Sunday, July 21, 2024

Read an extract from Tade Thompson’s science fiction novel Rosewater -Dlight News

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Rosewater: Opening Day 2066


I’m at the Integrity Bank job for forty minutes before the anxieties kick in. It’s how I usually start my day. This time it’s because of a wedding and a final exam, though not my wedding and not my exam. In my seat by the window I can see, but not hear, the city. This high above Rosewater everything seems orderly. Blocks, roads, streets, traffic curving sluggishly around the dome. I can even see the cathedral from here. The window is to my left, and I’m at one end of an oval table with four other contractors. We are on the fifteenth floor, the top. A skylight is open above us, three foot square, a security grid being the only thing between us and the morning sky. Blue, with flecks of white cloud. No blazing sun yet, but that will come later. The climate in the room is controlled despite the open skylight, a waste of energy for which Integrity Bank is fined weekly. They are willing to take the expense.

Next to me on the right, Bola yawns. She is pregnant and gets very tired these days. She also eats a lot, but I suppose that’s to be expected. I’ve known her two years and she has been pregnant in each of them. I do not fully understand pregnancy. I am an only child and I never grew up around pets or livestock. My education was peripatetic; biology was never a strong interest, except for microbiology, which I had to master later.

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I try to relax and concentrate on the bank customers. The wedding anxiety comes again.

Rising from the centre of the table is a holographic teleprompter. It consists of random swirls of light right now, but within a few minutes it will come alive with text. There is a room adjacent to ours in which the night shift is winding down.

“I hear they read Dumas last night,” says Bola.

She’s just making conversation. It is irrelevant what the other shift reads. I smile and say nothing.

The wedding I sense is due in three months. The bride has put on a few pounds and does not know if she should alter the dress or get liposuction. Bola is prettier when she is pregnant.

“Sixty seconds,” says a voice on the tannoy.

I take a sip of water from the tumbler on the table. The other contractors are new. They don’t dress formally like Bola and me. They wear tank tops and T-shirts and metal in their hair. They have phone implants.

I hate implants of all kinds. I have one. Standard locator with no add-ons. Boring, really, but my employer demands it.

The exam anxiety dies down before I can isolate and explore the source. Fine by me.

The bits of metal these young ones have in their hair come from plane crashes. Lagos, Abuja, Jos, Kano and all points in between, there have been downed aircraft on every domestic route in Nigeria since the early 2000s. They wear bits of fuselage as protective charms.

Bola catches me staring at her and winks. Now she opens her snack, a few wraps of cold moin-moin, the orange bean curds nested in leaves, the old style. I look away.

“Go,” says the tannoy.

The text of Plato’s Republic scrolls slowly and steadily in ghostly holographic figures on the cylindrical display. I start to read, as do the others, some silently, others out loud. We enter the xenosphere and set up the bank’s firewall. I feel the familiar brief dizziness; the text eddies and becomes transparent.

Every day about five hundred customers carry out financial transactions at these premises, and every night staffers make deals around the world, making this a twenty-four-hour job. Wild sensitives probe and push, criminals trying to pick personal data out of the air. I’m talking about dates-of-birth, PINs, mothers’ maiden names, past transactions, all of them lying docile in each customer’s forebrain, in the working memory, waiting to be plucked out by the hungry, untrained and freebooting sensitives.

Contractors like myself, Bola Martinez and the metalheads are trained to repel these. And we do. We read classics to flood the xenosphere with irrelevant words and thoughts, a firewall of knowledge that even makes its way to the subconscious of the customer. A professor did a study of it once. He found a correlation between the material used for firewalling and the activities of the customer for the rest of the year. A person who had never read Shakespeare would suddenly find snatches of King Lear coming to mind for no apparent reason.

We can trace the intrusions if we want, but Integrity isn’t interested. It’s difficult and expensive to prosecute crimes perpetuated in the xenosphere. If no life is lost, the courts aren’t interested.

The queues for cash machines, so many people, so many cares and wants and passions. I am tired of filtering the lives of others through my mind.

I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess; and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing. I was delighted with the procession of the inhabitants; but that of the Thracians was equally, if not more, beautiful. When we had finished our prayers and viewed the spectacle, we turned in the direction of the city . . .

On entering the xenosphere, there is a projected self-image. The untrained wild sensitives project their true selves, but professionals like me are trained to create a controlled, chosen self-image. Mine is a gryphon.

My first attack of the day comes from a middle-aged man from a town house in Yola. He looks reedy and very darkskinned.

I warn him and he backs off. A teenager takes his place quickly enough that I think they are in the same physical location as part of a hack farm. Criminal cabals sometimes round up sensitives and yoke them together in a “Mumbai combo” – a call-centre model with serial black hats.

I’ve seen it all before. There aren’t as many such attacks now as there were when I started in this business, and a part of me wonders if they are discouraged by how effective we are. Either way, I am already bored.

Copyright Tade Thompson

This is an extract from Rosewater, published by Orbit Books, the latest pick for the New Scientist Book Club: sign up here to read along with our members.

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