Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Antarctica Origins by Joanna MacInnes


The girl stood on the 50th floor, staring out through the glass to the city beyond. A labyrinth of skyscrapers protruded through the artificial clouds, the countless white lights illuminating the gentle fall of filtered snow onto the streets. She had been confronted by the view of Antarctica’s main city countless times before, yet it never ceased to amaze her: the millions of people going about their daily lives with only a few metres of sea ice keeping them from the cold dark waters. 
Just last year, she'd been on the other side of the world. England. So small on the maps compared to this icy continent she found herself on, yet she remembered it being so much more crowded, especially in London. Not to mention the lack of ice shelves, the occasional penguin and a massive glass dome over the sky, protecting the city from the elements.
On Finals day she'd been given a plane ticket to Antarctica. The only way to get into Antarctica was by being invited. And the only way to get invited was to be the best. She had been among the rare few in each country whose Trial results showed them to be the very best of their generation. A first generation girl, her friends had called her, like it was her new title. Everyone knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime - to live and work in Lornesse District Capital - the capital city of Antarctica. And now, exactly a year later, she stood in the heart of the continent, and she still couldn’t believe her luck.
"Alissa!" A voice called from the stairs, pulling her out of her daze. She reached for her purse and had a last minute look at the mirror. Deep green eyes stared out of an angled olive-toned face. Diamonds glinted on her ears and wrists, contrasting the floor length jet-black dress that hugged her figure.
"Alissa! Where are you?" A tall young man in a deep blue tuxedo hurried through the door and suddenly stopped, his eyes fixed on Alissa. "You look amazing."
She saw his reflection on the window pane, then turned towards him. He had streaked his tousled dark hair with gold dye. "So do you Martin. Nice hair." She raised an eyebrow. "Excited for tonight?"
"I mean, It's only our future careers we’re going to find out. Why would I be excited?," he asked, winking at her.
"Umm, I don't know. Big party, free minibar. Ring any bells?"
"No, not particularly."
Alissa glanced at her watch. "We’re going to be late."
"You got everything?" She nodded.
"Cool, let’s go", he said, and they headed towards the elevator. Once inside the marbled box, their microchips sent instructions to the lift panel to take them to the ground floor. Ten seconds later, the couple stepped out of Block 1A, arms interlocked, and made their way towards the city stadium.
"Thank you, thank you!" David Morris, overseer of first generation 23.02, said over the applauding crowd of 17 year olds, his amplified voice booming across the stadium. He waved a hand, waiting for silence to descend.
"Welcome to your Assignment ceremony. You’re here tonight because last year, you were selected - the best, most talented minds from around the world." The camera zoomed in on his face. "Your microchip implants indicated that you have the greatest abilities of your generation, both mentally and physically. Now, we’ve been assessing your performance in the different placements you’ve done over the last year. Tonight, based on that, the government department you’re best suited to will be revealed, after which the stage is yours." Morris paused as the whole stadium thundered with applause. "At 20:00 hours, every 17 year old in the world will have their job specification sent to them via microchip. Ladies and gentlemen, you have exactly two minutes exactly before your results come in!" The stadium erupted with chatter again.
 Alissa sent a message via MC to Martin - although she was standing directly next to him, there would be no hearing her over the sound of the crowd.
I’m bored.
Well, in 1 minute and 47 seconds, I'm sure the knowledge of your future department will temporarily distract you.
Alissa curled her lip. How long is temporarily?
As long as you want it to be, darling. What department do you think you'll be in?
Alissa thought for a moment. Either Covert Operations or Military. She grinned sheepishly. I might have stumbled across my department recommendations list.
Stumbled across?
Mmm. On Morris’ central computer.
The central computer which you have to get into the Staff Block,  sneak into his office and bypass all the security protocols to access?
Alissa considered for a moment. Yeah. That one.
Martin elbowed her playfully. To be honest, if they don't put you in Covert Operations then the system must have malfunctioned.
I don't think that’s possible. For the system to malfunction.
Anything can malfunction, Alissia.
Well I guess you’re an expert on that kind of stuff.
What do you mean?
I also might have stumbled across your department recommendations list.
Oh really? What did it say?
Spoilers! She winked at him, and just as he was about to demand she tell him, David Morris’ voice sounded on the speakers. "Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!" The crowd joined in. "Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Zero!" And with that, there was complete silence across the stadium as thousands of messages were broadcast to the crowd’s microchips.
The voice of Ovra, the government AI, filled her head.
Alissia Lucas of First Generation 23.02.
You have been assigned to the ACO: the federal department of Antarctican Covert Operations, with the role of field agent. You will arrive at the department tomorrow morning at 0600 hours for your initiation. We hope you will enjoy the rest of the evening and use it as an opportunity to get to know your future co-workers. Congratulations and good luck.
Alissia opened her eyes and looked up at Martin. He stood silent next to her, eyes shut. Alissia could tell that his microchip was still engaged. The transmission should have been over by now. A few seconds later, he opened his eyes and met Alissia’s worried look. He began to smile and then suddenly swooped her into a hug. Alissia gave out a squeal and burst into laughter. Just then, the lights around the stadium flashed up, signalling the start of the dance.
Let’s go. Martin grabbed her wrist and pulled her along, down the stairs and onto the dance floor where a crowd was already forming. He put a hand on Alissia’s waist and they began to dance.
"So..." Martin stared at her intently. "Was it Covert Operations or Military?"
She let out a breath she hadn't realised she’d been holding. "Covert operations. I'm going to be a field agent."
"I'm going to have to watch what I say around you then, Miss Spy lady."
"You should. Give me any opportunity to report you, I’ll jump on it," she smirked. "What department are you in?"
"Same as you but different job. I’m a Technology & Weapons Developer."
"So you’ll be designing my guns?"
"Pretty much."
"You have no idea," he said with a grin.
I entered a white panelled corridor, the sound of my high heels echoing loudly off the polished floors. A large window on the left reveals a stunning view of the ice plains 30,000 feet below. Across the deck, one of four rotors whirr at a dizzying speed to hold the airship up.
My comms unit beeps and Williams’ voice crackles over the speaker.
"Commander Rae, we have several hostiles in the air heading straight for the Lornesse DC. How soon can you get to the bridge?"
"I'm on my way now. Have we got counter-missile defense up yet?"
He clears his throat. "It's still being prepped for launch, Ma’am."
“Damn it. What about the city’s dome?”
“Already activated and on defensive mode, Ma’am.”
“Good. I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”
I hang up as I approach a frosted glass door and place my palm on the scanner. COMMANDER RAE flashes green on the monitor, and the glass panels silently slide open.
The Control Base is a hub of activity. Uniformed men and women sit at rows of monitors that reach across the room, their screens filled with maps and weaponry. Squads of military personnel just docked in from the air jets are waiting by the bridge where Commander Williams, Head of the Antarctic Air Force, relays orders. A young man in his thirties, he stands well over six foot. Silver buttons shine against a deep blue military jacket, and close shaved hair emphasises prominent cheekbones. He turns in my direction and nods, before dismissing the troops to head over.
"What happened?" I ask.
"Ma’am, missiles were detected approaching our borders around 20 minutes ago, at 8:49 pm. More worryingly, their trajectory indicates they’re heading towards Lornesse DC stadium."
I do a quick microchip search. "There’s an Assignment ceremony being held there right now." I look at Williams. "That’s hundreds of thousands of 17 year olds we’re talking about."
An airman tech steps in. "Sir. Ma'am. The counter-missile defense system is up and running. Requesting deployment."
"You have your orders then. Fire."
© Joanna MacInnes 

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