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Selena City

by Miriam English

09 - Chances

Brenda cast her eyes down and blushed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude." She started to back away.

"Wait. Brenda. You aren't intruding." I indicated the woman on my couch, uncomfortably noticing how beautiful she was and how she resembled Brenda. Undoubtedly Brenda had  too. "Priyanka is here on business. Please come in. I'm really glad to see you. And of course the offer still stands." I suddenly wished I had a pretext to send Priyanka away.

Brenda came in looking very ill-at-ease.

Priyanka stood and gracefully moved over to us. "Brenda? I have heard so much about you." She extended her hand to Brenda. "I am very glad to meet you."

Brenda looked inquiringly at me. I sent a blank look back and shrugged.

Priyanka explained, "Rani was very taken with you. In fact I suspect she harbored a bit of a crush." She chuckled. "She said that she loved to watch you work with children. While I'm here in the City I would be very much indebted to you if you could tell me about your techniques."

Brenda shook Priyanka's hand. "Thank you. Uh... I don't think I really have any techniques."

"Perhaps principles then." Priyanka smiled warmly to her.

Relaxing a little now, Brenda nodded. "Yes. I guess I use certain guiding principles, but they are probably exactly the same ones most teachers use. I try to understand what each child needs and supply that, bearing in mind that although they're mostly the same thing, what they want is not always what they need. Another important thing is that the purpose of the fun instinct to induce the mind to learn. Working with that makes life much easier for the child and the teacher."

I motioned them to the couch. "Can I get you both anything? Uh... all I have is juice." I made a mental note to stock up my kitchen a bit.

Priyanka declined, but Brenda said that would be nice so I went to the kitchen to get glasses and a jug of juice.

I heard Brenda ask, "Do you have children yourself, Priyanka?"

"No. It is one of my regrets that I do not... although, as things have turned out, perhaps that is for the best. I am being pursued by Earth law."

I brought the jug and glasses in, set them down on the coffee table, and poured two glasses and left one empty in case Priyanka should change her mind. Taking one, I sat in one of my lounge chairs.

"She was helping the poor gain some measure of equality. The Elite didn't appreciate that." I explained.

Priyanka looked uncomfortable. "Whilst that is true, I am reluctant to actually blame the Elite. Yes, they are the problem and they are actively blocking the release of the poor from what is effectively slavery, but at the same time very few of them actually intend anyone harm."

She looked from me to Brenda. "When I was a comfortable member of the Elite I wished nobody ill. I believed the myth that the poor are in that position because it was simply how it must be; that they were simply unable to rise above that.

"I always wanted to research this very topic. Alas I have never had the time, and I doubt I shall now. I have come to think that there may be some aspect of social structure that prevents us learning this lesson from the past. As individuals we can learn, but as societies we have great difficulty. We have committed the same error over and over again."

Brenda asked, "You mean making it hard for poor people to access a better lifestyle?"

Priyanka nodded. "In the current situation, yes, but we have done this to many, many groups in the past -- not just poor people. Race, femaleness, age, sexual choice, religion, mental illness, geographical location, left-handedness... if there is any point of divergence from the norm then you can guarantee it has been used to marginalise and repress people."

It puzzled me. "I can't see how someone could research it though, other than to point out it existed."

She answered, "One way would be to simply use carefully designed surveys to find out what people actually think of the marginalised group and why they allow injustices."

I couldn't see how that would help. "How would that show anything?"

"Well, I have met a lot of people throughout Elite society on Earth and here is what I think such a survey would find:

"The vast majority are so concerned with their day-to-day life that they have not really given the situation much thought. While they don't actually hate the other group, there is a vague unease where they have a feeling that if that other group does anything to threaten them then they would defend themselves with every measure available. Because the other group is seen as different then these measures tend to be quite out of proportion to the perceived threat. Nevertheless this group is generally too busy to get involved and tend to leave the actual job of repression to somebody else.

"Those involved in active repression of the group are mostly simply following orders. Even among these people I doubt many have genuine hatred of the oppressed group. They don't think a lot about it, but pass off that judgement to others. They simply believe that if they are told to do it then it must be right. I have had such people ask me, 'Where would any organisation be if everybody questioned everything all the time?' Of course I think we would have healthier organisations, but they have this feeling there is some mystical need to trust the chain of command. However most of them simply don't think that deeply about it.

"At the top of the chain of command there is the feeling that the bulk of their own group want the other group to be repressed. Some may even have personal reservations about their actions but they tend to keep them to themselves because they see it as their job to do what the people they are responsible for want them to do.

"Sprinkled through all levels of the favored group is a very small number of extremely vocal people who drive all this insanity. In the general population they have little effect, but the rare few in positions of influence in media or the chain of command inside organisations can affect the entire direction of society. Who are these people? Some are cynical sociopaths who use hate to manipulate others into giving them more power. Some are sorry, damaged individuals who have been hurt and blindly hate all those who they associate with that past hurt. Some are simply small-minded xenophobes who have been taught to think this way by parents or others of influence.

"So, in the end you can have a whole population of rational, disinterested people driven along a terrible course by a tiny number of warped people. Is it possible to change society so that this doesn't happen? That was the idea behind democracy, but it seems to always get perverted by a small number who run things off the rails." She sighed and shook her head.

Brenda smiled and put a comforting hand on Priyanka's knee. "I think we have freed ourselves of that here in Selena City. We have a very transparent and open society with no real chain of command. People are responsible for their actions and they do their jobs because they want to rather than because they have to. I don't think we have systematic injustice here."

Priyanka looked sad. "While Selena City is a great improvement on most of past human society, you still have an oppressed group."

Brenda tilted her head in question. Her long black hair slid half over her face.

Priyanka answered, "Androids. Androids are owned, sold, destroyed, at human whim. I know you don't feel marginalised, but then you are designed not to. It doesn't make it right."

I said quietly, "Androids shouldn't be owned."

Brenda looked at me and there was an uncomfortable quiet for a little while. It was broken by Priyanka who said, "I'm sorry. I have taken the conversation somewhere I shouldn't have. Time to change the subject I think. Brenda, I wonder if you could tell me more about how you teach children. It has always seemed to me that if we are ever to learn from past mistakes our children are the best way forward."

Brenda brightened. "As it happens I begin work again tomorrow. I would love for you to come along. I know the children would enjoy meeting you."

"That would be wonderful," Priyanka answered. "Thank you."

Brenda looked to me. "Would you like to come too Adele?" She paused for a moment. "I'd like it."

I felt a little giddy at that, but I tried not to make more of it than it probably was: just a polite invitation. "I'd like that too. So long as my work doesn't intrude, that is."

Thinking about that invitation made me remember her request to stay here. Was that just unease at the possible return of Mackey's abductors? Or did she want to be with me? I tried to dismiss it with the fact that her memories of me were gone, but then I recalled her mentioning how my face was familiar on that day when I began investigating Mackey's disappearance. And then it suddenly hit me: when I'd opened my door and Brenda had first seen Priyanka she'd blushed. The blush response in androids is just as involuntary as it is in humans. It was hard for me to believe that she would have blushed if she simply regarded me as a friend and had seen me with another woman here. The blush meant something more. I smiled. Was there a chance for me still?

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