The sub‑tram is a very fast form of travel. Within a few minutes of leaving the terminal, the tram is moving at something near three‑hundred klicks a minute. The trip to Markett and then Sol Plaza gave me enough time to get worked back up, but not enough to get any kind of an idea of what to do about it.
When I came out into the Sol Plaza terminal I was greeted by a large room with a domed ceiling. On the north wall above the bank of escalators leading into the Plaza proper was a giant tile mosaic of a bright yellow sun.
The sun that Roach orbits, DR 212, is old and red. Seen through Roach's yellow, sulfur‑rich atmosphere, it looks like a giant blob of bloody gel. This didn't seem to matter much to the jokers who had made the mosaic though. So what if Sol was yellow and on Earth the sky looked blue? None of us had ever been there, and looking at that sort of thing in a vid didn't really give you much of a feel for it. I gazed at the mosaic in disgust for a moment and moved to the escalators.
Coming up into the Plaza itself was just like I remembered. The escalators let you off on the center edge of the plaza. Fourteen‑hundred feet overhead was the Plaza's own treated enviro-dome. The dome here was treated to look blue, and there was a monstrous faux sun at the dome's apex. The fake sun was so bright that it actually hurt to look directly at it. This discouraged people from looking at the dome closely enough to notice that the “clear blue sky” that it was supposed to represent was actually full of darker swirls and inconsistencies. It's kind of difficult to simulate a clear atmosphere with a polymer dome and holographic projections.
What never failed to impress and secretly please me about Sol Plaza was the plants. Plants were scattered all throughout the Plaza. Trees, ferns, bushes and patches of grass were everywhere. There were even real birds that flew about and nested in them. The most visceral thing though was the smell. It was a kind of hot, wet smell. The smell of live things in a live place, full of rot and promise.
I just stood there for a moment with my eyes closed and soaked it in. For the first time since the hit, I felt a loosening of my gut and back muscles. The burning ball of hate cooled by just a few degrees as I felt the life around me. I was even able to remember the one time that I had actually felt happy, a long time ago. No, let me change that. I was able to remember a little boy who was happy there once. Things had been different then.
I couldn’t remember how long it had been, but I’d been very young. My mother had brought me down to the Sol Plaza to see the plants and birds. I remember telling her that the company was going to get that kind of air for the rest of the colony. The corporation damn near seemed like God to me then. The company gives, and the company takes away. It was the one thing that could seem larger and more powerful than your parents. And the corporation was everywhere. You couldn't see it directly, but you could feel it. It wasn't until later that I realized that on Roach there really wasn't much of anything else to believe in.
Sometime during my little reverie, my feet started moving without really asking for permission. I was daydreaming, reliving my favorite childhood memory; running down some path in the Plaza shrieking at the birds. It's one of the few places in the colony that parents relax enough to allow their children that sort of indulgence. The childhood memories were coming to me with surprising clarity and before I realized it I had walked to India Ocean Point.
About fifteen feet below me, eight or ten acres of simulated ocean boiled and tossed. It was only seven or eight meters deep, but the sight of that much open water in one place was still staggering. If you stood still long enough you could feel the slight vibration caused by the wave generators beneath the “ocean.” When I was a child I would stand in that spot, thinking that it was the weight of the water and the pounding of the waves that were causing the vibrations. It was just one of the illusions that I would have to give up later.
I stood there watching the water and looking at the beach. About a kilometer away, the beach, ocean and wall meet in what appeared to be a far-off horizon. We could thank the holograph projectors for that particular illusion. I had to wonder just how good the illusion was though. I had never seen a real ocean before, or even so much as a real lake or pond either. Behind me, Sol City was abuzz with my fellow vacationers. The shops, cafes and hotels were always busy. I thought of the zoo and amusement park that were on the opposite side of Sol City.
“Fun for the whole family,” I muttered to myself. “Come see a bunch of animals that live in cages. They're just like you and the neighbors. Come play on the scary rides and in the VirtCades or the Tri‑Shows.” I frowned. “Come forget about the fact that you’re just company property.”
The frown deepened. What was my deal? Why was I so pissed at the company? More and more my anger was directing itself at the system I’d been born into. Why?
I glowered at the people bobbing in the waves and lolling on the beach. I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the happy shrieks of running children. I took in a deep breath to smell the air. In addition to the rich smell of the plants and birds, salt mist was added to the air at the beach. The aliveness of it was almost frightening. Head‑shrinkers claim that Terra resides in the genetic memory of every human, no matter where they are born. That every human remembers and secretly longs for the embrace of their ancestral planet, with it's natural cycles. I could never decide whether or not I would want to live there, but I would definitely like to go into a forest and just smell it.
Two hours later I was drinking rice wine in a bar called the Little Tokyo. The decor is supposed to resemble that which is traditionally used in the capitol of Old Japan. They have a lot of paper walls and gongs and that sort of thing. The balcony that I was occupying overlooked Golden Gate Park. I was watching a young mother playing some sort of game with her son on her mini-comp. Once again I began to slip into memories I had thought long buried.
My mother's name was Chalise Vonner, and she had been a level 5 driver. I had never known my father. He had been some big deal in the corporation. They’d had a fling and I was the result. He accused her of trying to trap him in a marriage contract when all that had really happened was the one percentile – the contraceptives hadn't worked. He didn't want the responsibility of raising a child himself, so he bought me a full sponsorship. Legally he didn't have to worry about me after that point. He’d paid for my needs until I reached the legal age of maturity. I would have above-average schooling and full medical insurance. A stipend would be allotted for other needs as well. Like I said, he’d been some sort of big shot. He could afford it.
Mom hated him for what she’d seen as him running out on us, but she did her best not to show it around me. In spite of her intense feelings toward my father, I've always remembered her best as a tired looking woman with a sadly loving smile. In all honesty, I think that my childhood went pretty well up to the point that she died.
The school shrink came and pulled me out of class that day. He started talking to me about how low the accident rates really were on the colony, and about how the Corporation was going to be taking care of me now. I sat there staring at him just swallowing it up. I had no idea at that point that my mother was dead, just that this guy was repeating some of the stuff that they told us in school every other damn day. I didn’t start to feel confused and anxious until he started repeating himself.
By the time the idiot finally got around to telling me that my mother had been killed in an accident, I was edgy as all hell. He must have spent twenty minutes trying not to tell me, probably hoping that I'd just get the hint.
I got it that night when instead of getting to go home I had to go to the orphan’s dormitory.
After a few weeks of therapy and observation, the doctors finally sent me back to school. But I’d changed. Mom’s death had torn my world apart and I was determined to take it out on everyone around me. I started hanging out with other “bad” kids and getting into fights. I paid the discipline and therapy lip-service and marked my time in school with no thought for what I might do after. By the time that I had turned thirteen I had been transferred to the Security Academy. A lot of us “bad” kids were. And I finally found something that felt “normal” again.
By the time that I came out of my jaunt down memory lane, the young woman and her son had left the park. I sighed. Thinking about my mother and my childhood made me want to get very, very drunk. I decided that I should sample other forms of alcohol, and stalked off to try another bar.
I had completed a full circuit of the drinking establishments in the Sol Plaza by the time that I finally managed to stagger back to my suite. I'd left the Little Tokyo for the sweet temptations of Indonesian wine, Egyptian date beer, and Kentucky bourbon. After the first few drinks it didn't even bother me that I'd never see the places that the beverages had been named for or that I’d never know whether or not the drinks I was buying were anything like the Earth originals. My goal was the false Nirvana that fermentation taunts you with just before the ethanol poisoning makes you purge. Needless to say, all I got that night was taunted. Nirvana remained just out of reach.