Chapter 3: Tanisha's Friend

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Review Chain

Reads: 16
Comments: 1

"No pets." That was the rule for show and tell, but the rainbow-backed beetle wasn't like an ordinary pet. She was in a jar. Harmless. Tanisha was nervous about breaking the rules, but she kept thinking about how impressed the other kids would be when they saw what a big beetle she'd found.
 
Walking to school early was a must. She knew better than to take her new friend where people might ask questions.
 
It had been unusually hard to identify the beetle. Especially for one so large. Somehow it was a species she'd never seen before. She could tell the genus, which told her a little about the bug. But the specific species wasn’t in any of the local references. Lately that’d been happening more and more often.
 
Ms. Madeline said it was climate adjustments, animals migrating from deeper below the surface.
 
The rainbow beetle was probably tropical. It must have spent years as fat pale larva eating gorging itself on roots and tubers. Then, when the weather was just right, it would pupate. It was striking! Two bright yellow legs in front, four dull red legs in back. The rest of the beetle was powder blue and a carapace like oil slick in a puddle. A distant rainbow on a pale blue surface. The undergrounds had an abundance of all kinds of nature, but rarely ever rainbows. Proper rains and mists were kept to a minimum by the weather systems, and the soil was moistened through a network of aging watering tubes. Big beetles like this normally only lived for a few months as adults...
 
Years underground.
 
In a way Tanisha thought, I live like a pupa too. They all did. Waiting for dad to come back. Waiting to be big enough to do something about why he was gone. Waiting and waiting. Only Ms. Madeline seemed to understand that she just couldn’t wait! Not underground forever. Not after what Kenya, her older sister, had shown her in the files about dad.
 
Level 4 was the highest subsurface level of the city, sculpted from bedrock reinforced with soaring titanium struts that glowed faintly at night with the power of active support.
 
On the surface you didn't see glowing support struts at night, you saw the stars.
 
There was some argument about if Deep Brooklyn really was a part of "level 4" some people especially real-estate developers tried to say it was "more like level 3."
 
There were after, all, only two levels above. But, since the great caves of earth started as tunnels it was never that straight forward. Deep Brooklyn was surrounded on both sides by areas that were solidly "level 4" there was just a bit less above making a trip to the surface on the verticals a bit quicker.
 
Tanisha suspected that it was all just about selling apartments, though. To her this would always be "level 4" and that was nothing to be ashamed of!
 
Earth-level caverns were large enough to have their own biologies. About half of the light came from sun tunnels to the surface, and the great lamps, massive blinding fusion powered fireballs ... but most importantly UV light ... which kept the plants and animals alive.
 
The surface was more prestigious...wealthier... but also dead, full of eccentrics.
 
Or at least that's what everyone kept telling Tanisha. The surface was no good. Just a bunch of rich assholes. It was better down here.
 
But, if that were true, Tanisha thought, why did everyone with the means to leave, leave? Why were all of the television programs set on the surface or at least level 1? Why did all of the news come from there?
 
She couldn't shake the feeling that people were trying to keep something from her. Underestimating her.
 
She looked at the rainbow beetle scrabbling it's bright yellow front legs on the smooth side of the glass jar, it's iridescent carapace shimmering in the soft morning light from the great lamps.
 
She gently tapped the glass and the beetle startled; tried to open its wings. They were folded in a complex organic pattern and it was clear they were much too big for the beetle to open in the jar... the wings were even more beautiful than the carapace. Transparent, filigreed with patterns that seemed to be more complex the closer you looked at them. The delicate patterns astonished her, but also set off a sense of unease...
 
Could this be an engineered creature? It was almost too beautiful to be an accident of nature. But, who would engineer a beetle? It seemed almost frivolous to spend precious lab time on an animal with no obvious purpose.
 
Tanisha knew beetles could fly but just assumed that the rainbow beetle, which was the size and weight of a small apple cut in half couldn't. It was just too large. If it did fly at all surly all it did was glide a bit leaping in a clumsy way from one branch to another.
 
But those wings told a different story.
 
Looking more closely she could see the insects' dark compound eyes. She wondered if the beetle could see her. She wondered if it remembered being a fat grub living a life hidden from the surface, from the light. The beetle seemed to regard her, grew calm and folded it's great wings.
 
"That's why you're so worried to escape." she said to the beetle. It must feel awful to spend years preparing to fly only to be trapped in a jar.
 
Tanisha resolved to let her pet go at the end of the day. She didn't like the desperate way the animal struggled to climb the glass.
 
But she just had to show it to her classmates. She had to show it to the science teacher, who might even be impressed!
 
On the surface earth was heat-scorched red deserts in some places and too cold in others. Underground the seasons were mild, the climate controlled (there had been a ballot measure to institute winter snow on level 4 some years ago that failed no one wanted the diplomatic fallout from shunting heat to another region) But, on the surface there were the buildings of the old cities. The ruins. The romance of an earth long gone. The people of the surface were satisfied with just the ground under their feet. And there were the spaceports. Surface life had a kind of prestige. It might be barren deserts but they were *real* barren deserts not much different than images from the ancient video files before the great catastrophe.
 
Sub-surface was managed, redolent with lush greenery and engineered plants and yet. For all the control humanity had gained over the planet there were still trends beyond human control. There were still migrations.
 
Tanisha covered the jar with her jacket and walked up the front steps of the red brick school building.
 
"What's that!" a harsh taunting voice. It was Cricket. A tall girl with the kind of mother who let her wear lipgloss. Cricket was in 6th grade and somehow kept track of all of the unpopular kids in all the grades below she was a meta-bully, a bully that stretched across multiple age groups. And worst of all none of the teachers seemed to recognize what she and her little pack of followers were doing. Cricket also kept track of all of the popular kids in each grade bringing them under her wing. Giving them lipgloss and space-out tabs. Enforcing a dress code of sorts. Tanisha thought of them as a gang. A kind of girly crime syndicate fueled by contraband makeup and e-pipes.
 
Cricket and her followers carried purses, not backpacks and they didn't buy their school uniforms at the school store, but instead went two levels down to the tunnels of the 6 fashion district where you could have a robot sew a passible approximation from much more interesting fabric. To stay in line with the dress code the outer layer was the usual pale yellow and brown colors with school logos... but on the inside they were lined with glittering video fabrics and heat changing arachnosilks.
 
When Tanisha explained that arachnosilk came from spiders, but worse was cruel (they milked the spiders by pinning them to boards, then stimulating their spinnerets often killing them) Cricket revealed that hilariously (for someone with such a name) she was terrified of bugs. It was one of Tanisha's better moments. Cricket squealed and screeched like her own skirt was attacking her.
 
In a just world this would have brought her down a peg. But somehow it was Tanisha who ended up being teased for it. People kept yelling "save the bugs! it's the bug girl!" Tanisha didn't really mind being called "bug girl" after all it was accurate.
 
There was no use hiding it, Tanisha thought. She took the large jar out from under her coat.
 
Cricket, without thinking snatched the jar.
 
This surprised Tanisha, she thought the older girl would just squeal and scream at the bug and let her pass, but it then occurred to her that space-out tabs for e-pipes were generally stored in such jars.
 
"This is just full of leaves!" Cricket said pouting. Then she noticed the bug.
 
Tanisha rushed forward grabbing for the jar. It was clear that Cricket was going to drop it in her panic.
 
the jar might survive, but for such a large insect even a small fall could be deadly.
 
Cricket's flunkies thought Tanisha was just attacking and grabbed her.
 
Tears welled up in her eyes as she screamed "DON'T DROP IT"
 
Cricket was startled. Clearly unnerved by Tanisha's reaction as much as the large insect she found herself holding she steadied herself. Somehow she didn't drop it. Then, quickly regaining her cool she quickly set the jar on the ground. And took two large steps back.
 
"I thought you had something good for once," Cricket said.
 
Tanisha was let go. But now her shirt was rumpled and the tears just wouldn't stop.
"I thought you were going to kill her" she half sobbed half screamed hating how she couldn't control her emotion.
 
"HER? What does it have a name?"
"Looks like Tanisha finally found a friend"
"Bug girl!"
 
Tanisha wanted to respond, say something mean and witty to make them all shut up. But she just couldn't stop crying.
 
Cricket looked a little concerned.
"You guys she really isn't OK. We better stop."
But then Cricket snickered, draining all of the niceness from the statement. The worst thing about bullies like Cricket is they know exactly what to do NEVER to get in any trouble.
 
"Come on, you have your 'friend' back. Don't be such a baby about this." Cricket said feigning reasonableness again.
 
Tanisha gingerly picked up the jar. Her hands were shaking. The rainbow beetle seemed to be just fine. It had tucked itself under a leaf.
 
The bell was ringing. But Tanisha didn't want to go inside. She didn't want to come to class with tears all over her face so she sat on the school's front steps with the jar on her lap and her arms hugging it tightly to her chest. As the happy chatty students streamed by she looked up at the roof of the world and thought about her dad locked up in some dark place who knew how many levels down. She thought about her beetle and wondered if either of them would ever have the chance to fly.

 



Submitted: October 17, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Susan Donovan. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Jake J. Harrison

Hi Susan, I found this chapter flowed better than the first one. You seemed more comfortable writing from Tanisha's viewpoint. She's also a more sketched out character. We can start to relate to her - bug girl, bullied, etc. She also has a unique way of looking and describing the world.

The beetle is a nice thread to add and piques my interest. I want to know more about this exotic colored bug that is able to survive underground. So, once again the chapter started out strong and then sort of petered out at the end. The stakes weren't all that high and not much happened. Cricket called her a few names and looked at her beetle. Is there a reason for the scene with Cricket to happen? At this point, we don't know much about the bug. Is it important? Does it really matter if Cricket drops it and kills it? Is it just a beetle? I think you need to raise the stakes a bit more before the reader will really care about its fate.

I was hoping she would show the beetle to her teacher and this would lead to a discovery about its origins. Something mysterious that leads us deeper into the story. I'd pick up the pace a bit and make sure that every interaction and description serves to move the story forward. Description is great, but only if it has a reason.

You have a neat world you are building and there are some great elements here. I think with a bit of work you can make this into a fantastic story.

I hope these comments have helped. Feel free to message me with any questions.

- Jake

Tue, November 10th, 2020 3:07am

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