I got my marching orders today. I’m to go into the Zone and meet with their Chiefs. It’s interesting, actually, talking of their Chiefs. They don’t have a formal system like we do for selecting their leaders. They just wait and see who becomes a natural one. And all the time we were there, Kaleem and I, we never got to meet any of them, or really even know who they were. We did know that Narisja had been one when she was more lucid and that Ben-Mariah, the story-teller was much respected. He’s very frail now, but completely with it, unlike how poor Narisja was..
But anyway, today I went to an open meeting of N.I.Z.ers. Norman Handwood, the chief Chief, was in charge. He was quite an impressive man and very focussed. We talked about the problems of overpopulation that not having switch-off would cause.
“I don’t think we need to worry too much about that for this generation,” he said. “The damage can’t be repaired that quickly. Even with all the help form the Normal Zones, I’m guessing most people from here will die of natural causes long before switch-off time. Even the youngsters.”
I felt a really big lump in my throat. I’d really got to know some of those kids quite well.
“But you are right,” he continued. “We do need to think about the future.”
One of the N.I.Z.ers suggested we should think of sending more colonies out to unpopulated planets.
“Well, it’s a thought,” said Norman. “But it might only be pushing the problem out further.”
“Change the Stopes programme?” suggested someone else. “Limit the number of births even more?”
“How?” asked Norman.
“Vet who can reproduce? Limit number of children per family?”
“Oh yes?” someone else answered angrily. “Switch-off isn’t the only problem. That would be just as bad. What do you want? Designer babies? Policing who can have children? That would wipe us out in one go.”
“We could be a bit less bothered about disease,” said one woman. “If we allowed disease back, but of course, still alleviate suffering, we could abandon switch-off for everyone.”
She caught my eye and winked.
No one seemed to know what to say after that.But it seems to me that that is just a great big mirror. Switch-off is all tied up with us wanting to be disease-free, which makes us strangers to all the other planets, and here we are dealing with the strangeness of the N.I.Z. it’s all so complicated.