Thoughtful - Chapter 2
A Clever girl
The girl stood against the concrete railing of the bridge and looked off into the night. The cool night air picked up her hair and blew it this way and that across her face. Tickling her cheeks and nose, but she didn't brush it away and instead stood straight and tall. Defiant. She didn’t want to look down either. She knew what was below her. The River Thames in all its liquid glory. There was only one reason for her to be here and she knew that as well. She had heard the stories, they all had. It was the threat you were given by your teachers and parents if you didn’t fit in and tow the line. Now it seemed it was her turn. Feeling dizzy, she adjusted her footing and placed her hands on the railing, feeling the course stone under her hands. Grazing her finger tips. She breathed in deeply and sighed. It was such a long way to fall. Into the freezing water below. And she knew it would not welcome her gently. She would hit it hard, in a sudden frenzy of panic and pain, and fear. She also knew couldn’t swim. This was tantamount to a death sentence.
As the moon shifted behind a little clump of cloud and became a glowing ball of fuzz, she turned her attention to her parents, who were frantically talking behind her. Standing on the bridge’s walkway, they argued softly, keeping their voices low so as not to draw attention to them. Anyone might be watching, listening. Her mother, she knew, didn’t want her to go. She was adamant they could hide her. Protect her. Change her. On the other side of the dispute her father was insisting they get rid of her. She was clever, which meant she was dangerous. It was better this way. For all of them. Her father swore it came from her mother’s side of the family.
Frozen, and for the moment forgotten, all the girl could do was stand in her spot and wait for her parents to make their final choice. To decide whether she would go into the water or not. She was too scared to turn and face them, she knew she wouldn’t like what she would see. Her mother crying and wringing her hands while opposite, her resolute father’s face would be a mask of anger and judgement. It was no use, she could hear her father was saying now, he was sure she had been ‘found out’ and it was only a matter of time before the GAMP’s* came for them, and then they would all three be arrested. At least this way, he kept on, their daughter might have a chance of escape and they could tell everyone she had chosen to take her own life. It was a common story, easily believable. Then they would transform into subjects of sympathy rather than suspicion. They could start again. They were still young enough. There was time. The girl felt her heart harden and anger begin to boil in the pit of her stomach as they continued to talk about her like she wasn’t there. Her face flushed in the dark. The night felt suddenly hot as time ticked on by and the girl waited, bathed in the words of her parent’s quiet fight.
Yet still she didn’t blame them for bringing her here, not really. She knew, as everyone did, that this was just what you did when you discovered your child, or relative, friend and perhaps even your neighbour had intelligence or showed unorthodox potential. The Clevers. They called this practice Suspension, and apparently based it on an ancient method for removing undesirables, those that weren’t normal or regular, from society. To keep the breeding stock clean so to speak. But for all their preaching and blustering, everyone also wanted a clear conscience. No one wanted to be seen as being openly cruel, or uncaring. They needed to contrive a way of cauterising the wound while still retaining their self-view as a benevolent species. So they took their Clevers to ‘the bridge’, tipped them over the side, and hoped for the best. They told themselves that surely their loved one had survived. That they made it out of the city, and had gone on to make a new life for themselves in the Barrens, with the other ostracised Clevers. So few bodies were ever found, and this justified their assertions. If you were a devoted Sycophant however, you might hand your Clever over to the Government for extraction and re-education. Then you could sleep soundly in the knowledge that you had done the right thing for the city. Either way, you would be thankful to never see your Clever again. Suspension was the secret everyone knew about but no one discussed outside of the hectically whispered rumours that flew back and forth when a friend or neighbour disappeared. Too smart to blend in or ever be accepted under the strict code of Und-reducation, the law of the city, the country, indeed the world now. The Clevers couldn’t be allowed to spread, breed and pollute the world. No one could be allowed to live who had anything greater than the agreed standard level of Aver-intelligence.
‘Intelligence’ the girl whispered bitterly under her breath suddenly. Why had she been cursed with a mind like hers? One that questioned, sought knowledge, theorised. Why had she been born with this evil desire to discover answers instead of blindly accepting the ‘facts’ as they were presented to her? Her parents had hoped it was just a phase, that she would dumb-down like the other children when she hit Und-reducation-age. They were able to hide her brain before she started school. Keeping her away from others under the guise of sickness and a weak constitution. But once out in the public eye it became so much harder. Children naturally ask questions, that was accepted, but she always seemed to ask the wrong ones. Her parents even considered home-schooling, but this would have been risky was well. No one was home schooled anymore except the infirm, and this required getting permission, providing evidence. Hiding anything behind closed doors was against the law. Everyone had to know everyone else’s business, that way no one would suspect you. Or so the reasoning went.
It’s all so crazy, the girl thought, this can’t be real! All she had really done was break into the old library, the one she had found buried underground, deep beneath the new Commonpark. When she had uncovered the library, it became a wonderful secret. Her secret, and for months she had been so happy. All those books, and the sound discs! Some burnt, some broken, but mostly intact. When she had finally been able to listen to them, she had learnt so much. About the past, back when people still thought the Earth was a globe, when travelling from country to country was normal. They were all segregated now, to stop people from talking to each other, learning about each other. That, they were taught in school, only led to trouble. Now they kept to themselves, on this new, flat Earth, they were safer. She also learned about the last battle, which had destroyed most of the planet, or so her history teacher had said, so that all that was left was a small flat piece, a quarter of the size of what the planet once was. If you went too far, over the edge, you would fall off. And nothing could save you. That’s what they told her, told everyone. But the discs said this wasn’t so! Oh how she had loved that! She had even done a little dance, in the library gloom, punching her fist into the air. They were wrong, and she knew she was being taught nonsense – nonsense and lies! She revelled in this new evidence. She finally understood why she had never really believed them. These teachers of nothing. Her little pile of sound discs, tiny repositories of knowledge, were like new friends, validating her own feelings and thoughts. She knew the Earth was still round, but now she longed to see it! What was out there? What had survived!
In two’s and three’s, she snuck the books home, reading them late at night when she thought everyone was asleep, but the sound discs she had listened to at the library when she had eventually found the small machine needed to play them. She didn’t want to risk taking the machine home though. She was fairly certain it would give off some kind of signal, which could be easily discovered. Someone was always looking, listening, detecting. In fact, everything she had found inside this sacred space had been a delight, and even better no one seemed to know it was there. She was so grateful for that. This was her special place, and she knew she had to keep it safe. She was careful to keep it secret, to make sure she wasn’t followed anytime she dared go there. She told no-one about it. Not even her ‘best’ friend. She was fairly sure that even now no one had found out about it. She was here now, at the bridge, because her parents had discovered her stash of books. And her notebooks. This had been her undoing. They knew she wasn’t being taught this kind of thing in school. They were terrified.
‘Taught’ whispered the girl to herself, and smiled sadly. Such a funny word. What they learned at school was not being taught. It was just the same group of ideas repeated over and over. Rammed into your brain and cemented in as doctrine. It was just enough to get you by, to a job in the city once you graduated, but not enough to feed a mind that wanted to know. And once you wanted to know, it was a small step towards being labelled ‘Clever’, and from there … well it was all over. Once you were labelled Clever you were never seen again. But that was not to say you couldn’t pretend, hold back, stop learning, stop asking questions, stop discovering, blend in and live a normal life, grow up, have a family, get into sport, buy an apartment, tend the garden. All the humdrum normal stuff that kept you alive, and part of society. Part of Londinium.
Growing aware of the silence behind her, the girl knew her parents had made up their minds. She knew what it was before they even said anything. Her unhappy intelligence giving her a deeper understanding of what her parents were facing, being stuck with a daughter who was smarter than them, and everyone they knew put together. She expected them to say something to her, a goodbye, an apology, and so she was caught quite by surprise when she felt the heavy hand of her father on her back, pushing her into the railing. A sloppy attempt to push her over the edge while she wasn’t prepared for it. A look of shock taking over her face, wide-eyed and pale.
‘Don’t touch me,’ the girl growled, surprised by her own fierce anger as tears sprang to her eyes, ‘I can do this myself!’ she added pushing herself up onto the railing and getting to her feet.
She knew if she tried to run it would do no good anyway. She would only be caught and handed over to their Sycophantic Government. Something told her this would be much worse. Turning to look down at her parents one last time, her father lowered his eyes in shame while her mother looked at her with the sorrow of grim acceptance. Then without bothering to say goodbye the girl jumped backwards, feet first, off the bridge. In what seemed like less than a second she hit the dark water below. It enveloped her immediately, wrapping around her body like a cold, heavy blanket. Her clothes soaked through, and her skin began to freeze. She couldn’t swim, and the more she struggled, the more water she swallowed from the River as she tried desperately not to breathe it in. Instinctively she kicked her legs and using her hands clawed her way through the water, back towards the surface, to the lights she could see above, the light of the moon, the lights of Londinium. Her home. Was my home, she corrected herself. Finally hitting the surface, she realised she was now under the bridge and out of the sight of her parents. That is if they had stayed around to watch for her. But she found she just couldn’t stay afloat, all she could do was thrash about a bit before she was down, sinking again, back into the deep. She had to get back to the surface and stay up there. If she breathed in the water she would drown. That much she knew.
The second time she broke through the surface she could see the banks of the River Thames in the moonlight. If only she could reach one side, she could climb onto the bank and escape, but she didn’t know how to move. She hit the water with her fists in anger and immediately sank again. In her anger, she gulped in more water. She wanted desperately to cough. This was how you drowned. This was her death. At the age of 17. Betrayed by her parents. She would have laughed if she wasn’t so close. She squeezed her eyes shut and frowned, perhaps she should just let this happen? Before she could give in completely she felt something grab her waist. It latched onto her, wrapped around her and constricted gently. Finding she still had some fight in her, she grabbed at the thing and tried to push it off her, but it would not budge. It was cold, and hard. Metal. Opening her eyes, she could just make out the thing in the dark, it was attached to some kind of rounded tube, with what looked like a web on the front of it. The arm of the thing now started to retract, pulling her backwards towards a larger tube shaped object covered in lights. She screamed out, and now in a sheer panic, inhaled a large amount of water. She started to choke, which only made her breath in more. Now she really was drowning. As everything went dark, she gave in and let it take her. Wherever that might be.
* Government Appointed Military Police