I've tried quite a few other names for this section, none of which worked, all of them awkward as novella titles. Quite possibly even this name will be seen as awkward, as it is the first and family name of the character, when several of the main characters of previous and subsequent parts in the series don't have the same traditions in naming.
Chapters 1 and 2 have been rewritten. The action now starts much closer to the inciting incident where Srese sees the 'mermen' for the first time. Of course everybody thinks they are a figment of the community computer's imagination. And yes, how wrong they turn out to be.
A taster ...
Srese stopped running as she entered the lane at the back of the workshops. It glowed with daytime light as if it was full of people to-ing and fro-ing. The strip lights along the ceiling beamed down sunlight. A sure sign, Srese thought that the gammy computer running the habitat was in the process of falling over. The lane was deserted apart from herself.
Walking now she approached the spanish garden video looping endlessly along the outside wall. She glanced sideways and through the electro-magnetic flock wall beneath the video. Good. Not a glimpse of Gammy’s steely minions in the secret passage. She shuddered thinking of them. What if Gammy one day sent them for her, because of her secret project?
The lane deserted was an opportunity she wouldn’t pass. She’d take a rest from her fruitless searching for Sard, and spend it getting-to-know Gammy some more. This video, because it was interactive, was her best option here and now.
She trailed her fingers along the flock wall like she used when she was a kid.
The smooth looping of the spanish garden stuttered. Next, the violin-and-timpani soundtrack staccato’d out all its tings in quick succession. Ting, look at the terra cotta fountain I made for your eyes only. Ting, look at the lush mosses under the olive trees.
She laughed out loud. “That wouldn’t be the wall making out it wants to keep me here?” Testing whether Gammy still knew words.
The video smoothed its moves.
Watch out, Srese. Gammy still did know words. Sobered, she stepped up onto the kiddy platform.
The video made the usual sort of brass bound timber-look story door in front of her. But look, it grew to her adult height and the porthole formed at her adult eye level.
Virtual moonlight glowed through the porthole.
She shut the daylight out with her hands on either side of her face and peered in, nose practically touching the flock. Staring into the video this time.
“Good work, this,” said Caro’s voice floating into the lane behind her.
“Yes,” Relda said. “I certainly didn’t expect to get out.”
The story door receded as Srese stepped back. It went so fast, she inadvertently stepped back faster than she intended, and further. As the door popped out of existence, Srese fell from the platform.
The garden scrolled on as her dorm mates came into the lane.
Relda set down her load. “What happened? Are you all right?”
She wasn’t ready with an acceptable story. Maybe she could distract them. “What are you doing here? Sedately, as well.” Caro usually flung herself about.
“Getting the lunches to their lunchees.” Caro demo’d waltzing with the lunches panniers she was carrying. “It’s too bad them at the workshops never order a mash-up.”
Relda gestured at the video. “I thought you’d grown out of this?”
“It’s quite restful when it peacefully goes about its business.”
Caro flopped down beside her. “Why doesn’t madam get it off her chest?”
“Which can’t be just that Sard is missing,” Relda said. “Your shin is bruised. Why would you fall off the step-up? I’m thinking now that that video wasn’t peacefully going about its business.”
They both stared at her. Relda, her best friend, politely curious. Caro suspiciously.
She still hadn’t got her story ready. Besides, what happened just now was so preposterous. She laughed. At herself and at Gammy. “I’ve been searching for Sard, right?”
“At breakfast you were practically crying about it,” Caro said. “And suddenly you’re laughing?"
“I wasn’t laughing about …”
“You’re wearing my aqua blue hang-shirt,” Relda said. She jerked her head towards the Parks and Gardens end of the Lane.
This time the voices were Youk and Phin arguing.
Srese raised her eyebrows, as in, Is this a co-incidence?
Relda shrugged. Probably not.
Srese continued with the new conversation. “You’re wearing my swirl-skirt.”
“It’s grey. I was pretty sure you wouldn’t even consider it with Gammy’s new grey colour scheme everywhere.”
Srese narrowed her mind’s eye. That’s right! Gammy had made the walls everywhere grey. She’d noticed it unconsciously, if that was possible, and dressed for contrast. She wondered if he was trying to conserve energy? And for what?