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Betrayal at Onyx Island

by Faith Van Horne

part 2 of 3

Greg and Cynthia had moved to Onyx Island from Oakdale, Kansas, back in September, nearly five months ago. Back home (Greg still thought of Oakdale as home), the stretch from fall to late winter would have been marked with heavy snowstorms and nose-shattering cold. But not on Onyx Island.

The island belonged to Zanteru, the only man-made country in the world. Nefarion Industries, owned by the eponymous Albrecht Nefarion, held the intellectual rights to Wikiterra technology, the agent of Zanteru’s creation. All the islands composing the country lay in the vast expanse of the South Pacific, lending to hot, sunny days all year round. No changing leaves, no snow, no measure that the world was moving forward from one epoch to the next. It was all technology, work, beauty and luxury.

Greg was damned sick of it.

It wasn’t just that he and Cynthia had had to surrender their American citizenship when they took jobs in Zanteru, though that was a hunk of it. All Zanteru workers were required to pledge allegiance only to that nation once they became citizens, and all citizens were employees of the research conglomerates that operated on the islands. The arch-minister, Albrecht Nefarion, demanded it; Greg didn’t see how that guy kept getting elected.

Granted, professed fealty for a good job was a tad odd, but worldwide unemployment rates had hovered near 25% since super-science advances made so many labor jobs obsolete. Some countries were trying to enact alternate economic models to correct this, but the U.S. and Zanteru were not among them.

On this new island country, verbal support or telenet posting criticizing the current political system would be met with job termination. Unemployment meant no more citizenship, and no alternate citizenship for the critic to fall back on. With those restrictions in place, few of Greg’s associates on Onyx Island had much to say about economic theory. And besides, so many of the scientists voiced their commitment to “the cause,” whatever that was.

In addition to the citizenship issue, Greg chafed at the changes he had discovered in Cynthia since they moved. Truth be told, probably nothing had changed at all. Through the eyes of love, also known as denial, Greg had simply refused to see the side of Cynthia that had unleashed itself on the island until nearly a month after the move-in.

He couldn’t ignore her attitude after the argument they’d had that morning a few weeks ago. Arguing had become their primary form of communication in the tiny pockets of time when Greg wasn’t working his regular shift and Cynthia wasn’t in the Big Dome, or sealed away in her home lab.

It was nearly time for Greg to get to work. He was sick of work, and figured Cynthia must be, too; some time off was definitely in order.

Cynthia had plopped herself on the couch, and was rubbing her temples with her fingertips. Greg sneaked around the couch behind her and took over the rubbing. He smiled, admiring the curve of her neck over the edge of her auburn hair.

He whispered in her ear. “You know, I’ve always wanted to see Europe. What about France?” Though she had begun to loosen, at the mention of France she tightened up again. “I mean, what’s the point making all this big super-science moolah if we can’t take some time off to enjoy it, right?”

Cynthia closed her eyes, inhaled, and pushed Greg’s hands away. She pinched the skin of her cheeks on either side of her nose. At the gesture, Greg braced for the conflict he knew was coming, wondering what he had said to trigger it this time.

“I’m trying to change the world here, Greg.” She stressed the last word like an insult, picked up her Oakdale coffee cup on the living room table and took a swig. How many cups was she up to a day now, Greg wondered? “There isn’t time for time off right now.”

“Why?” Greg padded back around to the front of the couch and finished pulling on his sock, his next-to-last step in getting ready for work. He reached for his shoes, the last step. Cynthia had just emerged from the lab, where she had been since sometime before Greg awakened at 7:30. Now at almost nine o’clock, she had come out for the coffee, and Greg had opened the conversation, mostly just for something to talk about. “What do those brains got you working on, anyway?”

Cynthia clenched one hand into a fist, then released it. “I can’t tell you that! No matter how many times you ask, you know I’m sworn to secrecy!” In that moment, Cynthia released her tension as she dropped onto the couch, and Greg saw just how tired she was. She had not applied her heavy makeup yet, and dark crescents swept under her eyes, exaggerating the paleness of her skin.

It was an affair. It had to be. Why else was she so secretive, so closed to him? But she wasn’t done. She swallowed another swig of coffee.

“And of all places to visit, France? Do you want to watch a human experiment in lost liberty, while the drive for human creation circles the proverbial drain?”

Greg slammed on his sock. Not much time to finish this. The people movers got him from his dome to the workstation in four minutes, and he now had eight. “Cyn, what are you talking about? I thought we could check out the countryside, maybe see Paris—”

“The French are phasing out money, did you know that?” She turned her red-rimmed eyes to Greg, either not seeing his shock or not caring. “They want to shift to a ‘gift’ economy. That completely destroys any sense of work ethic, don’t you understand? Bunch of cheese-eating loafers would just love to soak up our tourist dollars to pay for their free educations and lifetime safety net. How could you even think of giving any of our money to France?”

“I’m sorry, hon. I didn’t realize this was such a hot issue for you.”

“So close.” Cynthia set down her coffee and rubbed her hands through her hair. “We’re so close to—” She stopped, darted her eyes at Greg, then away. “To being able to tip the balance, here.” She pursed her lips, still not looking straight at him.

“Tip the balance, how?” Cynthia had emptied her mug, and Greg picked it up. “Cyn, sometimes I feel like I don’t know you anymore. I can’t help but feel you’re up to something,” he tapped the mug, trying to think of a good word, “sinister.”

Cynthia smiled, turning the corner into the master bathroom. Makeup time. Her voice carried through the hallway, airily unconcerned. “Perhaps sinister is only in the eye of the beholder.”

There was nothing more to say to that, and Greg was nearly late anyway. That was when he began to think that his marriage vows, and his agreement to move across the globe to an isolated science island, may have been made in haste.

* * *

Proceed to part 3...

Copyright © 2010 by Faith Van Horne

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