Talk is Dear

Karen Zipslicer Stories

At the conclusion of the last episode, Karen Zipslicer found herself stuck with the trainees at the Institute. They are about to receive a lecture from Lady Emerald…

Karen stood in the corner of Lady Emerald’s office, leaning against the door, keeping the weight off her ankle. However, she had to move when Grieg left. As he did, he muttered, “at the rear, again?” Karen pulled up her surgeon’s mask, lowered her neck into her chest, and bent her knees, ducking behind the rest of the group. Then Karen pondered. Maybe she should approach Emerald for help. Em had saved Karen from the police, and had taken care of her. But Emerald was also responsible for this horrific institute. And Karen had not liked waking to find herself tied down, her clothing changed. Whiteley wriggled in Karen’s pocket. He had woken, and was hot and restless. Karen placed her hand on his back, calming him. Oh well. Karen did not want to make a fuss. She would wait for Emerald’s speech to end, and then quietly slip from the building. Mindful of the door, Karen leant against the side wall instead. She glimpsed Emerald, between the sea of shoulders. Instead of dressing like royalty, Emerald had her hair tied up, and wore a lab coat and white gloves. She looked very scientific.

“Time is precious. I’m not going to talk for long, so listen, don’t write.” Emerald gestured that the group should lower their notepads. “I know you’ve all made sacrifices – studying when you could have had fun, taking out loans to pay for your education. Without those sacrifices, you wouldn’t be here today. My message is straightforward. You won’t regret those sacrifices. Now is the time to press on. Sacrifices lead to rewards, and the rewards get better as you go further. That’s fair, and it’s one of the ways we’re making a fairer society. Lundern is changing, improving, because of the hard work done by people like you: scientists, engineers, technicians, doctors, and other professionals. We combine our efforts to make our world more controllable than it’s ever been before. But there’s much more we need to do. We work for reward, and to better ourselves,” she stood and stepped toward the open window behind her, “and by so doing, we make life better for everyone out there. The only limits you’ll face are those that exist inside you – the limits of your imagination, and your ambition.”

Emerald admired the roses in her window box. They were a medley of vibrant colours. She bowed and smelled one. “Our achievements have been amazing. We combat hunger, through modern farms in the Periphers. We manufacture clothing, to keep Lunderners warm and protected. New financial products allow Lunderners to save for their old age. Or they can borrow, to invest in the future, like you did with your education. We create jobs to occupy idle hands, and we invent new entertainments, to combat boredom, and the damage that bored people inflict on the rest of society. The inventors are revolutionaries – our goal is to change life forever. It’s a one-way journey, and some people are scared of change. Don’t listen to negative voices. Perform your duties, learn, persevere – maybe some of you will join the ranks of the inventors one day, and receive the considerable benefits, and responsibilities, that come with that rank in society.”

Emerald snipped a bright blue rose, and threaded it through a button hole in her lab coat. “Your work is as important as anything I’ve mentioned so far. Your work matters to me not only as a leader, but also as a woman. Managing reproduction lets us tackle many misfortunes that bedevil Lundern, especially its most vulnerable – the women and children. Thanks to the work done here and at other reproduction centres, we’re ending the curse of families with too many mouths to feed. That also means less brutality, and less crime. We’ve progressively reduced the numbers of diseased and disabled who clutter Lundern’s streets – pitiful souls doomed to be a burden on everybody else. We’ve freed women from the pain and danger of pregnancy, allowing them to work without interruption, exactly like a man. Controlling the population means workers match the available jobs. That lowers unemployment, and guarantees that everyone makes a real contribution to society. Deserving adults, previously unable to have children, can now have them. But only deserving, hard-working parents can have children in our society. The undeserving can no longer exploit their natural fertility, recklessness, and lack of self-restraint. No child is allowed into this world, unless their parent or guardian has proven their worth, and proven they can provide for their children.”

“And whilst we’ve succeeded in controlling the quantity of children, we’re hoping to do much more: to improve the quality of children. That will be your contribution. Fitter, stronger, healthier, more intelligent individuals – that’s what we’re making here. We weed out the bad traits, and promote the good ones. That’s exactly what our ancestors did, when they discovered how to cross-pollinate roses, making them more beautiful, or when they bred animals, refining them into workhorses and thoroughbreds, sheepdogs and terriers. Now we’re doing the same for the human race. Your individual specialisms will be woven together, supporting one common plan. Together, we’ll make better people, and so, a better world.”

Emerald paused, then walked along the front of the group, like a general inspecting her troops. She stopped to flatten a crease in one boy’s lapel. “I think of myself as a mother. I’m mother to everyone born in this facility, everyone who works for me, and to the whole of Lundern. A mother cares for her children’s needs, but a mother must also discipline her family. There have to be rules. Rules prevent chaos. Rules give us the possibility of working together, for common purpose. Rules prevent squabbling, and unfair treatment. I’m your mother now. Do your duty, work hard, show me what you’re capable of, and do as you’re told. That’s how to make a mother proud. Do that, and I promise the family will reward you. We’re one family, now. Lundern is our family. We look after our own – I make sure of that.”

Grieg stepped back into the room, banging the door into Karen’s foot. She winced. He scowled. Seeing Grieg enter, Emerald nodded towards him. “Dr. Grieg will tell you which positions you’ve each been allocated. Now do your job. Make me proud.” Grieg started applauding. The rest of the group joined in. When the clapping finished, Emerald returned to her desk, and the group bustled out. Grieg held the door, ushering the trainees, with Karen stuck behind him. Emerald reviewed some papers on her desk, ticking them, or making notes in the margins. With only Karen, Grieg, and the Ginger twins still in the office, Emerald commanded, without looking up, “not you – you stay.” Karen looked at Grieg and he looked from Karen to the two Gingers. Karen held her breath under her mask, trying to stay calm. “You know who I’m talking to. The one with the bandage.” Karen looked at the bandage wrapped around her sockless foot. “Sit down,” said Emerald.

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