Have you ever been burnt by something that’s so hot it’s cold? A paralysing numbness grips your nerve endings preventing any kind of action; a scar is inevitable. For me it was Nanci Carmen from the Gamine Quandrant; brilliant, destined for the holoscreen, a thing of beauty, she drifted from my dreams to reality.
Living in the Inocens Quadrant means dreams are often all you have.
My parents and I lived in a genubox. A small purpose-built shed that contains two rooms: a bedroom with en suite bathroom and a living space with kitchen. The genuboxes are built side-by-side and on top of each other, towering into the dark polluted clouds above. In high demand, genuboxes often fetch extortionate prices unless their history is circumspect, for example a criminal has resided there. The alternative to genuboxes are the slums; shacks built in the old mine shafts deep beneath the city.
Inocens is severely over-populated, as are many other quadrants in our galaxy. All except the Stella Quandrant, where the celebrities live. Some quandrants, including Inocens, restrict families to three people per genubox. No pets. If you want more children, you have to live in separate genuboxes: one parent and two children per box. The price of genuboxes and double the taxes makes this option available to very few.
You can legally have more than one child if your first child goes to work in the factories of Opus. This is a life of servitude for the child. Alternatively if your child marries you can have another child. Arranged marriages are frequent and you can marry at fourteen.
I am an only child.
When they thought I couldn’t hear, my parents talked about having another child. They didn’t have the money to live in separate boxes, they would never have sent me to Opus and, although I was fourteen, they didn’t have the wealth to make a marriage match. ‘If only he’d been a girl.’ You don’t need wealth to marry a girl; women were in short supply.
When Noodle Camp 2097 was advertised in our zone, I begged my parents to send me. I loved cooking. Noodles are a staple food in the Inocens, the only food in fact. Great chefs strive to find innovative ways of cooking noodles. I’d watched them on our tiny flickering holoscreens. Radio wave interference is bad in Inocens.
Each chef has a signature dish. Chef Kordunza is my idol. In the real world, rehydrators, microwaves and convenience cubes have long ago replaced the traditional methods of cooking such as frying or boiling. Kordunza uses the old methods. His signature dish is ‘Noodles apud Morteaherba.’ Morteaherba is a green iridescent plant from Venus and traditional boiling is the only way to make it safe to eat. Noodle Camp promised to re-acquaint us with the old ways; ‘Get back to basics, prepare the food of your dreams and learn the recipes of the holoscreen.’
It didn’t take much persuading for my parents to send me. It was expensive but they had some savings. They hoped, with my new skills, I’d get myself a job in a local Noodle bar and work my way up to the holoscreen. Their faces shone with optimism. The dream that I would become the citizen they aimed to raise, that we could work our way up to Stella Quadrant, was alive in their eyes.
Noodle Camp was where I met Nanci. She was also fourteen. Each evening we’d count the stars, discuss recipes and our favourite celebrities. We promised to visit each other; Nanci even said she’d speak to her parents to arrange a marriage. We were in love.
Once home the bubble burst. My parents’ savings had been spent on Noodle Camp fees, there was nothing left. They couldn’t even afford the journey to the Gamine Quandrant to negotiate with Nanci’s parents. It was hopeless. I transfered a holonote to Nanci; perhaps we could run away together?
Her reply was broken up by radio wave interference:
I want nothing … marry… where would we live? … parents … fair. … negotiate. Cook … meal for your parents. Persuade … journey to Gamine!
As the message ended, a small packet arrived in the postal shoot. It was labelled ‘Herbs’. Nanci had been good at different herb combinations at Noodle Camp and I liked the idea of cooking for my parents. I could show them what a good influence Nanci was.
Mum and dad waited at the table as I rehydrated the noodles and mushroom. I sprinkled Nanci’s bright green herb mix on top and placed the steaming bowls in front of them. They mumbled their thanks, through mouthfuls of food ¬— ‘sending you to Noodle Camp wasn’t such a bad idea after all,’ my father had said. I wasn’t eating with them; I had an interview at the Noodle Shack down the road. I was trying to show I could be responsible. Anything in the hope they might arrange this marriage for me. I waved goodbye, leaving the genubox to go to my interview.
I returned to find Lextroopers at the door and both my parents dead. An anonymous tip-off resulted in my arrest for murder. Motive: a genubox of my own. They had found Morteaherba in the noodles. I had no idea and no way of proving my innocence. Nanci denied sending the packet of herbs and the holonote recording was inadmissible in court due to its poor quality.
I write this from prison, I am here for life. I work in the factories of Opus. This is my sentence. I hear Kelvin Sunlux has bought our genubox. Kelvin was also at Noodle Camp. A handsome, eighteen-year-old with ‘star quality.’ Nanci had sworn to marry him and told him there was a way they could be together, in their very own genubox, and it wouldn’t cost them a fortune.
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