“So,” the Manager said, “I believe we have an appointment.”
Chela smiled, thinly at the Manager. No one knew her name, her real name. It was just The Manager, who had been running the establishment for the last forty years.
And still, she did not look at day older than when she had arrived, sixty years ago. She barely looked older than Chela’s thirty eight years.
“We do,” Chela said, keeping her hands in her lap. Back straight, eyes forward. It had been years of work, not just for her but for all of them. It had taken them almost thirty years to get a plant in the system, and now after ten years of grafting she had managed to get a conversation with the Manager.
She blinked. The contact lense in her eye itched, but it was vital to send the information back to base. Every movement, every feature. Everything was being fed back to the base.
They would finally have a picture of the Manager. They would finally be able to name her.
Out her as the tyrant she was.
“Excellent,” the Manager said, pulling a file across the table, “and you’ve been working here how long?”
“Ten years, ma’am,” Chela said.
“Oh, no need for that,” the Manager said, “call me Susan.”
It took all of Chela’s training not to drop her jaw to the floor. It couldn’t be that easy could it? The Manger wouldn’t give her name out that easy.
But then, Chela thought, perhaps she isn’t the Manager.
There had been rumours of decoys, in the past. But nothing had been proven. Everyone knew the Manager was not one to give up control, not like this.
“Thank you,” Chela said, “Susan.”
The Manager smiled. Chela kept calling her that because there was no way in hell she was giving that monster a name. A name implied humanity, of a chance of redemption.
But the Manager? The person who had killed their planet and plunged them into a hellish decline that only the Manager could save them from?
She didn’t deserve a name.
“So,” the Manager said, “Ralat, is that your name?”
Chela felt the palms of her hands sweat. She glanced to the Manager’s file, within which there was a photo of her as a child.
How the hell did she get that? Chela thought. All images of her as a child were wiped, to allow her to fit into any role, any institution.
Her heart beat wildly in her chest.
“Yes,” she replied.
“But no always?” the Manager said, running her hand down the file, “Chela?”
Chela could feel the panic start to pump through her. Her leg began to bounce rapidly under her hands, heel tapping on the tiled floor. She was even more aware of the cameras now, one in each corner of the room.
Think quick, she thought. She’d been put up for this job because she could react well to things like this.
She could do it.
“Yes,” Chela said, looking at her hands and trying to look like she was ashamed, “but that was not a professional name.”
“No,” the Manager replied simply, “a rebellious name, haunted by the past. Why on earth would your parents give you that name?”
Because they wanted to believe in a better wold, Chela thought.
“I would have loved to know,” Chela laughed, nervously, “but they’re both dead now.”
“Oh,” the Manager said, “sorry to hear that. How?”
You fucking killed them, Chela thought.
“In the droughts,” Chela said, “it was the reason I wanted to come here. To study, to fix the world.”
The Manager smiled.
“How inspiring,” the Manager said. She didn’t sound inspired. She sounded bored.
Chela licked her lips.
“It was why,” she said, wringing her hands, “I was hoping to speak to you today.”
“Oh,” the Manager said, smiling at her. Her teeth glinted in the artificial light, her hair shining unnaturally lustrous. She was the perfect version of a human being, and completely rotten to the core.
She felt the chip in her hip go cold. Her signal that they had checked the data. That this was the Manager.
Still don’t believe that you’re called Susan, Chela thought.
“So,” the Manager said, leaning forward and sliding a small chip across to Chela, “how about we discuss your new promotion?”
“New, promotion?” Chela said, looking down at the disk. It looked like a normal coin, but she stared at it, just for long enough for her contact lense to send the image back to base.
A few second later, another cold buzz came on her hip. Twice.
It was poisoned.
“So,” the Manager said, nodding to it, “are you not going to accept?”
The Manager smiled thinly. Chela felt her palms sweating.
If she didn’t touch it, she would show herself out as a spy.
If she did, she might die.
Chela swallowed, wiping her hand on her skirt. There was only one option, to protect the movement, to protect her position here.
She had to take a chance.
She reached out and grabbed the coin, smiling at the Manager as she did so.
“Yes,” she replied.
Then she blacked out.