the blurry image of an avatar forming--this one actually looked like a face. However, I couldn't recognize it without fully opening my eyes. So, I did just that, rubbing the sleep out of them, and sat up.

I was started at the identity of the avatar. The fact that it was talking to me didn't have an impact--I was still mostly asleep.

"Who are you and why are you using that avatar?"

"Jim, that's what I'm telling you--it's me, Stanley Cho--I'm not dead. I had to disappear for a bit."

Cho's avatar seemed calm, but that can be faked easily enough.

"So, what do you want from me?"

"I've discovered something disturbing. Something... unavoidable."

"What?" I was understandably confused.

"I need you to meet me--or rather Van, I suppose, this afternoon at 1400."

"OK, where?"

"At the spaceport, just off the A-mono down by Future Park."

"Where I met with Van?"

"Yes, that nearby. Can you do it? You must be on time, now."

"Yes, of course--but why me?"

The avatar pantomimed taking a breath.

"I suppose that can't wait."

"No, it can't. I won't go unless you tell me."

"It's because it's your fault."

His words hung in the space between my head and the smartBox for a long moment.


"What is my fault?"

"Just come down to the spaceport by 1400. It'll be crazy, lots of people and chaos, so be aware."

I smiled. "Usually, we're told not to do that."

"I know. There was a time when being aware was a good thing."

"All right. I'll be there."

I wasn't sure what made me want to go. I suppose my journalist's instinct could smell a story. I just wish that it could have smelled the part that was inedible.

After Cho's avatar disappeared I made sure to bathe quickly and get on the A-mono as soon as I could.

I got there a full hour before I was supposed to meet him so I walked around. The regular business of the area had full returned now that Holiday had been over for more than a few days. I tried to reenact the events of the days earlier. I stood on the spot where I confronted the mysterious man. I eyed the same rolling bumps that made Future Park so interesting. I looked back at the ground the strange man must have been standing on.

I wondered what he had meant. Consequences.

I glanced up and saw a transport ship coming in from the West Quad. It looked beautiful against the sun. I'd seen a thousand of those transports come in to dock at the spaceport as a kid. In all these years, they hadn't altered a single thing about the way that flight in from the West Quad worked. Same flight plan, same speed, I could even predict right where the transport ship would slow down on it's approach to the airlock.

This time I watched, mildly perplexed as the transport, capable of holding up to three-thousand, or so, passengers, failed to slow down to make its approach.

In fact, I am nearly certain that it sped up as it approached.

But it didn't stop...

It smashed into the spaceport and sent a fireball into the park that engulfed nearly everyone I could see. I narrowly escaped it myself.

Debris flew everywhere.

Metal, plastic, bodies...


Just then I felt a hand grab my upper arm.

"Thank god you're early!"

I looked over and saw the old-man face of Van Bush.

"Come on! We've got to take advantage of this chaos and get out of here!"

I was in a daze. I just did what he told me.

Before I knew it we were moving through a tunnel someplace. I'm not sure how we got there. I guessed it was a maintenance tunnel for the mono, but it was so dirty and disgusting I wasn't sure. Yes, these are the things you think about while fighting back the feelings of horror.

What's worse is...

Once we got where we were going, I felt my smartBox shifting around in my pocket. I pulled it out and held it up. It formed the avatar of my father-in-law.

"Jim, I'm afraid I've... uh... I've got some horrible news."

I was silent. He went on.

"Ande... she, uh, she wanted to surprise you..."

My chest tightened--it's tightening again.

Writing this was supposed to be therapy.

It's not working...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Earth City: 5 January

"I'm here to see a man called Cho." I said to the receptionist at the offices of truthFeed. I sounded like I was asking permission to see him.

"Are you?" she asked, challenging me. She was young and had an attitude.

"Yes. I am," I said trying to sound like I was talking down to her.

"You are?"

Why do people have to do this sort of thing?

I took a breath and then nodded toward the door that I assumed led to the room where the journalists had their cubicles. "Is it this way, then?"

"Uh, sir, I can't let you in there," she said, jumping in between me and the door behind her desk.

"Well, then tell Cho to come and get me. It's urgent." I was a decometer away from her face.

She looked over to the display on her desk. I did the same and saw a contact window appear. It had a picture of a man and his name "Stanley Cho" in big letters. Looking back at her, I saw her wink with her right eye and then a double-wink. On the display, a message appeared "connecting."

Her display had been calibrated to her eyes. It was expensive technology, but what I'd expect from a mainstream inFeed like TF.

"Stan, there's a guy here for you." She was quiet as (I assume) Cho replied to her question. "He says it's urgent."

"Tell him Van Bush sent me."

"He says Van Bush sent him."

She looked startled for a brief moment and then stepped away from the door. "Go ahead--he's in the corner office."

I opened the door and entered.

Inside, it was quite hectic--journalists were everywhere, talking about stories they were working on. It was pretty exciting. I wondered what would end up in the eleven o'clock feeds that night that I was hearing about right then.

Before I even reached Cho's office I realized I had no idea what any of them were talking about because the noise just made it too hard to concentrate. I wondered how anyone was supposed to work with all that noise.

I spotted the door to Cho's office. His name and picture were next to it. Just as I was about to knock, the door slid open and Cho exited.

"You Van's friend?"

"Uhh," I didn't have time to qualify, so I just said: "yes!"

He grabbed my arm and dragged me toward the door.

"Come on--we can't talk here. Don't say anything--anything at all until I tell you it's safe!"

Before I knew it we were outside the offices of truthFeed and in the elevator, heading down to the ground.

I glanced around the elevator nervously, not sure how to behave. I took a breath, as though I was ready to speak but didn't as I saw Cho shake his head at me.

"Not yet. I'll tell you when."

I watched as the elevator floor number dropped lower and lower. Finally, we dropped below the ground floor. The numbers disappeared and were replaced with a grocery market logo which announced "Food Experience."

"We're going grocery shopping?" I asked.

Cho smiled. "I grew up on the Far Eastern Quad--food is very important to us."

I nodded, familiar with the stereotype. The elevator doors opened and Cho passed me. I followed him out to see him pulling out a cart from a dispenser.

"You're joking."

"Joking? About what?"

"Mr. Cho, I just had, well, that is to say, I believe I just had my life threatened this morning and you want to go for groceries?"

"I can't work on an empty stomach. Come on."

He rolled the cart off in front of him and I followed. The midday rush had begun, though I was still surprised to see so many shoppers there on Holiday. The place was loud with activity and voices.

"Everyone's picking up last minute items for their big family-based Holiday meals," Cho said.

Of course.

He began to fill up his cart.

"Is that what you're doing?" I was understandably curious.

"Me? No. I don't have a family. I'm single, but I still like to eat well, as I said."

"Right, you're from the FEQ."

"Exactly. What about you?"

"Me? I'm from the subs." I wondered how long the pleasantries would go on for.


"Yeah, but I spent a lot of time in the West Quad. How about you?"

"Grew up in the West Quad, too--but down south. Parents were from the FEQ, though."

He had his cart filled up a quarter of the way already. As we rolled down the desert aisle, he finally allowed us to talk about the important stuff.

"So, what did Van tell you?"

"He said the Vidi is a surveillance system."

"A surveillance system? Is that all he said?"

"Yeah. That and something about Latin?"

"Oh... haha..."

"What does it mean?" I asked.

"Latin's an old dead language. Vidi refers to seeing things. In fact, there's something an old conquerer said: vini, vidi, vici."

"Never heard of it."

"No, you wouldn't have. No one has, but Van and me and a few other lucky people."

"What does it mean?"

"We came, we saw, we were victorious."

I nodded. "Something called 'the Vidi' would be a system of watching us, then?"

"It would seem that way."

"Well, what about hearing? Shouldn't we be someplace private?" I asked.

"We are in private. With all the background noise here, it's impossible for audio recording sensors to differentiate between us and everyone else. What the sensors do pick up, is mixed in with talk of the best tasting salad dressing."

"Ah, I see," I said. "There's something else."

"Oh yeah? Something else Van told you?"

"Well, he said I should make sure you share your byline with me."

"Ha! You're a journalist are you?"

"Worked for the feedWest for a few years--but that's not what I mean. After Van left me I was approached by another man who begged me not to come to you."

Cho looked at me for a moment and then shrugged. "Who was this man?"

"I don't know. He wouldn't say, but he promised there would be 'hell to pay.'"

"Haven't heard that phrase in a while."

"I've never heard it--what does it mean? 'Hell to pay'?"

"It means the mythical underworld where we all go to suffer an eternity of pain for our sins will be paying for whatever happens because you told me what Van told me."

"So, do you think he was serious?"

"I don't know."

"Oh! He also told me that if I told you that I should meet him at Future Park tomorrow."

"Not sure what to make of that. Tell me, Mr., uh--"

"Conant, Jim Conant."

"Mr. Contant, are you married?"

"Yes, I am."

"And you are a journalist?"

"Yes, I am."

"You should go home to your wife and forget all about this then. You've helped immeasurably. Van coming to me would have been a red flag to the powers that be. I can now investigate this further. There's no need for your wife to become endangered."

"My wife? What are you talking about?"

"Mr. Conant, by pursuing this story with me you may very well draw the attention of very powerful people. Being this kind of journalist is not the best choice for your health. Go home to your wife, Mr. Conant. I'll take care of things from here on out."


"Seriously--just, right now, go home." He stopped rolling the cart, faced me, and gave me a look that was hard to ignore. The look told me that I was in over my head.

"All right," I said.

The next morning, I looked for his column in truthFeed. I didn't see it. Instead, I saw... his obituary.

My mind raced, but I just didn't have enough information on any of this for it to do anything but race in circles. The only thing I could think to do was go back to Future Park and see if that guy would come back.

I immediately skipped breakfast and got on the mono, back downtown. I got to Future Park around 1 in the afternoon. I waited on a park bench for about an hour before the man appeared.

"I told you I wouldn't kill you or Mr. Bush."


"But, Mr. Cho..."

"One reporter dying is hardly 'hell paying' or whatever it was that you said."

"No, that's true and his story might still come to light. Luckily, there's another solution in the works."

"Oh yeah? What's that?"

"You will see, Mr. Conant." With that, he walked off in the same direction I saw Bush move off in and like the old man, this mystery fellow had the A-mono waiting for him.

I began to worry about Ande. Her plane wasn't coming in until the eleventh, two days from then. She really missed her folks so she has been spending a couple weeks there.

At least I knew she was safe and away from me.


Friday, January 09, 2009

4 January

After Emi vanished again, I decided to head home. How did she know that old man? Why did that old man want me to meet him at Future Park? What was he going to tell me about what ever theVidi was?

Obviously I couldn't know.

So, I waited for the A mono and went home.

The apartment seemed colder than usual. I suppose it always felt colder when I knew Ande wasn't around.

As I crawled into bed by myself, I realized I Emi hadn't said what time I would be meeting Bush.

I told my smartBox to wake me at 8. I decided that I'd just have to hang around the Park all day.

If I had a job, I'd feel differently, but I don't.

So, I closed my eyes.


I woke to the sound of Ande's voice.

"I'll be home in a few hours, honey. I love you!"

It was an old message she had sent me, letting me know she was on her way home from the market.

I turned my head to look at the smartBox that had shaped itself to look like her face. Smaller than the real thing and probably a little younger looking, but it was still her avatar.


Ande and I had been together for a long time--close to ten years. Even though I was used to us not always being together thanks to jobs or just long commute times (the West Quad is known for it's extreme travel-time), I always missed her just the same. I'm glad I had told my smartBox to wake me that morning with her old message.


At 8:15 I got out of bed, bathed and, before 9, stepped aboard the A mono back downtown. By 9:45 I was at the platform Emi had mentioned the night before. Since it was Holiday, the city was pretty dead.

Bad choice of words.

There were people around, after all--businesses were still open and people were going about their business. By midday Future Park would be mad with activity.

Future Park was built to resemble an Old Earth park--trees, grass, even a lake--all of it artificial, of course. But it's stunning--especially at midday when the shudders are open to the sun.

However, before 10 in the morning, it was quiet. As I stepped off the A mono, I could only see ten or fifteen people within the confines of the park, itself. It's small, rolling hills could have hid anyone sitting or lying down, I suppose, but it was a fairly private place to have a secret meeting.

I imagined the old man would have to get there before the crowds did in order to keep the meeting private. For all I knew he was there already.

From anywhere in the park I could easily see the platform, so I went for a walk.

As I crossed the square at the center of trees, I heard a voice.

"Glad you could make it, kid."

It was Van Bush, of course. I turned to see him approach me from the same direction I'd just come from.

"How could I not show up, Mr., uh, Bush?"

"Just call me Van. Look, kid. You're a reporter--right?"

"Uh, yes." I ignored his use of the antiquated term "reporter."

"Go to the main offices of the truthFeed. Do you know that feed?"

"Yeah, one of the biggest inFeeds there is."

"Find a reporter called Cho, Stanley Cho. Tell him the Vidi is a surveillance system. Turns out someone knows Latin in the UER government. Go figure."

"Go, what?" His slang was foreign to me.

"Just find Cho. Tell him what I just told you."


"It's an old language. Doesn't matter. I have to leave now. Go to truthFeed, find Cho."

"And just tell him that the Vidi is a surveillance system? That's it?"

"That's all I know, kid! And keep it down, willya?"

"Why can't you tell him?"

"They're watching him. They won't recognize you. Take care, kid." He turned and started to walk away.

"Wait--why are you telling me to do this?" He didn't stop walking, but he did look back at me.

"You're a reporter--this'll be the biggest story you ever break--just make sure Cho shares his byline with you!"

I watched Van walk all the way back to the mono platform and then climb onto a mono that just happened to be waiting for him.

I took a deep breath as I considered what he had told me.

It would be almost no effort at all to visit this man Cho. TruthFeed is famous--every NECer knows where they're offices are--not too far from Tree Plaza. I turned to continue on to the other side of the park where the B-mono platform was. The B travels across town, right past Tree Plaza.

However, before I reached the platform, I heard another voice.

"Mr. Contant."

Instinctively I stopped and looked to see who was calling my name. "Yes?"

"Please don't talk to Mr. Cho," the man said. He wore a long overcoat that was slightly transparent, like the one Emi wore the night before, underneath which was a suit. He was around my age--a bit older--he had a bland face. I couldn't identify it if I saw it again.

"See, if you talk to Mr. Cho about what Mr. Bush told you, I'm afraid something horrible would have to happen."

"What are you talking about, Mr...?"

He didn't answer my question, but he approached me.


"What is the big issue, here?" I asked.

"If you go to the feeds with this, something horrible will happen."

"Yes, I heard you. Are you threatening me?"

"The information you now possess has the potential to disrupt the very fabric of society."



Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a transport passby overhead--outside the ring, of course. It was a transport from the West Quad, dropping people off at the nearby spaceport. It looked beautiful against the sun.

"Yes, it is beautiful, isnt it?" the man said.

"Yes, it is," I said, turning away from him.

"Are you going to the feeds, Mr. Contant?"

"Of course."

"If you do, please come back to this spot tomorrow, but I beg of you, please don't. I'm not authorized to kill you and I can't kill your friend for other reasons. If you do this, there will be hell to pay."

I ignored him and kept walking.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

3 January

Yes, predictably enough, she knew I'd be there. How she knew wasn't as predictable as I thought--seeing as I essentially had no idea how she did know, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

She was wearing a light, slightly see-through overcoat, showing off her business one-piece underneath. She was always dressed like the archaic "girl next door" when we were in school together. Emi always seemed more interested in being sweet than she was in sneaking around and sending strange messages. There she was looking like she was heading to a board meeting--but on Holiday Eve? Who would do business on the night the entire Ring was celebrating?

As I followed her in, I knew she couldn't be doing business--it was a museum. Perhaps she was working late? She never did mention in her messages what she was doing for work now. As I approached the ticket window just inside the door, I saw Emi vanish through a door with a sign over it that read "The Early Days."

I waved my hand at the window sensor and it chirped at me. A tinny voice told me I could enter for the next twenty-four hours as I wished.

I wasn't sure if Emi was there to see me or not at first, so I didn't try to catch up to her. To be honest, I did such a good job of this that I managed to lose her around the Edward R. Murrow statue in the "muckrakers" section. He looked like a grim fellow--if that's what journalists looked like back then, I'm glad I was born now.

As I looked away from the statue's tired-looking face, I realized Emi was nowhere to be seen. I looked toward the "Journalists of Television" section and decided she must have gone there. However, when I got there, she wasn't.

I passed through a few more sections and could see the cafeteria. I had no reason to think she was hungry, but it was as good a place as any to look. I headed in and looked around.

Some journalist. After seeing my school-age girlfriend for the first time in twenty years, I lose her in a museum.

How can I expect to hunt for a story if I can't keep an eye on my first love?

Then I realized I was in the middle of an exhibit on journalism. Perhaps I might learn something from it? Isn't that what museums used to be for?

Still... where had Emi gone?

I tried not to think about her. I tried to tell myself that it wasn't really her--it was just someone who looked like her. To be honest, since she'd contacted me, I often found myself staring hard at women I'd see on the mono or in the market because I wasn't sure if they were Emi aged twenty years older or not. People do change over time.

I found myself back at the Edward R. Murrow statue.

I read the description on the wall next to the statue softly: "Edward R. Murrow is best known for his journalism-based evening content stream entitled 'See it Now' and another, entertainment-based content stream entitled 'Person to Person.'"

I paused and wondered aloud: "That's all you have to do to get a statue?"


I locked-up, hearing the voice.

"I knew you'd be here. Where else would you go without your wife in town?"

I slowly managed to turn around to face the shadow from which the Emi's voice had come.

"Em?" I forced out of my mouth.

"Yes," she replied from the darkness cast behind a statue of a man called Cronkite. "but stay there."


"Just stay there. There may be someone watching us."

"Of course, there's someone watching us, there are sensors everywhere."

"I think someone may be paying attention to us. Please--I'm just trying to help." She began to look at the displays as though she were really interested in them. I tried to play along and do my best to not look like I was talking with her.


"Your friend Van--he asked me to get a message to you."

"My friend?"

"He said, that he knows what the Vidi is."

"Wait--the old man from the night we were arrested?"

"Yes. He said you'd know what I was referring to."

"Well, sort of--but how do you know him?"

"I... can't... look, I shouldn't even be here. If my Mark finds out--"

"Who's Mark?"

"He might leave me."

"Oh, I know who Mark is, now."

She smiled awkwardly at me. Our eyes locked. Her black hair was longer than I remembered it from school. Her face was older, but I could still see the old Emi in there--or, I suppose, the young Emi. She looked tired--like life could have been easier. Then again, we all look that way if we live long enough.

"I'm sorry, Van says you should meet him tomorrow, by the A-mono platform at Future Park."

"OK. Emi..." I reached out to her and just as I touched her right hand with mine, she moved away.


She disappeared around a corner and when I caught up, she had vanished again.

As I stood there, staring at where she would have been if she hadn't disappeared, I felt strange. Like something just wasn't right about how she had evaded me yet again. Was she just that quick? Or am I just that slow?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

2 January

All right, so, I've calmed down and I'm focusing. The last I mentioned my old girl friend, Emi, was that she had cut off all contact with me--what little contact that there was. I had a very foul attitude following me around a few days after that. Being in touch with her again after so many years, as I mentioned, made me happy, but when she did what she did, it was like I had the floor drop out from underneath me. The selection was right on top of us at the time, so I was lucky--I followed it closely. There was a lot of confusing information floating around the feeds and even the inFeeds that made me concerned Rose might not make the selection.

As I read the polling numbers, I saw he was ahead, but the part of the contest that was about his class--the Thirder factor--was a wild card. So much so that it was hard for any of the people on the inFeeds to say who would win. Would people cast for the one that was like them? The average Adam? Or would they cast for the known man? Thorne has been in government his entire life--that "experience factor" was another wild card. Combine both the experience factor and the Thirder factor with the Intelligence-Compensation Algorythm (ICA) and you end up with numbers that were simply not consistent.

When I was a kid, I remember trying to really understand what the ICA was actually doing to the the final tally of cast ballots. We were told growing up that some people who are very smart can manipulate the outcome of the selection when they cast. Which I completely don't understand. How could someone manipulate the outcome just by casting? Regardless, the ICA compensates for a given percentage of people who do this. How many people do this? The UER government won't give us specific numbers since they are different in every selection. The algo, they say, can predict the number and compensate by adjusting the number of ballots cast for each man running.

I remember when I was a child, I asked my father about this--if the algorythm wasn't an algorythm, but was instead a program coded by someone who wanted one candidate to win instead of the other, how would we know?

"The government wouldn't do that," my father said.


"Because we're a democracy. If they did that, they'd be going against the very principles that have kept humanity alive since the old Earth days."

I looked at him for a while as I tried to decide whether I agreed with him or not. Even at nine years of age, I wondered what would stop a bad person from lying and exchanging that algo for something corrupt.

In many ways, that moment with my father pushed me toward journalism. It made me curious. I felt his story didn't quite add up. So, it stayed on my mind.

When I saw Rose win with such dramatic numbers--800,000 more ballots cast for him over his main competition--I couldn't help but wonder about that algo. In the end I decided if it would have been too obvious if it had cast that many in favor of one man. While the polls weren't completely telling, it was obvious if Thorne won, it wouldn't be by much.

So, what does this have to do with Emi?

Nothing. That's the point. By the end of the year, she was far from my mind--and so was my arrest and Van Bush and the Vidi.

As the Holiday approached, Ande decided she wanted to be with her family, back in the West Quad. We didn't have the spare credit for both of us to go, which was fine, since I was interested in spending some time getting to know New Earth City a bit more.

So, when the Holiday came, I took a mono trip down to midcentral to visit a museum which had just opened an exhibition about journalists through history. It was something I think I was inspired to do by that old man I met while I was arrested--Van Bush. The way he spoke, so quickly and with such directing questions. He seemed to know what he wanted to know even before he had answers.

He was older than anyone I know, so he was a little scary to me. I don't know why, but he seemed to haunt me like he was from an old ghost story--not that I believe in ghosts. I wondered if I might see him in some old image files.

So, on Holiday Eve, I went down to midcenter--not far from the festivities in Tree Plaza. TP is always a mess on Holiday Eve. I try to stay away from crowds like that, but in some ways, they make me feel more human. Plus it was a fun way to spend the end of the year, not that we celebrated that much out in the West Quad.

So, unlike most crowds, I decided to wander in amongst them before I made my way to the Museum of Knowledge, where the journalism exhibition was. The crowd was just as large as I had expected. When Ande and I intentionally wanted to see the Tree Show, we were only able to get a few hundred decometers away. That's how many people were in Tree Plaza. This time, I was less motivated and was unable to get close at all. I quickly gave up and made my way to MoK.

That's when I saw her.

Yes, it was Emi walking into the museum, just ahead of me.

-Jim Conant

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

New Earth City, 1 January

Still, my hands have red on them.

I can't seem to get it off. I suppose that's a good thing. A horrible, good thing.

This blog--it is now all I can do. In a galaxy of blogs, I hope someone will see this and... I don't know what. I'm not sure what to advocate. Perhaps once you've heard the rest of my story, at least up to this point, you'll think of something to do and let me know.

A few days after my last post, I allowed myself to become enveloped a bit by the whole selection mess. It's a yearly thing, but as I said before, it was a big one this year. The good news is that for the first time someone born on the Third Ring made it into office. Well, he's not made it yet, commencement isn't another few weeks. I may go to the CapitalPod to see the crowds that will be too big for me to get close to see the new Pillar, himself.

The big deal here is that a Thirder made it into office. No Thirder ever has. Ever since the Second Ring broke up, it's been tough on the Thirders to get the support they've needed. Resources are scarce and so the entire ring dropped into poverty. It's been that way for a long time and it's tough for anyone out there to get the right contacts to make it it to the main ring, let alone getting far enough in politics. Everyone just assumed Pillar Rose was just not balanced enough. Sure, just to survive on the Third, you've got to be stable, but Rose--he managed to do more. Rose is charismatic--good looking and seems like he knows what he's doing, but he's still like a friend--like a guy you'd have coffee with.

Now the concern among the circles I've been traveling both via the smartBox and in person is that he won't make it to commence his Pillarship. Of course, these kinds of conspiracies are common and after seeing what I've seen since last I wrote, I have to say I'd believe in that conspiracy if I didn't know better. In fact, since last September, the theories I came to New Earth City with have been reinforced and... expanded.

Pillar Rose will be fine. He'll make it to the commencement and he'll be seen as one of the best pillars, Fifth or otherwise, the United Earth Ring has had. See, he's on the inside of all of this. The lightning storms, the Vidi, that old man at the old warehouse, the arrests and detaining at the old warehouse--it's all the very bottom. Rose is the very top.

Or maybe he isn't.

The really frustrating thing is that things were coming together so well--things were getting worse and worse. There was no denying it--but now with a Thirder...

To give us all hope the bad men let the impossible happen. A Thirder as the Fifth Pillar.

They did the one thing that they knew would put us all at ease. If a Thirder could make it that far, then we knew we lived in a fair society, that our system works and, most of all, that we could trust our leaders again.

I've seen so many things... the Ring is dying and will soon be as bad as the Third, if not worth. Money and eco people were talking about how "the game was even" again. The wave of success Pillar Rose rode over to the main Ring on would bring thousands with it from the Third--metaphorically, of course. Many of us in the First don't want their kind here--that would mean more Thirders in positions of power. Not a thing to want. Sure, they're equal, we're told, but they can't know what we know out there on the Third. So, they'll build themselves up there. Of course, in the meantime, we're dropping down--systems are failing. Pay is dropping (not that I'd know firsthand since I'm still officially jobless).

But despite the mess we're facing, people have faith in the future of the United Earth Ring.

And now the red on my hands serves as evidence. The red that got into the lines and wrinkles and cracks in my hands and won't wash out. It's as though I can see my own blood coursing through my veins.

But it's not my blood...'s someone else's.

More tomorrow. I promise.

Monday, September 01, 2008

New Earth City entry for September 2

Sorry for the lack of updates. It's been a strange time. I've going through a lot and I'll try to explain.

To begin, it's selection time again. We're two months from the day in which one of the five Pillars of the Earth Ring are chosen. This is somewhat historic time for the entire system since each pillar is replaced once every five years. But there's just one selection per year. The four Pillars each oversee one quadrant each with the fifth administering the other four Pillars. School texts talk inform us that the Fifth Pillar is just an overseer who helps the other four make their decisions. However, the Fifth Pillar is always made to seem the most important in the feeds.

I think it's something in our heads--we need to feel ruled over, I think. Like the kings back on Earth.

Not that anything good came from the kings. Still, it is nice to have a leader we can look up to. I think all of the Pillars want what's best for us. Sometimes, some people think they're wrong anyway.

So, that's where we are now--I'm still out of work, so I've been looking at all of the action wondering how I can fit in. Or at least I was.

A few weeks ago I got something on my smartBox. It was a message from someone I knew when I last lived in this quad--some one I was tempted for a time to spend my life with. But I was young and we both grew apart after we went off to university. Not that we moved to different quads, though we might as well have. There seemed a solar system between us during those years. Later, after I moved to the West Quad, there was obviously even more distance.

She was the last person I expected to hear from, but when I woke that morning three weeks ago, I tapped my smartBox to life and it shifted into her face. It was still beautiful--not precisely as I remembered it, but close enough so that I could still see the spark that I had fallen for. That spark that so few other women have--something I was lucky to find with my Ande.

And there she was, talking to me again. Her face looked a little tired--funny she didn't correct her avatar in the system for that. Her voice hadn't changed at all.

"I know it must be strange hearing from me after all these years," the avatar said.

I could feel my right eyebrow rise, involuntarily, with suspicion as the avatar continued.

"But I had heard that you were one of the group arrested the other day and I'm a defender, so I thought I might see if you needed any legal help. Things are quite slow for me these days."

How had she heard? She couldn't have read this blog--it's one of millions. I'm not even only Jim Conant with a blog. Ande was too upset to talk about my arrest with anyone. This was very puzzling.

Not only that, but it brought up some strange feelings. Feelings that once came very close to getting us both in trouble. They made me feel... happy, actually. With all of the uncertainty in our move to NEC and finding a job as a journalist, I hadn't felt legitimately happy in some time.

There were moments with Ande that were happy, I suppose, but hearing from Emi again--this was different. I don't think I'd describe this as just happy--I think maybe "joy" would fit? Not to sound old fashioned, but yeah, "joy" describes it.

Long after we stopped dating we stayed friends. Best friends, I'd say now, though I wouldn't have back then. I was suddenly remembering everything I shared with her.

I went on my first space walk with her. It wasn't her first, but... I had entirely forgotten about that. Heh...

As I grew interested in rebooting our friendship, I was still supposed to be paying attention to the selection process--the people going for the Fifth Pillar. That's certainly what I told my wife, anyway.

The thing is, those damn smartBoxes are so good at feeding distractions. After a few days of exchanging short messages back and forth, I got a little curious and did the same thing to her that she did to me and looked her up. It turns out she runs a small defender office just outside NEC, not far from where we grew up. I looked up the security feeds from that sector of the NEC subs and found her house. Then found her loc in the feednet, not that I needed it since she had messaged me. Still, there it was. I could even see the garden pod and their... park. It was a two vehicle park--only one was there when I looked, but two. In her next message, she explained:

"I'm married, what do you think? I spend all this time single and wishing for you?"

I smiled and shrugged, my eyebrow rising again.

"We've got two boys." She giggled suddenly. "Can you imagine it? Me surrounded by three men all the time."

"I don't know how they manage," I said, under my breath, remembering her energy.

"It's the kids that wear me out. But regarding your request of a coffee date, I think that would be fine."

I smiled and my heart skipped a little as I kept listening.

"I'm not sure when I'll be in the city next, but I'm usually in once every month or so."

I messaged her back explaining how much I looked forward to seeing her in the flesh and not in the morphic the smartBox was made of.

Then, the same day one of the main runners for Fifth Pillar announced their choice for co-minister, my smartBox shifted into Emi's face once again.

"I can't message you for a while. I'm sorry--I want to, but I can't right now."

My heart could have stopped beating for all I was aware. Her words hung in my head like they were being spoken over and over. I played the message again and paused it, just so I could try to get something from her avatar's expression. Her dark skin seemed flush--like she was happy. Her brown eyes were bright and wide open despite their usual narrow shape. She had obviously set her avatar mood to "happy" but was she really "happy" to say she couldn't message me?

My heart sank. I messaged her back, setting my avatar to "concerned" but tried to keep things positive.

"No problem," I told her, "just message me when you can."

I sent the message and that has been it.

I got distracted by the selection and it has been a long time since I saw Emi last. I think I've changed a lot since then. It would have been nice to have her tell me just how much I'd changed. But it seems like she's done with me, again.

I suppose we men never give up the torch. So, it stings a little, but I've got a wife, too. Responsibilities to her and to our future together. As a result, I knew I had to move on. Sure, being friends with Emi would have been great, but surely, I'd survived for nearly two decades without seeing her, why should I suddenly start missing her now?

I'll go into more about the selection in my next entry. I promise to not wait another month.

Oh, and I never did hear from that one job. I'm giving up on it at this point. It wasn't a journalism position, anyway. As for all that stuff with the arrest? I'm not sure what to make of all of that. If I come across any of it again, I'll be sure to post about it, but I tried doing some research on it, but there's nothing in the feeds about it and the smartBox actually is strangely short on information on the Vidi--short in that there isn't any. So, there's just no story there as far as I can tell.

More soon.

-Jim Conant

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