I MET Vidal on the first day he set foot on the surface of the planet. We talk about the war as if it’s this one thing that everyone experienced the same way, but that’s not exactly right. Everyone has their own beginning, and for me it all started with him.
It was hot as hell that day, and I was already worn out from the morning’s work. I lay down among the flower beds I’d been tending and tried to keep myself from dozing off. At the time I couldn’t understand why Dr. Niels bothered with the flowers. They weren’t like his adapted wheat and corn, which is what made him his fortune. They didn’t do anything. But he was meticulous about them, just like he was meticulous about everything, and it was my job to look after them.
I heard someone calling my name.
It was Adam. I lay still, hoping he’d just stumble past me. His anger would burn itself out after a while—or if it didn’t, he’d give up looking for me and take it out on somebody else. “Where the hell did you get off to?”
He came crashing through the bushes separating one garden from the next, almost falling on top of me. “There you are! Did you not hear me shouting for you?”
I stood up quickly. I wanted to be on my feet if he went to grab me. “Yeah, I heard you. You’re a bit hard to miss.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he said.
“What do you think?”
All right, it wasn’t the smartest thing to say, but I was getting fed up with him. And I wasn’t small anymore. If he wanted to give me a beating, he could expect to get a few bruises of his own in return.
He must have been more drunk than I’d thought, because he just scowled and tried to give me a halfhearted cuff. “Don’t talk back to me. And next time I call you, you’d better bloody well come. You hear me?” As always he didn’t bother waiting for me to say anything. He was one of those people who got the last word in by barreling ahead before you could reply. “The master’s looking for you. He’s got some job he wants doing.”
“What is it?”
“Why, are you getting choosy about the work you’ll do?” he said. He was one to talk, seeing as how I was doing most of his jobs as well as my own. “He asked for you in particular. Just go out to the back of the house; that’s all I was told.”
So much for my break. Adam turned around and made his unsteady way to our dingy little cabin at the back of the gardens. It was where I had lived since arriving on Castor. I couldn’t remember a single evening when I looked forward to going back to it.
COMING OUT of the gardens was a bit like stepping into another world. They were right in the middle of Scarborough plantation, just a stone’s throw from Dr. Niels’s house, but even so it felt like they were removed from the rest of it. I unlocked the gate and walked out into the main yard.
It was busier than usual. A couple of the house servants scurried past me, looking stuffy and uncomfortable in their starched uniforms. They were weighed down by heavy suitcases and bags. Someone was visiting, then. Or maybe a few somebodies, by the look of it. I wanted to stop them and ask what was going on, but they were in too much of a hurry and probably wouldn’t have told me much anyway. They hated anybody who worked outside the house, even though we were Half-Adapts just like them, and we hated them right back.
I stopped halfway across the yard and looked up at the roof of the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of my friend Femi. He’d been assigned to a work gang that was patching up the roofs of the house and some of the old barns. There was no sign of him, though, so he must have been taking a break somewhere.
The house was old. It could look decrepit sometimes, all gray stone and deep, brooding windows, but when the light hit it in just the right way, it had a kind of grandness about it that I always liked. It wasn’t ever a welcoming place, but then it wasn’t supposed to be. Not for me, anyway.
The servants’ entrance was at the back of the house, which was also where all of the deliveries were made. I figured there had been a new shipment of something that needed carrying into the gardens, but there were no boxes or crates waiting for me when I got there—just Dr. Niels, looking displeased behind the clear plastic of his breather.
“You took your time,” he said. He was a tall man, and dour as well, which made a lot of people afraid of him. Not me, though. You always knew where you stood with him. He wasn’t like a lot of the overseers, who’d make you practically grovel in front of them if you pissed them off. If he was going to punish you, he’d do it, and if he didn’t do it straight away, then you had nothing to worry about.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. That was another thing: he didn’t like hearing excuses.
He grunted and glanced at his watch. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but my nephew has arrived from Pollux. It’s an unexpected visit, otherwise I would have had his rooms prepared for him. As it stands, things are… chaotic.”
I was so taken aback that I stared at him a bit more openly than was proper. In the eight years I’d been at the plantation, he had never once mentioned his family—and neither had anybody else.
“He’s requested a tour of the orchard. I’d show him around myself, but I have other guests arriving. You’ll have to do.” My stomach dropped. Showing some idiot from Pollux around the orchard so he could gawk at all the trees sounded like torture.
“Sir… I’ve got a lot of work to do already,” I said, which was about as close as I’d ever come to defying him.
“I’m sure Adam will survive for an hour or two without you.”
I said nothing. He wasn’t looking for a reply. I had my orders, so that was that.