Monday, November 18, 2013
Tlotlo Tsamaase: Rev 2: Satellite Hearts
Name: Tlotlo Tsamaase
Genre: Young Adult, science fiction, thriller
Title: Satellite Hearts
Sunday carries a static silence in our home, punctuated by Mama’s praying; always in the lounge as though it’s a mihrab pointing to God. There is a buzzing sound high above. I can’t see the tiny dark object in the sky. But I know it’s there. And I know they are listening: the Botswana government. The air is the only way they can invade our conversations, with the often intermittent faint white noise.
I remember the day they released them into society: seven prototypes, known as Eco-Humans or Progs, short for Programmed Humans because their actions were easily editable. They were my father’s designs. Dangerous. I was, by default, supposed to love them…but I feared them.
Eleven years down the line I didn’t know I’d find out I was one of them.
Mama doesn’t want to believe it. The government owns me. To them I’m military warfare. Tomorrow they will transfer me to a new country and delete my memory. I can’t let them.
Mama shifts in the lounge and my heart knocks a marimba beat. I squeeze myself, carefully, through a crack in the corrugated sheeting that forms the wall of our home. Outside, I can still hear her soft voice praying, praying to the savior to delete my fate.
Praying won’t save me Mama.
I stare at the compound of Old Naledi: rusty shacks, unpaved grounds littered with broken glass, fizzy drink cans, plastic bags and trees. My childhood prison.
It stings to know I’m leaving forever but I don’t know what it is to cry, how it feels before and after the tears fall. My program settings for tears are disabled. I was as much a victim as the patients Papa and I programmed: Papa driving a screw into their hearts to extract their emotions as though they were juice from a fruit. I don’t want to be a Prog—thoughts deleted, emotions altered and body controlled.
This is my body. I won’t lose it.
A few minutes left to decide my freedom: I’m sorry Mama, to be another death in the family.
I run four huts down from mine—old, scraggy and made from scrappy sheet iron— along the Old Naledi fence, my hand scraping the diamond wire. The Botswana heat melts into the air coating my skin with a layer of sweat. I strain my eyes to look up as the fence rises—shaking in the breeze—towards the deep crimson sky: the time when the sun begins to bleed.
Walking to the Stats, our short name for the rank station, is tiresome but I’m not complaining; this is the last time I will see my home. I take my time as the sun sinks into the horizon. Not too long, an hour has passed. Darkness should freak me out, but I’m more nervous about how tonight will end.
The sky has a thousand eyes, a thousand insomniac moons: The celestial authority— The Beings of The Skies who’ve built a home in the skies from which to watch over our world. Want to know a secret? I think they piss on us, each time they gather for their monthly kgotla meetings and have a jol and they say, “Just rain people, just rain, move along.” Rain my ass.
During the day the Gaborone bus rank is full of bustling combis and hooting taxis, grey–clad commuters darting between them. At night, it transforms into a Death Train Station: a train the commuters board to death, having received the Letter of Resignation from society. It’s a desert of coldness, metal scraping against metal, empty pavements, and bare, derelict buildings. Tonight the wind whines a low wail, collecting paper as it sweeps through the station. Ghostly vapour creeps over the ground. I can see the old commuter bridge stepping over the railway to the rank area.
The breeze, controlled by the Celestial Authority, whistles through standpipes as if the night has a case of asthma. It snakes through the aboveground station, searching. I pin myself against a trunk when the nearby trees rustle and hold my breath, afraid the breeze will feed on more than my fear.
The fencing is torn through, so I step over it without much harm and search and pinpoint a lenyora. He’s a shady looking boy with pants high above his ankles and hands tucked into his pockets, shivering from the chill. His dark eyes are locked down at a body huddled at his feet, hands tied together. Perfect. A crime-druggie boy never disappoints.
“S’beno,” I say.
His head jerks up in relief. “Ao sister, z’khipane? What took you long?”
“Time.” I stare down at the culprit on the floor.
Michael Mackerel, a white, fat beefy man, stares at me with shocked eyes. “Little Zahra,” he says. The Magi Bio-engineer was my father’s closest friend.
“Tanki, S’beno,” I say. “No problems?” I add in Setswana.
I don’t trust the head-shake he gives me, but he delivered and I must pay him. S’beno holds one hand out respectfully while the other cups it and I drop a powdered drug in a plastic bag into his smoke-smothered hands.
He claps his hands together before kissing them. “Ah sho, sho skeem saka. Sharpo sharpo. ” He leaves, drawing a Craven-A from his pockets and lighting it. I watch the smoke curl from his mouth as he turns to wave.
“What are you going to do to me?” Michael’s voice trembles.
“I came to see you off,” I say.
“See me off? What you going on about?”
I keep quiet and this keeps him on edge. Good.
“I need a ride, Michael. Teleporting is far too expensive, and as you’ve seen money doesn’t grow on our trees. Hardly any trees grow in my poor Old Naledi.”
“You’re running away?” His laughter rolls him to the ground. “Where to? You can’t run from the sky, sweetness.”
But you can run to the skies, to where it all started; to where Papa started and died. The truth lies in the skies. Hung in the sky, the moon is a large lucent eye charging the air with a strange eeriness. The black clothing I wear won’t help hide me from that all-seeing eye.
“Each important national figure is given a Being of the Sky—a Thunder— as a protector,” I say. “And any threat or injury to their life is a calling. It used to be just a threat that could call a Thunder from the skies, but the expenses are too high—people die from their electrifying flight to our land. Now only damage so severe that it can cause death can call the Protector of a National Figure.”
The first time I saw a Being’s soul on fire, a kaleidoscope burst of intermixing neons: yellows, oranges, blues and greens across the dark skyline, aflame, wild and alive, I thought, how beautiful death can be sometimes…and how cruel.
I was nine years old.
Wunmi Nazer was eight years older when she killed a Being of The Sky along with 1187 others in Zaria, Nigeria. My fingers tremble at the thought, a shard of glass too sharp to swallow. I’m going to beat that record. My country, Botswana, a mass covered by the Kalahari Desert and baked under the sleepless, warm sun, will be listed as a country harbouring a child criminal.
I have to be brave. Brave, and get it over with.
Michael’s eyes glisten at the true essence of my plan, and he looks at the tracks dismally like I kicked him in the nuts. He is an important national figure like my father was, a creator of humans programmed to follow the nation’s Instructions for life, work and love. I don’t want to be a Prog. This is my body. It’s always been mine. I won’t lose it.
He grits his teeth together and says, “How does it feel now to realize you were as much under the knife as the victims you and your father practiced on? Karma’s a bitch honey, and you ain’t no better than it.”
I ignore him. “History, it enjoys haunting the present day, coming uninvited. But today a memory of it will keep it alive to the future. You will be a constructive element of that memory. The thought that I will be the catalyst barely changes my mind.” I try to switch my heart off, like Papa taught me before we sliced a human open. “Ease the scalpel in slowly,” Papa would say, “it’s best people are distracted by the initial pain before you go out with a bang.”
“The way you speak, you don’t sound like a sixteen year old.”