The convention is taking place at the center of Hub 901. Being the first hub built in the New Modern era, it is the first to be blessed with the implementation of the latest technology. The stage is brightly lit and glamorously bejeweled; the organizers have succeeded in assaulting the senses of the audience yet like a moth to light, bewitched crowds swarm to the spectacle. These are simpletons, ordinary in intellect, but with heavy diamond-encrusted purses. New modern age dawned on them unexpectedly and has proven to be the most prosperous time for humans ever on earth. These people are in awe of the new world with flying cars and robot attendants and amusement parks on the Moon and renewable energy from Mars. The first intercontinental leisure train, the Mumbai-Madrid express with a journey time of three hours was flagged off yesterday to address the growing need for slower transport. While technology has upscaled to underground cities and self-grooming or self-reliant homes, the poor rich folks are mostly thankful for insulation paints, repelling the intense heat waves, the SPF-1000 sunscreen, and city-wide air conditioning, which though existing twenty years ago, was beyond the means of the people. Now, the scorching summer heat bites them a little less allowing them to relish the joys of summer.
On the stage is the renowned scientist, Dr. Gracy Roy. Her reluctance to participate with the scientific community in an exchange of knowledge and experience has removed her from them. But her brilliance equipped her to work independently of anyone and her lab spews new inventions regularly to the fury of the other scientists who believed in the nurture and progress of all. Dr. Roy believes in herself and finds no value in cooperating with others; they will only slow her down. If the need arises, she will save the world from any calamity that science can solve, and the rest can try to mimic her, but she is not going to teach those lazy, above-average brains. She wishes that they would stop pestering her with requests and questions when she is happy enough to solve the world's issues. But they came to all her conventions which she wanted them to, but she never invited the questions.
Dr. Roy would have loved it if she could do all the work, but the human body disallows that which she hopes to change soon. As of today, she has two secretaries with fancy science degrees to do her paperwork and run errands: Tina and Alex. You will find them backstage peering in as Roy prepares for the big reveal. They understand her as little as the clever scientists in the audience. They smirk at each other while looking at the astonished faces of the audience and secretly prides in their knowledge of the revelation while the rest are clueless about it.
Tina the Reliable says," On my cue. 1…2…3… Open the roof."
As the roof slowly slides open, Dr. Roy reaches the last part of her grand speech, "When I suggested to the governments to open city hubs around the world separated by the wilderness that could drain precious resources in its upkeep, but people were skeptical about this plan…. They feared that the land will be underused and that their revenues would hurt. I mean… the people were crapping in their pants. I was called the crazy bitch, The destroyer. Well… that was long ago. I hardly remember. Do you? " The audience breaks into uncomfortable giggles.
"Let us not dwell in the past. I believed in the maximum use of land, however little there is. With little, you have control over that land and money in your pocket. Insults and aggression did not stop me," Roy smirks at the crowd, "and the same people who threw obstacles in my path, are grateful that I was unmoved. There I go… being sentimental of past injustices of ignorance. Today you know better, I believe."
Alex the Not so Reliable whispers to Tina, "Only Roy can get away with insulting her investors. They are—Why is Roy looking at me? I don't like that look. It's unhinging."
"Like she could rip your throat… you did not lighten the walls, idiot…"
Alex hurries to complete his only task.
"Despite our efforts to not hurt nature and her bounties, we haven't been able to do complete justice to the cause. It is understandable: we inherited a broken world and the sins of our ancestors." A wall of the hall becomes transparent and light floods the room. Unhindered Roy continues, "The scientific community wants to fix the world, I appreciate that but I am all about quick solutions to improve human lives." The second wall loses its opacity.
"Today I unveil Weather Regulation system" Roy looks around for applause to her declaration but the audience was blinded by the sudden light and the slow-burning summer heat. They are in a gigantic glasshouse with no roof.
"Ah, the soaked shirts, blistering skin, and sweat in the air. I will not miss summer. If only it would snow," A few who has by now adapted to the light, look at Dr. Roy warily.
The first snow settles on Tina's shoulder. She smiles and bravely opens her eyes. It is not bright anymore; the sun is in the shadows and the air is cooling. It is yet another winter morning. She puts on a shawl and cap that she had brought due to her insider knowledge. She can hear the chattering teeth and trembling bodies of the people. They don't have to bear for too long, Roy plans to go through all the seasons; the downpour will be harsh. She had asked Roy to close the roof before the downpour but her concerns were rebuked. Roy wants them to be drenched. It will be an unappreciated prank.
Shouldn't it be fall already, Tina wonders. Tina looks at Roy: she does not look like she is enjoying. Roy's face is at its grimmest and harsh lines could be seen from where she stands. Tina's brains are going overdrive: did she miss a command, did Roy, not like her cap, did she do something stupid. Roy hates stupidity. Lucky for her, Roy was in no state to reprimand her, for Roy has fallen on the stage clutching her chest.
Tina runs to Roy while screaming orders to call the medics. The people were distracted by the unexpected winter to notice the fallen scientist.
"She is dead…," Tina tells Alex who had followed her, "I can't feel a pulse."
Tina and Alex sat in the hospital cafeteria. The doctors have ruled out foul play in Roy's death. They are relieved that doctors came to this inference because the security forces gave them dark looks.
"Roy died of a heart attack. It is difficult to digest. I thought she would live forever. I know that she did some initial research which was successful but she said anti-aging and life-prolonging sciences were for pussies and that any below-par scientist could solve the problem. She had bigger problems to solve…"
"I am internally rejoicing her death while putting on a sad face," Alex said with a straight face.
"Alex…" Tina whispered loudly and then in a sensible room voice she continues," Don't say that aloud. I don't want any more funny looks."
"We are getting funny looks because you can't hide your joy."
"Oh my!" Tina pulls the skin off her face hoping to mold them like clay into a sad face.
Alex takes her hands to prevent her from tearing her face, "I can teach you to be two-faced. That is my area of expertise. We have to fast-track the lessons. Think of something sad. Like when Roy called you a buffoon or when Roy broke your favorite cup. You cried both times. I am thinking of the time when Roy told my Dad at his anniversary party that I was working for her only because of his money, "He bites into his apple, "Hey, you look sad. See, it works every time."
"They want to talk to us in an hour. Why not tomorrow? I am tired and it's late. What more can we add?"
"I am looking forward to resigning and I want the institute heads ASAP if I could get out of this place a second sooner. Don't look at me like that. I worked under her only because my Dad wanted me in Roy's proximity for his business interests. I don't need the salary. I have rich parents," Alex said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Tina knows she did not have wealthy parents but unpaid college loans and mortgages. She will hang in a little longer.
"To think Roy never ate any greasy food and is dead because of a heart attack. That's serene," Tina stares at gabbing colleague who has no knack for switching conversation lanes. Undeterred, Alex continues, "I never saw her eat a thing in my four years."
"Me neither. A good reason to wind up dead," said Tina.
"Tina, I am sorry about your boss. Clever one. A huge loss to New Earth," said the institute head Dr. Reese. His companion, who had introduced as Captain Malcolm, motions to Reese to speed up.
Alarmed, Tina interjects, "You want me to leave the lab… I am sure I can work for the next person who takes over Dr. Roy's lab. I worked with Dr. Roy for almost five years that is the longest anyone has been with her. I am an asset to the institute—"
"We don't want your job. We want you to do your job," said the Captain. "In case you haven't noticed, it is still snowing. We want you to stop it."
"Oh, oh…I don't think I can do that," said Tina
"What do you mean that? You are overqualified and assistant to Dr. Roy. You must know the off button." The Captain is losing his composure.
"She means just what she said. She has no clue about Roy's work because Roy is… was a crazy bitch and this girl and the Alex fellow are glorified paper pushers. No offense to you, Tina," said Reese directing the last words to Tina, "Just like I said. I have asked experts in climatology and space studies and whatnot to review all the data generated in Roy's lab."
"You did not clear that with the security forces?"
"Roy worked for me and it is my ass on the line so, I did what I had to do," screamed Reese. Tina quietly watches as the noses of the Head and the Captain almost met.
Surprisingly, it is the Captain who backs away. "Alright, alright…anything that I can tell my superiors came out of this act of insubordination."
Reese folds his arms, "No, but it has only been a few hours. They might—might it is, okay, I think they might come up with something with time. Roy likes to complicate her work unnecessarily and I have never seen anyone as paranoid as her regarding her work. She may not even have any data. It is all in that big dead head of hers."
"That is fantastic. I hope you understand what we are looking at. The hub will sink in the snow in a week and how long can we keep removing the snow. We will have to move the people. Hub 901 will be no more. My superiors are breathing down my neck like that Dr dying is my fault. I will have to give them answers. The public doesn't know the situation yet… but when they see the snowing is not stopping, they will go berserk."
"I know that, Captain. I am answerable to authorities too. But I believe I should be in charge of this fiasco not a military person with nothing to do with science."
"The orders came from above so... live with it. Also, I want to see you evacuate the hub because it looks like that is all we have left to do," the Captain thumps the table after every word. In a calmer voice, she says, "Maybe the weather machine or whatever will breakdown in an hour or so, and we were all speculating worst-case scenarios…overreacting. It will be all good fun."
Reese sees the naïve hope in the Captain and she has to extinguish that, "Roy doesn't build fragile machines or algorithms. Her creations are built to last. Your personnel must be prepared for emergency evacuation."
Silence envelops the room. Tina has been reduced to a spectator and she hopes to maintain that position.
"You should contact the aliens. They have technology beyond our imagination. They could help us out," suggested the Captain.
"You want me to plead to those smug jerks. They laugh at us. They might be laughing right now," Reese looks up and around the room. The Captain and Tina follow her suit. Although unsure whether they are being watched, the trio stops their search and settles to a second silence.
This time Tina breaks the quiet, desperate to keep her job, "I know Roy's movements, some of her secret storages and all her appointments. I would like to help the research groups in data retrieval so that they can have some useful data, to begin with.
Reese hums and looks at the Captain, who hums back. Then the Captain and Reese nod in unison and Tina gets to keep her job.
That was five years ago. Hub 901 was shut down a month after the fatal day. The government thought the incessant cleaning and removing of the snow was a waste of resources so they chose to shut the hub and resort to less frequent snow clearance policies. They did not want the snow to spill out of the 901 and reach the other hubs. The Captain won his Diligence Cross for his prompt and efficient evacuation of the people while Dr. Reese, with her institute in ice, had to open a new lab on Venus. Tina still works on unfreezing Hub 901, unknown to the people who have her on their payroll. A fat salary finds her account every month, and she hopes the officials never notice this monthly outflow from the treasury. Hub 901 has reimagined itself into a destination for survivalists and thrill-seekers as well as the industrious recluses who did not mind clearing the snow every day. And this was the tale of the deadly heart attack.