‘I read widely. Thank you very much.’ Ricard took a bite from the roll Zizi had thrown at him, then talked around the mouthful. ‘For a long time humanity has played a role in the evolution of the flora and fauna of this planet through selection, breeding and elimination. Every day now, people are making new plants and animals in kitchen laboratories. This is like the electrical revolution all over again, but with biology.’
‘Who knows what people could be making?’ Dalia said. ‘It’s scary.’
‘The genie is out of the bottle,’ Bora muttered.
‘Doesn’t it give you hope?’ Ric replied. ‘We are moving evolution forward. We get to choose the direction the world should go in.’
‘And you think that’s a good thing?’ Zizi asked. Patrick stood up and went around the table topping up glasses.
Zizi sipped as she lined up her shot. Everyone quietly took second helpings, ready for her to continue. ‘The idea that evolution moves us forward to a higher state is a common and fundamental misunderstanding. Evolution leads to optimal states, but only optimal for the environment of the time. N’est pas?’
‘But when we can control our environment and can control changes to our physical form,’ Ricard said, ‘Controlling our own evolutionary path is the next logical step. Aren’t we heading into a time when we could achieve of a higher state of being? We have to at least ask the questions. We’re playing with animals, we’re playing with plants. It’s safe to assume, out of ten billion people, that there are some people out there playing with themselves.’
‘Ha!’ Bora laughed. ‘Good. I like what you did there.’
‘Why wouldn’t we take destiny into our own hands?’ Ric threw out a wide passing shot.
‘Did you swallow a pamphlet?’ Zizi asked.
‘What pamphlet? What are you both talking about?’ Anna asked and turned to Patrick. ‘What are they talking about?’
‘Ric has started quoting Affordance propaganda,’ Patrick answered.
‘It’s an engineering term explaining the relationship between physical limitations and function.’
There was a mouthful of silence as everyone thought this over but he was too tipsy to hold the concept.
Since all but Bora had aligned their cutlery in the position of completion, Zizi went to the kitchen and heated dessert bowls in the microwave. She leaned back into the main room to listen in on the conversation.
‘Did I hear you use that word before, Patrick?’ Dalia asked. ‘You said something about affordance and the students outside.’
‘Yes. I believe it is becoming a very big issue with the next generation.’ Patrick looked around the group. They all urged him to continue. ‘But I find discussion of the topic often leads to arguments and rifts between friends. Are you sure you want to risk it?’
‘Well you’ve raised my curiosity now,’ Anna said. Everyone else nodded in agreement.
‘We’ve been friends long enough I think,’ Ric said. ‘We can be adult about whatever you have to say.’
Patrick assented and paused, lining up how he would angle this conversational ball.
There was a knock at his door. He listened but all he could hear was the rain and wind.
‘Who is it, Jove?’ Tom asked.
‘Tara from Unit 3.’
He stood up immediately. ‘Let her in.’
The lock clicked and Tom called out, ‘Come in. It’s open.’
‘Tom?’ her voice was shaking.
‘My whole apartment is flooded. I can’t keep the water out.’
‘What can I do?’
‘Could I stay here? I know you don’t know me but . . .’
‘Of course.’ He asked Jove to prepare some tea.
‘Thank you, so much.’
‘Sit down, please. Are you wet?’
Tom slowly felt his way along the wall towards the bathroom. ‘I’ll get you a towel.’
‘I can get it.’ She pushed him to stay on the bed. ‘Are they in the here?’
‘Yes. Under the sink. Do you need some dry clothes?’
‘Clothes would be great. Anything you have will be fine.’
He listened to her footsteps as she moved around his rooms. She found his wardobe and slid the doors open.
‘You were at Blackheath?’ She must have found his uniform.
‘Yes. You recognise the badges?’
‘Yeah. I have a few friends in the cadets,’ she said. ‘Two tours?’
‘Nearly to the end.’
‘I had leave for my uncle’s funeral. Then it was all over.’
‘Is it over?’ she asked.
‘They’ve said it is,’ he said. Then shrugged. ‘I don’t know anymore.’
I still don’t know. Is it over? Whenever I am now, has it really ended?
She went quiet for a moment. ‘You really can’t see anything?’
‘You’re just a blur to me.’
‘Still, could you turn around? It’s weird getting changed in front of someone. Especially one wearing an eye patch.’
Tom turned back to the window and pointed his face towards the outside. Behind him his ears listened intently to the peel of her wet clothes, the slop as they dropped to the floor. Then another slop and the plastic clickityclick of a bra clasp. She dried herself hurriedly and was almost silent as she put on some of his clothes.
‘Okay, you can turn around now.’
She collected the tea and sat on the corner of the bed next to him. The rain was coming down harder.
‘I’ve never seen so much rain. Not in real life,’ she said.
‘I’m not even seeing it now . . .’
‘I’m sorry.’ She touched him on the arm.
‘Look, I’m sorry. I can tell you’re uncomfortable with me being here.’
‘No. no. It’s not you. It’s just . . . this being blind thing. It’s really hard.’
‘I’m a little trapped up here.’
‘And now the rain.’
‘Yeah but it’s not just that . . . don’t worry about it. I’m glad someone is here with me.’
‘Maybe we should get to know each other. My name is Tara Brown. I was born in Wollongong in 2045. I’ve completed a masters in international studies and now I work with the International Volunteers.’
‘Do you know someone called Rachel Velasco?’
‘No, sorry. I just got back from Canada and before that I was in Nigeria. Was she stationed there?’
‘I don’t know. They don’t seem like good places to be right now.’
‘As opposed to here?’
‘Sorry about the flooding.’
She laughed at that. ‘That’s okay. It’s nice to be home.’
‘So what do you do in these places?’ he asked.
‘We build. We try to teach.’
‘What do you teach?’
‘Reading and writing. We teach the adults how to start their own businesses.’
‘Still pushing the western system then?’
‘Huh? What do you mean? We are just trying to give them basic life skills.’
‘Yeah, our basic life skills. Despite where capitalism has led us, we still push our belief in the so-called free market.’
‘Are you an X?’ she asked. ‘What’s with all those signs in the spare room?’
‘That’s not mine. This was my uncle’s place . . . I need to get rid of that stuff.’
‘But you’re anti-capitalist?’
‘I’m not a nullist or anything,’ he shrugged, ‘I’m just not sure we should be pushing a system on to others which seems to be failing.’
‘People have to be able to earn a living.’
‘Money is a battery of social power. You pay people to do things. Why can’t social power be the driver of social power? Take money out of the equation?’
‘I don’t get what you’re talking about,’ she said.
He smiled. ‘I’m not sure I do either, but I was just listening to a speech about it.’
‘You don’t get out much do you?’
‘I haven’t in a while,’ Tom laughed softly. ‘Look, do you need to tell anyone you’re here?’
‘I sent a message to my mum.’
‘Okay . . . So that’s who you report to? No boyfriend or anyone?’
‘Don’t get any ideas?’
‘What? Oh, no. I didn’t mean that. I’m just asking. Isn’t it a natural question?’
‘I guess so.’
‘You don’t have to say. I just wondered.’
Tara giggled. ‘I’m just teasing. This could easily be our last night alive.’ He felt her warm hand on his arm. ‘What about you? Who do you “report” to?’
‘No one really. My brother sometimes.’
‘What about your parents?’
‘They’re gone. Haven’t heard from them since I was ten.’
‘What do you mean? Are they dead?’
‘Probably. Dead or disappeared. We were told they were doing an aid project in Papua thirteen years ago, and we haven’t heard from them since.’
‘That’s horrible,’ Tara said.
‘It was at the time.’ Though all Tom could remember was Jack breaking through the bathroom door and dragging him out. ‘I like to think they died doing what they enjoyed. They always liked adventuring.’
‘That’s a good way to look at it . . . I suppose.’
‘Now it’s just me and my brother Patrick. This was my uncle’s flat until he died.’
‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
‘Don’t be. You looked in that room. You know enough about him.’
Without warning the lights went out. For Tom, the greyness in his eyes became blackness but he heard the ever-present hum, the tension of electricity in machines, disappear and the rain seemed louder than before.
‘Jove?’ he whispered, but his assistant didn’t respond.
Tara had stood up, her voice coming from the balcony door, ‘I’ve got no connections either.’
Tara opened the balcony door and looked out. ‘What does it look like?’ he asked.
‘The streetlights are out. There’s so much water, Tom.’
She came back to sit next to him on the bed, neither moving, just listening to the perpetual rain. ‘Thanks for letting me stay.’ Her voice quivered and Tom opened his arms. She turned around and clung to him.
Then they heard a creak that grew to a loud CRACKRRK! Then a crunch of metal and wood snapping. A car alarm twerped.
He pulled his hands free and felt around until his fingers were in hers.
‘Don’t be scared,’ he said.
‘Aren’t you? We can’t get out.’
‘Someone will come. They will just wait until the rain stops.’
Her kiss was a surprise. Like a brick through a window. It smashed an invisible barrier between him and the world he didn’t know existed.
He was paused. Without breath. Then they were kissing deeply, pulling clothes up and pressing together. Their skins found each other, bodies seeking comfort, laughing and crying until they fell asleep.
Outside the twerp of the car alarm was drowned and silenced beneath the flood.