The Terrapenta Project

This is the 1st novel in the new series I have written. I am currently working on the 2nd novel, but for now I will be uploading The Terrapenta Project one chapter at a time. Each will remain on this page for a few days before being replaced by the next. I am always open to comments via the contact page concerning my work, and I will gladly reply to any questions. I hope you enjoy the book.

23rd March 2020

Chapter 19 - Preparation

A strong light shone down on a sedated Shanree as she sat back on a soft padded chair in the middle of an otherwise unlit room. Her head was held in a fixed position to a cushioned support by a tight band, while her arms lay at her sides strapped to the frame of the chair. Her legs were also fastened down and a thicker band around her middle held her firmly in place. She had tubes attached to her arms which hung from drips on metal frames, a blood pressure monitor was wrapped around her upper arm, and small pads were fixed on her chest. All of this, as explained by Dr Costello, was to monitor her during the procedure, and for her safety and comfort as he went about his work.

Shanree saw what the doctor was doing, but every action he carried out was painless and quickly forgotten. She was vaguely aware of a long needle-like object being lowered from above and touching the top of her forehead. She felt nothing as it silently drilled through her skull and into her brain, she couldn’t even tell how long it took, time had lost all meaning. She remained in a relaxed, unaffected mood, and when she was asked to stand up and walk around, she realised all the tubes and wires had been removed from her arms and her full consciousness had been restored. The job had been done, she had been fully wired up for viewers to follow her every action, both visually and audibly, from her point of view.

“How do you feel, Miss Addison?” Dr Costello asked. It wasn’t her wellbeing that concerned him, it was the function of the micro-computer he’d installed within her head. He wanted to know if she was aware of anything different in her brain function.

“I think I’m ok.”

The doctor looked at a set of monitors all showing the inside of the room they were in. “Look at Ms Burkett please, Miss Addison.”

Her two watchers had entered the room without her realising it and she turned to see the concerned look on Natalie Burkett’s face. As she did, the image of the woman came onto the monitor.

“Quickly look across the room at Mr Markez.”

As requested, Shanree turned her head to the other side of the chair where Jonathan Markez stood in a dark corner, the image on screen shook a little and distorted before settling in a steady but slightly unfocussed view of the man’s deadpan face. Treating Shanree as an object more than a human being, the doctor held a small odd-coloured disc close to her forehead causing her to feel a little dizzy.

“Continue looking at Mr Markez,” the doctor said sharply as she wavered a little on her feet.

“That thing made me lose balance,” Shanree complained.

Jonathan’s face sharpened on screen.

“Turn quickly to look at Ms Burkett please, Miss Addison.” Dr Costello’s instructions remained clinical despite her complaint.

Feeling more and more disgruntled, Shanree spun around and looked at the woman, the image of Natalie came up clearly on screen first time which satisfied the doctor, but there was more to check.

“Go through to the room over there, all of you, and await instructions.”

Shanree was feeling less like co-operating, and sensing her mood, Natalie gently took her by the elbow and whispered quietly to her: “Come on, best get it over quickly and you can have a rest.”

They left Dr Costello as he keyed into his computer, oblivious of the others in the room, Jonathan followed. The room was small and empty, lit brightly from a central inverted smooth white dome on the ceiling.

“He’s going to test the audio,” Natalie said.

The voice of Dr Costello spoke from above: “Miss Addison, I want you to face away from Ms Burkett while she slowly counts aloud to ten.”

When she’d counted aloud, the next instruction was for her to face Natalie while she again counted to ten.

“Thank you, come back through to my office.”

Dr Costello spoke not to Shanree but to Natalie: “All media is working successfully, so I’m finished with this subject, you can take her away.” He didn’t even await a response, he turned back to his computer screen and continued his report on the work he’d completed.

Shanree felt violated, abused and angry. “Can’t you even speak to me? Am I just an object to you?” Her nostrils flared, her throat tightened and she could feel her breathing increase.

“Shanree …” Natalie put a calming hand on her shoulder.

“But he’s treating me like an object, just because I’m … not staying here.” Shanree almost shouted with anger and frustration, but the doctor didn’t even look around, his job was done and he was well used to this type of reaction in his office.

“Come on, Shanree,” Jonathan said, placing his hand on her shoulder. It was the first time he’d acted in any way comforting, and despite her feelings of rage, she noticed.

“But I was training to become a doctor myself and my knowledge and skills will be wasted.”

“You will retain most of what you’ve learned, Shanree,” Jonathan explained.

“He’s right, you may not realise much of the knowledge you acquired will stay with you, but it will come back if prompted and you may use what you know to help people where you’re going.”

“I want to use my knowledge here.”

“We need to get you tidied up for the interview, you can have a rest and get yourself together.” It was Jonathan that placed his arm around Shanree and led her from the room.

“Interview?”

“You must have seen the Offering interviews on the holo-pad.”

“I don’t think it’s something I’ve paid much attention to.”

“It’s a very important part of the transition process, it’s very popular, I’m surprised you’ve not seen it.”

“Is it something to do with them picking where I’ll go?”

“Yes, and a bit more than that. This is televised live across New Earth, people watching will have the chance to cast votes to ascertain your popularity.”

As soon as she entered the room she was next taken to, which wasn’t far from Dr Costello’s office, a fragrance drifted into her nostrils that gave her an immediate feeling of calm. The room was lavishly furnished with two long sofas and a large, glass coffee table set on a plush crimson carpet. At the far end, a couple of steps led up to a raised floor with a massive window that overlooked the Terrapenta Prime complex. The anger and anguish she’d felt since the previous night began to lessen, it was still there but in this room she felt more in control of it. It was so quiet, a place to relax where she would be able to recuperate from the surgery she’d just undergone. As she walked across the rich carpet heading towards the view from the window, she could almost feel every thread of material beneath the thin soles of the shoes she’d been given to wear.

Not too far away, she could clearly see the west facing side of the mountains of Gerban Raka, the western boundary of Terrapenta. It was beneath those mountains she would pass as she left New Earth in a travel tube, journeying through the Valley of Offerings and onward to reach the disembarkation point chosen for her. Between the room she looked from and those mountains, stood the multi-shaped buildings that formed Terrapenta Prime. Dominating the complex was the large domed Terrapenta Project control room. She’d seen only photographs of the inside with its circular rows of operatives sitting before holo-computers interacting with the people, environment and even the holographic creatures, some of which appeared to Terrapentans as intelligent and sentient beings.

Shanree had always known some of the creatures and monsters that roamed the land of Terrapenta were holographic creations and not real, and that included some of the people, like the high priests. But she also knew that as soon as she crossed the threshold into Terrapenta, all that knowledge would be wiped from her mind and she would believe everything to be real.

Natalie stood alongside her and admired the view, but she knew time was of the essence, and her charge had to be prepared for the interview, but she also knew the value of rest. They ordered some tea, and as they awaited its arrival they sat on the sprawling sofas of the lounge.

“Your time slot is in just over an hour, Shanree. I suggest you have a look through the standard questions while relaxing, then we can have a quick run through them to practise your answers.”

Shanree was struggling again despite the calming influence the room was designed to give. “I can’t do this, Natalie.”

“Yes, you can.”

“Everyone will be watching me, my father, Corinne, Abigail, my friends …”

“And they will be supporting you, voting for you to have the best start.”

Shanree looked questioningly at Natalie. “I never really followed how that worked.”

“Your popularity is judged by the votes cast by the viewers based on how you answer the standard questions.”

“But what sort of help would I get if I was popular?”

“If you had a specific vision for your life in Terrapenta, for example, and people wanted to support you, you may get some help achieving it. There are many other ways things can be made easier for you, like being sent to a better region.”

“As far as I can see, all the regions are as bad as each other, and I don’t know how anything could be made better for me.”

“Remember, Shanree, the tiny chip Dr Costello put inside your head links into your brain and is connected to the control centre. They can speak to you in whispers, passing you advice that you think are your own ideas. Do not underestimate the need to answer the questions well.”

While sipping at her hot tea, brought by a smartly dressed man in a neat, white suit, she glanced distractedly at the questions on the sheet Jonathan had taken from his brown leather briefcase. After a while, with her tea finished, she put them down at her side and closed her eyes. For over half an hour, they remained mostly in silence, Natalie and Jonathan allowing her to spend her time how she wished.

But as the clock ticked by, Jonathan’s voice disturbed the calm and she opened her eyes: “Ok, we haven’t got much longer, so I suggest we go through some of the answers for the interview.” He picked up the paper at Shanree’s side. “You will be asked five questions, every Offering is asked the same, and the way you answer the questions will affect the public’s perception of you. Whatever you think of your situation now, however unlucky you think you are, or however badly you feel you’ve been treated, just for the ten minutes or so of the interview, try to put on a bold, positive, likeable face. You want everyone watching to be on your side rooting for you. Do you understand?”

Shanree nodded her head in reluctant agreement but she didn’t know how she was going to muster even a believable smile in her position.

Natalie held her hand. “I know this is the last thing you want to do right now, but this interview may have a massive influence on the rest of your life. Please try to lift yourself for it, I promise you it will be worth it.”

“Ok, I’ll try as best I can.”

Jonathan continued: “You will be asked what your reaction was when you received the news your name had been chosen. You will be asked where you think you’ll be in five years. You will be asked in which region you would like to live. You will also be asked what skill or power you would like to have. Finally you will be asked this question: If you were able to take one memory in with you, what would it be? The answer to that one is always the most crucial. You will either get everyone on your side …” He paused for a moment, “or turn them against you.”

Natalie squeezed Shanree’s hand which was feeling a little moist, she was also beginning to shake. “It’s difficult to learn an answer off by heart, but have a general idea what you’re going to say.”

“I know how I felt when I was chosen,” Shanree said, meekly.

“Try not to be aggressive or appear as a victim, it will not go down well,” Jonathan jumped in.

“In five years I’ll probably be lucky to still be alive.”

“Again, don’t be the victim.”

“Bandar Pertama I suppose would be the best of a bad bunch of places to live.”

“That’s a typical answer.”

“If I could have a super human power, I’d like to fly. But why would they ask something like that?”

“The answers you give show your personality, and favourable personalities gain more votes. More votes give you the chance of receiving help from the controllers, and sometimes the type of help can be based on the answers you give.”

“Yes, but I won’t be given a super power though, will I?”

“What memory would you like to take with you?” Natalie asked.

She thought for a moment, dropping her head before answering quietly: “My family.”

Jonathan shrugged, unimpressed. “An answer most people give.”

“But, it’s true.” Shanree’s head shot up as she spoke sharply. “I want to remember my family.”

“That’s a good answer,” Natalie intervened to calm the situation. “All Jonathan is suggesting is, the more unexpected or unusual your answers, the more chance you’ll get voted for rather than voted against. You want to be noticed, but noticed for the right things.”

There was a knock at the door, Jonathan went to answer it.

“They’re a little early, but this may be it, Shanree,” Natalie said quietly. “After the interview, we will meet you in the waiting area for your departure.”

“Is that it? Do I go straight after I’ve finished?” Shanree was breathing heavily again.

“When you’ve answered the final question, the viewers are given the chance to vote. This takes just thirty seconds, and with some consideration taken to the result and your preferred location, the disembarkation point will be selected fairly quickly. Any other help you may have earned will come later.”

Shanree looked quizzically at Natalie.

“Remember, the more people who vote for you, the more chance of getting what you want.”

“What if everyone hates me?”

“No-one will hate you, Shanree,” Natalie quickly responded. “Just try to relax, don’t think of anything but the questions and answers you give.”

She began to take in deep breaths, long and slow as Jonathan returned to the sofa. He was holding the infamous orange clothing in his upturned hands, folded up with a pair of white shoes on top. It was the uniform of the Offerings. Shanree stared at them with an expression of horror on her face. Seeing the clothes she was to put on brought total reality to her situation. This was really happening, she truly was going into Terrapenta as an Offering. She would never again set foot in New Earth, neither would she ever see her family or friends again. There would be no more journeys by car to college, something she’d done for thirteen years. The Gor-Eagle, Arielle, which she’d had for a few short weeks, she would never again fly, and she would never again see Lizard Sky Park. Her life was over, her time was up.

She didn’t hear Jonathan tell her to stay positive, and to not say anything bad about Terrapenta or New Earth or any individual she had a grievance with. Neither did she hear him tell her to try and be enthusiastic with her answers. When Natalie agreed with him and urged her to convince the viewers that she thought of Terrapenta as an exciting challenge that she was looking forward to, she didn’t hear that either. Even when she went into the bathroom to put the clothing on, she was deaf to Natalie’s words of encouragement that she spoke from the other side of the closed door. When she emerged almost in a trance a few minutes later, dressed for her final journey, it was only then that Natalie stopped talking.

Copyright © 2014 Kevin Fleming

All rights reserved. Kevin Fleming has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. This is a work of fiction. Any names, places, events or happenings in this book are a product of the author’s imagination and are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or persons either living or dead are purely coincidental. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Chapter 20 will be uploaded on Monday 30th March

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