The Sponsors

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Chapter 7

After their dinner in front of the fire, a parsnip soup concoction with barely any spice, they walked through the dreary, black night to the council meeting, the moon piercing through the darkness of the clouds to light their way, forming a strange allegiance with the few street lights that muddied the streets with their yellow glow. The villagers welcomed them in, the door ajar for anyone to swing open, painted the same deep blue as every other door in the village. People were milling about in the living room and kitchen of the Elliott family, a quiet hubbub of colloquialism incited with happy tones and exclamations . The Elliott’s had four children who roamed around the room, mingling with the scarce amount of other children and talking to the adults that were familiar to them. The job in the city that Mr. Elliott held provided them with enough money to buy their way into a big family, calling on favours from the city in order to gain their family. The youngest child, Steffan, came up to them and started chattering away about a new game he’d made up with his Brother, considerably older at 15, who was already working the fields and leaning towards being recruited into a city job. The elder two daughters were more passive, quietly talking to the adults and shakily engaging in the politics of the city for the first time. Moria was petite, and the children of the village gathered round her as soon as she came in, excited to see her and talk to her about their days. Smiley and willing to listen, she approached each one of them and sat down in a circle, listening to their tall tales of adventure and laughing where she needed to. When they had exhausted all conversation, she got up to walk around the adults, to tell them the news of their child. Her ginger hair was wound up into a bun, so when she walked forward into the sea of people, all Richard could see of her was a small, angelic glow of hair weaving through the crowd. Richard turned away, mingling and chatting to the villagers he had not seen in a while, their pity at the termination of their manifestation turning into a ripple of joy that pervaded through the crowd when they heard the news. Congratulations were passed round, and as the commotion was dying down, the meeting was called to order. Moria was placed on the centre table for the first time in her life, her news important and giving her a boost up the hierarchy of the council, the only pregnant woman in residency for the past 9 years, since Steffan was born. Mr. Elliott, hosting, took the head of the table, his large glasses peering down onto the statistics for the month, delivered by the Company village manager as he came round to do his monthly inspections, creating order and standards that needed to be kept for the good of the country. Greying hair covered Mr. Elliott’s facial expressions from view, his voice expressionless so everything he said was spoken with pure diplomacy, leaving the rest of the group to form opinions in their own time. His wife went round with tea, filling up mugs that had been brought from the closest houses, making do with mismatched sets of cutlery and a shortage of spoons as long as everyone was merry. It was mainly the women of the village situated round the centre table, but they were joined by two of the more successful men, bringing the seating number up to eight. Around the sides, forming a circle to keep them in, stood the rest of the community, around forty people in total, a low hum vibrating around as they were kept waiting by the analytics Mr. Elliott was handed. Speaking up, he told them all about Moria’s news, as if they didn’t already know, and everyone beamed their smiles down towards her, proud at this new event in the community, almost like a fresh start for everyone. Mr. Elliott read out all the other, usual information about the fields, economy and food from all the villages around the city. The aimless minutes of the meeting could not be changed, so there was no point in commenting on it as they all sat silently, listening to the occasion slurp of tea and clink of teaspoons. Mr. Elliott’s voice swallowed up by the densely packed crowd. All was as well as expected, they all knew that money was tight and food was scarce everywhere. If anything the dire news they were hearing was average, if not good news for them. Turning the page, Mr. Elliott read out the more exciting news from the city. Mr. Elliott cleared his throat and his voice got louder to hide the negativity seeping through in his tone of voice, a rare occurrence and one that meant trouble for the future. He told them that the meat sources for the Company were down, the sponsorship program was running dry while the elderly population increased, meaning that the workers were scarce. As a consequence of this, a new election was taking place for Prime Minister in the government. An overhaul meant change, which was never a good thing for someone who was in the process of the sponsorship program. Richard’s hand rested on Moria’s shoulder, providing a source of comfort as he stood stoically behind her, hardly daring to breathe. The risk of Melanie becoming a manifestation again was also now possible, as new laws would be implemented and the retreats would change hands, occasionally making the contracts null and void if they were implemented between specific dates. Everyone seemed to jump to the worst conclusions, the privatisation and exclusivity of the hospitals, the hierarchy becoming even more disparate as people were paid more when higher up the food chain, making the lack of sponsors even worse. The Company was becoming the omniscient creator of both the city and the village, without giving the illusion of the normal life they were so used to leading. Richard shook these thoughts out of his head, suddenly realising how tight his hand was on Moria’s shoulder and releasing his grip just as quickly as the thoughts that flew out of his head. No one had even seen the new candidates yet, and even though they were Company electives, things could stay the same, or even improve. A new election was traditionally a bad thing. The Company had held strong for six years now, but if the head of the Company needed to step down, everyone cautiously admitted that it was always for a good reason. Every time someone steps down, improvements are made, and there’s always hope for better…Mr. Elliott carried on once the crowd had died down with their amalgamation of affirmations, telling everyone that they would soon be presented with three new candidates to vote for, one of whom was to take the place of the old Prime Minister. People let out extreme exhalations from breaths they didn’t realise they were holding, and the atmosphere in the room released all the tension and fatigue that had dominated the atmosphere. The remaining thought that plagued Richard was the risk of Melanie being a manifestation again, the possibility paramount as new laws would be implemented and the retreats would change in control. The hubbub ceased and the tension left everyone as Moria raised her voice above the crowd, barely visible as swamped by the chair and the table she was wedged between. People still turned to face her as she rubbed her stomach, speaking softly again so people had to be hushed around the room in order to fully hear what she had to say.

‘There’s a new baby on the way, a girl,’ she started, focusing back onto better things. ‘Robin is almost ready to take on the farm, and maybe get a job to provide us with more money, and who knows, maybe things will change so some of us get promoted with this election…’ She trailed off, gathering her thoughts back to the present. ‘All they know at the present time is that things will change in the future.They don’t know when this will be, they have nothing to prepare for and no knowledge to go on. All they know is that positive changes are soon happening to us, in this village, with a timeframe and a high chance of success. All they need to do is focus on the statistics they have in front of us, have a good month, be happy, and this will all be available for us to worry about next month. Then they can make preparations, call the other villages, and we’ll know more and can do more about it. they do not know what the future holds, apart from new life and new workers. That is all that matters right now, and they are still all together, right?’ Her speech ended. they stood still until a low murmuring broke from the back of the room, the anger and the terror turning into frightened, pensive hope, a happiness in the short term. The tea rounds started up again, cups refilling and warm glugs of liquid filling the council with happiness. The tension dissipated into regular chatter, everything was normal again. Richard bent down and tapped Moria on the shoulder.

‘Time to go,he think, it’s been a long meeting and they need our sleep.’ Moria nodded in agreement, biting her lip worriedly before pushing on the table to scoot her chair back, taking Richard’s hand and saying goodbye to the children, nods of farewell from the rest of the people, knowing that they’ll see each other in a few hours at work anyway.

A few more weeks passed in comfort, until the time was upon them to go back to the city for the first prenatal checkup at fourteen weeks of pregnancy. The drive up to the city was relatively quiet, an auspicious silence highlighting the nervous anticipation of the couple. Coming into the clean, white hospital after parking their car in the near-empty lot, they clattered across the reception area, clean, white slate covering most surfaces. Holding hands in Richard’s coat pocket, the sweat of their nervous palms oozed together, forming a hot circle around their hands. Their names were already highlighted on the computer, and they were ushered into a back room on the first floor, walking for minutes down a long corridor with the occasional nurse walking to and fro, each room closed save for when people went in or out, allowing Moria and Richard to see inside to the pre-natal testing areas. Palmed off onto a frail old nurse, Richard was taken to the testing area to wait for Moria, who was given a small plastic cup to pee in, a urine sample necessary at the beginning of each check for high blood pressure and gestational diabetes risks. Due to the amount of money each person paid for a pregnancy, every aspect of risk was examined and checked on each visit. Coming back into the room, Moria timidly handed over the cup, sealed tight with an extremely pale sample of urine, her nervous habit of drinking water excessively getting the better of her on the car journey up here. Richard came up from where he was seated in order to offer support but suddenly Moria felt crowded by him, all the caring and the continuous presence getting too much for her as she only needed the support of the nurse at the present moment. She shied away from him, shoulder turning towards the nurse as he approached. He took the cue, going to sit back down, deflated and annoyed as he was only concerned about Melanie’s wellbeing. The stressful circumstances and nerves wouldn’t do her any good. The frail nurse instructed Moria to sit down on the bed beside Richard, with the nurse taking her own prim seat next to her computer, sticking various instruments into the sample to check for any anomalies. The back of her head was turned to face Moria, who closely examined the neat coil of hair seemingly stuck to the back of the nurse’s head, silver and grey flecks creating a salt and pepper effect all around the bun. Her plain, blue outfit was lined with stark white hems, newly pressed and inspiringly clean. Coming back up to the bed again after taking off her white plastic gloves with a satisfying snap, she asked Moria to offer up her arm for a blood sample, testing Moria for diseases, conditions, and immunities that could affect her pregnancy and delivery. She screwed up her eyes and looked away as the needle was inserted into the crook of her elbow, sucking up the blood to be sent off to the laboratory. Her small hands balled into fists as the nurse had to make a second attempt, missing the vein the first time and bringing about a sharp pain. Finally, the blood was taken and the intense, concentrated heat left her arm. She breathed a sigh of relief before lying down completely, going for the last three tests, noninvasive prenatal test, nuchal translucency, and a quad screen for chromosomal abnormalities which automatically induce a termination of pregnancy.Any baby with a chromosomal abnormality results in termination due to their inability to work within agriculture or industry when adults. While this was rare, the heartbreak was usually too much for couples, knowing that they could not risk another pregnancy or cost of a sponsor. NIPT and quad screen both used the blood sample that was taken, but the NT screening was done by ultrasound, the cool gel liquid squeezed onto Moria’s now exposed stomach, and was rubbed in by the scanning machine, slowly traversing the plane of her belly, the small lump of Melanie’s foetus showing up on the screen. Moria’s hand reached out the same time as Richard’s, finding each other quickly to hold on tight, the first sign of their fit and healthy baby on the screen. Their smiles grew and tears broke loose. Everything would be okay.

Pictures of the first scan were framed and placed in the Adam’s house, the envelope crumpled up from where Moria held on to it so tight the whole way home. Her thumb caressed the brown paper so hard, until Richard leant over his seat to grab her hand, calming her down and bringing her attention to the small crease she had made with her travels. When they were home, they re-opened the envelope and lay the scans on the table, each three of the pictures showing the different positions of the wriggling child, a small, white blob against the black surface behind. Despite this, there was something inherently human about it that confirmed that something real was actually happening to them. They hung up the pictures, one in the kitchen, one in a frame by their bed, and one in the bay window, for all the others to see how blessed their village was to become. After dinner the night fell fast, sun sinking over the apple trees that lined the fields. The steady glow of the sunset through their windows faded into a dull blue, no longer giving the impression of warmth in their house. They carried one another up the stairs, collapsing onto one another’s shoulders and subsequently onto the bed, full from their meal and exhausted by the emotions the doctor’s appointment had given them. Worn out, they barely had the energy to change into pyjamas and burrow under the covers before they were both fast asleep.

From that point onwards, Moria’s abdomen continued to grow, Richard worked hard every day in the fields, and the village was calm, each one of them collapsing on their beds at the end of a long day and sleeping soundly until the sun rose in the morning. Groggily, a few hours after they had fallen asleep from a long and tiresome day, the urge to pee took Moria by surprise, the pressure on her bladder too much to bear as she jumped out of bed as fast as she could, which really meant climbing down slowly, every moment suddenly more effort than normal, and made her way hurriedly towards the bathroom, waddling every step of the way. Although the urge was still present, she managed to sit down and pee, sated for now, and suddenly awake. Clambering back into bed, she tried to fall back to sleep for a few minutes before slowly nudging Richard awake, using her nose to burrow into his neck, whispering for him to wake up so quietly the syllables were lost in the air, only perceived as vibrations and warm minty breath, gently blowing across Richard’s face. He smiled in his sleep, laughter lines prominent as he slowly opened his eyes. This was their morning routine, and yet he was confused when he looked around the room and the night was still present, no familiar golden glow shining onto their bedsheets.

Is everything okay?’ he asked, hand going to her stomach and eyes meeting her face, reading her for signs of struggle. hSe flopped back from her position on her side, the hand that was propping up her face falling down to the duvet again, looking up towards the empty black of the ceiling.

‘I can’t sleep…baby kept him up…’ she sighed and looked back to Richard as he wriggled in closer, fitting his body around hers.

‘You know this is going to happen more often right? This new adventure is going to be a lot harder than anything else we’ve done before. they can’t complain about being kept up now, if it’s just going to get one hundred times worse later, y’know?’ He talked under his breath, soft and soothing in the quiet of the night.

‘We? It’s only him that’s being kept up at the moment! I’m the one in pain,’ she huffed, turning her head away and pulling out her bottom lip into a pout. Richard muttered a sweet sorry into her hair, pulling her close once more.‘Besides, what if she’s a perfect sleeper?’ Moria’s smile was creeping up her face to replace the frown ‘They can have all the sleep they want and a bundle of energy in the morning, crawling around, falling asleep in our arms, running around in the fields as she grows among all of our friends. She’ll be doted on, she’ll have such a charmed life.’

‘All of the adults will want to take turns with her, we’ll be able to get our sleep even if she’s noisy. and he can teach her about the animals, you can teach her to cook and read…remember what happened with Steffan?’ Richard chuckled away. ‘He was spoiled rotten, even now he gets all the attention he wants.’

‘I think because of the way, y’know, the way that they treat the kids and the way they band together…I think that’s why we’re happy, even without luxury. they talk to each other, y’know? No one is lonely. he just pity everyone in the city…thinking about Charlie really breaks his heart…’

Richard interrupted her with a ‘Shh’, a hush that drowned out her speech. ‘This is the way our world has to work, they have to live, darling. they can’t just let everyone starve for the sake of a big population…a few days for the joy of the many and all that…’

The uneasiness of their discussion broke their rest, both of them lying awake together, playing with each other’s hands and comforting one another in silence, finally falling back to sleep just before the sun rose up over the horizon.

The village carried on as normal until news came about the elections that were soon to take place over in the city, the three candidates were finally released to the public and yet another meeting was called, The impromptu nature of the announcement made the house of Mr. and Mrs. Elliott the biggest and most hospitable in the shortest space of time, the go to place, a congregation of people walking down the road candles lit to light their way in the darkness like a procession for the death of a loved one. Three photos lay out on the table in front of them as they walked in, people gathering round to read the manifestos before forming gaggles of opinions, banding together to discuss their votes, the pros and cons of the people and the election in general. Mr. Elliott headed the meeting once more, calling the house into silence as he took the head of the table. Two brothers, Edward and David Schmeising, both important members of the Company but widely known for their humanitarian work, were running against each other and Martin Strachan, the vice-present of the Company and entirely focused on feeding the people of the city, with little regard for anything else. As the primary problem, most hungry people will vote for him, which meant he already had the vote of everyone in the city. The manifestos were released but little detail was actually included, access to the in depth policies classified in the present moment. Everything else that they had heard was based on rumours and intel from the city, so the truth of each candidate was shrouded in mystery.

The policy was in place to protect the Company, and the three different directions they were willing to take in the next few years were to be kept secret in case they needed to be implemented, or used when another candidates idea failed. The two-round system that they used elects a single winner where the normal folk casts a single vote for their chosen candidate out of the three, just crossing the name they want to win. However, in the case of this election, Martin did not receive the absolute majority, the vote split more than evenly between Martin, Edward and David. Due to David’s smaller amount of votes he was knocked out, and a week later, the community was notified that they had to vote again, a hoard of people from every village cramming themselves onto the tube in order to rush to the voting station, ready to get back to the land so they can continue their daily duties. All but the two candidates receiving the most votes, Edward and Martin, go through to the next round, and because there are only two candidates, one candidate will achieve an absolute majority. In the second round each voter is entirely free to change the candidate he votes for, even if his preferred candidate has not yet been eliminated but he has merely changed his mind. It’s a system that seems to work and has been implemented from the beginning, the three people, occasionally stretching to four if the Company can’t decide, picked from the higher up members of the community. So, as they went to vote a second time, Mr. Elliott called yet another meeting, and the news was announced that Martin Strachan was the winner of the vote, his duties as Prime Minister starting at the beginning of next month. They weren’t able to watch the speech as it happened, but the transcript was in the paper, which was subsequently delivered to the village, one that was read out in a loud mumble by Mr Elliott, who tripped over his words as he read out the announcement:

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