Pascal Inard writes short stories, novels and non-fiction, mostly in English, but sometimes in French. He lives a creative life in Cheltenham, a suburb of Melbourne in Australia with his illustrator and artist wife Isabella and their three children. When he's not writing or photographing, he manages IT projects for an Australian bank.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
His short stories have appeared in in the "Dark Magic: Witches, Hackers, and Robots" Anthology, The Colored Lens,Bewildering Stories, Antipodean SF Magazine, 9 Tales From Elsewhere, Flash Fiction Press, 101 Words, and StrippedLit500. Pascal Inard is also the author of "The Memory Snatcher", a science-fiction mystery about a police inspector and a quantum physicist who join forces to stop a memory thief from paralysing the world and "Web of Destinies", a time travel mystery about a doctor who inherits a mysterious typewriter that can change the past.
You can follow Pascal Inard on his blog: http://pascalinard.blogspot.com.au/
Who We Are
Dawn looked at the colourful shapes flying above the field that separated the Dysneuro ghetto from the Septentrion district: red, blue, yellow and purple rhombuses with long tails, as graceful as birds. Dysneuro children pulled strings that made the objects rotate, flip, twirl and loop.
"The ghetto’s a real eyesore," said Dawn’s friend Jenny, "but this place is all I can afford."
Dawn surprised herself thinking that she’d rather be with those children than with her friend to study for her technology degree’s final exams. An irrational feeling that she quickly suppressed, but it made her wonder again if she was normal. She resisted the impulse to ask Jenny if she also had thoughts of escaping from her banal life. It would have comforted her to know she was like everyone else, but what if she was the odd one out? The State expected unabated allegiance and gratitude from its citizens. In return it provided free education, and Dawn didn’t want to jeopardise her chances of graduating. Her parents had high expectations of her. She turned to Jenny and said, "Just think of the money we’ll earn as technocrats. We’ll be able to rent an apartment in the Fincon district, buy a CNX hovercar—"
"We’re not there yet. We’ve got to pass our exams first, remember?" Jenny’s tone of reproach stung Dawn, but she knew her friend was right. Now wasn’t the time to lose focus, when they were so close to the end of their studies.
"Dad, I saw some Dysneuro kids when I was at Jenny’s place," said Dawn at home that evening. "They looked so happy playing with their flying toys. They didn’t seem dangerous at all."
"These people are nothing but trouble, that’s why they live in ghettos. They can’t fit in and they don’t want to. They prefer to live in their strange houses and wear their weird clothes, but why are you interested in them? Don’t you have exams to study for?"
"I’m studying as hard as I can, but sometimes I ask myself questions about the world we live in."
"Well stop. You know we have to trust the State. If it says Dysneuros are dangerous, there’s a good reason for it. If it wasn’t for the State, we wouldn’t live such a good life. Be grateful instead of asking useless questions."
Dawn kept her other questions for herself, as well as her recurring dream about an old Dysneuro woman telling her she belonged with them. She couldn't explain it. Dysneuros and Mainstreams lived in different worlds; the only thing they had in common was the air they breathed. But there was something about Dysneuros that attracted Dawn. She couldn’t put them out of her mind. Maybe it was their mystery. So little was known about them, and she yearned to find out more, but this was another irrational feeling she couldn’t share with anyone, and it exacerbated her feeling of solitude. Everyone around her seemed content to obey the State as if that’s all there was to life. Dawn complied, and when her heart was restless, she smothered it with her studies. As well as her academic subjects, she also had to memorise the Orthoregix, the State’s book of precepts. It said nothing about who the Dysneuros were, just that they were not worthy to participate in the life of the State, and accordingly they were not entitled to any of its rewards. It echoed what her father said, the less that was known about them, the better.
Go away, she screamed in her head, as if the Dysneuro woman could hear her, leave me alone. I’m a Mainstream like all the others, and I am where I belong.
But if she was like the others, why did she even have to tell herself?
Dad must be right. They’re dangerous, and they’re making me doubt who I am.
After the last exam, Dawn declined Jenny’s invitation to go to the nearby gym, and instead climbed aboard a pod that was going to the Septentrion district.
When she arrived, she walked to the edge of the field where she’d seen the Dysneuro children. They were there again, with their flying toys. She imagined herself soaring in the sky, above the wood and brick houses of the ghetto painted in vivid colours. Such a contrast with the towers of glass and concrete of the Mainstream city. She looked behind her. No one in the city was paying attention to what she was doing. They would be more worried about a Dysneuro walking into their city than a Mainstream going to the ghetto, she thought.
The next day, she was at the field again. This time the children were playing with a ball, kicking it and chasing it across the field. Absorbed in their game, not once did they look at Dawn. She couldn’t understand how children could be so carefree, and this time she wished she was one of them. Her own childhood had been tightly regulated and she remembered silently wondering why everything, even the simulation games she played - the only authorised recreation - had only one purpose: to learn how to serve the State.
The day after, the flying toys were in the air again. Dawn, mesmerised by their graceful moves, walked on the field. She noticed the Dysneuros weren’t wearing shoes, so she took her shoes off and felt the softness of the grass.
Her eyes riveted to the sky, she almost bumped into one of the children, a boy with curly blond hair who couldn’t be older than seven.
"Sorry," she said, "I didn’t see you. Your flying toys are so beautiful."
"You’re so clever, making them swirl."
"It’s easy. I’ll show you how to do it if you want."
"Tahin, stop bothering the lady!"
A woman with long brown hair, a multi-coloured garment and olive-coloured skin ran towards them.
"He wasn’t bothering me," said Dawn. "I wanted to take a closer look at the … kites. But I’m the one who should be apologising. I shouldn’t be here. After all this is your … territory."
"Don’t worry, it’s just surprising to see a Mainstream here."
"The kites are so beautiful, and none of them is the same."
"I thought you guys weren’t interested in such things."
"Mum," said Tahin, "can the lady come with us to see Mémé Jesinda?"
"Who’s Mémé Jesinda?"
"A lovely old lady who lives in my street. She loves looking after the children in her neighbourhood. They love her, and her chocolate cake of course."
"Don’t you Mainstreams know what chocolate is?"
Dawn shook her head.
"It’s a delicious sweet, but the State must’ve banned it because, like all good things, it would distract its citizens from their mission. You don’t know what you’re missing out on."
"Please come," said Tahin, his eyes pleading. How could she resist?
"Are you sure she won’t mind?" asked Dawn.
"On the contrary, she’ll be happy to see a Mainstream. She has a special connection, you see, and it’s rare that a Mainstream deigns to visit us. It’s never happened in my lifetime." She shook Dawn’s hand. "My name’s Clarissa."
Dawn followed her into the ghetto. Despite what she’d been taught, she didn’t feel any fear. The Dysneuros weren’t threatening, but many looked puzzled to see a Mainstream walk in their quarter. With her short hair and dark brown trousers and jacket, she couldn’t hide who she was.
Clarissa stopped at a yellow timber house and opened the door.
"Mémé Jesinda, you have a visitor," Clarissa said as they walked into a lounge room where an old lady was sitting with two needles and a ball of blue yarn. Dawn’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, and she recognised the woman from her dreams. Who was she and what was the connection Clarissa mentioned?
Dawn looked at Jesinda and saw her eyes were brimming with tears.
"I’m sorry … I didn’t mean to intrude."
"No, it’s not that. It’s just you look so much like my son." Jesinda took a frame with a photo – It seemed Dysneuros didn’t have vid screens - or indeed any technology – and handed it to Dawn.
The man in the photo had the same build and same face as her father. She recognised his green eyes, pointy chin, light brown hair and protruding ears, features that she'd inherited from him except for her hair, which she got from her mother. He looked like he was the same age as Dawn, and he wore Dysneuro clothes: blue shorts, and a shirt printed with bright flowers and palm trees.
"It's amazing how he looks like my dad," said Dawn.
Jesinda nodded and motioned Dawn to sit on an armchair next to her.
"How old are you?"
"You must be his daughter. I can feel it in my bones, and they rarely lie," said Jesinda with a smile.
"That's impossible! He's a Mainstream, like my mother."
"That's what he wanted everyone to believe, and it looks like he succeeded. Only he didn't know how it would affect his own flesh and blood."
A wave of disbelief and confusion swept over Dawn. She could have rejected what Jesinda told her as a lie, but she sensed the truth in her words. She didn't know where that feeling came from, but she couldn't ignore it or sweep it away. It had been buried deep inside her until now, waiting for this moment to burst open and dissolve the veneer of deceit that had coated her life.
Jesinda bowed her head and clasped her hands, muttering to herself. She wiped her tears with a small piece of fabric and said, "Xili be praised, after all this time!"
Dawn’s body, suddenly cold, trembled. Dizzy and breathless, she stared at Jesinda, unable to speak.
"Clarissa, please give Dawn a slice of cake. She needs something to soothe her."
Dawn took the piece of cake that Clarissa gave her and took a mouthful. It was unlike anything she’d tasted before. Her usual nourishment consisted of bland nutriment bars which, according to the State, contained everything her body needed in the right proportions to achieve optimum performance and an ideal weight. So far the Dysneuros she’d seen were on the curvy side, but she found them beautiful.
The trembling stopped, and when Jesinda saw Dawn was ready, she said, "Your father left us twenty-three years ago."
"Why did he leave?"
"Life in the Xilithi community wasn't enough for him. He wanted the money and the status of a Mainstream."
"Wait, you're losing me. What's a Xilithi?"
"That's who we are. The State calls us Dysneuros to make everyone think we're crazy, but we are the followers of Xili." She raised her hand and said, "I'll explain who Xili is later. Let me tell you your father's story first. When he turned eighteen, he applied for a reformation, and the State granted him his wish. He renounced his religion and his gift, and he pledged allegiance to the State."
"We have the gift of creativity. It lets us imagine things as they could be. We write stories and songs, we draw and we paint. Our gift and our religion are the reasons we’re excluded from Mainstream society. We’re too different to the State's ideal of obedient and uniform servants of its cause."
"I think I have the gift too. Sometimes I imagine things, and stories come into my mind. It makes me feel nervous because I’m the only one who has these ideas. Mum didn’t believe me and Dad got upset when I mentioned it, so I’ve learned to silence these thoughts. I didn’t know it was a gift, I thought I was abnormal."
"There was a clause in the contract your father signed about raising his children as Mainstream children. He had to quash your gift."
Jesinda saw a change in Dawn's mood. "Don't be angry at him. He really thought he would have a better life and his children would too. He knew what he was getting into, but he saw the State's treatment of the Xilithis as an injustice and it made him angry that we were treated like second-class citizens and denied access to wealth and status. I told him that our way of life was more valuable than all the money in the world. We have our faith, our freedom of thought, and our creativity. Your grandfather tried to stop him too. He told him he couldn't deny who he was and it was an insult to Xili to do so, but there was nothing we could do. Your father was firmly decided, and he even managed to talk one of his friends into joining him."
Dawn looked out of the window and got up.
"It's getting dark. It'll be curfew time soon."
"Why don't you stay here and have a rest? We can get to know each other."
She had a lot of questions to ask, and no doubt Jesinda had too, but her parents were going to be worried if she didn’t come home. She took her handheld out of her pocket, and saw there was network coverage.
"I have to call my parents, but what will I tell them? I don’t like lying to them."
"Tell them that you're sleeping at a friend's place, which is not strictly a lie, is it?"
Jesinda got up, took Dawn in her arms and hugged her.
Dawn felt secure in the arms of her grandmother. There were no lies in her heart, just the truth. No matter how painful and bewildering truth was, it was liberating because it allowed you to be who you were.
The next morning, Dawn was woken up by a mysterious sound, metallic but melodious. She opened her eyes and wondered where she was. Her encounter with Jesinda came back to her, piece by piece, word by word. She'd learned a lot last night, about her father and his brothers and sisters, about the Xilithis and their lives.
Until yesterday she'd been a Mainstream girl, and then Jesinda gave her a new family, a new heritage, a new identity, but she didn't know what she was going to do with it.
She looked around the room. A shelf with books covered an entire wall, paintings of children and landscapes, mostly Jesinda’s, covered another. When she saw the Dysneuros didn’t have access to the Nexus and relied on paper and ink for their knowledge, she thought they were primitive and backwards, but after she browsed some books, she realised what a treasure they were. Once words were printed, they were there to stay, unlike the contents of the Nexus that could be altered to suit the State at any time. Books had the power to defy and resist the State.
The story she’d made up when she was eleven came back to her. The queen of the elves was ill, and her most loyal subjects went on a quest for a dragon egg that could cure her. She hadn’t finished the story because her father had scolded her for wasting her time when she read it him. She jotted the ending on her handheld. The elves would face many trials but of course they would save her queen.
She found her way to the kitchen, which was filled with a peculiar smell.
"Good morning sweetie, I've just made some coffee. Another thing you've been missing out on. We grow it ourselves, like the cocoa we use to make chocolate and just about everything else we eat and drink. The State gave us land it thought was worthless, but we've put it to good use."
"What was that metallic sound I heard when I woke up?"
"The church bells for the first service."
"What's a church?"
"It's where we get together and thank Xili for everything he's given us. Xili is the creator of the universe. Come with me to the next service. It starts at ten."
"I don't know. This is all so new. I've been taught all my life that there was no higher power than the State. I never heard anyone question the State and I didn't dare voice my doubts, but I wondered if everyone really believed that story or pretended to, like I did. Now that I've heard a different story, all I feel is confusion."
"Sorry, I'm just an impatient old woman. Now that I have a granddaughter I want to make up for lost time. "
"I better go. I have a lot of thinking to do."
"Take your time. You can come back whenever you want, for a chat, a piece of chocolate cake, or for more. Tell your father he’s welcome if he ever changes his mind. Xili bless you." Jesinda's voice was laden with hope but she saw that a battle was raging in her granddaughter's mind, and she prayed that Xili would win.
Dawn walked out of the ghetto with a heavy heart, but when she saw a young man smile at her, she blushed, and her heart suddenly felt just a little bit lighter.
Since she came back from the ghetto, Dawn itched to tell her father about her visit, but she didn’t know how to broach the subject and feared his reaction. She could feel his eyes on her as if he suspected something, but she acted as though nothing had happened, and her life would continue unchanged, which it probably would in a way. Dawn wasn't a Xilithi and she wasn't a Mainstream either. She would never completely fit in anywhere. If she lived with the Xilithis, it would be harder to hide her Mainstream origins because she’d lived twenty-one years as one, but if she stayed where she was, she could continue to pretend she was like every other girl, and at least she had a career. She convinced herself that Mainstream life was better. The State provided everything its citizens needed, and she couldn’t imagine living without technology. She looked at her handheld and deleted her notes on the fate of the elf queen.
There was one difference her visit had made: she knew who she was. She resolved that when she would have a child, she wouldn't hide his Xilithi ancestry from him. As diluted as it would be, it would still manifest itself somehow, and she didn’t want the child to feel the anger and confusion she was grappling with.
Dawn's father interrupted her musing. "I spoke to our district warden about you, and he has a son your age who would like to meet you. I think he was very impressed with your exam results. You’ve done well. Think of what it would mean for our family to be related to a State administrator family."
Dawn's mother nodded in agreement, of course she did. Connections to the State authorities opened doors. They were like a prize in the game of Mainstream life.
Dawn didn't want to disappoint her parents.
The district warden's son had an unblemished physique, he was articulate and knowledgeable, a faithful servant of the State.
Her life was mapped out for her in a straight line, bland and with no surprises: work and serve the State and her husband until the end like every other Mainstream woman.
Dawn thought about her grandma and the peace that she'd felt in her arms. The colours of the kites and the houses, the smells and the tastes of chocolate and coffee, the sounds of the church bells and laughing children came back to her. The young man’s smile too, bright as the sun. She imagined the different life she could live in the Xilithi community. Instead of serving the State, she would live in a world where men, women and children loved and helped each other. A life of uncertainty and risk, but a life of freedom and joy.
I’m leaving to be with my grandmother Jesinda and our people. She told me you turned your back on her for a new life, but she still loves you. She is an amazing person and I wish I'd known her before.
The choice you made wasn't just for you, but for me also. I didn't get a say in it. You probably believed it was the best choice, and maybe it was for you but not for me.
You're living the life you wanted to live in the Mainstream world. You erased your past, and when I was born you thought you could do the same with me.
I'm sorry it didn't work out, but we are who we are. It's in our heart, our soul and in every cell of our body.
I hope you'll understand my decision, but I'm not asking you to approve it, just to accept it. I feel closer to Xilithis than Mainstreams, maybe because I crave for something that's been taken away from me and I want to fill the hole that's in my soul.
You might think I'll get tired of Xilithi life and want to come back. Time will tell, but right now I know where I belong.
Thanks for everything you and Mum did for me. I'll miss you both.