Private island horror
Scenes have emerged today from the island home of billionaire Clancy Bertaugh.
Like many of the world’s elite, Bertaugh took his family to the remote islands to avoid the social turmoil engulfing western society but ended up gutted and left for dead while locals looted his private compound.
An alarm of bird song and drums blurted him awake. ‘Good morning, Tom,’ Jove said cheerily. ‘There’s a lot of shifts to grab today. Are you ready?’
He blinked but his vision wouldn’t clear up. The room was too bright and blurry. Even his hand close to his face was fuzzy.
Carefully he propped himself up and peered around. He could make out light coming from his left, which was probably the window. He felt his way to the end of the bed and crawled to the doorway that connected the kitchen/laundry and found the sink with his hands. Tom put his head under the tap, flushing his eyes and blinking rapidly. His vision was still blurry after he dried off.
‘Is something wrong, Tom?’ Jove asked.
‘I can’t see. Everything is blurry.’
‘Would you like me to connect you to a doctor?’
‘Right away. Can you make your way to your visor?’
‘Can you make it chime?’
The sound of a small bell emanated from the puffy chair. He followed the sound until his fingers found it and put it over his head. He recognised the light change of the Queue opening, amber changing to a bluey grey.
‘You are second in a waiting list to see Doctor Omaru,’ Jove informed him. ‘May I share your personal log to provide basic information and tracking data?’
‘Would you like to listen to their health specials?’ Jove asked.
‘It won’t be long now. Try to remain calm.’
‘I can’t see!’
‘Not long to go now.’
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Light faded in again, dissolving between the colours of the spectrum. It was like passing through a rainbow.
‘Excellent. Now the same test again but closing your right eye for me.’
The procedure was repeated and he flew back through the rainbow.
Around him he could hear wind in tall trees, birds making echoing calls and a trickling stream.
‘Is that you? Turn it off.’
The soundscape stopped.
‘My apologies. I was trying to soothe you,’ Jove said.
‘Just stay quiet.’
A blurry figure soon appeared in front of him.
‘Hello Tom, I am Doctor Omaru. I understand you are having problems with your vision?’
‘Yes. Everything is blurry.’
‘How long have you been experiencing this?’
‘Since I woke up. About fifteen minutes ago.’
‘I see. From your records I notice you have been clocking a lot of hours under the visor.’
‘And you don’t seem to have gone out much in the last few weeks.’
‘No. I’m . . .’
‘Yes?’ Doctor Omaru asked.
‘I don’t like going out.’
‘Well, it probably is just eye strain but let’s have a closer look. Can you hold your eyes open for me and remain very still?’
‘Very good. Now blink once for me . . . again. Good. Now I’m just going to flash some light on your eyes to see how your pupils respond.’
‘Can I blink?’
‘Blinking is fine. Ready?’
The visor went dark, flashed and returned to dark. Then a slowly brightening light grew in intensity, holding for a few seconds.
‘Do your eyes hurt at all?’
‘No. There’s no pain.’
‘No need to be a martyr. Please tell me if it hurts.’
‘They just feel very dry.’
‘Can you close your left eye for me. I need to check each separately.’
‘This test takes about forty seconds.’
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‘Okay you can relax now. I’m going to set your visor to night mode, but you really should avoid using it for the next three weeks.’
‘Three weeks? I can’t afford that. I’ll fall behind.’
‘There is a ninety per cent chance that your loss of vision is related to eye strain that can only be healed with rest.’
‘How do I work? I have a kid to support.’
‘Mister Huxley, understand that at this moment your condition is treatable but you will have to make some lifestyle changes to avoid it becoming permanent. I can see you have enough credit built up for a holiday, but you do not have enough for a complete eye replacement. I’m prescribing you an eye patch for each eye, eye drops and some vision exercises. Don’t use screens of any kind for three weeks.’
‘What am I going to do?’
‘I’ll send you some brochures on suggested activities for recuperation. This is an AusCare covered treatment so there is no charge to you, but failure to adhere to the prescription will be considered a breach and the costs will return to you. Do you have any further questions?’
‘No. I understand.’
‘I will have your prescription delivered to you directly . . . Did you say you are afraid to leave your apartment?’
‘Not afraid but . . . I don’t know. I feel like I’m out all the time. With the work I do. When I’m not working I just want to stay in one place.’
‘Still. I’m going to give you a referral to a neuro psychologist for an introductory session. It’s a new science, I know, but many people have had great success with alteration therapy.’
‘I don’t know about that.’
‘It’s perfectly safe. A branch of epigenetic psychiatry using gene recoders to effect change in patients’ mental states. I’ll send you some literature about it to consider. Get your assistant to read it out for you.’
‘Is there anything else today, Mister Huxley?’
‘No, thank you.’
‘Okay then. I’ll have my nurse schedule a check on you tomorrow. Make sure you keep your Queue on you so you can call for help if you need it.’
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One of the vision exercises he was meant to do was to stare into the distance for minutes at a time — but the world outside his window was grey and very dark. There was nothing to see.
He was sitting by the window listening to the rain, right eye patch on as he exercised his left eye. Jove was playing through the news and had paused on Webster Darren, UK Leader of the Socialist Green Party, who was giving a speech to the House of Commons.
‘Our political system fosters detachment between our leaders and the people, and between the people to their leaders. If the purpose of a government is to interpret the wishes of its people, then we are failing.
‘Around the world we are witnessing nations embracing delegative democracy and demonstrating that it can become a powerful economic and social stimulator. By bringing the disintermediated back into the value chain they are energising their populations in a way we haven’t witnessed since the second Industrial Revolution. I believe it is time the U.K. begins looking at this new model and see how we too could benefit.’
‘Play something else, Jove.’
‘Certainly. What would you like?’
‘What’s in the local news?’
‘Would you like to hear a broadcast or should I read out articles from your feed?’
‘Link me up to a broadcast. Nothing too silly.’
‘There are currently 2320 public discussions. Topics range from sports, politics or entertainment.’
‘Politics I guess.’
‘Your local council is hosting a virtual town hall. How does that sound?’
The small room of the unit suddenly sounded like a large hall. A male voice spoke into a microphone.
‘Councilman, with the weather bureau predicting at least ten days of rain and flooding, how will we get our rations?’
‘Rations will be delivered by storm drones. The city is fully prepared for this eventuality.’
‘Will there be evacuations for those on lower ground?’
‘Those in immediate risk of flooding have already been contacted or evacuated. We have emergency centres on standby in Toowoomba and surrounding towns.’
‘Sir, what about the displaced?’
The spokesperson paused. ‘We will help as many as we can to reach higher ground.’
‘Is there enough food for everyone?’
‘We will do all we ca—’
‘Shut it off, Jove. I need something to take my mind off all this.’
Jove began reading out headlines:
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‘I don’t believe their hype about some living nano fibre bullshit. The South American Alliance has been sold a lie that will cost their citizens dearly.’
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A year from now the elevator consortium will attempt to connect this cable to a guide rope that is being grown from an artificial satellite in low-Earth orbit.
If successful they will have constructed a five millimetre thick bridge over 400km long. The South American alliance says there is no international risk. If the guide rope does not connect, or if there is a mishap that causes it to fall to earth, the speed of the fall will break the line into harmless fragments.
During the night the ground floor of the apartment block became a river. He could hear the rush of it below and Jove reported that many of Sydney’s low-lying suburbs were now flooding.
Elsewhere in the building he heard the blurping of intercoms. They bleeped softly in one apartment after another as someone triggered all the buzzers of the building. He jumped as his own sprung into life.
‘Answer it, Jove. Hello?’ he called out.
‘Oh thank go– goodness. Thank you for answering,’ a woman’s voice spoke. ‘Can you help me?’
‘Who is this?’
‘My name is Tara, from unit 3 downstairs. I need some help. Please. The water is getting into my apartment.’
‘Okay. I’ll come down.’
He put his Queue in a plastic pouch in his pocket and grabbed his walking sticks.
‘Tom, the elevators are out of order with the rain,’ Jove informed him.
He swore but pushed his way out the door. Outside his apartment he swung the sticks about before him, probing for the stairs that were across from his doorway. He found the opening and tapped each of its sides before inching forward, reaching out with his other hand to find the handrail.
‘You’ll have to guide me, Jove.’
‘You are five paces from the first step,’ his assistant respoonded instantly. ‘Turn slightly to your right.’ ‘That’s it. Now there are eight down steps and then you will need to scan for the seal to open.’ Tom waved his wrist around until he heard the door unlatch. ‘Okay, now there are only four more floors to go.’
Slowly he tapped and stepped all the way down to the ground floor. The garage apartments, where cars used to be parked but were now sublets.
‘Unit three is just in front of you to the left,’ Jove directed him.
Tom clung to the rail and pushed the sticks downwards until he found concrete and stepped forward, water splashing against his ankles. He slipped and only just managed to steady himself on the handrail.
‘What are you doing?’ a woman shouted and he saw a blurry shape rushing towards him. Warm wet fingers took his flailing hand.
‘Didn’t you call for help?’ he asked.
‘I didn’t know you were blind.’
‘I’m not. I can see a bit.’
‘You can’t see where you are going.’
‘Yeah but . . . you sounded like you were in trouble.’
‘It’s just my flat is flooding. I was hoping someone could take some of my stuff upstairs. Keep it dry. Could I store some boxes in your apartment?’
‘Of course. I have space.’
‘That’s great. That’s so great of you. I’ll bring them up myself, don’t you worry.’
‘Are you sure you’re okay?’
‘I can get my stuff upstairs. Can you get back to your unit alone?’
‘Hey, what’s your name?’
‘I’m Tara.’ He felt her hand squeeze his, long fingers, wet but warm.
Tara. I can’t see you. I can’t see anything.