Tales from New Canada: Conservatory

For Bill

The view from here is stunning.

During the day I can see the city unfolding below me. New Toronto extends tendrils toward the mountains. They grow a little each day and are particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.

When I agreed to come to New Canada from Earth I had been expecting a life full of scientific discovery and working on the cutting edge. I had signed so many nondisclosures I was afraid to even hold a thought. But this was it. The government of New Canada did not play games. This was known to be the most ethical colony. I was careful when selecting work, especially after reading about disasters – the infamous Fall Station incident came to mind.

So I arrived on this winter planet fully prepared for the cold but utterly incapable of understanding what would befall us all psychologically. I fear that the project may have twisted all our minds.

The attraction was undeniable. Violette was a DRGN, an engineered human. Debates had raged for centuries on the ethics of such modifications in human beings. I had initially been drawn to the Government of New Canada because I had been assured that the modifications were extremely limited, meant only to protect these workers from harm.

They were technically given a choice – allowed to leave at any time and be placed with foster families in the developing city below, all costs covered by the government. And some indeed chose this option, though very few did. But how could this even be considered anything remotely resembling unbiased decision making? This centre was all that these children, then youths, then adults, had ever really known. They had no direct parents, only gene sources.

Of course their basic rights were observed – especially when compared to the utter disasters at Fall and Sahar. But I found many things wanting. They did live in material wealth, to be sure – more wealth than I had ever experienced back on Earth. So this convinced me – for a time. There was a material difference in how we lived though. They had apartments; I was housed in the equivalent of a mansion.

She was my age. That, too, was a shock. I had assumed that all the DRGNs would be younger. She was quite a bit fitter than me. Taller than me, too. But she was a little softer around the edges, compared to the others. Truly beautiful, not just striking like most of them. Utterly special.

She and I had a mentor-student relationship but that would soon end, as her training was almost over. I pined for her, but I reinforced my own ethics and pushed thoughts away on a daily basis, looking instead out my conservatory window.

Now she is a spaceship captain. I would never have expected it to happen so fast. I am thrilled for her, but of course Tarek must be equally thrilled. Her lover. Of course, I waited too long. But how could I not have? I resolutely file away the jealousy. I am better than that.

But it seems we have an infernal secret here. The others have been spying on their students. Some mentors, indeed. These surveillance logs span years. The ones on DRGN-145 were included in my information package last week. I suspect the others got similar information.

I call her DRGN-145 to maintain protocol, even though I adore the name Violette. A reference to her lilac-coloured eyes, no doubt. These are visual shorthand for her particular ocular enhancements, which allow her to see a larger slice of the spectrum than just about any other human. Unfortunately those enhancements rendered her eyes more sensitive, which led to a scary situation recently where her eyesight was partially damaged. But her new glasses just make her seem even more the individualist.

When I discover the information I resolutely keep the file closed. These documents have been accumulated for years, filed away in between more mundane and less intrusive writeups, such as meal and exercise plans. Having access to those is bad enough, though I can see the practicality. But having access to everything our assigned DRGN sees, does, says, acts, and the readouts monitoring thought impulses?

I curse, pace, make myself a coffee, curse some more.

A ring at the front door and a burst of activity as my security detail admits a visitor.

The newly minted captain enters my conservatory office. She seems different, and I am struck by the effect of her full height.

She begins pacing. I am surprised; it is not something she usually does.

“I have feelings for you,” she bursts out suddenly. Stops pacing. Begins again.

This changes everything. I do not reply at first, do not reply for a long while. Time stops when she stands and looks out my window over New Toronto.

“What about Tarek?” I manage to ask. “Coffee?” I offer, belatedly. She nods for the coffee, is silent for a while before addressing the subject of her lover.

“Tarek and I…” She sits down in a comfortable chair and I bring her a mug of her favourite coffee. She accepts it and takes a sip, closes her eyes. “Tarek and I have definitively ended our relationship.”

“Oh?” I could have known this had I opened the file. I mentally kick myself for even allowing myself the thought.

“Yes,” she replies, eyes still closed. “We’ve had many disagreements lately. Far too many.” She opens her eyes, sees my uncertain expression, narrows them. “Not professional ones, I may add. I did recommend him as first officer, and he will make an excellent one. We leave in two weeks, but our first run will only take two months, and then I’ll be back for at least a few weeks. I’ll be basing out of New Toronto Spaceport.”

“That’s good. That you can still get along for work. I mean…” I trail off and stare at a plant as I drink my own coffee. No sips for me; more like gasping gulps, trying to regain control of my emotions.

“Well?” she prompts, still looking out over the cityscape.

“What do you want me to say?” I sit down heavily again behind my desk. “That I have feelings for you too? I’ve had feelings for you since I met you, Violette. I can’t deny it. But I  am your mentor – was your mentor – it would have been impossible.” We are both silent a long while. She gets up and walks back over to the window wall, sipping as she faces the view.

“Then,” she says.

“Pardon?”

“It would have been impossible then. Obviously our power dynamic has changed, now that I am a spaceship captain.” She looks back at me and a smile plays over her face. I take this as an invitation to join her at the window wall.

“That’s true; we’re more evenly matched,” I manage to reply, even though all I would like to do is sweep her into my arms, to kiss her. But I’m sure that this would be too fast, too soon.

“In fact, I believe I now outrank you.” Her lips quirk.

This is true. She does outrank me – significantly.

We look out over the freshly fallen snow. She reaches a tentative arm toward my shoulder; instead, she ends up looping her hand through my arm. I pull her closer and move my arm to encircle her shoulders.

Slowly her hand moves across my back, where it rests. Very comfortably.

“Well, mentor?”

“I’m most definitely not your mentor anymore,” I retort. “Captain!”

No passion – not yet. We stand there at the window wall for a long time, arms around each other, looking out onto our city.

For the first time since I arrived on New Canada, I feel at home.

Story © 2018 Clio Em. Image © 2018 Hali Rey.

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