Thuli feels a bit misty as she remembers the years: Mandla as a mop-headed eight-year-old, affecting a slight lisp as they played maths games together; Mandla as a reserved teenager, mirroring her own awkwardness and preoccupation with self-image.
My dilemma is that I cannot kill Thuli without laying myself open to erasure, Mandla lectures itself.
The next morning Thuli brings lilies to the chronic intensive care unit. She doesn’t want to be here. But she can’t let James down; feels she has to face the final consequence of her actions.
“I already live in a foreign country,” says Thuli softly, thinking of the neat lawns and flower beds, the sequestering razor wire and security gates of the house where she grew up and where her parents live. “And I already belong to a different future.”
Robo-Killa’s gun barrel batters against her window, reclaiming her attention. “I shoot you,” he howls.
Thuli’s car cuts across the nose of the oncoming 14-wheeler, but too late, and is swept up by its bull-bars and rolled splintering and shredding until the bucking monster tramples her beneath.
Across the road a wiry group of youths sculpted by scanty food and occasional manual labour lounge against the frontage. All wear eye-sets – chitinous, intimidations reeking of testosterone.
Delicately it probes one of the open access fields, bouncing a disguised connection request. Immediately there is a rustle of activity: stealthy digital legs stalking – A spidernetic mutabot or some other insectificial tasked with embalming unwary code for the attention of its hacker master.
The murder rate is well above the national mean – 0.015% per annum. That’s nearly six people every week. 85% of them are young black men. But, though proportionately fewer, some of the murders perpetrated on women are particularly horrific.
“Oh…My…Gosh! I’ve discovered a first: cybernetic post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“It’s a savage cyber-slum out there. Down at street level, so to speak.”
“It’s illegal to remove ID, but it’s not illegal to go un-wearing after twenty-one.”
Thuli begins to sob, even more intensely than before. What on earth is happening to me? she wonders.
Glimpsed in the headlights, a child darts for the edge of the road. Thuli brakes, and the car slews – she hears a soft thump – and begins to spin. Helpless, she resigns herself: a limbo of thought in which she avoids imagining the bone-rending impact to come.