After they left the Civic centre they shared a car home and sat in Kiri’s apartment talking for a few hours. Mark talked about being a major and she felt him loosen up with her. He was clearly still upset about Liam and spoke about how hard it had been for him to see friends enter the unwinding.
The more they talked, the closer they became and Kiri was starting to imagine he might even stay the night at hers when abruptly Mark stood up and said he had to go home to sleep. Kiri tried to dissuade him but she barely had time to say ‘goodnight’ before he had given her a peck on the cheek and shot out the door and across the corridor.
She wasn’t sure why but she couldn’t help feeling his exit was a disappointment. Was she crazy to think there might be something between them? No sooner had the thought entered her head than she felt annoyed with herself. What was she doing, she only just met him.
She had barely got used to the changes her body had gone through in the last few years of middle-ager school. She had learnt about it all since she was a junior but as it happened and her body became that of an adult it had felt so unreal. Now that she was a major she felt like she still hadn’t had enough time for it all to sink in.
She knew she was meant to feel free at this age but somehow she couldn’t escape the feeling that she was under more pressure than ever. Angrily, she flicked the remote at the vid screen. Searching through menu after menu of clips she couldn’t decide on anything. Every clip she looked at she had either already seen or didn’t want to watch. In the end, she settled on an old Adils clip from the archive.
The Adils were a fictional series from the vid libraries. It was most popular with youngsters up to about 14 but Kiri felt like slobbing and besides sometimes majors watched them too. There were literally billions of clips; the entire collection of Adils vids was one of the biggest in all the online libraries.
There were videos of the Adils doing just about everything normal people did – Adils playing sport, Adils having a meal, Adils having a party, Adils studying. Some of the clips were funny, some sad, others that were just plain weird and made no sense at all. The most popular clips though were the fantasy ones. Clips of things that could never happen –Adils driving cars by themselves with strange controls called steering wheels or Adils flying in space, Adils growing food out of the ground and even Adils killing each other.
As soon as an Adil vid was on the screen you could instantly recognise it from the style of the film and of course from the way the Adils looked. Mostly they looked like normal people but there was always some element that gave them away, something gross about them. They might be fat or hairy or sometimes, if it was a male Adil, they might have no hair on the top of their head but extra hair on their face, which looked the most ridiculous.
Most people went through a phase of being into these clips about the age of 11, when they became a middle-ager, and there were normally a few different Adil series trending at any one time.
Apart from the gross way they looked the most fascinating thing about the Adils was of course their age. They were like regular people but instead of unwinding at a normal age they would carry on living. Most of the series had a mix of Adils, some in their twenties, some in their fifties, some even in their nineties or over a hundred.
The really old Adils made Kiri laugh the most because they seemed so human and actually acted like pre-schoolers the most out of any of the Adils. Sometimes, in some of the sad series, an Adil would die or if it was an action film then lots of Adils might be killed in one go by aliens or zombies but always there one or two that survived at the end and went on to live forever.
That’s what made the shows so addictive. It was pure fantasy. The sort of thing you grew out of by the time you became a major, the sort of thing that would end up driving you mad if you thought about it too much.
The clip Kiri was watching was a romance about a guy Adil, called Brad, and a girl Adil, called Amy. They wanted to be together but everyone else in the vid wanted to keep them apart. It was a pretty standard plot in Adil vids and Kiri opened a juice and settled back to watch.
There were some bits that made Kiri laugh but mostly it just confused her. As with all the Adil vids she had a sneaking suspicion that she was missing something important. For instance, why did all the other Adils in the vid care what this girl and boy did or didn’t do? Some of the other Adils even warned them both about the dangers of getting pregnant. Why did they speak as if having children was bad? It didn’t make any sense.
The Adils in this film were organised in groups known as families, a common occurrence in a lot of Adil vids, and the two different families kept on arguing. It always fascinated Kiri when she watched a vid about families cause they were just so weird, so unnatural. Just thinking about it made her head spin.
A family could have lots of different members but most often included two characters called a mother and father who jointly owned a number of children. Rather than just getting together for an hour or so as parents did in real life the parents in Adil vids would sometimes stay together for years. Kiri remembered seeing a vid where there was a couple who had stayed together for sixty years – over three lifetimes.
What was worse, parents in these families actually looked after their own children, teaching them, feeding them, even cleaning them. Who came up with this stuff? There were no civic systems in the Adil universe. It didn’t seem natural that children should grow up with their own biological parents in one house.
Frankly some of the stuff like that in the Adil videos was odd to watch but even when it was repulsive but there was always something that sucked Kiri in and kept her watching. Even though they shouted at each other they always seemed to be ok in the end.
The vid ended and Kiri curled up on the sofa. The sofa was huge, more than long enough for her to lie out on but she felt safer somehow curled into a ball. Outside the last rays of sunlight were disappearing and she could see lights turning on in the windows of other apartments. A collage of white glowing squares stretched all the way out to the edge of the city. She picked up the phone and dialled Ben’s number.
‘Hi Ben, how are you?’
Ben’s face appeared in giant proportions on the wall screen.
‘I’m good,’ Ben coughed. ‘Good as ever’
‘I miss you,’ Kiri leaned closer to Ben’s giant features as if she might be able to touch him.
‘I saw you yesterday. I’ve had my dose of Kiri for another year or two,’ Ben joked.
‘Funny! Well I need a dose of Ben before then. What are you doing tomorrow?’
‘I suppose I can fit in a little Kiri time. You can fill me in on the gossip with your natty neighbour.’
Kiri laughed, Ben had such a strange way with words sometime. ‘Natty?’
‘I’ve been watching some archive vids. It means handsome. I think.’
‘Well I don’t know. He just left actually. We’ve been checking out some archives of our own.’
Ben’s eyebrows arched.
‘Oh really! You will have to tell me all.’
‘I will. Come round here tomorrow then. About 1?’
‘1 is perfect.’
Kiri hung up the connection feeling a lot better. However confusing, or harsh or short and pointless life seemed Ben always made her feel balanced, her keel to stop from capsizing.
It wasn’t until 2pm that Ben finally arrived the next day and Kiri was still in bed. After speaking to him the night before she had started doing some more research on GAAPs.
She quickly found that there was an unbelievable amount of information online about the syndrome but the more she read the less she grasped. Kiri had always believed that once you understood the maths you could understand any theory but as she read on late into the night, again and again the numbers didn’t add up and she felt herself distrusting what she read.
Kiri woke to find Ben standing over her with a cup of coffee.
‘I thought I got up late,’ he grinned. ‘but you’re even lazier than me.’
‘I was working late,’ Kiri groaned, lifting herself from the pillows.
‘Working?’ Ben said ironically.
‘Yes well reading something.’
‘You should be out enjoying yourself not doing boring study.’ Ben said shuffling onto the end of the bed. ‘You should be out there letting some nasty boy get you pregnant.’
Kiri hurled a pillow at Ben, making him spill a little of his coffee. Delicately Ben put the coffee on the nearby chest of drawers.
‘You’re waiting for a nice boy like me? Is that it?’ Ben pretended to unbutton the top of his shirt.
‘Stop it,’ Kiri shouted, totally awake now. ‘You know I’m mixed up about all that.’
Giggling Ben grabbed Kiri’s feet under the duvet and pulled her towards the end of the bed trying to tickle her.
‘Stop it. Stop it,’ Kiri squealed, succumbing to the tickles. ‘Let me sleep. What are you doing here already?’
‘Already?’ Ben stopped and straightened up. ‘Its nearly 3 o’clock my dear Kiri. And you invited me into your… boudoir. If you carry on I don’t think you will get the attention of a nice boy like me.’
Angrily Kiri flounced out bed, a half smile playing on her lips.
‘Well to be honest Ben I don’t think any girl is likely to get your attentions.’
Ben pursed his lips and grinned.
Ben was such a pain but Kiri was glad he was there, the tumbling flood of thoughts that had dragged her off to sleep the night before returned as she remembered the feeling of helplessness she felt when faced with all the data and no idea what it meant.
Pulling on her dressing gown she led the way to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee from the pot Ben had just brewed.
‘How did you get in here anyway?’ Kiri asked, the aroma of the coffee kicking her brain cells back into action.
‘You set your door passcode as the same digits as your old room,’ Ben tutted gently. ‘Not very secure.’
‘Come on let’s sit outside.’
On the balcony a soft breeze drifted in, carrying a scent of the distant treetops. The piney, forest odour gave Kiri an impression of something ancient and as she looked out she had the briefest of sensations that anything was possible. She was growing stronger every day and if she concentrated marvellous things would happen.
‘It doesn’t make sense that we’re here you know,’ Kiri said trying somehow to include Ben in her thoughts.
‘Here? But everyone gets a new apartment when they become a major.’ Ben looked puzzled.
‘Not here in the apartment. Here alive. Alive right now. Do you never feel like there is so much potential? We spend years learning all these things, growing up, becoming stronger and then suddenly there is the unwinding and it’s all over. It doesn’t make sense,’ Kiri was trying to explain the feeling that the forest air had awoken but she could tell Ben was only more confused.
‘I guess, that’s the way the world is,’ Ben shrugged. ‘Would you be any happier if you knew you would live seventy years? Or eighty? We just have to accept the way things are. Make the most of it. Go out have fun, meets some boys, you’re a major now.’
‘No Ben, I’m serious. What if there is something hidden from us, hidden from all of us. What if its not natural to unwind?’
‘You know this stuff better than me Kir, but there’s no point spending two years worrying about the unwinding when you could be having fun. And anyway someone has to create the next generation.’
‘Yes but does it have to be now? Does it have to be so young?’
‘It was your notes I was cribbing off in class. If being a major is too young to give birth.. well when would anyone be born?’
‘I know. I know all the explanations’ Kiri tried to sound confident but inside she felt in turmoil. ‘But its just...’
‘Sometimes Kir I don’t follow you? What are you suggesting? Someone is behind some big conspiracy?’
‘I don’t know, I’m not saying that but maybe there is something we’re not being told, I don’t know how to explain it but something to do with the GAAPs.’
‘What are you talking about? Not being told? Not being told by who?’
‘I don’t know yet. I need to find out more.’
‘Ok but why? Have you thought of that? Why? Even if there were someone, or a group of people, trying to cover something up, why would they bother? What would they get out of it? Suppose there are GAAPs that survive the unwinding, why on earth would anyone want to hide something like that?’
Kiri stared out across the rooftops in silence. She had to admit Ben had a point. There was absolutely no reason anyone would want to keep that sort of news secret. No reason that she could think of at least.
’Come on, lets go for a walk,” Kiri grabbed Ben’s arm. ‘I’ll get you a coffee.’