‘But why?’ Omo asked.
His premonition was right. Angela just laughed. Laughed right in his face. It was not the sort of memory anyone would want to store in their Memory Bank. For the first time in his life Omo experienced real emotional pain.
He had not been able to resist. Helen’s words stuck in his mind. You have to find out. He knew them to be wise words. He knew he had to act on them however much he wished he didn’t. His timing might have been better, but probably it wouldn’t have mattered when he’d said it.
‘Why not,’ Angela corrected him.
Omo felt tears welling up in his eyes. She was playing with him. And she was cruel. Surely this wasn’t love.
‘I love you,’ was the one thing he knew he shouldn’t say next, but the only thing he could bring himself to say.
‘Don’t be so silly.’ Angela was stern, ‘You’ll spoil everything. Love doesn’t exist and I don’t know who’s been giving you such ridiculous ideas.’
Omo tried to pull himself together. ‘Do you feel nothing for me?’ He asked, digging himself deeper into the humiliation that was bound to follow. Angela, after all, was a good ULTIMATE® citizen for whom feeling was anathema.
‘Of course not, Omo. It’s just a bit of fun.’
It didn’t feel like fun now.
Omo should have left it at that and gone on his way. Learned something. That you don’t mess with the Angel of guilt free intercourse. But he couldn’t. His world had been rocked and he flailed around trying to save himself.
‘How can you say that? How can it mean nothing to you…?’
She slapped him. Hard. ‘You are being totally stupid.’ Her tone was now harsh. ‘You are just part of an experiment Omo. And you’ve failed it.’
‘An experiment?’ Would the shock and pain never stop?
‘Yes. You’re just like all the rest of them. However much ULTIMATE® tries to wean you all off guilt and emotion and power play, you all find ways of hanging on. It’s sick.’ She meant it. Angela had developed such a thick skin that none of her sexual exploits meant anything to her. She was totally dedicated to her research and her research showed her that men were fools. Even now when ULTIMATE® equality had supposedly been achieved, all it took was a live naked woman, prepared and able to fulfil their physical needs, and they lost all their sense of reason.
‘Do you love Pryce?’ Omo asked. She must be trying to let him down because it was wrong, because she already loved someone else.
‘No. Love is a pointless emotion.’
‘But you married him.’
‘That was before,’ she replied.
Omo realised that Angela had indeed lived in the world before ULTIMATE® existed, as Helen had, but there the similarities ceased. If Helen represented everything that was good about the world of History, Angela represented everything that was bad. And it seemed like the Angelas had inherited the ULTIMATE® world, leaving the Helens broken and beaten in the Victim Homes. The ULTIMATE® world suddenly didn’t seem so bright to Omo. And when he looked at her again, neither did Angela. She looked hard, callous and mean. Completely the opposite of Helen. Okay there was forty years between the women, Angela was in her physical prime and knew it, but Helen was in a league of her own. Helen could inspire love. Angela had corrupted love. You couldn’t love someone like Angela, Omo realised. ULTIMATE® had got rid of love and it was women like Angela who had done the work. She was a sham. She had sucked him in. But why?
‘Why did you do this to me?’ He asked, but now he was less interested in love and more interested in an explanation of why she had chosen him as her victim.
‘Because you were there, Omo.’
‘So.. so it could have been anyone? It could have been Nike?’
She shrugged her shoulders. It didn’t matter to her.
‘Does Pryce know?’ Omo asked. It was horrible but he was beginning to think the conspiracy might be wholesale. They might all be laughing at him.
That brought Angela up short. ‘No. And don’t you tell him.’
‘Why not?’ Omo started to feel that maybe he had a bit of leverage here. For the first time she looked less than in total control. ‘If it doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t matter, why not just tell him?’
‘I should have known better,’ she said, thinking out loud. Now she was in a messy position. Why couldn’t the boy just have played along, had the sex, gone back to his gaming and left her with an anonymous case study and a few memories of her own to file away. It wasn’t guilt that she felt, it was the annoyance of the fact that the situation was pulling out of her control. How could men be so stupid and then cause so much trouble?
‘If you say anything about this, I’ll report you to higher authorities and you will get evicted off The PROJECT⌂.’ The harsh tone in her voice and the steely glint in her eye was enough to convince him that she wasn’t joking.
Ironically, however, Omo felt a sense of relief. He didn’t realise he had power over her for that moment; what he thought was that at least if Angela wasn’t going to tell anyone about it, he wouldn’t get into trouble. There had been enough trouble. He just wanted to go back to his old, easy life. He doubted whether that would be possible though. He didn’t recognise the adage Knowledge is power, but he was beginning to realise that sometimes, once you knew something, you couldn’t become ignorant again and the whole of life looked different to you. Angela had taken Omo through much more of a rites of passage than even she knew.
‘I don’t want to tell anyone,’ he said, ‘I just wanted to know what you were going to do about it.’
‘I’m not going to do anything,’ she lied. Of course she would. She wasn’t going to leave Omo as a loose cannon. But he didn’t need to know that.
‘I don’t love you anyway,’ Omo stated baldly. ‘It was just an infatuation. Thanks for nothing.’ And he turned and left Angela, stunned.
Omo’s words reverberated in Angela’s head for rather too long. She might not believe in guilt but she was quite keen on revenge. Is revenge an emotion? Or is it the action of the emotionless? In Angela’s case one might consider that revenge was close to its ULTIMATE® definition, available to all for just 10 credits.
REVENGE: Definition. Retaliation for an offence or injury.
Older dictionary definitions might have added an emotional content: a vindictive feeling, but for Angela it wasn’t a question of feeling, it was a question of power. She had to win.
So while Omo returned to The Project House, no older, but a lot wiser; Angela turned her vicious mind to how she could exact the best revenge. Not just on Omo. She felt it was time to get them all, all the men whom she despised. Omo, Pryce and Graham. Three for the price of one. But perhaps that was when she got just too greedy.
She didn’t play out all the possibilities and she committed that classic mistake of underestimating the opposition. She thought she knew Pryce well enough. Omo was no threat but she didn’t know Graham quite as well as she thought. Whereas Omo and Pryce were easy, because fundamentally they were good, Graham was a man who had fully embraced all that ULTIMATE® stood for. Graham was not a man who was led by the nose of emotion. Angela had misjudged him if she thought their ‘affair’ was anything to do with emotion. Graham was playing Angela while she was playing him, and Graham was higher up the pecking order. Graham didn’t get beaten.
Graham already knew what Angela had been up to. Like all good managers he had a lot of spare time while his assistants were doing all his work and he used this spare time to keep tabs on the people who interested him. Or who challenged him. He had Pryce and Angela on such a tight monitor that in pre ULTIMATE® years they would have been shouting about the violation on their human rights. But there were no more human rights. ULTIMATE® took care of that. ULTIMATE® gave you the lifestyle you thought you wanted and as long as you didn’t actually question the system you’d never feel that you were being let down by it. The packaging was glossy. The presentation was slick. You were told that you had everything you needed and you believed it. Or you were virtualised.
Graham could sit in his office and know everything about Angela’s sexual peccadillos. He could watch them like movies. He had access to a virtual two way US™ screen. For work purposes only of course. Though he used it mainly for pleasure. It was a company perk in the way that company cars used to be. Consequently, Graham knew just about everything about Pryce’s depression and the marital arguments with Angela and a whole lot more besides. He made it his job to view weaknesses, manipulate them and then he used them to promote his own standing in the ULTIMATE® community. He was destined for great things. But Graham had a failing too. He spent too much time trying to make sure that he was on the up. Someone higher up than him was watching that of course, noting that his desire for individual success was at odds with ULTIMATE® goals.
UTheory∑® was big on the random element. And it seemed that every member of the society still had a random element. In previous times it might have been considered a fatal flaw, or a personality trait, or indeed just the thing that made each person individual. But it was the random elements that the ULTIMATE® system was working to control and when any one random element got too dangerous, there was only one way out. However high up the system you went, there was always someone at a higher level, keeping tabs on everyone else.
Some days later Graham called Angela in to explain herself.
‘What have you been up to? he sleazed and showed her a snippet from his vault. She was unchastened.
‘It’s guilt research,’ she replied.
‘I wasn’t supposed to know about it?’ his question was rhetorical but she side-stepped it.
‘No, I knew you would. I wanted to get data off you regarding your responses to the situation,’ she lied.
‘You didn’t clear your research project with me first,’ he added, not taken in for a minute.
The ugly chess game continued.
‘And Pryce? Does he know?’
‘Why should he?’ she replied. ‘He’s not a part of the study.’
‘You NEVER make me a part of your research without clearing it with me first, get it?’ he said, bored with the situation and desperate just to move things on.
‘Okay,’ she replied, cool to the last.
‘So?’ he said – and she took him up on the offer. They had sex. Graham planned to transfer her. Angela hoped he would. It was in the nature of these kind of transfers that they are promotions and that, after all, was what she’d been angling for all along. Angela was after all, the archetype of all women who ever slept their way to the top.
Pryce would have remained none the wiser. Except they all forgot the random element. Graham gave Pryce the job of setting Omo a work schedule that would keep him busy, very busy and free from emotion. The reason Graham gave was that he didn’t want the death of Nike to impact on the others. They were to get a new PROJECT⌂ flatmate as soon as possible and other than that, things were to go on as before. But Omo wasn’t to visit Helen again. They had to cut off all subversive links. And clearly, Helen was not good for anyone. Nor was he to see Angela again. Graham told Pryce that Angela had told him that Omo really didn’t have what it took to understand adaptive theory at any advanced level, and it was wasting Angela’s valuable time to be tutoring him. They had to get back on an even keel.
Pryce went to tell Omo. And then the shit hit the fan. Omo’s random element came into play. He told Pryce everything. Well, mostly everything. Omo told him that Angela didn’t love him (Pryce) and that she had been sleeping with him (Omo) and he didn’t know why she’d done it, but it had upset him. He admitted that he had been experiencing emotional anxiety, which he knew was not necessary or condoned in the ULTIMATE® system, and he was sure that he’d probably broken some of the rules of his PROJECT⌂ contract. He was sorry. He hadn’t meant any of it. He just wanted things to get back to normal and he didn’t know who else to ask for help but Pryce.
Two months previously such a revelation would have rocked Pryce’s world. But now, he took it with barely a thought. He should have known all along. Why wouldn’t Omo be the latest in a long line of lovers, designed to demean and diminish him? Angela was a callous, calculating woman and Pryce knew that even by revisiting his Memory Banks he would never again see her in any other light. The woman he had fallen in love with had disappeared into the ULTIMATE® world; a natural for the new ways it promoted. Instead of focussing on Angela and what he had lost, Pryce determined to use the opportunity to recruit Omo to his own cause. It would be a small victory, but a victory none the less. With Nike gone, Omo was Pryce’s only real chance of a link with The Immortal Horses. Through Omo he could get to Helen and Helen must know something. It wasn’t much to go on, but it was a place to start.