Terrarium

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With round-the-clock drugs, games, and eros parlors to entertain them and virtual weather to sustain them, humans live inside a global network of domed cities known collectively as "the Enclosure." Having poisoned the biosphere, we've had to close ourselves off from the Earth. The cities of the Enclosure are scattered around the globe on the land and sea, and are connected by a web of travel tubes, so no one needs to risk exposure. Health Patrollers police the boundaries of the Enclosure to keep the mutants and pollution out.

Phoenix Marshall decodes satellite images for a living. He has spent all 30 years of his life in Oregon City, afloat on the Pacific Ocean. He busies himself with work and various forms of recreation to keep boredom at bay. One morning he opens his door to find Teeg Passio. Teeg is the same age as Phoenix, but she's different; she's menacingly and enticingly wild. She grew up on the outside. Her mother oversaw the recycling of the old cities, and her father helped design the Enclosure. Teeg works maintenance, which allows her to travel outside the walls. When she introduces Phoenix to her crew, he is drawn into a high-tech conspiracy that may threaten everything he understands. Are humans really better off within the Enclosure? Is the Earth? Are Health Patrollers keeping us safe or just keeping us in?

Teeg seduces Phoenix out of his orderly life, enlisting him in a secret, political and sexual rebellion. Teeg and her co-conspirators, part mystics, part tech-wizards, dream of a life embedded in nature. Then one day, during a closely monitored repair mission on the outside, a typhoon offers the rebels a chance to escape the Enclosure and test their utopian dreams in the wilds.

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Chapter One

ePub

Phoenix thought of her as the barefooted walker. From the morning when she first loomed into view like an unpredicted planet, she set up fierce tides of desire in him.

On that morning the pressure inside Oregon City and inside his head seemed no greater than usual, no more conducive to visions. A blue wig dangled stylishly about his ears, facepaint disguised his features, and a portfolio of satellite film beneath one arm identified him as a man bound for the office. Chemmies regulated every bodily process that needed regulating. All his life was in order. But when Phoenix emerged from his apartment, ticking off the day’s plans in his mind (work, then breeze-tripping for lunch, electro-ball in the afternoon, and eros parlors in the evening), suddenly there she was, a barefooted woman pacing in the wrong direction on the pedbelt. Slap of naked flesh on the conveyor. By matching her stride to the speed of the belt she managed to stay at the same point in the corridor, just opposite his doorway. Bustling along, yet never stirring from her chosen spot, she reminded Phoenix of the conjoined whirl and stillness of a gyroscope.

 

Chapter Two

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Unlikely as it seemed to Phoenix, Teeg did meet him at the gamepark. Afraid she might not recognize him in the crowd of merrymakers and chemmieguzzlers, he wore the same mask and costume as yesterday. He would have dangled a sign about his neck, if need be, to attract her attention. Who cared a fig about the stares? He stood on a bench to make himself a landmark, high above the passing wigs, and presently he spied her slipping toward him through the crush of people. Facepaint instead of mask, baggy robe kicking at her feet, hood tied crookedly about her head. Thrown-together look, as usual.

“So you came,” she announced, with what seemed like mild surprise. She drew him away from the racket of electronic warfare, past the simulators where people lined up to pretend they were piloting rockets or submarines, past the booths where ecstatic customers twitched upon eros couches.

“Zoo time,” Teeg muttered, leading him on. She said something else, too, but Phoenix could only make out her bitter tone and not the words, for two opponents were haranguing one another on a nearby shouting stage.

 

Chapter Three

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The only troublesome items Zuni had not allowed the surgeons to replace were her eyes. Both lungs, one kidney, various joints, even the valves of her heart, those she had been content to let go, for they did not seem to be intrinsic parts of her. Let the doctors fiddle with her ears or pancreas, she would not care. But if she ever gave up her eyes, the ones she had used to design the Enclosure, to memorize the contours of earth, to trace the shifting tones of daylight, she would no longer be Zuni Franklin. Would the surgeons consent to be fitted with new hands? They should have realized that an architect lives in her eyes.

So when the drugs no longer cleansed the blight from her retina, she had to put up with dimming vision. And when she announced her plans to retire from the Institute for Global Design at age seventy-six—nine years early—everyone assumed her balky eyesight was to blame.

“Are you afraid blindness would spoil your work at the Institute?” a video reporter asked her.

 

Chapter Four

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On the beach at Whale’s Mouth Bay, amid boulders and sea gulls, Teeg lay roasting in the sun. Against her naked back and rump the sand felt like a thousand nibbling flames. Salt-laden wind fanned her hair. Even through the breathing-mask she could smell the ocean. Between repair missions, when she was required to stay inside the Enclosure, more than anything else she missed the feel of sun on her skin.

During this trip she quickly finished her assigned job—replacing fuel cells on a signal booster atop Diamond Mountain—and had three hours left over for scouting. Most of the time she used for discovering how hospitable a place the bay might be, testing for radiation, toxins, soil nutrients, the quality of water. These last few minutes of her allotted time she lay basking in the sun, as a celebration for having found the right place at last. She would have to make sure Whale’s Mouth had been omitted from the surveillance net. It probably had, since no tubes or laser channels or signal avenues passed anywhere near the place. Just another piece of real estate long since erased from human reckoning. She hoped so. Phoenix could tell her for sure. And she would need to spend a week here, later on, to run more tests on plants and microbes and air before she could assure the other seekers that this was indeed the place for the settlement.

 

Chapter Five

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The image of Teeg squatting beside the map screen kept burning in Phoenix’s mind. The geography of Oregon and the imagined geography of her body merged for him into one sensuous landscape. He tried calling her after the evening of maps, to apologize, to arrange a walk, anything to be near her. But her answering tapes informed him she was meditating, she was at the clinic, she was on a repair mission, always somewhere painfully out of reach. He could not have felt a greater craving for her if they had sparred through all twelve stages of the mating ritual.

When he finally did track her down, overtaking her at the bottom of the firestairs as she began her daily seventy-story climb, she told him she was about to leave for a two-week seminar in Alaska City. Something to do with thermionics.

“Look, can I go with you?”

“Phoenix—”

“I can arrange leave. We can talk after your classes. We can walk in the disney there. It’s a fine one—famous—with mechanoes of beasts from all the continents—”

 

Chapter Six

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While friends and journalists speculated about her plans for the future, Zuni quietly went on severing the ties that bound her to the Enclosure. She delivered the last of her scheduled lectures (on the psychology of disembodied mind), speaking as usual for two hours, without notes, holding the audience spellbound, and then she declined all further engagements. She resigned from boards of directors, task forces, committees.

For the better part of a month she sorted through her files, assigning to the archives whatever she thought might be of use to future planners, piping the rest to recycle. There were sixty years’ worth of blueprints here, beginning with plans for a ten-kilometer-square greenhouse she had designed at sixteen. Even so large a greenhouse, she had discovered, would not sustain a complex eco-system. Trees might thrive in it, but hawks could not. And if she altered the design to accommodate hawks, the ferns might die. Cyber simulations taught her that the smallest environment capable of sustaining a continent’s menu of life would be the size of the continent itself.

 

Chapter Seven

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Is it the wilds he’s hungry for—or is it only me? Teeg could not decide. His eyes would glaze over whenever she told him about the wilderness. But then, his eyes glazed over and his breathing quickened whenever she leaned close to tell him anything. He was so ensnarled in the mating rigmarole that she would probably be disentangling him for months before they could actually make love. In the meantime, whether or not he was hungering for the wilds, he was certainly hungering for her, and that appetite would have to do, until she could deliver him into the wilderness. Once he was outside, the sea and forest could work on him. If she had to be the bait that lured him out there, then bait she would be.

She had already reported to the other seekers, after her two weeks of prospecting, that Whale’s Mouth Bay would make an ideal location for the settlement. Tonight, when the crew met for an ingathering, she must speak with them about Phoenix, before his passion cooled or his wilderdread returned.

 

Chapter Eight

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“What sort of test is it?” Phoenix asked nervously, licking the narco-flavored paint from his lips.

“It’s called an ingathering.” Teeg lay face-down, back arched so that her upper trunk was lifted off the floor. “It’s a form of collective trance. Pioneered by the Quakers centuries ago.”

They were in Teeg’s apartment, where she was demonstrating yoga positions for him, and he was doing his best to avoid staring at her. She wore a body-colored shimmersuit—“The next best thing,” as she had informed him one day, “to nakedness.” Phoenix sat muffled in several meters of gown, feeling like a cheap present extravagantly wrapped. He had come to her place straight from work, so he was still bedaubed and bewigged and befrocked in the public manner. “All right, I fall into this trance. Then what happens?”

If you achieve the trance,” she corrected him, her back arching further, vertebrae popping, “you drift toward the center.”

“Where’s the center?”

“It’s not a place. It’s an experience. Kind of a stillness, a brightness. In the ingathering we all gravitate there. If everyone’s perfectly clear, we merge together in the—well, the shining.”

 

Chapter Nine

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Because Zuni replied to each absurd speculation about her future with vague smiles and crooked answers, the media soon decided she was not the proper stuff of news. Her face vanished from the video, her name from the newsfax. Before long only her colleagues at the Institute and her few friends still wondered what was going on beneath that meticulous bun of white hair.

Even those friends could not pry the secret from her. Zuni had clutched it for so long that her will had sealed over it, like the bark of a tree grown around a nail.

Left in peace at last, Zuni holed up in her apartment to meditate, to gather strength for the journey, whenever it might begin. She had set events in motion, but now they had run their own course. To be ready when the break came, if the break came, that was all she could hope. Only let it be soon, soon.

Meanwhile there were the records to keep. Instead of checking weekly on the movements of the conspirators—the ones who called themselves seekers, such a quaint name—now she checked daily. On her info terminal she would punch the code for Jurgen or Teeg or one of the others, and within moments the Security cyber would inform her of the person’s current work assignment, itinerary, health status, credit balance and the like. Writing with a pen, one of the anachronisms which gave her pleasure, she then noted on file cards whatever seemed like new information. Under Sol’s name, for example, recent cards showed the increasing frequency of his visits to the C-clinic, and then his abrupt refusal to accept any more synthetic organs. Apparently his lung cancer was galloping out of control. He would be urgent to escape. Hinta and Jurgen must also have been feeling urgent, for their cards showed they had spent their credit balance nearly down to zero, mostly for tools. For the first time in several cycles, Arda had skipped the fetal implant. Pressures for escape were building up in several other members of the crew. This discovery was what had prompted Zuni to announce her retirement, to make herself ready.

 

Chapter Ten

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In boots and hoods and ankle-flapping capes, with masks drawn close to hide their faces, Teeg and Phoenix walked among the circular oil stains of the tank farm. Behind them, the gamepark flung its riotous colors toward the night-darkened dome, and farther behind, near the city center, buildings heaped up in pyramids and honeycombs of light. Ahead of them loomed the dark knobby shapes of the few remaining oil tanks.

“What if I can’t—” Phoenix began.

Teeg shushed him quickly. “You can. Now be still and keep your mind centered. No doubts. You’ve got to be clear.”

They passed between two partly-demolished tanks. Where lasers had cut through the triple-hulled walls, cauterized edges gleamed with a dull luster. This might be the last ingathering here, Teeg realized, for the wreckers were gnawing their way each week nearer to the tank where the seekers met. The pipeline leading from here to the mountains near Whale’s Mouth Bay had already been severed. Phoenix had to pass the test tonight, for there might not be another chance.

 

Chapter Eleven

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Zuni set the battered lunch box on the table. The lid was decorated with a 1980s artist’s notion of rockets—long phallic spikes like sharpened pencils with fire gushing out the tail. Nothing at all like today’s ships, which were floating conglomerations of struts and screens and bulging chambers. Whatever had possessed her mother to buy that rocket-covered pail, way back there in an Oregon lumber town, a thousand miles from any launch pad? Was it because the world was closing in, and she wanted her daughter to dream of escape? Now, seventy years later, Zuni was still dreaming of escape.

She lifted the lid, plucked out the nine topmost bundles of cards, then shut the box for the last time. Dangling by its plastic handle, it felt heavy as she carried it to the vaporizer, heavy with hundreds of file cards, all those records of failed rebellion. After placing the box inside the vaporizer she studied it through the glass door. The flame-spewing rockets and pockmarked planets appeared to her with luminous clarity, even though the actual decals were so scuffed that she could barely make them out with her dim eyesight. Silly, she realized, to feel so attached to a little box of stamped tin. She set the timer for a minute, then peered in through the glass door to watch the vaporizer work its swirling molecular dance. After thirty seconds a congealed lump of metal still rested on the shelf, but after half a minute more nothing remained except a spiral of mist, which the recycling vents quickly sucked away.

 

Chapter Twelve

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Phoenix tossed notebooks, microfilms, bits of bark and stone into the vaporizer. Footprints of rebellion. He listened with regret to the hiss as each tell-tale item withered to a memory of molecules. Down in the guts of Oregon City devices would sort the vapors and reuse them for making plastic kidneys or glowrods or spoons. He searched the apartment for other incriminating evidence. Guides to meditation, maps of the coast, stick-figure illustrations of Teeg’s yoga positions—all went into the shaft. Hiss, hiss. Soon the only remaining clues were the holos of Whale’s Mouth Bay, tiny cubes intricate with the shapes of beach and cliff and grasses. He squeezed them until the points dug into his palm. Once he destroyed them he would have no way of bringing the wilds to life. And what if the city spun its webs of comforts around him again, lulled him in the hammock of its pleasures, until he grew to dread the outside?

Why not just leave the holos in the projector until the last moment? It was early in the year for typhoons. But you never knew about weather. Cantankerous, the weather. Any day, a storm could roar across the Pacific, tearing at the Enclosure’s skin, and the crew might be called out to mend a float or weld a cracked tube, and if the call arrived while he was away from the apartment, there would be no time for returning home to vaporize the cubes. And he must leave no tracks. If the crew simply vanished, apparently gobbled up by the sea, the health patrollers would lose no sleep. There were always too many bodies crowding the Enclosure. Security would simply recruit new troubleshooters. But if the H.P. came along, found the holos, and recognized the Oregon coast, they would have gliders waiting in Whale’s Mouth Bay when the crew arrived. Welcome to quarantine, ladies and gentlemen.

 

Chapter Thirteen

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On the hovercraft instrument panel an amber light kept flashing. More data on the seatube rupture, Teeg guessed. But she dared not answer the call, for it might also be Transport Control, demanding to know why the crew still hadn’t left the hangar.

Come on, Phoenix. If he didn’t show up in about two shakes they would have to leave him behind. Could they smuggle him from the city later? That would be risky, might give the colony away. But waiting for another seatube emergency would be even more risky. Since losing their meeting place in the oil tank they had gone over a month without ingathering, and the forcefield of spirit that bound them together was weakening.

The thought of leaving Phoenix behind swung a weight in her heart.

“Any sign?” Marie asked from the cabin.

No, Teeg was going to answer, when she glimpsed Hinta jogging down the ramp from the sanitation port. Behind her loped a clown-painted figure in billowing gown. Tassels and sleeves fluttered about him as he ran, and the green tresses of his wig trailed behind like seaweed. Even through this bizarre get-up, Teeg recognized him by the way he bit down on his tongue and by the shape of his ears.

 

Chapter Fourteen

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Terra’s occasional rampages put the newscasters in a quandary. Reports of earthquakes and volcanoes and pestilence in the wilds made life within the Enclosure seem all the more desirable. But if the wilds actually broke through the skin of the human system? And if Terra, on one of these violent sprees, actually killed a few people, swallowed an Arctic research team down a sudden throat of ice, or drowned a repair crew in the ocean outside Oregon City? That sort of news would be disquieting. The trick was to remind people of Terra’s brutality without making them brood too much about the Enclosure’s fragility.

So the first half meter of newsfax unscrolling on Zuni’s desk brought her word of the typhoon, without mentioning damage or casualties, FREAK STORM LASHES OREGON CITY, the headline proclaimed, DOME UNHARMED. At least my architecture is sound, she reflected wryly. How had the travel-tubes fared? No mention of that in the lead story. Curious, she skimmed over the week’s fashion news, skimmed rhetoric tournament results and summaries of World Council debates, skimmed the daily geometries and mating announcements, until she found, eight meters from the beginning of the scroll, a brief notice of damage to the Oregon-Alaska seatube. Typhoon generates high waves, the article stated. Seatube cracks—vacuum partially destroyed—commuter traffic disrupted—protective systems activated—wildergoers quickly repair damage.

 

Chapter Fifteen

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In the morning Teeg padded about naked through the chill air to unshutter the portholes. Cylinders of daylight bored through the openings, playing on her flesh like searchlights as she walked the length of the raft. At the seaward end she paused, studying the bay, arms lifted to tie her red swish of hair into a knot. She had the body of a gymnast or runner, lean and taut, with narrow hips and small upward-tilted breasts and the flex of long muscles down her back and legs. The tape encircling her ribcage was a pale brushmark against her ruddy skin, which seemed to glow from inside, as if incandescent.

Phoenix admired her through barely-parted eyes, pretending to sleep. He still lay in their joined sleepsacks, where the lovemaking had deposited him. This was the way he imagined a drift log would feel, if it could feel, heaved and bulled by the waves, flung at last upon the shore, there to lie stunned and humble until caught again by the next high sea.

When she crawled back into the sleepsack, her leg slithered against him and her finger began inscribing circles on his belly.

 

Chapter Sixteen

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As she toiled up into the foothills Zuni kept turning back to locate the repair station, making sure of her direction. When she had last walked these slopes, sixty years before, they had just been clearcut. Bulldozers had gouged the shallow topsoil right down to bedrock. Between stumps the hillsides had been a hideous mire of oil cans and sawdust and bonewhite slash. Dirt which had taken millennia to accumulate sloughed off the mountains in a season of rain, burying the valleys below in mud. Even though brush had partially reclaimed the slopes since then, and conifers crept skyward from ravines, Zuni still recognized the devastated contours of the land.

Just beyond this stony ridge she would enter the watershed of Wolf Creek. Downstream, where the Wolf joined Salt Creek, she would come to the site of her childhood village. What could be left there but the rotting sawmill and a few shriveled cabins, perhaps an overgrown orchard? It was an old woman’s foolishness to try going back. But I might as well get some advantage out of growing old, Zuni thought, something other than sore knees. She had to pass that way anyhow, for Salt Creek would lead her, after one or at most two days of walking, to Whale’s Mouth Bay. By that time over a week would have passed since Teeg and her crew had disappeared at sea. If they weren’t at Whale’s Mouth when she arrived? Can’t waste energy fretting about that.

 

Chapter Seventeen

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During most of that first week after the landing at Whale’s Mouth Bay it rained. The meadow squished underfoot as the colonists went about erecting domes and laying pathways of glass. The needles of spruce and hemlock, glistening with rain, looked like fine green jets squirting from branches. Grass stems bent under the weight of water. Marie had to cover her garden with polyfilm to keep it from turning into a quagmire. Coyt grumbled because unbroken clouds reduced the power from his photoelectric cells. There was methane enough from the seaweed digester, however, and enough hydrogen from the vats of blue-green algae to fuel stoves and generators, so the colony enjoyed electricity and warm food.

Rain pipped the surface of the fishpools, which were stocked with fingerlings of bluegill and rainbow trout and bullhead catfish, all carefully smuggled from Oregon City. The smuggled crayfish had died in their barrels, so Josh and Jurgen went off hunting some wild ones. Rain pattered on the greenhouse, where Phoenix helped sow vegetables. Teeg was delighted to see him poking his fingers into the sterilized dirt.

 

Chapter Eighteen

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An expedition like this might have made sense for a young woman, blessed with stout legs and sound eyes, thought Zuni. But for me it is utter folly, in all likelihood my last folly.

She was resting at a bend of Salt Creek where the current bared a sweep of water-smoothed stones. The rock on which she perched had the melony shape and milky whiteness of a dinosaur’s egg. Having already stumbled across a Roosevelt elk and the pawprint of a bear this morning, she would not have been surprised to feel the stone cracking beneath her or to see reptilian skin gleaming inside. The muscles of earth were quite capable of heaving forth anything you could imagine.

A dinosaur would feel at home in this dripping rainforest. Rain pattered on the hood of her parka, but she paid it no mind. The things of the world had already lost their edges in her blurred sight, so the added blur of rain made little difference. With the present moment crackling before her, why mope about the past? The valley of cinders, that burnt-out place she could no longer think of as home, lay nearly two days of walking behind her. The sanitation port lay three days farther back. Not a bad trek for these old pins, Zuni thought, rubbing her knees. Just beyond this bend, she remembered, the land fell away along a fault, the creek leapt over the brink of an escarpment and tumbled into a pool below. From there it meandered across a meadow, sliced through the coastal ridge, and emptied into Whale’s Mouth Bay.

 

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