Having exchanged these uncanny phrases - more because of habit than because of need to know about each other, this was a morning ritual - the two creatures of unclear gender stood up from the floor and began hiding all tracks of their presence here. This was a rare human breed, the rarest and therefore the most needed. Those two didn't realize that and saw everything upside down, now that was a shame.
"Were you hinting about belletristic?" one of the creatures asked in a low, but clearly girlish voice.
"I wasn't hinting about anything. I was recalling the names."
Having tidied the dusty room up, the duet walked outside, and now it all came to light. They were so alike that they could be differed only by looking at their shiny black hair (the girl's was tied into a simple ponytail, the lad's was chin-length and with a fringe which got into his eyes, like that of the ancient music school's representative) and body lines hidden under baggy covers instead of normal clothing.
"Twice Sherlock Holmes and the wide way," the lad said.
"I would've been surprised if it was unclear!"
"Have you taken the three syllables? First palate, then against the teeth, remember?"
"I do. But I think they wouldn't have refused against that with such attitude if we had placed that in front of everybody."
"Rubbish. There's not a single brand there. Not a word."
"You know that better, Kaas." The lad combed his fringe onto his forehead with his fingers, having recalled what was hidden under it and what made them even more alike. The letter D written in indelible paint - the easy version of Japanese punishment for criminals. And not only that. There was an E on his chest, just under the collar-bones, an F on the back side of his right hand, another E on the back side of his left hand, a C on his right foot and a T on his left. Almost perfect symmetry it was. The girl also had such marks on the same places. This was a try not only to punish the renegades but also to make them... nobler or anything.
It wasn't about their strange manner of speaking. It would’ve been much worse if they used their non-verbal way of speaking, like those who came to this world together could. They were people-like now, but on the outside there were no attributes of decent humankind representatives. They didn’t have proper clothing or tattoos or even make-up. There was pale, pathetic, imperfect skin under the badly sewn robes, and it began having burrs already, like horrid baggy lower eyelids and skin folds which appeared when they two smiled (and they couldn’t do even that correctly: they hardly ever showed their teeth). Their eyes were blue. Someone said that the sky used to be of such color, but no one thought about it. Old things were to be utilized, and not only old items, but old thoughts as well.
It was a riddle how the virus of defection infected them. Their parents were decent and civilized people who had planned everything from the very beginning. There had been a tendency of calling the twins with the same names, only switched. But here it was much easier. A boy and a girl, Patrick and Patricia. Simple and genial. Far from it.
The defective core of the duet had shown itself when they had been less than a year old. Patrick had squealed like mad when he had been dressed in proper clothes. And Patricia had sobbed, not allowing anybody to cover her face with cosmetics. What do they know, children?.. Then there was more. None of them showed enthusiasm when their family had been going to weekly services of Fashion. Moreover, afterwards they had sulked for a day at least and talking to each other in the language of touch and gestures.
As about their tastes, they were so shabby that even fixing wouldn’t have helped. Before their birth they had been incalculated the taste for things everybody likes, because it’s the only way of securing everybody’s well-being. Incalculating hadn’t worked. Both were searching for some garbage sense in songs and magazine articles. What is the use of listening to music if you’re not going to have fun?..
When it was about planning their society status (and both had few chances, despite all the efforts to make people out of them), Patrick and Patricia had fallen asleep. They hadn’t heard anything when they had been taught the main rule: ‘only beautiful and successful have a right to live’. Of course, if they had followed the instructions, they might have become beautiful, but as about success…
“Sure that it’s today?”
“I’ve checked three times.”
“Let’s spoil their party.”
Both were making their best not to speak aloud about the main reason of their being rejected. Many people which they had met said that they would’ve better been born five hundred years ago. At least.
“What do you think we’ll take?”
“I heard they had pandemonium.”
“Such like. Plus picnic.”
“Three tickets as well. Drunken forest, beagles, ark and other animals.”
“Is that all?”
“Do you think we’ll cope?”
“How many can you carry?”
“Ten at least, if they are of ordinary size.”
“Then it’ll take one raid.”
“Is there the mad tea-party?”
“You obnoxious girl…”
If they had been only unsociable and not appreciating society values, it would’ve been better. But no, it was much worse. After they had been called defective and sent to wander around the world, and all the ways back to life had been closed for them, Patrick and Patricia hadn’t jumped off the cliff, as many unlucky ones had done, and hadn’t pleaded to take them back. They had been involved in a really contradictory business.
Books. They were the beginning and ending of everything. What is the sense of sitting all day long with your nose stuck into them? They could be burnt in a moment, and profile created in virtual reality couldn’t be destroyed to the end. But there were book samples, the design of which could bring new tendencies. And, definitely, most people wanted approvals that up-to-date life was much better than any other. This is why the richest had a habit of collecting ancient books to read the absurdist parts from them along services of Fashion (if they could read – who would need it, if there were smiley faces and emoticons?).
The twins found themselves next to a giant house in luxurious and ornate style. ‘Broadway 442’ – this table was hiding on the background of cut patterns and twirls covering every inch of the walls.
“Eye is the baroque slave,” Patricia muttered.
“You almost guessed.” Patrick climbed onto the column closest to the central window and listened. “Too early.”
Since the streets had become perfectly clean because almost no one walked them (and there was no one to toss litter), there were no security cameras on the outside. Why would they be needed if no one visited anyone, excluding services of Fashion? No one could get there without an invitation. And this played in the hands of renegades like those two.
“Where?” Patricia asked, having waited till her brother got down.
“From the center. Musketeers upwards, dials to the left and inside.”
“I hope those are not dials upwards and musketeers to the right!”
Having finished this strangest dialogue, the duet circled the house. This was a treasure. So many ridges and flourishes that climbing even on the highest (fifth) floor was not a problem without looking down and dizziness. And third floor was a habit.
Having waited till the last auto remained empty, the twins climbed down from the chestnut tree in leaves of which they had been hiding (they could’ve pretended to be the porcelain wall elements, but dun baggy clothes would’ve shown them on the background of gaudy colors), and Patrick climbed onto the column again. Having hung on the wall for about three minutes, he nodded, and his sister followed him. When both reached the third floor’s level, Patricia produced a small gun loaded with special paint bullets from her sleeve and fired first at the window frame next to the lock and then, when the window opened, into three cameras in the corners. Usually one room had one camera, but this room’s contents seemingly were appreciated more than anything. What surprise!
“My heart kick-starts every time,” Patricia admitted, crawling over the windowsill.
“Why should it? This technology is flawless, though copied.” Patrick sourly grinned, scratching his forehead. Truly, it was not just any paint. It was very similar to the one which formed the DEFECT letters on their bodies. The original technology contained particles which were always connected, so the revolting renegade could be easily paralyzed or killed by an impact on his part covered in this paint. If it affected a mechanism, it got frozen: the cameras were getting stuck at the same moment, and the locks were opening. The only difference was that the paint in Patricia’s gun had a temporal effect for no one to suspect, so they had to hurry up.
Really. This room contained more books than any other one they had worked on.
“What have I told you?” Patrick pointed at the shelf full of Gerald Durrell’s books. “Come on.”
Patricia unzipped her jacket, which appeared to have large hanging pockets on the inside, and began pushing the books into them. Having taken about twelve, she zipped it again. Having filled the space between himself and his upper clothing, Patrick began placing the remained books so that it wasn’t noticeable that some were lacking. Larger spaces between them and similar colors worked miracles.
“Now let’s get away from here.”
“It’s obvious without you.”
Making the way down with such makeweight was more complicated than climbing up. But finally two pairs of feet touched the ground, and their owners walked away without hurrying. They weren’t running because running rejects for sure would make anyone suspicious, unlike simply defects, and it was difficult to run… though they wanted to dash away from here and get to safety more than anything.
The twins hardly managed to hold cheerful snorting when they heard a yell of horror from the side of house 442.
“That’s right, reading books used to be appreciated. But now books serve as decorations, and is that fine? Reading is not one of the Great Goddess’s Fashion’s testaments.”
“Oh, Unca Johann, she does not exist.” The blue-haired girl of about fifteen, sitting aside from a bunch of children, waved her hand. “That’s an idiotic invention of those who cannot sell something to others.”
“You’re right, Blue, but could you speak not so rudely? You’re not alone, you know,” the speaker noticed. He was completely grey-haired, but had a youthful face and alert voice.
“Unca Johann, I said a fashion blasphemy, and there’s nothing worse than that,” Blue sneered.
“That still doesn’t give you the right of speaking in rough ways.”
“Will we have more books soon?” asked the ginger little girl with letters starting to show on her forehead, hands and feet. Everybody here had such ones, the only thing which united their medley. There was nothing strange about that, those were defects and their children (which didn’t have to be marked, they shouldn’t have been born from renegades).
Johann glanced at the old-fashioned clock, which lacked the tips of their hands.
“If it’s all right, our library will be expanded by tonight. What am I talking about? It will be perfect!”
“That’s because Patrick went on raid?” the boy with full head of yellow curls (nicknamed Sun Piece for this) interfered.
“And Patricia too,” his neighbor, all big mouth and freckles, added. Two carrot-colored plaits, and she would’ve been Pippi Longstocking.
“That’s true. Our twins are the best book hunters.”
“That’s not clear who’s hunting who…” sounded from the farther end of the place, and the named ones crawled in through the narrow and low door. “Are we going to have a listening?”
Two low voices – oh my, even they were alike! – sounded satisfied, though their owners weren’t in the best condition: Patrick’s right arm was hanging like ragdoll’s, and Patricia looked as if she had been pushed through the blender. But they were shining like polished cars which had been trying to ram them through along the way (no decent person could allow him- or herself to touch a defect).
The listening started only when both showed their catch (the books were almost unharmed, some of them required simple gluing), tidied themselves up, and Johann immobilized Patrick’s broken arm.
“You jerk,” Patricia smirked when she saw a double-sided book with the picture of a girl in blue dress and a grinning cat on a tree in the pile of Durrell’s books.
“I love you too,” he snorted. “Start.”
“What’s this book?” Blue wondered, having sat closer.
“It’s a tale,” Johann replied for the twins. “A tale which people tried to explain by couldn’t. Come on, dear.”
“Chapter 1. Down the Rabbit Hole,” Patricia began.
“You’re life! No! Don’t! Don’t abandon me!”
“My God, what drama,” Yon murmured, having slammed the door shut behind him, and leaned onto the wall. There were more yells behind it, but then there was silence. Only then Yon decided to enter once more, having prepared for another deadly sound attack.
There was no hysterics now. Whimpering, restless moving, uneven breathing, but no hysterics. That’s better.
“Calmer?” Yon asked, searching for water bottle on the closest shelf. Silence. “Awesome.”
“I t-thought I was going to die in that box,” was the reply.
“You’re not. You’ll have a good deal of sleep and it will be fine.”
“Fine?!” Not again, Yon thought. His ears were too sensitive without those screams and shouts. “I’m underhuman now! Defective! De-fec-ti-ve!”
“You don’t know who’s an underhuman,” Yon snapped, keeping away from the sound source. “For what were you rejected?”
Pause. Perhaps she was collecting her mind, that was a good sign.
“I-I cannot eat almost anything. I feel awful immediately, and there’s rash everywhere. It used to be better when I was a child, and now it’s pure horror.”
“Pah, civilized muck! This is called allergy, and burying you alive for it is Stone Age. Mr. Johann nursed worse ones… What’s your name?”
“I had to expect this,” Yon grumbled, having found the bottle at last. They were returning to old sources. Now girls were called Fashion, Fashionista, Fashioner or Fashilous, and boys – Style, Stylus, Styler or Styling. No way, otherwise there was the well-known procedure. “What do you want to be called?”
“Is it true that you read books here?”
“I wasn’t asking about that.”
“Em… during one of services of Fashion they read an extract from a book, and the main character’s name was Carrie.”
“Bet they all were for those who humiliated her.”
“So you should be called Carrie now?”
“Don’t worry, no one will bully you here. My name’s Yon.”
“Er… and for what were you?..”
Fashionista – no, not Fashionista anymore, now she was Carrie – stared at him in attempts to understand what was so wrong. Dirty blond hair curling into large loops, enormous crooked nose, giant height, DEFECT letters on required places, thrice re-made wide pants and dingy shirt (no wonder, with such parameters: shirt’s and trousers' sleeves remained too short though they had been made as long as possible), old trainers… Yon was Yon.
“Got that?” He turned his face to her, and Carrie understood. His eyes were of pale pearly color, and ‘normal’ people cannot have such eyes.
“So you’re… Has it been long?”
“Since I was born.”
“How do you live this way?”
“When eyes are closed, you use your ears,” Yon informed casually. “And hands, and everything. They are sighted… I’ll go, and you don’t surrender to hysterics, otherwise I’ll go mad. And you don’t want this to take place. And remember that defects don’t abandon their friends.”
Having taken silence as a god sign, he left the room again and made his way down. Because of this newbie – as the strongest one, he had had to carry her into the house after she had been dug out, no matter that she had resisted (or thanked him this way) – he was late for listening again. That was it. P-Squared had returned from their hunt, which had been successful.
Yon almost reached the rope-ladder leading to the required room – the house wasn’t planned at all, it had been built for a long time by adding more and more rooms with every new person (like Ron Weasley’s house from Harry Potter) – when a familiar sound attracted his attention. Those were bells. Small bells. Not below, but to his right. And two hearts beating, one of them too little. Too little.
“Tinker Bell! Don’t pretend, I heard you cooing with somebody,” Yon said from the corridor, not doubting that he was in front of the especially defective representative of the young generation, who couldn’t help helping with what she could. She got her nicky-name ‘Tinker Bell’ for small bells implanted into her legs just above her feet, which ringed with every move. There had been such norms when she had been born, while the allergic ones or those with inborn diseases had already been buried alive, like in Carrie’s case. What was more important: the image of a whole family or one pathetic and incomplete life? The answer was obvious.
The reply was a terrified squeak and whispering:
“Don’t be afraid, that’s Yon. Big good Yon. He won’t hurt you.”
There were no doubts. There was a Tiny wrapped in a thick towel sitting in Tinker Bell’s arms, who curled up in a ball at the enterer’s sight. Tinies – the result of genetic search and development – had been the sign of status since pets had been out (there had been hardly any left). Actually those were fully understanding and feeling human beings, but they were not considered as such. No wonder: Tinies were not taller than one foot and were more like old-fashioned toys than humans. Large eyes taking half of the face, too big head, short limbs. They could hardly speak, only squeaking like kittens, and if they learned to, they couldn’t pronounce words clearly enough and often finished in squealing. Though, they weren’t required to talk.
“Who allowed you to leave the house on your own? You could wake all neighborhood up.”
“I-I-I did not. I heard the poor little guy calling for help and…”
“You disagree with yourself.”
“If you’re making sad eyes to me, forget it,” Yon told the Tiny, pretending to be serious. “It doesn’t affect me.”
The little one, whose huge brown eyes were widened in attempts to look cute, blinked.
“For what were you tossed out?”
“He doesn’t want to tell,” Tinker Bell interpreted. The Tiny whispered something into her ear – it was odd, but children could understand the ‘small folk’, if they talked this way. Maybe it was like with bats. Children hear their voices, and adults don’t. “Oh, no. He says he refuse to…”
“Don’t go on. I got it. Does this Lilliputian have a name?”
“Dancer,” Tinker Bell replied. “His name is Dancer.”
“Fine. Come on, we’re going to miss everything. P-Squared have already read half of the book.” Secretly Yon was happy that Tinker Bell was going to get silent at last – she was silent only when listening to books. She chatted even in her sleep and had woken others up more than once this way (it was not only about Yon).
One needed angelic patience to communicate with the new 'marked ones'. And Yon's stash was restricted. He was sitting and biting his tongue for already fifteen minutes, waiting for Patricia to finish the chapter, while Carrie was sobbing into his side.
"You're soaking my shirt," Yon droned when Patricia stopped reading.
"S-s-sorry, I just ca-a-an't... Ho-o-owwwww's that?"
"She was buried alive. Allergic to modified food," Yon shortly explained, feeling others' looks on himself - literally, it was as if different-sized turning drills were inserting into his body. "Still hurt."
"And I was kicked out for having eaten a lump of meat," Sun Piece put in.
"And I was because I'm a girl," Blue added.
"And I was because I refused to wear a dress," Barton interfered. He was a mix-up, as well as Tinker Bell: there were rods implanted into his fingertips, filled with some kind of natural ink, which allowed him to draw anywhere and any time. Yes, it was universal and practical, but Barton tended to faint every time when he walked outside in sunny weather. And everything in him was able to break surprisingly easily: Johann had had to fix his broken arms and legs more than once, and sometimes it had been about carrying him around in a wheelchair.
"And I was for having green eyes instead of yellow," Matt muttered. He had iridescent blue skin, elfin ears which could move to every side and a long braid in addition to fringe combed to the side. If he had a tail and was three meters tall, he would've been a copy of an alien from the movie which used to be popular long ago.
Every year laws became stricter. If the deviant ones had a chance to be corrected before (like Patrick and Patricia, for instance), then now there was not a word about this. The terms were like this: if it was about having a child, it could be delivered, but the one fitting all the criteria, and if not, there could be another try with getting rid of everything old. Those who were simply kicked out to street were lucky (the majority of present here were such tramps) because adult defects could find them, and now burying alive was practised more and more often. Though appearance wasn't the only reason. There had been time when the severest form of vegetarian diet was the one and only - Sun Piece had been caught then. Another time it had been about being androgynous and exchanging roles in every sense - that had been when Barton had been pushed out of society. And before there had been terms and conditions about delivering only girls with odd hair color, and everything had been okay, but the criteria had changed to opposite ones some days before Blue's birth. Ready-made defect. But Matt had been least lucky because of 'can people deliver aliens?' experiment. They could. And they got out of fashion. After his very first try of book and seed hunt (seeds were needed to grow food which wouldn't cause such allergies like modified) Matt had been carried home and couldn't stand up from his bed for a week.
"Kill me, but I don't give a damn that you're blue, carnivorous, reading, old-fashioned and all," Carrie blabbed out after she had been told about that at her own request. "You're life."
Silence. Waiting for the sentence, Yon guessed. In addition to everything he was able to distinguish lies and was appreciated like 'the great one' by some of the youngest ones. What was so complicated about this? Heart beating steadily meant truth, mad drumbeat meant lie. It was more complex when the liar was sure about himself telling the truth, but there had been not too many cases like that.
It was completely obvious here. Mad drumbeat. Because of recent hysterics.
"Carrie, you're beautiful," Yon said calmly.